A/N: This story, as will become obvious in a moment, was written well before HBP, so I will have to ask you try and overlook the canon inconsistencies, and hope that you will enjoy it despite them. I have had numerous requests over the years to continue my story, "Harry Potter and the Loathsome Lobster of Leeds", and while not a sequel, I finally finished this long neglected story as a way of thanking these readers for their support and kind words, in particular, luckner. This one is for you, and I hope it isn't too terribly cheesy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. :P
Harry watched the countryside go by in a blur from his seat on the train. He was relieved to be escaping from the Dursleys so soon into the summer, and wondering what awaited him in Ottery St. Catchpole, the home of the Weasley family. It felt strange to be taking the train, instead of a magical method of travel, but Ron had told him vaguely that it was some manner of security precaution in his owl post. Floo seemed out of the question anyway, as Uncle Vernon had long since bricked up the fireplace, and he didn't have his apparition license yet.
Besides, he thought, it wasn't that bad. It gave him time to think through things before facing his friends again with his new emotional burdens. Sirius' death and the prophecy were never far from his thoughts, but he promised himself that he would wear a braver face for the sake of his friends.
"Harry Potter," called a quiet voice from the door to his compartment. He looked up to find two enormous gray eyes scrutinizing him from under a mane of dark blonde hair.
"Luna?" he asked with surprise. He certainly hadn't expected to see anyone but Muggles on this trip. The tall, skinny girl entered and sat across from him.
"What are you doing on a Muggle train?" he asked.
"I like Muggle trains," she said. "My father and I are back early from holiday, you know, and this is the safest way to transport a pawed knarckle fish. They don't respond too well to shrinking charms. It makes them grouchy."
"A what fish?" Harry asked. Luna smiled proudly.
"The pawed knarckle fish of Madrid. They're quite rare, you know, almost extinct. One of father's correspondents in Spain caught him and owled us in Switzerland. We're going to keep him in the pond," she said.
"Oh," Harry said, not sure what else to say.
"Are you going to see Ronald?" she asked. Harry nodded.
"Oh, then we'll be neighbors. You can come see him, if you want to," she said, looking at him anxiously.
Harry wasn't sure he did want to visit the Lovegood home, especially to see some bizarre creature, but something in her expression made his stomach do an unexpected flip. There was something hypnotic in the unashamed sincerity he saw in her eyes, and it made him feel both flattered and embarrassed.
"Um, sure, I'll try," he said. Luna beamed.
"I've never had any friends over before," she said, as though it were something that had just occurred to her. Silence fell over them, Luna looking around her distractedly, humming a tune and kicking her rainbow stockinged legs back and forth.
"So, did you have a nice time on the continent?" Harry asked politely.
"Oh yes. The mountain hikes in the Alps are quite invigorating, you know, even if we didn't stay long enough to find a crumple-horned snorkack. Spain was wonderful, too, though I don't like how the Muggles treat their bullies," she said, her brow creasing.
"Do you mean bulls? Like as in bullfighting?" Harry asked, confused.
"Yeah, that's it. Seems right stupid to pick fights with things minding their own business, you know? Anyway, the beaches were interesting. Did you know the women go about with almost no clothes on?" she asked casually.
Harry blushed and shook his head in denial.
"Oh, and my dad bought me this," she said, reaching into an oversized tapestry bag and pulling out a strange stringed instrument which resembled a lute. Harry reached for it curiously, plucking the strings and running his fingers over its unusual, scaly surface.
"It's made from the shell of a firecrab, and enchanted to never go out of tune," she explained as Harry handed it back to her.
"It's really nice," Harry said. "Can you play it?"
"Well, I only just got it, so not really," she said with a little laugh, tucking it back into her bag.
"Hagrid gave me a flute once," Harry said. "I haven't played it in years."
"Oh, you should, you know. Music helps us express what we can't say in words," she said. Harry smiled.
"Cheers, I'll remember that," he said.
They were quiet for most of the journey, Luna burying her nose in the Quibbler, Fantastic Beasts Monthly, about every other wizarding magazine Harry had ever heard of, and a few he hadn't.
"Merlin, you read as much as Hermione, if different kinds of material," Harry said as she stuck a Witch Weekly in her bag.
"Dad gets them straight from the publishing house for a discount," she said. "I like to stay up on things, you know."
Harry raised an eyebrow as she pulled out a National Geographic.
"He gets Muggle magazines, too?" Harry asked.
"Oh, no, I got this one at the train station, actually. There's an article on lemurs. I think non-magical animals are pretty interesting, too," she said, flipping past the cover.
Harry turned his attention back to the window. After a minute or so, Harry found her round eyes rolling up to gaze at him.
"Do you want to borrow one?" she asked.
"Um -- sure," Harry said, cautiously reaching into the tapestry bag under her watchful eye and withdrawing a magazine at random.
Settling back in his seat, he flipped the periodical open, and was greeted by his own smiling face. Are You the Girl for the Boy Who Lived? was printed above his picture, with a quiz below it. Harry rolled his eyes. His heart then skipped a beat as he looked down to see that Luna had circled the multiple choice answers. He glanced up at her serene face, her unblinking eyes absorbing the page before her and a strange little smile on her lips. Blushing, he closed the magazine and turned his attention back to the window for the remainder of the trip.
They reached the station not long afterwards. Harry gathered his things and bid Luna farewell, not meeting her eyes. When he reached the platform, he was greeted by a red headed sea of Weasleys, the lone bushy brown head of Hermione among them.
"How was your train ride, dear?" Molly Weasley asked, after giving him a bone-crushing embrace.
"Fine, thank you," Harry gasped.
"Sorry we had to send you by Muggle transport, mate," Ron said. "Dad seemed to think it was more low profile for such a long distance."
"It wasn't that bad. Luna Lovegood was on the train, so I had someone to talk to," Harry said, craning his head slightly, but catching no sight of her.
"Luna?" Ron asked. "Geez, mate, I'm even sorrier now. She freaks me out."
"Like I said, it wasn't bad," Harry said with a shrug.
"We're not staying at the Burrow, either, just in case," Ron said with a frown.
"Then where are we staying?" Hermione asked.
Harry and Hermione looked at Ron expectantly, who swallowed hard and gave them a pained smile. Fred and George emerged from the crowd.
"You're staying with us," George said. Hermione groaned.
"Yeah, Hermy, you can sleep in my room!" Fred said, giving her a wink as they walked on, the trio falling behind them.
"Knew I should have never told him Grawp's name for me," Hermione muttered. Harry laughed. He for one thought staying with the twins sounded fun.
"So, you guys have your own place now?" Harry asked.
"Do we? It's fantastic!" George said.
"It's just a stone's throw from the burrow, too," Ron said with a smirk.
"Good. I can escape if needed," Hermione said with a sigh.
"You act like it's Azkaban," George said with exasperation.
"No dementors, Hermy, just the demented," Fred said over his shoulder with an ominous cackle, then came to a stop.
"Right. There's your portkey then," George said, nodding to a particularly filthy wastebin.
"Couldn't find anything nicer, could you?" Ron asked with a groan.
"Sorry, ickle Ronniekins. They were fresh out of kittens and lollipops," Fred said.
"We're apparating," George said smugly. "Last one there is a --" He disappeared with a pop.
"Hey, no fair! Wait for me!" Fred called and apparated.
The trio made faces as they touched the grimy bin, at once feeling the familiar tug behind the navel and being transported, finding themselves dizzily thrown upon an ill-kept lawn.
"Ouch!" Ron cried, kicking away a garden gnome that was trying to take a chunk out of his ankle.
"Oi, you!" Fred scolded. "Don't be rude to our guests!"
"I don't think you can reason with an incensed gnome, Fred," Hermione said.
"He was talking to Ron," George said, watching in amusement as the gnome made a rude gesture and walked away, grumbling.
"Hysterical little buggers," Fred said affectionately, shaking his head.
Harry and Hermione looked in wonder at the large, Victorian farm house that occupied the lot.
"Wow," Hermione said. "With some work, this could be a really nice place, guys." Fred sniffed.
"With some work? What's wrong with it now?" he asked, bounding up the creaking stairs to the rotting porch of the old house.
"Nothing," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "Where in the world did you get the money for this place?"
Harry admired how the twins not only refrained from looking in his direction, but didn't even miss a beat. He reminded himself never to believe a word they said ever again as well.
"Our benefactor has sworn us to secrecy upon penalty of a most horrendous death," George reported solemnly.
"Has he really?" Fred asked.
"Nah. Sounded good though, didn't it?" George said, breaking into a smile. Harry stifled a chuckle as they proceeded through a dilapidated screen door.
"Check it out," Fred said, flicking a light switch. Nothing happened.
"It's not hooked up to anything," George explained. "The place belonged to an eccentric old squib, so it's loaded with Muggle stuff."
"We thought dad was going to move in with us when he saw it," Fred said with a grin. "My favorite is that swingy thing," he said, gesturing through the window at the porch swing. "Either of you got one?"
Harry and Hermione shook their heads. Fred looked pleased.
It was every bit like an elderly Muggle lady's house, Harry noted with amusement, as Crookshanks leapt from Hermione's arms, in pursuit of the scent of long departed cats. The furniture was covered with knitted afghans, the tables with doilies, and the shelves crammed with ceramic kittens and other knick-knacks. It was dusty, but the dust was thin, as if the home had been kept tidy by its former resident. Fred stepped up behind him as George showed the others around.
"She died about a year ago," Fred said, answering Harry's thoughts. He turned, surprised at the sincerely saddened look that swept over Fred's features.
"Nice old lady. We put billiwig stings in her cats' milk once for laughs, and she didn't even tell Mum on us. Like to have taken us forever to round them up. They were flying all over the place," Fred said, laughing at the memory. "She even made us cookies later for helping."
They were distracted by Ron giving a shrill cry from behind them. Harry turned to see what appeared to be an enormous weasel descending the stairs. The long, furry creature sniffed the air and stood on its hind legs as it reached the bottom step.
"What the bloody hell is that thing?" Ron asked, hiding behind Hermione.
"Oh, don't mind Jasper," George said. "He won't bite you unless you provoke him."
"That's a jarvey," Hermione said, bending down to get a closer look. "Wizards keep them to eat the gnomes in their gardens sometimes. I hear they can be quite rude."
"Oh, get stuffed, you know-it-all," Jasper squeaked, and left the room in a huff.
"Um -- did I hurt his feelings?" Hermione asked with concern.
"Nah. He'd probably said the same thing if you'd said all jarveys were delightful," George said. Fred blinked, as if coming out of shock.
"Hey! You didn't tell me that they eat garden gnomes!" Fred yelled at George as they went up the stairs.
"I don't know about this, Harry," Hermione said, plopping down on a beanbag in one of the guest rooms. Ron was in the shower, a victim of some sticky concoction the twins had rigged up just inside the bedroom door.
"A sane individual can only take the twins for so long, after all. Lee Jordan was the only one who could tolerate rooming with them at school. Do you know he told me that they never sleep? He said he could get up in the dead of night and they'd still be in the corner giggling about something. It just seems creepy and unwholesome somehow," she said.
Harry was only half-way listening to her. His thoughts had drifted back to Sirius, and death in general, ever since Fred had told him about the death of the elderly lady who had lived there.
"I think I'd like to be on my own for a bit," Harry said slowly, hoping he wouldn't hurt her feelings.
"Of course, Harry," Hermione said sympathetically and stood. She paused as she reached the door. "We're all here for you, Harry. I just want you to know that, okay?"
Harry nodded, forcing a smile. When she'd gone, he unpacked his things, trying to clear his thoughts. There were so many conflicting feelings racing through him. He felt raw and tired, his nerves tingling from anxiety. Wondering if he'd ever feel normal again, he came across a worn, felt bag in the bottom of his trunk, and felt his facial muscles twitch instinctively.
The memory of talking to Luna on the train was actually bringing a smile to his face, he realized, as he unsheathed the neglected wooden flute. Taking the small instrument and sitting on the edge of his bed, he self consciously cast a spell to seal sounds within the room before placing it to his lips. Without having to worry if anyone else could hear him, he let free a random set of high, broken screeches from the flute with a deep breath. It felt pretty good, even if it sounded dreadful, he thought to himself.
The next day, the three friends and the twins ventured through the long grass of the backyard to the rickety dock that stretched a few feet over the lake.
After enjoying a swim, Harry pulled himself back onto the plank platform, smiling as he watched Ron and Hermione have a spirited water fight, that he was unsure from this distance whether was spurred on by fun or spite. Ginny joined them eventually, looking more grown up and quite pretty in her modest green swimsuit.
He caught a glimpse of something strange and fin like breaking the surface of the water far across the lake, not far from where he made out a roof peeking above the trees beyond.
"Did you see that?" he asked Ginny, who was floating on her back nearby.
"No, what was it?" she asked, swimming towards him.
"I think I just saw Luna Lovegood's new pet," he said with a laugh. He explained seeing her on the train, as Ginny joined him on the dock.
"You should go see her then," Ginny said with a shrug. "It's not a very long walk. She sounds lonely."
"Do you want to come with me?" Harry asked. Ginny shook her head.
"Nah. I actually should be heading back to get ready. Dean's coming by for tea," she said with a shy smile.
After his other friends opted to stay behind for lunch, Harry changed and set out alone along the bank towards the Lovegood home.
The place was certainly strange enough to house Luna, he thought as he came into the clearing where the house stood. It appeared to be a hodgepodge of different architectural styles, some parts brick, some wood, and others stone, like it had been added on to by three wildly contradicting builders. It was larger than he'd expected as well.
He hesitantly approached the center, climbing the steps to what he assumed was the front door. Giving the door a rap with a heavy brass knocker in the shape of the head of a creature he was quite sure he'd never seen before, he heard something go off within the house that sounded rather like the whistle of a tea kettle.
Shortly after, he heard the clank of a deadbolt and was greeted with the ever startled eyes of Luna Lovegood.
"Hello, there, Harry Potter," she said with a small smile and let him in. The inside was even stranger than the out, odd artifacts, magical objects and potion ingredients cluttering every surface.
"You picked the perfect day to come, too, you know," she said, leading into an equally crammed but cozier sitting room with large windows and two sofas facing a marble coffee table. A dainty looking tea service was set in preparation before, to Harry's astonishment, a comfortably seated Remus Lupin.
"Well, hello there, Harry," Lupin said as they joined him. Luna busily set about pouring their tea and offering them plates of sandwiches and biscuits as he settled on the couch beside his former professor.
"I figured you were probably staying at the Weasleys'. I was going to stop by for a visit once I finished up here," Lupin said, taking his tea from Luna with a gracious nod.
"What are you doing here at the Lovegoods'?" Harry asked. Remus exchanged a brief smile with Luna.
"I went to school with Luna's parents. Her mother was a friend of mine. She was a year below your father and I. And of course I taught Miss Lovegood at Hogwarts," Remus said.
"He's here to see the knarckle fish, too," Luna explained, picking the raisins out of her biscuit and lining them up tidily on the table like parading ants. Lupin gave Harry a strange smile that didn't quite meet his tired brown eyes.
"Why do you want to see a knarckle fish, Mr. Lupin?" Harry asked blankly.
"Well who wouldn't want to see one?" a voice behind Harry said. He turned to see a tall, thin man with a fair complexion enter the room, smiling brightly.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Lovegood," Lupin greeted him. Luna bounced in her seat a bit to get his attention.
"Dad, this is Harry Potter," she said, beaming. Mr. Lovegood removed his worn newsboy cap, offering his hand to Harry.
"Well, I'll be. It is very, very nice to meet you, young man," Mr. Lovegood said, shaking his hand. "My Luna thinks the world of you. You've done a wonderful job teaching her defensive spells, as well. Those idiots at the Ministry --"
"Dad, tell Harry about the fish," Luna interjected, saving them, no doubt, from a politically charged tirade.
"Oh, yes, of course. But I'm sure a smart lad such as Harry has already heard of such a wondrous creature," Mr. Lovegood said, rumpling Harry's already decidedly disheveled hair.
"Um, no sir, not really," Harry said. "Though I did catch a glimpse of it when I went swimming today."
"Really? What are they teaching you kids at school these days?" Mr. Lovegood said, clucking his tongue disapprovingly. Harry caught Lupin stifling an amused smile.
"Well, it's like this, Harry," Mr. Lovegood continued, his expression growing more somber,"the knarckle fish sings a very special song. We are lucky to have obtained one during the summer months, which is the only season in which it sings."
"What kind of song?" Harry asked, looking at each of the others.
"You see, Harry, each of us here has suffered great loss in our lives. The pawed knarckle fish has a magic that can soothe the most broken heart. It was once tradition in Spain, many years ago, to seek them out in times of sorrow, and thousands of witches and wizards have traveled there to hear them during troubled times. Most of them died out around the time of Grindelwald, and many now believe them to be but creatures of legend."
"So, this fish makes people feel better when someone dies?" Harry asked skeptically. "By singing?" Luna smiled, dropping her neglected biscuit back on its plate.
"Remember what I told you about music expressing what we can't say in words?" Luna asked. Harry nodded slowly.
"The knarckle fish isn't meant to cure sorrow or anything of that sort," Lupin spoke up, not looking directly at anyone. "It's a ritual of sorts. A way to formally say goodbye. Legend has it that they have such an empathic way of sensing an individual's feeling of loss, and their specific need of comfort, that no two people truly hear the same song." Harry nodded.
"It's not just legend, my friend," Mr. Lovegood said with confidence.
As the afternoon became evening, Harry hoped the others wouldn't grow too worried. He was truly enjoying himself though, as Mr. Lovegood related stories of his eccentric wife and their adventures gathering stories for the early days of the Quibbler, and even more so the recountings of some of the mischief Lupin got into with Sirius and his father at Hogwarts. Peter Pettigrew went tactfully unmentioned, for both his comfort and Lupin's.
"Well, then," Mr. Lovegood said and stood. "The hour of the knarckle fish song is upon us." Harry slowly followed the Lovegoods outdoors, falling behind slightly with Lupin.
"Mr. Lupin, you don't actually believe all this stuff about the knarckle fish, do you?" Harry asked quietly. Lupin sighed deeply, a weary look settling on his face.
"It's hard to say what I believe anymore, Harry. I've rather given up on the idea of miracles these days. I do know that I need some kind of closure though, and Mr. Lovegood's invitation seemed as good as anything," Lupin said.
"You miss them a lot, don't you?" Harry asked.
"Every day," Lupin said, giving him a sad smile.
Harry made his way to the lake's edge, where Mr. Lovegood had conjured two brightly burning torches. Luna looked up at him from the blanket she had spread on the bank, gesturing for him to join her. Sitting beside her, he saw a glittering tear escape her usually serene gray eyes in the torchlight, and took her hand.
The water before them began to churn, the light of the flames distorting as the large beast drew near the shore. Harry's breath caught in his throat as a hauntingly beautiful voice filled the night air.
"What in the world were you doing for so long out there, Harry? You had us all worried sick," Hermione scolded him at breakfast the next morning. Luckily he had managed to stall all their questioning the night before, when Lupin had walked him back to the farmhouse. He didn't want such a feeling of supreme calm destroyed, and he was eternally grateful to Lupin for making his excuses for him. He didn't know exactly how to describe the experience he'd had by the lake that night to his friends, nor did he want to trivialize it by trying to explain. Somehow in that moment, the song that had surrounded him had indeed expressed the love, anger and fear he had found so difficult to express on his own. And more importantly, it made him feel as if he had somehow reached beyond the realm that separated him from those he'd lost, and tell them the things he'd never had the chance to say to them when they were alive.
"Luna's here," Fred announced, making way for her as she entered the kitchen. After greeting everyone, she turned to Harry.
"I just wanted to say goodbye, actually. I probably won't see you until school starts," Luna said.
"Where are you going?" Harry asked, feeling somewhat disappointed. He felt alot closer to the strange blonde girl, who was one of the few who understood and had shared an experience he'd never be able to quite explain.
"We're taking him back to Spain. It wouldn't be nice of us to keep him here, you know," Luna said.
"No, I guess not," Harry said with a smile. "Have a safe trip. See you at school." Luna nodded happily and started to wander back to the door.
"Wait," Harry called after her, causing her to pause and seek him out again with her gaze. "Would you like me to walk you back?"
"That would be really nice, actually," Luna said with a grin.
"I'll be back in a little while, guys," Harry said, smirking at the surprised expressions around the table.
"So," Harry said, as they stepped out into the sunshine, "What other kinds of creatures live in Spain?"
Harry smiled to himself as Luna began to animatedly tell him about the Bothersome Bowtruckle of Barcelona, feeling decidedly more cheerful than he had in long time.