Chicken time

Being lonely is not the same thing as being alone. Ginny learns this when she bumps into Luna late one night in the edge of the forbidden forest. Characters belong to Rowling.

A fair amount of inspiration - about Ginny, Luna and about chickens - is taken from Pavonis Mons' story "The End is Nigh".

When you are the youngest of seven siblings, there are times when you need some space for yourself - either physically or in your head. They had all found different ways of escaping the hustle and bustle that was the Burrow - from her father's tinkering shed to Percy's more subtle way of distancing his own self image of himself from the others, to the twins not-subtle-at-all nightly roaming around in the area. For Ginny, the hen-house had become her sanctuary. Her mother used to call it "chicken time" when Ginny sneaked out there to sit with the chickens and to be alone with her thoughts. She had done so when she was a little girl, and she had continued to go there also when her brothers disappeared to Hogwarts one after one, enjoying the warmth and security and company the chickens provided.

After her first year at school, "chicken time" had gained an extra dimension. It served as a reminder, and as an assurance that as long as the chickens in Hagrid's little hen-house were still there, things were still all right. Or at least not that bad.

So therefore, Ginny still sneaked out now and then, dodging Filch and her brothers - who also often seemed to find themselves nightly business outside the Gryffindor tower - to sit with the chickens and listen to her thoughts, while the night fell over Hogwarts.

She felt a bit down tonight. It had been a tough week, and sometimes she felt as if she was stretched far too thin. Of course, there are many thoughts for a young girl to sort out - about school, about friends, about family, about boys and about the fact that Harry actually had asked her out for the Yule Ball...

Ginny sighed.

The night was bright, lit by thousands of stars and a brightly burning half moon. Mist from the lake was creeping over the lawn, making Ginny feel like she was sitting inside a cloud. She played idly with her hand in the mist and smiled for herself. The chickens went about their own, unfathomable chicken business, cooing slightly. She was feeling better again - the chicken time was working. Maybe best to...

Someone was coming through the mist. Ginny immediately shrunk back against the hen-house wall, silently begging the chickens to keep quite. She didn't need Hagrid or Sprout to find her out of bed and nearly out of bounds, and she definitely didn't need her brothers to see her and draw their own conclusions - and if she was to meet Harry here, all alone...

But as the shape came closer, she realized that it wasn't one of the teachers, it wasn't any of her brothers and it wasn't Harry, even if her heart thumped faster than comfortable. It was Luna Lovegood, walking as calmly as if she had been strolling down her the garden path in the middle of the day, her long hair sparkling with pearls of dew from the mist, her large eyes reflecting the silvery moon light. There was a dreamy smile on her lips.

Ginny watched the dotty girl in silence, and not without a certain amount of fondness. They had spent some time together, she and Luna, back when they were both little girls, but by the time they had reached Hogwarts age, they had grown apart. She had been sorted in Gryffindor and Luna had been sorted in Ravenclaw - and small wonder. Ginny wondered for herself if there ever had been a more singular student attending Hogwarts (even if she supposed it must have, at least once - even Headmasters are bound to have been young at some point of their career). She was an odd bird, Luna, even by Ravenclaw standard. As far as Ginny had gathered, she wasn't very popular in her house. She felt a pang of guilt. Luna never complained. She was never, seemingly, bothered by being alone - but Ginny knew well enough what it means to be lonely in your own head.

Luna didn't seem to have noticed her, even when she walked just past the hen-house where Ginny where hiding. With a jolt, Ginny suddenly realized that she was heading straight towards the Forbidden forest. Surely, even she couldn't think of going in there? She remembered a few of the more colourful stories Ron had told her, and she jumped up from her hiding place.

"Luna!" she cried out, and the other girl turned around with a surprised expression.

"Oh, Hello Ginny!" she said and waved vaguely. "There is a feather in your hair. That's rather pretty, actually."

"Er..." Ginny said and patted her hair in search for the misplaced chicken feather. She smiled a bit apologetic at Luna.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. Luna looked down at her feet.

"Walking," she concluded. She turned her large eyes at Ginny again. "It's such a fine night for it, don't you agree?"

"I mean, where are you going?" Ginny patiently explained, with a nervous glance at the forest. Luna followed her eyes.

"Oh, I was just to visit some friends," she said with a carefree manner. "How are Elisabeth and George II, by the way?"

"Er..."

"The rooster and the hen with a black feather in the tail," Luna explained. "You know, when I came with you to feed the chickens at your house, and we decided that they needed names," she reminded. Ginny stared at her.

"Do you still remember that? It was years ago." Luna nodded and bit her lip.

"I suppose they are not very sociable any longer, then," she sighed. "Chickens not being very long-lived, after all. But please send my regards, should you talk to them."

"Do you have many friends in Ravenclaw," Ginny suddenly blurted out, afraid that she wouldn't say it at all if she stopped to think of it. Luna gave her a surprised look.

"Oh, we help each other with homework and such things - and Penelope Clearwater was rather nice to me and helped me finding things I had misplaced... She kissed your brother, you know," she added, as in afterthought.

"Yes, but do you have any friends," Ginny pressed, not wanting to loose the subject. "You know, to talk and share secrets and spend time with. Friends." Luna gave her a long, thoughtful look.

"I'm quite all right, you know," she said after awhile. Ginny sighed.

"I really haven't spent much time with you since we came to Hogwarts, have I?" she said with regret in her voice. "I'm sorry for it."

Luna blinked.

"Please don't be sorry," she said, and put her hand on Ginny's. It was very cold, Ginny noticed.

"It's just that I have been so busy in my own house, with people and charms club and so on... and my first year was a bit special... and I... well, I suppose I just didn't think of you very much," she apologized. She took Luna's hand and held it. "But I really don't want you to be alone," she went on. "Really."

"That's a very nice thing to say," Luna whispered, clearly touched. "I wouldn't want you to be alone either."

"I'm not alone," Ginny said - but even as she said it, she heard her voice shake. Luna took a small step closer to her.

"I've got loads of friends," she tried again. "Lots and lots... We are together all the time, and..." she could feel tears forming in her eyes. Luna stared at her, her large eyes never leaving her face.

"I'm not lonely..." she whispered "I'm not sad... I'm not homesick..."

She tried to say more, tried to tell her old friend about impossible expectations and about being left out, about how franticly she had tried to find a place among her peers after her disastrous first year at Hogwarts, about how mortally afraid she was to loose that place and wake up one day, alone; to be left behind and have no company except for a dark, calm voice in a dusty old book... But the tears that emerged prevented her from saying anything more. So she cried in Luna's arms. The Ravenclaw held her hard, in silence.

"Thanks," Ginny whispered after awhile. Luna brushed a tear from her face.

"It's all right, you know," she said with low voice. "You're not alone."

"Apparently not," Ginny said, and smiled at Luna, who just in this moment was sitting in an angle that made the moon give her a pale halo. "And neither are you."

They hugged each other, the way friends do.

"You need to cry, sometimes," Ginny said a little while later, as she stood up from the lawn, which the mist had made uncomfortably wet.

"Oh yes," Luna happily chimed. "The Carnivorous Crowling actually has no less than five distinct cries, that each attracts different preys." Ginny laughed and shot her a curious glance.

"Don't you ever get homesick," she asked. Luna shook her head.

"I miss daddy sometimes," she earnestly answered. "But when I do, I just go out to my friends in the forest."

"What friends?" Ginny asked, intrigued. Luna turned to her and gave her a long look.

"Do you want to see them," she asked, and there was something uncharacteristically careful in her voice. Ginny hesitated.

"Er..."

"Only if you don't mind, of course," Luna quickly went on. Ginny put a soothing hand on her shoulder.

"Oh, sure, if you want to show me..."

Luna started to smile with her whole face.

"I really would like you to meet them," she said, and took a theatrical step backwards. Ginny opened her mouth to ask what kind of friends Luna was talking about - but she closed it again in amazement.

Girls emerged from the mist. Happy, smiling, laughing girls with hair of spun silver and faces shining as stars.

"It's Luna, it's Luna!" They cried and giggled and clapped their hands. "Have you come to play with us, Luna, to dance with us, to stay with us? For ever?"

"No, not tonight," Luna smiled. "I just wanted to see you."

"Awwww," the girls said. Then one of them spotted Ginny, who stood very close to Luna, staring at them in bewilderment.

"Look! Luna has brought us a new little friend," she cried, and immediately the fairies flocked around Ginny.

"She's beautiful," one of them whispered.

"Her hair looks like the sunset," one of them said, softly patting the widely-eyed Ginny's red curls.

"Her fingers are really pretty," one of them reported.

"She will follow me back when I leave," Luna firmly said.

"Awwww," they whined.

"Who are they," Ginny whispered in wonder.

"We are the night and the wind," one of them answered.

"We are the moon and the stars," another volunteered and lazily floated up a few feet from the ground.

"They are my friends," Luna said, and she held out her hand to Ginny.

"Do you want to dance? It's rather fun, you know."

That whole night, the fairy dance lasted. Hand in hand on the soft grass and over round boulders - in creeks and in streams and under the stars and the dark trees. Ginny felt her feet move to a rhythm she half could remember from sometimes long ago, and felt her voice singing a song she almost knew. Luna's eyes sparkled and Ginny laughed in delight, because the night smelt so good, and the forest was so beautiful and because having friends is so truly wonderful.

When the first rays of morning light pierced the canopies of the trees, the two girls ran back over the Hogwarts lawn, laughing and giggling, sneaking back into the castle, hoping to get back to their dorms without being spotted. When they parted, Ginny took Luna's hand for a moment and searched for something to say - something that would express her feelings of gratitude and happiness for their renewed friendship - but she couldn't find the words, so with a gentle squeeze, she left without saying anything.

She rather suspected that Luna knew anyway.