Hi FFN kiddies. Someone on IRC brought up Harry/Luna and bemoaned the sad state of the ship, and I decided to have a stab at it. Turned out alright, I think. Shout-outs to the entire DLP crew, especially the IRCholes. Especially INBN for the title and Syao for some canon-picking.
Harry all but stumbled down the main road of Hogsmeade, barely paying any attention to the usually fascinating storefronts. He had just had his first two Occlumency lessons that week, and he felt like his brain had been put through the wringer.
Hermione and Ron were trailing a short distance behind him, watching him with concern and holding a whispered conversation that he couldn't be bothered to eavesdrop on. No doubt they were discussing his constant state of fatigue, with Ron bad-mouthing Snape and Hermione quoting books she had read about exhaustion. He loved them, he really did, but they got a little bit predictable after a while.
He stopped suddenly, almost smiling in amusement as Hermione and Ron overtook him, embroiled in an argument over whether the profanities Ron was using were really appropriate to be applied to a teacher. They managed to get a couple meters past him before noticing and looking around, finally finding Harry behind them.
Naturally, it was Hermione that spoke up first. "Harry, are you alright?"
He stifled a grimace. No, he wasn't. His mind was still aching after a couple nights of mental gymnastics, and he had two nights a week to look forward to for the rest of the year. But instead he just said, "I'm fine. Look, you two go on ahead. You might as well have fun together."
It normally wouldn't have worked - they would have trailed after Harry all day if they had to - but the possibilities that he hinted at with 'together' did the trick. Harry might not be an expert in the field of relationships, but he knew there was some sort of chemistry bubbling between his two best friends that they were keen to investigate. The two of them shared a significant look before Hermione pulled Ron off along the street, probably towards some pub or cafe for a tête-à-tête.
Harry just stood there in the road, considering his next move. He wanted quiet, above all else. Somewhere he could let his sort-of-but-not-quite-headache fade without being bothered by anyone he knew. Which pretty much ruled out all of Hogwarts, most of the cafes in Hogsmeade, the Three Broomsticks... ah.
Harry turned down a side street and headed towards the Hog's Head.
Harry's entrance into the dirty pub broke the silence, and all heads inside - most of them shrouded by hoods or just darkness - turned towards him. Normally this would have been intimidating, but Harry just shot them all a dirty look before turning towards the barkeep, who for some reason was not looking at Harry. Instead, he was looking up a staircase in the corner with a look of mild confusion. He turned to look at Harry and blinked, before apparently coming to a realization and nodding him towards the staircase he had been watching. Not in the mood to question this unexpected offer of sanctuary, Harry just nodded and walked up the stairs, through the sitting room and into an open doorway, apparently leading to a disused conference room.
He paused halfway through the door, contemplating the sight in front of him. On the other side of the small room, across from a small conference table, was a small blonde girl in Ravenclaw robes, apparently engaged in a staring contest with another young blonde girl in a painting hung on the wall.
In his current state, anyone not sharing a house with him wouldn't have been recognised, but this particular individual was more memorable than most. "Luna?"
The girl started and turned, staring at him with her silvery eyes, as behind her the girl in the painting assumed a smug expression. Perhaps it really was a staring contest. "Harry?"
"What are you doing in here?"
Luna scrunched up her forehead in thought. "Talking to you. Oh, wait, I see. I'm visiting her." She gestured towards the girl in the painting, who gave Harry a shy smile.
Harry walked over next to Luna and inspected the painting. It was an oil painting, slightly worn but well cared for, and the girl inside was standing in front of a stone wall and wearing slightly old-fashioned clothes - although it was always hard to tell when magical fashion was involved. The girl squirmed slightly under his scrutiny. Next to him, Luna continued on. "She can't talk like other portraits. I don't think she gets to see many people, either. I don't doubt that Aberforth downstairs knows more about her, but he won't tell me. I think he's happy that she gets visitors, though."
Harry essayed a wave, and the girl blushed and waved back. Something about her reminded him of someone, but he shrugged it off, and instead sat on the edge of the table and leaned backwards until he was lying across it.
"Harry?" Luna's head drifted into his field of view. "Are you alright?"
If anyone could keep a secret, it was Luna. And besides, although he didn't like the thought, if she told anyone they would probably write it off as more of Looney's ramblings. "Occlumency lessons with Snape. Mind's all twisted up."
A frown crossed Luna's normally placid face. "You shouldn't spend too much time with him. With hair like that, he'd be utterly riddled with nargles. That's why he's so grouchy all the time." She clambered on top of the table and sat cross-legged next to Harry's head, still peering down at him.
"Really?" Harry pondered that tidbit for a moment. "It would make sense, actually. What exactly are nargles, though?"
And she told him. She told him about their diet, preferred living conditions, breeding habits, tips for avoiding them, and how they were currently being used by the Rotfang Conspiracy to give their operatives the sour disposition they needed. And Harry just lay there and listened, in the dark but surprising clean room, with the strange, mute girl in the painting listening in. And the more he listened, the more it began to make sense.
Luna was just starting to describe her illicit campaign to burn off all the mistletoe on the school grounds to stop the nargle population boom every Christmas when Harry realized that his brain had somehow un-crimped itself... and that it was gone half six. At least.
"Ah, Luna? Aren't we supposed to be back at the school by six?"
Luna stopped halfway through her recitation of how various flame charms reacted to mistletoe (including one memorable occasion where the spell spread to half of the host tree before being quenched by hasty aguamenti charms) and glanced around the windowless room. "I think so. Why? Is that soon?"
"I think it's already passed, to be honest."
"Well, let's get going then." She was nothing if not pragmatic. Hermione would be panicking over getting in trouble, and Ron would be complaining about getting detention, but Luna just ignored the possibility. It was rather relaxing, to be honest.
The two of them climbed off the table and out of the room (with a farewell wave to the girl in the portrait), Luna smiling at the barkeep on the way out, who returned it with a distant look in his eye. It was a far cry from the grouch that had served the first DA meeting.
"Like I said before," commented Luna, once they had left the pub and were on their way towards Hogwarts, "Aberforth likes it when she gets visitors."
"MISTER POTTER!" a familiar voice greeted the two of them as they reached the gates. McGonagall. Damn. "It's almost seven o'clock! Where have you been?!"
"Sorry, Professor," interjected Luna before Harry had a chance to even open his mouth. "I was just telling him about nargles."
This stopped her in her tracks. She looked from one student to the other, before casting a look behind her to Professor Flitwick. "I... see. Get to your common rooms and we'll hear no more about it, but you two should keep better track of the time in the future."
Harry just stood there, slightly dumbfounded at his head of house's change of attitude, before Luna's tug on his arm pulled him back to reality and they continued towards the castle at a fast pace.
McGonagall and Flitwick stood there in silence, watching the two of them, before McGonagall spoke. "'Telling him about nargles'? Is that what they're calling it these days, Filius?"
"I stopped trying to keep up years ago, to be honest."