Thanks to Bookofsecrets for the beta.
Harry listened as the last of Snape's footfalls died away. His mind was racing. It was as if dozens of miniature Snitches had been let loose inside his head; every time he reached out to grasp a thought it flitted just out of reach. Slowly his breathing and heartbeat returned to normal, and two things became clear. One: Malfoy was definitely up to something. Two: Snape knew about it. He smiled to himself. After five-and-a-half years of being told he was wrong -- about Snape's loyalties, about Voldemort being back, about Malfoy -- it was lovely to be right for once. So there, Hermione!
He was no closer to figuring out what Malfoy was up to or to proving he was behind the attack on Katie. Harry hauled himself to his feet, folded the cloak hastily, and jammed it in his back pocket. He wanted nothing more than to head back to Gryffindor Tower. In the silence and privacy of his bed, he could figure out what to do next.
As much as he longed to head straight for the dorm, someone was likely to come looking for him if he didn't return to the party and bid at least Luna a good night. Harry did his best to look as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened as he walked the short distance back to Slughorn's office. He slipped inside as unobtrusively as he could manage. The party was still going strong. Slughorn boomed loudly but indistinctly at an uncomfortable-looking Sanguini, punctuating his words with jovial slaps on the vampire's shoulder. Snape sulked in a corner, regarding the other partygoers with a scowl. There was no sign of Luna. Harry himself didn't appear to have been missed. With any luck, he could bid Luna goodnight and leave again without anyone else being the wiser. He headed off in search of her.
Several people whose names Harry didn't remember called out to him, but he ignored them. He did not think he could manage making small talk about the Cannons' chances at the League championship or endure another person telling him how brave he was and how they were all counting on him. A year ago, these same people had thought him insane, and after overhearing Malfoy as good as confess to being a Death Eater, he found he had lost the ability to be gracious.
He spotted Luna by the punch bowl still deep in conversation with Professor Trelawney. Trelawney clutched a glass of Firewhiskey and gestured wildly with her free hand. Her voice was shrill and even more slurred than it had been when Harry had left; he thought he heard the words "bloody centaur" and a few expressions he had never heard her use in class. Luna regarded her with her usual vague expression, as if Trelawney was only talking about the weather instead of ranting about an unwanted colleague.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was Cormac McLaggen. "Have you seen Hermione? She said she was going to get a glass of punch, but I haven't seen her in twenty minutes."
"She probably stopped to talk to a friend." Harry smiled in spite of himself. Safely barricaded in the girls' dormitory, more like it.
"That's what I thought. Bit daft, that Hermione. I was telling her about the time I played against Jack Greenley -- he's on the Magpies' reserve team now -- and she got a glassy look in her eyes like she didn't understand a word I was saying. She's quite a looker, though. Do you think she'll go out with me again?"
Harry thought Hermione would rather fail all her classes than go out with McLaggen again, but he decided on diplomacy. "I expect she'll be pretty busy from now on. All the teachers are giving us a mountain of homework, and Hermione's got more classes than most. She'll be too swamped to go out with anyone."
McLaggen nodded sagely. "Pity. I suppose I can't blame her. Adjusting to the NEWT-level schedule is hard for almost everybody. Not for me, of course."
McLaggen's eyes brightened. "As long as I've got you here, I was wondering if you might reconsider and put me on the team."
Harry did his best to keep his voice pleasantly neutral. "We have a Keeper."
McLaggen scoffed. "Weasley? He's rubbish. I thought you would have figured that out after the match against Slytherin."
Harry rubbed his temples. Bed, need to get to bed. "Which we won."
"I know he's your friend, but the team has to come first. He missed at least three easy saves. If I had been there…"
McLaggen then proceeded to explain how he would have stopped every goal that Slytherin had made. No save was too difficult for the almighty Cormac McLaggen it seemed. He was oblivious to every hint Harry made that he had packing to do before tomorrow and that he had to leave soon. Harry clenched and unclenched his fist in irritation. It was only the presence of half a dozen teachers that stopped him from punching McLaggen in the mouth. He glanced at the ceiling, willing someone -- anyone -- to interrupt and rescue him.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Luna; he did not think he had ever been so glad to see her. "Hello Harry," she said. "Did you have a nice time in the bathroom?"
Harry shrugged noncommittally. "What happened to Professor Trelawney?"
"She went to lie down. She said that the strain of all the visions from beyond had left her weak. I hope she's all right; she seemed quite unsteady on her feet as she left." Luna turned her gaze to McLaggen. She stared unblinkingly at him for a few moments, causing him to flinch. "You should get that looked at."
"I should get what looked at?"
"Your mouth. You've talked so much the last few minutes that a jipperwiffe might have flown in accidentally. Rooms like this one are prime breeding grounds, after all."
"Of all the -- never mind. If you'll excuse me, Harry?" McLaggen turned on his heel and disappeared into the crowd.
Harry grabbed Luna's hand and squeezed. "Thank you."
She squeezed back. "You're welcome, but what did I do?"
He smiled and shook his head. "Forget it. Do you mind if we leave? I've had a really long day, and I need to get to bed."
Whatever response Luna was going to make was cut off by a cold laugh. Harry turned and saw Blaise Zabini slouched against the wall. He held a punch glass loosely in one hand. He sneered. "How very charming. The Chosen One and Loony Lovegood. I always knew you had poor taste in girls, Potter, but I would think even you could do better than that."
Harry clutched Luna's hand more tightly. It was only with difficulty that he kept his voice even. "Better? Luna believed me last year when all the rest of you wanted to put me in St. Mungo's. How could I do better?"
Luna beamed at him. "That's very sweet of you to say."
"Of course, if it's a pity date, I quite understand. Did you have to beg him, Lovegood?"
"Shut up," growled Harry.
Zabini ignored him. "Or perhaps you paid him? Normally, it's the man who pays in these situations, but I suppose one does what one must."
Harry ground his teeth.. How dare Zabini insult Luna like that? How dare Zabini insult him like that? He had to do something--something that would prove that Luna was here because Harry bloody well wanted her to be. But what?
A memory flashed through his mind. Aunt Petunia had made him dust the mantle in the living room. The TV had been left on, and there was a black and white movie playing. A square-jawed man clutched a blonde. The man had declared his eternal devotion or some such rot while the woman had protested halfheartedly. The man had stopped her mid-sentence with a hard kiss as the music swelled. Harry had not known whether to laugh or throw up. It gave him an idea, though.
"You want to know why I asked Luna to the party? I'll show you."
Harry seized Luna by the shoulder, turning her towards him. She stared at him in surprise and mild alarm. "Play along," he whispered through gritted teeth. Harry placed one arm around her waist and threaded the fingers of his other hand through her hair. He closed his eyes and kissed Luna in what he hoped was a suitably dramatic manner. Blood pounded in his ears, drowning out the small voice in his head that said that this was a stupid idea and that Luna had every right to slap him in the face. He half expected her to at least pull away and ask him what he thought he was doing. Luna didn't pull away. She did not respond to him at all, though he could not tell whether she was playing along or in shock. Her lips were soft and slightly chapped. She tasted of punch and what he thought might have been peppermint. Some dim part of his mind registered that the whole experience would have been quite nice if he hadn't been so angry.
He broke the kiss. Luna was looking up at him, blinking rapidly. Zabini's mouth hung open, and his punch glass slid through his fingers and fell to the carpet with a soft clunk. A hush had fallen over the partygoers, and it seemed every eye in the room was now on him and Luna. Slughorn stood at the front of the crowd, his arm still around Sanguini. He smiled indulgently at Harry as if he was a mischievous puppy that had found its way into the laundry basket.
A moment passed, and Harry shifted uncomfortably. No one seemed sure what to do or say next. Zabini recovered first. He snickered. It was as if a dam had broken. Soon the entire room was laughing. Even Slughorn laughed, though more kindly than most of the crowd. "What do they teach them?" he muttered.
All of Harry's anger fled. His face burned. If Voldemort himself had shown up at that moment and offered to kill Harry, he would have accepted. There being no Dark Lords in the vicinity, Harry did the next best thing: he bolted. He ran out of the office and down the corridor, not knowing or caring in which direction he went. This was without doubt the stupidest thing he had ever done. He was a laughingstock. He would never be able to show his face in Hogwarts again. The worst of it was that he had brought Luna into it. She was his friend, or had been, and he had humiliated her. She would never speak to him again, and he couldn't blame her.
He paused to catch his breath. The corridor was deserted except for a few suits of armor; everyone else must have been at the party or had retired for the night. He decided that it was best to head back to Gryffindor Tower. The night had been disastrous enough as it was. He didn't need a detention for being out after hours, too.
Someone cleared his or her throat behind him. He turned. Luna stood regarding him solemnly. Her lips were slightly pink, but she seemed otherwise none the worse for what he'd done. "Harry," she said.
Harry buried his face in his hands. "I am really sorry. Zabini made me so angry; I couldn't think straight." He looked up at her. "If I ever do something like that again, you have my permission to hex me."
"It's all right. Not how I imagined my first kiss would go but nice all the same."
First kiss? Bloody hell. "I'm sorry."
She smiled slightly. "Yes, I believe we've established that. Apology accepted."
"Of course. Why wouldn't we be?"
Harry laughed. "You're a treasure, Luna." Satisfied that he hadn't just damaged their friendship beyond repair, he allowed himself to relax. He leaned against the wall. "I expect the story will be all over school by tomorrow. We might even make the Prophet if it's a slow news day. I can see the headline now." He switched to a falsetto he hoped was a reasonable approximation of Rita Skeeter's voice. "Wizarding hero attempts to defend friend's honor, makes arse of self instead."
It was Luna's turn to laugh. "Most boys confine themselves to throwing punches in these situations. Your way is much more interesting." She wiped a bit of errant spittle from her mouth. "A bit forceful, though. Wet, too, come to think of it."
He moved to stand beside her. "I think it's a rule that all first kisses have to be wet. Mine was."
"Yeah. Cho kissed me under the mistletoe last year. She'd been crying, so her face was all wet. My second kiss went a lot better. Maybe yours will too."
"Perhaps." Luna yawned. "I had best leave you now, Harry. I have a lot to do before --"
Luna's eyes went even wider than normal. She seemed to have noticed something on the ceiling. He followed her gaze. Mistletoe. "You have got to be kidding me."
"We don't have to kiss, you know. The nargles won't attack you or anything."
Harry considered it. The smart thing to do would be to agree with her and laugh it off. Yet, the words would not come. He remembered the way her mouth had felt on his and wondered if he was right. Would kissing Luna be nice enough if he had a chance to concentrate on the act itself instead of proving a point to someone else? "I don't mind kissing you if you want me to."
She studied him for a long moment and then nodded sharply. Harry's hands felt suddenly cold. His stomach lurched. He took a deep breath and placed his hands on her cheeks. Her skin was soft and warm. No need to be nervous. It's nothing I haven't done before, after all. He pressed his lips softly to hers. She kissed him back this time, working her mouth awkwardly against his own. On impulse, he skimmed her bottom lip with his tongue. He was right; she did taste of peppermint. Something warm pooled in his gut. It did not rage or claw at him but radiated through his whole body, leaving him with an oddly peaceful feeling.
When they broke apart, Luna was smiling. She took his hand in hers, rubbing her thumb over the back of it. "You know, Harry, I think you're right. Second kisses are better."