January 29, 2009
Disclaimer: Blanket for whole story. Harry Potter and all related characters, settings, and terminology belong to J.K. Rowling. I never have and never will take money for writing this story.
A/N: Thanks SO much to Lyndsie Fenele and FreeDaChickens for beta-ing! Review if you like it!
"This is your idea of an extended vacation, Ron?" Ginny huffed in irritation. No one in their company had to listen to her words to know how put out she was. They only had to watch her stomp around in her hiking boots with such force, they'd have thought the ground had offended her.
Of the party of six, only two people housed pleasant smiles on their faces. The rest scowled murderously, Ginny acting as the spokesperson of their collected annoyance.
Hermione led the group, happily elucidating for her uninterested friends the wonderful nature of the Great Outdoors. Her voice was laced with awe and reverence for the life around them. Luna glanced around curiously every now and then, oftentimes wandering away from the group to study a set of tracks or some animal droppings with a serious look on her face. She usually rejoined them with a determined smile, her eyes wider and glassier than they had been a few minutes previously.
The final three occupants of the company were male and trudged behind their oblivious leader with an air of reluctance laced with disagreeability.
It was clear that very few of them had willingly joined the group. In fact, those same few people had all been coerced into tagging along.
Ron fell back with Ginny and lowered his voice to avoid his wife overhearing.
"I told you, Ginny! I'm sorry! I only wanted Harry to come but he wouldn't come without Malfoy, and he insisted that you were subjected to the same torture!"
"Excuse me, Ron?" Hermione snapped, obviously having heard the siblings' grumbling.
"What? I said adventure!" he covered, running back to Hermione to placate her.
Ginny sighed. Hermione had thought it would be a brilliant idea to go on an extended camping trip — a Muggle-style camping trip — to strengthen the bonds of marriage between her and Ron. Ron had seen no need for it, but as she would not back down, he had begged Harry to go with them, hoping his presence would deter her from forcing him to talk about feelings.
Then Ron had had to track down Malfoy to convince him to go along too—Harry's idea, certainly not Ron's—and then Ginny, who had asked for Luna's company on the trip. She certainly didn't want to be trapped alone in the woods with her brother and his wife, her ex-boyfriend, and a man she had never liked simply on principle! She would probably have gone insane if not for Luna.
Hermione had been displeased by Ron's unauthorized invitations at first—clearly having Harry or anyone else along had not been part of her plan—but the idea grew on her, until she had convinced herself that camping would be more fun with friends.
Fortunately for everyone involved (depending on who was asked) Luna had readily agreed on the grounds that she'd been meaning to go camping for a while now in search of the ever-elusive Crumple-Horned Snorkack.
And here they all were trekking through some part of the Forest of Dean with massive packs attached to their breaking backs in the middle of the fall. Water frequently dripped from the leaves of the trees above them, splashing on their heads as they exhaled crystallized air.
It was too bloody cold and wet to be camping.
"This is exhilarating, isn't it?" Luna suddenly exclaimed. She didn't notice when Harry, Ginny, and Malfoy all sent her disgusted looks, none of them in any mood for her sudden exclamations. "Did you see all the Crumple-Horned Snorkack droppings we passed? And the burrows they created. I'm certain we'll find one here. Daddy will finally be able to publish its picture in his magazine!" She beamed brightly at the prospect.
"Who invited Loony again?" Malfoy sneered as he rolled his eyes. Ginny scowled at him while Harry glanced at her. "Hey, Loony, I think I saw a Skumple-Corned Horcack back there." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in a general direction behind them.
If it was possible, Luna's face brightened even more. "Really? Where?"
"Drowning in that river about twelve miles back. Maybe you should join it."
When she realized she had been insulted, Luna's face fell into an uncharacteristic expression of indignation. In retaliation, she stalked ahead to Hermione's side. Distracted from scolding Ron, Hermione looked behind her and saw Ginny, Malfoy, and Harry lagging behind.
"Hurry up, you guys! We're nearly to the clearing!"
As they picked up their pace—barely—Ginny glowered at the mostly unwelcome blond companion.
"That was completely unnecessary, Malfoy. You have no right to speak to Luna that way!"
He shrugged and then smirked. "What are you going to do about it?"
Ginny couldn't help but feel there was a threat hidden somewhere in the question. She narrowed her gaze at him. "I'll hex you the next time I hear it."
Malfoy laughed derisively and shoved past her. "With what wand?" he called over his shoulder. Ginny grimaced at his words.
Much too early that morning, they had all met at Ron and Hermione's house, where she had confiscated their wands and issued uniform pairs of hiking boots to all.
"Let's have a fun, magic-free time!" she had said.
"It's no fun if there's no magic," Malfoy had muttered under his breath, but Ginny had heard him and agreed.
Hermione was now carrying all of their wands with her. If any of them had known how serious she was about roughing it the way that the Muggles did it, they would have all packed better.
Each of them had a gigantic pack strapped to their backs, but despite their size, they had been unable to hold much of anything. Ron had stuffed his bag full of Pumpkin Pasties, chocolate frogs and various other sweets, and, his favourite, Mrs. Weasley's meat pies. Hermione had completely emptied out the bag and replaced the food with a tent, a canteen, and a variety of strange Muggle foods like dried beef strips called "churky" or whatever it was Hermione had said. There were also packages of blocks of stuff called freeze-dried ice cream, which was neither ice cream nor frozen.
Ginny had wanted to take pity on him and carry the food herself but her bag was filled with essentials – extra clothing, towels, soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper. Ron had somehow convinced Luna to carry the food along with the tent she was going to share with Ginny and several strange objects she swore would help them all have a friendlier and more enjoyable trip ("This one will collect happy auras from the creatures and plants of the forest and transfer them to the nearest black hole of negative energy. I think Ron needs it most, don't you?").
Since Malfoy, Luna, and Ginny had never visited the Forest of Dean before, Harry, Ron, and Hermione had had to carry them there via Side-Along Apparition. They'd been hiking for five hours since they'd landed in the clearing. From the strange expression on her brother and his best friends' faces, Ginny could tell that the spot they had appeared in had not brought back fond memories for any of them. Hermione had seemed determined to lead them as far away from that clearing as possible—hence their morning-long journey to this point.
They emerged into a less dense part of the forest. Hermione had already thrown her pack onto the ground and was rummaging through it when Malfoy, Harry, and Ginny reached her.
"This spot should do," she said when she saw her friends approaching.
"You think?" Malfoy said sarcastically. "Maybe we should walk twenty more miles. You never know if there will be one place better farther on!"
Everyone ignored him.
"Let's set up camp!" Hermione said as if she hadn't heard him at all.
Ron was removing the pieces of his tent from his bag, staring at each one in horror.
"No magic?" he whimpered.
"Don't worry, Ron! My uncle took me camping almost every summer when I was a little girl. I know how to assemble a tent," Hermione assured him, smiling benignly despite his fears—or possibly because of the expression on his face.
Ginny stared in consternation at her own tent, which Luna had just removed from her bag. The only camping Ginny had ever done had been the night they had spent at the Quidditch World Cup the summer before her third year of school. But those tents had been magical. They assembled themselves and were enchanted to have enough room inside to fit a small house. She knew better than to expect such a convenience from a Muggle tent.
"You wouldn't know how to work this thing, would you?" Ginny asked Luna without much hope.
"Of course! Daddy takes me camping frequently to look for various creatures to feature in his magazine."
Heartened by this, Ginny followed Luna's instructions and in less than ten minutes their tent stood erected and proud in front of them.
Hermione looked up from her own finished tent and said, "Oh good! You're done. Ron and I are going to go collect firewood." Her sudden blush revealed that collecting firewood was not the only thing they were planning to do. "Maybe you guys can help Harry and Malfoy."
Ginny searched the area around them and quickly spotted Harry wrestling with tent poles, scowling and huffing. Malfoy stood off to the side with a cross look on his face, as if he knew Harry was doing it all wrong and wanted to say something about it, but he took no part in putting up the tent himself.
"Oh, we'll help," Luna said happily. Ginny wasn't as excited to help as Luna was, but she grudgingly lent her labour to the cause.
"Great! We will see you guys later this evening!" Hermione bounded away, Ron close on her heels with a sack in one hand.
"You have to help too, Malfoy. Harry can't do it all alone," Luna said.
Malfoy sighed in exasperation, uncrossed his arms, and rolled his eyes but went to stand next to Harry, keeping some distance between them.
"You mean there are some things the Chosen One can't do?" he asked sardonically. Harry smiled. He didn't seem to take offense like Ginny would have.
Luna told them what to do to set up the tent and they followed her directions carefully, with lots of snide and sarcastic remarks from Malfoy. Ginny wasn't sure but it seemed as if they were putting their tent up differently than the way she and Luna had put up theirs.
"What about these?" Malfoy asked as he held up four plastic stakes that were supposed to keep the tent anchored into the ground.
Luna considered them for a moment and then replied, "You don't need them. You can throw them out if you want." Ginny gave her a shrewd look but didn't say anything. Luna was the tent-building expert, not her.
"There, then! We're done," Harry said proudly as he surveyed his work. "Great job, Draco. I can't believe you actually helped!"
"That's Malfoy to you, Potter," he said, looking peeved by his familiarity.
Ginny rolled her eyes. He really had done nothing more than hand Harry pieces of the tent. He hadn't actually helped much at all.
Harry unrolled his sleeping bag and laid it out inside the tent. When he had his back turned, Ginny saw Malfoy throw the stakes underneath Harry's sleeping bag. She frowned at him, but he ignored her.
"Now that we're all set up, why don't we go exploring! We need to find a source of water anyway or we'll all dehydrate and die," Luna suggested blithely.
"More walking?" Ginny groaned at the same time that Malfoy said, "I'll stay here."
She changed her mind then, not wanting to be left alone in camp with the git. "Never mind, I'll go!"
Even though her feet felt like they were going to fall off from their five hour hike that morning and her stomach was yelling at her to feed it, Ginny followed Harry and Luna as they entered a thicker part of the woods on the north side of the camp. She kept her grumbling to herself this time since no one had really forced her to come, but she decided that Malfoy was as good a person to blame as anyone. If he had gone on the exploration instead, she could have stayed at camp and nursed her poor abused feet back to health. She just didn't want to deal with him and his mockery after such a trying morning.
Luna hummed to herself, lost in her own little world, gliding easily through the forest as if there weren't any trees, bushes, or exposed roots and branches to move around or trip over. Harry and Ginny had a much more difficult time of it.
"Look!" Luna exclaimed as she pointed at a bush remarkably full of purple berries at this time of the year. "The Crumple-Horned Snorkack would eat these!" She bent over to study the shrub carefully, petting leaves and pulling out twigs for further inspection.
"Are these berries poisonous?" Ginny asked. She may have doubted Luna on whether or not the Crumple-Horned Snorkack existed but she did not doubt Luna's knowledge about the outdoors. Not too much, anyway.
Since they had left Hogwarts five years ago, Luna had worked as a wildlife researcher, often working with great minds such as Newt Scamander, author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and his grandson Rolf, a budding naturalist as well. Luna's work focused on finding rare and nearly extinct creatures that no one had any proof existed. Because of the almost mythical nature of the creatures she sought, there wasn't enough evidence to prove that any of them existed, so Luna wrote field guides (which really were helpful to the average hiker and camper) to make a living.
Needless to say, she hadn't been able to prove that any of her endeavours existed, but the half-evidence she collected was all published in the Quibbler.
"No, of course not! This breed of berry is very similar to the kind that the Crumple-Horned Snorkack eats in its native Scandinavia. Those berries aren't poisonous either."
"Scandinavia? Why would you look for one in England then?" Harry asked, just as curious as Ginny.
"A while back, I uncovered a nefarious secret plot to introduce the Crumple-Horned Snorkack to Great Britain to try to unbalance the ecosystem and eventually take over the island, but the nefarious plotter only managed to bring one Crumple-Horned Snorkack here. The Forest of Dean was the last place that it was rumoured to be sighted. Can you imagine how excited I was when Ronald asked me to go camping with all of you here?" She smiled widely at the berry bush in front of her, so she didn't notice when Harry and Ginny mimed a groan and covered their faces with their hands. They had been dragged into this camping trip only because Luna had agreed to go.
"Let's tally ho, then!" she said. There was a more pronounced bounce in her step as they started off again. As Ginny passed the bush, she surreptitiously pulled as many berries off of its branches as she could and stuffed them into her mouth, and then pulled some more and stuffed those in right after. Harry and Luna didn't notice her lagging behind—or they paid no attention to it because she had lagged and complained all that morning. Her stomach growled at her, unsatisfied with her meagre offering.
They walked. And they walked. And they walked some more. Sometimes Ginny tripped, but mostly, they walked. Her brain was numb and empty from all of the walking. She couldn't even appreciate the beauty of the nature that surrounded them because she was so hungry and exhausted and annoyed because she was hungry and exhausted.
Luna was an indecisive leader, stopping every once in a while to lick her finger and raise it in the air or study the bark of a tree and its protruding roots. The result of this was invariably a turn in the completely opposite direction. Harry and Ginny had no idea what she gained from such procedures, but they followed her nonetheless.
But really, they had nowhere else to go because they had no idea how to get back to the camp on their own.
After what felt like ages—but really had only been an hour when Ginny asked Harry for the time—they emerged into another wide clearing dominated by a beautiful, wonderful, splendiferous blue river that that ran into a large and equally beautiful, wonderful, splendiferous blue lake. Ginny fell to her knees at the edge of the river and stuck her face to the water, lapping at it happily, though regretting it a moment later because her stomach refused such insufficient nutriment and growled angrily. She clutched her stomach and moaned as if in pain.
She couldn't help but think how glad she was that Malfoy had decided not to come with them. He'd have mocked her to China and back.
"Alright there, Ginny?" Harry asked in concern, patting her back delicately.
"I'm fine," she grumbled. "I'm just so hungry."
"Oh, well why didn't you say anything earlier? I brought some of your mum's meat pies," Luna said, removing a fabric bag from her shoulder and pulling out one of Mrs. Weasley's beautiful, wonderful, and splendiferously delicious meat pies. Ginny could smell the cold pie from the ground. Her stomach protested loudly about food being withheld from it.
They sat down next to the river and ate the pies cold. They would have tasted better hot and fresh from the oven, but Ginny's stomach wasn't picky and neither was she. Her starvation made it taste like the most mouth-watering meal of her life. She didn't feel guilty that they had eaten most of the pies and Ron hadn't even had the chance to taste one yet.
"Well, I'm going to have a look around, see if I can find some tracks or something. This seems like the perfect place for a Crumple-Horned Snorkack to get a drink." Luna jumped up and took off into the woods skipping. Ginny didn't think it was just her imagination that the atmosphere had turned awkward between her and Harry now that Luna was gone.
She scrambled for something to say and tried to make it sound casual. "So, why did you tell Ron you wouldn't go camping unless Malfoy agreed to go?"
Now that they had something to talk about, Harry seemed to relax more.
"Mostly because I thought Malfoy wouldn't agree to go and then I wouldn't have to go either. But also because I think it's good for him."
"You think camping is good for him?" Ginny repeated sceptically.
"Yeah. Well, more that being around all of us would be good for him. I didn't think he would drag you into it though," Harry mused.
"But why would being around us be good for him?"
Harry shrugged. "I just think he doesn't get as much credit as he deserves. I know there's goodness in him. I've seen it. He isn't inherently evil; he's just been surrounded by people who are and other people think that he is. If he was around nicer people, people with goodness in them, then maybe the real Malfoy will come out of hiding."
Ginny eyed him, unconvinced by his reasoning. "Well, I'll believe that when I see it."
Harry eyed her sadly, as if she had just severely disappointed him. His stare made her uncomfortable. It was as though she had done something wrong, but she couldn't figure out what it was.
"What?" she cried when she couldn't take the look in his eyes any longer.
"I was just thinking about Professor Snape."
She sighed as if speaking to a child who didn't understand a simple and much repeated concept. "Harry, this is exactly the same thing! No one believed that Snape was good, that he was ultimately on our side, until you revealed the truth, and he was dead by the time his name was cleared. Everyone is always kinder to the memories of the dead rather than the living. You didn't even think he was on our side until you had proof!"
"Yes, but there was more than enough proof before he died, but everyone was too blind to see it. I've learned from my mistakes concerning Professor Snape, and I'm trying to make up for it now with Draco. Professor Dumbledore believed he could be a good person, so why don't we just give him the chance to try?"
"It sounds like we're discussing a child. I doubt Malfoy would appreciate it," Ginny said dismissively, her way of trying to end the conversation.
The sadly disappointed look reappeared on Harry's face, but Ginny purposefully looked away from him and ignored it.
Luna broke the tense silence by skipping back to the lake shore with all kinds of flowers and twigs in her hair like some sort of ill-formed wreath crown. She saw both Harry and Ginny eyeing her headdress and lifted a hand to pat it gently.
"Do you like it? This is the best combination of plants I could find to create a Seeker's Circlet." At their blank looks she added, "You know what that is, don't you? The Seeker's Circlet?" They remained politely unresponsive. "It's a tiara that helps someone find what they are searching for." Before either of them could say anything in response, she gazed at the lake and said dreamily, "It's pretty isn't it?"
Ginny turned her eyes to the lake too. Now that she had eaten and had the chance to rest her ill-treated feet, she felt much more congenial to nature and could focus more of her attention to it. Unconcealed by leafy orange trees, the sun glittered and sparkled on the lake as the river joined it, gurgling quietly. The silence of the forest was only broken by the singsong chirping of birds and the rustling of creatures in leaves. It was a bit after noon now and the warmth of the day was concentrated on their cold bodies. The chill of the wind was overpowered by the sun's heat, the atmosphere of the forest tranquil and peaceful. Ginny felt that if the kind of magic she could do had never existed, then this forest surely would have a magic of its own.
"Yeah, it is," Ginny agreed. They were silent for several moments until a loud yell pierced the stillness of the scene and made all three of them jump to their feet.
"What was that?" Harry asked.
Ginny chuckled nervously. "Maybe it was Malfoy."
Harry took off running in the direction of the scream, followed closely by Luna. Ginny very well wasn't going to be left alone in the woods after hearing such a thing and ran to catch up with her friends. She burst through the space between two trees and stopped in her tracks, gaping in astonishment. They were standing in the clearing of their campsite.
It had taken them an hour or more to find the lake in the first place, and if they had only left the campsite from a southwest direction rather than a northern one, they would have found it within half a mile of their starting point.
The sounds of yells and struggling greeted her when she stopped next to her friends between the tent she shared with Luna and the one Hermione shared with Ron. Across from them, Harry and Malfoy's tent had collapsed, and it was supposedly Malfoy who was shouting and fighting with the material and poles.
"Draco? You alright?" Harry called uncertainly.
All motion stopped underneath the fallen tent. It seemed as if he had resignedly forfeited the match. Round one's winner: the tent, loser: Malfoy. Harry stepped forward and dragged the material from Malfoy's head so that they could all finally see his flushed face. Ginny giggled at how his hair had become mussed. Blond wings waved at her from the sides and back of his head.
"What happened?" Harry asked.
"What happened? What happened?" Malfoy repeated, trying to regain some of his composure, but failing because of his temper. Now that he had an audience he could complain to he could be sufficiently enraged.
"That's what he asked," Ginny said matter-of-factly. Malfoy glared.
"I'll tell you what happened! This thing fell apart! It didn't hold up at all!"
"Well, what were you doing that made it fall apart?" Ginny asked, also matter-of-factly.
"I was just sitting here! Trying to get some sleep, I'll let you know!"
Luna gasped and chimed in excitedly with, "Maybe it was a—!"
Ginny cut her off. "It couldn't have just fallen on your head. Something must have knocked it down."
"There was a bear! A bear! What kind of a place have you brought us to?" he cried in agitation.
"Bear? There was a bear here?" Harry cried turning his head in every direction so that the bear would not sneak up on him.
Ginny ignored him. "You mean you saw a bear and you panicked," she corrected, clearly not believing there had ever been a bear.
"No, Malfoys don't panic," he said. "I was sitting in here, right? And then I saw this big shadow." As Ginny raised her eyebrow sceptically and began to smile in amusement, his voice became more impassioned. "I'm telling you it was there! So I tried to run out of the tent, but it fell on me!"
Ginny could not stop the laughter from bubbling up She tried as hard as she could to stifle her giggles, but they fell out of her mouth quite without consent. She could not get control of herself. By this time Malfoy had gotten up off the ground and had one of the tent poles in his hand, glaring murderously at Ginny for laughing at him.
Harry started helping Malfoy with the pieces of the tent, collecting and organizing them so he could see if any of them had been damaged in Malfoy's rampage. Luna strutted right by the two of them and then looked at the spoiled heir with uncharacteristic superciliousness.
Harry and Malfoy had noticed her look and stopped what they were doing, staring after Luna in slack-jawed silence. They correctly interpreted her expression to mean that she had sabotaged their tent, and neither could believe she was capable of such maliciousness.
Pieces collected, they looked at their piled up tent in dismay.
Taking pity on them—and telling herself that she was only doing it because Harry was her friend—Ginny said, "Look, I'll help you try to figure this out as best as I can. I hope you kept those stakes, because you really do need them." Both men jumped, eager to take her directions if it meant they didn't have to sleep outside on the cold ground that night.
Ginny rather liked being the one they had to look to for help, even if they hadn't asked her for it. She was usually just there in the background, too young to participate, not really part of Harry, Ron, and Hermione's group.
So she enjoyed her time with them immensely, helping them figure out how to put the tent up together. She forced Malfoy to help Harry, and got lots of laughs from their rising frustration and antics. It was an all around pleasant time for her.
It was nice to be needed.