The exuberant jazz music from downstairs was muted in the Weasley attic.
Harry Potter sat among the dusty relics, his arms resting on his raised knees, his green eyes distant behind the faintly misty lenses of his glasses. He didn't know how long he'd been up there, allowing his thoughts to drift freely from one petty trifle to the next, but he felt more content than he had downstairs, and that was enough for the moment.
It was a typical Weasley Christmas party: Muggle music, butterbeer, flour, tinsel, and friends. It was the first winter holiday Harry had truly had to himself since finishing his seventh year at Hogwarts, and he knew he should be enjoying it to the fullest, but there was something holding him back; something rather annoyingly inexplicable. Truth be told, he hardly even knew what it was.
No one had really noticed when he'd subtly exited the laughter-choked sitting room and gone up the rickety staircase. He didn't know where he was heading, exactly, but he found himself feeling a desire to keep climbing until there was nothing left to climb. There were worn pieces of furniture and broken trinkets in the dingy room he found himself in; old peppermints, brittle books, cracked vases, dirtied bits of lace, rough and patched pouches that had once been velvet. A pair of wizened curtains framed the tiny window on the far wall, and the gray silhouettes of snowflakes drifted through them, pulled along by the fragile gravity of silence.
Harry enjoyed silence. It enveloped him, like a familiar bed or a wool cloak. In silence, he could pretend that there was nothing bothering him, or he could let on that there was. And today, he was unabashedly doing the latter.
Tiny darkened spots, moist and warm, were freckled across his pants. His chin was wet, as were his cheeks. He made no effort to wipe away the gathering tears, instead gazing intently at his knees, counting the number of sorrowful droplets that managed to make it all the way down his face.
He didn't know how long his sorrow preoccupied him in the nostalgic gloom of the attic, but he assumed it must have been a while, because the light sifting hazily through the curtains seemed to lessen in brightness. But he didn't care. If they hadn't come up to look for him by now, he obviously wasn't needed below.
His entire body jerked in surprise as he heard a melodic whisper drift up from a few feet to his right, and he pushed his glasses back onto his nose clumsily, wiping his face with his sleeve as subtly as he could before turning to see who'd interrupted his solitude.
"Oh, so you iare/i up here." Luna Lovegood beamed sleepily. "I told them you would be, but they didn't listen, of course."
She was dressed in a vibrant silver dress that somewhat resembled a flapper's frock, with bright beads dangling from it and jingling like Christmas bells whenever she moved. Her stockings were striped red-and-white, and her feet were submerged in a pair of green-and-red argyle sneakers. Her wild hair had been somewhat tamed and was tied back in an enormous green silk bow, so that her large hollyberry earrings were even more noticeable than they ordinarily would have been. Harry found himself vaguely observing how nice she looked.
"Do you mind if I join you, Harry?" Luna asked dreamily, her hand resting softly on the worn banister, her eyes focused on some point directly above Harry's head. "I do so love attics."
"Sure," Harry mumbled. "I mean, no; no, I don't mind."
Luna smiled bewitchingly, and it seemed to illuminate the attic with a faint breath of moonlight, but only for a moment. She floated serenely over the scattered bric-a-brac and plopped down on the couch beside Harry, ignoring the ominous creak it gave at the addition of extra weight.
"So, er." Harry cleared his throat. "Anything interesting happening downstairs?"
"Oh, no, not really," Luna shrugged, blinking her wide eyes. "Ronald and Hermione were caught under the mistletoe together about fifteen minutes ago, and they've just sort of been standing there staring at each other. I suspect a mass Wrackspurt attack."
Harry let out a quiet laugh at her words.
"I don't think they're going to move anytime soon, really." She clapped her small hands together with delight, of which she seemed to be only half-aware. The smile that twitched over the corners of Harry's lips was impossibly refreshing.
"Everyone's been wondering where you went off to," Luna mused. "I told them you may have followed a Boggledy Wishwam somewhere – they're impossible to look away from, you know – but Ronald seemed to think that you'd gone to the toilet."
"He would," Harry concurred dryly.
There was a moment of contented silence between the two, and Harry dared to glance at the serene girl beside him. Her arms were raised and her hands laced together behind her hair. She had a concentrated frown hovering over her closed eyes; her horse-like teeth were clamped on her lower lip. Harry blinked at her, contemplating whether or not to ask her what she was doing.
His curiosity, however, got the better of him, as it often did with Luna.
"What, er…" He leaned forward to get a better look at her. A single strand of white-blonde hair hung between her eyes. "What's the matter?"
"Hmm?" Her expression did not change; she tilted her head slightly, her frown deepening, as though she thought she'd heard a creak or shuffle. "Oh, yes. I came in and thought I saw two Fidlums hovering under your face, eating your tears before they hit the floor. They feed on tears, you know. They're usually seen at funerals—"
"I… wasn't crying." Harry mentally mocked himself at the clumsiness of his lie.
"Oh, it's all right, Harry; I saw you." Her eyes opened slowly, like blooming silver daffodils, and she gazed at him with her usual dreamy empathy. "And the Fidlums are gone now. Happiness pushes them out, but only if you think about it very hard. I thought you weren't in the state to concentrate on your happiness, so I did it for you."
"Oh," Harry mumbled, "thanks."
He chose to avoid her eyes then, for he found himself suddenly unable to look at her. A feeling of shame began to crawl up the sides of his stomach. He felt foolish; Luna was the very last person he ever thought he'd be embarrassed to have cried in front of. There was a rustling noise from Luna's spot beside him and he glanced over to see her wrestling a glimmering evergreen box out from one of the seemingly extradimensional pockets of her gown. He squinted and saw a silver cloth tag on it.
"Oh—" He felt his cheeks flush. "Oh, you didn't have to…"
"Of course I didn't have to," Luna blinked owlishly. "No one ever has to, but we always do, don't we? And regardless, I wanted to." She smiled gently and extended her hand, offering him the box. "Happy Christmas, Harry Potter."
Harry took it, noticing how soothing the wrapping seemed to feel the moment he touched it. Luna must have noticed, because she grinned.
"Oh, lovely; it worked. I put a charm on the wrapping paper that would make you feel glad, no matter where you were."
"Thanks," Harry murmured, pushing his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and carefully peeling the paper apart, taking care not to rip it. Its removal unveiled an ethereal, creamy blue porcelain box. Silver characters were etched faintly into its corners and crevices, and it was adorned with various swirls and miniature sculptures of leaves and flower petals. Ron would have wrinkled his nose at the effeminacy of it, but Harry didn't mind a bit.
"Oh, thank you," Luna nodded appreciatively. "It took me quite a long time to craft; the whole holiday, actually."
"Mm-hmm." Luna's eyes were wide, but splendidly winsome. Harry couldn't tell which enthralled him more – the iridescence of her pearly irises, or the exquisite box in his hand.
"Well, open it; won't you?" Luna implored, her face like that of an infant giraffe.
Harry obeyed, gingerly pushing the lid up with his thumbs. Luna began to bounce with gleeful anticipation.
Inside of the box was what looked to be a piece of dirtied, rain-faded parchment, folded carefully. Harry took it between his fingers and unfurled it. His eyebrows crept up his forehead. It was a map.
The ink that had drawn it had likely once been black, but it was now a flickering sienna, curving around the corners of the paper in a language Harry could never hope to understand. The drawings depicted a cloudy sky looming over a thin strip of desolate ground, and one cloud towered above the rest, immense and magnificent. The shape of the cloud was made over two pieces of parchment that folded together, and Harry separated them to reveal what seemed to be a majestic floating castle.
"What is it?" he whispered.
"A map to Laputa," Luna answered breathlessly. "The floating kingdom. Daddy gave it to me when I was small. He told me not to go looking for it until I knew I had someone to share my quest with."
"Oh – Luna, I can't take this; you haven't—"
"Found someone yet? Well, certainly I have; that's why I gave it to you."
"Er." It took a moment for what Luna had just said to register with Harry, but when it did, an inexplicable feeling rose from somewhere inside him.
"Me?" He stared at her in unabashed surprise. "You want to find Laputa with… me?"
"Well, of course." Luna beamed seraphically. "I've asked Daddy and he approves. I can't wait to start planning my own expedition! Usually I've just followed Daddy when he goes on his, but now I can…" Her voice trailed off as her exuberance got the better of it. She sighed happily, resigning to simply smile dreamily at a vase of dried flowers on a trunk in front of her. In her eyes Harry could see reflections of Laputa, of its riches and its stories, its romances and its mysteries, its beauty and its tragedy. His gaze returned to the map again, which lay like a fragile leaf in his hands, and he watched it for a while, half-expecting it to explode off the page and materialize in front of him. He had a very amusing vision of Luna leading him about wearing a safari hat that was two sizes too big for her, chattering and pointing and frequently checking the map, her argent eyes dazzling and protuberant beneath her phantom-like hair. And they'd find it together, and who knew when they would come home, or if they would even come home at all…
A grin swept across Harry's face – an expression he'd had many times before but had rarely observed to feel so genuine. He reached over and clasped his hand around Luna's. He was surprised, however, to find her staring nonchalantly upwards, almost completely ignorant of his action. He followed her gaze and understood why – there was a flamboyant mistletoe plant materializing on one of the rafters on the ceiling, directly above his and Luna's lightly conjoined shoulders.
Harry knew this was his chance, and he didn't care how utterly mad he was to try anything like what he was about to. The last time he had, it hadn't ended well. But there was no harm in giving it another go, he supposed.
He put his hand on her pale, silken shoulder as though he was dreaming, and she turned toward him calmly, still staring fixatedly at the mistletoe. Harry tucked his index finger under her chin and brought her face around until their eyes met, and he was, as always, enthralled by the silvery orbs that studied him.
"Harry," she said, perfectly seriously, "you ido/i know that there are probably Narg—"
Harry touched his lips to her then, and the last of her sentence bloomed silently over them. He was stunned by how utterly true to his imagination it was when he kissed her; he'd been picturing this moment and the way it would feel since the end of his fifth year. She tasted like daisy chains and summer rain and marzipan.
He half-expected her to pop back from him like a bobblehead doll, but to his surprise and ecstasy, she leaned carefully in to receive him, and when she did, he felt the twisting wraiths that had brought him to the attic abrade with incredible quickness.
Perhaps, he thought with dazed, almost stupid glee, this Christmas wasn't going to be as bad as he thought it would.