A/N: For the purposes of this story, Neville and Luna met before the Hogwarts Express in Order of the Phoenix, kaay? (: Just… keep that in mind. Aha.

Takes place during the Carrows' reign at Hogwarts, during the Wizarding War, book seven. Neville is in his seventh year, Luna in her sixth.

Dedicated to Carlos for being a sick ass best friend and saving me way too many times.

Hope dangles on a string
Like slow spinning redemption
Winding in and winding out
The shine of it has caught my eye

And roped me in
So mesmerizing, so hypnotizing
I am captivated
- Vindicated; Dashboard Confessional

Neville,

Happy Saturday. Meet me by the lake after breakfast.

Luna

If only Neville hadn't slept through breakfast, he wouldn't be rushing to change from his pajamas to day clothes, knocking things over here and there. Luna's owl, Fimetum, was watching Neville curiously from his perch on the windowsill.

As he was pulling on his boots, Neville's heart started thundering. Luna had never asked for his specific company before. It was usually "Oh, Neville, could you and Ginny drop by the library later?" or "Neville! I have something you and Dean would absolutely love to see!" Never just him.

What should I say? Neville asked himself. How should I act?

Though Neville, without question, regarded Luna as his best friend, and though Luna thought the same of him, they'd never really been alone together.

This didn't stop Neville from falling for her in his third year.

He'd met her while he was staying an extra class period with Professor Sprout. Her blonde hair had caught his eye from the corner he was sitting in. She'd been examining a plant with squinted eyes, as though she were trying to decide what it was.

"It's a Mimbulus Mimbletonia," he told her without thinking. Her head turned to him, and she smiled.

"Thank you," she said. "I couldn't decide what to make of it. It looks a lot like a plant my father once showed me a picture of; the plant that Umgubular Slashkilters are most commonly known to feed off of. But, no, I think that was a Mimbulus Mibatonile, actually…"

Neville's eyebrows furrowed, half in confusion, half in amusement. "What's an Umburglerfer Slashkiller?"

Neville's ears rung with the sound of the girl's laughter. It was dreamlike and melodic, much like her voice, but with an added spoonful of honey. "An Umgubular Slashkilter," she corrected him. Neville's cheeks turned pink. "An Umgubular Slashkilter is a small creature that lives in the bark of trees in South America. They're purple and fuzzy, with orange eyes very large in comparison to their bodies. Their feet vary in colors, but my father says the majority of the adult ones have yellow feet."

Neville's mouth twisted. "Are you sure those are real?" he asked her. "I haven't heard a single thing about them in Care of Magical Creatures…"

"Oh, I'm not surprised," the girl said airily. "The Ministry placed them on a list of exceedingly dangerous creatures after Cornelius Fudge's pet Umgubular Slashkilter bit his finger clean off. It was healed back on, of course, but earned the creature a very ugly reputation…"

"Cornelius Fudge had one?" Neville asked.

"Of course," the girl answered, her eyes widening in surprise at Neville's lack of knowledge toward the subject. "Didn't you read the article of it in the Quibbler?"

"Gran doesn't let me read the Quibbler," he told her. "She thinks it's a load of rubbish. Says Xenophilius Lovegood's off his rocker."

"Well," Luna said, narrowing her eyes. "You tell your Gran that my father is perfectly well on his rocker, thank you very much."

"You're Xeno's daughter?" Neville said, biting his lip. "I'm so sorry, I had no idea. I have nothing against your father. I think his article on the Crumple-Horned Snorkack was actually quite interesting." It wasn't entirely a lie; Neville had found the article interesting, but in more of an amusing way than anything else.

The girl cooled down visibly. "Why, thank you. I helped him edit that one, you know." She glowed with pride. "I'm Luna Lovegood." She extended her hand to him.

"Neville Longbottom," he told her, shaking her hand. "But I'm not exactly important."

Luna smiled. Neville felt his heart rate pick up. "Of course you're important, Neville. Everyone is important."

"Not me," he muttered.

She gave his hand a quick squeeze before releasing it. "Especially you."

He grinned slightly at this.

"Well, Neville," she said, sitting down next to him. "What do you say we become friends? I've never really had a friend before, and I'd like a person to talk to while I make dirigible plum earrings."

"What are dirigible plums?" Neville asked for the sole purpose of hearing her answer.

She laughed again. Neville tried his best to think of other things that would make her laugh.

"So much to learn," she said through her laughter. "But that's alright. I have time to teach you."

And all the things she'd taught him, indeed.

There'd been her rambles of things Neville knew were rubbish, but he'd never stop her. He liked hearing her talk, especially when she got excited. She was particularly amusing during those times, and her voice never ceased to soothe him.

And then there'd been the things she didn't know he'd taught her. Because of her, Neville was braver. He had to be brave, especially this year, when Luna's calm and collected front broke down more often due to fright. He would always put on a brave front for her, and often felt as though he were truly brave when he tried to protect her. She taught him selflessness; he would take the blame for all the DA's actions if it meant she would not be harmed by the Carrows.

She taught him what it was like to love someone so much, it was near unbearable… in a good way.

After checking his appearance a final time in the mirror, people in the common room, Neville safely assumed that breakfast was long over. Who knew how long Luna had already been waiting for him? He quickened his pace.

Once outside, Neville passed Hannah Abbot, who playfully threw a handful of snow at his back. He waved a hello at her, which she flirtatiously returned, and continued on his way.

He saw her directly by the lake, on her knees under a tree that stood there lonely. She was dressed in a thin, knee-length purple coat, striped blue stockings, and black boots. Neville smiled as he caught sight of her Butterbeer cork necklace and dirigible plum earrings. There was what appeared to be a silver gift bow stuck to her messy hair.

She looks beautiful, he said silently to himself.

Her small hands looked as though they were digging a hole in the snow, an action which stopped as soon as she caught sight of him. Neville grinned at her.

"What are you doing?" he asked, squatting down beside her.

"Digging a hole for the Blibbering Humdingers," she said calmly, smiling slightly. "I could swear I saw one here yesterday, and I'm afraid it snowed right over the poor little fellow and his pack last night. Hopefully, if I've dug the hole in the right place, they can get out and find a safer, warmer shelter."

"Blibbering Humdingers live in packs?" Neville mused.

"Yes, of course," Luna answered, continuing to dig. "They hate being alone. I thought I told you."

Neville smiled. "Must have slipped my mind."

Luna shook her head at him. "So forgetful."

Neville watched as she continued her digging for a few more seconds, carefully piling the snow beside her as she worked. He noticed she wasn't wearing gloves, and her fingertips were turning red.

"Aren't your hands a bit cold, Luna?" he asked.

Luna shrugged. "A bit. But it's worth it. Besides, I'm almost done."

She pulled three more handfuls of snow out of her small pit. "There. That should be deep enough. Now the little guys can get out safely and find someplace else to stay the winter."

Neville stood from his place and extended his hand. She took it and smiled as he helped her up.

"Luna, your fingers are frozen," he said with a chuckle.

"Don't worry about it," she said, stuffing her hands in her pockets. "See? They're nice and warm now."

"Luna, your pockets have holes."

Luna looked down, watching as her fingers wiggled through the open bottoms of her pockets.

"Oh, they do, don't they?" she said, more to herself than to Neville. A slight smirk played at her lips.

"Here, I think I have a pair of gloves somewhere on me," Neville said, checking his own pockets.

"No, really, I'm fine," Luna insisted. Neville pulled a pair of black gloves out of his pocket and extended them to her. She studied his hand for a second before taking the gloves and sliding them on.

"Thank you," she said. "My mittens were stolen last night, alone with two pairs of shoes and a sweater." Luna sighed. "I really should look for them. I'll need them when I go home tomorrow for Christmas holidays."

"Well, I don't know if I could help you with the shoes," Neville said, "but I could loan you one of my, um, you know, sweaters."

"I'd like that, Neville," she said.

"So is there a reason why you wanted to see me today?" Neville asked her, burning curiosity radiating in his voice.

Luna's head tilted to the side. "We haven't really had time together since the first time we met," she said. "It's always you, me, and someone else. I like the few times when it's just us."

Neville smiled. Luna turned away from him, her eyes on the lake.

"It's beautiful this time of year, isn't it?" she said dreamily.

In reality, Neville didn't think the near-blackness of the lake was all that nice. In spring and early summer he saw the appeal, but not in the dead of winter. Only Luna would be able to find beauty in such a thing.

It was one of the things he loved about her.

"You've done so much for me," she said suddenly, turning back to him.

Neville shrugged, trying his best not to stammer out of nervousness. "It was just a pair of gloves and a, you know, sweater."

"I don't mean just today," Luna said, laughing slightly. "All this year."

It was quiet between them, as though they were both thinking of what to say. Luna spoke first, looking down at her hands folded in front of her.

"Ginny told me you take the blame for things I do," she whispered. "She said you even told the Carrows you were the one who wrote Dumbledore's Army Lives! in the Ravenclaw common room. You had to have quite a story to make them believe that one, didn't you? What with the fact that you're not even in Ravenclaw…"

Neville gave her a lopsided smile. Luna looked at him with wide eyes and a sad smile.

"You don't have to protect me, you know," she said softly. "There's no use taking the fall. I'm proud of the things I do on behalf of the DA, and I'll gladly endure the punishment for it."

"I can't bear the idea of the Carrows using their methods of punishment on you," Neville said. "I'll gladly take the Cruciatus curse for you. Or for Ginny," he tacked on halfheartedly, hoping Luna wouldn't catch his slip-up.

She did.

Luna closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around his waist, giving him a tight squeeze and laying her head on his chest.

"Thank you," she said, suddenly overwhelmed. A single tear escaped the corner of her eye.

Neville, shocked by the sudden contact, didn't say anything back. His arms wrapped awkwardly around her in a way that made her feel truly safe for the first time that year. It was hard to feel safe in the world they were living in; a world governed by evil and cruelty. Death Eaters. Voldemort.

How could anyone feel safe?

But, in that one moment, they both did. As safe as either of the two had felt during the entire war.

Neville pulled back. Luna looked at him questioningly. His heart thundered under her kind stare.

"Luna, there's something I really have to tell you," Neville said, trying his best to collect himself.

Luna waited. Her smile made Neville's heart clench.

"Luna." He took a small step toward her. "I really like you."

She smiled. "I know you do," she said. "We're best friends."

"No, Luna…" Neville sighed, touching her hand softly.

Luna looked up at him, her eyes saying that she understood, but needed to hear him say it, just in case…

Neville's eyes strayed from her to the tree above him. Luna's gaze followed his.

"Mistletoe," he whispered. Luna smiled.

"Don't be silly," she said, subconsciously closing the small distance between them again. "It's holly. Completely different."

Neville looked her in the eyes and found himself getting lost in the mystery of them. They were the eyes of a young girl caught in a nightmare she was trying her hardest to turn into a dream.

He didn't realize he'd been leaning in until he felt her warm breath on his face. Their lips were just inches apart…

"I have to go," Luna said. "I promised Ginny I'd help her with some Charms work."

They pulled away from each other, Neville looking as though he'd been hit by a truck. Luna smiled and went on the tips of her toes to whisper in his ear.

"By the way," she said quietly, "I really like you, too."

Neville knew she meant as more than just his best friend.

She waved at him and hurried away, toward the entrance nearest to the library where Ginny would surely be waiting.

Neville touched his finger tips to his lips, feeling as though he had kissed her, and overcome with a dreamlike happiness that wouldn't let him wipe the slight, stupid grin off his face.

The next day, as he was trying to find a seat on the Hogwarts Express to go home for the holidays, he caught a quick glimpse of a frightened Luna in a compartment. Next to her was, unmistakably, Bellatrix Lestrange.

By the time he opened the compartment, all that was left was black smoke and the shadow of Bellatrix's evil cackle.

The sweater he was bringing for Luna fell from his hand as he fell to his knees in the empty compartment.

Next to him on the floor was Luna's Butterbeer cork necklace. He cradled it in his hand as a single tear rolled down his cheek.

He hated this war. He hated the Death Eaters. He hated Bellatrix Lestrange. He hated the Ministry. He hated Voldemort.

But he loved Luna, and he'd do anything to get her back.

A/N: If you're angry that they didn't kiss, blame my friend, Carlos, because it's all his fault :) My favorite line in this entire thing was It was one of the things he loved about her. I don't know. It's one of those lines that I just kept going back and reading and smiling. It seemed kind of like.. the shadow of a happy memory for me. lol. I dunno; I'm weird like that. Hope you guys like that quote (and the rest of the story) just as much as I do.

Please review!