Always Alice

Disclaimer: All of this belongs to J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, and Tim Burton.

Warnings: AU-ish but mostly canon for Harry Potter until the epilogue


She finds the diary by accident. It slips off the shelf while she's in the school library one late winter evening. Luna stares for a second before reaching down. She picks it up and turns it over in her hands, somehow captivated by this tiny book that's so plain-looking. She isn't even paying attention as she slides Tales of Underland, the other fallen book, back into place.

Luna makes it to the dorms with only the vaguest sense of passing through the halls, and she walks by the bitter-eyed students without a single glance her direction. Her room is empty when she enters, but she doesn't question the absence of her yearmates. Many of the beds no longer have occupants anyway, and yet, she doesn't feel the normal sadness at this fate as she settles in for the night. She's too engrossed in her reading to hear her two roommates come up just after midnight nor does she hear them crying themselves to sleep. That's all too normal, too. The only difference is that Luna doesn't join them.

The next morning, she's somehow bright despite the gloom. She feels lighter and happier than she can remember and spends her day with her head lost in the clouds even more than usual. Professor Flitwick calls on her, but she doesn't answer. He simply shakes his head and moves on, and Ginny nudges her with a worried elbow, watching her with eyes too shadowed. Luna feels herself visibly dim, but Ginny takes her hand underneath their table then and gives a squeeze. Luna smiles back if only to make her feel better, but somehow, she's more aware than ever that Flitwick's classroom is large but the class itself is far too small.

That night, she dreams of sitting down to tea with a dormouse, a mad hare, and a pale man with a top hat. He grins at her with utter delight as he offers the teapot, and Luna accepts with a grin of her own. It's like the rest of the world doesn't exist beyond their table, and the biscuits taste exactly like those her mum used to make so long ago.

Days go by, Luna rereads the diary dozens of times and falls in love with a land out of storybooks. She starts humming to herself again and skipping in the corridors, but she writes the wrong name on her Arithmancy homework and doesn't even realize until Vector hands it back with a frown. Luna stares at the words circled in red, and it takes her a moment to understand just why they're incorrect.

She sits at the Gryffindor table as usual for dinner, but nobody bothers telling her to go away anymore. The table is barely half-full as is, and all of her friends welcome her with open arms. They sit in a huddle at the end farthest from the teachers, and their eyes have a conversation outside of the spoken one. Harry is stiff as he sits beside her, not jumpy but not at all relaxed. He and Ron keep check of the exits, while Neville watches the table over her shoulder and Ginny the one to her front. Hermione surveys any behavior outside the norm from the rest of the students. It's the same routine as yesterday and the same one they'll have tomorrow. The war has changed them in many ways and scarred them in others. Luna only sleeps in her dorm now because her roommates begged her to come back; they were too afraid when it was just the two of them. But they still dream of Amycus Carrow and probably will for the rest of their lives.

A fortnight has passed since she found the diary. Luna takes to thinking about it and wandering the castle like she did before it all went to hell. But she forgets herself one day and walks through the second floor hallway that no one dares use anymore. It still smells of death, and while the body has long been removed, she can still see the little Hufflepuff boy staring up at her from ruined eyes that no longer see. He'd been an example for them, for the students. His screams echo with each step, and she recollects vomiting in the girl's lavatory for an hour afterward with Myrtle awkwardly trying to rub her back. Luna still doesn't know his name, and that only makes it worse.

But that memory is replaced by the feel of armor and a sword in her hand. Fear pounding in her heart as she bites her lip and tries to recall six impossible things. Followed by triumph and the sweet taste of victory in face of certain death. Green eyes that stare at her as she takes her leave and dreaming of them for years to come.

A month gone by. She begins to wear dresses beneath her robes and secretly grins at the fact that there's no corset and never will be again. Hermione brushes her hair out for her and remarks on how it's gained more curl and that the color has changed. Ginny agrees and then adds that her eyes seem different now, but she can't quite name how. Both think that Luna looks older than she really is, that she could easily pass for an adult even in the Muggle world. Luna lifts a brow but says nothing; she doesn't tell them about the diary either. Especially not with their past experiences. Harry and Ginny definitely wouldn't take it well, and she doesn't want to risk them burning it. This is one of the few secrets she has from her friends, but it's the most precious.

Luna, however, isn't the only one keeping things quiet. Harry repeatedly disappears for hours at a time with Neville and comes back with his bag bulging despite the space expansion charms. Ginny helps him answer all his mail back to Andromeda about his godson, and Hermione has begun knitting again, while Ron charms her baby books to look like Hogwarts: A History. Luna has her suspicions, but the secret is their own. If she helps them by looking the other way, then so much the better.

Another month. She's read the diary so many times now that she could recite the pages in her sleep. It's both like reviewing her life history and like reading a letter from an old friend. She knows this story by heart from cover to cover, but she's never even heard of it before. She knows all about Underland and the sister queens and the white rabbit and the Jabberwocky, but she doesn't remember how she learned it all or even why she should care.

But she does. She cares more about it than her own schoolwork. She cares more about the little blue book in her pocket than turning in her essays. Than attending classes. Than just about anything but the time spent in the Come and Go Room with the five people in this world who mean everything to her.

This is the most alive she's felt for longer than she cares to recall. This is the longest she's gone without nightmares since before her mother died. This is what freedom feels like, and she'll have it forever or die trying.

Life at Hogwarts is just as stifling now as when it was overrun by Death Eaters. The only difference is that there isn't torture in the corridors and Cruciatus for breakfast followed by Imperius for lunch. There's still the rounded shoulders and looks cast under lashes and sobbing in the hidden nooks. There are still bloodstains on the corridor walls. Everyone can still see the flash of green when they close their eyes. They can still hear the sound of bodies hitting the floor.

The world is still just as broken.

Despite all that's happened in the nearly two years since Dumbledore died, Luna is forever the strange girl with the even stranger imagination. She has her friends, precious and few and forged in blood, but the country is strangling over Death Eater trials and misplaced blame, and Luna can often see Harry and Ron whispering to each other where they think no one will overhear. She knows that Hermione's been surreptitiously looking at maps in the library. She's seen Neville's stockpile of supplies, and Ginny has been far too quiet lately, has been looking at her too speculatively.

Luna knows that they want to include her, but they also know that she'd never leave her father behind. It'd be too cruel to bring him when Harry and Neville have no parents, Hermione's refuse to acknowledge her, and Ron and Ginny have to flee theirs or bring them both down. But Luna doesn't have the heart to tell them that her father died just before Christmas or that she and the undertaker were the only ones at the funeral. Nor does she tell them that she sold the Quibbler to their top reporter for three Knuts and a flagon of pumpkin juice.

Where she needs to go, they can't follow. She'll miss them, but they wouldn't be happy there. It's too absurd. Too unreal. Too Luna.

Too much.

She sets the rest of her affairs in order quietly. Luna doesn't have much to her name, but she gives it away easily and writes letters to her friends with a soft smile. They'll understand; she knows that they will. They have their own escape plan, and her disappearance will give them the perfect opportunity to implement it. At the very least, it'll give them long enough to grab Teddy and flee the country. Enough for them to run away and find their own Wonderland.

Weeks pass; it's nearly May now. Flitwick calls her to his office. Luna doesn't bother to show up. He sends Harry and Neville to find her and take her to the infirmary. They can't find anything wrong with her. Pomfrey thinks that it's survivor's guilt; she's seen it enough that such a thing's never far from her mind. But Harry's eyes are a twinge too shrewd, and Neville squeezes her hand a little too hard. Ginny, having shown up in the meantime, just runs gentle fingers through her hair.

"I'm going away," she tells them after Pomfrey and Flitwick are gone and breathes easier when they don't ask her where.

The two boys merely exchange a look and nod; Ginny bites her lip and wishes her well. She can see the truth reflected in their eyes; no doubt Ron and Hermione feel the same. A fact that's solidified later that night when she sees them walking shoulder to shoulder while on patrol in the hallways. It's late, after curfew, but Ron nods to her and Hermione squeezes her arm as they pass.

Neither comments on the fact that Luna's wearing a travelling cloak or boots made for outdoor travel. Their eyes flicker to the small satchel on her shoulder, but they merely offer her a smile and keep walking. They aren't there to see her approach the mirror on the fourth floor or to watch her go straight through.

The room on the other side is empty. Luna doesn't even pause as she leaves the little cottage and wanders with destination and no small amount of nostalgia. It looks just like she left it but better somehow. It hardly seems as though any time has passed at all, but already, she can see signs of returning life. Flowers singing happily in the distance, and doesn't she know; that bloody bighead has been defeated!

It takes her days and yet no time at all for her feet to take her where she really wants to go. She can see the table set for tea from a distance. Can see the tall figure seated at the end farthest from her. He's so painfully familiar and has been so impossibly missed that she forgets to breathe. That all she can do is stare at him and find that her body moves her closer of its own accord. Until she's standing only a few yards away from the table, gazing down the length at him. Mally and Thackery notice her first, and both of them gaze at her openmouthed. They just gape at her blonde hair and the blueness of her dress and the shape of her face. Really, it's such an odd thing, their behavior. Haven't they missed her at all?

But Luna doesn't have time to be offended as the man at the end of the table finally looks up, and their eyes lock. His teacup slips nervelessly from his hand to shatter without notice, and he's on his feet an instant later and then around the side a second after that. She blinks to find him nearly within touching distance when her eyes open again, but he's stopped there. Frozen in place.

"Alice?"

And it's both a question and isn't at the same time. He says it like he knows it. Like it's nothing but the complete and utter truth. As though the universe decreed this to be so, and he agrees wholeheartedly.

"Alice," the man repeats, and it's stronger now.

His hair is so red beneath the top hat he removes from his head and then holds in his hands. He toys with it thoughtlessly, as if his hands need to simply do something… anything to keep from reaching out. To keep from touching her to find out that yes, she is indeed real.

"Alice."

Less a question. Less a statement. More like a prayer. A whisper on the edge of forever.

All Luna can do is nod and feel her lips pull into a smile as she looks at him. Her eyes well with moisture, and she can't understand why. She's so happy to be here. After all that's happened in the last few years. After all that's gone wrong. Even without her friends or her father here, she's finally safe.

She's finally home.

"I'm back."


Ever Hopeful,

Azar