Despite needing all his mental focus to be on the flat expanse of the rapidly approaching plains of the savannah, Harry found himself wondering what, exactly, was the type of cloud he was plummeting through. Cumulus? Nimbus? Cumulonimbus? That sounded vaguely familiar...
A violent shake of his head helped to refocus Harry's mind on the job at hand – namely, not losing control of the large and sleek animal on whose back he was perched, and whose skeletal neck he clung to so precariously. Around his waist, thin arms held on loosely, as if unaware of the speed being gathered by the beast they were riding, its leathery wings tucked close to its body, the head straining forward, nostrils flared, opaque eyes intent.
As realization dawned on him that he did not, in fact, have any semblance of control over the powerful creature, that the two of them were mere passengers on this leg of their journey, Harry heard Luna speak from her position behind him with her head pressed up against his back.
"They're altostratus clouds, of course," she said, and although she hadn't seemed to raise her voice above her usual serene volume, her words nonetheless came to Harry's ears as well as if they'd been speaking in the Great Hall and not on the back of a mad Thestral rocketing to earth at speeds beyond anything Harry's Firebolt had ever dreamt.
There was no time for further contemplating the clouds or the enigma that was Luna Lovegood, as Harry took great handfuls of the Thestral's mane and made to check some of the incredible speed with which they were falling to earth. The Thestral bridled at the attempt, pulling at Harry's grip on its vast head and neck as the details of the African plain began to take definite shape, but Harry had succeeded in slowing its descent, and the animal's obvious displeasure was not lost on him. Still, Harry felt they were dropping much too quickly for anything like a safe landing, especially with the area being notorious for, according to Luna, not only Erumpents but also the fabled Crumple-Horned Snorkack and the occasional Lethifold.
The Thestral seemed almost to have been waiting for Harry's resolve to crack and for him to reach for his wand. No sooner had his hand left the spectral horse's mane and began fumbling inside his jacket pocket, than the eerie head raised up and the enormous bat-like wings unfurled, catching great breaths of hot African wind and slowing the unlikely trio so unexpectedly that Harry nearly slid up the horse's neck and off its nose. Fast reflexes and survival instinct kept Harry on the animal, but it was a near thing, and as he found himself dangling half off the Thestral's neck, he could almost have believed that, if only for an instant, it looked at him in haughty amusement.
Harry clambered back to his original spot, noting with no small amount of aggravation that Luna had apparently been unperturbed by the whole affair. She was looking at him intently, her blonde hair falling from underneath her slouch hat and playing in the breeze as the Thestral made a lazy, banking turn to the right, its hooves no more than twenty feet above the swaying grasslands. Harry had so seldom seen Luna look intently – indeed, she had rarely looked anything apart from vaguely random and… odd – that the several times he had seen that look on her face since his arrival yesterday had been decidedly unnerving. He'd had no idea what to expect when he received Luna's letter, and talks with his friends had yielded little in the way of answers, so he'd gathered the items she'd requested – along with his courage - and touched the Portkey, landing seconds later in the heart and suffocating heat of picturesque Africa.
"I don't think Henry cares for you," she said without preamble, replacing her small arms around Harry's middle. Harry started, giving her a questioning look as he glanced at her over his shoulder.
"Why on earth would he not like me? I've never met him before, at least as far as I'm aware," he began, and turned to give the beast a more thorough look, but Luna continued as if he'd not spoken.
"I suspected something like this might happen, no matter who came, but I'd hoped that with you there'd be fewer bad memories." Her voice had dropped to little more than a whisper. "Of course Thestrals can sense those emotions, Harry; they're not unlike Dementors in that way. Why do you think they were so friendly to me back at Hogwarts? They could sense when I was… well, whenever I needed someone to talk to." Harry squeezed his eyes shut, and touched a hand to the small pouch hanging on a rough cord around his neck.
She took a deep, steadying breath before continuing. "I've been away for a while now, Harry, and most everyone seems to have moved on. But I can't. I thought I could; I thought I could just- just forget and go on, but I needed time away and even that hasn't seemed to take it all away – not like I thought it would. I can't say it's not better of course, but… I want to return to my home, and there's just been something standing in my way. Like… like something I've needed to do to finally put all this behind me. I feel like my head is full to bursting with stuff and nonsense. Or worse, Billywigs! Do you follow me, Harry?"
He did understand, of course, but in spite of magic, in spite of being a wizard, at no time in his life had he been given the ability to deal with anyone else's emotional issues. Hell, he thought, I can barely deal with my own, and no one else I know has so much reassuring proof of an afterlife. Still, he reflected, she asked for me – just me, not anyone else – so maybe she knows what she's doing.
Harry nodded once, then raised himself up enough to throw his leg over the Thestral's neck, then repeated the process until he was sat backwards on the creature's back, facing Luna with his most reassuring smile plastered across his face. He was pleased to note that she had raised an eyebrow at his change in position. This, for Luna, was the equivalent of falling out of her chair in shock. Harry quirked his mouth into a smirk for a moment before returning it to the friendly smile.
"So," he began, taking her hands in his own and giving them a squeeze filled with all the encouragement he could muster. "So, tell me about this 'Henry' and why he doesn't like me. Could be that I don't care for him too much either." Harry grinned but braced himself by tightening his thighs onto the Thestral's sides, awaiting its attempt to throw him off. He didn't have to wait long, but a slight stroking of Luna's hand on the horse's flank calmed it immediately.
Looking back to Luna's face, Harry saw she was smiling, and not the manic, almost predatory smile which had caused Harry to lie awake the night before, listening to the cacophony of exotic and alluring sounds outside Luna's tent after extinguishing the various henna lamps and wondering how this strange person was related to the Luna he had known. She had met him upon his arrival looking every bit the explorer in a full complement of what Harry thought of as "safari gear" and his sojourn had only gotten stranger from there.
"I know you're trying to help, Harry, and of course that's why I've asked you here." She paused, and the only sound was the wind and the sound of the Thestral's wing-beats. The silence stretched and Harry began to wonder why there were no jungle sounds or sounds of the African plains. He suddenly wanted to look around but felt that taking his attention away from his friend would somehow be the wrong thing to do at that moment. Finally, Luna spoke.
"I asked you here Harry – just you, not Ginny or Hermione, and certainly not Ronald or Neville! – but just you, because you've been a very good friend to me, Harry." Harry blushed in shame and was about to protest, but Luna put up her hand and continued.
"You'll try to say that you aren't that good a friend, that you aren't as good a friend as Ginny or as compassionate as Hermione. Am I right?" At Harry's mute nod, Luna nodded back. "You'll note I didn't say you were perfect, Harry. The probability that you'll die a very violent death is quite high – though not as high as it once was – and you are notoriously plagued with Wrackspurts. You have serious authority issues – which I very much approve of, mind you – and despite being handsome and far from stupid, you can be very, very lazy."
Throughout this blunt assessment, Harry's face had steadily reddened again and he felt he ought to take up for himself at least a bit. However, each time he thought to interject, the thrice-damned Thestral would twitch this way or that and throw off Harry's balance just enough that he'd lose the excellent rebuttal he'd concocted.
"But despite all that, or perhaps even because of it, never doubt that you are and have been a very good friend to me, Harry. And as one of the only persons who was there, and as the only one capable of helping me in all aspects of what I have planned, you are the friend I chose to ask for help."
Harry was flattered, but had to admit he was quite possibly more confused and less informed than when a large black bird had arrived with Luna's letter attached to its curved bill. "Harry," it had read, "First, please see that Waldrup is taken care of. He's sure to be quite tired and lonely after such a long trip. He likes darkling beetles and lizards, but if you have any scorpions that would be ever such a treat!"
And so now, in the time Luna paused to take a breath, Harry decided to jump in, subtlety be damned. "Luna, I'm glad you think of me as a good friend - really I am – but I have to tell you, I have no idea what you want my help with. I thought I did. That is, I thought I had a clue as to what you wanted to see me about, although Merlin knows why you'd want to talk to me rather than Hermione or Ginny, and now I'm here after a Portkey ride halfway across the world, and I'm afraid I'm not going to be much in the way of a help to you." He looked at her with as much compassion as he'd ever felt.
"I want to help you though. Just tell me what to do and I promise you, I'll do my best."
Luna's eyes glistened for a moment with unshed tears before she blinked them away, smiled and took a shuddering breath. She squeezed Harry's arm, then reached down and began untying her shoes.
"Right," she said brightly, "here's what we're going to do…"
Two minutes later, Henry had tried to unseat Harry at least twice during Harry's loud and disbelieving protests at Luna's mad plan. Finally, Harry raised a hand to stop her. No more words were spoken until Luna had convinced the Thestral to land. They remained atop the horse's back, but as soon as they had stopped, Harry took a quick breath and spoke.
"Luna, I- I don't know what to say. I don't pretend to know what you went through, but this… this is- is…" He struggled to say what he was thinking.
"Murder?" she offered without emotion, her large silver eyes fixed on Harry's wide green ones. The word hung between them like a Dementor, tugging at the vestiges of happiness inside of Harry. He looked down at his hands, realizing with a start that they were again holding hers.
"No. I mean yes. Yes it will be if- if anyone's… y'know. There." Harry felt lost, felt as if his world had tilted on its axis and large parts of it had come crashing down on him. Again. But this time the tilting and crashing were the result of a nigh-innocent girl trying desperately to take back control of her life, to find some way to right a wrong, and to achieve a measure of closure on a horrible time in her life. How can I not give her that? he wondered. If it's within my power, I have to do it, don't I? An image of Dumbledore's kindly face swam into Harry's mind's eye, and Harry could almost hear the old headmaster admonishing him to think about "right" and "easy". He fingered the pouch at his throat again and made his decision; some choices happened to be Right and Easy…
Smiling broadly and - for the first time since beginning this trip – fully, Harry put his left hand on Luna's shoulder as he pulled the mokeskin pouch from around his neck with his right. "Dammit, Luna," Harry said, laughing as he pulled his wand and tapped it three times on the mouth of the small pouch. There was a sound like a sigh as, for the first time, the pouch unsealed and became visible for anyone but Harry. He looked up and caught Luna's look of wonder at the Charms work; since leaving behind Hogwarts and the threat of Voldemort, Harry had come to accept and even cultivate the feeling that bloomed in his chest – a feeling he had come to recognize as pride in his accomplishments.
"Yeah, I've been working on my spells pretty hard, but don't tell anyone!" he added quickly. "As I was saying, ahem, 'Dammit, Luna, we're about to pull what might be the best and most vicious revenge plot ever devised, and we'll never be able to tell anyone about it.'"
Luna looked pensive for a moment, but as Harry pulled a tiny shard of broken mirror from his pouch, her face hardened. Reflexively, she gripped the item in her hands – a single, filthy yellow sock. As Harry laid the shiny piece on Henry's back, the animal moved as if uncomfortable. Luna scooped up the shard, Conjured a small blanket to lay on the Thestral's back, then laid the piece of Sirius' mirror atop the blanket. "They can sense those terrible emotions, Harry, that you associate with that piece. This sock would be the same way." Luna then laid the grubby sock on the blanket, and Harry could see flecks of stains in a rust color peppering the dirty yellow garment. He shuddered at her ability to go through her day wearing that sock.
"You've- been wearing that sock, Luna? Just the one, since the other-" he began.
"Yes," she replied matter-of-factly, "I felt I ought to feel it on my foot again, just the once more, to remind me why." Harry could only nod, feeling the tears threatening again so soon after the laughter. Feeling that they should get this over with, Harry reached into the mokeskin pouch for the final item, but paused when he realized something he ought to have thought of before. Long before.
"Luna, do- d'you want to talk about it? I mean, about what happened. To you. There. I… well, I know I'm complete rubbish at this sort of thing, but I'd like to listen if you feel like talking about it. Perhaps- perhaps that would make you feel better as well, just talking it out a bit?"
Harry did not know whether he wanted to hear anything about Luna's experience over months being held in the cellar of Malfoy Manor, didn't know if he wanted the truth to be worse than he'd feared so that he could more easily and righteously go through with helping Luna exact her revenge, or if he'd prefer her horrors not be so bad so that he could believe Luna capable of moving on more quickly. He didn't think he could bear to hear sordid and heart-breaking details, certainly, but he felt sure he ought to ask, and that he ought to push Luna to talk to someone about what had happened.
In the end, Luna told him everything, and it was both more and less awful than Harry had dared to imagine. She did not cry, but told the tale as an almost detached automaton, which rattled Harry more than he let on.
As a pureblood witch, Luna was likely spared many of the horrors that, say, Hermione would have faced in her stead, but with the possibility or even likelihood of memory charms, one could never be certain. However, the psychological torture, the deprivation, the not knowing whether she was ever to leave that dungeon alive, was in many ways worse than the groping and manhandling and leering of the myriad Death Eaters. Creepy and strange as he was, Mr. Ollivander would forever hold a special place in Harry's heart for his feeble and yet often successful attempts to steer the attentions of monsters like Bellatrix Lestrange away from Luna and onto himself.
And so, Harry somehow breathed a sigh of relief that day that perhaps after this act of retribution Luna Lovegood could return to her home and begin to put behind her the events of the Second Wizarding War, as it had come to be called. After casting a series of detection charms about them, Harry once again reached into the mokeskin pouch and withdrew the Elder Wand.
Looking at her, Harry was slightly alarmed to see the fervor with which Luna was gazing at the legendary wand, until she suddenly looked up at him and winked, saying, "I think that'll do nicely, Harry. Although I suggest you never, ever let Daddy know that you've managed to find that wand; he might forget to keep it a secret and print it in The Quibbler. Then you'd have everyone challenging you to duels, which could really get in the way of things like Quidditch and being Minister for Magic."
Harry could only shake his head as Luna crossed her legs under her, one foot bare while the other sported only a sock. Her shoes were nowhere to be found, but she was unconcerned. As was her custom, Luna's wand was again stuck behind her right ear, and with Henry beginning to fidget a bit, the shard of mirror caused a patch of African sun to play across her neck and face. Harry found that he was having a grand time, and only when his mind came back round to their reason for being where they were did his stomach clench and flip. He wondered if he was truly ready for this.
"Are you ready for this?" he asked, trying to be nonchalant but knowing his face was likely as serious as his voice sounded. Luna ran her finger over a particularly large brown stain on the yellow sock and nodded without looking up. "What exactly do we do?" Harry asked. "What are the spells?"
Luna looked up with an expression Harry had never seen on her face before – not even when he and Ron had discovered her in the bowels of Malfoy Manor. It was bleakness. Her face was a picture of anguish, and before he knew or comprehended what was happening, Harry was holding Luna close as she cried. She cried for a lost innocence, a broken family, a divided society, and lost friends.
When her sobs had been reduced to hiccups and sniffles, Harry wiped his own eyes and took a deep breath. "Luna, I'm again at a loss for-" he sighed then continued, "I don't really know how to say this except to ask: Are you sure this is what you want to do? I know things have been awful for you, but perhaps now some peace can be made with this…" Harry trailed off as Luna began shaking her head.
"No, Harry, this is what I have to do," she said as she wiped her face. "I can't return while it's there, not while it exists." Harry nodded, smiling slightly.
"Alright. Let's have at it. What's the spell then? And are you certain this will work?" Harry asked, holding aloft the Elder Wand.
Luna picked up the sock and the shard, holding the two items up between her and Harry. "Yes, well it works like this. If an item is made from the same piece of material, it's forever linked, at least to some extent. It's how the Aurors can track down someone with poached magical items, if they can find one piece soon enough after the animal was killed, for example." Harry had already heard the short version of this, but Luna was in her element now and in any case, her voice had a sort of soothing quality to it under the circumstances.
"So, as this," she held up the piece of broken mirror, "was once part of your complete enchanted mirror, and this," she held up the ruined sock, "was once part of a ball of yarn I had enchanted to keep my toes warm and then knitted into socks, we will be able to make a Portkey that uses those remembered traits to home in on the brother or twinned items, taking the Portkey back there."
Harry was still skeptical. "Why have I never heard of this before? And what if one or both of the twin items isn't there anymore? Or- or what if there's a third twin brother out there?" Luna quirked her eyebrow at him but he didn't back down.
"Wrackspurts, Harry – they are literally devouring your brain! You would have heard of this had you gone on to be an Auror instead of deciding to play Quidditch. I wrote to Daddy and he has made sure all the other yarn and socks are gone. Did you destroy the rest of the mirror fragments?" Her gaze was unwavering and unnerving, but Harry held it and replied that yes, he had in fact Vanished all the remaining mirror fragments from his battered old school trunk, which he'd found still boarded up in the cupboard under the stairs at the yet-vacant Number 4 Privet Drive. Nothing but broken quills and powdery dust bunnies now remained to prove Harry had once even owned that trunk.
"Well then, there's nothing to worry our heads over. The Portkeys will go right to the spot of the other sock and the other shard, which I'm betting," and here Luna looked up at Harry with a fiendish glint in her luminous eyes, "are both still in that cellar."
Harry listened as Luna showed him the spell. "Portus Obeo Geminus and then Praetereo Saepio," Luna instructed, showing Harry the wand movement, an anti-clockwise spin throughout the incantation before tapping the object to be made into a Portkey. Harry looked at her, his brows knitted as Henry dipped his head to sniff what might have been a rotting zebra carcass.
"Obviously you're expecting wards of some kind," he began, the pieces fitting together. "But you're counting on the Elder Wand being able to overcome that?"
"Obviously," she mimicked, "but not entirely. I'm also counting on the fact that you defeated Draco Malfoy that night and hopefully that, along with that uber-wand there, will be enough to bypass any protections the Malfoys have. After all, Dobby popped right in. Oh, and be sure you think very clearly of the traveler and the destination while you're making the Portkey. Look at the object, picture the traveler at the destination, and cast the spells."
They took turns casting the spells on their respective items, Luna first on the sock, then Harry on the shard. As soon as her hand touched the Elder Wand she let out a tiny, "oh!" and looked first at Harry, then at Henry. "It seems the reason he doesn't particularly care for you might have a bit to do with the fact this wand has a Thestral hair in it, Harry. Perhaps Henry doesn't dislike you, just the extra wands you like to carry round with you."
Before Harry could inquire about the wand core, let alone protest that he was only carrying that "extra wand" at Luna's request, she shushed him and began casting her spells. The sock briefly glowed a brilliant blue just as Harry had expected, shuddered and then slowly faded back to its stained and faded yellow.
Harry tried casting the spells but couldn't concentrate on the traveler at first. He kept picturing Luna, then Henry. Exasperated, he tried again and had trouble picturing the destination, wondering idly if it would be better to have the Portkey end up somewhere relatively harmless, like back at Privet Drive. That thought brought a smile to his face, until Luna coughed slightly and brought him back to his senses. Blushing, Harry redoubled his efforts and tried again, concentrating hard on the mirror fragment.
"Portus Obeo Geminus," and then, "Praetereo Saepio." A familiar blue light grew from inside the small remnant, shimmered to a short but very bright crescendo, then quickly faded. Gingerly, Harry reached and picked up the broken shard, half expecting Luna to stop him touching it. As he turned it over in his hands to examine it, she again seemed to answer his unspoken question.
"There's no need to worry, Harry. They won't whisk us away unexpectedly since we tied them to specific things."
"Shall we, then?" Harry asked, quite unprepared for Luna to say 'yes' but knowing he would be even more unprepared for any other answer at that point. She looked at him, really looked at him, her face a mask, inscrutable but hard, those silver eyes reflecting the wispy clouds overhead. Harry wondered if those were the same clouds they had rocketed through such a short time and yet a lifetime ago.
Luna nodded once, quickly, and Harry nodded back. He raised himself up and dismounted the lean and sculpted-looking Thestral as gracefully as he could manage, and watched as Luna slid herself lithely forward to take hold of Henry's dark mane. She then reached into the small rucksack slung over her shoulder and handed Harry a tiny broom. As he cancelled the Shrinking Charm, Harry discovered he was sweating profusely; whether that was a result of the sweltering African sun or the possible consequences of what he was about to do, he couldn't say. The now-restored Firebolt in his hand was proof enough that they were going through with it after all.
"Any idea of which direction we'll find them?" Harry asked as he mounted the broom and began to hover very close to Luna. She passed over the shard of enchanted mirror, a ray of reflected sunlight blinding him in the process. When his vision returned, the sight that greeted him was that of Henry, somehow able to turn his swarthy head around to an unholy degree, regarding him with an unreadable expression.
"Don't be silly, Harry, didn't you see them as we flew in?" Luna asked, as if descending from the sky like a comet was an everyday occurrence for her. For all I know, thought Harry, it is. "They don't travel in herds often or for very long, but this is their migration time, and I counted at least four near a water hole to the west there," she finished, pointing a finger past Harry and toward a nondescript horizon where heat ripples distorted the view. He did not fail to notice her other hand clutched the precious and stained sock tightly and reverently. Harry's throat tightened a bit at the implication, and he tightened his grip on the shard until he felt it digging into his flesh.
By unspoken agreement, they started off in the direction Luna had indicated, Harry holding his tiny cargo with one hand and steering the broom with the other, as Henry carried Luna on ahead of him with what seemed to be a lazy, effortless thrumming of his enormous wings. They gained height for several minutes, then leveled off, Harry taking his cue from Luna although he suspected Henry was in charge of this task. Luna looked down to her left, then looked back to Harry as she jabbed her finger downward. Harry looked.
Some several thousand feet below and in front of them was a sizeable watering hole, surrounded by scrub trees and beaten down bush grass, and at the edge of the still water were three large, angular shapes, seemingly at their ease and blissfully unaware of what was about to befall them. Harry gave Luna an exaggerated nod and thumbs-up with the hand holding the Portkey, pulled up on the nose of the broom and set it into a healthy dive. After about five seconds of the exhilarating wind in his hair, Harry's well-honed sense of unease told him something was amiss, and he instinctively lowered his head closer to his chest.
The first thing Harry noticed was the shadow, then felt a presence looming over him. Keeping his head down, he dared to glance over his shoulder as best he could. Henry was slowly overtaking him, gliding by as if Harry were merely taking a too-slow stroll in the park, and the Thestral happened to be passing not on his left or right, but a mere foot above him. Annoyed, Harry debated dropping the Firebolt into a full power-dive, seeing how close Henry dared to come to the hard veldt before bailing out of the dive, but no; Harry knew that would be useless, at least at the moment. The damned animal was only taunting him, after all, and wasn't he the bigger man?
Harry straightened up and at that moment, Henry looked back between those blackened forelegs and hooves, his eerie and skeletal head upside down, the milky eyes on Harry's, and winked. It was a gesture so incongruous with an animal associated with death that Harry was taken aback and almost pulled out of the dive. As it was, Luna and Henry decided at that moment to take their leave of him and began arcing sharply, languidly away. Harry followed them with his eyes, and realized they were following the small herd – their quarry was on the move.
Banking hard to keep up, Harry poured on the speed and pulled alongside Luna, glaring at Henry. For her part, Luna either didn't notice or didn't care for Harry's emasculation, and he let it drop. Together, they spotted two prime candidates for their Malfoy Portkey Surprise Party: a pair of hulking adult male Erumpents, thundering across the dry grasslands at speeds Harry would not have thought possible for an animal so large. Atop each animal's nose was a huge, spiraling horn, the ridges of which sparkled in the sunlight like so many tiny jewels. Harry was reminded of unicorns and rhinoceroses at the same time, although neither of those creatures was a dangerous as these beasts by half.
"Rather phallic, wouldn't you agree, Harry?" Luna asked loudly enough to be heard over the drumbeat of heavy hooves, and though he knew she was goading him, Harry blushed nonetheless. Looking back at the racing Erumpents, Harry realized with some dread that the horn which had exploded and destroyed Luna's childhood home must have been from a very, very small specimen, as the horns sported by these two appeared to be on the order of three to four times the size – and presumably, the destructive power – of that one. Trying to get his mind onto more pleasant topics, he turned back to Luna.
"I dunno, Luna," Harry replied, rubbing at his chin and playing as if to really study on her question. "I suppose they do resemble very small phalluses," he finished and flashed her a wide grin, to which she laughed uproariously, reminding him of the Luna Lovegood he'd met on the Hogwarts Express, the Luna Lovegood who wore radish earrings and read The Quibbler upside down. His heart ached to know that that Luna Lovegood might very well be dead.
They broke apart then, Harry taking the right while Luna and Henry took the left, and began to gain ground on the galloping giants, tracking forward through twin tails of dust and earth thrown up from the massive hooves. As fast as the Erumpents were however, they were no match for the speed of a racing broom or a winged horse. Seconds later, Harry and Luna had caught up to the rushing beasts and had matched their speed. Harry looked to Luna through the cloud of detritus, nodded once and pointed to the locomotive-sized animal running just below and ahead of her.
She nodded her understanding and pulled her wand and the doleful sock from her pocket, a look of determination evident even through the haze of dust and the whipping breeze. Harry followed suit, using the Elder Wand for good measure. He would never want to admit it, but there was a very real rush to using that wand, even compared to a wand so perfectly suited to him as his trusty and, more importantly, loyal holly wand. A rhythmic sense of possibility crept into his mind each time he touched the Elder Wand, along with a feeling of wonderment at the depth and breadth of magic that Harry hadn't felt since sometime before Sirius had died. Moreover, when he unleashed a spell with the Elder Wand, that spell was invariably perfect in its composition and casting. It was intoxicating and not a little frightening.
Focusing again on the task at hand, Harry gave one last look toward Luna, some small but dwindling part of him hoping she would call off this… whatever it was. Vengeance? Retribution? Just desserts? Her only response was a jerky nod, however, and she stabbed her wand toward the speeding Erumpent with purpose and deliberation. Harry quickly copied her action and his mirror fragment joined her sock in hurtling toward an Erumpent.
The plume of dust and debris being tossed aloft in the animals' wake was so thick that Harry lost sight of the sock and the mirror, despite the latter reflecting dazzling shafts of sunlight back into his face until just seconds after it left his hand. Then suddenly, there was a flash and a fall of colors ahead of them, and Henry banked hard to the left. Harry had only a split second to sense impending danger before a pair of ear-splitting Cracks washed over him and reverberated through every fiber of his being.
The next time Harry opened his eyes, he was flat on his back, the dust clouds had gone, and Luna's concerned face floated mere inches above his own. She looked awful still, but there was a brightness to her eyes despite the dark circles beneath them. The top of his head throbbed, and Luna was dabbing blood from his mouth with a small handkerchief, smiling a decidedly dreamy smile.
"What… what the fuck happened?" he managed; all his nerves were still jangling.
"Yes, that was quite a bit more exciting than I expected!" she exclaimed, smiling more broadly and seeming to finally take complete notice of Harry's presence. "I thought there might be a touch of backlash from creating a Seeking Portkey over such a long distance and then combining it with ward-breaking spells, but I never dreamed it would be so spectacular!" Harry wanted to wring her neck for not warning him about such Spectacular Excitement, but decided to simply lie back and listen to his head throb in time with her babbling and his heartbeat. Then he remembered the reason for all the Excitement.
"Luna!" he exclaimed, "Did it work? The Portkeys, did they work?" He found that he himself was too Excited about the possibility of having achieved a piece of seriously difficult magic to worry about a little thing like a cracked skull at that moment.
"Hmm? Oh yes, they're gone," Luna replied almost distractedly, but her large eyes took on a mischievous glint as she continued. "I daresay there's already been an uptick in excitement levels in Cornwall this afternoon, Harry. I can't wait to read the Prophet!" Harry sagged, reminded that they might well have killed an entire family that day. The Malfoys were no strangers to evil, it was true, but Harry still had a hard time getting his head round the possibility that he'd just snuffed them all out. Sighing, he sat up on one elbow and felt the top of his head. Sure enough, there was an egg-sized knot there, and his vision swam again when he touched it, but he felt if he left it well enough alone, he just might be able to stand.
Luna helped him regain his feet and presented him with his broom. It looked decidedly worse for the wear, with several long scratches adorning the once-pristine handle and so many tail-twigs misaligned that Harry was forcibly reminded of Hermione's bushy mane. Scowling, Harry ran his hand over it and sighted down the shaft to see if it had been warped in a crash he didn't remember and was fairly certain he had no desire to. Unable to see any obviously fatal damage, he turned back to Luna, his scowl still firmly in place.
"Yeah, I reckon the place is in quite an uproar about now, the Ministry too, come to think on it. And you could've warned me about the backlash, Luna – I could've been killed!" he finished petulantly. Luna ignored him but he saw her smiling. She reached to the ground and retrieved her slouch hat, placed it jauntily on head, and then stepped very close to Harry. He noticed that she seemed taller, less drawn-in on herself now that her act of cleansing had been carried out.
She didn't stop until their clothes were touching. Rising up onto her toes, Luna kissed the tip of Harry's nose before settling back down, an impish look on her face. "But you weren't, Harry. And isn't life all the more exciting for the uncertainty of it?"
What Harry wanted to say was that uncertainty seemed to have been keeping Luna from living her life at all these past months, but that damned Portkey backlash and the subsequent tumble into unconsciousness had evidently scrambled his synapses, because what he heard himself say was, "D'you have any idea how adorable you look in that hat?"
His eyes went absurdly wide when he realized what he'd said, but Luna only smiled and said, Thank you, Harry." And before he could apologize or backpedal or deliberately Splinch himself trying to Apparate into the nearest lion preserve, Luna had risen back onto her tiptoes, taken Harry's face in her hands and kissed him.
It was tentative at first, that initial kiss. Luna was even less experienced than Harry, which made for awkwardness before she found her stride. The wide mouth and soft lips soon had Harry's head abuzz and his nerves tingling afresh. After an unknowable length of time, he regained some of his senses and pulled back, raking a hand through his hair as he dragged a breath through his nose. Luna, for her part, looked dazed then frustrated.
"Luna- wow, um… Right, where to start? Uh, I- well, let me apologize, I don't want to take-"
But whatever Harry was going to say was interrupted by a ball of silver light plunging from the heavens to splash down beside them and resolve itself into the ghostly forms of an otter and a terrier standing side by side. Harry was dumbstruck at the pair of shining messengers – This ought to be good. Could this day get any weirder? he thought – and waited for them to speak.
"Harry! You'll never believe what's happened!" shrieked Hermione's otter Patronus, and Harry thought the Patronus itself looked fit to burst.
Ron's Patronus broke in. "I want to tell him, Hermione! Harry, someone's blown up the Malfoys' place! Dad got a call – the Ministry's in a right state what with purebloods being attacked like that - they're saying it was like a Muggle bomb went off! - but Dad says-"
Hermione cut back in. "Harry, no one knows what's happened yet; yes, some are saying it was Muggles, but you know how little wizards know about Muggles, and anyway, it's a very good thing you're out of the country. With the bad blood between the Malfoys and you, they'd be sure to want to pin it on you, Harry." Luna looked slyly at Harry, and he again marveled at Hermione's ability to say so much without taking a breath. He wondered idly if Ron was reaping the benefits of such a talent…
"Anyway," Ron's terrier was saying, and the hard edge that had crept into the ethereal voice saved Harry from awkward mental images, "their bloody house has collapsed, and I overheard the Auror talking to Dad through the Floo that they think the explosion happened deep in the house… perhaps in the cellar." Silence reigned for several moments until Ron's voice began again. "Poetic justice, isn't that what you called it, Hermione?"
"Well, yes," the otter replied at length, "but still, Ron, no one knows if anyone was killed in the explosion or even where the Malfoys are. I take as much Schadenfreude in their misfortune as anyone, Ronald, but that doesn't mean I wish them to be dead." The otter seemed to finish with a huff and faded from existence.
The terrier seemed to gather itself for a beat, then said with a sigh, "Well, she can ride her high horse if she likes, but my hope is that the whole lot of 'em bought it when that damned place blew up and fell in." There was a cruel bitterness to the sound of Ron's voice, and Harry was unsettled by it. He had thought that Ron had been able to put the events of the war behind him, but apparently not. Perhaps Harry had been wrong about more than just Luna.
"Anyway," the Patronus continued, "the Aurors don't really think they were killed. They think the whole family got out and went into hiding, not knowing who tried blowing them up and all. I'd like to buy whoever did it a pint or ten. You hurry back, Harry. Oh, and give Luna our best, will you? Tell her we miss her livening up the place." With that, the terrier too vanished into nothingness.
Harry was torn as he looked back at Luna, but she was resplendent. He took her hand in his and they began the short walk over to where Henry stood sniffing the crater left behind by the Spectacular Excitement. Harry had to hand it to her – the plan had been elegant in its simplicity and utterly ferocious in its magnitude, and Harry had to admit that it had seemed to work to perfection. More than perfection, really, as the unseen benefits had been for Ron and Harry to also achieve a measure of closure over the demons that still plagued them from the terrible events of the war. Harry stopped dead as realization set in. Luna stopped a moment later and turned to face him, her hand still linked with his.
"You planned this, didn't you?" It wasn't a question; not really, when one knew Luna the way Harry was beginning to think he knew her. "All of it, down to the last detail." She blushed but smiled and raised her chin impudently. Harry, chuckling, shook his head disbelievingly.
"You knew I'd help you, and in doing so I'd help myself. You knew that Ron was still hurting, and Hermione too, and… and as soon as she gets over the shock this will probably be good for her too!" Harry continued, talking faster as he tried piecing things together. He looked up sharply at Luna, who was looking at peace, slowly stroking Henry's neck. It might have been his imagination, but Harry thought the Thestral was in a far better mood than previously.
"The Malfoys weren't home, were they?" Again, it wasn't a question. Harry had just about pieced it together now, but wanted desperately for Luna to confirm his guesses.
"No, I don't think so," she replied, shaking her head. "I overhead them bragging – or trying to – loads of times, that this is the time of year they scarper off to their villa in Majorca. I figured they'd try to keep to old habits and forget what they did." She glanced to Harry, a defiant look in her shining eyes. "I also figured they'd stay off from that cellar; not clean it out. Again, trying to forget without acknowledging what they did, what they allowed." Her lip curled as she spoke, but she continued the steady rhythm on Henry's neck.
"I decided that it would be up to the Fates whether they were there or not, whether they lived or died when I sent them my little payback. Oh, and yours too, Harry," she amended brightly. "I decided to have my angry little friends drop in when I thought they'd be out of the country, for my own piece of mind. Do you see what I mean, Harry? That way, if they did happen to be there, well… it was just meant to be, and Here You Are, Jolly Bonfire Night, Happy Christmas, Bob's Your Uncle, La-Dee-Da, Thank You Very Much, and Don't Forget Your Cloak."
Harry did understand, or thought he did. Luna had left the Malfoys' fate – or Fates – to chance and blind luck. She had done what she felt was necessary for her own sanity and had washed her hands of the responsibility and burden of guilt if the Malfoy family had just happened to be wiped out in the process. Not the rationale I would've used, he thought, but I can't really argue with the results.
Walking over to where she stood, Harry put his hand on hers. Henry snorted unhappily at having her attentions diverted, but Harry ignored him. "Listen, Luna… I do understand. It's just that I wish you'd been honest with me about it all."
"I needed to know how far you'd go for a friend, Harry. For me," she said, looking at him earnestly. "I was also pretty certain that you hadn't answered your own questions following all that unpleasantness. It was the best way I knew of to make you see that. Oh, you tried to hide it, even from yourself, and it was far more obvious that Ronald and Hermione – and oh! All the other Weasleys as well! – were simply limping along, only going through motions just as much as I was. So I decided to do something about it, and bring you away from where all those memories were at the same time as having you face a bit of them. And here we are." She moved closer to him, her eyes sparkling.
"And now, Harry Potter, I have another task for you. A wager, if you will," she said softly, bringing her lips ever closer to his as a smile played across them. "You see, I don't know if I've ever been with a man before, and the thought that only awful people have – you know – is driving me mad." Here she planted a kiss on Harry's Stupefied lips. Whatever he might have expected her to say at that moment, it was not this.
"And so I want to take a good man, a caring man, to my bed. I want you, Harry." She kissed him sumptuously and gave him an exaggerated wink. "And I'll wager that Henry and I can get back to my tent faster than you. Last one there has to strip first!" she yelled.
Luna was apparently a lot stronger than she appeared, because one hard shove from her landed Harry on his backside, feeling as if he'd been Confunded. However, an electric and liquid feeling leapt from his loins, causing his very eyeballs to quaver. His aching head, the Malfoys, the painful memories of the war – all were forgotten as he caught a glimpse of Luna bounding lithely onto Henry's burnished back. The chase was on.
Harry sprang to his feet as the Thestral gave him a look that could only be described as dismissive. The horse took two loping steps to unfurl his wings and then he and Luna were airborne, those prehistoric pennons seeming to encompass the whole sky.
At a gesture, the Firebolt vaulted into his open hand, and Harry realized he had no idea in which direction the tent lay. Mounting his broom, he blasted into the heavens, head down and eyes fixed on his newest quarry. The Firebolt was no match for Henry's speed and both Luna and the damnable Henry knew it, but if Harry knew anything, he knew that arrogance would always come to the surface. All he had to do was act on it at the time.
Seconds later, it was obvious that Luna and Henry had slowed down, if their loop-the-loops were any indication. Harry was unamused, and wondered how difficult it would be to time a Portkey to plop Henry in front of another charging Erumpent. To make matters worse, the Firebolt, damaged as it was from the earlier fall, had begun to vibrate and Harry could swear it was listing to starboard. Finally, he could see Luna's base camp – a small compound in the distance.
It was now or never, because as soon as those two felt Harry was too close for comfort, Luna and Henry would speed away and be lounging at the camp, waiting for Harry to limp his Firebolt back like a wounded RAF fighter pilot in one of Uncle Vernon's overwrought World War II films on the Beeb. Unacceptable, he decided.
Taking care to point himself straight at the pair of them, Harry gripped his wand and set off, pushing the crippled broom to its limit. Just as he expected, Henry righted himself immediately and set a course directly for the distant camp. Yes! Harry thought, Perfect. Keeping his eyes set firmly on Luna's rapidly receding back, Harry concentrated on those Three Fucking Ds: Destination, Determination, Deliberation.
Crack! Ha ha ha hah! Crack!
Luna began to laugh as soon as Harry's arms had encircled her, and only stopped to turn round and kiss him when they reappeared just outside the front flaps of her tent. Harry tossed the abused broom over his shoulder and returned the favor. After what seemed only seconds, Henry landed heavily beside them, his nostrils flaring and those pearlescent eyes promising pain. Luna broke their kiss and turned to the disgruntled animal. Harry, for his part, seemed dazed but frustrated.
"Well, there was no rule against that," she said to Henry, then turned back to Harry. "Henry seems to feel you cheated, Harry. I disagree of course, since we never said what was or was not against the rules."
Harry moved closer, his eyes fixed on Luna's Cupid's-bow of a mouth. "Well… we could always have another race," he offered and Harry could have sworn he saw Henry's suspicious eyes narrow inversely with the flaring of his nostrils as Harry continued, "but I happen to be knackered and ever so thirsty." He reached and unbuttoned the top button of Luna's blouse as Henry snorted and twitched his dark tail. "So what say we call it a draw."
Luna beamed and reached for the buckle of Harry's belt as he shed his t-shirt. After planting a lingering kiss on his neck, she ran her fingertips down his bare chest and replied, "I think I could do with a bit of a lie-down as well. So shut up, Henry."
"Yeah, Henry," Harry agreed. "Shut up."
Later, Harry lay on the host of blankets spread over the floor of Luna's tent, looking up at the night sky teeming with stars. He felt more spent and at the same time more alive than at possibly any other time in his life. If pressed, he'd admit he'd felt more spent after Voldemort's final defeat, but the reasons for that tiredness paled in comparison. And while he'd certainly felt wonderfully glad to be alive that spring morning that he'd died and lived and lived again, if he were honest he'd say he had been too astonished at the mere fact of his survival to actually get his head round all that had happened.
There was no taking this for granted though, no failing to live in the moment, as he tightened his arm on the bare and willowy form curled against his side. She stopped her narrative on the differing constellations visible from that latitude from those of Hogwarts' far north, sighed and kissed his collarbone. She was still wearing the slouch hat, though it looked more than a little rumpled now.
"I'm not sorry either, Harry," was all she said before making herself more comfortable by throwing a creamy thigh onto Harry's midsection. The careless sensuality of this made him wonder if she'd stolen the Elder Wand and cast a Cheering Charm on his loins, and yet again she had answered a question he had yet to ask, although Harry was unsure which question it was.
"About this or the Malfoys?" he asked after a moment, staring transfixed at the small hand making idle circles in the sparse hair in the center of his chest.
"Either. Take your pick, really," she replied, running her hands again over his stomach and chest and setting fire to his senses once again. "I want you again, Harry," she added, licking her lips as the quarter-moon somehow still managed to illicit an unearthly glow from her warm and sweat-slicked body.
Harry was up to the task but before he could do more than smile, one of the twinkling stars seemed to fall from the sky directly toward them and into the tent, sparking in Harry a sense of déjà vu as the streak of quicksilver remade itself into the now-familiar form of Hermione's otter Patronus.
"Harry! We've just heard from the Aurors – someone's blown up your aunt's home – the Dursleys! Oh, I simply can't believe this!"
Luna broke into peals of raucous laughter as the ghostly messenger faded into the ether, and Harry sat in shocked silence for a tick, his mouth hanging open comically as he tried to suss out how this might have happened. There was little doubt, of course, that only one Erumpent had made the journey to the Malfoy estate in Cornwall, while the other had found itself suddenly stuffed inside the cramped cupboard beneath the stairs, if only for an instant before the still-galloping hooves had propelled it through the walls and set off an explosion that had flattened the entire house like so much Paper-Mache.
Harry got up and padded to the magical tent's tiny kitchen area, took a long drink of water for his parched throat and returned to sit where Luna lay on the bed of blankets. The dulcet tones of her laughter continued as he took her hat and placed it on his own head. She looked up at him through tears of mirth.
"As fit as it looks on you, I think I'll be wearing the hat for a while," he began, pushing the back of the brim upward with an exaggerated movement.
"And so, now that we've managed in one day to sweep away all the chaff in our lives," he continued, sliding a hand up her thigh and causing an eruption of gooseflesh, "Where were we?"
Disclaimer: Nothing in the Harry Potter universe belongs to me, and no profit is being made from this fanfiction endeavor apart from honing my meager writing skills. Enjoy at your own risk.