Author's Notes: Written for daysandweeks's Weekly Challenge on the HPFC forum. This week's challenge was to write something centering on two people from different houses in a romantic relationship. Personality traits in relationship to one of the houses must lead to conflict between the characters.
Personality trait: The Slytherin trait of self-preservation.
Draco didn't have to be invited to sit down when he brought Luna breakfast anymore.
He handed her a tray, with a cup of weak tea and what he was fairly sure was a runny fried egg, and sank down to sit next to her.
"Hello, Draco," Luna said brightly, prodding at the egg with her fork. "How are you today?"
"Better than you, I don't doubt," he said, shaking his head. After weeks of Luna being in captivity, he would have thought that she would have broken by now, but no, she was every bit as bright and cheery as she had been the first day they brought her in.
"Oh, I hope so," she said, taking a bite. "Now, how are things upstairs?"
Draco blew out a long, slow breath, and tilted his head back to rest it on the wall. "They could be better, I suppose. But at least I'm not locked up in a dungeon like you."
"I do hope you're not wasting all your energy feeling sorry for me," Luna said.
"You're a prisoner! If I can't feel sorry for you, what am I supposed to feel?"
Draco regretted saying it as soon as the words left his mouth, but, to his relief, Luna made no comment about feeling affection or any such thing. She merely shrugged and went on with her eating.
He watched her, fighting a mental battle over whether he should tell her what he was thinking.
"Luna," he said at last. The word came out as a dry sort of choking noise, and he swallowed and tried again. "Luna, I've been thinking…" He trailed off awkwardly, and chewed on his lips, trying to work out what to say.
Luna put down her breakfast, and looked at him with curiosity. "Yes?"
"All right," he said, "I don't know exactly how to say this, but… I've been bringing you food every day, and all that, and… and I don't want you locked up anymore."
Her eyebrows drew together, and she watched him, making no comment, just waiting for him to continue.
"I'm going to appeal on your behalf," he said in a rush. "I'm going to request that you are freed."
Luna stared at him, a perplexed expression on her face. Draco stared back, unsure.
"Why?" Luna asked at last.
"Why?" Draco exploded. "I'm going to be risking my life to try to get you out of here! Don't you want to get out?"
"Of course. But I don't understand why you're doing this."
There could be no better lead-in. Draco had been trying for days to work out how to say to Luna what he felt for her, and this would be the perfect time. But he just didn't have the nerve.
"It doesn't matter," he said, looking away from her. "I'm going to try to get you out, and that's all that matters."
Luna watched him as he stood up and made for the door. Only when his hand was on the knob, and he was half-way out, did she speak.
"Is it because you're in love with me, Draco?"
He froze, heart hammering. She was giving him the chance again, he could say it, he could…
"Of course not," he said, and shut the door.
It was stupid, Draco knew.
He had no chance – none whatsoever – of convincing the Dark Lord to release Luna Lovegood. But maybe, just maybe, he could convince his family.
Lucius Malfoy, who was sitting two seats down from his son, looked up, appearing slightly frightened, as though afraid that his name was being called by the Dark Lord instead of his own son. Bellatrix, who was on Draco's other side, giggled, and leaned forward to look at Lucius.
"What is it, Draco?" Lucius snapped, apparently irritated to have been startled so by his son.
Draco swallowed. It was only the four of them – Lucius, Bellatrix, Narcissa and Draco – and if there was ever a time to say it, it would be now. He shut his eyes, and took a deep breath.
"I want to appeal on behalf of Luna Lovegood," he said.
The reaction was immediate. Narcissa dropped the jug of pumpkin juice she had been holding, and it spilled across the pristine white linen of the tablecloth. Lucius choked on the piece of toast he had been eating, and Bellatrix shrieked, a horrible sound that only served to start Narcissa crying.
"Why would you even consider such a thing?" Lucius asked, putting a comforting hand on his wife's shoulder.
"She hasn't done anything wrong. Why are we keeping her prisoner in the first place?"
"Because the Dark Lord wishes it!" Bellatrix interrupted, voice high-pitched and vehement. "The Dark Lord wishes Lovegood to be our prisoner, and we cannot and should not defy him!"
"Why couldn't someone else be the prisoner? Surely there are others who could be bait for Potter–"
"Our position with the Dark Lord is far too delicate to make a request for the release of a prisoner," said Lucius.
"Why would you want her released?" Narcissa asked tearfully.
Draco looked around helplessly. He had hoped for at least a little support from his family, but his parents were both looking at him with as much horror as if he had just professed a wish to marry a Mudblood or some other such repulsive desire.
Bellatrix, by contrast, now that her initial fury had passed, was staring at Draco with an uncomfortable intensity.
"I know why he wants her released," she said, and now her voice was quiet, and far too controlled for Bellatrix.
Draco's eyes widened. The way Bellatrix was looking at him was so knowing that he could not help but be completely sure she knew.
"Your son," she breathed, leaning in very close to Draco, "has gone and fallen in love with his prisoner, haven't you, darling?"
"No," Draco said instinctively, but his voice trembled, and he knew perfectly well that he could not convince Bellatrix otherwise, when he was so unsure himself.
"How sweet," she cooed. "The warden falls in love with his prisoner, his slave to command–"
"It's not like that," Draco said, looking away. It was just like his aunt to pervert whatever this was that he felt for Luna with her own twisted ideas of love.
Bellatrix flushed, and she grabbed Draco by either side of his head, twisting it so that he was forced to look into her eyes.
"You do not speak to me like that," she hissed. "But no matter, because I speak for the Dark Lord when I say that you may most certainly not appeal on Lovegood's behalf. Be glad that I am the one who is telling you this, because if the Dark Lord heard you speaking so, he would consider it treason."
"You will never speak of this again," Bellatrix hissed. "Lovegood stays our prisoner. And don't you dare question me!" she added as Draco opened his mouth to protest. "If the Dark Lord hears of this, he would consider it betrayal, and you know what the punishment for that is…"
Draco nodded, and Bellatrix released him, though she continued to watch him warily.
"I'm sorry," Draco said, looking from his aunt to his parents. "I didn't mean to upset… I just thought…"
"Never mind what you thought," Narcissa said tearfully. "Just swear you'll never ask any such thing of us again. One wrong step could be the death of all of us."
"I'm sorry," Draco told Luna. Narcissa had told him he was not to visit her anymore, she would arrange for her food to be brought to her by someone else, but Draco stole down to the dungeons late at night, to talk to her. "I can't get you out. The Dark Lord would kill me."
For the first time, Luna's air of utter serenity seemed cracked. Even though she had seemed utterly nonchalant about the idea of being released before, now that the opportunity had been taken away, she appeared almost panicked.
"But you promised," she said, voice trembling. "You said you would appeal…"
"I know," said Draco, wincing. "I told you, I'm sorry…"
"Why aren't you doing it?"
"The Dark Lord will kill me if I ask him!"
"Draco…" she stood up, grasped his wrists, stared pleadingly at him. "I don't want to have to stay here much longer. I'm doing my best, but I don't think I can take it much longer…"
"I'm sorry," Draco told her again. He didn't know what else to say.
"Just answer one thing then, please," Luna said. Her huge, silver eyes shone with tears, and she looked quite desperate.
"Are you in love with me, Draco?"
He stared at her for a long time, fighting back the tears that were threatening to flood his own grey eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said, one more time.