Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers apply. Expression: mine. Everything else: not so much.
Protection From Nargles
Part 1 - Mistletoe
Fifth-year Hogwarts student Harry Potter watched as the Room of Requirement quickly emptied. The last training session of Dumbledore's Army before the Christmas holidays had just ended, and the students wanted to get to the Great Hall of Hogwarts in time for supper.
Harry wasn't really in the mood to eat and socialize, though. It had been a hard year for him so far. The usual harassment by Draco Malfoy and his goons was irritating enough, but had been so much of a constant for the last four years that it largely amounted to background noise in Harry's life unless Malfoy was being exceptionally irritating.
Headmaster Dumbledore's increasing distancing from Harry was more worrying. Harry had always thought that the old wizard was in his corner. Lately he wasn't so sure about that. Whether it was due to a concern for his job due to scrutiny from Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor (and Hogwarts High Inquisitor) Dolores Umbridge, the Ministry of Magic's overseer of the school, or due to a lack of concern for Harry's welfare, the effect was much the same – Dumbeldore was not the presence in Harry's life that he had been in the past. Harry felt he was losing a valuable ally, and a good friend.
As for Umbridge herself, the woman was a sadist. Harry looked at his scarred left hand, where Umbridge's detention methods had caused "I must not tell lies" to be carved into his skin by her magical quill. Repeatedly. She had banned student organizations, was intercepting the owl post, and making school dramatically more unpleasant than it had been on even the worst days. He never thought he would hate a teacher more than he hated Potions Master Severus Snape, or that a teacher would hate him more than Snape did, but Umbridge was proof that things could always get worse.
Umbridge was also instrumental in the campaign of slander and lies against Harry by the Ministry of Magic and the Daily Prophet, it's semi-official mouthpiece. Voldemort had returned! Harry saw it with his own eyes, and saw poor Cedric Diggory murdered to bring it about. But the Ministry was telling everyone that Harry was lying, the Prophet was libelling him, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it. With Wizarding Britain's government and newspaper of record telling people Harry was at best deranged, and more likely a foul liar and threat to magical society, public opinion had swung against him. He spent much of the last half-year fending off accusations that he was off his rocker, and it had taken it's toll on him.
There were only three things that had really kept him going through the year. The first was the support, hesitant though it may be at times, of his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Even if they silently thought he was becoming more unbalanced, they still backed him up. They had helped him survive four years of danger and madness at Hogwarts, and he had no doubt they would help him get through this one as well.
The second was Dumbledore's Army. What had started as an attempt to give students some practical Defence Against the Dark Arts training, as opposed to the pollyannaish drivel taught in Umbridge's farce of a class, had slowly changed into something more. It gave Harry a platform from which convinced some students, at least, that Voldemort had returned, and was a real threat to the lives of all of them. It gave Harry some practical leadership training, as he was the acknowledged head of the D.A.. All this served to boost confidence in him by his friends, his schoolmates, and most of all, himself. He could see himself becoming not just the lone boy who had faced Voldemort three times, and miraculously survived them all, but potentially a leader of men and women in the fight against the Dark Lord and his minions. This was an unexpected revelation – to Harry, at least.
The D.A. also provided some much needed fellowship and camaraderie at Hogwarts, which had been sorely lacking under the Umbridge regime. The friendships with his fellow students were his favourite thing about Hogwarts, something he had been deprived of for the first eleven years of his life. The atrophying of those friendships (Ron and Hermione being almost the only exceptions) wore on him greatly, and the D.A. was helping repair that.
Harry was startled from his musings by the soft voice of this term's third source of strength for him.
"Hello, Harry" said Luna Lovegood in her dreamy, far-away sing-song voice, a few feet from him. "I forgot my Transfiguration book after the meeting," pointing to it on a table beside him.
"Oh, hi, Luna," Harry replied, turning and smiling at the fourth-year Ravenclaw girl. He had never met her before encountering her on the Hogwarts Express at the beginning of the term, but he had quickly become very close to her. After their first meeting, when he got a crash course in the girl's peculiarities, he ran into her shortly afterwards at the thestral nest, where they bonded over their mutual ability to see the strange winged horses. Since then, he had ran into Luna a few times in the hallways after curfew, when neither of them were supposed to be up and about, and a few more times on grounds of the school. Luna had the same healthy disrespect for the restrictions on students' wandering around the school unsupervised as Harry did, but while his came largely from curiosity about possible shadowy goings-on, as well as a general restlessness, he thought Luna's wanderings came from a quest for solitude from her often cruel classmates, and a healthy appreciation for the beauty of the castle, its grounds, and nature in general. Luna seemed to revel in the natural world and the vistas offered by the school.
When they would run into one another, they would walk together and talk, sometimes with large stretches of silence which he usually found not-at-all uncomfortable. Luna would tell him about her thoughts on various creatures no one else had ever heard of, like Nargles and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, in which he was not inclined to believe, although he wouldn't tell her that. She would also tell him about her theories of various dark conspiracies that the Ministry of Magic and its Minister were involved it, like cannibalism of goblins and similarly fiendish plots, in which Harry was similarly not inclined to believe, but would sometimes almost like to, given how the Ministry was treating him.
More rarely, Luna would tell him about her life, her classes, what being a Ravenclaw was like, and about her parents. Her father was the editor, publisher and owner of The Quibbler, a monthly magazine that reminded him of nothing so much as one of those American supermarket tabloids he had read about. He got the feeling most of Luna's strange beliefs came from her father and his magazine, which he suspected was read more for its humour value than for its hard-hitting journalism. Her mother had died in an accident five years previously which clearly devastated the younger girl, and likely had the same resonance in Luna's life as his own parents' murder fourteen years ago had in his.
Harry would tell her about his life as well, and his parents, and the isolation he felt due to the Ministry's smear campaign against him. Luna had told him at their meeting at the thestral nest how she and her father believed him completely about Voldemort's return. She had been the first student to tell him that, and he was grateful for it.
They also would talk of the loneliness that each of them felt at the school, and how other students didn't understand them, and often (almost always, in Luna's case) didn't make any effort to try.
The personal conversations had been increasing in frequency as of late. She was opening up to him, which he suspected was a new and difficult thing for Luna to do. She was a desperately lonely girl, bullied and ostracized by her fellow students, and even her fellow housemates, who played malicious pranks on her, called her cruel nicknames (like the almost-inevitable name "Loony", by which was nearly universally known), and stole her things. This last cruelty she had told him she blamed on Nargles, although Harry thought she was just deflecting his concerns when she said this. He looked down at her feet, and was glad to see she had at least recovered her shoes.
Maybe the Nargles gave them back.
As far had he could tell she had never had a friend in her life other than Ron's younger sister, Ginny Weasley. Until now, at least. Harry grew to consider her a good friend over the course of the term, the first real friend he had made since first year. He hadn't expressed this to Luna, but hoped she knew it. He didn't want her to think she was a "pity-friend", as he had genuinely grown to like her, despite her eccentricities.
Or maybe because of them.
Luna could be unsettling, no doubt. She stared a lot, with her slightly protuberant, startling silver eyes, and she didn't seem to blink as often as most people. She asked overly apt and uncomfortable questions of people, and made statements of startling and disconcerting accuracy far beyond the acceptable social norms. She spoke of things no one else thought about, like the aforementioned creatures, conspiracies, and bizarre theories, and would often jump from topic to topic without any obvious connection. Harry could see why all this would set her apart from her peers.
But she was also unusually perceptive, clearly highly intelligent (despite the "Loony" epithet), and had a ready sense of humour. She made him laugh a lot, and he hoped she knew he laughed out of enjoyment and not mockery. He didn't truly worry about that, though, as she always thought the best of people, even in the face of blinding evidence to the contrary. She also knew exactly what to say to make Harry feel better, and exactly when to say nothing.
She had a serenity about her, which he thought also made her seem unsettling to people. She talked most of the time in her dreamy sing-song voice, which threw him off at the beginning, but to which he adapted. There was steel in Luna when she was angered, however. He had only seen it once so far, the first time they met on the train, when Hermione had insulted The Quibbler. Harry had learned that you did not make fun of Mr. Lovegood's paper in front of Luna. He didn't know if Luna had forgiven Hermione for that yet, but was reluctant to ask.
She saw the wonder in the world, which Harry would have thought was self-evident, especially by wizards and witches, but which they so often (Harry included) didn't see. Luna saw the world, magical and mundane, it for all its wonder, beauty and joy. Maybe that was where the Snorkacks and other beasts came into it for her. The possibility of it all, as much as the actuality.
Luna understood Harry in a way few others did, and in a way he hadn't really expect after knowing her for so short a time. She got him. All this, and her belief in him when few others had, made her a really bright spot in the last term.
And now she was staring at him with those wide silvery eyes.
"You have a distant look on you, Harry Potter. Are you all right? Have the Wrackspurts got to you?" she asked, concern in her voice.
He smiled a little smile. "Not as far as I know, Luna."
She tilted her head at him. "That's good. You wouldn't want your brain to go all fuzzy."
He ran his left hand through his unmanageable black hair. "I was just thinking about this year, and what we've gone through. What I've gone through."
"Yes, it has been rather horrible, hasn't it?" she said with her usual inappropriately serene tone. "With Umbridge and Cedric and everything."
"Yeah. It hasn't been all bad, though. You were really good in today's practice, Luna. You have the makings of a really good duellist in you."
"I don't know about that, Harry," she replied. "I don't think I'll ever enjoy duelling enough to be really good at it. It is a useful skill, though. Like catching plimpies. Or taxidermy."
Harry stifled a laugh. "True enough."
"Are you going home to Surrey for Christmas, Harry?" she said, conversationally.
He grimaced. "No, thank God. I'm spending it with Ron and his family. You?"
She sighed. "I'll be spending it with my Dad. He likes to dress up as Father Christmas. And he makes a very tasty Christmas pudding."
That last thought brought a slight smile to her lips, Harry noted. Pudding was her favourite dessert.
"I wish we were having a Yule Ball this year," she said, largely out of nowhere.
He raised his eyebrows. "I thought you didn't like to dance? That's what you said the day we met."
She looked surprised that he remembered that, but didn't comment on it. "No, I said wouldn't have minded not dancing. I like to dance just fine. I just don't need to."
"Well, fat chance under Umbridge's Reign of Terror," he said. He noted by the way she looked at him that she didn't immediately get the reference, but took a moment to think of what the words actually meant. One more difference between wizarding culture and Muggle culture, he thought. Continuing, he said, "She doesn't even like boys and girls to sit together on benches."
"Yes," Luna said. "You can see how tense people are these days, like they're about to explode. That would be unpleasant."
Harry let out a guffaw. He felt a little sheepish at that, until he saw her conspiratorial smile.
"Still, it would be nice to have another Ball. Or even a simple school dance. I didn't get to go last year. Third-years didn't get to go unless someone asked them."
Harry noted she left "and no one was going to ask me to the Ball" unsaid.
"Well, if I'd known you last year I would have asked you," he said. He noticed her eyes get even wider. He hastened to add, "I'd have had more fun than I did with Parvati Patil. And you wouldn't have minded not dancing, unlike her."
"I think she minded being ignored by you in favour of Cho Chang more than the dancing."
Luna seemed to know a lot about his love life, he observed. "Well, Cho didn't work out either. Oh-for-two," he said, sheepishly.
"She's in the D.A..." Luna trailed off.
"Nah," he shrugged off the suggestion. "Too last-year."
He had no idea why he felt the need to explain his love life, or lack thereof, to Luna.
Yet more silence.
"Well...," Harry began.
Luna simultaneously looked up. "Mistletoe," she observed.
Harry looked up as well, and saw what the blonde girl pointed out, sprouting on the ceiling of the Room of Requirement directly above him.
Time slowed down for Harry. His first thought was a childish impluse to jump out from under the mistletoe. He'd never been caught under it, not that anyone had ever wanted him to be, and the Room of Requirement was no winter wonderland, Christmas decorations notwithstanding. But he didn't want to offend Luna.
Not that he thought she would be.
He looked back to the young Ravenclaw. She was no legendary beauty, but she was certainly cute in her own way, with her long, blonde hair, stringy as it may be, and a nice face, with smooth, almost procelain skin, and delicate features.
And her eyes. Her expressive silver eyes, filled with understanding and wonder.
Her now-mandatory (another Umbridge legacy, Harry thought) school outfit hid her unusual dress sense, but her "jewellery" as it were, made up for it. She wore earrings made of radishes (no, she said they were "dirigible plums"), and a string with a butterbeer cork for a necklace ("it's a charm. To keep the Nargles away"), both of which were excuses other students used to mock and belittle her, but which in Harry's mind were offbeat, endearing, and quintessentially Luna.
Plus she calmed him, got him, believed in him.
No, he had no particular need to jump away.
Just in case.
She snapped him out of his head with another sing-song comment of hers. "You should be careful, Harry. Mistletoe is often infested with Nargles."
It dawned on him she was giving him an out.
Uncertainly, he pointed to her necklace. "Good thing you're protected from Nargles," he said softly.
She gave him another "you remembered" look.
More silence. Shorter this time.
With a surprisingly (to Harry, at least) determined expression appearing on her face, she said lightly to him, "You're not, though," and stepped towards him, under the mistletoe.
They were inches apart, he looking down at her, she looking up at him, green eyes staring into silver.
Put up or shut up, Potter, he thought.
He leaned his head down to her. Closing her eyes, she leaned up.
Their lips connected. His first kiss. Hers too, he would wager.
Tentatively, they moved their lips gently, delicately against one another. It felt really, really good to Harry.
Her sigh made him think it felt just as good to her.
After an eternity, or thirty seconds, they moved slowly apart. Her eyes still closed, Luna said, "That was lovely, Harry" to him in the dreamiest tone he had ever heard from her.
"Yeah," he said, softly.
She then opened her eyes, and said in what Harry thought was a determined tone aimed more at herself than him, "But I really must get to supper. I hear there may be pudding." She smiled at him.
"You wouldn't want to miss that," he said, just as softly as before.
"No," she said, softly again. Switching to a serious tone, but still with a smile on her face, she said to him, "You shouldn't stand under mistletoe anymore these holidays, though, Harry. Nargles are a real threat, and you don't have one of these," pointing to her necklace.
He raised an eyebrow at that. "Got it. No more mistletoe. I wouldn't want to get Nargled."
She burst out laughing at that, a huge laugh, doubling over. "Nargled!" she wheezed out during her laugh. She was laughing a good half-minute, as long as the kiss lasted. He started chuckling as well.
Eventually, her laughter died down. She picked up her Transfiguration book. Shaking her head with a smile, she repeated, "Nargled!" She grabbed his right hand with her left and squeezed. "Merry Christmas, Harry," she said gently.
"Merry Christmas, Luna," he said, just as gently
She turned and left the Room of Requirement. Halfway out, her walking turned into skipping.
He watched her leave. He looked at the door for long time.