Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers apply. It should be intuitively obvious that I have no rights to Harry Potter or anything associated with it, but on the off chance it is not, the reader should know that I in fact have no such rights.
Protection From Nargles
Part 9 - Necklace
It was another night in the Gryffindor common room. Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas were heatedly discussing the upcoming friendly between the Irish and English National Quidditch Teams. Colin and Dennis Creevey were looking at the photographs Colin took in Hogsmeade. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil were reading tarot cards and whispering excitedly to one another, casting the occasional glance towards the Wizard's Chess match across the common room, where Harry Potter was once again losing to Ron Weasley. About one time out of every five they played, Harry would manage to beat Ron, usually by a game of attrition.
This was not one of those times.
Harry soon found his queen pinned then captured, resulting a few moves later in Ron triumphantly shouting "Checkmate!" Harry groaned in defeat, and Neville Longbottom took his place as Ron's next opponent, while Harry took Neville's place on the sofa a few feet away from the game.
It had been a long Sunday of O.W.L. revision for Harry, Ron and Hermione, going over the various subjects they were taking and getting ready for the important end-of-fifth-year tests. These tests would determine which advanced courses Harry would be eligible for, and so while Harry would have preferred to spend a second day in Hogsmeade, he stayed in the Gryffindor common room, studying with his best friends. Ron griped a lot, and Hermione was her usual mix of joyful at learning and anxious that it wasn't enough for her to do as well as she wanted, but it had been a productive day for all of them, and Harry was grateful at Hermione's continual prodding of him to at least try to live up to his academic potential.
The decision to stay and study was made easier by the knowledge that Luna Lovegood was also studying in the Ravenclaw common room, and not out in the village enjoying the second day of the weekend. While her fourth-year exams were nowhere near as intense as the O.W.L.s, like all Ravenclaws, Luna was determined to excel, more for her own satisfaction than any worry about letting the side down. Not for the first time, Harry wondered what it would be like to see Luna and Hermione go head-to-head in an academic debate, rather than a debate about Luna's beliefs. He suspected it would either be extremely entertaining and informative, or dreadfully scary.
Or more likely, both.
Yesterday had been a good day for Harry – his first real date with Luna. They had had a lovely time in Hogsmeade, hung out together with his friends (who he was proud to say had made Luna feel welcome among them), talked, skated, held hands, and apart from having to deal with bizarre rumours and a confrontation with Draco Malfoy and his hangers-on, had lots of fun.
And there was the kissing. That had been... not merely fun, exactly. More like transcendent.
Dean had bragged about snogging his Muggle girlfriend over the last summer, and Seamus had excitedly described to his roommates about snogging Lavender after last year's Yule Ball (although he never brought the topic up when Lavender was around), but the way the other boys had described it didn't compared to what kissing Luna had been like for Harry. Oh, it had felt wonderful, and he definitely wanted to do more of it with the blonde Ravenclaw, but more than that, it made him feel connected to her, on an emotional plane as much as a sensual one.
He was quite certain he had a new Patronus memory.
As he was thinking about all this, he once again found himself idly rolling in his hand the butterbeer cork charm Luna had made for him, and thinking about what the D.A. obviously meant to her, as she had saved those corks from the organizing meeting in the Hog's Head Pub all those months ago. He was still doing this, vaguely watching the other two boys play chess, when Hermione came and sat next to him, clutching the novel Viktor Krum had given her.
"Taking a break from studying?" he said teasingly.
The brunette playfully swatted his arm and smiled at him. "I think we did enough for today. And I was surprised at how focused you were today. I thought you'd have your head in the clouds, considering."
"Yeah, well... I'm just sorry we only got to the tail end of supper today."
Hermione smirked. "Not as much as Ron, though."
"Yeah, but for different reasons."
She rolled her eyes. "You can handle one supper without seeing her, Harry," which caused him to blush. "I didn't ask after you got back yesterday, but did you have a good time with Luna?"
His face lit up. "Yeah, I really did. Luna's a lot of fun, and it was great doing Hogsmeade with someone." Seeing the expression on her face, he said, "You know what I mean. Madam Puddifoot's isn't somewhere I want to go with Ron and you."
"Can you imagine Ron there?" she said, and broke out laughing.
"Hey! I'm right here!" Ron said from the chess game. "Maybe I'll go there on the next Hogsmeade weekend, just to show you two."
"It's not really for singles, Ron," Harry said.
"I never said I'd be going alone," the red-haired boy said. "Now could you two pipe down, I'm trying not to lose here."
Hermione looked a little pained at Ron's comment, and exasperatedly said, "Fine, Ron. Play your game," as Harry laughed. She turned to her black-haired friend, and said, "It's good to see you laugh, Harry. You've been so sullen these last few months. I worry about you, you know. Ron and I both do."
"You know what I've been going through, Hermione," he said, his voice raising slightly.
"I know," she said, trying to placate him. "But you've been so withdrawn. You can always talk to us. You don't have to hide things. Or try and protect us."
He shook his head. "It's just hard. There's so much going on, so much awfulness, that it's hard to talk about sometimes."
"You talk to Luna about it..."
He frowned. "That's different. It's different with her..."
"I know it is. Just don't forget you can still talk to us, Harry – we're your best friends."
He sighed. "I know you are, Hermione, and I do know I can talk to you and Ron, although you two are busy with your prefect duties an awful lot. But it is different with Luna – she really is a calming influence on me -"
"Like yesterday, with Malfoy?" Hermione interrupted.
"Yeah, just like that," he said. He sighed, and ran his right hand through his hair. "It's not just that, though. She's really easy to talk to, about everything. And she's always saying something surprising..." Harry paused momentarily as he watched Hermione visibly stop herself from rolling her eyes, before continuing, "and not just about her creatures. She really is insightful, you know. She mentioned you helped her this past week, by the way. Hairstyle advice? That's not the kind of advice you normally give," he said with a smile.
"Well, it appears she took it," Hermione said defensively.
"And she really did look good," he said dreamily, to Hermione's amusement. Seeing her smirk, he said, "I'm glad you helped her, Hermione. It would be really nice if you and her became friends. She doesn't really have any other than Ginny and me."
Hermione snorted at that, and upon seeing Harry's questioning look, said, "I think you're a little more than a friend to Luna, Harry. I know I don't go around kissing my friends the way you two obviously did yesterday." At another enquiring glance from her friend, she said, "Ginny told me all about that lipstick of hers, and you keep staring off into space with that goofy grin on your face. I can put two and two together."
"Well, yeah..." Harry said sheepishly.
"So if you do want to be more than friends with her" (Hermione waited for his nod before continuing) "have you talked to her about it?"
"Sort of. I... kind of told her I really like her," he said very quickly.
Hermione's eyes lit up. "Really! What did she say?"
He smiled. "She said the same thing."
"Well, there you go. It sounds like you want her to be your girlfriend, and that she'd like that. So go ask her," she said, almost ordering him.
"It should really be obvious I think of her that way, I would think."
Hermione shook her head. "Maybe, but you should tell her. No one likes to be left wondering about something like that."
"I did ask Luna to the next Hogsmeade weekend," he said.
"That's good, but you still need to talk to her," she said insistently.
"I know. So how's the book?" he asked, hoping Hermione would let him change the topic.
The brunette smiled a little smile. "It's pretty good. I think my Bulgarian is coming along – my written Bulgarian, at least. I'm sure my accent is atrocious, but its better than nothing, and I'm hoping to practice speaking it over Easter."
This was news to Harry. "Oh? Going to visit Viktor?" he asked teasingly.
She blushed a little. "No, I'm going to Malaga with my parents, but Bulgaria is playing a Quidditch friendly against Portugal that week, and he may swing through on the way back home."
"Just for language tutoring, I'm sure," he said with a smirk.
Hermione was just about to retort, when Ron loudly shouted, "Damn it!", causing all the heads of the common room to turn to look at him, most curious at Ron's outburst, but Lavender and Parvati broke out giggling.
"Ronald!" chastised Hermione.
"I'm sorry, but I totally fell into Neville's trap. There goes my winning streak," Ronald said despairingly while the other boy grinned. "Good game. Now I owe you a butterbeer," he said to Neville.
"I'll play you, Neville," said Hermione, to Ron and Harry's surprise, as she took Ron's spot opposite Neville. He grinned, and set up the pieces.
Ron sat down next to Harry. "What were you two talking about?"
"Viktor," Harry said, causing Ron to frown. "She may see him at Easter."
"I thought she was going to Malta or something with her parents."
"Spain, but apparently Viktor may pass through."
Ron frowned again, but didn't elaborate. "What are you doing at Easter, anyway?"
"I'll probably stay here, like always."
"You should come to the Burrow – Ginny and I are going home this year, and the twins may as well. It's been hard for Mum since Percy, well... it'll be good for her to have us all home. You should come."
"Are you sure? I wouldn't be intruding?" Harry asked.
"Of course not. Mum would always love to have you visit, and you know me and Ginny have a blast when you're there. Plus, you could visit the neighbours. Well, one neighbour in particular," he said with a grin and a wink. "You know you want to."
Harry smiled. "Yeah, I'd love to go. Check with your Mum, to be sure, but it'll be fun."
Ron clapped him on the back, as they heard Neville laugh and Hermione shout, "Aaaaugh!" in frustration. "Four moves! You beat me in four moves! I demand a rematch," she said as she began to reset her pieces. "Oh, shut up!" she said to her pieces as they berated her for falling into Scholar's Mate. Neville began to laugh, and Ron and Harry moved closer to watch the next game unfold.
Monday morning in the Great Hall saw Harry enjoying a bowl of porridge with raisins and brown sugar at the Gryffindor table with his friends. He looked over to the Ravenclaw table occasionally and exchanged smiles and waves with Luna, to the general amusement of his housemates, and the hostile looks of some of Luna's. When the morning owls came in, a small barn owl swooped low over him, dropped a small piece of parchment into his bowl, and flew away just as suddenly.
Harry wiped the porridge off the parchment and read it.
Understood. And you're welcome.
Harry smiled, and folded up the note, and caught Luna looking quizically at him. He gave her another small wave.
"Interesting mail?" asked Ron.
"Just plans coming together," Harry said cryptically. He didn't elaborate further, despite Ron's prodding.
Monday morning brought another session of Defence Against the Dark Arts. Harry wondered which of Dolores Umbridge's styles of "teaching" she would employ today: the pointless transcribing of the textbook, or a baiting and insulting harangue against what she viewed as improper and insufficiently loyal to the Ministry of Magic.
Unfortunately for Harry, today was a baiting day for Umbridge. She began class with a lengthy speech against the "continuing false and vicious rumours about You-Know-Who's supposed return", making sure to make comments about "attention-seeking liars" and "senile old men who should retire instead of spreading dissent". Hermione kept glancing nervously at him, but Harry was proud he kept his cool with only a minimum of teeth-grinding.
That changed when Umbridge switched targets, and began taking swipes at media outlets she viewed as opposed to the Ministry. First she attacked Irish Wizarding Radio as an "unnecessary foreign presence which no proper witch or wizard should listen to". That caused Seamus Finnigan to object vociferously, earning him two hours of detention that evening. She then moved on to describing The Quibbler as a forum for liars and the unstable, and described anyone who read it as "a few knuts short of a galleon", and a "lunatic". That last term cause a fair portion of the class to look at Harry, who loudly stated that Umbridge was completely wrong ("Oh no, Harry," whispered Hermione to him, which he ignored), and that he'd rather read The Quibbler than "a pack of lies like the Daily Prophet".
Professor Umbridge smiled evilly at him, and said, "You'll be joining Mr. Finnigan tonight for detention, Mr. Potter," to the sniggers of most of the Slytherins in class. She then directed the class to begin copying the textbook. Even the Slytherins groaned subtly at that.
As Harry was finishing supper that evening, he saw Luna lingering just inside one of the doors to the Great Hall, obviously waiting for him. He scarfed down the remainder of his pork chop and Brussels sprouts, and went over to where his blonde friend awaited.
She smiled widely at him as he approached, and they wandered down the hallway close to one another.
"You got mail this morning," she said dreamily. "The owl looked a lot like one of Daddy's owls – Curry."
"I didn't know your father was into Indian food."
"It's short for 'Courier'," she said.
"That makes sense. Was Curry the owl who delivered the clothes to you last week?"
She shook her head. "Curry is too small for anything that big. That was Dad's other owl – Roti." Harry raised an eyebrow. "It's short for Rottweiler. Mum named him – she liked incongruity."
"Those names cannot be a coincidence," Harry said.
"They're not. Daddy keeps saying he's going to name our next owl 'Butter Chicken'," she said, smiling at him.
Harry laughed, but as was often the case he had no idea whether she was joking or not. When Harry began laughing, the corners of Luna's mouth turned up, but that didn't really explain anything.
"Did the owl bring you anything interesting?" she asked.
"Oh, just a note. Nothing big."
She looked at him appraisingly. "Oh well," she said airily.
Harry got the impression he was never going to be able to get one over on Luna, but she switched subjects, as she so often did.
"Would you like to go for a walk with me tonight?" she asked hesitantly.
He shook his head sadly. "I'd love to, but Seamus and I have detention with Umbridge tonight."
She frowned. "What happened?"
"Umbridge was spouting her propaganda again. Seamus and I objected to her attacks on certain media. I didn't like that she called Quibbler readers lunatics."
She stopped, grabbed his hand, and looked into his eyes with a serious expression on her face. "Harry, you don't have to do things like that. You don't need to defend me, you know."
He smiled at her. "Wasn't that my line?"
She blushed. "I don't want you getting carved up on my account. But thank you anyway." She stood up kissed his cheek.
He squeezed her hand gently. "I should go find Seamus and get this over with. Can we go for that walk tomorrow? I'll meet you outside the Charms classroom at seven?"
She smiled, nodded, and kissed his cheek again. He reluctantly let go of her hand and went to go get mutilated by Dolores Umbridge.
The next evening, Harry was leaving the Great Hall to rendezvous with Luna for their walk. He looked ruefully at his bandaged right hand ("I must not defend crackpots" was the inspirational message Umbridge had him write that day), and regretted having had to postpone their walk to today. He knew that asking him was a new a nerve-wracking experience for Luna, even if she must have known he'd gladly say yes.
But did she know? he thought to himself. Harry thought he had been pretty obvious – the kissing, the public hand-holding – but maybe Hermione was right, and he should make it clear he hoped she would be his girlfriend. Maybe even some more open gesture would be good.
Harry's musings were interrupted as he approached hallway containing the Charms classroom. He heard a number of voices talking somewhat heatedly, and then he thought he heard the dreamy tones of Luna. Preparing himself for the worst, he hurried on as the voices became more distinctive.
"I don't know why you're bothering, Loony," said one voice which sounded like Lucretia Marquand. "Love potions don't last forever, and when he gets over them, he's going to hate you even more than we do."
"If that's even possible," said a voice he didn't recognize.
"Oh, I'm not giving him any potions," he heard Luna say airily. "I'd never do that to an..."
"Why else would someone like Potter ever give you the time of day?" taunted Lucretia interrupting her.
"Unless he's pranking her, like they say. He's going to humiliate you!" said another voice teasingly.
Harry rounded the corner to see Luna with her back against the wall, surrounded by Lucretia and the two Slytherin girls that followed her everywhere. There was no-one else in the hallway. Luna outwardly seemed as dreamy as ever, but Harry recognized the look he saw in her eyes – she was afraid of what these girls might do to her with no one else around. Harry didn't think the Slytherins noticed this, but Harry now broke into a run.
"Yeah, even worse than Arcas MacNeil last year!" laughed Lucretia, as her friends joined in.
"HEY! What are you three doing?" shouted Harry, pushing his way through them to reach Luna.
"Hello, Harry," the blonde Ravenclaw said, smiling at him. "You're right on time."
He took her hand, and said, "I wouldn't want to stand you up." Turning to Lucretia, he asked menacingly, "What are you doing to Luna?"
"Oh, don't get your knickers in a twist, Potter," smirked Lucretia. "We were just keeping Luna company. Those love potions she's giving you must have a homing charm in them. You should talk to Professor Snape about getting extra credit, Luna."
"Why don't you snakes go somewhere else and leave my girlfriend alone?" asked Harry, who then realized what he had called Luna. He turned to look at her, a questioning look in his eyes, and his world stopped... until she nodded and a wide smile broke out on her face.
"Thank you for the chat, Lucretia, Anne, and Jocasta," Luna said sincerely at the Slytherins, "but my boyfriend and I are going to go for a walk."
Harry couldn't help himself. He took her in his arms and gave her a deep kiss right there in the charms hallway. It ended too soon, as they always did, and as they separated, he commented quietly, "No lipstick today."
She smiled and shook her head. "I think that's more for special occasions. Is that o.k.?"
"You're perfect just the way you are," he said.
The girl Luna addressed as Jocasta made retching sounds, as Harry shot her a look, took out his wand (the Slytherin girls backed up at this), took out the butterbeer cork charm Luna had made him all those weeks ago, and cast Engorgio at the string, until it was of sufficient length. He then placed the now necklace-sized charm over his head, to Luna's astonishment, the Slytherin girls' guffaws...
And the chastisement of Professor Flitwick, coming down the hallway.
"Mister Potter!" said the diminutive Charms professor loudly. "You know better than to use magic in the hallways, even if you were using a Charm correctly." His eyes looked pointedly at Harry's necklace. "And both you and Miss Lovegood know better than to make such an inappropriate display in the hallways, especially given the High Inquisitor's edicts on such matters. Seven points from Gryffindor, five points from Ravenclaw, and two evenings detention for the both of you." Turning to the Slytherin trio, he said, "Now run along, ladies, go enjoy the evening."
The three Slytherins left somewhat dejectedly, obviously disappointed that they wouldn't get to see the full extent of Harry and Luna's punishment.
Turning back to the two students, who were still holding hands, Professor Flitwick pondered the situation out loud. "Now, what kind of detention to give you two? Hmmm... something appropriately harsh. Ah ha!" he snapped his fingers. Looking harshly at the two (although Harry thought he could see a slight smile on his lips), he said, "Tonight and tomorrow night, you will go into the forest and tend the thestral nest. You can both see them, I believe." Upon Harry and Luna's confirmation, he continued, "You will feed the thestrals, clear debris from the nests, and generally clean the area surrounding them. You may use your wands – both for the work and for protection from the thestrals." (Now Harry was certain that Professor Flitwick was suppressing a smile.) "You shall stay out there from seven until ten-thirty, at which time you will go directly to your common rooms. Now go get your winter wear and be off," he said pleasantly.
Harry met Luna at the entrance to the castle a few minutes later and took her hand as they walked briskly to the thestral nest.
"It's really not much of a punishment – having to spend two evenings with you out there," Harry said. "I almost feel bad about putting one over on poor Professor Flitwick."
"Oh, I think he knew exactly what he was doing," she said knowingly. "Unlike Umbridge, I'm sure he knows Thestrals are harmless – he's very smart. I think he gave us a non-detention, simply because he had to do something with Lucretia there. Otherwise, she likely would have told Umbridge, and we would have 'lines' with her."
Harry thought about that, and figured Luna was likely right once again in his analysis.
"Besides, he must have seen us kissing, but he only came over well after we were done," she said, gently squeezing Harry's bandaged right hand. "Did you mean it when you called me your girlfriend?"
Harry turned and looked deeply into her eyes. "I really did. I'd like you to be..."
She leaned over and kissed him again. "Good. Me too. Now let's go feed the thestrals." Not letting go of his hand, she began skipping into the Forest, which meant Harry had to skip as well to keep up with her. Harry had never skipped before, and although he was certain he looked completely ludicrous skipping into the woods at night, it was exactly where he wanted to be – so long as he was with Luna.
(Author's Note: And that's the end of Protection from Nargles. The story continues in Harry and Luna Against the High Inquisitor, the first chapter of which I am posting simultaneously with this one. The reason for the new story is that this one is basically entirely fluffy, while the next one will concern their dealings with Professor Umbridge, amidst probably a lot of fluff there as well (what can I say? I like writing it). The change in tone makes a new story they way to go, I think.
I'd like to thank everyone who has read this story, and especially everyone who has reviewed it. This was my first foray into fanfiction for more than a decade, and I really appreciate all the feedback I have gotten on it. I've really enjoyed writing it, and I hope you've enjoyed reading it.)