Author's Notes: This was written for journeystory on LiveJournal. Here are my original notes: This is supposed to be set vaguely during the fourth book, just before the Triwizard stuff. There's kind of an unplanned emphasis on Pansy/Luna, possibly unrequited, because Pansy really, really wanted to like Luna, and I couldn't stop her. The connection between hope and feathers belongs to Emily Dickinson. I recently read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and ever since, I've been really intrigued by how the transition between childhood and adulthood, and coming into oneself, is shown in stories. So I think Pansy is somewhat reflecting that here, especially in her attraction to Luna.
The Trick Step
The notes kept coming, and Luna kept finding them.
They were curious little things, really, containing always the same word, and written always in one of the same two hands on the back of what appeared to be a Potions essay. Written always, regardless, with the same sense of haste and urgency. What was not the same was where they turned up.
For instance, Luna had found the first one in the form of a dirty, tea-colored corner poking out from the bottom of her shoe halfway through Charms. She'd had no idea of when she might have picked it up, only that it must have been somewhere between the fourth and third floors, because she had not been wearing any shoes before then. The second note she had found floating in the lake beside a slice of toast that someone had abandoned for the Giant Squid to find. The toast was quickly pulled under the surface, with the note just as quickly following due to the suction, but Luna had excellent vision and had got a good look at both before they disappeared. The note —the one word—had been written on a small scrap of parchment in the same handwriting as before. The toast had been buttered generously.
Upon the discovery of the third note, Luna had begun keeping a logbook, which she carried with her at all times. There had been four more notes on the eighth of October, all within an hour of each other: one in the girls' lavatory, one in the Owlery, and one tucked inside the pages of her Transfiguration textbook, as snug and purposeful as could be. The one from the Owlery had been the first to be written in the second hand, and Luna had almost dismissed it as a piece of someone else's discarded letter when she happened to turn it over, and realized that the writing from the Potions essay was a logical continuation of thought from what had been written on one of the other pieces she had found. So Luna had secured this note, too, into the back of the logbook with all of the others (excluding only the one that had been eaten by the Giant Squid with a side of buttered toast).
On the ninth of October, Luna had found seven notes, including one that had got caught in her hair after fluttering down from a moving staircase, and another that she had had to fish out of her afternoon tea with a slotted spoon.
Perhaps, Luna thought, it was not she who was finding the notes; but rather, the notes who were finding her. Which begged many questions, the third-most important of these being: Who was sending them?
There had to be at least two people involved, she decided—or at least, two people who could write; there was always a chance of extra, silent contributors. And at least one of the people knew who she was, unless of course the spell delivering the notes had assigned a random target. The handwriting on roughly half of the notes more or less matched the handwriting in which the Potions essay had been composed, which suggested that one of the writers at least attended Hogwarts (a possibility she had not taken for granted, just in case). Though she could read it only in fragments, the Potions essay talked a lot about Gregory the Smarmy—at least, as 'a lot' as there could even be in fragments—and Luna knew for a fact that the fourth years had been assigned two lengths of parchment dealing with the ill effects of Gregory's Unctuous Unction only a fortnight ago, because Professor Snape had not yet erased the board by the time she had arrived at class that day. One of the people, then, had sat in the very same room as she, just an hour or so earlier, and a year or so older.
She might have asked someone about which house had Potions when, if anyone could identify the owner of the handwriting, or if anybody had even noticed anything amiss as of late—such as the fact that Luna seemed physically incapable of looking for more than two-point-one-two seconds at the Slytherin table in the Great Hall, for some strange reason—but she did not exactly have any friends to whom she might pose such questions; she had no qualms about asking strangers, but strangers tended to laugh at or ignore her, and that was really no help at all. So as with many of the mysteries Luna encountered, she would have to solve this one herself.
Even with so many possibilities running rampant through her head, it never once occurred to her that, just as the questions were finding her of their own accord, the answers might very well be inclined to do the same.
As Luna hurried up to bed on the tenth of October, she worried she might be late. Curfew was only minutes away, and she still had several floors to climb; on top of that, she had not been back to her dormitory since leaving it that morning, due to the sudden appearance of some uncommonly fine weather, and so did not know offhand the answer to that day's Ravenclaw Tower riddle. She never minded a difficult riddle, but if it took too long to puzzle out, and there was no one else around to ponder over it with her, she would most certainly be out of bed when she wasn't supposed to be.
Readjusting the strap of her bag on her shoulder, Luna moved toward the tapestry she knew concealed a staircase that would take her to the fourth floor—a welcome shortcut when so little time remained. She brushed the tapestry aside, creating a space wide enough for her to slip through, and then she began the ascent.
It had been dark in the corridors at this point, the castle already settling down for a night of slumber, but the staircase, which was hidden by yet another thick tapestry at its peak, was so dimly-lit that she could hardly see her own hands before her. Pausing for a moment, Luna removed her shoes, shuffling them to one hand so that she could pull out her wand. She would need all of her senses if she was to make it up the staircase without hurting herself in her haste; bare feet always helped her better feel her way.
"Lumos," she whispered to the blackness, and the tip of her wand cast a glow like moonlight on the stone walls on either side of her. Nodding in satisfaction, Luna continued on.
Then, because it had been waiting for her, her wand illuminated another stretch of stairs with a small scrap of parchment resting on one of them, its edges slightly curled. Momentarily, Luna forgot all about curfew. She climbed as quickly as she could until she reached the parchment—the parchment which she knew would contain another note, for they always found her when she least expected them, and she could see the familiar script slanted across its front. Her hand, pale as wandlight, reached out just as she ascended the last few steps separating her from her latest clue.
Luna stopped short. If she had been more prone to taking shortcuts, instead of the longer, usually more scenic routes, she might have remembered to jump over the trick step. Yet as she was not, her leg was now sunk calf-deep into the staircase, as if she had suddenly stepped off of a sandbar and into a bottomless ocean.
"Oh, my." Luna sighed, set down her shoes, and began tugging at her leg. It would not budge—not out, at least, for she sunk in a little deeper. She strained with all her might. Her knee, now, was buried, and the lower part of her thigh. It was very uncomfortable, because of course only one leg had been captured, and her other had to extend out behind her in a sort of awkward splits to prevent her from feeling as if she were being pulled in half. Somewhere beneath the stairs, her leg had stopped meeting any resistance against it, and had begun to swing in the empty air of some unfathomable place.
Every effort seemed to make things worse.
Eventually, she began to debate between either doing nothing and seeing what came of it, and finding something else untried. Luna, who was somewhat passive but tended to avoid giving up, and who was usually calm, but had grown rather panicked as the trick step attempted to consume her, pointed her wand at her leg and attempted a Banishing Charm. The Charm hit something. She wasn't sure what; her wand was still lit from before, and all the light concentrated on one point so close to her it made it difficult to see. For a few seconds, the entire castle seemed to hold its breath.
And then, just as she had seen the note being sucked down into the lake after an ill-fated slice of toast a few days prior, so did Luna find an unstoppable force pulling her into the step after the Banishing Charm, until she was once more enveloped in darkness, and falling through nothing and everything, and all that remained of her on the staircase was an old pair of shoes and a scrap of parchment that had snatches of a Potions essay on one side, and a single word in hurried letters on the other.
That word was: Help.
The fog had settled on the ground hours ago, and Pansy was still trying to pick her way through it. It made her uneasy, the way her feet disappeared in that unnatural swirl of grey and white cloud; the ground had been relatively even so far, but there was no telling when a large pit lie looming ahead, or a sharp rock jutted out just a little too much. For all she knew, she had been walking along the edge of a cliff this entire time. She would not know her misstep until it was too late.
She had felt calmer with Draco forging ahead beside her—someone else to help feel out the ground and warn of any dangers she herself had missed—but he was gone. At least when she had been frightened before, they had both been frightened; when they had held hands, as if sensing, somehow, an imminent separation, Pansy had felt him shaking, and she had felt a strange kind of bravery in the justification of her fear. If Draco was afraid, then she had a right to be, too. People called him a coward, and in truth, he did spook rather easily, but people didn't know him, just as they didn't know her. And besides, this was a steady fear; it was not the short, sudden terror of a monster jumping out at you from the bushes, only to discover moments later that it was really an enemy or a friend playing a joke. This fear was constant and real, one that sharpened the edges of the unknown world, because it was a world in which anything could happen.
What made it worse was that nothing really had happened. Not in the five days they had been there. There had been obstacles, of course: dangerous geography, a few tangles with rogue plants and enchantments... These things had unnerved her. The silence, which pervaded almost everything; the sky, which never seemed to be anything but grey, even when the sun shone. In the five days since they had arrived, only one threat had remained constant, only one thing kept their hearts beating a little bit faster even after they had successfully avoided some scrape.
They could not get out.
They had decided together, after several minutes of arguing, that the best way to find an escape was to keep walking. If the realm was contrived of magic, it might simply run out; even if it wasn't, they had got in, hadn't they? Surely, there had to be a way out that they had yet to find. Staying in one place and shooting up sparks with Draco's wand—hers had been lost on the journey there—had done nothing to help them, had only made their backs sore and their nerves twitchier as they started at every noise, their ears straining for the sounds of rescue.
But who, really, would rescue them? Surely none of their friends, who would rather protect their own expensive hides. Perhaps some were even glad that they had gone. The thought saddened her more than she had expected it to.
Then another thought occurred to her. Draco had been taken away from her, yes. But what if he had been rescued? What if he was safe at home by the fire, while she trudged ever onward through the fog, following their stupid plan until she kept on trudging over a cliff or died of hunger and exhaustion? What if he had been chosen to be saved, and she had been left behind, because she had not been worth the effort?
It was not very cold. There was no bite to the air, not in the afternoon, at least, because there was no wind—and there was no wind, because when the wind came, the fog swirled and left, and the fog had not finished toying with her. All the same, her arms prickled with gooseflesh beneath the sleeves of her robes, and she shivered, just once.
Pansy swept her eyes back and forth across the landscape, as she did when she wasn't staring fixedly at her feet, worried what she might stumble across. Nothing seemed to have changed in all the hours she had walked, and indeed, she might have thought she had not moved at all had she not been able to look back and mark the dark silhouette of the tree—the only tree she had seen that day—under which she and Draco had spent the night, seed pods poorly transfigured into sleeping bags. It was only a tiny smudge behind her, a slightly darker grey than all the grey that surrounded her, but she was thankful to see it so far behind, at the same time she longed to be near it, so that it might once more break up the monotony of the plains. The fog stretched immeasurably in all directions, impossibly flat, not even sloping into distant mountains at its ends—as far as she could tell, it had no end. Even the ground beneath her feet, invisible as it was under the fog, lacked even the slightest incline of a molehill. Sometimes thin, sparse weeds tickled her legs, but they, too, were invisible to her.
Pansy reached into her robes and pulled out a water bag, raising it to her chapped lips. Draco had transfigured it for her—a river rock, this time—and she had filled it that morning in the small stream that had run past—and away—from the tree. But he had never been good at Transfiguration, and so the bag leaked sometimes, and at others, grew irritatingly heavy. Unlike Draco, Pansy had been rather skilled at Transfiguration, but she did not have her wand, and Draco's refused to submit to her.
The water sloshed feebly in its bag. It was nearing empty. Not for the first time, Pansy wished the wind would pick up and clear the fog away, if only so that she could find another stream, or even a river. Maybe then, she thought, more out of frustration than serious intent, she could save herself the trouble of walking any further, and merely drown herself. It would probably be quicker than any fate she faced by carrying on. If she couldn't keep herself under the surface long enough, at least she would get a bath out of the whole affair. Draco's Cleansing Charms were even worse than his Transfiguration skills, and after being nearly murdered by a bar of soap, they had both agreed that moving about like a filthy Muggle was the safer—though ranker—option. Of course, there were no Charms or Muggle remedies that could cure hunger when there was no food to be found. Pansy's stomach rumbled.
Finished drinking, she lowered the water bag, and froze. Something was moving toward her.
A Gryffindor might have tried to find a weapon in their environs—though their options would have been sorely limited—so that they could fend off any threatening newcomers. However, Pansy was a Slytherin for a reason, and her first instinct was not to fight, but to hide. It took her a moment, her eyes sliding frantically across the scenery, then back to the figure bobbing toward her, until she bothered to look down. She blinked at the fog for another moment more, at the way it swirled around the bottom of her robes, making it look as though she were floating instead of standing, and then dove down, hoping she wouldn't manage to bash her head in upon finally locating the only rock in the prairie. Luckily, the ground was as bare here as it always was, and she encountered only a minute patch of hairlike grass as she flattened herself down into the dirt.
She remained there for what felt like hours, her cheek pressed against the damp, fragrant earth, her heart pounding in her ears, her fingers clenching and unclenching like a Kneazle clawing at the curtains, her eyes squeezed shut. Vaguely, she noted that her right side was wet, and that she must have landed on the water bag, causing it to burst, and that she didn't care, as long as whatever had come for her went away.
Pansy waited, longer than she thought she probably needed to. Then, she took a deep breath, scrabbled up out of the fog, and opened her eyes.
The figure was right before her—they were almost nose to nose! This close, the shape was blurred, but she could see a long, wild fuzz of white-yellow hair—or fur, was it fur? The eyes that blinked back at her were wide—though not with surprise—and blue. Pansy leapt backward, and the figure leapt into focus.
"Oh, hello," said Loony Lovegood pleasantly. "Did you find what you were looking for, under the fog?"
Pansy opened her mouth, but no words came forth. She could only gawp uncouthly at the familiar but wholly unexpected face. Loony watched her patiently. She had on her Hogwarts robes, too, though the sleeves were too short, and Pansy could see the cuffs of a striped shirt poking out from under them. She was carrying an over-the-shoulder bag that looked as if it might burst at the seams at any second.
"What are you doing here?" Pansy eventually managed.
"Hm," said Loony. "Looking for you, I think." A thoughtful expression crossed her face, and then her eyes grew—impossibly—wider. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Are you barefoot, too?"
"Don't be stupid," Pansy snapped. Help had come, perhaps, but in the form of a lunatic. She kicked one shoe-clad foot above the fog briefly. "Why would I be barefoot?"
"It's very sensible," said Loony simply, hitching up her robes to her knees and raising her own foot, which was, in fact, quite bare. She wiggled her toes at Pansy. There was a slight, irritated red ring around her calf, with just the hint of a few bruises forming. Loony did not seem bothered by this—as if she could be bothered by anything—and returned her foot to where it had been. "Your notes did find me," she added.
Pansy felt she must have been in shock, because she seemed incapable of processing anything that was going on. "Notes?" she parroted.
Loony opened her bag, and began digging about in it, apparently searching for something. After a moment, she seemed to have found it, and withdrew a small, square notepad with a mottled brown cover. She regarded it fondly for a moment, and then flipped through a number of pages. When she came to a stop, she tapped the page, and held it out for Pansy to see. Involuntarily, Pansy took a step closer. There, arranged upon the white pages, was a veritable scrapbook of all the pleas for help she and Draco had attempted to send over the past five days—four, really, because they had not thought of the spell the first day; they hadn't even been certain it would work. Draco had claimed his mother had shown him how to perform it when he had first turned eleven, but memories from that time were hazy, as Pansy well knew, lost amidst the distraction and excitement of preparing to leave for Hogwarts, and Draco hadn't known whether he had remembered the spell correctly. Loony had written neat little labels under each attempt—Figure 1.1, Figure 3.2, Figure 4.7, and so on.
Automatically, Pansy reached into her robes and withdrew the remnants of half a roll of parchment—Draco's essay on Gregory the Smarmy for Professor Snape, which was one of the only things he'd been carrying with him as he and Pansy had come out of the library and headed toward their common room. (Pansy, who procrastinated such assignments with fervor, had not had even that. Just her wand, which she had managed to lose, anyway.)
"The very same parchment," Loony said, nodding to herself.
"So, what," Pansy began, "you found these—notes, and—"
"Oh, they found me, actually."
Pansy shook her head. "Whatever. So you got these notes, and, what, you thought you'd come to the rescue?" She tried to ignore the quiet trill of hope that had taken up residence somewhere in the pit of her stomach. Loony might have been a Ravenclaw, but that was no guarantee she would be able to help at all, much less perform a full-fledged rescue.
"You could see it that way, I think," Loony told Pansy with another nod. "Though I hadn't planned on rescuing anyone quite so soon. I was still collecting clues about who you might be when I fell through the stairs."
Any other week, Pansy might have found this latter sentence utterly daft, but just then, it made more sense than she would have liked it to. "You mean, the stairs behind the tapestries between the second and fourth floors?"
Loony smiled, though Pansy didn't think there was anything in that worth grinning about.
"Yes," Loony confirmed. "I was on my way to Ravenclaw Tower."
"We were coming down from the library."
"Ah"—Loony's eyes widened again—"I thought there might be two of you. I suppose Draco Malfoy must be here, too, then?"
"'Suppose'?" Pansy demanded, shocked that her and Draco's disappearance should be phrased as a mere casual musing. "What do you mean, suppose? Of course he's here. Or at least, he was. Hasn't the school been looking for us?"
Loony didn't even pause to think of more a tactful wording. "Well, no," she admitted. "No one's even noticed you're gone."
Pansy's vision swam as her eyes filled with tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. Quickly, she turned her back to Loony so that she wouldn't be caught. She had known that her friends wouldn't be quick to dash after her and Draco in a blaze of glory—or even a slow, glorious burn, as was the more Slytherin way—but she had still expected them to be worried about her. Even if they wouldn't come themselves, they would still be bothered enough by her absence to send someone more suitable to look for her. Pansy could be cruel, but those who laughed with her were her friends, she had thought, and those who did not laugh at all were the ones they always laughed at, the ones who could never be her friends, because they were targets. Had those friends never been her friends at all? Had they merely laughed with her because it gave them free range to bully others without being the instigators, without being the ones who would get blamed? Surely, surely, they would at least have noticed?
And what about Professor Snape? He was their Head of House. Everyone knew he favored Draco. Certainly, even if he cared not a whit for her, Professor Snape would come after them both for Draco's sake, for Draco's safety. Pansy grew cold again. What if he had come for Draco? What if that was why Draco was gone? It became more and more difficult to fight back her tears, like one of the pathetic first-years she enjoyed hassling when there was nothing else to do. Was stupid, Mudblood-loving Dumbledore going along with it, too, because he thought this was what she deserved? A tiny sob escaped her, and she nearly punched her fist into to her own mouth to bar the way for anymore that wished to follow it.
Suddenly, she felt something light brush her shoulder, and then Loony was enveloping her from behind, her thin arms wrapped around Pansy gently, and her head resting against Pansy's shoulder. Loony was warm, and smelled vaguely of mint.
"Please don't cry," Loony soothed. It sounded so much like a genuine entreaty that Pansy felt her lower lip quiver. "Everyone must be under a spell. It's very puzzling that no one's realized you're missing, otherwise."
"I'm not crying," Pansy ground out, hoping the hitch in her voice was not as apparent as it had sounded in her head, and shrugged out of Loony's grasp. Loony appeared not at all offended, which almost offended Pansy, in turn.
"How long have you been here?" Loony asked after a polite pause.
Pansy wiped her eyes, blinked, hard, and willed herself not to fall apart in front of the daftest human being she had ever met as she answered the question. "Five days. But Draco only disappeared a little while ago. Maybe an hour or two. We were walking, and then he just got... wrenched away. He kept going and going, like something was carrying him, and he was screaming, and I couldn't—because my wand..." She stopped.
For the first time, the other girl looked vaguely worried. "Oh dear," she said.
"What?" Pansy asked.
"I do hope that wasn't my fault."
"What?" Pansy repeated, this time as a snarl.
"I cast a Banishing Charm into the trick step as I was trying to escape—it had got hold of me very tightly, you see, and that's where that mark you noticed on my leg came from; I believe it's a tooth-mark, or it would be, if stairs had teeth—but I'm afraid I might not have aimed it as well as I would have liked."
"And you..." Pansy felt her face heating to a red as deep as a Weasley's—her mother would be so appalled. "And you—Banished him?"
Loony blinked at her. "I'm very sorry," she said, and Pansy begrudgingly thought she sounded as though she meant it. "I didn't intend for that to happen. I was very frightened, and about to fall a very long way. But don't worry, I know how to find him again."
"You had better," Pansy snapped, and only half-wished she had kept the comment to herself.