The Trick Step
Everything was soft. The ground, the smells, the colors. Everything was pale pink and butter yellow, like a sunset in springtime should be, but never was. The softness wasn't bright, but it seemed to glow with gentle light and warmth.
Luna opened her eyes fully, her lashes fluttering as she adjusted to her new surroundings. On her side in the soft grass, she stretched out her hand to the white thing that seemed to be planted in the ground by her head. The light curls of her hair seemed to reach for the thing with her, as if she wanted it with the entirety of her being.
When she saw what it was, she smiled. "Hope," she said to herself, because she knew the others could not hear her, "is the thing with feathers."
Her fingertip just barely brushed the tip of the white feather, and she fell back into slumber, her lips still curved into a smile.
Again, Luna was the first to wake. The light had not changed, but that meant little, though she was happy to note that her shadow had returned to her. She reached out to it on the grass, and her shadow reached back in greeting.
Draco and Pansy still slept beside her, curled up in such strange ways that Luna wondered whether they always slept so oddly, or if they only lie that way because that was how they had fallen. Luna smoothed the hair from their foreheads, and carefully straightened their sleeping forms as best she could without waking them. She withdrew the checkered blanket from the picnic basket, unfolded it until it was a longer rectangle, and slipped it under their heads. Only after her companions were tended to did she look around her—really look.
And once she had looked, she kept looking. Looking, and smiling, for what she saw was more beautiful than anything she had ever seen.
There were feathers everywhere, a garden of them, planted in rows like the trees of an orchard. They grew not from bare dirt like that of the vegetable patch she and her father tended at home; instead, the feathers had been planted in the soft grass upon which she had awoken, grass the color of spring, and almost mosslike in texture, now that she peered more closely at it and rubbed some between her thumb and forefinger.
No fences protected the feathers, though there were clear divisions within the garden. Each type of feather—for there were many different types, from whites to dull browns to vibrant blues and reds—had its own organized place. Luna could see a patch of metallic blue and green peacock feathers to her left, and a growth of what looked like barn owl feathers behind them. To her left, she saw the tiniest peeps of white down, barely visible through the moss as they struggled toward the light. They grew, like any plant might; Luna even saw a large watering can off to one side, though it was the only sign that anyone tended the feathers at all.
How wonderful it would be, she thought, if quills came from feather gardens, instead of having to be plucked from poor birds who had better uses for their feathers. How curious—
Ah, she thought, an idea dawning in the pink light. Hope, indeed.
When Draco and Pansy awoke, drowsily rubbing their eyes and blinking slowly, Luna was ready for them.
"Where are we?" Pansy asked, as Draco began to inspect the garden.
Luna felt a light flutter in her chest at the sight of her companions, awake, unhurt, and unafraid. It was as if wherever they were now enveloped them in feelings of safety and comfort. The skin of her own foot, so badly cut on the boulder, looked as smooth and pink as a baby's—as if hardship were simply a collection of sounds and syllables that were still too foreign to understand. The red ring around her ankle and the bruises from the trick step had all vanished, as well. Luna wiggled her toes in the mossy grass.
"We're in a garden of feathers," she said contentedly, "and they've just told me how to get home."
"What?" Draco interrupted. He must not have wandered far, which was a pity, Luna thought, because she had done a fair bit of exploring, herself, and knew that Draco wouldn't care for any of it after what she had just revealed. It really was a lovely garden.
Luna nodded at him. "We've been able to go home all along. We just didn't think of it."
"Think of what?" Pansy asked. Excitement bloomed in her eyes.
"The parchment," Luna replied. "That is, I thought about it quite a lot, but not in the way I was supposed to, I suppose." She held the torn Potions essay out to them, and they gawked at it. "The pieces of this parchment always want to be together. It's how we found you in the beginning, Draco. You had the nearest piece of the parchment, and so our half took us to you."
"But you've got all the other pieces there," he said, gesturing to her bag, from which one corner of her logbook protruded.
"All but one," Luna corrected. Both Draco and Pansy stared at her. Hurriedly, excitedly, she explained to them about the last piece of parchment she had encountered: the one that still rested above the trick step at Hogwarts, because she had not had time to grab it before she had fallen.
"Would it even be there still?" Draco asked.
"Unless it fell through the step, too, it will still be in our world, I think," Luna replied.
"And what if it's in some rubbish heap somewhere?" Pansy questioned.
"At least we'd be in our world," Draco murmured, half as if to himself.
"It will be much easier to get back to Hogwarts, even if we do end up in a rubbish heap," Luna reasoned. "Rubbish heaps are awfully interesting, in any case."
No one seemed to agree with her about that, or else they were ignoring her comment, but Luna didn't mind. She had known she would be able to help, somehow; she just hadn't realized it would be so simple, at the same time that it had been so difficult. But she had known, in her heart of hearts, that she hadn't found the notes for nothing. For nothing always really meant something, if one thought about it long enough.
"Are we ready to leave, then?" Pansy asked.
"Of course!" Draco exclaimed, sounding surprised that she had even thought it necessary to ask. Luna wasn't surprised; asking was always necessary, and she was pleased with Pansy for thinking of it.
She felt Pansy's eyes lingering on her, unsure, and then Pansy shrugged. "Of course," she amended. "We should go home."
At the word, Draco shifted his weight.
"To Hogwarts," Luna added, understanding. She touched his arm.
The parchment spell was easier this time, because she had done it once before. She hadn't been certain, the first time, because she had only talked and read about it before. But it really was useful, and simple, as long as one had the right kind of parchment. Which she did. How lucky it was the the Malfoys were so wealthy! With any luck, Draco would never go anywhere without a piece of parchment in his pocket; that way, he would never encounter such trouble again. There would always be a way out. A way home. She hoped he wouldn't forget that. She certainly wouldn't.
Luna let the Potions essay sniff the scraps of parchment—the missing pieces of itself—as she had done before, and as before, the parchment began to hum with anticipation after she told it what she wanted. The parchment was very keen to return to its missing piece, and Luna didn't want to make it wait any longer than it had to. It had been awfully patient with them, after all.
"Hold on, please," Luna said, as she held out her hand.
"We're going back," Draco breathed as he took it. Pansy clutched at Draco's arm tightly, but didn't say anything. Everything was happening so fast, so fast that Luna hardly had time to catch her breath. It was a good thing she did.
For this time, they did not vanish with a bang.
Well. Luna later supposed it might have been a bang. Mostly, she supposed it was a splash, or maybe a disgruntled gurgle. She was certainly gurgling at the time, and very much disgruntled.
She had not expected to be underwater when surfacing from another world. Deep underwater, by the looks of things. She had certainly not expected the piece of parchment the Giant Squid had taken to be whole enough to attract the Potions essay, after all of its time in the water. It shouldn't have been! But that was magic for you, Luna supposed.
A quartet of grindylows were eyeing them bewilderedly from behind a cluster of aquatic weeds. Luna did not pay them much mind, for she was beginning to panic again. Far above, she could see a sparkle of white light from what must have been the surface, but how were they to get to it? Her eyes had begun to ache at being in contact with the water, and her lungs had started to burn. She thrashed her arms and legs wildly, trying to make herself swim, and trying to avoid the flailing limbs of the others. If they hurt each other down there, especially after going so far together, they would never make it to the surface. Luna couldn't bear the thought of that—though her thoughts were making less and less sense as her mind and lungs cried out for air. She couldn't think fast enough. She gave one last kick, and her eyes began to cloud.
It was just enough. Someone—her senses were too dim then to register who—had accidentally pulled her bag from her shoulder, and her last kick had dislodged some of the contents. The picnic basket! She was too far gone to have to keep herself from crying out.
Luna waited. As if sensing her expectation, the others slowed, too, and watched as the Muggle flotation devices drifted out of the basket, took a quick glance at their surroundings, and began to expand. They grew and grew until they came into their full size, and then larger and larger—she would have to speak to them about that later, she thought dimly. Then, with the fervor of a pair of happy porpoises, the flotation devices swept around them, summarily swept them up, and rocketed toward the surface with their half-drowned charges.
The night air was even sweeter than Luna had ever imagined it could be. She gulped in lungfuls of it while the others did the same, taking no time to savor it. Thanks to her fortunately-failed picnic, there would be plenty of chances for savoring later. She did savor the sight of the stars, though, wishing she could hold out her tongue and feel their light melting onto the tip of it like snowflakes in winter. There were so many tonight that they even looked like snow, frozen in place in the sky, twinkling with ice and crystal and magic.
Someone grabbed her arm. "Look!" Pansy cried out. It took Luna a while to understand where she was meant to be looking, as, by her own account, she was looking already. But then she saw, and Pansy's hand rested more gently on her arm once Pansy realized that Luna had found what she ought.
It was Hogwarts. Lights shining merrily, welcomingly. Hogwarts.
Home. She glanced at Draco. Or something like it, at least.
A tall figure stood on the shore, silhouetted by the bright light of the castle. Draco used his wand to transfigure the last, soggy sandwich from Luna's picnic basket into a pair of oars, but Luna felt suddenly so exhausted that she had hardly the energy with which to grip its slightly rough—and vaguely woven-looking—handle, even to make it paddle by magic. Judging by the others' slackening arms, they had about as much strength left in them as she
In the end, they floated. The oars trailed along, forgotten, in the holds that had sprouted up for them from the floatation devices, creating ripples along the otherwise placid surface of the lake. Luna supposed she ought to be cold, for it was October, but the sight of the castle had set her heart thrumming delightedly, and it seemed to warm her from the inside out. She moved her feet languidly in the water, the liquid rushing between her toes, and her eyes drooped as the three of them drifted along toward the waiting figure.
The last ten feet or so from shore, the figure raised its arm, and a gust of warm wind suddenly caught the flotation devices from behind and gave them a kindly push. Luna, Pansy, and Draco all gave a jolt when their feet touched the sand and the devices came to a stop, though the devices had done so with the slightest of motions. While she had been floating, Luna had thought that perhaps she might go on like that forever, sailing beneath the stars, warm and alive, and that she might not mind so much if she did, if she wasn't alone. Perhaps the others felt the same. Their arrival on the shore had startled them, too, after all.
The figure extended its hand again, this time without the wand. Draco, who was the closest to it, reached out and took it automatically.
When the figure shifted into the light that reflected off the surface of the lake, Draco quickly released the hand and straightened himself. "Oh," he said.
There came a chuckle. "Oh, indeed, Mr. Malfoy," said Professor Dumbledore. "Miss Parkinson. Miss Lovegood." He nodded at each of them in turn. "I see that you have brought yourselves safely back to us at last."
Only then did Luna see two other figures standing just behind Professor Dumbledore, one tall and thin, the other very short. As if responding to an queue unheard by their students, Professor Flitwick and Professor Snape emerged from the shadows, both looking equally grim for the first time Luna could remember. No one had ever matched Professor Snape's joyless expression so proficiently. Unlike Professor Snape, however, Professor Flitwick's tiny face soon broke into a reassuring smile—even if its edges did turn down just a little, in spite of themselves. Draco and Pansy, who had both stiffened at the sight of the Headmaster, looked relieved to see their own Head of House waiting to welcome them.
How lonely, Luna thought sadly. How terrible, that they still couldn't appreciate the welcome that others had the capacity to give. She supposed she couldn't blame them entirely, what with the way Slytherins were routinely treated and thought about, but she had hoped...
Luna had hoped many things, really. With any luck, those hopes would become dreams, and those dreams would come to fruition. Luna was a great believer in luck.
"What happened to us?" The question came from Draco. He seemed to have gained strength from Professor Snape, who had one hand resting upon Draco's shoulder, one hand upon Pansy's, like the shadows they had almost lost.
Somewhere, a night bird trilled a decisive sort of note. Professor Dumbledore smiled, a little rueful, and more apologetic and worried than Luna thought he meant to come across. "I'm afraid that particular trick step which afforded you such hardship this past week has been a known maker of mischief for quite some time. With so many students and staff avoiding it—jumping over it, or even following entirely different routes simply to escape the possibility of encountering it, I believe—it tends to grow a bit offended over the years. It will, when the time is precisely wrong, kidnap a few students for its own amusement until they are able to reason their way out of its hold. Unfortunately, its magic is such that it prevents anyone from noticing any disappearances until the captive—or captives, as your case illustrates—is on the threshold of unlocking the mystery of the trick step. Otherwise, the staff and myself would have been able to provide you with more aid."
"That trick step is a tad trickier than anyone ever thinks," Professor Flitwick lamented with a sigh. "Never gets its fill, that one."
"And precautions will be made in future," Professor Snape said quietly, with a look at the Headmaster. Professor Dumbledore returned Professor Snape's gaze steadily.
"Yes," Professor Dumbledore agreed at length. "Though precautions are always being made, and someone is always attempting to break through them."
"And that's it, then?" Pansy demanded. "It just—it just got hungry, and we happened to just be there, and that's that? That's too bad for us?"
Professor Dumbledore didn't waver at her tone. "It is a misfortune that you were forced to undergo such trauma, Miss Parkinson, but there is little I can do about it now. You are unharmed, though I imagine Madam Pomfrey will wish you all to visit the Hospital Wing tonight before you return to your beds. You are of course to be pardoned from any assignments in your missed lessons, and your teachers and fellow classmates will be happy to instruct you on the material you were not present to learn."
"And," Professor Flitwick added, prompted by the mutinous frown on Draco's face, "twenty-five points will be rewarded to each of your respective houses."
Professor Dumbledore turned to them again. "For now, Miss Parkinson, Miss Lovegood, Mr. Malfoy, I repeat that you are safe and unhurt, and that all anyone can do at this current time is remember that fact. I daresay, you have an eventful year ahead of you all, which I hope will compensate somewhat for what you have faced. Filius, Severus?"
The two Professors surged into motion, Professor Snape ushering Draco and Pansy toward the castle in one direction, and Professor Flitwick coaxing Luna toward another. All of them were given dry cloaks to protect them from the night air that still was not as chilling as it ought to have been.
"You're very quiet, Miss Lovegood," Professor Flitwick commented to her, not unkindly.
Luna looked down at him, then up at the stars, then across from her, where Draco, Pansy, and Professor Snape were still just barely visible in the dark. As if sensing her, Draco and Pansy turned their heads to look at her. Draco gave her a half-smile that ran deeper than the quirked corner of his lips, and Pansy bit her lip briefly before giving a small, peculiarly shy wave. Luna's heart pulled after them. Even if they seemed to return to their old selves tomorrow—which Luna knew, deep down, that they would—a part of them would remember their time together. It would never forget it. And Luna would never forget her first friends, just as they would never forget her—deep down. She had only known them a short time, but she was certain of it.
"It's been rather a quiet day, actually," Luna said, thoughtful. "Though I find those are the best sorts of days for listening."
Fondly, she touched the little scrap of parchment that she still clutched tightly in her fist. Just in case.