Author's Notes: Do you hear that? That's the sound of Gamma starting another project! That's the sound of her starting something long… for MissDominiqueLysander's 50K Romance Competition on the HPFC forum.
As per the title of the competition, this story shall be a minimum of 50 000 words long. It is also starting off as gen, but shall develop…
The basement where Luna, Neville and Ginny were hiding was cold.
There was a draft from the fall air that kept catching them, even as they huddled into the warmest corner, closest to the small fire that Ginny had conjured. They dared not do any more dramatic magic – spells to keep out the cold air, for example – for fear of drawing attention to themselves.
"I'm hungry," Neville muttered, rubbing his hands together and holding them out over the fire.
"I'm not too full either," Ginny hissed back. "But – I don't know, you may have forgotten… we don't have any food."
"Quiet," Luna whispered.
"Why? Do you hear something?"
"No, but it would be difficult to hear anything with you two arguing," Luna reminded them reasonably. "The snatchers might be right outside, and we wouldn't be able to hear."
Ginny swore under her breath and Neville leaned back against the wall, closing his mouth. Luna pulled her knees against her chest, rested her chin on them, and stared up at the ceiling.
A wrackspurt was floating around Ginny's head, but Ginny reached up to scratch her hair and it fluttered away, disappearing into the darkness.
"I'm tired," Luna murmured, quietly enough that her friends barely heard it.
If Neville had said it, Ginny would have snapped at him, but she just sighed and stared mournfully at Luna, who stared back, not frowning, but not exactly smiling either. It was difficult to smile under such circumstances, even for Luna.
November was creeping up on them now – July, August, September and now most of October having passed since Harry Potter was killed, leaving the burden of trying to defeat the Dark Lord with those who remained alive. Ginny and Neville and Luna had not even been able to find Ron or Hermione after the battle, and Ginny had coldly but firmly decided that they were probably dead and it would do no good to look any further for them. And so the three of them had mourned briefly, then taken up the cross of bringing down the Dark Lord.
It was, Luna reflected, probably not conducive to their attempts for them to be sitting in a cellar all day and all night.
"I'm tired too," Ginny sighed. "We all are. But what are we supposed to do?"
"I want to go home," Neville admitted quietly. The girls looked at him – since the battle, and even for the year leading up to it, Neville had been unwavering in his determination and bravery, and it now felt more than a little strange to hear him admitting to even the vaguest of vulnerabilities.
"I want to go home too," said Ginny. "I wish we had a wireless so we could tell…"
She didn't finish, but they all knew what she had meant to say. So that we could tell when people we knew were dying.
"I'm not worried about going home," Luna spoke up. "Daddy will be fine, I think."
"Why do you think that?" Ginny asked – gently, but still firmly. She was not the sort who accepted nonsense if she thought she was seeing it.
"I just know he's going to be all right." Luna shrugged her shoulders slightly. "He's very strong, you know. And besides, the horn of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack has many magical properties, and I'm sure that it will protect him."
"I don't suppose you happen to have a bit handy?" Neville asked, with more than a twinge of sarcasm in his voice. "We could do with some luck right now."
"Shut up, Neville," Ginny told him. She moved around the small fire and put her arms around Luna, who did not react to her friend's touch. "It's going to be all right, Luna," Ginny said, but Luna knew perfectly well that it was herself that her friend was trying to convince, not Luna.
"I know," Luna said, resting her chin on Ginny's shoulder. "I think things are going to turn out just fine. They always do, in the end."
"Oh, you're damned optimistic," Ginny said with a soft chuckle, then she straightened up and moved back to her position on the other side of the fire. "I'm going to sleep. Luna, can you stay up a bit more, listening? When you want to go to sleep, then just wake Neville and have him take over. We don't want any snatchers finding us tonight…"
"We don't ever want any snatchers finding us," Luna pointed out in the most reasonable voice that she could manage. She rested against a sack of rice that was being stored in the cellar, stretching out her legs a little, and stared up at the ceiling, to try to get a glimpse of the wrackspurts again.
"That's right," said Ginny grimly. "We certainly don't." She turned over onto her side, curling up like a cat on the ground and pulling her cloak – the grimy remains of it, at least, which she had been using for cloak, blanket, carrying vessel and weapon for the past several months – over her shoulders. Neville lay down beside her, and Luna was left, sitting up and watching the flames flicker and pop in front of her.
She was confident her father would be all right – he always was, and she simply couldn't imagine any situation in which he wouldn't be, as long as the Death Eaters didn't capture her. But she was a little concerned for her own – and Neville and Ginny's – safety, she had to admit.
This whole business of being on the run was not very convenient. They didn't know what the Death Eaters were doing, nor did they know anything about what was happening outside except what Ginny could find when she pulled the hood of her cloak up over her head to shield her face and hair and went out scrounging for newspapers, and that news was always days out of date when she got it – and who knew how accurate it had been in the first place?
But what else could they do? The three of them had discussed matters over and over again and none of them could come up with any course of action that they would be able to take. The Dark Lord was in power, the only person who could (according to the prophecy, which Ginny had heard about from Harry in that brief period of time that they had been able to speak to each other before the battle erupted) defeat him was dead, and Ginny, Nevilel and Luna were just three students – not even very good students like Hermione Granger had been.
Ginny was the best among them academically, but even she wasn't particularly remarkable. Neville had improved greatly, of course, but he was still just average at fighting, and Luna… well…
She didn't like to think that she wasn't being of use to them, but in her brutal honesty with herself, she had to think that she wasn't. She couldn't fight like either of them, she didn't know anything about Lord Voldemort's plans, and sometimes she worried that she was slowing them down, even though she could preform basic spells that could help them. She wasn't good enough at any sort of magic to be an asset to them; she was just… there.
Perhaps, she sometimes thought, they might do better without her.
She had voiced these concerns to Ginny, who shot them down instantly, insisting to her that she was the most useful and wonderful girl that any group could hope to have (now that Hermione was gone, at least – even Ginny conceded that Hermione might have been more useful). But even when Ginny was telling Luna not to worry, and that she wasn't slowing them down, Luna was aware of a hint of doubt in her friend's voice, as though she might be just a little worried that Luna actually was, and that it would serve them better to leave her to her own devices instead of dragging her along.
But, of course, darling Ginny couldn't do that. She was too brave, too strong and loyal to ever leave her friend to the mercy of the snatchers or the Death Eaters. Luna had told her that she would be fine on her own if Neville and Ginny wanted to leave her behind, but Ginny had been adamant that no, Luna was most certainly not going to be left behind, and Neville backed her up.
So Luna was still with them. She sat in the basement and listened for snatchers and wondered if the Blibbering Humdingers were also infesting Malfoy Manor, where the Dark Lord was currently in residence, if what she had overheard from one particularly talkative passing snatcher was to be believed. Which, she supposed, it most likely wasn't.
She toyed with her butter beer cork necklace – oh, she still had that, and how she loved it. It was a comfort to her, when everything was so terrible as it currently was, to be able to slip the corks through her fingers, one by one, counting them off like a Catholic's rosary beads, and remembering when she was seven and had strung them onto the necklace with greatest care and with her father's help.
She did hope that Daddy was all right.
Luna rested her head on a sack and stared up at the small, narrow window that was just above the ground outside, and just below the ceiling in here. It let in a pale, dusty, murky shaft of moonlight; not enough to really see anything by, just enough to make it easier to discern outlines and vague shapes outside the globe of light that the fire provided. Something flickered in the corner, but from this distance, Luna could not tell whether it was a wrack spurt, one last butterfly taking refuge from the cold of the impending winter, or just a bit of dust floating through the air that had caught the sunlight just right.
She chewed on her lip, dragging the corks through her fingers again, and looking now at the sleeping forms of her friends. Ginny's hair – bright red but dulled with the dirt and grease that had been accumulating in it for the months that they had been hiding for – was spread out over the ground like a great bloodstain, and Neville looked tinier than Luna had ever thought of him, curled up beside her. They looked, she thought, like children in a picture book.
Her father had gotten her a Muggle picture book once, she remembered. She remembered because of the pretty, non-moving pictures, so simple that it was fascinating. In it, a little boy and a little girl had lain in beds beside each other, and over their heads, there were rough, crude cloud shapes, and pictures of candies dancing inside.
Sugarplums danced in their heads, hadn't that been what the book had said? Luna could hardly remember now, but she hoped that sugarplums – whatever those were; some kind of candy, she supposed, she had never bothered to ask; but they sounded pleasant – were dancing in Neville and Ginny's heads. She hoped that they were having sweet dreams about those dancing sugarplums.
Perhaps sugarplums were like dirigible plums? Only instead of floating, they stirred themselves into tea…
Luna felt her eyelids falling shut, and rubbed at her eyes to keep them open. She wasn't going to fall asleep, not yet – Neville and Ginny needed more rest. They were the ones spending the whole day doing things; the least that Luna could do was stay awake for long enough to give them some good napping time.
Oh, but she was so terribly tired…
Her head fell back against the sack of rice, and she just barely managed to prod Neville awake with one foot before her eyes shut and her breathing went slow and even. She had never felt so exhausted, though she could scarcely think of anything in the world less tiring than sitting alone in a basement all day.