Hello again to everyone! Or, at least, everyone who is willing to give me another chance after my previous oneshot. This is darker than "Battle of the Century", and may not be for everyone. While I dislike, or rather despise, Deathly Hallows, this takes place in that time period, starting in Chapter 25. For any readers who are easily disturbed, there are references to the torture and rape of a main character, but nothing graphic.
Reviews are, once again, greatly appreciated. Also, there is a question I ask on my ending author's notes, so please answer it in a review if you would. Um, I think that's all I need to mention at the moment, so let the show begin.
Disclaimer: Does Ron Weasley enter the Chamber of Secrets even though Harry can't recognize what he says as Parseltongue? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Publishing, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.
A scream shattered the silence that had filled Shell Cottage. In most homes, the other occupants would have needed a moment or two to gather their senses before searching for the source of the disturbance, but in these dark times, everyone not either injured or making the scream were ready for a fight as soon as Morpheus's presence disappeared from the house.
A raven haired young man was the first to reach the room from which the sound was emanating. Unlike the others, he had not been asleep but was instead reflecting on recent events, including the torture of one of his best friends and the sacrifice of another, this one who had likely been the most reliable and helpful beings he had met in his seventeen years. Harry did not even bother unlocking the door; he simply kicked it in and leveled his wand in search of an enemy. There were none in sight.
The creator of the wail was a young woman lying on the room's only bed, her blonde hair soaked with sweat as she thrashed about in the grip of a terrible nightmare. Harry quickly moved to her bedside. "Luna, wake up!"
Her eyes popped open, the silver iris practically invisible due to the width of her pupil. She immediately latched her arms around his waist and buried her head in his chest. She began mumbling, begging, into his shirt, though it took several repeats before he managed to piece together what exactly it was she was saying.
"Don't leave me alone again. Please don't leave me alone."
Harry opened his mouth to argue, he had never intentionally left her and he was certainly not to blame for her incarceration at Malfoy Manor, before his subconscious gave him pause. Technically, he had left her when she went with him to Professor Slughorn's Christmas party the previous year, and even before that, hadn't he somewhat abandoned her that entire year, ignoring that she had fought and bled beside him during the battle in the Department of Mysteries? Her ceiling had told him that she considered her friends to be the most important aspect of her life, but he had tossed her away like so much rubbish after the world at large recognized that he had been telling the truth about Voldemort's return. Was it any wonder she was afraid he would leave her to fate once more? He made a promise in his heart and repeated it to her.
He moved his arms to rub small circles on her back. "Don't worry, I'm here. I'll be here as long as you need me." Hopefully, this would also stem her tears; he had never known what to do with crying women.
"What… what if I always need you?" This question certainly took him by surprise. Surely she wouldn't always need him. Nevertheless, he was not going to break an oath that he had just made.
"Then I guess I'll always be here." A soft sigh made him turn his head to look upon the crowd in the hall. Hermione had raised her hands to cover her mouth, her eyes wide, while Ron and Bill both looked like they were falling asleep on their feet, I guess that all Weasleys have a hard time getting up. Fleur, who was the source of the sound, simply held one hand to her heart as she gave him a watery smile. Not understanding why the lady of the house was acting the way she was, Harry returned his attention to Luna. "Do you feel up to telling me what it was you were dreaming about?"
The distant look in her eyes scared him more than her scream had. She normally appeared as if she was walking in a dream, and had a few times turned an incredibly sharp gaze on him when she found him particularly dense, but never had he seen those silver pools filled with so much terror, shame, and rage.
"When the Death Eaters first brought me to the Malfoys," she began, her voice quavering, "I was not the only one. There were many young children, and some our age, who were from neutral, pureblood families. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named informed all of us that we had nothing to fear, that our absence from our homes would be brief, that our families would only miss us as long as they resisted him. And it seemed to be true, every few days another would be told it was their day to be reunited with their parents. But it wasn't." Here she shuddered, and Harry pulled her tighter to him. "I was brought up to where He had made his throne room, and He had who looked like Death Eater recruits practice their Cruciatuses." Her voice had gradually become a dull monotone, and Harry felt tears, the first he had cried since Sirius's death, roll down his cheeks.
"He ordered one to be done with me when another Death Eater ran into the room, yelling that my home was gone, Daddy… dead. He told me that I was lucky, that I would be safe if I taught one of His men how to work the press. But hadn't he said the same when I first arrived? I refused, and then he tortured me himself." Phantom pains spread throughout Harry's body. Voldemort may have hurt him more with his attempt to possess him, but his Cruciatus was still excruciating. "He had someone throw me into the dungeon where you found me, and only had me taken out when he once again tried to make me obey him. But he failed each time, not even the Imperious would make me help him." For the first time since they had arrived, there was a hint of pride in Luna's words.
"Around what I believe was Christmas, Draco Malfoy entered the dungeon. From how he glanced back at the door and spoke to me, I though he was going to help me escape. I was a fool," her voice was thick now, like she was only a few words from crying, "for while he was afraid of being seen, it was not for me. He was afraid for his own worthless skin!" Her shout caused everyone to jump, as her words had become more and more quiet as her tale progressed. "I followed him through the manor until we came to a door. He pushed me through, and it was a bed chamber, and I tried to get out, but he… he…" Here the tears that had gathered in her eyes came pouring out, and not even Ron had any confusion as to the words Luna could not force out.
"Harry," Hermione began, "this can't be comfortable for Luna. Perhaps it's best if you, Ron, and Bill left the room–"
Luna's shriek was followed swiftly by Fleur's opinion. "'Ermione, Luna seems to have chosen 'Arry as 'er protector. Eet would only make zings worse if you tried to separate zem now. Luna, I don't mean to 'urt you, but 'ow many times did zat cochon attack you?"
Luna hiccuped as she forced her sobs to stop. "It was only that once. Another Death Eater came in and cursed Malfoy to get him off me. He levitated me back to my cell and left. I think he was killed soon after, I did not see him again after, though I also never saw any of the Malfoys, either."
"Zan we shall speak of zees no more for now. 'Arry, we will leave you to make 'er comfortable enough to sleep again. I weesh to speak with you alone een ze kitchen once you 'ave done so."
Nonplussed, Harry could only nod. The others left the room, leaving him to gently rock Luna until she fell back into restful slumber. With one last glance at her sleeping form, he softly closed the door.
In the kitchen, he found Fleur sitting at the table, a cup of tea in front of the chair beside her. When he had seated himself and drunk a bit of the tea, she began speaking.
"'Arry, zere are some explanations I need to give you for you to understand, so allow me to feenish before you ask any questions, s'il vous plait?" He nodded. "Veela can see zeengs zat ozzer witches and wizards cannot. For eenstance, I know zat both 'Ermione and Geenerva owe you life debts," she raised her hand to prevent his interruption, "whezzer you acknowledge zem or not, zey are zere. I can also see ze love between 'Ermione and Ronald. What I needed to tell you away from ze ozers ees zat Luna has formed a connection to you; 'er magic 'as bound 'er to you in some way."
Harry tried to slow his rapidly beating heart. "Why, er, how… how did she bind us? I'm not going to, be forced to fall in love with her, am I? I mean, I love Ginny, and Luna just got away from the Malfoys, and–"
Fleur's hand covering his mouth ceased his babble. "Non, nozzing can make someone fall een love, do not worry. Ze bond ees more zat she now depends on you, exactly 'ow I do not know. Likely eet will only be unteel she no longer feels een danger.
"I know eet eez not my place, but may I offer some advice on your relationsheep with Geenerva?" She waited for his wary nod. "Per'aps you should take ze time you now 'ave to look back and decide what you truly felt for 'er. Bill told me you separated earlier een ze summer, no? Does ze 'eartbreak you feel pain you as much as eet first did?"
Harry sat back in his chair. Yes, breaking up with Ginny had certainly hurt, but there was also relief, like he was no longer restrained. And even though he had kept an eye on her with the Marauder's Map since the wedding, it was more out of duty than actual affection or desire; he certainly had never missed her the way Hermione had Ron for those months he was missing. "No, it doesn't. It doesn't hurt much at all."
"Zat eez a sign zat you did not love 'er like you zought you did. I always zought zat you two were poorly matched, anyway. Geenerva is like 'er mozzer, very stubborn. Eet took 'er over a year before she ceased to refer to me as 'Phlegm.'"
Harry hung his head at her words; he liked Fleur, but he certainly hadn't tried to stop Ginny from calling her that. She was stubborn, just like Fleur said, trying to prevent her from doing what she wanted would have only caused a fight, one their new relationship would not have survived.
"Ar'zur, as much as I like heem, eez not a strong-willed man. 'E allows Molly to do as she likes. Any man 'oo wants to be with Geenerva will 'ave to be like Ar'zur. I remember 'ow you fought during ze Tournament; you would never be able to back down from your beliefs, even eef Ginny felt ozzerwise. Eet would only cause distress, and zat is why I say you were a poor match.
"Eef you open your eyes, per'aps you will find someone 'oo is better, oui?" Fleur stood up from the table and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Try to sleep, 'Arry. You will zeenk more clearly een ze morning." With those last words, she walked out of the kitchen.
Harry spent another hour or two thinking over her advice before he finally did close his eyes.
"Ron, he surely can't be comfortable sitting like that."
"Lay off, 'Mione. If he wants to sleep at the table, let him."
Harry groggily raised his head from the table. Blinking rapidly, he looked down at his watch only to remember he had laid it on the nightstand in his bedroom. "What time is it?"
Hermione looked at him, her eyes gentle now that he was conscious. "It's a little after twelve. Luna has been asking for you since she woke up." She sat down in the chair Fleur had departed earlier, bringing their conversation back to the front of his mind. "I'm a little worried about how she's been acting; it's very different from how she normally is."
"Well, she did spend several months in the care of the Malfoys," Harry said. "That would drive anyone spare." He was not going to repeat what Fleur had explained until he had a chance to make sure the bond was not affecting Luna's behavior. There was no sense in giving Hermione more to fret about, especially something no one could do anything about. "I planned to talk to her more today, anyway."
"Alright, Harry, just be careful around her. We still don't know all they did to her, so she could experience flashbacks if you say the wrong thing," Hermione warned.
Now with two people's advice warring in his head, he made his way to Luna's bedroom. Knocking at the door, he peered in. Luna was there, sitting on the bed. From the book in her lap, she had been reading to while away the time.
"Harry, come in! I was wondering where you were, you normally don't sleep this late." She lightly glared at him, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she should have no reason to know how much or little he usually slept. "Hermione told me last year that you rarely sleep much past eight o'clock." Or perhaps she did have a reason to know.
Harry, embarrassed, ran his hand through his hair. "I was up late talking to Fleur. She had a number of things to tell me." There was silence for several moments as he tried to decide what he should say. "Er, did you sleep well?"
"Very well after all the commotion," she replied. "I already apologized for waking everyone else up, though you were not sleeping then; you were far too alert. Will you go to the beach with me today?"
He shook his head to clear it of the whiplash speaking with Luna sometimes gave him. "Er, yeah. I wouldn't mind going there. I'll be just outside when you're ready."
"Oh, I'm ready now." She grabbed his hand as she skipped out the door.
Luna seemed to have a specific spot in mind as they walked, guiding them past several sand dunes, finally stopping once they were out of sight of the cottage. "I am sorry for forming the bond with you," she said, taking in his now disconcerted expression. "Fleur informed me this morning. I had not intended to do so, and if we had a better idea of what it was, I would be willing to break it."
Harry gently gripped both her arms. "It's not a big deal, Luna. It will probably disappear when you feel better, anyway. And we don't even know if it is doing anything."
"It is an emotional anchor bond," she started, "my magic's way of helping me move past what the Death Eaters did to me. It prevents me from reaching any emotional extreme. Beyond that, no one knows much about it, how long it lasts or what effect it has on the anchor. Once again, I'm sorry."
He shook his head, it didn't matter what was said. He didn't have a problem with it, and she would still feel guilty. Searching for another topic, something safe that would help him understand her better, he decided to ask about the scene she had painted on her ceiling.
It was evening before they stopped talking and returned to the house.
The week following the escape from the Malfoys proceeded along an informal schedule. In the mornings, Harry, Hermione, and Ron would sit with Griphook, planning out exactly how they would enter Gringotts to steal Hufflepuff's cup. After lunch, Harry would give the other couple some private time while he and Luna walked along the beach, discussing every topic they could think of, including their childhoods. He now knew how Luna and her father were practically ostracized in Ottery St. Catchpole after her mother's death, and she had been told all about the awe-inspiring "Boy-Who-Lived" who spent ten long years growing up in a tiny cupboard. They had laid out for each other their fears and dreams, and even their most humiliating mishaps. The comfort they felt around the other after only a few days was potentially the bond bringing them closer, but neither one of them was unhappy with the effects; they just enjoyed having someone they intuitively knew they could fully trust.
All good things must come to an end, however, and eventually the time arrived for the Golden Trio to return to the war. In the early morning, Luna and Harry strolled along the beach once more, savoring the normality.
"What are you going to do once you have the Horcrux?" Luna asked, taking no pains to hide her concern. "Are you going to destroy it there, or escape the bank and take it to an isolated location?"
He glanced up at the sky as he thought. "We'll get out first, I think. The locket fought back with everything it had when we got rid of it, and the last thing that we need is to be surrounded by guards in a vault we have no right to be in. Unless our luck totally fails us, we should be back here in time for supper."
"From the stories you have told me, your luck always fails." Her giggle had a touch of hysteria. "You have a solid plan, but you are going to have something unforeseeable happen. Who knows, you might be betrayed and have to perform a foolhardy stunt like escaping the bank on dragonback!"
The two shared a laugh, for how could something as impossible as that possibly happen, even to Fate's favorite whipping boy?
They continued walking for several minutes, enjoying the companionable silence before they returned to the house. As they neared the front, Luna pulled him to a stop. "Daddy always said that soldiers who had a reason to return home always fought the hardest. Do you think so, Harry?"
"I never really thought about it," he replied, "but it makes sense to me."
"Then let me give you a reason." She rose to her toes and gave him a warm and gentle kiss. Her cheeks burned as she raced through the door.
Harry slowly raised one hand to his face, still feeling the soft pressure of her lips upon his. He was not sure that he had the same reason she intended for him to have, but he would definitely return for a long talk with that girl!
Looking over Hogwarts' grounds, Harry felt it difficult to believe that the war he had been involved in for seven long years was finally over. The fallen were still being gathered, but already the tolls were too high. Fred, Remus, Tonks, even little Dennis Creevey, all sacrifices to an old coward's dreams of destruction. At least the worst of the Death Eaters had fallen: Dolohov had been taken out by Tonks, the Carrow siblings by several of the students they tortured, Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange by Neville, Bellatrix by Molly, and Draco had been left to perish in his lackey's Fiendfyre. In fact, the only action he even somewhat regretted was lying to Narcissa Malfoy, but there was no way she would have protected him if she knew her son was no more.
"Harry!" He turned towards the sound only for a wall of scarlet hair to fly into his face. "I'm so glad you're alright! The war is over! We can finally be together!" Ginny passionately kissed him, only to be surprised at his lack of reaction. "What's wrong?"
What's wrong, indeed? Harry wondered. Maybe it was that the conversation he had with Fleur had opened his eyes, or that he learned more about Luna after only a week than he had about Ginny the entire month they had dated. Perhaps it was just that Luna's kiss this morning held more than just passion, something deeper and more powerful, or that he was still running high with freedom from under the Prophecy. No matter what the truth was, he was a man changed from who he had been before this past year, and he would never, could never, be the same again.
"Ginny, I'm sorry. I can't be with you," he said. He turned his back to her as he briskly walked out of the Great Hall.
"Why not?" she cried out to him. She did not follow, her shock had seemingly rooted her to the floor.
He looked over at her. "Partly because of a promise I made, and partly because I had another reason to fight." Taking advantage of the fallen wards, he turned on the spot and Disapparated.
Arriving at the beach before Shell Cottage, it took but a moment for Harry to see the blonde hair of his quarry streaming towards him. He braced himself and caught her as she leapt onto him. She gazed into his eyes.
"When I heard that the war was over, I did not expect you to return so soon."
"Well, I seem to recall that I made a promise, that I would be here for someone precious to me for as long as she needed, and I intend to keep it."
"What if she always needs you?" Luna asked, her tears flowing down her cheeks even as her smile brightened.
Harry answered her smile with his own. "Well then, I guess that I will just be here forever."
Ah, I love the smell of a completed chapter at 1 in the morning. I don't think there is anything to add to this ending other than proofreading.
I take it back, I do have something to add. I've read several authors who complained about writing Fleur's accent and never really thought about it until I had to do it. It is an absolute pain in the ass! The funny part, my original notes didn't contain a single line for her, and now she has a page and a half of dialogue in an 8 page story.
Okay, question time. I have two multichapter stories I am considering writing. One is a response to Paladeus's "Champions of Lilith" challenge, light-hearted and Harry/Hermione/Luna taking place during OotP. The other is a dark and gritty femHarry/Luna story starting in GoF and going through at least sixth year—note I did NOT say HBP; it will also be a Potter-twins-separated and James-and-Lily-live, not as cliché as this little summary makes it sound. The second one is in no way suitable for children! Having read this fic and "Battle" (read it if you haven't, it won't take but a minute), would anyone be willing to read one of them if I posted it, and which would be preferred? I don't want to take the time to organize and elaborate the bare bone ideas I have if no one cares. A review would be a great way to respond if I don't get a poll up in the next day or so (anonymous reviewers, I would also greatly enjoy listening/reading your thoughts on the matter, so ignore the poll and use the review to answer).
Silently Watches out.