Chapter 1 : Beyond What the Eye Can See
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Warm afternoon sun flooded in through the window, lighting the corridor pleasantly, and for a moment, Luna felt as though a hand were gently cupping her cheek. From where she lay, all but basking, she saw the rare, startlingly clear blue of the sky, no clouds near enough to mar her view. With a small smile, she wiggled her bare toes in the direction of the window. These were the sorts of afternoons she liked best: the ones that seemed like whole days within themselves, beautiful and disjointed from everything else in the world; they were the ones that appeared out of nowhere after weeks of grey rain, just when they could not possibly be expected.
Hands behind her head and feet propped against the windowsill, Luna closed her eyes.
Yet as soon as her eyelids had fluttered shut, she heard a vague scuffling sound, following by what might have been a cough. Luna listened intently for a moment, not daring to move, lest whatever it was that had made the sound be frightened away. But the noise did not repeat itself, nor were there any other signs at all that something had broken the silence. Indeed, when she opened her eyes there was nothing around her. Nothing but sunlight.
Luna closed her eyes once more.
The second time, footsteps roused her from her quiet reverie, echoing more loudly as they approached and then stopping abruptly somewhere behind her head. She heard the toe of a shoe scraping against the stone, which was followed by a cough much more distinctive than the one she had heard earlier. This cough she recognized.
“Hello, Ronald,” she greeted pleasantly.
Ron Weasley hesitated, and Luna waited politely for him to say something.
“Er, hullo, Luna,” he managed at length. He seemed rather surprised, though Luna supposed he had just seen something particularly remarkable out the window. “What’re you doing here?”
“I’m looking out the window,” she told him.
“How come you’re in the middle of the corridor?”
“This window is the best one, I think. Though to be fair, I do try and look out of all the others—”
“Why aren’t you wearing any shoes?”
Luna smiled; Ronald always liked asking the strangest of questions. “I don’t like being unbalanced,” she informed him, and at last looked up, tilting her head backward until she could see his bemused expression.
“I could wear mittens,” she continued cheerfully, “but I don’t think that would help very much.”
“Help with what?”
“But… what’re you balancing?”
“My hands and feet,” she said, then frowned. He now appeared to be somewhat distressed. But perhaps, she thought, he had seen another something just outside the window of a particularly distressing quality. “It isn’t really fair that feet must always be covered, while hands aren’t covered by anything at all. I thought about putting shoes on my hands, as well, but I decided this would be easiest.”
“Er… right. Of course.” Ron scuffed his heel against the ground.
“You could try it too, if you’d like. I don’t mind sharing the window.” She shifted to one side, vacating a wide patch of window for him.
He sighed. “Right, well, look, Luna, I’ve got to go. Harry and Hermione’re waiting for me, and I wasn’t s’posed to take—well, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you around.”
Unperturbed, Luna waved after him, his footsteps fading more quickly with each second. Ronald and his friends had been acting strangely as of late and, while it was not her business to pry into, she supposed it must have something to do with You-Know-Who—what with everyone calling Harry Potter the “Chosen One.” Luna did not know why somebody had to be chosen in order to accomplish something, or why an ordinary person could not do it just as well. But perhaps everybody else knew much more about that sort of thing than she did, especially since they had all come to a consensus about it.
However, as Luna did not want to think of anything but this near-perfect afternoon, she did not dwell upon the subject. Instead, she again closed her eyes and let the sun warm her skin.
The third time, she heard the same scuffling and coughing as she had before, although the sounds were clearer, as though they were closer. This time, Luna did not hesitate to open her eyes; whatever it was had not been timid enough to be frightened away by her presence. Quietly, she took her feet down from the windowsill, righted herself and, taking care to make her movements as fluid as possible, she slowly swiveled around.
And what she saw, with her legs held loosely against her chest, was a painting.
Somehow, she had not noticed this particular painting before, which was strange. Luna had always thought that she was particularly good at noticing things, observing behaviors and objects that often others did not—though the fact that no one else noticed such things also struck her as strange, for the things she noticed always seemed quite obvious to her.
Yet this painting had completely escaped her until that very moment. And what was more, something about it seemed to demand attention, something that ought to have drawn her to it sooner rather than later.
Eyes more protuberant than usual, Luna stood and approached the painting, letting her fingers trace the contours of its dulled wood frame. At length, she stepped back and crossed her arms, examining it carefully and curiously for a full five minutes.
There was nothing outwardly special about it; after all, its paint was chipping slightly, as though it had not been refurbished in years, and it contained no occupants to speak of. It simply depicted a hillside beneath a slowly-darkening sky, much like the one outside the corridor’s window—for by now, the sun was beginning to fade, and the afternoon magic had almost run its course. A slight breeze seemed to swirl about the scene as, when she took a step forward, she saw the grass moving about lightly.
Generally, Luna preferred paintings with people in them, rather than landscapes. She reasoned that landscapes could be seen at any time; all one had to do was look out of a window. But people rendered a painting entirely different—especially if these people were among one’s own acquaintances. And people were always changing; landscapes, while they would not remain the same forever, usually changed more slowly, less subject to the constant buffeting of time. Still, Luna could not help but admire this simple hillside; were it not for the one stray drop of paint in the corner, she might have believed it to be a photograph.
Wanting to view it up close again, she took several steps toward the painting, only to discover that something about it had changed. Now, as she peered at the canvas, a large black dog sat in the middle of one hill, staring back at her intently. After a slight pause, it gave a loud bark, which sounded almost as though the dog were sitting right next to her, its wagging tail swishing against her ankles.
It looked so real that Luna nearly forgot that it was not. So real, that if she outstretched her fingers, she might even be able to stroke its dark fur. To remind herself that this dog was merely something crafted by brushstrokes, she brought her hand to the canvas, waiting for her fingers to curl against it when she got too close.
Instead, something remarkably unexpected occurred: her fingers, then her hand, then her wrist, went through and did not stop.
Very little ever surprised Luna Lovegood in her daily life, for everything was always observable or predictable. This, however, was an exception to the rule, and she gave a soft, startled cry. Somewhere around her hand, the black dog barked, and a light wind swept through her fingers.
Luna withdrew her hand, slightly unnerved by the realness of what she had experienced. She had thought that the paintings around the castle were solid creations, entered only by those who had their own portraits to return to at the end of the day. But perhaps, she reasoned, there was some new treatment she had not heard about before, one that would allow people to step in and out of paintings. Or perhaps all paintings had been that way in the beginning, but the constant shock of seeing long-dead witches and wizards walking about had caused the creation of a different treatment—this one’s purpose being to contain the painted subjects. Luna saw the most sense in the second, for she had already found this painting to be in disrepair—perhaps even in need of a certain special treatment.
Not, of course, that Luna thought of herself as an expert in such matters. She preferred to paint upon anything but canvasses, and she had already come to learn that most people did not label that as professional behavior. Although, of course, just because she was unfamiliar with the properties of enchanted canvases did not mean she was any less satisfied as an aspiring painter. She already knew that she had many things to learn, and such a fact was hardly a hindrance.
Yet what if, she wondered, this painting was special? What if it was different from all the others and she had just happened to stumble upon it by chance? If these were the facts of the matter, then Luna, who delighted in discovering things, could hardly walk away and pretend that she had never found it. After all, suppose she was meant to find it? Suppose that, by some lingering magic of the afternoon, the opportunity to explore something unusual had been bestowed upon her? Luna could not find it within herself to excuse these possibilities.
“And won’t Daddy be so happy to hear about it?” she thought aloud.
Thus, with this in mind, she stuck her hand into the painting—timidly at first, as though testing the temperature of water, then quickly upon realizing that all was still well. Her heart fluttering in the anticipation of discovery, Luna at last pulled herself upward, past the frame, and into the painting, swinging her legs up behind her.
Inside, the sky had darkened considerably, so that at its highest point it was the color of ink. For a minute, Luna remained motionless, observing, feeling the thin blades of grass beneath her toes. Tall, sloping hills—now almost silhouettes—surrounded her on all sides; she might have found them ominous and oppressing but, in truth, they were a sort of comfort, enveloping her within a valley of protection.
Her curiosity, however, could not hold her in one place for long, and so she was soon walking again. She did not know where she was meant to go—or if she was meant to go anywhere at all. Even so, she sensed that there was a direction to things, however vague; and it was this undefined direction that she followed, turning sharply or doubling back when it was inexplicably right for her to do so.
The undefined path eventually led Luna to the top of one of the smaller hills. Upon it sat a familiar-looking black dog.
She regarded it for a long pause. “You’re not really a dog,” she then murmured decidedly.
The dog, which seemed surprised at her statement, tilted its head to one side, contemplating her. When it did not answer—as Luna had half-expected and mostly hoped that it might—she sank down beside it, her legs outstretched to form a wide angle.
“It’s alright,” she continued. “I don’t mind that you’re pretending to be a dog. I used to pretend very much—but I liked pretending to be a Crumple-Horned Snorkack best.”
The dog seemed to have understood her, but the meaning or frankness of her words appeared to have bewildered it. (Or perhaps, Luna thought, it was just disgruntled because its disguise was sadly not as clever as it had once thought.)
“Don’t worry,” she told it, “it’s a very good disguise, for pretending. I don’t think most people would notice.”
But Luna, of course, was not ‘most people.’ She had a particular habit, after all, of noticing things beyond what everyone else’s eyes could see.
“It’s fine if you want to stop pretending.” She paused. “Unless you’re very ugly or scarred, and you don’t want to show me your face. Or perhaps you don’t want me to know who you are because you’re actually a runaway criminal. You don’t have to stop, then. Although, I’m afraid that if you’re really a Death Eater, I won’t want to talk to you either way, since my friends—”
The dog cut her short with a sharp bark.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I suppose you don’t look much like a Death Eater after all. It was mean of me to suggest.”
Subdued by this observation, the dog suddenly rose to its feet and began down one side of the hill. It did not turn back to look at her, nor did it bark or whine or make any sort of noise that might have told her to follow. And so she remained where she was.
After some time had passed, and the dog had still not returned, she laid back, her hair fanning out across the grass.
Luna was met with a deep blackness when she blinked open her eyes; though she had not meant to, she must have fallen asleep, for not only had the sunset faded, but the air had also become cool as it only did after nightfall. The stars above, vivid white pinpricks, were the only sources of illumination—the moon was but a thin crescent, not yet full enough to cast much of a glow. The feeling of this night was different from that of the afternoon. The magic was different, and left more a residue of mystery than anything else.
Considering, as she often did, this change in events, Luna absently plucked blades of grass from the ground beneath her fingers, her gaze never straying from the stars. She did this until, all very suddenly, the sound of someone else plucking up the grass nearby met her ears.
“I’m sorry,” she said politely, “I didn’t know that I was ignoring someone.”
She let her head fall to one side, turning to view her companion.
A boy was sprawled out beside her in a relaxed, haphazard fashion, hinting that he had been in that particular spot for nearly as long as she had. He, too, wore no shoes and stared up at the sky steadily, as if searching for something more than what lay among the stars.
As soon as she spoke, he rolled onto his side, his dark hair falling in front of his grey eyes.
“I’m glad you’re not pretending anymore,” Luna remarked, then added, “and that you came back. I would have been very lonely by myself. I could have talked to my friends, but I don’t remember them coming with me… unless we’re already friends—”
“How’d you know it was me?” the boy asked.
“What were you?” She looked puzzled.
Luna considered his question, furrowing her brow. After a pause, she explained, “When you’re pretending, you always let something of yourself show, even if you don’t mean to.”
“Yeah, but how do you notice something like that? ‘Cause I don’t reckon it’s exactly obvious…” He snorted.
“You look,” she replied, for there was no further explanation than that.
He stared at her, and Luna steadily returned the gesture.
“Who are you?” he demanded after a while.
At his query, Luna regarded him with a softer expression than before. He was not a Death Eater, and he did not seem to desire that she come into harm; nor was he, in fact, much older than she was. He seemed kind as well—and Luna did not judge a character too hastily under most circumstances. And this all went without mention of the fact that they were now friends—or almost-friends. Yes, Luna decided, it would be alright to reveal her identity—especially after being so very careful.
“I’m Luna Lovegood,” she said. A firefly briefly skimmed across her nose before slipping away into the night. Luna watched it long after it had gone, falling into a spell of silence.
“Don’t you want to know who I am?”
Luna shrugged her shoulders. “Yes, I do. But you might not want to tell me, and that’s okay.”
“S’not like I have anything to hide.” He snorted again. “I’m Sirius Black.”
Luna recognized the name. “Why are you in a painting, Sirius Black?”
“Dunno. Might be dead. S’hard to say.” He shot a grin at her, and the expression seemed so natural upon his handsome face.
“You should know if you’re dead or not dead.”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter either way, ‘cause I’m still stuck here. Can’t even go into other paintings, ‘n all that. S’boring. No one to talk to. S’all just grass and bugs. I’ve been here a while, y’know, and nothing’s changed.”
“I saw the sky change,” Luna reminded him. Then she frowned. “Unless I didn’t really see it change, and only thought that I did. Do you think there are any Flying Woodlers nearby? Daddy says that they can sometimes—”
“Besides the sky, Lovegood. And I don’t reckon there’re any Flying Whatsits round here.”
Luna frowned. “I’m in the painting, and I wasn’t before. I don’t know why I wasn’t or was, but now I am. That’s a change, I think.”
Sirius peered at her from beneath his tousled fringe. “Y’know, I reckon you’re the first person to ever notice this thing—the painting, I mean. Feels like I’ve been here ages, but no one’s realized it.”
“That’s another change,” Luna nodded.
“Wish more people’d notice.” He batted away a firefly moodily.
Luna rolled onto her stomach, edging closer to Sirius. “You’re very lonely,” she informed him. “Would you like to talk about something?”
“Talk?” He blinked, and then laughed. “Yeah. Though I s’pect my conversation’s going to be rather lacking.”
“Don’t worry.” She smiled at him in the most reassuring way that she could.
“In that case…”
And without further ado, they plunged into discussion as if it were a pool that the both of them had been waiting eagerly to jump into for a long time. They talked of simple things—but not trivial, of course, because Luna did not consider anything to be unimportant—and they talked of complicated things, things that Luna had never mentioned until now. With each passing minute, Sirius grew livelier, and his tone became more animated. He was, in fact, a marvelous person with which to converse; and always was Luna shrieking with laughter at what he said, thus startling deep, low chuckles from within him.
Time, then, was measured in laughs and fireflies and gusts of wind; and without conventional meaning, it was as if it did not pass at all.
When Luna’s voice eventually grew hoarse, she once more turned onto her back and stared up at the sky. It stretched, dark and vast, and looked empty and full all at once, a part of the world and yet separate. That night, Luna felt that it was particularly close to the earth—something obtainable. These were the sorts of nights she liked best; they were surreally real.
“The stars are lovely,” she whispered; her tone had a dreamy quality to it.
There came a small rustling sound as Sirius shifted onto his back as well. “Yeah… ‘Course, they’re usually not this bright.”
“I feel very lucky to see them, then.”
Luna pointed upward, and Sirius followed the line of her gaze with his own. “You were named after that star,” she stated conversationally. Her purpose seemed neither to ask nor to confirm, but to reveal information, as if Sirius himself did not already know.
“The Dog Star,” he nodded.
“It always seems the brightest, you know. I think it will always be there, even when the other stars aren’t.”
“Not everything lasts forever. I won’t, you won’t, and this painting won’t, either. Most stars are just like us.”
Around them, a cricket symphony hummed, and an owl hooted its disembodied contribution. With her fingers, Luna combed out her hair into the grass until it stretched in every single direction, silvery tendrils reaching out to nowhere.
“You could stay here,” Sirius blurted abruptly. “I mean, not forever”—he flashed her a grin—“but for a while.”
“For now,” she amended. She felt the wind whispering at her ear.
Luna smiled. “I’d like that.”
That night, there were others who saw the painting. Most did not stop or realize that there was anything special about it; those who did saw little of interest. And those who peered in closely enough saw but a strange young girl and a large black dog, sitting together beneath a myriad of stars.