Chapter 1 : Cruel Spite, True Friends
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"If grey turned to red and yellow was blue, what colour the sky when this year is through?" asked the eagle door knocker.
"Let's see... When the entire year is finished?... The sky will be... black," said Luna firmly.
The door swung open. Miranda Flockton was just inside and she stood back to let Luna by. She glanced out through the door as it closed.
"Oh Luna," she said,"did you just pass Neville?"
"Neville? No, I didn't see him," said Luna. "Has he lost Trevor again?"
"No, it was you he especially wanted to see," said Miranda with a giggle.
"Me? Is everything alright?"
"He left a message," said Miranda. "What was it again, Berta?"
"He wanted to ask you out," said Roberta Lutterworth, coming forward to join them. "He was very upset when you weren't here."
"Neville? Are you sure? Ask me out? How do you mean?"
"On a date. He wanted to ask you out on a date," said Roberta, rolling her eyes. "Like a boy - girl date?"
"Neville? You think he meant me? I'll go and see who he meant. Oh! I know! He wants to borrow my charms notes. We talked about it yesterday in class. He's revising."
"No - it's a date. Definitely," insisted Roberta stubbornly.
"But I should go and ask him. In case he meant someone else don't you think?"
"Can't. Look at the time. Curfew. Anyway, he asked for you by name. It's definitely you. He was really embarrassed." Roberta fidgeted then forced a big smile. "He's so sweet isn't he? He kept looking round for you - you know like he always does in the Great Hall. He's finally plucked up the courage."
"Neville? Looks for me? He wants to... go on a date with me?"
"Yes, he said can you meet him tomorrow morning early in Hogsmeade on the corner opposite the Three Broomsticks?"
"Really? He wants to..."
"Don't you get it? He fancies you," called Hazel Stickney looking across from the other girls. "Oh and he said... What time was it, Bert?"
"Nine o'clock in the morning," said Roberta. "He said he's got tickets for a dance or something later in the afternoon so I think he's got the whole day specially planned for you."
"No, Berta. That's supposed to be a surprise!" said Miranda with a smirk.
"But Luna will want to put on her best frock won't she? I think she should know," said Roberta.
"Yes, yes, of course! A dance? That will be wonderful," said Luna. "Oh, what shall I wear?"
"He likes green doesn't he, Haze?" Roberta spoke loudly so the girls further inside the common room could all hear.
"Definitely leaf green," said Hazel, "probably because he loves plants I guess."
"Oh! I do have a silvery green dress," said Luna excitedly. "It will be perfect. And silver shoes to match!"
"Oh that's lucky then," said Miranda quickly.
"What time did you say? Nine o'clock in the morning?"
"Yes - but he was really worried he might be late," said Roberta. "He wanted to take you himself but he's got an early detention with Professor Snape. He was really upset in case he's late - but he swears he'll get there no matter what. He sounded really determined."
"Oh he needn't worry," said Luna, her eyes alight. "I can wait for him then it will be alright."
"Ah that's really sweet of you, Luna."
Luna laid out her green dress on her bed and examined it carefully. It was a beautiful pastel green silk with a silvery shine to it but was over-adorned with decorative cascades of silver tassles in the shape of all kinds of animals, fishes, and birds. It was all hemmed and trimmed in cream but Luna noticed one sleeve was very threadbare and she stared in dismay. Squirm moths! she thought to herself. She felt sure it must be Squirm moths because only their tiny caterpillars could squirm their way into the tight threads and eat them from the inside out. She knew she could not produce that fine a stitch so she looked across at Hazel who was watching her closely.
"Oh, Hazel, could you help me just this once? Please, it's very important," said Luna. "I don't think I can do this on my own. You're so good at needlework. This is very difficult for me."
"Oh, Luna, I really want to," said Hazel, "but I have to wash my hair. Michael is taking me out tomorow. You wouldn't want me to not look my best for Michael would you?"
"No, no of course not..."
"I tell you what..." Hazel delved into the chest at the foot of her bed. "Here's my very best silk thread and my finest needle for you to borrow. Take care though - the silk is very delicate."
"Oh, thank you, Hazel," said Luna hesitantly as Hazel disappeared down the stairs.
She sighed and set to work. It would not be easy and it was already late. As she worked she felt herself isolated again. It had been nice to be one of the girls for a few minutes. She had barely begun when she pricked her finger painfully and a drop of blood spotted her first few stitches. She quickly cast a cleaning spell and resumed.
The more she worked on the fine material the harder it was to see what she was doing. She glanced at the candle at the side of her bed and moved a little closer to the flame. It did not seem very bright but then she was rather tired.
After another minute the silk thread snapped and she had to unravel the little work she had done and begin again. She had tried so hard to be careful but fine needlework such as this was almost beyond her and soon the thread snapped again. Was the candle growing dimmer?
"Everything alright, Luna?" smiled Hazel from the stairs.
"Thank you, yes," called Luna. "I just need help with..." but Hazel was gone.
Luna pricked her finger again. She wondered why she was so clumsy and then thought it must be the excitement. She tried not to think about Neville for a few minutes but it was hopeless. She hoped he would like her dress. Ginny said last year he danced nicely at the Ball. Would she be graceful enough? He was nice but a little shy. She didn't want to embarrass him.
The thread broke again several times during the next hour but Luna began to make a little progress. She had pricked her finger so often now it was swelling painfully. The light from the candle was so diminished she felt sure it must be corrupted by Waxwarts or an accidental hex but it was the only one she had. She could barely see what she was doing.
"You're doing wonderfully well," called Hazel, her hair in a towel.
"Oh - do you think..." but Hazel was gone again.
Another hour passed and Luna heard the other girls preparing for their beds, sniggering and giggling together. She herself felt so sleepy she could barely keep her eyes open.
"Ouch!" Her finger was now in a terrible state and Luna was so despondent at her failure to finish the task that she began to weep. She quickly shook her head, wiped her eyes and tried to continue. It was now so dark she was unsure whether her repair had helped or just made it look worse. She looked again at the candle. Its flame was high and bright but somehow it was not casting much light... She sighed again and resolved to persist until the job was done.
It was well after midnight and all was silent when she finally laid the dress to one side. She realized it would have to do but she was very disappointed in herself. She hung it in her wardrobe and closed the door quietly. She returned Hazel's needle and thread to her chest and thought how kind she had been to lend it to her. She was too tired to undress so lay on her bed and despite the pain in her hand which was now entirely swollen, she soon fell asleep.
When she awoke, all her sorrow had been swept away by sleep and she jumped up excitedly to prepare. It was heading up for eight o'clock. It seemed strange that the other girls had already arisen and gone to breakfast this early on a Saturday morning but the bathroom was free and it was not long before she was giving her long blonde hair its first grooming. She was unable to hold her brush in her right hand so stoically used her left but it was still very uncomfortable to hold and direct her hair with her other hand - it was almost poisonous-looking. Her eyes were red and strained in the mirror and the face looking gloomily back at her seemed creased and drawn despite her feeling so happy only twenty minutes before. She stared. She looked dreadful.
She looked at her watch and sighed. She was determined to be punctual and she could see now that she would not have time to join the others for breakfast. She looked in her foot locker and found a little biscuit. It was rather old and tasted damp as she chewed it quietly but it would have to suffice.
When she opened her wardrobe she saw with dismay that something was terribly wrong. Overnight, Doxies must have gotten to the tassles on her dress and most were looking very ragged. One had fallen off and it drew her attention to her shoes. She had not examined them the night before. Doxies had bitten long slashes down them rather savagely. She stared in disbelief. What was she to do?
She tried a repair spell but this seemed to only trim the slashes back more neatly leaving wider openings. As she stood back and half closed her eyes she tried to imagine it as part of the design - like a custom open sandal. When she accepted that was nonsense she fought back more tears and persuaded herself the shoes would not show under the long dress.
She looked again at her dress then at her watch. Thirty-five minutes! She must fly! Quickly she dressed. She put on some pale grey socks which she hoped would make the gaps in the silver shoes less obvious, gave her hair one last brush, put on her travel cloak, and ran quickly down and out of the Castle entrance.
When Luna reached the corner opposite the Three Broomsticks just before nine o'clock her feet were already cold. At least it had stopped snowing but she stamped her feet to try to keep warm and looked around. She was on a date. She wondered if there were other girls on dates. She was like them now. She was one of them now. Only a few other students had come out this early and most of them were quickly making their way into the warmth of the shops. Across the side street she could see the steamy windows of the Broomsticks tavern and further down the main street almost around the bend was Honeydukes filling up with students.
After twenty minutes a stiff wind began to tug at Luna's cloak. She tried to pull it more tightly around her but her hand seemed to be worse and it was difficult to grip with it. She resolved to visit Madame Pomfrey tomorrow but she was not going to spoil today. Neville must surely be here soon and they were going to have a lovely time she was sure once she could get moving and get inside somewhere warm.
She could see big circular wipes on some of the Broomsticks' clouded windows where the guests were peeping out at the beautiful snow scene. Was that Roberta and Hazel? Yes it was. Luna waved to them and they waved back, grinning from ear to ear. It looked very inviting and cosy. Should she join them? Perhaps they were friends now but somehow they didn't seem... true - not like Ginny. Still, she could look out the window and see Neville when he arrived.
She looked up towards Hogwarts but there was no sign of anyone walking down at the moment. Luna started to move across to the Broomsticks but immediately stopped and looked back up in the direction of Hogwarts. If he approached and couldn't see her waiting at the corner might he not give up and return to the Castle? She decided it was best to stay where she was. She could not bear to either miss or disappoint him. Poor Neville must be having a miserable time with Professor Snape.
Another fifteen minutes passed and Luna was now blue with cold. Her face was pinched and she could not feel her feet anymore. Roberta and Hazel and some of the other Ravenclaws were waving madly at her from time and she tried to wave back but her arm was aching and when she tried to smile back at them she found she couldn't because her face was so cold.
Luna looked at her watch remorsely progressing further and further past the appointed time. She became emotionally overwhelmed for a moment. She tried to pinch some feeling back into her cheeks but couldn't. She wanted so much to look pretty for Neville and as soon as that thought entered her head she remembered how dreadful she had looked in the mirror. Tears sprang up and started to freeze on her cheek. She turned her back on the street, rubbed her face and struggled to regain control of herself.
She looked back up towards the castle. There were more students coming down now. She must stay alert to see which one was Neville. Please, please be here soon. Please, Neville.
Over the road she could see the girls pulling faces at her. They were grinning - but grinning wickedly. Then she knew. He wasn't coming. Neville wasn't coming ... ever. It had all been cruel spite. How stupid she was to ever have believed that Neville Longbottom would want to ask her on a date. Why would he? She turned away from their malevolent glee.
Suddenly she stared, confused. She was looking back up along the road to Hogwarts. There he was. There he actually was - Neville Longbottom walking along far behind some other Gryffindors. Was it him or just fanciful imagination? The other Gryffindors passed her and now she could see him clearly. It really was him. He hadn't seen her yet. She tried to stamp her feet but could hardly move her legs. Then she resolved not to stamp her feet. Neville might take it as a sign of impatience or annoyance and she didn't want to...
He was walking by her. In a moment she had an image of his profile and then only his receding back and beyond him the girls waving and grinning and silently shrieking with laughter beyond the frosty glass of the tavern.
"Luna?" Neville had paused and turned his head to look back. "Oh Hi, Luna. Didn't recognize you there - you look so..."
Luna could neither move nor speak. Neville looked crestfallen at her apparent rebuff and resumed his walk. She watched him walking away, frozen to the spot by her cold and broken hopes.
Neville stopped again and came back. "By the way, could I borrow your charms notes later? I've got loads of revision homework this afternoon. I only got out for an hour or so..." He tailed off when he got no response.
Luna tried to speak but nothing happened.
Neville waited, unsure then cocked his head on one side.
"You alright? You look frozen." He waited. "You shouldn't really wait out here too long in this weather. Is Ginny coming?"
He waited again but Luna couldn't handle it. She didn't know what to say nor did she think she could speak anyway.
Neville's eyes furrowed. "Look, would you come in the Cosy Hearth here with me - in the warm? Not many know about this place because it looks like a tiny house on the street and everybody goes in the Broomsticks opposite. We can watch for Ginny from in here. They do hot pies and soups and - all homemade stuff... I'll... I'll get you a bowl of soup or something. Come on."
Luna tried to nod but it would not have been noticed if Neville hadn't been looking so intently.
He took her gently by the shoulder and she staggered along with him a few steps but then she was slipping and falling and his arm was around her waist, holding her up, helping her along. He was saying things to her but everything seemed muffled and she was leaning against him.
Somehow she found herself sitting in the Cosy Hearth's homely parlour with warmth trying to get back into her. The hem of her dress was filthy and sodden. Compassion emboldened Neville to reach out to rub warmth into her numb fingers then he stopped in shock, looking at her right hand. He took out his wand and chanted something then spoke to an old witch with a kindly face at an adjacent table. He seemed to know her and she came over and cast some different spells. Luna felt a beautiful warmth filling her up from inside. For a moment her hand started to hurt dreadfully then it was alright, pain-free and she could feel all her limbs again. Neville and the woman were both saying things to her but she didn't understand anything.
Beef broth. Wonderful, thick, hot, tasty beef broth. Neville was coaxing it into her mouth but he was looking into her eyes.
"J-- Just take it easy. T-- Take your time. You'll b-- be alright."
She could understand him now. Her face was no longer frozen and she could move her mouth to swallow the lovely, warming broth. At some point she took over the spoon from Neville and finished the meal in silence. Occasionally Neville would speak quietly. When she glanced at him he always looked back hopefully as if he were hoping for some sign.
"Is Ginny not coming?" asked Neville. "... or s-- somebody?"
Luna shook her head.
"Would you like me t-- to help you back to Hogwarts, Luna? Or.. stay with m-- me h-- here if you want. I'm--m b-- being here for an... hour or s--so ... for a while."
"Stay," Luna managed to say with a little smile.
Neville beamed back. "It's nice in here isn't it?" He hesitated for a long time then he added, "We could m-- make a regular thing of it - if you w-- wanted too of course." Through the steaming-up window, across the little side road and through the Three Broomsticks window, Luna thought she saw someone scowl.
"That would be lovely," said Luna.
And they all lived happily ever after... except for those horrid Ravensclaw girls. Miranda got infected by Doxy bites from the Doxies she put in Luna's wardrobe and she spent four months in St. Mungos. Hazel forgot she'd cursed her needle and permanently spoiled her good looks after piercing a zit on her nose with it. Roberta developed a wax allergy after misusing her candle hex and ever after had to go to the bathroom in the dark and I think there's a spider in there. Yes, there it is at the side of the cupboard. Serve her right. :)
I totally invented the Ravenclaw eagle door knocker question but it would not surprise me if I unconsciously plagiarised it because it sounds familiar. And anyway, everybody will tell me that black is not a colour. sigh. :)
The old witch in the Cosy Hearth - her name is Martha. I don't know her last name but she's really nice. Good job she was in there, really.
Comments and reviews are welcome and very encouraging. Thank you. :)