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Love Breaks The Noble Spirit by Hippothestrowl
Chapter 32 : Touch and Go
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 0


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Chapter 32


Touch and Go



In the days that followed their encounter with the Abomination curse in Diagonal Alley, Harry felt quite differently towards his two friends. He was cleansed of revulsion, terror, and his sense of degradation by the purity of the non-critical love that Ginny had expressed towards him afterwards. Indeed, it was as if his broken self-respect had been immersed into a bath clear and certain and had come out whole again. It was now evident to him that neither Ron nor Hermione had ever thought him weak or cowardly and his wish now was to make it easier for them to talk with him and not have to avoid mentioning the curse.

Hermione, in particular, gave indications of feeling guilty for it was she that had led them to the old charms shop. Her solution to all problems was to immerse herself in books knowing that sometimes they cast a blinding light on dark doubts.

"What's it say, Hermione?" said Harry. He knew what she was reading crouched over the table, hugging her feelings to herself. The book was black with a trim of banded chains giving an impression of extra weight to an already very thick and menacing tome.

"Oh, it's nothing - just a potions recipe," she said all of a fluster, closing the book and turning to another - but Harry noticed she had left her bookmark in place.

"It's alright, honestly," said Harry, quietly. "What's it say?"

Hermione searched his expression and tried to judge his smile. Harry nodded his encouragement. Ron's chair could be heard creaking as he leaned back into the tent to listen from his day watch in the entrance.

She managed to tweak up the corners of her mouth doubtfully, re-opened the first book, took a deep breath and said, "This is 'Lost Curses.'" Then, quickly adding, "from the restricted section," she glanced up at Harry for any sign of disapproval. "The entry says, 'Abomination Curse." She wriggled to find an agreeable position in her chair and to delay what she knew would be uncomfortable reading.

"'Abomination was one of the foulest of the Dark Art curses which were thought to be lost in the Third Purges of Glory. Attributed to the witch Raxelilah Koth in the 4th century, her purpose was to break the spirit of her victims, reducing them to a baby-state of incoherent, helpless self-disgust and terror before... consuming them. Should the person be spared then, typically, severe mental trauma was induced from which the sufferer was unlikely to recover. Usually the will to live was broken and the cursed person would slowly die.' Harry, the curse works like the Dementors to instill fear and hopelessness. I don't know how you--"

"I do." Ron had silently re-entered the tent. "No joking, Harry - you are the Chosen One. I'm certain of that now. The one in a million. I reckon you were born to beat You-know-who and nothing will stop you."

This was not quite the hero-worship that Harry wanted to hear. Inwardly, he did not feel at all ready to face other horrors yet he did not wish to undermine any confidence that might support Ron. He was tempted by a yearning to confess that he was no better than anyone else and that it was Ginny that had saved him, but all he could say was, "Well, something saved me. Maybe it was the Prophecy then. I was never so scared in all my life - not even in Hangleton Graveyard." He added weakly, "Yay! for the Prophecy! What's next? Bring it on!"

He gave a timid fist pump and though the laughter that followed was as feeble as his gesture, it did begin to lift the mood. They felt a release of pressure and Ron spoke first in this new atmosphere, "Hermione and I, we were talking." He glanced hopefully at Hermione. "It's hard to say this but..."

Hermione took over when Ron hesitated, "We need a break for a few days, Harry. Ron and I were shook up badly too. We're not as tough as you. We must have time to--" Hermione raised her hand when she saw Harry's expression. "--Oh we aren't saying that just to make you feel better. We--"

"Maybe a bit," said Ron with a rueful grin. "But yeah, let's take it easy for a few days, then plan something simple next time."

"Isn't that what we always do, though?" laughed Harry dryly but inwardly he was lifted by his companions' obviously-planned efforts to raise his morale. "Yesterday we were supposed to just nip into the shop and have a quick look round!"

There were forced smiles all round. They were gradually making it work together; breaking down the emotional barriers bit by bit as if they were convalescing from a disease that polite society should not discuss. In time, the awkward feelings were overcome and the mood between them relaxed.

Harry spent these few days sending supportive messages to Ginny almost every hour. He wished he could convey his love as powerfully to her as she had to him. She said nothing of what was happening at Hogwarts nor did he press her. Even when Ron and Hermione finally grew restless and they all resumed their Horcrux searching, Harry's mind was still mainly preoccupied elsewhere, still dwelling upon Ginny's situation and upon her happiness.

—oOo—

Once March was past its first week and the weather, though sometimes blustery, lightened, Ginny was counting the days to the end of term and the start of the Easter holidays. Neville was increasingly taking a dominant role in the running of the D.A. and Ginny was glad of it. Hannah was his undeclared assistant and she, along with Ernie, and to some extent, Michael, seemed to be accepted by the others as leaders - at least, they looked to them to take the initiative and mostly followed their directives.

"You expecting a war or something, Neville?" groaned Parvati as she picked herself up after an unexpected Knockback Jinx from her sister during a long Sunday afternoon training session.

"We need to be ready for anything!" panted Neville, dodging sideways as Padma tried the same spell on him. "When they took Luna, I was hopeless. Ginny got one of them but I was pathetic. I don't ever want to experience that again."

"But you did fight them, Neville" said Hannah, stopping her duel against Ginny with a hand held up. She gave Neville a smile of admiration that made his heart flutter, "You protected me and you saved Ginny from a curse."

"Incarcerous!" said Neville, as Padma tried again to jinx him while she thought he was distracted. "I don't remember." Neville winked at Hannah.

"No, but I won't ever forget," she said.

They were training in groups each with differently-coloured armbands. Anyone who got touched by any spell had to go and join the caster's squad. Ultimately the diminished teams grew smaller and would have been overwhelmed, so shielding students protected the weakest until they grew larger again. Eventually though, one team would dominate and the last few resistors quickly mopped up. It was good practice for working together and for the uncertainties of a real scrap should one ever happen.

Next they resumed practising their Patronuses. Neville was still struggling to produce a fully-formed corporeal Patronus but Parvati and Hannah were becoming able to send brief messages to each other to the envy of the others. Ginny almost had it but kept getting a fit of the giggles when Hannah's squirrel told rude jokes.

Afterwards, Neville took Ginny and Ernie aside. Hannah and Seamus and Michael quickly joined them. "Think we're driving them too hard?" said Neville.

"Yes," said Hannah. "Smith doesn't turn up half the time and Mclaggen keeps grumbling - others too."

Ginny snorted. "Smith never did put much into the D.A. except complaints and McLaggen is always grumbling anyway."

"I think we should ease off a little," said Ernie.

"You think the Death Eaters will ease off?" snapped Ginny. "Listen, Harry Potter knows what he's doing but he may need our help one day. When that time comes I'd hate to see us all run away like rabbits from--"

"Except giants," smirked Seamus.

"Nobody said anything about quitting!" said Ernie, irritably.

"I know you didn't but confidence comes with practice and experience so we need as much as possible. Afterwards is too late. Regrets won't save lives."

She turned to Seamus but she could never reveal the truth about what had happened in the Forest. "And Seamus, yeah, I ran away. Giants are different. They're almost unstoppable because they are so impervious to magic. Maybe Flitwick and McGonagall could stop one, but for us - just run like the wind if you see one. I told you, everybody must keep away from the Forest."

"Are there really giants in there, Ginny?" said Hannah. "I thought you were joking."

"No joke - I glimpsed one and I heard others. I just hid then got out of there fast as I could and I'm not going back. Tell everyone to stay clear of the Forest. Hardly any creatures in there anymore. Even the centaurs are hiding I think."

"Well, I saw Luna's owl in one of the trees at the edge yesterday."

Ginny's eyebrows lifted high. "You what! Audrey? What was--?"

"I didn't go in but I saw her in one of trees."

"Well, why didn't you say? Perhaps Luna's asking for help!"

"There was no message - I could see that."

Ginny stared at Hannah. "Well why is she--?"

"I don't know - I'm just saying I saw her," protested Hannah. "I forgot till just now when you mentioned the Forest."

"Well, let's go see," said Ginny.

—oOo—

This cellar is not as dirty as I'd hoped," said Luna mournfully, as she rubbed two more shallow handfuls of dust into a small tin can. "It's only when you really want dirt but can't get enough that you begin to appreciate it - but I think I have enough now to start my three apple pips."

She reached into her pocket and pulled out the seeds then gently pressed them under the dirt. After she had tipped in some water from her cup she sat back to survey the results. "There! We'll worry about the sunlight later, if they germinate. It's nice to have something to care for don't you think?"

"You certainly know how to make the best of a bad situation, my dear," said Mr Ollivander.

There was a rattle of bolts being drawn back from up the stairs beyond the basement door. Mr Ollivander looked at Luna inquiringly and she examined her wristwatch in the gloom. "Oh, it's lunchtime already!"

Mr Ollivander put out his wandless illumination and the cellar fell again into complete darkness. "You'd better hide your erm... garden too, Miss Luna. Wormtail can be unpredictable."

The metal door crashed open and illumination flooded in from the stairwell, blinding the two prisoners for a few moments. Pettigrew cast a wand light ahead of himself. His eyes darted about, then, satisfied it was safe to do so, he shuffled in with steaming food trays hovering close beside him. He did not speak but as he approached them, Luna piped up, "Oh, Mr Wormtail, thank you so much for saving me! It was very good of you."

Wormtail froze and the two trays drifted ahead of him as confused as Wormtail himself as to what to do. He had not heard a kind word for such a long time he had forgotten how that felt. It came to him then that something infinitely precious was forever out of reach. Finally, he managed a curt nod and squeaked, "Yes," before resuming his task.

"I'm really sorry you are in such trouble," said Luna.

Wormtail stopped again. "Me? It is not I who am in trouble here, is it?" His eyes moved back and forth between Ollivander's gaunt pallid face and Luna's sad smile.

"Oh, I meant only that you are in service to bad people when really you never wanted to be, I'm sure. You're not like them at all."

"I..."

"Mr Wormtail, I'll always be grateful to you for saving my life," said Luna. There was sincerity in her tone.

Wormtail nodded again and, not knowing what else to say, he lowered the trays to the ground before them.

"Thank you. Sir, I wonder if you know a little sunlight spell for my garden?" She said it as if she had popped next door to her neighbour to borrow a spoonful of sugar for her tea.

From beneath the folds of her blankets she raised up her can of dirt and Wormtail stared in confusion. Even when younger, Peter Pettigrew had had no knowledge, nothing within his experience, of dealing with someone like Luna Lovegood. She was very strange yet reminded him a little of Lily Potter's consideration for others. He blinked with horror at the suppressed memory, needing to bury it again quickly. He found himself pointing his wand without meaning to and squeaking very softly, "Lumos Solem."

A faint glow of white light settled itself inside the rim of the can, illuminating the surface of the dirt therein. Luna remarked that it was very pretty. Pettigrew stared at it mesmerised then abruptly turned and left without another word.

After the door had closed without its usual slam and the locked turned with its unstoppable loud click, Luna heard Mr Ollivander release a long breath.

—oOo—

"How could you forget Luna?" puffed Ginny as she, Hannah, and Neville hurried towards the Forest.

"I didn't! I only forgot her owl," gasped Hannah, trying to keep up with the other two. "It was only yesterday and I didn't see you again until today's D.A. meeting!"

"Yes, but--"

"There she is," cried Neville, who was slightly ahead.

The bird seemed to have been expecting them and was not at all annoyed at having had to wait. It flew down to the ground before them as they approached.

"But there's no message..." said Ginny, sadly.

"That's what I told you!" panted Hannah as she reached them a few seconds later.

Why are you here, girl?" Neville asked, stroking the owl's downy feathers. He offered an owl treat from the bag they had brought along. The bird ate it so quickly that Neville rummaged out a nest of fallen leaves and tipped out the entire contents of the packet for her to eat.

"Likely she doesn't understand what has happened to them unless she's actually sent. I think owls just home in on the wing as it were." said Ginny. "Audrey," She paused. "Luna and Mr Lovegood have been captured - they've been taken prisoner. We don't know when we'll see them again."

The great tawny owl fluttered her wings rapidly but whether in sorrow or anger or frustration they could not tell.

A small scroll peeped from Ginny's bag and she drew it out. "Audrey, would you try to take this to Luna for me? There's a tiny pencil inside in case she has nothing to write with. If she can answer, I hope you can bring it back to me."

Ginny attached the scroll and its contents to the owl's leg and the bird almost silently took wing. They watched her disappear among the trees then turned to walk back. A dark figure loomed large in front of them.

"Now, yeh 'asn't been gatherin' 'erbs again in you-know-where, 'ave you, young Ginny?" It was Hagrid. He looked rather exasperated.

"Of course not," said Ginny. "We were... erm..."

"Feeding an owl," said Hannah, promptly.

"Owl, yeh say? No owls no more in them woods nor much else!" thundered Hagrid, but his annoyance was not directed at them. "Not safe fer 'em, see?"

"Why not?" All this secrecy about the giants was wearing a bit thin with Ginny.

Hagrid sighed. "Yeh might as well know..." He hesitated. "There's giants gathering - further in."

"Why?" said Hannah.

"We don't rightly know - part of You-know-who's preparations. Seems as he wants to dominate everythin' an' all. Grawp's keepin' watch fer me - advanced warnin' like."

Ginny looked back into the Forest then at her two companions. She could see Hannah crossing her fingers.

"Come on. I'll walk yeh back ter th' castle while there's still plenty o' light."

"Hagrid, there's no need to trouble yourself," said Ginny. "We're safe enough here in--"

"I'm goin' tha' way anyways," insisted Hagrid, "so no trouble at all."

Ginny noticed he was carried several sheets of parchment in his huge fist. Neville spotted them too.

"What you got there, Hagrid?" he said.

"Party," he said gruffly. "Reckon as 'ow I won't be welcome round 'ere much longer, see?"

"You're not going away, are you!" cried Ginny. "You can't--"

"No, I weren't plannin' on it but as I sees it, there's talk about... Yeh have ter understan' people like me ain't wanted 'ere. Writin's on th' wall if yeh get me drift. I'm jus' bein' prepared, like to put my own writin' on th' wall." He chuckled as if at some joke of his own.

"You're having a going-away party?" asked Hannah.

"No, no - it's not fer me. I thought, well... See fer yerselves."

He handed a few of the parchments to the youngsters and Neville read his out loud, "'SUPPORT HARRY POTTER PARTY!' Hagrid, you'll never get away with this!"

"No rules against parties as far as I know, now is there?" he grinned.

"There is against gathering of two or more students though!" Ginny looked at the date on the notice. "Hagrid, this isn't until the week after next!"

"S'right - day afore end o' term. They'll 'ave fergotten by time we get back."

"Hagrid, they won't forget!" said Neville. "You plan on posting these around the school?"

"Neville, I want ter do my bit fer Harry and anyways, reckon I got nothin' ter lose now."

"Only your head! Hagrid, this is--" cried Neville.

"Why not delay it? Delay posting these I mean," said Hannah. "Till the day itself. Maybe we can spread the word - perhaps divert the Carrows."

"Yes," said Ginny. "Why don't you leave those with us and we'll hand them out in the common rooms next week?"

They had trouble persuading Hagrid for a while but eventually he conceded the posters would have been removed and so would he, even before the day of the party.

"They'll put him in Azkaban for this," said Neville, worriedly, as they watched Hagrid depart towards his cabin.

"We must keep it low profile," said Ginny. She gazed at the blatant wording on the posters. "This is practically a confession. Say nothing to anyone until the night before."

"It should just be us," said Neville after thinking more deeply. "Only us go. Don't tell anyone else. We'll slip away unnoticed, go to the party, and nobody need know."

—oOo—

Only a few breezy but uneventful days later, Fleur Weasley drew her wand, quietly opened her back door, and stepped into the shadow of its porch. The afternoon had barely yielded to early evening; her husband would not be home from Gringott's for another half an hour. Bill had often cautioned her to be careful of anything unusual and she took Weasley experience seriously.

Hidden in the shade she listened carefully but could hear no footsteps. Had she imagined seeing a face at her kitchen window? It had been only the briefest of glimpses and she had stumbled backwards in astonishment and fallen to sit upon a chair. When she looked up, the face was gone.

Cautiously she crept out, but the brisk wind let in through the doorway slammed the sitting room window making her jerk upright from her stealthy stance. She shook herself with some annoyance, abandoned caution, and strode proudly around the side of her home; she was not the guilty intruder here after all, Fleur told herself. There was nobody to be seen. She relaxed then walked back, feeling rather puzzled and foolish. Without warning, a loud and very visible fluttering of feathery wings caused her to back away and raise her wand once more but the two round eyes that stared back at her were not human. It was a large tawny owl that was waiting by the back door - and it looked rather bedraggled.

Fleur knelt cautiously before the bird and examined it more closely. It was certainly the largest owl she had ever seen - and there was a message attached to its left leg.

"So... 'ave ze breezes, zey 'ave blown you off ze course you poor thing?" Fleur sighed. "We give for you ze shelter, yes? For unruffle ze fezz'ers?"

Fleur walked past the owl in through the doorway and held the door open for the creature to enter. The bird turned clumsily on the ground but stayed where it was. It held out its leg.

"But... zis - for me? Are you sure?" She knew nobody who had such an owl as this nor was she expecting any correspondence. It definitely was not a Gringott's owl and she was sure that Bill would contact her by floo if it had been necessary. She knelt down again and took the message. Immediately, the owl scrabbled and hopped its way inside. She found herself a roost on top of a cupboard and began to preen herself.

"You 'ave ze priorities, yes?" Fleur provided her with some sausage meat from the pantry and a bowl of water before she unrolled the parchment. A little pencil fell to the floor. She recovered it and sat down on at the kitchen table to read.

Dear Luna!

If you are reading this then Audrey has found you! Clever owl!

We are all missing you desperately and longing to see you. Are you safe and well? If there is anything we can do to help, you know we would.

Please stay happy and try to keep up your spirits. One day, all these bad things will be gone. Harry is still fighting for us and we know he will win.

Thinking of you every single day,

Love and lots of hugs from,

Ginny, Neville, and Hannah.

PS. I have left room on the back of this note and enclose a pencil for you to write an answer if you are able. If there is anything we can do or send you, anything at all - just ask. If you cannot write then tell Audrey. She is the cleverest owl I ever knew and I'm sure she will find a way to show us what you mean!


Fleur examined the parchment but there was no indication of any attempted reply. She was still pondering this when Bill arrived. He took one look at the owl and asked, "Not bad news I hope?"

"Eet eez from Ginny."

"Ginny?"

"For Miss Luna."

"Luna Lovegood? But she's--"

"Taken 'ostage, yes?" Fleur finished for him.

"Then why...?" Bill went over to examine the owl. "She's rather bruised and exhausted I think. I wonder if she has been struggling to get in somewhere?"

Fleur fetched a clean handkerchief from her laundry basket and took a small potion bottle of Dittany essence from a shelf.

"Eef she 'as tried to get into ze Azkaban?" she said, as she dabbed at the owl's wings with the cloth. "I am not so good weez ze 'ealings my little one..."

"Luna won't be in there, I'm sure," said Bill, firmly. "She's a Pure-blood and they want her handy to put pressure on old Xeno - or did. Now they've got him locked up as well I'm not so sure."

"Why 'ere - zis owl, why she comes 'ere?"

"I don't know. I'm guessing she couldn't make it back to Hogwarts to return the message to Ginny so--" Bill's eyes lit up excitedly. "I wonder if this means we're the nearest to where Luna is being held?" Bill looked at the owl in wonder. "But how did you know I'm Ginny's brother?"

"Magical owls - zey 'ave ze special instincts nobody knows, yes?" She gave the owl's wing one last wipe and stood back to survey the results.

"Maybe - I suppose we can keep her here until Ginny is home for Easter."

"But enough - you are 'ome now - and no kiss, yet?"

"Well... I don't usually like kissing owls," said Bill with a grin.

Fleur threw her Dittany-wet hankie at him followed by herself. Audrey fluttered her feathers a little and turned her head away.

—oOo—

Darkness was falling as Romilda Vane closed her trunk and sat down on her bed with a sigh. "All ready for tomorrow morning. Just a few knick-knacks to add when I get up but I'm almost packed."

"Me too," said Ginny. "I'm leaving my history homework till after the holidays. You?"

Romilda's gaze had fallen upon the wanted poster above her bed and it lingered there. The 'Un' of Undesirable No.1 had long since been magically removed.

"Rommy?"

"Mmm...?"

"Ginny?" called Neville from downstairs.

"Minute!" Ginny called back.

"Did you really split with him, Ginny?" Romilda suddenly asked.

"Who?"

Romilda frowned and smiled sardonically at Ginny.

"Course I have," said Ginny without a trace of shame at the lie. "He lost interest after Dumbledore's funeral."

"No, but... you still fancy him don't you?"

Ginny opened her wardrobe and took out her travel cloak. "Makes no difference what I want if he's not interested, does it? Probably for the best, anyway. He's reckless and--"

"But that's what makes him so exciting, don't you think! Imagine him as a knight in golden armour with a mighty sword fighting to save you from a lecherous dragon with--!"

"Yeah - imagine that," said Ginny dryly.

"Wouldn't you just die for him?" sighed Romilda, eyes shining at Ginny.

"Probably." Ginny raised her cloak to hide a stray smile.

Romilda sighed again and her attention went back to her poster. As Ginny swung the cloak over her shoulders she was watching Romilda. A year ago Ginny would have scratched her eyes out if she so much as looked at Harry; now she just felt sorry for her. If she only knew that the day after tomorrow I'll be in his arms once more.

"Ginny!" called Neville, again.

"Minute!" Ginny turned back to Romilda. "Listen, can you keep a secret?"

Romilda's head snapped around. "Of course I can. I'm in the D.A. aren't I?"

"We're having a little party over at Hagrid's in support of Harry. We daren't tell too many--"

Romilda's eyes lit up. "Ooo! Can I come!"

"Sure - grab your cloak."

Hannah was already in the Entrance Hall as Ginny, Romilda, and Neville descended the stairs. So were Draco Malfoy and Astoria Greengrass.

"I'd stay away if I were you," said Draco quietly.

"What's it go to do with--" Ginny's eyebrows lifted high. "What have you done!"

She ran to the doorway and looked out. It was not quite dark but there were three or four wand lights being carried in the direction of Hagrid's cabin. The figures carrying them were silhouetted by the bright light of a bonfire illuminating a huge 'Support Harry Potter!' banner arrayed upon the outside of the hut. Chairs and tables were put out and Hagrid seemed to be setting cups and plates.

"Wasn't me!" laughed Draco who had also come out to watch. "You didn't really think that oaf could keep quiet about something like this?"

Ginny lunged through the doorway but Neville grabbed her shoulder and stopped her running off. "You can't help him, Ginny."

There was shouting from the vicinity of the cabin and wands were being raised to challenge Hagrid. One of the dumpier figures looked like Alecto.
Ginny thought hard. There was a glint of metal about some of the other faces.

"Death Eaters!" said Neville. "From Hogsmeade! He'll put up a fight but they'll take him,"Nothing we can do."

"Maybe we can't - but I know someone who can," muttered Ginny. She drew her wand and dug deep within herself. Ginny found it easy to cast a Patronus - she need only think of being with Harry - but without experience of purpose the horse cantered away and faded. She turned to Hannah and whispered in her ear.

Ginny tried again but she was no match for Hannah's squirrel which flew at enormous speed from her wand directly towards the Forest. Ginny's horse galloped after it.

Hagrid's mighty roar was followed by a thud as one of his assailants was hurled bodily into the runner bean patch. The half-giant staggered at last as his legs were seized by a binding curse. He tore away the magical ropes but was becoming more vulnerable to other curses. It seemed as if he was about to succumb when an almighty bellow rent the air around Hogwarts Castle and the young giant Grawp thundered out from the trees in a rage. The Death Eaters scattered before him. The ensuing battle was brief and many injuries were inflicted upon them. Disheartened and disorganised, those still able to stand watched as the huge pair lumbered away into the trees chased only by a howling Fang.

Ginny grinned. Obscured by shadows, she looked happily down again to read her medallion. Yes, Ginny! Sunday Evening! Ottery Lane! She could still feel Harry's "Hurrah!" in his lingering kiss. She smiled again.

—oOo—

A man and his young son stood beside their mud-spattered car upon an old patch of gravel worn bare by many untended seasons. Above them, the southern eaves of Chetherwell Wood marked the furthest parts of an inaccessible thimble of northern England wasted by a motorway to the south, challenged by unfriendly hills to the northwest, and, beyond the Wollsedge Mere, drained by a crooked, soaking bog which ultimately relieved the belly of this wilderness through several rivers into the North Sea. The owner of this folly had, after taking advice, long since resigned himself to it as a problem masquerading as an investment for his descendants to worry about. To the small number of friends, fishermen, and die-hard field-freaks who managed to seek him out, he allotted a few days per year along with even fewer words of advice: 'Stay away - it's not worth it.' In short, visitors were discouraged and the landowner mostly left in peace in his Riviera mansion.

Neither the boy nor his father knew or cared much about this - and nothing of their part in bringing about a calamity that might bring their entire world into dark servitude, dreadful suffering, and death. The adult had dutifully waited for the first day of the trout season yet remained unaware that he should have paid for rod and access licences before trespassing.

They peered forward into the woodland's secret delights - all heavily dappled by spring foliage and noisome with birdsong in this first early light. Father and son beamed at one another. The new morning sun rose sullenly but their mood was bright. Between the elms, a clear, silvery brook hurried down to the blue-green waters of the mere which sparkled as appealingly to their eyes as any emerald treasure.

This was a proud day for Len. The day a man takes his son on their first fishing trip together has to be swelled with both emotion and promise.

"What d'you think, lad?" Len made a casual gesture towards his car and heard a satisfying click as, almost like magic, it secured itself.

"Has it really got lots of fish, Dad?"

"Fat and juicy, begging to jump into our frying pan - you'll see. Why, last year I took eight on the first day." The man's eagerness exaggerated the memory but he saw no harm in impressing his offspring. "They get careless through the closed season, that's why - not a soul has visited this place for months. Come on, we'll head down the trail and find a good spot." He was very wrong about the soul.

The father strode out, his son trotting happily beside him, his little fishing rod gripped tightly in his hands, both breathing in the spring airs, heathers and grasses, the first of blossoms and, of course, the rich, earthy odour of Wollsedge Mere. Mr Crowley smiled to himself.

As the broad surface of the pool became more visible through the overhanging leafery, the scattered reflection of a dark cloud drew his attention and he looked upwards with a sense of disappointment. His smiling mouth cracked into an awful gape and his face, which had taken him ten years to boast its current country-ruddiness, fell pale. His gaze was drawn irresistibly higher but his spirit sank down into his muck-clogged boots. Terror gripped him and his legs stiffened, ready for flight.

"I think I saw one, Daddy!"

The father's vacant stare fell to his son, saw him beaming and pointing away to another stream pouring its bright sprays into the mere. Len did not look back. His fatherly instinct was his only courage. "Let's see where that leads, then, eh, David?" His voice croaked and his face was wooden but this was hid from the boy by the lad's own excitement.

Let him not look back. Don't let him look, prayed the father for the son as he hustled him along.

"But Daddy, you said the fish are biggest in the pool - you said so."

The boy was glancing over his shoulder as they moved but his father blocked his view and hastened him on more and more with, "Wait till you see what's here, lad!" and "I expect something special up this way."

Yet the boy, having spoken of little else all week but that they were to fish the mere, was becoming tearful. He twisted and turned to see behind and the father, hampered by rod and creel, net and pole, saw his son's eyes widen in puzzlement. Horror soon followed that expression. Down scattered all the kit, rod and all; up-scooped was the boy under his father's arms then buried his face, screaming against his chest, running now, gasping, groaning with fear, to get away from that awful place.

—oOo—

"Still hoping ... go back to school one day, Miss Lovegood?" said Ollivander as Luna studied their scratched calendar extra carefully. He lay now upon his blankets so weakly that Luna was afraid to speak too loudly.

"Everyone's home for holidays," she replied wistfully.

"Schoolfriends?" croaked Ollivander. He seemed barely awake.

Luna nodded. Ollivander could see she looked a little sad and wondered how he might cheer her up. An unexpected commotion above helped as a diversion.

"They're shouting again. Why are they always angry?" she said. "They blame Mr Wormtail a lot, don't they?"

"If .. school holidays ... started ... Draco ... at home," gasped Ollivander. " Perhaps ... annoying them."

"Draco?" To Luna, the thought of a 'real world person' she knew from her normal life, from Hogwarts - even someone so unlikeable - that person being so close appealed to her deprived senses, and possibly he might bring her news of Ginny and Neville. "Do you think he might visit us?"

"Never during ... year I have suffered here ... nor do I seek ... his company." Ollivander sagged back almost as flat as his blankets.

"Oh."

He heard the tone of disappointment and half-opened his eyes. "Perhaps ... he might ... for you."

It was hard to tell in the gloom but he thought her expression brightened a little and he lapsed back from his effort, ready for sleep.

He had scarcely finished speaking when there was the sound of footsteps upon the stairs beyond the door. At Luna's urging, Mr Ollivander doused his wandless illumination. "Be careful, my dear ... please be careful ... what you say."

The light flooding in as the cellar door opened blinded Luna to who was there and, taking Mr Ollivander's advice, she remained silent. But the door crashed shut and she felt a wave of discouragement as once more they were cast into utter darkness listening only to the retreating footsteps. Without warning, this empty feeling was pierced by a terrible sound. A scream, a prolonged shriek of pain from above, filled the dark space so utterly that Luna clapped her hands over her ears in horror.

"HERMIONE! HERMIONE!"

"Be quiet! Shut up, Ron!"

Luna had not heard those voices in so long she was astonished, unable to make the connection for a few seconds. "Harry? Ron? Is that you?"

"Luna?"

"Yes, it's me!" Doves of joyous rapture were crushed under the heel of heartbreaking disappointment. "Oh no, I didn't want you to be caught!"

The months of dark, empty desolation could not be swept aside by a few moments of high drama. Waves of bewilderment flooded her thoughts. More screams. More Ron bellowing Hermione's name. It was Harry Potter and he wanted... He wanted her help. She scrabbled in the blackness for the water jug, found the nail behind it, then headed blindly for the voices, shaking with new excitement.

Go away, silly thoughts! she begged of herself while picking at their ropes with the nail. "Ron, please stay still - I can't see!"

"Pocket! Light!" he cried.

It was nothing like a wand, yet from it, illumination flared and rose to take up position in the air. Luna blinked and squinted dizzily in the brightness. A goblin was revealed and... "Hello, Dean!"

The ropes came free but the shrieks from above still held their minds transfixed. Ron was on a hopeless search for ways to escape but she had gathered dirt from every square inch and knew each stone to be solid. Harry was asking his mirror for help. Irrational despair had tempted Luna herself in the first days of captivity so no comfort could she offer.

Draco's voice was heard at the door. What a time for him to come visit me! Familiar darkness was restored just before the door opened to throw in more light. The door slammed loudly, darkness again, together with another loud bang inside the chamber then lights flashed. There was now a house-elf. Luna was held in the sway of confusion. He was offering to take them away.

"Harry, we want to help you!" she whispered - though she longed and longed more than anything to escape the dungeon. The elf's little fingers were in touch with hers and Harry told him to go. Darkness enveloped them and everyone fell silent. At last I can smell the sea! thought Luna. She staggered. Cloud streaked across an immense bowl of dazzling stars high above; blankets of boiling foam webbed a sea of dancing lights below. She went down on one knee, hands delighting in thick grassy tufts. Dean grabbed around her shoulders; guided her up. There was a loud pop and the elf was gone again. Had she imagined it all?

"Are we in heaven, now?" Her senses were overloaded and so was her thinking. She blinked.

"Luna, wait here," said Dean. "Whatever you do, do not move from here - there is a big drop over that cliff."

She was alone again with Mr Ollivander lying near-unconscious by her side and the strangest feelings that she was still back in the cellar teased out fears from the back of her mind.

"I'll be be back in a minute!" Dean called over his shoulder.

Has Mr Wormtail forgotten to bring a water jug again? Have I been dreaming?

Someone was leading her across a faintly-moonlit garden shivering with frothy plants and secret shadows then through an enchanted door that shone with freedom. Back a step; forward again; back - the doorway was like stepping through an open smile. Magical chairs! They looked so funny like a little piece of floor sprouting up on stilts. She tried to remember sitting on chairs and whether they sank back into the ground.

A magical owl so friendly and familiar - just like Audrey. Luna burst into tears. A nice lady was wafting a tickly spell into her nose. It smelt and tasted of mint and flowers and Hogwarts and Gurdyroot and Mummy and Daddy and a cascade of lovely senses following one another so rapidly she had to let go of whatever she had been clinging to inside. There was a tremendous rush of colour and sound then everyone was looking at her. All was clear.

"It eez alright now, yes? 'ave you--"

"Oh, may I sit down, please? I so much want to sit in a chair!"

Fleur was glancing at Dean worriedly but he was raising his eyebrows and grinning to indicate Luna was back to normal. Bill could be seen through the doorway into the sitting room. He was laying Mr Ollivander on the sofa. "What happened after that, Dean?"

"After Griphook and I were grabbed, the Snatchers were alerted that Harry had spoken the taboo word Vold - You-know-who - so he and Ron and Hermione got snatched by them too," said Dean, shaking his head worriedly.

"They were snatched too! But I thought you said they rescued you. Where are they now, then!" cried Bill, looking back and forth between Dean and Luna.

"Harry and Ron and Mr Dobby are rescuing Hermione, of course," said Luna brightly. "These chairs are lovely. She stood up and sat down again as if to enhance the experience.

"How many more?" asked Bill wildly as he went back towards the open front door through which the wind was gusting.

"Harry, and Ron, and Hermione and a goblin, and a house-elf," sang Luna, lightheadedly.

Fleur looked startled. Luna could see her mouthing the words to herself in disbelief, "A goblin wiz a 'ouse-elf?"

"Are you alright? You look a bit funny," said Luna.

—oOo—


Author's Note:
"HERMIONE! HERMIONE!", "Be quiet! Shut up, Ron!", "Harry? Ron? Is that you?", and "Yes, it's me! Oh no, I didn't want you to be caught!" are quoted from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Page pp 375-376, British edition by J K Rowling.


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