Warning: certain chapters contain sexuality, drug use, violence, disturbing imagery.
It isn't as if Pansy expected her mother to be there at King's Cross when the train pulls in—it isn't as if she expected her mother to put herself out so much. And Daddy, of course, would
be at the office and then the club until well after sundown. Pansy's father likes to joke that if he were to see the Parkinson home by the light of day, he'd go up in smoke like a bloody vampire.
But she did expect them to send Ferguson with the Bentley, or at least to leave word and a Portkey home. If they weren't going to be inconvenienced, at least they could be expected to pony up the Galleons.
What she certainly did not expect was to have to beg to share a Muggle cab ride into Buckinghamshire with a sniffling Cho Chang and a glaring Marietta Edgecomb.
And she definitely did not expect to have to sit there, stiffly persevering under their hostility as industrial northern London gives way to the gorgeous, rolling countryside they all grew up in. Pansy sighs at the irony: if they hadn't left yesterday before breakfast, she could have at least shared a ride out with the Patils. They don't particularly like Pansy, nor she them, and they've hardly spoken a dozen words to each other since they all arrived at Hogwarts, but at least they live in the same village. At least they grew up together.
And their father works with her father, so at least they'd be politely silent, instead of radiating frigid antipathy.
She'll be getting plenty of that from Maman.
When the cab reaches the Parkinsons', Pansy tosses a few large-looking Muggle bank notes at the front seat and turns to close the door.
"Bitch," mutters Marietta.
"That's rich," sneers Pansy, retrieving her trunk from the driver, "coming from a swot with 'SNEAK' written on her forehead."
Edgecomb bursts into tears, burying her face in Chang's shoulder.
The black Muggle auto rumbles off down the lane, and it can't rumble fast enough for Pansy's taste.
As she walks up the drive to the house, Pansy can see that things must not be going terribly well. The Fanged Geraniums by the gate are overgrown, which might prove frightening if they weren't also drooping and faded. One takes a lackadaisical nibble at Pansy's skirt—smelling Weasley there?—and Pansy swats it away with her handbag. The gravel on the drive doesn't look to have been dragged in months.
The front door is ajar.
In the entryway, things look more normal: the floor glistens, the chandelier sparkles, the portrait of Grand-père glowers imperiously down from the wall opposite the front door. At least their elf, Baubo, seems to be keeping up appearances.
Pansy finds her mother in the sitting room, her eyes as green and milky as whatever it is she's sipping from her tiny crystal glass. "Good evening, Maman," Pansy sighs.
"Ah, ma p'tite," Claudine Parkinson slurs. "You are 'ome…"
"Yes," Pansy says, biting the inside of her cheek. "I owled."
Her mother gives a half-hearted, dismissive wave of her hand—her free hand.
"I thought you'd send the car at least. Where's Ferguson? And the garden's a mess."
Pansy's mother lifts her upturned nose haughtily. "Of course I would have sent 'im if 'e still worked for us. Hélas, 'e does not. Old Maltby 'as died—per'aps you saw it in the papers—and 'is son is only willing to do 'alf the work for the same pay. It is shameful."
Pansy looks at her mother, who seems to have tipped over the line from elegance to dissolution so, so easily, and she feels a cold weight in her stomach. "It's got bad, hasn't it, Maman?"
Claudine Parkinson does not acknowledge the question. She takes a miniscule sip from her ghostly aperitif and stares out the window to where the sunset faded hours ago.
Pansy sighs. "Bonne nuit, Maman."
As her mum bustles her out of the Floo and into the Burrow kitchen, Ginny feels none of the reassuring presence that she thought and hoped to find here.
It is empty.
"Your father is doing something for work—not another raid, I hope, he's got people to do that for him now." Molly Weasley glances at her clock, all the hands of which are pointed at Mortal Peril. As if that's a surprise. "Fleur's staying with Bill up at Hogwarts till Poppy lets him loose. The twins, well, you know." They helped Ginny to the Floo at their shop, and then went back to work—some big order of Shield Hats for the Ministry.
Ron. For the first time since before she started school, she's home without Ron.
It was so painful on so many levels, listening to Ron's side of the conversation as he told Mum through the Floo that he was going with Harry—and Hermione—to stay with Harry's awful Muggle relatives. So painful to stand opposite Harry and that stony face, knowing he knew how much this hurt her, but doing it anyway. Hermione, chewing her cuticles to shreds. Painful, putting her own head in the Floo and seeing the hurt and challenge on her mother's face, knowing that, even if Harry had extended the invitation to her, it would have been over Molly Weasley's dead body that Ginny could have gone.
In a year and a month, Ginny will be of age, and no one will be able to tell her what to do or where to go. And then he'll see how it felt to have to go along with something because you have no choice.
Ginny looks at her mother, who is absent-mindedly twisting a cloth between her hands. With a shudder, Ginny's mum snaps out of whatever nightmarish fantasy had eaten her brain. "Have you had anything to eat, Ginny, dear?"
Ginny shrugs. "The twins stood us dinner at the Leaky Cauldron." Mostly, they wanted to get the full story of what had happened the night… The night Dumbledore died. Harry's hand cool and limp and unresisting in her own as she led him away from the base of the tower.
"You sure?" Mum asks, being Mum. "A spot of tea?"
Ginny shakes her head.
"Is… Is something bothering you, Ginny? I mean, beyond all of what's happened the past few days?"
The impulse to spill it all, to weep in Mummy's lap and unburden all of the problems and fears floods up, but Ginny finds her mouth snapping shut. It's not possible any more. Mummy can't fix everything any more. Daddy can't protect her. There's only herself. And Harry. And their friends. "No, Mum," Ginny says with a shake of her head. "Just tired."
"Oh," says Molly Weasley, deflating slightly. "All right then. You get a good night's rest and everything will look better in the morning, I promise."
"Thanks, Mum. I sure hope so." Ginny places a kiss on her mother's round cheek, more lined now than Ginny remembers. "Good night, Mum."
"We must be quick, Draco," snarls Snape, and Draco finds himself bristling for what feels like the thousandth time in the past two days. "We must collect your mother and be gone before anyone—"
"I know. Professor. I know." It isn't as if the greasy half-blood hasn't told him this over and over again all day long. Frustration bubbles up. "I don't see why we can't simply go back to where the Dark Lord—"
"I have told you, you insolent, idiotic puppy, it would not have been safe. We might have been followed. And besides," the Dark Lord's one-time favorite mutters, "going before our lord too soon might not have been… wise."
"For you, perhaps," Draco says, feeling some pleasure at least in Snape's discomfort. "At least I achieved my mission."
"Iachieved your mission, fool!" Snape snaps.
As they walk out onto the lawn, revealing the back entrance to Draco's home, Draco feels a sense of pride flooding up to match and increase his rage. "Listen to me, you simpering, fence-sitting half-blood!" he hissed. "I brought our fighters into the school. I made sure that Dumbledore was out of the way and cast the Dark Mark to bring him back to the school. I disarmed the old fraud—"
"And stood there, staring at a wandless old wizard while the Order and Potter's little friends nearly rescued him."
Draco scowls. Potter. Potter wasn't there that night until they left. That would have been the salve to the humiliation of his moment of indecision. His moments of indecision. That frail, open face. Open, fearless blue eyes. No fear… Draco grunts. He wanted Potter to be there, to see. He wanted to show—
"Come, Draco," hissed Snape. "Let us see to your mother and get out of here as quickly as we can."
The door opens to Draco and he strides into the house where he is now king.
The house is quiet and dark, except for a light in the library—not usually Mother's room, but that seems to be—
Narcissa Black Malfoy is slumped in the huge wingback chair that has always been her husband's throne. She squirms oddly, as if she is about to vomit.
At her side stands a tall, gaunt figure that haunts Draco's nightmares. He stumbles to his knees. Together with Snape, he mutters, "My lord."
"Ah, look, my dear," says the Dark Lord, stroking the blonde hair beneath his hand, "Draco has finally come to visit. And he has brought along our good friend, Severus."
"You honor me, my lord," Snape croaks.
Draco is doing his best simply to hold his bowels together as he stares down at the polished old oak of the floor. His mother…
"Draco, Draco, what has taken you so long to come and see me?" The Dark Lord's voice is high and deceptively light. Even from his limited experience, he knows how quickly this tone can shift. "I would have thought, after the great and utterly unexpected success of your plan, that you would have hastened back with the news, ready to reap the rewards due to you."
"My lord…" Draco's throat is dry and constricted. He cannot get the words out.
"My lord," Snape says, and his interruption is as much a relief as an annoyance, "we feared that we would be followed. We did not wish to bring—"
"You, Severus, did not wish to put yourself in a position where you might find yourself foist once again on the horns of Narcissa's nasty little Vow. Is that not so?"
Draco feels Snape shiver beside him, and then he knew they were in for the worst, that Snape's foolishness has taken away any glory Draco's stratagem might have gained them and that they would be subject to slow, long torture. He is about to cry out that it was Snape's idea to run and hide, Snape's fear that had kept them away, when he hears a sound that he has never heard before.
The Dark Lord laughs. "Ah, Severus, my friend, I cannot blame you for wishing to relieve yourself of that sword over your head. Nor can I blame you, Draco, for thinking I might be… unhappy with you at your inability to finish what you started." The last words are spoken with an icy menace altogether devoid of light or laughter.
Draco's bowels rebel.
"Oh, please, Draco, control yourself," says the Dark Lord, a small hint of lightness returning to his voice. "I do not punish those who have helped make possible my third greatest ambition. Do not mistake me: I will brook no further failure. But I shall not punish you. Not… now." The Dark Lord laughs again, and it is not a pleasant sound. "Your dear mother, however—I am afraid that I have had to be most severe with her for interfering with my plans, for obligating my servants. Yes, her sister revealed all to me, Severus—their visit and the Unbreakable Vow. Bellatrix is most… penitent. But Narcissa I am afraid needed to be dealt with… most severely."
Draco cannot help glancing up; his mother's head lolls obscenely from one side to the other, and she still looks on the edge of being sick.
The Dark Lord gestures magnanimously with one long-fingered hand. "As for you two, a nominal punishment, I think: sent to bed without any supper. Appropriate, don't you agree, my sweet?"
As Draco and Snape began to back out of the room—Draco cringing at the feel of his own filth in his trousers, the Dark Lord snaps, "What, Master Malfoy? Leaving without kissing your mother goodnight?"
As he walks up to the chair, his mother continues to sway oddly. The Dark Lord steps to the side to give him room, which should be a relief but is not. Draco leans forward. Narcissa Black Malfoy's eyes are set, the pupils milky and contracted to pinpricks, and she smells of death. As he leans close to kiss her cheek, Draco feels no breath from her nostrils. His lips touch cold flesh.
Her mouth explodes open, jaws unhinging with a snap, and a huge snake's head bursts forth, the fangs catching Draco lightly by the neck. He freezes.
"Now, now, Nagini," said the Dark Lord, that humorless laugh lightening his voice again, "young Draco simply wishes to wish his mother good night. Say good night, Draco."
The snake's fangs loosen slightly. Draco whimpers, "G-good night, M-Mother."
Luna's father pulls the duvet up to her shoulders and kisses her on the cheek. The smell of the Diricawl down, the rough grit of his chin against hers, the hoot of their owl Ganymede playing with the gnomes in the garden—it all makes her feel very young and very small and very safe, and Luna's toes curl in satisfaction. "So, Popkin. Welcome home. It's good to have you back."
"It's good to be back, Daddy." It is hard to believe, lying here in their snug home, that just a few nights ago she and her friends were, once again, facing Death Eaters. Really, it seems quite fantastical.
"So, did you have a nice ride back with your friends?" Mercury Lovegood breaks out in what Luna thinks of as his Zomo-the-Rabbit grin, the one that lets her know he is teasing. It is very helpful of him, since Luna sometimes misses her father's jokes, which has always made both of them rather sad since her mother died. Her mother always used to translate these things for Luna.
"Oh, yes, Daddy," Luna says with a smile. "My friends and I had a lovely time, once everyone got over being all solemn and quiet from the funeral."
"Hmmm," hums Luna's father. "Two years in a row that I find my daughter and her friends in the middle of the biggest news story of the year. Rita's trying to come up with a name for you lot. She's rather taken with 'Potter's Avengers,' but I'm more in favor of 'Harry and his Henchmen.'"
"Oh, dear," Luna says. "I don't think Harry would like either of those very much. Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I like them very much." She pulls her knees up and buries her face in the comforter, trying to think. "How about 'Dumbledore's Army'?"
"Hmmm." Luna's father frowns for a moment, and then begins to chew on the idea. "Dum-ble-dore's-Ar-my. Hmmm. Yerss… Yers indeed, I think that would work rather nicely. Wasn't that the name of that Defense club you were in last year?"
"Oh, yes," Luna answers with an emphatic nod. "It was Ginny's idea—the name, that is. The club was Hermione's idea, and Harry's of course."
"And that was where you learned to fight together?" Luna recognizes a different clever look on her father's face: his newshound look.
"Yes, Daddy. Though…" Now it is Luna who frowns—not something she does terribly often. "Daddy, do you know much about Felix Felicis?"
Mr. Lovegood's eyebrows shoot up toward his distant hairline. "Enough, Popkin, enough. I know that Ministers for Magic have been abusing it for decades. It's what happened to old Fudge—it stops being effective soon enough, but the feeling of infallibility never goes away. Fascinating stuff. Why?"
Luna peers at her father. He was a Slytherin, and so he doesn't understand the idea of knowledge being valuable in and of itself; for him, it's all about using it—buying things with it, influencing people with it. Luna understands this view of knowledge, but honestly, there are times when simply understanding something feels more important than anything. It is one way in which Luna is learning to accept that her father and she disappoint each other. "Well, Hermione shared a small dose with each of us before the Death Eaters showed up—a half a dram's worth, which should have lasted us each an hour or two. It was Harry's—he'd won it from Professor Slughorn, I think."
"Yes, good old Sluggy. But, Luna my sweet, why do you mention it?"
"Well, I think that it's how we all escaped from the battle relatively unhurt—other than poor Neville, who got rather badly knocked about again. Honestly, I don't think his new wand suits him any better than the last one did. He's a much better wizard than his wandwork seems to show." Luna thought about her friend, thought about sitting with him at the funeral just this morning, so odd… "Did you know that stinksap makes an excellent salve for bite wounds? Quite smelly, but very effective." Bill Weasley, still in bed… That French girl gadding over him—Floo? Flan?
"Luna?" She has lost him. She is used to this. They both are.
"Oh! Yes. What I was thinking about just now was this: right after we took the potion—right after we saw that Draco Malfoy had let Death Eaters into the school—Ginny, Neville and Ronald ran up towards the Astronomy Tower, which was quite fortunate, since that is where the Death Eaters were headed—they were able to round up some of the members of the Order of the Phoenix who were patrolling the school—"
"The ORDER OF THE PHOENIX was there!" Luna's father yelps, looking very excited indeed. "That wasn't in any of the reports! I didn't think they still existed! Fudge and his predecessors always claimed it was a myth, a kind of pat-each-other-on-the-back wizard's club, like the Dark Arts Defense League! You mean, they were actually there!"
Luna is perplexed both at her father's excitement and at his incredulity. "Oh, yes, half a dozen or so, at least. Dumbledore was their leader, you see. They were the ones who helped rescue us in the Department of Mysteries last year."
"And the Ministry said it was the Magical Law Enforcement Squad and the Aurors. As if you could trust the Ministry flacks." Mr. Lovegood's eyes are shining very brightly indeed: he has caught a scent.
"Well, there were Aurors there too." Luna peers at her father, trying to work out just what part of the story is so intriguing to him—this bit seems rather boring to her. Aside from the fact that Auror Tonks and Auror Shacklebold and the other Order members saved all of their lives the previous year. "But they are part of the Order too, I think."
Mercury Lovegood looses a joyous bark of laughter. "Really!"
Luna considers her father. Suddenly she recognizes his excitement. "Daddy, you're not going to publish all of this, are you?"
"I…" The happy gleam in his eye dims. "Oh. But Popkin, it's an important story—the Wizarding public have a right—"
Luna considers this. It is a view of knowledge about which she and her father agree: it should be freely available. She thinks too, however, about the way that Snorkacks will turn on members of their herd who have been touched by humans. Minister Fudge behaved rather like a Snorkack. Minister Scrimgeour seems to behave rather like a Snorkack too sometimes, even if he is a vampire. "Daddy, I don't think that would be very nice. If we published their names or even the fact that Aurors were there, the Minister would probably be quite upset with them. He might decide to feed on them, which seems rather unfair considering they saved my life. And Ginny and Harry's. And the others."
"Oh," Mr. Lovegood sighs. Then he nods. "Yes. But if there is a way, luv, to write the story without putting them at risk, then we should. After all, We Need to Know the Truth!" It is TheQuibbler's motto.
"Yes," Luna admits, somewhat grudgingly. Her own sense of safety is greatly dissipated, but she has a mystery that she needs to unravel, and that takes precedence over anything. "In any case, Daddy, while they were up in the Tower, Hermione and I both ran down to Professor Snape's office."
"Snape! Nasty whelp. Wasn't he the one who…?"
Luna shivers. "Yes, and that's what I'm wondering, you see."
Her father scowls at her quizzically.
"Well, Harry told Hermione that we should watch Professor Snape if anything happened. But both of us felt strongly urged not only to keep an eye on him, but to tell him what was going on—that the Death Eaters were in the castle, storming the Astronomy Tower."
He shrugs. "I'm not sure I see what's got you puzzled, sweetheart."
She raises an eyebrow. "Really? I'm sorry. I thought that was obvious. Wasn't it?" When he shakes his head, she continues. "We were both dosed with Felix Felicis, Hermione and me. Why would we have felt compelled to tell him that if it led to something so disastrous?"
"I…" Luna's father blinks his large eyes slowly. "Do you know, Luna love, I've no idea. Makes no sense 't all."
"No," Luna agrees, pleased to have made at least part of her point.
"Well," he says, drumming his fingers mutely on the duvet, "it's not like the potion is omnipotent or anything, is it? I mean, maybe it just knew you were less likely to be hurt—"
"I don't think so," Luna answers, and they are both surprised. Luna scarcely ever interrupts anyone. "Hermione and I would have been least likely to be hurt that night if we'd stayed in our dormitories. I was writing an essay on Bowtruckles." No, she thinks, the potion compelled us to seek out a wizard who would cast the Killing Curse not a half-hour after we last saw him. How odd. "Have you ever taken Felix Felicis, Daddy?"
He blinks. "Erm, as it happens, Popkin, yerss." Mr. Lovegood runs a hand through the wisps of hair atop his head. "The, erm, night I proposed to your mum."
"Oh." Luna looks over at the photograph of her mother on her nightstand. Celestia Lovegood smiles beatifically as she always does and waves at her daughter. "Well, what do you suppose would have happened if you had wanted to propose to Mummy, but she had been a really horrible person? Would the potion have stopped you?"
Luna's father blushes and grins. "As it happens, Luna-love, I hadn't intended to propose to your mother that night at all. I was going out on a job interview, and a friend had slipped me a dram or so of Felix. When I stepped out, I saw your mother standing there on the landing—she and your grandparents lived on the flat opposite, you know, and I'd seen her and talked to her, but we'd never had a proper date or anything—and this voice told me very clearly that the job could wait, that spending the money on a nice dinner with your mother would pay off much better than buying newish robes to try to get a job working as a mail clerk at Witch Weekly." He grins again. "It did, too. Paid off in spades."
"Hmm," says Luna, who has to agree. "So, that only proves my point, doesn't it? Letting Professor Snape kill Professor Dumbledore was the right thing to do."
Her father's eyes sparkle and his nostrils flare, story-sniffing again. "So… was Dumbledore up to something Dark, do you think? Scrimgeour and the Black Forest vampires, perhaps…?"
"No, no, I don't think so, Daddy. I think…" Luna tries to remember. "Harry said, when he saw them on the tower…"
"The tower? What was your friend doing there?"
"He saw the whole thing." What was it that he said…? "He was under an Invisibility Cloak and a Full-Body Bind. He said… He said that Professor Snape… was under an Unbreakable Vow."
Mr. Lovegood leans back on the bed, stunned and silent.
"And he… I think he said Professor Dumbledore was quite ill." Luna can see the scene in her mind: the headmaster, slipping down the wall; Draco Malfoy—who is rather a horrid boy—standing indecisively, his wand at his side; a group of menacing Death Eaters… And Professor Snape, pale and desperate. All of them washed green in the light of the presumptuous Dark Mark over their heads.
Professor Dumbledore pleading. Please, Harry said he said. Holding up his blackened hand…. Would the headmaster have pleaded for his life? No. He had what Luna considers to have been a very healthy attitude about Death; they discussed it on numerous occasions. Just this past Christmas…
"At Professor Slughorn's party this year, when Harry took me as his friend…" A heat creeps up into Luna's cheek, which she finds rather peculiar. "Professor Dumbledore and I were talking, and I asked him about the Arch at the Department of Mysteries, do you remember the one? It was quite fascinating—Harry and Ginny and I all heard the spirits behind it, though I don't think Hermione or Ronald did." I will wait for you, Luna-love. I will be here…
Her father is staring at her again, lost but patient.
"The headmaster said… He said, 'No one can tell us what waits behind that veil, Miss Lovegood.' Then he laughed and said, 'I look forward to knowing myself rather soon.'" Alas, he continued, I regret to say that I am unlikely to be able to provide you with any information. But if any opportunity presents itself, I promise that I will let you know. For which Luna thanked him enthusiastically, and turned to continue her conversation with Professor Trelawney.
"So what did you take from that, Popkin?"
"Oh, at the time, I just thought it was one of those moments when an old person talks about being old. But…" Observations: A) Professor Dumbledore was badly injured. B) Professor Dumbledore had presentiments of his own mortality. C) Hermione says that he and Professor Snape fought during the year, that Professor Snape said he "didn't want to do it any more." D) On the night when the Death Eaters attacked, Hermione and Luna both took small but sufficient doses of Felix Felicis. (Side observation: Both Ron and Ginny broke up with their lovers the night that Harry took the Felix Felicis. Was that his luck? If so, why Ron?) E) After taking the potion, Hermione and Luna sought out Professor Snape and, against Harry's orders, told him about the invasion. F) Professor Snape was under an Unbreakable Vow. G) Professor Dumbledore said, "Please." H) Professor Snape killed Professor Dumbledore. I) One cannot cast the Killing Curse without conviction. J) Professor Dumbledore was defenseless in the midst of a group of Death Eaters who were there to see to his murder. Deductions: A) Professor Dumbledore knew that he was dying. B) The Felix Felicis potion impelled Hermione and Luna to send Professor Snape up to the Astronomy Tower so that he would be the one to cast the curse. Inferences:… "Daddy, I think Professor Dumbledore wanted Professor Snape to kill him so that the Unbreakable Vow wouldn't kill Professor Snape, because if Professor Snape didn't they'd both be dead. I think the Felix Felicis thought it would serve me and Hermione best—and possibly the others as well—if Professor Snape lived." She bites her lip and considers. Are there other possibilities? A mass attack of Wrackspurts confusing them all? No. Not likely. "Daddy. I think Professor Snape is a double agent for the Order. Or possibly a rogue Heliopath."
Mercury Lovegood's mouth drops open. Luna has seen him do this when she's shared her inferences before, but never with quite such a hungry, bright look in his eye. "Luna. Popkin. Luv. Either way, THAT is a story. Do you think you can find out more for me? Get me some more material?"
Talking to Ginny. Talking to Harry. Oh. "Yes, Daddy."
Mercury Lovegood leans forward and kisses her on the cheek again, and once again the smell, the rough feel of being tucked in by Daddy wrap Luna in a cocoon of comfort and she sighs contentedly.
"Good night, Popkin," says her father from the door.
"Good night, Daddy."
Luna snuggles into her bed. Out the window she can make out the dark swell of Stoatshead Hill, beyond whose other slope… On the other side is Ginny. And the Burrow. I believe in love, she said, and Luna wonders at that, that someone as passionate as Ginny Weasley or Ronald would believe in something so vague and insubstantial.
Luna ponders at it for a while, the nature of this thing, or rather these things that people call Love, and finally resigns herself to ponder at it some more. Perhaps this is another thing that she can talk to Ginny about, which would be rather nice.
Really, it is much easier to believe in Blibbering Humdingers.
"Do you believe in Love, Mummy?" Luna asks her mother's photograph.
Celestia Lovegood smiles easily, her eyes pale and wide. It is as much of an answer as Luna supposes she can expect.
With the pass of a hand, she puts out the candle beside her bed. As she worms down under the covers, she peeks back up at the snapshot one more time and says, "Good night, Mother."
Good night, mouths the little figure, blowing a kiss, and Luna fades into comfortable, pleasant slumber before her mother's hand has returned to her lap.