Watching him move off, Luna absently rubbed the bruised place on her arm where he'd caused her to stumble into the wall. Luna was not the sort to form hasty judgments of people. Unlike many of her friends in the D.A., even sweet Neville Longbottom, she didn't dislike Draco Malfoy on principle. It wasn't his fault that his parents had chosen to support You-Know-Who. It was, however, his choice to be positively vile to her friends, like Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and Neville and, of course, Harry Potter himself, throughout their tenure at Hogwarts. For that, Luna disliked Draco Malfoy and his friends.

Still, she felt a twinge of sympathy for him, given what his family had been through this summer. Draco was good-looking and athletic (if not the best Quidditch player in school, admittedly). Up until this year, Luna knew he had enjoyed the easy popularity of the rich and beautiful. How different must his life be now, with his father openly avowed to the Death Eaters? Even the Slytherin students whose families supported You-Know-Who probably wouldn't want to associate openly with the Malfoys, for fear of losing their own freedom.

Luna's sympathy for Draco didn't extend very far, seeing as how he had never shown the slightest distaste for his family's views. Not like Harry's courageous godfather Sirius, whom Luna's father had told her had rebelled against his pureblood parents when he was hardly older than she was now. The wizarding world was at war, and if Draco Malfoy had chosen the wrong side, Luna could accept, in her straightforward way, that he was her enemy.

A few steps down the corridor, Luna encountered a much friendlier face – Ginny Weasley's. "Luna!" Ginny exclaimed, appearing truly glad to see her. "You look so pretty. Did you cut your hair?"

Luna ran her fingers absently through her slightly-shorter, honey-blonde tresses. "Yes," she admitted. "I got into some old potion cleaning out one of Daddy's cabinets a few weeks ago, and it started turning my hair green. I had to cut the ends off, but now I should be safe from wrackspurts. I was just thinking it would be nice to run into you," she added, which was perfectly true. Ginny was one of Luna favorite people; she was always interested in the wonderful creatures Luna described to her, unlike Hermione, who quite often drove herself to distraction trying to explain how such things simply could not exist, all because nobody had yet put them down in one of her books.

"Good holiday?" Ginny returned.

"Oh yes," Luna answered. "My father's been corresponding with a friend who's tracking down fire slugs in Brazil. It's going to make a really wonderful issue, maybe even better than Harry's interview…"

Luna was still answering Ginny's queries about the origins of the fire slug when they finally came to a compartment full of friendly faces. Ron and Hermione, apparently finished with their Prefect duties, waved them inside, and Harry scooted closer to Neville to make room for the two of them. The conversation turned to their new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Horace Slughorn, whom Harry had actually met over the holidays.

"He's a bit of a show-off, really," Harry admitted. "But Dumbledore must think he's worth the trouble."

After that, Neville, Seamus, Ron and Harry started talking about the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and Ginny turned to Luna, her face serious.

"I saw Malfoy bump into you. Was he being rude?"

Luna smiled. She was genuinely touched by the fierceness of Ginny's expression. Though she knew Ginny's explosive temper, honed on five older brothers, tended to fire at the slightest provocation, it was nice to have friends watching out for her.

"Oh no," she assured her. "He was just being Malfoy."

Before hardly any time at all seemed to have elapsed, Hermione was announcing that they needed to put on their school robes. As Luna slipped hers over her head, a scrap of paper fell out of the pocket of her jeans.

"Here you go," Harry said, picking it up and handing it to her.

Luna started to crumple it up, assuming it was some old note she'd written to herself (she was always forgetting things, try as she might to be organized), then thought better of it and unfolded the paper. To her surprise, scrawled across the torn parchment in spidery, slanting letters was a cryptic message:

Tomorrow, stroke of midnight, Great Hall. Come alone.

"Luna? You coming?"

Luna looked up to find Neville waiting expectantly in the corridor. Everyone else had already moved off, as the train had just lurched to a halt at the Hogsmeade station. "Yes," Luna answered, stuffing the note back in her pocket, her heart beating hard and fast inside her chest.

"D'ya hear I'm helping Professor Sprout tend the greenhouses this year?" Neville asked, as Luna linked her arm through his so they wouldn't be separated in the press of students disembarking into the cool evening air.

Nodding, Luna half-listened as Neville listed the plants he hoped to be in charge of. Her thoughts were focused on the note. Who could have written it? Who could have slipped it into her pocket? She'd been sitting beside Harry and Neville the entire trip – unless somebody had put it there while she was saying goodbye to her father at the train station. Maybe it was someone's idea of a joke, luring her off alone to bully her…

But no, she decided, that wouldn't be the way of things this year. People knew now that Harry had been telling the truth about You-Know-Who all along, and they knew that she was Harry's friend. That knowledge glowed like a tiny light deep inside Luna's chest, warming her from the inside out: She had friends, good, brave, kind friends, and because of that, this year she would not be tormented. That meant whoever had sent the note must really want to meet her. The question was, why?

Without fully understanding her decision, Luna decided not to mention the message to anyone as she clambered into one of the horseless carriages beside Hermione and Ginny. She couldn't help stealing a glance at Neville across the way, but he seemed absorbed in Quidditch talk with Harry and Ron. She'd suspected now and again that Neville might have a bit of a crush on her; she had to admit, it would be nice to have a boyfriend like other girls, especially someone caring and sensitive – and surprisingly open-minded – like Neville. She also knew that Neville was painfully shy. If the note was from him, she didn't want to spoil his plans by announcing it to the whole group.

And if it wasn't…Well, Luna decided, nobody ever solved a mystery without taking some risks.


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