The last few days of term passed in a fog. As Harry went through the motions of saying goodbye and packing his trunk, Luna's thoughts on the Veil resurfaced in his mind, and the idea of being alone at the Dursleys with nothing but painful memories was gently nudged aside by images of strange rooms filled with secrets. He found that pondering the mysterious archway nursed a spark of curiosity that had been growing inside him from the moment he had set foot in the Department of Mysteries.
He got to his feet, dropped a dusty pair of socks into his trunk, then sat down on the edge of the bed. His brow furrowed, Harry lay back and, for the first time, allowed himself to wonder...
Harry made his decision as he and the other students prepared to board the Hogwarts express on the last day of term. Scanning the crowd, he saw a blond head bobbing a few yards ahead. Before he could talk himself out of it, Harry darted forward and tugged on her sleeve. When wide gray eyes met his, he took a deep breath and plunged ahead.
"D'you think that archway was built for the Department of Mysteries, or did they discover it ages ago and build the whole Ministry around it?" She stared at him, and he began to feel uneasy as the other students walked around them, casting them odd looks. Harry was about ready to give up and make a run for it when Luna finally spoke.
"I shall have to think on it," she said, then turned on her heel and strode toward the train. Harry stood there a moment more before he heard Ron calling his name, and stumbled back through the crowd in search of his friends.
He had known it would hurt, but had not realized the pain he would feel every time he spotted the distant form of an owl gliding toward his window. During his summers with the Dursleys, receiving mail had always been a comfort, a reminder that no matter how hidden away from the Wizarding World he was, there were people out there who cared about him and kept him informed. Now, each new letter was a reminder of how eagerly he had once awaited word from Sirius, and how no such message would ever come again.
Harry had been languishing at the Dursleys' for nearly a week. Although he had been pleased to get messages from Ron and Hermione right off, now that he was all alone and even owl post had become a painful reminder of what he had lost, there was nothing to distract him from the painful memories of the events at the Ministry.
He gazed despondently out his window, as he did every night, and wished that things could have been different, that any second now, he would spot an owl winging its way toward him in the moonlight, Sirius' latest letter clutched in its beak. It was a moment before Harry realized that the spot in the distance was not his imagination, but an actual owl heading in his direction. A regal barn owl made its way gracefully toward Harry's window and landed gently on the sill, a small scroll tied to its leg. The owl stood stock still as Harry stared into its white, heart-shaped face, before slowly reaching out a hand to untie the message. Its task complete, the owl pondered Harry a moment more before spreading its wings and taking flight. Harry watched, dumbstruck, as the owl sailed over the neighbors' rooftops and out of sight, before remembering the scroll he held tightly in his hand.
Harry wandered over to his desk, breaking the scroll's funny blue seal as he went. Holding the message up to the light of his lamp, Harry saw the scroll bore a short message in unfamiliar handwriting:
Such a powerful magical spot may have been what drew wizards to Britain in the first place. All of London may have been built around it. Perhaps there are portals all over the world, in other places where civilizations started, like Rome or Tokyo. What do you think?
Harry stared at the message, his brain struggling between confusion and surprise as he considered Luna's proposal.
I can't believe she remembered, he thought, digging out a quill and a piece of parchment from his desk drawer. He paused, quill in hand, and thought back to the huge chamber with its crumbling archway. Willing away the image of Sirius falling through it, Harry pulled his parchment closer and began to write.
It's hard to believe that a magical portal just appeared one day. It seems like that archway was built for a reason...
His first morning at the Burrow, Harry sat down to breakfast with the Weasleys and Hermione, still ecstatic that he had escaped from Privet Drive so early in the summer. He was thoroughly enjoying eating and laughing with his friends until talk of Tonks brought the conversation precariously close to the topic of Sirius. Casting his eyes around the room in search of a diversion, he perked up at the sight of Hedwig gliding down to perch on the windowsill, a scroll tied carefully to her leg. Harry jumped up gratefully from his seat and untied the scroll, handing Hedwig an owl treat from a jar on the counter before she took flight.
"Who's it from?" Ron asked as the others turned to see where Harry had gone. "We're all sitting right here!" Everyone laughed as Harry unfurled the scroll with a smile.
"It's from Luna."
"Luna Lovegood?" said Hermione incredulously. "Why's she writing you?"
"We've been talking about the rooms in the Department of Mysteries, tossing around ideas on what it all means," Harry said with a shrug. "I still have so many questions…" He glanced at Hermione, who looked troubled. Please don't mention Sirius now…
"Well, what does it say?" Ron asked, taking a second helping of eggs.
Harry glanced back down at the letter. "She has some funny ideas about that tank full of- well, you know," he said, feeling a twinge of guilt as Ron shuddered. "Sorry, mate."
Ron waved a hand carelessly and returned to his breakfast. "There's nothing wrong with being curious. Just keep it to yourself until the nightmares stop, yeah?"
Harry tucked the letter into his pocket and sat back down. Hermione caught his eye; she looked thoughtful. "It's good to have someone to sort through things with, isn't it?" she asked quietly, as talk turned to Bill and Fleur's engagement. Harry smiled gratefully.
"Yeah, it is."
As the others got up from the breakfast table, Harry began hunting for a piece of parchment on which to pen his reply. Finding none in the kitchen, he headed up the stairs to check Ron's room, letting his thoughts wander to Luna's letter, the latest part of what had to be the most bizarre conversation he had ever had.
They had been discussing the tank full of brains in the Department of Mysteries, debating back and forth on the merits of preserving the brains of deceased Azkaban prisoners: readily available, yes, but probably not very useful for such a study. If the brains had belonged to mad criminals, that might have been why they were so quick to attack (a theory Harry would not be sharing with Ron any time in the near future).
Luna had suggested that perhaps they were the minds of past Ministers of Magic, left to the department for perpetual study and observation. Harry had replied that most candidates would hesitate to become Minister if they knew that they were signing away their brains, but Luna had insisted that it was surely a great honor. Harry grinned once again at the thought of Cornelius Fudge fainting dead away at the sight of the tank where his brain might soon be swimming, and grabbed a piece of parchment from Ron's desk for his reply.
Maybe some Hogwarts professors from a long time ago left their brains to the Ministry in their wills. I'll bet a brain like Fudge's would be pretty useless, but think what they could learn from a past Headmaster…
Harry and Ginny bid Ron and Hermione farewell as they went to check in at the Prefect's compartment, then wandered off to find compartments of their own, dragging their trunks behind them. Ginny had just spotted Seamus and Dean and had moved to join them when someone shoved past her, storming off in the opposite direction. Harry caught a fleeting glimpse of Draco Malfoy before grabbing Ginny's arm to keep her from falling.
"Git," Ginny grumbled as she righted herself. "Isn't the Prefect's car that way? Where's he off to?"
"Don't waste your time worrying about Malfoy," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "If we're lucky, he'll get detention and we won't have to see him at the Feast. Say hi to Dean for me. I've got to find Luna; you wouldn't believe what she thinks that room full of planets is for."
"Alright, say it again, but slower this time, 'cause I'm not quite following."
Harry's schedule left him time to walk with Luna to some of her classes, allowing them to continue their conversations face to face and give Hedwig and Io, Luna's barn owl, some rest. The extra time was not, however, helping Harry understand where Luna was going with her latest theory.
"I think they could be using those models to actually visit other planets," Luna explained patiently. "From what I could see while we were lost in that room, they were extremely detailed. Maybe they're some sort of long-distance Portkeys? And the travelers mark the models with their new findings when they get back, like globes. Gosh, wouldn't it be wonderful to travel to other planets?" Luna gushed as they wove through a group of Ravenclaws reading over notes for some upcoming test. "I've always wanted to visit Neptune."
"But would Portkeys work in space? I mean, wouldn't you need some sort of magic rocket or something?" Harry asked, shoving past several perplexed Slytherins as they rounded a corner.
"A magic what?"
They had reached Luna's classroom; she turned to face him, eyebrows raised.
"A rocket, a flying ship Muggles use to go up and orbit the earth. They even went to the moon a few times."
She tilted her head to the side and blinked. "How does it work?"
"Uh, well, they burn lots of fuel, and it kind of explodes with so much force it pushes them straight up into the air and off the earth," Harry said, wishing he had paid more attention in his long-ago science classes.
"You're making that up."
"No, really!" Harry said earnestly. "They're really proud of it, spent years trying to get their ships to work!"
Luna was smiling now. "Sure they did, Harry."
Unsure how to proceed, Harry felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see the other Ravenclaw and Gryffindor fifth years queuing up behind him, with Ginny at his heels. "You're blocking the door, Harry," she said with a grin. Harry quickly moved to the side, allowing the others to file past him and settle into their seats.
Luna was the last to go. "Seriously, ask Professor Sinistra if she's ever spotted any satellites the next time you're in Astronomy. I'm not making this up!"
She glanced back at him as she headed for a seat at the back of the room and smiled. "If you say so."
Before he could think up another argument, Professor Flitwick appeared and began shooing Harry away from the doorway. "My class is about to start, Mr. Potter, I'm afraid you and your friend will have to continue your conversation later." He thought he heard someone snicker. Luna waved cheerfully as Flitwick closed the door firmly in Harry's face. Flabbergasted, Harry wandered back the way he'd come, intent on asking Madam Pince if the library had any books on space travel.
"…then I told her about Muggle with rockets, and she didn't believe me."
Hermione laughed and shook her head as she, Harry, and Ron sat down in the Transfiguration classroom and began pulling out their books. "Interstellar Portkeys must make more sense to her than rocket ships. Who'd have guessed?"
Ron looked up from his school bag with a frown. "Rocket what?"
Harry groaned and put his head in his hands; Hermione tried and failed to stifle her laughter as Professor McGonagall began writing instructions on the blackboard. She turned to the class with a frown. "Your attention, please! It is time for class to begin." She turned her disapproving gaze on Hermione, who was digging frantically through her bag in an attempt to hide her shaking shoulders. Harry leaned over Ron's desk and wrote tell you later on the corner of his notes, then returned to drawing flying saucers on his homework.
Harry had just finished his eggs and toast when he realized someone was standing behind him. He turned in his seat and saw Luna standing stock-still at his shoulder, staring at the row of House hourglasses with a pensive look on her face.
"Something puzzling you?" he asked. His question snapped her out of her reverie, and she turned toward the Gryffindor table with a dreamy smile on her face.
"Have you ever wondered whose idea it was to include the Room of Requirement in the plans for Hogwarts?" she asked, her gaze now drifting up to the clouds that drifted lazily across the enchanted ceiling.
Harry shrugged. "One of the Founders, I suppose."
"Yes, but which one?" she pressed. She had abandoned her observation of the ceiling and was watching Harry, as were most Gryffindors within earshot. Seamus elbowed Dean in the ribs and Ginny looked up from the Daily Prophet she was sharing with Neville. Harry decided the best thing for it would be to list their options, and hope that his classmates would go back to enjoying their breakfasts.
"Well, it was a pretty brilliant idea, wasn't it, to have a room know what you need, so maybe Ravenclaw thought it up," he said, ticking them off on his fingers. "It's a pretty sneaky thing, though, having a secret room, so maybe Slytherin-"
"I think it was Helga Hufflepuff's idea," Luna said firmly, stopping Harry in his tracks with two fingers still in the air. He tried to think of an intelligent response, but before anything came to mind Ron jumped in, breaking the silence.
"Well," she said, tapping her chin thoughtfully, "If Ravenclaw built it, you would think there would be a riddle or a puzzle to solve in order to gain entry. If it was Slytherin's idea, you'd probably have to be a pureblood to get inside. And don't you think a Gryffindor room would be guarded by something scary, so only the bravest of the brave would dare go in? The room is a kindness, really, letting anyone in who has a great need. I think it's something Helga Hufflepuff would have done."
Her words were met with an even longer silence. Then Hermione said faintly, "That actually…makes sense." Harry fought back a smile at the look of baffled horror on her face as Ron rapidly shoveled food into his mouth to stifle his own laughter, which quickly turned to coughing as he choked on a handful of cornflakes.
Harry turned back to Luna with a grin and said, "It really does. Do you know a lot about the Founders?"
"Daddy has a few books that mention them, and I learned a lot browsing through Hogwarts, a History last term."
"I'll have to read it sometime," Harry said, carefully avoiding Hermione's narrowed eyes. Ron snorted, spraying cornflakes across the table. As Ginny shrieked in disgust, Harry said quietly, "That really is a good thought, Luna. We should talk about the castle sometime, there are all sorts of things I've wondered…what are you doing on Saturday?"
"Just finishing an essay or two," she said cheerfully. "We can meet in the library, they have some really great books about the Founders and their folklore." With a small wave, she turned and wandered off. Harry watched her leave, her blond hair swaying, before turning guiltily to face the table. Ginny and Neville were grinning, Hermione was torn between a scowl and a smirk, and Ron had given up on suppressing his laughter.
"They never give Hufflepuff enough credit, do they?" Neville said with a smile.
"The library must have a dozen copies," Hermione said, her face settling on an exasperated smirk. "I've had one handy since first year, and nothing made you remotely consider reading it, not the Chamber of Secrets, or the Sorcerer's Stone's secret labyrinth, or the ghosts or secret passageways or-"
"I'll bet you get loads more out of it reading it upside-down!" Ron howled. Hermione rolled her eyes with a long-suffering sigh as Harry chucked a piece of toast at Ron's head, and the three of them gathered their belongings and headed off to class.
"Hey, d'you think I should ask Luna to go with me to Slughorn's Christmas party?"
Hermione rolled her eyes and turned the page of her textbook to the next set of diagrams they were supposed to be studying. "Why on earth haven't you asked her already? Of course she'll want to go."
"I dunno, a night stuck with the Slug Club seems more like a punishment than a fun time," Harry said, frowning down at his own notes. Hermione snorted.
"She'll go because you're going, not to hear any of Slughorn's stupid stories or because the refreshments are anything special." At the sight of Harry's flushed face, she gave him a wry grin.
"I certainly hope you're not this dense in your lessons with Dumbledore, or we're all doomed."
"So what do you think? Do you want to go?"
Luna beamed. "It sounds like fun! Do you think there will be any exotic animals there? I heard Professor Slughorn is financing a secret Ministry Project that's breeding fire-breathing snails."
Feeling relieved, Harry grinned. "You should definitely ask him about that when we get there."
Still chortling, Harry led Luna through the crowd, away from Slughorn and Snape, Filch and Malfoy, and out into the empty corridor. "The Rotfang Conspiracy, huh? Hermione's parents are dentists, did you know that? I'll bet she'd have some ideas on how to fight back."
They had stopped in front of a small window overlooking the lake; the light from a handful of stars glimmered on its' surface. He glanced over at Luna, who continued to gaze out across the shadowy grounds. Harry watched her a moment more, then, gathering his courage, voiced a question he had been pondering for some time.
"If we hadn't smashed all of those Time-Turners, I mean, if there was a way to go back and change things, make things better, would you do it?" He held his breath, knowing what this question meant for her.
She turned to him then, standing silently a moment, a small frown on her face. Before Harry could apologize, she said quietly, "We all have things we'd like to change, I suppose. But even though it's tempting to go back and fix the bad things, we can never appreciate the good of today if we're always looking back."
Harry was still a moment, then nodded slowly. "It is tempting sometimes, but you're right." He swallowed. "You think about going back to save…people, to change people's minds, but it's really up to us to do that right now, isn't it?" He paused, hoping his words made sense, and plunged on. "We do what we can to make things better for tomorrow, and enjoy the good even as we deal with the bad."
Luna's eyes shone. "Those of us who have lost things learn to appreciate when a good thing comes along."
He took a small step toward her, tilted his head, took a deep breath, and placed a careful kiss on her cheek. As he pulled away, he felt her hand take his and gave it a gentle squeeze. Making a mental note to commend Slughorn on his spectacular party, Harry led Luna down the shadowy hallway, unable to keep the smile off his face, in pursuit of a window that would afford them a better view of the stars.