The train compartment opened, revealing a first year with dirty blond hair and wide eyes. However what caught Dawn's attention wasn't her odd earrings, her way of speaking, or the fact she had quite the imagination.
It was the feeling of inescapable loneliness and the sense that if she was left alone, something terrible would happen.
"Care to join us?" asked Dawn, to the surprise of Hermione.
The girl's wide eyes looked surprised at the offer.
"I would like that."
The girl sat down and looked at them.
"My name is Luna Lovegood," she said in way of reply.
The now named Luna looked at Dawn as if searching for something. When she found what she was looking for she said something odd to Dawn.
"You're blessed by the Moon Goddess, just like me," said Luna suddenly.
"What do you mean?"
"My mother always said that I should be generous to the Moon Goddess, because she gave me to mother for years of service. I can see from your aura that you were just as blessed by the Princess as I was when I was born."
"Didn't you know? There's a Princess sealed in the Moon because she lost her way. She waits for the day she can be set free and come home," said Luna.
Hermione couldn't help her reaction. She snorted in disbelief.
"You need to quit reading so many graphic novels. Sailor Moon is fiction," she said.
"What's Sailor Moon?" asked Luna confused. She was telling the truth!
"Sailor Moon is a series about a girl who is the reincarnated soul of the Moon Princess from several thousand years ago. The girl fell in love with the Earth Prince and his jealous lover destroyed the kingdom...but the Princess' mother sent her daughter and her court into the future to save them and hopefully defeat the spurned woman. I only bought it because it had been on sale at the time and it looked interesting," said Hermione.
"There really is a Princess on the moon!" said Luna. She was upset because no one believed her.
"There is no such thing! Muggles have been to the moon and all that's up there is rocks!"
"The Mare in the moon exists! I know it!" said Luna.
"I believe you."
Luna and Hermione turned to the up-til-now silent Dawn. She was looking at Luna not with pity or amusement, but with absolute seriousness. Then the three words hit her like a brick to the head.
"You... you believe me?"
"Dawn, be reasonable! There is no such thing as a Mare in the moon!" said Hermione.
"You're wrong Hermione. There is such a thing as the Mare in the moon. The problem is we're on the wrong planet to see it properly," said Dawn completely serious.
"Oh not this again! I know you have those weird dreams about some unicorn named Twilight, but that is no reason to believe in such delusions!"
Dawn looked at Hermione, her eyes hard.
"What's wrong with delusions? If you weren't a witch and had never come to Hogwarts, then you would claim Magic is nothing more than a fairy tail without hesitation! Sometimes we need to believe in the absurd to see what's really in front of us, or to give us hope. And frankly I believe Luna more than you right now."
Hermione threw up her hands in frustration. There was no reasoning with her when she was like this.
"When you finally get some common sense, come look for me. Until then I'll be with Lavender and the others," said Hermione in a huff.
"I'm sorry if I drove your friend away," said Luna sadly.
"I'm not. She can be a real chore to deal with sometimes. Anyway I really do believe that there is a Mare in the moon, but I think we're on the wrong planet to see her," said Dawn.
Luna looked at her eyes...she was being truthful.
"Do you read the Quibbler?" she asked hopefully.
"Never heard of it. Though I have seen some of the kids reading a magazine on occasion."
Luna dug out the most recent edition and handed it to her. Dawn started reading and when she got halfway she had to ask.
"Are these creatures for real?"
"Daddy thinks so," said Luna smiling.
Luna neglected to mention that the only reason he wrote about obviously imaginary creatures was to keep his only daughter happy. She had been in such a depression when Selene died that when she started talking about imaginary beasts he had let her keep believing they really existed to make her smile. Eventually it became a habit neither of them could break and the damage had been done.
Despite being sorted into Ravenclaw, Luna was more or less considered an honorary Gryffindor because Dawn had taken her in as a younger sister of sorts. It wasn't unusual for Luna to find herself migrating to the Gryffindor tower after class instead of hers.
She had to stop doing it so often when a Prefect from Ravenclaw complained to Flitwick. However McGonagall continued to give her the password to the tower as if she were another lion and Luna was able to come in anyway.
She never could get along with Hermione though. Too uptight about what was real and what wasn't.
Luna woke up in her small hiding spot. She was remembering the good times before her life had been upended. She missed Dawn, who had been like an older sister to her and the only one who believed her at all. She humored Luna often about obviously fake creatures, but there were times when she genuinely believed what Luna was telling her.
After seeing her father die, her grasp on reality was slipping more and more often. She was having trouble recognizing what was real and what wasn't...the only time it never came into question was when Death Eaters showed up.
Her sense of danger always warned her if they were around and she became unusually lucid during that point.
She heard a branch snap. Her lucidity became hazy...so this wasn't another Death Eater attack.
Seeing the colorful ponies with pictures on their flanks, she believed she was having another one of her 'flights of fancy' as Ginny had so snidely called them.
There were two purple colored unicorns and they seemed to be looking for something.
"Hello. Is it time for tea?" she asked airily. Usually these dreams went oddly, and they ended up drinking tea or some other odd pastime. Once she even flew in the clouds...without a broom!
The 'leader' unicorn suddenly focused on her voice.
Luna blinked. That was unusually real for one of her pony dreams.
She walked slowly to the unicorn and pegasus ponies so she didn't scare them. She never expected the serious purple unicorn to suddenly turn into Dawn and tackle her in a relieved hug.
Feeling the dampness on her back and the tears on Dawn's face, she had the sudden realization that this might not be a dream.
"Dawn?" she asked carefully.
"It's Moonlight Sparkle now," she said relieved.
Luna's eyes filled up with tears she had been having trouble keeping away. After seeing her father die in front of her eyes, she had barely been able to escape with her life. She hugged Dawn...no Moonlight, so tightly it was doubtful she would be letting go anytime soon.
"Air! Can't breath! Seriously, help!" said Moonlight, not realizing how strong Luna could be when motivated enough.
"You know this is far too familiar," sighed the second unicorn.
"Why?" asked the medic.
"Because this happened after Mom finally realized that yes, Moonlight was back home where she belonged. Moonlight kept making signs in the air with those same words when Mom refused to let go," said the second unicorn.
The stallions and lone mare chuckled at the sight of the fearsome Moonlight Sparkle being hugged to death. Moonlight had earned a reputation for being tough among the guard ponies who treated her with respect normally only given to a particularly noted soldier.
Anypony who could break a hoof and laugh it off, or take multiple visits to the castle infirmary with stride enough to actually plot bizarre escape attempts was worth their respect and recognition, even if she wasn't part of the guard just yet.
If she were to take up the not-so-coveted position as Captain of the Night Guard once her training with Princess Luna was finished to the alicorn's satisfaction, then none of the older Guard ponies would even bat an eye. She earned her scars, thank you.
Finally Luna let her older-sister-in-all-but-blood go and she was able to breath.
Moonlight took a few deep breaths before she looked at her little sister.
"Luna, we're taking you home."
"Home? My home was burned down," said Luna, a bit sadly.
Moonlight shook her head.
"Not your human home. Remember all those stories Hermione and Ginny dismissed about the Mare in the Moon and the place where unicorn, pegasus and horses could talk like they were a regular human?"
Luna looked at her, then at the ponies behind her and her mind made a connection.
"You're one of the ponies."
"I was taken when I was still an infant and forced to assume the form of a human. I found my way home a few years ago, but when I heard your dad was killed I had to come get you," said Moonlight.
"Can I really stay with you?" begged Luna. She was so alone. She didn't want to be alone anymore.
"Why do you think we came all the way out in the middle of nowhere? Princess Luna and Princess Celestia sent us to find you!" said Moonlight smiling. Luna tackled Moonlight in another hug. She wouldn't have to be alone again!
"Captain, we need to get going. I'm picking up a lot of dark magic heading this way and I think they're here for her," said one of the guard ponies. He had bat wings and already considered Moonlight the head of the Night Guard. Luna had sent Night Shield personally to assist Moonlight.
"Assume defensive formations. I'll start opening the portal back home. Twilight, you stay with Luna," said Moonlight, turning back into her true form. Her twin immediately flanked Luna like they had shown her. For a pacifist she was a surprisingly quick study.
Seeing the Death Eaters, Moonlight didn't hesitate with her order.
"Strike! Be sure to aim at the foci in their hands!" she told her group.
The unicorns, all hardened veterans of the Guard and not that bothered by attack spells, struck without word or warning. Moonlight launched a particularly vicious kick using her back legs to the apparent leader of the Death Eaters.
From the scream of pain it appeared she had hit Snape.
She wasn't one to let an opportunity go to waste. She knocked him out cold and made sure Luna tied him up good and tight so she could interrogate him. Depending on how he answered, she might let him return with them and see if he would be interested in dating Zecora.
If not...well she hadn't been that much of a fan of the greasy haired jerk to begin with.
Twilight watched wide-eyed as her sister not only dealt with the humans, but had them running screaming from her. Luna didn't seem bothered at all.
Snape woke up feeling like hell and knowing he was in real trouble from the fact he was securely bound and all his wands taken. To make matters worse his magic had been sealed.
And the first thing he saw was Dawn Potter.
"Potter!" he snarled.
"I have a few questions for you Severus," she said coolly.
"Go die in a ditch Potter!" he spat.
"Oh, I don't think I'll be dying any time soon. You on the other hand..." she said calmly, nodding her head towards the horse-creatures that surrounded him. Not a single one looked too dangerous...one was bright pink for god's sake, but the eyes...they wouldn't hesitate to gut him if she told them.
"What do you want Potter?" he said angrily.
"Question one, Professor. Why are you after Luna?"
"The Dark Lord didn't want her to escape. Since she was the closest of your little cohorts, he thought she might know where you went into hiding. Told us to follow her and to capture her once she made contact with anyone."
"Next question, why are you serving someone who regularly tortures their minions?"
"I have no other choice. It's either Dumbledore and his idiotic ideals of a greater good which allows the guilty to walk free in hopes of a redemption that will never happen, or the Dark lord and his delusions of blood purity. I became a death eater when I was having a particularly bad month and once I got the mark it was too late to go back."
"Final question. If you could have your dark mark removed and allowed to escape Dumbledore and his naïve ideals of a greater good and redemption, what would you do for it?"
"Who do you want dead?" said Snape without hesitation.
Moonlight looked at one of the horses with black armor.
"Your call Captain. He's being honest though," said the bat-horse.
"I'll have to call Luna and Celestia about this... Keep a watch on him and if he tries anything, do what you deem necessary," she ordered.
Princess Luna was eagerly awaiting word from her favorite student. Moonlight's face appeared in the mirror.
"I've found Luna. She's fine and eager to leave. I may have also secured a potion's master for the possible school...though that would entirely depend on whether you would allow him to come through with us. We currently have him bound and sealed under a magic suppression spell," said Moonlight.
"Why?" asked Luna, going into her General mode in an instant.
"Death Eater, and Dumbledore's personal pet spy. He genuinely wouldn't hesitate to jump ship if it meant a fresh start, though he hates children. If we let him come through, it might be better to leave him in the hands of Zecora for a while so he can get used to Equestria."
"And leave him in the hands of someone well used to the dangers of the Everfree Forest and your regular sparring partner," said Princess Luna approvingly.
"And someone he could talk to without hesitation. The man is a fanatic about potions, and Zecora, if she had been a pony, would definitely have had a cauldron for a cutie mark," agreed Moonlight. She wasn't letting him near Storm though. Not after the way he had nearly ruined her love of cooking though his horrible teaching.
"He can come through, but he'll be on probation until we're sure he's not doing this to bring you to either side first,"said Princess Luna after a thought.
"Magic suppressors until we're sure he's allowed to leave the Palace?" said Moonlight.
"Reasonable enough," agreed Luna.
"Moonlight out. See you in a bit, Teacher," said Moonlight.
"Snape, we have good news and bad news."
"Let's here it Potter," said Snape.
"It's Sparkle actually. The good news is that Princess Luna is willing to give you a chance so you can come through with us."
"And the bad news?"
"Magic suppressors and you'll be confined to the Palace until you've either served a probationary period or proven that you're not trying to drag any of the citizens to either side. If you behave and impress the Princesses, then you'll be allowed to leave Canterlot and possibly move in near the only one I know who could possibly match you in potions," said Moonlight.
Twilight was the one to make the connection.
"You mean Zecora?"
"I sincerely doubt he would be able to do anything to her. They both love potions and know them like the back of their hooves, and she lives in the Everfree Forest."
"Not to mention she regularly spars with you and isn't sent to the hospital for broken bones," said Night Shield.
Moonlight gave him a questioning look. He shrugged, his armor rattling slightly.
"Princess Luna mentioned off hand that you had found some decent sparring partners in Ponyville of all places," he said in way of reply.