Title: Welcome to the Stratosphere
Genre: Romance, drama, bit of humor
Word Count: 1884
Summary: On certain nights, magic is stronger. But it takes two to make it complete.
Author's Note: Many thanks to the awesome dynonugget for her wise & wonderful beta work!!
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Welcome to the Stratosphere
It was one of the more stupid things Draco Malfoy had ever done. But considering the already monstrous-sized catalogue of his sixth year stupidities, he decided that one more bit of lunacy would make little difference.
Draco reached the top of the winding staircase, stepping onto the Astronomy Tower into the spring night. Directly overhead, a full moon rode in smug, untouchable serenity. He stared at it for a moment, then drew a deep, shaky breath and extracted a slender, lethal-looking knife from an inner pocket of his robes.
He glanced around to assure himself that he had complete privacy. Yes, he was alone; the moon would be the only witness to tonight's madness.
Before he could change his mind, Draco raised the knife and made a small incision in his left thumb, then switched hands to repeat the action. Clumsy this time, his fingers slick, he cut deeper than he'd intended. Blood spurted and Draco swore. No matter; the deed was done.
Touching his thumbs to his eyelids, Draco lifted his face to the moon. Now to see just what type of divination magic this blood would produce.
He'd done his best to read tea leaves, but they'd been murky. A seer he'd consulted over winter break had accepted a large bag of Malfoy silver, yet her crystal ball had remained veiled in mist. Just when he'd been certain all avenues for peering into his uncertain future were exhausted, help had come in the form of Sybil Trelawney, Hogwarts batty 'expert' in prophecy and fortune telling.
Like many of his classmates, Draco had little faith in Trelawney's art. But now, he was a desperate man. During today's Divination lesson, she'd offered him one last straw to grasp.
Tonight, Trelawney had told her students, there would be a truly rare astronomical event. The brightest full moon of the year would coincide with April 30th-Walpurgis Night. If one wished, one could use their combined magic to catch a glimpse of the future.
By pricking the thumbs, applying blood to the eyelids and then staring at the moon's light without blinking until there were enough tears to mix with the blood, a determined student could learn the identity of the one they would marry.
The girls seated around Draco had rapidly copied down the instructions while whispering among themselves at the lack of romance in this particular ritual. Blood? Tears?
Draco had tuned out Trelawney's further ramblings and copied with the girls. Not because he had any desire to see the face of his future bride-he simply wanted to know that he had a future, period.
Now he stood on the Astronomy Tower with blood on his eyelids, while Walpurgis bonfires danced across the faraway hills. Draco stared hard at the moon and waited for the tears to fall. They actually came quite easily. All he had to do was consider the coil his life was in, the fate that awaited himself and his parents if he failed in his mission for the Dark Lord. It was enough to make any young Slytherin weep.
Quickly, he captured a silver droplet from each eye, blended it with the blood, and then stopped. What, he wondered, was supposed to happen now? Trelawney had been typically vague about the ritual's results. Would he see a vision? Go into a trance?
Suppose he passed out here on the tower. It would be just his luck for a pack of Gryffindors to discover him lying on the cold flagstones drooling. He could hear it now-
"Look! Here's Malfoy-and he seems to be foaming at the mouth."
"Probably out for a midnight wank in the moonlight."
"Well, it's not as if the pasty-faced git could actually find a girl to do it for him...."
The thought of mocking Gryffindor laughter made his blood run cold. Though it seemed anticlimactic, his best course of action was probably to return to the dormitory. Maybe the knowledge he sought would come to him in a dream.
Several hours later, Draco lay in bed, listening as the great clock in the Slytherin common room tolled 3 a.m. He'd yet to fall asleep and he wasn't sure who the bigger fool was-Trelawney, with her vague, frenetic ramblings, or himself, for imagining there was any truth to her words.
Flipping onto his side, he faced the window where the Walpurgis moon drifted past mockingly.
"Fuck's sake." Draco heaved a vast sigh of disgust and wearily threw back the tangled bedclothes. Jerking on a pair of jeans and tossing his school robe over his bare chest, he began the long climb to the Tower to confront the lying moon. He made no effort to move stealthily; getting caught by Filch was the least of his worries in life.
Storming onto the Astronomy Tower, angry and out of breath, Draco stubbed his toe on the uneven flagstones. He leapt about, letting out a string of obscenities-and then realized he wasn't alone.
A small figure leaned against the parapet, gazing out into the night.
"Hullo, Draco." She spoke without turning and he recognized the voice of Luna Lovegood. "Have you come for the mating ritual?"
"I beg your pardon?" The question was so unexpected that Draco forgot to be impolite.
With no warning, Luna suddenly gave a small, delighted shriek. "Look!" she exclaimed. "There they are now!"
Startled by the outburst, Draco followed her pointing finger to a flock of thestrals flying across the face of the moon, rising higher and higher into the late night sky.
"You do see them, don't you?" Luna asked.
"Yes." The strange creatures had been part of Draco's life since the day Grandmère Malfoy dropped unexpectedly dead in the middle of afternoon tea.
"It's their mating season," Luna told him. "Begins every year on Walpurgis Night. The thestrals fly up ever so high-nearly to the stratosphere, where there aren't any clouds and the air is calm and clear. But I expect you already know that or you wouldn't be here to watch the flight..."
Turning toward Draco so suddenly that her earrings danced, Luna scanned his face with wide-eyed intensity. "Oh. That's not why you've come, is it?"
Taken aback by her perception, Draco merely shook his head, his pale skin flushing crimson at being caught out.
Luna moved forward until they were face to face. Reaching for his hand, she stared deep into his eyes.
"You've performed Professor Trelawney's ritual," she said softly, and he realized she was gazing not at his eyes but at his eyelids with their coating of crusted blood and tears.
"It's alright, Draco." Luna's voice was reassuring and kind. "You've no reason to be embarrassed. I think we all need ... something to hold onto this year. The future seems uncertain-even frightening, for some of us."
"It does for me," he admitted, surprised that it felt so comfortable speaking to her. Maybe it was simply the fact that he felt free to speak at all, to admit he had fears. Or maybe it was the girl herself.
"For me as well." She turned away from him then, toward the empty place in the sky that moments ago had been occupied by the thestrals on their mating flight.
Luna's statement surprised him. Beyond her batty reputation, Draco knew very little about her. From a distance she'd always seemed peaceful and serene, as if she were the type to take what came her way with no complaints.
Studying her surreptitiously, Draco tried to recall what he did know about her. Luna's stock had certainly risen after she'd been Potter's date for Slughorn's Christmas party. And she was actually quite pretty, in the same quiet, mysterious way as the moon.
But beyond that, there was something rather innocent and vulnerable about her. Like maybe she needed someone-him?-to protect her. The thought was startling. He'd never been needed by a girl before. Wanted, yes, he reminded himself with a smirk, but never needed. And never loved a small, secret voice whispered. Draco scowled and ignored it.
Then a sudden thought occurred. Luna Lovegood was especially gifted in divination. Though quiet in class, when called upon she could expound in detail on all manner of psychic topics. Maybe she could tell him why he'd had no results with this blood/moon/dream thing.
"Luna." he began. "The Walpurgis ritual-well, it hasn't worked. Why do you think..."
"You want to see very badly," she broke in. "But perhaps...you have trouble believing. Are your ears pierced, Draco?"
"Umm...no." Her surprising comments took some getting used to. "Why do you ask?" And do I really want to know?
"Well, if your ears were pierced I'd lend you my earrings to wear. They're made of dirigible plums. My father and I grow them, at our home. The plums help a person accept the extraordinary." She touched his arm in gentle sympathy. "Casting a Walpurgis Night spell to catch a glimpse of your future bride isn't exactly ordinary for you, is it?"
"Nothing about this year has been ordinary for me, Luna," he blurted.
Sneaking, spying, plotting, being placed in a position of kill or be killed-the tension was unbearable. Draco was near breaking point. He clenched his fists, fighting the rising panic that threatened to drown him each time he remembered what he'd been asked to do and how little time he had left to accomplish it.
"Draco." Luna touched his cheek. He felt a strange sensation of calm warmth. It started where her hand rested and quickly radiated through his entire body.
"Maybe...maybe you should kiss me," she told him. "Perhaps direct contact with someone wearing dirigible plums would transfer a portion of their power. Then you'd be able to see...what you need to see."
Draco knew nothing about plums, their power, or his murky future. But he did know he liked Luna's suggestion. He wanted to kiss this girl-very badly and right now. Without hesitation, he pulled Luna into his arms and lowered his mouth to hers.
Her lips were cool, like moonlight and night wind. Up close, her scent was the green, vital essence of growing, thriving things. Draco breathed it in deeply, kissing her hard and holding her tighter as she responded eagerly. Beneath his open school robe, he could feel her small, pert breasts pressed against his bare chest. She was quicksilver; she was so alive. He wanted to stay just like this, kissing her forever.
There were no sparks, no shooting stars. Only Draco and Luna, wrapped by an earthy magic of their own making. Suddenly Draco knew, with a sureness that would sustain him through the long, difficult days to come, that his future lay with this most unlikely of witches. It was as solid and certain as the feel of her in his arms. He lifted his head to stare into Luna's eyes. Her answering smile told him the rest of the story.
They parted as the grey light of dawn staked its claim to the first day of May. When Draco finally crawled into bed, he had no doubt who would figure prominently in his dreams. Or where she would take him.
"Welcome to the stratosphere," he told himself as he closed his eyes.
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