Holding Up (Cedric|Luna friendship) Holding Up Minisinoo
Summary: Cedric teaches. Luna learns. Luna teaches. Cedric learns. c. 2250 words. Characters: Cedric|Luna friendship Warnings: Hankies perhaps required, if not for the usual reason in Cedric-fic Promps: 7-Spells 'artificial light'; Cedric's birthday, Cedric and Luna as friends. HTML Page Option: For those of you who prefer the pretty pictures on the website. :-)
"That's not how you skip a stone."
The girl turned, blinking foolishly in the brilliant sunlight like fairy dust reflecting off the Otter River. Her hair was as pale as cobwebs, her chin pointed, her eyes like round silver coins, but unfocused, as if the mind behind them drifted. Cedric made his way down to her as she studied the rock in her palm.
Leaning over, he studied it too. "That won't go very far."
"How do you know?"
"My brother taught me to skip stones."
"So what's a proper one?"
Cedric searched along the river's edge, kicking over various prospects only to purse his lips and keep looking. Finally he found just what he wanted and snatched it up, holding it out so Luna could see it. "Now that," he said, "is a champion skipper, there."
She accepted it off his flat palm, holding it up to study it in the sunlight, turning it this way and that as if it were a gem, not a rock. "It's flat."
"Yeah. That's the point."
Shrugged, she turned back and flung it. Cedric winced. "No, no -- not like that!" And he went hunting for more candidates, coming up with a few. Then he showed her how to hold it properly, gripped between thumb and forefinger, and release it so that it didn't turn end-over-end but stayed on a level until it hit the water. The first few sank like, well, a stone. But the fourth actually skipped twice.
Luna let out a blood-curdling shriek of giddy joy, then clapped her hands and danced about. Cedric put fingers in his ears, but his smile was mostly good natured. After all, he hadn't really come out here to teach her to skip stones. He'd come to distract her, at least for a little while.
What must it be like, to lose your mum? Cedric couldn't even imagine it. His parents had gone to the funeral, but it had happened when Cedric had been away at Hogwarts and he'd learned of it only after he'd come home. His parents didn't really associate with the Lovegoods -- his father thought hers as batty as a belfry -- but Cedric had played with Luna on more than one occasion when growing up. The Weasley brood had each other, but Luna had no siblings, and Cedric's elder brother was, well, elder. A lot elder. His mother laughingly said that Cedric was the caboose with nothing in between, and Cedric sometimes told people (with a straight face), "My brother was an only child." It usually brought laughs, but it was also true. Leof had been 17 and starting his final year at Hogwarts -- a legal adult -- when Cedric had been born. There was one funny picture taken at King's Cross showing sandy-haired Leof in school robes, home for Christmas Holidays, holding his new baby brother in one arm and his cat in the other. He'd looked more comfortable with the squirming cat, and the expression on his face as he'd turned to the camera had been a tremendous mixture of delight, terror, and bemusement.
In any case, he too was an only child for all intents and purposes. These days, Leof had a job at hex-and-warding management for Wizarding businesses in Dublin, a young wife and a little boy. Cedric was only seven years older than his nephew, who certainly never called him 'uncle.' He saw more of Luna than of his brother.
"So flat rocks?" Luna was saying, half bent to study the riverside.
"Yes, exactly -- the flatter the better."
They hunted rocks and skipped them for another hour, then Cedric showed Luna his favorite climbing tree near the bank. Seated on a lower branch, their faces turned to the westering sun, she said, "Thank you for being kind and playing with me, but you don't have to."
"Of course I don't have to; maybe I want to."
The smile she turned on him lit up her whole face. They didn't speak again for a while and Cedric liked that he could sit with her without feeling a need to fill up the silence with words. Luna had never minded that he was quiet and they enjoyed the clear summer air and the song of crickets that made a descant over the splash of the river below. In fact, they sat still for so long, a grey squirrel inched tentatively along the branch to inspect the intruders in her tree. When Cedric turned his head, she flicked her tail and scampered away again, leaping to another branch and scolding them vociferously. It made him smile. "I think we're too near her nest," he said.
Luna looked around, searching for it, then pointed with her finger to a mess of leaves in a fork 20 or 30 feet further up. "There."
He followed the finger and nodded. "Yeah." And shifting a little, he dropped down to the ground below and looked up at her, raising his arms. "You want to jump or climb down?"
She hesitated, then dropped into his grip. He set her on her feet and they walked back along the edge of the river towards the black tower of her house. Hand in hand, he could steady her over tree roots and muddy spots. "How are you holding up?" he asked her at one point. He didn't mean with the walking, and she seemed to realize as much.
"I miss mum," she said, "but I know I'll see her again."
Cedric looked over at her. "You sound quite certain of that." He wished he felt more certain himself of what came after death; he'd reached an age when he no longer just accepted what he'd been told as a boy.
"Well, yes, of course I'm certain," Luna said now. "Obviously we continue after we die."
"Why is that obvious?" He felt a bit argumentative because of his own uncertainties, although he knew he should be reassuring her, not upsetting her with his questions.
She didn't seem upset. She just stopped walking and, hand still in his, stopped him too. "There are ghosts, aren't there?" she asked him. "Of course we don't just . . . stop."
"But the ghosts don't prove there's anything after. That's why they are ghosts still hanging about the castle; they're afraid of what comes after too. And maybe they're just . . . mental echoes like . . . like artificial light? Not real? What if there are no souls? What if after life there's nothing? I was reading one of the books in the Hogwarts library about Muggle religions. The Buddhists believe that nirvana, their heaven, is extinction, not an afterlife."
"Those poor people!" Luna said, face horrified. "Thinking they just stop!"
It made Cedric smile. How like Luna, not to judge them as 'wrong,' but to worry that they'd be depressed. Blindly arrogant perhaps, but kind. "I don't think they think about it that way."
She was frowning delicately, as if trying to wrap her mind around that. "Perhaps not." Then she shook her head, fine blonde hair flying. "But it doesn't matter. I know we don't just end."
He cocked his head. "But how? How can you know?"
"Because I feel my mother. Sometimes she's standing right behind me, her hands on my back, holding me up. She always had rather small hands, you know. I'm quite certain they're hers."
And Cedric . . . had no idea how to reply to that. It should have sounded absurd except for the part where it didn't. He'd never seen anybody look so certain of anything. "You really feel her?"
"Oh, yes. We never lose the people who love us."
He nodded, feeling reassured. "Thank you," he said.
"I came out today to make you feel better, but it went the other way."
Smiling up at him, she slipped one thin arm around his waist. "We made each other feel better then," she said simply and they walked on like that, arm-in-arm.
The news came about Leof in Cedric's third year -- early autumn just past his 14th birthday. He'd like to have said he'd had a premonition, an inkling of tragedy. But he hadn't. He was exiting Potions, laughing with friends, when a solemn-faced Sprout intercepted him and pulled him aside. He could never, after that, stop associating the dungeons with a sick, cold, dead-dough sensation in the pit of his stomach.
Sprout cupped his cheek and said, as softly as she could, "There's been an accident, love."
"Who?" he asked. Knowing, knowing that whoever it was, was dead.
"Leof. A perimeter ward went wrong. I'm told he died instantly, didn't feel any pain. I'm sorry, Cedric."
He didn't hear much else. A great rushing filled his ears, like wind, or his own pulse, and all the organs in his body seemed to sink, just like his knees onto the frigid stone of the floor. But he didn't cry.
Services were in Ireland -- his brother's adopted home -- where his sister-in-law had been born, and she and their son could visit his grave. Cedric didn't cry at the funeral either. Instead he watched his nephew Eldric all through the eulogies. Eldric was barely seven and too young to lose his father. Then he remembered Luna; she'd been only two years older.
After the funeral, he took Eldric for a walk and told him about his friend Luna and how her mother came to stand behind her sometimes with her hands on Luna's back, holding her up. Eldric just looked up at him with a funny expression. "Well of course Da wouldn't leave me by myself." As if Cedric were soft in the head for even thinking such a thing.
He had a whole week off from school after the funeral. He spent a lot of it by the river, throwing rocks into the cold October-grey water. Plop, plop, plop. Impotent sounds, like his anger. He'd never really known his brother, could barely remember him when he'd still been living at home, but now he never would know him. Why had Leof had to go and get himself blown up?
This time, Luna came looking for him. "That's not how you skip a stone," she said.
"Not trying to skip it," he replied, not looking at her. He flung another rock, then the whole remaining handful -- as hard as he could. Plop, plop, plop. Still impotent, and he just wanted to hit something. Rage and scream and howl.
He heard her footsteps on dry fallen leaves. There were hands on his back. He turned his head.
But Luna wasn't standing there. Instead she'd sat down on a scrap of grass off to the side. He blinked. He must have missed her movement, and sat down beside her. Her lap was full of autumn lady's tresses, tiny white bellflowers on long green stems, delicate against the blue calico of her skirt. They smelled like honey. Absently, she began to weave them together into a crown. "Never could do that," Cedric remarked.
And Luna took the bunch she'd been weaving, setting them in his hands. Then she proceeded to show him how. "It's a girl's skill," he protested.
"Is it?" Luna didn't sound especially convinced. "Like skipping stones is a boy's skill?"
"Well, that's not really. It's just . . . "
"-- that boys pretend it is, like they pretend weaving flowers is a girl's skill. You have long fingers. This'll be easy for you."
And it was. Easier than skipping stones had been for her. They made crowns all afternoon; it required concentration, but not too much. Luna took most of them, but he accepted a few and didn't make it home until sunset. His mother scolded him, but half-heartedly. Her face was pale, drawn and expressionless because some pain was too big to wear on the outside. He wasn't sure what to say to her, so he said nothing. Inside his chest, something hard and small still burned, like a sand grain in an oyster shell. Rubbing, rubbing. He didn't think this would make a pearl.
His father was nowhere around, no doubt still at work even though it was already half past nine. Cedric lit a lamp and climbed the stairs to the second floor, approaching the empty room that was now the guest room. A dragon plaque was stuck right in the middle of the wood. Leof had put it there after his sixth year, employing a Sticking Charm so good even their father had never been able to remove it. Charms had always been Leof's best subject. The dragon was a Swedish Short Snout, curled in loops, iridescent green scales glittering in the yellow light from the lamp. One of Cedric's few memories of his brother before Leof had left home was being lifted off his feet so he could reach the pretty dragon with stubby, sticky toddler fingers. "You're getting jam on it," Leof had said, laughing.
"Pretty dragon," Cedric had replied.
"Yeah," Leof had agreed. "But maybe not so much in person. You ever see one of those coming at you, you run the other way, right?"
Cedric hung one of the wreaths on the plaque now. White bellflowers glowed dimly in the candlelight, as pale as ghosts. He felt the hands on his back again like he had beside the river earlier, as firm and certain as they'd been once around his waist. Holding him up.
Bending, he pressed his forehead to the door and cried for the first time since hearing the news. The hands never moved.