“Cornwall smells different,” Luna declared dreamily as the girls burst out of the dim, cramped witch’s cottage and into the fresh air, which smelled so salty that there was almost a tangible grit as it caressed their faces and tousled their hair.
“We’re not all that far from home, you know,” Ginny said sensibly, but Luna silenced her with a wave of her hand.
“There’s magic here, is what I mean. Let’s go find it,” and she began leading them towards the craggy cliffs.
“I think we’re only supposed to go outside for a bit of fresh air. We have to go back in and finish reading all those papers Professor McGonnagall gave us,” Caroline Figg said, twisting the tail of her braid round and round her fingers.
“Bah, papers! Don’t you want to see the sea?” Ginny yelled, already running towards the waves crashing on the beach, which they could hear but not yet see.
The other four girls crept behind like ducklings following their mother into the unknown, while Luna and Ginny led the way. Their silhouettes cut a striking figure against the stark scenery, one dark head and one red head walking towards the gray horizon of the ocean.
“What did Professor McGonagall give you all to do? I got something about cauldrons,” Parvati began tentatively, but Luna ignored her.
“Mine was about cursing people using bog water,” Padma offered.
“None of that matters, anyway,” Luna said, her eyes scanning the horizon. The seven girls were nearing the edge of the headland, and could see now that it dropped off in a sheer cliff, with no discernible path to the beach below.
“Best turn back, I reckon,” Caroline said, linking arms with Sylvia Fawcett and tugging her friend back towards the cottage.
“What do you mean no, Luna?” Caroline’s voice grew high and scratchy as it often did, and Luna and Ginny exchanged a smirk. They were taking bets on whether Caroline would ever attract a confused screech owl who mistook her voice for a mating call.
“I mean that I don’t want to go back inside. None of that stuff is useful to me, anyway,” Luna said absently, without any barb in her voice. She wasn’t even looking at the others, who were all clustered far from the edge of the cliff apart from Ginny, who had one leg slung over the edge and a furrowed brow as she considered a scramble down the rocks.
“But it’s more useful to you than it is to us!” Sylvia said, her arm still linked through Caroline’s, “Don’t you get it, Luna? You’re going to be the one in charge of all this… Whatever it turns out to be. You need to learn it all!”
“Well if I’ll be in charge, I’ll get to decide what we do. And I don’t like reading old handwriting, so we won’t do that. You’re all welcome to go back, if you want to,” she said, still not looking at them, eyes running along the edge of the cliff face, as if looking for something the others couldn’t see.
“Nah, I’m going to try to get onto the beach,” Ginny said, fitting her foot into a convenient groove and hoisting herself down and out of sight. Caroline let out a yelp and tugged at the end of her braid until it nearly came loose.
“I’d like a look, if we can find a way,” Lavender Brown piped up, “My dad was from Cornwall and he always loved these beaches.”
The rare contribution from Lavender silenced the others, apart from a whoop of appreciation from Ginny, who sounded rather far away.
“We won’t have to climb down too far, I expect,” Luna said, lowering herself and following the trail blazed by her friend.
“No, Gin, this way,” she said, veering off course to move laterally towards the left.
“What?” Ginny called, already more than halfway to the shore.
But Luna had disappeared.
Padma and Parvati cried out from their rocks near the top of the cliff, and Caroline and Sylvia backed away from where they had been considering the climb, turning back as if to make for the cottage.
But Lavender had been close behind, and she saw where Luna had gone.
“S’alright!” she called, “She’s just found some sort of cave or something!”
That tempted even Caroline and Sylvia to make the trek, and all the girls were soon gathered in the cave. It was small and crudely hewn out of the cliff face, the edges still rough and craggy, as if fighting back against the beating waves of the sea that tried to tame it. And it had exactly the same smell as the old chest in the cottage, but more potent. It smelled of magic.
“What is this place?” Padma breathed, stooping next to a small pile of ashes and animal bones, remnants of some ancient fire.
“This is where the real witches worked their magic, while their apprentices scribbled down that nonsense up in the cottage,” Luna declared, examining a series of strange carvings and dark stains on the walls at the very back of the cave.
“Should…should we fetch the grown-ups?” asked Caroline, who was standing near the entrance to the cave.
“Course not! Come on, Caro, don’t spoil the fun,” said Ginny, digging a series of shallow holes near the edge of the cave with the firepit, in search of buried witch’s treasure.
Lavender was the first to notice Luna holding the broomstick.
“Where’d you find that?” But Luna didn’t answer. It was an ancient, battered thing that looked as if it had been whittled painstakingly by hand and carried more generations of women than even Cressida could imagine. It smelled as if it had been submerged in the ocean for a century.
“Woah!” Ginny exclaimed, grabbing the broomstick from Luna and straddling it. But when she tried to kick off the ground, nothing happened. She jumped, clutching the broomstick hopefully between her strong thighs, but promptly fell over.
“Let Parvati try it, she’s the best flyer,” Lavender suggested. But it wouldn’t fly for any of them, not even the future raven queen.
“The thing is ancient, must just be busted,” Ginny finally concluded before returning to her excavations. The others also soon lost interest and continued their exploration, but Luna remained staring at the dark tracings on the wall of the cave, then at the discolored, splotched handle of the broom.
She removed one of her earrings, hand-beaded into the shape of a raven by her mother, untwisted the metal hook, and dug deep into the soft pad of skin beneath one of her fingernails until she drew blood. She dribbled a few drops over the handle of the broomstick before mounting it and flying through the mouth of the cave and out into the stinging, salty Cornish air over the ocean.
Read more on AO3 here!