A/N: Hello readers! Okay, so I'm still behind in the reviews, sorry! Today is a beach day, so if I have time today, it won't be until later. But a new chapter! That's better, right?
As always, thanks to everyone who reviewed and to irianaceleste for betaing.
Draco was headed for bed, his hair still wet from his shower, when he paused by the window. It was dark outside and the shapes blended well, but there was definitely something out there. He squinted until the formless blots took shape and he realized what it was he was seeing.
"Granger, is this normal strangeness or divine strangeness?" He stepped to the side so she had room to see around him.
Hermione had been lounging in the bed, half asleep as she waited for Draco to finish in the shower. When she saw what Draco had, her drooping eyelids opened wide. "There has to be at least a hundred crows out there."
As the pair watched, Auror Smith came out the back door, yelled something at the crows, and then chased them away by shooting a few warning spells at them. He stood there on the lawn for a while after the crows had disappeared, making sure that they weren't going to return.
"Do Aurors normally defend against gatherings of wildlife?" Draco asked. "I thought that was our job."
As if he had heard, Auror Smith turned around and looked up at them silhouetted in the window. There was only a bedside lamp on behind them, so their faces were probably in shadow to the Auror. Still, it would be obvious to him that they'd just witnessed him send away the crows.
Hermione wasn't sure what she had expected Auror Smith to do, maybe skulk away like he had been caught doing something wrong. Instead, he just nodded to them and then retreated back inside the safe house.
"There's something strange going on," she murmured. "I'm not sure yet if this strangeness rests with Auror Smith, the crows, or both of them, but I know something isn't normal."
No longer interested now that there was nothing out of the ordinary outside the window, Draco just shrugged. "You mean besides the gods who are apparently determined to watch us suffer?"
He didn't wait for her to answer, not wanting to talk about the apparent hopelessness of their current situation. Hermione, on the other hand, was looking out the window still with her face scrunched up in thought.
While she was distracted, Draco scooped her up and tossed her onto the bed.
"You're not going to solve anything tonight, Granger. Stop thinking about it."
She huffed at him, pretending to be annoyed that he'd thrown her around like she was a sack of potatoes. "I can't just turn off my brain, Draco."
"I beg to differ." He crawled on top of her, leaning enough of his weight on her that she was trapped beneath him, but not so much that she was squished. "I think I can find something to distract you."
His words were right against her lips, touching hers just enough to tickle her. Involuntarily, she closed her eyes even as some part of her brain objected to just forfeiting her side of the argument. Then he kissed her and she forgot what the argument was.
Draco was good like that; he distracted her when her obsessive thinking and planning threatened to cause her unnecessary stress. When he wasn't causing it himself, Draco was good for her stress levels in general. He took so few things seriously and when something bothered him, he confronted it and then dismissed it as unimportant. She'd always been aware of these traits in her partner, but it was only recently that she had really started to properly appreciate them.
"Still thinking?" he asked a while later, his voice unbearably smug.
No, no she wasn't. Hermione didn't even have it in her to deflate his ego. In this case, he had more than earned the right to smugness.
"You haven't made me forget that we're going to see Luna tomorrow, if that's what you were trying to do."
Draco swore, but something occurred to him and his scowl turned to a smile. "I'll just have to try again, then."
"Auror Smith is going to be angry when he finds that we've left him alone with Cassy," Hermione fretted.
Draco rolled his eyes. This wasn't the first time she'd said something along those lines and he was getting awfully tired of hearing about it. "It's his bloody job to keep her safe. It won't kill him to make sure she eats something while he's at it."
It had been a battle that morning for Hermione to leave the poor child alone with the surly Auror, especially after the strange scene they had witnessed the previous night. In the end, Draco had just rolled his eyes and dragged her from the safe house while reminding her that Cassy was never going to be safe if they didn't find out who it was that wanted her dead.
Hermione sighed and stopped her complaints, knowing they were driving Draco up the wall. The last thing she needed was Draco on edge when they went to visit Luna. It would just make him more likely to say something terribly insulting.
Cassy would be fine. If worse came to worst, Cassy was old enough to scavenge something edible from the kitchen in the safe house on her own. The only thing Auror Smith needed to do was make sure that no one invaded the house.
She glanced at her partner to judge his mood. His face was screwed up in distaste as they approached Luna's house. He was annoyed that they had to be there, but not in such a bad mood that he would set out to sabotage the visit entirely.
Luna still lived in the house that had been her home since she was a child. After the war, it had been repaired and now looked as good as new, but still just as odd as ever.
"She's not that bad," Hermione scolded as she knocked on the door.
Draco's attention was focused on a shrubbery beside the door that appeared to be emitting a pink smoke. "Not that bad my arse," he muttered.
Very faintly, they heard someone in the house invite them in, so they opened the door and stepped inside.
Immediately, Hermione and Draco lost their footing, but instead of falling they just floated in place. From the way objects and furniture were floating around the room, it was safe to assume that gravity wasn't in effect inside Luna's house.
"Luna?" Hermione called, trying to hold her robes around her. She was thankful that she had worn jeans that day. Keeping a skirt down would have been really annoying.
"I'm in the kitchen."
Using the walls to propel them through the house, Hermione and Draco found themselves faced with the odd scene of watching someone attempt to cook without gravity. As far as they could tell, Luna had used a sticking spell and magical fire to try and heat an egg that she had kept against the pan by batting at it with a spatula. It looked like a very awkward way to cook.
"Welcome, Hermione and Draco," Luna said with a dreamy smile. "I'd offer you a seat, but it wouldn't do you any good. I seem to be having some difficulty with gravity at the moment."
Draco's hair was floating around his head in a halo that was completely at odds with his scowl. "She's lost the plot," he muttered low enough that only Hermione could hear. She would have hit him, but she kind of agreed. Gravity wasn't something that one could just switch on and off on a whim, and it certainly wasn't something that could be lost.
"Luna," Hermione said, knowing that she needed to get Draco out of there before his rude comments got loud enough for Luna to hear. "I remembered you talking about an octopus that could tell the future a while back and was wondering if you knew where I could find it."
As the blonde woman's attention strayed, her egg drifted away. Hermione used her wand to direct it back to the pan while Luna was lost in thought. It wasn't polite to let the eggs escape just because they had a question for her.
"I remember that octopus," Luna said thoughtfully. "It told me that I wasn't going to find the striped squirrel badger I was searching for."
Draco made eye contact with Hermione and mouthed "squirrel badger" disbelievingly. At least he hadn't said something outright rude.
"I think I still have the mapped locations somewhere," Luna continued, oblivious to Draco's disbelief. She was probably used to people looking at her like she was crazy anyway. That said, Luna went back to cooking her egg as if she hadn't even spoken. It seemed as if she had forgotten that there were other people in the room.
"Can we have the map?" Draco asked impatiently.
Luna glanced over her shoulder at him, tilting her head to the side much a like a bird. Without warning, she abandoned her breakfast and floated out of the room, apparently not concerned about starting a fire or anything.
Fire couldn't burn in zero gravity and Luna had been using magical fire besides, but Hermione still extinguished it before she followed the dreamy woman. The egg however, she allowed to float away. Luna could deal with that later.
They caught up to Luna just as she opened a door on the second floor. Several books and some loose paper floated out of the room. It appeared to be a library. Since everything was floating, there was no discernible order to all of the books and papers, something that made Hermione cringe internally and Draco shoot her a knowing look.
Luna had no trouble wading through the chaos, probably because her mind was in such chaos all the time so she was used to wading through disorder. She grabbed a packet of papers that were floating over by the window trailing a sky blue ribbon behind it.
Maybe Luna had some sort of colour coding system? Hermione's poor brain was desperately trying to find some order, but even she couldn't manage it. Her fingers practically twitched with the desire to try though. This was no way to keep a library.
Draco was smirking at her. She didn't even need to look; she could feel it. The git knew what was going on in her head and he was amused by her discomfort.
"Here it is," Luna said happily, passing Hermione the packet. "I marked the place I met with the octopus."
Not wanting to sow any more disorder in the already chaotic room, Hermione was careful not to bump anything as she unfolded the map.
"Is the glittery ladybug sticker the place you marked?" Hermione had scanned the map and there weren't any other markings, but she didn't see what glittery ladybugs had to do with an octopus that could see the future. She supposed that it made as much sense as everything else in Luna's universe did.
"Of course," Luna said.
Hermione nodded, needing to get out of the strange house. She liked Luna well enough, but had never had much of a tolerance for Luna's strangeness. There was no logic to anything she did, and as someone who thrived on logic, Hermione struggled to deal with Luna. It always put her on edge to spend too much time with the blonde woman.
When she glanced over her shoulder, she saw that Draco was already well on his way out of the house. He had even less tolerance for Luna than Hermione did, and he was much more willing to openly complain about it.
"Thanks, Luna," Hermione said quickly, following after her partner. "Good luck with your... gravity."
Hermione stood looking out at the water and trying to work out the best plan of action. She was going in without much information and didn't like that fact. Going into a potentially dangerous situation blind was just asking for trouble.
"If you don't make a decision soon, I'm going to shove you into the water and let you work it out from there," Draco snapped from behind her. He hadn't been pleased when he'd found out that the octopus was just off of the coast of Antarctica.
Antarctica! Hermione had to assume that this magical octopus had something going for it that its less magical brethren did not because Antarctica didn't have many non-magical octopuses living there. On the bright side, this would make the magical one that much more obvious if they found it.
They were both enshrouded in parkas and heavy duty warming spells, but it was still very cold. The warming spells were draining on their energy in such cold temperatures, so it was a race against time to find the octopus before their extensive use of energy completely exhausted them.
"Just let me think for a moment," Hermione said irritably. She was weighing and comparing various spells and approaches for searching around in very cold water, especially for something that might not even exist. Even if Luna's map was accurate – and Hermione wasn't sure about the accuracy of the sparkly ladybug sticker – it was entirely possible that the octopus had moved since she'd seen it.
She listened to snow crunching and Draco's muttered complaints as he did as she asked and wandered off to entertain himself. Hermione would be more worried that he would get into trouble if he'd had his sword with him – they'd decided that it would be best for the both of them if they didn't have to drag heavy swords around underwater when they needed to conserve energy. Without his sword, Draco wouldn't be able to behead a penguin. He was still a danger with magic, but Draco was more likely to last out physically than magically if offended.
Hermione sighed, finally coming to a decision. They were going to cast bubble head charms and pour most of their energy into keeping their body temperatures up.
Looking over her shoulder, Hermione was doubly glad that Draco didn't have his sword. He was glaring distrustfully at a group of penguins.
"Draco, penguins are not ducks, you have no reason to hate them. Now leave the nice birds alone and come over here."
The penguin squawked obnoxiously just as Draco was about to turn back to his partner. Of course, the blond wasn't going to let an offence like that go unpunished. He was reaching for his wand when Hermione intervened.
"Draco Malfoy, don't even think about hexing that penguin."
He shuddered before turning to look at his partner with dawning horror. "I should be angry that you're nagging me, but I'm aroused by your bossy tone. That's quite disturbing. Even using my full name to scold me like my mother doesn't seem to put a damper on my libido."
Hermione tried not to blush as he advanced towards her, looking like a predator about to pounce on an innocent herbivore. She put her hands up and warned him off. For the first time, she was thankful for the cold; it made the naughty things his eyes promised too difficult. They didn't have time for trysts and she knew that if he touched her, she wasn't going to be able to say no to him.
Not pleased with his new discovery and being denied a kiss, Draco glowered at anything and everything. At least he wasn't killing penguins.
She explained her plan to Draco, who nodded his approval. He was perfectly capable of coming up with plans of his own or pointing out flaws in Hermione's, he just preferred that she do the planning. It was how they worked best. Draco was content to let her lead and behead the things she told him to, while Hermione got to indulge her control freak side and make the plans.
Without further delay, they both jumped into the frigid ocean.
Even with extensive warming charms, it was still a bit of a shock to the system to be submerged in such cold water. Hermione took a moment to allow her body to stop its shuddering and for her toes to uncurl before she started off in the approximate direction that the map had indicated the octopus would be.
Since they were conserving their energy, Hermione and Draco hadn't bothered casting the spells that would allow them to communicate underwater. Still, after forty-five minutes of aimlessly searching open water for some sign of an octopus, Hermione could clearly read what Draco was thinking. He was cursing the day he'd met Luna and probably his decision to work at all instead of just living off of his investments and inheritance.
She felt heavy and slow, which was a sign that it was almost time to give up their search. Despite the warming spells, the cold and exhaustion were starting to get to her.
Hermione was getting ready to signal to Draco that she was ready to give up – something he had been ready to do as soon as he'd realized they were going to Antarctica – when she noticed a faint glow out of the corner of her eye.
They were passing a small iceberg that on a second glance appeared to have a cave at its center. The movement had been inside the strange cave.
Hermione touched Draco's arm to get his attention and then gestured over to the cave. He nodded his understanding and they both swam over to investigate, their wands ready.
When they entered the cave and found a glowing octopus, Draco's face clearly said that he couldn't believe the coincidence. Hermione had to agree. It was strange that they'd found the proverbial needle in a haystack that covered most of the planet.
The octopus was the size of a watermelon with long, delicate tentacles undulating around it. There were blue spots colouring its brown skin and an alien intelligence in its strange eyes. All in all, it was a strange looking creature.
"I wasn't going to appear to you," a voice echoed in their heads, "But your pathetic and blind search made me feel sorry for you."The unexpected voice of the octopus was startling, holding a surprising amount of steel and strength for something that appeared to be so... squishy.
The octopus reached out a delicate tendril towards Hermione, poking her in the stomach and making her giggle involuntarily. It seemed that it knew exactly where she was ticklish. Once it was finished with her, it reached out for Draco. Instead of tickling the blond, the tentacle wrapped around his throat and squeezed, releasing him before he could even struggle, much less defend himself.
Seeming satisfied with its strange examination of the pair, the octopus addressed them once more. "I am a creature of Poseidon's domain, and as such see no reason to interfere in the activities of land-dwellers. I will, however, give you a hint: the start of this is based in your past, and you need to visit the Oracle of Delphi. Now go."
Hermione nodded her thanks, already deep in thought about the meaning of the octopus' words. Draco however, was scowling at it. They'd come all that way and he couldn't feel most of his body, yet all they had to show for it was "visit the oracle."
Both of them were too busy thinking while trying to swim with numb limbs to hear the octopus' parting wisdom.
"And remember to watch out for giant squid."