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By The Pricking Of My Thumbs, Something Wicked This Way Comes






Chapter Twenty








The sun was setting overhead, a deep orange glow fading into the darkness of the oncoming night. Down below, in the heart of the forest, under tall and ancient trees, there stood a young man and a young lady. They did not know that the day had slowly faded into night, nor did they notice a half starved that scuttled across their paths. They had thoughts only for each other, for the future, for hidden dangers still to come. A map and compass lay abandoned, forgotten, on the hard, frost bitten ground, as the couple remained lost in each other, engrossed in their own thoughts.



The young man stood behind her, holding onto her tightly, breathing in her sweet essence that always seemed to calm him so; the young woman, who he held, leaned against him, her eyes closed and her cheek pressed to his, content to be in his presence, happy to be held so close. The future ahead of them looked ominous, both could almost taste the perils yet to come, but for the moment, they were comforted by the refuge of each other's arms....


*



A shuddering sigh of discontent escaped the young man's lips; leaving its mark on the darkening night, and as the world faded into dusk around them, he reluctantly released his hold on the young woman's waist.
"Time to move now, Emily," he spoke quietly, unwilling to let the words out; Emily let out a sigh almost as heavy as his own.
"Do we have to," Emily mumbled out, more to herself than him, missing his touch already. No reply came, just the crackling of dry, brittle leaves underfoot as he moved away from her. Wrapping her arms around herself, against the cold night air, she took a small step forward. Bending down, she picked up the abandoned compass and map, the ones she had let fall so easily from her fingers earlier, and began to study them; Draco approached her from the side.



"Emily," he asked, his voice somewhat strained. "Do you actually know how to work those things? He pointed an accusing finger to the compass held in her hands.
She glanced up at him and saw him looking dubiously down at her. She blushed. "Well, um...er...."
"Emily..." he warned, his voice now a thin line.
"I think South is this way," she said, pointing with her finger, and turned away quickly from his accusing eyes, not wanting him to see her flushed countenance. "So, therefore, North should be this way...." Her voice trailed off uncertainly.




"You have no idea how to use them, do you?" he accused flatly, catching the indecision in her voice, and then rolling his eyes towards heaven as if addressing the Gods, he continued. "Dear Merlin, help me! I'm stuck alone in the woods with a Muggle - and a Muggle who doesn't even know how to use bloody Muggle things, at that!"



Emily instantly bridled at these words, and her anger ignited. "Just because I've been Muggle-raised... it does not mean I know everything about Muggle things," she snapped out through gritted teeth. "Infact," she continued, turning to face him, her voice raised. "I've only been camping once - and that was when I was seven, and my dad took care of the orienteering side of things! So," she paused for breath, placed her hands on her hips, and gave him her best intimidating stare. "I would appreciate it, very much, if you would stop bloody presuming things, ferret!" (Her last words being whispered under her breath, as she swung away from him and headed towards the trees.)



From behind her, she could hear him chuckling.
"Well, at least I can say that this journey will be entertaining," he chortled, watching her as she turned a circle with the compass held out in her hand. "But," he continued, feeling smug, "you'll probably be the death of me - Carlisle, what exactly are you supposed to be doing?"
He watched her bemusedly as she swung backwards and forwards, turning the compass repeatedly in her hand.



Emily ignored him deliberately, choosing instead to continue with her strange pacing. Moving back and forth for a few minutes more, she kept up her strange behaviour until, at last, a disgruntled 'ugh' escaped her mouth.
"What is it, Emily," Draco asked, moving up beside her, "What on earth is wrong with you?"
And Emily, clearly exasperated, let it all out.
"Whatever way I turn, not matter what direction," she wailed out to him, her eyes filled with desperation. "The bloody thing just keeps pointing in the same direction - I can't work it at all!"



Sensing that Emily was clearly near the end of her tether, Draco took control of the quickly deteriorating situation. Placing his arm around her shoulders, he pulled her to him, and held her close. Then prising the compass out of her fingers, he studied it.
"Stop worrying about it, Em," he spoke softly, as he felt her tremble against him. "It's not your fault that the damnable Muggle invention doesn't work - I was only teasing..."
"But," Emily broke in, her voice sounding raw. "I'm meant to b - be protecting you..."
Her voice trailed off into what sounded like a sob. Her shoulders hitched.
"Your right," she told him, mournfully. "I'm hopeless!"



Draco began to regret his earlier teasing. To tell the truth, he hadn't expected her to react this way; Emily, until now, had shown that she was more than a match for him. In fact, Draco recalled, it usually took a lot more than this to bring her to this point of emotional breakdown.
Sighing wearily, he cursed his earlier actions. Obviously, he could now see, she was much more upset and worried about things than she had let on - they all were! However, the fact that she was actually, genuinely, concerned about his welfare - about him, made him feel tremendously guilty.



Stupid, treacherous, fool! The voice in his head that was his father's spoke up. The girl is not worthy of your feelings... Malfoys do not feel guilt!
Draco shook his head ferociously, not wanting to listen to this vindictive diatribe. His father's words, always callous, had been proven wrong several years ago... So, why on earth, he was still listening to them now - he did not know! Somehow, he knew, that now was the time to stop listening to these viscous, old lessons - that now was the time to step forth and be his own man! Finally reaching a milestone in his life - something vital inside him changed.



"C'mon, Emily," he whispered down to the girl he held, still trembling in his arms. "Honestly, Em - is it worth your tears?"
Emily stilled, and hiccoughed back a startled sob. Then wiping her hand across her reddened eyes, she mumbled into his chest.
"I just feel so useless..."
"Don't we all," he replied, unable to keep back his weary sigh, he then bowing his head to kiss her hair. "But, Em - tears won't help us now..."
Lifting her head sharply, somehow sensing a change in him, Emily stared.
"Sorry," she whispered up to him, detangling herself from his arms. "I don't know why - I'm sorry - I'm not myself..." She continued in strained tones.
Rolling his eyes, and grabbing her to him again, he wrapped her tightly in his arms.
"Don't be silly, Emily," he told her, breathing in her scent. "I don't want your apologies - I was just stating a fact..."
"But, you sounded so cold," she protested into his chest again. "I just don't know how to cope anymore - it's all too much for me..." Another strangled sob hitched in her throat.



Sighing again, but this time more softly, Draco took hold of her chin and forced her eyes up to meet with his.
"Emily," he said gently, hoping to soften his words to come. "You should be used to this by now - this is just the way I am; you know this - and if we're ever to survive the next couple of days - you have to accept it..."
Then, feeling her tense, he added on more softly, "It's just me - I don't mean to hurt you, Emily..."
A familiar smirk then worked its way onto his lips, and he continued with a wicked gleam in his eye.
"I'll try to be a good boy, I promise...."



Emily eyes narrowed, as she watched him closely. Even though his lips were pulled in that old, familiar smirk, Emily sensed that something had changed about him. He seemed different - more determined, more accomplished, as if though something fundamental about him had changed. Although, his previous words had stung her somehow, running then through her mind, she could now see the sense in them - a newfound maturity in them. Whereas before, his words had held endless gripes, moans and (of course) riddles, there now seemed to be a sense of purpose behind them. They no longer felt like jibes and jests at Emily's expense, but more like a statement of truth - and Emily could actually see the sense behind them; standing around crying and moping would do them no good!



Searching his eyes for some sort of answer to her newfound questions, Emily asked him quietly, if not a little obscurely, "What's happened?"
Draco raised his eyebrows high. "What ever do you mean? Is your memory really that bad - do you need a recap? As I recall, it started when..."
She cut him off, ""You know what I mean ... You're different, acting different - what's happened?"
Draco's face was impenetrably smooth; a small smirk still tugged at the corner of his lips.
"Really, Carlisle," he drawled, sounding more like the old Draco she knew and loved. "I'm beginning to worry about you ... I think somewhere along the line - your brains have addled..."
"Stop it," she snapped, slipping easily back into their old routine. "You know full well what I'm talking about..."
"Oh, Em," he grinned, his arm tightening around her, pulling her in closer and changing the subject. "You're such a pretty, little Mudblood..."



Despite his use of that offensive name, and the fact he was obviously steering her thoughts away from the subject; Emily flushed prettily.
"You shouldn't use that word," she admonished him lightly, but her words held no force in them. "I - It's not nice..." Her words stuttered off as she caught that certain gleam, shining in his clear, grey eyes; his eyes looked hungry.
"Oh," she gasped lightly, recognising the look and its meaning. Then as his head bowed, lips parted in a knowing smile; precise eyes challenging hers, Emily's eyes fluttered close; her lips parted and she waited.



All too soon, his mouth found hers; moulding them together perfectly. The kiss was soft, gentle and tender, his lips moving languidly against hers. His hand un-cupped her chin, moved gently across her cheek until, finally, it ended up in her hair; entwining her locks in between his fingers.
Emily, enjoying the sweet sensations and odd tenderness of the kiss, trailed her fingers up his chest and encircled them around his neck; pushing close against him, her head automatically dipped to the side, positioning itself for the perfect fit.



Lips against lips, open and parted, moving slowly, intensely, against each other; tongues darting in, licking, tasting, brushing against teeth - moving in perfect motion, moving in a perfect kiss. The kiss was not about passion, was not about lust, but about need and belonging, and the joy of being close; Emily, somewhere in the back of her mind as the languorous kiss continued, gradually came to realise - that something in their relationship had shifted.




Eventually, feeling soothed and calmed, Emily pulled away slowly, breaking the kiss. Laying her head down, resting it there on his shoulder, Emily let herself be held; for now, she just wanted to enjoy the sensations of being held close. Time ticked by slowly and quietly, the sky above darkened all the more, and Emily remained in his arms, smiling contentedly. However, all too soon for her liking, Draco's voice blundered its way into her contentment.
"Um, Em - as much as I'm enjoying this interlude - we really must get going. Haven't you noticed how dark it's getting?"



Sighing out loudly, she lifted her head, ready to give him her most dissatisfied look - when she noticed just how dark it was. Her forehead, instead, pulled into a puzzled frown and, with perplexed eyes, she asked him quietly, "What time is it, Draco?"
"A quarter to three..."
"But, it shouldn't be this dark this early," she rushed out, suddenly alert. "What on earth...."
"Well, I suspect," he interrupted her sharply, but not unkindly. "...that the Dark Lord may have something to do with this..."
Emily looked at him sharply.
"It's been dark for ages now - how long have we been stood here? An hour, maybe 45 minutes - it's much too early! That means it must have begun getting dark at around 1.45..." Her words trailed off, as she became thoughtful.
"That's why I suggest we should move on now," Draco said smoothly, gently detangling her from his arms. "This obviously isn't natural - and I have a bad feeling about it..."
"But, we don't know which way is North," Emily wailed out, feeling a sudden fear descend on her. "Which way should we go..."
"That way," answered Draco, pointing over her shoulder towards a narrow path amongst the trees. "We go that way..."
"But, how do we know it's the right way..." she argued, her fear of the dark making her anxious.
"We don't, for sure," he answered quickly, taking her hand and pulling her to his side. "But, if I remember rightly from old Astronomy class - that star on the left is meant to represent the North - and, quite frankly, Emily - we have to keep moving..."



Swallowing down her fear, and clutching tightly onto his hand, Emily nodded.
"You're right," she answered him quickly, "we must keep going - I'll follow you..."
Draco snorted disdainfully.
"Of course you'll follow me, Emily," he teased, amusement glinting in his eyes. "You have no other option! What with you being afraid of the dark and all..."
She glared back up at him, telling him untruthfully, "I'm not afraid of the dark, Malfoy..."
"Of course you're not," Draco answered gleefully, "not at all, Carlisle! You just look like a scared rabbit because..."
"I am not scared, Malfoy!"
"...a scared yet very adorable rabbit at th..."
She kicked him swiftly on the ankle, smirking when she saw him wince and glare down at her.
"Really, Carlisle - do you always resort to physical violence..."
"Only with you, Malfoy," she retorted smugly.
"I was giving you a compliment, Carlisle..."
"I do not in any shape or form look like a rabbit..."
"I just told you that you're adorable - you should be falling at my feet..."
"The only time I fall at your feet, Malfoy - is when you bloody push me..."
"You're still holding my hand, Carlisle..."
Emily was momentarily silenced, and she was glad the darkness hid the burn on her cheeks; Draco, taking advantage of her embarrassment, took the opportunity to carry on teasing her, "So, do you like holding my hand, Emily?"




Declining to answer him verbally, Emily just walked on quietly beside him; deciding to answer him instead - by still holding tightly onto his hand. Somehow, she knew that this was his way of helping her take her mind off things, and although she did not like the blushes - she appreciated his intervention, even though it was at her expense.
"So, what about me kissing you - do you like my kisses, Em?"
"I've had better..."
"Oh, I seriously doubt it..."
"You're so arrogant..."
"Do you like arrogant men?"
"No!"
"Just me then..."
"I don't like you, Malfoy - I may lust after you for some unknown reason, but I really don..."
"Did you like the way I made love to..."
"Stop it, Malfoy!"
"Are you blushing, Emily?"
"No!" she lied, bushing furiously.



And, bickering away contently, still hand in hand, Emily and Draco disappeared into the forage, losing themselves amongst the trees.


*


After leaving Luna at the top of Charring Cross Road, Harry made his way down to Covent Garden. He didn't fancy entering The Ministry of Magic the way most employees did, so instead he decided to go by foot. He loved walking down Muggle streets unknown, as it gave him a feeling of total anonymity; he could be anybody walking down these streets, no one bothered him and no one stared, and that was just the way he liked it! These were the only times he truly felt free and unburdened of all responsibilities. Walking these streets, he was not The-Boy-Who-Lived, nor was he The Saviour of the Wizarding World - he was simply Harry, a normal 20 year-old young man who could roam anonymously along the bustling streets without a care in the world!



Covent Garden also happened to be one of the streets he liked to wander down the most. He loved the vibrant atmosphere, the hustle and bustle of be-suited office workers scurrying their way back from lunch. He loved the jostle of the tourists, their happy banter ringing out in nearly every language imaginable. He loved the street performers too: the living statues, the established buskers, clowns, magicians and street artists. Everything about this place felt alive, everything the place somehow soothed him. Unlike Emily, he suddenly thought to himself, recalling Emily's fear of overcrowded spaces.



But, he didn't want to think of her right now - he had other things to think of. Like getting hold of the bloody ferret's wand, and getting to talk to Hermione before he had to meet (and report in to) Luna in a couple of hours time. He had told no one about his plans of contacting Hermione, not even Snape, for he knew his plans would go down like a lead balloon with them. He was truly sick of being with the Slytherin's, even Emily to a certain degree, and he longed for the company of his friends. Even though The Sorting Hat had almost sorted him into Slytherin, being stuck with two of the worst ones grated on him and addled his nerves. For all his earlier protesting, he was glad to be going to the Ministry, and he was glad he would soon be seeing Hermione.



Suddenly, realising that time was slipping away from him; Harry began to quicken his pace. Pushing his way (with many an excuse me and sorry) through the crowd that littered Covent Gardens Antique Market, Harry made his way forward, regretting the fact he didn't have the time to look amongst the strange little curios scattered here and there. His battle through the crowd was a hard one, but, finally, Harry found himself outside the familiar, old, red telephone box he had entered all those years ago with Arthur Wesley.



Dialling 62442 quickly, a female dissembled voice filled the air and asked him his name and business; a mischievous grin spread over Harry's face. Stating his name, Harry Potter, his business as - saving the Wearing World, Harry felt proud of himself. He only wished Ron could be there to chortle over his joke with him. A Silver badge soon popped out and when Harry saw his name and business sparkle back up at him in magical lettering, he could not help but snigger. The telephone box then plummeted, Harry's stomach plummeted with it, and in no time at all - Harry was at The Atrium level.



Hurrying a long across the hall, he passed the Fountain of Magical Brethren quickly, and was soon at the Golden Gates. Eric Munch, who still handled security, jaw dropped open as he saw Harry approach.
"Name and business, show me your badge," he shot out on autopilot, as Harry rolled his eyes at him. "We'll have to check you're wan..."
"Eric, it's me, Harry," Harry snapped irritably, "just let me through..."
"But, I have to - you used the visitors..."
"But, you know me, Eric - just let..."
"Then why did you use the Vies...."
"Because I felt like it, okay! Now, just let me through," said Harry, his voice raising. Eric visibly flinched at Harry's tone and turning away from him with a scowl, he waved Harry dismissively on. More than a little annoyed at Eric, and glad to be on his way, Harry made his way down to the lifts. A lift on his right instantly opened, as he passed, and Harry scuttled quickly in.




The lift, thankfully, was not too full, Harry noticed. A witch, a Goblin and a distracted, old wizard (who was tugging fretfully on his beard) were the only other occupants. The witch, who was quite young, kept blushing and giving Harry furtive looks, while the Goblin and wizard ignored him, and Harry was thankful that was all he had to endure. The lift started to descend; past Level One, the floor he wanted to be on, and down to Level Two, to the floor that he was heading. The doors slid open and Harry slunk out, feeling grateful that he had escaped too much unwanted attention.



He quickly set off down the corridor, and feeling glad that it was deserted, he soon came to the door that he wanted. Pushing it open, it suddenly dawned on him that he had not yet made a plan. However, with a shrug of the shoulders, he decided he would bluff it, as bluffing had always worked well for him before, and he boldly steeped into the room. At the desk opposite, Cho Chang sat and Harry thanked his lucky stars.



Cho looked up inquiringly, her eyes widening when she saw Harry stood there.
"H - Harry," she stuttered out. "How nice it is to see you..."
Her voice trailed off, and Harry noted that she looked extremely uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable indeed - and he decided to use it to his advantage. Smiling nervously, he stepped towards her and let a small frown furrow his brow.
"Nice to see you too, Cho," he smiled sweetly, "but, I wish it were under better circumstances..."
"Oh, what do you mean, Harry," she cried, sounding anxious and guilty at the same time. "What's happened?"



Ever since they had dated unsuccessfully in Harry's Fifth Year, Cho had always acted strangely around him, as if though she still blamed herself for past events and, to tell the truth, Harry still felt awkward around her too. However, the strange upside to all this was that he and Cho could not remain in each other's company for more than five minutes and Harry took advantage of this.
"Do you know what, Cho," Harry said, making his voice really faint. "I don't feel well, could you get me..."
"A glass of water, of course I can Harry!" Cho jumped up instantly, and sped through a door in the room.




As quick as lightening, Harry bolted round the desk and pointed his wand at the cabinet standing there.
"Alohomora!" he whispered, and the cabinet doors flew open. Quickly scanning the shelves, he looked for the one marked with an M; in next to no time, he found it, and searching along it frantically - his hand soon clamped over the wand tagged with Draco Malfoy's name. Pleased, that his notorious luck still held true, Harry pocketed the wand, without delay, spelled the cabinet shut and was on his feet and heading to the door.



He was out the door in a flash, happily speeding towards the lifts. Pressing hard down on the up button, he was glad that Cho would not find his disappearance strange, as they often found themselves in odd situations such as this, and running away between them not being an uncommon thing. He rubbed hard over the ridge of his nose as he waited, impatiently, for the lift to come - and yet again, Harry's luck stayed with him, as the lift came up almost immediately. He jumped into the lift, which was thankfully empty, and was soon brought to Level One.



He was soon outside Hermione's department, hanging back inconspicuously, not wanting to be seen. He, wholeheartedly, wished he had thought to stop off for his invisibility cloak, as that would of helped would have helped his current mission perfectly. He hung back furtively, kicking himself for not having made any forward thinking plans, and waited for a trustworthy person to pass by; Neville ambling towards him soon rewarded his short wait.



Emerging from the shadows, he reached out and grabbed Neville's arm; Neville stumbled backwards with a squeak.
"It's only me, Neville," Harry whispered, patting Neville's arm awkwardly. "I don't want to be seen, but I need to see Hermione..."
However, before Harry could finish, Neville squeaked out eagerly, "I'll get her for you, Harry."
Pleased at this turn of events, Harry smiled tightly, closed his eyes and nodded.
"Thanks, Neville," he said, feeling stretched and at the end of his tether - then remembering his manners he opened his eyes and added, "I really appreciate it."
Neville, still looking eager and apprehensive, nodded back to him. "I'll go get her, Harry" he nodded eagerly, "I think she's been expecting you - she'll be pleased to see you..."
Harry closed his eyes and nodded again, and with a "Thanks, Neville," he sighed wearily.
Neville, watching Harry's expression carefully, soon decided it was for the best to fetch Hermione now, and he quickly darted into the room.



Hermione was there in an instant!
"Harry," she cried, overwhelmed by emotion, and throwing herself at him. "I'm so happy you're here - I've been so worried since your letter... I did not know what to do! I have been so busy and overworked - this department is a mess! What is happening, Harry? You are letter - is Emily safe? I've tried to find our more about the key - but I've been so busy!"
She then lowered her voice, speaking very quietly.
"What about Snape," she hissed softly, "is it true - is he back..." Her words trailed off as she looked intently into Harry's blank face, waiting for an answer.
Harry blinked a couple of times, surprised by her onslaught, before answering.
"I can't tell you everything here, Hermione," Harry answered her, "but, in a few days I hope to be back at Hogwarts, and after a chat with Dumbledore I'll be able to answer a few more things..."
"But, Harry," she interrupted, "I need to go to the top with this information - I can't withhold it no more, it's killing me! There are just so many implications..."
Harry cut her off.
"No, you can't Hermione - not yet.... This situation needs time, The Order is involved - you can't speak out till I've spoken with Dumbledore..."
"But, Harry," Hermione almost wailed, "it's killing me - I just don't know what to do..."
"Just keep some Aurors on standby - I've a feeling we will need them - when I've spoken to Dumbledore..."
"But, Harry - all our trained Aurors are out! Oh, what am I going to do," she trailed off, clutching at her head as if it hurt.
"Don't worry, Hermione," Harry said, stroking her arm abstractedly. "I know you; you'll work something out..."
"I'll try to, Harry," she broke in, rubbing distractingly at her temple. "Bur, can't you tell me some more..."
"I can Hermione, but maybe somewhere more private-" His voice broke off suddenly, as the feeling that someone was watching them took over him.




A silence fell...



...and Neville seemed to appear out of nowhere.



"I - I - I'm sorry," he stuttered, "I didn't mean to interrupt, only you're needed Hermione..." His voice trailed off uncertainly, as Harry and Hermione took in deep breaths.
"What did you hear then, Neville," Hermione shot out, "did you hear everything..."
"I heard some," Neville, answered truthfully, "I promise I won't tell..."
"Oh, shut up," Hermione snapped, biting down on her lip in concentration. Then her eyes began to sparkle as an idea came to her.
"Actually, Neville," she said calmly, with an air of determination. "I think you can head this investigation."
Neville gaped, and Harry rubbed at his sore head.
"Yes," she continued, "Dean and Seams can work with you, and I can call in a few standbys..." Then falling into silence, Hermione began to formulate her plans.



Harry, on seeing he was not needed now, began to feel restless. He could see that Hermione was now formulating her own schemes and plans, and he felt unwanted. Neville was looking at Hermione eagerly, and Hermione was ruminating over her own thoughts, so Harry decided it was time to leave.
Glancing down at his watch, he saw he had an hour or so until he met Luna. Enough time to clear things in my own head, he thought, and knowing that it was time to leave, he stepped closer to Hermione.



"I'm off now, Hermione," he told her, "I have to meet with someone soon..."
His words snapped Hermione out of her trance.
"Oh, don't go, Harry," she begged, eyes wide and pleading. "There's still so much to know..."
"No, Hermione," Harry replied, softening his words with a gentle smile. "I really have to go now..."
Sensing his seriousness, Hermione wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek; Harry blushed.
"If you must, Harry," she told him, softly. "But, please keep in contact - I need to..."
Harry cut her off.
"I'll be in contact," he told her, truthfully, and turned to go. "Expect to hear from me in three days..."




Hermione turned to protest, but on seeing the set of his shoulders, desisted. Watching him leave, she then let out a disgruntled sigh, and then turning to Neville, she ushered him over.
"Right then, Neville," she instructed, focusing her attention on him. "This is what will do...."
In addition, somehow understanding Harry's needs, she let him go without a word.


*



Smiling hazily, Luna ambled happily into The Quibbler's main building, and smiling at everyone and no one in particular, she meandered her way to her father's office. Busy wizards and witches hustled and bustled past her, sometimes stopping to offer a bright 'hello' before continuing with their work, and Luna smiled dreamily back at them, glad to be amongst the bustle of her father's offices.
Dim candles flickered overhead, lighting the big circular office with its warm, golden light; recalling Luna back to her happy childhood. Coalescing scents assaulted her nostrils; scents of pen, ink and paper; Butterbeer and Firewhiskey all mingled together to take her back in time and as Luna drifted towards her fathers office door, she felt as if she was truly home.



As she passed through his door, a slightly older girl passed out. The girl had bright blue hair, and her eyes had a strange violet tinge. Luna instantly recognised her as Nymphadora Tonks.
"Wotcha, Luna," she greeted her cheerfully, as she breezed past. "How's it going?"
Smiling dreamily at Tonk's purple eyebrows, Luna replied, "Fine, thank you, Nymph Dora - how are you and Remus?"
"Oh, we're both fine," said Tonks with a wink. "But, sorry, must dash - I've places to go and people to see," she laughed happily, and with another wink and a wave for Luna, Tonks dashed hurriedly off.
Luna stared absently after Tonks retreating back for a minute or two, wondering if she should change her eyebrow colour too - and then entered the office.



"Hallo, Daddy," she greeted him, and going up to him she gave the blond haired man with a dropping, blond moustache a peck on the cheek. "How are you today? I need to go into the archive room today, Daddy - I'm helping friends out, so could I please have the key?"
Mr. Lovegood beamed proudly down at his daughter, chortling out loudly, "Of course you can, sweetheart - in fact, you're the second young lady to ask today!"
"Is that why Nymphadora Tonks was here," she enquired absently, making her way to the enormous flowerpot in the corner and pulling out the key.
Her father chuckled.
"Exactly, Luna - Exactly!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands together. "She wanted information on The Key of Loth..."
"Oh, really," Luna interrupted, looking enquiringly at her father, her interest piqued. "Did she want to know about The New Dark Lord too...?"
"Ha Ha!" her father laughed jovially, although his had narrowed into thoughtful slits. "Hmmn, The New Dark Lord, huh? Well, rumour has it that a certain wiza..." But, whatever he was going to say was rudely interrupted by the entrance of a rather tired looking vampire.
"Ah, Vincent," he cried, clapping his hands together. "Very good to see you - very good to see you indeed! You're right on time, my boy - right on time! Step right in and take a seat..."
Seeing that her father was now distracted, and there was nothing else to be learnt from him at the moment, Luna slipped out of his office unnoticed and unhurriedly made her way down to the Archive room.



On her knees, with a dusty old box opened before her, Luna began her search through the box labelled, L - All Articles Dated From: 1st of June 1999 to 31st of December 1999.
She riffled through slowly, lingering over the odd headlines that often caught her eye.

WORLD EXCLUSIVE! FEMALE MUGGLE WEDS TROLL! MY LIFE WITH LUMPY! MISS AMANDA DURKE TELLS ALL!

Creul people would call my Lumpy ugly and stupid, but to me he is my Prince Charming...

THE HOUSE-ELVES ARE REVOLTING! WE'VE HAD ENOUGH AND WE WON'T PUT UP WITH IT! DINKY SAYS, THE TRUTH WILL BE TOLD! A TALE OF SMELLY SOCKS AND OVEN BURNS! NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED!

Dinky, House-elf to...

LUCIUS MALFOY, ALIVE AND KICKING IN BLACKPOOL! EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT!

A true account of how Madeline Warbunkle spotted the notorious Death Eater alive and well in Blackpool. 'It was him I tell you, it was him,' stated Miss Warbunkle to our reporter. 'He was walking down the pier, large as live, with a red wig and a cowboy hat on...

The Key of Loth - How It Works and How It Could Kill You....





Coming to the Article she wanted, Luna carefully took it out, along with some other articles, which had caught her attention. Folding the papers neatly, she slid them under her robe and, after closing the box and putting it back on the shelf, she quietly left the room; deep in thought.




When she reached her father's office, she saw at once that it was empty. She walked right in, past the wide-open door and dropped the key back in the flowerpot; she stopped suddenly, trying to recall something important, and it slowly came back to her. Scuttling over to her father's desk, she picked up a quill, found a spare scrap of paper and began to scribble.
Daddy, she wrote.
I'm very sorry, Daddy. But, I forget to tell you that I won't be home for a couple of days. Please don't worry, I'll be safe with Harry - we're off to find The New Dark Lord.
Love you, Daddy,
Your loving daughter, Luna

Then putting the quill aside and placing the note on top of his cigar case, Luna left the room. She made her way through the building, waving her goodbyes to the staff she knew and was soon out on the pavement.



An unusual expression came over her face, making her look more absent minded than usual. However, the fact was that Luna was deep in thought; she had seen something that had intrigued her, something that had stood out and, thinking on it, she had a feeling that that something might have something to do with....
Harry, she thought. I must have a chat with Harry! Then, realising she had no idea what time it actually was, Luna started to amble down the street towards The Leaky Cauldron, lunch and Harry.


*



Severus Snape was thinking; thinking about his past, thinking about his present, and most of all, he was thinking about his future. Which all combined, left him in a very dour mood - a very dour mood indeed? The bleak and insipid landscape that surrounded him - did not conspire to lighten his mood either. So, all in all, it must be said, Snape was not in the best of moods.
A blackened, storm cloud hung over his head, a scowl etched a deep line across his brow, and his lips twitched into the tightest of lines until his lips almost disappeared altogether.
He had recently concluded that he had spent the latter (and therefore biggest) part of his life in the company of lunatics, lunatics who wanted power and were capable of doing anything to get it! He had also come to the conclusion, that although they often spoke to him of words of the future glory ahead for him - that he was merely nothing more to them than a glorified lap-dog.
These thoughts, to say the least, were none too pleasing to Severus.




Discovering that one has spent the most of one's life at the disposal of others was a sore point with Severus, a point that had him gritting his teeth in anger as he seethed internally. Although others thought him of one the highest in ranking, the truth of it was, he held little power underneath them, and the little power he did hold could easily be yanked away from him in a heartbeat.
He wasn't foolish enough to believe that a quick 'Avada Kedavra!' wouldn't be cast his way if any one of his Master's had suspected him of gaining too much power, no, not he. He was well aware that both his Master's, as soon as they attained their goal, would have him out of the way in an instant!
Both men, who he had to call Master, were skilled and accomplished Wizards, especially his former Lord and Master , who was indeed a Wizard of Great Skill and Cunning! Neither men (nor being) that he had worked under had trusted him, both of them knowing of his great skills as an Occlumens and a Legilimens, both of them knowing him all too well!




Voldemort, his first Lord and Master, had been aware of his double-dealings nearing the end of the war - and Snape had known that his time on earth was nearly up. However, just when things were looking particularly bleak for him, that brat of a boy Potter had well and truly taken care of Voldemort; leaving the Wizarding World free of fear at last!
He had been free; free of all the wearying lies and deceptions, free to choose a path of his own - when Dumbledore had called him to him. In addition, after Dumbledore had reminded him of all his past sins, he had found himself back on a very perilous road indeed; his only consolation being he now found himself safeguarding Draco - a boy far more worthy of his protection than Potter in his humble opinion.



Snape let out a weary sigh. He had been regressing, thinking over things that neither mattered nor did one well to dwell upon. The past was past, the future was what mattered and he, Severus Snape, had better things to be mulling over; such as what he could tell and what he could not tell his new Master!
Master, he thought, his lips twisting into a snarl. Oh, how it galled him calling that man, Master! That he, Severus Snape, one of the most talented and skilled Wizards left in the world today - was made to bow and scrape at the feet of his one time friend! That he, the most feared Professor in Hogwarts, was forced to grovel to a man with lesser power than he did! At least, under Voldemort he'd known he was serving a greater wizar...
His musings came to an abrupt halt - as he heard a twig snap behind him.



In the skip of a heartbeat, Snape had his wand pointed at his unknown assailant, and with an incantation already formed on his lips he stood poised to strike. The boy who had surprised him stood frozen, not daring to move an inch, for he knew very well what an encounter with this dangerous man would do to him. Not wanting to end up dead - or worse the boy waited a moment or two before speaking.
"It's me, Profess..."
"I can see who you are boy," snapped out Snape, angrily. "What in Merlin's name were you thinking of sneaking up on me like that?" He shot the boy a penetrating glare.
"I didn't mean to sneak, sir," said the boy with a hint of sullenness. "I was sent - for my instructions..."
"Well, your instructions are to follow them, keep them in sight, to try and ensure they're s..."
"I know that already, sir," said the boy, somewhat heatedly. "Not meaning to be rude, sir - but I meant about the key..."
A brief silence fell as both contemplated in silence for a while until, with a flicker of distaste crossing his face, Snape made up his mind.
"For the moment, The Key is not your concern - just follow your orders boy and don't bother me unless you bring fresh news - is that clear?" Snape sent the boy a piercing glare.
"Perfectly clear," answered the boy, his face turning red. Then with mouth twisting in aversion, he continued, "I know my orders, sir!"
"Then be gone," said Snape, with a dismissive flick of the hand. "I have no need for you here..." Then, turning his back, Severus began to walk away. From behind him, he heard the angry pop of the boy's apparent Disapparation and, after waiting a few moments more, Snape Disapparated too.


*



Emily was tired and her legs felt weary, so she decided to tell Draco.
"I'm so tired, Draco," she muttered into the crook of his neck where her head was resting. "Can't we have a rest now..."
"No," snapped back Draco, his arm still wrapped snugly round her waist. "Oh, do stop moaning, Emily!"
"You can talk," she muttered back tiredly, swatting his chest with her hand. "You've done nothing but moan!"
"That's not moaning, it's called stating facts, Em..."
"It sounded like moaning to m..."
"This is just a plot to get me to carry you, isn't it?"
Emily giggled into his neck and whispered, "My hero..."
"Stop it, that tickles," he grumbled, rolling his eyes at her.
"Moan, moan, moan, moan, moan," giggled Emily again, tickling him even more.



Draco suddenly let go of her waist, and stepped out in front of her.
"Just admit it, Carlisle," he drawled, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, as he towered over her. "You want me to carry you..."
"Draco, if I walk another step my legs will fall off," she cried, staring defiantly back up at him.
"I'll hex your legs off soon - I'm warning you, Emily..."
"Oh, what a big, scary, Death-Eater you are," giggled Emily again, deciding she must be delirious from fatigue.
That was the final straw, Draco suddenly flipped!



One minute she had her legs firmly on the ground, the next she was heaved, ungracefully, over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Giggling madly, Emily half heartily flailed her legs in the air, as he carried her away and, trying her best to sound forceful, she wailed her protestations out loudly.
"Stop it - put me down this instant," she scolded, beginning to feel nauseous from his jerky motions, and just as soon as the words escaped her lips, she found herself being, unceremoniously, dumped to the ground.



"Ouch," she yelped, glaring up at a triumphantly grinning Draco. "You didn't have to throw me on my head..."
"From where I was standing," cut in Draco, smirking down at her. "It wasn't your head that you landed on - although that might of knocked some sense into you..."
"Now, not only am I tired," she stated, deciding more moaning was the best way to get back at him. "My arse hurts as well!"
"Don't be crude, Emily," he scolded her, looking smugger than ever.
Emily scowled up at him and she closed her eyes tight as she tried to think up the best insult she could throw at him. A few seconds later her eyelids flew open and Draco could see her pretty eyes sparkle up at him gleefully. He waited; arms crossed and smirk in place, for the barrage to come.
"I bet my Muggle arse could beat your Pureblood arse - any day," she shot out, smirking all over her face. "In fact, I bet my Muggle..."
However, she did not have a chance to finish her sentence, as Draco pounced immediately.




She was hauled to her feet, and slung against the nearest tree within seconds.
"What did you say, Carlisle?" she heard Draco growl huskily down at her, as she tentatively opened her eyes and looked up at him.
"I said," she answered with another giggle, as she saw his eyes glint dangerously down at her. "That my arse..."
However, once again, she didn't get the chance to finish, as Draco chose that moment to grind himself suggestively against her.
"Oh," she gasped rather breathlessly, automatically winding her arms around his neck and smirking up at him. "And are you going to punish me, Malfoy?"
Draco's strong hands clamped firmly on her hips and squeezed, and Draco brought his head down to meet hers. Then, almost nose to nose, and with that ever so sexy smirk, Draco leant forward and caught her lip between his teeth.
"Your arse is mine now, Emily," he smouldered, and before Emily could even catch her breath, his lips crashed down possessively on to hers.



Her legs wrapped around him, as he pressed he back firmly against the tree, so she could feel every knot and gnarl press painfully against her back. She gasped out into his mouth, halfway between pain and pleasure, and sensing her obvious discomfort - Draco loosened his grip on her slightly.
His mouth still devoured her, his tongue plundering greedily into her mouth, and Emily found herself responding with an unbridled passion. She kissed him back hungrily, her mouth hard against his, and as she felt him jerk her tee shirt upwards with his warm, strong hands, she dug her fingers hard into his shoulders to urge him on.
His hands soon covered her breasts, massaging them demandingly, and as her first moan of desire left her lips, Emily was more than glad that there was no one to interrupt this time....



It was almost as if she had spoken too soon. A loud cough echoed out from behind and Emily's eyes flew open to see a cloaked and hooded figure stood behind them.
"I don't mean to intrude," a cool, sniggering voice then spoke out. "But, may I have a word with Malfoy..."
For the second time that day, Emily found herself dropping to the ground - as Draco loosened his grip, pushed her behind him, and withdrew his wand as quick as lightening.
"Who the hell are you," Draco barked out, his wand aimed at the intruders heart.
"Just a friend - just a friend, Malfoy," the intruder chuckled smugly, as he began to lower his hood.


*



As Snape descended the dark and gloomy, spiralling stairwell, he shrouded his thoughts one by one. Putting all thoughts of Draco and his whereabouts into the furthest corner of his mind, he mentally prepared himself for the interrogation that would come. All too soon, he had reached the bottom step of the stairwell and, turning a corner, he saw that the door of the forbidden room now stood open; it was an ominous sight. Hesitating a moment, he hung back, eyes intent on the cloaked figure who stood, marvellously posed, by the slanted window. The window let little light into the gloomy room, but it let in enough so that Severus could see the silver serpent cane-head gleaming in the person's hand.



"Why do you stand, hovering," the man's coolly, amused voice rang out, shattering the darkness.
Come now, Severus," the man continued smoothly, his back still to him. "Step forward and enter - for I am eager to hear the news that you bring..."
The man then slowly lowered his hood, so that his silver hair, which gleamed in the filtered moonlight, could be seen. Then, unhurriedly, turning round to face him - the man's arrogant and handsome, chiselled, pale features came into view.
"Pray, tell me, Severus," Lucius Malfoy enquired dangerously, a ghost of a smirk haunting his lips. "Have you news of my wayward son?"





A/N : Once again I'm so sorry that this chapter took so long to get out. But, I'm sure most of you know that I have been kept busy because I'll be moving soon. I'm afraid that you may have an even longer wait for Chapter Twenty-One, but I promise you as soon as everything has been sorted out. Oh, and if you don't hear from me for more than a month or two, it's not that I've deserted you, it's only I won't have access to a computer for a while.

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