Author's Note: *scuttles in, nearly 1.75 years since finishing this story, with update*
The perfume of various incenses and burning resins barely registered to Theo's nose any more, he had grown so used to them. Skirting his way down the side of the ancient longhall, he was able to avoid disturbing any Seers in their trances. It was customary to treat the place like the strictest library he had ever been to, so much so that he had even grown to be careful to soften the footfalls of his bare feet on the wooden floor. He didn't want to get chastened by one of the other meditating novices again.
Along the center of the longhall, numerous fires burned in their designated basins, varying in size from small censers all the way up to an enormous bonfire in the middle of the room. Over this central fire, the ceiling was cut out to reveal the stars above. A few of the Seers were humming lowly to themselves around it. Theo could feel the vibrations of their intonation in his bones.
As he approached the far end, he noticed a familiar figure sitting cross-legged in front of a fire of her own, her curtain of wavy, blonde hair swept over one shoulder. His heart leapt just as it always did when he saw her.
Like all the others who resided here, including himself, Luna was dressed simply in starchy-looking tawny robes. But on her head she was wearing a circlet of her own creation, consisting of several purplish stones, a few whole nutmegs, and one large decorative bead in the center that glittered on her forehead. She must have heard or sensed his approach, because she turned when he was only a few steps away and offered him her usual placid smile.
No one else in the world smiled at him when he approached - at least, not without a hint of reproach in their eyes. Not since the disaster he had made of himself, starting with corralling Draco into that whole forced-marriage-with-Granger debacle. Even Hermione had somewhat cooled toward him since Draco had been blasted off his broomstick and almost died.
But Draco and Hermione had been married over two years now, Pansy was long at peace, and Theo's estranged sister was happy on her own in Spain. Theo himself was too far away from them all to hurt anybody.
"You're going to attract wrackspurts with that kind of energy," Luna told him, her large silvery-blue eyes meeting his.
"Sorry," he offered sincerely.
"Come sit with me?"
He did, settling near enough that he could theoretically reach out and touch her if he wanted, but just far enough away to give her space in case that was what she wanted. He never wanted to push for too much. His gaze flickered to her face before settling on one of her pale hands, wanting to take it in his.
But no, he wouldn't, because if he risked being rejected by the one person holding him together these days, he was sure to fuck up her life too. If not because of his Sight, then because Dark magic was not something you simply grew out of. It left imprints on you, marks that wouldn't ever go away, visible or otherwise.
He looked down at his lap, where his fingers had been picking at his fraying sleeve. The kind of Dark magic he had grown up around when his father was alive was something he had never fully been able to wash himself of. At any given moment, he was only one mental stumble away from reliving those evil days. The dark corridors of the Notts' ancestral home plagued his waking thoughts and seemed to contaminate the spaces between his blood and his bones. In dreams, he sliced into his own skin, hoping to personally deliver his tainted carcass to Death. When he woke, his wrists and forearms still ached with the phantom memory of the pain from those days, when the Dark Lord had reigned, and when his own father had wanted to use his Sight for nefarious, potentially world-ending purposes…
"Theodore," Luna murmured, breaking him from his dark reverie, "you're doing it again."
He frowned. "How can you tell?"
She only looked at him.
"Right, right," he muttered, slouching a bit.
He shouldn't have even asked. He knew Luna was a far better Seer than he would ever be. Unlike him, she was beyond allowing her burden to affect her and was able to access and control her gifts as easily as she breathed. Luna's training of her abilities was now more similar to the fine-tuning of a musical instrument than what Theo was doing. He felt left behind, disconnected from her. Too stupid, too clumsy.
But she could have left this place by now, he knew. She's staying for something.
A kernel of hope blossomed in his chest. Long denied light, it had grown so slowly for the past fourteen months since they'd come here together. He quickly buried it again.
Staring into the flames of the small fire before him, its ashes rising, swirling, and merging with others to escape the longhall out the hole in the ceiling, he reflected on the path that had led him here. His troubled childhood, the dubious death of his mother, the even more suspicious deaths of the six wizards he knew to secretly be his illegitimate older brothers... the swift self-exile of his sister. Then, his utter aloneness, wherein he suffered through an unexpected Transcension into a Seer who was too naïve and inexperienced to respect his craft.
Luna slid a little closer to him and took his hand, squeezing it. Displays of affection like this were still something of a shock to Theo, so it was a moment before he squeezed back.
"Look into the flames," she whispered.
Her airy voice was barely audible over the gentle hum of the other Seers and the sound of wood crackling in the magical fires, their flames dancing blue, purple, and green at turns, before flickering back to red, orange, and yellow. Someone had begun gently ringing a ceremonial bell outside, its tintinnabulation as faint as fairy laughter.
Continuing, she observed, "They dance in the same way that our ancestors once danced to honor them. We are not so different, us and the fire. Use the flames, and you can See."
Theo hesitated; after everything he had mucked up back at Hogwarts, he was still reluctant to use his Sight for more than seeing what tomorrow's weather might be. He watched as a serene expression overcame Luna's face, and wondered what it must feel like to have perfect conviction that what she had just said was true.
Seemingly knowing his fear, though he had never voiced it aloud, she squeezed his hand again and encouraged, "It's alright. I won't let you wander too far."
He began to sweat, and decided to pretend it was only because of how close he was to the fire. Unfortunately, he could not help admitting, "I can't do it."
"We will go together. Smell the air, feel the fire. Ask yourself what's holding you back from seizing your true potential as a Seer." Her voice tapered off so that he had to strain his ears to hear it.
He unstuck his throat and swallowed, thinking of everything he had Seen and done so far. How could he risk making mistakes like that again? As much damage as he had caused with trying to fix things, Pansy had killed herself when he had done nothing. She had her faults, but she had not deserved to die.
Wouldn't not knowing be easier?
"The future can always change," Luna promised with such confidence that he could not help but believe her.
For her own safety, he wanted to push her away, to not let her entangle herself with his disastrous life. But just as badly, he wanted to feel her warmth, and there was something about Luna that made him believe it could be worth it to show her affection.
He slid a little closer. She did not acknowledge it and therefore, quietly accepted it.
"I know you feel guilty about Draco-"
He didn't ask her how she could know that. By now, he learned that with Luna, some things just were. A familiar spike of jealousy at her glib acceptance of her own gift lanced through him.
"-and Hermione. Find them, and you'll See that they're okay."
She had told him this before. He knew she was likely to be right, but he still carried his guilt wrapped around his throat. He wished he could just take her word for it, but it was like he needed to see for himself.
Steeling himself resulted only in a sigh. How much more damage could I possibly do from here?
Finally closing his eyes, he thought of Draco, one of his oldest friends and one of the only people alive who really knew him. Also someone he had greatly wronged several times since coming of age.
Where the flames had just been, visions of the past burned themselves into existence before him as if it was a play he was watching from afar. Two small girls - much younger versions of Pansy and Daphne - were searching Malfoy Manor for the perfect hiding spot. Meanwhile, six-year-old Theo and Draco were counting together under their breaths.
"...Forty-nine… fifty." Tiny, tow-headed Draco sucked in a great breath and shouted, "Witch hunt!"
From somewhat nearby, the boys heard one of the girls giggle. Theo smirked at Draco, whose eyes were glittering with the anticipatory thrill of the chase.
Without warning, the scene changed with a snap.
"I think I'm going to marry her someday." This was whispered like the sort of confession one only made without witnesses. The Draco that was divulging his secret wasn't the swaggering boy Theo could barely stand to hang around at Hogwarts.
Fifteen-year-old Theo's eyebrows shot up, not at the statement itself, but that Draco had actually said it out loud. He decided to play it cool. "Who? Parkinson?"
Draco paused, tossing the quaffle between his own two hands instead of passing it back. He and Theo were perched on broomsticks hovering only three feet above the grounds behind Malfoy Manor. He frowned at Theo as if he recognized he was playing dumb. "Obviously."
Rolling his eyes, Theo only replied, "Well, I'm happy for you I guess. Not sure how you can think about all that shite with everything going on though."
Frown deepening, Draco finally tossed the quaffle back. "It's helpful to have a distraction sometimes."
Theo snorted. "Thought you were all about the Dark Lord?"
"He's got the right idea, or Father wouldn't trust him so implicitly."
Theo said nothing. It sounded too much like what he kept trying to tell himself.
With another snap, the scene disappeared again.
Theo was in his eighth year, if his Gryffindor uniform tie and Hermione sitting at the library table across from him were any indication. Her hair was everywhere and she didn't seem conscious of one piece nearly getting into her mouth as she leaned over a stack of parchments all covered in her own meticulous handwriting.
Snap. He was strongly considering cutting again. It was a seductive idea, an escape from Knowing. It was such a simple spell, too. Instead, he considered Astoria Greengrass. The younger girl had finally grown into a young woman during the war, and Theo knew she had also used those same Dark spells he had. That for a time, she also had wished to escape reality in a permanent manner.
Finishing his cigarette, he stomped the butt a few times onto the floor of the balcony before Vanishing them. A mean part of him thought he could take some pleasure in shagging the witch Draco would otherwise have married, if Theo hadn't given up Hermione.
"No more." He blinked rapidly a few times, unwilling to sink further into those past memories that were already imprinted onto him. Luna was still beside him, just as she promised.
"You're doing well," she reassured him. "We'll take care of the wrackspurts afterward."
He briefly faltered.
"Keep going, you're nearly at the blockage."
Taking a deep breath, he stared into the dancing flames. He would access the future by first probing the present, to use it as a jumping-off point...
This felt different from accessing the past and more like participation, as if he were on the stage instead of in the audience. His sister was at home, laughing at something said by the handsome wizard beside her. The man's face was unknown to Theo, but from the way Serena leaned into the wizard as she laughed, and from the expression on his face, Theo deduced they were in some kind of a relationship. Or lovers. She seemed happy.
He could almost reach out and touch her, but even here, it seemed like bad luck.
The scene froze and took on an underwater sort of quality, before fading entirely away and leaving Theo alone in utter darkness. This was the scariest part for him, almost as if he had been wading into a gentle river this entire time and he had suddenly stepped off the embankment into deeper water. Like his guilt, his fear settled level with the water around his neck.
He felt cold, and angry enough to hit something, but it passed in a flash as a pair of shimmering curtains surfaced from the darkness. There was something tantalizing about them, alluring by nature of not knowing what was beyond. But the idea of actually reaching out, pulling them aside, and peering at what was hidden made him feel almost like a voyeur. He had seen some things, and then he had Seen some things. He hoped they would at least have clothes on.
Reaching out for the curtains of heavy purple fabric, he found them velvety to the touch. Lifting the edge...
Draco and Hermione were preparing for a ritual of some kind, and the scene was so similar to another he had seen many times before, that it almost caught his breath. Hermione was bent over an enormous tome covered in alchemical markings, while Draco was consulting a text of his own while stirring something in a small, tabletop cauldron by his side.
Pulling out of the trance, Theo sat back from the flames. Removing his hand from Luna's, he scrubbed at his tired eyes. I don't want to know.
It wasn't even that he wanted Hermione necessarily - at least not anymore. It was just that he was a little jealous of Draco for having the ability to make her happy when he, Theo, would never have been able to. Could he ever make anyone happy like that?
"There's no right or wrong to Seeing," Luna told him.
Theo snorted. "Just so." He had little to say to that. He knew who he wanted, and she was sitting right beside him. But he was afraid. How could he justify getting close to anyone? His life had so far been nothing but disaster, and the Sight had made things worse, infecting everyone he grew close to. Pansy was dead, his sister was still estranged, and while Hermione and Draco were happy together, they still had to live their lives sharing arthritis, a Dark Mark, and a carved 'Mudblood' scar. Among numerous other kinds of aches, pains, and scars. Now in their early twenties, they made a rather sorry pair.
All of it was Theo's own damn fault.
In his mind's eye, every time he thought of Hermione, he also saw the face of his sister. He did not think he would ever be able to separate the two. Again and again, he was plagued by the vision of what could have been: a somewhat-older Hermione Nott seeking out her still-estranged sister-in-law.
Every way Theo watched it, it always played out in disaster. Serena, appearing as small and meek as she had been in England under their father's tyrannical rules, always ended up returning to meet him at Hermione's imploring. Upon doing so, she would be smote with a curse left by their father after she had run away, and which he had magically bound to the estate. Forever, Serena would lose everything she loved - that was the curse, and so it would be. Within a year she would lose a pregnancy, then her husband, and more loss would follow. Theo would be unable to warn anyone of the curse either, as a part of the enchantment bound his tongue.
Serena would always blame Theo and his silence for her losses. He would be miserable. He would then make Hermione miserable, too, because he could not cope with this ultimate and far more final loss of his little sister. Yes, he could eventually come to love Hermione. But he would always love Serena more. He had to cut them both out of his life, for them to be happy.
The fact that the only alternative for this was that the witch who was supposed to be his wife would have to marry his best friend instead… was weird at best, and at worst, made his chest hurt. But it would have to do, and he would have to deal with it. He tried not to think too hard about how happy he had Seen they were going to make each other, and how much better off she was going to be with Draco instead of him.
"Theo." Luna brought him back to the present. "What do you want from life?"
You, he did not say. There was something about Luna that was different from any other witch he had ever met, and besides, she probably already knew by now how he felt. She was captivating, unique, and so refreshingly real, in spite of spending so much time with her head in the clouds. But he could not say that.
He thought for a moment and decided on a different honesty. "Peace."
"Why don't you have it?"
"Because I don't know how."
Suddenly, Luna was in his space, her face only inches from his. He went very still. From here, he could admire the creamy smooth skin of her soft-looking cheeks, the sweep of her eyelashes, the lovely pinkness of her lips. She pressed a kiss to his temple on one side, then the other. "You're afraid you don't deserve to have peace."
He said nothing as she leaned back into her seated position. It was a very astute, if embarrassing, observation. He expected nothing else from Luna, having known her now for some time. Still, she had never quite been this direct with him before.
"Let go, Theodore. There's nothing to be afraid of now."
Easier said than done. Still, he would try. Only because it was her. Considering her a moment, he reached out and tucked a flyaway hair behind her ear. "Okay."
He closed the distance between them and kissed her. A puzzle piece finally slotted into place. Or was it a key fitting a lock perfectly? He was invincible. He was complete. He was…
...suddenly, he was tumbling backward, falling…
...he was rising up, out of his body, and away...
He began to dream with astonishing clarity.
Hermione Granger was as conservatively dressed and bushy-haired as ever, as she slid furtively behind a bookshelf of the Hogwarts library. It was the first day of classes for a repeat of their last year at Hogwarts, and Theo was begrudgingly wearing his new Gryffindor uniform tie, waiting for the Swot Extraordinaire otherwise known as his potential future bride, to appear.
For the life of him, he could not see how this witch would ever consider marrying him - or Draco, for that matter, if that other possibility were to be explored. Perhaps she secretly had a Savior Complex as big as Potter's. Nevertheless, Theo's eyes were rooted to her, watching as she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply…
Merlin, she was smelling the books!
With that realization, a smirk crept across Theo's face. Stepping out to finally address her, he quipped, "That is both disturbing and somewhat arousing, Granger…"
Come away, Theodore. This is long past now.
Just as he had Seen, Pansy's body was slumped against the wall of the cave. His wandlight cast weird shadows on her slack face so that it looked as if she were crying black rivers.
This was his fault. Why had he tried to alter his own accursed future? Why had he tried to save anyone from pain? Life was pain - and it took and took and took and took until they were all left as empty shells, no matter what he tried to change. No one had ever promised him he would be happy. What right did he, Theodore Nott IV, have to believe he deserved it anyway?
"She's not going to wake," he rasped out after watching Draco approach her.
Draco… another person who was going to be affected for the rest of his life by Theo's choice to alter what he had Seen. His best friend, whose own dubious morality had been cured during the War, same as him. His best friend, who was trying to learn what it meant to be a good man. His best friend, who would ultimately achieve something like it.
His best friend, who had essentially been a pawn in Theo's choices, and knew it.
You can't change that now. What's done is done. Let the past stay there, and move forward from it.
"How did I not See you coming?" Theo asked, blinking rapidly at the sudden arrival of an ethereal Luna Lovegood into one of the creaking rowboats that were magically guiding them across the Black Lake toward the rest of their lives.
I think we met hundreds of thousands of years ago, in the visions of others. But I also think we have always been meant to meet now.
"I'm nervous," Hermione said, looking self-conscious at admitting it out loud.
She was sitting on the dirt with her back up against the trunk of a heavily laden mango tree. Overripe fruits littered the ground all around her, while Draco stood a few paces in front of her and appeared to be contemplating selecting one off the tree. Even though it was clearly quite hot wherever they were, he was still wearing his full black wizard's robes. His unruffled appearance at being overdressed seemed to indicate he had utilized a cooling charm or two. Meanwhile, Hermione was dressed in a pair of Muggle shorts and a sleeveless shirt.
"I am, too," Draco divulged. "But we are as prepared as we'll ever be."
"What if something goes wrong?"
The quiet query made him pause in his perusal of the tree to glance down at his wife. Reaching up, he grasped one of the mangoes and gave a practised-looking tug. The fruit came free, and he stepped toward Hermione. Ever so slowly - his arthritis must have been particularly bad that day - he sank down to sit beside her, while magic peeled and sliced the mango for him in mid-air. With a final wave of his wand, he conjured a bowl from thin air and the pieces dropped right in.
He offered Hermione a piece without even asking, and which she took from his hand with her lips.
"We've been here some months now," he murmured, selecting a piece of his own next. "We've read and consulted, researched, planned… I feel good about our chances."
"Hermione," he stopped her, "are you saying you don't even want to try?"
"No, of course not."
"Then are you suggesting you or I might have sabotaged the plan in some way?"
"Not… not intentionally."
"Then it's a lack of faith in our collective magic that's making you worry."
He chuckled, offering her another piece of mango. This time, after she took it in her mouth, he reached out and grabbed her hand. Bringing it to his lips, he kissed the back of it. "You worry too much. Whatever happens this evening - whether this mandala design works or not - I am at peace with it because I'll be with you."
You see? They're going to be alright. Sometimes you just have to have faith that things are going to work out.
Oh, but... Theo protested, eyes rooted to the scene. It's just that they haven't actually done anything yet. What if Hermione is right and something does go wrong?
What does your instinct tell you?
He stared at the couple a few moments longer. They looked happy, if a little anxious for an imminent attempt at unbinding themselves. He was unsure who he was actually speaking to when he murmured aloud, Either way, they're going to be alright...
Luna stood before him, dressed in a bizarre gown that appeared to be patched together with moss and other earthy materials. Her dirty blonde hair was piled on top of her head, and was fastened in place with a hair piece made of shells.
Theo blinked a few times, both shocked and not. He looked down to find that he was wearing his normal wizard's robes and felt a trickling sense of relief. "Where are we?"
"We're nowhere," she replied, her hands simultaneously taking his wrists and pressing her thumb to his pulse points. "And everywhere."
He never wanted to be away from this witch.
"You don't have to be," she murmured, reaching into his mind, but replying out loud. "I'm going through it, too. We can do this together."
When Theo came to, he found himself on his back on the floor of the Hall of the Soothsayer exactly as he had left it. The long room with its dancing flames and strange, earthly scents, its low hum of concentration. Only this time, he stared up at the ceiling. He supposed he should feel thankful for not having fallen into the fire.
His hand was still being held, and he looked over to see Luna. The one he had been the most frightened of all to See, so much so that he had locked it all away unchecked, until now.
"You Saw me," she stated, her preternatural eyes smiling at him, the corners crinkling just a little.
"I did," he agreed with a little sense of awe.
Her cool fingers let go of his hand and reached up to run down the side of his face. "I'm so glad."
The walls were covered in mosaics lovingly crafted from miniscule tiles in various colors and levels of brightness. In the mural, a dragon rose to the heavens on red-orange wings, while below a grove of trees sparkled with the tiny lights of fairies. The scene stretched around the entire surface of the circular room. A lemon tree stood outside one of the windows, trying to reach in.
Draco sat up.
On the floor beneath him, a complicated mandala of the Upadhyahya sisters' design had been drawn by himself with a charcoal stick earlier that evening; the sides of his hands were still black from where they had constantly pressed on the floor during that grueling task. He glanced to the center of the room, where a circular mirror rested, and upon which was a familiar pile of silvery powder. All around it and within the lines of the circle, the charcoal design had smudged somewhat.
Finally, his eyes came to rest on Hermione, who was twisted up in the linen sheets she had insisted on laying down all around, which had further smudged the mandala's linework. Her cheeks were flushed prettily, both from the heat of the room, and from the activity they'd just engaged in, and her hair was a huge tangle of curls. Draco was certain his own sex-hair was only marginally better.
Their eyes met. They were not in the clear yet.
Slowly, Hermione sat up, clutching the front of the sheet to her as if to preserve some modesty despite that they were alone. As if they had not just had some of the most mindblowing sex of Draco's existence. He hoped it had been at least as good for her.
"Do you think it worked?" She was worrying her lip between her teeth and vibrating with nervous excitement.
He shrugged, though he thought he knew the answer, since he could not see the top of his own Sectumsempra scar across her shoulder. His stomach lurched at the implications of success. "One way to check."
Though they had not agreed upon it beforehand, they each held out their arms and flipped them, palm-up. Dragging his eyes away from Hermione's face, he stared down at his exposed forearms.
He blinked repeatedly, taking in what he saw. There was only a smooth expanse of skin in the place where two opposing symbols of hatred had been. Heart pounding, Draco compared Hermione's arms to his and then looked back up to find his spreading smile mirrored in her own.
Reverently, she murmured, "Clean."
Leaning forward, he cupped her face and pulled her in for a kiss. When they broke away, he was still grinning, and a laugh escaped him.
"Clean," he agreed triumphantly.
Author's Note: Alpha love to Witches_Britches, the Crowley to my Aziraphale.
Beta love to iwasbotwp, sentence-wrangler. Thank you for taking my horses and turning them into unicorns.
Love also to you, the reader. It's been awhile, but if you've found your way here, I'd love to hear from you about what you thought of the epilogue.