A/N: Great theories you guys. Very excellent. Please no spoilers if you are kind enough to leave a review..!
Chapter 22: Find
He hadn't noticed the air of the Manor growing cold as he'd lain curled around Hermione, but as Theo picked his way along the silent hallways shivers walked themselves across his skin. Lamps flared into life as he approached, their light dying into the gloom behind him.
Theo rested his hand on the library door, trying to slow his heart, his breathing. His mother's ghost had been quiet for years, but now he could hear her voice as though she stood at his shoulder; could almost feel her lips against his temple, her hand on his cheek as he remembered and remembered and remembered -
He was four years old, listening to Aria playing the piano, watching the notes sparkle and dance in a bar of mid-afternoon sunlight that had crept through the tall window towards where he hid beneath his father's desk.
He was ten, and his hands shook, and around him the magic rose: a bitter, clawing thing that made the books rattle on the shelves and the inkwell shiver its way across the the leather scrolltop.
He was sixteen, and his father was in Azkaban the first time, and as he walked through the unlit halls he felt the itch and sting of the Manor's broken magic trying to burrow its way beneath his skin -
Theo focussed on his fingers, pale against the wood, as around him magic danced and spun. He could feel the difference in it now; the way that broken enchantments had been made whole; but there was still something unfinished, still that sense that the Manor held its breath.
On a whim he fished for his wand in his pocket and tried to apparate himself to the other side of the door, but just as it had outside the Manor held him too tightly within its grip, and finally Theo gave up, his breath coming sharp and hard with effort.
Steeling himself, Theo pushed the door open and stepped into the library. They'd left the torches burning earlier, but one of the elves had been through, dousing the lights, tidying away the dinner things and neatening the piles of notes on his father's table.
Moonlight spilled through the tall windows in silver bars that unfurled across the green carpet, casting long, dark shadows between the bookshelves and glinting on the wrought iron staircase.
Theo took a step into the room and jumped as he caught sight of his own reflection, pale as a ghost, in the mirror at the end of the room, before the torches burst back into life.
He lowered his wand and ran a hand through his hair, blaming his lack of sleep and the evening chill for his unease. Nonetheless, he kept his eyes deliberately on the table as he stepped forwards and started to sift through the papers, searching for the note with his mother's handwriting.
Around him the silence was broken only by the creaks and sighs of the Manor settling, and the soft rustle of papers as he moved them out of the way. Theo found the stack of notes that he had been working on soon enough and drew the torn paper, with its teenage scribbles, out of it.
As before, he couldn't resist following the loops of his mother's handwriting with his finger, touching the paper that she had touched.
He was careful not to let his hand graze the sharp, blocky shapes of Bellatrix's writing.
And then those other elegant letters, the girl called V, with her neat, clever -
Theo blinked, the letters swimming slightly before his eyes, and then laid the paper down on the tabletop.
I had a friend called Vega -
He reached for the pile of parchment where Hermione's tawny owl-feather quill rested, and tugged a page of her notes towards him, smoothing it out beside the note.
- and she told me a story about the stars.
"Fuck," Theo breathed, eyes scanning between the two pieces of parchment, before he turned away, knocking the table with his hip in his haste and dislodging a pile of books and papers that went crashing to the ground as he rushed out of the library.
It had been three days with no word now, and Draco could feel nervousness crawling like insects beneath his skin.
He found himself imagining worse and worse scenarios, almost all of which seemed to end with Theo either horribly dismembered or absconding with Granger to some far-flung, sun-drenched island where they wouldn't have to worry about leaky magic or broken warding or corrupt governmental institutions ever again.
He wasn't sure which of these eventualities was the more distressing, and to make matters worse he was deeply frustrated that he was seemingly unable to keep his fears to himself.
"I'm sure they'll be back soon," Harry said, his voice half-muffled by his pillow. "Hermione wouldn't abandon us now."
"It's of absolutely no consequence what Grange-"
"Please, Malfoy, I can hear your brain working from here." The words were soft as a sigh, and yet Draco found himself shutting up obediently.
Instead he raised their interlaced fingers, turning their hands back and forth in the streak of moonlight and silently admiring the contrast of tan and pale. He had found himself doing that a lot lately - finding excuses just to touch Potter - as though he could really be that fascinated by the way his hands seemed to fit the dips and swells of muscle on his stupid torso.
As though he would actually marvel at the shape of Potter's fingers, or the taste of the underside of his jaw, or the noise that he made when Draco's teeth closed on his earlobe.
There was a little something of desperation to it; a little flavour of the edge; and Draco, no stranger to the vertigo of a perilous situation, surprised himself with how willing he was to peer into the abyss when the abyss had green eyes and golden skin and told him on a regular basis to shut up.
Draco gave a nonchalant sniff, unwilling to betray the mad trajectory of his thoughts. "For the record, Theo is hardly the abandoning type either."
"I never said he was," Potter yawned, and Draco fought to control his smile as he returned their hands to the bed. He couldn't resist grazing a finger along the line of bone that connected Potter's thumb to his wrist, before he turned onto his side to run his eyes over his rather frustratingly handsome profile. Potter could have used a haircut, but then that was nothing out of the norm, and if Draco was honest with himself he rather like the wild shock of his hair.
"What are you thinking?" Potter asked suddenly, turning to look at him, and Draco flushed, embarrassed to have been caught doing anything so sappy as gazing at him in the moonlight.
"You'll need a haircut before we next try to infiltrate the Ministry," he said coolly, regretting it when Harry disentangled their fingers to ruffle his hair self-consciously.
"Yeah," he said quietly. He reached for Draco's hand once more, the gesture so thoughtless that Draco swallowed, his heart suddenly feeling uncomfortably large in his chest. For a moment neither of them said anything, and then he realised that now they were just gazing at one another in the moonlight, and in a moment of panic he flung himself out of the bed.
"I need a drink," he announced. "Is there - do you want - won't be a minute -"
"No, I'm fine -" he heard Potter say confusedly behind him, as he stumbled from the room.
Draco paused on the landing, comforted by the little thrill of Black family magic that had roused itself from slumber at his appearance. His heart was still beating too fast, his thoughts a jumbled mishmash of Potter's mouth and Potter's hands and the terrible, terrible truth of the matter that was he had no idea how things had gone this far this quickly.
He'd thought it had been Granger, but it hadn't, it had been that warmth and light and goodness that it turned out was actually coming from somewhere just to the side of where he had been looking, and all it had taken had been a stupendous amount of firewhiskey and a sloppy, drunken fumble for him to realise it.
It had made it hard to look anyone else in the eye, he was so sure that Potter must be written on every inch of his skin. He'd thought Theo might ask him about it when they had spoken in the library the other afternoon, but Theo had been distracted, sufficiently caught up in Granger that he hadn't seemed to realise that Draco's frustrated questioning about Gryffindors hadn't actually been about her at all.
Draco sighed, pushing a hand through his hair until it probably looked nearly as frightful as Potter's, and followed his feet downstairs. He barely paid any attention to where he was going until he stumbled into the candlelit kitchen and pulled himself up short, blinking through the light at the witch sat at the table.
"Aunt Andromeda," Draco stammered. "Forgive me, I didn't think anyone -"
"It's fine, Draco." Andromeda had swiped hurriedly at her eyes as he had entered the room, and a quick movement of her hand had slid something under the magazine in front of her. It was clear from her puffy face, however, that his aunt had been crying, and Draco paused a moment before he spoke, unsure whether it might not be better for him to simply leave.
"I -" he said, steeling himself. You are brave, he heard Potter say to him. You're braver than anyone gives you credit for. "I never told you how sorry I am for your loss."
Andromeda nodded, smiling weakly. "Ted always ran towards danger," she said quietly, and Draco looked down, embarrassed, as fresh tears welled in her eyes. "Dora got it from him, I think."
He chewed his lip, considered, then - "I wish I could have met them."
Andromeda laughed. "Ted would have liked you, I think. Dora too." She moved the magazine slightly, and Draco watched as her fingers stroked the surface of the photograph that she had hidden underneath it.
"He used to say that I kept his feet on the ground," she said, voice almost a whisper, before suddenly looking up and staring Draco dead in the eye. "But I was the one who ran away to be with him." She smiled, though there was a grim edge to it. "Most of us Blacks have a reckless streak a mile wide."
There was something unfinished in the way she said it; something of an invitation; and Draco finally stepped fully into the room and slid into the chair opposite her.
When Andromeda pushed the photograph towards him he took it, watching as a smiling man with dark blonde hair tossed a laughing toddler into the air. The little girl's hair cycled from pink to sunshine yellow to a familiar turquoise blue and then back again to pink, her face a picture of delight in which Teddy's resemblance was clearly visible.
"We had nearly thirty years together," Andromeda said sadly, "but still it felt like -"
"If you had the chance over," Draco cut her off in a rush, "knowing what you know, would you do it again?"
Andromeda stared at him for a moment, and Draco felt his cheeks turning red. "That loved not wisely, but too well," she murmured, her eyes drifting back down to the the photo. "Sometimes loving someone is the danger," she said softly, "and sometimes -" here she gave him a knowing look "- it's not loving them."
Draco swallowed, thinking of Potter - Potter and his terrible smile and his terrible desire to fix everything and the terrible way that he made Draco want to be worthy of him. "I -" he tried to say. "Right - I -"
"Some dangers you just have to run towards," Andromeda smiled. "Even though you know they might destroy you."
She rose from the table and walked out of the kitchen, pausing only very briefly to press her hand to his shoulder.
Theo was lost.
He shouldn't have been lost - it shouldn't have been possible in his own Manor, with his own family magic surrounding him, and yet here he was. He'd taken a wrong turn coming out of the library, and in the dark, in his tiredness, he had somehow managed to lose his way, stumbling across a long, unfamiliar gallery where heavy golden pictureframes sat dark and empty.
A prickling feeling made its way up his spine, and Theo swallowed, picking his way carefully down the gallery towards the glimmer of moonlight he could see at the end.
When he was about halfway down he realised that he was looking at an ancient, black-spotted mirror, and in the same moment he felt the air at the back of his neck swirl, as though a breeze or a breath had made its way across his skin, and spun on his heel to peer back down the corridor. It was still, and silent, and after a few moments listening to the crash of his heartbeat Theo turned to look back at the mirror.
He could see his own face, pinched and pale, lit only by the bar of moonlight that fell from -
Theo stopped, stock still, as he realised there were no windows in the gallery for the strip of moonlight reflected in the mirror to be coming from.
Bad, said his brain, as he took another step forward.
Very bad, it repeated, as he closed the distance and reached out a hand to touch the shining surface.
Very very very very bad, he realised, as the silvered glass undulated like water, and he felt himself tipping forward, shapes and colours moving past him in a blur until they resolved into the same gloomy corridor he had just been standing in, only this time the torches were lit, and portraits snoozed idly in the frames.
Theo gripped his wand tightly and took a tentative step forward before he caught the gleam of candlelight on the golden-brown hair of a witch who stood looking away from him, and he stopped, stock-still.
Her back was straight, and her robes were of a formal cut that he had only ever seen when she went to the Ministry, but there was no mistaking the colour of the hair that he had wound around his fingers, the shape of her neck that he had
His voice was quiet, uncertain, but she glanced over her shoulder, gaze searching the gallery with a quizzical frown. Theo realised with horror as her eyes skated across him that she couldn't see him there, and he looked back at the mirror, where he was reassured to see his reflection.
Except - and he felt a wave of horror at the realisation - it wasn't his reflection. Rather it was his own image, frozen in the act of reaching for the mirror. Theo's stomach roiled queasily as he turned back to see that Hermione was now standing much closer to him, her wand out as she scanned the gallery warily.
"Is someone there?" she asked. "Aria?"
The breath Theo took sounded more like a sob, and Hermione's eyes snapped towards him, squinting carefully. Theo saw it the moment they focused; the moment she saw him. Her brows rose, her strangely cool expression opening up like a door, and he struggled not to rush towards her at the expression of devastation on her face.
Aria, she'd said.
"Hermione," he said again, his voice no more than a croak, and he watched as the hand holding her wand dropped to her side, the other rising to cover her mouth.
"Theo?" she whispered. "Is that - is it really -"
And it was she who rushed towards him, it was her hands that reached for his, and it was she who uttered a cry of frustration as her touch passed through him as though he were made of nothing more than smoke.
"Fuck," Theo gasped. "Fuck - don't move, I'll - I'll get one of the elves and -"
He stopped talking when she shook her head, and that was when he noticed that it wasn't just that she was dressed wrong, but that her hair, her bearing, everything was different - everything but the eyes.
"What's going on?" he asked. "Hermione where -" he looked up, taking in the torches, the portraits that were now watching Hermione, their expressions ranging from curiosity to open suspicion.
"How did you get here?" he asked, helplessly, and she shook her head again, more emphatically this time.
"No time for that," she said, though she bit her lip, regret clear as she raised her hand, tracing it over the air, just shy of his face. "I can't believe you're here," she whispered, and the way that she looked at him made chills move up Theo's spine.
He'd left her less than an hour ago by his reckoning, but the look in her eyes, like they hadn't seen one another for years -
Theo gave a growl of frustration and made a grab for her, but it only had the unnerving effect of seeing his own fingers dissolve and reform as they passed through her wrist, gaining nothing but the vague impression of warmth - warmth and the slightest snag as they caught on the Vow that glittered there.
"Oh," she breathed, and the single syllable sounded like heartbreak and suffering and unbearable sadness. "You knew," she whispered, her hand still hovering in the air, not quite touching. "You knew but you didn't -" For a moment her face creased as though in pain. "Because I told you not to."
"Told me not to what?" Theo asked. "Hermione, tell me what's going on, I don't underst-"
"You can't tell her," Hermione said, then frowned, gnawing at her lip. "No, that's not right." She seemed to deliberate for a moment, and then brought her hands to cup his face. "You cannot tell me that you saw me here, Theo. Not ever, not even -"
"But -" To his horror, Theo felt the tightness of the Vow snapping tight between them, and then Hermione was standing up on tiptoe to brush her lips against his, though once again her touch was nothing but a suggestion, a movement on the air.
"I love you," she whispered. "There has never been anyone else, believe me that."
"Why wouldn't I -"
He stopped, frowning, at a muffled call from somewhere behind her. Hermione's expression froze, but she didn't look away from Theo as the voice called again, louder this time, though still oddly far-off and echoey. "Vega!"
Hermione half-turned to call over her shoulder, still not breaking eye her gaze from his.
"Just a moment!" she called back, and Theo felt himself stagger as he recognised the voice that called as his mother's.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said, as his mouth fell open and he stumbled back. "I'm sorry, I never -"
"Vega?" Theo interrupted her. "Vega like the story I -"
"Yes." The girl who was Hermione and not Hermione scrunched her eyes shut, a single tear falling over her cheek before she looked back at him. "I had to make a choice," she said, so softly he barely heard her. "And I will always have to make it, and so - so -"
"Don't," Theo begged, realising what she was about to do, but she shook her head.
"I have to," she said simply. "I forbid you to speak of this to anyone, Theodore Nott."
Theo gasped as the Vow glowed white hot on his arm. Hermione didn't flinch, but her eyes were shiny with tears as she raised them from his wrist to meet his.
Hermione, who was always so careful with her words, so deliberately ambiguous in her commands -
"Collected American Poets," she whispered, "in your father's library." Theo, still dazed, blinked in incomprehension.
"I -" he started to say, but then he heard her voice, really heard it, calling his name from somewhere far off in the Manor, and he felt a tug at his back as he was drawn back towards the mirror. Hermione's face twitched as though in pain, but she held his gaze as Theo fell backwards onto the cold floor of the gallery, which was dark once more.
He had a glimpse of her tortured expression in the mirror before the surface rippled again and she was gone.
"No!" Theo yelled, leaping to his feet to slam his fist against the glass. "Hermione!" he cried, barely conscious of it cracking beneath his repeated assault, hardly hearing her voice behind him, shouting his name, until her hand was on his arm and she had wrenched him around to face her, face pale and frightened as she looked between his fist and the splintered surface of the mirror, stained crimson with his blood.
"Oh thank Merlin," he breathed, running his hands over her hair, her face, leaning forward and pressing his lips to hers, real and warm and pliant against his until she pushed him away.
"What the hell, Nott?" Hermione half-smiled at him, though her eyes were too bright with worry to make it believable. He went to bring his hand to her face but Hermione caught it in hers, glass fragments glittering in the low light. "Theo - your -"
She tested the fingers gently before looking back up at him. "What were you doing?" she asked, and Theo realised as his surroundings swam alarmingly that he was swaying unsteadily; that Hermione was holding him up.
"I -" He said. "You - you were - I -"
All at once his throat tightened, itching and burning with the spell's effect. Hermione's face swam in his vision, her dark eyes widening with shock and concern. For a moment he saw double - saw again that open door of an expression that she had worn in the mirror.
"What the fuck," he asked, glancing from his knuckles, sparkling with slices of mirror, to Hermione's worried face. "You were -"
"Oh Christ Theo." The words sounded thick and faraway, and he felt her fingers against his neck, where fire was burning, burning again -
"You -" Theo said again, but the words thickened on his tongue until they threatened to choke him, and as he struggled to speak he felt the warm drip of blood from his nose, the furious burn of the Vow around his wrist, but still he tried - You were there, I saw you - until finally his knees gave way and he sank into darkness.
A/N: ARE YOU EXCITED? I am. Wheew. This chapter has been a long time coming. Again, I love getting your reviews but if you could avoid anything spoilery it would be huuuugely appreciated (and thank you so so much to all those reading!). Kdougherty and Happy this one's for you.