A/N: This one's rather short, but I promise the next one will be longer. I'm not particularly proud of this one at all, but next one will be better. Tell me what you think.

Chapter 6

Theodore met Pansy and Blaise after the World Cup match at Pansy's tent. Daphne, Constance, and Tracey soon stumbled upon them, drunk, and willing to share the Firewhiskey smuggled from Daphne's parents. They drank and played poker and Daphne ranted and raved about the match from Theodore's lap. Theodore wondered if a girl had to be plastered to pay him any attention.

Then the fires started, and Daphne was grabbing at Theodore's arm and Pansy's soon-to-be first year sister was shreiking. Theodore lost sight of Pansy and Blaise, and held tight to Pearl and Daphne's hands because he wasn't going to lose them, too, and Pansy would kill him if anything happened to her sister.

He shouted their names and Daphne cried as they ran towards the woods. Together, they hid deep in the branches and shivered together from fear more than cold, and Daphne was crying and crying, until she fell asleep leaning against Theodore.

"I'm not afraid," Pearl informed him, and her voice quivered as much as her body was. What Theodore knew she meant was that she was not allowed to be afraid, just like none of them were. They gazed up at the Dark Mark as people passed them, asking after relatives and friends, and more often than not, Theodore had to tell them he hadn't seen them. He patted Daphne's hair and wiped the tears from her eyes, because she wouldn't want to be found afraid.

In his heart, Theodore knew that his father was out there, drunk and shouting and scaring Daphne. He didn't quite know what to think about that.

"Trust Theodore Nott to be the hardest person on earth to find," Draco said when he, Vince, and Gregory stumbled upon the three of them after a while. He kicked Daphne's foot until she woke up, and looked pleased when she told him to bite her.

"What does that mean?" Theodore picked himself up, and tried not to look over Draco's head at the Dark Mark in the sky.

"Your hair is the color of death," Draco announced. "You could bury yourself up to your forehead and no one would think you were anything but a grey, old rock. If you closed your eyes, you'd blend in completely with the night."

"Don't be so dramatic,"Theodore said. "Besides, your hair looks like it's been bleached."

Draco sputtered indignantly. "Bleached?! I'm not entirely sure what that is, but I would never put it in my hair. I've heard it makes it fall out."

Daphne sniggered, and Draco eyed her contemptuously. "Some things, Greengrass, are not, in fact, funny. Shame on you. Shame."

They made their way to where Draco had left Pansy and the others. Theodore, lost in thought, fell back, and thought about his father, wearing a mask and laughing while Daphne cried.

"Your father," Draco said, pulling him out of his reverie, "he was out there, too."

"Yes," said Theodore, even though it wasn't a question.

"Mine was, too." He rose to his full height, which really wasn't much. "I hope they gave Potter's Mudblood a good scare."

Theodore eyed the other boy thoughtfully, and didn't believe him. Draco had found them, had been looking for them, whether he wanted to admit it or not, and that meant he was worried. As much as he wanted to act proud, he was just as sick about it as Theodore was.

It also meant that Draco was theirs more than he was his father's. Theodore knew where his loyalties lay.

School started, and so did the tournament. Theodore wore a "Support Cedric Diggory" badge, because Draco had bullied all of them into, even though he didn't care one way or another. Durmstrang girls sat around him at lunch, and asked him questions about himself, and giggled when he looked at them.

He looked at himself in the mirror, and decided that he wasn't handsome, not like Blaise, or even attractive, like Malfoy, but a couple of the Durmstrang girls hinted at him to ask them to the ball. He wrote Raphael, confused, mostly because a letter couldn't laugh at him, while Blaise could, and Raphael replied, You probably have that mysterious thing goin' on. Don't forget the Contraceptive Charm, stud.

"Gross." Raphael was always saying things like that.

"Who do you think you'll ask?" Pansy wondered, as a side-note to bragging to him that Draco had offered to take her. Theodore shrugged. "Oh, don't do that. You have to ask someone. I won't allow you to be passive on this, Theo, you're going to go, and you're going to have fun, and you might snog someone, and you're going to like it."

She held dress robes her mother bought her up to the mirror and looked disgusted. "You could always ask Millicent."

"Please don't say those things to me right now," said Theodore, who did have some standards, really.

"Well, what about Daphne, then?" Pansy suggested. "I think she might fancy you."

Theodore rolled his eyes, but Pansy persisted. "No, no, really! She gets very jealous of those Durmstrang girls fawning over you."

"So does Draco," Theodore pointed out.

"That's different. He thinks the Durmstrang girls should be fawning over him instead."

She turned around and put her hand on her hips and arched her eyebrows in a very Pansy-ish way. "Ask her. She turned down three other boys, and one of them was Samiel Turpin, the handsome one from Ravenclaw. I think it's because she likes you, and you have to admit she's pretty, so just... go... shag or something already."

Pansy-logic astounded him. It was about the same as girl-logic, but much bossier.

She marched him down to the common room immediately, not giving him a chance to catch his breath. She sat him down in the armchair next to where Daphne, Tracey, and Constance were reading, and said, "Do it" quite obviously before marching off to Draco's side to watch.

"Do what?" Constance wondered, always the slow one. Tracey was giggling profusely. Daphne just flipped through her book non-chalantly.

Theodore couldn't say anything. His palms were sweating. This was horrible. He was never going to talk to Pansy again. He was going to feed her to a hippogriff. He was going to petrify her and dump her in the lake to be killed by merpeople. He was going to eat all of her chocolate frogs and not let her have the cards. Theodore meant business.

"Tracey, Constance, can you leave us alone for a moment?" Daphne said, looking completely self-composed. Insight dawning on Constance's face and giggles hiding in Tracey's, they left, whispering excitedly to each other.

For a long, silent, awkward moment, they just sat there staring at each other. Theodore opened and closed his mouth three or four times in a way reminiscent of a codfish, and Daphen looked highly amused.

"Theodore," she said, "I don't want to go to the Ball with you."

Well, that was a relief at least. He didn't have to ask her.

"Actually, I don't want to go to the Ball with anyone," she continued. Theodore wasn't sure it needed an explanation, or an excuse, but Daphne was never one to stifle her own speech. "I don't like dancing or dressing up, and I'd much rather be doing something else. Just... don't tell Trace and Connie, okay? They'll give me a hard time about it and make me go."

"That seems fair," he said, and rose to go.

Suddenly, she blushed, and looked through her eyelashes at him. "But... I don't want you to go with some other girl."

Theodore blinked at her. "I'm sorry?"

"I don't think I could take it."

Theodore flopped into the chair again, more confused by Daphne than any Arithmancy problem. Daphne continued quickly. "Maybe we could do something that night. Something other than the dance. Do you think?"

"I..." Theodore thought about it a moment. Pansy wanted him to go to the dance, and he'd always thought it was a given that he would. Everyone wanted to. He'd never wondered if perhaps he didn't want to.

He imagined himself in dress robes and it put his decision over the edge. "Sounds great," he said.

Daphne grinned at him, and Theodore noticed, not really for the first time, that she was definitely prettier when she smiled than when she was trying to be coy. Tracey and Constance were on their way back to the chairs, so Theodore took this moment to flee with his life. Girls by themselves, he could handle, but in a group...

Well, he was cynical, maladjusted, antisocial, and let's face it, weird, but he wasn't suicidal.