Reason and Love: an Improbable Fiction
Every reader of myths knows that Cupid is not always content with spreading love; occasionally he drinks a bit too much, and then he delights in pranks.
Certainly he was up to high jinks in the days leading up to Valentine's Day. St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries was up to its neck in chaos already. St. Mungo's had a peculiar tradition to itself, of celebrating Valentine's Day as some great holiday. Over the course of the four days preceding and including Valentine's Day, the hospital would hold parties from late afternoon until late at night, lasting long enough that both day-shift and night-shift workers might attend, and culminating with a formal dance on Valentine's Night. Every ward was papered with pink and red hearts and streamers, and some of the pediatric wards had set up a special Valentine's card exchange. Healers and patients alike worried and daydreamed about the upcoming holiday. Cupid watched all this with amusement. He saw two near-strangers who had known each other for years, and, with a drunken giggle, he shot his golden arrows—and suddenly, two worlds were rocked.
* * *
It seemed a normal enough day to Susan Bones, beyond the fact that it was the eleventh of February and she was once again facing the prospect of Valentine's Day alone. Not that she was particularly unhappy with the current state of affairs, but it made her feel wistful when she thought of going through Valentine's week alone. She noticed couples everywhere, and she did wish, secretly, that she was one of those happy folk.
There was nothing really wrong with Susan; it was her own fault that she did not have many relationships. She was not unattractive: she had always thought her straight, dark brown hair was her greatest asset, and she had always worn it long; and her face was pretty if a little sharp-featured. It wasn't that Susan was never pursued, but that often she didn't want to be pursued. Susan thought her problem was that she wanted too much out of a relationship; she had rarely felt that particular lurch of the stomach and soaring of the heart that she wanted to feel so badly when she looked into a man's eyes, and love was starting to seem more and more like a dream that was just out of her reach.
But then, there was always Leo Bryant to think about when she tired of unreachable fantasies. He was an Under-Healer in her ward, but with his skill and drive it seemed likely he'd be promoted to head up a ward any time now. He was brilliant, handsome, and nearly as unattainable as the dreams. But at least he was solid, and Susan spent more time than she liked to admit mooning over him.
These thoughts seemed to hover on the peripheries of Susan's mind, occasionally prodding her, but mostly lying forgotten. Work had been very busy lately, and as a Trainee Healer she had been assigned the most menial tasks. She had been casting Scabbing Charm after Scabbing Charm and all manner of minor diagnostic spells for what seemed to have been the most exhausting several weeks of her life. And when she wasn't healing (and even when she was) new information was being crammed into her brain by various Under-Healers and sometimes even the Healer-in-Charge of the ward, Julian McKinney. On days when she felt too tired to work, she reminded herself that she had chosen this job for a reason. She wanted to help people; and the right way was not always the easy way.
On that particular day, Susan's routine brought her down to the Staff Tearoom at a quarter past eleven to eat lunch. Susan was a creature of habit, and she had sat in the very same spot every day since starting work here. But today, something was different: someone was sitting at the table she thought of as "hers." Normally staff members could and did sit together at tables with nothing more than a casual hello, but Susan was shy, and she approached the table cautiously.
When she asked politely whether she could sit at that table, the man already sitting there emerged from his meditations with an expression of annoyance. As he looked at her, she realized with chagrin that she recognized this person: Theodore Nott, who had been sorted into Slytherin the same year she was sorted into Hufflepuff. She had forgotten he was a Trainee Healer, too; they worked on different floors and saw each other rarely. She noticed that he had lost some of the gawkiness of his childhood, but he remained tall and skinny, and his mousy hair had grown out a bit since their schooldays.
Finally, he seemed to realize what she had asked and said, "Go ahead. No one's stopping you." He stopped to scrutinize her for a moment. "Susan Bones, right?"
Suddenly, something hit Susan with as much force as a punch to the stomach. A wave of giddiness swept over her, and her heart beat faster. She felt a peculiar swooping sensation in her stomach, and she realized, somewhat dizzily, that she was suddenly, inexplicably and passionately attracted to the man before her.
* * *
Theodore Nott watched as Susan's eyes widened suddenly, and then a blush spread across her face. What was that look for? He had already seen signs of her recognizing him, and he couldn't fathom what had so surprised and embarrassed her. He had to smile as she reverted to old habits and stared at the tabletop, and he felt a warming in the vicinity of his heart as he did so. What is this? he wondered, as a flock of butterflies startled and took flight in his stomach.
He was familiar with attraction, but this surprised him. This wasn't just attraction; having her sitting across from him at the rickety little table was making him feel content in a way he was hard-pressed to identify. He might have mistaken it for affection for a friend, but he barely knew Susan; and besides, what business did he have consorting with a Hufflepuff? A small part of him, the part that sounded like his father, whispered, What business do you have consorting with a Mudblood?
He knew he was out of his depth when, without his consent, his mouth opened and spewed the words, "You probably don't remember me. I'm Theodore—Theo—Nott."
Susan tore her eyes from the table and looked at him, her face showing bafflement. The expression made her look so lost that he longed to gather her in his arms and…
What are you thinking? he asked himself contemptuously. In his mind, everything in his life should be well-ordered; that his body and soul seemed to be yearning for the girl sitting across from him was inexplicable and inexcusable. First of the problems was that it had come on so quickly, and utterly without his consent. Her family's history of conflicting, however indirectly, with his didn't help. He certainly didn't have his father's extremist views, but he knew that most people would assume that he did. Never mind that he was his own person; the mere fact that he was a Slytherin and a son of a Death Eater was enough to condemn him in a non-Slytherin's eyes.
"I do remember you a…a little bit. Theo," said Susan, reaching out one hand. Theo stared at it for a moment, perplexed, and then shook it. The jolt that ran up his arm was so powerful that he tugged his hand away as if it had been burned. Refusing to look at her, to acknowledge that she was affecting him, he seized the remains of his lunch and stormed from the tearoom.
* * *
Susan was quiet and out-of-sorts for the rest of the day, and performed healing charms mechanically. When Theo had jerked his hand away from hers in obvious revulsion, it had hurt more than she could have predicted. She had hoped that most people were over that daft Muggles-and-their-ilk-are-scum mindset, but obviously having a Muggle mother made her dirty in Theo's eyes.
What she couldn't understand was why that thought caused her such pain. It felt like her awareness of Theo's antipathy towards her was a fire over which her heart was slowly turning, turning, and she couldn't answer for the results when the fire really started to burn. When had she started caring about his opinion? She didn't even know him. It seemed that in that single moment in the Staff Tearoom, he had somehow stolen her heart for himself—or at least her thoughts. It seemed very unfair to Susan that when she finally found such a feeling inside herself, that she was treated with scorn and disgust by its object.
By the time Healer McKinney had dismissed the Trainee Healers, Susan's mood was black and she felt emotionally battered and bruised. Casting basic healing charms left too much time for thought, and her thoughts had been unpleasant, indeed. What she needed, she suddenly realized, was a distraction. Tonight was the first night of the Valentine's festivities. The first party would be underway already. Maybe Leo Bryant would be there; he'd be distraction enough in himself.
* * *
The staff tearoom was nearly unrecognizable that night. The shabby chairs had been grouped into intimate clutches where small groups of people could sit together; the wobbly tables had been pushed together to form a long buffet-like serving table overflowing with food and drink. The tables were covered in some deep red drapery, and a succession of china vases held velvety red roses. The room was lit by candlelight, just dim enough to lend a romantic atmosphere to the party. Healers stood in groups, chattering about this and that; couples seemed to be displaying affection more openly than most days of the year, which was only to be expected.
Theo told himself he was only going to the party to give himself a rest from work. It was a feeble excuse, and Theo knew it, but he did his best to persuade himself that this was his real reason.
The only other choice was unacceptable: that he had been compelled to come to this party because he had a vague hope that she would be there. That would not only run counter to his carefully maintained order, but be utterly pathetic as well.
But all his excuses flew out the window when he saw Susan, standing alone near the tables. Theo had always been good at controlling his expression, but Susan's face was as easy to read as any book. And what he read there was sadness and confusion. Immediately concerned, and forgetting to tell himself that he didn't feel a pang at seeing that expression on her face, he hurried over to her. Touching her shoulder, he asked, "Are you all right? What's wrong?"
She turned, wide-eyed, and pulled away from his touch. She looked away and said stiffly, "Nothing."
"Susan, you don't have to tell me, but I know something's wrong," he said softly.
"Why do you even care?" she hissed, glaring at him now. "I'm just some stupid half-blood—no better than scum to you!"
These words jerked him out of his foolishness, as he termed it. His back instinctively stiffened, jerking ramrod-straight as he remembered his precious rules. Thankful for this sudden return to reason and order, he shoved the disturbing thoughts of the day out of his mind. Looking at Susan Bones, he saw again the half-Muggle Hufflepuff, who so obviously hated him. Yes, this girl was right, though not precisely in the way she had expected: he ought to have no interest in her.
Icily, he said, "You're right. I have no business meddling in your problems. Good evening." And for the second time that day, he fled Susan Bones's presence.
* * *
Theo couldn't get Susan's words out of his head. As a DA member, the daughter of staunchly anti-Voldemort parents, and someone who had lost a good deal of relatives to the Death Eaters, she was of course prejudiced against Slytherins, especially those closely connected to the Death Eaters. But he was not a Death Eater, and would never have become one. Voldemort had been nothing more than a bellwether—albeit a very powerful, nearly-successful one—who had led his flock to the slaughter.
The Death Eaters had, of course, started the slaughtering, killing people for no better reason than that they thought them somehow tainted—either by Muggle blood, or sympathy with such people. Several years after the fact, Theo scorned his father, who had killed many opponents to the cause before succumbing to death himself, as a zealot who had built his own pyre. It was much better to think logically about it; his mother had yet to recover from his father's death, and he was glad to avoid such messy emotions. And he had hoped that by distancing himself emotionally from his father, he might also avoid the contempt of others.
But Susan's hateful words just proved the point he had iterated to himself endlessly: his father's crimes had condemned him, and there was no redemption waiting for him. There were still many patients who came in, read his name badge, and requested to be treated by someone else. Voldemort's reign had scarred a good many people by killing or hurting their family, friends and beloveds, but he thought a lot of people didn't realize that the prejudices left over were similar to the Death Eaters' prejudices in their unfairness. People were reviled not just for being Death Eaters, but for being related to them.
The injury didn't stem from the words themselves. He had borne prejudice for a long time. But for some reason his heart reacted to hearing her say them. He couldn't understand it, but he actually cared what she thought about him.
He had nearly decided to just go home that night and avoid the festivities, but his best friend had other ideas.
Dorian Yaxley was a fellow Slytherin and son of a Death Eater, a year older than Theo. He was an excellent counterbalance for Theo's quiet, subtle cynicism, with his loud, expansive speech and his flippant irreverence. His project of the last several months was "socializing" Theo, which meant he forced Theo's attendance at any number of parties in an attempt to make Theo less withdrawn. The second Valentine's party was no exception. No amount of persuasion would curb Dorian's insistence, and Theo finally came along to avoid being physically dragged to the tearoom, which would be humiliating and no doubt painful.
* * *
Meanwhile, Susan was having similar problems with her own best friend. Raven-haired Isobel Lewis seemed bent on mischief, and whatever she had planned, Susan didn't think it was likely to improve her mood. But Izzy was Izzy, and there was no refusing her powers of persuasion. She was so enthusiastic over the prospect of tonight's party in particular that even her hair seemed to convey her feelings, as it frizzed out even more dreadfully than usual.
So Susan came along. Even though last night's party had been a dud, she didn't think there would be any harm in going to another one.
How little she knew.
* * *
The staff tearoom's decorations had not changed since the previous night, but the way people gathered had. The majority of the Healers chatted amiably in groups again, but they darted amused glances over at another group. The group in question, composed of the youngest of the Trainee Healers, sat in a circle on the floor. In keeping with the holiday, they had started up a nostalgic game of Spin the Bottle. Izzy, one of the ringleaders, who had apparently planned this ahead of time, had convinced Susan to sit down. "You haven't had a proper date in ages," she told Susan. "At least you can get a Valentine's kiss, if you're still being stubborn about a date. Although I still say you ought to ask Ben Wilkes out—he's cute, and it looks like he fancies you."
"No, thanks," said Susan, who was hoping that the bottle didn't land on Ben when her turn came. He was well enough, but a little too cocky for her liking.
* * *
Theo had submitted to coming with ill grace, and wanted to sulk in a corner. He saw Susan amid a gaggle of people their age, and he cursed the butterflies in his stomach. Who did the girl think she was? He had started to wonder whether she had slipped him a love potion just to annoy the hell out of him, but he rejected that theory almost immediately. It was too creative a punishment to have been concocted by a Hufflepuff; only in the convoluted workings of the Slytherin mind would such a plan form. Nevertheless, he had made Dorian cast a quick Potion Detection Charm on him earlier that afternoon. It had been negative, but that only confused Theo more. The love potion theory had made more sense to him than the idea that he had allowed himself to fall under her spell.
Dorian left him alone—"So you can get the moodiness out of your system," he said—and went over to the group of young people. He came back minutes later with a plan to further the Socialization of Theo. "Come on, it's just a kiss," he nagged when Theo objected to Spin the Bottle. "Even you can't say no to kissing." Theo didn't want to tell him that it wasn't the kissing that bothered him, but the fact that joining the game would put him in the same group as Susan. But with no logical argument against playing the game, Theo finally conceded defeat and plopped down in the space made for him with a sour look on his face.
When it seemed no one else was going to join the group, Izzy stood and looked around, waiting for quiet. The muttered conversations hushed, and she said, "Thank you. Now, we're all here to play Spin the Bottle. I assume you all know how to play. All we need is the bottle. Accio!" An empty butterbeer bottle soared through the air, nearly colliding with one disapproving wizard's head; this caused a wave of laughter, in the 'adult' group as well as the circle of young people. Izzy stepped to the center of the circle. "Now, I know you men will be disappointed, but I will not play." This sally, accompanied by a roguish wink, drew giggles. "I will be the enforcer. I'm sure you all remember that those who chicken out are hexed. Not severely. That would be a no-no for Healers." Her voice turned mockingly sweet at this line. "Just enough to be embarrassing. So, without further, ado…"—she set the bottle on the floor—"...let the games begin!"
Dorian was first to spin, and the bottle chose pink-cheeked Renée Lane. Many others followed; Susan's turn came, and she, too, ended up kissing Dorian. This sight made Theo clench his fists with sudden anger. He knew it was Spin the Bottle, but, unreasonably, it felt like betrayal to see his best friend kiss Susan. He chose (prudently, he felt) not to explore his reasons for being jealous in the first place.
When Theo's turn came, apprehension seized him. He hesitated a moment before spinning. When it came to a stop, he froze, looking up and hoping it hadn't landed where he thought it had. It had: Susan Bones stared back at him, looking incredulous. Theo glared, just daring his stomach to flip. It did anyway, and he ground his teeth. He was not going to kiss Susan. It was bad enough that he was attracted to her against his better judgment, but kissing her would make things worse, not better. He remembered the old adage: Starve a fever. This was a different kind of fever, but he felt the words applied in this case.
Dorian, next to him, started making clucking noises. "Come on, Theo, just one kiss," he admonished in a murmur as others picked up the chicken noises. "Stupid, childish game," Theo muttered as he stood and strode across the room, merely to stop the inane noise, he told himself. Since Susan seemed glued to the floor, he crouched in front of her and stared her full in the face. Her eyes widened as she realized he was really going to do it—really going to kiss her—and she blushed as her eyes darted away. He grabbed her chin in one hand and hesitated. Did he really want to do this? He could deal with a hex. Just a few minutes before, he had had several very good reasons for not kissing her, but they had all flown from his head; his fluttering stomach, however, presented a very convincing argument. So he kissed her.
* * *
Susan couldn't resist wrapping her arms around Theo's neck. Kissing him felt…good. No, that was a huge understatement. Dorian Yaxley's kiss had been quick and passionless, but now the attraction she'd felt ever since the day before—had it really only been the day before?—surfaced and she clung to Theo.
Eyes closed, Susan lost herself in the kiss. Suddenly, Theo seemed to remember that they were in a room full of people, and that their kiss had lasted longer than most of the others'. He firmly disentangled himself and walked back across the room without looking back. Yaxley seemed to make some approving comment or another, but Theo crossed his arms and looked resolutely at the floor. Susan merely sat, dazed. Had that really happened? She wondered whether it felt as wonderful to him as it had to her. She had, she realized with a jolt, actually fallen, head over heels, for Theodore Nott. She didn't know why or how; the suddenness was bewildering, and his dislike of her was obvious enough to her to make the realization painful.
What about Leo? her mind prodded. Yes. What about Leo? Up until that very moment she would have sworn that she wanted nobody more than she wanted Leo Bryant. But in the wake of that kiss, she wasn't so sure anymore.
As she thought, other participants stepped forward to spin the bottle. But more and more people were leaving, and the game wound down not much later, and the party with it. Susan, preoccupied though she was, smiled as she passed Izzy, locked in a passionate embrace with John Goodwin. Evidently her decision not to kiss anyone during the game didn't hold once the game had finished.
* * *
That night, Susan dreamt of Theo. In the dream, Theo seemed to be perpetually smiling, obviously thanks to the imaginative powers of her subconscious, for Susan was certain she had never seen him wearing such an expression. Somehow—and this improbability made it clear to the sleeping Susan that it was indeed only a dream—somehow he was hers, as was made clear by the innumerable gestures he made in the dream: a kiss on the cheek, a brush of his hand against hers, his arm around her waist. They seemed to talk a great deal, although Susan could not remember what the conversations had been about, and laughter continually bubbled up in her chest. The surroundings were vague, but markedly washed with sunlight, and they left a distinct impression of open air and clear skies. The mood of the dream was halcyon, the colors clear and pure and bright. When she woke, she could only lie there clinging to that feeling of absolute bliss. But as she looked around at her spartan room, lit by moonlight filtering through the shades, she remembered Theo's indifference. Her mood came crashing down, and she buried her face in her pillow, fighting back tears. Why was she crying over Theo Nott? She'd never given him a second thought until that meeting in the lunch room. It seemed very cruel to her that the fates, having first made her think true love really did belong in fairy tales, would then make her fall in love with one of the few people who hated her guts.
* * *
When she woke up properly the next morning, Susan was all the more grouchy for the hour she had lost in weeping. A cup of coffee improved her mood marginally, but later that morning Healer McKinney pulled her aside. "Are you feeling well?" he asked her, his eyes concerned under his beetling brows.
"I'm not the least bit sick," she replied.
"Sickness of the heart, then. A pity—those sorts of sicknesses are always harder to heal. And the day before Valentine's, too." He smiled kindly at her. "Try to attend to your work, though. Your performance has been rather…lackluster, these past few days. Trainees here must learn fast, and it does not behoove you to fall behind."
"Yes, sir," she said. She attempted, after that, to forget her thoughts and throw herself into the work. She concentrated fiercely, but she barely noticed that the Under-Healer presiding over her and several fellow trainees was none other than Leo Bryant, so long the object of her daydreams. The trainee closest to her, one Elena Higgins, kept darting glances her way. Susan wondered if her emotions were really that obvious and was compelled to laugh humorlessly at the memory of her mother's favorite description of her: "an open book."
When lunchtime came around again, she was relieved to find that her table was empty. She did not have the energy to deal with Theodore Nott again. She settled to a solitary lunch, allowing her brain to shut down for a moment. She was tired. So tired, in fact, that she wondered if it had to do with more than just a bad night's sleep. As she mulled lazily over that thought, she heard the sound of a lunch tray set solidly on the table in front of her. Raising her eyes, she saw Leo Bryant.
"Hi," he said, smiling his usual roguish smile. On any other day, she would have been squealing with joy inside at the thought of sitting across from Leo. Today, she wished he would go away and take his disgusting cheerfulness with him.
"Hi," she said finally, not wanting to be rude.
He took this as an invitation to start talking. "So, how've you liked the Valentine's parties? I've found them fun, although I didn't get to join in last night's festivities. A shame, it sounded like fun." He ignored the stony expression on her face, seemingly wrapped up in his talking. "Say, are you going to tonight's party with anyone?"
She shook her head. "I wasn't planning on going at all."
"You should go! Listen, I was wondering if you'd like to go with me."
Susan stared at him. Leo Bryant, unattainable heartthrob, the stuff of daydreams…was asking her out? She felt remarkably unenthusiastic about the idea, but she knew any girl (particularly Izzy) would think she was mad if she turned him down. Maybe she was mad, pining after a man who she barely knew. All she knew was that she had to get over Theo, and soon. What better candidate to help her forget him than Leo?
"All right," she said, trying to sound ecstatic. "Tonight, then."
"Tonight," he said, standing and kissing her swiftly on the cheek as he left. She sat there, hand on her cheek, for long minutes afterward, with one question on her mind:
Why hadn't she felt anything?
* * *
"You're going with who? Why did it take you this long to tell me?" Izzy was practically jumping up and down with excitement. Susan wished she hadn't told Izzy; she'd meant it to be a casual side comment as she left, but of course Izzy was making a fuss.
"It's really not a big deal," Susan said, shrugging.
"Not a big…Susan, in what universe is getting asked out by Leo Bryant not a big deal? There's like, no one you'd rather go out with." She looked at Susan's impassive face. "There is no one you'd rather go out with, right?"
"Of course," Susan lied.
"Well, then, why aren't you excited?"
"Good question. See you later." Susan threw her handful of Floo powder into the fireplace and spoke her address clearly. A moment later she was home.
"Good question, indeed," she scolded herself as she went to her bedroom to change out of her eye-smarting St. Mungo's robe. "You just didn't want to tell your best friend what was really wrong with you."
"Of course," she reasoned later as she let her hair loose from its customary plait, "She wouldn't understand." She could just imagine Izzy's reaction. You prefer Nott to Leo? The Death Eater's son? But he's not even that cute! You seriously like him better?
"It doesn't make any sense to like Theo," she told herself as she pulled on a set of midnight blue robes. Her heart ignored this comment. She gave a last tweak to her robes and checked her hair in the mirror before returning to the fireplace and Flooing back to St. Mungo's.
* * *
Susan scanned the crowd in the tearoom without really thinking about it.
"Looking for someone?" Leo asked, sounding amused.
"Not really," she lied, focusing on her date.
"I think I see some friends of mine. Let's go say hello," Leo said, leading her to a group of chattering Under-Healers. As Leo introduced her, she felt terribly out of place. She would have much preferred to be among her own peers. These were Under-Healers of the caliber usually found in wards dedicated to severe cases, chosen because they were nearly as expert as their superiors. They intimidated Susan, who felt as green as her uniform when compared to these people.
"Hey, Bryant," said a tow-headed fellow Susan thought was called Maddox, "I hear Prewett up in the Hollis ward has his eye on you."
"Nice," said Leo. "It'd be a great opportunity to work with him. He's really well known for his advances in healing poisonous bites," he explained to Susan.
"I know that," she replied annoyed.
"Don't bite my head off! I wasn't sure if you knew or not, that's all." He turned back to converse with Maddox. Susan fumed. His condescending manner got under her skin. She wasn't some ignorant schoolgirl, after all. She was a Healer, albeit a trainee; she knew the reputations of the hospital's finest Healers.
Her eyes wandered as she lost interest in the conversation, and she spotted Izzy on John Goodwin's arm, talking to Dorian Yaxley. Her heart lurched as she noticed Theo hovering on the fringes of the group, looking sullen as the others laughed. Izzy looked up and, seeing Susan, beckoned frantically for her to come over. Susan turned to Leo and, interrupting Maddox, said, "I see a few of my friends. Do you want me to introduce you?"
Leo looked surprised, but after a moment he said, "Sure. See you later, guys."
When they reached Izzy's group, Susan marveled at Izzy's capacity for being excited by things. Seeing her best friend with who she thought was the man of her dreams made Izzy fairly beam with happiness. Susan resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she said, "Leo, this is Izzy Lewis, John Goodwin, Theo Nott—"
"Nott? As in the Death Eater Nott?"
Susan turned to hush Leo, embarrassed, but Theo's voice stopped her: "Yes, he was my father."
"A pity they let your sort work here. You're probably the first Nott to heal patients here, rather than getting them sent here." Leo sneered as he looked Theo over. Susan was staring at him. Leo had always seemed a pleasant fellow to her. Now he reminded her of the meaner brand of Slytherin.
"I supposed I should expect that sort of prejudice. After all, since my father wore the Dark Mark, I must be a Death Eater as well."
"Don't tell me you don't sympathize with them, Nott. I won't believe it."
"Well, believe it or not, I hate the Death Eaters. They were a bunch of idiots who thought they were better than everyone else. They were infamous for being prejudiced bullies. At this rate, you'll be known for the same," he added cuttingly. "After all, what do you know about me? Nothing, that's what. And yet you stand there assuming things you have no right or reason to assume, acting like you're superior to me merely because your father was a better man than mine. Yet look which son uses prejudices as an excuse for his hatefulness!" He turned to Yaxley. "I'm out of here. You can talk to the idiot if you like, but I wouldn't recommend it. He'll round on you next." Yaxley glared at Leo and followed Theo.
Susan looked at Leo with new eyes. "What the hell was that?" she asked, infuriated.
"I know. That scum—he had no right to lecture me like that." Leo's eyes blazed.
"I wasn't talking about him," she said coldly. "What he said was exactly right. You had no right to blame him for his father's sins, no matter how grievous they were. I don't know what I ever saw in you. You can go talk to your friends, 'cause I'm through talking with you."
Izzy was aghast, watching Leo go with an odd look on her face. She looked incredulously at Susan, obviously thinking this was Susan ruining another potentially good relationship. "Come on, you find one chink in his shining armor and you throw over the hottest guy in the ward? Maybe even on the floor?"
"It's more than a chink, Izzy. It's more like a gaping, rusty hole right in the middle of the breastplate. Merlin, I was an idiot for ever liking him. Anyway, I think I'll leave too."
* * *
The next day, Susan was still thinking about the confrontation between Leo and Theo. Last night all she'd been able to think about was how arrogant and mean-spirited Leo was. But today she was thinking over Theo's comments. He'd said he hated the Death Eaters, that he scorned prejudice. She thought back to when he'd told her that he shouldn't be meddling in her business. Had he actually said outright that he had no reason to think about her because she was a half-blood? Or did he have another reason?
She also felt that she had to apologize to Theo. She, too, had made assumptions she had no right to make. She'd been the one who'd mentioned her blood status, not him. It made her squirm to remember it; she was just as guilty as Leo. She decided that, the next time she saw Theo, she would tell him she was sorry.
* * *
Theo, meanwhile, was spending his day off with his mother. He had Apparated that morning to the modest cottage into which she'd moved in the wake of her husband's death. His mother, ever the early bird, answered the door with wide-awake eyes and a welcoming smile for her only child. When the preliminary hugs and kisses had been exchanged, she led him into the sitting room. Its airy feel was augmented by the sunlight let in through its many windows. It was a peaceful sort of place, and Theo felt himself relaxing as he accepted a cup of tea and settled in to listen to his mother talk.
His mother, though she was happy to see her son, wore a slight air of melancholy yet. She still wore black, too, for her husband's death weighed heavily upon her. Theirs had been one of those rare pureblood marriages based on love and not furthering of untainted bloodlines. That was the one thing that redeemed his father in Theo's eyes: for all that he'd murdered and tortured and been one of Voldemort's inner circle, he had never stopped loving Theo's mother.
His mother, even in her grief, was largely a social creature. She maintained an elaborate net of friends and acquaintances of all sorts, and through them she gained a good deal of gossip. Theo never had to read the Daily Prophet; he always heard everything from her, and she told him much more than the Prophet would ever report.
Around lunchtime, his mother set down her second cup of tea and looked across the room at him. "How are things with you nowadays, Theo? I never hear enough about your life. Tell me, what's been going on?"
"Training's going well, I think. Healer Roland says I'm progressing well, which is high praise coming from her. I'm learning a lot; being placed under Healer Roland was a great honor, and she's as amazing a teacher as she is a Healer. Magical Bugs is just where I wanted to be, too." The thought remained unspoken between them, that he wanted to pursue diseases because he wanted to find the cure to the disease which had killed his grandfather.
"And how is Dorian?" she asked. She was as fond of Dorian as if he had been her second son.
"Dorian's as mischievous as ever. Just the other day he made me play Spin the Bottle. I suppose he meant it to help with his 'Socialization of Theo' nonsense." He shook his head; why had he reminded himself of that incident?
"Poor Theo." Then, with a glint of mischief in her eyes, "Did you kiss any pretty girls?" Theo couldn't help it; he blushed. Looking down, he prayed his mother wouldn't notice. But, sharp-eyed as ever, she saw his red cheeks. "Oh, so there was a pretty girl. Who was she?"
Theo considered not answering, but his mother was not to be denied. Finally he said, "Susan Bones." Scowling, he glared at his hands.
"Why so sullen?"
"She's driving me mad. I can't get her out of my head," he admitted, hunching his shoulders.
"And what's so bad about that?"
"Well, let's see. She was a DA member. She fought against the Death Eaters in the last battle. What do you think?" Theo's tone was bitter.
"And what house was she in?"
"Hufflepuff. Listen, why does it matter?"
"That's the compassionate one, right?" Her tone was expressionless. Theo frowned. What was her point?
She looked keenly at him, her face serious. "Do you love her?"
Theo stared at his hands. He didn't want to answer this question, but his mother's stare demanded it. He didn't want to lie to her, so he finally said, "Yes. I think I do."
"Then what the hell are you doing waffling on about it to me for?"
Theo looked up, shocked. His mother rarely ever used harsh language, and the last time he had seen her looking this angry, he had been in very deep trouble, indeed. "I'm sorry?" he stammered.
"I know your father and I have made mistakes. I know they've made life hard for you. But I would have thought you'd have learned at least one good thing from us." He stared at her. "For Merlin's sake, do you think I stayed with a Death Eater all those years just because of convention? That I still mourn him simply because we lived together for so long? Love's important, Theo. When you've got a chance at it, you have to seize it. You can't just throw it away merely because you think it might not work! If you're any sort of a man, you'll tell that girl how you feel—or you'll have me to answer to."
With those words, she stood and went into the kitchen to make lunch. Theo sat pondering. He didn't dare not tell Susan how he felt, not after that threat. His mother had always been his hero, his anchor. He hated to disappoint her, and there was nothing more likely to disappoint her at this point than him chickening out and simply letting Susan stay ignorant. And now that he thought about her comment about Hufflepuff, he remembered that Hufflepuffs were meant to be patient and kind. At that cheering thought, a spark of hope lit in his heart.
Later that afternoon, he kissed his mother goodbye. "Thanks for the advice, Mum. I'm going to tell her tonight, I think."
"Good luck, Theo. It's a good day for such a thing!"
He laughed. "I'd almost forgotten it's Valentine's today. Well, I'll see you my next day off if I don't come around sooner. Goodbye." And he turned on his heel and Apparated to St. Mungo's.
* * *
Susan turned her steps towards the fireplaces employees used to Floo back and forth from the hospitals. She was not going to the last party, not even to humor Izzy. The first three had been fiascos and she didn't want to try her luck again. And since she had learned from Yaxley that Theo's day off had been today, there was no point in staying.
So she was very surprised to meet Theo coming from the opposite direction. The two of them stood stock still and stared at each other for a moment. Then, almost simultaneously, they said, "I need to talk to you." Another moment of awkward silence followed, then Theo stepped to the side and held his arm out as if pointing her back the way he had come. She followed his silent directions and they walked together in the direction of the employees' entrance. Theo cleared his throat. "There's a mostly empty room, a sort of disused storage room, nearby. I thought it'd be as good a place as any. I want this talk to be private." His voice sounded nervous, and his gaze darted around, looking at everything but her. She wondered about this behavior. What could he possibly want to talk to her about that was making him so anxious?
Susan, too, was feeling nervous, and she hoped he would find the storage room soon, before she lost her nerve. Too soon—not soon enough—he opened a door to reveal dusty stacks of boxes. Susan swallowed hard and followed him in. He sat down on a box and she followed suit, dragging a box around so that she faced him. They both opened their mouths to speak, and Theo said, "Go ahead."
Susan nodded and said, "Right. Well, I wanted to apologize."
"For what?" Theo looked genuinely surprised.
"For what I said the other day. About how you shouldn't care about me because I was a half-blood. After yesterday…well, I realized that was a really mean thing to say. I mean, I feel really bad about making assumptions, you know? The thing is, what you said yesterday about blaming people for the sins of their fathers—that was totally right. So I wanted to apologize."
"Oh. Okay." He breathed out, then looked up hopefully. "Does that mean you don't hate me because I'm my father's son?"
"Yeah, that's what I meant."
"Thank Merlin. That makes it so much easier to say what I want to say."
"What is it, Theo?" Susan asked when he hesitated.
"Susan, I…I think I love you. " He said it in a rush. "I know, it's really sudden, but…well, it came on suddenly."
"That's strange," Susan said pensively.
"What's strange?" Theo asked, his tone strained as he searched for her answer to his declaration in her face.
She smiled. "It came on suddenly for me, too. The day of the first party, actually…"
"What came on suddenly?" he asked.
"My love for you, silly," she said, smiling widely.
Without warning, Theo closed the space between them and kissed her. Susan wrapped her arms around him, as unable to resist him as she had been during that game of Spin the Bottle. It felt so perfect, so right to be kissing him, even in a dusty storage room. And this time, Theo's arms came up and wrapped tightly around her, pulling her closer, until she sat next to him on his box. The kiss didn't end for quite some time, and when it did, Theo refused to let her go. She sat with her head resting on his shoulder, euphoric with the feeling of loving and being loved.
"You said it came on the day of the first party?" Theo finally said.
"Mhmm," she murmured, turning her head his kiss his neck.
"Tell me it didn't happen in the tearoom," he said.
She leaned back, staring at him. "How did you know?"
"Because that's when I fell for you," he said, pulling her back. She rested her head on his shoulder again, thinking about this. How strange that they would have fallen for one another at the same time, in the same place, and in the same sudden manner. She began to think that maybe the world was not as random as she thought it was. After another silence, Theo said, "It doesn't make any sense, does it?"
Susan murmured, "To say the truth, reason and love keep little company together now-a-days."
A/N: Before you flame me for the sudden love thing, let me explain. This was written for the Cupid Gone Crazy contest over on Mugglenet Fan Fiction. The prompt was to write a story about what happens when Cupid gets drunk and shoots two people who canon/fanon don't normally stick together, and those characters fall instantly in love. That being the case, I went for a relationship between "opposites"—Slytherin and non-Slytherin, Pureblood and Halfblood/blood traitor, Death Eater's son and former DA member.
As for the ridiculously top-lofty title: Both parts of the title are from Shakespeare quotes - "reason and love" from the quote Susan says at the end, which is from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and is spoken, I believe, by Nick Bottom. "An improbable fiction" is from "Twelfth Night," and this is the full quote: "If this were play'd upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction." I had to tack it on the end because it was just so fitting.