The Life and Times of Theodore Nott
By Silver Sailor Ganymede

Theodore Aurelius Nott is born on the twelfth of November at four-o-clock in the morning. He doesn't remember this, of course, but he can easily imagine what it would have been like. His mother, a frail women even at the best of times, is delirious with pain, hoping against hope that both she and the baby survive but quite certain that that isn't going to happen.

His father is in an entirely different wing of the manor, amusing himself by staring at his book (there is no use trying to really read, for he can never think properly at this time of night) and draining glass after glass of firewhisky in an attempt to force himself into an alcohol-induced slumber. He knows he's never going to win his battle against his insomnia – and he also knows that he sometimes keeps himself awake this late because he wants an excuse to drink more.

Dionysus Nott is entirely unconcerned with his wife's situation. Why should he care? Insofar as he is concerned her only purpose in life is to bear him an heir, and if the child dies it is her fault for being so weak. If she dies it is her own fault for being so weak. They have lost five children already.

Theodore's mother goes into a state of shock when he is arrives in the world writhing, screaming and very much alive.

By the time he is five years old Theodore has worked out that he can control the house-elves. Not control them in the way a wizard has every right to do, but really control them, make them do things contrary to their nature. All he has to do is speak in a cold, commanding tone of voice (something he picked up off his father at a very early age) and they will do whatever he tells them to.

His favourite thing to do is to force them to ruin whatever meal they're preparing. This infuriates his father, which means that he gets to hear the miserable creatures scream. When they scream Theodore remembers that the house has living things in it after all.

It is better to hear the screams of house-elves than to have to listen to the silence all the time.

When Theodore is nine he has to stop playing with the-house elves. He makes one jump out of a window, and the mess that results makes his father angrier than he has ever seen him before.

Dionysus Nott hates all forms of mess. Theodore sees him screaming at his mother, saying that keeping things clean is the job of house-elves and women, and they can't even seem to do that properly anymore. He tells his wife that she is utterly useless, that he has no purpose for her now; not only can she not bear him another heir, she can't even control her own slaves.

Her father screams. His mother weeps. Theodore simply smiles.

Neither of them realise that Theodore is in the room. He has already become quite skilled in hiding himself, so he gets to watch his parents argue, rejoicing in the fact that the house has come alive again, that he can hear something other than silence.

Then there is a flash of green light and his mother's body crumples to the floor and does not move. The world is silent again, more horrifically silent than it has ever been before.

When he looks back on this in later years, Theodore can't decide whether it was really him or his father who killed his mother.

The funeral is a strange affair. All of pureblood society seems to have gathered there, people whom his father hasn't condescended to speak to in years. They wear masks of grief just like his father's. His father has been hysterical all morning, but Theodore knows that this is just a guise. If his father was going to be so upset by his mother's death, why did he kill her in the first place?

Theodore listens as people speak about his mother's life, how she was a great, strong woman whose life was tragically prematurely ended. They say she was beautiful, intelligent and brave, a devoted wife and mother, an asset both to the family she was born to and the one she married in to.

Theodore privately thinks that these people can't have known his mother at all. They don't even seem to know themselves.

Immediately after the funeral, people come back to the Nott manor. Theodore has never seen it so full of life – moving, breathing, living people. They are drinking and smoking and laughing and joking and Theodore just can't understand it.

Why is it only in the aftermath of a death that things have started to come alive?

Exactly six months have passed since his mother's death when his father finally bothers to talk to him. He has called him into his study, and as soon as Theodore walks in there he knows that he father has been drinking firewhisky. It smells most revolting and is enough to make him feel physically sick.

His father makes him sit down and begins to rant about how only the strong survive, how the weak die because it is the only thing they are fit to do. He says that women and house-elves and werewolves and giants and mudbloods and muggles (yes, worst of all muggles, worst of all muggle women) are not fit to live. Only wizards are strong enough to survive, and because they are strong they ought to rule over others, they ought to mould them in order to stop them being weak.

"In my time the strongest of us all were called Death Eaters," his father proclaims, toasting nothingness and spilling firewhisky on the floor. It burns a hole in the carpet. Theodore resists the urge to wrinkle his nose in disgust.

The next day, when Theodore looks up Death Eaters in the library, he can hardly believe that his drunken, half-insane father was ever a member of such a powerful organisation.

Theodore is eleven years old. His Hogwarts letter appeared early that morning, just after he had finished eating his breakfast. He is not excited or happy or anything. Why should he be? This is simply something that had to happen.

His father says nothing. His father probably does not even know how old he is now. His father would not care anyway; all he cares about is his firewhisky.

His mother says nothing. His mother has been unable to say anything for a very long time.

Theodore reads the letter to himself and is entirely unimpressed. This is where he'll have to spend the next seven years of his life? Surrounded by mudbloods and mudwallowers and the general scum of society?

He wonders why his father wasn't intelligent enough to at least send him to Durmstrang.

It is late evening on September 1st and Theodore is following a line of other first years through the Great Hall. The sky is wonderful, he admits that much, but everything else has been far from impressive so far.

It was horrific enough to find out that they had to travel by a muggle mode of transport (something to make the mudbloods more comfortable, he thought with a sneer), and it was even worse when he found out that the 'train', or whatever that horrific contraption had been called, was slow, noisy, had uncomfortable seats and stank of a mixture of dust and rotten cabbage.

A group of mudbloods had tried to come and sit with him, but luckily some sixth year Slytherins whose families Theodore vaguely knows came to turf them out. Blaise Zabini came in and joined them afterwards. Theodore had heard Blaise's name but never met him. After their day on the train, Theodore knows that Blaise will be in Slytherin. He knows that he will be in Slytherin as well.

It is not long now before they find out for certain. It is a momentous event, Theodore admits; the rest of one's life is coloured by one's Hogwarts house.

He keeps track of the Slytherins as the get sorted, one by one. 'Bulstrode, Millicent' (half-blood, bearable) 'Crabbe, Vincent' (pureblood, respectable); 'Davis, Tracy' (half-blood, family of muggle-lovers, not to be bothered with); 'Goyle, Gregory' (pureblood, respectable); 'Greengrass, Daphne' (pureblood, respectable); 'Malfoy, Draco' (pureblood, respectable); 'Moon, Lilith' (pureblood, respectable).

Then it is his turn, 'Nott, Theodore'. He smiles to himself as he walks up to the Sorting Hat. He is not nervous. He knows where he is going. He has always known. Mere seconds later the hat shouts 'Slytherin'. The silver and green clad table erupts into applause yet again, and Theodore sits himself down next to Draco Malfoy, smiling for the first time in a very long time. He has done it, he is a Slytherin – the rest of his life will sort itself out for him.

He turns his attention back to the sorting. 'Parkinson, Pansy' (pureblood, respectable) is sorted into Slytherin, too, and sits herself down on the other side of Draco Malfoy, gazing at him with obvious affection that makes Theodore want to throw up.

'Zabini, Blaise' is the last person to be sorted. Blaise becomes a Slytherin. Theodore is glad to know that his instincts are, as ever, correct. Blaise sits himself down on the other side of Theodore, who looks around at the people who will be his housemates for the next seven years. Crabbe, Goyle, Malfoy, Zabini, Bulstrode, Davis, Greengrass, Moon and Parkinson. And him, Theodore Nott.

It could have been worse, he supposes.

His first year passes without event, just like Theodore had always thought it would. He gets some of the highest scores in their year, which pleases him even though he knows his father won't care. Not like Draco Malfoy's father – Malfoy came very close to failing Herbology and is convinced that his father is going to be appalled by how low his marks are.

He finds out later, from his father, that Lucius Malfoy never participated in a Herbology class, let alone passed one. The Malfoys believe that Herbology is servants' work. Dionysus Nott agrees with them – if anything he is appalled by his son's willingness to get a high mark in such a subject.

Second year begins with the news that a pair of Gryffindors have managed to smash a flying car into the whomping willow. Theodore doesn't know what a car is, but he hears from a bunch of whispering Ravenclaws that it's a muggle contraption that's not meant to fly.

Theodore doesn't know why everyone is so surprised; Gryffindors are well known for being stupid, rash and reckless. Those traits are only reason anyone is ever sorted into Gryffindor after all.

Draco Malfoy is constantly on edge. He thinks he's masking it well, but anyone who bothers to look for more than a few seconds will know that he's not. Malfoy thinks he's exactly like his father, but Theodore knows otherwise. Lucius Malfoy was one of the people at his mother's funeral, and he was every inch the perfect pureblood actor. Anyone could see that Draco is scared out of his mind.

Blaise has noticed this, too, but no one can figure out why. It obviously isn't anything to do with his family; the Malfoys are the most sickeningly well-matched of all pureblood couples, and he can't see Narcissa Malfoy doing anything contrary to her husband's wishes. She is not so weak as his mother, but Theodore knows that she, too, has lost a number of heirs. He knows for a fact that the Malfoys were married for ten years before their son was born.

Theodore and Blaise decide that Malfoy's odd demeanour can't have anything to do with his grades either. He is getting exactly the same results as he did last year, with the exception of his putting in enough work to actually pass Herbology well this time. At first they think that it might be something to do with Herbology, as Malfoy goes ashen when Professor Sprout announces that they will be working with mandrakes – but they later decide that he must simply have a fear of mandrakes, as he shows no such horror when they have to work with venomous tentacula or mumbling moon mushrooms.

Finally, Theodore and Blaise wonder whether it might have something to do with Quidditch. Malfoy has always been the most Quidditch obsessed of their year. Crabbe and Goyle pretend to be as obsessed as Malfoy is just to stay in his good books: Blaise will watch the occasional Quidditch game but doesn't have much liking for the sport: and Theodore, frankly, has better things to do with his time than watch men chasing after balls on broomsticks. The Quidditch theory falls through as well, though, when Malfoy is picked as Slytherin's new Seeker. Theodore hears people (Gryffindors especially) saying that he bought his way onto the team, but anyone who has actually seen Malfoy on a broom knows that he is a good flier. Lucius Malfoy simply wants the best for his son.

Malfoy is still acting borderline paranoid after making the Quidditch team, which leaves Theodore and Blaise rather at a dead end. They decide to stop searching, realising that while Malfoy is bad at masking his emotions he must be rather good at keeping secrets. He wouldn't be a Slytherin if he were bad at both.

They finally get their answer on Hallowe'en. The squib caretaker's cat is found petrified, the words 'Enemies of the heir, beware' daubed on the wall in blood above her.

"You'll be next, mudbloods!" Malfoy calls out, leaving a stunned silence. Those who know what 'mudblood' means either snigger in approval or begin muttering, disgusted. The fools who don't know (who are almost all mudbloods themselves, Theodore notes) merely look on, perplexed.

Malfoy obviously knows what's going on, but in the end this doesn't surprise Theodore. The Malfoys are well known for being involved with as many nefarious plots as they possibly can – at least if his father's drunken stories are to be believed.

"A mudblood's been petrified," Marcus Flint announces upon entering the common room that evening. It is very late, well past curfew, and not many Slytherins are still awake. Theodore is, as is his habit – he seems to have inherited his father's insomnia, but unlike his father he does not try to fool himself into believing that consuming vast amounts of firewhisky is the only way to get any sleep.

"How do you know, Flint?" a scrawny fourth year boy with scruffy, blonde hair asks.

"Because I saw them carrying him up to the hospital wing, Carrington," Flint snaps.

"And why were you out? You're not a prefect," a stern looking girl with black hair asks, glaring at Flint over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses. She is Maria Devereux, the current Head Girl.

Flint grins stupidly and lumbers over to the couch, sitting himself down near Theodore, who begins to feel slightly ill. The older boy reeks of firewhisky. He's obviously been to Hogsmeade and had an awful lot to drink – but Flint has the liver and stomach of a troll, which is obviously why he's not drunk.

"So who's been petrified?" Carrington asks, cutting Devereux off before she begins a tirade about rule breaking.

"Some first year Gryff," Flint replies. "That slimly little mudblood who's constantly asking the Potter brat for photos."

Theodore knows the one. Malfoy was ridiculing him only days before.

"Can I have your autograph, Potter? Can I lick your shoes please, Potter? Filthy little mudblood brat. Deserved everything he got."

"Can you stop using the word mudblood," someone snaps. It's Tracey Davis, one of Theodore's fellow second years. She's sitting in a corner with a book – obviously she can't sleep either, judging by the thick black circles under her eyes. She's a rather plain girl, with hair and eyes the colour of murky water and a slightly sallow complexion. She's also the only second year to whom Theodore has never deigned to say a word – Millicent was a half-blood, but her parents were a half-blood and a pureblood, which means that she's at least human. Tracey's were a bloodtraitor and a muggle, making her utterly beneath anyone's notice.

"What's it to you?" Flint asks. His words are beginning to sound slurred – evidently the firewhisky is starting to take affect.

"Flint, shut up," Devereux snaps. "Davis, bed. Now."

Tracey Davis skulks off towards the girls' dormitories. Just before she's left, Theodore can't resist saying, "It's a pity the mudblood bastard's not dead."

Davis shoots him an acidic look. The rest of the Slytherins roar with laughter.

There has been another attack, this time on a mudblood Hufflepuff and the Gryffindor house ghost. Theodore didn't believe it when he first heard about it – how could a ghost be petrified?

He decides to ask Maria Devereux. The Head Girl seems to know everyone and everything, so surely she'll know about ghosts.

Her reply is simple. "Your blood status doesn't change after you die, Nott. Once a mudblood, always a mudblood. Once a bloodtraitor, always a bloodtraitor. You'd do well to remember that."

He asks her who defines what a pureblood is and simply gets an icy glare in return.

The next time Theodore finds himself talking to Maria Devereux, it is because he and Blaise want advice about what subjects to take for the OWLs. The two Slytherin boys decide to ask some of the older students for advice on the subject. With them is Millicent Bulstrode, the only Slytherin girl who seems to actually want an education rather than taking the typical Slytherin female route of getting married to a wealthy pureblood with lots of influence, and thus tricking herself into thinking she has lots of influence, too. Blaise once noted scathingly that her resemblance to a hag probably means that marriage isn't even an option.

Devereux advises them to take three extra subjects. Some people only do two, but those people are generally Gryffindors with no sense of ambition whatsoever. Some people do four subjects, but those are usually Ravenclaws with no life outside their studies.

"Or mudbloods like who think they can become real wizards and witches by learning more about our world," Carrington interjects. Theodore knows that wherever Devereux and the seventh years are, Carrington is usually following; he's the type of Slytherin who knows that the right contacts are absolutely crucial to achieving his aims, and Maria Devereux is the exact kind of contact he'll need.

"Mudbloods like Hermione Granger, you mean?" Blaise laughs. "It wouldn't surprise me if she were the next one to get petrified."

Theodore privately agrees.

Devereux ignores the boys' remarks, instead deciding to tell them not to bother taking Divination or Muggle Studies – they are woolly-minded subjects suitable only for Hufflepuffs and muggles.

Theodore agrees with this, too.

Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban.

When Theodore first sees this piece of news in the Daily Prophet, he honestly thinks someone is playing an April fool's joke two and a half months too late. It isn't until he shows the article to his father, who turns ashen and spits out the firewhisky he is in the middle of drinking, that Theodore realises that perhaps the article in question isn't a joke at all.

"Black's escaped from Azkaban?" Dionysus Nott growls, murder in his eyes and disbelief on every line of his face.

"According to this, yes" Theodore replies. "I thought you said it was impossible for anyone to escape from Azkaban?"

"It is; the dementors would eat anyone who tried," his father says. "But what's even more impossible is that a bloodtraitor like Black ended up in Azkaban in the first place. He was never in service to the Dark Lord. No, not that mudblood lover."

Theodore frowns. Sirius Black, a bloodtraitor? He can't imagine a Black being anything other than a most respectable pureblood. He thinks that his father is probably wrong. It's more likely that Black was one of the inner circle of the Dark Lord's followers and that he only pretended to betray his family in order to get closer to those who opposed the Dark Lord's regime.

A Black would never be a bloodtraitor. Such a thing just wouldn't make any sense at all.

Malfoy is ranting again. They've been back at Hogwarts for all of five minutes and Malfoy just has to go and make an exhibition of himself, doesn't he?

"I mean really, what person in their right mind would employ a filthy half-breed as a teacher? It's just as my father's always said; Dumbledore's finally lost his mind, the mudblood loving old git."

Draco Malfoy has just returned to the Slytherin third year boys' dormitory after having spent the previous night in the hospital wing due to being 'mauled' by a Hippogriff, and Theodore is really wishing that he hadn't. If anything he wishes that the Hippogriff had actually done some severe damage to Malfoy, preferably to his vocal chords.

Theodore glances over at Blaise and notices that the other boy seems to be contemplating inflicting the damage that the Hippogriff had sadly neglected to do. Someone will do something sooner or later: at least he hopes they will; that way they'll all be able to get some peace.

Theodore slams his book shut, deciding that he won't be able to get any reading done so long as the blond boy is in the room, and then decides that the best plan of action is to get Malfoy to talk about something other than the fact that the Hippogriff had 'all but wrenched his arm off'. If they can't shut him up they can at least try to get him to talk sense.

"Malfoy, why in Merlin's name did you take Care of Magical Creatures in the first place?" Theodore asks. After all, even Malfoy isn't stupid enough to overlook that fact that Care of Magical Creatures might just possibly involve magical creatures.

Malfoy snorts indignantly. The expression on his face reminds Theodore a little too much of Parkinson for his liking; the two of them have obviously been spending too much time together.

"Well, when I signed up for it I was under the impression that we'd actually have a professor teaching us, not some incapable lunatic of an animal. He's not even as intelligent as the brutes he makes us work with."

Theodore resists the urge to roll his eyes. "You didn't answer my question."

"Well why aren't you taking Care of Magical Creatures," Malfoy shoots back.

"I am. I was standing right next to you all lesson, in case you didn't notice… which you evidently didn't," Theodore drawls. Blaise fails to repress a snicker.

"Why are you asking me this in the first place?" Malfoy snaps, looking suspiciously as though he is trying to avoid admitting something. This is his third year in Slytherin and he still doesn't seem to have grasped the subtle art of lying properly.

"It's just that you've always seemed to love your creature comforts too much to actually get involved with any creatures," Theodore replies. "Imagine getting dirt on your robes, Draco – your worst nightmare. And yet here you are doing it willingly." Or perhaps not, judging from the irritated flush in the boy's cheeks.

"Mother made me do it, ok?" he spits out at last. His whole demeanour now reminds Theodore of an angry albino ferret.

"Mummy's boy," Blaise splutters. "You complete and utter mummy's boy!"

Personally Theodore thinks that Blaise is the one who shouldn't be talking now. It's common knowledge that every man who has dared to contradict Blaise's mother in the past has ended up poisoned at breakfast, but of course he isn't going to say that.

"Mother said I needed to do a softer subject because the people at the Ministry prefer it if you're not too academic," Malfoy replies. "I mean, unless you want to be an Unspeakable or something like that."

"You're still avoiding the real reason, Draco," Theodore yawns. "After all, everyone knows Divination and Muggle Studies are the softest subjects of all, so if that was your real reason then you'd be doing one of them."

Malfoy stares down at his feet and mumbles something that Theodore doesn't catch but which has Blaise in tears of laughter.

"Peacocks? Peacocks? They're not even magical animals!"

Malfoy puffs himself up in such a way that Theodore is reminded of an angry ferret again. "I'll have you know that my family have been breeding albino peacocks for the past seven generations."

Blaise continues to laugh as Malfoy begins another tirade, seemingly unaware of the fact that no one's listening to him.

Theodore slams his book shut and walks down to the common room. He's never going to get any reading done in that zoo of a place.

Theodore does not like their new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. It's not like he liked their old Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers either: Blaise put Theodore's own sentiments perfectly into words when he said that Quirrell was a nervous wreck who was teaching completely the wrong subject, and Lockheart should really have been selling hair care potions rather than having to worry about breaking a nail whilst fighting dark creatures.

That doesn't change the fact that there's something a little odd about Professor Lupin. He can't say what it is exactly, but there's something odd about Lupin's eyes and smile that makes him wonder sometimes if the man is fully human. But then he'll change again and simply be a too-thin man in peasant's robes. Theodore is of the opinion that this man just cannot be trusted.

They are standing in the staff room, a musty, rectangular place that stinks of pipe tobacco and old books. It's not entirely unpleasant, Theodore decides, but it's not particularly nice because it reminds him of his father's study – minus the reek of firewhisky.

Lupin tells them that they will be facing a boggart. Theodore feels the colour drain from his face. A boggart reveals a person's worse fear, and a Slytherin wants nothing less than to have his greatest weakness exposed to those who would potentially use it against him. And there is no way to trick a boggart, so he can't fool anyone into believing that his worst fear is really a grim or something just as inconsequential and unremarkable.

He watches closely as the others are called up against the boggart, the innermost depths of their souls on show for all to see. Bulstrode sees a Chimera, Crabbe an Acromantula, Goyle a Basilisk: there is nothing strange about that. Bulstrode, Crabbe and Goyle's fears are just like they are: shallow and inconsequential despite their large statures.

Parkinson, Greengrass and Moon all see similar things; themselves, hideous, ruined and childless. Without beauty or the ability to bear heirs, pureblood women are worth nothing.

Blaise sees a shining women of incomparable beauty. Her eyes and hair are like molten obsidian and a feral smirk graces her lips. Theodore isn't sure, but he thinks that there are echoes of Blaise's own mother in the phantom woman.

Malfoy is perhaps the biggest surprise of all. Theodore had been expecting Malfoy's boggart to be failure, a ruined version of himself: but it is nothing like that at all. Two corpses lie on the floor in front of them, bloodied and battered to such an extent that you can hardly tell who they are – but Theodore knows the pureblood lines well enough to recognise the silvery hair and know that these are the corpses of Malfoy's parents. The other boy is evidently not so much of a materialist as he would like people to believe.

Tracey Davis is as much of a surprise as Malfoy. She sees a somewhat older version of herself, a haunted look in her eyes and the Dark Mark scorched upon her arm. Theodore briefly wonders how a mudblood like Davis even knows what the Dark Mark is, but he doesn't have time to think about it because he is up against the boggart himself.

In front of him stands his father, his eyes blank and a bottle of firewhisky clutched in his hand. The boggart isn't seeing anything around it; it is simply there, existing but not living. Doing nothing. Achieving nothing. Then Theodore realises something about the boggart, something too terrible for him to admit.

He does the only thing he can do. He laughs.

Theodore cannot sleep again. Having his worst fear shown to other people like that has made him distinctly uncomfortable – then again they are all been in the same position so he doubts that anyone will try and use it against him. Slytherins are self-preserving first and foremost, Theodore knows that much.

He is very shocked when someone moves close enough to him to touch him if they wanted to. He starts, turning away from the fire to find himself staring straight into the muddy brown eyes of Tracey Davis. The black circles under her eyes are darker than ever, and Theodore can guess that she is just as disturbed by the day's events as he is.

She sits herself down on the sofa next to him, something that shocks him because in all their years as housemates the closest they've come to speaking is when she shot him a filthy look for his comment about the Gryffindor mudblood having deserved exactly what he got when he was petrified.

"He shouldn't have made us do that," Davis says at last, her voice cracking slightly. "It may have been a good exercise to do with the Gryffindors or Hufflepuffs or Ravenclaws, but not for us. That man has no idea what Slytherin house can be like!"

"It's not always bad, you know," Theodore replies. "I think it's probably the best house to be in." For if he hadn't been in Slytherin he would never have met Blaise, would never have had the chance to listen in on the older students' plotting concerning their futures, would never have had the opportunity to watch Draco Malfoy make a complete prat of himself most days.

"It is for you," Davis spits. "You're a pureblood."

"And your parents are muggles, I take it?" Theodore drawls, a sneer on his face.

"My mother is" Tracey replies curtly, her expression mirroring Theodore's own. "My father is a wizard. A pureblood."

"Which house was he in?"

It is then that she turns scarlet and looks at the floor.

"Hufflepuff," she mumbles at last. "Most of my family have been in Hufflepuff. I've got four brothers, all of them in Hufflepuff. And then there's me – the Slytherin oddity."

Theodore is surprised. He had never known that Davis had siblings, let alone so many of them, and usually between him and Blaise they knew everything about everyone.

"We lost everything in the last war," Davis says at last, so quietly that Theodore almost doesn't hear her.

So that's why her boggart is herself as a Death Eater. She is from a family of Hufflepuff mudbloods who suffered greatly in the last war with the Dark Lord. No wonder she is the antithesis of everything a Slytherin ought to be.

"Why was your boggart your father?"

Theodore doesn't know whether he should be angry at her impertinence. How dare she ask him such a personal question? Then he realises that he can't keep this in much longer now he knows it; if he tries to keep this secret it might just kill him.

"That boggart wasn't my father," Theodore replies. "It was me."

He knows from her silence that she understands.

Blaise Zabini's mother is getting married again. It is the first thing that Theodore notices whilst reading the society pages in the Daily Prophet that morning at breakfast, and it suddenly reminds him why he even bothers reading that awful rag of a paper in the first place.

Blaise evidently hadn't known anything about it until he glimpsed quickly at the paper that Crabbe had left lying on the table. (Crabbe, of course, only gets the paper because his mother insists on it: in fact Theodore doesn't think he's ever seen the other boy read it in all their time at Hogwarts.)

Theodore works out that the announcement of Blaise's mother's fifth (or is it sixth now?) marriage has come as rather a shock, as Blaise quickly drains his second cup of coffee and practically runs out of the hall. Blaise, who never drinks less than four cups of coffee at breakfast and always takes his time over his food – even a muggle could probably tell that something is wrong.

Theodore finds Blaise near one of the old greenhouses. It is abandoned: the plants overgrown and out of order. It looks like part of the forest has somehow been placed in a glass house. Theodore doesn't like it; it seems unnatural.

Blaise is sitting on a tree root, leaning against the glass panes of the greenhouse and tearing handfuls of grass out of the earth. His expression is darker than Theodore has ever seen it before and the surrounding area is charged with magic. He knows it would not be a good idea to walk up to Blaise unannounced.

"Blaise," Theodore says. The other boy looks up at him. Sensing a lack of hostility toward him, Theodore decides to sit down next to Blaise on the tree root. He doesn't ask if the other boy is alright; it was obvious he isn't, and playing dumb like a Gryffindor or Hufflepuff will just make matters worse.

"This is her sixth husband, you know," Blaise says eventually, his voice so quiet that Theodore almost doesn't hear him. "Her sixth. And she didn't even bother to inform me that she was getting married." He yanks another clump of grass out of the soil and continues. "I'm never going to get married. Not even to preserve the purity of my bloodline or anything. I won't. I refuse. I won't."

"Why, because you're afraid you'll end up murdering numerous wives in the same way your mother's killed all her husbands?" Theodore drawls. Blaise snorts derisively.


"Or maybe you're afraid you'll end up poisoned by some femme fatale like the men your mother's killed?"

Blaise laughs bitterly. "That's closer to the mark, I guess. Honestly, the way my mother acts has just convinced me that I don't want anything to do with women. Nothing at all. I can live my life without being enchanted by a spider only to be caught up in its web and eaten, thanks."

Theodore nods in agreement. Now he knows exactly why Blaise's boggart is a beautiful woman.

They are in the grounds of the Malfoy mansion, sprawled out lazily in the shade of a large oak tree. Malfoy is wearing pure white robes because of the warm weather. The glass of pink lemonade he is clutching in his hand is the only thing about him that has any colour.

Malfoy is ranting on about the Quidditch World Cup finals. He, of course, went to see the match and sat in the top box with the minister – as usual Malfoy's father wants only the absolute best for his son. Malfoy is saying this for at least that fifth time that Theodore remembers.

Theodore did not go to the Quidditch World Cup finals. He completely fails to see the point of Quidditch – that is one of the few things he and his father agree on. Theodore is wearing dark green robes (he hardly even notices the heat), and is paying more attention to the bubbles in his lemonade than he is to Malfoy's voice.

That is until he hears the words 'Death Eaters' and decides that Malfoy might have begun talking about something more interesting than Quidditch.

"What have Death Eaters got to do with any of this?" Theodore drawls. Malfoy glares at him.

"I knew you weren't listening, Nott." There is a definite sulk in Malfoy's tone now. "And if you'd actually been paying attention you would have realised that there was Death Eater activity at the Quidditch World Cup. Have you not read the Daily Prophet?"

Theodore thinks that the Daily Prophet is mainly a load of rubbish, and has no problems sharing this opinion with Malfoy.

"Well, I happen to know why they did it," Malfoy replies. "Some of the old boys weren't happy with the fact that there were muggles anywhere near the game – even if they didn't know what was going on. I say muggles never do know what's happening around them, ignorant, filthy animals, so there's no difference between a muggle with a spell on him and a normal one. Except for when they're being played with, of course. I only wish father and the others had let me join it. It would have been such good fun to make the filthy animals scream."

Theodore resists the urge to roll his eyes. Trust Lucius Malfoy not to be able to resist the urge to muggle bait. He would have bet his last galleon that Walden Macnair was involved as well, and Crabbe and Goyle's fathers. It was just the sort of unsophisticated activity that would please bloodthirsty men like them.

"And just how much firewhisky did they have to drink beforehand?" Theodore can't help but ask.

"And do you know what else I know?" Malfoy says, ignoring Theodore's comment. There is a smug look on his face that plainly states 'I know something you don't know'. Theodore frowns, thinking that Malfoy is going to say more about the Death Eater's recent events. "The Triwizard Tournament is going to be held at Hogwarts this year. It's supposed to be confidential information, but of course father has all the right contacts at the so I get to hear about it before anyone else."

Theodore does not care about that. He is not listening any more; instead he is wondering how long it will take Malfoy to realise that his once-white robes are now covered in grass stains.

Harry Potter is the fourth Triwizard champion.

It sounds strange to Theodore no matter how many times he says it. Not because it's Harry Potter (the boy's a Gryffindor, they've been known to survive worse things than the Triwizard Tournament) but because there are four Triwizard Champions. Four Triwizard Champions. No matter how many times he says it, it just sounds wrong. There are supposed to be three Triwizard Champions, not four.

Malfoy doesn't seem to have realised this, though. He's spent the past half-hour ranting about how it's completely unfair that Potter always seems to get all the luck. Privately Theodore thinks Malfoy is just glad that it's not him having to do all those ridiculous tasks; no Slytherin would be quite so stupid as to willingly enter such a dangerous and pointless competition as the Triwizard Tournament.

"It's ridiculous how Potter gets absolutely everything for nothing," Malfoy is hissing. As always when he is in these moods, Malfoy reminds Theodore of an angry ferret. If anything it makes his amusing to watch.

"Malfoy, the amount of time you spend ranting about Potter, well, I wouldn't be surprised if you're in love with him or something," Blaise drawls.

Privately Theodore thinks that if anyone is in love with Harry Potter then Blaise is the most likely candidate, but of course he doesn't say that.

Draco storms off. Blaise grins.

"At least we'll have some peace now."

Ever since the time when he ranted about a killer Hippogriff in third year, Malfoy has reminded Theodore of a ferret when he's angry. He has the same twitchy nose, beady eyes, slippery manner and sharp fangs as a ferret, so Theodore can see exactly why he thought of that image in the first place.

And now Draco Malfoy really is a ferret. Well, at least he was earlier in the day when Professor Moody got to him. Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle had exchanged insults with Potter, Weasley, and the mudblood girl whose name he can never quite be bothered to remember. Graveney? Granger? Grainsby? Her name begins with a G, but that's all he can recall.

Theodore had thought that the whole thing would pass quickly, as usual – and then suddenly there was an albino ferret standing next to Crabbe and Goyle instead of Malfoy. And that ferret had disappeared down Crabbe's trousers before being thrown around for a while. Then Malfoy reappeared, bruised, battered, and healthier looking than he ever had been before.

At least that shade of pink would have looked normal on anyone other than Malfoy: on him it looked feverish.

Parkinson tells him later in the evening that Malfoy is in the hospital wing for the night with a severe concussion and an arm that has broken in four places, and Theodore can't help but feel pity for the boy, who has just been hauled down to earth with a humiliating crash.

No matter how sorry he feels for Malfoy, he can't resist telling Tracey that he's always suspected that Malfoy was really a ferret. She laughs.

It is only then that Theodore realises that Tracey is just as much his friend as Blaise is.

Theodore had a bad feeling about Lupin last year, but this is nothing compared to how he feels about Professor Moody. The man's oversized, electric blue fake eye is unnerving enough in itself, but it is made even worse by the fact that his other eye, dark and beady, is blazing with nothing less than pure hatred.

The Slytherins are only a few minutes into their first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson of the year, and already Theodore is wishing that they had anyone other than Moody for a teacher. Lupin may have been a werewolf, less than human, but he was certainly a fairer teacher. He wouldn't put if past Moody to take points from Slytherin if any of them so much as breathe too loudly.

Theodore is sitting near the back of the room with Blaise. Moody seems to be ignoring Blaise altogether, but he has already felt the man's cold gaze boring into him more than once. He has noticed that Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle are all being subjected to the same thing, and realises quickly why this is. He, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle are the sons of Death Eaters, and thus Moody thinks that they are the ones he needs to watch. Blaise, Parkinson, Greengrass and Moon's families have links with dark wizards, but they were careful not to ally themselves with the Dark Lord in the last war. Bulstrode and Tracey are the only ones with no family connections to the dark arts, which is probably why Moody doesn't even seem to notice that they are there.

No wonder Moody is looking at them as though they are scum. He evidently thinks that the sins of the father are also the sins of the son. The fool. It is prejudice like this that leads many wizards and witches to practice the Dark Arts in the first place.

The mad professor has started to rant about the importance of constant vigilance, but Theodore cannot be bothered to listen to this. Who does he think he is to teach Slytherins how to be vigilant? Teaching Slytherins how to be vigilant is as pointless as teaching mermaids how to swim.

"You will pay attention rather than painting your nails while I'm talking, Miss Parkinson," Moody shouts, causing Pansy to start and get a line of acid green nail paint down her hand. Evidently that hideous eye can see through solid objects; this is not a comforting thought.

"Now, I've had a letter from Professor Lupin telling me about every single one of his classes. Apparently your year has a good knowledge of dark creatures but knows absolutely nothing else." His lip curls up into a sneer as he surveys each and every one of them. "Then again, I'd be surprised if you didn't all have at least some knowledge of dark magic."

This is said in exactly the venomous tones Theodore would have expected from an Auror, only it is worse. Moody looks as though he would have no problem with killing each and every one of them there and then. When is this man going to realise that just because their fathers' have strange, twisted views of magic it doesn't necessarily mean they do as well?

"Now, let's not waste any more time," Moody says. "We're going to be learning about curses. By all accounts you've had very little formal instruction on them." Moody's emphasis of the word 'formal' is annoying; concentrating on his breathing is all Theodore can do to stop his ink pot shattering and scattering all over the room. "I've got one year to teach you fools that dark magic isn't the amusing plaything you want it to be. The Dark Arts require subtlety, control and power, three things you all evidently lack."

Malfoy apparently has even less control over his magic than Theodore. His inkwell explodes, spattering glass and green ink all over the room. Moody smiles icily at him; Malfoy has just proved to be true the last thing he was saying: he disappears all the mess with a flick of his wand, leaving Malfoy scarlet with frustration - and fear.

"Now, what do we know about curses?" Moody hisses. "Obviously you all know that they come in all sorts of different forms. According to the Ministry of Magic I'm supposed to teach counter-curses and nothing else until sixth year, but it'll be to late by then. How will you ever be able to hold your own in a duel if you can't identify the dark curses your opponent's throwing at you until it's too late? Now, luckily for us Professor Dumbledore thinks more of your nerves than the Ministry does, and I think he's right. You're old enough to cope with how cruel wizards can be to their own kind by now I'm sure." Again there is the implication that they are Slytherins, the cruellest of all children, so obviously they will have a much better idea of the workings of the human mind than the average Hufflepuff, Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. "Now, who can tell me what curses are most heavily punished by wizarding law?"

Nobody answers. No one so much as moves. None of them want to be the one to be singled out by this mad professor of theirs as a youthful practitioner of the Dark Arts.

"You, Malfoy!" Moody barks out suddenly, making everyone jump. "Lucius Malfoy's son, aren't you?"

Malfoy nods, his lips pursed together in an expression of disgust that he usually reserves for mudbloods and muggles.

"Name one of the curses and tell me what it does."

"The Cruciatus curse," he says at last. "It inflicts pain."

"Inflicts pain?" Moody says. It looks as though his eyes are about to pop out of his head with rage. "It doesn't just inflict pain, boy. It is a form of torture. If you can inflict the Cruciatus properly then you don't just cause someone pain; you can drive them over the edge of sanity into madness." He stops and smiles that cruel smile of his at Malfoy again, and Theodore can't help but feel sorry for him. "That was a favourite of your Aunt Bellatrix's, once. She was one of the Dark Lord's most loyal followers and now she's rotting away in Azkaban."

Malfoy has gone paler than Theodore has ever seen him before. It seems as though he's gone into shock. Theodore realises that Malfoy didn't even know he had an aunt, let alone one who's rotting away in Azkaban even now for her part in the war. In a way it's not a surprise; Malfoy has always been very sheltered.

Moody, meanwhile, has taken a glass jar out of his desk draw. Inside it are three large, black spiders. Moody reaches in a places one on the desk, then waves his wand at it, causing it to become the size of a baby acromantula.

Theodore notices that Crabbe's face has completely drained of colour. He looks as though he doesn't even want to be in the room, but he knows he'll lose face if he shows quite how terrified he is.

Moody raises his wand and hisses one word. "Crucio."

The reverential way in which the professor says this is enough to make Theodore's stomach turn. It is as though he is speaking to a beloved friend, not as though he is inflicting pain on a helpless creature. Theodore knows that a certain sadistic streak is necessary to cast the Cruciatus properly, and it doesn't bode well that their professor has it. He is sure that if it weren't illegal Moody would have cruciated every single one of them by now.

The spider's legs have bent in on themselves, completely distorting its shape. It is thrashing about wildly, twitching from side to side as though by doing that it could escape from the pain it is in. Theodore knows that if the spider were a human, it would have screamed its throat raw by now.

Moody raises his wand again and releases the curse, but the spider is still twitching horribly. Humans usually shake uncontrollably for days after being released from the vice-like grip of the Cruciatus, Theodore knows that much.

"Zabini," Moody shouts, causing Blaise to jump. "Name me another."

"Umm, the Imperius curse" Blaise stutters out at last. "It controls people's thoughts and actions. Basically turns them into living Inferi."

Moody is smiling that strange smile again, only this time at Blaise rather than Malfoy. "Yes, you would know about that, wouldn't you, Zabini," he drawls. "With a mother like yours I'm sure you've seen it used many a time."

"Leave my mother out of this," Blaise snaps back, angry. Theodore knows that while he may despise women, Blaise is impossibly protective of the mother that hates him. "Of course she's never used the Imperius curse. Do you think she's stupid enough to risk going to Azkaban for life?"

"Then why do all of her husbands die suddenly and leave her lots of money?" Moody asks, still smiling that strange, icy smile of his.

"She's just been unlucky, that's all," Blaise replies.

"No, Zabini," Moody replies. "This is what your mother has done to every single one of her husbands." He points his wand at another of the spiders and says, "Imperio."
The spider begins to walk on its hind legs then begins to spin a perfectly stable web in thin air, something that would normally have been impossible.

The tone in Moody's voice disturbs Theodore again, even more than the curse this time. He could hear the desire for control in the man's voice, but what is worse is that he can remember using the same desire to control others himself. He remembers how just by using the right tone of voice (and what he now recognises as the right amount of magic, too) he could make the house-elves do anything he wanted – even kill themselves.

"Absolute control," Moody says. "During the last war, a lot of people were controlled in just this way. This made it especially difficult to figure out who had actually been followers of the Dark Lord and who hadn't been in control of their own actions at the time. Of course this meant that a lot of Death Eaters escaped Azkaban." His gaze lingered on Theodore, Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle once again. Theodore glared back, not wanting to be intimidated by this man; what was the worst he could do to them in this environment, really? Give them detention?

"Nott," Moody says eventually. "Name the last curse."

"Avada Kedavra," Theodore replies. "The killing curse."

They all know what is going to happen next but none of them can tear their eyes away. Moody shouts the incantation and Theodore can hear the hatred in his voice. He wants that spider to die: if the intention isn't there then the curse won't work. There is a flash of green light and the spider lies dead on the desk, but Theodore can hardly concentrate now. He remembers seeing that light before, remembers hearing pure hatred in a man's voice like that a long time ago – but the body he saw that time was not a spider's but his mother's.

"Not so glamorous as you'd thought, were they?" Moody says, sounding for all the world like a bully taunting a young child. "Now remember this - using any single one of these curses on another human being is enough to land you in Azkaban for life." There is the unspoken sentiment in his eyes that that is exactly where each and every one of them belongs.

Part of Theodore wants to ask Tracey to come to the Yule Ball with him. A very large part of him, in fact – but the rational, pureblood part of his brain insists that it won't do well to be seen with a mudblood at a whole-school event. Associating with her within Slytherin is one thing (if anyone asks why he bothers with her, he states that there are no other decent chess players in his year, which is true), but associating with a mudblood where the whole school can see? No, it would be tantamount of suicide and he knows it.

He is saved the worry of asking Tracey to go to the ball with him when she announces that she is going home for Christmas; she doesn't see the point in staying at Hogwarts when she could be with her family.

Bulstrode is home for the holidays as well, but everyone else seems to want to stay at Hogwarts. Malfoy is going with Parkinson, Greengrass is going with a Beauxbatons boy, and Moon is with one of the Durmstrang lot: if anything they're helping inter-school relations, Theodore muses. Crabbe and Goyle refuse to go with dates, instead deciding to chaperone Malfoy and Parkinson and subsequently looking like the world's oddest couple.

Theodore is almost certain that he's just going to miss the ball when Blaise asks – or rather tells him that they're going together. He doesn't want anything to do with any of the girls (though a good number of Slytherins, most of Ravenclaw and even a few Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors have been practically begging him to go with them), so he's decided he'll take Theodore instead and is not going to take no for an answer.

When Blaise says he's not taking no for an answer, he means it.

This is why Theodore finds himself sitting at a table in the corner of the Great Hall with Blaise, drinking pumpkin juice that some seventh year Gryffindors spiked with muggle alcohol earlier in the evening. Theodore finds it rather unpleasant, but Blaise is chugging back gallons of it.

Theodore thinks that if Blaise drinks any more he'll start to remind him of his father, and that isn't a good thing whichever way you look at it.

"This is a waste of time," Blaise mutters, echoing Theodore's thoughts exactly.

"You're the one who insisted we come in the first place," Theodore replies curtly.

Blaise takes another sip of his spiked punch and grins. "It's all about keeping up appearances, my dear friend. No one cares what you're really like so long as you act like they'd expect you to."

Theodore wonders why Blaise is better at giving fittingly Slytherin advice when he's drunk.

"I knew this ridiculous tournament would end with someone getting killed."

Theodore is with Tracey. They are sitting in a disused classroom in the dungeons – the one they always come to in order to play chess when the noise in the common room becomes impossible to stand any longer. The school is in a state of chaos; the Hogwarts champion, Diggleby or whatever his name was, is dead. Potter is a raving lunatic and is claiming that the Dark Lord has returned.

Tracey glowers at Theodore with surprising venom in her gaze. It reminds him of how she used to look at him before the boggart incident in their third year, before they ever really spoke to each other.

"How can you be so cold?" she asks, and he thinks that there might be something more than just sadness in her eyes.

"Why do you care?" Theodore retorts. "It's not as if you knew Diggleby personally, is it?"

"His name's Diggory," Tracey snarls. "Cedric Diggory. And actually, yes, I did know him personally. My brother's in his year; he was one of his best friends. I can't even remember how many times Cedric stayed with us during the holidays. For the love of Merlin, Nott, think before you speak for once!"

She flounces out of the room, and again Theodore finds his belief that he and Blaise know everything about everyone totally destroyed by Tracey Davis. He is rather annoyed by this, but he is even more annoyed by the fact that they haven't even finished their game of chess.

Theodore's father is waiting for him at King's Cross Station. This is enough to send him into shock, because it's rare that his father leaves to Manor at all, and if he does he never usually ventures anywhere other than Knockturn Alley.

Theodore does not have time to say anything, because as soon as he is close enough his father grabs his arm and apparates them both away, back to the manor.

The dust is inches thick but his father's magic is buzzing. There is more life in the house than there has ever been in Theodore's memory.

"The Dark Lord is back, boy," his father says at last, his eyes burning with hysteria. "The Dark Lord is back."

Theodore is prepared to think that the man has lost his mind, but then his father shows him the Dark Mark, which is branded on his left forearm – and on his soul for all eternity.

Harry Potter is not the insane liar most of Hogwarts think he is. The Dark Lord has returned.

Malfoy's eyes as practically the size of a house elf's. He has never liked Care of Magical Creatures much, and the fact that they are going into the Forbidden Forest to study thestrals seems to be more than he can stand.

"And you sure they're trained, are you?" Malfoy asks, the panic in his voice so obvious that Theodore is sure that even the Gryffindors can hear it. "Only it wouldn't be the first time you'd brought wild stuff, to class, would it?"

"Course they're trained," Hagrid replies, but Theodore rather doubts that this is true.

"So what happened to your face then?" Malfoy demands to know. Hagrid just ignores him and leads them all further into the forest.

Theodore personally finds this rather amusing. It isn't as though the thestrals are about to eat any witch or wizard that gets near them. They're not as terrifying as one would think; but then again he's been able to see them since his first year of Hogwarts, so he supposes that he's almost used to them now.

A thestral near him is tearing the cow Hagrid has thrown to them to shreds. He wrinkles his nose in disgust; it would be very annoying if he got blood on his robes.

Theodore notices that only Potter and Longbottom seem able to see the thestrals. It's not a surprise, really. Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Bulstrode and Parkinson have all led rather sheltered lives, and Gryffindors are generally only brave until they're faced with reality.

Then one of the blasted creatures looks straight at him, and Theodore is hit by the memory of his father's anger, his mother's screaming and a flash of impossibly green light. That was when he saw death for the first time, and that is why he can see these creatures. The way the thestral is looking at him makes him think that he'll see death many more times in his life; in fact he is almost sure of it. The Dark Lord is back, and one can't have war without death.

Suddenly Theodore doesn't find Malfoy's terror so amusing any more.

"Are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Theodore doesn't understand Tracey's question. What in Merlin's name does she mean by 'seen a ghost'? Of course he's seen a ghost; they had History of Magic earlier that day.

She notices his confusion and quickly corrects herself.

"It's a muggle saying," she sighs. "You look like how a muggle would look had they seen a ghost. Most muggles don't believe they exist, you know."

Theodore snorts derisively. The fact that they don't believe in ghosts is another example of the stupidity of the muggle race.

"Seriously though, Theodore, are you alright?" She frowns. "Millicent said that you were studying thestrals in Care of Magical Creatures today. Is that what's upset you, having to study something you can't see."

"I suppose it would be rather disturbing if I couldn't see them," Theodore muses aloud. He sees the colour drain from Tracey's face; evidently she wasn't expecting that. She looks like she wants to ask what he saw but thinks better of it; it just wouldn't be an appropriate thing to do.

Most of the other Slytherins know anyway, so he doesn't see the harm in telling her. Besides, he doesn't have to tell her how his mother died.

"I saw my mother die when I was nine," he replies. "So in a way I suppose you're right – a wizard seeing a thestral really is rather like a muggle seeing a ghost."

"Have you seen the rubbish that they've printed in the Quibbler today?"

Theodore looks up from his work, glaring daggers at the person who has interrupted him. He came to the library to get away from the usual distractions in the Slytherin common room, and now someone has the gall to interrupt him even though he is in the library and therefore obviously working.

He is not at all surprised when he realises that Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle are the ones who've come to disturb his peace.

"I didn't think you read the Quibbler," Theodore says, sneering. "If you honestly think there's anything in there that's worth reading, then being transfigured into a ferret did your brains even more damage than I thought."

Malfoy flushes and shoves the copy of the Quibbler into his hands. "I confiscated it off a first year; you know Professor Umbridge says we're not supposed to have them."

"What is in there?" Theodore asks, still not bothering to look at it. "An article about how Bulstrode is really half-veela?"

"This isn't a joke, Nott!" Malfoy shouts, earning them a glare from Madame Pince. "Just read this, ok?"

The words 'Harry Potter Speaks Out at Last: The Truth about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Night I Saw Him Return' are written in large, red letters across the cover. Theodore fails to see why this should worry him, but as he reads on he feels the colour drain from his face. His father, along with Malfoy's, Crabbe's and Goyle's, has been named as a Death Eater. He doesn't want to think about what this will do to his reputation.

"Why did no one tell me sooner?" he snarls.

"Because we knew you wouldn't listen," Malfoy replies.

It's then that Theodore catches sight of none other than Harry Potter himself only metres away from them. Goyle cracks his knuckles threateningly. Malfoy raises and eyebrow, then admonishes Goyle for such a muggle display of aggression.

"You're a pureblood, Gregory. Act like one."

Malfoy is on one of his rants again. Goyle, Parkinson and Greengrass seem to be hanging adoringly off his every word, but the rest of the Slytherins are frankly getting bored.

Theodore is sitting in the corner with Tracey, but unfortunately they are not far enough away from

"You're a bloody idiot, Malfoy," Tracey sneers and Malfoy goes scarlet, his eyes flashing with indignation.

"You can talk, Davis."

"Well done for noticing that I can talk," Tracey drawls. "And do you really not realise how much of a prat you are?"

"And what gives you the right to say anything like that to be, you jumped up little mudblood?" Malfoy snarls. "I'll report you to Umbridge."

Tracey responds with a roll of her eyes. "Umbridge is the reason you're sounding like a doxy's eating your brains, actually. You keep going on about how brilliant an example of a Slytherin she is."

"So? She is."

"Except for the fact that she never was a Slytherin. Dolores Umbridge was a Hufflepuff. She was in school with my grandfather."

Malfoy's only reply to that is to mumble something about filthy half-breeds and Hufflepuff duffers. It's obvious that he is surprised, but then again so is Theodore. Whoever would have guessed that Hufflepuff was capable of producing so vile a creature as Umbridge?

Theodore thinks that this will be the worst summer he has ever had in his life. He ended the school year with the news that his father has been taken to Azkaban. The Dark Lord has returned and Dionysus Nott has been identified as one of his closest followers. There will be no trial; the Dark Mark on his father's arm is evidence enough to condemn him.

Sometimes Theodore questions the wizarding world's idea of justice. Do what you will to your enemies but let no one harm your allies. They are Gryffindors, the lot of them; at least Slytherins will harm their enemies and allies in equal measure as they see fit.

He decides that he will not join the war. If he ends up on the wrong side, which knowing his family's luck is exactly what will happen, then it's probable that he'll end up rotting away in Azkaban just like his father. Having to be alone until September is enough to fill him with dread; he does not even want to contemplate what being isolated in a cell in Azkaban for the rest of his life would do to him.

Theodore enters the manor, which is already filled with inches of dust, then slams the door behind him. The place is dead. The sound of silence is deafening.

It is almost three-o-clock in the morning, but Theodore knows that he won't be able to sleep even if he wants to. He hardly slept all summer, and he doesn't see why this should automatically change now that he is back at Hogwarts. For the first few nights he had thought that being surrounded by people might make him more comfortable – after all, the Nott Manor had been unbearably silent since the Aurors had carted his father away to Azkaban.

But the fact remains that Theodore still cannot sleep, so instead of forcing himself to lie and wait for a sleep that is never going to come, he decides that he is going to sit up in the common room and read. It usually helps his mind calm down even if it doesn't necessarily make him sleep. And sometimes Tracey is there, which he thinks is always helpful. No matter that she's a mudblood, Theodore can't help but enjoy her company. He has Blaise for banter and Malfoy and his goons for nonsense, but sometimes it seems as though Tracey is the only one who speaks the same, Slytherin language as him in his entire blasted year.

Theodore stares blankly at the pages of the book that is resting on his lap. He knows that there are words in front of him; he just can't quite fathom what they say. He is thinking too much again. He is turning into his father. He has been like that ever since the start of the summer. Why, even Goyle asked what he was thinking about the other day. If even Goyle can tell that he is thinking then he is certainly thinking far too much. Either that or his defences have just crumbled over the summer. He is simply glad that he hasn't been thrown in Azkaban along with his father.

The entrance to the common room slides open and then shuts again. Theodore doesn't need to look round to know who it is; the same person has been following this routine every night since they arrived back at school. Of course Theodore has pretended to be reading and the other person has not noticed his presence, either on purpose or because they are too wrapped up in trying to hide what they are doing. Theodore suspects the latter: Draco Malfoy has never been the most observant of people, despite what his sorting into Slytherin would make some believe.

Theodore can guess what Malfoy has been up to, not that he cares too much as long as he never has to do such things himself. After his conversation with Tracy at the end of their fourth year he decided that would rather be branded a traitor than be as weak-willed and cowardly as his father, his schoolmates and their fathers. Theodore Nott has his own mind; Draco Malfoy evidently does not.

Theodore can still remember the shape that Malfoy's boggart took in their third year, and he is almost certain that that shape is still the same. Malfoy is doing something for the Dark Lord in order to protect his family's honour, but that still doesn't make it right.

"Prefecting again, Malfoy?" Theodore drawls, and is delighted to see Malfoy jump, startled, for as Theodore suspected he hadn't realised that anyone was there.

"Of course," Malfoy says curtly. "What else would I be doing out of bed at this dreadful hour."

Theodore sees straight through this lie. Malfoy sounds convincing (his ability to lie has improved over the last few years if nothing else) but Theodore happens to know that the other boy does not have prefecting duties tonight. Between him and Blaise they know everything about everyone – well, most things.

Theodore toys with the idea of letting the matter lie, but this time he decides to call Malfoy's bluff. It will be rather fun to watch the blond boy squirm.

"Why, I had no idea that the Dark Lord even had input over your prefecting duties," Theodore drawls. Malfoy visibly pales. "I know you've joined him, you know."

"And I'd like to know why you haven't," is Malfoy's snarled reply. Theodore smirks to himself; oh yes, it is fun to watch the other boy snarl and squeal and squirm like a trapped little ferret.

He briefly wonders why he gets so bloody sadistic when he doesn't sleep. Maybe that's why his father was always so mad. He must be even worse now if Azkaban is anything like they claim.

Theodore raises an eyebrow. "Why would I?"

"Your father is one of us," Malfoy replies. "You should carry on this honour."

Theodore's lip curls in distaste. "You really are mindless, Malfoy. You're simply doing this to uphold 'family honour' and all the dragon dung, aren't you? Tch, well unlike you I have my own identity. I am not my father – and you are not yours, as you'll find out soon enough."

"The Dark Lord will show you otherwise."

"I do not fear Voldemort."

Malfoy flinches. Theodore smirks. He will not fear a name; he is no coward, not like his. Malfoy glares at Theodore. Theodore glares back. Eventually Malfoy gives up and turns to walk back to the dormitory.

"Have fun prefecting tomorrow night," Theodore calls after him then he turns his attention back to his potions book. But of course he cannot focus; he never can anymore.

Malfoy has done the wrong thing. Theodore is quite certain that Malfoy is not a marked Death Eater yet (few ever achieved that prior to coming of age, and all were remarkable wizards, something Draco Malfoy is certainly not), got himself involved in this war, and likely has blood on his hands already. Theodore, however, will do nothing of the sort; he is a Slytherin, and his only loyalty is to himself, just as had always been the case. And yet Malfoy, for all his wrongdoings, can sleep soundly at night, while Theodore is kept awake, staring blankly at the pages of a rotting old potions textbook.

Malfoy wants to make himself into a perfect carbon copy of his father.

Turning into his father is Theodore's worst nightmare.

"Having a nice day, Theo?" Tracey asks. Theodore immediately knows that she is in an extremely good mood. She only ever calls him Theo when she's happy about something. Most of the time she calls him Theodore. It's only when she's ridiculously angry that she calls him Nott. He is glad; for some reason 'Nott' always sounds cold when it comes from her.

"It's no different to any other day," Theodore replies. "Apart from the fact that Vector's assigned us fifty pages diagrams to study for arithmancy, which is just wonderful." He says the last part with sarcasm dripping from his every word; Arithmancy is only interesting when he isn't being forced to do it. "So, are we going to play chess or not?"

Tracey has a glint in her eyes that reminds him of how Blaise acts when he's planning to raid Slughorn's alcohol cabinet in the middle of the night.

"I've remembered, you know," she says at last. "I know you probably wouldn't have expected it, but I have."

Theodore frowns. "Remembered what?"

"It's November twelfth. Your birthday."

Theodore had completely forgotten. He had been of age for almost twenty-four hours now and he hadn't even realised.

"Oh, so it is," he says.

Tracey rolls her eyes. "Don't sound so excited. You're lucky; my birthday isn't until April. I've got months to wait. But anyway, I've got you a present."

She pulls a bottle out of her bag. A single brief glance at the ruby-coloured liquid is enough to tell Theodore that it's firewhisky.

He knows he should be grateful, but he really can't thank for her this. He's not going to let himself start drinking that rancid stuff; he might turn out like his father if he does.

"Thank you, Tracey, but I can't accept that," he says at last.

"Why not?"

"You've forgotten that I don't drink," he replies. She groans. First he forgot his birthday entirely, and now she's brought him one of the worst presents possible.

"I knew I should have just bought you a book," she sighs.

"It doesn't matter," he replies. "You're not obliged to buy me anything. But we could play chess if you'd like."

"But we do that every time we're here."

"Exactly," Theodore says. He likes their routine and he has no intention to break it just because he's now of age.

When he gets back to the dormitory later, Blaise presents him with yet another bottle of firewhisky. He wonders when his fellow Slytherins will accept the fact that he just doesn't drink.

Dumbledore is dead.

Theodore has to admit that he didn't quite believe it when he heard that the headmaster had died; even if he was a mudblood lover and a Gryffindor, only a fool would deny that Dumbledore was a great and powerful wizard – just like only a fool would deny that the Dark Lord is a great and powerful wizard, though many try to do so.

What he believes even less than that are the rumours that Malfoy and Snape were involved in Dumbledore's demise. He knew all year that Malfoy was up to something, but he had thought that it would be nothing more than reporting back basic information on the state of the school to some actual Death Eaters.

Then he sees Parkinson wailing into Blaise's shoulder, screaming about how she never should have encouraged Draco by telling him that taking the Dark Mark was a brave thing to do. If he dies now it is her fault.

Parkinson is prone to hysteria, but never like this. This is sincere, genuine remorse: even she can't lie so well as to fake that. He catches her eye momentarily and knows that every rumour he's heard about Malfoy is true: he really is a Death Eater now, a fully member of the Dark Lord's ranks.

He believes the rumours of Snape's involvement even less than he believed the ones about Malfoy; they are probably the work of some snide Gryffindors out to ruin the potions master's reputation, what little is left of it. Snape was their Head of House, Dumbledore trusted him – and more importantly Snape was a Slytherin. Why would be blow his cover so spectacularly by murdering the very man who had saved him from having to rot in Azkaban?

He thinks of his own father rotting away in Azkaban and shudders. Dionysus Nott must have lost all of his sanity by now; he was mad before he even went in there, so Theodore can't bear to think about what he will be like when he escapes. When, not if; Dumbledore is dead and the Dark Lord has returned to power.

It is two-o-clock in the afternoon exactly when Theodore receives the letter. He can remember this even years later because owl post never usually comes at that time of day; it usually either arrives early in the morning or during the middle of the night.

He doesn't recognise the owl and he doesn't recognise the handwriting – evidently it was written with a quick quotes quill. No one's real writing is quite so neat as this.

He rips open the letter and reads it. He has to read it three times before he is actually aware of what he is reading.

Dear Theo,

I just wanted to tell you that I won't be coming back this year. I'm a half-blood from a family of bloodtraitor Hufflepuffs, aren't I? I'm sorry but it's just safer this way. You can contact me on the address below if you need me – I'm telling you this because I trust you're not a fool enough to have joined them. Burn this letter when you're finished with it; I can't afford to be discovered.


At the end of the letter is an address, which Theodore quickly memorises. He only needs to see something once and it is stuck in his mind forever.

He thought he knew who the letter was from as soon as he heard the mention of 'bloodtraitor Hufflepuffs', and upon seeing the initials 'T.D' at the bottom he is certain that this letter is from Tracey. Who else could it be?

Theodore burns the letter to ashes as instructed, then sits down on the nearest armchair. For the first time in his life he can see why his father drinks so much. He knows he should be happy that Tracey will be safe (he doesn't know what would happen to him if the Dark Lord ever does kill her), but all he can think about is the tight, burning sensation in his chest. He tries to ignore it and tells himself that he ought to be happy that she's safe, that she will definitely survive this war.

So why does it feel as though he's lost everything?

Only a week of the school year has passed so far, and already the Slytherins are beginning to realise that the Dark Lord's regime is nothing like they had expected it would be. They had anticipated that impossible favours and glory would be bestowed upon all purebloods, and above all Slytherin purebloods, but that is not the case.

The Slytherins are simply the least punished because they are not stupid enough to speak out. The Gryffindors have had it worst, of course, with five of them already having been subjected to the Cruciatus curse, but the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws have not escaped unharmed either. Only Slytherins have not suffered yet, and this is only because they are self-preserving above all; why ruin your chances by speaking your mind? It is more important to survive this war than to die a martyr.

For the first time in his life Theodore finds himself envying the bravery of the Gryffindors and despising himself for his own fear.

Malfoy seems to have had more time adjusting to the new regime than anyone else, even the few remaining half-bloods. Whereas before sixth year Malfoy was the Prince of Slytherin, fully aware and totally unashamed of his own arrogance, now he has practically become a ghost. His family has fallen out of favour and he worries constantly for their lives as well as his.

Goyle remains as loyal to Malfoy as he was before – so much so, in fact, that Theodore begins to wonder whether the boy shouldn't have been a Hufflepuff. Only Hufflepuffs are that blindly, foolishly and astonishingly loyal without any thought about how their loyalty to the damned will affect them.

Crabbe, on the other hand, is a true Slytherin: the most vindictive, power-hungry type of all. He has taken charge of cruciating the students who so much as appear to oppose the Dark Lord's rule –because that's what it is. They may be saying the Pius Thicknesse is running the Ministry, but he's simply imperiused and everyone knows it. The Dark Lord is the one with the real power now.

Theodore and Blaise try their best to remain invisible. Neither of them wants to end up like Malfoy; when he took the Dark Mark he lost the better part of his soul.

Theodore does not like Muggle Studies class. He had not wanted to take it when Dumbledore was headmaster, and he fails to see why he should have to take it now. Alecto Carrow's diatribe on the uncleanness of muggles and the way some of their children steal magic is something he has known for years – it was one of his father's favourite subjects to rant about when he'd had too much to drink.

"Muggles are not human!" She screeches this across the room, as she always does when she's trying to get this particular point across. "They are disgusting animals who sometimes, unfortunately, trick witches and wizards into breeding with them. Their filthy blood is more dangerous than amortentia."

She has been showing them pictures of muggles all year. Muggles are werewolf like, animalistic and deformed. Their knuckles scrape the ground and their spines are hunched. Their eyes are blank, displaying a total lack of intelligence.

Alecto Carrow has never shown them an actual photograph of a muggle. She says it is because muggles, like vampires, cannot be photographed, but Theodore knows this is a lie. He remembers Tracey showing him a photo of her family – herself, her Hufflepuff brothers, her wizard father and her muggle mother, and all of them were there and smiling and obviously human. He never would have guessed that Tracey's mother was a muggle had he not already known.

He decides that he's not going to listen to another word that Alecto Carrow has to say. Instead he takes out his Arithmancy book and begins to do some actual work – luckily she doesn't see him, and if she does she doesn't care. He is a pureblood after all, she thinks, therefore he must already know the truth.

Theodore knows more of the truth than Alecto Carrow ever will.

When Theodore is called into Professor Amycus Carrow's classroom one evening, he is quite convinced that he is going to be tortured. Evidently Alecto Carrow has figured out that his inattentiveness in her classes really is insolence, and now he is about to be punished for it. Theodore is afraid, but of course he will not let anyone see that.

However, when he finally gets to the Dark Arts classroom he is greeted warmly by Amycus Carrow – this is not the way you would greet someone who has displeased you and whom you are about to torture. Crabbe is there, too, and there is an impossibly sadistic glint in his eye, but his gaze is not directed at Theodore but rather at the group of shivering children in front of him. None of them can be older than thirteen.

"My sister tells me that you're one of her best students," Amycus Carrow says. Privately Theodore disagrees; he simply knows what he's supposed to write. It doesn't mean that he agrees with any of it, but of course he's not so much of a fool as to say this out loud. "We've thought you might be able to help us."

Amycus Carrow grabs one girl by the hair and drags her forward. She is shivering and crying silently already. Her robes are fringed with Hufflepuff yellow.

"This one is a half-blood," Amycus Carrow hisses. "She needs to be taught the right place for her kind."

Crabbe smiles again and Theodore feels his heart stop. He now knows exactly what he's meant to do; they want him to cast the Cruciatus on this girl, to show her that a half-blood's place is to be writhing at the feet of their pureblood masters. The girl cannot be older than eleven, and yet Carrow wants him to punish her for the simple crime of being a half-blood. She has lank, brown hair and eyes the colour of murky water, and she reminds him so much of Tracey at that age that he doesn't think he can even look at her without that strange aching rising in his chest and making him want to drink himself into oblivion just like his father always does.

This child has done nothing wrong – and yes, Theodore thinks, she is a child. Not a filthy, incapable half-blood, just a child. And they want him to hurt her for no reason at all. It isn't this girl's fault she has muggle blood – perhaps one of her grandparents is a muggle and that's all. A single muggle grandparent is enough to pollute the bloodline and make the mudblood less than human, or so they say.

"Get on with it, Nott," Amycus Carrow growls.

Theodore knows he has no choice. He has to do it or they'll kill him; that's the way the world works now. He repeats his father's old lessons to himself, telling himself how mudbloods are not human, how they are a threat to the ways of the wizarding world, how they are the enemy. Maybe if he repeats these things enough then he'll start to believe them again, just for a moment.

"Crucio," he hisses, imitating the sadism he remembers Professor Moody having used years before (although he now knows that it wasn't Alastor Moody at all but Bartemius Crouch Junior, one of the great heroes of the last war – they made sure to tell him that). He doesn't truly believe in what he is doing, but it is enough.

Inhuman shrieking fills the room. Crabbe laughs. Theodore tries not to be sick.

He knows that if they both survive this war, Tracey will find out what he has done. She will know that he has grievously harmed another human being, that he has tortured a child because of her bloodline – a bloodline that is probably just like Tracey's.

Amycus Carrow tells him he has done well then tells him to leave; he has promised the rest to Crabbe. All these children are going to feel the vice-like grip of the Cruciatus by the time the night is over.

Theodore escapes as fast as he can, but for months afterwards he cannot get that incident out of his mind.

For the first time in his life Theodore prays for silence. At least then his nightmares wouldn't be haunted inhuman screams.

"What's wrong with you, Theodore?" Blaise asks, causing Theodore to jump. He has been staring at the walls of the dormitory again, trying to clear his mind of all thoughts, concentrating instead on the cracks in the brickwork.

"There's nothing wrong."

"I know there is," Blaise replies. He goes silent for a minute, then says, "It's the war, isn't it? It's getting to you as well."

"Carrow made me torture a child," he chokes out at last. "A half-blood, yes, but still a child. They're the ones who aren't human!" He stops, staring at Blaise and wondering whether his friend will betray him for his words.

Instead Blaise laughs. "You're right. They may have stolen our magic, but they're still human. This whole situation feels like a nightmare. And it must be worse for you."

"Why, because my father is one of them?"

"Because of Davis," Blaise replies.

Theodore doesn't even ask what he means by that. He doesn't want to think about it.

It is the beginning of the end.

The final battle has begun. Within the next few hours the Dark Lord will either fall or he will reign triumphant forever. Theodore doesn't want to imagine what will happen to him either way. He has used the Unforgivable Curses. No matter that he was a child when he cast the Imperius (a child who wasn't aware of the gravity of what he was doing): no matter that he cast the Cruciatus only because he was told to. He hopes that he will escape, that they will realise that he doesn't agree with the Dark Lord, that he isn't truly evil, but part of him knows that this might not happen.

Theodore has left the school along with the rest of the Slytherins. No matter that some of them would have wanted to fight, McGonagall made them leave. Theodore does not care. He does not want to fight: he promised himself a long time ago that he wouldn't get involved. He does not anyone else to die.

He is far away enough from the chaos now that he will be able to apparate away without being seen. All he can think about is checking that Tracey is ok. He does not know exactly where she lives, but he can still remember the address she sent him with that letter, almost a year ago now. He hasn't heard from her since then. So much has changed in only a few months. He wonders how her life has been; he won't even let himself consider the possibility that Tracey Davis might be no more.

He concentrates on that address, hoping against hope that he will get there. He knows where he's going even if he can't visualise it. He has to get away from here, has to get to Tracey and make sure that she and her family are still alive, that he has something to look forward to if he does survive the war and not end up in Azkaban.

He feels himself being torn to bits, but then he is whole again, having apparated successfully through the void. He looks up and finds himself standing outside a red brick terraced house. It is small but welcoming – the garden looks well tended and is full of flowers. It is the right address.

Theodore feels his heart stop momentarily as he knocks on the door and waits for someone to answer. What if she's gone? What if she hasn't survived? No, he can't think about that. He can't. He won't. She has to be alive.

The door opens. Tracey is standing there in the doorway, an expression of shock on her face. She is dressed in muggle clothes (which is not odd considering where she is, but it seems bizarre to Theodore, who has never seen her in anything other than robes). Her hair is longer than it was, slightly darker as well, and scraped back into a ponytail.

He just stands there and looks at her, then she races forward and hugs him, nearly knocking him off his feet.

"You're alive," Theodore gasps. He can hear her sobbing into his shoulder.

"Yes, and so are you," Tracey chokes out. "I spent most of this year thinking that you were dead, damn them!" She stares up and him and says, "Is it over?"

He shakes his head. "I don't know." What he does know is that he's escaped from Hell. He opens his mouth to try and tell her what's happened over the past year, but he finds that nothing will come out. He grabs her in a tight embrace once more, simply comforting himself with the fact that she's alive and well and breathing and here with him.

"Don't leave me, Tracey," he whispers. "Don't ever leave me again."

He knows from her silence that she won't. Tracey is too important a person for him to lose.

The war is over.

Theodore does not quite believe it. He has to read the article in the Daily Prophet three times before he actually understands what it is saying. The war is over, the Order of the Phoenix has won and the Dark Lord is dead: dead and gone and ruining the world with his megalomania no more.

He does not feel happy, no really, but he does not feel sad either. He was on neither side of the war so why should he care how the battle turned out? The war was never a concern to him.

Theodore tucks the newspaper under his arm and makes his way downstairs. It is strange being in a muggle house; it took him quite a while to remember where he was when he awoke. He has never been in a muggle house before.

Last night when he arrived only Tracey and her parents were there. Her brothers have apparently all been hiding in Europe until the war is over, but they are all home now – at least judging from the amount of noise coming from the kitchen. They hid because they were afraid, sensible and more self-preserving even than many of the Slytherins.

He had thought that he would feel utterly out of place among Tracey's family, but her mother immediately hands him a slice of cake and a large mug of coffee. Tracey nearly knocks him off his feet, screeching like a banshee and obviously, wonderfully and impossibly elated.

He has never seen Tracey Davis smile for so long.

In fact they are all smiles, this strange family. They know that they are forever free from the old regime. Theodore realises that he is celebrating the Dark Lord's downfall with a family of mudbloods – and then it dawns on him that there is nothing wrong with this. His father was wrong; blood purity does not matter, not really. Tracey has always been just as able as he is, and both of them are far more capable than the rest of the Slytherins. Tracey is his friend, his closest friend; he knows that because he spent most of the last year terrified that he had lost her. His fool of a father adhered too strictly to the old ways, and only now does Theodore realise just how wrong the old ways are.

That fool of a father is probably either dead or already on his way to the Dementors.

He looks around at the people surrounding him. They are a strange family, a mixture of Hufflepuff and Slytherin, magic and muggle blood – but they are happy: happier than he ever was with his own family. They are not bound by convention and tradition and all other things that define the life of a pureblood. They are free. Not like his father.

Tracey smiles at him and tells him not to look so miserable. They have won the war. She does not know why he is so sad; she does not know what he had to do to survive this war.

It is then that Theodore realises that she is right. He is on the winning side, because everything he truly believes now has triumphed. He is free, not like his father. His father is gone, either dead or locked away in Azkaban forever. Even though Theodore knows that he may well end up in Azkaban soon himself, he does not care to think about that now.

All that matters to him is this one moment in time, where he is sitting with Tracey and her family, eating cake and celebrating the downfall of the Dark Lord's regime. At this one moment in time Theodore knows that he is truly free, and no one will ever be able to take that away from him.