CVII. Chose

Draco was curled up on the sofa next to the fireplace, sipping at his tea and trying his best not to drop the cup on the floor. It was proving to be quite a task, as his hands wouldn't stop shaking. He didn't think he had been totally calm for over a year. Curse those blasted mudbloods for causing the war.

"I don't see what you've got to be looking so sullen about, Malfoy."

Draco supposed he shouldn't have been so surprised to see Theodore there; he didn't think he'd ever seen the boy sleep peacefully through a whole night. Theodore sat himself down in an armchair across from Draco, his feet on the table and an Arithmancy textbook cradled in his lap. It seemed to Draco that Theodore was the only one left who was still truly studying; it wouldn't have surprised Draco to find that Theodore was utterly unaware that they were at war at all.

"I'm not sullen," Draco said, moving to take another sip of his tea. His hand shook violently and the cup shattered to smithereens on the floor. He cussed under his breath but made no move to fix it; let the house elves clear the mess up later, that's what they were there for.

Theodore had disappeared the remnants of the tea and the teacup before Draco's thought about house elves was even finished.

"You know I hate all forms of mess, Draco," Theodore said tersely, looking disgusted. For a moment Theodore almost reminded Draco of his father – the insane Dionysus Nott, who drank improbable amounts of firewhisky and had no problem in wringing a man's neck, but who cringed in disgust as soon as a single drop of blood got on his robes.

"I'm not sullen," Draco protested again, ignoring Theodore's last comment and wishing he had another pot of tea and another teacup. Why did things always have to break so easily?

"You, Draco Malfoy, are as much of a sullen little brat as they come." Theodore's tone of voice was as flat as ever, so Draco almost didn't realise what he'd said. When the meaning registered, however, he felt himself turn scarlet with indignation.

"How dare you!"

"Yes, I dare" Theodore replied curtly. "And frankly you're enough of an imbecile to merit every single insult that's thrown your way from now until the day you die."

"Sleep deprivation has obviously driven you completely insane, Nott."

"No," Theodore said. "I'm telling the truth and you just don't like it. If it weren't for idiots like you who think that following the Dark Lord is compulsory, then the rest of us might actually have had a choice."

"You think I had a choice?" Draco cried. "If I hadn't joined they would have killed me."

"You could never have followed Grindelwald," Theodore sighed. "He was wonderfully utilitarian, you know. His policies were all about doing the greatest good for the greatest number. But you? No, you could never do that. You gave in to your own cowardice."

"No, I just proved that I'm not a Gryffindor."

"Maybe it would have been better if you had been" Theodore snarled. "You're a fool and a coward, Draco Malfoy, and because of your actions the rest of us have to bear the Dark Lord's mark for life as well."

He yanked up the sleeve of his robe and thrust his arm in Draco's direction. There it was, the Dark Mark branded into Theodore's arm, just as hideous and warped as it seemed on Draco's own flesh – perhaps even more so. This was Theodore, who was concerned more with books and Machiavellian games than attaining actual power; it was simply too incongruous.

"I never knew you'd taken it," he whispered at last when what he was seeing finally sunk in.

"It wasn't by choice," Theodore spat, true anger on his face for the first time in all the years that Draco had known him. "Because of you, we never had a choice."

Draco stood up quickly, not even daring to look Theodore in the eye.

"I'm going to get more tea from the kitchens."

He hurried out of the room, but the images of the shattered teacup and Theodore's broken expression wouldn't leave his mind.