(real date and time unknown)

Theo's stomach muscles jerked once, twice more and up came more bile. His throat convulsed, his spine gave a horrid wrench, and when it was done, he spit the acid from his mouth into the cold, porcelain sink.

His whole body shook with humiliation. Sweat dripped down the side of his temple.

He wanted to die.

Not that such a feeling was new to him. Most of his life, in fact, he'd wished for death, whether it had been at the end of his old man's fists or at his mother's graveside. This time, however, that shadowy despair crept not just around his heart, but pierced it, suffused it until Theo felt as though he was choking on misery.

Luc had raped Blaise.

…And then later that day, Theo had crawled all over his roommate, demanding sex, demanding love. Demanding what he'd felt was his due.

Christ, no wonder Blaise had been so angry when he'd kicked Theo out. He'd finally come to his senses, realised that his best friend was taking advantage of him during his most vulnerable, victimizing him all over again.

He looked at himself in the mirror over the sink, seeing his father looking back at him. Same blue eyes, same dark hair, same jaw, same build… God, he was just like his old man, wasn't he? He was an evil, selfish bastard and a bully, always hurting those closest to him. Hell, just look at how he'd treated Daphne tonight, during the game! He'd pushed her, scared her just to get his way!

God, he'd frightened her!

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

A gentle hand turned him, brushed a cool, wet cloth across his face and mouth. He recognised Daphne's perfume, knew her touch by now. So soft, so kind…

"I'm not worth it," he whispered, shrinking away from her.

Just a couple of hours ago, he'd been so happy, so desperate for her touch. He'd made love to her, let her do things to him no one had ever done, including Luc. He'd won her over, had sworn never to let her go. He'd said the 'L' word to her and meant it.

Now…it was all ruined.

"I-I'm not good for you, Daphne. I'll only end up h-hurting you again!"

She had to go! He'd caused her pain once already tonight, and it was only going to get worse the closer they got. He was cursed. His whole family was! They were leeches on happiness, disgusting refuse floating from person to person and devouring them from the inside-out like some kind of emotional parasite.

He pushed her hands away.

"Get out, get away," he pleaded. "Leave."

"Theo, that is enough."

The icy command of her voice had him wanting to automatically get on his knees before her and serve her every whim, as he'd been trained, but the moment he recognised how broken and twisted that sounded, he broke down again into sobs.

As if he was worthy of kissing the hem of her dress, much less anything else.

She took his hand, pulled him away from the mirror, and led him to the opposite end of the small chamber. The stalls were empty, silent as they moved past them, coming at last to a small stone bench inset into the wall. She sat, dragging him down to her side.

He opted for the floor, where he belonged. He knelt there at her feet, head bowed, trembling.

Daphne sighed. "My Theo, I will tell you a secret I have kept for years. One I now understand you have need of knowing." She took his face between her palms and forced him to look at her. It was difficult to meet her eyes, so he kept his downcast, focussing on her softly rounded chin instead. "When I first considered what I must do to win your affections, I researched alternative lifestyle habits."

Of course she had, because nothing Theo liked was normal. He was sick, twisted, like his father…

"I discovered that in Italy, there was an unmarried couple who were a registered Sex-Witch and Sex-Warlock, and that they offered sexual tutoring. I have already told you that I apprenticed myself to them this last summer."

Yeah, and when this bloody game ended and they got free, he was letting her go back to them, letting her go for good to find her way, without him. She'd be better off getting as far away from him as possible.

"I neglected to inform you of their identities, however, specifically, the witch's identity."

Theo wished he could block his ears right then, didn't want to know who it was who would be loving her once he was gone from her life forever…

"Carmen Zabini."

His heart jerked so hard in his chest, he nearly choked on it. "W-what?"

"Mister Zabini's mother is a Sex-Witch."

Confused, he glanced up at her. What did that have to do with‒

"I suspect, given his rumoured prowess around campus, that he has inherited the trait, but remains secret about it," she told him. With a steady hand, she readjusted her glasses on her nose. "Am I correct in assuming that a sexual interlude occurred between you sometime after his victimization by Mister Bole, and that is the reason for your extreme reaction to his revelation?"

Shame flooded through him.

"He was raped, and I…I didn't know!"

Daphne sighed. "Tell me of that day."

As if a dam had been unplugged somewhere in his heart, he opened his mouth and let loose the flood of his jumbled, humiliating, secret thoughts.

"We were just thirteen, two stupid horny kids going through puberty, and… Okay, yeah, I'd thought about him before that day…and in that way. I was hyper-sexed even then, but too chicken-shite to do anything about it. So when I came into our room that day and saw him lying in his bed, with no shirt on, I…I got hard. He was already growing into his body even then, and he looked…really good. But then I saw he looked so broken, so sad, and it was weird, like something just came over me. I wanted to help him. I still don't know what I thought I was helping him from, but I went to him without stopping to think too much about it. I just…walked over to his bed and took the hand he held out to me. And then it was like one of my dreams about him…like everything I'd wanted with him since the start of that year."

He wiped the sweat from his brow, sweat deposited there now not from illness, but from the memory of one of the hottest moments of his life.

"Christ, we did practically everything. He was almost my first! We would've shagged, but he just…stopped, like he was waking up from some kind of dream and…"

He shook his head as the memory of that awful moment played out again for the millionth time in his head, a perpetually-looped record on a broken phonograph, and with it followed the predictable flush of mortification.

"I should have known something was wrong then. He was so angry when he looked at me, Daph, so fucking angry that I was actually afraid of him! I thought he was going to kill me."

He paused again, recalling that moment with a shiver. Blaise's eyes had been black ice chips, his expression murderous…

"Did he harm you?" Daphne asked, jarring him back into the present.

"No, he just…went all cold, like my father sometimes does when he's in one of his moods, and he told me that what we did was never happening again between us. Then he threw me out."

Naked, humiliated, he'd jumped up after the order, grabbed his discarded clothing from the floor and ran for the empty dorm across the hall to redress. He'd then spent the rest of that evening hiding in there, like a snake cringing in its ground hole. He'd even slept on one of the cold, bare mattresses in the room that night, shivering from the dungeon's damp, unsure about going back to his warmer room, in case Blaise was still there. He'd left his wand back in his room, too, and had been too scared to go back for it, so he'd lain there in the icy dark and cried alone, believing he'd lost one of the two only friends he'd ever made and cursing his life.

Here and now, his eyes grew hot and his vision went wavy. "I couldn't even look at Blaise for so long afterwards," he softly admitted. "He'd hated me after I'd taken such advantage, but I didn't know why. Now I know, and…" He fumbled for words, deeply shaken by the horror of having lusted after Bole after he'd raped Blaise, his best friend. "Lucian raped my best friend, and then I… Jesus-fuck, I sucked Luc off later with the same skill I'd learned by sucking off Blaise right after he'd been raped by Luc!"

Rubbing his eyes with his fists, he clamped his back teeth down hard and screamed in horror and frustration.

"I wish I'd never learned the truth!" he whispered in horror, and dared to raise his gaze to his Queen's once more, expecting her contempt to fly at him any minute now. "And how fucked up is that, since it means I care more about my feelings than Blaise's pain?"

Daphne was silent and still when he'd finished, and in her cool, blue gaze, he could feel her sizing him up. Hell, she was probably wondering how to politely tell him to sod off, too, Theo thought. And she'd be more than justified.

Merlin, how could he have ever thought he'd deserved someone like her?

"You assume too much," she finally decided, speaking without any sort of disdain.

That took him aback. "W-what do you mean?"

"I have already explained to you that Mister Zabini's mother is a Sex-Witch, and I have further related to you my suspicions that her son may have inherited the trait."

He shrugged. "Yeah, but‒"

It hit him then what she was implying, and he was totally floored by the thought.

"You…you're saying that Blaise and me that afternoon‒"

"‒May have been a consequence of any Sex-Warlock abilities he has inherited running amok after having experienced such a trauma. It is a logical assumption, given the variables." Cupping his cheek, she forced his chin up so their eyes could meet. In them, he saw no judgment, only understanding. "Perhaps, in this case, the most obvious answer is not what you have supposed. If Mister Zabini is indeed gifted with sex magic, the events that transpired between you that day could quite possibly be a case of his lack of discipline, not your taking the advantage."

Holy shit, what if she was right? What if he was looking at it all wrong—and had always done so?

What if the rejection he'd previously believed he'd been given by his best friend hadn't anything to do with Blaise deciding that Theo wasn't good enough to fuck, or what he'd recently concluded as Blaise's anger at him for victimizing him, but really a case of Blaise attempting to chase him off to protect him from his own inner demons?

Or inner Veela, as the case might very well be.

It would be a very Slytherin thing to do.

"Well, that explains so much."

Theo's heart nearly stopped again as Draco rounded the last stall to face them.

"For nearly two years you two idiots didn't talk, and I was stuck playing awkward third-wheel," his other best friend said. To Theo's surprise, there was no judgment in Draco's face, either. "I thought it had to do with a girl."

"Mister Malfoy," Daphne began, but stopped when Draco's icy grey gaze slid to hers.

He didn't say anything, didn't need to. He just shut her down with a simple look.

And of course, Daphne obeyed. Everyone always did when Draco was giving the orders. He had a commanding presence that people inherently recognised and automatically submitted to, like it or not. As the sole heir to the Malfoy and Black dynasties, the talent had been bred into him, and he'd honed it well over time. It was why he had been, since third year, the undisputed ruler of their House. After all, Slytherins tended to adhere to hierarchies, and Draco had proven years ago that he was dominant enough to rule the roost.

His eyes moved back to take in Theo, kneeling on the floor at Daphne's feet. Again, he seemed to have no opinion on the matter of his best friend acting like a love slave.

"You okay?" he asked instead, oddly gentle in the questioning.

There were three people in his life Theo had ever been totally real with, and two of them were in the room right then. Draco had seen him at his worst, and he'd never used it against him, never wielded Theo's weaknesses as leverage for his own aims. That was why he now felt he could be honest.

"No, I'm really not."

He rubbed the area over his chest.

Draco took a moment to consider that, and all the while, Theo could feel his friend's stare burning through his bones.

"You need to talk, the two of you," his friend finally decided. "Work it through or this fucking game will tear you apart."

"It already has," Theo quietly admitted.

"Only if you let it. It doesn't have to be that way."

Theo glanced up at his friend, at the stubborn set of his jaw, and knew Draco wasn't just thinking about the relationship of his roomies, but his own with Gryffindor's princess.

The chit was important to him, and it was clearly more than casual.

Before tonight, Theo hadn't been aware of just how deep down the rabbit hole Drake had fallen for Granger over the years. If he had, he'd never have touched her in sixth year. He'd assumed, just like everyone else, that for his roomie, it was more a game of fox and hen with the Head Girl, with Drake intending on snapping her up at some point and happily spitting out the feathers afterwards. Seeing them in the game together over the last few hours, though, he'd come to realise just how wrong he'd been—and how he'd totally underestimated his friend's real, deeper feelings. The lengths Drake had gone to for getting the swot's attention… Astounding.

He doubted Eros would stand much of a chance of coming between that, either. Draco could be a violent and vicious force of nature if pushed too far.

"In the meantime, we've got bigger bludgers to dodge," his friend told him, switching gears with some urgency to his tone. "You two left before the really depraved part of the conversation: Pans read off the rest of the names of previous players of the game."

The way Draco said it sounded casual enough, but Theo knew there was an unpleasant surprises waiting in the centre of all that calm.

"Let me guess, a whole murder of history's finest wizards and witches?"

Draco tossed him a dark smirk. "Aside from Bole, you mean? Yeah, there was Marcus Flint, that twat Lockhart, my deranged uncle, Rodolphus Lestrange, and the Dark Lord, Voldemort. The only asshole missing would have been that genocidal maniac, Grindewald, but since he went to Durmstrang…" He shrugged. "Still, all the real virtuous types. As Granger said, a 'who's who' list of dark wizards, all a little mad." His expression shifted, his humour lost in a hot second. "And your father, Theo. His name was listed, too."

For the third time in under an hour, Theo's heart needed a good swift kick-start as it stammered to a halt.

"Seems Madam Aset was passing around the game just about every four years to someone new."

Feeling suddenly deflated, Theo dropped his forehead onto Daphne's lap. He was reeling, dizzy from the news. He'd fallen into the same trap his old man had. He'd been called to play the game like all those others.

That decided it, didn't it? He was a dark wizard, too.

Something inside him cringed at that fact.

"It gets worse."

Theo huffed with bitterness. Did it? Could it? He didn't think so, because clearly it wasn't coincidence that some of the most twisted, fucked up wankers in history seemed to have played 'Eros & Psyche', including his dad.

To soothe and calm him, Daphne ran her fingers gently through his hair as he pressed his face into one of her thighs, just wanting to hide there forever. Could he do that, just bury his body between her legs until the end of days? It didn't sound like such a bad way to pass the time until his death.

"Potter thinks Eros is using all of us trapped in the game as a food source to keep the piece of his soul in here going," Draco told him. "I didn't say it in front of the others, but I agree. I think that's why so many people who have played the game went insane afterwards."

"So you do not think he consumes people to their deaths?" Daphne asked. "Merely that he siphons off enough magical energy to warp their mental faculties in some fashion?"

"Evidence is mounting in that direction, yeah," Draco stated. "Remember we were talking earlier about Lovecraft, the Slytherin who left for America before graduating Hogwarts? He went on to be a famous horror writer of some seriously fucked up tales. Turns out he'd played the game as well. His name was on the box lid, too."

Theo felt Daphne tense under him. "He could not have been but a child then, not even through puberty, as his portrait conveyed that he'd left Hogwarts at a young age! Do you tell me Eros destroyed that boy's innocence, too?" She growled then—actually made a tigress-like sound of displeasure that had Theo glancing up at her in astonishment. "That cannot be allowed to ever happen again, Mister Malfoy! Children must never be the receptacle for the sickening violence of the adult world!" Her fingers clenched on Theo's shoulder, and he knew she was referring to the violence done to him throughout his life, as well as the corruption of her younger sister by her elder sibling and Luc. "We must draw the line here, tonight. We must find a way to end this madness, if not to restore some semblance of peace upon its victims, but to assure its reach cannot extend to future generations."

Amazed by her unwavering faith that they would find a way to kick Eros' arse and get out of here tonight, Theo couldn't help but fall a little bit deeper in love with Daphne Greengrass in that second. Something had happened to her after their talk that last action round. Whether it was a result of her commitment to finding out the truth after the game, or a need for revenge against Lucian Bole for corrupting her sisters…whatever it was exactly, it had put steel in her spine and gave her a hard, darker edge. Honestly, he liked it, because her resolve gave him hope, too. She made him believe things could change for the better.

–No, not just things, but people. Specifically, that he could change, too.

He thought back to what she'd said earlier about assuming people's darker aspects based on wrongful assumptions about where they'd come from…

"Being a Sex-Witch or Warlock does not automatically assume a definitive connection to the life of a prostitute, Theo. That is a terrible stereotype, assumed from a position of misunderstanding. They are beings born with the magical and pheromonal abilities to sexually stimulate others – a gift of their family's Veela heritage - but they do not necessarily use their innate talents in a professional capacity. Only some of them choose such a path. To lump them all into such a category would be to comparatively state that all Slytherins will eventually become servants of the darker arts."

"Most of us do."

"But not all of us, Theo. I have absolutely no plans of ever doing so."

Maybe…maybe he didn't have to be dark, either.

And wasn't that what she'd been teaching him all night, anyway? Through her lessons, he'd been learning to be a better person, not just in bed, but in his heart.

Malfoy seemed as surprised as Theo by her vehement declaration. "Being Gryffindor is catching, isn't it?" he rhetorically asked, and tossed them a self-deprecating smirk. "We're all becoming infected by them, it seems."

Daphne sniffed with dismissal at the accusation. "Hardly that, Mister Malfoy. I simply will not have my reputation, nor by association the reputation of Slytherin House further tainted by the wicked machinations of this accursed game. We are not a 'House of Darkness', not any more than the other Houses here at Hogwarts, and I am sick unto death that our ambition and cunning are typically associated with evil, when that is merely the actions of a minority of our fraternity." She adjusted her glasses again on her nose, as they'd slipped down a bit during her impassioned speech. "When put to good use, such traits can change the world for the better, too. I would like to start that cycle by destroying this game once and for all."

Her words gave Theo courage to stand once more, and this time to keep his knees under him and the churning in his belly under control. He held his hand out to his partner to take.

"You lead, I'll follow, my Queen."

She took his hand, and he helped her to her feet.

"We'll need a plan," he said, turning to Draco.

His best friend nodded. "One that takes both Slytherin and Gryffindor working together to pull it off…which is why I was sent to get you and bring you back into the main room." His grin was both shark-like and filled with pride. "I believe Granger's got an idea."

Of course she did. That witch's mind never seemed to stop. And with Potter, Weasel-King, and the Weaselette as her best friends, she was probably always concocting schemes to get them out of scrapes.

God, he'd treated her like shite before, hadn't he? He'd have to rectify that once they got out of the game.

"Lead on, Mister Malfoy," Daphne beckoned towards the exit.

She gave Theo's hand a gentle squeeze in encouragement and tugged him along after her as she followed Draco out of the loo and back into the main room.

Obediently, Theo followed them.

As they pass the sinks, he glanced over at them…and froze between one step and the next.

The mirror over the basin where he'd previously stood had been replaced by giant-sized versions of the Partners cards. The signatures in the centre of each card matched those of the six men in the game tonight, he noted. Directly underneath them were the names of their female partners.

"What the fuck?" he hissed, drawing Daphne and Draco's attention to the wall, too.

As the three of them watched in horror, Lavender Brown was crossed off the card she shared with Seamus Finnigan, a thin red line drawn by an invisible hand passing straight through her name with finality.

A moment later, the same thing happened to Blaise's name.


Author's Notes:

Guesses as to what the new development in the game (the bit with the cards and name crossings) means? Thoughts on Theo's character development in this chapter? Ideas as to how the whole Theo-Blaise-Lucian arc is relevant to what's going on? All the clues have been there in the tale all along. Any ideas? Hit me with them with a review! I'd love to hear your theories!




Musical selection for this chapter: "War of Hearts" by Ruelle, offered by a "Guest" user on this site who submitted an anon review on 21 April, 2017 to me (if you're out there reading this and you want your name attached to this, contact me and I'll add your name here to dedicate this chapter to you!). Lyrics are as follows...

Come to me in the night hours.
I will wait for you.
And I can't sleep, 'cause thoughts devour.
Thoughts of you consume.

I can't help but love you,
even though I try not to.
I can't help but want you.
I know that I'd die without you.

Stay with me a little longer; I will wait for you.
Shadows creep and want grows stronger.
Deeper than the truth...

I can't help but love you,
even though I try not to.
I can't help but want you.
I know that I'd die without you.

I can't help but be wrong in the dark,
'Cause I'm overcome in this war of hearts
I can't help but want oceans to part,
'Cause I'm overcome in this war of hearts

I can't…