When Draco first tells him about the task, Theodore wears nothing but striped cotton boxers and a huge grey t-shirt. It's an hour after the break of dawn, and in the middle of the summer holidays this is inhumanely early. He's sleepy and rumpled and barely understands what Draco is saying, so he simply ignores it and walks into the kitchen.
No one is at home. His mother is rotten flesh six feet under the ground, and his father is the only sane company Draco's father has in Azkaban. Draco thinks they have bonded over this similarity. Theodore is only annoyed that he's suddenly a topic of interest to Draco. Almost every day Draco comes to visit him or drags him along to Malfoy Manor, where Narcissa Malfoy pities "the poor boy, who has no one to take care of him anymore".
Theodore doesn't really know why – again and again – he lets the door stay open for Draco.
Draco makes him tea. He's surprisingly good at this, despite normally having half a dozen house-elves taking care of it.
Theodore leans against the kitchen counter and yawns prominently while Draco talks and talks and talks. His enthusiasm is enviable, considering the task he has been given.
Kill Albus Dumbledore.
Draco is not a killer. He's sensitive, vulnerable, and fragile as glass. Theodore knows this, but Draco rather sees himself as the Chosen One – Harry Potter's counterpart. It's amusing how much Potter influences him unknowingly, and Theodore can't help but smile.
"What's so funny?" Draco thrusts a cup of tea into Theodore's hands. He stands beside the tiny kitchen window, orange light burning through the dusty glass and bringing a slight golden shimmer into his white-blonde hair. His forehead wrinkles as he tries to find the reasons behind Theodore's rare smile.
"Nothing," he says and takes a sip of tea. He keeps smiling into the cup.
Draco throws a towel at him.
"How do you plan to resolve this?"
"What?" Draco's excitement is quickly exchanged with confusion at Theodore's question.
"It's Albus Dumbledore, Draco. The mightiest wizard of our times. Do you think he will welcome you with a smile and offer you a sherbert lemon before he lets you kill him?"
"He is not the mightiest wizard of our times."
"Who then? The Dark Lord? Why isn't he doing it himself then? Why does he think a teenager can do what he never managed? Draco, you should consider that the Dark Lord is planning something more than what he has told you."
Draco stares at him. It's clear as crystal that he has not wasted a single thought on the content of his task, or how to resolve it, or what it means to end someone's life. Now, the thoughts slip into his head and deepen his frown. He suddenly shakes his head and blushes.
"You think I can't do it, Nott?" Draco slams his tea cup onto the kitchen counter. Luckily it's empty. "You think I'll fail? You know what? I think you're just jealous."
Theodore shuts his eyes for a moment, rolling them behind the closed lids. When he opens them again, Draco has disappeared. The sound of a slammed door vibrates through the house. Theodore places his cup next to Draco's.
"Drama queen," he mutters.
The sun is standing high and throws blinding light through the train windows. The Hogwarts Express has been rattling for a few hours now. Theodore is hungry and bored, searching the train for the witch with the dry Cauldron Cakes. He walks past a compartment filled with familiar voices and looks inside.
Bathing in the almost tangible rays of light lays Draco Malfoy, his head pillowed in his girlfriend's lap. The brilliant light makes him shine – his pale skin and silvery hair appearing almost white – but more mesmerising is his smile, so full of confidence that it has lost all its prior charm.
Their eyes meet for the glimpse of a second and Draco's smile flickers. But he quickly turns his head and says something to that stick-in-the-mud Zabini. Crabbe and Goyle's laughter follow Theodore as he continues to walk down the corridor, the rhythm of the train rutting under his feet.
Draco never talks to him when there are better options. People who don't ask the wrong questions are better options. But Theodore wonders if they care at all. And he wonders why he cares.
Draco is doing fine without him.
Golden leaves are dancing around him as Theodore walks away from Hogwarts toward the lake. Today is one of the last warm autumn days before the world will turn into muddy grey and the trees of the Forbidden Forest lose their colourful crowns.
He's surprised to find someone else enjoying the weak afternoon light.
Draco sits not far away from him under a slanting tree with branches that reach toward the water. He watches the reflection of the sun on the water's surface, sinking lower and lower into the golden mist spreading from the forest's edge.
Theodore walks over to him with a snarky 'Dumbledore's still walking happily around here' smirk on his lips.
"How's it going?" is what he really says as he slumps down next to Draco. The dark circles under Draco's eyes stand in sharp contrast to his pale skin and arouse pity in Theodore. He can't help it. He notices how often Draco stays awake the whole night, muttering to himself and scribbling stuff on a parchment, like he does right now. There are also nights during which Draco completely vanishes, and Theodore thinks it's worry that forces him to stay up until he hears the scuffing footsteps.
Draco crumples his parchment and stuffs it into his bag. He rubs a hand across his exhausted face, and that is answer enough for Theodore.
"You should get some sleep," Theodore suggests.
Draco moves to get up. "I can sleep when I'm dead." His voice has a tone of serious determination Theodore has never heard before. He thinks that these are Draco's final words, for today, to him, but he lingers at the shore for a moment, expectantly gazing at Theodore.
An invitation to a walk means Draco wants to talk. He always talks while walking. It makes thinking easier for him. Theodore has known this ever since they were little boys. That Draco now weaves himself in stubborn silence startles him.
They walk past the Quidditch pitch; in the distance the towers of blue, green, red and yellow reach perpendicular into the sky. Draco's forehead is creased and every line in his face seems to be deeper than usual. That there are visible lines is worrying enough, but that Theodore wants Draco to talk is equally alarming.
It feels like hours have past when Draco finally stops at a seemingly unimportant place half-way between the Quidditch pitch and the castle. He looks desperate as he whirls around to face Theodore, but his voice is calm.
"Why didn't you tell anyone?"
Theodore frowns in confusion. "The way you boast that around, it's not necessary."
Draco mimics his frown. "I didn't tell anyone what exactly this task is about. Do you think I'm that reckless?"
"Apparently you are if you told me."
"I…" Draco bites his lip to end his sentence before he really starts it. "You wouldn't."
Theodore smirks. He's always admired how Draco confesses that he trusts him, although there is a very obvious facet of insecurity in his voice. It shows respect, probably one of the rarest things Draco Malfoy can give.
Despite owning it, Theodore doesn't feel satisfaction. There is something else he wants, something that manifests when Draco looks at him with a faint glittering in his eyes.
"What you said about the Dark Lord planning something for me," Draco began, his voice shaking. "I think I know what it is. And it scares me."
Theodore hears his heartbeat racing inside him as he watches the afternoon sun reflecting in Draco's tears, and that scares him.
Nowadays, Theodore doesn't have to search for Draco's tears anymore.
He stumbles across Draco on his way back to the dormitory; most students are still at dinner. Theodore prefers to start and leave early to avoid the usually pointless conversations. He hasn't seen Draco in the Great Hall, and he barely sees him looming in the shadows at the end of the corridor. A corridor that is barely used, it's not the most cosy place in the castle, let alone the perfect place to comfort someone.
Theodore still tries. He kneels down in front of Draco, who has unsuccessfully attempted to hide between two pillars, crouched to the ground in a small ball. The silent tears stream over his face as he looks up. He blushes, obviously feeling embarrassed, but Theodore cannot feel spite towards him for that.
He's not good at giving comfort, and Draco is not good at accepting it. The words are escaping him before they can form a sentence and that Draco seems to wait for him to say something makes everything worse.
He leans over and pulls Draco into his arms. The hesitation and shyness with which Draco returns the hug warms Theodore's heart in a completely foreign way. Draco sobs into his shoulder, his tears no longer silent, and Theodore knows that this is a good sign. Noises are one step closer to talking.
"Let's go outside," Theodore says as the sounds of approaching students force Draco to swallow his sobs.
Snow covers the grounds of Hogwarts, a thick, perfect white blanket embroidered with countless diamonds. Only Draco's tears shine more beautiful.
"I need help," Draco confesses, voice and body shaking. "I can't do this, Theodore. He's going to kill me… just to humiliate my father… right?"
Theodore shakes his head, cradling Draco's face in his hands. "You're going to make it," he promises, not because he's sure of it, but because he wants Draco to believe it. The doubt in Draco's eyes just seems too deep to be erased this easily. Confidence is nothing more than a faint impression in Draco's eyes, and his gaze drifts away into nothingness too often. He's giving up.
"There are so many ways, Draco. Surely, there is something you haven't tried yet. Please." The last word makes Draco look at Theodore again. "Don't give up," he begs and then covers Draco's mouth with his own.
There is a painfully long moment during which Theodore waits for Draco to shove him away or respond to him. When the latter happens and Draco parts his lips for him, Theodore cannot hold a blissful sigh back.
The night is dark and starless, only the dim light of a lamp on the bedside table illuminates the Room of Requirement. It's the place where Draco spends most of his time and Theodore has to come here if he wants to see him. And how he loves to see him flushed and dishevelled, distracted if only for a moment…
With his head resting on a huge pile of pillows, Draco's gaze becomes distant again and focuses blankly on the ceiling. Theodore lies next to him with the thin blanket tangled around his hips. His fingers push the fine fabric from Draco's chest and trace over reddish scars.
Draco's attention immediately shifts toward him. He grabs Theodore's wrist but doesn't force him to withdraw his fingers. His sad, grey, beautiful eyes shift to the side when Theodore looks up at him.
"He promised there wouldn't be any scars," Draco mumbles.
Theodore leans down to kiss Draco's chest, then he shifts so that he's covering Draco's body with his own. "Reinforces your opinion to never trust Severus Snape," he says and licks over the sensitive skin behind Draco's ear, dragging his tongue down to the nape of his neck. Draco shudders and Theodore takes that as encouragement to mark the pale throat, to slip between the slender legs, and prepare to increase the shudder to a real tremor.
"Sometimes I wish he would've let me bleed to death…"
Theodore lifts his head and looks down at Draco. "You are a killer, Draco," he says. "A mood killer."
Draco's mouth twitches. He raises a hand and presses his index finger against Theodore's lips, tracing over the contours. "It didn't even hurt… and everything would have been over. And the best part would have been that everyone would have finally realised what an arsehole Potter is."
Theodore opens his mouth to say something, but Draco's finger closes his lips again.
"Don't lie to me, Theodore. You don't believe I can make it. You're too… sober for that."
Theodore arches one eyebrow. Draco tries to smile at him, he tries and fails hard. His finger slips from Theodore's lips, allowing him to speak again. He doesn't. Instead Theodore breathes a kiss on the blue network of veins that cause the unfavourable shadows under Draco's eyes. Draco's eyelashes flutter against his lips, a tickling sensation that quickly spreads through his body.
"You're just tired," Theodore says, and runs a hand through Draco's hair, stroking the silky strands out of his exhausted face. "Someday you'll wake up and all of this will be over. Then you'll look back and laugh about how you struggled to get through it."
Draco sighs heavily, then looks at Theodore with a challenging gleam in his eyes. "While we're on clichéd phrases… do you know what's supposed to be the best sleeping potion in the world?" He wraps his legs around Theodore's waist and pulls him closer after receiving the expected nod. "Then show me."
Sex is not the best sleeping potion in the world. Neither of them sleeps, Theodore pretends to be asleep and holds Draco close to his chest. If he didn't, Draco would constantly roll from one side to the other.
It's horrible to see him like this. Theodore thinks of the last summer, of tea at dawn, and how they both thought it couldn't get worse with their fathers in Azkaban. And now he spends every day clinging to Draco, because he is utterly afraid that soon he'll never be able to feel the light, tentative touch of the pale fingers on his skin again. Because if Draco fails, he's going to lose him and he couldn't bear that. He tries everything to give him the faint, radiant impression of hope, but Draco just doesn't want to believe him anymore.
His future seems to be as black as the night.
Sometime along the night Draco starts stroking Theodore's hair. His voice is low and hoarse and for a second Theodore thinks he dreams Draco saying, "Thank you."
Theodore keeps his eyes close and it's exceedingly hard not to tighten his arms when Draco leans in to kiss him.
"I would have given up without you."
An hour before the break of dawn the sky is a profound blue. The Hogwarts grounds are dark, only the dim light from the castle spilling out from the windows, giving the old stones sharper edges. It's surprisingly calm considering the amount of students awake and the events of the night. Voices follow Theodore in breathless hushes as he walks away from everyone.
Draco is gone, Dumbledore is dead, and Theodore searches a place where he can peacefully suffer from the weird urge to cry and smile at the same time.