Title: Butterfly Bound
Chapter 05: Two Conversations
Rating: M (and/or R)
Summary: 6th year AU. Theodore/Hermione. When Harry lies dying from an unbreakable curse, Hermione is desperate to find a cure. After a summer of hell, Theodore wants nothing to do with the war. A Nott family heirloom provides the answer to both their prayers, but only if they can work together to survive the heirloom's demands. And even if they succeed, there's still a war to win...
Notes: Written for the 2012 Finish-a-Thon and edellin, who requested this.
Warnings: Torture—physical/emotional, psychological mindfuckery, kidnapping, gore, disturbing imagery, cannibalism, and death.
The small alcove they were tucked into was one of a series that anyone who used the library frequently and wished to study in private, tended to use. Theodore stared down at the books he'd picked up on warding and pretended like he didn't feel Blaise's gaze sharp on his face.
Another plus to the alcoves was that there were no portraits near them and so there was no one who could spy on their conversations and report them back to the Headmaster. They took the extra precaution of casting a spell that would alert them if anyone came too close.
Even with all of that, Theodore felt uneasy-though that was likely because he'd just finished the driest recital of his summer he could manage and it felt distinctly odd to be sitting, not doing anything, and just... waiting to see how the axe would fall.
There were several ways Theodore could interpret the current silence and none of them were particularly comforting. He carefully subdued the urge to fidget and flipped to the first page of the top book in his stack. He stared at the table of contents and didn't read a single word of it. Honesty made his skin crawl when it concerned things that were desperately illegal and that he was certain that he'd never wanted to do in the first place.
But when choices are taken away from us... we survive.
It might have well been one of Slytherin House's mottos. It was certainly one of the traits that placed people firmly in Slytherin, even when their personalities might be suited better for another House. Theodore looked up and met Blaise's eyes squarely. "Well?"
"Mother is going to pull me from school if she hears about this," Blaise said conversationally. "She is most definitely a Dark witch but she is no one's follower and the Dark Lord is far too casually cruel to his followers to ever hold her attention. And too dominant," he added. "Mother doesn't like dominant men very much. Too many of them have tried curtail her."
Theodore listened and didn't move his gaze away from Blaise. The other boy would eventually get around to his point.
"When Mother pulls me," Blaise said, "and she will, because I'm going to tell her of this, which I assume you knew," Theodore nodded and Blaise went on smoothly, "then I will be happy to go."
Theodore held his breath.
"I cannot off you the same way out," Blaise continued and leaned back in his chair, clearly brooding on the matter. "There's no way it would work, not with your father being what he is and your mother gone. If your mother was alive, then perhaps... Mother did like her, after all. She likes you too. She always tells me you're so polite."
"I'm certainly not going to mouth off to a Dark witch of her caliber," Theodore pointed out wryly. "I agree with your assessment. It was one I considered and discarded as a possibility almost as soon as I thought of it."
"Do you have other options?" Blaise asked. "If you need an ally… well, I am relatively safe, despite my mother's worrying about Hogwarts, while school is in session. If you could use a hand, I can hold off on telling her." Blaise considered that thoughtfully. "Until the winter hols, at the latest. She'll pry it out of me when I go home for that, though. You know, if you came home with me and then we both disappeared..."
Theodore smiled slightly. "I appreciate the offer," he said and meant it, "but that would put both of you in a great deal of danger. I bear no Mark but my father does and the Dark Lord does not take betrayal well." They were both silent for a long moment, thinking of the fates of traitors. Karkaroff's long, painful death at the hands of a child Inferiushaunted Theodore. He didn't know what incident it was that did the same to Blaise, whose face had got tight and remote.
To tell the truth, he didn't want to know what it was that put that expression on Blaise's face.
"What will you do, then? Have you a plan?"
"The beginnings of one," Theodore confided. "However, it requires that I not be alone when I enact it," he hurried on as Blaise opened his mouth to speak, "and it must be someone I am willing to share a bond with." His raised eyebrow implied the sort of bond as the other boy grimaced.
"That's unfortunate." Blaise shook his head "Not Daphne? You get along well enough with her."
He was too tactful, Theodore thought, to remind him of the fact that his first few years at Hogwarts had been plagued by a desperate crush on her. "She's engaged," Theodore replied instead. "And, besides, I doubt she would leave Astoria to face the consequences and I wouldn't expect her to."
"Lovegood?" Blaise's face was a mask. "You did mention you've a meeting with her tomorrow."
Theodore winced. "To study," he stressed. "I thought about it," he confessed, lowering his voice further, "but I'm not sure either of us would be able to fulfill the other proponent of what I had in mind. My only goal would be to hide and hers could be anything-and worse, be liable to change as she thinks of something new, which would interact poorly with the spell."
They both fell silent as Madam Pince swept by, muttering about students being vile, nasty creatures who mistreated books. She gave them a dirty glance that they both stonily returned. It was only after she'd gone back the other way that they resumed their conversation.
"A bond," Blaise said thoughtfully, "and a goal." His eyes narrowed. "You've told me about that book before. Your father wouldn't let you read it."
"My father was otherwise occupied this summer," Theodore said flatly. "If he notices before I can use it, then I'm dead-or worse, will be rendered mindless. I'm aware of that but what else was I to do?" The words were so soft he was leaning forward to say them and Blaise was doing the same in order to hear them. "Either way, the only other option was to throw myself at Dumbledore's mercy and I cannot do that. Not after the grand finale."
Blaise sat back, a scowl marring his face. "No," he conceded, "you can't. Especially not when doing so would implicate everyone else that was involved this summer." He paused, then added in a hesitant sort of voice, "Even Astoria?"
Theodore nodded grimly. "I know Malfoy is looking for another way out but the book is the only way out that I could see for me. I'll be safe there. Not even my father can get in, once it's activated, and it's blood-bound to us-neither the Dark Lord nor Dumbledore should be able to break in forcibly."
"I try." Theodore's smile was as unamused as Blaise's matching one.
"What if you went in with the goal of finding a way out of your situation? Can the goal be a situational one?"
Theodore grimaced. "If it was that easy, I would not have made it back to school. I'd have talked another witch around to my way of thinking and been gone already, no matter who she was. No, there must be a 'solid' outcome. A goal like mine is too... chaotic." He snorted. "The book can do many things but it cannot control what is out in our world and there's too many variables for it to give me a single thing that would make my life better. If I went in with that as my goal, it might just hit me with Avada and be done with it. I wouldn't be the first Nott to die because of the book."
"Cheers," Blaise said dryly. "Did you notice that Potter wasn't around today?"
"I've heard that story," Theodore said. "The one about training him. You believe that? If we're lucky he'll win the war and then that'll be the end of it. People will hate us for being Sorted into the green and silver but we won't be being forced to follow the Dark Lord any longer." Even when some of us have already been forced to become murderers. Theodore shook his head, willing the ugly thought to leave him.
"Do you believe that? I'm not sure that I do-if so, wouldn't they have taken Granger and Weasley? They go with him everywhere; training only one of them seems sloppy, even if they can't keep up with Potter."
Theodore shrugged and, under Blaise's gaze, sighed. "The Dark Lord was unusually pleased about something to do with Potter," Theodore said reluctantly, then added, "at least, that's what the rumours say. If it's true then it bears out why the Dark Lord took such a decisive step this summer with the purebloods."
"Lovegood's friends with Potter," Blaise pointed out. "Perhaps Potter needs something-wouldn't that be a goal that Lovegood could focus on?"
He turned that over thoughtfully, carefully probing it for holes and finding fewer than he had before that angle had been spun on it. "I suppose she might," he admitted. "She might be interested just because of the opportunity. Which does not mean she would agree. Lovegood would ask the right questions and not all of the answers would be to her liking."
Theodore knew that for a fact.
"It doesn't really look to me that you've got all that many other options," Blaise murmured. "It's here that your tendency towards isolation has narrowed your options."
"My tendencies aren't in question here. All the same, perhaps I will bring it up with Lovegood tomorrow. She might say yes to exploring uncharted territory and we get along well enough despite her tendency towards the overly fantastical."
"Says the one with the book that leads to the ultimate in uncharted territory," Blaise pointed out. "I don't think you're much of one to talk about that. I'd think about it, if I were you. Getting along well enough is the basis of a great many sort of bonds. At least you get a choice in that much. It could be worse."
"I've found," Theodore said, as they stood and gathered there things in deference of the delayed welcoming feast beginning shortly, "that most things can be worse. That doesn't mean what we're stuck with is good."
"True enough, true enough."
What tomorrow would bring, however, Theodore had no idea.
The first night back had Hogwarts had been awkward and strange and uncomfortable without Harry around. Having the Sorting and the feast delayed (which had been, according to Professor McGonagall, a security measure to ascertain that all of the first years were as they seemed) had only added to that.
In contrast, Hermione found the routine of the first day back to school almost reassuring in how everything seemed the same, even though everything was different and lopsided. Ron looked lost while he took his schedule and headed to class. Hermione felt much the same way, though she was grateful that some of her classes, at least, had never had Harry in them.
It was easier to make believe that everything was as usual when she was in a class that she'd never seen Harry in. Nothing had changed in those classes and, as she slid into a seat in Arithmancy and proceeded to lose herself in numbers, Hermione considered that a blessing.
But the way Ron looked, after class, twisted her heart. It wasn't right. Harry was supposed to be there, both of them grumbling good-naturedly about classes and the amount of homework they'd been given on the first day. Not Ron alone, who grumbled only half-heartedly, stuffed his work into his bag, and pulled out a book about sleep spells.
She thought about nagging him to do his homework but the moment she opened her mouth, he just looked at her and she said nothing.
When Ginny came a settled down beside them an hour later, and did the same thing, Hermione kept her mouth shut and still said nothing as she worked her way through her essays.
In fact it wasn't until she was finished with her essays, her unimportant work, a while later that Hermione said anything at all. "I finished my books last night," she said quietly. "I'm going to the library. Do either of you want to come or did you want me to pick up anything for you?"
"I'm good," Ron said, with a lopsided smile that tugged on her heartstrings but didn't touch his eyes. "I've still got this one and two others." He shrugged and looked a little sheepish, like there was something wrong with being slower at reading than she was. She didn't know how to reassure him without setting off his temper and so she said nothing, just offered him a faint smile.
Then she looked at Ginny. "Ginny?"
Ginny looked at her with a bemused expression for a moment, then checked her watch and pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I'll come," Ginny said, stuffing her book into her bag and kicking it over to Ron. "Watch that, will you? I don't want to leave it up in my dorm. They'd all twitter on about my learning sleep spells and how I'm going Dark." She stood up, pushing her hair back. "They wouldn't understand and I can't explain it in any way that would keep all the promises I'm supposed to be keeping."
Hermione grimaced. She felt the same way. In her case, though, it was simpler because Lavender and Parvati were used to her studying things that were odd or decidedly different from the syllabus. "We won't have to keep quiet forever," she said and added to Ron, "We'll be back soon."
He waved them off with one freckled hand and they hurried over to the portrait hole to step out into the corridors.
"Part of me," Ginny admitted, "just wanted a walk. My head gets so stuffy if all I do is study and read and I've been doing that too much lately." She sounded disgruntled but Hermione had learnt enough to know that this was just the way that Ginny dealt with stress and that the other girl had no intentions of notcontinuing to search for a cure.
A month ago, Hermione would have scolded her. Now she let it slide.
"I don't know how you do it, Hermione. Constantly. All the time."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Hermione replied as they walked at a brisk pace. They kept their voices low. "I've had more practice than you and Ron put together so it shouldn't be surprising that I'm better at this than you two are."
"Gee," Ginny said with heavy sarcasm, "thanks."
Both girls looked at each other and then smiled. It wasn't the same as laughing out loud, which might have been done at any other time, over any other subject, but it was something comforting nonetheless.
"I've been thinking," Ginny said stubbornly, as they went down a flight of stairs. "I think we really ought to tell Luna."
Hermione closed her eyes briefly, asking for patience, and then opened them to see Ginny staring at her with a hard look. "Ginny," she said, "you know why we haven't-"
"I know we've searched all summer and not even the Professors have learnt much more than we knew after Professor Dumbledore's examination," Ginny said defiantly, interrupting her without the slightest hint of shame. "That's not good enough. Now that we're back at school, Mum's going to kill Ron and I if we fail and I don't care because how can I study if I know that he's dying while I do so? Luna knows all sorts of strange or odd things; maybe she'll be able to point us in a new direction."
"Most of what she knows is nonsense," Hermione said sharply, harshly, knowing she was being unfair and saying it anyway. "Myths and fairy tales and creatures that no one else can see!"
"Maybe that's what we need!" Ginny erupted. "We're not going to find it in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 6, Hermione! Professor Snape hasn't found anything he's willing to share with us from his library! We've gone through almost any book in this library and Professor Dumbledore's personal collection-those that we're allowed to touch anyway-and found nothing! He's asleep! He's dying inch by inch and no one can wake him because he let it happen and is dreaming sweet dreams. The only thing that Professor Snape found out that Professor Dumbledore didn't is that the dreams involve Snuffles! Who is dead. All of that sounds like a myth to me and if it is one, then Luna's the best one to help us!"
"We can't!" Hermione snapped. "We were told not to!"
"And sine when are you and Ron and Harry are so great at following the rules!" Ginny cried, tears of frustration in her eyes as her face went red with emotion. "Why is this the exception? I don't see why we shouldn't tell Luna when she could help. It's like you want Harry to die!"
Hermione gasped, flinching back as if struck, and even Ginny seemed surprised at her daring. It didn't stop her from going on though.
"I mean it," Ginny insisted, a bit of a wobble in her voice even as it gained volume. "Why are the rules so important in this case? Luna's a friend. A good one! She came with us to the Ministry! She was hurt in helping us! Why should we be shutting out her and Neville, who did the same? That's not right! Why aren't you breaking every rule there is to keep Harry alive?"
"Shut up," Hermione said, her voice shaking. "Or I'll hex you."
Ginny laughed, high and wild, the opposite of amused. "You couldn't," she taunted, "you can't. I'm faster than you are. And Luna knows more about this than you do!"
"I keep hearing my name," Luna Lovegood's dreamy voice interrupted Hermione's deliberations of which hex to use. "Amongst other, more disturbing, things. Hello Ginny. Hello Hermione. I do not think all the shouting here is keeping a secret very well. Though perhaps that is the point?"
Hermione gave Ginny a betrayed glance. "You already told her," she accused.
Ginny tossed her hair over one shoulder, hands set defiantly on her hips. "I didn't," she insisted, her face still flushed, "I told her to meet me around here at a certain time, that's all." She turned to Luna. "Did you hear that we need your help, Luna?"
"I did," she said, "though only one of you seems certain of that."
"Ignore her," Ginny said firmly. "We do. She's just had an attack of keeping to the rules for utterly pointless reasons."
Hermione sucked in her breath. "Ginny…"
"That's not very nice," Luna observed mildly. "Not when the last time the rules were broken some of us nearly died. Wasn't Hermione the worst off?"
Ginny's look of dawning horror went a long way towards placating Hermione's temper. "I didn't-I was-" Ginny stammered, dismayed.
"Don't." Hermione didn't want to talk about it. "And the damage is done now. Luna, did you hear what we wanted to ask you about?"
"Sleep," Luna said, staring at nothing in particular. "There are many ways to cause sleep. I will think about it. No standard spells." Only the faint ghost of a smile on her lips gave away the fact that she was teasing a little. "Has anyone said how long the sleeper has until the endless sleep claims him?"
"No specific date," Hermione said. "Just 'a while'. We've got a few months at least."
Luna mulled over that. "It would possibly be easier to look for a cure without knowing the exact spell."
"We thought about that," Ginny admitted. "It was shot down by Professor Snape. He says it would be dangerous to attempt due to the possibility of in-built curses or defenses in the spell." Ginny paused. "Unless you've got an idea for that, too?"
"I will think about it," Luna repeated. "I'm meeting Theodore Nott in the library," she added. "Would you like to walk with me?"
Hermione gave Ginny a dark look that the other girl just shrugged off, and said, "We'd love to, Luna. And if you can help, thank you."
"Do not thank me when I've done nothing yet," Luna said quietly.