Title: Butterfly Bound
Chapter 06: First Offer
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.
Theodore sat himself down in a chair in the library with the fatalistic air of a man who knew he'd be facing an on-coming disaster. It wasn't that the day had gone particularly badly, though it had been marred by the undercurrents of tension that permeated Slytherin.
No, what was inspiring the feeling of impending doom rushing towards him was the fact that while Theodore was reasonably certain that his plan was solid, that his determined line of questioning would be reasonable, and that hiding in the book really was the best solution for him-or, failing that, it would give him a better one-he was not at all certain that Luna would agree. She's hard to read, he thought, getting out his Arithmancy to work on while he kept one eye on the door. I don't know what she'll say to my offer and that upsets me.
It unsettled him more than he really cared to admit to himself. It was uncomfortable being in this state of uncertainty which was only heightened by Malfoy's tight face and the way it seemed like, more than ever, everyone was keeping secrets that they didn't dare talk about.
Which we are.
None of that made for comfortable thinking. Or for efficient studying but Theodore buckled down and slowly lost himself in the depths of endlessly complicated equations and his quill moving across parchment. Soothing, really, books. They had never turned around and bit at him the way most things did eventually.
When Luna entered the library, he froze, a little unsteadily as she did so with both Granger and the youngest Weasley. I cannot ask if they're here, he thought determinedly, ignoring the way his hand trembled slightly. Granger looked like she was irritated but trying to hide it-badly. Weasley looked pleased with herself and Luna was smiling vaguely, which could mean a lot of things, too many to name. But that is not the end of the world. It's not.The fear in his stomach was cramped and wailing about how it most certainly was. He never wanted to be put into a position to do what he'd done this summer ever again. Ever.
But I doubt she would bring them to study with me, cool logic reared it's head as Luna's smile widened and she broke away from Granger and Weasley, and came towards him. Just friends walking down together. God, Theodore, you're pathetic.
"You're upset," Luna said as she sat down beside him rather than across from him.
"Hello to you too," Theodore said, reaching for dryness to cover his reactions. "And it's nothing."
She gave him a look like she doubted that was the case but let it drop. That was the nice thing about Luna, he felt. She knew when to leave things well enough alone even if it might be smarter to talk about them. But I don't want to talk about how I'm an idiot for leaping to conclusions, Theodore thought ruefully. He liked Luna. Not as more than a friend but she had her own appeal.
"How was your day?" he asked quietly, as she got out her books. "Everything all right with you and Granger? She didn't look best pleased."
Luna tapped her quill-a violently green Fwooper monstrosity-against her cheek. "Hermione wound up in a situation that had only one way out," she said, "and it was not the way she wanted. It was a minor thing but she's bad at letting things go. I am fine."
But that wasn't quite right either, Theodore thought, because closer now, Luna looked a little too pale and her lips were thin, like she was holding back some upset by will alone. He thought about prying but... but she'd done him the courtesy of not prying.
He could do the same for her and if they wanted to talk about it, perhaps it would happen later, once they'd both had a chance to lose themselves in studying. "All right," he said determinedly, "then we'll get started. Have you covered-"
Both bent their heads over the Arithmancy texts, one blonde, one brown, and soon soft murmurs about numbers and the magic inherent in them occupied the both of them thoroughly.
Hours passed that way, as they both worked through their respective essays while discussing finer points of various concepts with each other. While Luna was a year behind him in class, she had a more intuitive mind that made up for her lack of knowledge compared to him. And he made sure to pay attention to her leaps even when they didn't seem on the surface of things to make all that much sense to him.
As night fell more thoroughly about him and Granger and Weasley and others began leaving the library, with either sighs of relief at a chore being over with for the day or with armfuls of books so that they could continue working long into the night, Theodore felt his jitters come back with a vengeance. When he glanced at Luna he was surprised to see her frowning pensively in the direction of the doorway.
"Father is thinking of doing an article on sleep spells," Luna told him, out of the blue, which was always her way. "Have you heard of any that are unusual? I don't know very many."
"They're not exactly standard curriculum," Theodore pointed out, finishing an equation and squinting at it thoughtfully before setting his quill down and stretching. "What brought on sleep spells?"
It wasn't what he wanted to bring up but now that the time was looming closer, he found he wasn't in that much of a rush. Nerves. I hate having them.
"A friend," Luna said quietly, tracing her fingers in circles on the tabletop. "I misspoke, I suppose."
Theodore fell silent at that. He knew good and well that there were few enough people that Luna considered as friends. She'd been thrilled last year to be included in so many things-it was like having friends all the time, instead of just when they needed her-and he was strangely loathe to point out that this year, unless things were fixed by Potter it was likely that she'd be facing another mostly lonely year.
"What sort of sleep spell are they under?" Theodore asked, his voice as quiet as hers. It was a conclusion that involved several leaps of logic and the combination of a few things he'd pieced together over the summer he didn't want to think about. Wasn't the whole reason he wanted to ask Luna about the book because he'd known something was wrong with Potter?
This had to be about Potter.
Luna tilted her head, as if listening to things he couldn't, wouldn't ever, be able to hear.
Theodore let the silence wash over them as he turned back to his essay, checking a few references to make sure they were noted down correctly, while Luna thought about it.
We are both dancing around our situations. It was a peculiarly comforting thought, in a twisted way, that both of them were walking the same tightrope, just in the opposite directions. Or perhaps we'll meet in the middle?
It was something to think about anyway.
"I don't know," she said finally, her pale eyes studying him like he was a particularly difficult puzzle to figure out. "They're asleep and the sleep will kill them but they can't be woken and they're dreaming of the dead."
Theodore frowned at her. "That's not very useful."
She just looked at him. Her usual serenity, or the seeming of it, at least, was gone and left behind was a girl dealing with an unpleasant shock.
She hasn't had time to figure this out, Theodore realized with a sickened twist of his stomach. That must have been what Weasley and Granger were with her for. She just found out.
"Luna," he said, because friendship drove him to point this out, even when for the Dark Lord's agenda, it was the wrong course of action, "are you sure you should be talking about this with me?"
He wasn't for the Dark Lord. He wasn't for Potter or Dumbledore either. But Luna didn't know that, couldn't know that he was in this mostly for himself and was looking, searching, for a way out.
"Hermione wouldn't like it," Luna admitted slowly. "But you have been kind when others have not been. Ginny would understand that. You have never hurt them. Just kept your silence."
Theodore stared at her. "What else was I supposed to do?" he asked, stung by the reproachful look in her eyes. "Malfoy sleeps in my dorm. Crabbe is a vicious brute and Professor Snape expects us to deal with our own problems in a way that befits Slytherins. Prudence dictated my actions."
"Will they dictate them in the future too?"
"I don't know," he said. "The future isn't something I can See."
She smiled slightly at that, seeming a little sad. "Most of us can't," Luna agreed. "But despite that, I am talking to you about this. Maybe I am making a mistake."
Unspoken but not unheard was the 'and maybe I'm not' bit of that, Theodore thought, toying with his quill. "I'm assuming that all regular avenues have been tried?"
"If they are asking for my help," Luna pointed out gently, "then yes. Hermione was quite insistent that myth and nonsense would not help them and yet..."
"Here you are," he finished. "I hope you told her that myth and nonsense have their uses."
She just shrugged. "Hermione will learn," Luna said. "She's very smart, did you know that?"
"Everyone knows that," he said and shut his mouth before he could say something uncomplimentary about Granger.
If pressed, despite the situation and the strange hilarity he felt bubbling up against his chest because she was asking about the same thing he'd been struggling to ask her about, he was very pleased that she'd asked him.
Maybe she thinks we are friends, he thought, if a slightly different than normal sort.But wasn't that par for the course with Luna?
"What about curing the symptoms instead?" he asked curiously.
"The possibility of implanted traps was raised," Luna said and he noted that she didn't say by whom.
He didn't need to know the inner workings of the so-called Light side and he understood why she would be cautious with that besides. Better to be safe than sorry in this case, as was the same in so many other cases.
"I see." Theodore hesitated. "There's a book I have," he said, "that specializes in fixing the impossible."
She glanced at him dubiously. "There's very little that's impossible."
That was so Luna that he had to smile slightly. The movement twisted his lips. "True enough," he conceded, "but how about the wildly implausible and incredibly difficult?"
She nodded her head solemnly. "Far more accurate."
"Have you ever heard of the Chaos Butterflies?" Theodore curled his fingers over his wand, as a way to make himself feel better. It didn't help much. He left his hand on it however.
"They disappeared," Luna said slowly, tilting her head thoughtfully, "because people were scared of them. They were change and not everyone is comfortable with constant change. Even the Muggles know about them, though they don't realize it's the butterflies themselves that caused it." She paused, thinking. "Chaos Theory they call it, or the Butterfly Effect. But they don't know that the butterfly is the chaos."
That was the publicly available myth, buried in the depths of books that very few people these days read.
"They didn't disappear," he said quietly. "They're still around. They're just... bound."
Luna's pale eyes met his. "In a book owned by your family," she said, her voice hushed. "Really?"
"The Notts weren't originally from around here," he told her. "Our line originated in Australia."
"The last known location of the Chaos Butterflies." She frowned. "And if I looked, would your family have left around the time the butterflies disappeared?"
"The times would happen to match up almost exactly."
He only told her because it wasn't some great secret. Anyone who bothered to look up the dates of both would be able to see that. The only difference was, not many people would know that the two of them were connected.
"Why did my family trap them?" Theodore looked intrigued as he thought about it. "For power, I suppose. They've saved our family more than once through the years, but I can't speak for people who've been dead more than a thousand years and say what their motivations were. None of them left diaries to tell their thought processes. I can only guess."
"Your guess is power?" Luna's voice was soft.
"The Notts have always been interested in power that isn't in the spotlight," he said, just as softly. "Even I am. That much is in my blood right through to the bones."
"But you don't serve Him."
Theodore met her eyes steadily. "I serve no one," he said flatly. "Only myself."
"It must be a sad thing," she replied, "to have no one to rely on."
"Maybe." He wasn't sure about that, though, and that showed in his voice. "There's good sides to everything."
"There generally are." Luna sighed a little.
"The book could help Potter," he said and she flinched. "It was obvious," Theodore told her, not ungently, "but I had an unfair advantage. Let us say that my summer was a most... interesting one."
She adsorbed that, looking concerned, he thought, for him. It was a peculiar thing. "Are you willing to help him?" Luna asked. "Your father will not. This would be deciding your alliance in a way that cannot be taken back."
"My father is a fool who bows to pain," Theodore said. "I don't plan to side with Dumbledore either. My offer of help is a two-way street. I need help, and you need it."
She was quiet for a long, long set of moments where Theodore found it hard to breathe. He knew what she was doing. It was what he'd be doing, had their positions been reversed. She was reviewing what she knew of the situation, of Potter, of him, and weighing the risks against the potential gain.
Then she looked at him. "What sort of help do you need?"
He told her.
Luna stared at the tabletop for what felt like eons after he was done laying out his plan, such as it was. Her brow was furrowed as she went over the details. Theodore waited as patiently as he could. He wouldn't push her. Couldn't push her.
This had to be chosen of her own free will. The book had always been very firm on that. Only free will would get someone into the book. They could not be forced into it.
A deal was acceptable because there was something for both parties to gain from it.
He knew all of that and still found it hard to swallow as he waited. True night had fallen, he thought, staring out the windows. Madam Pince would be along soon to shoo them out, though she'd be gentler with them than most would be-after all, they were quiet and treated the books with respect. She liked them as much as she liked any student, which wasn't all that much, truth to tell.
"I cannot," Luna said finally. "Not with a bond being a requirement."
"Is there someone else?"
"Maybe," she said, "and maybe not. But I am not interested in this."
It was a rejection but it was one that he couldn't blame her for even as he knew it would leave him scrambling for another option. He didn't have that many people he was even willing to ask to do something like this-
"If I can have your permission," Luna said, "I can see if someone else would be willing to do this."
He clenched his hands in his robes and hoped he didn't look as panicked as he felt. "Who?" Theodore asked. "I know Weasley might do it," they both knew which Weasley he referred to, "but she's been in love with Potter since before she came to Hogwarts by all accounts." His eyes narrowed. "Luna..."
"You will run away," she said quietly. "That is what you want. I do not think that the bond matters that much to you, though perhaps it should."
He wondered if that was why she'd turned his offer down. Which was pretty... reasonable, he reluctantly conceded. She was right. He didn't think of her that way, though she was a friend.
"I've had to think of other things," Theodore said and then admitted, "and my first choice is engaged to another."
Luna nodded. "That makes more sense."
He supposed it did. "Who, Luna? Who would you ask?"
"You already know who." She began packing her bags and closing books as Madam Pince came closer to them. "Will you be able to live with that? Do I have your permission to ask?"
He packed his own bags, stacking the books he wanted to take with him in a neat pile, as he thought hard about that. Granger.
Could he live with that?
Theodore wasn't sure. He also didn't feel like he had that many options either. Blaise was already composing his letter to his mother. Daphne and Astoria were murmuring their own plans. Malfoy was looking worse and worse as he struggled to find a way out of the hole he'd spent five years digging himself into. Even Parkinson was looking out-of-sorts.
He knew the others who'd spent the summer with them had to be thinking their own way through things. They had to move fast. Sooner or later one of them, if likely not a Slytherin, was going to go to Dumbledore and all of them doubted they'd find much protection there. When has Dumbledore ever given us a fair call?
"I can live with it," he said, swinging his bag over his shoulder. "But Luna, make sure she knows what she's getting into. There's no take backs, or I've changed my mind, when it comes to the book. It deals with the impossible and makes those absolute."
Luna smiled slightly. "I know. That's how most truly impossible things work."
Blaise was waiting for him, when Theodore wandered into the dorm hours later. It was long past curfew but that hardly stopped anyone who was really serious about sneaking around and Theodore had wanted time alone to think. He'd wondered if Luna had told Granger already. If Granger had already said no.
But would she say no when it was Potter's life on the line?
Theodore didn't know and that fact haunted him as he settled into a high-backed ominous looking chair, like all the other chairs in the Slytherin common room, and stared into the fire. Blaise let him get away with this for a matter of minutes, no more, before a Stinging Hex got his hand. Theodore winced and shook the pain away. "You could have just asked."
"You were too busy playing the brooding hero," Blaise said placidly. "And I'm sure you've given me reason to hex you in the past that I've overlooked for some reason."
"Touché." Theodore shook his head. "She said no."
Blaise's face tightened. "And?"
"She's seeing if Granger will." The idea didn't sound any less bizarre with repetition.
"Granger?" Blaise echoed, sounding appalled. "But she's-"
"A Mudblood," Theodore said flatly. "I know." He turned away from the fire to look at Blaise. "But it's my best chance. If it's for Potter-she might do it. Lovegood said she'd explain the bond aspect, so Granger knows what she's getting into."
Blaise snorted. "Like that will help," he predicted. "If she says yes, it'll be because there's no other choice. Both of you are stuck and I don't know that it'll matter about the bond to Granger."
Theodore thought about Luna scolding him, in her mild way, for not considering the bond to be a particularly important aspect. He shrugged, slumping further down into the seat and brushing his hair away from his eyes. "The bond isn't that important to me either. If it's not to Granger, if she even agrees to this, then we'll at least be in agreement over that." He tilted his head and considered that. "Probably for the best," he added. "Because the more we can agree on, the more likely the book is to help us."
Blaise shifted. "It's killed people before."
"People are dying every day here. This is a different risk," Theodore said. "More, it's one I'm choosing to take. I didn't decide to follow a madman who alienates his own followers by traumatizing their children. I spotted several others today, as young as Astoria, who have the same brittle look she does."
"I saw that too." Blaise's expression was impossible to read by the weak light of the fire. There was little point in whistling on a lamp. No subtlety and playing in shadows was something all of them had to learn. "Not all of them in Slytherin."
"We predicted that," Theodore reminded. "We knew, those of us stuck there. We just never saw them."
"Probably for everyone's protection? That way if there's one traitor, only a small group will be taken in for questioning."
"Probably." It made sense. Theodore hated that it did. It was easier to loathe an enemy when they made no sense whatsoever.
The fire popped, startling them both and Blaise swore softly as he looked at his watch. "We need to get to bed," he said, "or we're going to be caught by Professor Snape."
Theodore stood. "Merlin forbid that happen."
"Just one more question," Blaise said as they headed towards their dormitory. "Did you explain that once you're in you have no intentions of leaving?"
Theodore gave him a sharp glance and smiled grimly. "Of course not," he said coolly. "What do you take me for? I'm not a fool. I'm a Slytherin."