Title: Butterfly Bound
Chapter 07: Think It Over
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.
Hermione tapped her quill against her cheek, made a notation on her parchment, and went back to her book. She found herself not adsorbing a single word of it, however, and wound up glancing at Ron and Ginny. Ron was stifling yawns with his hand as he focused on his textbook with narrowed eyes. Ginny, for the moment, seemed to have given up and was staring broodingly into the fire.
Is she wondering if she did the right thing? Hermione thought and then dismissed it. There was no way she was going to open that can of worms right now, not when they hadn't told Ron, and now that Luna knew, Hermione felt that Ginny even had a point about Neville and felt guilty for it. Neville was their friend. They should trust them. But Dumbledore had told them to not and she frowned as she tried, really tried, to figure out why. Some of it had to be pure logistics. There was no way that a secret could be kept in Hogwarts for long-except that that didn't match up with their own experiences. They'd kept secrets and kept them well before.
She glanced at her watch and resisted the urge to sigh. She and Ron had patrol soon. Hermione could feel herself getting tired just thinking about it. She would be stuck with Malfoy, though she was also stuck with Hannah Abbott and Anthony Goldstein, which hopefully would keep the evening from being unbearable. But still, she thought distastefully, Malfoy.
Though Ron didn't fuss as much as I thought he would at being put with Parkinson. Hermione contemplated that and shrugged a little. They were all a little out of sorts these days. Perhaps Ron was just growing up, she though optimistically, and that was why he hadn't said anything. It couldn't be changed, so there was no reason to cause a scene.
She nudged both him and Ginny with her feet. They looked at her curiously as she leaned forward. "Let's go visit Harry," Hermione said quietly. "It's not yet curfew and I don't think Madam Pomfrey will scold us too much if that's the case anyway. Patrol isn't for another hour, so we've the time if we leave now."
Ginny stuffed her books in her bag as Ron and she did the same. The walk down to the infirmary was mostly silent as they took the long way to avoid rousing immediate suspicion as to where they were going. All three of them, heading for the infirmary? It was practically a siren call for where Harry might be and so they all took pains to prevent people from noticing that. Maybe it was just paranoia… but maybe not.
If anyone saw them, Hermione thought, they would likely think we're on our way to visit Fang, since Hagrid isn't here. Poor Fang. We should visit him soon.
The infirmary was quiet. There would be more people here later no doubt, first years with a case of homesickness that was literally making them sick, or students who caught something after being reintroduced to the rest of the student population, but for now, it was empty. All of those who had chronic conditions would have already been and gone as Madam Pomfrey logged their medications and sent them on their way.
They didn't stop in the outer room but made their way for the lesser known private rooms. These were password coded and warded and very few students knew about them in any case-they were used only rarely and never for run-of-the-mill coughs and sniffles. Hermione ruefully remembered more than a month stuck in a bed in the public ward of the infirmary where anyone could pull back the curtain and look at her cat face and ears, thanks to the botched Polyjuice Potion.
I would have appreciated one of these rooms, she thought as Ginny pressed her hand to the panel that would let them in and leaned forward to murmur the password.
A door slid seamlessly away from the wall. They entered it to find the cozy wood-panelled room that Harry was staying in. The bed was more comfortable than the average infirmary cot and there were a few more chairs in the room, like Madam Pomfrey had guessed that they would rarely be visiting Harry on their own. She was right.
Hi Harry, Hermione thought, taking in the way Harry still looked to be at peace. It was unsettling and calming at the same time. Even as he died, he didn't suffer. That was something.
"We told Luna," Ginny said to Ron. "Or, well, I tricked Hermione into arguing about telling her where Luna would hear me."
A myriad of expressions crossed Ron's face before he settled on a low snicker. "And you're alive?" he asked, with a glance at Ginny and then over to her. Hermione flushed. "That seems like a bit of a risk to me."
Ginny shrugged, leaning against Harry's bed and looking down at him with an expression of fierce tenderness. "I thought she'd be useful," Ginny said, "and that mattered more than obeying rules that I thought were ridiculous in the first place. Besides, it's easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission."
"I still think Professor Dumbledore had his reasons for not wanting her to know," Hermione insisted. "Just because we don't know those reasons doesn't mean they might not be valid."
"Maybe." Ginny didn't look away from Harry. "But I thought this way was better and it's too late now." Her brown eyes were determined as she looked at Ron and her. "Are you two going to ask Neville?"
Ron sank down into one of the chairs. "It's not that simple," he said. "Neville's a mate, sure, but can he know anything that will help us?"
"He is from an old pureblood family," Hermione said thoughtfully. "And that might give us another avenue for research. Perhaps his gran has some books that might aid us. Or a plant... Neville knows those better than almost anyone."
"And he's our friend," Ginny said, "which I think ought to count for more than you two are giving it."
Hermione and Ron exchanged uneasy glances. "Look, Ginny," Ron said. "It's not that simple."
"Then simplify it for me." Ginny planted her hands on her hips and gave the both of them a glare. Hermione just felt tired. Stressed out. It was tempting to give into the urge to be shrill and argue back, she could feel the sharp words on her tongue.
I will not start a shouting match over Harry while he's sleeping, she told herself. I will not.
"We'll think about it," Hermione said before Ron could say something insulting to his sister. "I promise. Will you give us a few days, Ginny?"
Ginny looked at the both of them suspiciously but then turned back to Harry. "For him," she said, "I guess I can."
"Are you going to break up with Dean?" Ron asked with studied casualness. "I saw him trying to get your attention today."
Ginny didn't bother to look at either of them. "I guess I might," she said. "Which isn't fair. Dean's a nice guy."
"You're a nice girl too," Hermione said, taking a seat of her own and wishing things were less complicated. Once upon a time, having to deal with the troll and Fluffy and the Stone had been complicated to her. She wished for those days again, when things had seemed more like an adventure instead of just... sad. "Just maybe not for him. Not while you're still..."
"Hung up on Harry?" Ginny asked, her voice wry. "No, you're right. I should talk to him. I just... I didn't want a row today about Harry. Not about dating when Harry isn't... can't..."
Ron broke the silence before it could descend into the truly uncomfortable. Hermione was grateful for that even though the topic he chose wasn't one she really wanted to discuss either. It still stung that Ginny had used her.
"What did Luna say?" he asked, toying with his sleeve. He was going to wear a hole in it if he didn't let up. Hermione didn't think he cared. "About Harry."
"Not that much," Ginny said thoughtfully. "Just that she'd think about it and that she wouldn't look for ordinary spells. But she was meeting Nott and couldn't stay to talk for long. We walked with her to the library."
"It's creepy, that," Ron muttered. "What's Nott doing hanging around her?"
"They've studied together now and then since her second year," Ginny said coolly. "He's a Slytherin and I won't trust him but he's never said a single word bad about Luna and he does know quite a lot about unusual creatures. His mother was a Magizoologist, you know."
From Ron's silence, he hadn't known that. For that matter, Hermione thought, neither had she.
"Was?" Hermione asked before realizing, with a sinking heart, what that had to mean. Nott had been one of the boys who'd been able to see the Thestrals last year. "You mean she's dead."
"Yeah." Ginny sat on the edge of Harry's bed, crossing her legs under her, and plopped her chin into her hands. "Luna said they had that in common too. Both of them were there when their mothers died."
"Why am I suddenly feeling sorry for a Slytherin?" Ron asked sounded baffled. "That's disgusting."
Ginny snickered. "Welcome to the real world?" she asked. "Where you'll have to realize that Slytherins are people too."
"I'm not so sure about that. Malfoy's not much more than a ferret," Ron retorted easily, and the siblings fell into a banter that was half in fun and half bickering and Hermione found herself frowning as she watched the rise and fall of Harry's chest.
There had to be something they could do. She could feel panic clawing at her, incessant worry that there really wasn't anyway to cure Harry, to wake him up, that he'd really just sleep until he didn't even do that.
A sound at the door had all three of them jerking around to see who it was. The door cracked open and Luna stood there, looking pale but composed. But only if, Hermione realized, you didn't look too hard at her eyes. For her eyes were anything but that. Bright and almost feverish with emotion.
"Luna," Ginny said, sounding baffled, "how did you get in here? The door's warded and locked."
Luna shut the door behind her; it blended seamlessly into the wall. Her blonde hair almost seemed to glow by candle light. "I asked the wall if it was hiding my friends," Luna said. "The wall wasn't sure who my friends were so it let me in to check. I'll have to tell it that it was, and thank it for letting me in."
"That doesn't even make sense," Hermione objected as Ginny shrugged and Ron let out a sigh that was almost a laugh. "How can you talk to a wall?"
"How do you talk to me?" Luna asked curiously. "It's done much the same way, I suppose."
"Were you looking for us?" Ginny asked before Hermione could draw breath to explain that no, no that was definitely not remotely the same thing. Ron was no help, he was just looking amused.
"I was," Luna said as she stepped over to Harry's bed and stared down at him. "He's a good friend, you know." Her pale eyes studied each of them in turn. The look in them made Hermione want to squirm. "He should have been guarded better."
"I know," Ginny said sadly. "But we thought Professor Dumbledore was handling that. Who could blame us?"
"Harry might," Luna said thoughtfully. "But I don't think he will. He forgives those he loves easily and this has given him good dreams you said."
"Professor Dumbledore did his best," Hermione said. "He's one of the greatest Wizards of the world. It's not his fault that You-Know-Who got around it." It was easier, for some reason, to say Voldemort when Harry was awake. Hermione carried on, "No one could have predicted that this would happen."
Luna didn't respond to that as she stood beside Ginny and they both watched Harry for a long moment. "I might have a solution," Luna said, "though I can't take the credit for finding it."
Excitement exploded in the pit of her stomach. Hermione made a squeaky noise that she hastily stifled as Ron sat up straight and Ginny turned her head to stare at Luna hard. "What is it?" Hermione blurted.
"You've been crying," Ginny said, frowning at Luna. "What for if you've found a solution?"
"Because I'm not sure it's the right way to go about things," Luna said quietly. "And because there is plenty to go wrong and I am uncertain if my trust is true or misplaced."
"What isthe cure?" Hermione pressed. Ron was watching Luna with narrowed, speculative eyes but Hermione felt too jittery to just wait for her to get around to telling them. "If it can help Harry, then how can it go wrong?"
"Lots of ways," Ginny said. "Isn't that way we haven't tried anything yet? Because there could be traps and downsides and we could kill him as we try to cure him and none of us want that to happen."
Hermione pressed her lips together for a second and then continued. "We haven't found anything that's worth taking the risk," she said, "and Harry is dying anyway. If what Luna has found is worth the risk then I think it should be done."
"I thought you'd say that," Luna said, her voice very clear despite the way her eyes were pressed shut, as in pain. "I told him you would."
Her stomach twisted. "Him?" she asked. "Who did you tell? Luna we told you that-"
"Hermione," Ron said. "I don't give a bloody damn about who she told if there's a solution to this. Neither do you, if you stop and think about it."
Ginny wrapped a supportive arm around Luna. "Who did you tell?" she asked and there was a tightness in her eyes that suggested she wasn't entirely happy with their secret having been told either. It made Hermione feel better. "You were meeting..." Ginny trailed off, her eyes widening.
Hermione, too, felt like she'd been punched in the gut. "You told Nott?" Ron made a noise like he was choking. "You told Nott?" Hermione repeated.
Luna's eyes were steady. "Yes." She looked down at Harry. "And he had a solution, so I won't apologize for doing so."
"But he's Dark," Ron said, his voice still sounding strangled. "His Dad's a Death Eater."
"Theodore's not," Luna said, "though there are plenty of people who want him to be. Mostly, I think, he wants to be left alone. Yes, he's Dark." Her tone of voice made it clear that she did not think that was a major consideration. "It was a Dark spell that did this to Harry. Who better to ask than a Dark wizard?"
"How can you trust him?" Hermione asked, as Ron gaped at Luna with poorly disguised horror. "He's a Slytherin and he's laughed at the things Malfoy's done to us."
"I might too," Luna mused, "if I was a Slytherin and concerned with my own self-preservation when the people who I disagreed with slept in the beds next to me. Not all dorms are exactly safe."
Hermione remembered, then, what Harry had told them last year about how Luna's things had been taken and hidden by her dormmates and how Luna had been putting up notices to get her things back. How she was bullied. That was in Ravenclaw.
She tried to imagine how it would be like to be in Slytherin and not a Death Eater or Death Eater wannabe and shuddered. You would have to lie constantly, she thought, and do it so well that no one would know the lies. "Do you know for sure that's what he was doing?" she asked. "You're a pureblood. His association with you is relatively safe."
"This is true," Luna admitted. "But I choose to trust a friend. I don't think this is wrong of me though he's a Slytherin. He is sincerely thinking over his options." She tilted her head. "I don't think he found his summer pleasant."
"The missing children," Hermione whispered. "He must have been one of them. That's..."
"I could not say for sure. Theodore did not say much and would, if asked, say even less." Luna's voice was even.
Hermione supposed that, in this case, she could not blame Nott for that. Who would want to admit to a summer like that (her imagination provided her with a myriad of horrific things that could have happened) to an enemy? Who would believe it? But she could, she thought, believe that he hadn't enjoyed it. "What is his solution?" Hermione asked. "You said he had a potential one but that it wasn't an easy one."
"Something like that," Luna agreed, leaning against Ginny. "Have any of you ever heard of Chaos Butterflies?"
Hermione's eyes narrowed. Ginny and Ron exchanged glances slowly. "As bedtime stories," Ginny said, after a moment. "But I don't remember that much about them. Mum and Dad always said they were myths."
"They brought change?" Ron said, not sounding entirely certain of what he was saying. "And in the stories, people always used them to make things better for people."
"Bedtime stories," Hermione said flatly. "Your idea, and Nott's, involve a bedtime story?"
Luna studied her for a long moment. Long enough that Hermione fought the urge to squirm uncomfortably.
"I heard a story in my first year," Luna said, "about a second-year student who questioned Professor Binns about a myth and when he objected to it because it wasn't solid, verifiable fact, had it pointed out to him that most myths have a basis in reality."
Hermione flushed deeply. "There was proof something was happening then! What proof do we have of these butterflies?"
"What proof do you have that they don't exist?" Luna countered. "I believe Theodore. He has never given me reason not to."
"Luna," Ginny said gently, "what do the butterflies have to do with curing Harry?"
"Theodore has a book that contains the butterflies," Luna said dreamily. "His family has kept it for a long, long time and they've used it before to save their family from odds that would have defeated them. The butterflies are change, are fixing the impossible. Theodore thinks that a cure might be found in the book but it cannot be entered alone. It must be entered by one of Nott blood and one whom he is willing to bond with."
Ginny sucked in her breath sharply. Ron turned a funny shade of white. "That's serious magic," he said shakily. "I can think of maybe a few others that would have that as a requirement and they're not meant for games."
Hermione's mind raced. A bond? Clearly it was a deep one but what sort was it? Would it be worth that to have Harry back and healthy?
"This isn't a game," Ginny said, her voice uneven. "Luna, who is he willing to take into the book with him?"
"His first choice is engaged to another man and would not have been able to help us help Harry in any case," Luna said, tilting her head. "He asked me. I turned him down. I am not interested in that sort of a bond right now, though I like him well enough."
"He understands that you are unavailable," Luna assured Ginny, which seemed to be the root of what had been bothering the red-haired witch as she let her breath out in an explosive sigh. "Which leaves..."
Hermione grimaced as they looked at her. "Me?" she said disbelievingly. "He agreed to me." A pause and then: "What sort of bond are we talking about here? A soul-bond? A marriage-bond? A mental one? Why is it something that you, Luna, don't want and if it's about Ginny and her feelings and she's not acceptable then isit a marriage bond?"
"Marriage is part of it," Luna replied, "but it's a love bond, which goes deeper. Some marriages are pretty shallow after all."
Hermione felt dizzy, like the world had sharply veered and twisted under her, like she was seconds away from flying without a broom. Love?Ron looked like he was glad he was already sitting while Ginny's face had gone expressionless in a way that Hermione hadn't seen since second year.
"Of course Theodore also mentioned he does not particularly find the bond part important." Luna kept her eyes on Hermione; Hermione wished she'd look away. "He is much more favourably inclined to treat this as a business transaction."
"A business transaction," Hermione repeated blankly. For a love bond? That… involved marriage. She supposed it was a peculiar thing that the very idea of treating it as something to be traded was almost comforting. It wasn't a grand romance but he didn't want that. And neither do I, she thought. Though one day that might not be so bad.
But she'd thought, perhaps, with Ron...
But Ron wasn't saying anything and hadn't erupted into an explosion of rage and Hermione knew the way he showed his jealousy. What do you think? she thought at him but of course, he didn't answer her. He was frowning but it was the same frown he'd had while on the train, while listening to the new rules.
He was thinking and not reacting. Hermione felt unsettled all over again.
Was this the new world they were going to have to deal with? What sort of hand had she been offered? "I need to think about this," Hermione said, drawing her composure around her like a comforting cloak. "I'll give you my answer in a few days."
Ginny looked like she wanted to object but held her silence. Hermione was grateful for that; she suspected that she'd start crying or shouting if she had to point out that if Ginny wanted this done so badly that she could volunteer for this. This was marriage, after all. Love. How was she supposed to rush into that?
Even if it would cure Harry?
"Nott's all right with Hermione being Muggleborn?" Ron asked, his voice careful.
Luna twirled a strand of long blonde hair around her wand carelessly. "He said he would be amendable to Granger."
"Why?" Hermione asked. "Don't tell me he likes me. You said his first choice-"
"-was engaged, yes. I don't think he has feelings for you," Luna said bluntly. "But he has offered and I believe his offer to be genuine, no matter his prejudices. After all, this is helping him as well."
"What is he getting out of this, Luna?" Ginny asked, staring at Harry intently. "If it's not the bond, and I doubt he's in it to just cure Harry, then what is it?"
Luna considered that. "Peace," she said finally. "I think he just wants to be left alone, more than anything else."
Hermione, right then, could sympathize.
"We've got to get going for patrol," she said, forcing herself to stand, to talk like she wasn't awhirl with thoughts and most of them unpleasant. She felt sick. Ron still wasn't angry at the thought of her marrying someone else. Hermione wanted to cry. "If we're late, the others will raise the alarm. When you two leave, make sure you're not caught by us."
One of Ginny's eyelids slipped down in a quick wink and Luna's faint smile became a little less faint. "I think we can manage that," Ginny said blandly. "Why would two innocent fifth years be out and about after hours?"
"Snogging," Ron said promptly, and then looked like he'd swallowed something vile. "Just-don't let me catch you snogging someone. I won't survive it."
Ginny rolled her eyes and bent her head to talk to Luna, who murmured back an answer too low for Hermione to hear. She looked at Ron. "Coming?"
Ron stared at the two younger girls for a moment before heaving a heavy sigh and standing. "Yeah," he said, sounding disgusted. "I can't believe I'm stuck spending hours with Parkinson though. How unlucky is that? Can't even hit her like I could Malfoy."
"You are a Prefect," Hermione snapped, thoroughly unpleased at his lack of reaction to the possibility that she might wind up bonding to Nott and displeased at the fact that she had hours of Malfoy's company to endure before she could properly stew about it.
"Still," Ron said thoughtfully, "wonder what was so bad that it made a Dark wizard like him want out."
"Knowing Slytherins," Hermione said, piqued, "he would tell us it's none of our business."