The Sugar Quill
Author: Elsha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Distractions  Chapter: Chapter 2: Choices
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Chapter Two Ò Choices

Chapter Two — Choices

A/N: Hopefully that fixes the beta notes. Curse all similar file names!

After that startling encounter in the practice room, Anne began to notice Theodore Nott other places around the school. She would observe him studying in the library, or walking between classes, or in the Great Hall at mealtimes sitting with Malfoy and his cronies. No-one else had the slightest idea they had ever spoken to each other, let alone met regularly. Anne certainly didn’t commit the gaffe of trying to speak to him in between Saturdays–she was pretty sure he would ignore her. That suited her. She doubted they would have much to talk about, outside of music. Besides, the Saturday meetings were going well enough. They would play some music, and talk about it, and things around it — composers, instruments, the differences between Muggle and wizard music. Any other topics tended to lead to careless prejudice from Theodore, or frustration from Anne, and so were scrupulously avoided. Music was neutral enough that they could even agree on things. Anne could not comprehend Nott’s attitude towards her, as if she was incapable of doing or understanding anything except music (where he could not deny her talent.) She in turn felt he was unable to get over himself. It was almost a pity; he showed, at times, flashes of decency under the thoughtless arrogance. Very small ones. It went on like this for a few weeks until one Friday evening in early March, when she was in the library looking for a Charms text.

"Looking for something?" said a voice from behind her quietly. She jumped.

"What-oh, Theodore." She looked at him quizzically. "Why- what are you doing here?"

"Looking for a book, that’s all." He reached over her shoulder to pluck a mouldering paperback from the shelf. "Here we go."

"I thought we didn’t know we knew each other, except when we’re playing music."

"We don’t." He was walking away from her, now. "After all, I don’t talk to your sort, do I?"

He flashed a smile back over his shoulder, clearly in an amicable mood for once. Anne sighed. Nott as an arrogant prat…that incarnation she had learned to deal with. Mostly by ignoring the arrogance and picking up on the rare moments when he forgot exactly who — or rather what — she was. It was not precisely easy — but it was helping her grow a tougher hide than three previous years at Hogwarts put together. Nott being ironic could take more getting used to. A lot more.

Finally spotting the book she wanted, she pulled it off the shelf, and hurried back to the table she’d been at, only to see Nott seated there, apparently using his textbook to write an essay.

Oh, damn, she thought. Now she’d have to go find another table, and the library was fairly crowded this evening, especially with the approach of the OWLs and NEWTs. Over at the next nearest table Anne could see three fourth-years she knew vaguely from joint classes; Ginny Weasley, no mistaking the red hair, the oddball girl Luna from Ravenclaw, and another Gryffindor she thought might be called Colin. She couldn't join them, though; it just…no, they probably wouldn't want her. Well, she had to collect her stuff, at least, so she marched over and reached for her things. Just before Anne picked them up, however, she hesitated. Nott seemed to still be unaware she was there.

If he’s going to break the rules - unspoken though they are - then two can play at that game…

Anne pulled out the chair across from Nott and dropped firmly into it with a small inward grin. Placing Charms of Movement on the table, she opened it to the chapter on the Summoning Charm and carefully began the opening sentence of her essay.

Summoning and Banishing Charms are used often in daily wizarding life. She paused for a moment to tap her finger thoughtfully. The Summoning Charm is produced…

After a few moments, a voice interrupted her.

"Excuse me, what do you think you’re doing?" Nott’s voice was angry — and slightly worried. She felt herself beginning to redden, but she didn’t look up.

"Writing an essay," she said, with a semblance of casualness. "Summoning and Banishing Charms."

"You can’t sit here!"

Anne didn’t trust herself to reply, but merely continued to write. Suddenly her essay was whisked out from under her quill. Her head went up.

"Hey!"

"Listen, you can’t come and sit here!" Nott was speaking in a low but urgent tone. "I can’t be seen talking to you! I don’t know you! Do you know what sort of trouble I’d get in if I spoke more than two civil words to a Muggle-born? I. Am. A. Slytherin! There’s a war going to start soon, and I can’t be seen to be on the wrong side! Malfoy snarling will be the least of my problems if that happens! Just — just go!" His fierce yet muffled tone was almost comical. He suddenly looked horrified, before leaning back into his seat with a groan. "Why do I end up saying too much to you?"

Anne gripped the table edge unconsciously. "I…I was here first. So if you want to, to not be seen with me, or, or anything, you can go." She stared straight back at him, trying not to let her gaze drop. "Um. Yeah."

Nott closed his eyes tightly for a few moments. "Why me?" he muttered. "Why do I have to keep thinking?"

Since this comment made absolutely no sense, Anne merely reached across, pulled her essay back, and began to write again. Nott looked as if he was going to stand up and go, but with a sigh, he too picked up his quill and kept writing. He did shuffle around so that anyone would think they were being forced to share a table due to lack of space Which in fact, Anne thought, they were.

After about five minutes he said, still barely audible, "By the way. You know receive? In your second paragraph? You spelled it wrong. The e goes before the i."

"Oh. Right." Anne corrected it. "I always get that wrong."

"I wouldn’t worry. I was eight before I could spell my own name right."

"Nott? That’s not hard."

"Try Theodore. I used to spell it with an i instead of the first o. Because that’s how it’s pronounced."

"Fairleigh’s pretty nasty too, that way."

"What does Fairleigh mean, anyway?" The fact that they were conducting the conversation without looking up - and from opposite ends of the table - made Anne strain a bit to catch what he was saying. She frowned, scratching out a wrongly-chosen word.

"To be honest? I haven't the faintest. It's English, is all I know."

"Nott's Saxon, I think. I'm not sure."

"Saxon? Not very fair -Saxon, are you?"

"So?" Anne glanced up to see him raise an eyebrow at her. "Better dark than at the end of blonde jokes."

"Well, thank you very much, Nott." She distinctly heard him snicker. "What are you doing, anyway?"

"Charms essay, Care of Magical creatures research…not that we get too much of that."

"Well, it's more of a practical subject, isn't it? Nice change from things like History of Magic."

"Oh, do you take Care of Magical Creatures?"

"Yes. We haven’t been having much fun in lessons lately, though, what with Umbridge breathing down our necks."

"It’s not quite so bad for us — she likes all the Slytherins, but I can see why Hagrid gets so upset. I mean, he’s a useless teacher, but he’s trying as much as he is able."

"Useless?" Anne was indignant. "He is not useless!"

"Not his fault, I suppose. Being half-giant and all. But you have to admit he isn’t the greatest teacher," Nott said matter-of-factly. Anne contented herself with glowering at the inoffensive parchment. They continued to write in silence.

Well, there I was thinking about how arrogance was so much easier to deal with…

*

She didn't get back to the common room until quite late, just before the eight-thirty curfew. It was still quite crowded with people doing homework or, in some rather rare cases, just hanging out. Anne spotted Mai and Gabby sitting at a table over in the corner. They appeared to be doing more talking than actual work. She crossed the room to slide into a chair beside them. Gabby appeared to be engaged in the popular pastime of complaining about Umbridge.

"It’s so stupid, we haven’t had our wands out all year — hey, Anne, where have you been? You went off to the library ages ago!"

"Just writing my essay. It was a bit quieter." Anne shrugged. "Where're Sarah and Ellie?"

"Ellie's having a shower, Sarah went up to bed…she was feeling tired, or something. I think she's having problems with Jeremy," Gabby confided. Jeremy was Sarah's boyfriend, a fellow Hufflepuff. "Has she said anything to you?"

"Honestly, Gabby, do we have to discuss Sarah's boyfriend issues?" Mai sounded irritated. "There are more important things in life. What Umbridge is doing, for one."

"But this is important, " protested Gabby. "We can't help Sarah if we don't know what's going on!"

Anne and Mai exchanged glances.

"What about…oh…those, what was it, Death Eaters who escaped Azkaban? That's much more important," offered Anne.

"I suppose." Gabby sounded dubious. "Not like they're very likely to turn up at Hogwarts, though. It's not like Sirius Black, or anything. They knew he was after Harry Potter."

"Why did they do all those things, anyway?" Anne asked on a whim. "They sounded awful, but why? Why kill all those people?" It was something she’d never really thought — or wanted — to ask. Oh, she’d heard about Death Eaters, but it had all sounded so long ago…before she was born.

Mai frowned. "They're all believers in pure blood. And they were all in Slytherin, probably. They think that all Muggle-borns should be killed. Or not allowed to go to Hogwarts, or whatever. They're not too keen on anyone who has any Muggle ancestors, either. Loony, the lot of them."

"But why?"

Gabby wrinkled her nose. "Like Mai said. Loony. They all reckon Muggleborns aren't magic enough, or something." She rolled her eyes. "Honestly. They can't actually know any Muggle-borns, if they think that. Definitely not anyone like Hermione Granger. They probably believe that You-Know-Who is really back, too."

"How do we know he's not?" Anne persisted.

"There's no real evidence…" Mai countered. "Only Harry Potter's word, and he's just one person."

"Well, maybe he is," Gabby allowed "but it's not like he can do anything too awful. With ten people? I mean, I know Mum and Dad said it was really bad back in the war — they had friends killed and stuff — but it was ages ago, it’s not going to happen again."

"The stories about them sounded pretty bad. Look how many people they murdered, or tortured, or…everything. If you read in our textbooks about the war, sounded like a good attempt at the Holocaust, but You-Know-Who didn't have enough people, or enough power, and then he got defeated." Anne wasn't quite sure why she was continuing this line of conversation, but it had reminded her of something.

The other two were beginning to look uneasy. "Holo-what?" asked Mai. "What was that?"

"Never mind," Anne said absently, pushing her chair back to stand. "I think I'm going to bed, too. Night."

"Night, then, Anne."

As she made her way up the stairs, Anne was lost in thought. Death Eaters…who believed in pure blood…that sounded awfully close to what Theodore said, half the time. That was why it had sounded familiar. Maybe…did he really think that? It was extreme - but it was the same thing. It was the reason those Death Eaters had done those things. It was what he believed. She couldn't believe Theo was - he was snide, and terribly biased, and talked down more often than she really liked - but he wasn't evil. He was even quite reasonable company, most of the time, if they kept the topic to music. It didn't make sense.

And what was with Mai saying the Death Eaters were probably Slytherins? The Slytherins are pretty nasty, most of them, definitely prejudiced, but you can't…that's a big step to say if someone was evil they were Slytherin. There was that time in first year, when Justin and all those others were petrified and there was a rumour about an Heir of Slytherin — but that was just looking for a scapegoat. Wasn’t it? Because it was easy to blame the people who nobody liked anyway…or I thought so…

But I remember Theo saying something like that too…that talking to Muggle-borns mattered, because he was Slytherin.

I'll ask him, Anne decided. I'll ask him and he can tell me he knows they're crazy fanatics and we can get back to playing music and not worrying about that sort of thing. He's nothing like they are. He just…just has some similar ideas, that's all.

I really must be getting tired.

*

Theodore got to the practice room first on Saturday. He had spread out his music and was running through the first movement of the piece when Anne entered in a whirl of robes and a cold draught. He broke off and turned to face her. Her cheeks were flushed, her short fair hair was coming out of its clips, and she looked rather upset.

"You’re late," he observed. "Run into someone?"

Anne thumped her flute and music down on the table. "Just that…just Umbridge, wanting to know where I was going with a flute, and why, and why I wasn’t doing homework, and how music is a…distraction from the important things, like schoolwork, and was I in a group, and did I remember that groups had to have permission-" She broke off with a sigh. "But you don’t want to hear all that. I’ll just get my flute out, it’ll only take a minute."

Theodore watched as she opened the black case and began to assemble her instrument.

"Music is a distraction, you know," he said eventually. "But maybe distractions are a good thing sometimes. I know that’s why I…oh, never mind. Shall we start with the sarabande?"

"Alright." Anne shuffled through her music before finding the right piece. "But can I ask you some questions, afterwards?"

"Questions?" He eyed her warily. "What about?"

"Oh, things." She was deliberately looking at the stand, and not him, he could tell. "Slytherin, and Muggle-borns, and…just some things. If you don’t want to talk, that’s okay, but…I’ve just been wondering."

A voice in his head was talking urgently at him now, ringing alarm bells.

Don’t tell her what you really think even if she’s Muggle-born she’s only that she won’t understand and you’re safe if no-one notices you that’s why you come here at all because you don’t have to think about blood and family and choices and the future and now you’re going to have to explain...

Anne finally looked at him, face composed again.

"You want to start, then?"

He licked his lips nervously.

"I…you can ask your questions later. But yes, if you want to count in, you’ve got the upbeat-"

Anne merely nodded, and lifted the flute to her lips.

"One, two-"

About half an hour later they paused for a short break, to make corrections where they were forgetting things, and stretch tired fingers. Anne was perched on the edge of the table, which was a perfect height for sitting on, if you didn't have more than a couple of inches over five feet. Theodore was scribbling something on his music. He could feel her eyes on him, watching without dislike or judgement, but purely focused enough to make him want to turn around. He resisted the idea, and wrote in firm block letters "QUIET" over bar twenty-two.

"So, uh, what is the difference between Muggle-borns and…people who aren't?" asked Anne from behind. Theodore stiffened, pencil halting. He didn't want to think about this, but he had said she could ask…dammit…he knew this was a bad idea, why did he even talk to her…

Eyes fixed on the page, he said "Well, Muggle-borns are…their parents are Muggles. They don't understand our world, they're not as good at magic, they…contaminate our bloodlines. A lot of people call them - anyway. People who aren't Muggle-borns, my sort, we're purebloods. There are halfbloods, too, people who have Muggle ancestors or Muggle-born parents, but they're not quite as bad as Muggle-borns, at least they understand our world. But how some people can actually marry Muggles…" he shuddered. "It's just so wrong. They aren't like us."

"But I'm Muggle-born, and I'm not…all those things you said. Bad at magic. A…contamination."

Anne didn't sound angry; he wished she did. Obviously she would be angry, people couldn't be expected to understand their true place. It would be so much easier if they did understand, no need for the Dark Lord and all that went with him and choices he didn't - but Anne wasn't angry. She just sounded puzzled, and a little sad. Somehow, it was worse.

I don't care what she thinks, he reminded himself furiously.

"Of course you are," he said in clipped tones. "You can't be expected to understand."

"I…I see." There was a slight rustle; she had slipped off the table, and he was sure she was now standing a couple of feet behind him.

"Does everyone in Slytherin think the same way you do?" she asked, still in that puzzled tone.

"They should." He wasn't going to look, he wasn't, the music was obviously more interesting… "You heard the Sorting Hat, this year. We're the House of the purebloods. Oh, there're a few halfbreeds or Mudbloods, but everyone knows they don't really belong-"

"What did you call us?"

Theodore froze. He had been repeating his father's words, Malfoy's words, what he'd been told so often whether he believed it or not didn't matter, but he'd just called Anne…and come to think of it, he was repeating others; he, personally, didn't mind the halfbloods in Slytherin. Some had quite a lot of House spirit.

"Theo! Theodore Nott! Look at me!" Her tone was angry now, and that was better, he could deal with anger. It was an expected reaction from someone who didn't know enough to understand, of course she didn't. Even if she was actually apretty smart girl-

"Look at me," she repeated. He did turn, then, slowly, and eyeballed her with direct scorn.

"Yes?"

She made a nervous movement, seemingly taken aback by the coldness of his tone - she was too quiet, too weak, half the time - but he wasn't going to show weakness by relenting. Anne surprised him by squaring her shoulders and looking straight at him.

"Theo. Look. I just- I don't understand. How can you say stuff like that? I mean, it sounds like you don't think I'm a person, and I know you do, you come here every week and talk to me like I am one! You don't believe all that, you can't, because it's all so - nasty, and you're not a nasty person. Well, not very, most of the time," she admitted. Even with the tension of the moment, he couldn't help smiling a little at that. She did, too, but she went on.

"And then you called me a - you did, because I'm Muggle-born, so don't bother denying it!" when he began to shake his head. "I know what it means, I've heard Malfoy and his lot calling people those…those things, but I never understood why. Do you really believe all of that - truly?"

Theodore frowned. It needed a week's answer, or none, when he wasn't sure himself anymore-

Unconsciously curling one hand into a fist, he said slowly "If I said yes, I did…truly…would you never speak to me again, or something petty like that?"

I wouldn't care, if she did. Really. What's there to miss? Just music, the distraction, and the distraction stopped when she started to ask questions…

Anne blinked. "I honestly don't know," she said. "I mean, I don't think I could ever like someone who thought all that, but I do like you - I mean, playing music together, and everything," she corrected, "so I don't know."

"You don't know." Theodore laughed bitterly. "Well, neither do I. I mean yes, I believe it, but I can't really believe it about you anymore, you can't do that, well, I can't, because I'd have to split my brain in two. Trying to see you as both things, that is. Because you’re — I don’t know about magic, but you’re not a…you’re not a bad thing. For the school. I believe all that because…it's true. Isn't it? But — like Malfoy does, no, because I think you're not…as…as magical as I am, maybe, but that doesn't mean you should be insulted about it, or…things. No need to draw attention to it. That's just how the world is, and besides," he brightened slightly, "it should be our duty as purebloods to be — er — benevolent to —"

"The lesser races?" Anne's tone was short, and her mouth had tightened. "Oh, I do see. Should we all wear yellow stars, too?"

"Yellow-what does that have to do with anything?" Theo stared at her in genuine lack of understanding. She sighed, shaking her head.

"Lots. Nothing. A…Muggle history thing. It’s kind of like what — oh, it’s not important. I just —" She flopped suddenly into a chair that had been carelessly pushed back into the table. "I really don't get it, Theo."

Why does she call me that? When did I say she could call me that? Why do I  let her call me that?  I suppose it doesn't matter right now -

She pushed stray strands of hair behind her ear with a nervous gesture.

"I've been…asking about some things. He Who Must Not Be Named. The war — the last war, I guess. What was done then. With those people escaping from Azkaban, I wanted to know what they'd done. They were in there for — war crimes, we'd call them. So many people died, or were tortured, at their hands, often, or…" She dropped her hand, and looked at him helplessly.

"You're not…but that's where your sort of attitude ends. That’s why I started wondering when I was asking my friends about them, because it’s the same things you’ve said. That you say. Just…more so. You're where it starts, the Death Eaters are where it finishes. I can't believe…I've known you for what, a month, maybe I'm not in a position to judge, but I can't believe you would follow that. Or maybe I don't want to believe it, maybe you would — how can I judge?"

She turned her head away, biting her lip. Theodore shifted uncomfortably.

"I shouldn't have asked, I shouldn't have wanted to know. We - let's just get on with the music, okay? Music we can agree on." Her smile was pained. Abruptly she stood, picking up her flute. "Shall we go from the beginning, then, and see if the dynamics work better this way?"

"Anne-" Theodore felt utterly adrift. He didn't want to have to think about this, didn't want to know, but she had outlined the issue so clearly…where did it all end?

"Anne, I don't know, but — I swear, I don't — I wouldn't — Death Eaters murder and torture and I couldn't do that to anyone, not even — not you, I promise, do you believe I'd do that?"

She tilted her head, considering.

"No. Not to me, I hope, I don't know, I don't know you quite well enough, but I think not. But you could one day, if you keep believing that. Maybe. And this is all so silly," her smile was slightly desperate, "we're fifteen, and we're worrying about things that will probably never come, even if Harry Potter's telling the truth, even if You-Know-Who was that bad, just him and ten of his followers…what can happen —"

Theodore felt a rush of unease, it was coming, and it would be far worse than that, a war, a slaughter, didn't she know, couldn't she understand, but to bring that up now —

"Yes." He smiled, but it was as brittle as hers. "Worrying about nothing, aren't we? You want to count in?"

 

//
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