The Sugar Quill
Author: Elsha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Discoveries  Chapter: Deciding (2)
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Chapter Two: Deciding

Chapter Two: Deciding

Theo frowned at the blackboard. Ancient Runes was never an easy class, and some of the runes they were studying this year were very complex. He didn’t want to copy them down wrong. Professor Wykeham would have no mercy for that sort of error.

In front of him, silhouetted by the morning sun, Hermione Granger and Anthony Goldstein were talking quietly. It was the one irritating thing about the NEWT class; a lot of the people taking the subject were very good at it, and finished in half the time it took everyone else. Theo had never been slow at schoolwork, but he was nowhere near people like Granger and Goldstein.

"Five more minutes, everyone, and then I want to write up more notes on this side," Professor Wykeham announced.

Theo drew in the last line, and stared blankly at the book. The content of Granger and Goldstein’s conversation drifted into his ears.

"…so Harry’s having a meeting in the Room of Requirement at seven on Friday," Granger was saying in a very low voice. "It isn’t illegal this year, but we can’t handle half the school turning up out of curiosity, either. Can you tell Michael?"

"Can’t Ginny We- oh, yeah, they broke up. Right, I’ll let him know. I’ve missed the DA meetings," Goldstein replied. "What will we be doing this year? More Patronuses?" 

"I think so, but I know Harry wants to focus on self-defence. With all the attacks over the summer…"

"Yeah, it’s been pretty depressing."

Professor Wykeham got up to write the next set of notes on the board, and their conversation stopped.

Theo looked up at the board like any student waiting to copy the notes, thinking furiously about what he’d heard. Harry Potter was re-starting his illegal — apparently no longer so — group. Defence practice group, from the rumours. That was interesting.

Anne should go to something like that. She’s Muggle-born; she’ll be attacked sooner or later. He felt ice trickling down his spine. She has to be able to defend herself, she has to. I wish I could go. Potter may not be a teacher, but if they were even trying the Patronus charm — that is advanced magic. It would be useful. It would let him know I’m not just one of Malfoy’s lackeys, that I’m not going to be a Death Eater. No one will trust me if I announce I'm changing sides - that's what they'll call it - only when it's my life at stake.

If Anne went, I’d see her twice a week.

Then why not?

Yeah, why not let a bunch of Gryffindors know what you really think so they can spread it around the school and ruin your life, huh? Why not fall into line with Potter after you've spent years making it clear to Malfoy you're not at anyone's beck and call? Why not destroy every bloody shred of secrecy you have for a few jinxes and hexes? They’ll let sweet Muggle-born Anne in but you’re a Slytherin, you’re Eric Nott’s son. The girl who sent your father to Azkaban is sitting right in front of you. You’re the enemy where they’re concerned.

With a start, he realised he hadn’t copied down anything. He set to it hurriedly.

You’re insane, Theodore Nott, insane.

 

 

That night, lying in bed, listening to Goyle snoring, he thought about it again. The DA. Dumbledore’s Army, Parkinson had told them it stood for, sneering as she said it. They could keep secrets, he knew that. After all, the only reason the group had been discovered last year was Marietta Edgecombe carrying tales to Umbridge, and she had paid the price. Barely anyone spoke to her this year. Even loudmouth Smith had kept quiet about it, and he was the sort who’d boast about putting his shoes on the right feet. If he joined…maybe, just maybe, it could be kept quiet. Maybe he would be safe. Maybe.

But then they’d know. They’d know about you, they’d know about Anne, and is that safe? Being invisible has been your protection. Can you throw that away? What do you get out of it, Nott?

He rolled over restlessly.

I get training, I get to catch up from Umbridge’s uselessness last year. Potter’s survived the Dark Lord — he and his friends fought ten Death Eaters and lived, he must have taught them a few tricks. And on the train home last year, it wasn’t Potter who dealt with Malfoy. It was Macmillan and Bones and their friends. Potter taught them, too.

I get the chance to take sides without throwing it in everyone’s faces. If the battle comes here, comes to us, I can’t fight for the Dark Lord. I want to be neutral but can I be? If it came to letting Anne get hurt, I couldn’t. And she would be hurt. Her neighbours were killed this year. But I have to keep it secret for as long as possible, until I’m old enough to leave home, until…next September. Less than a year.

I don’t want to run, not yet, but I know what happens to people who turn down the Dark Lord. Dad wouldn’t hurt me but he couldn’t go against him, either. I've seen the price of failing, I can't let him get punished for disobedience if he did decide to let me be. It's my responsibility, not his. Not to mention Aunt Karena and Uncle Paul - there's no way they'll put up with a blood traitor in the family.

I will have to go, sometime.

That shook him. He’d always thought, somehow, that he could keep his life balanced. Not join the Death Eaters, not support the Dark Lord, but not be against him either.

Have his cake and eat it too. He had been foolish.

"Stop tossing and turning, Theodore, some of us are trying to sleep!" came Malfoy’s petulant order out of the darkness.

"Yes, some of us are," Theo called back, trying to order his thoughts.

I can’t walk away. Not from this. I have to choose sides. And that settles it, doesn’t it? Because Dumbledore and his ilk, they won’t kill Dad unless it's for their lives. They don’t do that. But my father would kill Anne and her sister — her family - without a thought. Her neighbours, she told me. He was there, I know that. One of them was seven. Seven. He was a halfblood, but he was just a kid and it could have been my father who — my father -

Theo yanked at his pillow, feeling suddenly sick. He’d avoided the thoughts, but he’d stopped running the day he’d met Anne, and now they had caught up.

My god, how can he do that? How can he be the man I know, who loves me, who's sensible and kind, and then go out and -

That’s why I have to choose Potter’s side. Because they don’t kill, don’t make people kill, not unless they have no choice. Because if I became a Death Eater I would have no choice, but with Potter there’s a small one. Not much, but it’s there.

I have to let him know what I’ve chosen before it’s too late, or he’ll never believe it.

And if Anne joins too — she will, I’ll ask, they should let two people in — she’ll be safe and I can see her more. There are no downsides to that.

Well, being in a room with thirty other people.

That should not be a downside, because Anne is your friend and she does not need you deciding to complicate things. Unless she doesn’t mind, of course. 

Theo squeezed his eyes more tightly shut. He’d resolved enough pressing dilemmas for one night without facing that one.

*

Anne found her sister in the library that Thursday evening. It was difficult, being in different Houses. She saw enough of the people from other Houses in her own year, having classes with most of them at some point, but with Terry in first year it was next to impossible. They tried to make regular meeting times to catch up. Anne didn’t mind helping Terry with her homework, and Terry always wanted to talk about all the new things she was discovering, things that she’d longed for since Anne had first gone to Hogwarts.

"Hey Terry," she said, sitting down at the table in the corner. The library was fairly empty, for a weekday evening. Her sister was alone, apparently waiting for her.

"Hi," Terry said cheerfully, "How are you?"

"Don’t ask." Anne sighed. "I think they’re trying to kill some of us off before exams."

Terry made a face."Bet that’s not much fun."

Anne laughed. "I’m getting used to it. How about you?" She gestured at the essay Terry was working on, surrounded by heavy tomes. "Learning lots?"

Her younger sister’s eyes lit up.

"It’s great. I can’t believe how much magic there is! And it’s so much fun. Way better than boring old maths and reading."

"I thought so, too. I still do." Anne began to spread her things out onto the scuffed wooden table. She had to get her Astronomy homework done for tonight’s lesson. "What's that essay for?"

"Potions." To Anne’s immense surprise, Terry grinned widely. "It’s the best. It’s like doing chemistry but we’re making things that can do stuff. Snape’s a bit grumpy," she wrinkled her nose, "but he’s not that bad if you do things right. He just gets all snarky when people don’t listen."

Anne gaped. "You like Potions?"

Terry nodded. "You have to ignore it when Snape says nasty things. He’s funny sometimes but people don’t like it because he’s being mean. He’s really awful to Mark, because Mark’s Harry Potter’s cousin and he hates Harry Potter. He was really nasty today to Hero and Jacob because they did really badly, and he doesn't like Gryffindors much, but," she paused for emphasis, "he said that the potion Alex and I were doing was an 'acceptable standard’."  

Anne raised her eyebrows. For Snape, that was almost gushing.

"Did you take a vow of silence in his lessons?"

"I can be quiet," her sister said acerbically, "when I have to."

Anne just shook her head as she began to mark out the star chart for tonight.

"I don’t know, Terry, you just land on your feet sometimes."

"Not always. Professor Binns hates me." Terry scowled. "He said I was loud and annoying. And Professor Sprout thinks I’m hopeless because I dropped a watering pot on some of the seedlings we were transplanting and killed them." She shrugged. "But everything else is fun."

Anne smiled down at Canopus as she carefully sketched it into the constellation of Carina. With everything upside down, it was wonderful having Terry here, so obviously enjoying herself. She hoped it lasted.

"Theodore Nott reminds me a little bit of Professor Snape," Terry remarked out of nowhere.

Anne’s hand clenched on her pen. "Say that a little louder, Terry."

"I said — oh, right, sorry." Terry lowered her voice. "Well, he does! Except Professor Snape doesn’t really like anybody and Theodore likes you. And I don’t think he hates me that much but he wanted me to go away. But they’re both nasty to people who haven’t done anything wrong."

"Theo’s perfectly nice!" exclaimed Anne, stung. "He just doesn’t like strangers, and you were a stranger. You were dangerous."

Terry was taken aback. "Dangerous? That’s just silly."

"You could tell people he’s my friend. That’s dangerous for him."

"But why?" Terry was clearly all at sea.

Anne bit her lip, and looked around. No-one was within five metres or so, and even if they had been they couldn't have heard them.

"His dad’s a Death Eater. He was in Azkaban but he escaped. Theo doesn’t like the Death Eaters but his dad will be very angry with him if he finds that out, so it’s a secret he’s my friend. You can’t tell anyone, ever, do you understand?"

Terry’s eyes were wide. "Oh. Okay. Is that why he’s so grumpy? Because of his dad?"

"Sort of, yeah."

"Is he your boyfriend?"

Anne could feel the blood rushing to her face. "No. No, of course not, he's ju - he's my friend."

Not just a friend. There's nothing wrong with friendship. Just because Theo's a boy - but I like him more than anyone else here, and I trust him more than anyone - and sometimes I think -

"Oh." Terry looked disappointed. Doubtless she'd been looking for opportunities to tease. "He's too grumpy anyway. If you have a boyfriend he should be nicer to people."

Nicer to me, was the undertone.

"He was the same to me, the first time I met him," Anne replied. "Imagine…imagine if you believed that some people were…just terrible people, and your parents did, and then you started to think it was wrong. And you couldn't tell any of your friends or your family, because they'd be angry. And then you stopped and talked to one of the people you were supposed to despise. Who you had despised. And you decided it was true, they weren't so bad after all, but you didn't want to think that, because then you'd have to disagree with almost everyone you knew. Most people at school like Theo haven't even done what he's done, start thinking they might be wrong. It's not easy."

"I suppose…" Terry chewed the end of her quill. "But he's still up himself."

Anne leaned forward and whispered gravely, "Just a bit."

They both laughed, and Anne felt tension she hadn't known was there flow out of her.

Five minutes before Terry's curfew, she got up to go back to her common room. Before she left, she turned to her older sister.

"Anne…"

"Yes?" Anne looked up from her History of Magic essay.

Terry flicked a glance over her shoulder before continuing. "You said Theodore Nott's dad was a Death Eater…"

"Yes?" Terry was clearly nervous; she was rocking from foot to foot and she wouldn't meet Anne's gaze.

"Did he kill Elise and Hector and their mum and dad?"

Anne closed her eyes, hit by a sick wave of grief. Priam and Roberta Martin and their children, Elise and Hector. Killed by Death Eaters because Roberta Martin was a Muggle. Little Andy, not yet three, asking for her mother. Elise had been only a year older than Terry; they had been friends. Terry had looked forward to knowing someone else at Hogwarts.

"I don't know," she whispered. "I know he was…I know he was there."

She opened her eyes to see Terry clutching her books to her chest, eyes wide with horror.

"Did Theo tell you?"

Anne nodded. "He owled me. He was scared…he was scared it was me. Us."

Terry's face began to darken. "How can you be friends with someone whose dad-" Her voice was rising dangerously.

"Because Theo is not his father," Anne hissed, angry with her sister for something she couldn't be expected to understand. "Don't you dare lay that on him, Terry!"

Terry gulped back angry tears, but she didn't yell.

 "Okay," she said stiffly. "But he has to explain to me or I'm never going to be polite to him." She turned and stalked off.

Anne leant her face into her hands and sighed, wondering if she would have any peace this year.  

*

Theo wandered idly into the library on Thursday evening. Terry Fairleigh passed him on her way out, but to her credit she barely glanced at him. Someone observant might have noticed she stared a little too straight ahead.

He spotted Harry Potter almost immediately, sitting at a table not too far from the door with the Weasley girl who’d replaced him as Seeker last year and loony Luna Lovegood. Strolling over to a shelf not too far from where they sat, Theo pulled down the first book he touched and began to leaf through it as if searching for something. His palms were sweaty with nervousness. It wasn’t too long before Potter got up and started to walk straight past the shelf Theo was half-hidden behind. Suppressing a rush of panic — what if Potter made a fuss — Theo called out to him in a low, carrying voice. The library should be empty enough. He hoped.

"Hey, Potter." The dark-haired Gryffindor turned, staring at him in surprise. "Potter, can I have a word?"

Potter narrowed his eyes and took a couple of aggressive steps towards Theo. He groaned inwardly. Potter was going to be all stupid and prejudiced and Gryffindor. He couldn’t let this be stuffed up, he couldn’t.

"Look, Nott," Potter began, "Let’s not waste anyone’s time. Your dad’s on Voldemort’s side, and we both know I know that. And frankly, if you’re looking to get revenge on me over what happened last year with the interview, or at the Ministry, it’s a little late. So just don’t bother."

Theo scowled back, and snapped,"Shut your mouth, Potter, this isn’t about -" With effort he took hold of himself. He needed Potter’s help, or at least his toleration. He didn’t need his enmity. They were on the same side. Sort of.

"Potter, I’m not interested in what you said about my father last year. We both know that it’s — that it’s true. Or about…what happened at the Ministry. He was probably trying to kill one of you, I’m not stupid, he would, and fighting back isn’t a crime. That’s not what I want to talk to you about, okay? But I’m also not stupid enough to be caught talking to you in the middle of the library, so would you mind coming over here?"

He couldn’t help glancing over Potter’s shoulder for any passers-by. He couldn’t be seen, either. It would be worse than someone knowing about Anne. Much worse.

"All right, then," said Potter suspiciously, walking towards Theo. His free hand was hovering over a pocket, and Theo was willing to bet he was ready to use his wand. "What is it?"

Theo took a deep breath. Potter had to believe him. He had to. "Last year…last year, you and your friends were running a secret Defence Against the Dark Arts club, weren’t you? Malfoy helped break it up. He was pretty cocky about that…not so much about what the Weasleys, Longbottom and Lovegood did at the end of term, though." He managed a wry smile. Malfoy had been fuming. It had been quietly hilarious.

"Yeah, what’s it to you?" Potter retorted. He wasn’t bristling quite so much, though.

"Well…" Theo began. The words were drying up in his mouth "I heard…I heard Granger and Goldstein talking in Ancient Runes, and it sounded like you’re starting it again, this year. With permission, and everything." Stop beating around the bush!

" And?" Potter sounded impatient.

"Can I join?" The words came out in a rush. Theo hated the lack of composure, but couldn’t help it. He was, when it came down to it, terrified. The image he’d spent years perfecting was being torn down for someone he neither knew well nor liked. Anne was different. Anne he trusted. But Potter…

"What?" Potter’s jaw dropped. "In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re trying to fight Voldemort, not help people learn so they can from a Death Eaters’ Youth Association!"

Theo was scared and uncertain, and that was the final straw. This Gryffindor idiot wasn’t even considering that he might not be evil.

"Potter, have you been listening?! In case you haven’t noticed, I am not Malfoy! I don’t want to be a Death Eater, I don’t want to go around killing Muggle-borns, and I am not my father! I want to find a way to join the people who don’t want the Dark Lord to be in charge, and your group seemed like the best way to do it! But since you obviously think that all Slytherins are evil and irredeemable, I’m wasting my time -" He made to push Potter aside. Maybe that would make him listen.

"Wait!" Potter moved to block him. "You don’t want to support Voldemort?"

Theo rolled his eyes. How Potter managed to be this dense and survive each succeeding year was beyond him. "Are you deaf, Potter?"

Potter was practically snarling, and Theo felt irrationally pleased. Provoking someone else was a measure of the control he had just thrown away.

"Why don’t you go to the Headmaster? Or Professor Snape? Why me?"

Theo gaped inwardly. Snape? Snape the Death Eater? And how would he even begin to talk to Dumbledore? "Not everyone can just pop into the Headmaster’s office like you can, Potter, and as for Snape — he is a Death Eater, or so I’ve heard, and believe me, my sources are pretty good. None of the Muggle-borns would listen to me, Weasley would be almost as bad as you are, and they and you are the only people in the school I can be totally sure aren’t working for the Dark Lord."

The trust bit was exaggeration - people like Longbottom or Bones weren't going to be working for the Dark Lord - but the rest was true. He had to stake out his loyalties somehow, and Potter was the only certain way. But the other boy’s anger and suspicion didn’t seem to be fading, and Theo felt the beginnings of defeat.

"Look, Potter, give me a chance. You've never even spoken two words to me, so don't think you know what I'm like. I don’t want to be like my father. I don’t want to have to kill and murder and torture, I know what it’s like for him, it’s as dangerous to be on the Dark Lord’s side as to be his enemy! I don’t like Muggle-borns, or your sort, but…not enough to kill. Understand? There aren’t any…impartial sides, in this war. Because if there was one I’d be on it. But, you know, it’s the Dark Lord or…you, and I sincerely doubt you’re about to start murdering people out of hand. Or torturing them for failure. So the choice is fairly clear."

Hah. Even now I can’t throw away my pretences. I don’t dislike all Muggle-borns that much, not any more, but can I say it?

Am I really still that tied to my family's beliefs?

"Not to people like Malfoy." Potter seemed to relax a fraction.

Theo snorted. "He’s a power-hungry idiot who doesn’t understand what war means."

Potter blinked. "And here’s me thinking none of Slytherin had noticed."

"Oh, we noticed a long time ago," said Theo dryly. It’s hard to miss. "There’s just not much we can do about it. Any more than anyone in your House would dare to speak up against you, now."

That threw the Gryffindor off-balance. "Hey! I’m not like Malfoy -"

Doesn’t he know how much power he has?

" No. But you’ve got just as much influence as him, more, because you were proved right last year and now anyone who says you’re wrong risks getting tarred with that brush. There’s only two sides in this school now, yours and the Dark Lord’s."

"Don’t you mean Malfoy’s?"

Theo had never begun to think of it that way. He knew Malfoy too well to respect him. "Why give him that much credit? It’s his father’s influence he uses, and that comes ultimately from the Dark Lord."

"True enough," Potter replied. His hand had drifted to his side, now, but there was still a certain wariness. "How will you not let your family know you’ve…chosen sides? Because I don’t reckon they’d be too keen on the idea."

Theo shrugged. That wasn’t hard. "I won’t tell. No-one’s tracking me. I’m one of the faithful, I’m not going to be a traitor, am I?" He smiled sardonically. "I’m just like all of them. I might not follow Malfoy, but I don't oppose him. Besides, only two more years, and then I’m done with Hogwarts, and I’m of age, and I can go. If we all last that long." He knew he was being cynical, and he was past caring.

Potter tensed again. "How do I know this isn’t a trick, to spy on us?"

Theo looked him straight in the eye. This was it, really. "You don’t. You only have my word for it. If that isn’t good enough, then I’m going." I can’t afford to go, not now. But can I stay if I’m not trusted?

What choice do I have now?

Potter stared at him for a long moment. Then, to Theo’s everlasting surprise, he held out his hand. Theo hesitated — what’s your problem, you made this commitment when you asked to talk to him — and grasped it firmly.

"We’re meeting at seven tomorrow," Potter said. "Go to the tapestry of the trolls doing ballet on the seventh floor, and I’ll meet you there. Is there -" he hesitated "- anyone else in your House who might be interested in coming?" 

Theo frowned. The question hadn’t occurred to him. "I don’t know. I can’t exactly stand up in the middle of the common room and say, "Would anyone here like to join me in betraying everything half the House believes in and fighting You-Know-Who?" I’d be hexed half-way to London before I got two words out." About right.

"Think about it, then. The Sorting Hat was right…we need all the Houses, not just three of them."

Theo nodded, thoughtfully. Not so dense after all, Potter. "I will. Oh, actually, could I bring a Hufflepuff along? I think she’ll want to come. She should, for her own safety…"

There, that should be casual enough. Now please don’t ask questions I don’t want to answer.

"Which Hufflepuff?" Potter asked.

Damn.

Theo felt himself flushing. "Anne Fairleigh. Fifth-year. Your friends Loo — Lovegood and the Weasley girl might know her." And now he’s going to draw all sorts of stupid conclusions that aren’t true except I wouldn’t mind if they were that much —

Dear Merlin, I have problems here.

"How do you-" Potter stopped himself. Thankfully. "I’ll see you tomorrow, Nott."

"Tomorrow, Potter." Theo nodded at the Gryffindor. It was done.

Please let it not be a mistake.

 

//
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