The Sugar Quill
Author: Elsha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Disavowals  Chapter: Vivace (1)
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A/N: We are now plunging into the realms of wild speculation, a

A/N: We are now plunging into the realms of wild speculation, a.k.a. seventh year. Please sit back and enjoy the ride.

Chapter One: Vivace

Anne Fairleigh was making her bed when her brother burst unceremoniously into her room. She jumped as the door slammed into the wall.

"Eddie, don't do that!"

"How'd you know it was me?" her brother asked.

She turned around, hands on hips. "One, there does happen to be a mirror opposite the wall, and two, no one else in this family has such little regard for the doors."

Eddie rolled his eyes. "Anne, no one else in this family complains so much about it."

"Dad does."

"Parents don't count, they complain about everything."

"We get off pretty lightly, you know that," Anne reminded him. The sound of metal sliding on wood caught her ear and she reached behind her over the bed to stop the window slamming shut. She should have latched it properly.

"How can you say that? Mum and Dad are getting worked up over everything at the moment; they want to know where we are all the time!"

Anne had to turn around to latch the window shut as she answered him.

"Do you remember the Martins, Eddie? You remember Elise, couple of years younger than you? Or Hector, Nicola's friend? Remember them? Remember what happened last August?"

Eddie gave an unwilling jerk of his head. "Yeah, but…they were all your sort, weren't they? Wizards. You go on about this war or whatever but I've never seen any sign of it."

Anne made herself count to five in her head before she replied.

"They were murdered and you say you've never seen any sign of it?"

"Wars are bigger and that, four people doesn't count -"

"It's more than four people," Anne shot back. "You say you haven't seen it but do you ever read the newspaper and notice how many people are getting murdered or killed in gas explosions these days? Even the Muggles have started to catch on that something's up, and you haven't seen it?"

"Why should I read the newspaper? There's never anything interesting apart from the sport."

Anne threw up her hands in frustration. "Did you come here to annoy me or does this visit have a point?"

"Well, it did, but if you're going to be like this I don't know if I'm going to tell you." Eddie looked smug at having gained the upper hand.

Anne drew herself up to her full height. It was still about three inches shorter than her younger brother, but that wasn't the point. "Eddie. Tell me. Now."

He opened his mouth, presumably to reply rudely, when he was pre-empted by a dark brown barn owl swooping into the room over his head. Anne didn't hide her grin when he jumped.

"What the-"

The owl, Theo's Bronwyn, landed neatly on the top of Anne's dresser. Anne had tried to dissuade her from doing so when she'd first noticed the claw marks on the mirror frame, but it hadn't worked, and Anne had resigned herself to it. Anne's own Gwaihir, sitting on his perch in the corner, gave a sleepy hoot of recognition.

"Those bloody birds," muttered Eddie.

"Be nice," his older sister admonished. "Was that what you were going to tell me?"

"Yes," he admitted grudgingly. "Stupid bird arrived when you were in the shower. It's been hanging around in the kitchen for the last half an hour."

Anne went over to the dresser to pet the glossy owl. There was a rather thick letter attached to her leg. The long day of homework and probable boredom stretching out before Anne suddenly seemed quite a lot brighter. Anne detached it carefully and offered Bronwyn an owl treat from the box she kept on her dresser. The owl accepted it in a dignified manner.

"How come it never pecks you?" her brother asked grumpily.

"Because I'm nice to her and don't try to take letters that belong to other people," Anne replied. This explained Eddie's grumping. He'd had an antagonistic relationship with Bronwyn ever since last summer when he'd tried - being sincerely helpful - to get her to give him a letter to give to Anne. He still had a faint scar on his hand from where she'd pecked him. Bronwyn arriving would not make Eddie's day start well.

"Makes me glad I'm not a wizard. Why can't you use e-mail or something?"

"Wizards don't use electricity," Anne explained for what seemed the hundredth time.

"But why not?"

"The wizarding world is really…traditional," Anne said, putting the letter on her dresser. She wanted Eddie to go away so she could read it. "That's why there's a war at the moment, sort of; the really old-fashioned people don't want any Muggle-borns corrupting their nice world. Weren't you going over to Mike's this morning?"

"You just want me to go away so you can read your letter. Who's it from, your boyfriend?"

Anne sighed. "Yes, now go away. Timbuktu would be my choice of destination, but I'll take anywhere that isn't this room."

"Fine, I know you hate me, I'm going." Eddie turned around to leave and actually got, by Anne's reckoning, several steps down the hall before she heard him stop and dash back. It was longer than she'd thought it would take him.

He leaned around the doorframe. "You have a boyfriend?"

Anne just looked at him. He was her little brother. He'd never even met Theo. She could handle this.

"Don't sound so surprised. Now go away."

"He goes to your school, doesn't he?"

" Go away."

" What's his name?"

" Go away."

"Does Terry know who he is?"

" Go away."

"Will you tell me about him if I go away and let you read the letter?"

" Go away."

"I'm going to take that as a yes, you know."

" Go away."

"You could just tell me and save yourself the-"

Anne solved the problem by slamming the door in her brother's face. It was just lucky for him he was fast enough to avoid a broken nose.

*

Almost two hundred miles away in Northern Wales, the author of Anne's letter was in a position to strongly appreciate Anne's troubles with her younger brother. Theodore Nott was sitting in the living room of his aunt and uncle's house, trying to practise the piano. The emphasis was strongly upon the word trying. For the thousandth time, he rehearsed what he was going to say to his father about his paternal relatives the next time he saw him.

"What are you playing?" asked his younger cousin Lucas.

"I'm attempting to practise the first movement of Vivaldi's concerto in G minor, but I'm not really getting the chance."

"What's a concerto?"

" It's a piece of music which I want to play." Theo was tempted to just start and ignore the brat, but he wasn't going to let Lucas drive him to bad manners.

"Theodore, I'm bo-red."

That was one thing he was not going to miss when he left here, Theo reflected as he stared at the piano keys. Being an unpaid minder for his cousins. Celia at least could amuse herself, but Lucas had never learned how.

"What can I do?" Lucas whined.

Theo closed his eyes. "Go play patience. Read a book. Draw a picture. I don't know, when I was your age I amused myself!"

"Didn't someone play with you?" Lucas said. He was hanging off one end of the piano, making it rock.

"Stop that!" Theo said irritably. Lucas dropped off at once. At least he had him listening. "No, they didn't. It was just my father and me. I looked after myself."

"But you're here, so can't you find something for me to do?" One thing Lucas had learned was persistence. So would he, Theo guessed, if he'd grown up in this household. Two busy parents, an older sister who was more interested in her books than her brother. Lucas had to be persistent, and noisy, to get any attention. Theo could understand it, but that didn't mean he liked it when the techniques were applied to him.

"Can't you think of anything?" Theo frowned at Lucas. Absent-mindedly, he reached up to return one of the family photos that dotted the top of the piano to its place. Lucas had knocked it over.

"No." Lucas pouted. He might be only eight, but Theo felt this was not a good look on anyone over the age of three. Particularly if they were plain-faced little boys.

Theo sighed. He could just tell Lucas to go away again, but he seemed to do that every day he was here, and it was beginning to feel a bit…well, cruel. No one else was there to pay attention to him. And he was, after all, very young. His family wasn't his fault.

"What if I teach you to play Patience?"

"What's patience?"

"It's a card game, and you can play it by yourself."

Lucas wrinkled his nose, but evidently decided that was the best he was going to get. "All right."

"Fine." Theo stood up from the piano. The living room was only relatively tidy - the Amberleys did not have a house-elf, and Karena Amberley was so rarely home these days - but the table in the dining room was probably clear. "Where can we find a pack of cards?"

*

It was only once he'd left Lucas shuffling the pack of cards for another game that Theo belatedly realised where he had learnt to play Patience. Terry and Anne had taught him during the April holidays. Was it only a Muggle game, or did he know any wizards who played it?

He paused with his hands over the piano keys. If it was only a Muggle game…and his aunt or uncle caught Lucas playing it…

Well, his uncle was at work all day and Lucas spent most of his time when his parents were home with them. His aunt was out all the time - on Death Eater business, Theo was sure - so she wasn't likely to spot it.

If they do…where did I learn it? Let's see. A book? That would make sense. A book of card games in the Hogwarts library, because I wanted something to do when I was home by myself in the holidays. That's it. That way they'll just complain about the appalling standards of education, and get distracted.

Theo spent the time in between practising movements of the concerto coming up with titles for the mythical book. It was really quite amusing.

*

Anne was sitting in the living room waiting for the evening news to come on when her father got home from work. The brief update in between whatever was on before it (she wasn't paying attention) hadn't looked promising. Something about a 'gas pipe explosion' in Somerset, with a mention from the presenter about the apparent rash of these incidents. Anne was pretty sure she knew what the real cause was. The Prophet would tell her tomorrow.

"You're not supposed to be watching TV yet, that's not fair!"

Her younger sister was standing in the doorway, clutching a football protectively to her chest. Nicola continued, "Mum says we aren't allowed to watch lots of TV in the holidays!"

"Go and tell her if you want, I'm just watching the news," Anne told her.

"Eddie was playing footie with me outside," said Nicola accusingly. "You never play with me any more."

Anne shifted on the couch, suppressing a twinge of guilt. It wasn't her fault that it was easier to spend time with her magical sister than her Muggle one. It was age, that was all. Nic was only eight.

"I read to you last night, didn't I?"

"You read to me, but you don't do anything with me." Nicola stuck out a trembling lower lip. "You don't like me because I'm a mug…mug…because I'm not a witch."

Anne sat straight up on the couch, ignoring the opening music of the news programme. "Nic, that's not true! Come here."

Nicola walked reluctantly to the couch, dropping the football, and climbed onto it next to Anne.

"You'll still like me even if I don't go to Hogwarts, won't you?" she begged earnestly. Anne tried to resist the tug of those soulful brown eyes.

She's probably only doing it to get to watch TV. You know she is.

"Of course I will, Nic," she assured her youngest sister, wrapping an arm around her. Nic cuddled into her. Anne's eyes flicked to the TV, and the 'gas explosion' story.

"…this is the latest in a rash of explosions caused by faulty gas piping in the last year and a half. Almost all have resulted in fatalities, including the two people killed today. Official sources say…"

"They need a new cover story," Anne muttered to herself.

"Who does?" Nicola asked, looking up at her. "Can I watch the news with you?"

See? See? Manipulative sibling alert! The inner voice sounded very Theo-like.

Anne sighed. "I suppose you can."

"Oh good." Nicola, never one to risk her advantage, snuggled into her older sister's embrace. Despite the depressing news, Anne felt a little better.

About ten minutes later, Anne and Nicola heard the front door open.

"Hi, Dad!" Anne called. Nicola got down from the couch and ran out to throw herself at her father.
"Daddy, you're home!"

Jonathan Fairleigh put his briefcase down on the chest-of-drawers next to the door and smiled at his youngest child. Anne could just see them through the living-room door. "You're very glad to see me today."

"That's because nobody else will listen to me," Nicola told him mournfully. From the kitchen and living room came twin yells of resentment.

"Oy, I played footie with you for an hour this afternoon!"

"Nic, you little liar, stop trying to make everyone feel sorry for you!"

Jonathan ruffled his daughter's hair and gently unwrapped her arms from around him. "'Scuse me, love, I've got to go and say hello to your mother."

Anne saw him move out of sight through the door into the kitchen, with Nicola trotting behind him. She felt vaguely rejected. From the kitchen came the sounds of her parents greeting each other. She noticed that the ads were on, and muted the TV. Eddie came wandering into her line of sight, stopping in the doorway.

"What're you watching?"

"Just the news."

"Is the sport on yet?"

"No, not for ages."

Eddie made an indeterminate noise and wandered away again. He was quickly replaced by Anne's father.

"Hello, love, how's your day been?"

Anne lifted a hand to greet her father. "Fine. Nothing much happened. I got an owl."

Her father frowned. "You - oh, you got a letter that came with an owl. It's very confusing, all these wizarding words you use." His smile belied the criticism.

Anne shrugged. "I suppose so. Did you have a nice day at work?"

"Just the usual. What are you watching?"

"The news. There's been another attack in Somerset. Someone needs to find a new cover story - the Muggles aren't going to keep buying the gas explosions forever."

Her father frowned. "I heard about that on the radio. You mean all of them in the past year or so have been…your people doing things?"

"They aren't my people, they're Death Eaters, but yeah."

Jonathan Fairleigh shook his head. "My God. I can't believe you're caught up in all of that."

"I'm not," Anne protested. "Well - I haven't been so far. With any luck…"

Her father opened his mouth to reply, but her mother's voice came crisply from the kitchen.

"Jonathan, can you come and help me serve up?"

Nodding to her, Anne's father left. Anne sighed, and got up to switch the television off. There wouldn't be anything more of interest to her. For a moment she stood there, staring sightlessly out the living room.

Theo's losing his family because they're wizards. I'm losing mine because they're not.

Why can't anything be simple?

*

"Theodore!" his uncle called up the stairs to his room. It was nine o'clock, and Theo was sitting reading on the windowsill of his room, one leg dangling spider-like out the window. He didn't hear his uncle at first - not until the door of his room opened.

"Theodore!" Paul Amberley said. "Your father's here."

Theo narrowly prevented himself from falling out the window. His jumpiness was due entirely to the nature of the book he was reading. That, and the unexpected news.

"Dad? He's here now? Is he downstairs-"

"Yes, yes, we were calling you, but you didn't seem to hear us. " His uncle frowned as Theo hooked his leg back over the sill. "You probably shouldn't be sitting there."

Theo gave his uncle a sceptical look. "I'm not going to fall out unless Celia or Lucas take it into their heads to push me."

"I wouldn't put it past them," his uncle joked. Theo tossed the book on the bed, face down, and headed out without a backwards glance. There was no earthly reason for his uncle to notice it unless he made a fuss.

"When did Dad get here?" he asked anxiously, picking up speed once he heard his uncle following. The book should be safe enough in his room now. "I didn't know he was coming."

"Only five minutes or so ago," his uncle called after him. "Mind the stairs!"

Theo did trip on Celia's broomstick, which had created a death-trap three stairs from the bottom, but was fortunate enough to grab the banister. He swore under his breath, even more so when he heard his uncle laugh. He entered the living room rubbing his shins. Not quite the impression he wanted to make. Eric Nott was standing beside the piano, talking to his younger sister. It struck Theo for the first time how much older his father was than Karena Amberley. These last couple of years had added lines to his face that were more noticeable every time Theo saw him, perhaps because Theo saw him so rarely now.

"Theo," his father said with the warmest of smiles. "I was almost thinking you didn't want to see me."

"I always want to see you," Theo told him, more gruffly than he'd intended. In normal circumstances - but how long ago had those applied - he would have been embarrassed to hug his father in front of witnesses, even if the witnesses were his aunt and uncle. It didn't even occur to him not to, now.

"You'll hate me for this, but you really are taller every time I see you," his father told him as they pulled apart. "You're going to outgrow me at this rate."

"Too many tall people in our family," Theo said. He glanced at Aunt Karena. "And Mum looks pretty tall, in all the photos." Adrienne Nott had been dead for too much of Theo's life for him to avoid mentioning her.

"She was tall," Eric Nott agreed. His gaze rested on Theo. "The older you get, the more you look like her."

"And like Mo -" Theo heard Paul Amberley, behind him, cut off sharply when his wife shot him a quelling glance. "Hmm, yes, he does."

Theo shrugged. What did you say to that?

And like who? There wasn't anyone - Oh, yes. Mortimer Jugson. Stupid pretentious French names. He's Mum's uncle, and she looked like her father, so maybe I look like him. That thought didn't appeal. Looking like his dad was alright, it was his dad, it was different, but looking like a Death Eater who happened to be a distant relative wasn't an idea he relished.

"I'd better just go check on Celia and Lucas," said Theo's aunt smoothly. "You two will want a bit of space."

"Yes, I'll, ah, come and help," added Paul Amberley. "Don't feel you have to stand up all night, Eric."

"I can take a hint when I'm clubbed over the head with it," replied Theo's father, seating himself on a couch. Theo moved to sit opposite him as his aunt and uncle left the room.

"So, how have your holidays been?" asked his father, leaning back on the couch. "Doing very much?"

"Rather boring." Theo rolled his eyes. "I've been mainly doing my homework and trying to prevent Lucas and Celia destroying the house. Childminding is not my forte. If it was up to me I'd just lock them in a cupboard until they were fourteen or so and capable of coherent conversation."

Eric Nott laughed. "Celia's fourteen soon, isn't she?"

Theo frowned. "Fifteen, then."

Sweet Merlin. Anne was fourteen the first time I met her. Well, closer to fifteen, but even so. She was miles ahead of Celia in the maturity stakes.

"Because you're so old and wise," his father teased.

Theo grinned. "I was always older and wiser than those two at their ages."

"I can remember a few times…"

"Oh, shut up, Dad."

"Getting a bit bored, then?"

That sounded like something more than a simple question, and Theo picked his answer carefully.

"It could be worse. I'm getting my homework done, and there's a piano. I can read." He glanced over at it. "I just miss home, you know? There was so much space."

"That's going to change." His father's eyes flashed. "The way things are going, we'll have this war won by the time you're out of school, and then things will go back to normal."

They're never going back to normal, Dad.

Theo stared at his father. "You mean that? By next June?"

"I think so." His father looked old. "I know you kids just think about getting out there and fighting, but this isn't fun and games, Theodore. The sooner we can bring an end to this, the better."

"But I don't want to miss out-" Theo protested, the lie coming so easily it was still frightening.

"You won't, don't worry." His father leaned forward, and Theo mirrored him, elbows on knees.

"Just don't get too…involved. This is a war that has to be fought, and yes, it can be…enjoyable, but don't get caught up in that. You're sensible, but we don't need too many people like Bellatrix Lestrange running around. Winning this is what counts, not the number of corpses."

"But if the more of them that die, the more demoralised they get," Theo pointed out.

"Yes, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, you understand?"

Theo tried his best not to look sick. He hoped it was working. "I suppose so."

"Although," his father said, "it must be said that people like Bellatrix have their place in this fight. And you have yours."

Theo's heart started to pound. "You mean-"

His father nodded. "The Dark Lord's decided it's time for you to join us. A few of your classmates, too."

"My god." Theo tried to keep the fear off his face, and failed. "I mean - wow - but - I didn't realise it'd be this soon-"

"It's all right to be afraid, Theodore." His father looked almost - sympathetic. "I was. It's one thing being all full of crusading zeal about protecting your heritage, and another when you realise it's actually going to happen." Theo dropped his head, anyway - his father must have seen more than fear, he thought with dull panic.

"I just want to do the right thing."

"I know." The tone was gentle enough that Theo ceased his study of the carpet. "You'll be fine. It's soon, but the Dark Lord seems to have decided he'd rather have your year oath-bound before you go back to school, with Potter around. I think he's got some plans."

Theo forced himself to nod. "I hope - we can handle it."

"I'm certain you can. Besides," his father's eyes twinkled, "I'd rather you understood how serious this is than acted like some bone-headed Gryffindor."

Theo snorted. "No chance of that!" Panic was still there, but he could pretend. For however much longer it took. "When…when do I go?"

"Tomorrow night. I'll come by and pick you up - the Ministry are trying to monitor us, but they can't cover everywhere."

"I still can't imagine you as an escaped convict, Dad." Theo shook his head. "You're too respectable."

"Stranger things have happened." His father frowned. "Is something wrong?"

"No, no," Theo fought to keep himself from babbling. "It's just - I don't know - the end of an era. I mean, when we win, we'll get our family back, but it won't be the same. The war used to be all your business, and now it'll be mine, too. I don't know. I've spent so long wanting to be grown up and now I'm here, being a kid doesn't seem half as bad as it did then."

"It always does." They were silent for a minute.

"So, what were you reading that had you so engrossed?" Eric Nott said, signalling the end of the serious talk. "A good detective story?"

Theo threw him a dirty look. He was allowed to like detective novels, and his father didn't have to tease him about it. But if he knew what Theo had been reading…

"My Charms textbook, actually. There was some really interesting detail about the theory of wards that we haven't got into before." It was true. He'd read it yesterday.

"Do you think you'd like to do something along those lines?"

"Maybe," Theo replied honestly, "but until this is over - not to mention my NEWTs - I feel like all bets are off."

"It's still worth thinking about."

The conversation settled into more normal - less dangerous - channels, and Theo could relax.

He couldn't help thinking that apart from being a Muggle book borrowed from a Muggle-born (and wildly improbable at that), his father probably wouldn't have found anything to complain about with his current reading material. The worst thing so far was the absolute uselessness of that Gandalf chap. Any decent wizard would have just Apparated to Mordor and saved himself a trip.

*

It was ten-thirty by the time his father left and Theo headed upstairs to his bedroom. It took everything he had to walk, not run. The panic was setting in again. As soon as he got there he shut the door, threw the bolt, and leaned back on it, breathing as hard as if he’d run a mile. Tomorrow night. The Dark Lord, and the Dark Mark, and…

What was he going to do? School didn’t start for another week and a half. At Hogwarts, he would be safe. Until then…the Ministry was no refuge, not for a Death Eater’s son. The classmates he knew how to contact would be at that ceremony, too. And his family. There was no one.

No one.

Theo squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. No! He would not do this! There had to be a way out. There had to be. It was going to hurt his father. But…if he refused, he would die. He couldn't kill for the Dark Lord, he couldn't. Not people like Anne, and even Muggles - it just was not worth it. And his father wouldn't understand, not in a lifetime. Not ever.

So…he had a breathing space. Until tomorrow morning, until he was expected to be up and about. What else did he have? His wand. He'd never had a warning about underage magic, so he could afford one. His broomstick. His school things. He could leave, if he had a destination. Leave tonight and he’d have eight hours, maybe more, flying time. Six in the dark. Good enough for avoiding Muggles. Enough to get to Hogwarts…but no, that was too obvious, and besides he wasn’t sure where exactly to find it.
The memory suddenly struck him of a conversation with Anne, the last time he’d seen her.

Where will you go, if your father decides…

He won’t, not until the Christmas holidays, and I’m of age then. I can just stay at Hogwarts.

Anne had frowned, and Theo had traced the line of it with his finger.

Theo…I mean it. You can’t not think about things forever.

Fine. I don’t know. Okay?

She had bitten her lip, the way she always did when she was thinking, and nodded once. My address. I’ll give you my address. You can always try and get to my place.

Essex? I’d be caught, if I was really running.

She’d pulled away.

I’m only trying to help. If you…if you died because you had nowhere to go…

Theo followed and wrapped his arms around her, resting his chin on the top of her head.

I know. But if I had your address…well…I can’t tell what I don’t know.

You wouldn’t. I trust you. Besides, my house is safe. It’s warded to only let people we say can come in come in. And there’s a Portkey, for Hogwarts, in case there’s an attack. All the Muggle-born families have one.

Wards can be broken. So can people.

Stop it, she’d said into his chest. I don’t want to think about it!

Now who’s not thinking?

I know. Just…please. In case?

Alright, then.

The memory got rather more pleasant at that point but Theo pulled himself out of it ruthlessly. Anne. He’d still got her address safely tucked away in his memory, not wanting to have it written down, and…Essex was a long way away but at Anne’s he could rest and maybe wait for a message…a message. Dumbledore.

He's the Headmaster, I'm sure he has an interest in the welfare of his students. The Ministry's out, too dangerous, too many Death Eaters. Besides, legally I don't think there's even anything they can do. I'm a minor, I'm in my family's care, there's no proof. But Dumbledore…maybe he can help. I'd rather handle this on my own, but it just may be out of my hands now. If he can help…

If not…well, my options are rapidly running out. He knows about…what happened with Hermione Granger's parents. He knows. It has to be safe.

He glanced at the clock. Ten thirty five. By eleven, he needed to be on his way.

Packing is going to be rather messy.

*

Half an hour later, Theo looked around the room he had inhabited for two short summers. He had no regrets about leaving his aunt's house behind; he'd never wanted to come here in the first place. It made it easier in so many ways. If he'd had to leave his own room…he thought of the fading Quidditch posters and wooden beams of his childhood room. He'd gone back there with his aunt over Christmas to collect some things. He'd left the posters, as a promise to come back. He was burning all his bridges, tonight. Everything he owned had been hastily shoved into his school trunk. It wasn't so hard, given that he lived out of it nine months of the year anyway. Bronwyn had been dispatched to Hogwarts, with a polite message for the Headmaster. Hopefully it would be enough.

There was a sharp knock on the door, and Theo froze. He was all packed, he couldn't disguise that, and –

The door opened a fraction.

"I'm getting changed!" he burst out.

"Oh, sorry," came his aunt's voice. The door closed again. "I was just wondering if you were asleep yet. Paul's listening to the Quidditch on the WWN."

" Yes, I'm going to bed," Theo replied. "I'll find out the score in the morning."

"If it's finished by then," his aunt said in an amused tone. "I have to…I'm going out tonight, and I might not be back when Paul goes to work in the morning, so could you make sure Lucas has his breakfast?"

"Sure."

"Goodnight, then." He waited until he heard her footsteps clattering downstairs, then shoved a chair under the door handle.

Theo walked over to the window. It was a foggy night; perfect, but he'd have to be careful flying. "Going out" was his aunt's term for Death Eater business, so she'd be well away. He tried not to think about who was going to be a target.

Maybe the Aurors will catch them. Maybe they'll be safe. I'm doing the only thing I can.

Checking the harness on his trunk - he'd shrink it, but the last thing he needed was an owl from the Ministry about underage magic - Theo opened the window wide. This was it, then. Escape at last from his cousins.

His father's face came into his mind. Could he do this to him? Eric Nott had lost his wife, and now Theo was stealing his only child away. He had been so glad to see his father tonight, and he wouldn't ever again. His father was his family. If he did this…

Then he remembered the Dark Mark on his father's arm, and a panicked letter to Anne. He recalled seeing the sun rise at this window, waiting for the owl to let him know she was safe.

It's him doing this, not me, Theo thought fiercely, and without a backward glance he headed out into the night.

 

 

 

//
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