The Sugar Quill
Author: Elsha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Disavowals  Chapter: Ritando (23)
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Chapter Twenty-Three - legie

A/N: Could I possibly have left it like that? This is the last chapter, but there is an epilogue to follow. I'm certainly not intending to leave Theo, Anne, and their universe after this - no matter what happens in HBP - but whether I get anything up before HBP comes out depends on timing.

And I just realised about all the trouble with funny symbols - I had no idea. Mea culpa, for not double-checking. This chapter should be okay, and I'm going to try and replace the problematic chapters with corrected ones ASAP. Sorry about all that.

Chapter Twenty-Three - Ritando

There were Aurors on the door of Hogwarts. They let Theo in only, he suspected, because they'd seen their colleague talking to him.

"Who's still out there?" one of them, a brown-haired man, asked.

"No one sensible, Hal," his partner snorted.

"My f-" Theo clamped his mouth shut on the word. "Eric Nott."

The brown-haired Auror narrowed his eyes at him. "So you're Theodore Nott, huh?" If Theo didn't know better, he would have thought the man was hiding a smile.

"Yes," Theo allowed stiffly, striding quickly into the school. The last thing he needed was to be stared at by some stupid Auror who thought he knew who Theo was. They didn't know anything. Not anything that counted. Theo was going to - well, first, go to the Great Hall, because his shoulder was becoming less and less easy to ignore, and then...go back to his common room and find out what today had cost Hogwarts.

He knew what it had cost him.

A few people were going in and out of the Entrance Hall. Anne was sitting alone on a step, looking white and small. As soon as Theo saw her, he forgot about his shoulder. Anne's eyes focused, noticed him, and her face flooded with colour and life. She sprang to her feet and rushed towards him.

"Theo! Oh, thank God, you're not - your arm -"

With a few quick steps, they were face to face. She reached out to touch his left arm gingerly, and he winced.

"It'll be all right. Anne -" The next thing he'd meant to say was, "What happened to you?" He attributed to blood loss and shock the fact that what came out was "I love you, you know that?"

Terry, who had bounced out of the Great Hall unnoticed and was just tugging on Anne's sleeve, giggled. Theo wasn't sure to be relieved or angry when Anne, who had transferred her attention to Terry, said, "Yes, I do. Terry, where have you been? Theo disappearing, then you off again, I was worried -"

Terry snorted. "Anne, you're an idiot."

"I didn't leave everyone panicking!" Anne said, glaring at her. "Why can't you stay in the same place for two seconds at a time?"

"Sorry, Theo," Terry said with great aplomb, "what she actually means is that she loves you too and she's really happy to see you but she's feeling upset 'cause of the battle and she's trying to look after me even though she doesn't need to 'cause she's my big sister."

Theo wished fervently that hexing second-years was not something that would bring down a professor's wrath on him. "Thank you for that translation, Terry. I could never have worked that out by myself."

"Ahem." Anne had, apparently, finally heard what he had said - and what she had said. She was blushing. "Oh, dear."

Theo gave her a half-smile. "I always know what you mean, remember?"

Anne bit her lip, then smiled back. "Thank goodness for that."

And he had known what she meant. Which was probably what counted. Theo winced as the doors opened and Liam O'Neill's voice could be heard announcing there was another prisoner. He'd known what his father meant, once. In the here and now it was impossible. Perhaps that was what loving someone meant. Understanding them, and caring for them even so...

Some of the implications of that were untenable, and untrue besides, so he nodded towards the stairs.

"I have to go to the hospital wing. Or wherever Madam Pomfrey is. My wrist's broken, I think. And I need to find Monique."

"You mean the Great Hall." Definitely blood loss; he didn't normally forget things like that. Anne fell into step beside him, Terry skipping along as well. "Madam Pomfrey's injured, and there're too many people to use the hospital wing. Your...your family are all okay, and mine too, but...it's bad."

"It's over," Theo said. "It's worth that, if it's over for good."

"I don't know about that," Anne replied quietly, glancing at Terry. Theo followed her gaze across the Entrance Hall, past the black scar in the marble floor , the splintered doors letting rain blow in, and the blood, which was stubbornly refusing to be washed away. "Maybe it is. But...I wish we didn't have to pay this price."

"We didn't," Theo reminded her. Hannah Abbott's slumped form danced under his eyelids, Anthony Goldstein with his missing hand, Dennis Creevey covered in his brother's blood. Even Blaise Zabini. "You're right, though. I wish that it hadn't had to be paid at all."

"We didn't?" Anne raised an eyebrow. "Theo, I talked to Ernie Macmillan. I saw..." She glanced back to the door, and the Aurors who must now be standing there, along with...no. No looking back. "You paid for this victory, too."

It was true, but it wasn't a truth Theo wanted to hear.

"I did what I had to," he said coldly. "It wasn't as if there was a choice."

"Theo-" Anne bit her lip, then shook her head. "Maybe you're right."

Under her breath, he heard her mutter, "But you don't really think that."

He chose to ignore it. He didn't want to talk to anyone about what had just passed between him and his father, not even Anne. Not until he was ready. Not that it was too painful, although painful it was; it was merely private. He'd betrayed his father's trust enough, today.

*

The Great Hall was full to the brim with people in various states of shock and injury. Approximately half were parents and siblings who had arrived in the great rush the night before. Theo was scolded by a Healer from St. Mungo's for having a broken arm and not having come in sooner, then further when he started to shiver from the cold and damp. The Hall was anything but cold with so many people in it, but Theo was forcibly seated near one of the fireplaces and told to stay there "or else!" Anne was amused. It was not often that someone managed to order Theo to do anything.

Anne had been in there earlier for her multiple small injuries, which had added up to quite a lot of pain. She still had to favour her left side, and the Healer who treated Theo (who had also treated her) frowned at her and asked if her shoulder was giving her trouble. Anne shook her head mutely, feeling suddenly too tired for words - impossible, it was barely midday - then followed Theo over to sit with him beside the fire. Her family were safe, and she would see them, but she wanted to reassure herself Theo was all right. She wanted to reassure Theo. Whatever he had said to his father, it would weigh heavily on him. Terry, after being kept for a good and well-deserved sisterly scolding, tried to race off again to her common room.

"I have to go and find Mum and Dad - well, again, I saw them before - and Jake, too, I haven't seen him yet and Alex and Cait couldn't find him either - I think he was -"

"Jake," Anne repeated to herself, unable to stop. "That was his name. I couldn't remember, you know. That was terrible. I should have remembered. Someone should have remembered."

"What?" Terry halted, half-ready to fly. She looked so...innocent. Anne couldn't say it. She couldn't. She wanted to eke out this moment, to preserve, for however long, that look of innocence that even the Cruciatus curse and a battle had not been able to dent. This news would. It had to.

Theo slipped his arm around her waist; she barely noticed it.

"Terry," she began slowly, "Terry, I hate to be the one to tell you-"

"No!" Terry shot back, clenching her fists. The noise went unnoticed in the bustle of the Hall. "No, he's fine, he has to be, he's fine, he'll be back in the common room, he's fine -"

Theo interrupted the ragged chant. "Terry. You saw this battle."

Her sister's face crumpled, and Anne wanted to turn time back.

"No," Terry whispered, "it's not true if you don't say it, don't say it-"

Anne forced the words out. "He's dead, Terry. I saw his body. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"No." Terry collapsed into Anne, stifling sobs in her shoulder. "No, please, not Jake, it isn't fair-"
"You know about Hannah Abbott?" Theo said to Anne, looking down at her and Terry with a frown.

"Yes." Anne swallowed. "And Colin. And Helen Thompson. And Professor Sinistra, and Professor Dumbledore, and...Don't read me the list of the dead, Theo; I can't handle it right now." Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them back. "Not right now."

"Blaise Zabini, if that makes you feel better," Theo told her with black humour.

That brought Terry's head up. "Was he the one who hurt me?"

"Yes." Theo's face tightened.

"I'm glad!" She dashed a sleeve across her face. "But Jake...Anne, why did they come here?"

Anne held her sister close. "They wanted everything, and we couldn't let them have it."

"The story of the last few centuries," Theo muttered.

"In the Muggle world as much as ours," Anne agreed over Terry's head.

"Ours?" Terry didn't look up. "The Muggle world's ours too, Anne!"

"Maybe you're right," Anne said, to soothe her, but Theo's smile was wry. He knew what she really meant.

Not as it was. Not ever again. The wizarding world sucks you in and doesn't let go, and then it demands everything you have for the right to stay there, when you have no choice about it.

So not truly ours, Terry, not any more. We lost that battle long ago.

"Is everyone else in my year okay?" Terry asked in an unusually quiet voice.

"I don't know," Anne said at the same time as Theo. "The best thing for you to do right now, if you're okay, is go back to your common room where Mum and Dad are, all right? Look, Parvati Patil's just over there. She's in Gryffindor, she'll take you back."

"You should come," Terry said hopefully. Anne shook her head. "I want to, but I have to go to my common room. Headma- Headmistress's orders. I've sent them a message; they know I'm okay. Will you be all right, now?"

Terry sniffled, but got up. "Yes. You should come, no one cares about the rules anymore."

"Go on. I'll see you as soon as I can."

Terry nodded, then straightened her shoulders and headed through the crowd to where Parvati Patil had last been.

"She's right," Theo spoke up, "no one would care."

"I can't take Terry's grief as well, not for a little while longer. And my parents...I can't face them now, is that strange?" Anne replied wearily. "Not with Terry out here when she should have been safe, and with everything...I'd rather pretend for a little while that they're safe home. I always hated telling them when things went wrong here. If I have to see them, I'll have to admit they were right, before..."

"Right about what?"

"The stakes were too high. To stay." She could hear her voice fading. "Look around you. Just before, I was - I was throwing all these stupid words about duty at them, and about being an adult, here...I don't want to be, anymore. If this is what it means." She gestured at their surroundings. The injured, and the weeping, and even the dying. The bloody remnants of war.

"Our world?" Theo said deliberately.

She leant her head on his shoulder, unable to summon the energy to laugh. Their world. Of course. The price hadn't been too high because there was nothing else that could have been done, despite everything telling her differently. You couldn't hide from yourself. You couldn't be what you weren't just because someone else wanted you to. If the past year had taught her anything, it was that.

"I hope Parvati is okay to get her back there," she added as a thought struck her. "She'll be pretty fragile, right now."

"Why?" Theo frowned. "I saw her sister earlier, she's okay -"

Anne closed her eyes against a flash of memory. Parvati huddled next to Lavender Brown, holding her hand in a death-grip. Moving onwards.

"Lavender Brown. You remember - they were good friends," was all she needed to say.

"Oh." Theo was silent for a moment. "I see."

What you're thinking is that you thought Lavender was a giggling twit and better her than someone else. But you're not saying it because that would upset me, except you don't need to say it for me to know what you mean...except I'm probably being unfair...except I know you too well.

"How?"

It was a morbid fascination, but one Anne could sympathise with. You didn't want to know and you didn't want to have seen, but somehow the truth was better than what your brain came up with in its place, left to speculate.

"Broken neck. She was alive when I left, but...oh. I wish I'd stayed. At least she wasn't alone. Hannah?"

"Nothing so bad. Only the Killing Curse. From behind." Theo snorted. "Only. She was fighting. Like that makes it better."

"It does," Anne insisted. "It means...something. I think."

"I like not such grinning honour as she hath," Theo said bitterly. Anne was too tired to try and figure out where that came from, and doubted she'd be able to. "I'd rather live, thank you very much."

"Then why are you here?"

"Pride. If you want to call it that. Or maybe...what you said about Terry, once. You become what people expect of you, because their disappointment is worse than whatever it is they expect you to do."

The other great truth of life. Fight to the death to stop yourself becoming what others wish you to be, and fight to the death to be what they believe you are.

"I wanted to run away," Anne admitted, quietly. "Or hide with Terry. But you can't. Harry Potter gave us what we needed to fight; not fighting would have been...disloyal. You can't do that." Her lips twitched in memory. "Oh, yes, and Ginny Weasley would have had our heads."

Theo laughed, not in humour. "I wanted to run. I did, I suppose. But then I ran straight into Ernie and the others, and they expected me to go with them, and I couldn't...it was the way they didn't even think I might run. Just like my father never thought I - one betrayal is enough. I do have some self-respect."

"I don't think you're like that. Even if you prefer to think you are."

"Well, exactly. The question is, how long do you have to wear a mask before it becomes the truth?"

"You don't," Anne said with conviction, "wear a mask around me. So I think I can make that judgement."

"Sometimes," Theo said dryly, "I really do think I should have overridden boredom and gone to the damn Quidditch match."

Anne elbowed him, but without real force. "Uh-huh. I believe you."

"No, you don't."

The noise in the Hall was dying down as people got sent back to their common rooms or simply lost the energy to keep talking. The bench Theo and Anne were sitting on creaked as someone lowered themselves onto the other end. Anne peered around Theo to see Estella Haywood sitting there, staring blankly at the fire.

"Hello," Theo said.

Estella didn't look up. "Mmm."

"I heard about Andrea Banks," Anne commented carefully. That made two from Estella's class, counting Gerald Cameron in the summer. Anne's class had been so lucky, with only Gabby. Then there was Brian, transferred to St. Mungo's and hovering on the edge; Sarah had been a mess, unable to hold still. Maybe that was her trouble. She committed so fiercely to protecting her classmates, each and every one, that any objection to that protection appeared to her as a betrayal. You had to pity her children, if she had them. Still, it made her a good Prefect, especially the way she watched over the youngest ones. Everything had two sides. Even today's battle must, although Anne was having trouble seeing the good of it through the haze of deaths.

Anne realised her thoughts were drifting. She was bone-weary. Her crying had been done before Terry had been found; any more would wait 'till later. Her speaking to Theo had been done, for the moment. She should go, before someone came and sent them back to their common rooms. She should find her family. She just couldn't bring herself to go anywhere.

"Malfoy was out there," Estella said suddenly. "Not dead. Not worth killing him. I don't know what's happened."

"He'll have run," Theo replied. "If he's lucky, he will have got away. And there's no proof."

Estella shrugged. "He's powerless, now. Everything he had was because of his family, and the Dark Lord. And..."

"What?" Theo said warily. Anne could feel him tense. He'd never liked Estella Haywood very much, Anne knew. She wasn't sure what that stemmed from, other than the fact the Slytherin girl was frankly intimidating. You had no idea what was going on behind those cold grey eyes.

"This." Estella pulled out a wand; Anne didn't recognise, it but Theo drew in a breath. "He'll kill you if he can, for that."

"I know that. Let him try." With a quick motion, she snapped the wand in two. Anne winced; even she knew what that symbolised to another wizard. Even today, she had not seen one person break another's wand. Take it, hide it, but not break it. It was simply not done.

Estella tossed the two pieces of wood into the fire, where they caught immediately, throwing off green and gold sparks from the magical core. She stood and left without a word.

"Was that revenge?" Anne asked. "Malfoy will never know she did that."

"He doesn't need to. Haywood knows, and she knows he'll wonder forever just what she did with his wand...an even better revenge. If you're in the business of making lifelong enemies."

"And you're not?"

"Not when it's easily avoidable, no."

"No," Anne echoed. The noise around them was no more than a murmur, now. Surely someone would be along any minute to make them go.

Just for now, she didn't move.

*

With the Hall now quieter, the weary voice from behind them was easy to hear.

"Theo?"

Theo disengaged himself from Anne and stood.

"Liam said you'd come this way, and I needed to check," Theo's aunt explained. "Are...you all right, Theo?"

Theo hesitated. If anyone would understand..."Yes. Yes, I'm fine."

"Good." Monique gave him a fierce hug, and he could see Anne hiding a smile at his startled expression. But after a second, he returned it. Family, after all. "I'm glad you didn't get yourself killed. When you rushed on out there..."

Theo shrugged, feeling embarrassed. Put that way, he sounded like an idiot Gryffindor. "I...wasn't thinking."

Monique smiled wryly. "If you wish. Callum would have stopped by, but he's...busy."

"His Housemates haven't strung him up for treachery?"

"Let's say it's still under debate." Monique glanced at Anne. "I'm sure Anne can explain the implications of what he did. Be safe, the pair of you."

"Not much danger here." Anne gestured at the Hall. "I'll try to keep him out of trouble, Mrs. O'Neill."

"You'll -" Theo choked, and his aunt laughed. "I'm sure you will."

"So, Anne," Theo asked as his aunt left, "what are all those rooms leading off your common room?"

She stiffened, staring up at him warily as he sat.

"What rooms?" she asked.

Theo rolled his eyes. "I already know about them, you heard Aunt Monique. Those rooms and tunnels that come out beside the main fireplace. One of the tunnels goes to a door in that ante-chamber behind the dais in the Hall here."

Anne gaped. "How do you know about that?"

He grinned, enjoying her total amazement. "Callum led a group of us out through there when the Death Eaters hit the Hall. I must say, your fellow Hufflepuffs didn't look too pleased to see us. I was quite pleased to get out of there as fast as I could. That's what Aunt Monique meant."

Anne groaned, shaking her head. "Oh, no. Your uncle is going to be toast. Hung, drawn, and quartered. The sett's been a House secret since Helga Hufflepuff. It's never been revealed to anyone outside the House. Ever. In a thousand years. People are going to have absolute fits. This is terrible."

"More terrible than Death Eaters?" Theo said sharply, and she smiled wryly.

"Well, perhaps not, but this is...a thousand years of tradition? You can't talk about this to anyone. I mean it, Theo. Bad enough if - how many of you were there?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. Ten, twelve? Alicia Davies and her brother, a couple of other Slytherins, some Ravenclaws, Longbottom, a boy in your year, Jeremy, I think it was, he wasn't pleased, and my...my family. A few."

Anne sighed, looking over her shoulder at the rest of the Hall. "I should have guessed, I suppose. On a day like today, anything can happen. Still. I can't believe your uncle would do that. He seemed so sensible."

"He is half-Muggle. I suppose our traditions don't mean as much to him in the face of danger."

Anne frowned at him.

"I'm Muggle-born," she pointed out stiffly, "and I've never told anyone, not even my parents. You don't have to have the right blood to appreciate tradition. God knows, you've broken enough of it."

Theo looked down, chastised. "Only because I had no choice."

"Only because he had no choice," Anne said, and then, sighing, "I don't know how you do it, really I don't."

"Do what?" Theo said, looking up at her, or at least, less down.

"Mix me around. Three seconds ago I was arguing against your uncle, and I just started defending him."

"It's a talent," Theo told her gravely, "I'm getting you to see all sides of the argument."

"What am I supposed to do with that?"

"Pick the one you like best, and stick with it. Or not, as circumstances warrant."

Anne muttered something Theo didn't quite catch which sounded like "politicians' game." He chose not to comment. Anne was capable of a very broad worldview, as she had proved by putting up with him. She was allowed a small prejudice or two.

"Who sent you here?" came a cheerful voice from behind them. Theo followed Anne's gaze to a short, spiky-haired Auror.

"Hello, Sergeant," Anne said. "Theo got sent here to dry out, he was out in the rain."

"Talking to your father, I heard," the Auror - no, wait, it was the disowned Black daughter's daughter, Sergeant Tonks - addressed Theo.

"That's not your business," Theo replied coolly. "Sergeant."

"It could be," she said equitably. "But under the circumstances, I'll take your word for it. Professor McGonagall's just getting me to go round and remind you all that you're to get back to your common rooms fairly soon, they're trying to keep track of everyone."

"Who's taking over Hufflepuff, do you know, Sergeant?" Anne asked. Theo remembered seeing Professor Sprout fall.

The Auror's face saddened. "Professor Wykeham, for the moment. And before you ask, Professor McGonagall is Headmistress for the interim."

Theo had almost forgotten. Death you had seen had a vivid intimacy that reported death could not, and blocked it out almost entirely.

"What happened to - to Dumbledore? Was it the Dark Lord?"

"Yes. I don't know details, but - ah, well, it's no secret anymore. There was a prophecy, about...it isn't important, but it mentioned there was only one person who could kill You - kill Voldemort. And when he realised it...he was free to attack Dumbledore. Then the battle, and, well...Harry fulfilled it. The prophecy. He killed Voldemort."

"Dumbledore will be missed," Anne said softly.

"Yes," Theo agreed. He'd barely spoken to the Headmaster, but Dumbledore had found him safety over the summer - and watched, as best he could, during the term. A debt was owed there that Theo had never been easy about. Now it would never be repaid. Theo knew, of course, that Dumbledore would have said some nonsense or other about how choosing the right course was repayment - but Theo knew it wasn't. That had had nothing to do with Dumbledore, and was not to be confused with it.

Sergeant Tonks shook her head, breaking the spell. "Well, I'd best get on and warn the others. Don't hang around here too long, you two, you'll become joined at the hip."

Theo frowned after her. "I wonder how the Dark Lord found out the actual wording of the prophecy?"

"You knew about it?" Anne sounded startled.

"That a prophecy existed - but I'd forgotten, to be honest. My father mentioned it, once, back - oh, the summer after fifth year. It didn't seem important at the time."

"Really?" Anne's expression was disbelieving. "Not important?"

"Well...more not my business. There I was, holed up in my room writing letters to you; I owed my father that secret. I never wanted to be a spy."

And I never was. Apart from...once. Once only, and I couldn't have blood on my hands, even at second hand.

No, I kept that promise to myself. As well as I could.

"You'd be terrible at it, anyway," Anne murmured. "Too much honour."

Theo scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous."

Her expression was faintly amused. "Very well." Looking around, she sighed. "We better go. They know where everyone is, but I don't blame them for wanting to feel like they're doing something."

"I can," said Theo grudgingly. "But I suppose you're right."

"Following the rules? What's the matter with you today?"

The joke fell rather flat, but Theo did his best to prop it up.

"No idea. It just seems rather incongruous to survive a battle and still end up with detention."

"I swear Snape was on the point of giving some of the Gryffindors detention for surviving," Anne told him, eyes twinkling. "He had high hopes for this battle, I think."

"He survived, then?"

"As far as I know. He was chivvying people out of here just before you got back with his usual cheerful demeanour."

"Ah, we're all leaving in two weeks." Theo waved a hand. "I hear he's planning the party for the moment Harry Potter walks out the gate of Hogwarts, though. "

"I can imagine." Anne rose reluctantly. "Are you all right, Theo?"

He'd been asked that question too many times to count, by so many different people he'd given up on any answer but a simple "yes." But Anne deserved better than that.

"No." He reached for her hand, twining his fingers through hers. "I thought I'd...started again, this year. When I left last August. But I didn't. I've just been putting off finishing, this whole year. Or maybe I've spent it finishing. It's hard to tell, from here. I think I couldn't start again, not at Hogwarts."

Anne nodded simply. "Too many memories here. I don't want to come back, next year, and see...but I have to, don't I?"

"Good memories, too," Theo added hastily.

"Yeah, good ones." She looked around quickly, and apparently observing no direct onlookers, leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. "I'll try and find you when things calm down."

Theo squeezed her hand once, then let go. "Do that."

She paused, then leaned over again, this time for a hug.

"Terry was right. I mean - I love you, you know," she mumbled in his ear. Theo almost didn't catch it, but he did, and that was enough.

"I always know what you mean. We established that."

"Not the point." She straightened, reluctantly. Theo was reluctant for her to let go, anyway. "See you soon."

Theo watched her go, knowing he'd be evicted back to his common room any moment now. The ceiling of the Great Hall showed that it was still bitterly raining outside, the sullen dark grey of a summer storm. Theo stared at the swirling cloud for a minute before rising. He'd go back to the common room, and see what was happening, and then...then he had some mourning to do. His father's last call was going to haunt his dreams for weeks, but that was the price he'd chosen to pay. He just hadn't known it, two years ago, when he'd told a quiet Muggle-born that of course he'd never be a Death Eater, how could she believe that of him?

But he'd paid it, all the same. There hadn't been much of a choice. Strange, how running and hiding could bring you, when all the fighting was done, to the same place you would have been if you'd taken the high road of defiance and courage.

He rose, shaking his head. No point philosophising, either; for the first time in what seemed like forever, all that lay in front of him was the future. There were still a lot of choices to be made, of course, but not like the ones that lay behind him. His own personal horizons were clear, never mind the sky outside.

Picking his way through the crowds, he followed Anne out of the Hall.

 

//
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