The Sugar Quill
Author: St. Margarets (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Frog Prince of Slytherin  Chapter: Part One
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: This is a re-telling of the fairy tale, The Frog Prince. I've wanted to write a story about Theodore Nott and Luna Lovegood ever since Red is the Heart. When the fairy tale topic came up on the Fluff thread at the Quill I finally found my plot.

Thanks to Corned Bee for the summary suggestion and to Julu, Sherry and Jo Wickaninnish - my trio of good fairies who turn these pumpkins of mine into stories worth reading!

Part I

Improbably, she had a golden ball - that sixth year named Luna Lovegood - the one they said was as crazy as her father, the editor of The Quibbler. Not that Theodore Nott attached much importance to what "they" thought, since he was considered as dangerous as his father, the Death Eater. He liked the dangerous part of his reputation, but the Death Eater part was becoming a hassle now that McGonagall was Headmistress of Hogwarts. Of course, he could fulfill that label by leaving school and following in his father's footsteps but as of yet, he couldn't decide between defeat or disloyalty, and it just seemed easier to stay put.

His eyes narrowed as he watched Luna Lovegood play with her golden ball by the side of the lake. Even if she wasn't crazy, just as he wasn't a Death Eater, it was still a daft thing to do - throwing that glittering ball into the blue autumn sky and then rushing to catch it again. She would drop it eventually. But for now he watched her - mesmerized by the picture of the fair girl throwing a golden ball against the backdrop of blue sky and green pines.

There was a rhythm to what she was doing: with both hands she would dispatch that ball joyously to the heavens; she would watch it arc freely through the air; then, with a touching gesture of trust, she would hold out her hands to receive it.

His lip curled. Lovegood's luck was going to run out. She was pushing fate. With one throw, she could lose it all.

It was the cry of a bird that did it. A hawk, perhaps, alerting its mate that there was carrion to be had. Whatever kind of bird it was, it broke her concentration. She missed the ball by inches and it fell into the deep water with a plop.

She stood stock still with her back to him staring at the blue waves. Even though he had been expecting such a thing to happen, he must have been just as shocked as she, since he didn't think to move away before she turned and addressed him:

"My golden ball," she said. "I lost my golden ball."

Since that was entirely evident, there was nothing for him to say.

She continued to stare at him with her cloudy blue eyes. "My mother gave it to me."

Theodore Nott had never known his mother, had never been given anything by her. He didn't feel sorry for this Luna Lovegood. Her mother could send her another. He shrugged. "Too bad."

"But - " She started to walk toward him.

He turned to leave.

"Won't you help me get it back?"

He whirled around. "Why should I?" A part of him was curious to hear her answer. Would she appeal to his emotions? Would she offer a reward from her rich mother?

"Because I asked for help," she answered simply.

That wasn't the answer he was expecting. "Do you always answer calls for help?"

"Yes." Both her stare and what he now remembered about her friendship with Harry Potter were equally disturbing. She had been at the Department of Mysteries when his father had been injured and then last year at the tower . . .

The pointlessness of it all angered him all over again. "Well, bully for you."

"Please."

"Is 'please' a magic word?" he countered. "Why don't you just Accio it?"

"I can't use Accio," she explained. "It's a sphere made from pure Romanian gold. It's incorruptible and is unaffected by any magic."

"Then it looks like you're out of luck unless you know the Giant Squid personally."

"No, I don't know the Giant Squid." She paused. "But I know you."

No one knew him. No one. He clenched his fists.

"You swim like a frog," she continued. "Most mornings."

He was taken aback that she would know his habits but he didn't ask her how she knew. "Don't you mean 'swim like a fish'?"

"You don't stay in the water like a fish," she answered in a reasonable tone of voice.

He could be compared to an otter or a Kelpie or any other animal that swam and then left the water, but he didn't feel like arguing. Next she'd probably tell him he looked like a frog or something. Geese flew overhead in a v formation. The sun was setting. It was the time animals moved and settled before nightfall.

She continued to watch him, her tension belied by the way she was tugging on her bottom lip with her teeth. This was strangely . . . attractive. She was an interesting girl, and she knew Potter. If he knew what Potter was up to, then perhaps he could better decide which side to join.

A plan bloomed in his mind. "I'll retrieve your ball if you promise me three things."

Her expression never wavered as she waited for his conditions.

"For three days you must let me eat off of your plate, you must let me spend all of your free time with you, and . . . " He looked at that ripe bottom lip and decided to push his luck. "On the last day, a kiss."

She stared at him again - obviously a bad habit of hers. Then a hint of pink stained her cheeks. "Eat off of my plate?"

"I sit with you at the Ravenclaw table." He smiled in satisfaction. She would never want to be seen with a Slytherin, he was sure of that. The kiss would have been nice, but . . .

"My roommates - "

"You'll just have to cope with them if you want your ball back."

She was chewing that lip again. He almost wished he hadn't set such harsh conditions.

"What if you can't reach it?"

That irritated him - of course he could reach it. He swam like a frog didn't he? "Then you'll have to ask Mummy for another ball. A princess like you should be able to get what she wants."

"I can't ask my mother because she's dead," Luna flashed. "This isn't a game, you know."

He felt a stab of something at her words. Her mother was dead just like his mother was dead. But he wouldn't let her see he was sorry. "It is a game." Compared to the decisions he would have to make soon, this was child's play.

Her eyes were glittering, but she didn't cry.

"We'll start at dinner."

*

He was doing this because he had to find out about Potter, he told himself as he slogged across the Entrance Hall toward the Great Hall, rivulets of water running down his face and body. The Heating Charm he had used to withstand the icy water hadn't worn off yet, so he wasn't cold, but he was wet - inappropriately wet for dinner. In the pocket of his cloak, he had Luna Lovegood's golden ball. Incredibly, he had found it on his first dive.

In a way, he felt guilty for finding it so easily. The conditions he had given her were much more arduous, starting with the embarrassment he was going to cause her when he, the hated son-of-a-Death-Eater Slytherin, sat next to her at the Ravenclaw table. He smirked. To add insult to injury, he was going to be dripping water all over her.

He fingered the smooth metal ball in his pocket, already warm from the heat of his body. It served her right for being so careless with something so precious, he thought as he made his way to Luna Lovegood amid the titters and whispers of his fellow students. After three uncomfortable days, she would learn to value the right things and he might be able to make a decision.

She was easy to spot since she was on the far end of table, away from the rest of the Ravenclaws - and she was wearing a necklace that could have been feathers, but on closer inspection, turned out to be fly fishing lures. There was a steaming plate of shepherd's pie in front of her, but she wasn't eating. She was reading a book.

A drop of water on her book - a bestiary of some sort - alerted her to his presence.

"You're wet," she said.

"So I am," he agreed, hooking one leg and then the other over the bench to sit next to her. She watched silently as he shrugged off his cloak and dumped it on the end of the bench. Then he boldly picked up her fork and took a bite of shepherd's pie. Since he was left- Handed, he had to turn toward her to reach her plate and in the process he ended up brushing his wet right arm next to hers.

He wondered which bothered her more - his cold wet arm or the fact he was taking her food. In the animal kingdom, she would have barred her teeth at that behavior. Instead, he felt the length of her wand held flat against his back with her open palm. She muttered something under her breath, and then he felt the most wonderful pulling sensation that both caressed his body and dried it all at once.

"What was that charm?"

"One my mother invented," she said, taking her hand away from his back. "She used to use it to dry my hair when I was little." She pulled a lock of her blonde hair and peered at it. "Mummy could always make my hair look nice."

"Teach me that charm," he said, reaching for more shepherd's pie.

"'Please' is a magic word," she answered matter-of-factly, plucking the empty fork out of his hand before he could take any more food from the plate.

He had never been much for manners - 'please' and 'thank you' didn't come easy, but he didn't think the etiquette books condoned taking your dinner partner's fork right out of his hand. Bemused, he watched her scoop up mashed potatoes and meat with the same fork. So much for germs. He hadn't thought of that when he set these conditions. He also hadn't considered that one plate of food for two people was not going to go far.

She paused before taking a bite. "You don't have Fathom Fungus do you?"

Fathom Fungus? Where had he heard that before? "No," he answered.

She nodded. "It affects tadpoles, but I thought since you swim so much you might have contracted it."

His turn. He reached for her hand holding the empty fork. She was also left-handed, he noticed, which was good since that meant she wasn't going to elbow him every time she moved to eat.

Luna relinquished the fork to him, picked up her spoon and dove right back into the shepherd's pie. She could move quickly when she wanted to.

"Are you going to teach me that charm?" he asked, hoping to distract her from eating too much of her - their - dinner.

Did this witch ever answer a direct question? "Viktor Krum taught it to me. It's one they use at Durmstrang."

"Viktor Krum?"

"The Quidditch star from Bulgaria?" At her blank look, he added, "The one who was in the Tri-Wizard Tournament?"

Her face cleared. "The grumpy-looking one. I remember."

Theodore had always thought Viktor Krum was the height of cool. "Who cares what he looks like? That bloke did just what he wanted."

"Why is that a good thing?"

He gaped at her. "That's the whole point of life. What do you think ambition and intellect are for if you can't do what you want?"

She put her spoon down. "I can tell you the Drying Charm, but it won't work if you want to use it on yourself."

The girl was bloody maddening. "Why on earth won't it work on yourself?"

"I don't know," she answered, looking off somewhere past his nose. "I just can't get it to work on my hair like Mummy did." She smiled slightly. "I miss that."

Again, he didn't know what to say. "I don't have long hair, so it will probably work on me."

She focused on him again. "Your hair should be longer."

He didn't bother to follow up on that.

She pushed the plate over to him. "You can have the rest since you went swimming this evening."

There were about two bites left. "Thanks," he said sarcastically, scrapping the plate. "What's for afters?"

"Stewed prunes," she replied as she pulled the small dish of wrinkled, wet fruit closer.

He sighed. "The food has really gone downhill since Dumbledore died."

"A lot has gone downhill since Professor Dumbledore died." There was a flash of anger in her eyes.

"Don't look at me like that," he growled in a low voice. "I had nothing to do with his death. And don't think it's been a picnic over in Slytherin house since."

"Did you know it was going to happen - the attack?" Her voice was low and urgent. This wasn't mere curiosity - she was judging, testing him. For some reason he wanted to pass that test. Then he was angry at himself for caring what she thought.

"No, I had rubbish marks in Divination."

She made a noise in the back of her throat.

"I had to explain it all to McGonagall before I was allowed back - okay? I don't want to go through it again with you."

She ate some of the fruit since she still had the spoon. "So you're using your intellect and ambition to stay here at Hogwarts - that's what you want?"

He took a deep breath. She was using his own words against him. He thought she hadn't been listening at all. Bloody Ravenclaw.

"This looks cozy," said a giggling voice. He looked up to find three witches standing across the table from them. More bloody Ravenclaws.

"Merlin, Luna, you don't need a boyfriend that bad," said the short one.

The witch with faded blonde hair and dark roots snickered. "Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel."

"Lake," he interrupted before Luna could say anything. "She scrapped me off the bottom of the lake."

The short witch looked down her hooked nose. "You're lower than that - you're from under the lake."

"And your point is?"

The one with glasses cackled. "You're the perfect Lunatic pair. The harmless Slytherin and our resident crackpot from Ravenclaw."

"Harmless." Right. He would show them.

"I can see why Luna would be happy to have anyone notice her - "

Glasses snorted. "Maybe he knows she forgets to wear underwear now and then."

"Someone took all of my underwear that one time," Luna said, a faint flush coloring her cheeks.

Hooked nose laughed. "You were so stupid - waiting all day in hopes your things . . . " She did an uncanny imitation of Luna's dreamy voice, "'Would just turn up like they always do.'"

"Oh? As sorry as you are when you realize the Love Potion she fed you wears off in two hours?" The other girls laughed.

"Not as sorry as you lot will be when your humiliation lasts a lot longer."

They stopped laughing, but his words didn't wipe the smirks from their faces. "Try it, Nott," Glasses said. "We're smarter than you."

"Maybe," he said with a matching smirk. "But I'm meaner."

*

By the time he grabbed his cloak, Luna was gone. She had promised to spend all of her free time with him - and if she was going to sulk in the ladies then she was not fulfilling her side of the bargain. Not that he blamed her really - those roommates were awful. No wonder she was wary of him sitting with her. He felt another stab of guilt. He hadn't realized how much hate they had for Luna - Luna and not him, the Death Eater's son.

She wasn't sulking in the ladies. She was waiting for him in the Entrance Hall, staring off into space like nothing had happened. Although, he wondered in a flash of inspiration, if that's what Luna did when Something Happened. A lot of woodland creatures, like deer and rabbits, would freeze rather than lash out or run away.

"There you are," she said when he approached. She turned to stare at a painting of a blasted landscape empty of people. The colors were gray and black and depressing.

"Who's usually in that scene?" He had never really noticed it before.

"A prince," she replied in a flat voice. "But he left and now it's a wasteland."

"Oh." He shifted uncomfortably.

"When he returns, everything will bloom again," she said dreamily.

"There's a happy fantasy."

"Do you think . . ." She seemed to be focused on a dead tree in the corner of the picture. "Do you think you can get my golden ball?"

Her voice was definitely quivering. He had severely misjudged what this golden ball meant to her. She missed her mother's Drying Charm for Merlin's sake. He hastily took the ball out of his cloak pocket and held it in his open palm. "I did get it."

"You did," she breathed. There were leftover tears in her eyes, but she was smiling at him - smiling in wonder and admiration. "I never should have doubted for a minute . . ."

He smiled back - he couldn't help it. For a brief, heady moment, he felt about ten feet tall. He had also misjudged what it meant for her to ask for help. Waiting all day in hopes your things would just turn up like they always do. It was a strangely humbling experience to realize she had turned to him.

Then he caught sight of that blighted landscape out of the corner of his eye. There were still things he had to know about Potter. "In three days you shall have it," he said, putting it in the pocket of his school robes.

Her eyes clouded again, but she nodded meekly.

That meekness angered him. She should just knee him in the groin or do the Full-Body Bind and take it from him. It was her ball and he was a Slytherin. McGonagall would take her side.

"Meet me at the Thestrals' pens at half past nine," he said curtly.

She frowned. "I can't do that - it's curfew at ten."

"Parchment and quill?" he asked, holding out his hand. She was a Ravenclaw, she would have them.

She handed him a pocket notebook and a pencil.

He flipped through Arithmancy equations, a sketch of the stamen of what looked to be a Fanged Geranium, dates of goblin rebellions with doodles of butterflies and flowers all around them, and a half-finished poem about alone and loneliness. When he reached a fresh sheet, he scrawled a quick note and then he turned so that no one else could see him take out his wand.

"Here," he said after the page glowed green. "It's a note to Professor Flitwick from Professor Grubbly-Plank saying that you are to tend two ailing Thestrals behind Hagrid's hut as part of your Care of Magical Creatures class."

"So it is." It was one of his better ones, too. He had never tried to dupe Flitwick so he had been careful with this one.

"But-"

"There really are Thestrals behind Hagrid's hut that need tending. I have to tend them at half past nine."

"Oh."

"It's a good charm," he assured her. "And I'm guessing that you're a favorite of Flitwick's anyway."

She didn't confirm or deny favoritism from Flitwick. "Where did you learn that charm?"

"Dear old Granddad." He didn't want to talk about his nonexistent family. "You promised to spend time with me." Would she break the rules to fulfill her promises?

Her eyes widened as if she just realized what this promise meant. "I'll meet you at half past nine."

*

Theodore stared at the cloud he was exhaling into the frosty air. It was a cold, still night, lit by a waxing moon, the sort of night where sounds carried and the oddest details in the landscape were revealed. His rucksack, full of raw meat the house-elves had given him for the Thestrals, was on the ground next to him. He was feeling particularly satisfied since he had killed two birds with one stone whilst visiting the kitchens. He smirked. Actually three birds. The house-elves were now unknowingly carrying out his plan of revenge against Luna's roommates. That knowledge warmed him from head to toe.

He saw her before she saw him. Her pale hair stood out in the darkness. She really should wear her hood to cover it.

He stepped out of the shadows.

"Oh!"

"Flitwick give you trouble?" he asked in a low voice.

"No." She was shivering slightly.

"Come and see the Thestrals."

Something small and dark skittered across their path. Startled, Luna moved closer to him. "What was that?" she asked.

"Mooncalf."

"It's not full moon yet," she said. "I thought they stayed in their burrows until then."

"That's what the book says, but it's not true. They forage for nuts and seeds fairly regularly. They're fast - even the owls can't catch them." He snorted. "Then they're daft enough to dance under a full moon when every kind of predator can find them."

"But that's their purpose - that's what makes them Mooncalves," she protested.

He couldn't argue with that, although it seemed a high price to pay for worshiping the moon.

"You know a lot of about animals," she remarked as they rounded Hagrid's empty hut.

"The forger?"

"Forgery was his hobby. Animals were his occupation."

"Oh." She stopped walking. "I've always wanted to have a career connected to magical creatures, but Daddy doesn't think it's practical."

"Yup." His lips twitched at the irony of the editor of The Quibbler being practical and the fact that Luna had misunderstood him. "Granddad learned all he could about animals so he could kill them. He was a big game hunter." Theodore cared about his grandfather, but he hated the old man's love of blood sport, the stuffed heads on the walls, and the gory stories.

"Game?" she asked faintly.

"You know, Tebos, Graphorns, Crumple-Horned Snorkacks - he even saved a village from a nundu once."

"He killed Crumple-Horned Snorkacks?" There was definitely censure in her voice.

"I don't know if he did. He guided a lot of stalking parties as well. He used to go to Romania a lot when he was younger."

"There are no Crumple-Horned Snorkacks left in Romania," she said flatly.

"Oh."

She crossed her arms. "They were hunted to extinction."

Part of him felt sick to hear this. The Crumple-horned Snorkack head on their dining room wall had beautiful purple doe eyes and amazing orange spiraling horns. The other part of him refused to feel guilty for something his grandfather had done. "Oops."

In the dim light, he could see her jaw drop and then she moved so quickly that he actually stumbled from her push, more from the surprise than anything. "I'm not staying here with you."

He angrily caught her wrist as she turned. "Oh no - you promised to come out here with big bad me."

She stopped. Caught like a rabbit in a snare. He could see her chest rise and fall rapidly either from anger or revulsion or both. Merlin. Revulsion. He felt that every time his grandfather would make him go out stalking with him. The fear, the danger, the smoke and noise from the hexes, the death cries, the skinning . . .

He looked at his hand on her slim wrist. His skin was so dark compared to hers. He dropped her wrist.

She didn't move.

It was so very quiet except for the sound of her breath as she exhaled. "I don't like that he hunted either," he finally said. "I never liked when he took me along." He looked at the ground - waiting. It was all she was going to get in the way of admission from him. He wasn't going to say anything else about the man who had raised him. Somehow he didn't think it was going to be enough. Luna was a gentle person, an animal lover, no wonder she was repulsed.

"Crumple-Horned Snorkacks have been known to trample Mooncalves," she said calmly.

*

"What's wrong with that one?" Luna pointed to the female Thestral lying on the soft straw of the pen.

"She's just weak. Lost a lot of blood when she had her foal. Then she had an infection." He rummaged in his rucksack for the liver the house-elves had given him.

"What's her name?" Luna held out her hand to the Thestral lying on the soft straw of the pen.

"Female Thestral?" he hazarded. "They're not pets." He tossed a bloody hunk of meat into the pen. The animal sniffed it listlessly.

"Where's her foal?"

"Dead." He didn't want to talk about it. Even after a long night with Professor Grubbly- Plank's best efforts, they couldn't save it. As it was, he didn't know if the mother would live. She had that dull look of resignation in her eyes.

Luna nodded and sighed. They moved on to the next pen. This Thestral was larger, but it too was lying on the straw.

"He's just getting old and can't digest much at one time, so we've been feeding him several times a day," he explained as he tossed the Thestral the rest of the meat in his bag.

"What does your grandfather say about taking care of Thestrals and other magical creatures?"

He glanced at her to see if she was enjoying the irony, but she appeared perfectly serious. "He doesn't know," he said shortly, taking out his wand and cleaning his hands.

"What about your father?"

"Two years?" she asked, staring at him intently.

Two years ago his father had been injured at the Department of Mysteries in the middle of a battle against six students from Hogwarts - one of whom was standing right in front of him. "Ever," he said. "I haven't ever talked to my father."

"My mother died when I was born," he answered coldly. "No, I meant, you don't talk to my father, you listen." One listened to drunken rants about pure-bloods and the Dark Lord and Dumbledore and the Ministry and the incompetents at St. Mungo's who would let a beautiful witch die rather than her brat. No matter what the witch had told the Healers in the delivery room - the brat should have died. The witch was young and could have had more . . .

He was startled out of his reverie when she touched his hand. "I didn't know," she said simply, squeezing his hand.

His voice was harsher than he intended when he answered her. "I never knew her," he said flatly. "You can't miss what you never had."

"What was her name?"

He had found her tombstone in the churchyard at Hogsmeade his third year. He was thirteen before he knew his mother's name. "Laurel," he said. "Her name was Laurel."

She didn't ask him anymore questions. By unspoken consent, they turned toward the castle.

They were in the shadow of the castle when Luna turned to him. "You do know your mother."

"Oh?" Something twisted inside of him - anger - pain - hope?

"She died so you could live," she said in that abstracted voice she used when she was particularly serious.

"How did you know that?" he demanded, prickles running down his spine.

"How?"

"Her name," Luna said vaguely.

"Her name?"

"My mother's name was Felicity," she said.

He wished he knew what she was talking about. He most desperately wished it since no one had ever talked to him about his mother before, and he never wanted to talk about it again . . .

"My mother's name was Felicity," she repeated. "She was our happiness."

It was pain he was feeling - that twisting feeling deep in his gut.

"Laurel is worn for victory," she continued.

He didn't know whether to yell or laugh hysterically. "My mother died. That's not victory."

"You lived. That's her victory."

He wanted to argue, he wanted to tell her that she lived up to her name of Loony Lovegood, but he didn't because deep down he knew she was right. While he wasn't yet victorious in life, he was indeed a survivor. Slytherins were survivors after all. He looked at Luna, staring off past his shoulder. And Ravenclaws were intelligent - this one in entirely unexpected ways.

He sighed, feeling suddenly very tired.

"Goodnight, Theodore," she said gravely. She touched his hand and was gone.

He stood out in the cold night for a while, thinking. Hearing Luna say "Theodore" made him realize that his mother had probably given his name to the Healers before she died. There was no way his father named him since he had always called him "boy."

His hands were cold, so he thrust them in his pockets. His fingers curled around the golden ball. A woman named Felicity had given this ball to a girl named Luna and now he was carrying their little bit of happiness with him.

Since he didn't know what to do with this knowledge, he shrugged it off and turned to go in the castle. It was at that moment he realized he hadn't asked Luna one question about Potter. With an ironic smile, he reminded himself that he would see her at breakfast. And by then his plan for revenge on her roommates would have come to fruition. He hoped so. That would be victory indeed.

//
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