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when the future's architectured

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when the future's architectured

i don't want to be a soldier
who the captain of a sinking ship

would stow far below
so if you love me, why'd you let me go?

1998

Theo spends most of Seventh Year waiting. He’s not, at all points, completely sure what for. Waiting for his father to tell him it’s over. Waiting for his mother to come home. Waiting for the war to end. Waiting for something, anything to happen. Waiting for the worst or preparing for the best.

If you ask the Gryffindors, Seventh Year is a warzone. Hogwarts a battlefield. The House tables, lines drawn in the mud. Every student in a green tie, an enemy. Every day a new loss or an inch of triumph.

If you ask Theo, Seventh Year is quicksand and each day he sinks a little further in. He keeps waiting and waiting for the final freefall, for the uneasy depths of it to swallow him up. Writes letters to his mother knowing she won’t answer. Knocks shoulders with Neville Longbottom in the hallways and feels the burning rage simmering under the other boy’s skin. Drags himself to meetings where Draco looks hollow and Pansy looks ferocious and Blaise looks bored and Daphne… well, Daphne rarely even shows up.

 “She’s the smartest of us all,” Millicent grumbles once.

Pansy shoots her a dark look. They’re halfway through Seventh Year and none of them are where they thought they’d be. Not even Draco, cold and pale and itching his left arm in the corner of the room.

Daphne will not be rewarded for this behavior when the Dark Lord comes and—”

“Oh, fuck off, he’s not coming,” groans Tracey Davis. All of them are sick of Pansy, and all of them are tired of everything else. “Potter’s not here. Do you think the Dark Lord gives a shit about how many little Gryffindors you hex in the hallways, Pansy?”

Pansy puffs herself up into a ball of fury, and this is Theo’s cue to slip out.

Truthfully, he goes to their little meetings because it’s routine. Because it gives his mind something to do besides wait and wait and wait. Because he takes Pansy’s certainty and Draco’s fear and Millicent’s disgust and churns their emotions inside himself until he’s left with a Molotov cocktail of something that could be a feeling, any feeling at all. Anything besides waiting. Anything’s better than that.

He bumps into Ginny Weasley outside in the hallway after one of their meetings, which isn’t completely unusual. The only students who are out this late at night are the seventh year Slytherins, who know they can get away with it, and the Gryffindors who cause trouble because they can’t get away with it.

And Ginny Weasley is the Gryffindor who causes trouble.

She’s clutching her arm, clearly still injured from a detention with the Carrows. Her jaw clenches when she looks up from stumbling and sees him there, and almost immediately, it’s like the pain has slipped out of her, replaced by the keen fighting instincts of a girl bred for war.

“Watch it,” Theo mutters. He barely even bothers to put the Slytherin sneer in his voice, but she bristles nonetheless.

Gryffindors, he hears Daphne scoff in his head. Too easy. The voices in his mind always sound peculiarly like his classmates. He thinks he’s been spending too much time with them.

“Not my fault you’re lost in Death Eater land,” Ginny snipes. “Still waiting for a letter from your Mummy?”

Theo, who had been about to brush past her, stops in his tracks. Whips his head around to stare at her, finds her looking back with a furious, burning gaze that makes even him, with all his Slytherin bravado and walls of ice, shrink back a little. Watches her smirk as she sees her bait hook into his heart, written so clearly on his face.

“Shut the fuck up,” Theo says, hands trembling but with no inclination or ability to reach for his wand.

Ginny tilts her head up, incandescent in her bravery, her red hair like fire down her shoulders as she faces him down. She’s not even a little scared. He’s a Slytherin. He could call the Carrows right now. He could Crucio her and face no repercussions.

But his hands don’t move. He wonders if it is terror that pins him here.

“Make me,” she says.

Theo backs her against the wall with just the breadth of his body. He doesn’t touch her. She hits the wall but still no fear appears in her eyes. Her robe slips down one shoulder, just enough to expose a long, terribly angry scar, still-healing. A souvenir from one of her detentions.

How can she be in this much pain and still have the wherewithal to hurt him, too? To not even be scared of provoking him, the son of a Death Eater, a scion of Slytherin? Where does the endless Gryffindor bravery come from? How did she know exactly where to gut him?

These are the things he wonders as he stares down Ginny Weasley.

And then the door down the hall opens and Pansy storms out, and, quick as a flash, Ginny ducks around him and disappears down the corner. Maybe she had decided she couldn’t handle facing two Slytherins at once. Or maybe her goal had only been to unsettle him, spotting him as a weak link amongst the seventh year Slytherins, part of a long con to destabilize their unity as a group amongst Hogwarts.

But Ginny Weasley is not a Slytherin. So maybe she just had an uncanny ability to see through him and had put it to good use simply because he was an enemy, and this was how Hogwarts worked in Seventh Year.

Theo thinks about her that whole night, then turns over in his bed and resolves to never think about Ginny Weasley or any Gryffindor stupid enough to get caught trying to steal from the Headmaster ever again.

After the Battle of Hogwarts, though, it’s hard not to think about the Gryffindors. They’re everywhere. By the time the sun rises on a new day and the Death Eaters have scattered and his father is desperately poring over his finances and his alibis and watching the Dark Mark on his arm fade to an ugly shade of gray, Theo has already seen no less than ten different news stories about the heroic triumphs of the victors.

His father spits in fury at the Daily Prophet, hating them all. Theo reserves that sort of emotion for special occasions, so he reads all the stories—Longbottom killed the snake, Potter killed the Dark Lord, the new minister Shacklebolt is starting up a squad specifically to hunt down all the Death Eater stragglers—with the apathy of someone who might not have spent the last seven years with half of these heroes in his classes.

Does it make him someone special, to be on the fringes of Potter’s story? He doesn’t really think so, but the reporters do.

“Is it true all the Slytherins fled as soon as the battle started?” one asks him, shoving a Quick Quotes quill into his face as he’s trying to walk down the shambles of Diagon Alley. “Is it true your father’s going to Azkaban—”

Theo snatches the quill and breaks it hard, snapping it right in half and tossing it on the ground. The reporter, a young woman with dark hair and keen eyes who must have learned the nuances of tabloid gossip at Rita Skeeter’s knee, gasps in dismay. He wonders what sort of stupidity it takes to accuse someone of being a Death Eater’s son and then to be surprised when they act out.

“My father’s not going to Azkaban,” he says, pronouncing each word slowly and carefully so that this girl can feel how dangerously close to cursing her he is. She looks scared enough that he thinks she was probably a Hufflepuff. “As for the rest… why don’t you ask the esteemed Headmistress, who kicked us all out?”

The girl’s eyes go wide and she stands there as he stomps away, down the street to Knockturn to pawn off another Nott family heirloom. The next day, no less than four stories run across the Prophet and the other magazines, ranging from polite questioning to railing against McGonagall for removing the entire Slytherin House from the battle. Some take her side, alleging that it was in the best interest of the heroes to remove all possible obstacles, including all the children of Death Eaters from the battlefield. Some, vehemently, disagree.

“Good work,” says Theo’s father over breakfast. His approval is a nebulous, limited thing so Theo takes it with a nod and pretends it doesn’t mean as much as it does. “Put some heat on those damn Gryffindors.”

Theo finishes his eggs before replying. “They want us all to go back to Hogwarts, finish the year properly.”

His father scoffs. “What a waste of our time. I assume McGonagall will be the Headmistress?”

“Probably.” Theo weighs his options, then goes for it. “If I sit my NEWTs, can I skip the year?”

His father turns the page of the Prophet, already finished with the conversation. “Only if you get all O’s.”

 

1999

He gets all O’s except one EE in Transfiguration. His father gets a lawyer named Zerline Shafiq, and she puts together a defense that just barely keeps him out of Azkaban. Theo testifies only once in front of an actual court, and countless times in front of the War Crimes Committee who is desperate to catch his father in a lie.

“And what about your mother?” one of them asks, a beady-eyed lawyer constantly darting glasses to the side where his imperious boss stands. “Was she at all involved with the Death Eaters?”

Theo stares at the man, hard and furious, until he has the good sense to shrink away from him. His mind runs through a million possible retorts—fuck you and fuck your mother are the first two he has to stop himself from saying—and Zerline gives him a warning look. He ignores her.

“Mr. Nott,” says the lawyer, impatient now. “Your mother, was she at all involved with—”

“Why,” Theo bites out, “don’t you find her and ask her your own fucking self.”

“Theodore,” says Zerline in astonishment, but he’s already storming out.

The courts can’t find anything on him. Unlike Draco, he hadn’t been stupid enough to get the Mark. His father, though, loses half the family fortune and their old, decrepit manor house, and most of his good name. Theo’s kind of glad—he hated that house. It had been cold and hollow growing up, and only gotten worse when his mother left.

Zerline lets them move into her house in London and gets a diamond ring for her trouble. Theo doesn’t hate her, but he doesn’t exactly like her. She’s sharp and clever and pureblood, but she has the ruthlessness and cutthroat instincts of a lawyer and that makes it hard to trust her. His father hadn’t asked Theo’s permission before proposing, but he doesn’t think he would have agreed if he’d had any choice in the matter.

He tries not to miss his mother. He fails almost every night until he finally gets up and decides to move out.

“With what money?” his father asks, one eyebrow raised in unimpressed pureblood disdain.

Theo holds up a letter. “The Appleby Arrows want me as a reserve.” He doesn’t offer more information—Slytherin tactics, never give more than needed. Give less, if at all possible.

“You weren’t on the Slytherin team,” Zerline says suspiciously. “When did you try out?”

“Remember when you said I needed to find something to do that would distract everyone from my father being a Death Eater?”

“I didn’t think you’d come up with anything,” Zerline admits, and flashes him a smile of all-white teeth against her dark skin. A shark’s smile. He sees why his father likes her so much. “We were going to marry you off to that Greengrass girl.”

“Daphne?” Theo snorts, unable to help himself. “She’s hard work.”

“You need hard work, son,” says his father. “Make it onto the real team by next season or we’ll go through with the betrothal.”

Theo’s smart enough to know a threat from an order. He’s good enough on a broom that he climbs his way up from the reserve Chasers and a well-placed bribe from what’s left of his inheritance gets one of the current Chasers a stunning opportunity to play for Sweden that she just can’t refuse. The captain of the Appleby Arrows invites him to her house to offer him the position in person.

“You’ve got talent, Nott,” says Alicia Spinnet, her gaze critical and thoughtful as she watches him sip the tea she’d offered. It’s too sweet for his tastes, but he’s not impolite enough to refuse it. “But I don’t recall you playing on the Slytherin Quidditch team when we were at school.”

Theo shrugs, careless as he dares to be. He’s been prepared for this question. “The Slytherin Quidditch team when I was in school was made up of fools and blowhards. I didn’t feel it would nurture my talents effectively, not with Malfoy blustering about with his father buying his way in. I’m sure you know.”

Alicia smirks. “Of course. Well, that’s understandable and all, but I have reason to believe you’re not fond of being a team player, Nott.”

Theo shifts in his seat. “I’m not one of the players causing drama and issues on this team, am I? Captain.”

“Not yet.” Alicia raises her eyebrows. “If I put you on this team for real, I need your word—no Slytherin shenanigans, no undermining other players to get ahead, no cheating.”

Theo meets her gaze, shoving his annoyance down deep so she can’t see it. Alicia’s expression is unyielding and resolute, as stubbornly Gryffindor as one can get. He lets himself think about how much he wants this—a distraction, something to be good at, something that will get him away from his father and Zerline and their endless talk of business and finance and restoring the Nott name to glory. Anything to make him feel like he’s not still waiting for his mother to come back.

Whatever she sees on his face, Alicia relents. “Congratulations, Theo. You’ll be playing in our next game.”

 

2000

The reporters are always so loud.

It’s the number one thing Theo hates about all this—he’s gotten used to the noise levels of his teammates, gotten used to Alicia’s very Gryffindor way of leadership, gotten used to the intrusive questions every time he reluctantly agrees to sit down for a magazine profile, but he still hates the sound of reporters clamoring after them into their hotel, shoving Quick-Quotes Quills and magical microphones enchanted to record soundbites into his face.

“Theo, Theo! What does your father think of you mingling with half-bloods and mudbloods on the Quidditch pitch?”

Somehow, strangely, the pureblood ones were the worst.

Theo doesn’t necessarily object to the term, but he can feel Alicia bristling, ready to unleash upon the reporter as soon as she finds him. There are four other teams milling around the hotel lobby, the top five of their League having been invited to Portugal for a Quidditch summit and charity playoffs, and a good amount of the players stop and stare at the reporter in startled surprise.

They don’t use words like that in polite company anymore. Theo knows this, has listened to his father grumbling about it over their weekend meetings more than enough times. The wizarding world has changed, and the purebloods have to change with it if they want to have a place in it.

He’s not sure what he’s going to say, so he’s almost grateful when someone else takes the opportunity from him.

“I don’t know, Montague, what does your father think of the fact that you couldn’t even get a reserve slot on a team filled with half-bloods and muggleborns?”

Ginny Weasley doesn’t even look at him as she steps around his team to stare down the reporter who had yelled at him. She has her hair up in a ponytail from training, and it falls bright red against the green Holyhead Harpies jacket she’s wearing, every inch of her radiating cool, poised professionalism, rather like a snake preparing itself to eat you whole.

Montague, who he recognizes now as a boy in her year, tries to draw himself up to stare her down, but fails miserably as people start laughing and snickering across the lobby. Ginny cocks an eyebrow and he slinks off miserably away from the crowd of reporters and out of the hotel, with nothing to show for his story.

“Thanks, Ginny,” says Alicia, coming up from behind Theo as he stands there and stares at her. “These guys are just…”

“The worst,” Ginny concludes. “The amount of times I’ve had to stop myself from Bat Bogey hexing them all in the face…”

She sends a quelling glare around to the still-chattering reporters, all of them clearly geared up to ask her questions about her break-up with Harry Potter, and immediately, most of them disperse in fear. Everybody knows about Ginny Weasley’s Bat Bogey Hex, after all.

“See you around, Alicia,” she says with a nod. Her eyes meet Theo’s briefly, a speculative look on her face. “Nott.”

Theo inclines his head. “Weasley.”

Ginny turns and walks back to her teammates, who accept her into their fold with a cheer and laughter, and Theo watches as she goes with something like curiosity rising in his chest. Alicia smirks at him and knocks his shoulder as she herds him back to the Arrows, like she knows something he doesn’t.

On their last day in Portugal, after the Harpies soundly crush the Arrows and most of the other teams in their charity games, Theo finds her at the hotel bar, nursing some horrendous muggle alcohol concoction far away from her team still partying up in the restaurant across the foyer.

She’s been so on top of everything this whole week, playing the best anyone’s ever seen such a young Chaser play, shining amidst her teammates, all older women who have been doing this for years. She’s only been on the team for a few months, yet everyone cheers for her whenever she scores a goal. The heroes of the Second War are second to none when it comes to celebrity.

But Ginny Weasley doesn’t look very happy tonight.

“Weasley,” Theo says, taking the seat next to her without asking. Slytherins don’t ask for things, after all. She looks at him in askance but doesn’t yell at him to leave. “Bored of being the center of attention already?”

“Nott,” she returns easily. “Still not tired of being an asshole?”

 “Funny.” He gestures for the bartender and orders whatever the most expensive drink is for himself. “What’s the matter with you?”

“The matter with me,” Ginny repeats, sounding out the words as if he’s said something incomprehensible. “Nothing’s the matter with me.”

“You won every game you played this weekend,” Theo informs her, impatient and disdainful as his father’s taught him to be. “You have a team full of friends cheering in the restaurant. Every paper in Britain tomorrow morning is going to be writing odes to your skills and your beauty—”

“Beauty?” Ginny interrupts, one eyebrow raised.

Theo continues as if she hadn’t. “Moping is for losers, Weasley.”

“Is that why you’re here?”

I,” he says, as self-important as he can possibly be, “am here for the drinks.”

Ginny eyes him as he accepts his drink from the bartender. Her gaze is heavy, weighted, that old Gryffindor fire burned down to embers from the war and the deaths and the way the world changed around them. Theo ignores her and takes a sip of his drink—terrible, of course, but he had expected nothing less from muggles.

“My brother’s dead,” she says suddenly, cutting the thick silence between them. “So.”

Theo frowns. “Another one?” One look at her face assures him that she’s talking about the same brother he had read about in the papers two years ago. “What, the one who died in the war? That was two years ago, Weasley—”

“Right, my mistake,” Ginny says, rolling her eyes so hard he’s surprised they don’t get stuck up there. “I forgot I was talking to someone who’s never lost anything—

“Well, not all of us have fifteen brothers to lose.”

The Bat Bogey Hex, he has to admit, was probably deserved.

 

 

2003

“Fairbourne, remember to use your legs when you’re pulling up, we don’t want another repeat of the crash incident! Nettlebed, don’t lose sight of the Quaffle this time, or I swear I’ll replace you with your sister! And Nott—”

Alicia stops in front of him, eyes narrowed. Theo, who has only half been paying attention to the dubious quality pep talk she’d been giving the rest of the team, straightens up.

Alicia drops her voice and says, “Try not to let her get to you as much.”

Theo’s face goes blank. “Who?”

Alicia rolls her eyes. “You know who.”

With that, she turns and goes to corner Fairbourne for last minute prep before their game.

It’s the final match of the season, Arrows against Harpies, and the oddsmakers have it down in favor of the Harpies last time Theo checked. He knows why, of course. Ginny Weasley has been playing for three years and she’s already being called one of the greatest Chasers to come out of Hogwarts. She’s ferocious on the pitch, always scoring so many goals that half the time the Seekers are completely irrelevant to the final score.

Theo has played her five times in the past three years. He’s lost every time.

Alicia will never let him cheat—and he knows she’d figure it out if he tried, no matter how much his stepmother offers to find him a way to win when he visits home—so he does what everyone else has to do and just trains harder, faster, and better. Once, he might have found this a grueling annoyance, but now, at twenty-one, with nothing waiting for him at home but his empty apartment, his friends scattered across the country, across Europe—this is what he lives for.

“Well,” says Alicia, five minutes before they’re to be called out onto the pitch. She looks around the locker room with a pleased smile on her face. “I think we have a shot. Don’t you?”

Theo has never flown that fast or that hard in his life.

Part of it is all the drilling and practicing and 4-a.m. training shifts that Alicia had made him do every day of Quidditch season and quite a few days in the off-season. Part of it is that he knows his father is watching, whether or not he’s in the crowds. Part of it is that he loves the thrill of the match, the chanting of the crowd, the jump in his pulse when Ginny Weasley steals the Quaffle from him, the adrenaline whenever he scores a goal.

Maybe part of it is that he keeps hoping if he plays well enough, if he gets famous enough, if people outside of Britain learn the name Theodore Nott, that maybe he’ll catch his mother’s attention somewhere out there, too.

Whatever it is, he scores the last goal before Fairbourne snatches the Snitch and the Arrows win the championship for the first time in five years.

Afterwards, in the mill of reporters clamoring for their attention as the two teams head out of the locker rooms for the post-game conference, he spots Ginny across the crowd, determinedly ignoring at least four reporters trying to get her to talk to them. This isn’t unusual, because they’re all doing the same thing, some to better degrees of success than others, but she meets his gaze through the gaggle of people between them and something there gets his feet moving in the wrong direction, towards her rather than towards escape.

“Miss Weasley, what would you say is the reason for your loss tonight? Is it perhaps because of Harry Potter—”

Ginny’s eyes narrow but she doesn’t say anything. She never does when they ask her about Harry—either out of a broken heart, or a respect for his privacy, Theo doesn’t know.

What he does know is that he finds himself standing behind the reporter trying to ask her about Harry Potter and he says, “Come on, not everything in the world is about Harry fucking Potter. Some things are just about us.”

The reporter jumps in surprise and whirls around. Ginny blinks at him, and then, unbelievably, the smallest ghost of a smile curls her lips.

“Mr. Nott,” squeaks the reporter, racing to get her quill to copy his statement down. “How would you say—”

Theo’s stopped listening, though. Ginny’s walking away and he wastes a good half a minute longer than he needs to just watching her go.

 

2005

He’s sitting at a breezy magical café in North London on the Quidditch off-season when Daphne Greengrass drops down into the seat in front of him. Theo stares at her in surprise; it’s not that he’s had no contact with Daphne since leaving Hogwarts, but it’s not like she’s gone out of her way to keep in touch, either.

In fact, most of them haven’t. He can’t remember the last time he got a proper letter from Draco, who’s still out hiding somewhere in Europe. Most of their graduating class has scattered, finding different ways to survive in the post-Voldemort world. Some of them ended up in far worse places than he did, with their parents in Azkaban and nothing to lose. Theo counts himself amongst the luckiest of his class.

“Hello,” he says in bemusement. “Can I help you?”

Daphne heaves a great sigh, as if even explaining her presence is too much to ask of her. She’s a funny one, he thinks—raised in just as much glitz and glamour as the rest of them, just as snotty as Draco and Pansy at their worst, and yet somehow looks down upon all the rest of the purebloods just as much as she looks down on everyone else. She’s pretty enough to get away with it, but he has no idea what she’s done with herself in the years since the war ended.

“Hasn’t your father told you anything?” she demands. “Our parents want us to get married.”

This isn’t a bombshell, exactly, but Theo does set down his coffee so he can judge this conversation properly.

“He… mentioned it,” he admits carefully. “A couple months ago, most recently. But my impression was that it wasn’t a serious consideration. I told him I wasn’t interested in marriage; I have a career to establish—”

Daphne waves her hand impatiently. “Yes, yes, I know, you and your precious Arrows. I’m not here because I want to marry you, Theodore.”

She only ever called him that when she was mad. Theo raises his eyebrows at her.

“Have I done something to offend you, Daphne?”

She sighs again and plops her chin in her palm, looking at him with a despondent gaze. “No, I suppose not. I just don’t want to get married. No offense.”

“None taken,” he says. “If we’re on the same page, why are you in such a mood? Nobody’s going to force us to get married if we don’t want to.”

Daphne huffs. “Easy for you to say. You’re a man. You have your whole life to find a perfect arranged pureblood marriage. My parents are already talking about marrying Astoria off, for Merlin’s sake. They have their heart set on you for me.”

“Can’t imagine why,” says Theo dryly.

“Please, you’re a perfect pureblood bachelor,” says Daphne, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “Heir to the main Nott branch, no siblings to split the inheritance, pureblood ancestry as far as the family trees can stretch. Famous, good with magic, no health issues.”

She rattles these off as if she’s gotten a list of all his best qualities. Theo watches her, halfway between amusement and alarm. He’s known Daphne long enough to know that she has a plan for whatever she’s trying to do; he’s just not sure what her goal is, exactly.

“The only issue, of course, is your missing mother,” she finishes.

Theo feels his stomach solidify into lead. “What?”

Daphne blinks. “Oh—sorry. That was insensitive. I just meant, this is what my parents told me. I think it’s all stupid, anyway. I know you. I don’t want to marry you just because you have a lot of money.”

Theo has to ease himself away from the anger that surges anytime somebody mentions his mother. He’s put three reporters in the hospital for it in the first three years of his career, before they finally cottoned on that they ought to stop doing that.

“Okay,” he says slowly. “So… what’s your plan here? You want me to reject you to your parents’ faces?”

“No.” Daphne sits back in her seat and crosses her arms. “I’ve decided to leave Britain.”

Theo stares at her. “What? You mean—like Draco did?”

Daphne scowls at him. “No, I’m not a coward.” Theo decides not to point out that she’s running away from her family just as well as Draco had run away from their whole society. “I just figure, they can’t force me to get married if I’m not in the country. So I signed up for a wizarding charity, you know, one of those nonsense ones that Granger helped start after the war, and they’re going to send me around the world to help, like, injured unicorns or whatever.”

“Right…” Theo looks at her dubiously. “Why are you telling me this then?”

“Because they might send you to track me down, because I’m not going to tell them,” says Daphne smugly. “So I had to warn you ahead of time so that you wouldn’t do that.”

Theo snorts. “Believe me, Daphne, I’m not interested in chasing you around the world for a marriage I don’t want.”

“Yeah, but I’ve met your stepmother.” Daphne shudders delicately. “She’s scary. So if they ask, you don’t know where I am and you think it’s not worth the effort to track me down. If you could, I don’t know, get married to someone else in the meanwhile, that would be great.”

“Not gonna happen.” Theo finally cracks a smile, relieved at last to realize that nothing had changed with Daphne, that she was the same prissy, delightful, manipulative girl he’d known his whole life. “Good luck out there, Greengrass.”

Daphne smiles back and gathers herself, standing up and walking around the table. She leans down to press a kiss to his cheek, leaving her pink lipstick on his face. “I’ll write you, if I can. Good luck with all of them here.”

She leaves him sitting there, absentmindedly stirring his coffee, thinking about how fast things were changing, and how much more there was still left to change.

 

2006

They travel a lot, the team and him. He hadn’t realized how much of being in the Quidditch League was travel and networking and meeting players from all around the world, at fancy events and high-class hotels, putting all his pureblood language skills to use. As consistent members of the Top Five, the Arrows are invited almost everywhere, even on the years they don’t qualify for the Quidditch World Cup semifinals. There’s sponsorships, advertisements, and lots of beautiful women who have their minds made up to get the star chaser of the Arrows in bed.

Theo doesn’t sleep with them, though. He can practically hear his father’s voice in his head: No idea where they’ve been, where their blood is from, whether they’re good and pure or common half-blood whores. He doesn’t, necessarily, agree with the sentiment, and would never express it to Alicia, but it’s something to be mindful of, especially at this level of fame, seven years in.

The papers are hungry for gossip. Every time one of his teammates has a dalliance, it ends up in big black letters in the Daily Prophet, or any one of the million other gossip rags in Britain. No matter if it had happened in Venice, or Madrid, or Shanghai. The cameras are ever-present, unless they go out of their way to avoid them.

The rest of the Top Five of the British and Irish Quidditch League travel with them, too. Despite all the enmity and rivalries, he’s learned that most of the best Quidditch players are friends off the pitch. Not him, unless you count his teammates as friends—and he goes back and forth on whether he does or not—but the rest of them. The League is a sprawling sort of family, for those who were interested in such a thing.

Ginny Weasley is Captain of the Holyhead Harpies now, and she and Alicia always do their travel arrangements together. Theo’s never sure if he should be annoyed or not that Alicia is closer with a rival than anyone on her team. He supposes as long as it doesn’t stop her from leading them to victory, it’s fine.

And Ginny is still Ginny. Still bright, burning, talented beyond the rest of her team. She’s gotten even prettier, he catches himself thinking sometimes, if that were possible. She shines in the spotlight, much better than any of her brothers ever did. She’s been so good for so long that barely any of the articles about the Harpies precede her name with ‘the ex-girlfriend of Harry Potter’.

Most of them have stopped calling Theo ‘the son of Death Eater Archimedes Nott’, too. He dares to think that maybe it’s because the world is starting to move on from the war.

In Dubai on a sticky summer evening, the British players are spread out across a stretch of glittering beach, lit up from behind with the lights of the resort they were staying at for this year’s Quidditch World Cup. Only the Harpies had qualified for the finals, but all of the Top Five had been extended a courtesy invite, and the majority of their players wouldn’t pass up the opportunity for anything.

Theo goes where the team goes. He doesn’t have much to do elsewise, and against all odds, he enjoys the company of his teammates, their rivals, their friends. They’re all so much louder than him, but even they’ve gotten used to his silent presence, taking every opportunity to coax him out for nights of drinking and dancing. He even has fun on some of these nights, laughing at the newer players, trash-talking the ones he’s been playing against for years.

He’s halfway to tipsy when he finds Ginny at the water’s edge, and so is she, which is perhaps the only reason she doesn’t immediately roll her eyes when he joins her.

The water is bitingly cold this time of night. Theo watches it wash up to his feet, deep dark blue under the vast night sky. The alcohol—wizarding, of course—is slowly winding into his veins, tinting his thoughts just slightly fuzzy around the edges.

Ginny turns to him first, red hair windswept around her face. “I heard something.”

Theo glances sidelong, curious. Their interactions rarely start so neutral. More often, they start with the undercurrent of a fight. Ginny loves to fight, he’s learned. So does he, though. Leftover instincts from their days in Gryffindor and Slytherin, when fighting was how the world worked. When it was all they had.

“What did you hear?”

“Heard about your mother.”

He knows she only plunges forth into this topic because she’s not sober. It’s the only reason he doesn’t immediately walk away.

Ginny continues, taking a tilted step to her right. Even tipsy, she manages to be graceful. Or maybe that’s just how he views her when they’re like this—all their edges blunted down by alcohol and the dreaminess of the Dubai skyline.

“Someone started a rumor that she went off and married a muggle.”

Theo’s heard that rumor. “So what?” he demands. “Thought you liked that sort of shit. Blood traitor shit.”

Ginny rolls her eyes—this happens at least five times every time they talk, and he’s gotten used to keeping track of it. “No. I mean, good for her. But it’s sad, isn’t it? Aren’t you sad?”

“I’m never sad,” says Theo, deadpan.

Ginny pulls herself up straighter to face him and he finds himself staring down at her, the same way he had so many years ago in that Hogwarts hallway. They’re a lot older now, and the angles of her face are sharper, lines of adulthood settling well onto her visage. She carries herself even higher, less teenage recklessness and more grown-up certainty. Ginny Weasley is someone who is sure of who she is, of her parents, her heritage, her place in the world.

She takes up so much space, even shorter and smaller than he is. He wishes he knew how to do that. Wishes he hadn’t spent his whole adolescence praying for his mother to come back until he had shrunk up the rest of his heart so that only the one desire remained.

“I think you are,” she accuses, her voice soft and certain. Like she’s seen through all the ice and the bite and the simmering rage to the heart of him, the sad and lonely and breakable heart. “I think you’re a sad person, Theodore Nott.”

He wants her to shut up, which is the only reason why he kisses her.

She lets him do it, and he can’t come up with an adequate reason for that at all.

Ginny tastes warm, wine-sweet, just a little salty from sea spray. She moves closer and he winds his fingers into her long red hair, holding her still and soft as if she might vanish if he presses too hard. It’s unusually quiet, the laughter and chatter of their teammates on the beach a far distant noise, muffled by the pounding in his chest and the spiking of his pulse.

She pulls back first. Theo can’t admit to being disappointed. It takes him a second too long to drop his hand.

“Sorry,” he says weakly, for want of something, anything to say. “I should—go.”

Ginny doesn’t say anything, doesn’t stop him when he turns and walks away, doesn’t call after him when he nearly trips on a patch of seaweed in the sand. At the edge of the sand and the pier, he chances a glance back and finds her still standing, bathed in the moonlight, staring after him.

Two days later, she corners him in the hotel lobby where he’s waiting for the rest of his team to wake up so they can go to a publicity engagement in downtown Dubai.

“Weasley,” he says in surprise. He had thought she would want to avoid him as much as he’s been trying to avoid her. “What are you—”

“I wanted to apologize,” Ginny says quickly, as if she’s been carrying the words on the tip of her tongue for hours. “For the other night.”

Theo blinks at her. “What?”

For a horrifying moment, he thinks she’s going to bring up the kiss. But instead she collapses down onto the sofa chair next to him and sighs deeply.

“For bringing up your mother,” she clarifies. “I don’t know your family, and… it would be unfair of me to get mad at you every time you mention my brother only to do that.”

“Oh.” Theo exhales. He’s not sure what he would have done if she’d been talking about the kiss instead. It’s weighed on his mind for two days and two nights. He had almost forgotten she’d even mentioned his mother.

“And…” Ginny continues onward, with a startling amount of resolve. “I’m sorry for this, too. But I couldn’t stop—I don’t know. I did some research. I called Hermione—I don’t know if you want it, but. I found her address.”

Theo stares at her, eyes wide as saucers. “You found…who?”

Ginny pulls a piece of paper, folded up, out of her jacket pocket and offers it to him. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want to. But it felt wrong to keep it from you.”

Theo looks at the innocuous paper in her hands, unable to help the wild, rising hope within him. “You… in two nights, you tracked down my mother?”

She half-smiles at last. “Well, you’d be surprised how much muggle databases know.”

Ginny presses the paper into his palm and then gets up and leaves. He’s left sitting there, staring at the space she had been, and then staring at the gift she’d given him, wondering if it was worth the kiss. Wondering if it was worth it at all.

It takes him a month to even look at the address. It takes two more weeks before he works up the courage to go visit—it’s a little house in a suburb in Cardiff, utterly unremarkable in every way.

Theo stands on her front door, spelled invisible just in case anyone passes by, unwilling to lift his hand to knock on her door. He finds himself thinking about their old manor house, the cold hallways, the imperious portraits of Nott ancestors, the way they had never quite managed to fill it with anything resembling joy. Thinks about that Christmas break, his third year at Hogwarts, coming home and finding that she had disappeared. Every mark she’d ever left on that house gone in an instant. His father nursing his anger in a bottle of firewhiskey. Theo, thirteen and abandoned and lonelier than he could bear.

He remembers asking his father, “Why did she have to go?”

Remembers his father saying, drunk and too tired to lie, “Because she never loved us.”

He’s twenty-six now. He likes to think he’s found some footing. Likes to imagine he’s settled into who he wants to be. He has a team. A career. Parents, even if neither Archimedes nor Zerline are the best at their roles. Friends, even, amongst his teammates, amongst the rest of the League.

And yet there’s still a part of him that remains hollow and aching and wishing for his mother to come home.

The door opens before he can decide what he wants to do. Theo leaps out of the way and peers over the front stairs, watching as the people who live in this strange, muggle house come outside.

There’s two little children, a boy and a girl. The boy is wearing a green sweater and grumbling at the picture of a reindeer on it, while his sister is pulling a pink raincoat on over her clothes. They both have the same dark curly hair and warm brown skin, and while the boy has bright hazel eyes, the girl has unmistakably blue eyes. Unmistakably bright, terrifying blue eyes.

The kind that stare at him in the mirror every day.

Their mother steps out after them, chiding them for some little thing. Theo can’t hear what she’s saying; his heart is pounding too loudly in his ears. She has long, blonde hair and delicate hands that fuss over her children’s outfits, a narrow face with deep blue eyes, glittering as she watches them rush gleefully out to stomp in the puddles on the sidewalk.

They can’t be more than twelve years old, the girl maybe nine to her brother’s eleven.

His mother had left thirteen years ago.

The door opens one more time and a man steps out, laughing, pressing a kiss to her cheek. He has the children’s dark skin, and a touch that brings a smile to their mother’s face in an instant.

She looks so happy.

Theo turns and runs away.

 

2007

Alicia tells him first. The two of them are out drinking after a practice that ran so late, their Beaters had been practically falling asleep as they portkeyed home. Only Alicia and Theo are still awake, still wired to run on adrenaline alone from the war, even all these years later.

“I’m going to retire at the end of this season,” Alicia tells him over the bottle of Veela wine they’re splitting. “Just so you know.”

Theo stares down into the swirling depths of his glass. At this stage of tipsiness, the wine is starting to look blue. Her words settle into his mind slowly, much more slowly than they should.

“How come?”

Alicia shrugs and knocks back another gulp. “I’m turning thirty. That’s about retirement age for everyone except the Quidditch maniacs. And I’m not one of them, not like Wood or Jones. I have other things I wanna do with my life.”

Theo’s brow furrows. He can’t, at twenty-seven, fathom this kind of idea. The idea of more than this. “Like what?”

“Like start a family.” Alicia tops off her empty glass with more wine. “Maybe go work somewhere else. Somewhere I can help people. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Quidditch… but it can’t be all there is, you know.”

Theo does not, in fact, know. “You can play Quidditch and still have a family.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to be some absentee mother,” Alicia laughs. Her face softens immediately when she realizes what she’s said. “Oh, Merlin, Theo, I’m sorry—”

“It’s fine,” Theo says quickly. The image of his mother standing on the doorstep of a muggle house in a muggle suburb, laughing as her new husband kissed her, smiling as she watched her new children play, flashes through his mind for a brief, terrible moment. “It’s—whatever. I get it. You want kids.”

“Don’t you?” asks Alicia curiously. “It’s not like… I mean, your dad must have someone for you, right?”

Alicia knows how purebloods work. He’s pretty sure she’s a half-blood, but distantly—a grandmother who was a muggle somewhere. The Spinnets are an old, but not traditionalist line. They don’t care about things like blood purity or dark magic. They raise good children, strong children, who know their places in the world.

Theo envies them, just a little. Just enough to wonder how things might be different if his grandparents had been like Alicia’s. If his mother had been able to be with someone she loved the whole time. He might have been born to a different father—might have even grown up as happy as her new children seem to be.

“Yeah,” he says finally, belatedly, pretending it’s the alcohol slowing him down and not his own torturous thoughts. “Yeah, they, uh, they wanted me to marry Daphne Greengrass but…”

“Oh, yeah.” Alicia grins at him. “She ran off, right? Have you heard from her?”

Theo’s been lying to his father about it for two years, so he tells Alicia the truth. “Yeah, she writes me sometimes. Last I heard, she was in the Appalachian Mountains, studying some breed of winged horse they have over in America. I think she really likes it, too. Her and this Scamander fellow…”

Alicia quirks an eyebrow. “Oh? Something going on there?”

“No idea,” Theo admits. “Daphne… she loves her secrets.”

“Slytherins,” sighs Alicia in mock-distress.

“Slytherins,” Theo repeats in pride. He misses Daphne, if he’s being honest. Growing up with her, with Draco, with all the other purebloods of their class—Britain isn’t the same without them, not really. “So… you’re really gonna leave us?”

“Mmhm.” Alicia takes another gulp of her drink and then sets it down to study him thoughtfully. “Had to give you a heads up, obviously.”

His alcohol-fuzzy brain moves too slow to catch up. “Why’s that?”

“Because you’re going to be the next Captain.”

He still hasn’t fully processed the idea when they throw Alicia a goodbye party five months later. Theodore Nott, Captain of the Appleby Arrows. It’s what he’s worked for, of course—the pay raise, the benefits, the increase in sponsorships, the chance to lead the team rather than sit in the shadows. Everything about this is good. Even his father might be proud of him.

Even his mother—

He stops that thought cold.

The hotel they’re staying at in Singapore has given the British and Irish League their own banquet hall and ballroom to throw the biggest party of the year. It’s half a retirement party for Alicia and half a victory party for the Arrows, after earning their victory in the Quidditch World Cup against Singapore’s finest team. Even teams that aren’t from the Top Five have portkeyed in to celebrate Alicia’s career and the Arrows’ triumph.

Theo’s not drunk enough to deal with the entire League at once, so he sits at the bar and watches the party move in waves all around him. Everyone’s so loud, so happy. Alicia pops another bottle of champagne and a cheer rings throughout the crowd.

“Bored already, Captain?”

He blinks as Ginny Weasley slides onto the stool next to him. He hadn’t even seen her approaching, too caught up in watching his teammates cheer and dance in the middle of the ballroom, shooting firework spells and toasting to Alicia’s incredible eleven years in the skies.

“Always,” he admits. “I thought you were on the dance floor.”

She had been there, the last time he had seen her, his eyes unthinkingly seeking out the flash of bright red against Harpies green. She’d been dancing with someone, one of the new star Seekers traded in from France. Theo had only let himself watch for a few seconds.

“I need a drink,” Ginny says, catching the bartender’s gaze and smiling at him. Theo watches as the boy—barely twenty, just above the drinking age, he guesses—comes over and stutters as he takes her order.

Men fall apart easily around Ginny Weasley, he’s noticed. She’s never in the papers for sleeping with other players, not like most of their teammates, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. She’s magnetic, a shining light on the pitch and off it. He wonders if she’s been with anyone since Harry Potter.

He tries not to think about their kiss. In the year since it happened, neither of them has mentioned it once, not in all the times they’ve played against each other or seen each other at inter-team dinners or charity playoffs. Theo’s not sure if it’s emotional repression or maturity that guides them.

“Shouldn’t you be out there?” Ginny asks him once she finally gets her drink delivered. It’s a horrifyingly pink concoction; Theo makes a face at it as she takes a sip. “They’re celebrating you too, aren’t they?”

“The League celebrating the son of a Death Eater? I don’t think so.”

 “Oh, come off it,” says Ginny, rolling her eyes. “Hardly anybody remembers that anymore.”

“Just last week, a devoted fan of the Wimbourne Wasps wrote in to the Prophet railing against me for using dirty cheating tricks in our match because, of course, all Death Eaters are lying, cheating, low-life scum.”

“Well, they are.”

Theo shoots her a look. “When I win, they sing my praises. If I step one foot out of line, it’s back to shouting about how they should have thrown all of them and all their children into Azkaban.”

Ginny shrugs. “Hey, Azkaban’s not that bad lately, since Hermione got rid of the Dementors.”

“Right.” Theo remembers hearing Zerline bitch about that for weeks when Hermione Granger-McLaggen got that law passed. “Is she a Dementors rights activist?”

“No, a human rights activist, and she says Dementors are inhumane punishment even for the worst of society.” Ginny flashes him a smile. “So, really, your family should be grateful.”

“The Notts have never been grateful for anything in their life,” says Theo.

“Clearly. I guess ‘celebrating victory’ lies outside your emotional capabilities too?”

“As do most things.” Theo smirks at her. “I do plan on celebrating this victory. Just… not with all you people.”

“Oh, you mean all us common people?” Ginny’s about to say more, he’s sure, but she’s stopped by the appearance of someone next to them—Ian McConnell, one of the new star Beaters of Puddlemere United. “Oh, hi, Ian.”

Ian smiles at her, ignoring Theo completely. “Hi, Ginny. Can I buy you a drink?”

“She already has a drink,” Theo points out.

Ian’s smile falters. “Or food?”

Ginny kicks Theo’s ankle lightly. “I’m good right now, thanks, Ian.”

It’s a clear dismissal, but Ian doesn’t take it. Theo supposes he can’t blame him—every other newcomer to the League seems to want to take their shot at Ginny Weasley, star of the Holyhead Harpies. Some of them are smarter and more subtle about it than others. None of them, to his knowledge, have ever succeeded in getting her into bed.

“Do you wanna dance with me?” asks Ian.

Ginny’s smile is one of a woman who doesn’t want to be smiling. “I’d love to, but I’ve danced so much already tonight, my feet are killing me.”

“Oh, well, do you want to—”

Tired of the back and forth, Theo hops off the stool, startling Ian out of whatever stupid comment he was about to make.

“Actually,” says Theo pointedly, “we were just about to take off. We have, you know, captainly discussions and agreements to take care of now that I’m Captain of the Arrows. Have a good night, McConnell.”

He almost expects Ginny to tell him to fuck off, she’s staying, but to his surprise she joins him after only a second of hesitation. Ian McConnell is left standing at the bar, watching as Theo determinedly takes the lead and snakes his way through the crowd of drunken Quidditch players and out into the hotel hallway.

“You didn’t have to actually come,” Theo mutters to her, hitting the buttons on the elevator.

“Are you kidding?” Ginny tightens her long red ponytail and shoots him a rueful grin. “He was, like, the fifth guy to ask me to dance tonight. I was already sick of figuring out excuses and you had a semi-decent one.”

Semi-decent?”

Captainly discussions, Nott?”

“Fair point.”

They get in the elevator and Theo presses the button for their floor.

“Who else asked you to dance?”

Ginny slides him a sidelong glance. “Oh, just some of the new guys. They don’t know my reputation for being a frigid bitch yet, you know.”

“I’ve never heard anyone call you that,” Theo tells her, and she grins. “Weren’t you dancing with that French guy?”

“Mm, yeah, but he’s not a very good dancer. Also, not my type.”

Theo raises an eyebrow. “What is your type?”

Ginny laughs as the elevator doors open with a small ding. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t.” Theo steps out into the endless hallway. “Just thought you liked more, you know… heroic guys.”

Ginny follows him out as they begin walking down in the direction of their rooms—the Quidditch players are all usually clumped together on one floor, so they don’t bother the rest of the hotel guests with their magic and partying.

“Heroic like Harry?” she asks, and it sounds like she’s testing him for something and he’s not sure what, exactly.

It occurs to him that it’s maybe the first time she’s actually brought up Harry Potter’s name of her own accord. Usually it gets shouted at her first. Usually, he uses it to needle her, knowing she’ll never respond.

“You know everyone thinks you two will end up together again,” Theo tells her as they round the corner and make their way down to the split in the hallway that separates the Arrows’ suites from the Harpies’.

Ginny snorts. “Who’s everyone? You sound like my mother.”

Theo makes a face at her. “Rude.”

“Not that you care,” Ginny continues, stopping in the middle of the hallway and turning to face him, the wall lamps behind her casting a golden glow over her face. Everything feels eerie and quiet, with everyone else still down in the hall partying, just the two of them alone in this hotel on the other side of the world from their home. “But Harry and I aren’t getting back together.”

“Good.” It’s the alcohol that propels his feet closer to her, that’s what he tells himself. “I doubt he could handle being with a Quidditch Captain anyway.”

Ginny’s lips quirk, just a little. “Not many can.”

Theo gives up on the pretense when her gaze darts down to his mouth—it’s alcohol, it’s the lighting, it’s the intoxicating feeling that comes from the travel, the strange new country, the way she looks in that green dress—and he runs through all the reasons he shouldn’t do this before he crushes his lips to hers.

They’re not that drunk, but the kiss sizzles with wine and whiskey, and it’s like her touch sets the alcohol in his veins aflame. Ginny presses in, slides her hands up his arms, and doesn’t push him away when he gives her the space to do so, pausing for breath to see if this is something worth happening or another terrible mistake.

Her brown eyes are warm and sad and searching when she opens them. Theo swallows and then leans down again, cupping her face in his hands as if he can contain all that knowing, the way she can see right through to the heart of him. The way she always has, back when they were teenagers with a war and a world of anger separating them.

The war is over, and still nothing has quite been able to fill the black hole it left behind in him. It wasn’t Voldemort, or the Death Eaters, or his father that created it, so the absence of them couldn’t possibly fill it again. And when he pulls back and looks at Ginny, looks at her properly, beyond the shine of her career and the burnished war hero gold, he thinks he can see the same in her.

He slides one arm around her waist and pulls her in and before he can think better of the idea, he Apparates them away.

It’s barely a minute’s walk, but he’s glad he hadn’t let go of her when they pop back in front of the door to his suite. Ginny breathes out a laugh and pushes at him slightly as he fumbles for his keycard.

“Lazy,” she murmurs.

“Resourceful,” Theo counters. It’s one of their oldest sniping fights, and the comfort of it settles in even as he kicks the door shut behind them, flicking only one of the lights on so they can find the bed on the other side of the room.

Alone with her, it strikes him suddenly how foolish this is, how terrible of a decision he’s making on his first night as Captain. They’re rivals, they’re enemies, they’re two people raised on opposite sides of war zones. They’re not meant to kiss each other like this. She’s not supposed to make him feel like this.

But she does, she does. As much as she might be thinking the same things, Ginny doesn’t hesitate when he kisses her again. Theo’s tentative but she is forceful, as if she’s determined to grab this between them with both hands and not let it go, not for all the good reasons in the world. Her hands fist in his jacket, in his hair, pulling him with her as he backs her into the bed.

He’s reminded, very suddenly, of how they had been that evening in Hogwarts, the year the war crept in and stole them from their childhoods. Both of them carrying so many hurts and so much anger when they had collided. How he had stared at her, him shaking and furious and her blazing with anger. How they had both wanted such different things from each other—how he had wanted some relief, freedom from the apathy of his entire existence. How she hadn’t given that to him, too entrenched on the other side of the war, both of them too set in their ways to ask for anything more than anger and hatred and hurt.

She gives that relief to him now, though, easily and without him needing to ask. Her hands undress him with careful surety, peeling away the layers of his jacket, his shirt, his outrageously muggle jeans, as if she’s stripping away battle armor. He sucks kisses into the hollow of her collarbone and imagines he’s leaving silver spots on the gold of her sun-kissed skin, like a secret just for her.

Theo’s hands linger on the zipper of her green dress, hesitating again. He’s not sure he was meant to see Ginny Weasley like this, meant to have Ginny Weasley like this—open, honest, wanting him. It feels like the world has tilted on its axis.

“What are you waiting for?” Ginny breathes, tracing her fingers delicately down the injury scars on his chest, electric against his bare skin. “Do you not want—”

“I do,” Theo says quickly, too quickly to pretend it was anything other than the truth. “I just—we’re drunk.”

“We’re not that drunk.” Ginny pushes him gently until he makes way for her to sit up on the bed. “And I never took you for a gentleman.”

Her red hair burns across her bare shoulders as she unzips her dress for him. Theo watches the look in her eyes and thinks he’s never seen anyone as beautiful as her.

 

2008

“So,” says Daphne, setting down her glass of sparkling purple wine with a delicate gloved hand. “You and Ginny Weasley?”

Theo sighs, dropping his head onto the table. “Don’t start.”

Daphne laughs. Around them, the city of Madrid glitters in the twilight, sprawling out from beyond the tiny, fancy wizarding restaurant they had found tucked away in Puerta del Sol. They are surrounded by chatter, laughter, and lights, and he’s never seen Daphne glow the way she is here.

“How did it get out?” she asks him, sounding curious for curiosity’s sake and not for the sake of finding some way to subtly manipulate or blackmail him. He’s grateful they’ve both grown up just enough beyond their Slytherin roots. Daphne almost seems nice.

“I bet it was Fairbourne,” Theo says with a dramatic eyeroll. “She doesn’t know how to keep her mouth shut and I’m positive she noticed us when we were in New York last month.”

“Betrayed by your own Seeker.” Daphne presses a hand to her heart in mock-despair. “How awful. You should cut her from the team.”

Theo scowls. “She’s one of the best Seekers in the League.”

“But is it worth the press asking you how it feels to get Harry Potter’s sloppy seconds?”

Theo has to bite back his first, incredibly dickish reply. Daphne, after all, is only quoting one particularly awful gossip rag, not actually calling Ginny someone’s ‘sloppy seconds’. He makes a mental note to put that reporter in St. Mungo’s once he figures out their identity. Probably Montague.

“Isn’t he dating that little Veela girl?” Theo asks instead.

“Yeah, clearly, Ginny got the better end of that deal,” says Daphne sarcastically.

Theo balls up his napkin and throws it at her.

“Calm down,” she laughs. “I’m happy for you. It’s been ages since you’ve had a girlfriend—”

“Stop.” Theo points his fork at her threateningly. “Not my girlfriend. Not a relationship. This isn’t fucking Hogwarts.”

“Oh, sorry, it’s been years since you had a fuck buddy.”

“Better.”

Daphne rolls her eyes at him. “You’re twenty-eight. Aren’t we beyond things like fuck buddies by now?”

Theo eyes her across the table. “Are you?”

Daphne grins at him. “I am.”

“So, Scamander finally put a ring on it?”

She pulls off her glove and shows him the ring with a brilliant smile. The light blue diamond at the center of her wedding band shimmers in the restaurant’s warm golden lighting.

“Wow,” Theo whistles. “Congrats, Daph. Never would’ve thought you’d settle down this early.”

Daphne sighs and props her chin on her hand so her ring is still the center of attention, even though it’s just them. “Me neither. But I didn’t want my parents to marry me off to some random pureblood asshole when I wasn’t home, and Rolf loves romance and weddings and all that nonsense, so it was an easy choice. Better to choose, right?”

“You think your parents would do that?”

“Have you met them?”

He has, in fact, met Nathan and Aviva Greengrass, many times, over the course of his life. They’re like if his parents had had a functional marriage: precise, resourceful, and always one step ahead of everyone else, as a team. Both of them had been smart enough not to sign up for the Death Eaters, and thus had retained all their money and their land, but had managed to have only two daughters and no sons, a fact which clearly troubled both of them.

Theo is glad everyday that Zerline hates children and his father is more or less satisfied with him as his heir. He’d hate to have to deal with fighting his cousin Wybert over what remained of the Nott estates. He has much better things to do than worry about the future of his pureblood family line.

Daphne continues after a moment of contemplative silence. “They really did want us to get married, you know. All that Nott money, and your status… they’re gonna hate me when they find out about Rolf.”

She doesn’t seem too torn up about it, but Theo hesitates anyway.

“Are you gonna be okay?”

Daphne sighs in a resigned sort of way. “Yeah, of course. I love Rolf, and it’s not like he’s poor.”

“Merlin forbid you have to marry a poor man,” Theo jokes.

She grins. “Right? We both work, anyway, so we’ll be fine on money. Even if my parents cut me out of the inheritance or whatever they’re gonna do. They’re gonna hate that he’s a blood traitor, that his family doesn’t have a manor, or a Wizengamot seat, and they only have two vaults in Gringotts instead of the usual five.”

“The horror,” says Theo dryly. The Notts have six vaults of gold and treasure now, although they had had nine before the War Crimes committee came down upon them. He knows the Greengrasses still have their eight, from his father grumbling about the purebloods who didn’t get fined after the war.

“It’s ridiculous,” Daphne complains. “He’s still pureblood. His family has a lot of influence overseas because of all their work in documenting magical creatures around the world. We could live happily in any country. But he doesn’t believe in blood supremacy, so clearly I need to be blasted off the family tree.”

“Hey, I haven’t gotten any Howler from my father about sleeping with a blood traitor yet,” Theo points out. “Maybe they’re all changing. Maybe it’ll be fine.”

Daphne sends him a withering look. “That’s because you’re not marrying her. Merlin forbid you ever decide you want to marry a blood traitor, or a half-blood, or a muggleborn, and your cousins will weasel away those vaults before you can blink.”

Theo laughs and raises his glass of vodka to his lips. “Well, let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. Why don’t we go celebrate your marriage properly and get drunk in the city like old times?”

Daphne’s face clears into a smile. “Only if you go cliff diving again.”

The thing with Ginny—it’s easy to not give it a name. The world of Quidditch is a sea and Ginny is a boat, and that’s the closest thing he can come up with. It’s not about romance or drama or love, no matter how much Daphne badgers him in letters about it. It’s about finding relief amongst the fickle waves of fame and popularity and glamour, about finding warmth in the aftermath of a war that, even ten years later, still leaves their world haunted.

His father isn’t very happy about it, but he had written Theo a brusque letter when the paps had gotten a hold of the news and told him to ‘Do as you will, while you are young.’ The unwritten implication was that he would eventually settle down with a nice pureblood girl from their circle when it was time to be married.

“I think it’s a little unfair,” Ginny tells him after he regales her with the story of how his cousin Wybert had gone and had an affair with a muggleborn witch whom he had then married. “That your cousins and second cousins can do what they want just because they’re not the heir.”

They’re lying in bed in a hotel in Shanghai, the city lights bright outside the open window. Everything around them is spelled and warded to avoid long-range photography or eavesdropping devices, a habit they both developed early in their careers. Despite the press of privacy spells, it feels peaceful here, peaceful in the same way that flying in the air had felt when he was younger, without the pressures of the game and the team and the audience all around.

“You don’t have that in your family?” he asks her in surprise. “Wasn’t your father the heir?”

“Yeah, but we don’t give a shit about that,” Ginny sighs, rolling over and stretching out. The bed is fluffy and soft as it shifts beneath them; Theo rests his head against his pillow and closes his eyes for a moment. “Plus, it’s not like we had fifteen vaults to split between us, anyway.”

“We don’t have fifteen vaults,” Theo protests, and opens his eyes to find her smiling.

“Sorry, six vaults of gold and precious treasures and magical artifacts,” Ginny corrects, rolling her eyes. “Isn’t it all stupid, anyway? What if your cousin is a better businessman to handle the estate?”

“Blood traitor, doesn’t matter,” Theo tells her. “If I don’t have sons, maybe his kid could get it, though.”

“Really?” Ginny turns over to look at him in surprise. Her hair is bright and loose, haloing around her face, and he has to resist the urge to brush it off her cheeks. It’s not romance, anyway. It’s just—this. Conversations at night in cities full of strangers. Warmth in a world that has so often left him freezing cold. “A half-blood boy is better than a pureblood girl?”

“Only if he’s raised with pureblood traditions, yeah,” Theo says. “Haven’t you noticed the Wizengamot is still mostly men? It’s because the old Slytherin families don’t want to give their seats up to emotional women. The ones who do are the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff lines—the Bones family, the Marchbanks.”

“I hate politics,” Ginny sighs.

Theo traces a strand of red hair scattered across her arm and twirls it around his finger. “Me, too,” he agrees. “It’s okay. Dad said I can play Quidditch as long as I keep making money. I have a few more years before they force me into marriage, anyway.”

Later, he thinks he might have jinxed himself.

 

2009

In the tenth year of his career, Theo almost feels like he’s gotten a hold of his footing in the world when things start snowballing very, very quickly.

First, there’s the Quidditch Hall of Fame. It’s a shiny new building near the Ministry of Magic, accessed through a phone booth, and built to offer something joyful and positive in the years just after the war. Quidditch legends of the past are retroactively and posthumously given portraits and plaques, and anyone who has played Quidditch for a decade or longer, and garnered more then twenty wins in that time, gets inducted.

Theo thinks it’s kind of stupid, but it does come with a monetary award and Archimedes and Zerline actually make it to the ceremony of putting his blank portrait in place on the wall above a plaque with his name. He ignores the stab of longing for his mother to be here, as he always does. As he always will.

“Congrats, Nott,” says Ginny as they circle the refreshments table to pour themselves champagne. The rest of the British and Irish League have all been invited, and surprisingly, most of them showed up—Theo hadn’t thought many of them liked him, but maybe they did. Or maybe they wanted the free alcohol.

“Thanks,” says Theo shortly. It’s still, even two years since the start of things, difficult to figure out how to behave around Ginny in public. It used to be easy—used to be sniping shots and bickering with their teammates as a buffer. But now the reporters circle them like hawks, eager to get a photo of the two of them touching, to bolster their articles about their torrid affair.

Nobody’s ever gotten more than a professional photo of them. Theo’s made very sure of that.

He still feels bad about being curt, though. “That’s gonna be you up there next year, isn’t it?” he tries.

Ginny hides a smile in her glass of champagne. “One can dream.”

“You’ve had more victories in nine years than I’ve had in ten,” Theo points out.

“Was that a compliment?”

“A statement of fact.”

Ginny laughs. “Well, it would be nice, but I do already have an Order of Merlin, so…”

Theo bites back a smile as she wanders off to find her Harpies teammates in the crowd. He’s still staring at her when his stepmother weaves through the gaggle of people to congratulate him, his father deep into schmoozing with some pureblood businessmen looking for investors.

“When you said you would drag the family’s name out of the dirt, I didn’t think you would do it so well,” says Zerline. With her, it’s as close to a compliment as he’s going to get.

Theo shrugs. “All people need is some flashy moves and nice pictures and they’ll forget all about the awful stuff my father did. Works like magic.”

“Hm.” Zerline takes a sip of her Scotch and smiles at him over the top of her glass. It’s not a warm smile, but he’s not sure she knows any other way. “Have you thought about what happens when you retire?”

“I take my millions of galleons and open a strip club,” says Theo blandly.

“Theodore,” she says, although her lips twitch. His father wouldn’t find that amusing. Zerline’s only eleven years older than him; he thinks if she hadn’t gotten married to his father he would like her more. “I meant, you should buy your own house. Take up your father’s business investments. There’s a lot of money to be made in wizarding fashion and the magical theatre industry lately. Not to mention the broomsticks industry, which I’m sure you have more expertise on—”

“I’m not even thirty yet,” Theo protests. “They don’t start kicking you out of the Quidditch world until you hit your thirties.”

“Yes, but you’re close,” Zerline points out. “And your father won’t be the Head of the family forever. We need to make sure the line is secure in your hands.”

“I’m richer now than we were after the War Crimes Committee took our money,” Theo says. “Me, on my own. Not the Nott family. I can support myself and I can support my future children. He doesn’t need to worry.”

“And the investments? The estate? The Wizengamot seat?” Zerline presses. “Being the Head of a family is more than just making children, Theodore. You need to be prepared to take on the responsibility, or else your cousin Wybert might put up a fuss. You know he works in the Ministry? He could very rightly claim that he knows more about running the Nott estate and vaults than you do.”

Theo has to repress the urge to groan. He has nothing against his cousin Wybert, but he’s sick of his father’s paranoia that his brother might take over the main line of the Nott family just because he has a son and a grandson already. Tobias is only eleven, after all, and unlike his nephew, Theo has been groomed for the heirship his whole life.

Thirty isn’t really very old at all, Ginny had pointed out to him once, braiding her hair for the day in a hotel mirror, the Venice morning bleeding in through their curtains. He remembers sitting on the bed, watching her put herself together, looking like she was ready to own her future. And our generation has accomplished so much already. Someone should tell the old purebloods to chill out.

He stops himself from laughing at the memory now, with his stepmother still staring at him expectantly.

“Okay, Zerline,” he relents at last. “I’m not going to retire until I’m sick of Quidditch. But I’ll shadow my father around in the off-season. Does that work?”

“For now,” she says with her shark’s smile, a lawyer pushing for more and more concessions. “But you know we will have to get you married eventually. Screwing around with a Weasley girl, well, it’s not the best look for the family.”

Theo knows he should assure her that it’s not serious, that it’s nothing to worry about, but instead, he finds himself arguing the point: “Ginny’s pureblood.”

Zerline cocks one eyebrow. “And a Gryffindor, and a blood traitor, and the daughter of a family of muggle lovers. I don’t even want to think about what kind of children a girl like that would raise.”

She smiles again, suddenly, and lifts her glass in a mock-toast. “Congratulations, though. May your portrait remain empty for many, many years.”

It’s an old pureblood way to wish health and a long life on someone. Theo toasts her back and hopes that’s the end of this conversation for the foreseeable future.

Of course, it isn’t. A few months later, when the weather is warm and the Quidditch season is going strong, Theo is invited to brunch at his father and Zerline’s house only to find an ambush there—the Greengrasses have been invited, too.

“What’s going on?” he asks suspiciously after they’ve all made a big deal of greeting him. The four parents exchange looks—very familiar looks, the kind that say they know he isn’t going to like whatever they’re about to say.

“Theodore,” says Nathan Greengrass, adjusting his silver-lined glasses and looking at him very solemnly, “did you know about Daphne?”

Theo stares at him. It’s an inane question, so he doesn’t bother to answer it.

“What we mean is,” Aviva Greengrass stops herself to take a deep breath. It reads a bit overdramatic, if you ask him. “Did you know about her… her marriage?”

Oh. “No,” he lies.

The Notts and Greengrasses exchange looks again. Clearly, they don’t believe him.

“Or the child?” Zerline presses.

Theo shrugs. “I haven’t seen her in a year.” Technically true. Daphne had been in Thailand, then Ethiopia, then Egypt, still tracking down magical creatures with her husband, for the past year. He hadn’t seen her since they’d managed to meet up in Spain the year before. “I don’t know what she gets up to.”

He does, of course, know about Daphne’s pregnancy, and her daughter, born just last month in the July heat of Egypt. Daphne had sent him pictures, her child’s name scribbled on the back: Selene. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. Theo would never admit it, but something in him had panged with jealousy and longing.

(He doesn’t think about his mother. He doesn’t.)

“She came back,” Nathan is saying, his lips pressed into a thin line. “With a husband and a child. I know you two are friends—”

“Classmates,” Theo corrects, just to be annoying. “Look, I’m not responsible for Daphne. What’s this really about?”

His father finally looks up from his drink. “Since Daphne refused a respectable marriage, the Greengrasses have come to us with another offer.”

Theo’s blood runs cold. There’s no way that means anything good.

“We do have another daughter,” Aviva says, placing a hand on her husband’s arm as they share another married couple sort of look. “She’s only two years younger than you. She’s very smart, poised, perfect for a family of your stature.”

Theo crosses his arms. “Our family lost our stature in the war.”

“Theodore,” snaps Zerline.

“No, he’s right,” Archimedes says. “Which is why I’m sure you will recognize, Theodore, how important it is that you marry well.”

“You misunderstand me,” says Theo coldly. “Our family lost our stature because of your actions. I have made my own name for myself. I get to choose what I want to do with my name and my stature, not you.”

“Theodore,” Nathan says quickly, as Archimedes stares at him in stunned, disgruntled silence. “We understand your perspective, of course, but you are still the heir to an ancient and noble house. And it’s precisely because of your name and your reputation that we think you would be a good match for Astoria.”

“Would you at least meet with her?” Aviva asks, turning a sweet smile on him. He recognizes that smile—it’s the same as Daphne when she wants something. Aviva has her same brown eyes, set in a colder face, and it’s this more than anything that makes Theo reluctantly accept the invitation to attend Astoria’s birthday celebration.

Theo’s grown up with Daphne, but Astoria, he’s only grown up around. He remembers her, of course—a tiny, golden-haired little girl, usually trotting after Daphne when their play group gathered at pureblood parties growing up. She never really played with them, though—he remembers her being too fragile for the rough-housing of Crabbe and Goyle, and her parents too worried to let her fly with him and Draco and Tracey.

Even at her birthday party, she’s not the center of attention. It takes him two hours to track her down properly—she’s either with her parents, being shuffled between various older purebloods for birthday wishes, or simply absent from the vast, noisy ballroom. Everyone else seems to be having a good time, getting drunk on champagne, talking loudly about politics. Theo slips out halfway into the night and walks around the Greengrass gardens until he finds her.

Astoria is kneeling next to the lazy river that twines throughout their garden, her feet bare on the cobblestone pathway. As he watches from the other side, she picks out a bundle of grass and weeds and then stands to feed them to the creature waiting patiently next to her—a small, beautiful white horse with fluttering wings upon its back.

“Isn’t it your party?” Theo asks from across the river.

Astoria turns, her eyes wide as she spots him standing there. She doesn’t have her mother or her sister’s brown eyes. Hers are a dark, Greengrass green, inherited straight from her father. They look out of place on her quiet face, like something from another time.

“Theodore,” she says softly. “I wasn’t—I don’t like parties.”

Theo tilts his head, watching as her winged horse munches happily on the grass. It’s a beautiful creature, a bit small yet but would probably grow into its wings. It dwarfs Astoria nonetheless, who barely reaches the horse’s shoulders when she’s barefoot.

“Is that a Granian?” he asks.

“Mixed breed,” Astoria tells him. “Half Granian, half ordinary horse. That’s why she’s small.”

“What’s her name?”

“Atalanta,” she says. “She can’t fly very high but she can run a lot further than all the other winged horses we have.”

“She’s beautiful,” says Theo. He draws his wand to conjure a small bridge over the river and crosses it to stand next to Astoria. She tenses slightly but doesn’t move, just watching as he gently reaches out a hand to lay on Atalanta’s nose.

Atalanta gives a curious snort and nudges him. Theo smiles. Most Granians were so finnicky, in his experience—clearly, she was a more rowdy and friendly creature compared to the disdainful majesty of other winged horses.

Astoria says, “She likes meeting new people. It’s why she gets to stay here instead of the ranch in Scotland.”

Theo looks at her. She seems a lot smaller than him now that he’s standing next to her, outweighed by her masses of golden hair and the sparkling blue dress and the Greengrass diamonds lying haphazardly across her neck. She looks beautiful, but Daphne would have worn the heirship with more power, more drama, more ferocity.

“Our parents—” he starts.

“I know,” says Astoria. “You don’t have to—I mean, if you don’t want to. It’s fine. I’ve been rejected before.”

Theo’s brow furrows. “By who?” He was hard-pressed to think of a pureblood boy who would reject the daughter of an ancient house like the Greengrasses, especially when she wasn’t even tainted with the Death Eater brush.

“You’d be surprised,” Astoria says. She moves back to brush her fingers through Atalanta’s feathery wings. Her motions are careful and delicate, and Atalanta neighs in support. “I’m the second daughter, and most families would prefer the eldest. More money to be had in the dowry, you know. But now since Daphne’s gone and married that Scamander fellow…”

“Did they blast her off the tree?” Theo asks uncertainly. He thinks he would have heard of that if it had happened—family tree blastings were mostly symbolic, entirely for the drama, and spread throughout the entire community.

“No, they think that’s gauche,” says Astoria matter-of-factly. “But they halved her inheritance and gave the rest of it to me, so now…”

“Now you’re a hot commodity,” says Theo in dawning awareness. “And you weren’t before.”

Astoria whispers a few words to Atalanta and the horse bucks her head, knickers, and then takes flight, spreading her wings and bounding, a little off-rhythm, into the skies and back to the stables. Theo watches her go in quiet contemplation.

“But you were still a good choice, for any second sons or third sons,” Theo says at last, turning to look at Astoria, who is still watching Atalanta wander into the stables with a faraway gaze. “You’re twenty-seven now and still not married. Is there something else?”

Astoria finally smiles, although it’s not exactly a warm expression. “I’ve been told only to divulge family secrets if you agree to marry me.”

“Right.” Theo clears his throat. “I’m not—look, I just think it’s all a bit stupid, don’t you? They’re only rushing us because…”

“Because you’re almost thirty with no heir in sight and they’re worried I’m going to run away like Daphne did?” Astoria guesses.

“Pretty much.” He pauses and looks at her consideringly. “I mean… are you?”

Astoria turns, crossing her arms. “I love my parents. So, no, I’m not going to do what Daphne did.”

That strikes him as a little unfair. “Hang on—Daphne loves her parents. She loves you. Even I know that much.”

“You don’t know anything about my family, Theodore,” says Astoria. It’s the loudest she’s spoken the entire conversation. Theo blinks at her in surprise.

Her voice gets softer as she continues: “I’m sorry. This isn’t—this isn’t how I imagined it either. Why don’t we just… tell our parents to wait for a while? It’s Quidditch season right now, so just tell them you’re focused on that and we can worry about everything else in the next off-season.”

Theo exhales slowly. “Yeah. I—alright. Sorry about…”

His voice trails off. He’s not sure what he’s sorry for, exactly, but he’s pretty sure there’s something. Regardless, Astoria begins walking over to the stables, so the conversation is over before he’s even managed to figure out what he wanted from it in the first place.

Astoria’s strategy works for two months, and Theo avoids his father and Zerline very successfully throughout the playoffs and semifinals. It all, naturally, blows up in his face a month out from the winter championship.

“I suppose,” says Luna Lovegood, perched on the edge of Ginny’s worn red couch in her flat, “that this might be an issue for you, Theodore.”

Theo stares at Ginny, unthinking, uncomprehending. “You’re… what?”

“Pregnant,” says Ginny, her mouth pressed into a line. He can tell that she’s stressed just from how she’s carrying herself, even leaning against her kitchen counter and looking exactly the same as the last time he’d seen her, out on the pitch for their Harpies versus Arrows match two weeks ago.

“Pregnant,” Theo repeats. “You… and it’s—I mean, I’m the—”

“Yes, you dolt,” Ginny snaps. “Who else would it be?”

“I don’t know!” he protests wildly. “We’re not exclusive. I don’t ask you about other people!”

“It’s yours,” Ginny says with a bone-deep sigh. “I promise you, it’s not a question.”

Theo’s sure that’s not supposed to make him happy, but it takes him a minute to gather up his emotions anyway. He can still feel Luna’s wide, unblinking silver gaze on him, but he ignores her.

“I thought,” he says hesitantly, “you were on the birth control potion.”

“It’s easy to forget,” says Luna sagely in her corner. “And it’s only ninety-eight per cent effective anyway.”

Theo looks at Ginny. Ginny shrugs. Theo looks at Luna, then back to Ginny.

“Um,” he says. “Is she…?”

“Yeah.”

Theo looks at Luna again. She smiles at him.

He turns to Ginny. “Who’s the father?”

For some reason, a smile twitches at Ginny’s lips. “Why don’t you ask her?”

“Lovegood,” he says. “Who knocked you up?”

Luna’s smile doesn’t waver. “Draco.”

“Draco… what?”

“Draco Malfoy,” says Luna in gently chiding tones. “I know it’s been a long time but surely you remember—”

“Of course I remember Draco fucking Malfoy,” says Theo, suddenly overwhelmed with information. “I—you know what, never mind.”

“I’m only here to help Ginny,” Luna informs him. “And if you hurt her, I have permission to set the Three-Horned Nallworths on you.”

Theo blinks, and makes an executive decision to ignore half of that sentence. He looks back at Ginny. “Why does she think I would hurt you?” he demands, more than a little offended.

Ginny’s hand drifts across her stomach, almost as if she’s unaware of the movement. Theo tries not to look, tries not to think about it, tries not to hope that her next words will be—

“Because I’m going to keep it,” says Ginny quietly. “And I wasn’t sure if you would want that.”

Theo stares at her in terrified, hopeless silence. His first response is I do want that, and it’s only three decades of pureblood etiquette training that bites his tongue down.

“You’re really going to keep it?” he asks, his voice coming out slightly choked. “I thought—what about your career? The Hall of Fame?”

Ginny looks at him with that old, critical gaze, surveying who he is and who he wants to be and somehow, always cutting right through the heart of all his pureblood manners and Death Eater childhood to the boy he is underneath.

“If you don’t want me to keep it—”

“I didn’t say that,” Theo says quickly. “I didn’t—that’s not what—fuck, Ginny. I just didn’t think you would want a—my child.”

Her lips quirk. “Me neither. And… for what it’s worth, I almost didn’t. I mean, two weeks ago, I almost… almost. I talked to Luna, that’s why she’s here. And she said…” Ginny glances over at her best friend. “What was it you said?”

“I said, if the only reasons to get rid of it are because you’re worried about what other people would say, or you’re worried about not having the career that you want when you’re already a legend, then that’s stupid,” says Luna frankly. “It means the Wrackspurts have got to your brain. And I don’t think Ginny would let that happen. If you don’t want a child, that’s one thing. If you don’t want the gossip and the drama, that’s another thing. Because that has nothing to do with you, only with other people who have brains too small for even the Wrackspurts to worry about them.”

Theo stares at Luna for a long minute, then says, “Somehow, that actually made sense.”

Ginny smiles fondly. “Luna usually does, you know.”

Luna’s returning smile is brilliant as she hops off the chair and steps around Theo to go to the kitchen. “I’ll give you two some space. Do you want some tea?”

“Please and thank you, Luna,” says Ginny, exhaling as Luna closes the door behind her, and turns back to Theo. “So—I decided I do want it. I want to keep it. And… you don’t have to.”

Theo frowns. “I don’t have to what?”

“You don’t have to want it,” Ginny clarifies. “You don’t have to be involved. I won’t tell anyone else you’re the father if you don’t want me to. Even though the papers will speculate and all—”

“I don’t give a fuck about the papers,” Theo says. “I don’t—Luna’s right. Other people don’t matter. And I—I do want—I mean… I would like to be, you know. Involved. If you’ll have me.”

Ginny’s gaze is heavy when he meets it, thoughtful and contemplative as he lays himself bare before her. Even after all these months and months of sleeping together, he doesn’t think he’s ever been this vulnerable, telling her that he wants this child they’ve accidentally created, this strange new creature he never thought could actually exist until right now.

If he thinks about it, maybe he spoke too soon. Maybe he shouldn’t be jumping at this. Maybe he should ask her to reconsider, to change her mind about keeping it.

But then, he wonders—if his mother had been given this choice, his choice, would she have taken it? Would she have left this early, if she could have? Would she have run down the fork in the road that took her away from him as soon as she could possibly run?

Was it a last resort, waiting thirteen years to run? His mother had changed her mind too late.

He doesn’t want to be like her.

“You’re a pureblood, Theo,” Ginny says finally, softly, a little sadly. “Your family won’t want this. My family—they’ll help me raise the kid, no matter what. But yours…”

“They can’t stop me from being a father,” Theo says, suddenly vehement. “They can’t—I won’t let them.”

“Good,” says Ginny. “Because I don’t want your family involved. And I don’t… we’re not together. So it wouldn’t be like that.”

“No, I know,” says Theo quickly. “I know that. But I still want to be—fuck. Merlin. What are we going to do?”

Ginny shakes her head, her breath escaping in a helpless laugh. “I have no goddamn idea. But we’ll figure it out. It’s—it’s our kid, you know.”

 Three thousand problems exist between them and the path to their child, but as Theo stands in her living room, staring at Ginny with some strange, wild hope buried deep inside him that maybe, maybe he wasn’t his mother’s son after all.

 

2010

Daphne storms into his study. The house is so new, so unfamiliar, that the sound of the door slamming open and shut makes him jump as he looks up from his work.

“What the fuck, Nott?” she demands by way of greeting. “What the fuck?”

“So you got the invitation?” Theo guesses. He’d been anticipating this confrontation for a while, although he had thought he would get more preparation. He’d have to talk to the house elves about letting just anybody storm into the house.

Daphne throws the invitation at him. The gold ribbon has been retied haphazardly around the crumpled parchment announcing his wedding. It hits him in the chest and he catches it as Daphne starts to pace around the study.

“You’re marrying my sister,” she says, slowly and dangerously. “You didn’t even think to tell me in person? You didn’t even give me a good reason? I know you don’t love her—”

“You should know,” says Theo quietly, “that for the rest of us, this has never been about love.”

This seems to take the fight out of Daphne, and she slumps down into the black leather couch with a desperate sort of anger.

“Merlin. Fuck you, Theo. Just—fuck you. Why did you agree to this?”

“You can’t guess?”

“Oh, I have a lot of guesses.” Daphne holds up a hand and starts counting down on her fingers. “One, you’re a bastard. Two, you’re a gold-digging bastard who’s after her money—my money. Three, you’re doing this to get back at me because I made you pay for dinner last time we hung out. Four—”

“Daphne,” he interrupts.

She sighs. “Four, you accidentally knocked up Weasley and now your parents are punishing you.”

He lets that sit in the air for a while. This study is the opposite of dusty, everything spick and span and clean from being brand new and house elf-verified. It’s strange, really, not to be in an old, ancient manor. To be starting a new life in a new house. There’s no hint of his mother here, but likewise, no hint of his father. No hint of anything that made him who he is.

Daphne sighs deeply. “Fucking hell, Theo. What did you do?”

“I fucked up,” he admits. “Not—well, I don’t think so. But my father does. And so does Zerline.”

“Fuck Zerline.” Daphne makes a face, then kicks up her legs, clambering around on the couch to face him with her feet on the seats. “I was talking to one of her cousins the other month. He said she just married your father because she didn’t want to have kids. I bet you she’s only this anal about you being the perfect heir or whatever because otherwise she’ll have to have kids. You should just say fuck it.”

Theo’s lips quirk in a half-smile at her. “You mean like you did?”

“Exactly.”

“And lose half my fortune to my hypothetical baby brother? Or my cousin Wybert?”

“It’s not so bad,” says Daphne. “It’s not like Weasley doesn’t have a shitton of money from Quidditch, too. You guys would be fine. Why not marry her?”

Theo pauses. “I… when I suggested the idea, my father suggested I blast myself off the family tree. So.”

Daphne wrinkles her nose. “Fuck your father, too.”

“Shouldn’t you be watching your language now that you have a child?”

“She’s not even a year old, she’ll be fine,” says Daphne dismissively. “Anyway, I still think you could’ve just said fuck it and married the Weasley girl. What did she have to say about it?”

“I didn’t propose marriage to her,” Theo mutters, rubbing his eyes, suddenly tired. “She would never—come on, Daph. She’s a Weasley. Just because her family’s liberal doesn’t mean they wouldn’t disown her for marrying the son of a Death Eater.”

“Please, the Weasleys would never do that,” Daphne says with a roll of her eyes. “They’re all about family and love and friendship or whatever. So, what, she just agreed to let you claim the kids but not to marry you?”

“We… agreed on a co-parenting schedule,” says Theo. “And child support, obviously, even though she doesn’t need it. And… in return for letting me be a father to my children, my father and Zerline demanded I marry your sister or they would cut me off from the family fortune entirely.”

Daphne scoffs. “First of all, you have your own money. Second of all—wait, children?”

Theo can’t help the spark of a proud smile crossing his face. “Twins. Guess it’s a Weasley thing.”

“You’re going to have two redhead Gryffindor Weasley children?” Daphne laughs. “Your grandfather must be rolling in his grave. Merlin, I can’t believe—you’re having kids. And my sister…”

“Yeah,” Theo agrees. “It’s… it’s crazy. You know, I almost didn’t do it. After you—running off like you did, the pureblood community is still reeling from it.”

Daphne smiles smugly. “I love being the center of attention.” Her expression fades back into somberness. “But you did? Don’t tell me it’s because you have feelings for Astoria because I won’t believe you.”

“I didn’t want to be like my mother,” he murmurs. “I didn’t want—to run away from my duties, or my family. Not from my father, not from Ginny, not from—whatever. So this is the compromise. I have to be the heir. I have to marry a nice pureblood girl. And that’s the only way I can be a father to my children.”

Daphne sighs, rubbing her finger over her wedding ring. Theo thinks of the one on her sister’s hand, an old Nott family heirloom of diamond set against gold. He’d given it to Astoria just two weeks before. It hadn’t been a very ceremonious occasion.

“So you’re getting married next month,” she says. “To my sister.”

“I am.”

“If you hurt her, Theodore Nott—”

“I know,” he says quickly. “Believe me, I know.”

Daphne looks at him for a long, steady moment. Thirty years of history between them, and the new house his children are going to grow up in sits silent and strange around them. It’s terrifying. He’s not sure he’s ready for it at all.

“Here’s to the new decade,” says Daphne finally, her voice soft and searching for some scrap of hope. “May our portraits remain empty…”

“For many, many years,” Theo finishes, and they share a quiet moment, sitting in the shadows of the children they had been, and the children they were about to raise.