Summer Before Year Six

Cassius Warrington was dead. He was dead. He had been murdered by Pettigrew, on the Dark Lord's command. While Theodore Nott had not been close to Warrington, he had felt a hollowness in his chest since hearing about the boy's death. A hollowness that had only grown in the last year since Warrington's death. A hollowness that now threatened to swallow him whole with each word his father spoke.

"….a great honor to take the Mark," Thoros Nott had continued speaking and Theo had to rouse himself back into focus. "Draco is being granted the privilege this summer. I would hate for the Dark Lord to think the Nott family is less eager to support him than the Malfoys."

His father's lip curled in disgust upon saying the Malfoy surname, it was no surprise that there was no love lost between his father and Lucius Malfoy. Lucius's incompetency in a failed mission to the Department of Mysteries had resulted in his father being gravely injured and nearly imprisoned in Azkaban.

Theo was silent for a moment before speaking, "Would it not be better for me to have completed my schooling and N.E.W.T.s to serve the Dark Lord to the best of my abilities?"

He stared at his father, hoping that Thoros would not force the Mark upon him—not force him into a cause he could not believe in or support. A cause that stood on a platform of blood purity (which was idiotic anyway—his sharing of a dorm with Crabbe and Goyle showed him that), but willingly killed that blood if it stood in the way of the quest for power. And that's really all this was. A fucking madman's quest for power—not a damn given for those who were accidentally caught up in it.

Thoros regarded his son and nodded, "Yes, I believe the Dark Lord would find that reasonable. He knows we are greatly loyal to him and he should not be too put out by having to wait another year or two for you. I will discuss it with him at Malfoy Manor tonight, we are expected to attend dinner there."

Theo was seated beside Draco at the far end of the table—in one of the seats furthest from the Dark Lord. Draco looked pale and sick and the hollowness in Theo's chest grew. Theo knew that with Lucius in Azkaban, the Dark Lord living in his house, and his mother virtually a hostage that Draco would have to take the Mark, whether he wanted it or not. He looked down at his friend's hand and saw the faint scar that read "For Cassius" and the hollow feeling grew. Of course Draco did not want it, his hand screamed his loyalty and yet he would be forced to be branded anyway, like chattel.

Theo slid his pinky over to Draco's hand and tapped the back of twice, using their silent signal to let him know that he wanted to speak to him later. He saw Draco nod out of the corner of his eye.

"Theodore," a high, cold voice cut across the chatter of the room and Theo's head snapped to look at Lord Voldemort. The hollowness spread.

"Your father has informed me of your reluctance to take the Mark. To join my Death Eaters. Surely you are aware that your dear friend Draco is proudly doing it." Voldemort stared at him and Theo lowered his head in deference. "Imagine my surprise when I hear that the son from the House of Nott did not want my Mark. Surely you would like to uphold tradition in our world."

"It is not that I am reluctant, my lord. I do not believe I could serve you to best of my abilities until I have completed my education. Like my father, I am humbly loyal." Any fear that Theo should have felt was swallowed by hallow cavern in his chest. As if this snakelike creature before him had any intention of preserving wizarding traditions—he killed regardless of blood or House or affiliation to his Death Eaters. While Warrington's parents had not been part of the Death Eaters, Theo knew that they had patronized the cause before the Dark Lord disappeared.

The Dark Lord laughed, sounding delighted and turned to Thoros, "A delightful boy, he will make a fine addition to our ranks after he completes his education. I admire his dedication to academics."

Theo breathed a sigh of relief and felt Draco's knee lean into his as a silent support. The rest of dinner passed without incident and Theo was preparing himself to leave when his father came over to him.

"The Dark Lord requests your presence in the library. Do not keep him waiting and do not disappoint him." The "or me" went unspoken at the end of that and Thoros gripped his shoulder tightly in a warning.

Theo walked into the library to find himself alone with the Dark Lord and a crying woman, somewhere in her mid-thirties. She looked up at him and began to cry even harder. Theo fought down every instinct he had to reach out and help her. She looked unnervingly like the photos he had seen of his mother—a woman he had been helpless to give any aid to and she died because of it. He quickly shut down that thought.

"Ah, Theodore. You say you are loyal to me," the Dark Lord looked at him squarely. "Prove it."

Around midnight, Draco burst through his fireplace and he collapsed onto the floor. Theo barely stirred to acknowledge him—the hollowness had swallowed him. Draco looked up at him and crawled over to Theo to lean against the foot of the bed on the floor with him. They sat in silence for a few moments.

"He made you torture her, didn't he?" Draco inquired quietly, his scarred left hand twitching. Theo remained silent, his mind flooded with the Muggle woman's screams and pleas for mercy. He felt a hand on his arm and Draco whispered, "He makes us all do it. Don't judge yourself too harshly, we have to survive."

At that, something in Theo broke and the hollowness that he had been feeling broke like a dam and all of the fear, rage, and despair that he had been locking away since the Dark Lord's return broke free. He turned into the shoulder of his oldest friend and sobbed. He felt tears soak into his hair as Draco held him and cried with him.

Eventually, the tears subsided and they just sat together, holding each other.

"She looked like my mother. I think he did that on purpose. As a punishment for refusing his Mark. I wish there were a way out of it for you Draco. It's unfair. You shouldn't be punished for your father's failings. Promise me, promise me that you will come to me for help if you need it." Theo stared earnestly at Draco, willing him to accept the help, the meager solace he was offering in this horrible, fucked up world they were trapped in.

Draco closed his eyes and Theo felt the hollowness start to creep back when Draco spoke. "I'm not strong enough for this, Theo. I want to protect my mother from him, others who are at the whim of his mercy but I can't. I'll need help. We owe it to Cassius. No one could protect him. We can protect each other and the other spares."

Theo took Draco's hand and traced the back of it with his thumb. "Then we do it, for Cassius."