"Hermione, come down! Uncle Wesley, Aunt Lucile and your cousins are here! Come say hello!"
"Coming, Dad! Just a second!" The girl neatly arranged her stacks of ink-riddled parchments and books in a secret cabinet that was hidden in her wardrobe. She always did this every time her relatives would come along, fearing that she could be exposed entirely by being reckless among her cousins. Jason, Carmen and Evelyn Granger, children of her father's younger brother. All three of them were particularly 'not comfortable' with keeping themselves to themselves, and would always capture the chance of peeking into their Muggle-born cousin's closet, eager to know why she would be snappy whenever they'd venture inside. Hermione held no type of resentment towards them at all. She could say that they were sort of close before she left for Hogwarts, but ever since she had a taste of the wizarding world, Hermione Granger was not the same since.
Hermione's hair was in a worryingly unstable French-Braid as she trotted down the stairs to greet her family. A simple baby-blue t-shirt and a pair of peach shorts was all that she was wearing as the unusual summer heat that was flooding around Britain was trapped inside of her house. Although it wasn't sweltering hot, the girl wasn't foolish to take the chance of wearing unnecessary layers. She almost fainted three years ago by making that mistake. Upon reaching the living room, she saw her uncle and father propped up against the sofa near the window, discussing about a recent breakout of an escapee, as her mother was happily chatting with her aunt. Nobody had taken notice of her quietly walking inside when Carmen seemingly came out of nowhere to greet her quite brashly.
"Hiya, Hermy! Haven't seen you in ages!" The younger girl squeaked as she hopped up and down furiously in one spot.
"How are you, Carmen? It's good to see you."
"I'm great, thanks! How's it like in-"
"Puckle! How are ya," interrupted Uncle Wesley as he stood up with open arms. Uncle Wesley was a gangly sort of man with bushy hair, similar to his niece's. Despite his thin frame, his voice could've been heard from miles as the house rumbled every time he'd utter a single word. But Hermione never minded this. In fact, she would always look forward to seeing her uncle during the holidays, as the take-away of magic left the current summer in a state that was quite dull. The Muggle-born was caught in a hug as he gave a hearty raucous chuckle which made her judder just a little.
"I'm fine, Uncle Wesley."
"That's good. How's it like in your new school? You know, Jason is having a hard time at his. Maybe it won't be so bad by having a cousin by his side to pick him up from time to time, huh?"
"That would be nice, but I don't think my school is… well-suited for Jason." Uncle Wesley laughed again and thumped his chest. "Where is Jason, anyways?"
"He went to the corner shop to get a few sweets with his sister," called Aunt Lucile, a pretty woman who had a bit of age in her cheeks. "Here, sit. I want to hear what you've been up to for the past two years. Your mother has told me that you're quite the achiever in your classes."
"She is! Did you know that she aced all of her exams in her first year? Amazing! Just amazing!" Hermione blushed from her father's comment but smiled.
"That's very impressive! Wait, so which subjects are your favourites?" Hermione turned her head to her father, who awkwardly sipped from his mug of coffee, eyeing at his daughter to say anything else.
"Um… Chemistry… History, Biology… um… I do Astronomy as well." Wesley and Lucile looked highly impressed as did her parents. I mean, Hermione wasn't exactly lying. Potions was like Chemistry, Herbology was somewhat similar to Biology and Astronomy was a real thing. Hermione knew it herself that she was a terrible liar, so twisting the truth was just a little easier for her. Only just a little.
"That's our Hermione. I wish that Jason could learn a thing or two from you. Say, your dad has told me that your school has a lot of students running around. That must mean you have a lot of friends, right?"
"Oh! I have to tell you about this boy that she knows, Wesley," said Hermione's mother as she cut her daughter off. The girl was already going red as what was about to come out of her mother's mouth was too predictable. "Dashing young man! I'd say he's probably the heartthrob of the school!"
"Intelligent lad as well, I may add! Hermione's told us all about him, how he's also top of his classes. Theodore Riddle, that's his name." Hermione's dad added.
"Dad!" Hermione said, slightly annoyed. It was a mistake to tell them about Theodore when they first went to Diagon Alley. They couldn't go a day without mentioning him.
"Oh, alright. I know how much it annoys you."
"It's okay, darling. We were all teenagers once. It's all about growing up, that's all. If you like this Theodore boy, then it's completely normal." Lucile said, setting down her coffee mug.
"I don't- Theodore and I, are just friends! Nothing more, nothing less. Just friends." The Muggle-born reassured, pink in the cheeks.
"Denial's the first step to admitting-" Hermione spun back around to the doorway in a huff as she left the living room for her room. Her parents, particularly her father, had a knack of embarrassing her in front of family members, and would not hesitate to do so. She would've thought that they'd be a little more serious, given their statuses as doctors and professional dentists, but one could say that it was to brighten the atmosphere in the house. After all, their only daughter was an actual witch.
Closing the door behind her, Hermione then retrieved her summer homework from the cabinet and sprawled them all over her desk to complete them before the week would end. Given that she wouldn't be going abroad this summer, she had plenty of spare time to do a little extra (relatively little to her) before she'd return. Just because her last exams were cancelled, didn't mean that she could slack off. After the bet that she had made with Theodore, regarding who'd achieve higher than the other, Hermione was severely disappointed in the end. Alas, it wasn't every year that you'd find out your best friend is not only the Heir of Slytherin; that he was secretly under the influence of his father, who turned out to be the Darkest Wizard Ever. But that didn't change anything. In fact, in a very odd way, the Muggle-born was intrigued to seeing the boy's vulnerable side, a side which he was adamant to reveal. It didn't mean that she was happy to see him being mentally torn apart by his father, no. It was just that part of her, which had attached herself to him, that wanted to see more of that.
Hermione shook her loose braid as she started on her homework. Theodore was becoming less of a competitor, and more of a distraction to her. She couldn't let him make her go slightly weak in the knees, or lose focus when she'd do something as simple as homework. Sure, she liked the way his bright hazel eyes would wobble slightly when he'd look at her; when he'd get annoyed and would furrow his eyebrows in a cute way; when he'd smile to show off that gorgeous, gorgeous smile that could send her in a trance of-
"Get a hold of yourself!" She muttered as she tapped her forehead with an open palm repeatedly. "You and Theo are just friends, don't forget that. Just friends. Just…" Her quill was steady in her hand, but it wouldn't move. Drop after drop, the ink blotted against her fresh piece of parchment paper as the truth kept her still in place.
"Just friends… sure…"
"Madam! Madam, come quick!"
"Oh god! Hold on, Theodore! I'm coming, I'm coming!" The Madam was leaping up the creaky staircase as she heard the boy's pleas for help from the highest floor. Theodore was always kept in a vicinity closer than usual, never wandering off too far from her. Madam thought that he would've been more brash or at least, against her constant attention towards him which would seem overbearing to some, but no. Theodore was the opposite of that, in fact. The boy was rather calm, and seemed a little less closed off than before. It was only last year when he was separated from his best friend, and it was only last year when he had ran away because of that. The wounds which she thought was still open, had been closed and healed. He'd occasionally ask about Louise from time to time, but would never lose his head over it. Whatever caused this change within the boy, Madam was just glad that he was still the same. Mostly, anyways.
"Madam!" Theodore cried from inside of the bathroom. "Madam, are you there?"
"Yes! I'm here, I'm here," said Madam worryingly as she pushed her way inside of the small bathroom. "What is it? Did you hurt yourself?" Theodore was standing opposite of the brand-new mirror, holding eight fingers to his chin as he spun his head to the orphanage director. What was expected to be a face full of fear, was a face of… excitement?
"Theodore, what is it?"
"Look closer! Can't you see it?"
"See what?" She asked as she leaned in closer to the boy's face. Theodore tilted his head upwards while removing his fingers to reveal his amazing 'self-discovery'. Protruding so slightly, but very visible against his skin, were three small hairs on his chin.
"I've got hairs! Can you see them?" Madam clasped her hands together as she beamed happily. Theodore having those moments which made her reminisce his younger years, were particularly rare in the orphanage. She couldn't help herself but smile at the boy's sudden burst of childhood innocence.
"Aww, my little boy is becoming a man!" Madam said as she lowered herself to the boy's level.
"Hardly. I'm barely at your shoulder, let alone your chin. I'll probably stay this short forever."
"Nonsense! With the way you eat, I'll be damned surprised if you weren't taller than me by next year!"
"That, and I'm still skinny. Have you seen these arms, they're like ropes." Theodore said as he wrapped a hand around his thin arm. Madam chuckled and drove her fingers through his dark hair. He was losing his babyish features as his face was starting to mature. He had definitely grown taller than when she last saw him, and his handsomeness had only increased with age. In her eyes, Theodore was a perfect boy, faults and all. To know that he grew up without the love from his mother, sometimes made her feel like a counterfeit, a replacement… a fake. She could still envision that day perfectly, remembering those fatal gashes all over her body, that face of pure beauty void of life, while he laid beside her. Quiet, peaceful… innocent…
"Madam? Madam, are you okay," asked Theodore as he shook her gently by the arms. The woman blinked upon her disturbance and looked straight into the boy's eyes. Someday, she'd have to tell him.
"I'm fine! I-I was just a bit out of it, but I'm fine, dear. No need to worry."
"But you're crying…" Brushing her tears away quickly, Madam reassured that she was alright before she briskly left the boy on his own. Theodore watched her leave, worried that it had been his fault for her silent tears. He didn't do anything wrong, this time. At least, he hoped so. Madam crying over him was something that he didn't want lingering on his conscience. The young wizard stepped out into the hallway to follow her and ask, but decided not to. If it really was his fault, then he shouldn't add any fuel to the fire. He walked down the stairs at a moderate pace and left the building for the playground. He'd usually stay in his room with Sawer as company, but the weather had lost its usual bleakness, and he had to admit that he stayed in his room a bit too much. The boy barely stepped on the hot concrete, when he heard the call of his name coming from the swings. Sitting idly on a swing seat was Elise alone, waving at him to come over. Theodore casually walked over to her, not minding the stares from other people. Nobody expected him to have any other friends after last year, especially with Elise. Seeing him branching out to someone other than Louise was intriguing, but not worthy of giving him their attention. Theodore sat on the swing next to her, and gently rocked himself as she spoke first.
"Finally left that room of yours?" She asked with a smirk.
"You're hilarious. Almost as hilarious as Glaise trying to chase Freddie over there." Theodore said as he pointed at the overweight boy panting after a futile attempt of retrieving his shoes. Elise half-laughed as she elbowed him from her seat.
"Hey! I know that you and Richard don't like each other, but you shouldn't make fun of him like that. He's really sensitive, you know."
"But that gives him the right to call me a 'bony, snake-faced twat' behind my back? I mean, look at me! I might be skinny, but I don't look like a snake. Do I?" The blond girl shook her head slightly before quickly turning her head to hide her cheeks.
"Are you going to get a new snake," asked Elise as she was eager to change the subject. Theodore felt a jolt in his chest, but still kept his outward composure.
"Um… no. If I do, then it'll mean that I'm replacing her when I… Having just an owl is fine."
"I thought that snake looked pretty neat. What was her name again?"
"Viripin… and her species?"
"She was an Adder. Rare type."
"Ah. Never took you for a snake-type of guy…"
'You have no idea.'
"…but then again, we never spoke to each other before-" Loud gulps of air emerged from behind the two as they turned to see Richard staggering towards them, face glistening terribly with sweat. Theodore wanted to laugh, but stopped himself from doing so. Kneeling on the floor, Richard was wheezing until he got a word out to his friend.
"Freddie… is such… a… bitch! Couldn't fight me… so he took my shoes…"
"Yeah, we saw." The girl said as she got off her swing to help the boy up. Richard leaned against the framework of the swing-set, ignoring Theodore's smirks while trying to regain his breath.
"I've got two… stitches… oh fuck, I'm gonna die…"
"Stop being such a diva, and breathe. I'll take you inside and I'll ask for your shoes back. That's what you get when you flap those lips too much. Come on." Elise used her surprisingly strong arms to support the heavy boy inside. She briefly said goodbye to the wizard and left him alone on the swings. From the other end of the playground, he could see Freddie and his friends snickering over Richard's shoes as it looked like they were going to fill them up with something horribly putrid. He chuckled, almost feeling sorry for the hell that Elise would unleash onto them. He'd help, but why would he? Here, he was just Theodore Riddle, a simple Muggle boy in an orphanage. Not Theodore Riddle, cousin of the famous Harry Potter. Not Theodore Riddle, Child of the Dark Lord… Just plain old handsome, Theo.
"Thanks, Hedwig." The beautiful Snowy Owl puffed up her chest proudly as Theodore scratched the side of her fluffy head gently. Both Hedwig and Sawer were making frequent trips between Lambeth, where Theodore lived, and Little Whinging, places which weren't too far from each other. Theodore and Harry would exchange letters almost every night, never losing interest in one another. Harry would tell him about the Dursleys and how his horrible man of an aunt, would be coming over soon while Theodore would tell him how things have gotten surprisingly better at Stuggle's. Yes, he was still an outcast, but he didn't feel as lonely as last year. Harry joked that he'd live there with him in heartbeat, just to get away from the Dursleys but a part of Theodore thought that he was being serious. If being adopted meant living with people like them, then Theodore would rather stay a solitary orphan instead. Then again, he wasn't really an actual orphan.
Theodore stored the letter away with the others, and fed the Snowy Owl who was butting her head against Sawer in an attempt to cheer him up. The owl had been depressed for the past week, missing the Maibian Adder as much as the boy did. Even though he never hesitated to deliver Theodore's letters to his friends, Sawer had lost the excitable nature that he was well known for. Theodore couldn't do anything else than to feed him. These summers seemed to get a little bleaker as time went on. An age thing, probably.
"You just rest there, Sawer. I'm just going to finish this bit of homework then-"
"Theo," asked Elise from behind the door. "Are you there?"
"You can come in." The girl opened the door and closed it behind her as she stood near the end of his bed, looking all over the room. This was the second time that she had ever been in this place, a setting which was unknown to practically everyone else. It was almost like going into someone else's home, if that made any sense. "Are you going to say something or…"
"Right! First thing is that Madam's calling for you in her office. The other thing is that I have something to show you in my room."
"What is it?"
"Well if I told you now, then why would I show it to you later? It doesn't-" Theodore raised his palm to stop her from speaking any further.
"I get it, it's a surprise. I'll come when I'm finished, alright?" He said as he fixed his t-shirt around his jeans.
"How long will you be?" Theodore shrugged and showed her out of the room. As he made his way to the Madam's office, Theodore couldn't stop the feeling of guilt pulsing through his blood as he was reminded of what happened earlier on in the day with her. He heard the stories of the last person who ran away, never to be found again, but wasn't fully aware on how affected she was because of that. Couldn't he go through one summer without feeling angry, idiotic or depressed? The Parselmouth reached the main office near the main door and knocked clearly for the Madam to let him in.
"You called for me," asked the boy nervously, shutting the door behind him as he was about to sit down. Only the seat was taken. Taken by someone who he'd never expect to be at, in all places, Stuggle's. "Professor McGonagall?" The Deputy Headmistress was wearing a formal grey lady suit that worked and looked odd on her, at the same time.
"Good afternoon, Mr Riddle. Well? Don't just stand there looking so surprised!" Theodore darted his eyes at the Madam, who still possessed an air of sadness around her head, and back at McGonagall. He was certain that he hadn't performed any type of magic since he left Hogwarts, so it had to be for something else. And judging from the rare expression of compassion upon the professor's face, Theodore knew that it had to be about what happened before the summer started.
"Theodore, Professor McGonagall was telling me all about your recent school year."
"Don't worry," said McGonagall calmly. "You're not in any sort of trouble."
"Shall I leave…?" Madam asked as she slowly raised herself from her chair. McGonagall thanked her as she nodded, soon occupying the room with the Parselmouth alone. Theodore watched her leave, still wanting to speak out to her but remained silent like before. He didn't know why he couldn't just say something. Anything. He kept his eyes fixed on the door until he realised that he wasn't alone. Silence passed before it was broken.
"Did Professor Dumbledore tell you to come here?"
"Your intuition is still as sharp as ever, I see. Yes, the Headmaster requested that I should see you on his behalf." Theodore nodded his head slightly, before becoming silent again. "It was quite the year that you had, Mr Riddle. It'll be a story to tell your children multiple times, no?"
"Yeah, if I'll live, that is."
"Is there a reason why he wanted you to see me," asked the boy as his fingers were locked firmly behind his back. She sighed, then inhaled deeply. Whatever was on her mind was clearly distressing, he could see that effortlessly.
"Professor Dumbledore… told me. He didn't tell me everything, but… he said enough." The boy was looking away in shame, wishing that the day had skipped over in that moment. It was hard enough that he still felt traumatised by his father's influence from last year, but now he was reminded of it again. Fighting those demons was so much more toilsome than what was depicted on the outside. The very infrequent nightmares, those very faint whispers of Tom's voice… all hidden away by a face of tranquillity.
"I'm changing Houses, aren't I?"
"No! No no no, dear boy! Nothing like that!" McGonagall reassured, her emerald eyes exhibiting the gentleness that she showed infrequently. "The choice that the Sorting Hat made was not a mistake-"
"What if it was? You know what I did, and you know-"
"Theodore," said the professor, regaining some part of her iconic fierceness. The Heir fell into silence and placed his vision to the floor.
"I'm fine, you know. I'll manage."
"You're not alone, Theodore. I just wanted you to remember that."
"Yeah. I know." He replied, no longer doubting himself of that fact. "But is that the only reason you came?"
"I'm afraid so, Mr Riddle." She said as she stood up from her seat elegantly. "It seems that running errands for the Headmaster during the summer, has become a frequent 'hobby' of mine."
"The perks of being the Deputy Head, huh?" McGonagall blew a sharp gust of air out of her nostrils, slightly grinning in front of the boy. It was hard to believe that a boy of such gifted caliber and proficiency, could be the cause of the unforgettable events that occurred in the recent months. She guessed that following Dumbledore's advice on overlooking it all, was to be followed without hesitation. There was so much more to this boy than she could ever hope to recover.
Before departing, McGonagall informed the boy that he was given permission to leave for Hogsmeade during certain weekends, the only entirely-magical village in Britain. Theodore often wondered what it was like down there, only knowing off the information given from Fred and George. Even if he had no money, it would still be interesting to look around the place with Ron, Harry and Hermione. Theodore said goodbye to the Deputy Headmistress, and watched her leave the office before chatting briefly with the Madam in the front corridor. If wizards and witches had Muggle counterparts, then Theodore was a witness to the union of the two.
Later in Elise's room…
"Are you ready?" Elise whispered in a tone resembling a circus presenter. Something was hidden behind her back as the girl refused to let the young wizard even peer over her shoulder. He just hoped that it wasn't a waste of his time.
"Are you sure?"
"But are you really-"
"If you don't show me whatever it is that you have behind your back, I'll leave. I'm being serious."
"Okay! Okay, don't leave!"
"You can't be serious," muttered Theodore as he turned to the door. Elise somehow appeared instantly in front of him, and blocked the boy from leaving to show him what was so secretive, right in front of him. "The hell…?"
"It's adorable, right?" She squealed excitedly. Theodore was stuck between confusion and awe by what he was seeing right now. It looked… terrifying, yet alluring at the same time but he didn't know why. Placed within the girl's tiny hands, was a creature which seemed to be a hybrid of a lizard and a bunny rabbit. Quite ugly but not repulsive. The scaly snout had a nasty green sheen, complemented by the furry ears which was the perfect balance between a rabbit and a lizard. The reptilian tail was coiled in between Elise's fingers as if it was clinging onto her for dear life, reddening the girl's fingers so slightly. Theodore was 100% certain that this was a magical creature, only… what the hell kind of creature was a crossbreed of a rabbit and a lizard?
"Elise… where did you get that thing," asked Theodore as he looked at the creature worryingly. Elise was entranced with stroking its spine gently, that Theodore had to wave in her face to grab her attention. This couldn't be a good thing.
"Huh? Oh, you don't need to worry about that."
"That's a- you don't even know what that thing is! What if it's dangerous?!"
"Shhh! Do you want other people to find out!" She hissed as she brought the hybrid to her neck. Theodore could barely catch a glimpse of it, but he noticed the way that the thing was avoiding eye contact with him. A strange creature, no doubt.
"Just tell me where you got it from. You showed it to me, so you can at least tell me where you found it."
"Um… you're not going to like it, though."
"Why?" Sighing heavily, Elise walked over to her window sill, and placed the creature inside of a beaten cardboard shoebox, used as makeshift home before turning back to the Parselmouth.
"I… found it… in your room…"
"In my room? Why would that- wait, what were you doing in my room?" Theodore asked, arms crossed. He wasn't exactly mad that she entered into his room without his permission, but certainly felt annoyed.
"You weren't coming out of your room that much, and I thought that you were angry just like last year and I wanted to see if you were okay but you weren't inside so I looked around because I've never been inside your room before so I looked around, and then I saw the thing in your cupboard and I'm sorry, okay?" The girl spewed everything out so quickly that Theodore was lucky to understand half of it.
"So that thing was inside my cupboard?" Elise nodded, unable to rid herself of the growing guilt within her. Theodore didn't even raise an eyebrow, let alone his voice, and was thrown into a bout of contemplation which felt like an eternity within his mind.
'If that thing was inside of my cupboard… and if it is a magical creature, which Elise saw… oh fuck. I am in so much trouble.'
"Are you alright, Theo? Your forehead… you're sweating." He brushed the accumulation of burning sweat off his face and nodded at the girl. That thing was inside of his cupboard… his cupboard… there was nothing else to it. He accidentally brought it back to Stuggle's from God knows where he got it from, and had foolishly allowed it to fall into Elise's hands. A Muggle's hands. Theodore could already hear the Minister slamming his knuckles on the door to tell him that he was expelled from Hogwarts. And just when he thought he had vindication on his side.
"We should… we should take turns on who gets to take care of it!" A very crude plan which seemed barely functional when it was analysed for the first time, but Theodore had to stick with it. After all, when has any of his plans actually worked before?
"You mean like a rota? Between me and you?"
"Exactly like a rota! We're the only ones who know about this… 'thing', so it's obviously up to us to take care of it."
"Well, I guess-"
"Great!" Theodore exclaimed as he clapped his hands together. He sped to the window sill and grabbed the box gently, careful not to agitate the hybrid inside. "I'll take first night and-" Elise was quicker on her toes as he became immediately restricted and unable to move from the window. Her expression of apparent annoyance only looked like petulance upon her round face but Theodore didn't mention it. What was about to be said by her, was the problem here.
"There's no way that you're taking it first! I found it, I put it inside of the box and I showed it to you, so I'm having first night!" Elise was doing her best to look as frightening as she could to the boy, but it wasn't working.
"But you found it in my room, which you broke into without my permission, sooo…"
"Theo, that's not fair!" She shouted, causing the lizard/bunny to whimper fearfully from inside of the box. Her face fell with colour and anger upon hearing the creature squeaking in fear, closing her mouth from doing anymore damage. Theodore could feel it trembling inside, maybe because it wanted to be as far away from him as possible, juddering so greatly that it felt electrifying to his fingertips.
"If you're done shouting, I'll just take it to my room, thanks." Theodore whispered as he headed for the door quickly. Halfway through the doorway, and he could hear faint sniffles hitting his ear from behind him. 'Great.' He turned back to face the pink-faced Elise who looked so furious yet so sad. Theodore could say anything to her, and she could either decimate his eardrums or bawl right in front of him. Very, very thin line here.
"Well? Take it, then. I don't care anymore." Theodore sighed as he closed the door.
"Yes, you do."
"If you want it by tomorrow then-"
"Did you hear that?!" Theodore said, almost panicking. He had known his father's voice so well, that he could recognise it from the first syllable spoken. But this wasn't Tom's voice. He heard this voice before but… he didn't know where from.
"I didn't hear anything…" Elise looked around, following the boy's line of vision but was dumbfounded as to what he was looking for. "What did you hear?"
"Nothing. I'll… I'll be going now." Elise said nothing as she watched him leave through the crisp-white door, closing it behind him to leave her as one. She could see that he had changed from the year before, unsure if it was for better or worse. He didn't scowl when he walked around, and he looked less secretive and more lonely, if anything. People just don't change so drastically over one year… do they?
In Theodore's bedroom…
"Okay! Okay, okay… okay. Let me just see exactly what the hell you are." Theodore muttered to himself as he set the box on his bed. "I'd call someone, if wizards and witches could use phones, that is. Alright, here we go…" He reached for the flimsy box lid, hands surprisingly still and stable. Mere inches away from seeing the indistinguishable creature, Theodore neared to the box, feeling the slightest sensation of the cardboard against his fingertips when he was instantly startled by the violent ruffling of Sawer in his cage.
"Sawer, what the hell?! Don't scare me like that," said the boy as he held his chest briefly before walking up to the excitable owl. "What's wrong? One second you're quieter than a mouse, the next you're back to your old self. Why are you so happy?" Two owls of a similar species, were butting their heads against the window as both had a single letter each for the boy. "Oh. It's because you haven't seen any owls other than Hedwig, huh? Here, I'll let them in so that you guys can do whatever."
As Theodore opened the window for the owls to pave their way inside, Sawer didn't seem to notice them at all. He was still giddy, mind you, but his large golden eyes didn't once set on the other owls, confusing the Parselmouth. Animal nature was near impossible to understand, and this was coming from a boy who could speak to snakes. The owls quickly placed the delivered letters in the boy's hands and flew off, just as fast as they came. Sawer's random burst of energy seemed to be diminishing but his eyes were wide with excitement, especially when he looked at the cardboard box.
"A letter from Dumbledore… huh. I'll open that second. This is from…" His eyes lit up when he recognised the handwriting on the grey envelope. "It's from Ron! I can't even remember the last time he ever wrote a letter." Theodore ripped the grey envelope gently, and brought out the letter from inside, which read:
I've just realised that we haven't sent a letter to each other. At all. I feel weird knowing that I haven't written to one of my best friends during the summer, but hey! First time for everything, am I right? It was actually Mum's idea for me to write to you, since she told me about the 'thing' last term.
Theodore started to feel uneasy, knowing that he didn't tell Ron who his father really was.
Look man, I just want you to know that it doesn't change a single thing between us. I mean, I couldn't believe it at first when Mum told me, but after everything that happened, it sorta made sense. But that doesn't mean we're not best friends anymore! So don't think that!
But that's not the only thing that I wanted to tell you. As you reading this letter, Ronald Billius Weasley is currently in Egypt. Can you believe it? Dad won a Galleon Draw at work, and instantly said we're going to Egypt the next day! My big brother Bill, works as a curse breaker at Gringott's in Egypt, so we're visiting him for the summer. It's gonna be wicked, I'm telling you!
I've almost used both sides so I'm gonna leave it here. Maybe when we come back, we'll see each other in Diagon Alley? I'll try to get you something on our way back.
P.S: Guess who's Head Boy?
Theodore didn't even know why he felt uncomfortable in the first place. Ron was just as much of a best friend as Harry or Hermione. No matter what the Heir did that was deemed 'unforgivable', Ron sure was forgiving. Theodore just hoped that the rest of the Weasleys felt the same, if Mrs Weasley really told them all. He couldn't help himself from seeing them as his extended family. It wasn't wrong to feel like that, right? Stashing the very first letter from the red headed boy in his treasured collection, Theodore took Dumbledore's letter in hand, and read through it like he was expecting some sort of hidden message within. It read:
I hope that your summer has gone off with an enjoyable start. The words that we exchanged last year has hopefully been remembered for this summer as well, but with a boy like you, it'd be impossible to forget.
Professor McGonagall has visited you, presumably before this letter will arrive at your home. It was my choice to come alone yet because of my priorities as the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot and as Headmaster, it had to be delayed. I'm sorry for the inconvenience and I hope that you are holding up as much as you can.
I apologise for keeping this letter short, but nothing lasts forever, no matter how far you push the boundaries. Just something to think about. Stay strong, Theodore.
P.S: Fawkes says hello. I think that he's gotten a little too comfortable inside of my office. He hasn't left his column, let alone the office, all year!
"What are you talking about," muttered Theodore under his breath. "Fawkes saved our lives down in the Chamber of Secrets. Surely, your age isn't catching up to you, Professor…"
A single week had passed since the creature had been found by Elise, and there was no sign of any Minister of Magic, no Dumbledores or McGonagalls, not even a Howler. Nobody came kicking down the front door with their wands armed, ready to capture the magical animal that had been exposed to Mugglekind. Nobody. Theodore could relax in something resembling peace, paranoia no longer present within his system.
Of course, Elise was very confrontational during the first three days but after that, Theodore had managed to 'charm' her somehow, clearing away her anger in only ten seconds. ('Charm' as in, he did that unknowingly). Although she was still quite brash about him taking the lizard/bunny, Elise didn't mind that he took it off her hands. The boy really had a knack for getting on people's softer sides, especially girls. A knack that he never thought was that special.
The beast was, in Theodore's eyes, a very odd being, even for a creature from the magical world. Theodore had caught on to some of its mannerisms, how the way it ate like the meal was its last, how it'd quiver with unease every time the boy would near his fingers to it, and how its eyes would take on multiple shades, particularly bright hazel, scarlet red and sometimes, flashes of chrome. With the little resources that was in his grasp, the Parselmouth was downright clueless as to what it could be. Not even a single clue.
"I could write to Hermione about you," said the boy as he sprinkled evenly sliced chicken strips inside of the box, "but she'll probably be just as clueless as I am. You know, I haven't sent a letter to her in a while. I wonder what she's up to…" Theodore still remembered that 'foreign' sensation when she hugged him at King's Cross. When she grazed the skin of his neck with her nose, it almost felt electrifying, given that it only lasted less than a second. He couldn't describe it with such vivid detail, but he knew that it felt… nice. And that felt a little confusing for the boy. Barely noticeable but still present, were those faint signs. She'd cross his mind when in deep thought and suddenly, his heart would thud just a little louder. Just a little.
Theodore realised that he was rubbing his empty fingertips together as the chicken strips were devoured entirely by the creature. It didn't seem to beg for more as it kept still in the centre of the box, twitching and sniffing. Theodore had secretly hoped that it was a rare creature with extraordinary capabilities like a Maibian Adder, but was disappointed to come to the realisation that it could've been a failed Transfiguration experiment. Half lizard/half rabbit, how else would you explain it? He closed the box and placed it inside of his cupboard before sprawling himself lazily on the bed.
'Harry's birthday is in three days, and I have… what, one sickle? Not even enough for a Butterbeer. I mean, how do you even match a 150 galleon model of a Snitch? Makes me wonder how Harry got an inheritance when I didn't. Oh well…'
The Snitch was one of the four prized possessions of the young Parselmouth, the others being Louise's necklace, his pocket watch and his family photo book. Theodore had hidden them well inside of his room, always checking carefully for any sort of damage or wear. He couldn't afford for any of them to be damaged because of blatant carelessness. Not when they held so much value to him. A book from his lost family, a Snitch from his only cousin, a golden watch and necklace which both belonged and came from his first true friend. Surely, there was nothing else in this world that could offer the same sentimental value to the boy.
There it was again, that voice. Where was it coming from? The floor, the ceiling? The walls? Was his mind just trying to replicate that voice which was buried inside there for so long? Maybe the damage was more worse than he had thought.
"I said, who's there?"
"Theodore? Are you talking to yourself?" He recognised the voice as Madam, moving towards and closing his cupboard door firmly before responding to the orphanage director.
"No, I was just… making a note to myself. You can come in."
"Actually, I need you to come out." Theodore didn't question the Madam as he opened the door to see her smiling, still containing those traces of melancholy within her eyes. Theodore asked her why she needed him to which she replied by telling him to come with her. Once again, Theodore didn't say anything as he followed her out of his bedroom and through the corridors.
'Is McGonagall here again? Or maybe it's Dumbledore. Or it could be the Ministry of Magic… I hope not…'
The boy had been subconsciously following the Madam while pondering about who could possibly be here for him. Upon arriving at the last step of the staircase, Theodore broke out of his rather rapid contemplation as he saw Richard and Elise whispering around the doorway of the living room, holding on to the arising sneer for the other boy. Richard had been a bit more vocal on his opinions for the Parselmouth, and would casually insult him when Theodore was within an earshot. Elise said that he didn't really mean it, but it was a lie. Richard meant every single word and he knew that.
"Theodore, lets get a move on," said Madam from her office door. Theodore turned his head away from the other two and walked into the office, expecting anyone that he knew to be sitting in the same chair. Snape could've been there for the hell of it. He was unnaturally concerned over his wellbeing earlier in the year. However, the expected result was not one that he had thought of. Sitting in the plush lilac chair in front of the Madam's desk was… no one.
"Madam, I don't understand. Isn't somebody here for me?" Theodore asked in bewilderment.
"I wanted to speak with you, Theodore."
"Oh. Oh, okay. Sure," said the boy as he sat down in front of her. He was quite surprised that he had never once sat on this chair, given the numerous times he came in and out of the office during his life at Stuggle's. It's soft appearance was slightly false as he could feel the noticeable bumps of hardened wood underneath his legs, which felt a little too uncomfortable. He didn't complain though. He just sat there, still, waiting for her to say anything to him. Anything.
"Theodore, you understand what secrets are capable of, right? They can be just as helpful, as they can be dangerous to you and other people. Do you understand?" The Parselmouth nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. He had to learn that in the most extreme way possible, and was still paying the price for it. "Sometimes, when people keep secrets from others, it's kept for a good reason. The reason why people keep secrets from each other is because the truth can hurt. It can hurt and sometimes, that hurt can never go away for both people."
"Ruins the soul…"
"Yes… ruins the soul…"
"When we found you on the porch that Hallowe'en night, we thought of you as a baby without their mother and father, just like the other children. I was going to take you in and raise you like my own, which is what I did. I'm proud to say that, Theodore. I really am. There I am, holding you in my arms with you sleeping so quietly. We're about to make your new home when we heard knocking on the door. We didn't know who it was, it was so late. Perhaps your mother may have thought that she had a mistake, and wanted you back. And… that's what happened, but…" Theodore was digging his fingertips into his thighs deeply, absorbing, hanging onto every single word that the Madam had to say. He knew that she saw his mother before she died, but what did she mean by 'but'? Painful throat, saliva impossible to swallow and his breaths became shorter. What happened to his mother?
"Madam…?" He said this so quietly, it was a wonder how she even heard him.
"She was dying… cuts, blood everywhere… I… I didn't know what had happened to her, I assumed that she was running away from somebody, probably to protect you from them… We're all in the infirmary now… she's on the bed on the right, you on the left and she was slipping away so fast… We couldn't save her and I think she knew that. She didn't try to fight for her life… only for yours. As you laid there so quietly, she was right next to you… She was crying to me, telling me that you were her son… She told me… she told me to take care of you like you were my own… I couldn't save her, Theodore. I-I tried to but it was too late and now every time I see your face, I can only see her on that bed, crying for you and…"
He couldn't go another day with seeing her shedding tears in front of him anymore. Madam's lamentation was piercing through the boy's heart repeatedly in such a short amount of time that he was frozen, still trying to realise everything. His mother didn't just die. She was murdered. Somebody killed her, probably to get to him. It made sense…
'Your mother produced something so strong that you were hidden at Stuggle's for your entire life, protected from everything that she tried to save you from...'
"So that's why you were crying… because she died here, in your arms…" Madam had tears cascading to blot the papers on her desk while she looked at the boy with so much pain. His mother was the first death that she had to witness before her eyes, and now her son walked within the place of her passing so casually, unknowingly resurfacing those agonising moments of his mother's suffering within her. How could she look upon a boy with such happiness, when she knew of his tragic past? How could she?
"I've tried my best, you know. She wanted me to take care of you and I've tried." She said through sniffs of pure sorrow. "Look… if you feel like I-I've done you wrong by not saying anything then-"
Theodore stood and twisted his body to aim towards the door. Madam's heart felt like it could fail any second now from seeing him leave, probably in unbridled resentment for her. But she had to. It was killing her to keep it from him. But she had to. He could hate her forever but-
He took her left hand in his own ones. He held it tightly, careful not to squeeze too hard. He stood above the weeping woman, grazing her backhand with his thumb so gently. This was confusing to her. He wasn't angry. He wasn't mad, or hateful towards her. Why? Something like this would've been detrimental to a person of her age, let alone a thirteen year old boy. She was expecting a tantrum of pure lividness but instead, when she looked up into his perfect face, there was no such thing. Not even the tiniest trace. The bright hazel was glimmering with the benevolence that the boy felt towards her. They comforted her, telling her that she didn't need forgiveness, that she'd never change in his eyes. It happened again. She could see her through him, almost speaking to her…
Neither of them said a word to each other, hands still held tightly. Theodore was incapable of hating her. How could he hate the woman that had been his mother when his own had died? Theodore understood why she kept that from him. He knew the cost of keeping a secret that was so damaging from somebody else, but he could never hate her. Never. He wasn't hers but she was his own. And he couldn't deny that.
Yooooooooooo! I'm sort of back now guys! In my free time (which was very minimal mind you) I added little bits and pieces to this chapter as I was revising for my exams. Don't worry, don't worry. The break is almost over so you can calm yourselves down (sarcasm).
So yeah. Not much to say, since I don't want to spill everything, but there are a few hints and things about this chapter that has transitioned from the last one. I hope that you can recognise them and I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Thanks for reading this one and I'll see you later.
caveydude: Thanks man! Appreciate it a lot!
Austin23: Hmm… ;)