They all squinted when the light from up ahead shone straight through the windscreen. Theodore told Ron to stop and quickly got out of the car to retrieve Viripin and Lupin; both were awake and well. Sirius helped his friend to the car on shaky knees while Viripin wrapped herself around the Parselmouth adoringly, apparently forgetting that he threw them both off a tower. She seemed very forgiving of him.
The Ford Anglia then pulled out from the Forest and drove across the fields to the front doors of the castle. As expected, every single Auror, Fudge, Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout and the old wizard were standing by the castle, and it was a sea of mixed expressions. Alertness, annoyance, near-absolute rage, and curiosity. The Aurors all took one look at Sirius and pointed at the car on Fudge's orders. This was going to be fun.
"Black! Exit the car with your hands up!" demanded Fudge. "The Dementors will be on their way, so unless you give yourself up and release your hostages, we will attack!"
"Hostages? He's lost it!" said Ron. "How are we going to go about this then? If Sirius leaves the car, then it's over for him."
"Theo, follow me. Excuse me, Professor." Harry climbed over Lupin's legs and opened the stiff door with a solid kick. Theodore followed him soon after, and the two faced the adults, blocking them off from Sirius.
"Get out of the way, boys. You're harbouring a criminal."
Theodore's mouth ticked as he held in his scoff. "An innocent man more like. You've got it all wrong!"
"Riddle." Snape looked at his godson blankly, not showing any sign whether he wanted him to talk, or to move aside.
"We — we know that Sirius Black is innocent," Harry announced. "He doesn't deserve punishment in Azkaban —"
"Look," Fudge cut in with an annoyed look on his face, "I know that he is your godfather, Harry, but he isn't innocent. He's a murderer."
"But he isn't! He was framed for somebody else's crime who hid when Lord Voldemort disappeared!"
Several gasps of fear escaped from most of their mouths except for Snape, Dumbledore and the old wizard.
"Peter Pettigrew, if you were wondering who we were referring to. He faked his death and was hiding with the Weasleys as a rat Animagus!"
"Dumbledore," shot Fudge at the relaxed man. "Do you allow your students to talk such… rubbish?!"
"On the contrary, I am rather intrigued by what they have to say. This is a very curious theory, children. Would you care to present to us any proof of him?"
The look on his face made the two boys believe firmly that Dumbledore knew they were telling the truth. Fudge's double chin wobbled when Theodore told Ron to reverse the car so that the boot would be facing the sceptical adults. The boot door flew open and Pettigrew was thrown from his place of temporary rest, groaning in severe pain when he hit the floor.
"So you really are alive, Peter." Snape stepped forward to look down on his former friend with utter disgust and contempt.
"Severus," whimpered Pettigrew. "Severus, they hurt me… I was tortured for all this time —"
"Shut it, you lying piece of dung! I have been tracking you ever since I saw you on the Map. Remember? You were foolish to remain in Hogwarts, even more to give yourself away!"
"Merlin's beard," bleated Fudge. "It — It really is Pettigrew! And his finger, look! It's missing!" He turned his head to Theodore and dropped his jaw in wonderment. "Was it you who was behind everything? Behind finding this man?"
"It was all of us actually. Even Sirius. You would've gone about thinking that he was guilty of killing those Muggles and betraying the Potters all this time if he had never escaped." None of his words seemed to get through to the Minister. His face was still struck with awe at the Parselmouth.
"Sirius, you can come out now. They're not going to attack," said Harry quietly to his godfather.
"Are you sure? Because a few moments ago, they were ready to blow me to pieces."
"It'll be fine, don't worry. It'll be fine."
He barged his shoulder against the door and walked out of the car slowly; his instinct for keeping his hands up in the presence of the law was still strong within him. The Aurors were gripping their wands tightly, some even raising it towards him until they were told to stand down. "Hello, Minister."
"Hello… Sirius. This is… this is something."
"It is, isn't it?" There was a huge amount of restraint in his voice. "I'm afraid that I am unable to tell my own story. But they can. Listen to them, please."
Theodore caught the old wizard's eye staring at his left hand where he held his father's wand. He hid it quickly in his pockets: he didn't want him anywhere near it.
Fudge scratched his left eyebrow and sighed before saying, "I never thought that I'd be listening to a story from teenagers as an alibi. Very well, speak away."
Harry and Theodore started from the very beginning when Voldemort marked the Potters for death, explaining to them how Pettigrew was an informant for Voldemort as well as Valerie Potter (Theodore did his hardest to not show any attachment to her in his words). They talked about Sirius's torture, how Valerie fled instead of remaining with Voldemort, how he was used as the Dark Lord's puppet until his downfall in Godric's Hollow.
Everyone was listening quietly to them, not daring to interrupt the flow of information that was being explained. It was until the part when Ron had ran Pettigrew over with Mr Weasley's old car did they finally stop to ease their raspy throats. The lack of sleep was getting to them.
"Well… this is interesting news. You can't expect me to just gobble all of this up at once, you know, but there is a chance of having the fair trial that was denied of… Mr Black. I'll alert Amelia that we'll be having a new trial in the summer, Dolores too. Albus? I believe that you'll be attending, should it come to be?"
"Of course, Cornelius," Dumbledore beamed back at him.
"All right. In the meantime, I would suggest that you'd remain in St Mungo's for your injuries. And… is that Remus Lupin?"
Harry widened his eyes in shock and looked at Theodore anxiously. "Uh, yeah! It's Professor Lupin," Theodore babbled. "He also tried to go after Pettigrew, although he was knocked out for sometime. We — we found him injured in the Forbidden Forest."
"Is that so…? Well, he doesn't look like he's in such good shape. I would recommend that he too would remain at St Mungo's. If he was a part of all this, then he could be a witness in the upcoming trial." Fudge looked over the castle thoughtfully like he was visiting for his leisure. "What a year. Rita will be all over this when she finds out. Dawlish, Proudfoot, Savage! Detain Mr Pettigrew and tell the guards to clear off from Hogsmeade. Rosmerta and Aberforth have already suffered enough. Let's go!"
"Wait, please! Please, I'll do anything you want, just don't throw me into Azkaban! Please! Please!" Pettigrew squirmed as much as he could when he was suspended in the air by the Aurors. "I'm innocent! I am, please! You must listen to me! Sirius Black, he's a follower of the Dark Lord! You're falling under his Dark powers! Wait! I-I can tell you one thing: the identity of the Dark Lord's child! He exists! His name is Th—"
The spell hit Pettigrew square on his back and silenced him completely. The old wizard pocketed his silver wand while his eyes lingered distastefully at the broken man. "Keeping your mouth quiet is a virtue, Mr Pettigrew, no matter how much you want to use it."
Sirius knelt down to both boys and hugged them tightly, holding them close as if they were his own sons. He thanked them repeatedly; he thanked Hermione and Ron repeatedly, and helped Lupin out of the car as they walked side by side with the Aurors and Minister, waving back happily at the four teens.
"Well, children, the time right now is seven-fifteen. You have been awake for far too long. I suggest that you get a 'good morning's sleep', and I suggest that you, Theodore, return to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey is not all that pleased with you, you know," said Dumbledore with a slight chortle on the end.
"I wouldn't think so, Professor. I —" Theodore looked over Dumbledore's shoulder to see Snape looking back at him before he slipped away into the castle doors.
"Hurry along then. I fear that what you have accomplished tonight will make any amount of housepoints pale in comparison, but that should not matter. I have a good feeling about Gryffindor this year. Since there is no danger, you are free to go up by yourselves. Well done."
"You knew, Professor, didn't you," said Harry when he was the last one through the door. "That we were looking for Pettigrew?"
The old man gave a simple shrug and said goodbye as he announced that he had to visit somebody close down at Hog's Head Inn.
"We've been awake for nearly twenty-four hours," grumbled Theodore on the middle step. They started to walk up the stairs when they were joined by Harry. "I almost got a hole in my chest, and I go off running into the Forbidden Forest."
"I hope there's a lesson in this," hissed Viripin on top of his head. "Listen to Hermione."
"What did she say," Hermione asked curiously.
"Nothing," said the Parselmouths quickly.
"Mr Riddle." The quartet halted at the last step by the sound of the familiar voice down in the Entrance Hall. The old wizard had his lip curled by just a little when he saw Theodore frowning at the intrusion. "I wanted to congratulate you, Mr Riddle. No doubt that your efforts in subduing a criminal and clearing an innocent man's name was a result of your determination and leadership."
Theodore crossed his arms and said stiffly, "I wasn't a leader in this, nobody was. We freed Sirius, not me. It's an equal win between the four of us."
The wizard smiled even more. "Ah, so humble. Aren't you, Theodore? I can see that you possess a lot of humility, but that secretly hides all the pride inside of you, and that is good! You should be proud! You are so much like your father, looks and all."
Theodore heard Harry breathing heavily beside him as he dropped down a step with his fists clenched tightly. However, his words did not invoke the same type of reaction in Theodore. He smiled back at the old wizard in a way unlike him and kept his voice levelled. "I wouldn't think otherwise, since you know all about my father, don't you?"
"I know enough. I remember when I first met him, not on the train, but right here in this Hall. Such a long time ago. Well, it is morning time, and you have been out of bed for so long. I must be getting home soon. A busy day is sure to come. I will see you later, Theodore Riddle."
"Maybe you will, Theodore Lestrange."
Lestrange narrowed his eyes a little in acknowledgement of his name and nodded at the boy before he vanished behind the castle's front doors.
"How does he know your father," asked Hermione when they walked back up the stairs.
Theodore yawned loudly and patted his chest a little. The stinging had subsided by just a little bit. "Man, I'm really tired! Madam Pomfrey is going to kill me when she sees me walking through that door!"
"Stop avoiding the question, Theo, and answer it. How does he know your dad?"
"He said it, didn't he? They were old school friends. It's no surprise that he knew who I was when he saw my face. I just can't believe I didn't realise it sooner."
Lestrange was soon dropped when they reached the hospital wing to drop Theodore off. When they left, Theodore felt something vibrating in his pockets; he took his father's wand and couldn't believe that he was attracted to some of its power. So many lives from just this piece of wood and feather. It made him wonder what kind of monster was living inside him when he was his age. Buried down deep within, that was true, but was it always there…?
Theodore looked over at the clock in the corner to see the time read three forty-seven in the afternoon. It was definitely not enough sleep for somebody that has been deprived of it for nearly a day, but he felt full with energy. The entire wing was completely empty, and he was its sole inhabitant. It was for the better he guessed. The news about Sirius being vindicated for being under the control of the Death Eaters could've been spreading like a wildfire without any of his knowledge. These would be the better rumours about him during the past three years, but it meant that his name would be tossed around half as much as Harry's, and if the Daily Prophet got their hands on the story, well…
He left the bed gingerly and looked over his cleaned bandages to check any damage. Madam Pomfrey said that there wasn't much that she could do to help, and that he was free to leave in the morning. So he got clean and wore the casual clothing that was laid out for him on his bedside table before he pushed his way out of the wing.
"Oh, Theo! You're finally awake!" Hermione greeted happily as she leaned off the wall opposite the wing. She looked side to side, as if somebody was listening in before she closed the gap between them. "Hi."
"Hi," choked the Parselmouth a little before he swallowed harshly. This was… new. Theodore's ears and cheeks were burning a little, and his fingers had minds of their own when they tapped against his thighs. "Are you — ahem — are you OK?"
She nodded her head and smiled a little more, making his heart jump in his chest. This was all so, so new. His heart skipped beats, and his heart jumped, but it never did both for one person at the same time. "How come you're keeping your bandages? Aren't you supposed to be better now?"
"Oh, about that, Madam Pomfrey said that it was much harder to heal than a normal knife slash to the face. Although she said that I would be at full health in a few days, there's going to be permanent scarring over here," he said as he pointed at his chest. "Everywhere else is fine. Just got to keep these for a little longer."
"Well, I hope you get better. She wouldn't let us in to visit you, so I thought that it would be really serious. By the way, Harry and Ron are waiting down in the Entrance Hall for us. Everybody's been talking to and about them, especially you."
Theodore groaned as they turned right towards the marble staircase. "That's the last thing I need, having everyone all up in my face and asking me questions."
"I thought you liked the attention," said Hermione with a slight cheeky grin. For the first time, any retort from Theodore was not heard from him; he only smiled back at her.
"Nice to see you on your feet, Riddle!" called Ron from down the stairs. "You got more sleep than me for sure! Come look at what Harry's got!"
"What is it?"
Harry's plastered grin earlier in the day did not falter as he held up a letter with his name on it. "It's from Sirius. He wrote back to me in less than a day. I was waiting for you to wake up so that we could all read it together."
"Come on, open it then!" Theodore said eagerly. It was almost funny to think that he and Sirius almost killed each other, and now they were on friendly terms.
Harry ripped the envelope open and read the handwriting as it said:
The Healers at St Mungo's are going wild! Some of the injured Aurors in there tried attacking me when they saw my face. A warm welcome I suppose. I guess I must get used to this now. The trial hasn't been set for a due date, but it's been confirmed for the end of summer. And I don't mean to blow my own horn here, but I think I got it in the bag! All I can say is that I'm glad that crazy fool Crouch has been removed from the Head of Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I want to see his face when he sees me walking straight into the Ministry. That would be priceless.
Remus is doing all right here, but I'm scared that they will find out about his 'you know what', granted that it only just passed. It's like the old days when we'd find ourselves in the hospital wing after stupid accidents. He's looking rather peachy.
But the thing that I wanted to say was about me taking care of you. I know that you want to stay with me, Harry, and I want that too. I was supposed to be your guardian, should anything have happened to your parents, not those Muggles. I want to be there so bad, but I can't. It's too dangerous for me to be around you if all these words in my head are not found. I don't want to end up hurting you. It may take months, maybe a year at least before I'll be clean. But look on the bright side: I'll be a free man by then. Don't be sad, Harry. It'll soon come, I promise.
"Hey," consoled Ron when he saw Harry's face fall a little. "It's much better than him being on the run. You can even visit him during the summer. Everybody knows where St Mungo's is."
Harry perked up and nodded his head. All in all, he had a godfather who was going to take care of him soon. He wouldn't have to live with the Dursleys ever again. Just him and Sirius.
The four left the castle to roam along the fields of school to take a fresh breath of air. People were pointing and staring at them, whispering among each other when they walked past. The amount of students outside was surely larger than those inside, for everyone was enjoying the summer heat and they should. The Dementors were gone, Sirius was no longer a threat and everything seemed perfect, if they didn't forget the date.
Everyone looked over to the Entrance Gates that swung open to let in five wizards, one witch and a Hippogriff on the side. Lucius Malfoy was trotting over to the home of Hagrid's while Hagrid himself stomped behind them without any emotion in his face. Fudge, Lestrange and Mulciber were huddled up together looking particularly exhausted from visiting the school so often. Plus, it was just around eight hours since they last left. And the witch was someone that Theodore recognised in an instant, and unfortunately, it was the same towards him.
"Look at him! He's so handsome! When they told me he was handsome, they never said he was this handsome!" The witch grabbed Theodore's right hand with both of hers and shook him wildly. She didn't even notice his bandages. "You must be Theodore Riddle! My name is Rita Skeeter, and you must've heard of me, right?"
"Yeah," returned Theodore as he shook his bruised arm irritably. "I've heard of you."
"Well, let's cut down to the chase! I want an exclusive interview with you, and Mr Potter, for my article on the Daily Prophet! Imagine it now, fifteen year old boy successfully solves the murder mystery behind the Potters! That'll make the headlines! Oh, sorry, darling," she added when she saw Harry scowling at her.
"It wasn't a murder mystery, everybody knew what happened. And it wasn't just me, gosh! Who's telling people this information: it was us four. Not just me, not just Harry, us!"
Rita grinned and showed her golden tooth to the annoyed teen. "He's humble as well! Oh, everybody's going to eat you up! Nobody's seen a face like this since Gilderoy Lockhart."
Theodore simply walked away from the witch and regrouped with the others without looking back. Hagrid was standing by his Hut with Buckbeak held by a thick piece of rope around his beak. When he saw them walking over to him, his eyes flashed with brief happiness, but Theodore couldn't notice it over hearing Draco's sniggers from behind him. He, Crabbe and Goyle pointed and laughed when Mulciber posed with the axe, and almost lost it when Hagrid looked like he was about to cry again.
"Dickheads," seethed Ron under his breath. "I ought to see how he'd act if Daddy Malfoy got the sack from being a school governor."
"Same," said Harry in a similar tone. "Somebody's got to have some dirt on him to keep him in check. I — where you going?"
"Somewhere, quickly!" Theodore answered back. He was walking straight towards the elder Malfoy who was speaking with Mulciber until he was noticed. Oh, he had some dirt all right.
"We'll continue this conversation later on, Mulciber. Let me have a chat with young Mr Riddle here." The executioner left the two on their own as Malfoy carried on speaking. "What is it that you want, Mr Riddle?"
"Nothing that big, only for you to do as I please," Theodore answered casually.
Malfoy snorted and said, "Please do not disrupt my work with your childish games, Mr Riddle. There are more important things at hand than for me to worry about your empty threats. If you will excuse me —"
"But they aren't empty threats; I can guarantee you that they definitely aren't. But you know what I'm talking about, right?"
"Hold me back a second further, and it will not end well for you," Malfoy hissed. "What do you want?!"
"Haven't I told you already? I want you to do whatever I want. That, or I'll tell them."
"Tell who what?"
"I'll tell the Ministry that it was you who gave Ginny Weasley the diary last year."
That one choked him. Malfoy coughed in his gloved hand and had flickers of fear in his eyes, darting over to the Minister before back to Theodore. "What — what are you talking about?"
"You know, last summer, when you generously accepted to help a poor, orphaned half-blooded boy for no particular reason. When you only volunteered so that you could give me my father's diary. When that plan failed, so you had to throw it away to Ginny instead. Isn't that what you wanted, Mr Malfoy? For me to use my father's diary so that I could attack innocent children? If so, then you got your wish. Not only were you responsible of those kids nearly dying, you gave a child a Dark artefact. Surely, that's a lot of time in Azkaban, no? Let's count it up, shall we? Possessing a Dark object, Voldemort's in fact, intention to give that object and —"
"What do you want from me," Malfoy interjected grimly. "Already tired of your childhood that you want to blackmail wizarding families that have much more worth than your Muggle name? What do you want, Riddle? Money, a house, my — my life?!"
"Money doesn't mean that much to me, and I already got a home in my name from my mother. Valerie Potter. You know her, right? No, I just want one thing from you: accept the appeal, revoke Hagrid's dismissal and let both of them back in school. That's all I'm asking, Mr Malfoy. All I'm asking."
Malfoy was breathing out of his mouth noisily. Draco was looking over to his father and schoolmate with curious eyes. "You know," he said in a shaky voice, "I really hated your mother."
"That makes one of us. Come on. The twenty-third is not yet over, Mr Malfoy. You still have time. But I don't."
The blonde wizard walked over to Hagrid's Hut without any of his usual grace and called Fudge and Lestrange over to speak with them. For a fleeting moment, Theodore felt the fear that Malfoy would just tell them that he was being blackmailed by a boy and would somehow turn the tables on him. Aside from the evil glances that came his way, Theodore was neutrally staring at the three wizards before they broke and walked straight up to Hagrid.
The half-giant knelt down when called by Lestrange and ten seconds later released a roar of absolute victory. Everyone in his vicinity was terrified for they never seen Hagrid so happy. He jumped for joy as he sent tremors through the ground, then cried on his knees when the other three patted him on the elbow.
Theodore was doing his own leap of joy inside him as well. Capturing Pettigrew, clearing Sirius's name, getting Hagrid's job back at the same time saving Buckbeak's head? It was like he bathed in Liquid Luck, and it was all absorbed through his pores. Draco's face started to go red with anger when he saw his father and the other Ministry officials leaving for the gate without seeing an execution. If he could make Lucius do this, then what else could he profit from him?
He put that out of his mind quickly enough and jogged over to the others to join them when Rita blocked his way. "Duty calls, Theodore. Unfortunately, I won't be able to write about another Hippogriff Execution, but I have all the material I need for Lucius Malfoy's Sudden Change: A Good Man or a Man Under Blackmail? So many things to write, so little time. But you," she cooed whilst pinching his cheeks, "are on the top of my priority this summer! If you're reconsidering about that interview, then here is my card. Don't lose it! Goodbye, Mr Riddle! I'm going to make you famous, and you'll love it!"
He absentmindedly pocketed the pink card and ran over to Hagrid, who had his arms out wide to scoop them all in a hug. "It was yeh, wasn' it? Yeh jus' talked ter Malfoy righ' before he revoked everythin'! Tell me it wasn' yeh!" Theodore gave a sheepish grin and shrugged just a little. "Miracle kid! Yeh a miracle, every single one o' yeh! Amazin'! Jus' amazin'!"
The four spent the rest of the day in Hagrid's Hut discussing what had happened on both sides when they were separated from each other, from Hogsmeade to Sirius to Dementors and Pettigrew. This may have been one of the longest days of their lives, but without a doubt was it one of their bests, and they knew that entirely.
Well, it was almost over. So much had happened over the year that it came as a surprise whenever it was brought up. The Dementors in the train, the Quidditch matches, Hogsmeade and so much more. The stakes were being raised each year, and they couldn't see the fourth being anymore extraordinary than this one. They just couldn't.
As the four saw it coming, the Prophet soon published their first article on Sirius being on trial again for his innocence while constantly reminding everyone that Pettigrew came back from the dead. Rita's version of the story was highly exaggerated, but none of her facts seemed falsified compared to the actual events. Except for the little appearances of his name being shown on nearly every single page. …was cleared by Theodore Riddle and his companions, or Harry Potter and Theodore Riddle have caught the culprit, or even worse, The Champion of Hogwarts goes by the name of Theodore Riddle… He'd hate to know what would've happened if his picture was taken. There was already enough attention towards him and Harry in school; they didn't need anymore from outside.
"Not even a single mention of me," muttered Ron when he set down the newspaper on the table. "You'd think I'd get some credit for running him over."
"Tell you what, Ron. If I get an interview someday about this, I'll be sure to mention you in the purest detail. I'll even throw in that you flew the car into the school for safekeeping."
Finally, the twenty-sixth came for the end of the third school year as exam results were being handed out in the morning. Neither Hermione or Theodore had gotten higher in either of their exams, both achieving mirroring results in every subject with only minor differences in percentages. Elvira had them tied in Charms as the three highest in the year, and both of them were unfortunately beaten by Harry in Defence when he earned a perfect grade. But they were proud with their results and so was Harry and Ron.
"I need to work on facing my Boggart over the summer," Hermione stressed when she waved her results sheet around. "If they come up during my O. and I can't face them, what'll happen then?"
Theodore was looking down on his Potions grade that was marked one hundred percent, unable to clear his mind from thinking about his godfather. He hadn't spoken or seen him since they brought Pettigrew in. Was he avoiding him? Theodore had no clue as to why he never left to at least talk to him. He was right there all this time, and they could've talked about anything. But could they? The year's highs certainly came with its lows, and Snape was one of them.
When Gryffindor proved to be victorious for the third time in a row, Theodore was eating the last meal of the year like it was his last. Oliver was clanking goblets with everyone, and the twins gave a jokingly heartfelt toast for him as it was his final year at Hogwarts.
"Here here, here here!" Everyone took a swig of Pumpkin Juice and clapped for him as he bowed to everyone. The feast continued as Theodore stuffed his face with the last bits of food that he could fit inside. Madam still hadn't replied to his letter, and Sawer only came back the day before with no note from Louise either. He was beginning to wonder if they had reached them at all and that he wasted money on an owl.
The feast was soon over as the students returned to their common rooms to spend their final minutes in the castle. Theodore told the others that he would up with them soon and that he had to do one final thing before he'd leave. He trailed behind the Slytherins going down to the dungeons and heard Draco cursing from in front before Flint told him to be quiet. Nobody had noticed the Parselmouth following them, and they didn't notice when he split away to wait outside Snape's office door.
He knocked on the door three times and waited for Snape to allow him inside.
Theodore twisted the handle and entered the office to be met with Snape rearranging jars on the shelves behind his table. They both stared at each other for a while, then it was broken soon enough by the boy. "So, the raven that came inside your classroom… That was you?"
Snape murmured a little to confirm his question, then flicked his wand to shift his belongings into a relatively small trunk in the corner. He went back to rearranging and labelling the jars as Theodore stood there sheepishly, waiting for conversation. What was he supposed to say? The words made no sense in his head; only one question seemed to form itself in all of its madness.
"Do you — do you want to talk?"
Snape froze for a moment, then murmured again. Theodore took that as a yes and sat down promptly without another word. He didn't know why he was so quick to sit. Snape set the jars down and turned to face him from the shelves. Still stoic as ever. But he had to get it out of him.
"Why didn't you come for me when I was at Stuggle's? You knew, but… you didn't come."
"I knew every single type of danger that would come your way… should you have stayed with me. If I took you in and raised like I should have, then I would not be protecting you at all. Followers of the Dark Lord could have taken you from me and would raise you to become just like your father. Your mother did not want any of that. I could not pass you off as my own; the public would find out soon enough. If they knew who your parents were, nothing on Earth would stop them from killing you. I could not take… I could not do that to Valerie…"
"But… but she said it had to be you…"
"Valerie could have wanted me to take you in, but she knew in her heart that I could not… Your mother… I missed her so much, and I was hurt… but I was not going to let her son die. That was the least that I could do…"
"And — and you still think about her?" Theodore managed to give out.
Snape lifted his eyes to the boy, face and eyes shaped by his hurt as he looked at the remaining vestige of Valerie Potter. "Every day…"
Theodore didn't feel angry at all. Here he was thinking that it'd all fall to irreparable pieces when it was the opposite of that. He didn't know much, probably not even enough, but it was enough for him. If only he knew that he cared before, if he knew that someone out there truly cared for him when he didn't think so, then he wouldn't have said any of those things.
The sounds of footsteps and chatter along the hallway behind the office door broke Theodore's immersion as he was reminded that it was time to head for the Express. "I — I have to go now."
Snape merely nodded his head and summoned the papers on his desk to his trunk, flicked his wand one last time for the intricate locks to fit themselves into each other. The door opened slightly, but he didn't hear it close. Theodore was standing halfway through the doorway with his hand inside his hoodie pocket.
"If — If you really think about her every day, then this could help you remember her." Theodore brought out a small photograph from his pocket and slid it across the table. Valerie, twenty years old, was smiling brightly behind her home in a garden. Turning back around to the door again, he was almost left…
Theodore didn't turn back, yet he couldn't help stopping that twinge of happiness creeping on his face. He closed the door softly behind him and left the dungeons for Gryffindor Tower to quickly get his animal companions when he saw Harry and Ginny walking down the steps together. Viripin was wrapped around Ginny's shoulders, and Sawer was hooting in his cage when he saw his owner approaching.
"Had a good year?" hissed the Maibian Adder when she was passed onto his shoulders.
"The best so far, that's for sure. And I'm certain that the next will be even better."
"Haha, don't push it."
"So you got your mum's house, she left you her inheritance, but you have no idea where any of that is, and… and…"
"Yes, Ron. Snape is my godfather. I've only said it three times."
Ron gazed at the will again, twisting his face for the fourth time in confusion for it still didn't make any sense to him. The castle and grounds were vanishing from sight as the Hogwarts Express rumbled along the railway back to King's Cross, and the quartet were inside their own compartment with the air of Theodore's revelation being unable to escape.
"Snape is your — how come you never showed this to us before?"
Theodore took the will back and stuffed it in his pocket. "Tension was running high between us, don't you remember? Besides, it's not like it matters that much, right? Snape's still my teacher."
"And your godfather," added Ron as he bit into a Cauldron Cake. "Next year is just going to be weird. Imagine one of your relatives teaching you a subject. I wouldn't mind Charlie taking over Magical Creatures for a bit. Hagrid's great, but… you know."
"After Buckbeak's dead trial, I'm sure that he'll be more careful. I hope he will anyway. Did you ask him about these spiders, Ron?" Theodore asked, chewing on a Liquorice Wand.
"No fucking way I did! Next, he'll be introducing all of us to them like mutual friends!" He looked over to Hermione, who was sitting next to him while she oddly stared into the space in front of her. "You're unusually silent. Missing school already"
"Hmm? No, I was just thinking about the summer. We're all going to your house still, right?"
"Theodore's undecided, and Harry is — Harry? Still thinking about Sirius?"
Harry shook his head and blinked. "Just thinking about the holidays as well."
"I might see if Madam Geoffrey would drive me up to Elmbridge before I come over," said Theodore. "That way, I'll see if you'll like the house."
"Well, we're going to share it, obviously."
"But it's yours, not mine! Your mum gave it to you, and you can't share it if my name's not on the will!"
"Potter Residence, Harry. Not Riddle, Potter."
"Your last name may be Riddle, but you're as much of a Potter as I am."
Theodore looked over to the fields outside as he said, "Theodore Potter… Can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I'll stick to my own name."
"Fine by me, Riddle. Fine by me."
They spent the rest of the journey back playing about while Theodore attempted the Patronus Charm before they'd reach King's Cross. Despite utterly failing (Harry said that he was making superb progress), he knew he was capable. He wondered what animal was hiding in his soul, waiting to reveal itself when it was ready. He was hoping for a snake like Viripin.
When the Express came to a halt and the children spilled onto the platform, Theodore covered his arm bandages as much as he could while shifting the one on his head to make it look like a tame injury. Madam wasn't going to be happy at all. They passed through the magical barrier soon enough, and saw all their carers waiting for them, from Mr and Mrs Weasley, Mr and Mrs Granger, the Dursleys, but no Madam or Gretchen. More time to spend the last few minutes with friends he supposed. He followed Ron, Ginny, Fred, George and Percy over to their parents as they hugged every single one of them, Theodore, Harry and Hermione included.
"I heard about what you did, Theodore," beamed Mr Weasley while shaking Theodore's hand firmly. "Certainly had the Ministry's corners being filled with your name, that's for sure!"
Because it was him, Theodore repressed his annoyance to the general belief that it was down to him and him only to capturing Pettigrew, and he just smiled at the elder Weasley while replying with, "Actually, Mr Weasley, Pettigrew wouldn't have been captured if one of us weren't there. In fact, it was Ron who saved the day in the end. If he didn't take him down with the Ford Anglia, then who knows what could've happened!"
Ron grinned at his mother nervously like he was expecting an embarrassing lecture from her, but received one of her powerful hugs as she ruffled his hair a little. "I'm so proud of you! I shouldn't be encouraging you to taking down Dark wizards, but I guess it's just the Prewett in you. You gave the car in to the authorities, right?"
"Yeah! Yeah, I did!" Ron glanced over to his dad, then back to his mother.
Theodore had slunk away a little from the family to see Harry off with the Dursleys. The sight of him nearly startled Petunia completely. For the slimmest fraction of a second, Theodore thought of introducing himself properly over to them as the Dark Lord's son in the most casual way possible, but was held off the notion when somebody poked him a little in his back.
"Mum and Dad are in a bit of a hurry, so I have to go now," said Hermione quietly in front of him. "I also wanted to thank you for what you tried to do in the Forest. I didn't see it coming so quickly so… thanks."
"Hmm? What — what thing did I do?" Theodore's memory of the Forest was blurred when he fell asleep right after. "You mean leaving the castle?"
"No, I mean — don't worry about it. I'll see you soon, OK?" Hermione lifted herself on her tiptoes and planted her lips on his cheek again before she waved at everyone whilst skipping to her parents, who were already outside the building.
Theodore touched where she kissed him and stood in the middle of the Muggle platform without realising where he was. It took the repeated calling of his name to snap him out of his daze when Madam Geoffrey came into full vision.
"Theodore, I've been calling your name for how long? How was your — Dear God, what happened to you?!" She checked all over his skull and asked if he had any other injuries to which he said only on his arm. He'd hide his chest from her for as long he stayed at Stuggle's, and that was the truth. "Theodore, what — why?! Why do you look so hurt?!"
"We did horse-riding. Turns out that it's not really my thing. But I'm all right; the matron is a real professional. Said that it'd heal up nicely in a few days."
"You sure I don't need to take you to the hospital?"
Theodore nodded. "Madam, did you get my letter about me wanting to stay over my friend's house for the holidays?"
"I did, but that bloody owl was screeching and wouldn't let me send one back to you. Professor Dumbledore never told me that you trained owls to send letters. Now, where are these friends of yours? Are they here?"
He turned and pointed at the Weasleys, and they all waved back at him. "See? They're friendly people. Devon is not that far from here, is it?"
The Madam smiled back at the amiable family of seven and turned back to the Parselmouth. "I've gone an entire year without seeing you though. You even got a little beard growing on your chin. But if they are good people, then I see no good reason for you to not go, but I have news that I've been wanting to tell you for the past month."
"What is it?" Theodore felt so happy that he didn't think whatever the Madam kept a secret could overwhelm his joy.
"Well, the Reaguls are visiting London for just a week. They called me because they wanted to know if you wanted to see Louise again. Isn't that great?"
And that is the end of that super-chapter. Also: CANON DIVERGENCE! PoA is finally over and I can truly write whatever the fuck I want. Well, not WHATEVER I want but with a little more creative control. Pettigrew's arrested, Sirius could be free, Snape is just warming up to Theo by just a bit, Louise is back in London and Theodore and Hermione are… I'm going to take a little break because school is starting soon so again, just a little hiatus. Take some time to think about what's going to happen in the summer, the fourth year and beyond because a lot is going to change here. I snap my fingers while pointing and winking at you for I will now say, later.