He stumbled a little on the cold concrete pavement upon appearing from thin air, breathing heavily as he took in his obscure surroundings which were poorly lit from the dimming lampposts along the street. The young man was clad in robes that almost melded him in the darkness around him, save for his sallowish-red skin that stood out. This area was unfamiliar to him; he had never been anywhere prominent in London except for his childhood visits to Diagon Alley. Nothing could help him in this situation, except the fresh piece of paper that he was clutching in his right hand.
Severus took a second and final glance at Valerie's Last Will and Testament while he felt the cold night's gusts cutting against his face, making him unable to blink rhythmically. His eyes had been stripped of all his tears that they felt shrivelled up in his sockets. Dry eyes, a constricting throat and a dying heart: Severus didn't want to carry on. But he had to, he must.
He hated himself for it that he hadn't spoken to her since he told her. Valerie's whereabouts became vague over the last two weeks from when he told her to flee with her child, away from the Dark Lord, but he lost contact completely three days prior. When he came to visit their place of hiding near his own home in Cokeworth, the empty cottage was more than enough to show that she had been compromised. But by who? By what? The Fidelius Charm was almost perfect, even if it didn't fall into his area of expertise.
'So why did you run, Valerie? Why did you leave? Tell me you're safe. Tell me that you're OK, because I can't lose another…'
Severus finally decided to move along the street hurriedly, recycling the words written by Valerie that came from the Will with the goal of finding the place of name. She never told him about leaving the boy at an orphanage, yet she mentioned that it was he to become Theodore's guardian, should she — he shook his head and brushed his greasy hair away from his face. "She's not dead," he told himself over and over again. "She's OK. Theodore's OK. If she's dropped him off, then I'll take —"
A decimated battlefield was what he halted at near the end of the third street from the four-way junction. Severus had never seen a sight more destructive and horrible to the eyes. The road looked like it had been partially ripped from the ground and exposed the pipes and wires that led underneath it. Jagged, uneven debris littered the street with some being firmly planted through the windows of the residents nearby, along with the occasional fires that burned the hedges in their front lawns at best. Cars were upturned, windows and doors were destroyed, and the fires didn't seem to yield to the cold wind. A duel, a furiously vicious duel, no doubt. Valerie couldn't have been a part of this. So, why did he feel as if he was lying to himself?
Severus brought his wand out and swished it in the air to snuff out the flames but stuffed it back in his robes when dreary-looking Muggles, who became livid in an instant, started to flood out from their attacked homes. "What the hell has happened to my house?! Delilah, come look at what happened to our house!"
"My roses!" shrieked one woman from behind Severus. "They're burning into a crisp and — my car! Where's my car?!"
"My car's gone as well! It's those boys from around the corner, I'm telling you! Always nicking people's property when they snort all that stuff! I'll have the Mayor's head when I complain to him! Fucking Lambeth — You! What're you doing over there?! Was it you who did this?!"
Severus garnered several accusations left and right that he had no time to be caught by everyone pointing fingers at him. Whatever would come out of this would be the Ministry's problem, not his. He had to find them, her, him, either of them to know if they were safe.
But while his legs carried him swiftly away from the screaming Muggles on the destroyed street, his heart was beginning to fill up with lead, dragging itself down in his body when the worst thoughts came to mind. If it had been Valerie who was duelling with whoever, what happened to the boy? Did she have Theodore under her arm while she fought her attackers off?
He stopped short again when another haunting sign fell before his eyes. A bell had been deeply embedded in a rundown-looking bookstore with the rope attached to it on top being severed almost completely, and two cars from both ends of the street were upside-down and crumpled like they fell from a fatal height. Everything was just throwing him off, but the pool of blood that was being smothered along the road to form a trail was where his attention was fixated. Severus bent over to his knees and observed the blood before he followed the trail.
"They're OK… they're OK…"
Severus had his eyes pinned to the ground and ignored the stares from a group of teenaged boys smoking near an alleyway as he followed the blood. Who it belonged to, he almost didn't want to find out. This had to be someone magical; this could've been Valerie's assailant. The Dark Lord had sent dozens of his followers after her, but none were successful. Perhaps that is why she ran, because they found her somehow. Severus felt relief for a fleeting moment, for if it was the case, then she'd be long gone with Theodore hidden safely from his father.
The thickening and thinning trail winded through the streets of Lambeth, spreading across pavements and patches of grass. Severus wondered how much blood would be needed to be lost from this person until they'd drop dead. He could see no body in sight, not even a silhouette of a corpse that gave up and propped itself against a tree, car, or lamppost. But he did see, in the distance, flashes of blue light that coloured the houses on the sides and a broken choir of weary engines blaring together.
The blood carried on forwards and continued to the direction of the blue flashes where Severus could see a small building being surrounded by three police cars and an ambulance on the side. Surely, the person who was crawling all this way here must've bled out to death around here. The thought that the attacker must've died in an attempt on Valerie's life filled Severus with solace that felt real. He almost turned away to return to his home to report back to Dumbledore, but all feelings of consolation vanished when he saw the name of the building on a rusted sign hanging by an archway at its gates.
"Stuggle's…" Severus muttered, feeling a little lightheaded and dead inside. The three officers that followed a detective in an orangey-red nightgown brought him out of his state of dazing when he realised that they were following the blood trail to its source. And he was standing right above it.
Not wanting to be seen by anyone else, Severus luckily managed to avoid being caught in their flashlights as he ducked over to the side into somebody's compact front-yard and watched them leave to the direction he came from. Once they were out of sight with their mumblings about their jobs losing their mediocrity being silenced, he then crouched down into a ball with his knees tucked next to his chest when he started to shrink rapidly. His hair and black robes meshed together to form greasy feathers, and his hooked nose became a beak of the same shape; a large raven stood in the same place and instantly lifted itself in the air above the orphanage.
Five more officers were surrounding the entrance of the building with tape almost cornering the entire area. A middle-aged woman with dark skin being stained by blood on her hands and shirt was talking with a policewoman while turning back to the open door to tell someone called Gretchen to stop a baby from waking the rest of the children up with its crying. The raven didn't catch a single word from how high he was in the air and was only observing the ways to get inside. A baby, could've been Theodore, could've been anyone else. But he had to be sure.
He suddenly dived down towards the ground and flew around the back to see any openings that he could worm himself through. A window covered with cobwebs that was right next to a grey shed with horrid foundation, had been tilted open just wide enough for him to enter the building without any suspicion coming his way. The raven flapped over to the window and used its beak to jemmy it even further so that there'd be less struggle for him.
Finally managing to get past, the raven stood still by the windowsill as it was trying to make out what was inside the room that was void of light, save for the door being ajar that allowed some light to seep through. The raven then hopped down from the windowsill to a small cabinet next to a yellowed radiator and then to the tiled floor. Severus quickly emerged from the ground and eased his control, or lack of, over his lungs to keep himself cool.
'She's OK. They probably just called the police because a baby had shown up on their doorstep, along with somebody who had died,' he assured himself. He slipped the Will back inside its envelope and sealed it like it was brand new. Bringing out his wand a second time, he silently conjured a ball of white light that filled the entire room as he looked through the half-open door. Nobody, thankfully, was coming near the door at all.
Severus thought the door was a little stiff but didn't dwell on that at all. "Where's the body then? Upstairs, or with them?" he said a little too loudly. Lucky that there was nobody in his proximity. He finally moved away and turned around as he said, "Theodore has to be here then. She dropped him here and left afterwards. If I'm correct, then the person who crawled here knew that he was going to be here but died before getting to him. Yes, that must be it. Thank God that you're both —"
There were two beds occupying the room, one empty with a blanket on top that was inside a basket, which resembled expensive wizarding robes that had been torn off neatly. The other bed confused Severus for just one second, but only for one second. He wanted to be confused for so much longer. On the bed was a mound covered by a thin blue sheet, laying hauntingly still as the ball of light started to flicker by dimming quite a little.
Severus stretched his arm out to the bed with his hand nearly falling into a violent spasm and used his fingers to lift some of the sheet closest to him but choked when he saw the pale arm fall out to hang stiffly on the side. A black, faded skull with a serpent winding through its sockets and mouth was embedded in the forearm, those fingers instantly recognisable to him as he fell to his knees weakly.
"No…" he whimpered with tears of utter failure burning his cheeks when he touched the cold, dead hand. "Not you too… Not you too…"
Severus's jaw was quivering when he pulled the sheet off to see her lifeless and unmoving. "Oh God… Valerie…! Valerie!" He buried his head in her shoulder, sobbing so bad that he wished that it was he who died. Why her? Why not him? It was his fault, he told him the prophecy. And because of that, he paid the ultimate cost.
"I'm sorry… I'm so sorry," choked the broken man as he cried even further over his final friend's dead body. "If I'd known then… I wouldn't have… It's all my fault, and I'm sorry… Valerie, I'm sorry… Lily, I'm sorry…"
A wonky bronze quill, an ink bottle that had almost reached its end, and three separate pieces of paper was neatly arranged on Theodore's new desk that sat exactly where the old one used to be. On the day that he returned, Madam Geoffrey finally noticed how the desk became rickety over the years and was not hesitant to throw it away for a new one. Theodore didn't mind the fact that he had something new in a while but felt a little uncomfortable with it being gone as he considered it memorabilia from the things he found in the orphanage. It still was a nice desk: mahogany with a very nice sheen to it. But that wasn't where he met his focus.
Theodore had been unable to pick up his quill for the past hour and a half, for the birds that flew across the cloudless summer sky, and the noises from the other children outside his door was snatching his interest at every given moment when he'd looked down on his desk. Viripin was laying in a patch of sunlight in her extended slumber while Sawer was unusually quiet in his cage. The owl, however, did not look sad in the slightest compared to the previous summer. All three of them were in complete silence, and they enjoyed it like that. After all, there was a lot to carry over from the third year, and that was a task that Theodore just couldn't execute so quickly.
'I should send him a letter, right? He'd be expecting one. Or maybe not… It's much too early to be sending a letter to him. We only just started to talk, if you call that talking. No, Theo, you have to write something to him, anything at least. Harry's probably writing to Sirius every day now, so it doesn't mean that you can't do the same. Maybe I should call him Severus — no. Absolutely not. So wrong…'
Theodore leaned back in his chair and rubbed his chest from where Sirius attacked him. As predicted by Madam Pomfrey, the wounds on his head and arm healed up pretty quickly by the second day he returned from King's Cross, but like she also predicted, his chest was a slightly different story. A 'hypertrophic scar' it was, according to the nurse of the orphanage. Not as severe as other people, but very noticeable against his pale skin. It was only her and Madam who would see the scars and nobody else. It was still quite haunting to look at if he stared at it for too long.
"Can't even write a stupid letter, and Louise hasn't called in for a week. I've only got four more days until I go to Ron's house, and she still hasn't come yet," he said to himself. Theodore had been thinking about Louise for quite a while ever since Madam told him the news at King's Cross. According to her, the Reaguls were staying in a pristine hotel suite down in Central London, which was not that far from Stuggle's. He didn't try to pester Madam into asking to call her but did consider waking up at night to use the telephone in her office. Of course, so much could've gone wrong with that, but could you blame him?
"Viripin? Are you awake?"
"All right, I'll let you sleep even more. It's almost midday, could you wake up a little earlier next time?"
Theodore shook his head and hid all of his writing equipment back into his cupboard. None of it was worth much to anyone anyway. His fourth trip to Diagon Alley was much anticipated, and he wondered if he'd stay long enough at the Weasleys to go with them. It was a trend for him to go there with different people every year after all.
The Parselmouth gave one final nudge to the unresponsive Maibian Adder before giving up when she wouldn't budge any further and left his room, for lunchtime was in just under two minutes. A girl, no older than five, zoomed right past him while she chased her two other friends down the stairs to the dining hall. She took one look at him from behind her shoulder before she resumed her chase. Not caring at all, Theodore waited for all his neighbours on the top floor to spill out of their rooms and trailed as the last one downstairs.
The dining hall was noticeably quieter than the previous year, several unused seats and benches being propped up against the walls as the other children lined up for their food. By the time Theodore reached the serving area, most of what he would consider decent was still leftover; he didn't think twice about choosing them quickly. Being on the same age as somebody going into Year Ten meant, unfortunately, that he would be one of the last ones to be served. But he wasn't irked by this. Just a few more days he'd say to himself repeatedly.
Theodore took his tray and sat on the benches for the older children without looking up at who he was sitting with. Freddie was sat on his right eating through his portion of dessert, and Richard was on his far left ignoring his arrival. As long as he kept it that way, then it was fine by him.
"Richard, I told you not to take my summer homework! Mrs Levon will know if you copied — Hey, Theo!" Elise sat between the two boys with her own tray and smiled to each one. "The lasagne looks a lot better, doesn't it? Madam hired a new cook yesterday."
"Yeah, I can see the difference," Theodore replied almost unconvincingly as he used his fork to tug a string of cheese from his plate. "It's not as thick as cement and doesn't have any bits of hair inside. How did we even survive with eating from the other cook?"
"Apparently, it was Gretchen who got him hired."
Elise started on her lunch but held back to ask Theodore another question. "Theo, how's it like in your school? You don't really talk about it."
"Nothing interesting about it. Just an average boarding school."
"It's just average, but you came back home with bandages all over?"
Theodore heard a snigger coming from Elise's left and leaned forward to get a better look at him. Richard was covering his mouth with a tattered sleeve to hide the fact that he found Theodore nearly dying hilarious. Well, he didn't know the whole story — nobody did — but it didn't make Theodore any less annoyed. "Got something to say, Glaise? Or did you just pig yourself out so much that you choked on your lasagne?"
"Nice one," grinned Freddie before he left the table.
Elise elbowed the wizard in his arm and gave him a look that told him to ignore Richard; Theodore complied. "Anyway, everyone thinks that you're an animal expert because you got an owl and a snake. Did a horse slam into you, or…?"
"Um… a dog. A really big dog," Theodore simplified after finishing his plate. "Not really that great with animals to be honest. Don't be fooled by Viripin and Sawer: they're just —"
"What kind of stupid names are 'Viripin' and 'Sawer'?" Richard sneered from his side.
"— different from other animals," Theodore continued. He side-eyed Richard again and felt a spark of fun running up his spine. "Sawer is just really well trained, but Viripin? She's something else! Elise, did you know that I'm very much of a snake person? It's not that hard to understand them, you know. It just comes to me naturally, like it's second nature. And sometimes, if I really want to, I can make her slither into other people's rooms at nighttime for a surprise. I know that Richard loves surprises, don't you? Almost as much as you love snak—"
Richard struggled to scramble himself away from the benches as his leg became stuck underneath by a screw in the table.
Elise attempted to make him stay put by saying that it was just a joke, but he didn't hear a thing. She watched him running away whilst spilling his unfinished food, then shot an angry glare at the content wizard. "You're being just as immature, Theodore, you know that? Why would you say something like that? Now he's going to be spooked for the next week!"
Theodore rubbed the side of his mouth with his thumb and said, "It was a joke, OK? If he actually thinks that I can talk to snakes, then it'll be his problem for being cautious of me. He laughed about me getting attacked by a dog!"
"All right, but you don't have to — he…" Elise struggled to get out. "OK, I understand, but you have to understand him as well. Not only is he deathly afraid of snakes, but you brought one home from your first year back. And you were gone for a year. There's no telling what you did, or what you'll do during the summer."
"Seems to me like you think I'm plotting to overthrow the orphanage," said Theodore in a nonchalant tone. "As I said, an average school, and Glaise won't have to worry about running into me because I won't be here."
Elise looked immediately interested but became a little distant at the same time. "Really? You're not staying? Where're you going?"
"A friend's house from school." Theodore took his tray and stood up without finishing the mushy pea soup on the side. "Madam said that I could go stay with them for the entire summer up until we go back to school again."
"Oh. Well, I hope you have fun, I guess."
"Thanks. I hope that you'll have fun with Glaise as well."
"Leave me alone, Theo," Elise returned as she rolled her eyes at the wizard. Theodore saw the faintest smile and turned to the bins to empty his plate, then returned to Elise to say goodbye briefly before leaving for his room.
That was mostly his routine, wake up and talk with Viripin, go downstairs to eat and come back up to do the same thing every day: he couldn't wish for the week to go any slower. Every time he'd think about the Weasleys would only drag the week even more. A perfect holiday was waiting for him with them, Harry, Hermione — Hermione…
Louise was on his mind from times to times, but Theodore couldn't stop thinking about Hermione, even if he tried. He'd still feel his cheek, remembering when she kissed him twice and made him forget where he was. He wouldn't feel overly joyous or giddy when he thought about her: he just felt… in place. Like he finally got over every bit of self-denial, and he did. Five weeks with her outside school. None of his father trying to come back in more ways than one, or escaped prisoners of Azkaban…
Theodore pushed his bedroom door open with an air of cheerfulness lingering around him and flopped onto his bed quite clumsily. All that was needed for him to be in a good mood was to think about Hermione. And to think that he was so against the idea of liking her. He still didn't fully understand it, but did it matter? The Parselmouth turned on his back and stared up at the ceiling, sighing so loudly that he could be heard from the other occupant in the room.
"You look happy for somebody that's been complaining that they're bored to death," said Viripin from the bottom corner of the bed. She slid herself over his sheets and rested her head on his stomach, making sure not to touch his sensitive scars.
"I'm still bored. Just thinking about when I'll leave for Ron's soon."
"Well, I don't blame you. Every summer since I've been here has always been anything other than boring. Can't say that I enjoy being abandoned or attacked by crazy people."
"Sirius is not crazy, Viripin," said Theodore quickly as he sat up to stroke her properly. "He's just damaged. Yeah, he did attack us, but it wasn't his fault. Not saying that I'm completely over it though. And I'm sorry for leaving you, OK? You're always making me feel bad when you mention that…"
"I'm sorry. You were my only friend at the time, and I thought that you wouldn't want me at all," she hissed sadly.
Theodore held her closer and kissed her on her about before saying, "Twelve-year-old me was an idiot. You won't have to worry about that anymore. From now on, Theodore Riddle is going to be level-headed and even more mature, you'll see."
Viripin huffed sarcastically and hissed, "Yeah, I'd like to see that. But I understand how you feel. I can't wait to see Ginny again!"
"You really seem to like Ginny, don't you?" Theodore said curiously. "Didn't think that the two of you were that close."
"Ginny's… different from other people. She's sort of like you, in fact. There's more to her than you realise."
Theodore knew that to be true, and he promised himself that he'd look into that when he'd arrive at the Weasleys. Talking with Ginny about something that neither of them really wanted to look back on was going to be difficult on both sides, but he would cross that bridge when he would meet it.
"But I'm not the only one waiting to see someone. You reek of happiness."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Hermione, Theodore. I'm talking about Hermione."
"Oh! U-umm…" he stammered whilst scratching his elbow. "I mean, of course I can't wait to see her, Ron and Harry. We're going to spend the summer with each other, so I'd obviously be happy about that."
"And you're even happier that she'll be there as well, right?" Viripin asked teasingly.
"Took you long enough. For a while, I thought that you never wanted a girlfriend."
"Hermione's not my —! She isn't —! At least, not… not…" Theodore stammered again.
Viripin moved her head back to level herself with his eyes and finished his sentence by saying, "Yet?"
"You know what, I don't want to talk about this." Theodore scrambled off his bed and pulled out his trunk from his cupboard to take Moste Potente Potions from the inside as he continued, "Nothing is going to happen because it'll be the four of us, plus everyone else. We won't be alone —"
"And what if you are alone?" the Maibian Adder asked with self-joy that she kept him talking on when he didn't want to. "What then?"
"Then… then…" Theodore had been alone with Hermione multiple times, but it would be entirely different now that he saw her as more than just a friend. He was never good with girls, so it was safe to say that he had no clue. But it was summer: almost anything can happen. "I'm going to read for a bit. Don't bother me," he muttered with the book wide open on his desk.
"Wouldn't even think about it."
Theodore blindingly flicked over through the pages and couldn't retract from the idea of what the summer could hold for him. Sirius's trial was very much around the corner, and they'd soon announce the witnesses being the quartet primarily. It was only a matter of time until the date would be known, for Theodore knew that the public would protest for the injustice that was given to Sirius and the retribution of Pettigrew if they had common sense.
'They'd know better than to give that scumbag anything less than twelve life sentences, Fudge, Lestrange and whoever the hell Amelia and Dolores are… This is taking forever! When will the Weasleys come? When is Louise going to come? Doesn't she want to see me again…?'
He looked out of the window, hoping that it wasn't the case. Louise wouldn't just come down to London without seeing him at least once. Three years apart wasn't enough to break seven years of pure friendship. Things did change, Theodore did change, but as far as she knew, he was the same person that she saw leaving through the door nearly three years ago. All he needed was patience. She'll come, he knew she will.
Something was scratching against the window, but no response was made from inside the small bedroom.
There it was again, only a little louder. Still no reaction…
The insistent flapping of wings combined with heavy butting against the window finally got to Theodore. He had spent the rest of his afternoon reading or playing with Viripin and went to take a nap in the early evening when his boredom had reached its peak. There he was laying comfortably on his bed, body sprawled out in almost every direction possible with Viripin lazily on top of him, absorbing the heat from him, when his peace had to be disturbed. He thought to himself that Harry must've sent a letter to him about Sirius, or Ron assuring him that they were coming soon to get him, or Hermione just wanting to know —
Well, that got him half-awake. Theodore moved Viripin to the side and stood up from his bed to stretch as much as he could. Rubbing his eyes to get a clearer look at the window, Theodore saw a snowy owl behind the pane and hobbled over to let Hedwig in, only realising that it wasn't her. This owl was a male, judging from the fact that it had a lot fewer dark spots on its feathers than Hedwig did, and it had a satchel on its side with something poking out.
"Oh, you must be the Prophet owl for my subscription. I paid for this like three days ago, and that was one of my last Knuts…" He turned back to under his bed and brought out one of his seven remaining Knuts from last year to give to the owl. He dropped it into a pocket on the pouch and poured out a small pile of seeds on the sill as he took his copy of the Prophet in hand. "Lucky that I got this in time. I would've thought that the morning edition would be — here we go!"
THE CASE OF THE CENTURY IS STILL AT WORKS!
The news of Sirius Black's infamous breakout from Azkaban last year had, and still is, been quite a controversial matter within our community. From the Minister for Magic, to the Head of the Magical Law Enforcement and to the Headmaster of Hogwarts, we've been given a chance to really look at ourselves as a whole and ask: are we all incompetent?
A bit too vague of a question to start off with? I understand. Then let's talk about it all. Let's talk about the defences in Azkaban and how our 'trusted' guards failed to keep one man inside, no matter how innocent he may seem to be, and how they failed to capture him at every attempt (no doubt the courtesy of the Minister). Surely, we must see how these creatures of darkness are not suited for our protection from those who don't obey the law. Death Eaters may be an exception, but those regular folk that may have accidentally revealed themselves to Muggles? Retribution is not the same as deterrence, my dear Minister. But that is not any of my business.
And we believe Sirius Black to being innocent, no? If so, then shouldn't we look to those who had condemned him to twelve years of hell without giving him a trial to begin with? Demoting one to somewhere else in the Departments of the Ministry is hardly anything that could change a man from doing the same thing again. Yes, we can count on our trusted Amelia Bones to take over the mess that Barty Crouch left behind after his scandalous attitude towards his son, but who's to say lightning won't strike twice?
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Supreme Mugwump, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, the defeater of the Darkest wizard before You-Know-Who and man who is probably going senile as we speak. Put the blame on the Ministry for allowing Dementors to roam outside school grounds with helpless little children, but do not deny the fact that Dumbledore was lenient about it. Multiple students attacked and injured in what could've been an onslaught nearly as dangerous as the previous year at Hogwarts (we still don't even know anything about it, other than the fact that there is an Heir of Slytherin at the school(?)), and dear old Dumbledore's done the bare minimum to keep it under control.
Did it have to come down to four children to put an end to all of this? Must've it been a child brought up from such humble backgrounds to clean up after the old man? Hand on my heart, I give the upmost respect to Albus Dumbledore for everything that he has done for this community, and for the wizarding world as a whole. But is this a sign for the new generation paving way to something even better than Dumbledore? It only took Theodore Riddle, fifteen, to open our eyes to the injustice that had been around us for twelve years by doing what Cornelius Fudge, what Barty Crouch, what Albus Dumbledore couldn't do —
"And that's where I stop reading," mumbled Theodore, stuffing the newspaper behind his bed tiredly. "Just waffling about absolute nonsense. How can you possibly compare me to Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard alive, when you barely know anything about me? And I'm fourteen, for God's sake…"
Theodore licked his chapped lips and felt his mouth becoming sticky with saliva. Thirst hit him straight in the throat, telling him to drink at once, and he was not going to argue with that feeling at all. Theodore took off his warm hoodie and laid it on top of Viripin, causing her to scrunch up into a ball hidden underneath it. He left his room soon enough and trotted down the stairs in a hunt for water — maybe even a snack to fill him up before he'd return to his room.
The hallways were rather empty, except for those his age and above. The privileges of entering 'Year Ten' was that he was not restricted to the curfew of the other children, being allowed to stay up an hour later. Theodore knew with all his heart that Gretchen was fuming on the inside knowing that she became severely crippled in trying to get him into trouble during the night. Very much a privilege.
He passed by the Madam's office without listening to the other voices that were inside and carried onto the dining hall that was still open at the hour. Theodore walked through the doors without looking back. What could possibly happen to him? The benches were against the wall, allowing the Parselmouth to cut through the hall to the kitchens instead of around it. The sounds of metal clanking next to each other and water crashing onto said metal could be heard from the kitchen doors, even some grunting as well. Theodore slipped inside and watched the cook sucking his ring finger whilst cursing repeatedly.
"These fucking knives are smaller than my pinky — oi! What are you doing out of bed? It's nearly —"
"I'm allowed out of bed," Theodore cut in. "I'm going to be in Year Ten after the summer."
"Is that so?" The bald cook used his hairy forearm to wipe his wrinkled sweaty forehead and opened up one of the cabinets to take out a medical box with plasters inside. "I suppose you also want some of the leftover cake, huh?"
"Actually, I just wanted some water, but cake sounds great! Where is it?"
"Please. Manners are seriously lacking within the youth today. It's over there behind the platter on your right. Don't take a massive slice! Every other person that came in here nearly raided the entire place, and I haven't had my lunch yet."
Theodore thanked him quickly and walked over to the platter to uncover the leftover slices of the strawberry dessert. Taking a slice that was rather large compared to what he had at lunch, he wrapped it in tissue paper and left the kitchen soon after with a glass of water in his other hand.
By the time he left the dining hall, the hallways were completely barren; not even Gretchen was there to patrol the corridors for children out of bed. Quiet and peaceful, just how he liked it. Even more so that he had plenty of time before he had to go back to his room.
Theodore was halfway through his cake that had been reduced to icing and crumbs as he passed by the Madam's office without a care of who was on the inside with the matron. That was until he heard the two voices that flicked an unfamiliar switch in his head. The Parselmouth set his glass and tissue on the bottom step and tiptoed slowly to the door without making a single squeak from the floorboards. Pressing his ear against the door, he homed in on the conversation behind the door while he tried to remember where he heard those voices.
"— of course, Cherise. We're more than happy to be coming back to London for the holidays. Mabel says that it's all about work, but I could've honestly stayed back in Sheffield if that was the case."
"I'm sorry, dear. But we are over the moon to be back here. My brother is hosting a get-together for the family soon, but I think the person who's most excited about this trip is Louise. Isn't she, Mabel?"
"Oh, of course! She hasn't spoken much about London after the first year, but when she heard about us coming back, you should've seen her face! Like an angel, I'm telling you! I'm certain that she'll want to spend as much time as possible with Theodore."
"I would think the same for Theodore as well," said Madam. "He hasn't stopped looking outside his window to see if she'd show up. Been waiting a long time, he was. He misses her so much. Took me a while to realise that, but Theodore really cares for her. It's nice to know that even after being apart, they're still as close as the day they met."
'So that's Mr and Mrs Reagul, I can tell now easily. But where's Louise? Did she not come?' Theodore thought to himself before pressing his ear harder against the door.
"I've been hoping to talk with Theodore properly, in fact. Louise is always telling me how he acts older than his age," Mr Reagul continued. "Is he here by any chance?"
Mrs Reagul scoffed and said distastefully, "Damien, we agreed on business being the priority when we'd get back. We've had enough of you persuading strangers on the street, Louise and I both."
"Mabel, I don't mind listening to what needs to be said. I'm interested as to what a high-brand real estate company from around the country could do with an orphan from London. Please, fire away."
Mr Reagul cleared his throat before he started to speak in a serious, almost businesslike tone. "I've been meaning to speak with Theodore for a few months now. Ever since we came back from our cruise, my reentry to the company had been a bit slippery, so I thought that I should start off slow and steady and work myself on the physical side. Computers are not that easy to operate, you know.
"Anyway, I was going through some files that had been collecting dust for some time now. I wouldn't call it fate but luck that I came across a Last Will and Testament that caught my eye, a document containing information about Theodore's familial background."
"No," gasped Madam through, presumably, her fingers as her voice sound muffled. "Familial background…? But… what do you mean?"
"This is quite a sensitive subject, Cherise. I shouldn't be revealing confidential information like this so easily."
"I'm his carer, Damien! I should have some insight to what possible family this boy may belong to!"
Theodore heard the sound of a chair creaking as Mr Reagul sighed heavily. "Very confidential, but it must be kept from him. Until, I speak to him directly, that is. All right, here it is. In our files, we possess a copy of Theodore's mother's Last Will that included Theodore's name as the recipient of her inheritance. And under our protection, his mother left him a house currently in Elmbridge that has been a family home for many decades, centuries maybe."
"This is… this feels almost overwhelming for some strange reason. I-I met the boy's mother when she left him at the doorstep. She… she struck me as somebody out of the norm, but not a person who owns a family home… Elmbridge, you say?"
"Yes. The house is under the family of the Potters, which was his mother's last name, Valerie Potter. I don't remember her requesting to write a Final Will, but one of my employees at the time informed me that it was definitely her who initiated the Will. Which is odd, considering the fact that she did not mention Theodore's father."
"Well? I mean… do you know anything about his father? You knew about his mother, so you must know something about his father as well."
"We haven't had any records for his father existing at all. From the timeframe of any 'Riddles' being born before Theodore had come up short and led to a dead end. But… now do not take my absolute word for it, but we might've found his family on his father's side. We're not too sure about it, but it's the only possible lead we have."
"And… who is part of this family? The Riddles?"
"Precisely. My father owned a manor down where the Riddles lived in Little Hangleton after the tragedy that fell fifty years ago. Gruesome. Absolutely gruesome. I couldn't even begin to tell you what became of the Riddles. My father had to tell me when I was ready to takeover the business. There were six Riddles from when the manor was still in use, the heads of the family being Thomas Riddle and his wife, Mary. Tom Riddle being their son, his wife Cecilia and their two children… I cannot bear to think on what history had become when it happened…"
"And you're sure that this 'family' belongs to Theodore?" asked the Madam in disbelief. "Aren't there any other Riddles across England?"
"Surprisingly, the name Riddle is not as common as you may think. Cross-referencing over three months allowed us to visit almost every Riddle in the country, none of them remotely living anywhere near Little Hangleton for several generations. And the little boy that I rarely saw nearly three years ago had absolutely no semblance to any of the families that we met."
"But how can you be this sure? Could it be possible that his family came from outside the country?"
"Well," Mrs Reagul said after being kept to herself for several minutes, "there was the yearly cleanup of the house, despite the caretaker's insistence that he was capable of doing it himself, and we came across this. We thought that it might change the way you think about this."
Theodore was listening with every word being banked in the back of his mind so that he could go over it once more. No, he had to listen to more of it before he'd think about it. Then —
"Oh, my God…!" Madam choked. "He looks just like him…"
"We thought he did. If this is true, then we're looking at a boy who had been abandoned by a family destroyed many years ago. If this really is Theodore's family, then maybe we — you can give him some sort of closure. I'm sure that he'll want to know everything he can about the family that he was never given."
"Don't you think that this is too much for him? To know that he could've had all of this, but grew up without it?"
"That's why we… we were hoping that we could take Theodore around with us for some time when we're free. Let him get comfortable before we'd tell him. He deserves to know, Cherise. You know in your heart that it's true."
"Of course. Yes, I understand… The two have been away from each other for so long. What do you think they could be possibly talking about upstairs?"
Mrs Reagul gave a small laugh. "If there's one thing I know about Louise is that she will talk with Theodore forever."
'Louise is upstairs…'
Theodore pulled away from the office door and turned away to look up the stairs at the darkened hallway on the first floor. Louise was right upstairs, probably inside his room at that very moment…
Madam and the Reaguls' voices faded away as the young wizard grabbed the bannister by impulse and pulled himself up the stairs slowly, feeling his body being dragged backwards by a nonexistent anchor. She was upstairs… The floorboards creaked just a little under his weight as he made it to the top of the stairs, and he looked over to his bedroom door to see it opened by just a little bit. He left it completely closed when he went downstairs. One second, he was at one end of the corridor when he found himself right behind his door breathing like he was almost drowning. She's right there…
Theodore's hand acted without his instruction, pushing the door open far enough that he could slip through the gap ever so swiftly. And he saw her. Right there, on his bed, he saw her.
"Louise…?" he spoke softly. It was a wonder how she managed to hear him from the door, for she turned her head around to see him half-basked in the sun's setting light.
The first thing that he saw was her eyes. Those bright green eyes that confirmed it was her. Theodore thought for a second that they were both eleven years old looking at each other when it struck him so hard that he nearly gulped in awe for this was not the same Louise from three years ago. She was so…
Louise had her mouth a little wide open from seeing him. It was like seeing a memory that came to life right in front of you but was changed over time so drastically in the best way possible. The first thing that she saw was his eyes. Those bright, nearly glowing hazel eyes. His cheeks were no longer babyish at all; his hair was brushed back a little bit to show his face in full, and he had gotten so much taller. He was so…
Pretty. She was so pretty. Even almost beautiful… No… she was… This almost didn't feel real. He was expecting to see her with her hair all over the place and that cheeky grin he missed so much, not a person who looked almost… angelic. What was he thinking? But she's so…
Louise was trembling on the bed for she never thought that she'd see him again, much less like this. The expression on her face displayed severe anxiety, almost fear at the situation. She felt like a stranger in a place she used to call home, and a stranger to a boy she used to call her best friend. He still was her best friend. So, why did she still feel like she didn't belong?
The girl swallowed painfully as she tapped her hands against her lap, keeping her eyes on the boy and vice-versa. She couldn't move at all. Not when he was just staring her down like this. This wasn't how she pictured their reunion being like at —
Louise sprung up from the bed in an instant and squealed when the hissing came out from nowhere behind her. She quickly scurried away, forgetting where she was until she hit something soft and warm in front of her. "D-did I just hear a snake?! Is there a —?!"
"It's all right," Theodore said quietly when she stopped mid-sentence to see his face as close as she could get. "It's all right…"
"Theo…" was all that she could say before her arms found themselves around the boy's neck, holding onto him tightly like it would be their last time seeing each other. Theodore held her so close, so close that he didn't think he could let her go at all. She already left without him saying goodbye, but he forgot about that. All the anger, hurt and confusion that he felt from her leaving was gone. All three years of separation, forgotten like they never happened.
A minute passed so quickly, and Louise pulled away from him just slightly so that she could see his face again whilst clinging onto him with her fingertips. Her smile of content soon fell into something resembling worry like none of this was supposed to happen, but that wasn't the case at all. "Theo, I'm so sorry about everything! For — for not telling you about it at the time, for not sending pictures of myself, and for not saying anything a few weeks ago! I-I wanted to surprise you, so —"
"You don't have to apologise for anything, Louise, OK? You don't have to be sorry at all," Theodore returned with a smile of pure bliss.
She took a deep breath and sighed, looking down at his chest before she lifted her head to smile at him again. That pretty, pretty smile. "Your voice sounds so deep. I can barely recognise it… I've missed talking to you face to face so much, Theo, you wouldn't understand."
"You think so? I did some crazy stuff when you left. I missed you so much like you wouldn't understand…" His words trailed away into nothingness. He didn't know what to say anymore. He had been thinking about this moment for so long, but it became lost in his own mind whenever he tried to find the words.
"Are you OK," she asked worryingly. "You don't look so…"
"I'm all right, I promise. Just can't believe that you're here, that's all."
The girl tilted her head slightly to the side and used her fingers to move some of the loose hair on his forehead back, still unable to look away from him. "Can't believe that I'm back here as well. And who would've thought that Theodore Riddle would get even prettier over the years, huh?"
"Oh… I-I — well, I-I don't really —"
"Theodore, who is that?" Viripin hissed, raising her head high to get a closer look at the unfamiliar girl. "Is that Louise?"
Louise grabbed onto Theodore even tighter than before, pushing back away from the bed as she dug into his chest a little bit. Theodore felt some of the harsh burning from his scars and winced just a little bit but kept his composure. "Theodore, why the hell do you have a snake inside your room?!"
"Umm… she's a pet?"
"A pet?" spat the offended Maibian Adder. "I am not a pet! You said it yourself!"
"It keeps on hissing at me! What, did I sit on it or something?"
"No, she's just… curious," replied the Parselmouth while he gave a sympathetic look over to the serpent. "I almost forgot that you don't really like snakes."
Louise gave out a small muffled scoff from his chest and muttered, "Don't really like? I almost died to one, remember? It was only because you somehow managed to drive it away in the nick of time that I didn't die." She showed her face again and looked over to Viripin with her head still raised. "She isn't going to bite me, is she?"
Theodore reassured her that Viripin was harmless and prised the frightened girl's hold off him gently to walk over and scoop Viripin up to pet her, whispering to her so quietly that Louise couldn't hear him say, "This is Louise, she's not that big on snakes, so you have to behave. This is not a choice for you to make at all."
Louise stared at her friend nuzzling a little with the snake as she brushed her snout against his cheek in an almost affectionate manner. Theodore had always been unafraid around snakes ever since she knew him, but she didn't think he'd go as far as to acquire one. Then again… "Is she… she won't do anything to me if I get close, will she?"
Theodore nodded at her and motioned for her to come closer, patting the space next him from where she sat before. Louise brushed some hair behind her ears, sucked in a lungful of air, then made her way slowly to the boy and snake, still wary of Viripin, who had her eyes fixated on her from the second she started to approach. The girl sat awkwardly on the bed and remained still for a minute, only deciding to lift her hand when she felt a nudge from Theodore, who didn't have a flicker of fear in his eyes at all.
"She won't bite, I promise."
Her hand suddenly found itself mere inches from the serpent's head, and when she brought it down on expecting to feel dry and bone-shivering scales, her fingers tingled from her sleek texture. Viripin moved her head into Louise's hand and nuzzled against it as if she were Hermione or Ginny.
"See? I told you. She likes you."
"Yeah…" Louise lost all sense of worry as if Viripin cured her fear of snakes in an instant, almost thinking that this snake was much too extraordinary to be normal. Almost like Theodore. How he left to an unknown school, the owls he sent with the letters attached, his moving picture…
Theodore oddly enjoyed the silence between them, thinking that it was just right. But it felt almost painful that he couldn't say anything to her about the years that went by with her away. His mother's photo album would remain a secret, his father would remain an absolute secret, nearly everything about him had to be kept away from her. Just because she was a Muggle. And that didn't seem fair. He didn't want to lie to her, to tell her that he did nothing interesting at all when his life had been on the line several times in such a short amount of time. Theodore wanted her to know all of it, everything that he could possibly pour out to her. Maybe… maybe he could make her feel if he just tried hard enough… just maybe…
He caught her gaze quickly and held her in place. This gift that he had by seeing beyond people's eyes like Dumbledore, like Sev— like his godfather, like his own father, it could work on Muggles? If he could push himself to reach further, then he could…
"Theo? You're staring at me again. Theo, are you OK?"
Theodore didn't know if it was easier for him to see into the mind of Muggles, or if Louise was capable of feeling such raw emotion that almost made him stagger from how much washed over him. Happiness, lots and lots of happiness was present. The sadness of inevitable parting in the future, that was so easy to read, and — and there it was, clear as day. Through her perfectly normal smile masked an unusual amount of attachment and affection towards him that if Theodore didn't know any better, he'd think that she was in —
And he's back! Took a while but I'm back people! It was nice to write a slowish chapter now that everything has calmed down from the last one. I left you guys on a bit of a cliffhanger so here is the rest of that. Theo and Louise reunited once more, how sweeter can it get?
Like I said, I'm going to have more freedom with writing what I want so this year and the following will be noticeably different from canon, starting with Theo's family. There's just so much that needs to be written that there's no time for waffling. Hope you liked this chapter, happy to be back and later.