It took all night for Theodore to assimilate everything that happened on the previous day; it was almost sleepless, his night, and even during the morning he was more reserved than usual. It was like it never happened. Nothing felt like it changed; everything looked the same, but it wasn't. Was he happy? Of course, he was over the moon for Louise's return. But… he was confused. Not just about her but about him, and somehow, he truly wondered what was this gift that allowed him to perceive what any person could be feeling from just a glance. How he saw — no, felt the way Louise…
He was flicking through his family's photo album to see each one of them again. His mother, uncle, grandfather and grandmother, possible cousins three times removed, maybe even great-great-great-and-so-on grandparents. Almost every single Potter from his family, grinning happily with one another without realising that they were down by two boys: one didn't even carry the family name.
The pages landed on the back cover as Theodore turned it back over on his lap to start from the beginning, only slower and sunken much deeper into his thoughts about the day before. And he thought about all of it.
'Of course, there had to be other Riddles. It's a Muggle name after all. But since when was a "common" name like Riddle scarce in England? How do they know that they're my family? They showed Madam something… a photo, it had to be one. She was so shocked… "He looks just like him," who, my dad? His father? So, I'm not the first carbon copy of a father in this "family," huh? Then again, "he" was named after his dad. Tom for his dad, Marvolo for his grandfather… Marvolo…'
He gazed down on the image of the Potters consisting of Valerie, James, Euphemia and Fleamont, all together behind a castle that looked too lob-sided to have been a functioning building for centuries. James was noticeably shorter than Valerie by a foot, her age looking to be about fourteen years old at least. Their parents were quite old yet held smiles that belonged to people a third of their age. Such a happy family, a family that didn't exist anymore… If only Theodore could see what they felt inside the picture…
'Louise… Since when? You never looked at me like that before, unless I never saw… Maybe I looked in too deep. Yeah, that's what it was. She was just happy to see me and whatever I did just overshot. Louise doesn't — doesn't love me. I'm just reading into it too much. It'd be pretty obvious… yeah…'
The photo album was once again on its final page as Theodore's disjointed thoughts became too repetitive that he managed to worm himself out to see that he was still inside his room. Madam Geoffrey made an announcement to everybody, right after the Reaguls left, that the money raised from the previous summer was going to be used for redecoration of the orphanage and that it would start with the living quarters. Theodore's bed was still much smaller than what he was used to; his bed at Hogwarts felt like a faint memory during the summer. He was hoping for a new one, maybe even wishing for one similar to the ones at school. But then, how would it possibly fit inside?
Three knocks on the door snatched his attention and was followed by the Madam's voice speaking behind it. "Theodore? Are you getting ready?"
"Ready? Ready for what?" Theodore replied, unsure to what the matron was implying.
"Theodore, I've told everybody right after breakfast. You shouldn't have left so quickly. Aren't you leaving for outside? You're fourteen going on fifteen, so you're of age."
He suddenly remembered how most of the older kids spent as much time as they could outside when he was much younger. "OK, I'm going. How long do we have to be outside?" he asked while stashing the album inside his trunk in the cupboard.
"Thirty minutes and not a second more," said Madam, "and you're going to have a partner with you as well."
Theodore pouted a little. "Really? A partner? I'm not going to run off again…"
"Everybody will have a partner, Theodore, not just you. In all seriousness, I should have you with three different people. Or maybe you should just stay behind —"
"No, no! You won't have to worry, Madam. I'm not going to do anything sketchy, I promise."
"Well, at this rate, you're not going to be doing anything if we carry on talking. Get a move on!"
The Parselmouth grabbed the nearest pair of shoes near him and stuffed his feet inside, but quickly blurted out a question midway his final lace-loop, asking, "Madam, is Louise coming around soon? You did tell them that I'm not going to be staying long, right?"
"I told them that you're leaving in three days time, but I don't know if they'll be coming around today. They had a family thing somewhere else. I honestly doubt they'll make it in time. But don't worry, you'll see Louise very soon. Now, stop chatting away and hurry up before I make you stay behind!"
Theodore obeyed, not wishing to stay inside his room a second further. Viripin was once again asleep on the corner of his bed, and Sawer's cage was empty with feathers and his droppings lying on the base, for the owl was delivering a letter — a decision that was strenuously difficult and risky for him to do — to Snape, wherever he lived. Best to clear his chest and his thoughts than to keep them bottled up, waiting for that explosive moment.
He stood up soon after without his wand, sensing no danger-feeling in his stomach that would hold him back otherwise. Theodore then left his room and walked downstairs to join all the other children of the higher tier, searching for Elise in the sweeping queue.
'Let's just hope we don't run into another escapee this time. The Ministry has already got enough shit on their backs, and this is before Skeeter's article. Anyway, where's Elise? You can't be pitying Glaise that much, can you? Doesn't matter. As long as I don't get him, Watson, or even worse —'
Ten minutes later…
Of course, it had to be worse. Much worse. What could've been more irksome to the very bone than being stuck with Glaise or Watson, two of the many people that Theodore resented during his entire time at Stuggle's? Well, for Theodore, he hit the target right in the centre for he had gotten 'worse', exactly what he had anticipated.
After a heated discussion with Madam Geoffrey, which obviously ended in his defeat, Theodore was grudgingly the last of the older children to leave for the day with his partner that was none other than Simeon Ferning himself, quiet and introverted, a definite inverse of what he used to be before Theodore —
Theodore gave one last look at the Madam to make her feel some sympathy towards him, but it only resulted in her shooing him away when the same girl that was playing with her friends tugged at her dress. Sulking once again, Theodore closed the door firmly behind him a bit harder than what the Madam would've liked and slowly joined the older boy.
Elise waved him off before she crossed the road with Richard and disappeared to the direction of where the local park was and left Theodore wondering where she — and he, subsequently — would go. It was only after foolishly twirling around in one spot did he think to himself that he should follow the same path from when he ran away, just because it was semi-familiar to him. Without a word, Theodore stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked along the littered pavements with a silent Simeon trailing behind him.
An odd feeling of regret would wash over the Parselmouth every second he'd glance behind his shoulder to get a better look at Simeon, who didn't lift his head from the ground to look back. He hadn't thought about Simeon in months nor did he truly think back to all the times he had mercilessly bullied Theodore, only to be reduced to haunting screams by Theodore's doing. Theodore vividly remembered the summer before going to Hogwarts for the first time, how he forced so much anger and pain that he completely changed Simeon in just a few seconds. He cringed just a little. Ten years old, and he was possibly scarring people for life. Maybe Tom was right about —
'No. No, he wasn't.'
The pair took a left turn around their street and passed a gang of boys that stared at the two intently, glaring mostly at Simeon who was bearing a golden watch on his left wrist. But they knew better than to attack the children of Stuggle's, especially the rugged-looking ones. They always seemed to be the least stable, at least, that's what the rumours said down the road.
Theodore ignored them and carried on forward onto the Main Street up ahead where people flooded the pavements with some bellowing at each other from across the road; smoking until their eyes turned yellow, or middle-aged men catcalling young women that passed by, who were clearly disgusted. Yes, that was Lambeth for you. Theodore could see why Stuggle's disallowed the younger children from leaving: innocence had to be preserved before it'd be destroyed later on, he guessed.
The boys walked through the tight crowds on the road, keeping a specific distance between the both of them to prevent the situation from being any more painful. The blaring noises of buses and cars was a little overwhelming for Theodore, and the constant butting of people's shoulders into his was enough to annoy him greatly. But, to his surprise that he finally said something, Simeon suggested that they should take a right that led to Vauxhall Market, a place that Theodore only heard of. Squeezing themselves again through the crowd, the boys finally managed to relieve themselves from having their shoulders being bruised by their uncaring fellow citizens.
It was Simeon who was now leading the way as he weaved through the various stalls that sold items from all across the world; a young Jamaican woman offered him a bead necklace that he nervously refused by turning out his empty pockets. Trinkets, cracked Oriental vases, lamps and lanterns with missing candles, and all other objects that came in copious amounts had grabbed the attention of multiple visitors that negotiated for lower prices. It wasn't fun at all; neither was it boring.
Theodore and Simeon settled on a stall selling purely gold and silver items and stared at each one as if they were drowning in money. The merchant caught sight of Simeon's watch and offered a trade for his most prized possession which Simeon looked a little displeased at by its size.
As the two were talking prices with one another, Theodore's curiosity was running a little wild with the stalls nearby. The one next to the merchant was littered with objects that looked somewhat 'too close to magical' for it to belong to any sort of Muggle. Three broken bits of wood that resembled a broken wand, a purple pointy hat with stars all around it, and a book titled The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Theodore looked up at the thin, emotionless man, thinking that he must've been related to a Squib and was about to approach him when he suddenly saw a grubby small hand coming from nowhere snatching a handful of moonlike pearls from the stall before it vanished.
"What the hell…?" he muttered to himself, taking a closer look. Inaudible muttering that sounded like happiness was heard from underneath the stall, stopping abruptly when Theodore decided to take a look below. Nothing there except a box with several locks all over and —
"Hey! What are you doing down there? Tryna steal my stuff are you, you little street-rat!" the stall-owner growled at the intruding boy.
Theodore instantly backed away and defensively said, "I wasn't trying to steal, there's someone already —!" A small pair of bandy legs were hobbling away in the corner of his eye with the same muttering from before. Theodore ignored the man's repeated questions and slipped past the stall and through a small gap between two vans without thinking twice.
He turned sharply to the right into an alleyway that reminded him of Knockturn Alley, seeing the blackened walls on the sides absorbing all the light from the sunny summer's day. Down on the far end was a person that was hunched over, talking to themselves without giving a hint that they knew Theodore's presence. Well, time to let his presence be known.
Theodore speedily walked over to the hidden person and sprinted only when they turned their head in fear that they were outed for their crime. Owing to all the running and escapades from the past three years, Theodore caught the thief by the legs with his own outstretched right before they could run off, all under five seconds. He had to say, he didn't think that he could run that fast and thought about patting himself on the back before the person tried to scramble away again. Theodore grabbed the thief by their collar and pushed them against the wall before gagging in disgust.
"Oi! Geddoff me! Geddoff me, you flippin' crazy Muggle!" struggled the small man as he tried to claw at Theodore's face.
Theodore pulled him closer and pushed him back against the wall hard to stop him from trying to gouge his eyes out before saying, "For starters, I'm not a Muggle. I'm a wizard, which I'm guessing is the same for you. If not, then I've made a terrible mistake."
"'Course Imma flippin' wizard! What else would I be?" The man pulled away his hood to reveal dirty, ginger hair that came down to his ears which was very much of a straggly texture. "Why the 'ell did you attack me for? I wasn't doin' anythin'!"
"You mean you just didn't steal from that man's stall nearly five — for fuck sake's, why do you smell so bad?" Theodore retched after taking a lungful of air through his nose, smelling the disgusting odour from the wizard that was a mixture of potent alcohol, tobacco and two weeks without a single bath. But he didn't let him go. He could probably Disapparate for all he knew.
The thief's expression changed from annoyance to a fearful smile as his bloodshot eyes quivered so much that tears were about to form. "O-oh! Yo-you saw that! W-well, you see, kid, I like to pride meself in the collection of precious ar'efacts! Th-that dear old bloke was a Squib, maybe even a Muggle! W-what's he gonna use a bit of Moondew pellets for, eh?"
"It's still his. Stealing is a crime, wizarding world or Muggle, it's the same all around."
"Come on, now," whimpered the man, looking side to side before continuing. "Why you gotta do old Mundungus Fletcher like that? I'm already three weeks outta Azkaban for somethin' that weren't serious. I can't go back in there again… come on, kid…"
"Just give the pellets back, and we'll call it a day."
"'Fraid I can't do that," said Fletcher proudly — Theodore pretended to reach for his wand — "b-but allow me to indulge you into somethin' worth your while! Somethin' to take your mind off these troubles?" he grinned with yellow-stained teeth whilst patting his chest under his tattered clothes.
Theodore looked down to where his stubby fingers smacked his chest and looked back up with furrowed eyebrows. "I don't drink or smoke."
"Merlin's arsecrack, I'm not that shady! I'd never give a little boy some of me whiskey! Muggles are quite handy with that sorta stuff anyway. Nah, I'm talkin' 'bout i'ems. Valuable i'ems. Stuff that are worth a few Galleons, if you catch me drift."
Theodore scoffed, thinking that Moondew pellets was hardly worth anything. He could easily get a bagful when he'd get back to school. But… "Really? What tier are we talking about? Occamy egg shells, or goblin-made stuff, because I heard they're quite — wait, what the hell am I doing? Give the pellets back, or I'll — call Aurors on you or something!"
Mundungus didn't call his bluff and started to dig through his clothes, searching furiously for something. "Wait! 'Ow about this? 'Ad me a sweet, sweet-looking locket just last week! Managed to find it in one of the old homes for them pureblood famil— oh, fuck me… I promise you, it was big and shiny, surely priceless —"
"OK, I've had enough. We're going to find — Ministry people, since you can't simply give something back to a Muggle," said Theodore firmly as he yanked Mundungus to the side, hoping that he'd give in instead of forcing him to do anything he'd regret.
"'Ow you gonna find them, though? You can't Disapparate, you're justa kid!"
"I've done it before, and I can do it aga—"
"Theodore? Why d'you have a guy by the collar?"
A meek voice that came from the other end of the alleyway forced the wizards to whip their heads over to see the silhouette of a burly young man coming into full detail, revealing a confused Simeon staring at the two.
"'S he a wizard too," whispered Mundungus in Theodore's ear, to which was responded by a shake of a head and the sudden release of his collar, sending him down to the ground and smacking his backside quite painfully on the concrete ground.
"Simeon! What — shut up! — What are you doing here," Theodore stammered as Simeon came closer.
"Um… Madam said that we have to stick together and that we can't let each other out of sight. I… I was looking for you for a while, so…"
Theodore nodded his head attentively while he ignored Mundungus's grunts and cursing towards him. "Oh, right. Forgot about that… I'll come in just a second, I just have to finish talking to my… friend over here. Ain't that right, Dung?" He gave him a small swift kick, and Mundungus perked up with a fake smile.
"Cool. Cool… But I think we have to go soon. It's going to take a while for us to get back to Stuggle's…" Simeon reckoned, looking back to the crowded market behind him.
"Sure. In fact, I was just finishing up with Dung." Theodore helped Mundungus up to his feet — a very harsh grab at his arm, along with a quick vicious glare — and patted him on the shoulders, grinning like he just seen an old friend from many years ago. "Don't get yourself into too much trouble. I know how you're like."
Mundungus grinned and stuck out a hand which Theodore squeezed rather tightly. "You're a scary little kid, you know that? I was seriously going to give you that locket, I swear on me mum's sweet old life. Traits like that I wish I 'ad. I'd be glad to do business with you in the near future, if you like."
"Honestly doubt it," Theodore returned flatly.
"Think 'bout it. What's your name again? Didn't quite catch it last time."
"I'm not telling you."
Mundungus shrugged and wished the Parselmouth farewell before turning on his heels and whistling joyfully to himself, reaching into his clothes to presumably take out a cigar and a bottle of whiskey.
As he disappeared around the other end of the dingy alleyway, Theodore heard the sound of a car engine nearly exploding and clenched his fist, knowing that he let him walk free. Then again, him stopping a small-time conman would only add to the pandemonium of his newfound fame on the other side, whatever squabbling was going on around there anyway.
"Theodore? Are you coming?" Simeon called out.
Theodore turned around and nodded at the older boy, following him silently like they did on the way to the market. This had been the most interesting thing that has happened this summer thus far, excluding Louise's return. Now that was in a category of its own.
They both slipped back into the market, and the stall-owner who had been robbed by Mundungus was tearing down his items in a crazed rage, pointing fingers at several people and finally accusing Theodore of the thievery when he appeared from behind him. Theodore thought of running but didn't follow through when a kind woman defended him by saying that she saw a small man lurking around with an odd gleam in his eye when he saw his stall. Theodore didn't get a chance to thank her as the two adults fell into a full-blown argument the moment he started to push through the crowds with Simeon to leave Vauxhall Market finally.
The streets were as busy as half an hour ago, and Theodore had to endure another round of his shoulders being bashed against others several times. What he would give to freeze every single person around him so that he could walk freely on his own. They were soon approaching the road that led towards Stuggle's and silently took a right turn past an old pub when Theodore saw from the corner of his eye that Simeon walked faster to get beside him.
"How many years do you have left?" Simeon asked airily, which had a layer of nervousness beneath it.
"Years left. You know, before you leave Stuggle's."
"Um… four, I guess. Unless something happens, like I get adopted or something." Theodore thought that was highly unlikely. He didn't know why Simeon would ask a question like that but didn't bother to try and find out.
The silence between them remained for thirty more seconds before Simeon broke it again with the same light tone as before. "Don't really have that much time left. I remember when I had four years…"
Theodore blinked. "Pardon?"
Simeon looked back to the shorter boy and smiled nervously. "Oh, right! I, um, I was just thinking back a little bit, you know?"
"And… why's that?" Stuggle's was coming into vision, but it felt like miles away with the conversation being at hand.
"It's… my last day today. Yeah, it's finally time! Finally… I guess I should've taken school more seriously, huh," said Simeon with a choked laugh that sounded like he was hiding a lot of embarrassment, disappointment and pain.
"Wait," said Theodore, nearly shocked when coming to a realisation, "you're eighteen already?"
Simeon nodded. "Just turned eighteen the day you came back. Didn't really have a celebration like before. Sister Gretchen didn't seem like she cared that much either…"
"I'm going to a remedial college somewhere up north, like really north. They've been trying to figure out why I didn't do well in school, and I guess they don't want me going to waste." Simeon gave out another choked laugh as they passed the gang of boys who were holding something silver and shiny in their hands. "It's almost funny. Everyone who I know is going to university or starting a company somewhere. Me, I just got to do everything over again…"
"But… surely you must have a friend nearby, right?" Theodore felt guilt stabbing him repeatedly when Simeon shook his head with the same false smile. "But Gretchen? You're like her… favourite. Isn't she sad to see you go?"
"I — I don't think so. She just shrugged when I told her that I was leaving."
"Oh," was all that Theodore could say. Who was this person? What the hell did Theodore do to make this person emerge from the horrid, loathsome thing that used to be Simeon Ferning? Was it the same thing when his father tortured Sirius so much that he turned him insane? Did Theodore 'kill' the real Simeon Ferning?
The front door of Stuggle's was wide open as the other pairs of children returned chatting away about how much fun they had together. Theodore and Simeon didn't talk for the remaining journey and kept their eyes on the road all the way until they reached the orphanage. Theodore didn't dare look back up to him, fearing that he'd accidentally slip into Simeon's mind and drown in inescapable guilt. He still couldn't believe this was Simeon.
Theodore walked inside before Simeon and tried to make a run for his room when Simeon called his name out from the door as he closed it firmly. "Theodore? I — I wanted to thank you for not making a big deal out of this. I know that you hate me and all, so I get it if you were upset with going with me today."
"I don't — don't worry about it… It's fine," Theodore replied from the bottom step; he was itching to leave immediately.
"I guess it's good a time as any for this... I'm sorry for everything that I did. To you and to Louise. You don't have to forgive me, that's fine! I-It's fine… I don't know what happened to me on that day. It felt like my brain was just on complete fire… I hate myself for being that kind of person. If I could, I'd take it all back, but I can't. It's fair, I guess. I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. That's all."
All that Theodore could hear after that was his heart beating in his chest. It became that quiet. He stared over at his former bully, a boy who had made his life such a living hell that if there were no rules against Muggles, Theodore would've surely done something so heinous to him in the past. He was so confused; he almost didn't know what to say. "Um… good luck wherever you're going."
Simeon gave him a sad smile and sighed heavily, looking around the place that he would soon leave, the place he called home.
"All right, Simeon, I've got your luggage in my office. The taxi should be here any minute now. Hello, Theodore! Here to see Simeon off?" Madam asked curiously as she came out of her office with a mobile phone in her hand.
"Well —" Simeon looked away, embarrassed "— I was just here. We were just talking, that's all."
"That's nice, but he's on a very tight — oh, the taxi's here! Quickly, come take your things, Simeon!" Madam shrilled, opening her door wide to allow the older boy to slip in and drag one of his suitcases along the wooden floorboards.
Madam took the smaller duffel bag and carried it over her shoulder to the black car that pulled up in front of the building. The taxi driver left his seat and aided Simeon to help stuff his suitcase in the boot, while his bag was thrown in the backseat. Theodore unknowingly found himself at the doorway, watching the Madam stress over Simeon with his hair being neat and his face being freshly shaven. She fussed over him one last time and hugged him tightly before releasing.
Simeon opened the door and took some time to enter the taxi; he lifted his head to the Parselmouth at the doorway and tried to muster a smile, but all that was shown was a slight curl of the lip before his face descended into sadness once more. The door was closed, and Simeon stared blankly forwards at the driver's headrest, not wanting to look at his former home before he'd disappear from it forever. And that's what he did.
Theodore's eyes followed the taxi up the road, all the way to the end and around the corner until it became the last time that he would ever see Simeon Ferning again. If he were eleven years old, he'd be over the moon, wishing that along the way he'd get lost forever without anybody to help him, but now he only began to realise something: Simeon never had anybody. He had no parents to speak of, no real friends that were by his side, just a loner.
And for the first time, Theodore pitied him. Pitied that he had nobody, knowing that the same could've happened to him as well. If he never had Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Viripin, Madam, the Padalins, hell, probably above all, if he never had Louise, then maybe he would've been in Slytherin just like his father, friendless, hateful and alone. It scared him to think that they were more similar every time he'd think about him.
"Come on, Theodore," said the Madam finally after staring into the distance for a while, "we've got fish and chips today with ice cream. Let's go before the lot's finished."
"All right." Theodore followed the Madam into the building and looked over to where the taxi vanished, almost expecting it to come back. Alas, nothing moved except a black cat that streaked past a couple. He grabbed the door handle and was just inches from closing it firmly when the sounds of a loud car stopped him from doing so.
Theodore opened the door again to see a car of grandeur proportions stopping right in front of the orphanage, glinting in the sunlight from its matte beige paint.
The backdoor opened up, and Louise's bright, pretty face came into view as she stepped out of the car. The girl was wearing a white floral dress with green roses that complemented her eyes, and a small red bow that fitted perfectly in her hair that was let loose. Mr Reagul rolled his window down and nodded at the boy with a smile but was not of Theodore's focus as Louise skipped over to him with a wide grin.
"Fancy seeing you here, Theo," she remarked before wrapping her arms around his neck. Theodore felt her brushing her cheek against his and felt a little awkward whilst returning the hug.
'She's not in love with me, she's not in love with me…'
Louise pulled away but held both of his hands as she looked up at him, eyes so piercing. "Are you not going on outings any more? I'd have thought that that guy who's your teacher would've taken you to buy more weird sweets or something."
"It wouldn't hurt to see him again. This summer's been boring so far. I mean, until you arrived."
"Nice save there, Riddle," Louise teased, still holding his hands like it was an everyday thing. "But don't you worry. We're going to get all the fun we can, trust me. The party was much longer than I expected, so we couldn't come earlier. Still had fun with some of my new cousins, though. Like I'm part of the family."
"Maybe it's because you are part of the family," Theodore added sarcastically. A quick glance at her eyes and nothing changed from yesterday. She still…
Louise rolled her eyes and smiled again. "Stupid me, I forgot. It's been three years, yet some things still feel a little weird. Oh well. I hope you haven't been missing me for all this time; I've only been gone for a day."
Theodore raised his eyebrow and smirked. "Please, if I can wait for three years, then I can wait for a day. You underestimate my patience."
"Great, because you'll have to wait just a little longer. Mr Reagul said I can't stay for long, and I heard that you're leaving in three days. Is that true?"
Theodore just nodded at her.
Louise lifted his hands up and brought them just beneath her chin as she closed the gap between them without taking her eyes off of him. "Then I promise to make up three years into three — two actually — days of some good, old Theo and Lou quality time together. How does that sound?"
"Amazing! Just amazing," Theodore beamed. "Great way to kickstart a summer."
The light dusting a faint freckles on her nose became a deep red as she blushed a little. "Great! That's really great, Theo. You know, I'm really hoping that we'll have a good time, even if it won't be for that long. And who knows, maybe I'll come next year, and it'll be for longer. Or maybe you can come over to Sheffield."
'A summer in Sheffield with Louise…?'
"Louise, darling," Mr Reagul called out from the car, "we have to get going. You'll see Theodore tomorrow, remember? We'll have the whole day together, including the next. Let's go."
"Coming!" She turned back to the oddly calm Parselmouth and hugged him again before letting go, using one of her thumbs to graze his cheek so softly that he almost didn't feel it. "It's been ages since we went to London, hasn't it? I hope you won't mind."
He gave her one last smile and said softly, "Of course not. I'll be waiting. See you later, Louise."
Louise returned the farewell and walked back to the car slower than when she came towards Theodore; her nose didn't change colour when she paused at the door to wave at him before entering the car. Mr Reagul also said his goodbyes and instructed the driver on the other side for them to return to their place of stay.
The car pulled away from the pavement, and Theodore could see Louise through the semi-tinted windows talking to somebody on her left that could've been a cousin or family friend. She turned around to face him again, and he felt the same rush of emotions pushing against him, forcing the truth that he wanted to resist so bad onto him. What was there left to think? He just waved at the car, putting on a perfect, false smile that hid his confusion towards Louise's sudden, but blatant and deep attachment to him.
On the next morning, Theodore found himself being unable to sleep properly once more, owing to his realisation of Louise's affection towards him that certainly grew through their time apart from one another. He never expected her to feel this way; he thought that they were just as close as a boy and girl could possibly get, platonically of course. Sure, looking back now to a time where he wasn't fully aware of the attention he got from girls, he could remember some moments of Louise spacing out whilst keeping her eyes stuck on him. But it wasn't different from anybody else that had their eyes on him. At least, not entirely different.
Down in the living room area which was completely devoid of children and adults alike, Theodore was seated on the far end of the new maroon sofa, enjoying the lack of noise that was soon to be tarnished in under a few hours time. Theodore had taken up the dawn remaining in solitude, flicking through the Yellow Pages in a crude search for houses that were under the Reaguls' company name, but the only thing that it led to were dead ends. He'd turn the thick book back over like the answers he was searching for would suddenly appear from beneath the faded advertisements and car deals, but to no end.
After fifteen flick-throughs that almost resulted in him getting a small blister on his thumb, Theodore disappointingly stuffed the Yellow Pages back into the shelf from where he found it and leaned against the wall with his back pressing on the creaking wood of the bookshelf. Waking up this early was an attempt to forget about Louise until she'd come around by trying to delve into whatever was remaining of both his families.
More specifically, he was somewhat more interested in the house from Little Hangleton that belonged to the Riddles rather than the one in Elmbridge from his mother. It was safe to say that he was not desperate to know everything about them, from their names to their faces, and he had no real intention of ever visiting Little Hangleton for that matter as well. The only thing that could've struck him as intrigued by his possible family was the 'tragedy' that Mr Reagul spoke of from when they arrived.
Theodore had no newspapers to follow by, not that they would still be in good condition to this day. But if his wild, uncontrollable curiosity could let him know anything, it would be what happened to the Riddles. Did they all just die like that? Was Tom Riddle really just the son of two Muggles and had fabricated his entire identity for his own ego? Possibly the largest stretch of thinking that he had ever done, but that's what uncertainty did to you: it had you asking the impossible.
'Whatever, I already got a house, and I'm certain that nobody died in there. I hope they didn't anyway… Maybe Mr Reagul's just saving it for me, probably thinks that I could be an abandoned rich kid which, honestly, is sort of —'
The sound of the doorbell rung through the lower levels of the orphanage and continued chiming so loudly that Theodore quickly became irritated by it. Another addition from the bake sale. Theodore's annoyance finally forced him away from the bookshelf to open the door for the person arriving at that hour and trudged towards the doorway and to his left down the corridor with his hand outstretched when something red and small zipped right past his leg to the front door.
The Madam's office door swung open right before the small blur reached the door, and a hand snatched it like a dandelion in the air, lifting it up with another hand as the Madam stepped outside to the hallway with a little girl in her arms. "Poppy, this is the last time that I'm telling you: you're not allowed to open the door for strangers!"
Theodore quickly recognised the little girl as the one who was chasing her friends down the hall and also remembered something else about her. Something that he found out but was too angry to care about.
Poppy was a tiny little girl of Asian descent, with a small ponytail tied by a pink butterfly clip and a large scarlet jumper with a muddy-brown cow on its centre. "But it could be my daddy coming back for me," she returned with an adorable smile so innocent that Theodore could barely resist.
"Oh… well, Poppy, I'm sure that wherever your dad may be, he'll… he'll — Theodore! Nice to see you up and early!" Madam exclaimed when she saw the young wizard watching them from the other end.
"I could barely sleep," Theodore admitted.
"Ah, got the nerves for today? The Reaguls are supposedly taking you around —"
"Isn't somebody at the door," Theodore interposed while he pointed at the door.
The Madam trotted over to Theodore and placed Poppy right next to him before she ran back over to the door and opened it wide for Mr Reagul to appear in one of his more casual clothing choices.
"Good morning, Cherise? How are you? Sorry to be of a bother this early in the morning, I was just hoping that I could see Theodore for a while," said Mr Reagul as he shook hands with the Madam. "It was a bit foolish of me to come at this time, but — well, speak of the devil! An early bird as well, aren't you?"
Theodore quickly glanced down to Poppy, who was scratching her elbow as she stared back at him with a look of interest. He turned back to Mr Reagul and said, "Just couldn't wait. I really think of myself as an outdoor kind of person." He ignored the Madam's raised eyebrow and walked over to the man to shake his hand.
"Firm handshake you got there. I'm glad that you're excited about today. Louise suggested many places that she wished of going to, and I've only been to London a few times. I'm guessing that both of you will be the experts around the area."
"Poppy, hurry off to the kitchens," Madam told the silent little girl, "I'll be there to give you an early breakfast, since you're awake now."
"OK!" she beamed before racing off to the dining hall, only stopping for a moment to grin at the Parselmouth before pushing through the doors.
"The two of you can talk in my office — no, Damien, it's all right. Thursdays always go off with a slow morning anyway."
Mr Reagul thanked the matron and hung his coat on the pegs adjacent to the door and allowed Theodore to go inside the office first. He then closed the door behind him and offered the boy the seat in front of the desk which Theodore refused politely. "Then I hope you won't mind us standing up. I won't be here for that long until the afternoon." Theodore waved it off, and Mr Reagul continued. "So. I hope that school's going well for you. Louise told me that you're off somewhere up north?"
'You'll never stop talking about me, huh?' he smiled a little to himself before speaking out loud. "Yeah, a boarding school. It's pretty far, and I'm doing good. Joint-top of my year."
"Excellent! I'm happy to hear that. Your favourite subject?"
"Chemistry," said Theodore instinctively.
Mr Reagul nodded his head with an approving lift of his chin while he fiddled with his wedding ring. "Good to hear. I know that you and Louise have been away from each other for so long, so this must be a great feeling, huh? Seems like she really misses you."
"Yeah! Ye-yeah, she does," stammered the boy as he twisted his fingers around. Theodore could do without the smalltalk, and Mr Reagul seemed to be thinking the exact same thing.
"OK, Theodore. I don't usually discuss these matters with people your age. It's rare of me to do so. You're the third-youngest person that I had the pleasure of talking to regarding about our business."
"I don't really follow, Mr Reagul," said Theodore 'innocently'.
"And that's natural. To be quite frank, you seem like a mature young man, and I have no doubts that you'll take to what I have to discuss with you here like a mature young man."
Theodore merely nodded.
"Good. Now, where I and my wife work deals in house, land and property ownerships from around the country, but I'm sure that you're aware of that. We have kept records regarding inheritances from families for many, many decades, and I was lucky to stumble across some with… your name on it."
Theodore didn't react and carried on standing in the same spot with his hands behind his back.
Mr Reagul didn't comment on the boy's silence and probably thought that it was his way of processing shocking information that the room became silent for a minute before he carried on speaking. "Your name, out of the hundred thousands, came to my attention the second I saw it. Louise had told me enough about you for me to remember your name, and I didn't think it was fair that you would grow up without knowing what your family left for you."
"Theodore, your mother left you a house, along with an inheritance that we were unable to recover that was all covered in her will —"
"I know," spoke the boy calmly with a relaxed expression.
Mr Reagul's face contorted into blatant confusion as he nearly lost his balance on his heels. "Excuse me?"
"I know about it, my mother's Last Will. Her name was Valerie Avilasa Potter, she left me a house in Elmbridge, she said that she wanted to be buried in —"
"Wait, wait, wait," Mr Reagul interjected, waving his hands with his face still stuck in confusion, but holding a twinge of awe. "How on Earth could you have known about this? I-I mean… the only way you could've known is if you had the original copy yourself!"
"It's upstairs if you want to look. I'll get it right now —"
"No, no, it's all right! I think — I think that you proved yourself of knowing about it. Boy, I wasn't expecting you to know at all… But how did you come across it? Did your mother leave it here with you, or…?"
Theodore thought for a while on what to say, trying to be as discreet as possible before speaking up again. "My, umm… my godfather? Severus Snape? He had it. My mum and he were very good friends before she, umm... I — I met him on the way to school."
"Wow… talk about a coincidence…"
"But I don't know much about it, though. I mean, he didn't really say anything about the will, and I knew that the inheritance couldn't be found. I've heard about Godric's Hollow, but that's as far as I know."
"Of course," said Mr Reagul, straightening himself professionally. "We've done our best to try and found out everything about the Potters, but that was all that we were restricted to. I hope you're not disappointed."
Theodore put on a naïve, childlike grin and said, "Of course not! How could I! It's great that my mum thought about me before she... Makes me feel like I belong."
A sympathetic smile grew on the man's face, and he tilted his head slightly. "If you like, just before you leave, we can take you up to Elmbridge to see the house. It is yours after all. That way, we can see if you'll like it."
"Another thing that I wanted to ask you about, and you don't have to answer if you don't know: your mother didn't mention your father."
The Parselmouth's face darkened just a little that Mr Reagul nearly shivered for some odd reason. "What about my father?" muttered the boy.
"Nothing! Just curious. It's very rare for only one parent to be mentioned in a Last Will. Just thought that you had some idea. But it's nothing."
Lies. Theodore could see it right through his eyes.
Mr Reagul shifted away from his state of amazement at the teen and told Theodore that there was nothing more to discuss, since Theodore knew most of what he was going to tell him. What Theodore found a little strange was that not only did he act as if he wasn't so much interested in his father's family than his mother's, but he did not mention the Riddles at all: not Thomas, not Mary, not Tom, not Cecilia and their children. All because of the one thing that he did not want to tell him.
Theodore had an idea of trying to convince him of revealing his family's past but knew that he would not have any time to talk it out of him when Louise would be around. It didn't bother him for a second, though. As awkward as he felt being around her, Theodore didn't want to waste a second with the precious time that he had, not knowing if it'd be another three years until they'd meet again.
The two left the office and shook hands before Mr Reagul left courteously with a reminder of the outing in the afternoon. The front door closed right in front of him, leaving him oddly half-filled like he needed more than what he was given. Theodore shook it off, thinking to himself that he had an afternoon of fun to look forward to without worrying about any attempts on his life (hopefully).
Theodore returned to his room and laid flat on his bed staring up to the ceiling. If she hadn't changed, Louise would've still been in bed, snoring away with bundles of her own hair stuck inside her mouth. Theodore grinned at the image in his head that he had seen at least a thousand times.
'Maybe it won't be so bad. She's still my best friend. At least that won't change.'
Theodore almost drifted off into the afternoon that if it wasn't for Viripin — who still refused to wake up in the morning — poking his eyelids constantly, the Reaguls would've probably left without him. That, however, seemed highly unlikely. He was positive that Louise would've marched right inside and tugged at his feet to wake him up like the old days.
The Maibian Adder fell asleep soon after she was fed and watered and gave Theodore some relief that he wouldn't have to carry her around London. Sawer's cage was still empty from his last trip. This didn't make Theodore worried about the owl, but about what Snape thought of him sending a letter so early. He'd have to put it out of his mind until Sawer would come back; no use thinking about it now.
Taking a simple t-shirt to change into for the day, Theodore grabbed his wand — just in case he ran into Mundungus again — and the pocket watch and stuffed it into a pocket on his jeans and his wand hidden in the waistband before leaving out the door with the window wide open if Sawer decided to return.
"Theodore! The Reaguls are here!" Madam called from downstairs. Theodore hopped on to the bottom step, giving her a bit of a fright. "Dear lord! I know you're excited, but don't go pouncing all over the place like that! You're not as small as you were a few years ago, young man."
He grinned cheekily and said, "You think? I'm almost as tall as you now. I bet by the end of summer I'd be a tower compared to you."
"And I don't doubt that for a second. Now, off you go. Make sure that you have as much fun as possible; don't get into trouble, do not wander off anywhere," she fretted while brushing his shoulders and modelling his hair.
"Madam, they're waiting! I won't walk off if it's not boring. I was joking," he said quickly when he caught a fearsome glare. The Madam kissed the Parselmouth on the forehead and left him to leave through the front door and out. Theodore quickly closed the door behind him and strutted over to the same car that was parked out front. He clutched the handlebar of the backdoor and opened it to feel an alluring waft of apples, pines and vanilla filling his nose before he slid right inside.
"Sleep well?" Louise asked on his right, raising an eyebrow with a smile.
"Hello to you too. And I might've dosed off a little, so what?" he returned with an equal amount of sarcasm.
"OK, OK, I'll back off. For a moment I thought you didn't want to come."
"Nonsense! Hello, Mr and Mrs Reagul."
The two adults greeted him back amicably and told him the rough overview of how the day would go. Most of the places of interest came from Louise's suggestions, but Theodore could get behind each one. As the car started, Theodore gave a quick glance over to Louise to see her hair in a French braid and an outfit that was reminiscent of her old ones, plain and simple. Made him feel a little less out of place.
The car pulled away from Stuggle's and led down the road and out to the Main Street where traffic was at its most moderate rate. Theodore had the tip of his nose pressed against the window, trying to see if he could catch any wizards or witches waiting for the Knight Bus to come around the corner to whisk them away. If only he could tell Louise about it…
"Hey, isn't that Jenny Finkle?" said Louise when she leaned over to Theodore's window, albeit being rather close to him.
Theodore ignored this and looked out the window briefly to recognise his old classmate from his primary school with her family. "Oh yeah. Wasn't she the one who gave everyone nits?"
"Yeah, except for you. I mean, I only had it for a day before they disappeared after you went poking in my hair."
"Well, I knew better than to stick too close to her," said the wizard a little condescendingly.
"Oh well. Lucky me, and lucky you. We're a pair of perfect-haired kids, aren't we?"
Louise sat back in her seat when Jenny was left in the distance and changed the subject about Viripin and Sawer. Theodore explained how he found Viripin on school premises and that Sawer was a gift from an innkeeper during his little trip to London.
"All we've got are peacocks and doves, though I'm completely fine with that. I mean, Viripin's nice and all, but…"
"You still have a crippling fear of snakes, yeah."
"Oh, shut up," she laughed as she slapped his arm softly. "I bet you're still scared of heights, you big baby!"
"I'm working on it," Theodore clucked jokingly. "You'd be surprised by what I've done. Stuff that'll have you awake for days!"
"Then I'll be ready when you'll tell me, Riddle," Louise challenged, a glimmer streaking along her eyes for a split second.
'Keep it under control, Theo. Just don't think about it.'
Theodore and the Reaguls soon reached Central London after the traffic had subsided to allow a smooth journey to a reasonably quiet place to park. Theodore was the first to exit the car, tiptoeing to watch the murky Thames flowing slowly under the London Bridge in the distance with several boats of different sizes floating underneath. It still amazed him how after being a part of the wizarding world for some time, the Muggle aspects still kept him as interested as any other person his age.
"All right! We've got two hours to enjoy the day, so let's make the most of it. Where to first, kids?"
The first thing that came out of both their mouths was "Piccadilly Circus," a place that they had been dying to go to since they were just five years old.
The four then set off and caught a bus to travel to the famed area with Theodore and Louise awing at the high buildings that they passed. The streets of Central London was much more colourful than Theodore thought it would be: he'd almost think that it was surrounded by wizards and witches.
The Circus was met with great satisfaction from the two teens as the real reason for their obsession of visiting the place was standing a few feet away from the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain. A lonely-looking ice cream stand was occupied by an old man with thick silvery eyebrows and a tattered red cap on his head. They only heard stories from the other children at school about the greatest ice cream ever sold from the old man in Piccadilly Circus, and from there they had to get a taste. It was only fate that they managed to come together and tackle the rare opportunity, and nothing more.
Theodore took his cone and Louise took hers, staring at each other before they took several licks until the flavours became embedded in their tongues.
"You know, I recall this being described as much more 'heavenly' and 'otherworldly'. I could've found better ice cream at home," complained Theodore after his eleventh lick.
Louise nodded, looking unimpressed and disappointed by her strawberry cone. "What I want to know is how we carried on thinking that this was going to be the end of all ice creams. I knew that Jason was full of bullshit."
"Huh. Never heard you swear before."
"When you're in high school, it sort of becomes a habit," Louise replied with a shrug. "Don't tell my parents, though. They have a strict policy on no swearing. Says it's not very ladylike to do so."
"Yeah, same here. The swearing thing, I mean. Didn't even know I could do it until people were dropping them all over the place. Is your school any fun?"
Louise nodded her head between a lick of her cone. "You should meet this kid called Daniel Davidson! The funniest, and weirdest guy that I've ever met! Sometimes, I wonder if he's actually a real person with the stupid stuff that he gets up to —"
In the back of his pocket came a shrill chime that shocked both Theodore, Louise and a few passing tourists that stood a little too close to them.
"Aww… I dropped my ice cream," pouted the girl down at the broken off cone. "Theo, what was that noise? Was it you?"
Theodore took out the pocket watch and clicked it when he realised that he must've activated it somehow. "It's just this thing."
"Oh. You still have it." Louise looked oddly happy despite her ice cream on the ground. "I — I didn't think that you'd keep it on you for that long."
"Are kidding me? I'd never lose this. It's helped me out in so many ways. I even got your necklace at home in my room. I told you I wouldn't forget you," he added as he elbowed her slightly.
And there it was. They came flooding back into her eyes for him to see again. And it was a little clearer without trying to see how she felt. Louise's nose grew pink as she smiled at him fondly, as if the world stopped right there. She suddenly caught onto her gazing and bumbled to her parents to ask for another ice cream cone, not looking at the boy when she returned to sit next to him. Theodore played it off like a pro, pointing at the posters and statues around the area as Louise murmured with her freckles still being highlighted on her nose.
They then left the Circus for the London Eye where Theodore waited below for the Reaguls to make a rotation before finding someplace else to visit. Louise returned to her old self and teased him a little as they tried to look for a place to eat, for everybody's stomachs had been groaning in synch since they got off the London Eye.
Theodore controlled himself at a small shop selling French and Spanish food — Louise's favourite — and took his time to eat off his plate. Didn't mean that he restricted himself to just one plate.
They all soon toured around what was left to visit of London, from the outskirts of Buckingham Palace to Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square. The time soon came for their outing to come to an end as they made it back to the car and set off for Stuggle's to drop Theodore off.
The journey home was a little quiet between Theodore and Louise, save for her questions on where he would be going in a few days time. The Weasleys suddenly crossed his mind at what they would be doing at that moment and if Hermione had arrived there… An unexplainable twinge of his insides made him feel uncomfortable. He ignored it.
"Can I stay with Theo for a bit?" Louise asked Mr and Mrs Reagul when Theodore left the car. "The hotel is not that far away."
"Actually, we're going to talk to Madam Geoffrey about something that we were planning for tomorrow, so it might take a little while. Go on, we'll follow up soon, but don't get too comfortable, Louise."
She nodded and thanked them both before she exited the car and ran to Theodore's side with her hands behind her back. "They're going to be talking with the Madam for a bit, so it looks like I'm sticking around for a little longer."
Theodore knocked on the door and said, "Cool. Trying to squeeze in those extra minutes, huh?"
The Madam opened the door for them and had Poppy hanging around her neck with her head turned away from the two teens. "How did it go, you two? Well? Poppy, say hello to Louise. She used to be in your room before you. Go on."
'Oh yeah. How did I forget that?'
Poppy faced the older girl and widened her eyes at the sight of her. "Wow… you're pretty…"
"Aww, thank you," Louise replied a little shyly. "You're so cute!"
Poppy giggled and dug her head into the matron's collarbone, embarrassed. The two teens excused themselves and walked upstairs as Louise gushed over Poppy's rounded cheeks and her giggle.
Theodore felt the air in his room drop by just a little bit, despite the sun still being bright in the later parts of the day. Viripin was now curled up under his bedsheets with her tail partially sticking out, but Sawer still hadn't returned. A tinge of embarrassment sparked and died within, and he walked over to the window to close it again.
Louise had been aimlessly wandering around the room looking for something interesting to fiddle with while she spent a few awkward minutes with Theodore. His wardrobe was half-open with some of his clothes and small packages of snake and bird food being in full vision, and she also brought her attention to the cupboard on the wardrobe's left, remembering how Theodore hid all sorts of things in there. Maybe if she took a look inside, then she could —
Louise jumped back and swivelled around. Theodore appeared quickly by her side and placed a firm palm on the door like it was almost impossible to keep shut. "Erm, I-I didn't think that —"
"No, don't worry. It's just that there's this loose pipe that always swings downwards to bash you in the head if you open the door the wrong way," he explained his coverup. He pointed at his forehead where a faded mark of one of his wounds from Sirius used to be and said, "See? I was lucky that it didn't get my eye."
"Seems like you should get it checked out. Are you OK?" Theodore shrugged, but nodded quickly when her face fell in a near instant. Louise then backed away from the cupboard and sat down carefully on his bed, minding Viripin's tail. "I really miss this place. Makes me feel so nostalgic."
Theodore moved Viripin's tail to the side gently and plopped himself next to her before he said, "You're not missing much. Just fish and chips for dinner and back up here when you'd get bored again. It's kind of a routine for me here. I'm guessing Sheffield's more fun than this place, huh?"
"Well… if you were there, then I'd give it ten stars out of ten. But it's fun, even out of school. I've got lots of friends, and I even went out wi— I knew a boy. Yeah…"
"I found out about my mum," Theodore said, breaking the silence. "She went to the same school as me. Her name was Valerie."
"Potter. Last name Potter. My mum and dad never married…"
"Oh. Wait, didn't you say something about having some pictures of her before? Or am I just losing my mind?"
Theodore put his fingers to his chin and shrugged. "I think so. I wrote so many letters to you that I almost lost track of them. Do you still keep them?"
"Yeah…" Louise was looking down on her lap, tapping her thighs whilst hitting her ankles together. She wanted to ask him something serious; he knew that instantly. She then stood up to walk towards the door and closed it firmly without breaking the sudden tension in the room.
'What… is happening right now?'
"Theo… I'm going to ask you something. Something that has been on my mind for the past two years…"
She walked back over and sat back in her seat, but the space between them was almost as thin as a sheet of paper. "And I'm going to need you to be truthful with me. One hundred percent truthful. I'm not going to lie to you, you're not going to lie to me. All right?"
'She's going to confess…'
"Yes. I-I understand." Her eyes were up so close that Theodore didn't know what to think of the possibilities of her next actions. But he kept his face calm and passive. Under complete control.
"Good. That's good. Now that we've got that out of the way, Theo —?"
"Louise, wait —"
"— why is it doing this?" Louise procured an image from her back pocket and had it in between her fingers right in front of his face. It was slightly crumpled with the edges being torn a little or stained, but it was recognisable to the Parselmouth.
It was him at the young age of twelve, the time when he stayed at the Leaky Cauldron for the summer: he recognised the backdrop being the courtyard behind the pub itself. There he was fixing his hair awkwardly while attempting to smile which came off a little awkward as well. That's what he saw, but it was wrong. This didn't happen, it wasn't supposed to happen at all.
A vague memory came to mind when Mr Tom assured him that the charms around the photo would wear off in a few hours, seeing as the camera was old, but that didn't matter now. She had a magical object and he just gave it to her. He broke that one rule…
"Um… what do you mean?" It was the only way, lying. What else could he do?
"The picture, Theo. Why's it moving?"
Theodore peered at the image and pulled back like he had seen nothing out of the ordinary. "What's moving? I don't see anything there, Louise, it's just a normal photo."
She just sat there, face neutral and lips frozen without twitching a single bit. "It's moving, Theodore. The picture inside, the one that you sent, is moving. It's right there."
"Louise, I seriously don't see anything. Are you sure that it's a… moving picture?" Theodore questioned.
"How — how are you not seeing this," she said with a little grit in her voice as she got up on her feet. "The picture is moving, it's — it's right there and —"
"Louise, I'm being honest with you. That's what you wanted, right? Because I literally see just me standing still in a photo and nothing else." Theodore saw the dangerous shift of her usual affection towards him being nearly completely masked by bubbling annoyance, frustration and anger. This was not going to go well at all.
"Theodore, are you lying to me?" Louise asked softly, almost reminding him of how Snape hid his anger through softness.
"No," he replied simply.
She inhaled, then exhaled shortly. "Yes, you are. I can tell when you're lying, Theodore, I always have. I want you to tell me the truth —"
"And I am. You're holding a photo of me that I sent two years ago. It's a still, normal picture just like every other one in the world," lied Theodore again, wincing on the inside when she started to scowl unlike her usual self, glaring at him dangerously as her ears turned a little red.
"I've had this picture for two years… I've looked at this picture for two years straight every night, Theodore. You think I'd make something like this up, for what? Why would I possibly lie to you about something that sounds so insane?"
Theodore shrugged. A wrong move.
"Don't just shrug at me, say something! Why do you think that I would make this up? Why are you looking at me like I'm crazy, Theodore?" she shot at the boy with her face slowly growing to a deeper colour of red.
'Drop it, please, Louise…'
Theodore leaned over to Viripin and propped her near the radiator and muttered from the corner, "I'm not looking at you like that. Maybe you just looked at it for too long that you think it's moving or something. I don't know, it's not that big of a deal —"
"'Not that big of a deal?'" Louise exasperated. Now he done it. The slight crack in her voice said it all. "What do you mean it's 'not that big of a deal?' I think it's a big deal! Hell, you only sent me one photo of you, Theodore! I think it's a big deal when I missed you for so long that I only had one photo and letters to remember you by because you meant that much to me! How — what do you mean it's not a big deal?!"
Theodore looked over his shoulder to see Louise burning with anger and hurt towards him that she was struggling to keep her misty eyes from releasing tears. But they didn't fall at all. Just floating right above her eyelids. What did he do?
Louise used her sleeve to dry away the buildup of tears on her eyes, huffing in anger but sniffing in sadness. She walk up to the desk and allowed Theodore's moving photo to flutter onto the desk carelessly. Theodore felt the stab of guilt when the picture scrapped its edges on the surface before laying flat.
"I'm not crazy…" Louise muttered. "It was moving…"
"It… it wasn't moving, Louise…"
She scoffed scathingly at the wizard and turned her back on him. "There you go lying again. Do you know what's funny, Theo? Is that despite us being away from each other for so long, we've known each other the longest. You're the only person who I really know in this world, at least, I think I do. I just find it funny how, despite all of that, you still lie to the only person that can look past your face, even if you don't think so. I thought you'd never forget that, but… guess I was wrong…"
"Wait, Louise, wait — I can't tell —" he pleaded as she walked towards the door. Theodore stood up quickly and followed after her, feeling that he destroyed the biggest part of him. "Louise, wait! Come back, I have to — wait!"
Louise trotted down the stairs still sniffing with the Parselmouth chasing after her. She ignored his desperate attempts for him to explain and landed on the ground floor to be met with her parents and Madam Geoffrey.
"Louise, darling," comforted Madam, holding her hands as Mr and Mrs Reagul crowded around her with pale looks on their faces, "what's wrong? Why were you crying, sweetheart?"
Louise perked up and sniffed again, saying, "Me? I wasn't — well, I was. Theo was just showing me something that he kept so that he wouldn't forget me. I… I didn't think that he'd have it after all this time, but he did, so I… sorry…"
"Don't be, sweetheart," said Mrs Reagul as the Madam pulled away for the two to come closer. "It's all right to cry. You're very lucky to have a friend like Theodore."
"Yeah," she mumbled with a smile. She looked over at the silent boy on the stairs and said, "Very lucky…"
"Theodore, we cannot begin to thank you for being our company today. We know that we couldn't do much, since you are leaving so soon. I hope that you enjoyed it today, though."
Theodore tried to reach for Louise to see if there was anything left; it didn't matter if she loved him or not, he wanted to see something, but it felt disconnected. It was like she felt nothing towards him, like he didn't mean anything to her any more. He felt his heart sinking as its strings snapped on the way down… He lost his best friend…
"I had a lot of fun, Mr Reagul, thank you. And to you too, Mrs Reagul, thank you as well."
"Of course, Theodore. Any time. Don't forget about tomorrow, OK? We're going to need you up at the crack of dawn so that we can get you back here before you leave. Let's hope that this will give us some answers, eh? Well, until tomorrow. Goodbye, Theodore," waved Mr Reagul.
"See you tomorrow, Theodore," said Mrs Reagul in a similar fashion to her husband.
Louise popped out a quiet "Bye," and followed her parents out the front door, closing it behind her without so much as looking back at the guilty-ridden boy that just watched by the stairs.
"Don't look so sad, Theodore," the Madam assured him, squeezing his hand lightly when she saw the distant expression on his face, "I know it'll be the last day that you'll see her tomorrow, but you'll always have next year, and the year after that, and after that. As much as I don't want it to happen, you'll be free from here one day, and you could visit Louise any time you like. Just… have a little bit more patience, all right?"
She brushed his cheek with her knuckles and disappeared in the living room as Theodore stood still before he sunk slowly down until he sat on the bottom step, staring blankly at the office door where he met Louise for the very first time, where he poked fun at her, and surprisingly she did the same back without hurting him like the other kids. How she asked to play with him on the swings after Tristan scared him, which ended up being the first thing he thought of when he was in the darkness for so long. How did all of that suddenly feel like a memory, a dream, that all happened in his head and nowhere else? How…?
I think this might be the last part of the slow bits in summers in this story, mainly because it's going to get pretty different from here (I think anyway). I've got Theo's trip to the Potters' house on my mind, him going to the Weasleys, SIRIUS'S TRIAL, don't forget that. It's going to be a pretty interesting summer by the looks of it. Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed this chapter, look out for the next one and I'll see you later.
P.S: Is Theo overthinking about Louise, orrrrrr…?