"All right, everyone! Wake up, let's go!"
It was here. August the twenty-third had arrived after what was an eternity of torturous waiting. The day of the trial; the day retribution would be upon Pettigrew, and the day Sirius would finally and truly be free. Such a day should've been met with enough avidity considering its significance across the past few months: that was the case for everyone outside keenly observing every passing issue of the Daily Prophet, not so much for those at the Burrow.
"Come on, let's get going! We want to be as early as possible, so everyone out of your beds!" boomed Mrs Weasley's voice from downstairs. "Let's get a move on!"
Theodore lifted his head from his pillow with his eyes still completely shut, despite the voice that felt as if it could tear down the Burrow itself from sheer force. The combining odours of Fred and George's 'improved' Gnome Putty that was leftover from the previous night, mixing in the air with the smell of breakfast cooking downstairs stirred him slowly, confusing him on whether he should feel hungry or nauseated. The former, most likely.
"What've we done now?" mumbled Ron from his bed. "I swear, all she ever does is scream every day… Where're Fred and George…?"
Theodore rubbed his eyes with his finger and thumb, then panned over to his right to see two empty sleeping bags and Harry still snoring with his head buried in his pillow above his arms. "Probably woke up earlier than us… hold on, what's even the time?"
"Uhh… seven o'clock. Wait…" Ron peered closer at his watch that was hidden underneath his pillow and flicked his eyes wide open, looking noticeably piqued by the time. "Why the hell does she want us awake at a time like this? Harry, we have to get up now, wake up."
"The trial can't be right now, can it? I'm sure that they would've told us right before," said Theodore with both eyes now wide open. He crawled out of his sleeping bag and continued to rub his eyes whilst slipping a pile of food for Sawer in his cage. Viripin was hanging off of a peg on the door and didn't show any signs of being startled by Mrs Weasley's shouting; she was still and peaceful.
"I think so. Dad hasn't been to that many hearings and stuff when it came to any serious Death Eaters, but I'm sure it's always the same. Don't see any reason to change it, to be honest. Man, that smells good. Harry!"
A throaty groan came from Harry. "I'm getting up, all right? No need to shout…"
Theodore got the last of the packaged seeds through the cage until the owl was satisfied and then trotted over to Viripin to see if she was awake by gently tapping her skull. Although her eyes were wide open as always, Viripin didn't flinch even a tiny bit. Theodore left it at that and waited at the door for Harry to slink out of his bed, something that forced Theodore to give him a soft kick to the ribs.
"I said I was getting up!"
"But you weren't," Theodore responded flatly as Harry rose to his feet, stretching his hands out for his glasses with a sour look on his face. "The trial's probably starting in an hour or so; Mrs Weasley can't be calling us for anything else."
"How d'you know that?" asked Ron. He threw his duvet off and followed Harry to the door after Theodore exited the room. "Remember when Fred accidentally dropped one of those sweets in St Catchpole, and a Muggle was stupid enough to take it from the floor and eat it? That was only three days ago, and she's still mad about that."
"Yeah, but they probably did that on purpose. Didn't he say that Ginny was —?" Theodore kept quiet and didn't continue as he could perfectly picture Ron's face from behind him. "She wasn't all that angry anyway. Right?"
"I guess so," muttered Ron.
Theodore quickly switched the subject as the three boys were midway the stairs, opting to rather talk about anything else other than the 'unpleasant' comment from an even more unpleasant man at St Catchpole. An unfortunate misstep on the stairs, however, made an uncomfortable backside for Theodore and a quiet snigger from Ron — embarrassing but effective.
The smell of breakfast became incredibly strong the moment they reached the kitchen; they saw Mrs Weasley flicking her wand repeatedly above the simmering pans and plates without noticing anybody coming through, and they also saw Bill sitting comfortably on the end of the table with the Prophet in his hands.
"— huh… That's the second time Pettigrew tried to off himself. How does he always almost get away with it? You guys look happy considering that your eardrums got ruptured," remarked Bill, setting down the newspaper when the three boys took their seats around the table, "well, Harry and Theo at least."
Theodore sat down on the opposite side of Ron and Harry and looked around the room to spot anybody missing when he suddenly remembered who. "Where are Fred and George? And Charlie too, where's he?"
"Charlie, Fred and George are on 'Gnome-patrol' since they were up first. Charlie was always the early-bird type but never Fred and George. From what I remember, they never really liked dealing with them, unless…"
Bill scrunched his face into a grimace resembling one smelling a dreadful odour, an odour that he, Theodore — practically everyone in the house was aware of.
"You don't think that it's actually, you know," whispered Theodore over to Harry and Ron, who both shrugged their shoulders with looks of apparent disgust before plates were starting to fly over their heads and laying down along the table.
Mrs Weasley sighed loudly in the corner and walked over to her seat next to Bill and greeted the boys after making another attempt for her to cut Bill's hair short. "Honestly! You and Charlie both look as if you were… stranded on an island for years! Charlie's even growing a beard!"
"Mum, I'm a Curse-Breaker, and Charlie works with dragons. Sometimes, looking rough is right for the job. Ain't that right, Ron?"
Ron nodded his head but turned away when his mum pressed her lips together and furrowed her eyebrows a little bit. "Mum's been making me shave since last year and forced Dad to teach me how Muggles do it —"
"'Forced' is a very strong word, Ron," said Mrs Weasley sternly as she moved around plates of bacon and scrambled eggs closer to her, "now eat your breakfast. You've got a long day ahead of you boys and Hermione. Where are they anyway, Hermione and Ginny? They're the closest ones downstairs."
Ron swallowed a mouthful of baked beans and looked at his mother confusingly. "'Long day'? Isn't the trial going to be in the morning? It's barely seven-thirty."
"Your father told me last night after you went to bed that it'll officially start at eight o'clock tonight, giving us plenty of time to go shopping for school. With Percy gone, it'll be easier to split everything between the four of you."
"Is Dad going to take us?"
Mrs Weasley nodded her head and poured hot chocolate into an average-looking mug with a giant red heart encompassing the word 'MOLLY' before taking a long sip.
Ginny trudged through the doorway with hair flopping over her face and tiredly sat down next to Ron, muttering hello to everyone before she took her plate. Hermione followed behind her shortly, looking much more awake than Ginny, and apologised for not coming sooner, an apology that was brushed aside by Mrs Weasley and envied by Ron.
"We're going to Diagon Alley this morning before you four head off to the Ministry," said Mrs Weasley to Hermione as she took her seat next to Theodore without noticing, "so make sure that you eat quickly and that we get there before things turn hectic. Everybody always goes near the end of summer."
"You know what else is at the end of the summer? The first match of the Quidditch —"
"No, Ron, we're not taking you to the Quidditch World Cup the day before school starts!"
Theodore sat silently, sipping on his cup whilst pondering on the snippet he caught from Bill upon entering the kitchen. Pettigrew trying to kill himself didn't sound like him at all since he was so afraid of what could happen to him if he was caught — and he was. But he faked his death before, twice if counting the time he was under the guise of Ron's rat, so maybe it was a pathetic attempt to escape yet again. Theodore wanted to laugh at his face and mock him endlessly for his stupidity; perhaps he'd get the chance to, who knew?
"You're having one of your moments again," said Hermione quietly to him, shaking her head at the same time smiling.
Theodore turned to her and blinked a little absentmindedly. "Moments? Oh, come off it, I'm not — I was just lost in my thoughts. People do that all the time, you know."
"You especially. I already told you that there's nothing to worry about today. It'll be fine." Hermione took some toast and eggs on her plate and continued, "What you'll have to worry about is when we get back to school."
"Huh? Right, right! I can't imagine how it's going to be like when we go back; it's only a week away… You don't think that they'll take a picture of me or something, to put in the newspapers?"
"I think that your name has gotten enough of their attention," said Hermione after taking a bite of eggs folded in her toast.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Theodore responded simply, unable to stress even further about whether he'd be plastered all across the Prophet or not. If anything, this was good: a reputation this good among others his age was extremely rare, one example being Harry himself. Although, there was the obvious impediment of this possibility…
"But…" started Hermione — her cheeks grew pink in a second — "you can't really blame them if they did. You're… appealing."
Hermione shrugged quickly and messily cleared off the rest of her plate, tapping her foot rapidly against the floor without looking back at Theodore.
"Did she just call me appealing…?"
"… so how come you're up so early, Bill? You don't have to be awake like the rest of us."
"I still think that Mum would have me awake in a second if she wanted to, Ginny. Right, Mum? Anyway, I woke up to an owl this morning from Gringotts. They've got a problem, and they need my help since I'm specialised in that sort of stuff."
"What's it about?" asked Ron.
Bill rubbed his knuckles and gave a look at Mrs Weasley before he answered, "They reckon they've gotten a hold on something dark, something really dark and cursed. The goblins say that it's too powerful to contain and has to be destroyed, and no, I can't tell any of you what it really is," he sighed when reading all their faces of synchronised growing curiosity.
"Come on, Bill," pleaded Ginny, "you always tell us about what you're up to! Like the time you fought off an army of skeletons in Egypt!"
Theodore gaped at Bill and spoke in a voice purely of admiration, "You fought off cursed skeletons?! That's wicked! No one said anything about that!"
"You were always off being… you," said Hermione.
"Sorry, kids, just can't say what it is. Now, if you excuse me, I need to send a letter back to a little fuc— I mean, Griphook." Bill avoided his mother's scathing gaze from the side and left the kitchen to leave upstairs.
"Bill's honestly got the greatest job ever," Ron effused as he turned his head away from his older brother. "I bet you he picked up loads of stuff wherever he'd work —"
"That's theft, Ron; Bill would've been fired from the very first day if that were to happen. The money is not the only focus: it's about having the perseverance to tackle extremely difficult —" Hermione's own words were sharply cut off as she squealed loudly and pushed against the table. "What was that, under the table?!"
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," hissed Viripin's voice softly from underneath the table. She slithered up along Hermione's chair and winded herself around Theodore's shoulders.
"She can't understand you, Viripin," Theodore whispered, waving at Hermione to come back over to show that it was just Viripin and nothing else. "Well, that's one less person who can't understand you."
"Ginny, can you help clear the table for me — thanks, dear. No, don't worry, Theodore, I can see you're not finished yet. Eat quickly so that we can get going soon, all right?"
Theodore nodded at Mrs Weasley before he felt Viripin poke her nostril in his ear. "What did you do you mean by that?"
"You do know I'm not all that happy that you never told me that Ginny was a Parselmouth? You could've told me months before, but you left it until she'd say something."
"Firstly, you could've told me this all through the last few weeks; I was here the entire time, Theodore. And don't you think that I wouldn't have told you? I was going to tell you the second I knew, but Ginny wanted to keep it a secret from you."
"But I still could've helped her," he muttered, lowering his head to hide from the others. "There could be like… bits of the diary left inside of her… and me… The point is that you shouldn't've kept this from me, Viripin."
"What?! You keep secrets from me all the time!"
"What are you talking about, I've been honest with you the entire year, extremely honest!"
"Hey!" Theodore lifted his head and was met by confusing looks from Harry, Ron and Hermione, Hermione being the one who grabbed his attention. "You two are… 'furiously hissing' at one another. What's the problem?"
"No problem," assured Theodore calmly as he moved closer to the table to finish off the rest of his breakfast, "just a little disagreement, that's all." Theodore looked up from his plate and just caught Harry saying to Ron, "… something about keeping secrets…?"
'I haven't kept any secrets from her. At least not any small ones: she practically knows everything about me… except for the times before Hogwarts. Why hasn't she asked me about that?'
Viripin moodily thumped the underside of her head against the top of Theodore's skull repeatedly — Theodore understood this to be another of her mannerisms, her either being grouchy or confused. She ceased her tapping from Theodore rolling his shoulders in slight annoyance and settled still on his head, only making very slight movements to the right only.
"She's looking at you, you know."
Theodore shrugged a little and carried on eating in silence.
"Not one of those 'Theodore's going quiet again' looks. She's been smiling for a whole minute now — look, she even shuffled her chair a little closer to you!"
Theodore could tell from the corner of his eye that Viripin wasn't lying as the obscure image of Hermione's hair seemed closer than before. But again, he shrugged, not wanting to give Viripin the satisfaction of drawing any sort of reaction from him.
Theodore coughed harshly, and his throat felt rough and dry from suddenly swallowing his food. He assured the others that he was just being greedy and got ahead of himself before declaring that he was going upstairs to get himself ready for the day.
"What did I say? Don't you like her —?"
"I'm not going to kiss her, Viripin! Honestly, give it a rest!" warned Theodore. He took to the stairs quickly whilst trying to ignore the Maibian Adder's attempts at admitting that she was only joking. "You always say that, but you never stop, do you?"
"Well, how can I stop when you aren't doing anything about it? You know that you like her — one day, you'll say this clearly — and you most definitely know that she likes you back," said Viripin in his ear, "so… do something!"
Theodore scoffed and pushed into Ron's empty room. "'Do something'. Saying is easier than doing. I mean, what do I actually do — don't answer that."
He set Viripin down, once again ignoring her questions about Hermione and hauled his trunk over to his sleeping bag. Just the day before yesterday did the equipment list for the fourth year arrive for him, Ron, Hermione and Harry; Theodore plucked his list from underneath Sawer's cage and read it over once more.
"Look at all this stuff…" said the Parselmouth to himself, "two extra books for Ancient Runes, three more for Potions, and of course, another Defence Against the Dark Arts book — I wonder who's the next victim… Shit, I'll end up being like Hermione last year with everything here. Wait…"
A thought had just occurred which put Theodore on edge, for he cursed to himself for not realising sooner. Viripin slithered over to Sawer's cage and watched Theodore shifting and moving stacks of Ron's belongings, obviously in a search for something. "What are you looking for?"
"Dammit! I didn't get anything else with the equipment list; how can I be so stupid!" Theodore gritted between his teeth. Viripin asked him again, and he replied, "Every year after my first, I'd be written a letter from Dumbledore or McGonagall telling me who I'm going with to Diagon Alley, along with the school's money. But I got nothing recently."
"Could… could you ask Ron's parents —?"
"No," said the boy quickly. "No, I can't do that. It's their money, not mine. None of this money is mine anyway…" He pressed the bridge of his nose together and tried to think of anything to help him get out of a situation he should've foreseen a long time ago. If he could only remember the name of the elf back at Potter House, then he would have nothing to worry about. His inheritance lying somewhere there, a place that he never saw.
"Dumbledore could never forget about you. There's probably an owl coming right now on its way here. You wouldn't go back with nothing."
"If it's coming, then it's late. We're leaving in around an hour's time, and by then it'll be too late." Theodore dropped to his knees and opened up his trunk, unzipping the underwear compartment to take his father's wand, a towel and clothes and pushed the trunk back into its normal position.
The wand was unusually dormant and dead, no longer reacting in any sort of way when being grasped by Theodore. He paid very little attention to this sudden change in the wand's odd behaviour and instead left the bedroom for the bathroom after feeling slightly lightheaded from staying in the same spot for too long.
Theodore waited impatiently outside the bathroom for George, who was inside cleaning himself off after helping out with the gnomes outside. After half an hour, Theodore finally managed to get himself ready for the day ahead, leaving his 'best' clothes in his trunk for later and fixing his slightly shortened but nonetheless neater hair. Mrs Weasley had given every boy a haircut in the house, regardless whether they were going to the Ministry or not (Bill and Charlie were the only exceptions), and Theodore didn't know what to really think of it now as he remembered only having a few in his entire life.
After saying goodbye to Viripin, who decided that chasing Crookshanks as a large-winged bat was fun, Theodore made sure that his father's wand and his own were safely tucked in the waistband of his trousers and walked downstairs, with him considering asking Harry for some money for his own things. It almost felt physically painful thinking about hoarding Harry's own money, even more when the reminder of him being broke would hit him again.
"…yeah, he's coming down the stairs right now, Mum!" declared Ron's voice from the kitchen. His head popped out from the doorway and said, "You know what Floo Powder is, right?"
"Of course. Never tried it, though."
Ron grinned at him. "Then you're in luck. We're going to Diagon Alley by Floo Powder, and it'll be your first go. Harry sort of botched his, so we'll see if you won't end up… somewhere."
"And where would this 'somewhere' be — hold on, since when did you get ready?" Theodore asked upon checking Ron in normal clothing and a fresh face. He glanced over to the fireplace and saw Fred and George, Ginny, Harry and Hermione appear as if they had gotten ready before him: evidently, they did.
"We've got another bathroom. Didn't you know?" Ron pointed to a painting of a sentient tree battling a gigantic squid away near the living room, above it a small frame of two identical men with red hair slapping each other on the back and just behind both of them was a faded outline of where a door should've been. "No time for that now, we're going. Let's try and go before Fred and George — whenever they go in front, they always hide and try to scare me."
Theodore followed Ron to the others and saw Mrs Weasley holding a flowerpot that was usually on the mantelpiece. "All right, Bill, you first —"
"I can just Disapparate, Mum, no need for Floo Powder."
"London is a very long way away, Bill. Take a pinch and get into the fire."
Theodore stood next to Ron and Harry and watched closely as Bill rolled his eyes with a grin on his face before approaching the crackling orange fire. Bill took a pinch of the green sandlike powder from the pot and threw it into the fire, turning it to an emerald colour and its flames licking the air in a more vibrant manner. "Diagon Alley!" he shouted the moment he walked straight into the fire, and like that he was gone.
"It's not that hard," said Ron assuringly. "Just say where you need to go — clearly, remember that — look for the grate that looks more obvious and focus on it."
Theodore nodded attentively and stood back to see Fred and George disappear in the green flames, Ginny after them, Hermione, Harry, and then Ron. "Just say the name, focus and it'll turn out fine. Unless you accidentally find yourself at the Malfoys and end up punching — I'm going now, Mum, geez."
"And at last, it's finally your turn, Theodore dear! Now, Ron told you exactly what you need to know," explained Mrs Weasley, repeating after Ron almost word-for-word until he got the gist of it. "You'll be fine, Theodore, you really will. Absolutely nothing to worry about."
"Thank you, Mrs Weasley." Theodore then took a little more than a pinch of the powder and chucked it into the fireplace, squinting just a bit when the fire grew brighter. "Diago—!"
"Hold on for a second, I almost forgot!" Mrs Weasley stopped Theodore from stepping in the fireplace and pointed her wand at the kitchen doorway, saying, "Accio Hogwarts' sack!"
Theodore heard something falling over in the living room, followed by another crashing sound of glass shattering on the ground. Mrs Weasley groaned to herself and held her hand out to clasp the zooming grey sack on instinct. "That'll be the Glass Swan again… a wedding gift," she added from seeing Theodore slightly confused. "Here you go, courtesy of Dumbledore himself. The owl only came this morning."
"Thank you," said the boy, relieved from not having to ask Harry for anything until he noticed something off about the sack. "Umm… is — is it supposed to be this… small?" Theodore tried to purge any sort of smug entitlement in his voice as he clutched the obviously small sack of Galleons.
"The letter said that it would be enough for your shopping. Why, is there something wrong?"
Theodore shook his head and put on a smile, tucking the sack in his pocket as he pushed away the stabbing feeling that he wouldn't enjoy Hogsmeade like the others. So much for not wanting to ask Harry for money.
He took a deep breath and stepped carefully into the green flames. Theodore felt like he was strolling outside on a warm summer's evening — and a tickling sensation was running up his back from the sharp fear of ending up on the other side of the country. He closed his eyes firmly shut and thought about Diagon Alley clearly in his mind: The Leaky Cauldron was the first thing that came up.
"Diagon Alley!" shouted the Parselmouth clearly before everything disappeared around like a whirlwind of green fire encompassing him, an inferno with no heat whatsoever. Theodore felt his stomach squeeze without hesitation as it felt like when he Disapparated with Dumbledore for the first time, and he was certain that he was going to throw up at any given second. Spinning, spinning, spinning… forever spinning…
The spinning came to an abrupt stop, and Theodore was nearly flung from where he finally arrived after narrowly avoiding the other fireplaces that floated in the green inferno of the Floo Powder. He stuck his hands out and successfully broke his fall, landing on his knees rather painfully. Theodore's stomach was no longer rumbling dangerously due to it being emptied on his way to… where, exactly?
Theodore checked himself all over after stirring from dizziness to make sure that he hadn't broken or lost anything important. His wand was fine; his father's wand was fine, and his money was safe as well. Hogsmeade was again purged from his mind as he brushed his knees from the dusty floorboard and looked around the room to make sure that he wasn't someplace else. The room was full of chairs, splintered barrels and cobwebbed boxes were in the corners, nothing that was really special — Theodore felt a small spark of nostalgia inside of him when he stared closer at the barrels.
"Of course! I'm at the Leaky Cauldron," he said to himself. He heard a buzzing noise coming from behind the small door, confirming that a mass of people had to be nearby, hence the beloved Leaky Cauldron.
The fireplace suddenly began to burn fiercely, illuminating the room with green light until it died down. Mrs Weasley effortlessly slipped out of the fireplace and sighed with relief when she saw the Parselmouth unharmed. "Thank goodness! I know that you said the words properly, but I didn't want this to become another… Harry situation," she whispered.
Theodore told her that he got a 'little' sick along the way but managed to hold it down when he arrived. The two left the unused storage room and started to walk down a corridor that was instantly recognisable to Theodore. This was where Tom had any extra rooms in case the ones upstairs were full, and of course, the storage room which he never bothered to visit for some reason.
As they approached the main pub, the buzzing became louder and clearer with every step that Theodore took, and he could just make out 'Potter' being chanted over and over again. Theodore was then reminded of a contemplative fact that he was returning to the wizarding world with his name being read, said and heard nearly everywhere. His steps were starting to become lazy and slow, but it didn't matter: he was already there.
"Potter, Potter, Potter — THEODORE!"
Theodore nearly jumped backwards onto Mrs Weasley from the sheer volume of his name being bellowed by a multitude of wizards and witches, all raising their tankards to him.
Gribblegork came rushing over to him at the same time downing his drink and stuck out his hand to congratulate the embarrassed boy. "The little runaway returns finally! I — hiccup — I've always been wondering when you'd get back… How's Timothy?"
"I don't know who that is, but it's nice to see you again — whoa!" Theodore was suddenly dragged away from Gribblegork and was surrounded by burly wizards who slapped him on the back, along with an equal number of beautiful witches cooing continuously at him. His cheeks couldn't take any more of the incessant pinching in just a few seconds that he forced himself away from the crowd after struggling past everybody.
"All right, all right, let him through! This is a pub, not a concert for the Weird Sisters! How are you, Theodore?"
Theodore instantly smiled and swivelled around to see where the familiar voice came from. "I'm great, Mr Tom, how are you?" he replied happily as if being nearly squashed to death had no impact on him.
"Fabulous, Theodore! I feel absolutely fantastic! My, you've gotten taller in just, what, a year?"
"I don't feel that much — oh! I have to go now, I'm here to get my stuff for Hogwarts," said Theodore quickly, shaking Tom's hand then speed-walking over to the back door. He dodged another pair of witches his age reaching out for him and found Mrs Weasley soon enough waiting for him.
"Finally," said George when the two arrived at the courtyard. "We've been waiting here forever. What was happening back there?"
"They were… excited to see me. And my stomach still feels weird…" he muttered as he joined Harry, Hermione and Ron. "They didn't try to crush you lot, did they?"
"They tried to hoist Harry on their shoulders, so there's that."
"Huh. Lucky me."
Bill tapped the hole in the brick wall and passed through first when the bricks revealed Diagon Alley in all of its glory. Theodore felt as if it was his first time walking down the street with Dumbledore, several eyes following the praised wizard while he was a nobody by his side; how three years felt so long ago, how he missed being back where he belonged.
"Mornin', Theodore!" greeted a lanky, familiar man.
Torgan snapped his fingers and pointed at the Parselmouth before disappearing into Knockturn Alley. Theodore's eyes followed him as he continued to walk forward until he bumped into Hermione and awkwardly apologised for it. Although they were halfway down the Alley, he couldn't help himself from looking back over at Torgan and wondering what a man like him could ever be doing in Knockturn.
'Hmph. Could never really read that guy… how odd…'
The Weasleys, Harry, Hermione and Theodore carried on through all the way till the end where the blinding Gringotts stood with wizards and goblins guarding the outside, a bit unusual yet not worth paying attention to at all.
"Bill, you take the kids to the vault and Harry to his, while I'll stay up here with Theodore," said Mrs Weasley, handing a key to her eldest.
"Mrs Weasley," said Hermione as she brought out a thick purse from her pockets, "my mum and dad gave me some money so that I could exchange it, but they never really told me what to do. Could you…?"
"Of course, dear, you just stay here with us. Make sure that everything runs smoothly, Bill, and for the love of God, do not let Fred and George loose on the carts again! I do not want to be banned from here again!"
Fred chuckled and elbowed his twin while Bill nodded with his cheeks slightly red. "Mum, could you calm down, please? I'm with acquaintances here…"
Harry stayed behind for a brief moment and whispered to Theodore, "Was there anything in your mum's will about a vault for you? Maybe that's where the money is at."
"Even if it was there, which I'm seriously doubting, I would need a key, which I don't have. Even then, wouldn't they know who I really was if I claimed it?"
"I guess you're right. Anyway, I'll see you in a minute."
Theodore watched Harry tagging behind the Weasley kids and joined Ron at the last second before they disappeared behind the doors leading to the vaults. He sighed heavily to himself. It couldn't have been anywhere near Gringotts. His mother wasn't like her brother, revered by the public. Who would know if the goblins tried to lock away whatever money she left for him forever? No, not here, nowhere close to here. The only place he could think of was at the house where the elf rambled on about protecting gold. If only he could remember her name…
"Good morning," grinned Mrs Weasley amicably at a scrunched-faced goblin behind the high-raised desk. A small silver tag on his clothes simply said 'Griphook', and that was all. "My son's friend here would like to exchange some Muggle money."
Griphook leaned over slowly and nastily sneered at Hermione, baring his pointed teeth. "Muggle-born, I presume?"
"Does it matter?"
Griphook sat back again and merely shrugged his shoulders. "Only wanted to know. The amount that is to be exchanged, if you will," he croaked a little. He stretched out a clawed hand right above Hermione's head.
The girl scuttled back when she felt him brushing against her forehead and quickly flicked open her purse to hand over several pound notes to the goblin. Theodore watched his sneer grow even more prominent from holding Muggle money as Griphook slowly counted with a quill in the other hand.
Listening to him repeatedly saying 'twenty' and 'ten' removed any sort of attention Theodore had towards him, that he faced the entrance of the bank where a grotesque man with a crooked back and an equally crooked smile was dressed in the same uniform as Griphook and all the other goblins, albeit, his were quite filthy.
"'Scuse me," he asked in an unpleasant voice to a passing family of four, "might you and your kids be of the Muggle sort? Muggle-borns?"
"Move along, children. Don't look at him."
Griphook disappeared for a moment and popped back over with a clean sack that had the imprint of the Gringotts logo on it clearly. He snapped his fingers and caused it to levitate all the way to Hermione's arms — her sack was obviously bigger than Theodore's — before he proceeded to scribble on a long roll of parchment as if he had been recently disturbed.
"Umm… thank you, Mr… Griphook!" Hermione thanked politely.
Griphook didn't even twitch let alone look at her.
"Don't take it harshly, dear. That's rather normal between wizards and goblins. There's a lot of bad blood between us, after all."
Hermione nodded and brought out a small cube from her pocket which sprung open as a massive green bag when she threw it up in the air. "Expand-A-Bags," she clarified to Theodore. "Mum bought it for me the first time I came here because there was so much stuff to buy. It's enchanted to be as light as a feather, no matter how much stuff you put inside."
"Where d'you get it from?"
"Mum said that she got it from a Muggle market somewhere around here. And I, uh, did the enchantments myself," Hermione added proudly.
Theodore nodded his head as he held the bag; it was like he was carrying a quill in his hand, despite her money sack being casually dropped inside. "It's impressive, I'll give you that. But how exactly can you have this out without drawing attention to yourself? Seems to be a bit of a flaw."
Hermione grew a smug smile on her face and tied the bag up like a ribbon on a present. It was like somebody sucking the air out of a ballon; her bag then wrinkled up and continued to shrink until it became the small green cube once again. "See? I can carry it around without having to actually lift it. More than impressive, I think, Theodore."
"Yeah," Theodore replied in awe. "But — but there has to be at least three different charms on this, including the Extension Charm, and that's N.E.W.T level, at least!"
"That was the only one I couldn't do. It was so tricky that I asked Fred to do it at the end of our second year. He's really good at that sort of stuff. Of course, he knew that what I was asking was questionable…"
"So you did something illegal then," remarked the Parselmouth. Hermione clasped her hands on his mouth and widened her eyes to tell him to be quiet.
"Shhh, don't say anything!" hissed Hermione, "I don't want to get into trouble!"
Theodore removed her hands and said, "Don't worry, you hooligan, I won't say anything to anyone. Dear God, you've been breaking rules left, right and centre: you have a problem, Hermione."
"No, I don't! I was going to use it just in case the situation called for it. I'm not a 'hooligan', Theodore."
"Sure, sure, I'll retract what I just said," noted Theodore sarcastically. He was still holding her hands, but by this point, it became the norm. "That's still great, though. Second-year, and you're already trying out N.E.W.T stuff. But you could've just come to me instead."
"I was going to, but…"
Theodore caught sight of Bill coming through the doors first and released Hermione's hands. He looked over to the shady man still hounding passing people with the same questions regarding their blood status and slightly caught the image of Mrs Weasley smiling at them a little further away. Theodore instantly turned away, cheeks burning in mortification: did she see him and Hermione holding hands? They weren't at all obvious, or so he thought.
"Got to stay behind now, but I'll see you all at dinner tonight," said Bill when they all regrouped with each other after he had given his mother some money. "Charlie should be coming later since he was called up to the Ministry by Lestrange."
"What does Lestrange want with Charlie," interjected Theodore.
Bill smiled and said, "Old Lestrange has been trying to get Charlie to work with him since he got the absolute highest grade in Magical Creatures ever after Lestrange did himself. Charlie's been evasive for a long time, mostly to do with Lestrange's background."
'Knew it. Of course, the guy was a Death Eater. Maybe even the very first.'
Bill cut the conversation short and said goodbye to everyone then left with a band of goblins who led him into a small door that was well-hidden behind a gleaming suit of armour. Mrs Weasley beckoned everyone to follow her outside so that the money between her children could be rationed without any distractions.
Hermione, Ron, Harry and Theodore fell back a little to speak about what cursed object could Bill be handling with until the crooked man jumped right in front of them, and, unfortunately, right in front of Hermione. His teeth were like chipped grey stones covered with rancid grease, and his skin was hanging off his bones like a loose bedsheet. Theodore honestly thought that he was an amalgamation of a human, house-elf, goblin and a little dash of troll in the mix as well.
"'Ello there, child! Any chance that you may be of a Muggle background?"
"Why do you want to know that?" Hermione asked with goosebumps crawling up her arm. She didn't look to the others for help, not that they wouldn't do anything if something went wrong.
"Well, I mean, for starters, look at these folks! They clearly ain't your family. You don't look a thing like that one over there," he continued as he pointed at Harry, "and you were getting quite close with this 'andsome fella."
"I wasn't —!" she stammered, but the man didn't want to hear it.
He hobbled closer to her and put on a tempting voice, saying, "'Ow about it then? I could test you for any wizard blood that might be lurking in your veins. Don't worry, darling, it's completely safe if you just come with me over here —"
"Keep it to yourself, you fucking creep," scathed Ron at the man. He pulled Hermione away as Theodore and Harry gave him stares of detest, stares that did not faze him at all. "Next time you see a guy like that, don't listen to a word he says, all right?"
"Noted, but what was he talking about? I can't have any wizard blood inside me, I'm a Muggle-born. He was trying to trick me, wasn't he?"
"Yes to he was trying to trick you, and no to you not having any wizarding blood inside of you. Wait, shouldn't you know how Muggle-borns pop up every now and then —?"
"Just say it, Ron," Hermione cut in, slightly irritated that Ron knew something she didn't.
Ron noticed that and puffed up his chest as he explained, "What that guy was trying to ask you is part of the biggest scam in the entire wizarding world. Happens all across the world, mind you. They're called Inheritance Tests. No way can you go through with it without it ending up horrible for you. Started when goblins were being 'friendly' with wizards centuries ago. They started this, see."
"So then why was he asking if Hermione was a Muggle-born?" asked Harry. "I thought that they didn't have any magical blood."
"They do, but it's really small, metaphorically speaking. Every Muggle-born's got a Squib ancestor several generations back. Usually, when two Muggles who both got Squib great-great-great grandfathers or something have kids, chances are that they're gonna be magical."
Hermione held her chin in thought and continuously muttered 'wow' under her breath. "So what you're saying is that somewhere further up my family could be wizards?"
Ron took his share of money from his mother and started to make his way back down Diagon Alley whilst speaking at the same time. "They're most likely to be ancient, even more so to all be dead. That's why you've got weirdos like that guy always targeting Muggle-borns, thinking that they're gullible enough to go through with it."
Theodore asked if Muggle-borns still took them regardless and Ron replied with, "Of course! Not as much as a few decades ago, but you'll still get a few giving up some of their blood, hoping that they'll get a whole family tree dedicated to them. It's a bit sad if you think about it."
"'Sad'?" Hermione nearly spluttered, "it's horrible! Preying on innocent people who have no idea what they're getting into! How dare they! What — what would've happened if I did give him my blood?"
Ron grimaced. "If you did? Best case scenario, you'd get an incurable blood-curse which will be passed down several times through your children if, for some mad and idiotic reason, you decide to have children."
Hermione looked back at the grotesque man with utter disgust and walked quickly over to Theodore's side where she complained about how Inheritance Tests were a thing of evil. Theodore wholesomely agreed with every single word that she said as he was unable to grasp the idea of cursing not only just one person but an entire family for generations with the only way out being the complete death of every member. He knew that goblins were cruel creatures, but this was beyond sickening.
"Disgusting! Do they really hate wizards that much?"
"You're not gonna like to hear this, but some people think that the pure-bloods back then actually struck deals with goblins to curse Muggle-borns specifically."
Hermione scrunched her hands up in a ball until her knuckles turned pale against her tannish skin. She looked like she was on the verge of screaming her lungs out when Theodore told her that she could vent when nobody was around. "Somebody should do something about this," she gritted angrily.
"Then go do something. Call the Ministry, sue that guy, start a club even. Just don't scream your head off here, OK?" Theodore looked over his shoulder when he heard somebody calling out his name from Flourish and Blotts and was surprised to see the Patil twins just about to enter the bookshop.
"Hey, Theo," called Parvati, waving flirtatiously as she batted her eyes at him. "Looking good over there —!"
"Parvati, stop being such a flirt! You already know who he likes…" Padma held her sister's hand and dragged her into the shop but not before briefly looking over at Theodore to give him a smile that was unlike her; more like Parvati instead.
"Theo, I think your popular-points just went straight through the roof," smirked Ron, elbowing Theodore in the arm. "At this rate, you'll be the next Gilderoy Lockhart."
"Shut up, Ron. It's just… Parvati being Parvati." Theodore quickly flicked his eyes over to Hermione and saw her staring over at a rush of children sweeping out of Ollivanders. "How about we just get going? My quill's all fucked up, and I've got no ink left."
"Hold on! Let's go to the Magical Menagerie first. Mum and Dad gave me a few extra Galleons so that I could get a new pet. They've been really generous lately."
Harry patted Ron on the back and carried on down the Alley and said, "I guess it helps when you run over a Death Eater with a car. I think your popular-points are showing, Ron. Let's go before more people decide to crowd around us."
He and Ron led the way while Theodore remained at the back just behind Hermione. She hadn't said anything after Parvati and Padma disappeared into Flourish and Blotts and was walking rather briskly in front of him. Theodore kept his hands deep in his pockets as he stared at her hair bouncing up and down; he didn't know why she fell silent so quickly. On second thought, perhaps he did…
"Hey," said the Parselmouth after he strode quickly to Hermione's side, "are you OK?"
Hermione looked at him, oddly confused then formed a smile like he said something complimentary. "Of course! I mean, yeah, I'm OK, why wouldn't I be OK?"
"A guy did almost try to give you a blood-curse not too long ago. I guess sickos also extend over to the wizarding world, huh?"
Hermione nodded only a little bit and stared over at the passing shops with her hands behind her back. Now Theodore didn't know why she didn't want to talk at all. He didn't say anything bad. Maybe she was just deep in thought regarding those Inheritance Tests, he thought to himself. It couldn't be anything else, right?
He gave her the slightest nudge with his elbow and leaned a little in her path of walking, unknowingly wanting to see a reaction from her. "Theodore, walk properly! You're in my way," Hermione complained at the same time unable to suppress a half-smile creeping on her face.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry. Gosh, I can get so clumsy sometimes, can't I?"
"Yeah, sure," Hermione responded by deepening her voice to mock him.
Theodore shook his head and paced further in front of her and muttered, "Absolutely immature. I expected better." He followed Ron and Harry into the pet shop and held the door just long enough for Hermione to get through — Theodore wrinkled his nose for the stinking fish aroma had worsened over a year's time.
The four weaved through the cages of animals stacked on top of each other in the oddest ways possible. Some animals like the armadillos and four-winged birds were absent from their cages, presumably sold a long time ago. But they were easily replaced. Several new creatures trapped in boxes were either curling up in the corner of their cage or barking at the four teens whenever they brought their faces far too close for their liking.
"So what's it going to be, Ron? Another rat?"
Ron looked with a deadpan expression at Theodore and was almost about to flip him off. "You're so hilarious. Please, as if I'm ever getting anything close to a rat."
"But look at those ones," pointed out Harry over to a cage of sleek black rats doing circus tricks and leaping off a small pedestal in a fancy manner. "Do you see what they just did? You could have a whole family of —"
"No rats," interrupted Ron. He said this quite firmly with a serious face. "I need something that can fly. Owls make the best pets, right?"
Hermione scoffed and crossed her arms. "There's a shop for owls specifically, Ron. You could've just gone in there instead."
Ron turned on his feet, apparently to mutter something under his breath as he quickly manoeuvred around the cages to find something, anything that could catch his eye. That, and anything that didn't resemble a rodent of any sort.
Theodore recommended that he should take the sparrow with a dragon tail; Harry suggested taking the talking sloth which insulted a passing old wizard about his hair, and Hermione told him to take an owl if he wanted something that could fly. Ron ignored them and resumed his hunt until he practically squealed when he stopped in front of the front desk.
"Guys, guys, come look," he called to them happily. "Perfect! This is the one!"
Theodore leaned into the newish cage that sat alone on the desk next to a small snail-fish in a tank of slime. Almost hidden in the corner of mounds of grey fluff littered with bird seeds was a baby Golden Eagle, its feathers much darker than others belonging to its species and eyes that were unusually large, round and of a piercing green colour. But what Theodore found most unusual about the bird, besides the fact that it was shaking in terror from four people staring straight at it, was that it had a mangled left wing in a tight sling.
"Ron, this one won't fly," stated Harry bluntly, breaking the silence.
"He just got a broken wing —"
"'She'," corrected the saleswoman from the backroom.
"She just got a broken wing. It's nothing that I can't fix. Magic, remember? We can use it?"
"But she's a baby, Ron," said Hermione. She ducked her head down and tried to comfort the eagle by moving away a little. "Even if she gets better, she'll barely lift a letter above the ground. Are you sure you want to have her?"
Ron nodded fervently and asked the owner of the shop how much it would be to take the eagle. He paid the required money and a little extra for the cage as well. The saleswoman tapped her wand against the lock and swung the cage door open, reaching in to take the shy bird by hand, but it was of no use. The baby eagle pecked viciously at her fingers and hid under her good wing. "For goodness sake! That's what I get for taking her in after her mother had abandoned her! Good luck dealing with that!"
"She's just shy, aren't you?" Ron closed the door of the cage and picked it up gently to avoid scaring the eagle any further. "Just have to give you some time, that's all. And you'll need a name."
Theodore thought it was rather odd to see Ron so ecstatic over getting a new animal, even more when said animal was obviously crippled. But upon thinking over it again, it made perfect sense to him: Ron never had a pet that was truly for him alone. It was much deserved and overdue.
The four first went to Flourish and Blotts where they bought their books for the upcoming year — Harry, Hermione and Ron were heavily relieved that they weren't required to have another monster book from Hagrid. Theodore, in all honesty, wouldn't have minded much. He followed Hermione to the top floor to take their books on Ancient Runes, and Theodore had once again caught the attention of another female classmate, Sally-Anne Perks, a Hufflepuff that Theodore had no clue of their existence until that very moment. Hermione had her eyebrow arched the entire time but was smirking when she saw Sally becoming frustrated that Theodore had gotten her name wrong three times in a row.
"Wow. Aren't you the little charmer?"
"Oh, leave me alone! You can't tell me that you knew her as well?"
Hermione pressed her lips together and held a grin inside, shaking her head. The two stared at each other for five seconds then burst into a fit of silent laughs that made them both feel guilty about not knowing their fellow schoolmate.
Theodore and Hermione regrouped with Ron and Harry and paid for all their books, then they left the shop for Amanuensis Quills, where Theodore chose a bright, white quill to replace his old one. He picked up two different ink bottles, one red and one dark blue, then quickly entered Madam Malkin's to be fitted for a whole new school uniform.
"Should I expect to see you this time next year?" asked Madam Malkin when it was finally his turn. "Most people come in here every three years."
"With the stuff that's happening at school, I'll be coming here till I'll leave."
Harry, Hermione and Ron waited for Theodore on the benches and when he had finally paid for his robes, they opted to go to the Apothecary next, due to nearly every other shop being flooded with customers. Theodore trailed behind them as he was having difficulty folding his robes into a bag with his books as well.
'Why didn't I think of charming a bag to put anything inside? Now it's going to get all wrinkled.'
"Theo, come on! The Apothecary's starting to build up; we've got to hurry!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming! Let me — save me a spot in the queue, I'll be there in a second!" he yelled back at Ron. He threw his robes over his head and carefully arranged the books so that the robes could fit seamlessly inside. "All right, there we go. Now all I have to do is — what the hell?" Something was buzzing, trembling against his waist. Theodore slapped a hand where the sudden sensation came from and realised that it was his father's wand acting out like it used to.
'Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Can't believe that I almost did…' Theodore pulled the wand out of his waistband and felt his hand growing a little fuzzy from holding it tighter. He looked far over to the Apothecary where the others had disappeared into the crowd leading into the shop, then he turned his head over to the lonely-looking wandshop that was much closer to him. A woman and her daughter left the shop with the child marvelling at her brand-new wand in her hand. He didn't even think about joining the others: he gripped his father's wand in one hand, his school things in the other, and he made his way to Ollivanders without a word.
Three years since he had been here to buy his wand with Dumbledore, yet nothing seemed to change at all. Nothing seemed out of place or neatly propped on furniture — Theodore thought that it was perfect the way it was. Three years felt like a lifetime, and three years ago he was just Theodore Riddle, a normal wizard. Just that.
Sounds of boards and boxes being slotted onto shelves could be heard from behind the counter, along with somebody muttering to themselves continuously, not giving the sound of the bell any notice. Theodore set his bag on a rickety chair in the corner and walked up to the counter, and he saw Ollivander holding his chin with five wands in his hand. He was staring at them as if they were little people who were talking back at him. Theodore kept quiet and didn't want to disturb whatever the wandmaker was doing at that moment but waiting for him became tedious too quickly.
"Um, Mr Ollivander? Can I talk to —?"
"Blast it all!" fumed Ollivander — Theodore was completely shocked. Ollivander turned away from the direction of the counter and angrily flung the wands the air behind him, and he stomped off behind an obscure door as the wands floated gently into different individual boxes and back onto the shelves.
'What the hell was that?' Theodore leaned over the counter and said in a louder voice, "Mr Ollivander? Mr Ollivander? I need to speak with you about something regarding my wand! Mr Ollivander?"
There was no response. Theodore fell back flat on his feet and crossed his arms. What could he be possibly angry about with those wands? Did they not work? Theodore tapped his foot impatiently against the floorboards; he didn't want to be kept waiting. He had several questions about his father's wand and his own, and he needed them now. There was no way that he'd go back to Hogwarts, just to wait another year to speak with the only wandmaker he knew.
Theodore tapped his hand as he walked up and down the counter, staring at the back of the shop waiting for Ollivander's white hair to appear at any second. His father's wand was shaking even more, shaking so much that he took it out and left it on the counter where it calmed down. Theodore kept on glaring at the door. Five minutes passed, still no sign of Ollivander.
He looked all around the shop to make sure that boredom wouldn't get to him any more than it already did. Boredom that made him flick at the floating silver square-based pyramids on a display, boredom that made him poke the same spider from before, boredom that somehow managed to make him wander a little too far across the counter and behind it. Theodore just couldn't help himself.
The space behind the adjacent shelves was around a third the size of the front room itself. It served as a hallway of some sorts, and three doors could be seen by Theodore, all three closed. But Theodore didn't pay any attention to them. The newfound area was ridiculously clean compared to the shop's outer image. On the Parselmouth's immediate left was a small working area with a single desk littered with graphs, notes and books and a pin-board that was hanging on the wall above it.
Theodore looked closer at the notes and saw that they were all handwritten by Ollivander himself. Several complex diagrams with labels pointing to images of presumably wands caught his eye, tempting him to pick it up for a closer look. But he thought to himself that if he did, Ollivander would know that somebody had been in the area that was surely restricted from customers.
"Wand Log, 1960 to 2000," muttered the intruding boy as he read the title of an ancient-looking book at the top of its pile. "Probably what he uses to record the wands he sells. He's even got some that date back more than seventy years ago. That's crazy…"
His curiosity eventually led him away from the desk and to the pin-board that seemed to be even more cluttered. All the notes read like a sort of map to somewhere, where strings of different colours linked to different parts of something that was connected to something else. Moving pictures consisting of phoenixes, dragons, unicorns, kelpies, trolls, Thestrals, thunderbirds, and so many more creatures were plastered on every corner of the board. The phoenixes, dragons and unicorns were ringed in gold and the rest in red except for the Thestrals, which were left alone and unmarked.
But then, curiosity brought him away from that once again, for something else grabbed him — Theodore had forgotten that he was far deep in the wandshop. Theodore reached for a photo down at the bottom-left of the board and moved away the surrounding notes that suddenly peeled away like plants into thin rolls of paper by touch alone. Underneath the folded notes was a faded image of three young men standing next to each other with their arms around each other's shoulders — Theodore assumed that the third was a man; a singed hole was where a face was supposed to be on a body of a tall figure in purely black robes.
Theodore brought his face closer to look at the other two men, who were simply smiling, one on the verge of bursting into tears from pure laughter. The man in between both of the others had a fresh, young and a familiar face. Theodore could make out his hair being auburn and long, and the same went for his slowly growing beard of the same colour. But his eyes seemingly stood out so much from the rest of his appearance, a striking baby blue. And that's when Theodore knew who that was. He had to squint his eyes just a little bit, but it didn't escape him that Albus Dumbledore was once a young man: he didn't look a day over seventeen here.
The Parselmouth looked at the young Dumbledore some more, unable to comprehend that he wasn't born old, then moved onto the man on Dumbledore's right. This man was also young, most likely the same age as Dumbledore in the picture. His hair was jet-black and thick, reaching to his shoulders in a rugged sort of way. Theodore instantly recognised him as Ollivander, but he took it back when he stared closer at him. The silvery eyes were the exact same, but his nose was smaller than the old man today. Perhaps old age did change him, but that couldn't have been him for sure.
Theodore now desperately wanted to know who the third man was, now that he saw Dumbledore as a young one. He looked at his thin frame again head to toe and saw that hanging on his chest was a small golden pendant too small for Theodore to make out. He then looked at Dumbledore and saw that he too was wearing the exact same pendant, and the same went for the man that looked like Ollivander.
"What the hell is that thing? Did Dumbledore have a fashion line back then?" Theodore joked to himself as he poked the photo. It peeled up like the rest of the other notes to reveal the bumpy wood behind it; Theodore stood frozen by what he saw. Not in fear, not in shock, or even awe, just confusion. A triangle holding a circle inside of it, with a single line running down the middle. That was what he saw. Was this a rune? Theodore poked the photo again and watched it unreel in front of him. Somehow, he could see the symbol hanging off from their necks, the very same symbol.
"What is that? And… and why do I feel like I've seen it before…?"
"My, my, isn't this a surprise."
Theodore's heart felt like it was crunched instantly. He turned quickly on the spot and retreated rapidly until he hit the desk, and he faced the wandmaker who was not irked in the slightest that somebody was in the restricted parts of the shop. "Mr Ollivander! I — I was just — I'm sorry for —!"
"Don't be sorry, young man. I did hear you at the front calling my name, but I had to take care of something rather important."
Theodore straightened himself and stammered, "Mr Ollivander, I'm really sorry! You — you just left, and I… sort of got a bit bored, so I —!"
"It's all right, Mr Riddle. Come, we'll talk where there is more space for us; it's rather cluttered over here," said Ollivander good-naturedly as he led the way back to the main part while Theodore followed him silently. Ollivander remained behind the counter and waited for Theodore to stay in front until he finally said, "So, Mr Riddle, what brings you here? As I recall, you already bought a wand three years ago on the twenty-ninth of March."
"Wow… you actually remembered that. Um, no, I wanted to talk about —" Theodore started as his hand slowly reached down to his waistband for his father's wand. He gripped the bonelike handle tightly and stared straight into the old man's eyes, oddly being evoked of the first time he came, when Ollivander said that his second name was peculiar and described his father almost in reverence; how there was that flash of fear when he told him his name…
"About what?" asked Ollivander a little bewildered that Theodore had kept silent.
"Um… I wanted to talk about this." Theodore lifted his hand and placed a wand on the counter for Ollivander to see clearly.
Ollivander arched his eyebrow and slowly took it up in his hands and took his time to twirl it between his fingers, to run his thumb across its side and make the occasional casual flick to produce very weak sparks. "Yes… I know this wand… acacia, a Thestral tail hair as a core, and…?"
"Twelve and three-quarters inches long," finished Theodore. That day was seemingly unforgettable. "You said that this wand was odd, right? It wasn't like any another wand that you ever made."
Ollivander's left eye twitched a little, but he kept on fingering the acacia wand in hand. "Yes, that's right. Wood and core, opposite natures that complement each other. Negative and positive, if you will. But excuse me for saying this, I see no problem with your wand, Mr Riddle."
"There's nothing wrong with it, it just acts weirdly sometimes, more often recently. That's why I came here. I wanted to see if you would have any answers."
"Has it ever failed you before?"
"No," answered Theodore unthinkingly, "I don't think it ever has. Actually, it's sort of protective of me. Like… scary protective. There was a time where somebody had my wand and tried to use it against me, but for some reason, it just backfired on them. And it wasn't broken like my friend's wand. It just turned on them as if it intended to do it. What that does that mean?"
The wandmaker opened his mouth to speak and turned the wand upside-down to examine its base but closed it for a short while. Theodore tilted his head to the side whilst wondering what could possibly be running through his mind. "From what I gathered about wandlore, specifically the cores of the wand, I only sell three different types: phoenix feather, dragon heartstring and unicorn hair. Many of my forefathers have branched out in looking for the greatest core of them all, and so many secrets have been passed down in my family regarding the magic behind wandlore itself.
"However, when it comes to Thestral wands, they do not operate in the same manner as the three that I mentioned. Thestral tail hair as a core is terribly obscure in an obscurer field of magic. Tricky and unpredictable. From what most previous Ollivanders understood from these type of wands, me included, is that their performance and nature mirrors that of their master and that those chosen tend to have an unusual ability to grasp the deepest concepts of pure magic itself, one including death."
Theodore swallowed uncomfortably and tried to take it all in. "So… has there been any other wands made like this? Ones with a Thestral hair as a core."
"As far as I know, this is most likely the only Thestral wand in Britain and is the only one that I've ever made. But — this is rather common knowledge to the skilled wandmaker — there was another wand made from the core of the Thestral. Lost to time many decades ago. Men and women fought and killed for it."
Ollivander's face grew a little pale when he saw Theodore becoming firmer in his voice, even forceful. "The wand was reputed to be the most powerful in existence. Such a wand would attract attention from most places, eh?"
"Right," said the Parselmouth quietly. He noticed that Ollivander stopped observing his wand and had it still between his fingers. One other question was lingering in his mind, and he finally managed to pick it out from just a little more thinking. "I just wanted to know one more thing. Two months ago, my wand did something that no other wand could. My friend — the same friend — broke his wand after we… did the thing at school."
Ollivander nodded his head and smiled approvingly.
"It broke, you see, and everyone knows that you can't mend a wand with another, right? But my one did. It repaired it perfectly, and there wasn't a single crack on it. It was like it never broke in the first place!" Theodore could feel himself becoming more excited for some reason. "What does that mean?"
The wandmaker's face lost that smile; he gulped harshly and held Theodore's wand tightly. He stared at it with hesitation then leaned forwards towards the boy as if there were unwelcome ears all around them. "This could mean only a few things, Mr Riddle. I told you before that I hoped that you followed in your father's footsteps in more ways than one, but not too many. You may be on a path where you'll be awed and adored for your power, or horribly feared because of it. But either way, Mr Riddle… you are destined for great things. Things, I dare say… are impossible."
"Like my father?" Theodore asked with a trembling feeling in his chest. Ollivander lifted his head just barely and left Theodore's wand out in front of him for its master to take back. White sparks burst from the tip like the first time he ever held it, and Theodore mimicked the old man by twirling it around in his fingers and paying closer attention to detail than he ever done before.
He remembered Hermione's statement about wands changing over time to match with their owner, and the same went for his own. Compared to his faint memory of how it first appeared, the slightly uneven surface made it look shrivelled, almost resembling a small limb from a Thestral itself. Theodore turned it over and looked at the base the same way Ollivander did and shifted it into a ray of light coming from the windows to see what was — the same symbol. A little faded and near impossible to discern underneath the intricate swirls on top of it, but it was the very same. A circle within a triangle, and a line going through the middle.
'What else are you not telling me? Wait… what else is Dumbledore not telling me? He had the same pendant, so he knows what that symbol is… what is it, though?'
"Are you satisfied, Mr Riddle," broke Ollivander when Theodore fell into his thoughts.
"Yeah. Yeah, thank you, Mr Ollivander. I really appreciate it. Anyway, I have to go now, I've got some more school stuff to get," spoke the boy as he walked over to grab his bag. "It was nice speaking with you, sir."
"And to you too. I expect extraordinary things from you, Theodore, we all do. A powerful wand will only choose the most powerful, after all. Never forget that."
Theodore courteously nodded his head and heaved the bag up in one hand and his wand in the other. He said goodbye one last time and pushed out of the wandshop for outside: it felt like he had just woken up from the longest nap ever.
Diagon Alley was significantly emptier with most people heading home through the Leaky Cauldron or getting the last few things that they needed for school. There was no redhead, no bushy, bouncing brown hair or a jet-black mess in sight. How odd. The others usually looked for him whenever he'd wander off somewhere. Theodore was entranced by his wand and thought about the words spoken to him about the wand and, ultimately, him. Was he really destined for the 'impossible' as Ollivander put it? The two greatest wizards that he knew had practically done the impossible: would it be the same for him? He slipped the wand back into his jeans and made his way to the Apothecary.
"Where have you been?" scolded Hermione when he casually entered the store. "We were in the queue for several minutes waiting for you, but you weren't there!"
"I know, I know, I'm sorry," Theodore replied. He was scooping up mismatched ingredients and had to start over many times. "I went to Ollivanders to talk about my wand and how it managed to fix Ron's."
"Did you? What did he say?"
"Long story short: it's a very weird wand."
Hermione looked over her shoulder and leaned in closer to him, whispering, "Did you ask him about what happened to Lockhart? We should've had our memories wiped from our brains."
Theodore nodded and told her the basics of what was explained. Hermione dropped her irritation towards him and helped him pick out all the ingredients that he was missing. "Where are Harry and Ron by the way?"
Hermione snorted. "About ten people saw Harry — don't know how they couldn't before — and practically chased him out with Ron next to him. They already got everything they need, and I said that I would wait for you here. It's not like they could actually hear me anyway…"
After Theodore paid for his ingredients, the duo then left to search for Harry and Ron, both who were found easily hiding in Rosa Lee Teabag, a shop that was usually empty and barren. They hurriedly ran out of the teashop and to the Leaky Cauldron when the coast was clear; they didn't stop for anyone without red hair.
Narrowly avoiding Colin and his younger brother, the four went through the brick wall and into the Cauldron where they could finally relax for a few hours before the trial would begin.
"I'm drained," yawned Ron loudly. "I could go for a Butterbeer or two. What about you guys?"
"Sure," replied Harry, rubbing his throat.
Hermione nodded, and Theodore was about to give his answer but couldn't when he saw somebody familiar hobbling over to a bench in the middle of the pub with a tray of tankards. "Same here, I'll have some as well…"
"You don't sound so sure, Theo. Do you want to —?"
The limping man peeked his head up and turned in many directions like a chicken in an open field. "Who called — who said my — huh?" he stammered.
Theodore rushed over to where the man sat confused by what was happening and dropped his bag on the floor at the end of the bench. "Erveris! Look, it's me, Theodore!"
Erveris faced Theodore with widened eyes and instantly stood up, despite his injured leg, with the largest smile on his face. To Theodore, he looked the exact same from when he last saw him, hair, eyes and face (but somebody else flashed in his mind when he saw Erveris closer), everything the same. "Oh, Merlin's beard! It's really you! Little Theodore! Well, not so little now, I mean, look at you! You're almost as tall as I am!"
Theodore grinned uncontrollably and said, "I don't think so. Two years isn't a lot, is it? Wait, so where's Ms Padalin?"
"Right here," a voice said behind him. Theodore rotated himself around and was caught in the embrace of a shorter woman in tattered robes and a musty sort of smell, but he didn't mind at all. In fact, he hugged the woman right back. "Oh, Theodore! Oh, how you've grown! How are you, darling? It's been so long."
"I'm great! Honestly, I feel amazing. But how are you, both of you? I didn't get to say goodbye properly last time…"
"It's all right, kiddo. We knew you were in a tough spot then. Sorry for leaving so soon. But hey, you're here!"
Ms Padalin held Theodore's hands and led him gently over to the benches to sit down — her hands were rather cleaner than before. "Now, young man, you just tell us what you've been up to for the past two years. Suddenly, we see your name in the Prophet catching a Death Eater at Hogwarts?"
"Well, it wasn't just me. My friends —"
"Must've played an equal part as well," finished Ms Padalin with a little smirk on her face. She picked up her tankard and continued, "Rita Skeeter is not one of my favourite people in the world. Could never stomach any of her writings. She didn't ask you for an interview, did she?"
"Come on, leave the kid alone, Mum. He's on his way to becoming great, regardless whether Rita is involved or not. Say, Theo, how exactly did you get here? Dumbledore?"
Theodore shook his head and told them that he was here with the Weasleys, Hermione and Harry when he suddenly remembered that they were still in the back somewhere when he ran off. He quickly excused himself and paced over to the others around a table talking amongst themselves. "Sorry, guys. Didn't mean to run off like that."
"Who is that guy anyway," asked Ron. "Have you seen him here before?"
"He was the neighbour of the Potters. Him and his mum. Harry, they knew my mum and your dad when they were kids," beamed Theodore at his cousin. "Come, let's go!"
Harry looked at Hermione and Ron, then he stood up and followed Theodore with a smile growing on his face, similarly to Theodore himself. Theodore told Hermione and Ron that they should come as well, and they tagged along without any questions either. The four walked over to the Padalins and saw them laughing until they both gasped at them, or rather, Harry.
"Oh my god…" mouthed Erveris. "He looks just like him…" Harry nervously smiled and didn't say anything which prompted Erveris to make the first move. "I, uh, my name's Erveris Padalin. My mum and I were neighbours of your dad, and… you look just like James… Mum…"
Ms Padalin gave Harry a heartwarming smile which seemed to work perfectly on him. "Hello, Harry. I know that I — we are strangers to you, but it's finally nice to meet you."
"You too. So… you knew my dad?"
Ms Padalin laughed. "Knew them? They were like second children with the way they used to jump over into my garden! Fleamont would go mad sometimes while Euphemia would laugh her head off! James and Valerie were the two loveliest little devils that I've ever seen!"
Harry laughed and stood still in thought, possibly thinking about what his dad must've been like at such a young age. Ms Padalin invited the teens to gather around the table so that they could all talk together properly without having to stand up.
"…Ron Weasley? I think I knew a Septimus Weasley back at school. And you, dear? What's your name?"
"Hermione Granger," said the girl politely.
"What a lovely name!" complimented the old witch, causing Hermione to go pink at the cheeks. "You better make your name heard; be the first of the 'Great Hermiones' to come afterwards."
"She's the best in our year, you know. Hermione did better than me in the first one," Theodore spluttered without thinking.
Hermione squeaked out thanks and looked directly at Theodore from the opposite side without tearing away. Theodore felt a nudge of the elbow from Ms Padalin and looked over to her sipping on her hot chocolate, her lips curling slightly.
'Why would you say that to her? Yeah, Hermione's brilliant… absolutely brilliant…'
He didn't look away from her, neither did she away from him. He watched her rub her elbow a little, brush her hair behind her ears as she continuously smiled at him without turning away. And there it was again, that sudden rush of overwhelming emotions nearly screaming in his ears as he locked himself into contact with those eyes…
"Are you OK, darling?"
Theodore was rubbing his pounding head and was breathing loud enough for just Ms Padalin and Hermione to notice. He insisted that he was fine and that it was a surprisingly long day so far. Hermione made sure that he was OK by asking again, then was caught into a story by Erveris about how James made a tantrum when Valerie left for Hogwarts the first time.
"I think that she likes you a lot," whispered Ms Padalin when the pang in Theodore's head subsided. "And if I didn't know any better…"
"She's just… she isn't, but we're not… maybe I —"
"It's all right, you don't have to tell me anything. However, something seems to be troubling you, and I can't help but feel that it's about your mother."
Theodore leaned forwards and looked over to see Harry, Ron and Hermione laughing with Erveris, who was having the time of his life. He sat back and gave what he wanted to say some thought: he always got what he wanted in an indirect approach. Almost always.
"I went to Mum's house a few weeks ago," he spoke finally. "It still looks good, just needs some redecorating before looking brand new again."
"That's wonderful. There was actually a charm over the house that gave it some sort of sentience, sort of like how the castle works at Hogwarts. Did you visit the lovely garden?"
"No, but I'll definitely do it next time. Probably next summer if I can. Maybe you and Erveris could come with me."
Ms Padalin chortled and said, "That's very sweet of you, Theodore, but as much as I love that place, it's full of past demons that I can't face. Even thinking about it too much is…"
"And I found out more about them, Mum and Dad," revealed Theodore in a low voice. "Not just what they did at school but really found more about who they were."
"Oh god… Theodore, I — I never wanted you to know when you were so young, I mean — you are so young! I didn't want to tell you the truth because I thought —"
Theodore waved it aside and chewed the inside of his cheek. "No, it's fine. I actually wanted to thank you for not telling me anything, for saying those things about Mum. I don't know what I'd do if I really knew about her… and him…" He said the last part grimly with furrowed eyebrows.
"It didn't take long for me to know who you were when I first saw you," said the old witch as she clinked her fingernails against her tankard. "Harry's not the only one who looks exactly like his father, and of course, you both have your mother's' lovely eyes. But on the Knight Bus, when looking at you closer… it was like seeing Tom all over again, standing there, sitting there, even nearly walking the same way. I knew what he had become, and I knew who fathered Valerie's child, so of course, it had to be you. A one in a million chance that I could ever meet you, ever…"
Theodore released a sigh, not knowing if it was out of relief or something negative. That's all he usually felt like when it came to the both of them, just not really knowing.
"Theodore?" said Ms Padalin. Theodore looked at her with an uneasy look on his face. "I wasn't lying when I told you that she was a great woman. Despite every horrible thing that she ever did, Valerie Potter was a woman who really did love her little brother, her sister-in-law and child, and above all, her own baby boy. Her family was the only thing that truly mattered to her, and nothing else."
"Yeah… yeah, I know."
She smiled tenderly at the Parselmouth and gently flicked a lock of hair that fell over his eyebrow. "You have her best parts," she commented, "and although you may not want to believe it for a single second, you have his best parts too."
"What do you mean?"
"Tom… was unnaturally different from everybody else. He knew who he was, and he'd never let anybody tell him different. And there was a time where Tom Riddle was, honestly? A perfectly normal boy. At least, from the outside. But I guess I always knew that somewhere deep inside, far too deep for probably even him to know, that… I always had a knack for seeing people beyond their surface."
"Really? Me too," admitted Theodore interestingly. "But I can't really explain it. It's sort of like a switch that becomes harder to control over time."
Ms Padalin dropped her tankard on the table and held both of the boy's hands and looked up to him, still struck that she finally saw him again. "I know it must be hard for you to take it all in. I didn't expect you to find out until much later on. But you must promise me something, Theodore. Promise me that no matter what happens in the future, no matter what anybody tells you time and time again about your mother and father, that you know who you are; that you won't let anybody tell you differently, because you are you. You're not Valerie, you're not Tom. You. Always you. OK?"
Theodore felt something strong building up into something absolute inside and said, "Yeah. I promise. I won't let them." Ms Padalin smoothed his hair and went back to drinking her tankard before joining her son with the storytelling. And that thing that Theodore felt rising was that happiness of being with the Padalins again, seeing Harry and Ron guffawing together; seeing Hermione smile at him without ever looking away. What could be better than this? What possibly could?
Sickness. Is. A. Bitch. Yes, yes, I'm not dead, and I definitely haven't abandoned this story. I've just been so so sick over the past few weeks, and on top of that — school. Need I explain any further? Sorry if you were waiting for so long.
So, one thing that I wanted to point out is that magic is going to be altered from canon, not like I haven't done that already, and this year is going to prove it. Think of year 4 as… Theodore actually being studious and wanting to learn even more magic, starting from here. All I'm saying is that it's going to be a bumpy ride.
And I know that I said that the trial was going to be the last part before school, but I felt like this chap was important, despite feeling like info-dump to me. Just hang on for me, kids, don't worry. Hope you enjoy this story, and I'll see you later.
P.S: Ollivander knows a lot more about wandlore than in canon:)