Progeny of Slytherin: The Beginning of the Riddle

A New Symbol Pt2

Warning: Chapter is long asf, there was no cutting point where I could have a good cliffhanger and a decent amount of words for a regular chap. Enjoy!

"All right, we're all here," said Mr Weasley, who was standing in the middle of the living room after everybody, save for Bill, had returned from Diagon Alley. "Ron's here, Hermione's here — where's Theodore? Ah, there you are, and Harry's here also."

Theodore carefully squeezed past Fred and Mrs Weasley at the doorway with Viripin around his shoulders as he spent the remaining hours after returning to the Burrow feeding and talking with the Maibian Adder whilst waiting. He popped the last of Viripin's mice in her mouth and joined the others near the fireplace.

Mr Weasley looked at his watch and said, "The time is seven thirty-five, and we'll need to get to the Ministry by ten to eight. Percy, you're prepped for being the new Court Scribe?"

"Don't worry, Dad, I'll be fine. Corman Prenderghast is better off enjoying keeping baby Thunderbirds in his attic then worrying about his job."

Mr Weasley smiled and stared at the ceiling in muddled thinking before he clapped his hands together and summoned the pot of Floo Powder. "OK, this is all of us. They're expecting us to make an entrance at the very last minute, so I'll hurry this up then. Now, we're all going to Floo to the Ministry, but you must be very specific and clear on our destination. Repeat after me: Ministry of Magic, Port Three-Two, the Atrium."

The four teens repeated the words three times before they were perfectly in sync with one another.

"Fantastic!" exclaimed Mr Weasley before he turned to Percy to talk under their breaths.

"Hmm? What is it?" asked Theodore quietly when he felt a nudge against his left temple.

"Are you nervous? Feel any rats in your stomach? Need anything to eat or drink?" hissed Viripin rapidly in his ear.

"I feel fine; I'm pretty sure that it's butterflies in your stomach — where d'you even hear that — and I'm not hungry. Well, not that hungry. I just ate a few minutes ago. Why so worried?"

"It's because you're going somewhere you've never been to before. You shouldn't feel nervous or hungry at all."

"I'm not for either, but thanks, Viripin," replied Theodore with a grin as he stroked her head all the way to underneath her jaw. "And I won't have to do much. Pettigrew's already going to Azkaban for at least twelve years. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Ministry would be idiots to let him off any life sentences."

Viripin used her head to pat the Parselmouth's hair down to make it slightly neater and hissed, "You'll do great, all of you. I know you will. Just don't get too interested that you'll wander off."

"I'm fourteen, not twelve, Viripin. I think my attention span is in check."

"Just saying."

"…to make sure that she doesn't take advantage of them, especially him. You have a question, Harry?"

"Aren't we going to see Sirius first at St Mungo's? He's still there, right?"

"Actually, Sirius has been in the Ministry all day," disclosed Mr Weasley. "They had to do a lot of… checking before he'd go in." He looked at Mrs Weasley a little uneasily and shook the pot to see if there was enough powder inside.

Mrs Weasley, Fred, George and Ginny all closed in on the leaving party, hugging and squeezing each before they'd be separated — most of the hugs came from Mrs Weasley herself.

As Theodore managed to pry himself in the least offensive way that he possibly could from her, he turned to see Ginny shaking hands with Harry whilst blushing just a little bit, and he held in a grin that would've easily been caught by the both of them. Harry walked back over to the fireplace, leaving Ginny alone until Theodore came over, unfortunately, smiling uncontrollably.

"What's so funny?" Ginny frowned at the approaching boy.

"Nothing! It's just that you got a little…" Theodore pointed at his cheeks. "You've been a little too obvious recently."

Ginny snorted, but her face grew even redder. "As if I'm the obvious one —" she leaned in closer towards him and whispered, "everyone has seen your face burning every time Hermione's with you. Like that isn't obvious."

"No, it's not," Theodore shot back defensively. "There's nothing that's obvious about me and — whatever, OK? Anyway, take care of Viripin while I'm gone. It won't be for too long — I hope it won't go on for too long. Here you go."

Ginny took Viripin shakily in her arms and allowed her to wind around her shoulders and rest her head on top of her hair. "Hey, Theo. Good luck over there. I know you'll smash it."

"Thanks, Ginny, really. And about the… you know — I'm gonna help you for real this time. I know that I barely did a thing during this whole summer, so —"

"You did what you could, and I appreciate it, Theo, I really do. If anything, it was my fault for not saying anything sooner. If I did, then…" Ginny trailed off and looked over at Fred and George putting their arms around Ron's shoulder in an uncommonly brotherly fashion.

"Theodore, aren't you going now?"

Theodore nodded, stroked Viripin affectionately one last time and said a quick goodbye to Ginny before he joined the others. Mr Weasley asked them if they all had their wands on them as he held the pot out for each to take a pinch from — Theodore's wand was essentially the bulk of his solitary conversations with Viripin when they came back.

Once everybody had taken their portion of Floo Powder, they all formed a line in front of the fireplace, the first being Mr Weasley, followed by Percy, then Ron and Theodore as the fourth.

"Good luck, Theodore!" Mrs Weasley called out the moment Theodore chucked the powder into the flames.

Theodore briefly faced and thanked her, then he turned to the fireplace once more, heaving in and out breath after breath for what was to come. He admitted to himself that he was not nervous in the slightest about the trial: it was the possibility of his stomach being pumped out for the third time running that day, even worse when there'd be multiple people upon arrival.

'Breathe… breathe… Keep it under control, don't think about it, and you won't feel a thing… Just breathe…'

"Ministry of Magic, Port Three-Two, the Atrium!" he shouted as he stepped into the roaring emerald flames and instantly, he felt his body being sucked through a hole, the violent spinning twisting his stomach into knots upon knots, the whirlwind of green fire that felt like an entirely different world, even if it was for a brief moment. Theodore closed his eyes, mentally chanting to himself to think about anything else as he carried on spinning and spinning until it suddenly stopped like always.

He didn't fly off like the first time when he travelled by Floo Powder, but Theodore's knees became weak the second he awkwardly stumbled out of the new fireplace and onto polished wooden flooring. Theodore's stomach was juddering wildly, but it oddly felt a little tame compared to his past two experiences. At least he didn't vomit — he almost spoke too soon.

"Come on, up you get," mumbled Ron's faded voice from his right as two hands grabbed his arm, while another pair took his left. "Jesus, Theo, your face is turning green."

Theodore shook his head and stood up slowly with the help of Ron and Percy, breathing through his mouth loudly to get rid of the distressful wrenching in his stomach. He really needed to work on his alarming queasiness. "I'm not going to throw up, I swear. I'm fine, really, I'm — whoa…"

The Parselmouth rubbed his eyes firmly just to make sure that what he was seeing was not an illusion or a creation from his imagination. No, when he came to the realisation that it wasn't a false image, Theodore's eyes grew and twinkled in near childlike excitement. He couldn't believe it at all.

Dozens of witches and wizards were scuttling up and down the extended polished floors that ran along the magnificent hall composed of so many colours to make up for the lack of natural light. Theodore turned to his left and watched multiple wizards popping out of the adjacent fireplaces that burst with green each time, while on the other side were identical fireplaces, only that people disappeared in them instead.

From where he was standing, he was somewhat halfway down the hall, possibly further away from where most wizards and witches were emerging from (other than the fireplaces), and he could barely see above the huddled moving heads striding in front whilst engaging in unstimulating conversations regarding what they'd be having for dinner soon, but Theodore didn't pay any attention to that. He instead gawked up at the peacock blue ceiling where approximately twenty or so witches had their wands pointed at and immediately, their wands emitted sparkly grey smoke which then meshed together to create golden skies filled with stars, terribly similar to the enchanted ceiling at Hogwarts.

And although he barely reached an inch or two below most of the passing people, the long Hall was considerably empty compared to its width, and Theodore could make out just right around the corner a circular, polished stone fountain with giant golden statues standing in the pool, reflecting golden-green lights across the walls from the fireplaces. Miniature golden magical creatures such as centaurs, house-elves, goblins, phoenixes, unicorns and dragons were slowly orbiting the two towering statues of a fierce wizard and a dainty witch — some looked a little ridiculous to Theodore with their expressions of admiration towards the wizard and the witch being extremely contrasting to what he knew about them, the dragon, the centaur, and the goblin especially.

"Oh, goodness me," said Mr Weasley to himself reprovingly, "we didn't go through the visitor's entrance. They won't know if —"

"Don't worry, Father, I've already got it covered," said Percy as he took out four silver badges with individual names gleaming on each one. "While they were at Diagon Alley, I made sure to prepare these before they'd return."

Mr Weasley clapped Percy on the back, turned to the fireplace where they all came from and saw Harry walking out, followed shortly by Hermione. Both of their mouths fell open the same way Theodore had done just a moment ago; they were unable to speak at all.

Ron looked at them with impish delight to see his friends being awed by something that was the norm for him. "I've been here about six times when Dad would take us. I only went to his office, though. There's a department on each floor, as well."

"Each floor? We can go up?"

"Up, down, backwards, forwards, whatever you're in the mood for. Fred got lost once in this place called the Department of Magerie or something —"

"Sshh!" hushed Percy. He darted his head side to side as if Ron had said something forbidden, and he leaned into his younger brother, whispering, "You're not allowed to say anything sounding close to what you just said around here!"

"What did I — oh, all right, I'll shut up!"

Harry and Hermione twirled in their spots a little while longer — Theodore joined them as he couldn't keep his eyes off the enchanted ceiling. The hall definitely did feel quite empty compared to how big it was. It was only until Percy handed them their own badges did they cease their astonishment with their surroundings and gather around Mr Weasley.

"So this is the Ministry of Magic, as you obviously put together quite quickly. We call this hall the Atrium; it serves as the main body of the Ministry, you know, for officially clocking in whether it's your job or your hearing."

"Father…"

"Right! Of course!" Mr Weasley remembered like a jolt of electricity just hit the back of his brain. "The four of you are required as visitors to present your wands to security for registration."

"They can't expect us to blow stuff up, can they?" asked Ron a little dryly. "We're just kids."

Mr Weasley beckoned the four to follow behind him and for Percy to come close so that he could whisper one last thing before Percy left hurriedly someplace else, then said, "It's the law, Ron, we can't disobey it. Although it is far-fetched for kids to be put through a wand-check."

Theodore leaned his head over the pool of the fountain and saw Sickles and Knuts sunken at the bottom while the bottom of the pool itself emitted a sort of entrancing glow that almost made him want to jump straight inside. He blinked when he realised that he wandered too close to a pretty witch that was crying nearby and hurried over to the others who fell away into a diverging area where an unkempt wizard was seated behind a desk labelled Security, chewing on a piece of willow bark.

"I've got four kids here, all visitors," declared Mr Weasley as he gently pushed the four in front closer to the desk.

The wizard threw the bark in the air which ignited and floated as ashes, and glanced at them all lethargically as if it required so much effort to do. "Whose wand's first?"

Harry offered his own and handed it over to the security wizard who produced a complex instrument resembling an old typewriter with no keys except for three large buttons, one red, one yellow and one purple, and a cracked screen above them. The security wizard slotted Harry's wand through a hole in the side and pressed the yellow button. The typewriter-machine whirled, coughed and spluttered for a few seconds before it stopped. He pressed the purple button, and the screen flickered with light then gave out the second a large sheet of parchment was spat out of it.

The wizard took this up and began to read off of it. "Eleven inches, phoenix-feather core, three years in use, correct?"

"Correct," Harry replied, lifting his brow line a little.

"Purchased on the thirty-first of July 1991, at Ollivander's, correct?"

Harry simply nodded.

The wizard took a stamp the shape of a star and slammed it against the parchment sheet before sliding it into his drawer. He pressed the red button which ejected Harry's wand and handed it over to him without flexing a muscle in his face. Ron went after Harry, Hermione was third, then Theodore became last, clasping his wand from his waistband and holding it out for the security wizard to take.

The instrument shuddered just like the others when the wizard pressed the yellow button until it finished. The wizard pressed the purple button and took the parchment out in front of his face as he read through it, but he didn't say anything at first, or for the next two minutes.

"Is there a problem?" asked Theodore, more curious than worried.

"Umm…"

"This can't be your wand," the security wizard said finally.

Theodore scoffed and looked back at the others, scrunching his face. "That's ridiculous, of course it's my wand! Why wouldn't I have my own wand with me? Look, I can even tell you the date when I got it: twenty-ninth of March 1991 —"

The security wizard waved it off, but Theodore still didn't get the reason why he suspected that it wasn't his own wand, and so he asked him. "Yeah, your wand's weird, kid. It says here that it's been in moderate use for the same time as your friends over here, but traces of spells and magic coming from this wand dates back to nearly a century ago."

"Well… Mr Ollivander said that he made this wand when he was young, and he isn't exactly a spring chicken," Theodore clarified, although it was more to Harry, Hermione and Ron than to the wizard himself. "He took it out of a random box, and I was lucky for it to choose me."

"Mmm Hmm? 'S that the truth?"

"Of co— yes, it's the truth." The man's eyes reeked with scepticism towards him, and Theodore honestly just wanted his wand back.

The security wizard huffed and started to read the parchment out loud while Theodore whispered to Harry about how sketchy the entire wand registration. "Twelve and three-quarters inches long, Thestral tail-hair as a core — hmph, never seen that before — has been in use for approximately ninety-two years, but you claim it to be three —" Theodore frowned "— correct?"

"Correct."

"Purchased from Ollivander's, and that is that." He stamped the parchment and took the wand out to hand it over to Theodore before he produced another piece of bark out of nowhere and started to chew.

Mr Weasley formally said goodbye to 'Eric' and led the way to where several iron lifts remained stationary in the far end of another hall that was much smaller, but nonetheless still wide.

"What's a Thestral?" Harry asked quietly as he and Theo dropped a little behind.

"It's…" started Theodore, "it's kinda like a horse, but not really. Like a skeleton or Infe— I mean, a zombified horse with massive bat wings! Yeah, that's it."

"But what is it really? I never heard of any Thestrals, let alone for a wand core. Doesn't Ollivander only use three types?"

Theodore opened his mouth to speak, but both Hermione and Ron fell back as well, and Hermione, in particular, managed to catch Harry's words before Theodore could give out his answer. "He does, but he probably had experimental wands back when he first started. Thestrals being used as cores is unheard of since they're supposed to be ill omens of death."

"Like the Grim?"

"No, not like the Grim," said Hermione stiffly. "People can't see them unless they've seen death and have accepted it properly. Apparently, that's why people think they bring misfortune on people. Personally, I don't believe any of it."

"Wow, you sure know a lot about Thestrals," remarked Theodore as a queue to the lifts started to build up and slow them all down.

"I read about them before I dropped Divination, and I supposed you did too."

"As if I'll read anything for Divination. I told you already, I said that I could see the Thestrals pulling the carriages at school."

Ron gasped a little bit and said, "So that's why we can't see them! They're Thestrals! I doubt hundreds of kids would've seen somebody kick the bucket right before their eyes."

"Wait," said Harry with a lowered voice, "if you can see Thestrals, who did you watch die then?"

Theodore's jaw clamped shut, and his mouth suddenly went dry. Ron's face lost its curiosity, and Hermione looked at him anxiously through the sudden silence between the four. How he was forgetting all of these things that should've scarred him for life so easily was absolutely beyond him, and none of them knew the truth as well. Was the guilt coming back?

"Actually, don't worry about it. We shouldn't be thinking about that anyway," Harry spoke to break the quietness.

Theodore nodded and perked a little when he remembered where he was again. They all passed through the gates over to where the lifts were when the queue diminished quickly but was still and unmoving.

However, as they got closer, Theodore realised that it wasn't the queue: a small crowd of wizards and witches were bundling together in a tight corner, all chattering and arguing loudly over each other, some even grabbing at each other's robes and attempting to pull them up to their waists. Theodore thought of them as angry employees who just wanted to go home for rest, but Rita Skeeter's shrill voice was unmistakable in the midst of the arguing.

"Of course you would find a problem with this trial in particular, Barty," seethed Rita with burning red cheeks. "What else do we expect from somebody who let the power get to their head, eh?"

An elderly man with grey hair perfectly neat as Lestrange, black elegant robes and a narrow moustache that was equally neat as his hair stood stiffly in front of Rita with his jaw clenched so hard that a protruding vein was pulsing on his forehead. If it wasn't obvious already, Theodore could've guessed that this was the famed Barty Crouch that he'd been hearing about.

"I guess it's in your nature to lie about anything and everything, just so that people would be aware of your presence," Crouch shot back as he tried to look anywhere else except at Rita. "You think I'd let not one, but three articles mentioning my name in a bad light slide, just because it's you? You're mistaken if you think so!"

"Bad light, good publicity, it's all for business, Barty. No need to get worked up all over it." Rita pushed up her curls and smirked at Crouch who was starting to grow livid.

Theodore panned over the rest of the crowd and saw that Rita and Crouch weren't the only ones that stood out for him: this person, in particular, came as a shock and an irk to the observant Parselmouth. As Percy appeared out of nowhere and attempted to calm the situation down between the two arguing adults, Theodore met the stares from Lucius Malfoy lurking behind a pair of two dumpy wizards, clutching his cane tightly and sharpening his eyes when he saw Theodore looking back at him. Feeling like he had nothing to be scared of, Theodore returned the glare and returned to see if anybody else was recognisable in the crowd, but nobody triggered anything for him.

Mr Weasley, Ron, Harry, Hermione and Theodore approached the golden grilles without moving so fast that they'd capture everybody's attention in an instant — as if they could hide from Rita. "Bozo! Come quick, come quickly!" she ordered a beer-bellied man with a large camera. Rita scurried over to Theodore almost under a second and grabbed hold of his shoulders, slightly digging her nails into him. "Today, we have a remarkable young man stepping into the centre of wizarding Britain. Make sure that you get his left side in the shot —"

Bozo held a thumbs up and readied his camera that looked far too heavy for anyone to handle — but Theodore didn't care. He rolled his shoulders harshly until her hands were free and spun around to avoid the flash of the camera. "What are you doing? What happened to what we talked about back at the Burrow?"

Rita furrowed her eyebrows and muttered, "The Burrow? Oh, you're talking about the house you were at. Oh, come on, Theo, dear! Don't you want a little taste of fame? One picture will have —"

"No," he whispered sternly. "You're just going to plaster my face on the front page, I know it! No pictures, at least just not with me by myself. My friends have to be in there too."

"You really want to?" said Rita with an eyebrow raised. "It's OK to stand out from your friends, you know. They can't always be at the same level as you."

"Harry Potter is literally standing right there."

Rita rolled her eyes and tapped a talon against her glasses before she came to the decision for the four of them to appear in the picture — this was not part of Theodore's plan; he thought that Rita would drop it and leave them alone. Obviously, he was wrong. The four teens were abruptly moved away from Mr Weasley and were instructed to stand awkwardly still in front of several strangers, Theodore being front and centre and Harry being a little closer to the front than Hermione and Ron.

'I hate this. I hate this so, so much.'

Theodore flinched from the rapid flashes of Bozo's camera and couldn't get rid of the scowl on his face. Bozo finally took his final shot of the four and studied his camera while the teens rubbed their eyes in soreness, not able to see Rita waving at Bozo to take several more photos, or Crouch walking at a moderate pace over upon looking closer at them.

"So you must be the four that I've heard all about in the Prophet, I presume," Crouch introduced himself without cracking a smile or showing any sign of cordiality towards them. He glanced over to Harry's forehead, then to Theodore. "Congratulations on apprehending the rogue Death Eater. A surprising feat for children your age."

"Just came down to luck, I guess," said Theodore honestly — his eye ticked a little when he called them 'children'. He quickly twisted his neck to see Harry's blank face hiding brewing animosity towards Crouch before it was starting to become a little too overwhelming again. Whatever this thing was, was starting to become more of a curse than a gift the more he used it.

Crouch tilted his head side to side at the same time saying, "I'd be more confident in your abilities, Mr Riddle. It is Theodore Riddle? Modesty can sometimes weaken self-reliance, in my honest opinion." Crouch sighed and looked over at Rita with aversion and continued, "I've been appointed as an overseer for this trial. Some people are lucky when it comes to second chances, not just…"

Percy waddled over with several clipboards floating behind him attached with multicoloured strings, clearly red in the face puffing. "Mr Crouch — I've got all of the — the notes from your office — Perkins stopped by, and I — I ran into him just now near the fountain."

"Err… yes, of course," Crouch responded when he stared at all the floating clipboards. "Make sure to attach them to my seating, Whistley."

Percy went red in the ears and nodded firmly before heading over to the lifts. Ron snickered and infected Theodore and Harry to do the same. Hermione was biting her lip as she rarely liked to laugh at Percy at all, considering how much of a respectable student he was at Hogwarts.

Crouch ended their, or rather with Theodore, conversation and followed Percy, while Mr Weasley returned from a conversation of his own with a fluffy-white haired wizard and motioned everybody to follow him into the lift. Only one was available, and Theodore had his qualms on whether it would fit ten people, let alone fifteen at the least. Nevertheless, nobody else had that particular thought in mind as everybody squeezed straight inside.

The unfortunate thing about being one of the smallest people in a tight space was that no matter how efficiently you could slip past people, there was nowhere to go, and Theodore learned that the hard way. At first, his face nearly smashed against the back wall if it weren't for a plump witch being in his way.

Theodore embarrassingly apologised for it but was, very unfortunately for him, forced into a corner that was in between both Malfoy and Hermione, the former staring down at him contemptuously, while the latter was blushing so profusely.

"Level Seven, Department of Magical Games and Sports, incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League Headquarters, Broom Racing Championship and Synchronised Flying," said a soft female voice from nowhere, "Level Six, Department of Magical Transportation…"

The lift tumbled and shook at every stop, shaking Theodore as well as Hermione, who was pressed so closely to his chest that it was impossible for either of them to turn away from each other. Hermione was biting the inside of her cheek, blushing so terribly that she forced herself to stare right at his chest in case anybody else could see.

And it wasn't just her, it definitely wasn't just her. Theodore could feel his clothes slowly sticking against his skin from perspiring so rapidly. Even if they no longer brought pain to him, his scars were still sensitive against even his touch. More people squeezed into the lift, forcing them to become closer and closer until it was impossible to move their necks around without hitting somebody's shoulder instead. So what choice did they have other than to look at each other with their faces so dangerously close to one another? It was burning, sweltering inside of Theodore, the same feeling whenever he'd be around Hermione this close to her; he'd never been this close to her, not for this long at least.

'Think about anything else… Anything else than her… There's no fucking space for me to move away from her…! Shit… Anything else than her…'

"Sorry," whispered the Parselmouth to Hermione, knowing that she'd hear him perfectly.

"About what?" Hermione whispered back, somehow able to shift herself a little to the right so that her head had some space near his cheek.

"Nothing! It's just really cramped in here, and we're really close, so I thought that you'd… it's nothing," he said in relief and in shame. 'She knows… oh, kill me now…'

"Level Four, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, incorporating Beast, Beings and Spirit Divisions, Goblin Liaison Office and Pest Advisory Bureau."

Theodore winced and firmly closed his eyes when another set of people scrambled into the lift as it was a wasted effort to move away from Hermione. It was either that or back away against Malfoy, something that he didn't want to happen at all for a second. Hermione lowered her head out of sight, pressing very slightly in his shoulder, only leaving her hair in Theodore's line of sight. He couldn't move a single inch, not even half of one…

"Evening, Theodore," said a witch's voice in the boiling lift. Theodore tried to make out who said his name since he was unable to change his position, but he kept quiet when another voice spoke back to her.

"Evening, Wakanda." Lestrange's voice was loud and clear amongst the sharp whispering since everybody was too tired to speak properly. More shuffled and squeezed against each other and pushed each other's ribs inwards — it was uncomfortable for everybody.

"Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters and Wizengamot Administration Services." Only a few people pushed into the lift before the grilles closed again, and the lift suddenly moved backwards then began to climb quickly without halting until it had to. "Department of Mysteries."

Everybody spilled out into the plain and quite bleak corridor which made Theodore feel as if he were trapped inside a cuboid (he felt this after stepping out the lift where he could finally breathe properly). Streams of wizards and witches hurried down the left of the corridor where the sounds of feet slapping against wood suggested that stairs were present.

Theodore followed Mr Weasley as the last of the four behind to fan himself when Hermione slipped away so quickly that all he could see from her was her blurred image sticking next to Harry and Ron up in front. Theodore's insides felt cut up, and he cringed from what she was possibly thinking about him — no, he put that out of his mind. He ignored Malfoy sneering as he strode past, and he ran his arm across his forehead which was prickling with heat. At the other end of the corridor, he could see a single black door placed in the hallway's plainness.

"Theo, this way," called Ron, who was waiting at the bottom of a flight of steps.

Theodore followed him and made his way up then down two more before they reached another, a more different corridor that could be compared to a dungeon with the rough stone walls, torches along the sides and heavy doors with metal signs swinging by a nail at each one with a single number.

Mr Weasley checked his watch and sighed. "Good, we've got five minutes until we'll get inside. Courtroom Seven: it's probably the least used in all of the Ministry's history. Only had three people trialled in here, not including Pettigrew."

"Who were they?" asked Harry.

"One of them was yours truly," interjected a voice that Theodore hadn't heard in a seemingly long time. The four and Mr Weasley instantly turned around to where it came from, and bright smiles became etched on their faces.

Sirius's appearance was vastly different from the last time they all saw each other that he almost felt unrecognisable. Granted, he still looked a little thin on the bones, lean and tall like always, but it was no longer an unhealthy look. His grey eyes were expressive and clearly visible from a distance, his skin being much cleaner and that of a healthier complexion. Cleaner robes, cleaner, sheen hair, teeth that were bright like they should've been — Theodore could see the man that was inside the Prophet during his escape, handsome yet weary in the face: he had to remind himself that he did spend twelve years straight exposed to Dementors.

"Sirius!" cried Harry. Sirius has his long arms out wide and embraced his godson like it had been years since they last saw one another. "Normal robes look much better on you than prison rags."

"You think so? I think that I got the look down if I'm being honest with you," he said back, grinning down on Harry like a proud father. Sirius looked up at the other three and waved them over to greet them as well. "Don't shy away — how are you guys? Theodore, Hermione, Ron? Feels like it's been a long time, hasn't it?"

"Definitely. Two months can feel like forever."

Sirius blew out air through his nose and said, "Especially when you're cooped up in a ward at St Mungo's. When Remus left, it took the fun out of everything, if there was any, that is. Arthur, good to see you again!"

Mr Weasley amicably took Sirius's outstretched hand and shook it. Theodore looked over at Harry, seeing his face brighter than when they crossed paths with Crouch earlier on. The two men engaged in small talk as Theodore turned to Hermione and Ron both speaking with each other, leaving him alone in the middle with his thoughts. He didn't mind that much, only that Hermione seemed nearly mortified from what they both just experienced. On the outside was calmness, but Theodore could feel the heat coming from her somehow.

Theodore rubbed his temple when he made eye contact with her: rushing emotions all flooding in before they were trapped out again. He cursed under his breath and hoped that he wouldn't act up with several people all gathered in one single room — he could barely handle one person, let alone twenty at least. The Parselmouth made sure that it washed over and turned his back on the two to prevent it from happening again.

The majority of the wizards and witches were assembled right outside Courtroom Seven, pinning golden and silver badges with the letter 'M' on them on their robes and speaking softly to one another. Theodore couldn't believe that five minutes hadn't passed yet.

"Straighten yourself, Theodore. Don't look lazy at a place of work."

"But it's not my place of work, though, is it?" said an unbothered and tired voice just a few steps away from Theodore. The calling of his name snatched his attention, but once again did he realise that it was not for him — it wasn't even for Lestrange either, for it was he who spoke his name.

A familiar boy who was tall and noticeably thin, neat brown hair and dull blue eyes was standing in front of Lestrange with his arms crossed, his face as boorish as his voice. Theodore remembered him as a boy who fell under the victims of the Basilisk two years ago; a boy who was sat on the far end in Ancient Runes, barely speaking a word: the 'other' Theodore, Theodore Nott.

"It will be if your head is kept down instead of tagging around Lucius's son," said Lestrange harshly. He looked over at Malfoy speaking with a sharp-faced wizard and wrinkled his forehead. "What's not to gain here? You have a better pathway than most of the kids in your school."

Nott shrugged his shoulders. "I never really wanted to work here, anyway. I'd rather go do something outside the country than be stuck in an office all day," he remarked.

"Is that so?" Lestrange sounded slightly disappointed but still kept a solid exterior of firmness. "You know, you should be thinking about this more, Theodore. OWLs are just next year, which will get you to take your NEWTs. There's heavy competition among your peers, namely a few well-known ones."

"Granger and Riddle are both freakishly smart, but that's two people. I could easily get in here," scoffed Nott as he threw a small look at the 'unsuspecting' Theodore before turning back to the older wizard.

"Blood status won't help much now these days. Half-bloods are becoming more abundant, so thinking you can weave yourself in because you're a pure-blood is not the way about it. Don't you forget that."

Nott smirked and closed in a little to Lestrange and whispered, "So, just don't be like the Malfoys? Got it."

"Hem hem!"

High-pitched and unusually loud for a person clearing their throat, everybody was silenced when they heard somebody wanting everyone's undivided attention. A squat witch stood right in front of the courtroom's door as everyone retreated so that she could be seen by all. Ron was clamping his quivering mouth shut and nudged Theodore with his shoulder when the witch came into full vision, and Theodore could see why perfectly. She was dressed in formal dark blue robes which didn't match the deep pink bow in her hair. Nearly everything about her face was toadlike. A round and wide face with an even wider mouth, no neck that was possibly visible, and eyes that protruded from their sockets, unlike any other human being. She was — Theodore knew this, and Ron knew this especially — essentially, a pale toad imitating a human. It was that simple.

"Good evening, all. My name is Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister," spoke Umbridge in a shrill, girlish and sweetly annoying voice that quickly irritated Theodore, for it greatly resembled Lavender's. "We have decided to utilise this courtroom partially for reasons decided by the Minister himself, and we are now proceeding. Please, members of the Wizengamot and overseers make your way to the stands, if you will."

Umbridge pointed to the walls to the sides of the door and remained in a fixed position, smiling unnaturally. The members of the Wizengamot straggled to where she was pointing in queues until the first few meshed into the wall and produced a boulder-sized lump that zipped straight up the ceiling and vanished.

Theodore was taken aback by this. He, along with the others, watched witches and wizards merging with the wall and vanishing upwards like there was a higher floor. Mr Weasley wished them all good luck and followed suit behind Malfoy, who was followed by Lestrange and Nott together.

"Are any of you nervous?" Sirius asked, unsure with himself, "because I feel like it. God, Remus was telling me to keep myself calm when I'd get here."

Hermione closed in on Sirius and said, "It's OK, Sirius. I'm sure that all of us are nervous. This day felt impossibly far when we first heard —"

"Mr Black?" They turned their heads to Umbridge still wearing that 'sweet' discomforting grin on her face. "I'm so terribly sorry about your little predicament —"

'Little? He was stuck with Dementors for twelve years. What the hell…?'

"— and I just wanted to wish you the best of luck."

"Uhh, thank you. I appreciate it —"

"And I couldn't help but overhear that you knew a Remus," she interrupted, taking a few steps closer. "That wouldn't happen to be Remus Lupin, a former teacher at Hogwarts, wouldn't it? He was seen at the scene of Pettigrew's apprehension, so that would make him a witness, correct?"

Sirius swallowed harshly and kept his eyes trained on the suddenly suspicious witch. Theodore tried to force himself to see what her intentions with Lupin's whereabouts were, but he held it back. A woman like her didn't seem pleasant at all, despite her 'gentle' demeanour.

"Remus always got so easily ill ever since I knew him, but he always knew how to take care of himself. There's no telling where he is now," Sirius let out smoothly.

"But wouldn't it be the most logical decision to remain at St Mungo's?"

"I don't where he is. I'm sorry."

Her eerie smile didn't faze Sirius as she kept still again before spinning around to face the side of the heavy door. "The Minister will call upon you when the time requires it, and you will walk through this door when ready. Good luck," she simpered before merging with the wall and disappearing like the others.

Nobody said a thing after Umbridge went through the wall. Everybody seemed to be trapped in their own minds, battling their rising anxiety whilst looking fixedly at the door. Theodore had no clue as to what the others were feeling at that moment (although, he did have an idea what), and he could say the same for himself. Out of everything that was about to happen in just a few seconds maybe, the urge to find Hermione's hand was growing strong inside him. Things could take a turn for the worst; Pettigrew could even reveal his parentage to them like he tried to at Hogwarts.

The Parselmouth's breathing quickened from the nightmarish thought. Pettigrew would try anything, anything just to be free. If he tried to before, then he'd try it again — Hermione's fingers slipped and interlocked with his left hand as if she knew what he was thinking. "You're having your moments again, Theo," she whispered.

"I know," Theodore said back, nodding his head. "But it'll be fine. Nothing wrong will happen…" 'Nothing…'

"Witnesses, please enter," spoke a muffled voice through the corridors that sounded like Fudge.

Hermione released Theodore's hand when Sirius heaved in a deep breath and twisted the iron handle of the door. He entered first and was followed by the others slowly, squinting from the sudden darkness that fell over them before they became bathed in orange light.

The only thing that Theodore could compare the courtroom to was a colosseum that was compressed to the size of the Great Hall. Rows and rows circled around the arena-like setting, similar to the Quidditch pitch but much lower down. Waves of witches and wizards dressed in dark blue, deep red and black could be seen as slow-moving flares of fire flew across their heads from sentient stone dragon heads. The ground was made up of massive metal circular rings with rusted symbols etched in them, giving the impression that if they could be shifted around, they'd reveal a hidden message.

Theodore stopped behind Ron and stared from one corner to the next. Suddenly, a spike of despair pricked him, and he forced himself to look up where he heard faint rasping breaths coming from — of course. The ceiling was an endless void of darkness and just underneath, barely visible from the streams of flames were four Dementors standing ominously on pedestals without moving, only sucking in air, polluting it more like.

"May the underaged witnesses make it to their seating area, please, and the adult to their own" pointed Fudge to a booth to the right of him. Fudge was on the lowest level of the multiple rows, and he was wearing very formal black robes. When the four and Sirius entered their respective booths, Fudge then said, "Bring out the defendant!"

Out of nowhere, seven wizards came out from doors leading to pedestals under the flares and had their wands all pointed at the rings in the ground. They murmured incantation after incantation deeply and swirled their wands calmly like they were orchestrating for an extremely slow music piece. All of a sudden, screeches of metallic grinding filled the courtroom as the rings rotated in opposite directions until the symbols aligned perfectly to display an absolute foreign message. The central point twisted and sunk into the ground, leaving a large hole in the middle, when something emerged from there. A floating sphere made purely from glowing silver rose higher and higher until stopped for everyone to see it clearly. And wasn't it a sight.

It was more of a spherical cage than anything else; it was pieced together like a shattered globe with parts missing so that the inside was visible, and on the inside was Pettigrew. The treacherous wizard was still revolting to the normal eye, but he looked even worse than the first time Theodore met him. His face was squashed and pudgier, and he had scars running all over. His nose was more crooked than Dumbledore's, and his hair was completely gone. His beady eyes couldn't be seen from afar, and his back was hunched as he pressed his palm against the cage, looking thoroughly depressed and dejected.

Theodore could gladly say that he was proud of himself for being a part of making this possible. Seeing Pettigrew, caged like the animal he was felt invigorating to him like he wanted to see him suffer for what he did. He wasn't wrong to feel that way — Theodore dragged his eyes away from Pettigrew for a moment and looked on behind the traitor where he could see two men entering through a wall and seating themselves. Dumbledore was in bright blue robes the same colour as his eyes, and shockingly, right beside him was Professor Snape, still clad in black and appearing reclusive.

Fudge's area had suddenly risen from the ground, elevated to the height of Pettigrew and moved backwards while the members behind him shuffled to the sides to avoid being stuck. The platform stopped when it touched the wall of the highest row to allow two witches to sit beside him, one being Umbridge, the other being unheard of and unseen by Theodore.

"Are you ready, Weasley?" Fudge called over to Percy a few rows down where he had a quill and a large roll of parchment in front of him. "Trial and conviction on the twenty-third of August into crimes committed against the International Statute of Secrecy by Peter Farris Pettigrew of no known address.

"Interrogators: Cornelius Oswald Fudge, Minister for Magic; Amelia Susan Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Dolores Jane Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister. Court Scribe, Percy Ignatius Weasley. Overseers: Bartemius Geritze Crouch Senior, Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation; Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Supreme Mugwump, Grand Sorcerer, and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot; Theodore Raphius Lestrange, Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."

A woman with a broad jaw and medium, grey hair on Fudge's left, who was presumably Amelia Bones, summoned parchment rolls from behind Percy and handed them over to Fudge for him to read out loud. "We are brought to this court today under the laws of the Wizengamot for the capture of an evasive and treacherous wizard who has been affiliated with You-Know-Who dating back to at a minimum of thirteen years ago. You, Peter Pettigrew, are charged with several crimes against humanity, not just wizardkind or Muggle, and have broken several degrees of the International Confederation of Warlock's Statute. This court is now in session."

Madam Bones shuffled another parchment roll in front of her and spoke out. "You are Peter Farris Pettigrew, am I correct?"

"Yes," said Pettigrew with a terribly hoarse voice.

"Can you tell us what your affiliation with the Dark Lord is, dating all the way back to 1981?"

"Th-there is no connection between me and the Dark Lord," Pettigrew garbled, the blatant lie ringing throughout the colosseum.

"But during your many attempts to end your life before this court was in motion, there have been several bodily examinations to clear you of anything that could be deemed dangerous to cause you fatal harm, and upon the examinations, we uncovered the Dark Mark imprinted on your left forearm."

"The Dark Mark?" said Theodore quietly to an equally confused Harry. "Isn't that just lights cast by Death Eaters?"

Harry shrugged and tried to focus on what was happening.

"Th-that isn't… I haven't —"

Madam Bones swished her wand, and the pieces of the sphere spun and twisted violently, shaking Pettigrew as he cried for help before his left arm was forced through a hole and clamped in a stuck position. She swished it again, making the sphere hover slowly above the rows with Pettigrew's arm dangling out while he struggled futilely. It was only a matter of time before he floated right above the four as his arm was in clear view. It was reddish and raw but had a sharp shape to make out its sinister design.

'Wait… didn't I see that during my Divination exam…?'

A skull with a snake protruding from its mouth. Theodore now remembered but questioned himself why he was able to see it then. Could it have been a hint of who Pettigrew really was: he was looking for answers during that period of time after all. But he never put the skull and snake together with the feared Dark Mark created by his father.

Whispers came from all around when the sphere returned to its position, then they stopped when Madam Bones had called Ron up. The central point sunk again and produced a pentagonal booth for Ron to stand in. Once he stepped onto it, it rose up in the air but not so much that he'd be too close to Pettigrew.

"Full name," asked Fudge calmly.

"Ronald Bilius Weasley, sir," Ron squeaked before clearing his throat.

"It's all right, just take a deep breath. OK, may I ask what your relationship with Peter Pettigrew is, please?"

Ron's face became a mixture of embarrassment and disgust. "I hate thinking about this… he was my pet, you know, when he was a rat. Percy had him before me, and I got him on my first year to Hogwarts. He was just Scabbers then… I never really had anything to myself, so I kept Scabbers with me everywhere I went. Like everywhere."

"Disgusting," muttered a witch behind Theodore.

"Poor child…"

Pettigrew whimpered and fell backwards when his arm was released.

Ron was asked when he started noticing signs of Scabbers's true identity, and he responded, "I was a bit of an idiot to not see it at first. Hermione's cat, Crookshanks, was really out to get Scabbers the first time that we brought them together. Of course, I thought that it wasn't normal with how aggressive Crookshanks was towards him, but it was a cat. It's what they do, right?"

People gave small chuckles left and right before it died down by Madam Bones's hand. "So if this is the case, how exactly did you deduct that it was Pettigrew in disguise all along, and what role did you play in subduing him?"

"I — I didn't do any of the deducting. No, it was all Theo. He found out who Pettigrew really was; he figured it all out. I just got lucky when the Ford Anglia came about. Pettigrew looked like he was about to kill my friends, so I — I ran him over," Ron ended sheepishly.

Laughter, not in a mocking tone but of a cheerful one, filled the corners of the courtroom before they too were silenced by Madam Bones. "No need to be embarrassed. You did a brave thing, Ronald, and I'm sure that you made your family proud."

Ron looked like he was about to say thank you, but…

"Hem hem."

Everybody looked over at Umbridge with the same chilling smile on her face. "So sorry to interrupt, but we must remind ourselves of how the vehicle was illegally enchanted in the first place," she remarked in an almost sing-song voice.

"Yes, that is the case," said Fudge with a raised eyebrow — Mr Weasley from afar slid down his seat a little — "but we have resolved this situation, remember, Dolores? Arthur Weasley has been granted several permits allowing him to remain in possession of the car, provided that each trip is authorised."

Umbridge pressed her lips together and bowed her head a little bit before she took her own flamingo-feathered quill and scribbled on parchment.

"Thank you, Ronald. You're free to return to the witness area."

Ron did an awkward bow and hurried back over where the others patted him on the back, helping him to ease his breathing. "Oh, God! It's like millions of eyes were just staring at me!"

"You did good, Ron," assured Harry. "I think we're off to a good start."

"You think?"

They nodded at him. Ron breathed out heavily and grew a smile on his face before sitting back against his chair.

"Peter, according to the witnesses, you were involved in a plot presumably formulated by the Dark Lord to penetrate the Potters' secret location by conspiring with a fellow Death Eater against the Ministry."

Pettigrew shook his head. "I… I don't know what you're talking about —"

"Witnesses had revealed that you were conspiring with an accomplice, the Death Eater being that of the deceased Valerie Avilasa Potter."

"She-she was the real traitor," he stammered with his mouth sticking out of a hole, "the one who betrayed her brother and his wife! No-not me! I didn't —!"

"You both planned to take advantage of the Ministry's weakening numbers," Madam Bones cut him off again, "only pretending to appear as allies when that advantage was severely damaged by Potter's disappearance as a Secret-Keeper."

"There's your proof! Right there! How-how do we not know that Valerie hadn't told the Dark Lord of James and Lily's location?! I was hoodwinked, forced into the Dark Lord's clutches! Her power over me was far too strong for me to resist—!"

Theodore was thankful that Fudge cut him off as he could feel the anger bubbling inside of him. He wanted to jump over the booth and give Pettigrew every single curse that he knew until he'd look like when he was run over by Ron.

"I call Hermione to the stand, please?"

Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath, thanking the boys when they wished her luck and walked out slowly to the booth in the middle when it rose up. She was shaking and pink in the cheeks but seemed more in control than Ron.

"Full name, please?"

"Hermione Jean Granger."

Madam Bones peered closer at Hermione and gave her the first smile seen today from her. "Hermione Jean Granger. I've heard a lot of things about you, from my niece to Professor McGonagall. She told me that you were one of her 'favourite and best students of all time'."

"T-thank you," Hermione replied meekly, blushing.

"Hermione, on the day of Pettigrew's capture, two of your friends gave an extensively long and weary overview regarding of Sirius's innocence, if I am not mistaken."

Hermione shook her head and allowed her to carry on.

"During that explanation, they told the Minister, several Aurors and Ministry officials how Valerie Potter was an informant of the Dark Lord, specifically tasked to uncover the Potters' secret location alongside with Peter. Is this true?"

Hermione blinked and turned her eyes to Theodore but said "Yes," firmly.

"So can you, if you are able to, remember what Peter specifically said about him and Valerie during their activities as infiltrating Death Eaters when you first confronted him?"

"W-well, he said that You-Know-Who was using Valerie to get to Harry's parents and him…" She looked over at Theodore with regret but forced herself to carry on. "Apparently, she was just supposed to bring the other side down, but You-Know-Who had other plans for her. He… he knew that Valerie loved her family so much that she wouldn't give them up for anything, so he hoped that she'd become a Secret-Keeper for them. But…"

"But…?" Fudge led on curiously.

Hermione looked at him again as if to apologise for putting her in a bad light. Theodore smiled at her to show that it was all right, even though he couldn't stop his anger from manifesting inside of him. "She… she ran away with her child for some reason… You-Know-Who's child..."

Loud chatter became thunderous in a second, and Pettigrew screamed above it all, "The child is real! The child is real, he's —!"

Fudge whisked his wand and separated the moving flares above and lifted the sphere in the middle of the isolated Dementors. They all leaned inwards and sucked in an ungodly amount of air, causing Pettigrew to stumble around in his cage and become silent. Theodore watched approvingly when the sphere lowered back but immediately took it back when he saw Hermione's eyes shut, refusing to look above. He didn't stop to think that she had the closest view of it all.

"Is there anything else, Peter?"

Pettigrew whimpered and shook his head.

"Good. And for everyone's information in this courtroom," continued Fudge rather grimly, "the child does not exist."

Madam Bones picked up from where Fudge left off and said, "Hermione, is there anything else that you're able to recount on that day? Anything to do with Valerie, or her supposed child with the Dark Lord?"

Fudge scoffed quietly, but Hermione said, "I know this for a fact: You-Know-Who did pretend to be Valerie Potter during her absence, and he took advantage of Sirius before he told… before he…" She couldn't finish her sentence.

The booth was lowered, and Hermione scurried back to the boys and began to panic when she told them that there was so much more that she could say.

"Calm down, Hermione!" Harry said happily.

"Yeah, relax! You did great, better than I did!"

"But I was stuttering all over the place," she groaned with her face down. "They probably didn't take me seriously."

Theodore put a hand on her shoulder and gave a bright, perfect smile. "You did brilliantly. That was perfect! You said everything that you needed to say! They took you seriously, I know they did. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here, would we?"

"I guess not. Thanks, guys."

They all turned back outwards while Theodore was gently grazing his knuckle against the back of Hermione's hand. It was odd how sometimes, it was either burning everywhere or felt incredibly calm whenever he'd touch her. He was glad that it was now the latter.

"Members of the Wizengamot and Overseers, we have been provided with enough evidence, from physical to witnesses, to confirm that Peter Pettigrew has indeed made connections with Death Eaters and has partaken in activities against humanity.

"He has managed to evade punishment from the wizarding world for twelve years, assuming the identity of a house pet when another man took his sins on his shoulders, not only betraying the Potters but murdering twelve Muggles in the process and faking his own death!"

"But I had to get away!" shouted Pettigrew through the bars again. "Sirius, he's crazy, mad! He's not right, he'll never be right in the head again! I didn't mean to —!"

"Mercilessly massacre innocent Muggles who had no clue, not even for a fraction of a second, why they died?!"

Madam Bones took another roll of parchment and read, "Sirius Arcturus Black has suffered horrendous torture of the mind from the Dark Lord personally, damaging his psyche while you led him straight to the Dark Lord each and every session. You are the reason that he suffered these 'outbreaks' during his transformations."

Pettigrew wanted to scream again, but he looked at the hungry Dementors and closed his mouth.

"I call Harry Potter to the stand."

Like Hermione and Ron before him, Harry sucked in a huge amount of air and walked over to the booth as he breathed back out. As expected, Harry's name revived the chattering all around, and Madam Bones took a while to silence them before speaking.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Harry."

"Pleasure to… be here."

Fudge took the question on and asked Harry, "Harry, what do you know about Pettigrew being able to transform into a rat?"

"It's because he's an Animagus," Harry answered confidently.

"Correct. Now, aside from the fact that you must register to become one, something that he neglected to do, can you explain to us further how exactly he became an Animagus?"

Harry was staring at Sirius, unable to speak. Sirius also became an Animagus illegally, so would he have any repercussions for that as well? Surely not. "Pettigrew was friends with my dad and Sirius. They knew each other since… their very first day of Hogwarts. Somewhere down the line, they… probably thought it was fun to try it out, all five of them —"

"Five?" Umbridge spoke up after being quiet for a lengthy amount of time. "You mentioned three people, but you said five."

"… I did."

"Can you please disclose these names?"

Harry cricked his neck and looked back at Sirius, who nodded without hesitation. "There was my dad, James Potter; Sirius; Pettigrew was a part of it, and… Severus Snape."

"And the fifth?"

"The what?"

"The fifth person, who is it?" Umbridge asked kindly.

"I think you already know who that is."

Umbridge's left eye twitched, and her wide mouth quivered just a little bit. She must've taken that as sass, and knowing Harry, it was intentional: Theodore knew him well.

Umbridge set her quill down and closed her fingers together, smiling as she said, "Of course. Remus Lupin, who was present at the scene but discharged himself from St Mungo's when the trial was in its works."

"Why does she care about Lupin at all," hissed Ron. "Sirius already told her about him."

"You don't think that she knows, does she?" Hermione asked nervously, leaning out to see Umbridge's toadlike face.

"She can't possibly know! How could she anyway?"

"Remus has been a friend to dear Mr Black for quite some time now. But according to some of the reports on the day of Pettigrew's capture, he was found in the backseat of the enchanted vehicle, barely clothed and exhausted. Now, why's that, Peter?"

Pettigrew was silent.

"I repeat my question: why is it that Remus Lupin was barely clothed and at the scene when there was no mention of him during the 'weary' explanation?"

"Oh, my God, he's gonna fucking say it," muttered Theodore as he gripped the handlebar in front of him, his knuckles turning white.

"He won't," Hermione assured, "he wouldn't…"

"Can you please answer the question?" Umbridge asked once more in a girlish voice covering her frustration. "Why was Remus Lupin there?"

"Dolores…" Fudge started.

"Wait…" Theodore spoke out as his head came out of the booth, but…

"He's a werewolf…"

Theodore's, Ron's, Harry's and Sirius's bellows of lividity mingled with the shouts coming from everybody else and were not the main focus of anybody. Theodore felt like breaking the handlebar, even wishing that the cage could break open so that he could have Pettigrew all to himself.

"That was his fucking best friend since they were kids!" raged Ron with his ears turning a very deep red. "Best friend! But he said it, he really fucking said it!"

"Look at her," Hermione pointed discreetly at Umbridge — Hermione was doing a better job at keeping her anger under control, but not by so much. "She knew that he'd say the truth! She knew that he was a werewolf!"

Umbridge was indeed joyous in the revelation of Lupin's condition. Her smile was hard to suppress, but she managed to keep it down underneath all of the ruckus. And it was there where Theodore felt an instant burning of immense dislike, bordering hatred for a woman he just knew for little under half an hour.

Theodore gazed over at Harry and felt the same rush that was blazing inside of him as well — it didn't even feel painful. Pettigrew and Umbridge, two names that were now so vile on the tongue that — Dumbledore and Professor Snape were closed in on each other speaking. Just speaking.

"Silence! Silence!" Fudge bellowed as a bang was let off from the tip of his wand. He looked to his left where Umbridge's expression remained and reluctantly allowed her to finish.

"Thank you. A werewolf, everyone. Imminent danger wrapped in the skin of a man was let loose, not only in a well-populated area but a school full of children," Umbridge said in an I-told-you-so voice, "allowed by none other than the Headmaster himself —"

"Professor Dumbledore only let Lupin come to Hogwarts just to help him," Harry interjected, taking most of the adults by surprise, especially Umbridge. "He wasn't going to let a kid who was a werewolf be shunned from everyone like any other coward would try to do."

Now that shut everybody up. Theodore, Ron, Hermione and Sirius all stared at Harry, slightly awing at him that they might've well drooled from what he just did — silenced an entire courtroom. Harry realised this and put his arms against his side, his face becoming neutral and unable to make sense of. That only made it much cooler to Theodore when Umbridge's mouth ticked like a large tongue was going to whip out and catch Harry like a fly.

Umbridge, now silenced by a child, carefully took her quill and scribbled down notes on her parchment. Fudge, however, remembered where he was and sat up straight. "Although this revelation is… is shocking, the relevancy of Lupin's condition is unwarranted… here. Right, er, Amelia? Care to carry on, please?"

"Of course. Using this incredible ability which only the most talented of sorcerers can obtain, Pettigrew squandered his skills as an Animagus and successfully fooled the wizarding community by covering the blood on his hands to stand by an unsuspecting family and bide his time until the Dark Lord would supposedly rise again —"

"Noo!" Pettigrew screamed. "I told you — I told you that as long as I was out there, Sirius would find a way to get to me! I had to hide, I had to —!"

"Enough with you!" Madam Bones slashed her wand in the air and made the cage temporarily shift into floating metal liquid that compressed around Pettigrew's body and solidified, leaving his head sticking out of a silver sphere. "I call Theodore Riddle to the stand, please."

His heart jumped in his chest: has it been that quick? His stomach was tying into knots again, and his breath was becoming short. But it vanished so suddenly when Hermione held his hand again and jogged him by the arm. "You have to go, Theo. Just take a deep breath and calm down. That's what we all did."

Harry's eyes lowered quickly to where they were holding hands, but he held Theodore by the shoulders and said encouragingly, "Get out there; you're the main man here. They've been waiting for you. You've got this, Theo."

"Yeah, I do." And he firmly believed that he truly did. He took a deep breath and held it in as he exited the witness booth for the pentagonal one and released when it shuddered under his feet and brought him up into the air. The number of wizards and witches talking, pointing at him, smiling, even waving was startling. On his far left, he could see Rita's quill floating right above her parchments, ready to flick at the sound of his voice.

Suddenly, the rings started to shift and turn, not only the ground but the rows as well — Theodore then realised that it was just rings upon rings forming together to make the entire room. The rings stopped moving, and Fudge, Madam Bones and Umbridge were still facing him, but up on the rows beside them were Professor Snape and Dumbledore, able to see him as clearly as he could see them. Professor Snape's eyes widened when Theodore looked over at him, but eye contact was broken when Madam Bones began to speak to him.

"Full name?"

"Theodore Silas Riddle."

Madam Bones second smile came through. "Another brilliant student from Hogwarts. Most of your teachers and Professor Dumbledore alike has informed us about you, Theodore —"

'So that's how people know my name here!'

"— we can only hope that we'll be seeing you up here in a few years time, hmm?"

"Right! I mean, thank you." Theodore tapped his fingers against the edge of the booth, unable to keep his eyes fixed at anything.

"Theodore, earlier on, Ronald claimed that it was you who managed to deduce Pettigrew's identity as an Animagus hidden as a pet for him. Essentially, you uncovered the truth behind his disappearance after the mishandling of any further investigation. Can you please explain to us how was it that you came to solve this, please?"

'Deep breath… deep breath…' Inhale… exhale…

"It was just like Ron for me. When Crookshanks kept on attacking Scabbers, I honestly thought that it was a normal thing for him to act that way with a rat, so I really just ignored it, to be honest."

"So what exactly caused you to seek Pettigrew out?" Madam Bones asked as she and Fudge leaned inwards a little to hang onto every word he would utter.

"It all started in Little Whinging when I met Sirius for the first time. Well, not 'met' — I would say encountered. I was going to Little Whinging with the Muggle orp— with the Muggles that I live with, and that's where I first saw Sirius. But…" Theodore gazed down at Sirius, "he wasn't exactly all right. I guess that he had an episode, or something triggered him to transform. What happened basically was that Sirius accidentally attacked me, and I… had to fight back, obviously to protect myself!"

Fudge backed the claim and asked Theodore how his suspicions led onwards. Theodore stopped for a moment. Viripin was arguably the most crucial factor in finding out if Pettigrew and Sirius were Animagi or not. She was the one who told him about Scabbers's oddity, but he couldn't tell them that, not without him revealing that he's a Parselmouth.

"Theodore?" Fudge said as if Theodore dozed off. "Did you hear the question?"

Theodore blinked repeatedly and held onto the edge, saying, "Yes, sorry. I was trying to remember it all… Right!" He really hoped that they'd eat this all up. "When Sirius had followed me and Harry up to Hogwarts, he started to appear all around the school, and it got a bit panicky. I was guessing that he was trying to kill us both, but it was later on when I realised that he was just trying to talk with me in private.

"Eventually, it got to the point when I knew I had to go talk to him if I wanted him to leave me alone." Theodore scratched his head and looked away from the interrogators. "You see, I was sort of, kind of… banned from going to Hogsmeade, and it was where he wanted us to meet, so I had to — well, I did sneak out of the castle during the night."

"But there were Dementors in Hogsmeade…" stated Madam Bones a little wearily.

Theodore wanted to laugh. "Yeah! Yeah, it was really stupid and dumb. I was just going with whatever feeling was in my gut, but I know that Sirius would be down there. Guess I got more than I bargained for when I met Pettigrew in Hog's Head Inn asking me to protect him from Sirius."

"I'm assuming that it was quite easy for you to slip outside the castle," Umbridge remarked a little dryly whilst trying to maintain her calm image, "a castle which is supposed to have extensive protections against dangerous forces from the outside. Yet it was simple for you and dear Mr Black to go in and out as you please, you walking straight into a designated zone for Dementors."

Dumbledore looked incredibly cheery for somebody being indirectly insulted numerous times. "It was either that I went to Sirius, or Sirius would try to get to me again on school grounds where he'd be attacked on sight, even kissed by Dementors. Then where would we all be?"

Umbridge ignored that, took a parchment roll and studied it quickly before saying, "Your name, Mr Riddle, has been spoken about in the Ministry for nearly a year and a bit now. I've heard that you achieved impeccable grades in each of your final exams, save for your second year, one of them being that of Potions."

Theodore didn't like where this was going but went along with it. "It's my favourite subject. My teacher's really good." He didn't look up from Umbridge.

"Yes, and according to this, you spend some of your time working as an apprentice to Professor Snape, correct?"

"Correct."

"And so, back to what we were discussing… Remus Lupin was a werewolf in a school. I can't believe that no precautions have been made beforehand."

Theodore opened his mouth for a rebuttal and clenched his fist, but he let go. What was the point in getting angry? "This isn't really relevant to what I'm being asked of at all…"

Fudge and Madam Bones looked over to Umbridge until she leaned backwards, her mouth now fidgeting to swallow Theodore whole as well. "Now, can you describe to me about the night you first met Pettigrew? Hog's Head, did you say?"

Theodore nodded and recounted how Pettigrew came to him, desperately seeking for protection as he claimed to be a worker at the Ministry. He mentioned how he scurried away, presumably through the plumbing as a rat while Theodore ran into Sirius — Sirius rubbed his throat — and discussed Pettigrew being the true traitor of the Potters.

"And from there on was when you began to look into the given information?" Fudge asked, clearly impressed.

"I did what I could. Once I told the others about Pettigrew, we were going to set a trap for him as we knew that he hadn't left the grounds. I read about how to reverse the transformation of an Animagus and taught it to my friends. But things sort of went south when I —" He looked over at Umbridge, and he sighed. "I had to get Wolfsbane Potion for Professor Lupin."

Murmurs and chattering, all quickly silenced.

Theodore quickly spoke to stop Umbridge from getting a question in and said, "It went well at first. Professor Lupin got the Wolfsbane in time, and we had Pettigrew on the ground. But he said something that set Sirius off, and I nearly would have died if it wasn't for Harry and Professor Snape. Pettigrew got away again, so did Professor Lupin and Sirius. My friends went to go find him while I had to stay behind. Luckily, I was able to leave the castle without anybody noticing, and I made it to the Forbidden Forest where Pettigrew had stolen my wand and had Harry and Hermione captive.

"But Pettigrew revealed everything to us, and I freed my friends so that we could chase after him again. Pettigrew was — was about to kill Hermione, but Ron came in with the Ford Anglia and crashed straight into Pettigrew. It would've been all over if he came just a second too late."

For a moment, Madam Bones, Fudge and several others were looking at Theodore in an almost childlike state of listening to a wondrous story before they came back down to Earth.

"You displayed a lot of nerve and risk-taking, all four of you," Fudge quickly added. "Showing such determination to capturing one man to free another is extremely commendable, even for more experienced wizards."

Down below, Sirius was smiling, and so were Hermione, Harry and Ron. Of course —

"Hem hem! May I please request one final question to Mr Riddle over here?" Umbridge asked like a schoolgirl. Fudge allowed it. "Mr Riddle. To what extent did you understand Valerie's involvement thirteen years ago regarding the infiltration of the Ministry?"

Was this a joke? Theodore pressed his feet against the ground and became stiff in his legs. "I've barely read up on who she was; I don't anything more than Hermione."

"Did you not attempt to try and —?"

"Enough, Dolores," muttered Fudge sternly to his subordinate. "I know where you are going with this. Let the boy breathe!"

"Thank you, Theodore. You may return to the witnesses area."

The pentagonal booth lowered, and Theodore walked back over, avoiding Rita's gaze and huddled with the others as he said to them, "So we can all agree that Umbridge is trying to get at us, instead of at Pettigrew, right?"

They all nodded their heads firmly. "She obviously hates werewolves," said Hermione darkly as she looked over her shoulder, "and she obviously knew that Lupin was one as well. What was she trying to do, using this place as a chance to expose him?"

"She must've pieced it together. But that's a lot of obscure information, you'd have to carve that out of someone's memories."

"What do we do?" said Harry. "She probably knows a lot more about —"

"I call Sirius Arcturus Black to the stand, please."

Sirius slipped out from his personal area and stepped onto the adjustable booth. He looked extremely wracked with distress.

"Sirius, just be comfortable with whatever you want to say; we won't force you to say what we want from you. Now, can you tell us: what is, or was, your relationship with Peter Pettigrew?"

Sirius rubbed his knuckles and looked down to the ground before he said in a lowered voice, "Peter was one of my greatest friends in the entire world, the very few that I made when I thought I'd never had any… It took a lot of willpower for me to finally understand who was responsible for James and Lily. Yes, my mind was a wreckage, and I was not fit for any sort of rational decision-making. But I like to think that I still knew whose fault it really was…"

"Your treatment at St Mungo's, is it going well?"

"I'm starting to keep a hold of myself a little better now."

"So, Sirius, if you can still remember, can you recall any of these encounters you had with the Dark Lord when Pettigrew led you to him repeatedly?"

Sirius brushed some of his long hair away from his face and took in each of those faces that easily thought of him as maniac just a few months ago. "They're getting clearer the more I think about them, but they also become looser as well. It's like they're harder to grab hold of, even when the memory is so sharp. I'd always remember Worm— sorry, Peter wanting to speak to me in private, telling me how he was scared for James and Lily. I had to comfort him — why wouldn't I? I felt the same way. We'd agreed to try and…" Sirius chuckled a little. "… make ourselves forget for a moment, going out for a drink, drowning our sorrows when a war was happening right around us.

"But… I'd remember being hazy when Peter would take us both back. Confunded, most likely. Nothing felt the same around me, but I could barely notice. Then… then I remember seeing his face, and there was so much pain… so much pain…"

Everybody was quiet except for Pettigrew. He was squirming around in the sphere, probably trying to move his arms that were both completely trapped in a fixed position. The Dementors breaths became raspier and raspier like they were getting hungrier.

Theodore looked all over at the members of the court to see their faces towards the innocent man. Some displayed utter sympathy towards Sirius, clearly wracked with the guilt of ever believing him to be what they made him out to be without a second's thought. But others looked down on him with disdain: two thin-faced wizards and Crouch.

"Argh!" Theodore hissed under his breath when his mind opened up the floodgates from the three wizards. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples to help him think about anything else. He was starting to hate what was happening. This truly was a curse, whatever was making him able to feel and hear other people's emotions and thoughts — he wanted it gone, now.

"Are you getting your headaches again?" asked Hermione uneasily when Theodore wouldn't stop groaning in pain.

"It's just headaches."

"You've been getting them a lot recently," said Ron from the other end of the booth, "ever since Harry came to the house. What's happening with you?"

"I don't know — I wish I did." Theodore cupped his cheeks and pressed inwards. He flicked his eyes open when the pain stopped and told the others that he was OK. Hermione, being Hermione, had to make sure that he wasn't lying; Harry wanted to know more about his headaches, and Ron just wanted to know that he was OK: it took Theodore quite a while to realise that he was treated like the 'baby' of the group, and he didn't like that.

The rings began to swirl around again, changing Theodore's perception of the colosseum and — "Argghh!" Theodore threw his head back and pushed his palms against his eyelids. Why was it only five times worse this time? Hermione was gently tugging at his arm, but her voice was anything other than gentle.

He barely heard their voices beneath the overflow of several wizards and witches either sympathising with Sirius or insulting him, and it was just too much. Harry and Ron were by his side while Hermione was crouching in front of him, holding his elbows and saying something that he couldn't make out. Theodore looked through the gaps of his fingers to read her lips but lifted his head to see from a distance, Professor Snape looking down on them. Concern and… anxiety? Theodore could barely read him like always and — it stopped. Just like that, it stopped.

"Theo, are you OK?" Hermione must've asked for the umpteenth time. Theodore rubbed his face and confirmed it for them but didn't dare to look at any of their eyes. "You have to look up at us."

"I'm fine, really. I probably just need like medicine or something — wait, listen!"

The four returned to their seats and listened when a final statement from Madam Bones had been announced by Umbridge. The silver sphere melted and descended in the air slowly as Sirius returned to his area, and the pentagonal booth sunk again to leave behind the central point. The liquid metal then shot several chains reaching seven points on the outermost ring on the lower ground, each of the chains holding his neck securely and his legs and hands fastened respectively.

Madam Bones summoned the last parchment roll and began. "Peter Farris Pettigrew, you have been accused of committing several war crimes within the wizarding and Muggle communities in Britain. Treason against your Ministry, the murders of twelve innocent Muggles, falsely incriminating innocents by faking your demise, involvement of involuntary memory tampering and extreme torture, and the attempted murders of schoolchildren. How do you plead?"

"Not — not guilty," sobbed Pettigrew.

"Of course. May the Members of the Wizengamot stand?" Fudge boomed across the courtroom. They all did. "Members of the Wizengamot, you have discussed your opinions, justifications… thoughts of conviction with one another, but now we must come to a show of hands. Consider our final statement and the witnesses as well. The decision is yours, and the final verdict will be all of ours."

"To those in favour of extending the defendant's case until further notice?"

Theodore forced himself to look up to see not a single hand raised at all. Just as he expected. Not even Umbridge lifted a finger from her area of space —

"Wait! Wa-wait! I can give you something!"

"You dare speak out when the verdict is commencing?" Lestrange spoke out with disgust in his voice. "Have you lost all respect for yourself in this court?!"

"Theodore, please. Now, those against —"

"I know the child of the Dark Lord! I can give their name to you!"

Theodore froze. Nothing went through his mind. Nothing…

Dumbledore shot up from his seat with a serious look across his face, but he said in a loud, clear yet gentle voice, "This information has no relevance to this court, Cornelius. This cannot be allowed."

"I second this," declared Lestrange, also standing upright.

Theodore was trembling. Spaced out and unconnected from what was happening. Nothing. Just nothing…

"Very well, the court demands that the defendant remains silent until —"

"He's right here!" Pettigrew screamed to the top of his lungs. "The Dark Lord's child, his son is right here!"

"Why isn't anybody shutting him up?!" Harry raged.

"They can't! Courtrooms are supposed to nullify Silencing Charms, but —" Hermione looked over at Theodore's blank face and placed a hand on a shoulder to break him out of it. "Theo! Theo!"

"We will not condone this!" shouted Lestrange. "The court demands that the defendant must be silent —!"

"NO! I won't be silent," bellowed Pettigrew. He twisted his stiff neck and pointed at Theodore with shaking arms and purely cowardly eyes. "It's him! Right there! THEODORE RIDDLE IS THE SON OF THE DARK LORD! THE SON… OF LORD VOLDEMORT!"

Silence. Theodore didn't look up. Why bother? It was all over… he'd been exposed, and they all knew. He tried so hard to keep it under wraps but look how it turned out. His mouth hung open a little bit, and his eyes were dead as they looked down on his feet. He felt limp, and he wanted to go limp. They were staring at him, he knew it. Knowing his father as an absolute monster, his mother nearly as monstrous as her master… All over…

Fudge covered his mouth and began to snort. Madam Bones couldn't resist and began to laugh in her palms as Fudge did the same.

'What… the fuck…?'

Their laughter quickly became infectious as it carried on over row after row as witches and wizards held their stomachs in laughter; Theodore concluded that he had gone mad. Yes, in that split moment of Pettigrew exposing him, he became so insane that it was just his own mind protecting him what was to come. Of course. But if he really was insane, then why wasn't Dumbledore and Professor Snape laughing as well?

"It-it's the truth! Theodore is the Dark Lord's child!"

"Really? And how did you come to that conclusion?" Fudge asked mockingly.

"They — they both have the same eyes! Yes, him and Valerie! I-if you look at them, then you'll see that they're the same, you have to believe me!"

Lestrange stood up again. "If we are honestly going to consider eye colour, then we can't take this lowlife seriously. Cornelius…"

Madam Bones coughed and silenced the laughter. "Excuse me for my unprofessionalism. You would sink so low to target a child just to guarantee your freedom, going so far as to accuse Theodore of being the Dark Lord's child."

"Supposed," added Fudge.

"He is! He — he's a Parselmouth, just like his father! The snake! That snake that he has as a pet! He always talks to it! How do you think he controls it?! Parseltongue!"

"That's enough!" shouted Madam Bones, red in the face. "How dare you?! To throw something so serious onto a boy!" She calmed herself down and asked Theodore to come out in front for everybody to see him.

Hermione and Ron shook him and guided him by the shoulders out of the booth as he carried on by himself. OK, maybe he was half-mad if that were possible. His shock smothered a contemptuous look for Pettigrew, and he looked up at the interrogators, trembling.

"I'm sorry if this is sensitive information, Theodore, but I must ask: do you know who your parents are?"

Theodore felt his heart sink. This was the worst question to ask right there. If Pettigrew wasn't dumb enough and Theodore said no, he could easily make it out as him being abandoned before his mother died, the absolute truth. No, he definitely was mad. "I don't know anything about my parents. I only have my name, and that's it…"

Mutters of approving Theodore's claim without hesitation came here and there. 'No… they don't actually believe me, do they?'

But Pettigrew swung his head around, screaming so loud that his throat became hoarser. "He's lying, he's the Dark Lord's son! He's a Parselmouth, the Heir of Slytherin! He took his father's wand and he has it with him! Theodore is Valerie's son, I heard him say it —!"

Madam Bones flicked her wand, sending the central point upwards at the same time Fudge used his wand to separate the flares above. Pettigrew's chains became extended, and the Dementors were dangerously close, edging on their pedestals to suck his soul straight out.

"The members of the Wizengamot have admitted requests that the verdict is to come down between the interrogators, given that the Chief Warlock permits this."

Dumbledore raised his palm.

Fudge, Madam Bones and Umbridge closed in on each other, whispering so low that it looked like they weren't speaking at all. Theodore was leaning back in his chair and couldn't believe if it was his luck or reputation that managed to fool an entire court. Hermione was tapping her knees nervously and kept on glancing at Theodore, who returned each one. This is not how he expected the day to go.

Fudge stood up gingerly and wore a harsh look to look intimidating; his double-chin wobbled. "Cornelius Oswald Fudge; Amelia Susan Bones, and Dolores Jane Umbridge, interrogators of Peter Ferris Pettigrew have come to a final verdict. We have found the defendant guilty of all charges —"

"No!" whimpered the traitor.

"— and we sentence him to carry out twelve life sentences for each of the Muggles murdered by your hand, each life equating for fifty years, and the court, therefore, declares that Sirius Arcturus Black will officially be cleared as a free man and will receive reparations from the Ministry."

"I beg of you, please…"

Fudge, Madam Bones and Umbridge all lifted their wands and produced blue, red and green sparks that flew into the air and sprinkled on Pettigrew's head. "You have evaded justice but did not escape from it. You will serve your six hundred years in Azkaban, Pettigrew, I promise it. You will be escorted to the Azkaban Detention Station where you'll be inducted to Azkaban promptly today. This court is now terminated. Good day."

The seven wizards sunk the central point with Pettigrew, weeping, going down with it and fell back as the Dementors' pedestals lowered until they were at ground level. All four of them glided and vanished into the hole until they were all gone, and the wizards shifted the rings back into the uneven formation from the beginning.

And that was that. Sirius was free. They actually did it. The four of them didn't even wait to leave the courtroom to run up to Sirius and hold him tighter than they ever did. Tears streamed down his face as he thanked them over and over again, squeezing them like his own children. Once they finally released Sirius, they all walked out through the doors where half of the attendees were leaving down the stairs and the other half remained behind to congratulate them.

"Fourteen, you say? I'll be honoured to see you soon, Mr Riddle."

"Good luck, Theodore! A great wizard in the making!"

"My daughter's told me all about you! I guess she was right, you are handsome fella!"

People shook his hand and clapped his back, telling him how he was more than what they pictured. Just a moment ago he was outed as Voldemort's boy, yet they didn't even bring it up at all. It started to become tedious to the Parselmouth — like he was really in the mood for praise — that Theodore luckily managed to slip away with Ron's help, who was entertaining a crowd about how he escaped the beasts in the Forbidden Forest.

"… and you saw the way he acted. He needs help, Severus." Theodore looked over near the stairs to see Dumbledore and Professor Snape secluded to one corner. "You know that you're the only one to help him."

"Aren't you also an accomplished Occlumens?" Professor Snape whispered back bitterly. "Why don't you help the boy?"

"If I help Theodore, and I see what he feels, I'll — ah! Good evening, Theodore!"

"Hello, Professor Dumbledore," said Theodore when he decided to walk into their conversation. Professor Snape's face was facing a little to the side of the hallway like he didn't want to make any eye contact.

"I want to congratulate you on keeping a calm head throughout, young man, especially the end when you could've easily fallen into anger."

"I don't think I would've been angry," the Parselmouth muttered, "but thank you, Professor." 'He had the same symbol as the one on your wand, remember?'

Dumbledore placed a hand on Theodore's shoulder, giving him the cheerful smile that he was always known for as he said, "I understand how it must've felt with so many eyes on you. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I received similar praise when I was your age. Attention from so young can change you; so I only hope that you'll be far more humbled than I ever was."

Theodore curled his lip and then watched the old man spring away when Fudge called him over with Dolores shooting a glare at Theodore before turning away. He then sighed, knowing who was standing behind him. It had been so long since they last saw each other face to face — Theodore felt a little taller this time. "So… how come you came?"

"I was strongly recommended by Professor Dumbledore to see y— to see what the outcome would be."

"Did you get any of my letters about my headaches?" Theodore squeezed his wrist in changing the subject so drastically.

Professor Snape crossed his arms and simply nodded. It fell into ungraceful silence before he quietly added, "These headaches… it happens when you look into somebody's eyes?"

"Severus, we must get going now. I'm so terribly sorry to interrupt this conversation, Theodore."

"No problem. So — So I'll see you both soon at school?"

Dumbledore held out his thin hand and shook Theodore's. "Another year to prosper. Goodbye, Theodore. Severus."

Professor Snape gave a soft grunt that could've been "Bye," and he followed Dumbledore away down the stairs. Theodore was tapping his fingertips together and thought what on Earth was Occlumency when Rita jumped in front of him out of nowhere with Bozo beside her, clicking away. Resorting into promising her an exclusive interview during any of his Hogsmeade trips just to escape, Theodore scurried off and joined the others gathered around Sirius, who was still in tears.

"You still have to stay at St Mungo's?" Harry asked his godfather downheartedly.

Sirius held him by the shoulders, doing his best to reassure Harry. "I'm making this choice, Harry. They still don't know how to get these words out of my head, and I can't be around you for too long if that's the case."

"We'll visit you, right, guys?" Theodore, Hermione and Ron firmly nodded. "You won't have to be alone. We'll even come during Christmas!"

"How about I visit you down in Hogsmeade. Since there are no more Dementors down there, and you have the greatest escapist as a cousin over," Sirius pointed at Theodore, "sneaking out won't be that bad around that time of year. How about it?"

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Sirius gave them all one last hug before a witch and a wizard in lime-green robes, apparently waiting for Sirius, escorted him away. It felt sad for Theodore that even though he was free, Sirius may never recover from his damaged mind. Theodore didn't know much about Healing magic, but he knew that the mind was nearly impossible to mend, even more, when broken by magic. Maybe he'd never recover…

"Well done, well done, well done, well done, kids," chimed in Mr Weasley as he found the four staring over at the stairs. "Sirius will pull through, OK? If you can stay in Azkaban for twelve years and endure the Dementors yet still wear a smile of true joy, then you must be one of the strongest people in the world. Be strong for him, eh?"

Theodore nudged Harry's elbow. They looked at each other, knowing how they both had family which they could never really truly be with. But they had each other, Theodore and Harry, and for them, it was more than enough.

"Yeah… not doing that ever again," mumbled a nauseated Theodore as he woozily pushed his trolley through the busy King's Cross. Both he and Ron were at the back of everybody else as the last ones to exit the Ford Anglia, which was spacious enough to fit everyone. Unfortunately, the traffic going all the way to London forced them to fly, something that Theodore couldn't escape from.

Ron patted his back underneath where Viripin was wrapped around his neck and said, "But you will. I'm making it my duty that by the end of this year, you'll be able to fly a broomstick like a pro, then the car."

Three Muggle women screamed at Theodore, and the two boys hurried up to catch up with the others to avoid gaining even more attention. "If you can do that, then I'll owe you the biggest favour, but don't start anytime soon — I won't try."

"Sure thing," grinned Ron as they were in line with the hidden magical barrier. The guard had grown a beard over the summer and tipped his hat to the both of them. "So what did you think? This summer was all right, huh?"

The dizziness had been purged from his body as the Parselmouth perked up with a smile reaching into his cheeks. "Loved it! I'm definitely trying to go back there again! That way, if I haven't splattered on the ground, I'll be trained up to finally play Quidditch with you guys."

"Just put your faith in me, young one. We can be like those guys in that Muggle movie, you know, the one with the long glowing wand and his green old elf…"

"What? It's one of Dad's favourites!"

Theodore put his hands up and smirked at the taller boy before they discretely passed through the barrier and arrived at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. And oh, how Theodore missed this place!

"Look over there, Dennis! It's Theodore Riddle and Ron Weasley!"

"Astoria, stop pulling my arm! Yes, I know that's Theodore Riddle — Astoria, shut up!"

Although they were not so subtle with it, not many people were pointing and whispering to both the boys. Yes, it was a lot, but the reaction that Theodore was expecting was akin to that at Diagon Alley. Perhaps he presumed too much.

Theodore looked around his shoulders for any of the other Weasleys, Harry or Hermione, but could not find red hair anywhere above the cautious parents and staring people. The Malfoys were all in one corner of the station; Luna was getting on the train with a large moving flower in her hair and waving at her father. Draco caught Theodore's eye and had given him a scornful glare that did absolutely nothing. Why would it?

Just by the door of the train were a family of five, the father being small and thin with greying hair, a thick beard that would've worked if he were taller, and a meek smile upon his face. Next to him stood his wife who was taller than the average woman. A very pretty woman, sharp-faced and thin like her husband. She had long deep-red hair styled elegantly down her back, and her hands were holding two little children, both a boy and girl with red hair like their mother. And the third child who was standing in front of her parents was —

"Elvira!" Ron blurted before shutting his mouth. Elvira turned to the two boys and waved before she spoke in rapid French with her parents, kissed each of them including her siblings and entered the train. "Wow. I can see why she's so pretty… you didn't hear me say that."

Theodore actually didn't hear him, for his attention was brought on Nott standing by a different door being lectured by Lestrange about something. It wasn't long before Lestrange patted him on the shoulders and left him to board the train. He still didn't know why Nott came to the trial, or how the two even knew each other.

"Theo, Harry and Hermione are already on! Let's go!"

"Coming!" the Parselmouth called back as his belongings disappeared the moment his fingers released the trolley. Theodore found Mr and Mrs Weasley quickly and said goodbye and thanks for letting him stay over, then hopped onto the train right after Ron.

Several first-years ran up and down the corridor and slammed their compartment doors shut as Ron and Theodore aimed to find Harry and Hermione. People were still boarding the train, so there was no fear in thinking that they'd move at any second, but they still couldn't find any sign of — Harry left a compartment and explained that it smelt a little funny inside there.

"All right, we'll find another, after we find — hey! Hermione, where are you going?"

Hermione squirmed through the three boys and was followed by Elvira whose hair was just the same as the first time she arrived at the common room. She turned around and said, "I'll see you guys soon. We're just going to… talk. Isn't that right, Elvira?"

"Yes, that is right," Elvira added, obviously hiding something with Hermione. "Hermione, you wanted to tell me something?"

"Of course! See you later!" Hermione and Elvira sped off down the corridor and squeezed through the tight crowds, and they disappeared soon enough.

"That was weird," said Theodore, slightly on his tiptoes. "We should find another compartment before they get full —"

"Ron!" Parvati slid open the door that the three boys were standing right outside of with a large smile on her face. "We were wondering — hey, Theeoo — if you could tell us about when you ran Pettigrew over with a car!"

"We — we?"

Parvati pushed the door a little wider and revealed her sister, Lavender, Susan Bones, Sally — Theodore avoided looking at her — and Tracey Davis. Ron went red in the face and sheepishly lifted his shoulders. Parvati grabbed his arm and pulled him inside, briefly winking at Theodore before closing the compartment door, leaving Harry and Theodore outside.

"Did Ron just ditch us for girls?"

They both began to guffaw and throw their arms around each other's shoulders, trudging away to find a free compartment which was done easily. Viripin curled up on Theodore's lap, and Theodore gave out the heartiest sigh that he possibly could. "You know, I've got a great feeling about this year, Harry, I can feel it."

"What makes you say that?"

"Nothing bad has happened in the holidays, see?" Theodore wagged his finger at his cousin. "Think about it: there was the break-in at Gringotts before the first year, I ran away from home and so did you — it was good for you — on our second, and Dementors were let loose before the third. But what happened this summer? Nothing, except that we freed Sirius."

"That's very optimistic, especially for you," teased Harry as he put his feet up on the seat, "but I get what you mean. I am no rush, and I mean no rush, to poke into other people's business this year."

"But it's so fun," said Theodore dryly.

"I'm serious, man. I'm not going to try to look for trouble, even though it finds me."

Theodore raised his eyebrow at the obvious lie but suggested that they'd shake on not trying to break any rules and act like normal students for once. The two cousins shook on it eagerly the moment Hermione, Ron and Elvira walked straight in: Ron sat next to Harry, looking red in the face; Hermione sat closely to Theodore and Elvira next to Hermione.

As the train started to move off and pick up speed, Theodore reached into his pocket with an audacious grin on his face. "Now, time to pick up where I last left off: my hidden Patronus!"

Hermione moved her hand on his and pushed it down, saying, "Theo, you're not allowed to use magic on the train until we're halfway there."

"It's a Patronus, nobody's going to flip out. Well, except for you guys when it'll be something you never thought of."

Elvira's eyes glowed as she looked over at Theodore. "A Patronus Charm?! I've been wanting to do that ever since I was little! Wait, can you do it? I know that Harry can, but what about you?"

"I —"

Draco did his yearly tradition of scrunching his face up through the compartment door and was followed by both Crabbe and Goyle. A little while longer was Pansy passing by, and Theodore caught the slightest smile that seemed a little too friendly. Just then did he feel Hermione pushing up closer against him and her hands digging in between her thighs, and like that was Pansy out of Theodore's mind.

'Is Hermione…? No, she can't be.'

The inside of the compartment turned its attention to Elvira, who told them all about how her father was in the courtroom during the trial and saw the four of them. She explained that her father worked under Crouch in their Department, and how she was told of something exciting soon to appear at Hogwarts. When asked what by Ron, she merely shrugged.

"If I knew, I would've said something. Unless my father would want me to keep it a secret, which he obviously did."

Elvira exchanged stories about her holiday with theirs and told them how she and Neville were abroad in France in the exact same town; how they surprisingly had a good time before they left back for Britain. Theodore tilted his head when he saw her becoming a little spaced out when mentioning Neville's name, but she shook her head and acted as if the conversation had never emerged — she was an odd girl for sure.

The five teens carried on speaking throughout the rest of the journey until Theodore couldn't help himself from falling asleep. Viripin's hisses were serene and calming as she had fallen asleep a long time before he did — he wasn't even that bothered when the others all bought things off the trolley.

What does that mean?

You may be on a path where you'll be awed and adored for your power… or horribly feared because of it…

You are destined for great things… things, I dare say… are impossible…

A powerful wand will only choose the most powerful, after all… never forget that…

"Come on, Theo, wake up."

Theodore cracked one eye open and saw that the compartment was illuminated by the hanging lamps and was quite empty. He opened both eyes properly and was met with Hermione's face so close, her nose brushed against his before she pulled away quickly.

"Sorry! I just wanted to see if you were actually sleeping," she squeaked adorably. "We're almost there, and everyone else went off to change. I'm the first one back." Hermione was in her uniform robes, tie, skirt, socks and shoes, always so perfect.

Theodore looked out of the window where the fields were running past and, in the background, saw dark shapes like the mountains surrounding the castle. "All right, I'll be back soon then."

Hermione smiled nervously and picked up the sleeping Viripin while Theodore walked out to retrieve his uniform and find a place to change. 'Was she watching me sleep…?'

Theodore returned to the compartment with his brand-new uniform and saw that the others had gotten back before him. Viripin was awake and laying flat across Harry's shoulders, who was hissing to her right in front of Elvira. The Metamorphmagus was not uncomfortable at all by the Parseltongue which confused Theodore greatly. While it was common knowledge now that Harry was a Parselmouth, most people were still a little wary of him because of it. Oh well.

The Hogwarts Express finally arrived at Hogsmeade Station in its darkness, and all the students flooded outside and separated where they had to go, first-years to Hagrid; the rest to the Thestral carriages.

Theodore was waiting for Hermione, Ron and Harry to climb into a carriage as Elvira went to find another one. He had his arms crossed and stared up into the cool night sky, then yelped when he felt something nip against his backside where his wand was. A Thestral sniffed apologetically at his waist and hand, searching to be petted which Theodore happily did by stroking between its white eyes.

Hogwarts was truly a sight to be marvelled at. Theodore felt like a first-year again, seeing the torches beside the numerous windows along the walls, the towers attached to bigger towers and right before them all, the front gates with the statues of winged boars on either side that they passed through. The Thestrals all then stopped in front of the oak doors that the moon brightened before they were swung open.

Everybody bundled up in their own groups of friends and hurried up the stairs and into the Entrance Hall. Theodore felt somebody brush lightly against his arm and saw Nott with his head low walking up the marble staircase, alone and apparently friendless.

Nobody wasted any time and all rushed up the staircase and entered the magnificent Great Hall with plates and goblets gleaming up and down the four long tables, the candles floating just below the enchanted ceiling, and the teachers' table that was full of all the familiar teachers except for one seat: obviously for the new Defence Professor.

"Hello, children!" Nearly Headless Nick greeted the Gryffindors as they filled their tables. "How was your summer?"

Seamus was snickering around the back, and Dean just rolled his eyes at him. "Very — very productive and… rewarding."

"Oh my God…"

Theodore sat down between an unimpressed Dean next to a choking Seamus — both, especially Seamus, had gotten taller — and next to Hermione. Harry and Ron were in front of him with Colin trying to worm himself between the two.

"They're sure getting a lot of attention," Theodore spoke under his breath, resisting not to laugh at Harry trying not to be annoyed at Colin.

"They're not the only ones getting attention," whispered Hermione. "Look behind us at the other tables."

Theodore only peeked behind his shoulder and saw inconspicuous stares of interest guided at him from all three tables. Justin and Ernie both nodded when they caught his eye, and Pansy was ignoring Draco's rambling by keeping her eyes on —

Hermione cleared her throat. "This year's going to be an interesting one, isn't it?"

"Right…"

"She's jealous."

The Parselmouth stomached his squeal and slowly patted his body until he felt a lump in his shirt pocket and opened it up to see Viripin transformed as a golden bunny rabbit. "I could've sworn that you went back to sleep. And what do you mean that she's jealous?" Theodore hissed very quietly. "Hermione doesn't get jealous."

"She obviously did. Did you not see the way she acted when Pansy walked past in the train?"

"Again, you should've been asleep — what's up, Dean?" Theodore lifted his head from the table and opened up his pocket as wide as possible.

"What were you two talking about?" Hermione nudged.

Theodore told her that it was nothing and aimed his attention at the new first-years coming into the Great Hall, marching behind Professor McGonagall like a little army. Once the stool had been set up and the Sorting Hat sang its song, the first-years began their sorting, none of which, like the rest of them, interested Theodore, none except one near the end.

"McDonald, Natalie!" called McGonagall — Natalie went to Gryffindor, "Ollivander, Gervaise!"

A small, timid-looking boy with jet-black hair and the same silvery eyes that belonged to the older Ollivander walked through the crowds of first-years and sat on the stool. McGonagall placed the hat on his head.

"Gryffindor!"

Gervaise lifted the hat from his head and looked over to the Ravenclaw table. His disappointed gaze met another boy that Theodore couldn't believe that he never saw in his life before: he had to be about his age, jet-black hair like his seemingly younger brother, looked to be tall, and had only one silvery eye as his left while the other was the average brown. The older boy gave his younger brother a sympathetic smile as Gervaise trudged over to Gryffindor table to sit next to Natalie.

Theodore was surprised that nobody made this connection with the wandmaker, or that there was another boy who had to be related to him that was in their year. Hermione was talking with Elvira; Ron and Harry were speaking with Nick, and everybody else was engaged in conversation except for him and Gervaise.

When the last of the first-years were finally sorted, Dumbledore raised his hands in the air, and the overwhelming amounts of food magically appeared along the tables, causing everybody to grab their share. Nobody seemed to be in the mood for talking as they all scoffed their food down without looking up, except to take more, of course.

Theodore had put the last of his ice cream topped treacle tarts in his mouth before he became full and wiped his mouth. He missed this so much.

Clapping his hands together, Dumbledore stood and smiled to everybody, saying, "Now! I hope that you have fed yourselves to your hearts' content! A few notices before we all head off for our beds: as you are well aware of the trial of Sirius Black, there are four students here who were a part of it —"

Theodore ducked his head just a little bit.

"I only ask that you do not harass these four students into answering your every question in the hallways and classes and that you treat them like they are: your classmates.

"The next notice is that our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher will not be present for the next two weeks, as well as Professor Trelawney. Until they arrive, I will take the responsibilities as your substitute for both Defence and Divination."

"YES!"

Dumbledore held in his laugh while everybody else didn't at the combined excitement of Harry, Ron, Theodore, Fred and George, and some of the others on the other tables.

"I am glad to see that you are excited. But remember that I am your Headmaster and that your teachers will both arrive shortly.

"My third and final notice is that we will be announcing something next Saturday in the morning. However, as of now, our beds are calling to us. Pip pip, off you go!"

"Who makes an announcement for an announcement?" Seamus said out loud incredulously as everybody began to clear from the Great Hall and up the stairs. "Whatchu reckon it's going to be? My uncle told me about a Triwizard Tournament held between three schools was a thing."

"Could be, could be," said Fred with a hand on his chin. "Or they could be bringing the Quidditch World Cup here instead!"

"That's ridiculous!"

"Sure, but I don't hear you saying anything better than that, eh?"

Theodore was the first up on the platform that led to the Fat Lady and turned around to ask, "What about our new Defence teacher? He hasn't kicked the bucket that early, has he?"

"Could be a she. Perhaps Dumbledore tried to change it up because he's been hiring too many blokes in a row. All I know is that I can't wait to have Divination without —" Ron stopped himself when Lavender and Parvati gave him venomous stares.

The conversation about the new teacher carried on as Fred spoke the password for the portrait to swing open. Theodore climbed after Harry and felt the warmth from the crackling fireplace that he missed so much. There were more red squashy armchairs, and the sofa had been removed to be replaced by a massive blob that simply looked like the armchairs, only stretched out further.

Most of the House walked up to their respective stairways, yawning and bidding each other goodnight while some of the older years stayed back to lounge around before they too would jump into their beds.

Theodore was sitting at the back tables with Harry and Ron, still talking about their future lessons with Dumbledore. The three boys were overly excited, thinking that any lesson with Dumbledore could be amazing. Just then did Seamus with a duffle bag over his shoulder come bursting down the stairs and called the 'lads' to come up to their dorm.

"He's got loads of his dad's magazines with…" Dean couldn't finish as he facepalmed hard. "He showed them to me and Neville on the train. Please, just don't encourage him."

Theodore, Ron and Harry gave awkward laughs and contemplated whether going up now was the best option. In the corner of the common room, Theodore could make out Hermione and Elvira chatting away happily with the both of them, especially Elvira, blushing madly.

'Hermione can't be jealous. I mean, I'm never jealous — why would you be jealous anyway, when she's not even your… girlfriend…'

"Yeah, he's completely out of it," said Ron boorishly to Harry. "We'll see you upstairs and leave you to… whatever you're thinking about."

"Yeah…" Theodore nodded, "see you guys later…" Theodore couldn't look away from Hermione at all. He didn't notice Harry and Ron exchanging smirks as he looked onto her secretly giggling with Elvira as the Metamorphmagus left upstairs. A rush hit him again when Hermione turned to see him gazing at her, and he sprung to his feet to leave for the dorm. They were all the last ones down there, and Theodore didn't —

"You're going to go up without saying goodnight?" Hermione quietly called from beneath the stairs.

Theodore saw Ron's legs vanishing into the fourth-year dorm, and he trotted back down the stairs, undeniably red in his cheeks. "Viripin's sort of tired, so I…"

"No, I'm not."

"Well, before you two go to bed, I wanted to ask you something."

Theodore's heart jumped but fell again. She was going to ask him about the day of the trial, when they were both on the lift and they were so, so close to each other. From that day up until now, they never really had a chance to be alone at all, so she had to —

Snap. "Theodore, are you even listening?" Hermione asked a little frustratingly. "I asked you if you wanted to put the wager back on."

"The wager… oh, yeah! Yeah, of course! No way am I backing down! I just hope that you'll be ready for me this year, 'cause I'm not holding back at all."

Hermione brought up a shaky hand and brushed lightly against his cheek to rid the crumbs stuck on. "You're on," she whispered finally with a slightly uneasy smile on her face. She then went on her tiptoes and kissed his left cheek and held his other with her hand, quickly saying goodnight before she ran up the girls' stairway without another word.

And Theodore was just there, left alone in the comforting common room that felt cold against his burning skin. He felt his pocket grow heavier as Viripin slid out, coiled around his arm and around his neck, pointing her snout to the direction he was looking at.

"She likes you a lot, doesn't she…? Do you like her?"

"Absolutely…" hissed the Parselmouth in a soft voice so quietly.

"So what are you going to do?"

'Mine… she's mine…"

Still sick, but I'm pushing and killing this sickness. I just pumped this one in under six hours straight, I haven't got that good of a grasp on how trials work, but it's Harry freaking Potter. I hope you like the change up of the courtroom as well, and everything else that popped up in this chap. How do you guys feel about Peter and Umbridge in this chap, huh? I'll leave you guys to it, but for now I say, later.