The first week of school has already gone past, and I'm sure it's the same for you. Nothing too exciting happening up here, but that's always how the year starts.
Christmas isn't that far away that we can't think about it, right? I know that the chances of us seeing each other is extremely slim, so I wanted to know if you wanted anything — there's honestly no point in surprising you from how far we are from each other.
Anyway, there could be a chance that I might stay a little longer at Stuggle's next summer, so that'll be cool, right? And about that 'thing' that I was going to tell you, I —
Theodore sneezed and dipped his quill back inside his ink bottle as he rubbed his nose. The owls above fluttered and nestled in their own specific spots from their various journeys away from the school, and Theodore had to make sure that he found a place that had the least droppings on top of the straw flooring.
The early Saturday morning was, as he thought, the perfect time for him to write to Louise, for it was the first time he ever faced difficulty when it came to her specifically. Before it was so easy to lie through the ink, telling her all these false things that he got up to during the previous years, but now it was like something was holding him back. Was it because he promised that he'd tell her the truth about him? No, it couldn't be that.
'But I can just tell her. I could just write that I'm a wizard and that I can do magic, right here… what the hell are you thinking, Theodore? You can't tell her the truth unless you want to lose everything you have here.'
Theodore took his dipped quill and ignored the draft coming through the open windows, bringing his scarlet and golden-striped scarf to cover his nose as he scribbled the rest of his letter and folded it into an envelope. "Sawer, are you up there? Where are you?" the Parselmouth called out to the owls above.
As Sawer peeked his head out from his perch and began his descent to his master, Theodore's attention was suddenly drawn to the door opening noisily and somebody nearly stumbling inside. Gioveri was holding a large stack of envelopes in his hand and looked up at the Parselmouth, who looked at him with confusion, before quickly scurrying over to an area near Theodore.
"Oh no!" groaned Gioveri as he slipped on the loose flooring and spilt his letters all over the floor. Most of them dropped to Theodore's feet as Gioveri scrambled to his knees, clumsily collecting them like they were too slippery to hold.
Theodore simply waved his hand across the spilt letters, causing them all to float from the ground and neatly arrange in a perfect pile on his right palm. "Here," he said, sticking the letter stack out in front of him for Gioveri to take.
Gioveri croaked something that resembled a thank you and took the letters in hand before stepping up on the circular platform in the room to call down several owls from their resting places. His face remained hidden, and his letters held tightly between his fingers — Theodore could tell that he didn't want to talk at all. Oh well, like that was going to stop him.
"I've never seen you before," spoke the Parselmouth casually out loud as he punctured the letter and fitted a piece of string through it. "Like in the sorting three years ago. I don't remember seeing you there."
"I, uh… I was homeschooled," stammered Gioveri without looking at Theodore. "My — my family thought about moving somewhere out of Britain… and we did for a while until… Professor Dumbledore said that I could join in the fourth year, so… I did."
'Another person joining after the first year? What's going on with people not coming when they have to?' Theodore finished tying the knot through the letter and gently lifted Sawer's leg as he continued, "So you're Ollivander's grandson, huh? Must be nice to be in a wandmaker family, you and your brother."
Facing the Parselmouth with confusion etched upon his face, Gioveri said a little more loudly, "Brother? I don't have a brother…"
"But that boy who's in Gryffindor, Gervaise. I thought that you two were brothers. Aren't you?"
"Gervaise is my cousin, who is my aunt's son on my father's side." Gioveri blinked so suddenly when he saw his letters rustling against a large gust of wind and continued to attach them to the owls that flocked around him.
Theodore eyed him with suspicion, wondering just why the grandson of Ollivander wouldn't go to Hogwarts when he was eleven like everybody else when he felt a sharp pinch on the back of his hand. He quickly apologised to Sawer as he wrapped the string around his leg too tight, loosened it then told him to fly to Louise to deliver it. "Well, it was good talking to you. See you in… class, I guess."
Gioveri's cheeks became flushed as he returned the goodbye as Theodore left the owlery. To be quite honest, Theodore had no clue why Gioveri was so nervous to be around him. He never thought of himself as intimidating — well, not intensely intimidating — and his reactions towards him did not indicate that. Another speculation came to mind that he simply lacked social skills due to being homeschooled. It wasn't like there were any primary schools for wizards that Theodore knew about.
Theodore eventually forgot about him and started his way down to the Great Hall where now most people would be awake, namely Harry, Ron and Hermione. His popularity hadn't dwindled for a moment during the past week as people still attempted to hi-five him in the corridors or give him suggestive looks as he'd go into lessons. Of course, he'd expect some attention to come his way, but this, especially the latter, not so much.
Chatter rang across the Great Hall as students began to fill it up steadily. Theodore sat down next to Harry and said good morning to them all, all who were particularly curious about what was going to happen.
"Dumbledore's going to tell us the thing, right?" said Theodore. "I've been wondering what it was for a while now."
"Triwizard Tournament, I'm telling you. I'll bet you ten Galleons that it will be."
Ron leaned over to Seamus and shook his hand with a determined look upon his face. "Done. I'm betting that it's something else. The Triwizard Tournament is a little outdated, Seamus, you know that."
"It's on, Weasley."
Fred and George hushed everybody down along the table and sat oppositely to each other, both wearing irremovable grins of anticipation as Dumbledore stood up from his chair — several paper birds made by his hand fluttered around his pointy scarlet hat, but nobody paid attention to them at all.
He cleared his throat to silence the entire hall and remained silent for a few seconds, then he said cheerfully, "My announcement will be revealed at dinner time for you all. Please, enjoy your breakfast. Thank you."
"Is that it?" spluttered George as Fred's face scrunched up whilst squeezing his goblet. "I woke up this early on a Saturday for this? It's the only day that we give ourselves free time!"
"Calm down," said Angelina, rolling her eyes at the boys' exaggerated displays of frustration. "You still got the whole day ahead."
"Yeah, but we've been waiting the entire week until this moment. I'm feeling teased right now."
"Please don't put the idea of Dumbledore and 'teasing' together, ever."
Theodore held his head gently, facing the table with him squinting from the pain in his head. The conversations around him seemed to be fading into the background as his mind was being mercilessly stuffed with emotions and thoughts that were not of his own.
He gritted his teeth to the pain and didn't display any sign of it at all, not wanting the others to carry on worrying about him all the time. Hermione and Ron were discussing the history of Inheritance Tests with Ron trying to worm himself around the worked-up Hermione; Harry elbowed him to see if he was all right before being roped into a conversation with Seamus about what Dumbledore's announcement could be.
'No. I can't take it anymore. I have to find out how to get rid of this thing in my head! He has to help me like Dumbledore said he should. Fuck, it hurts so bad…'
Theodore poked at his plate throughout the rest of breakfast and barely ate what would be considered a 'normal' amount for him. Five minutes until breakfast would come to an end. He couldn't see Professor Snape at the teachers' table, so that meant that he was in his office or classroom — he was never there during the weekdays for some reason.
Theodore ran his fingers through his hair and looked over his shoulder as somebody barely brushed past his back and towards the doors. Nott was walking at a fast pace out of the Great Hall, possibly wanting to be anywhere else than there. But seeing him walking away urged Theodore to leave the table and tell the others that he'd see them in the common room, then follow the lonely boy outside the Hall, and he did just that.
Nott hadn't noticed him tailing behind when he trotted down the marble staircase and to the left towards the dungeons. He stopped only for a moment to flap his clothes and brush at his shoulders before continuing to the archway of the dungeons, but by the time he reached there, Theodore had already caught up to him.
"Hello there," greeted the Parselmouth with a relaxed smile, as if they were already friendly to begin with. "It's Theodore, isn't it? Theodore Nott?"
"Yeah," replied Nott with a little bit of scepticism in his voice. "Any reason why you just stopped me here out of the blue, Riddle?"
"Just… stopping for some normal conversation. I saw you at the trial with… Mr Lestrange."
Theodore could see that he was blatantly unbothered with furthering the 'stirring' conversation. Seeing that trying to get on his good side wouldn't work now, Theodore got straight to the point and said, "Actually, I wanted to ask you about something else. You know a book called the 'Sacred Twenty-Nine', right? The one about the remaining pure-blooded families?"
Nott's face twisted into a mocking smile as he lifted his chin and crossed his arms. "Oh, I see now. You're a half-blood, aren't you? Trying to hang on to whatever 'pure' side that you have, eh? That's just sad, and it's a shame quite frankly," he added deridingly.
"As if I'd give two shits about how pure I am," scoffed Theodore — he was clearly annoyed that Nott was somewhat exactly how he expected. "I've got Muggle blood in me, yet I'm still better than any pure-blood in our year."
Nott bit his tongue at Theodore's retort and furrowed his eyebrows. Theodore thought for a moment that he lost his chance in retrieving the book until Nott said after the silence between them passed, "If you're looking for a copy, then I've got one with me right now —"
'Great! Now all I have to do is see if he'll —'
"— which is the original copy that was left with me after my mother died a few years ago."
The Parselmouth mentally cursed — no doubt that this book was some sort of family heirloom, especially when it was given to him after his own mother had died. Asking to give something like that up to somebody he didn't know had the obvious outcome of refusal, but that didn't mean he wouldn't try. "Would there be any chance that you could… let me borrow it for a while?"
Nott's fit of laughter was drowned by the sounds of the students flooding out from the Great Hall and dispersing around the school. Some of the Slytherins came walking down the marble steps and towards the archway with Draco leading at the front. Nott ceased his laughing when he passed by with Crabbe and Goyle and returned the glares of contempt, given to both of the Theodores.
The two waited for the rest of the Slytherins to pass until the Entrance Hall was fairly empty to speak up again. "I'm not giving it to you," said Nott flatly.
"I'll only need it for a day and that's it. Not a second more."
Nott narrowed his eyes at Theodore: what was he thinking about? Theodore actively avoided eye contact, in fear that his mind would go haywire at any moment and possibly ruin whatever decision was running through Nott's mind. Nott sighed and rubbed the side of his cheek and said, "I'll think about it. Probably would've given it to you if you said please, but oh well. Don't blame me if I say no, Riddle."
Theodore watched him walk further into the dungeons, having the last word like he trumped him somehow. His chances of getting that book seemed extremely slim at this point, and that was with Nott considering it. The library didn't have any records of a book like that entering the school, so it was safe to say that his options were very limited, and that —
"Oh right, Professor Snape!" he said to himself when he realised where he was standing. Theodore took off through the archway and knocked on Professor Snape's classroom door. No response. He knocked again, only harder this time. Still no response. Theodore then moved to his office door and rapped his knuckles against the door.
The door's lock twisted from the inside and the door swiftly opened as Professor Snape's face stuck out between the doorframe, looking particularly aggravated by something. "What is it?! If you keep on slamming so hard on my door, then I'll —" He halted when he saw Theodore standing alone behind the door. "Yes?" he said in a stern but noticeably calmer voice.
"Professor, it won't go away," Theodore muttered with the suppressed pain returning for some reason. "The headaches that I told you about — they're getting worse and worse, and I can't handle it anymore! I — I need help, please…"
Professor Snape briefly looked up and down the empty corridor and told Theodore to come inside. As he closed the door behind him, he then swooped over to his desk and sat down, hair curtaining his eyes as he said, "They're getting worse?"
Theodore nodded. "Can't you help me with that 'Occlumens' thing you were talking about with Professor Dumbledore? I heard you both on the day of the trial."
Professor Snape had his hands clasped together, and he was deep in thought. Did he not think that this was important enough and that whatever else he was doing during the week made Theodore insignificant? Theodore took a small step forward and began, "So? Can't you —?"
"Not today," interjected Professor Snape in a muffled voice. "I can't help you today, but tomorrow — make sure that you're able to come down here tomorrow night at ten o'clock sharp."
"Ten o'clock? I can't go through the castle at that time; I wouldn't be allowed to —"
"If you want my help, then you'll come at this time. Is that clear?"
One more day? He had to endure one more day of his brain being bombarded with unwanted thoughts drilling right through him? What was he supposed to do in the meantime: lock himself away from everybody else until it was time for him to come down?
"I… guess so," said the Parselmouth finally as he scratched his head. Professor Snape ended the conversation there and excused himself to the connected room on the left of his desk, prompting Theodore to leave for the common room without saying anything.
As he passed by several people greeting him along the corridors and up the stairs, his head was pulsing with pain that was growing sharper and sharper. His teeth latched onto the inside of his cheeks that was sure to be bleeding — he was surprised that he made it to Gryffindor Tower without falling off the stairs at all. Theodore spoke the password and stumbled through the portrait with clumsy footing. Luckily, nobody saw him almost tripping over except for one person, who came to his side rather quickly.
Ginny placed her hand on his shoulder and spoke quietly, "Are you feeling OK? I just saw you nearly smashing your face in on the floor."
"Yeah… yeah, I'm all right, Ginny, thanks." Theodore rubbed his temples and looked at her. "Are you all right? Something's bothering you, isn't it?"
"No! Of course not!" Ginny forced a smile and offered that they should sit down instead of standing directly by the portrait. But as soon as they sat down, Ginny became at unease as she lowered her head to whisper. "I don't really have too many nightmares, but sometimes I wake up not even speaking English anymore. Like my brain just forgets how to speak it."
"Oh… maybe I could… look for a book about Parseltongue? I was already going to do that for my Ancient Runes class — look, Ginny, I'm going to help you, OK? But I don't know if I can…"
"Get rid of it," Ginny finished before sighing loudly. "I know. I just wish that I could… forget it."
Ginny leaned back on her chair and looked away at the other Gryffindors gathering in groups, some consulting with Fred and George near the shadier parts of the circular room; others jumping onto the squashy chairs like a game.
Unbeknownst to her, Theodore could tell how she felt exactly: she felt like a freak for not being able to drive Parseltongue out of her system, and — Theodore never even thought about this — rising anxiety whenever she'd look at his face. The obvious question came out of his mouth before he could even think it over. "Ginny, how come you don't ever freak out when you see my face?"
Ginny looked back at him and blinked, slightly puzzled. "Huh? What do you mean by that?"
"You must've seen my dad coming out from the diary before, so you know that I look exactly like him. But you don't ever try to avoid looking at my face — I know that sounds weird, but still. You of all people should…"
Pulling her chair a little closer to the table, Ginny gave it some time for her thoughts to process before she answered, "It's not really to do with his face; it's more with his voice. All I mostly heard was him whispering to me before he somehow came out from the diary."
"But you want to know the real reason why I don't hate your face, which is a ridiculous assumption on your part," Ginny asked, smiling just a little bit.
"All I've got to do is look at your eyes. I do that, then Tom just —" she slid a palm across her other one "— vanishes. Like he never existed. That's how I can tell that it's really you."
Happiness was creeping up inside him; only Ms Padalin had ever said something like this, that his eyes were separate from his face. "I'm glad to hear that, Ginny. Thanks."
Her usual demeanour returned as she waved it aside and widened her smile. Although the rush in his head intensified as time went on, Theodore was glad that he managed to find that out from her from whatever was going on in his head. He only hoped that he could force it down or control it soon. Soon.
"Hey, Theo? Can Viripin stay with me tonight instead?"
"Can Viripin — no. She stays with me."
"Oh, come off it! Please? Please? Pleasssee!"
Theodore spent the rest of the day in the common room in fear that his mind would cause him to collapse, should he have left — to be more specific, he was in his bed with Viripin, talking about anything that came across their minds. As usual, the conversation would always steer towards Hermione being the main subject from the Maibian Adder's efforts, but Theodore was becoming more tolerant whenever she'd bring her up. It's not like he could do anything to steer them to anything else these days.
When it was finally time for dinner, Theodore forced himself away from the dorm room and left Viripin behind with her own pile of bat wings, frogs and mice, then joined his fellow Gryffindors down to the Great Hall as the last one out. Harry, Ron and Hermione were waiting for him outside the portrait and left with each other as the anticipation for Dumbledore's revelation was growing extremely fast.
Everybody gathered in the Great Hall as normal and took their seats along the tables with the empty golden plates and goblets. Theodore was gritting his teeth as he took a seat in between Seamus and Harry, and he tried to dull the pain away with Seamus's voice chattering away beside him.
"… and that was brilliant with those hexes he showed us. He even said that Duelling Club might return when our new Defence teacher gets here," spoke Seamus quickly to Ron and Neville. "Wait — do you think he'll tell us anything about his duel with Grindelwald?!"
"Shut it, Seamus," hissed Dean. "Dumbledore's making the announcement right now!"
Conversations died instantly when Dumbledore stood up from his seat and walked around and in front of the teachers' table — he only ever did this when it was the start and end of the year. Just then, the Great Hall doors swung wide open and allowed five people through to walk in the middle of the Hall as if they were royalty.
Theodore recognised Crouch, Lestrange, Umbridge — her smile towards him made his skin crawl a little — Proudfoot and Savage. Neither of them seemed to have seen Theodore, and he was glad for that. If this announcement required five Ministry officials to be present, then this had to be big.
Dumbledore waved his wand and conjured five wooden stools for them all. "I'm pleased that you have arrived early, Barty; Theodore; Dolores. Now, children! I know that you have been waiting patiently for this day — I know I have. I just wanted to thank you all for that. But as you all know, we are not the only wizarding institution in the world. Several others are scattered across the globe with their own set of remarkable students, such as the ones we have right here."
"Triwizard Tournament, I'm telling you!" whispered Seamus to everybody.
"This year, we have the privilege of reviving an event that has almost been lost to time to reconnect with our sister schools around the world. We are proud to present that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are participating in the Trials of Doomspell!"
It didn't take Theodore long to realise the divide in the reactions across the Hall. All the Muggle-borns that he knew and some of the half-bloods looked completely baffled by what the 'Trials of Doomspell' even was, including Theodore himself. The pure-bloods, however, were grabbing each other by the sleeves with pure excitement on their faces. This had to be really big.
"Oh my fucking gosh!" shouted Ron so loudly, Professor McGonagall turned her head towards the table. "The Trials of Doomspell?! Th-this hasn't been done in over five hundred years — it's basically a tournament when —"
"Sshh, he's going to explain!" said Hermione with intent ears.
Once the noise level dropped and vanished, Dumbledore then carried on with his announcement. "The Trials of Doomspell are, as it says in the title itself, trials within a specially-made tournament between five different wizarding schools, including our own, in a competition to see who will prevail. Each champion chosen from each school are known to be its most formidable student that will compete against the other schools' best and brightest. Barty, will you like to continue?"
"Thank you, Dumbledore." Crouch patted his chest and stood up from his chair as he announced, "The Trials of Doomspell will involve four other schools, as previously mentioned, and will be set in arenas all across Europe. Magical governments across the world have agreed to push back the starting date for the Quidditch World Cup to prepare for this event of a lifetime."
"So that's why the World Cup never started in spring," said Theodore to Harry. "Shit's must be massive to interfere with the World Cup."
"I know, right? It's a shame we never got to go, though. I would've liked to see some professional Seekers to help improve on myself."
"And know this, dear children," Umbridge spoke up sweetly, "this competition will push you to your absolute limits. This will show you what kind of wizard or witch you will grow up to be. So if chosen, make sure that you give it your all and represent Hogwarts in the greatest light possible!"
Ron pretended to retch under the table as Hermione suppressed a smile. A girl with silky, long, blonde hair that was sitting on the Slytherin table stood up with her hand raised — Daphne Greengrass, one of Pansy's friends who had given Theodore one too many looks since their very first day. "Isn't there an age limit to who can participate? I'm sure there is."
"Thank you, Miss… Greengrass," Crouch took over from Umbridge. "While since its birth, the Trials of Doomspell always had students participating to be of age from seventeen years old, the process of choosing a champion is rather simple: every single student has been put through as a candidate, but our 'judge' will only choose the student with the greatest magical potential and prowess of their respective school. But we can assume that it would most likely fall onto a seventh-year; a sixth at least."
"Who are we up against?" shouted a Hufflepuff girl.
"Yeah, who are the other schools? Is Durmstrang one of them?"
"Calm down, please," Dumbledore said in a louder voice. "Further details of the Trials will be revealed at the end of the term, including the participating schools alongside us. I ask one more time that you should be patient when the time arrives. Theodore, Dolores, Barty, please follow me through here. Children, eat away!"
The tables filled up with the vast amounts of food that were of the norm as Dumbledore and the Ministry officials left through the door near the teachers' table to presumably talk in private with each other. Theodore turned his head away from there and was sucked into the conversations that were buzzing around him.
"Ahhh, such a shame, isn't it, Georgie?"
"Why's that, Freddie?"
"Well, it's just that the little ones have less of a chance of being picked than us sixth- and seventh-years," smirked Fred, stabbing his ham with his fork and knife. "You kids won't have anything fun to do for the rest of the year — how sad!"
"It's obvious that they pick the older kids for a good show," said Ron from down the table. "They're honestly not going to let any first-year compete with the stuff that they know. It's all about entertainment, not about who's the best."
"I think our chances are going to be pretty high. If we win this, then Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes would go global! We'd drop out of here as the big bucks start coming in!"
"Mum wouldn't like hearing you saying that, you know," smiled Ginny next to her brother.
"But if it happens, she won't care, would she? Not after we buy her all the sets of silky robes that she wants. Anyway, if they really wanted good entertainment, they'd throw a shit person in the mix. Imagine them against snobby, first-grade wizards. That'd be hilarious!"
Everybody spoke about the Trials all throughout dinner, talking about what could possibly come up and who was the best student around to win it for Hogwarts. Theodore heard the Hufflepuffs saying Cedric Diggory's name from along the table and lifted his head a little to see them shaking him by the shoulders before the rush pained him again.
The time came for dinner to come to an end, and everybody streamed through the Great Hall to split to their respective common rooms. Theodore fell behind a little bit to avoid being so close with the other Gryffindors but was accompanied by Hermione, who noticed him holding his head in pain.
"I've heard about Doomspell before," said Elvira further up ahead to Neville and Ron. "My family back in France have ancestors that have won the competition many years ago when they were in Beauxbatons."
"They always got in, that school. My mum said a Weasley was a champion but got her legs bitten off by a dragon. I hope history won't repeat itself this time."
"It won't with you —" remarked Fred.
"— since you've got little chance to be chosen," finished George as he spoke the password to the Fat Lady.
Ron frowned and kept the frown all the way up to the fourth-year dormitory where he, Theodore and Harry were gathered around Harry's bed to talk further about the Trials of Doomspell. "Dickheads, the pair of them. What makes them so great that they'll have a better chance than me of getting picked? I was a part of taking Pettigrew down, wasn't I?"
"We know, Ron," said Theodore with a smile. "Running people over with magical cars is on a level they'll never reach."
Harry grinned as well and said, "Yeah. Even I'm jealous of you. I mean, flattening Pettigrew with a car? That's just fucking amazing!"
"Stop it; I know what you guys are trying to do," muttered Ron — he couldn't stop the smile from growing on his face. "But in all seriousness, who do you actually think will be chosen out of everyone?"
"Obviously, it's the main man himself, Theodore Riddle," teased Seamus from his bed. "You've got your name plastered on every single copy of the Prophet out so far. You're the Golden Boy, Riddle."
Theodore laughed. "As if. If it's anybody in this school, it'll be Harry. Who else here can make a proper Patronus? Not me. Although, another person I can see being picked would be…"
Ron and Harry looked at each other, then grabbed a shoulder of Theodore to tease the Parselmouth with wide smiles. Theodore instantly knew what they were insinuating and left for his bed. "One day, you're going to admit it, Theo. One day."
"Nothing, Neville," said Theodore quickly. "It's nothing. Anyway, I hope I'm not picked for this thing. I don't have any time to fight other schools when I've got plenty of other stuff to focus on."
"Like Hermione?" said Dean casually as he slipped under his duvet.
"What?! I — no! W-why would you think that?! That's crazy — that's…"
"Oh my God," mumbled Seamus. "Did you actually think we haven't noticed? Well, I only did at the end of last year, but come on, Theo. You two are so obvious."
Ron widened his arms and said, "See? See? Everyone knows!"
"Shut up, Ron!" gritted Theodore before his scowl changed into disbelief. "Wait. So… everyone?"
They all nodded at him and blew out their own lamps by their beds, darkening the room. Theodore struggled to swallow and pulled at his collar — he was burning up intensely. It wasn't possible. No, not everyone. Sure, he had an idea that Harry and Ron knew something was up, but everybody else? That couldn't be true. Unless… unless he wasn't as inconspicuous as he thought he was…
Theodore waved his hand over his lamp, putting it out, and flopped his head onto his pillow, unable to close his eyes. If everybody knew, then… what was stopping him from doing it? From actually asking her…?
"You better ask her out soon, Theodore. She's probably waiting for you to say it to her, sitting in her bed awake…"
"Be quiet, Viripin," hissed the Parselmouth ever so softly as he peeked underneath his bed.
"If you can jump off a tower, then you can ask a girl out. Nothing is stopping you…" Viripin dozed off before it was evident that she went to sleep.
Theodore then laid flat on his bed and looked up. 'She's right… nothing's stopping you…'
On the next morning, Theodore decided to wake up earlier than his roommates to avoid any embarrassment from the night before. It was several hours into the night before he went to bed, and all his thoughts during that time were because of Hermione. He still couldn't believe that he made it so obvious to other people — he was always known for how secretive he was. It was like he noted before: he was getting soft.
Theodore quickly left the common room after getting changed and found Professor McGonagall passing by on the second floor. Seeing the chance to do something about looking for his family on his father's side, as well as helping Ginny, Theodore asked her if he could have a signed note to enter the Restricted Section of the library.
After multiple questions, which he answered expertly, she finally gave in and handed him a note before saying, "If I find that you're attempting to become an Animagus, Riddle…"
"Don't worry, Professor, I promise," thanked the Parselmouth as he headed off to the library.
Theodore entered the library and showed Madam Pince his note — she took quite a while to let him inside — and finally entered the Restricted Section. He thought to himself how he has never tried to enter there during his time at Hogwarts but put that out of his mind when he began looking up and down.
He took to some of the shelves and passed by them quickly, sometimes stopping once or twice when something caught his eye. Several books regarding Dark magic from around the world; rituals with dead runes; magic to do with time; elemental magic and many more were stacked in the shelves filled to the brim, collecting dust as it seemed that not too many people took them out.
Theodore hated passing the chance up of learning magic outside the normal curriculum, but he did have a motive that he was going to stick to. He looked high and low for anything that had to do with Parseltongue, even Salazar Slytherin, but it seemed unattainable as the early morning rode on. Theodore grabbed onto the rolling ladder nearby and climbed all the way up to the highest shelf in the absolute corner. The entire library looked like a maze from above with so many zigzagged pathways between the towering shelves.
'Not even one book about a Founder in here? You can't tell me that useless book from before is the only thing about Slytherin. I can't — hello…'
He reached out for the thick but small book that was squashed in between two others that were about the magic of souls, and about Merlin himself. Theodore used both hands to yank it out and would've plummeted to the ground backwards if he hadn't latched onto a bar at the last second.
'Shit, that was close! All right, let's get down before I kill myself.' When Theodore made it to the ground, he turned the book over and brushed his hand over its skin, noting how odd this book looked and felt. It was like it had snakeskin stretched all over but had grown pale over the years from the lack of sunlight. It was dry, extremely dry and cracked.
Theodore turned it around in his hands and tried to open the book, but it did not budge. He thought the Unlocking Charm would work and tried just that, but the book remained tightly shut. Theodore took the book out of the Restricted Section and found an area to himself and laid it flat on the table. Snakeskin and — with a final check of the outside of the book, he found something that could barely be seen in the light.
Theodore cupped his hands around it and squinted until he recognised the emblem that was etched onto the skin, almost completely faded away. An outline of a shield with the shape of a serpent winding in front of it. Theodore struck gold with this — how lucky could he get?
'OK, OK, OK! This book looks old, terribly old. I wonder if it was Slytherin's… wait, maybe the reason why it can't open is the same reason for the entrance of the Chamber of Secrets. I've got to speak Parseltongue to it. Of course!'
"Op—" Theodore began to hiss.
"Thought I might find you here, Riddle."
Theodore stashed the book instantly at his side and looked up to see Nott leaning against a shelf before approaching him. "So? What are you even doing here, Nott? Come to decide yet? I thought that you would've taken longer than a day."
"Yes, well, rather give you the disappointing news now than later. I'm not going to give it to you —"
"Why am I not fucking surprised?" muttered the Parselmouth sarcastically.
"— but," continued Nott with a frown, "I'll let you read what you want to know for a limited time in front of me."
"Great! So where's the —?"
"Only on one condition."
"Go on…" said Theodore in a lowered voice, careful to hide his frustration.
Nott crossed his arms and began to grin smugly. That didn't seem at all good for Theodore. "I'll let you read it if you're up for a little rule-breaking. Our Golden Boy can't be too perfect, right? If you find a way into our common room without asking anybody the password, then I'll let you read it."
"That's stupidly extra for wanting to read a book," Theodore retorted. "Why would I ever want to do that?"
"Because you want to know more about your family, obviously. Unless you're scared…" Nott raised an eyebrow and stuck his hand out. Theodore bit his lip and thought on it for just a moment, then shook Nott's hand firmly before quickly letting go. "Don't even bother with trying to ask anyone, because I'll know."
"But you wouldn't if I did." Nott opened his mouth to say something, but the Parselmouth said quickly, "I won't ask anybody for the password, I promise. This challenge is already stupid as it is."
"But you're still doing it," remarked Nott as he walked away. "I'll be waiting for you, Riddle. Take as much time as you need."
Theodore watched him walk away, trying to figure out what could he possibly gain from him breaking into the Slytherin Common Room. It could be a setup to humiliate him in front of the rest of his House, but there was still a chance that he would stick to his word. A small chance at that. Theodore picked up Slytherin's book and laid it out on the table, forgetting about Nott as he began to hiss again —
He swiped the book away when something loud slammed in front of him, causing him to jump and swear out loud. Madam Pince reprimanded him from afar, and he apologised before turning to whoever thought that it was a good idea to scare him.
Hermione was sat in front of him with her hair tied back in a messy, thick French braid and a wide, almost mad grin on her face. In front of her was a small box with several things rattling inside and an acronym written on top of it. Theodore was completely puzzled.
"Um… good morning, Hermione…?" was all that he could say.
"It's finally decided, the idea!" she squealed, shaking the box. "I've finally got it! It took me a while to look for the accurate sources in the library, which isn't too reliable with these topics, but it's a pretty decent start!"
"Hermione, what the hell are you talking about?"
"This!" She pushed the box in front of him and told him to read the acronym written in neat, golden handwriting.
"Justice for Inhumane Muggle-born Prejudice of Inheritance Curses and Killings, and Elvish and Non-Human Societies… wait, does this spell JIM —"
"I know what it spells," interrupted Hermione as she took the box back, "but it's what I've been working towards for the past week — I've even been planning this before we came to Hogwarts. It's a movement against Inheritance Tests in wizarding society and getting equal rights for non-wizards as well."
"Wow… that's… wow," nodded Theodore with his hands clasped together. "Wait a minute — where did you even get this idea from?"
Hermione waved her wand over the box whilst replying, "Don't you remember? You're the one who said to start a club, so I'm doing that."
"I didn't think you'd take me seriously, though."
"Of course I take you seriously. Why wouldn't I?"
"No reason," said Theodore quietly as he sat back in his seat. Hermione was busy reading off of a sheet of parchment, then looked up to see him staring at her. Theodore quickly looked away at the shelves and brought his mind to how he was going to enter the Slytherin Common Room.
"Do you want me to give you an overview of what it's about?" asked Hermione before patting her chest to read off of her thick stack of parchments.
Theodore tucked the book under his armpit and stood up. "How about you tell me on the way back to the common room?"
"But you haven't eaten yet. Breakfast has already passed."
"I missed — fuck… I guess I'll have to wait until lunch then. Are you going to stay here?"
Hermione shook her head and grabbed the box, along with the parchments and books that she collected as well, all in a rather clumsy manner. She kindly refused Theodore's help and followed him to the front desk where it took a whole five minutes for him to get the book checked out.
After they left the library and walked up the stairs, Theodore was suddenly reminded of Viripin's words echoing in his ear as if it was alerting him that he had to say something to Hermione right there. She was still struggling with her belongings and stopped several times on the stairs to quickly rearrange them before moving on. Theodore's lip curled just a bit before he noticed that there was something about her, something that he never really took notice of before.
"Hermione, there's something different about you."
Hermione looked over at him and lifted her eyebrow. "Different? What do you mean?"
"Your hair is up," continued Theodore, feeling himself growing warmer.
"Theo, you've seen me with my hair up at least a thousand times."
"Yeah, but… I've never seen you wear earrings before."
"Oh!" she mouthed before blushing a little bit, "these? I — I always had these since the first day of school, but I never really liked wearing them. Elvira found them when I must've dropped them near her bed so…"
Theodore rubbed his elbow and murmured just loud enough so that she could hear, "Well… you look really pretty with them —"
Parchments, books, plain badges and coins all spilt onto the floor as Hermione hastily dove to the ground to collect them. Theodore had never seen her face grow any redder, and he knew it had to be the same for him. He picked up the badges and poured them into the box, slapping himself mentally for saying that out of nowhere.
"Hermione, I —"
"No!" Hermione squeaked, hiding her face under her hair as she picked her books and parchments up. "I-it's fine, I-I don't… Professor Snape!"
Theodore spun around and saw his godfather standing on the edge of a still stairway, apparently coming down from the upper levels that could've only led to Dumbledore's office. "Ten o'clock. Make sure that you're on time, or I won't do this for you again."
"Yes, Professor," Theodore quietly replied before Professor Snape swept away down the stairs and out of sight. The Parselmouth scratched his head and turned back to Hermione, whose face was still red and partially hidden.
"What was that about?" Hermione asked softly.
"Um… just talking about 'bonding time'. Anyway, let's just get back to the common room…"
Theodore followed her up the stairs and through the portrait hole, and he saw that not many Gryffindors had returned. Good. That meant that he could read the book in peace. Hermione quickly secluded herself to the tables on her own and faced downwards for the whole time that Theodore walked across and up the stairway.
'Why did you say that? Why, why, why, Riddle?'
Viripin was curled up on his bed and lifted her head when she saw him approaching. When asked why she was there instead, she told him that ever since the middle of the third year, she always liked to get any of the remaining heat that he'd leave behind when going off to lessons.
Theodore allowed her to rest on his lap as he took the book in his hand. It seriously looked so old. It was a wonder how it didn't immediately crumble between his fingers. "Open," he hissed at the book. Nothing. "Are you being serious? Open."
It didn't move or open at all.
"What's that?" asked Viripin.
"It's a book that belonged to Slytherin, but it's not opening up. I thought Parseltongue would open it, but it doesn't, for some reason."
"Maybe there's a specific password, like a key phrase to open it."
Theodore scoffed and said, "What, like 'I'm the Heir of Slytherin, open to me now'? No, Salazar Slytherin doesn't do passwords, otherwise the Chamber of Secrets would've been harder to open."
"Pretty sure that being a Parselmouth was all that he thought was important to get in. It was a rare thing after all," she claimed, snuggling into her folds. "I'm sure that there's a password, Theodore, you just have to find it."
Theodore sat back and tucked it under his pillow. He could only keep it for a week, and the supposed password could've been anything. How was he going to find it: did he already know but had forgotten it; was it something completely different? Who knew?
The day pressed on as Theodore went down for lunch, eating extra for his missed breakfast. Hermione was sat opposite to him and still avoided his gaze, and it was even worse when at dinner time, the two sat right next to each other. However, Theodore managed to ease the situation when he asked her about her movement, which made her more talkative than at lunch.
When he came back upstairs, Theodore decided to stay down in the common room with everybody else to wait until ten o'clock would hit. Fred and George still paraded around the fact that one of them was sure to be chosen, irking Ron who grumbled under his breath. The common room soon began to clear away as it was a school night, gradually leaving less and fewer people downstairs until only a few remained.
Ten minutes until ten o'clock. Theodore looked around and saw Gervaise in the far corner, scribbling on several parchments; Parvati comforting a first-year girl who had been silently crying in the corner, and Hermione behind him, still swishing her wand and scribbling at her parchments.
"Theo!" he heard somebody call out when he started to walk to the portrait. Hermione waved him over and whispered, "Good luck," smiling that made him feel fuzzy inside.
"Thanks, Hermione. And you shouldn't stay up so late working on those: it's a school night, you know."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Just go."
He grinned then climbed through the portrait, welcoming the darkness that had but some light shining through the windows all around. Taking a deep breath, Theodore stepped onto the moving staircase nearest to him and started his way down to the dungeons. But it was an odd journey for him — nothing went wrong. No Peeves jumping out from the corner, no Filch or Mrs Norris, or even any of the teachers. A perfect path down to the dungeons.
'Where was this sort of peace during the last few years, eh?'
Theodore then found himself standing outside Professor Snape's door that was set ajar. Since when did he leave his door open this wide? Nevertheless, he pushed through gently and entered the office, noting how well lit it was, despite having one source of light coming from the back of the room. Professor Snape, however, was not present.
"Not this shit again. Professor? Professor, are you here —?"
The hidden portrait swung open, and a greasy-feathered raven fluttered inside and landed on the ground in front of the desk. Suddenly, it grew in size, its wings shifting to form arms draped in black clothes, and its hooked beak morphed into a similarly shaped nose. Feathers changed into greasy hair, and Professor Snape stood where the raven did, dusting off his shoulders before sitting down at his desk.
"You don't need to know where I've been," he drawled when Theodore opened his mouth to ask the obvious question. "Two minutes to ten. Well done. Now, sit down."
Theodore took a chair and sat.
"Now, these headaches. Describe them to me and tell me what sensations you are experiencing through them."
"Well, before they started to hurt like now, it was like I could only feel what other people were feeling if that makes sense," Theodore began. "I mean, sometimes when the person that I'm looking at is feeling something really strong, then it'd feel overwhelming. But in the summer when I was with my friends, that's when it started to hurt, and it's even worse now.
"Every time I'm entering a room full of people, it's like they're flooding my brain, like I can hear all their thoughts and feel what they're feeling. But it's just too much. It's too painful, and I can't control it."
Professor Snape closed his eyes and clicked his tongue, then he asked, "And this started last year — not the headaches, but you being able to dive into other people's minds. Was this recent?"
Theodore scratched his temple. "Actually… I think I could always do this, even before I even knew what magic was. I could tell when somebody was lying, or when they felt sad… wait, what do you mean by 'diving into other people's minds'?"
Professor Snape got up from his seat and glided to his shelves of books, strumming his fingers against the spines.
"Do you have any idea about what's happening, or…?"
"It appears that you are a Legilimens," said Professor Snape flatly.
"A Legilimens. Somebody who has the magical ability to peel away at another's mind, to venture through their thoughts and emotions and accurately interpret them."
Theodore had his mouth open, not in shock but in befuddlement. "Wait… I've been doing this since I was at least four or five years old. What, is that normal for someone like me?"
Professor Snape muttered something about giving a book away and shook his head at Theodore. "No, not at all. Legilimency, which is the art of unravelling the mind, is a branch of magic which has to be learned extensively to master. You are an extreme rarity to be gifted with a natural aptitude for this type of magic, especially at such a young age."
"Really…? But what can you exactly do with Legilimency except the stuff that you mentioned?"
Professor Snape summoned a chair with a snap of his fingers and sat down with a stern look on his face. "You can do more than read the mind, feel it even… you can invade it, control it if you wanted to… rip it apart. A dangerous skill is Legilimency, and a terrible weapon at that."
'I could do all of that…?'
"Only the most skilled can perform such feats," said Professor Snape, crossing his arms — Theodore didn't doubt that he just used Legilimency on him right there, "and refine their skills to such a level."
"This is… this is amazing!" exclaimed Theodore with excitement. "So I'm going to learn about Legilimency and how to control it? Ahh, this is —"
"No," Professor Snape stated firmly. "I won't teach you an ounce of Legilimency until you've properly grasped Occlumency to shield your own thoughts, and to stop your Legilimency from spilling into others."
He explained to the Parselmouth what Occlumency was, which was essentially the opposite of Legilimency, closing the mind against Legilimency from the outside and possibly from himself as well. "But why can't I learn about Legilimency instead? That's the main problem here — I should be focusing on how to control that instead."
"You might be a natural, but you lack control. It's easy to tell after what you told me with your mind being an open book for everyone to easy flood into. You must learn to close it before trying to fully control it, otherwise you'll run the risk of permanently damaging it. And it would be much worse, given your age. However, you do show remarkable power and untapped potential just waiting to be released."
"Like my father?" Theodore blurted out.
"Yes," Professor Snape said almost immediately, almost shocking Theodore. He then stood up from his chair and brought out his wand. "With my guidance, you'll master the obscure arts of Legilimency and Occlumency, only under my instructions. Is that clear?"
"Good —" he lifted his wand towards Theodore "— now I'm going to attempt to enter your mind using Legilimency, and you will attempt to block me out."
Theodore gripped the sides of his chair and started to breathe quickly. "Wait, right now?! I-I don't know what to do! I — what do I do?!"
"Clear your mind," said Professor Snape, wand still raised. "Rid yourself of your emotions and suppress everything. Leave it blank. Can you do that? Now, prepare yourself. Legilimente!"
Theodore had no time to think or clear his mind. A hand was violently thrashing in his head, clawing everywhere as images and memories burst from deep inside. Six years old, Louise was crying under a tree at his old school because somebody said that her dad didn't love her… he sat with her, telling her to stop crying which oddly made her laugh and…
A sharp sting was throbbing at the back of his head as it was clear that he had fallen over, terribly in fact. Theodore winced in pain and held his head tightly before he felt himself being pulled up from the ground rather gently. He swayed side to side and found his chair again, sitting down when his vision cleared.
"The hell just happened?" grumbled Theodore. "I hadn't thought about that in years."
"You did better than I expected, but it was not good enough. You were still tied to your emotions and didn't clear your mind quickly enough," noted Professor Snape. "We'll try again. Get ready."
"It would be better if I just learnt —"
"No. Now ready yourself."
Theodore retained his sulky mood and held on tightly to the chair before he heard' "Legilimente!" and felt the hand thrashing through his mind again. Seven years old on the first day back to school, and he was already being shoved around… that pencil didn't just find itself lodged deep into Ryan Douglas's backside, did it…?
He fell onto the ground again, still letting him reach too far inside. Theodore grudgingly got back onto his feet and tried to clear his mind as Professor Snape muttered the spell again and again and again. Memories when he was angry and nobody could cheer him up except for Louise; that day when he made his desk light on fire without anything on it burn to a crisp, or that day he and Louise decided to walk off from that school trip and go near a cliff where she —
Theodore's chest tightened. He didn't know which way was up until he could see clearly again. He was barely rocking off two legs on his chair, almost about to topple over until he found balance again. Theodore breathed heavily and looked down on the ground. No, no way was he ever going to see that. Ever.
"A fond memory?" asked Professor Snape as he stashed his wand away.
Theodore looked at him and said nothing. Professor Snape squinted his eyes and saw something in him — Theodore could tell. He knew that Theodore was hiding something from him.
"Whatever it was, you managed to conceal it from me. The potential is there, I can see that. But we cannot continue tonight anymore, it's late."
Theodore groggily stood up and wiped his sweaty forehead, then aimed to the door — that was excessively exhausting.
"Be here next week at the same time," Professor Snape called out, "and make sure that you practice eliminating your emotions and thoughts every night between. Understood?"
"Yes, Professor," said Theodore quietly in a tired voice. He opened the door but looked back to see him putting his face in his hands and signing loudly. Theodore then left the office quietly and made his way back to the common room. His limbs felt like jelly, but his mind felt even worse. He was desperate for his bed and was scared that he'd accidentally sleep on a stairway if he wasn't fast enough to the Tower.
'What were you expecting? New magic means hard work, right? I can't believe he almost saw that… I could've sworn I made myself forget that…'
The Parselmouth detracted from his slip up and spoke the password to the Fat Lady. The warmness of the room hit him in the face, almost persuading him to drop to the ground and sleep. Theodore yawned and rubbed his eyes — just a little further, he told himself. Then maybe — he looked over at the tables. Hermione was still there, swishing her wand, quill in the other hand as she yawned loudly. Gervaise slipped up the stairway, leaving just the two of them alone. Great.
"Oh, hey, Theo," Hermione yawned again when Theodore took a seat next to her. Theodore looked down at the badges in the box and saw that they were flashing green, red, yellow and blue with the words 'JIM PICKENS' flashing in a sequence. "You guys took your time. How did it go?"
"Great, just great. But I'm feeling stupidly tired right now, so I'm going to bed."
Hermione nodded, put her wand down and stretched. "Well, goodnight. I'm going to see if I can squeeze in any Transfiguration and Ancient Runes homework in the next two hours or so —"
"Hermione, stop. Just go to bed. I know that you're tired, and you know that you're tired. You've been working on that for the whole day, and we've got school tomorrow," mumbled Theodore rubbing his eyes again. "You know you want to go sleep."
"But I… I can still fit some more… it's not like I haven't… all right, I'll go sleep."
"Look at that, I've finally managed to convince you to do something," Theodore retorted through a lazy smile as they both stood up from the table and walked to the stairways. "Next thing you know, I'll — why d'you stop?"
Hermione spun around slowly, and she bit her lip which Theodore couldn't help but resist — wait… "Um… you know when you said… when you said that I was…" Her voice was trembling and so was she.
"Yeah…?" Theodore finished for her — his breathing felt out of control.
"Did… did you mean it…?"
"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't… right?"
Theodore's insides felt like they would explode at any moment. And her face, her face that refused to leave his mind came closer and closer. Hermione blinked rapidly before her eyes closed, and her nose barely brushed against the tip of his own. Every part of him was telling him to push forward, to do what he wanted, what he now craved from her. Both of them were breathing loudly, but neither of them cared. Theodore neared his lips closer to hers and instinctively opened his eyes to see hers, brown and beautiful with —
"Argh…!" Theodore winced as he pulled back. That rush was stronger than anything he ever felt from her. So much care, and too much… no, not that…
"It's your headaches again, isn't it?" she asked before setting her things on the bottom step of the girls' stairway and gently pulling Theodore's hand away to look at him.
Control your emotions, control your emotions, control your…
Hermione kissed him on the cheek, but just barely next to his mouth, just an inch away. She then pulled away and patted his chest, eyes just glimmering with what Louise's were filled with when she saw him again. Was she…?
"Goodnight, Theo," said Hermione before walking back over to the stairway.
Control your emotions…
"How can I…?"
Damn it, Theo, you were so close! So close! Happy New Year, guys (I know I'm late, ok?). So this is where stuff is going to get wild! More schools, more people from different places, and Umbridge being a part of the story much earlier than in canon (god…)!
And we've also got Nott and Gioveri talking to Theo, who may be of some use to him in the future — who knows? Hope you've absorbed everything in this chap and will look out for the next. Later!
P.S: I've also changed the incantation of the Legilimency spell so to differentiate between the spell and the actual person using the Legilimency, since they're the same in canon