Progeny of Slytherin: The Beginning of the Riddle

You're Not Alone, Theo Pt2

He'd been sitting down for far too long now, his eyes devoid of anything resembling mild content — true, Theodore had neglected his sleep for at least a few days now, and the toll was steadily creeping up on him. It'd only be a matter of time before it would drag him violently by the neck, forcing him to shut down at any second.

While it was still past curfew, Theodore felt no urge to return to the common room that was waiting for him. Hell, he couldn't even lift himself from the staircase that he had been sitting on for the past fifteen minutes — it wasn't like anybody could force him to leave: Theodore was lucky that no teacher or ghost had caught him sitting alone.

Theodore ran his fingers through his unruly hair and lowered his chin onto his knees, sighing with the feeling of being unbothered by everything. He tapped his shoes rhythmically, not missing a single beat — he could seriously fall asleep on this staircase at any second now. There was no point in punishing his brain into trying to get the gist of Doomspell.

But he couldn't go back up to Gryffindor Tower, not yet. He just needed more time on his own, just to stay in his head for a little more. Ron, Harry and Hermione: sure, they could be waiting for him right now, but all that was left for him was —

"… and mark my words, Dumbledore, I'm sure that he'll be fine. Rita has been reminded of her boundaries and restrictions time and time again, should she have any at least…"

Theodore's head perked up from the discernible voice that came from above, and his legs instantly jerked to sprint over into a diverging corridor where a grubby suit of armour was standing. He quickly squeezed himself behind it, earning a raucous from the armour before it was harshly silenced.

From just behind the amour's arm could Theodore see Lestrange hobbling down the staircase where he sat, now without his cane and with an expensive-looking pointy hat. He shot a glare at where Theodore was hidden, forcing him to retreat into a blind spot before peeking out again.

"Even with Rita far and away from Mr Riddle, it's far too late to cover him from the press, Cornelius," said Lestrange, just giving a final glance to the armour before his attention shifted to the other two wizards. "Word gets around quickly when a champion has been chosen for Doomspell, especially when it's a fourteen-year-old boy."

"I'm afraid this does put him at a disadvantage against the other champions," Dumbledore said calmly as he waved to a screaming portrait nearby — from where Theodore was standing, Dumbledore's eyes looked distant like he just lost something precious.

"Not only with being the youngest of the champions but with the increased attention as well. Too much of it can have negative effects on boys his age — and I speak from personal experience myself," Dumbledore continued.

Fudge shifted his lime bowler hat around his head while smiling as if confused by the sudden doubt around him. "But what is possibly the worst that can happen to Theodore, eh? Dumbledore, Theodore? I'd say he's plenty prepared for Doomspell, and I firmly believe that."

"Well…" Lestrange started uneasily as he twirled his cane on a single point on the ground, "he was chosen by the Ring of Judgement above several students who should — have more exposure to magic than he has. Maybe… maybe this was how it was always going to be?"

Fudge chortled as if he had won an argument from merely saying a single word before he caught Dumbledore's almost detached expression. "Ah, come on, Dumbledore — I perfectly understand that Theodore is perhaps too young for this competition, and I know that you have picked him as one of your favourites.

"But from what I heard, you yourself said that you believed that his potential was the greatest underneath this very castle's roof! If you have that much faith in him, Dumbledore, then… wonders. He'll do wonders, I tell you!"

'You still think that I caught Pettigrew all on my own, don't you? Having too much faith in one person is stupid, especially coming from you…'

As Lestrange began to lead the way downstairs just before Dumbledore had requested to go through a different corridor opposite to where Theodore was at, Theodore himself listened intently for their voices to dim into nothing before shifting out behind the armour.

It joked that it should scream to give away Theodore's position outside his common room, right before Theodore threatened to curse it by filling it up to the brim with faeces. "Well, somebody's in a bad mood. And you're supposed to be the one representing us… How on earth did you get chosen…?'

After dusting off his robes from dirt and ancient cobwebs that Filch must've neglected to clean, Theodore sunk his hands in his pockets and turned to stroll further down the corridor, ignoring the muttering portraits on the side. Of course, Fudge would have such blind faith in him, even after knowing the truth. Theodore couldn't believe that somebody in such a position could act in a way that — he froze upon turning on a corner where voices could be heard down a lower corridor.

Theodore stepped forwards without haste and felt an impulse to turn immediately when he saw two people, one having their back firmly pressed against the wall and the other's face brought extremely close. His initial thought was just two other students outside of their common rooms seeking 'private company', but that wasn't the case — not the case at all.

"… and you ought to be careful with what you say, Nott. Loyalty isn't something that you hand out like charity —" Malfoy's unmistakable voice and figure snarled threateningly to the taller boy's face.

Nott didn't show an ounce of discomfort from the lack of space between them and even smiled mockingly at Malfoy as he retorted, "As if you're in any position to try and threaten me, Malfoy. I guess hiding behind 'daddy' has gotten to your pampered head. Entitled much?"

"Watch your mouth! I could —"

"You could do what?" Nott broke in harshly, "call your dad to go up in the Ministry and — Riddle?"

Theodore felt his body tense up when the two boys moved their gaze to his direction, and he realised how far out from the corner was he standing, clear for them to see. His eyes were drowsy and felt sore from the irregular blinking of his dry eyelids — he really needed to go bed, but not yet. Not until —

"What are you staring at?" Malfoy spitefully asked Theodore, who took a few seconds too many to see that the question was directed to him.

"Having fun there, are you?"

"How about you get lost — you've got no business here, Riddle," Malfoy added, stepping back from Nott to face Theodore. "Poking your nose everywhere is going to get you hurt like Potter and your other stupid friends."

"Piss off, Malfoy," muttered Theodore, too sapped and unbothered to come up with a decent retort.

It was as if Nott had been forgotten and left behind as Malfoy threateningly approached Theodore, swinging his arms — it made him look like a skinnier version of Goyle with blonde hair. "Oh, I see — of course, it's obvious! Doomspell has gotten to your head, thinking that you're something important. How you got chosen over others is a wonder."

"Oh, I don't know, maybe because I'm better than 'others', including you," Theodore added with false airiness, noting how Malfoy's eye twitched a little bit. "It'd be a travesty how you'd be chosen, but whatever — and like I said, piss. Off."

Malfoy crossed his arms and sneered, scrunching up his pointed face. He too tried to close the space between them. "I'd honestly like to see you try to get past the first trial — people like you have no clue about what's to happen —"

"Didn't I say to piss off?"

"Or what? Surely you can fight your own battles, Riddle — unless you want to bring your filthy Mudblood girlfriend to try and attack me again —"

"Do you want to say that again, you fucking spoiled —!" Theodore seethed with bubbling anger, his fingers reaching for his wand inside his robe in a near instant — it was only just when his fingertips touched the tip of his wand did he feel a presence swooping onto the scene.

"Three students out of their common room far past curfew and — what is going on here?" Professor Snape stood tall above them all, glaring at both Malfoy and Theodore, somehow not noticing Nott against the wall — he was probably already aware of him.

Theodore was unable to let go from his wand inside his robe and merely kept his lips shut, avoiding his godfather's gaze as Nott spoke out from the corner, "It was Malf— Draco, Professor. He was just being a nuisance and — and he called Granger a Mudblood."

Professor Snape twisted his head to look contemptuously at Nott, as if Mudblood had been directed to him before he turned to Malfoy, who, surprisingly, didn't try to defend himself. "I'd advise you to refrain from speaking the word again, Mr Malfoy, whether it should be in my presence or not. Understood?"

"Yes, Professor Snape…"

He stared at the three boys a little longer before declaring, "All three of you are loitering outside your common rooms beyond curfew," he drawled with disappointment. "Mr Malfoy and Mr Nott, I am severely let down from two boys within my own House: five points from Slytherin from the both of you, and another five points from you, Mr Malfoy, for using vulgar language."

"But —!"

"Enough," Professor Snape hushed Malfoy into silence. "Both of you return to the dungeons where you belong — Mr Riddle and I have pressing matters to discuss."

Professor Snape turned smoothly on his heels and beckoned Theodore to follow behind him. His hand was at his side and away from his wand, but his fingernails were dug deep into his palm as he couldn't help but feel the need to curse Malfoy's smug face. Nott had already started to move off in the opposite direction and only looked back for a brief moment before disappearing around the corner.

'One of these days… one of these days, nobody will be around to save your pathetic behind…'

Theodore kept his head lowered as he walked a considerable distance behind Professor Snape, just far enough that he could see him turning into any junction of corridors or staircases — but it wasn't like he didn't know where they were going. They soon reached the marble staircase and the Entrance Hall, and they turned to the entrance of the dungeons, finally arriving at Professor Snape's office. It seemed like months ago when he first had an Occlumency lesson.

Closing the door behind him, he gripped his bag's straps and watched blankly as Professor Snape sat silently at his desk, his greasy hair partially cloaking his eyes. Just mere silence. "You've missed our recent lesson — two, in fact."

"So?" said Theodore, not wanting to sit down. "It wasn't like I was getting any better."

"You were making progress, but you lack patience. It will all come in good time — if you actually waited for improvement, then maybe you'd feel more appreciative of your efforts."

Theodore scoffed and rubbed his nose, returning nearly scornfully, "And that really matters right now? What good is Occlumency anyway when both you and Dumbledore always know what I'm thinking? Even then, nobody's going to try and attack my mind — Voldemort isn't coming back —"

"Don't say the Dark Lord's name!" Professor Snape hissed, pressing his palms firmly against the desk. He pulled them away and allowed them to fall onto his lap upon seeing Theodore's face darken slightly. "Something is troubling you."

"I'm not troubled," Theodore said quickly. He then closed his eyes firmly and attempted to bury his emotions, scolding himself for letting his guard down.

"You were quick to cut me off, and you were successful. If only you were just a little faster, then maybe I could've…"

Theodore's hand was shaking from gripping the straps too tight. If he couldn't block him out in time, then why wasn't he asking…?

Professor Snape leaned forward; then he came up to his feet — his hair had curtained to the side as his eyes were on full display. "You're angry, aren't you?" he concluded from further thinking. "Angry at me… at Crouch; Professor Dumbledore… you're angry at all of it, but deep down, there's something that you're hiding…"

"I'm not… there isn't anything…"

"You're afraid," Professor Snape finally said.

"Of course I'm afraid," Theodore started, his voice only just shaking — composure was hard to keep, but he held onto it. "Ever since the trial — ever since Pettigrew outed me in front of everyone, I've been…! It's been like that ever since I opened that stupid Chamber and — when I found out who my dad really was, I couldn't let anybody find out! I've been trying to keep this a secret, and I've been trying so hard! I've been trying so hard, but now that I'm chosen… now that everybody will know my name, I…"

Professor Snape slowly moved around his desk and had his eyes trained on Theodore, not turning his gaze anywhere else.

"Are… are people going to come after me when they find out who I really am?" Theodore let out, nearly quivering in his voice as his grip on his bag became stronger.

Professor Snape was quick to bring his hands upon Theodore's shoulders and press his fingertips rather firmly. "I won't let —! I will not let that happen."

"What could you even possibly do…?"

Removing his hands from Theodore's shoulders, Professor Snape stood back, face still stony as he said, "I know why you feel so much anger towards me: it was about that day, wasn't it — the day that you were chosen. Is it because I didn't defend you like McGonagall did, foolishly going against —!"

Theodore's palms could've been calloused and bled from how hard his grip was. His lips were pressed tight when he realised his mistake — he should've never followed him down. He didn't understand…

"Listen closely," spoke Professor Snape in a lowered voice, "there's a reason why I didn't say anything to keep you from going down with the other champions. I've known ever since your very first lesson down here with me that you are set above your peers, and over the years, I've seen what you can do, what you're capable of!

"You outclassed ninety percent of all my students at the mere age of twelve when you solved my riddle down in the underground chambers," Professor Snape continued — there was an extremely rare hint of intensity, the mad kind, rising in his voice. "That is why the Ring of Judgement chose you — because your potential far exceeds everyone in this castle. How could I not think that you should've been —"

"But I don't want to do it," Theodore broke in harshly. "I-I don't care about my 'potential'; I don't care about being the best! What good would any of that do when everyone finds out?"

It silenced him. Professor Snape's mouth opened only just, but no words came out to express what he could have possibly felt — what did he even feel? He didn't know what to say, clearly — not what to do either. Why did he go silent? Theodore forced himself to look him in the eye and try to drag out what was going on in his godfather's head, anything…

Nothing. He said, and he did nothing. Of course.

Theodore rubbed his eyes roughly and swallowed with discomfort — why did he even come down there? He turned to face the door and left Professor Snape to watch him go, still lost for words as Theodore spoke before leaving, "I… I'll come next time…"

It felt as if eternity had passed over when he closed the door firmly behind him. Surely it was nightfall by now. Guess he had to return to the common room whether he liked it or not — Theodore was deathly tired, and Viripin would be worrying where he was.

Footsteps from around the corner caught Theodore's attention when he made it just three steps away from Professor Snape's office door — who could possibly be out and about at this time? "Who's there — Nott? I thought you already went back to your common room."

Nott lightly brushed past him with an unusual air of unease as he replied blankly, "Took a long way around. Didn't want to meet up with Malfoy again, so…"

"Hmm…" was all that Theodore could say before turning and heading to Gryffindor Tower yet again. Another three steps before —

"You don't seem all that happy, you know, being a champion for Doomspell," Nott called out. Theodore stopped and looked around his shoulder, barely able to make out Nott approaching him slowly. "I don't know about you, but most people would practically be stuck strutting everywhere if it were them — take Malfoy for example."

Theodore just shrugged, wishing that he could be left alone — he wasn't bothered with telling Nott that. Of course, the conversation ensued.

Nott walked closer to Theodore and continued, "You know, my — Mr Lestrange hasn't said anything to me about you being picked, even if you're too young. I know that he offered you an apprenticeship — I got one too."

"What exactly are you two to each other?" Theodore blurted out — he couldn't help himself just knowing. "I saw you and him at Sirius's trial, and I saw you both together when we were getting on the train. I mean… what is it?"

"Family friend," Nott said, almost as if he didn't want Theodore to know. Understandable, to say the least.

Theodore shrugged once again and aimed to the archway of the dungeons when Nott's voice made him halt in his tracks, "If — If you want to look through my book again… you can if you want."

"Really…?" At this point, Theodore nearly lost all motivation to learn about his father's family.

"Yeah. I'm not going to let you borrow it, though, so don't get any ideas."

"Right, right… I'll keep you posted then."

"What's this — conspiring with the enemy again, Theodore? Oh wait, there's both of you!" a skittish voice from behind emerged.

Before the boys could look over their shoulders to see who had decided to drop in on their conversation, Daphne swept past Theodore in the same manner as Nott, only with more contact, and had her eyebrow lifted to the both of them.

"Didn't know you two were extra friendly with each other," Daphne directed to Nott before turning to Theodore with a nearly teasing smile, saying, "Planning to break into our common room again, Riddle?"

"I won't need to," said Theodore, catching Nott's eye. "Anyway, it's late, and I'm so tired…"

"Well, sleep well, Theo. And you should be inside the common room — no, I won't tell you where I was, thank you very much."

Nott released a sigh of annoyance and told Daphne that he had to tell Theodore one last thing and that he'd follow her soon. After Daphne gave Theodore a playful wave and left the two alone again, Nott then muttered, "She's… something… anyway, remember when you were looking through my book to look for your family?"

"Yeah, so?"

"You were looking specifically at the Gaunts, though, as if they were the family you were looking for. Were they —?"

"I got the wrong family," said Theodore quickly, cutting him off. "If they really were mine, then I'd obviously be a Parselmouth — and I'd be in Slytherin with you lot."

"Obviously…" Nott considered, narrowing his eyes at Theodore before merely shrugging his shoulders and turning to stroll off to Slytherin Common Room.

There was no point in avoiding it now. Sooner or later would he have to go back to the common room. Night had filled the hallways with moonlight being flung across the walls, and Peeves had vanished through a hidden door where he presumably stayed after hours. Theodore still had no idea how no one saw him walking around — not like he would've cared at this point.

"Oi!" The Fat Lady frowned in front of him as he somehow arrived at the Tower without fully realising. "You've been standing there for a minute now, I need to sleep!"

"Sorry, sorry…" mumbled Theodore, rubbing his eyes. "Umm… what was the — oh yeah, Flibberflab!"

Theodore muttered thanks and climbed through the portrait, closing it lazily behind him. The inviting heat washed over as he walked further into the common room — he took notice of the absolute emptiness. Eleven to twelve. Usually, Fred and George would be in the corner scheming on their newest invention. Even others would still be awake completing last minute homework. It was still a school night, however.

The fire was crackling weakly, spitting tiny sparks that died quickly as Theodore sat in front of it, albeit rather clumsily. He smoothed his hands across his face to cool it down before he reached into his robes and plucked his wand out, turning it over to see its base. The faint, obscure symbol that used to haunt him — but now Doomspell had shoved it aside, obliterating it even.

'What the hell even is this stupid symbol? It could just be the Ollivander family crest, but if so, why was Dumbledore wearing it around his neck — and that other guy, the one who was scratched out. Who is he?'

Theodore twirled his wand around in his fingers and pondered more on the sudden thought that appeared on his mind. 'Maybe Gioveri knows about this — I should've read more of Nott's book and seen if they were —'

Footsteps from the boys' stairwell became heard as Theodore halted with the wand-twirling. Although it was quite dark, despite the dying fire, he could perfectly make out his cousin walking through the archway and stepping out before stopping.

"You're still up?" said Theodore with confusion. "I thought that — whoa!" He immediately crawled back from the rapid ignition of the fireplace, as if it nearly exploded. "What the hell is wrong with this fire —?!"

"Harry… Harry, is that — oh, hello there, Theodore!" a happy voice called out seemingly from within the fireplace — Theodore had to squint a few times to confirm what he could possibly be seeing as Harry knelt down beside him. "Well, I certainly didn't expect to see you here at this time. Did Harry tell you that we were meeting tonight?"

Theodore moved a little closer to the flames, which were now green, when the distorted voice was recognisable to him, as well as the face that appeared inside the fire. "Wait… Sirius, is that you?"

Sirius's face gave off a toothy grin and asked again if Harry invited Theodore to talk with him as well, leaving him to reply with, "Actually, I had no idea that you guys were going to do this — is this Floo Powder by the way?"

"Ah well, seeing as it's you, Theodore, I don't mind a single bit — that is if you want to stay and talk. And yes, Floo Powder. This batch has gotten quite nasty while being untouched for so long… anyway, Harry, about your scar…"

Harry grimaced a little like his scar instantly burned upon Sirius mentioning it. "I know you wanted to talk about it face to face, Sirius, but it's gotten better. I mean, I haven't really seen —"

"Your scar's been hurting recently?" Theodore interrupted, eyes now fully open — or as full as he could possibly manage.

"Yeah, it's been hurting," Harry put a little bluntly.

"Then why didn't you say anything? You could've at least come to me first to talk about it."

"Well, it seemed as if you were too busy being on your own, so why bother troubling you?"

The slightest twitch of the eye was how much he could retain the stabbing guilt of realising just how much time he spent away from the others. Theodore watched Harry blink and move his gaze away from him to Sirius to break away from the glaring awkwardness.

"I didn't arrange this little meeting just for your scar, Harry," Sirius continued, seemingly not aware of what had been exchanged between the two teens. "In fact, I'm glad that Theodore is here as well. We'll touch on your scar for later, but I wanted to ask you something that might seem a little vague.

"The children in your year that are born into pure-blood families like Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, all of them; have they, by any chance, been acting rather off lately — at least from a distance?"

Harry and Theodore looked at each other; then shook their heads as they asked why. "I know this isn't supposed to be coming out from my mouth, but I just wanted to have some sort of idea about it. Recently, a few Aurors have decided to come out of retirement for some reason: one example being Mad-Eye Moody."

Something flicked in Theodore's brain as he recounted, "Oh yeah, Mad-Eye Moody, the guy Charlie was talking about during the summer — oh, I forget that you weren't there, Harry."

"Who's Mad-Eye Moody?"

"Nobody really said anything about him, but I'm guessing that he's supposed to be some powerful Auror. A friend of Charlie's — what's her name…? Tonks! Apparently, Mad-Eye's training her or something like that."

"Right you are," Sirius added as his head flicked side to side. "In fact, I just met Tonks and her parents the other day when the final part of my reparations was going through, seeing as we are family."

Both Theodore and Harry's eyes widened at Sirius, but he carried on as if he had picked up his train of thought again. "I never had a chance to really connect with her, Tonks, even when I was fighting against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. I was in Azkaban for most of her childhood, and… for some reason, I thought she'd probably shut me out for that.

"But I was wrong — Tonks hasn't lost that little streak of fun that she had ever since she was a small one," Sirius chortled. "Almost feels as if twelve years in prison went unnoticed by her and her mother. Hmm…"

"So about the Aurors?" said Harry. He seemed just a little more invested in the matter beforehand. "What's so important about them going out of retirement?"

"From what I heard… some former Death Eaters, those who managed to get away with lies about being under Voldemort's control have been missing," Sirius relayed, voice now suddenly lowered and grim. "It's been happening for a few weeks now, probably from when you kids went to school. There's been a lot of talking and just a few rumours, but… some people are thinking that they're regrouping to revive Voldemort."

"But that's not going to happen," Harry spoke at once. "There's no way he can come back when he doesn't have a body."

"You shouldn't think like that — didn't he return to Hogwarts during your first year?"

"He had help from Quirrell though," Theodore noted, "and he was useless when sticking to him like a helpless parasite."

"Whatever you think, the Ministry thinks rather differently. This came straight from the Head of the DMLE — you remember her, right? She's convinced Aurors to go out on searches and to tail on anybody who looks too suspicious. Amelia's got parties going everywhere — but one thing that's got me confused is that Mad-Eye isn't in any one of them."

"Maybe he prefers to do things by himself," suggested Harry, while Theodore hinted that, "Maybe he's too old for fieldwork and is doing an office job."

Sirius laughed and shook his head, forcing the fire to swell before calming. "Mad-Eye sitting behind a desk instead of being on the front lines? Listen, you two, I know Mad-Eye personally, and you'd have to use the Imperius Curse tenfold to get him to work in an office."

Harry's face scrunched up a little as he murmured asking what the Imperius Curse was before Sirius resumed his elaboration. "But with all the investigative parties that have been going around, the sneaky lot are… well, sneaky, to say the least. Nothing is turning up about them — also, they think that Hogsmeade might be worth searching in the near future as well."

"I wonder why," Harry smiled.

As Sirius playfully rolled his eyes, Theodore then said, "Dumbledore's way too close for any Death Eater to hide plans to revive Voldemort in Hogsmeade. I'd like to see them try anything in secret."

Harry nodded, and so did Sirius. "I just want you both to be extra careful — Ron and Hermione too. Remember, Death Eaters have agendas for both of you, even if they are completely different."

Then out of nowhere did Sirius's eyes through the flames light up with near childlike glee as he commented, "I almost forgot, Theodore — Doomspell! I read the Prophet, and it said that you were chosen! Must be feeling on Cloud Nine right about now, eh? Well done!"

Theodore couldn't help but immediately sulk as his face felt heavy. He bit the inside of his cheek, feeling everything that had accumulated during the day mesh together to run rampant inside him.

"What's wrong?" asked Sirius, clearly puzzled.

"Nothing."

"Christmas is not that far away," Sirius almost effused — he was doing well to avoid the sudden surges of tension between the three, "so I've been thinking that I could pop down to Hogsmeade to see you lot!"

"That's great! But don't you have a house in your name — your family was supposed to be really rich and all. We could just go there instead."

Furrowing his eyebrows just a little, Sirius confirmed it; then he said, "But Hogsmeade feels more at home than where I grew up. Ah, I remember bunking in Hog's Head for three days during Easter without old Aberforth having a damn clue. I wonder if he'll let me rent a room out after all of that… I can even stay a little longer and spectate Doomspell from your corner, Theo."

"Thanks, Sirius," Theodore forced through a smile before Sirius bid them goodnight after realising that it was a school night, and after screaming in the background to some sort of creature.

The green flames reduced themselves back into their measly form as Harry and Theodore retreated from the fireplace, Harry standing up to walk off while Theodore remained seated. No, he was too tired to stay downstairs alone, still stuck in his own head. He needed sleep — 'craved' was the appropriate term.

Theodore rubbed his forearm and reached out for his bag on the left of his leg, the bag that was supposed to be there where he dropped it before sitting down. His eyes stung when he forced them wide open to see where it could've been but lifted his line of sight to see Harry slowly swinging his bag just a few steps away.

"You look tired as hell," said Harry flatly.

"Thanks," Theodore returned sarcastically with his hand raised, "now can I have my —?"

"But I'm not tired, though, not at all. So we're just going to talk some things over before you can get your precious beauty sleep, yeah?" Theodore gave Harry a dead stare which did nothing to make him return his bag. "Why are you avoiding all of us? At breakfast, lunch, dinner — even after lessons, you're nowhere to be found. It's because something stupid is bothering you, isn't it —"

"It's not stupid," Theodore nearly snapped before yawning. Harry cocked his head a little as Theodore narrowed his eyes, just hoping that he could just be left alone… Not a single change in Harry's posture. Oh well. "It's not stupid. I'm sick of it, Harry: all of the attention that I'm getting from this and before. I hate it so much — sometimes, just for a single moment, I even wish that I wasn't a part of capturing Pettigrew —"

"Why would you say that?!" Harry instantly lashed out, glowering down at his cousin. "Without you, Sirius would've been on the run, maybe even killed! I wouldn't have — why would you even think that?!"

"You've seen the way the paper's got our names — my name plastered on every single newspaper ever since we caught Pettigrew. Nobody's going through a copy without seeing us inside. Not only that, but my fucking face is on there as well for everyone to see it clearly, for everyone to know who I am!"

"So what?"

"So what?" Theodore repeated, feeling his skin growing hot as he stood up to properly face Harry. "So what?! Harry… there are people out there who went to school with Tom Riddle. There are people out there who could recognise him in an instant, and when they see me…? When they see me… a boy called Riddle who looks exactly like his father, then what?"

"Then what, Harry?" Theodore forcefully asked him, demanding for whatever possible answer he would gain from him.

Harry's eyes made him lost for a moment before he spoke again, softer than before. "But nobody knows that your dad became —"

"People know," Theodore muttered — his nails were digging harshly into his palms. "You don't honestly think that there isn't one person out there who knows who really is? They'll find out; they'll tell everyone, and then…"

"Even… even if everybody found out, you'd still have us by your side, Theo. Nobody can —"

"Nobody can what?"

"If you just listened, then maybe I'll tell you."

Theodore shook his head and roughly scratched his hair, groaning loudly before he glared back at Harry, now breathing heavier than before. "There's a reason why Professor Snape didn't just take me from Stuggle's instead of leaving me there like he did. He said that people wanted to kill me, Harry. They — they wanted me dead because… because what, that I'd be just like my dad? Because of what both my parents did…?

"Then what happens if they find out now, that the person they've been praising was really Voldemort's lost child? I wouldn't know what to do, and I don't know what to do now — nobody can help; not Dumbledore, not my own godfather, not —"

"Me?" Harry finished tonelessly. Theodore felt his throat constrict but didn't look away. "Theo, if you think that I can't help you, then… then that's fine. Maybe I can't help you like you help me sometimes. Perhaps that's just the way it is. But don't ever think that I won't try, or that Ron won't try. Even — no, especially Hermione. She wouldn't care if nothing she did worked, and neither will I."

Despite the deathly tiredness shifting his vision at times, Theodore refused to give in, but he still didn't say anything. Harry was right after all. Of course he was.

"I'll admit that I'm not the most observant person in the room, probably ever," Harry continued, "mostly when it comes to seeing what's between the both of you — I mean, I had just some thoughts, but the thing that I always knew was that Hermione cares a lot for you, Theodore. Maybe even 'that' much.

"And seriously? It hurts when you still don't put your trust in us with your problems. I get it, OK? At least now I do. So…?"

"Yeah, well… I've always got problems: a lot, in fact," said Theodore as Harry approached him with his bag being slung around his shoulder.

"No surprise there. It's you, of course."

Theodore gave out a weak chuckle and patted Harry on his shoulder, feeling something immovable within himself shifting to become lighter. Not by an immeasurable amount but noticeable. Just enough. Harry was the first to turn to the stairway as Theodore trudged behind with the very bare energy that he could possibly spare.

'Tomorrow's still something… something important, really important…'

No, too much thinking. He'd drop on the floor if he'd overthink on the particular date that was tomorrow — or today for that matter. Theodore gave one final lazy glance to the clock that read twelve twenty-nine, nineteenth of September before he followed Harry up into their dorm room where he luckily managed to change into his pyjamas and drop on his bed, out like a light. Today was an important day that he couldn't remember. Something special…

Thick, bushy brown hair that he loved to watch bounce softly as she walked… beautiful brown eyes that he couldn't help but get lost in… and lips pink and full that he wanted to taste so badly…

"Hermione…"

"And… I'm finished. Finally…"

Theodore stuck his cap on his quill and moved his mountain of homework to the side, rubbing his face from finishing it all in just under five hours. The common room was at its usual level of volume with Fred and George conducting several 'experiments' on first- and second-years for everyone to spectate as if it were a circus. Although the noise was rather extreme at times when one person's cheeks would inflate like a balloon, causing them to float in the air, Theodore was instead focused on himself at the back tables on his own — well, he attempted to be focused. It was more distracting himself than anything: the previous night with Harry and Sirius was still fresh in his mind.

The mysterious Slytherin book was still unopened, and methods of finding how to reveal what was underneath its fading binding were growing thinner by every passing second. He almost completely forgot about it until Viripin sniffed it out from the inside of his trunk — it was, at this point, fruitless to try, however.

"This is probably made of stone or something," he grumbled as he stuffed the book into his bag frustratingly. "Why else isn't it opening? I wonder if Nott wasn't lying about the book — might even check right now…"

He left his bag underneath his chair and started to walk away from the table to find Nott wherever he was until the sound of something heavy slamming onto a hard surface came from behind him. From the corner of his eye could he see Hermione laying out several books and stacks of parchments on the table with an impassive expression.

The temptation to sit with her fought against wanting to search for Nott in the castle, but Theodore's decision was easy to make, oddly enough. He turned away from going to the portrait hole; he narrowly dodged Neville dashing past him with smoke coming out of his ears and others with purple boils on their faces; then he stood by the table.

"Hi," he said quietly, even though his throat felt parched for some reason.

Hermione scribbled for some more until half the parchment was filled before looking up. A false, small smile came across her face before she dipped her quill into her ink bottle — the smile vanished as quickly as it came. "I thought that you were just leaving."

"Well I was, but…" Theodore trailed off. Hermione didn't even bother to look and carried on drawing symbols meticulously as if he wasn't there. Theodore chewed the inside of his cheek until he could faintly taste blood. "Maybe I should just…"

He backed away slowly and aimed to the portrait again as he ignored the ghastly foreign sensation that was churning in his stomach — so this was how it felt when he ignored people. Theodore was just a step away from the outside of the common room, the churning getting worse until he walked back to sit on the chair opposite to Hermione.

Hermione blinked at him but as expected, she lowered her head and went back to her work in silence — a question regarding if she wanted to talk alone with him came out of Theodore's mouth as she responded, "We've got homework for Professor Babbling that's due tomorrow — I haven't gotten around to it because of JIM PICKENS."

Theodore nodded slightly as she went back to work without looking back at him. If this were how it felt for five minutes, he'd hate to be exposed to several days on end.

"Hermione?"

"Hmm."

"Look at me," he said, bringing his chair closer to the table. Hermione huffed a little through her nose and waited just long enough before her blank stare was directed towards him — she kept it only just until her attention was dragged again by her homework.

She seemed… dull — as if she was suppressing something. It was only just a quick glance, and Legilimency or not, Theodore could tell that it was because of him — it had to be, of course. But she still cared. He was going to fix all of it and explain to her and Ron; then apologise. He knew that she still cared, right? She was hurt and didn't want to put it on display, so…

"Hermione, if I'm —" Theodore began at the same time placing his hand just an inch away from her free hand.

"Theo!" called Katie from the end of the common room near the portrait hole. "Theo, Professor McGonagall's calling for you just outside — she says it's urgent as well."

"Of course it is — I'll be back soon, yeah?" said Theodore, pulling his hand away and standing up to leave for real. Hermione lifted her shoulders and swapped out her parchments for a thick book on wizarding war history without a sideways glance.

Churning and churning…

Theodore climbed out of the portrait hole but didn't even need to walk further down, for Professor McGonagall was already standing by close enough. "Mr Riddle. I'm lucky that you were inside instead of being out and about like usual — I was almost about to turn the castle upside-down for you.

"Back to pressing matters, it is the Headmaster who is calling for you. Again, I am the messenger between the both of you, hmm?"

He expressed a small smile to her that melted away into something inscrutable. Before Theodore could press on to Dumbledore's office, Professor McGonagall held her hand out to stop him — she looked at him rather softly and straightened her hat. "I do apologise for the situation which you are in, Mr Riddle — it's as if last year hadn't happened at all. If I'm being honest, I would've never wished this upon you," she confessed regrettably.

"There's no turning back now, though. What's done is done, even if I didn't want to do it…" Theodore whispered to himself at the end. Professor McGonagall's eyes suggested that she heard him clearly, but nothing more came out of her mouth as she led the way.

'Still can't believe it… the highest magical potential in the school, and it's me. Out of everyone, it's me…'

When they reached the stone gargoyle, and Professor McGonagall said, "Rowtrees!" Theodore then followed her up the stairs and entered the room where Dumbledore was standing comfortably by his desk — but it wasn't just him. Theodore froze on the spot from a horrible mix of feelings inside by only recognising the other wizards and witch in the room.

Crouch swivelled around and scanned Theodore up and down before he flicked his fingers in the air to summon Percy to his side — he bustled over with parchment rolls tied up and floating behind him like balloons, and he gave the faintest curl of the lip to Theodore before Crouch started to whisper something in his ear.

Fudge, however, politely tipped his hat to him with a broad grin as if he were about to be treated to a banquet of grandeur sorts. But the core of the horrid sensation inside him, dwarfing Crouch's presence and the churning by far was Umbridge sitting down near the door which Theodore had never seen opened before in the corner of the office. The ends of her smile nearly touched her ears, and her bulging stare towards him nearly made Theodore nauseous — the slight tilt of her head almost sent him to the edge.

Why was she there — why was any of them there? Theodore felt his chest swell up from the sudden need to back away and leave, but as if he could do that, or if any of them would let him. Once Theodore's arrival had caught everyone's attention, Dumbledore moved away from his desk, still forever cheerful as he said, "It's all right, Theodore. No need to look so apprehensive."

"I'm not apprehensive," Theodore assured him before patting his chest, "I mean — I'm fine, Professor Dumbledore, thank you. Is there a reason why you called me up here?"

"Why, yes, there is!" Dumbledore replied — Theodore couldn't be too sure, but it almost looked as if all of them were closing in on him ever so slowly. "This was rather on short notice, but as the people representing Hogwarts and Magical Britain other than you, of course, discussions are in order. After all, you are the youngest Champion of Doomspell in several decades."

'Just great.' "So we're just going to talk about how much of a disadvantage I have against the other schools, aren't we?" Theodore caught Crouch opening his mouth and expertly cut him off by quickly declaring, "Then I only want to speak with Professor Dumbledore."

"T-Theodore," spluttered Fudge with a confused smile, "remember, we're all a part of this; nobody needs to be left out."

"But I'm the one competing, not anybody else."

Umbridge cleared her throat loudly for everyone to hear and added, "If the Ministry has participated in organising such an event across the world, then they surely must have some right in being involved with the chosen champion. Isn't that right, Mr Riddle?"

"Last time I checked, it was 'Hogwarts's' champion, not the Ministry's," Theodore countered in a lowered voice, nearly daring Umbridge to do anything other than her usual tick around her mouth.

"Riddle!" chastised Professor McGonagall before Fudge put his hand up to wave it aside and say, "If you feel comfortable in confiding in your teachers, then that's perfectly understandable. After all, this must still be overwhelming for you. But promise to not keep us in the dark for too long, eh? Barty, Dolores: if you will."

Fudge shook Dumbledore's, and a reluctant Theodore's, hand on the way out as Crouch and Percy followed suit — Percy gave him a quick nod but soon regretted it when Fawkes singed one of the bundles with his tail while swooping above. Umbridge lifted her chin and trotted behind them — Theodore almost grinned when he saw Professor McGonagall press her lips together tightly as she glared at her departing before she left too, leaving just Theodore and Dumbledore as he wanted.

"Please, sit," offered Dumbledore when he walked around his desk to sit at his own chair.

Theodore sat down without any grace and just came out with it. "Professor, be honest: do you actually think that I can get through Doomspell without anybody finding — w-what I meant to say was alive! If I can get through it alive!"

"I wouldn't want you to think like that, however. It's rather, how would you say, dispiriting to oneself."

"Have to be somewhat realistic. If you don't think I can by any chance, even just the slightest, then can you at least teach me anything that could help? Like anything at all?"

Dumbledore sighed and interlocked his long fingers together, shaking his head slightly as his beard swayed as well. "I'm flattered that you thought of me first for assistance, Theodore, I am. But I'm afraid that I may only act as a simple guide from the corner, and that I cannot do much to help. It's all up to you."

Theodore fell back in his chair and rubbed his face harshly, just on the verge of spilling out everything he said to Professor Snape and Harry, but Dumbledore was suddenly out of his chair and leaning on the side of his desk with a determined gleam in his eye. "But, young man, I shouldn't expect you to lose any hope in entering Doomspell. If there's anything that I admire about you is that you're remarkably resourceful, and that has been one of your strongest traits.

"That is how you'll prosper, Theodore: not from the sheer talent and power that you possess, but from using your wits to your absolute advantage and turning to those who are close to you, do you understand?" Theodore thought on it for a moment, then nodded as Dumbledore clapped and went to sit back down — he flicked his wand above his head and summoned a multitude of books to fly around him and land in towering stacks on the ground beside him.

"Now, I didn't just ask for you to see me regarding Doomspell — this is somewhat related to it, I suppose. At the end of this week, my schedule should be free," Dumbledore continued casually. "If you are willing, you are free to join me on my travels outside the castle. Think of it as a chance for inspiration to kick in."

'Outside the castle? But where would — oh, I get it. It's one of those hidden lessons that he loves giving.' "Uh, sure, sure, but could you tell me where? Is it far, or…?"

Dumbledore tapped the side of his crooked nose and gathered several weathered tomes onto his desk until a voice from higher up spoke out — Theodore looked up at the collection of portraits of the previous headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts and picked out a single one that wasn't sleeping.

"Dumbledore, my dearest great-great-great grandson has just relayed to me that Alastor will be arriving at the end of the week due to 'bloody Ministry intervention' as he put it," drawled a wizard with a pointed face dressed in silver and green robes.

"Excellent. Give my regards to Sirius, Phineas, he's been very eager to help me lately," Dumbledore thanked the wizard who secretly rolled his eyes at him.

"Sirius is your great-great-great grandson?" Theodore questioned as he stood on his tiptoes to see etched into the golden framing Phineas Nigellus Black. "Didn't know he had a — wait, how can you even talk to him when you're just a portrait?"

Phineas scoffed and glowered at Theodore, remarking, "He's not very smart, is he? And this is our champion, an ignorant, insolent adolescent?"

"Did you just call me — ah, whatever!" Theodore ignored Phineas's mouth that was agape at him and sat back down to ask Dumbledore another question. "Professor, who's Alastor? Is he from the Ministry?"

"All I can tell you, Theodore, is that my time for teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts is finally up with our newest teacher to be arriving soon," Dumbledore explained — his book had its text glowing in pink and green colours (Theodore didn't want to question that at all), "as well as Divination. Dear Sybil has returned from her — ahem — illness, and so, I'm afraid, it'll be back to remaining in this room for hours on end."

"You still have Fawkes," said Theodore as he tried to shrug off his disappointment (he's been doing a lot of shrugging lately).

"That I do," chuckled Dumbledore. He then closed his book and placed it gently in front of him and leaned forward with his fingers interlocked again. Theodore remembered the distant look he had from before and almost saw it return before the controlled vibrancy sprang out. "Theodore, if there is anything that is troubling you about all of this, my door is always open — I'll be here for quite some time when looking at the near future."

"Of course, Professor," Theodore lied expertly with the smile of slight vulnerability and a tilt of the head. 'Ask about Ollivander and the symbol. Go on…' "I'm going to get back to my common room now — I still need to think on this some more."

"Understandable — and don't forget what I said: turning to those closest will get you much further than what you could possibly imagine. Take this from a man who had to learn that lesson in the hardest way. Until next time, Theodore."

Theodore said his goodbyes and walked out of the room after petting Fawkes on the head. He waited as the gargoyle-staircase rotated to let him out into the hallway where he was met with a horrible surprise: Crouch, Umbridge, and Fudge were gathered up just a little away from where Theodore was standing — there was no way that he could possibly avoid them.

Fudge, as expected, was the first to see him walking along the corridor and immediately stepped in his direction when out of nowhere, as if she were a guardian angel did Professor McGonagall come around from the corner to pave the way for him past the offended adults.

"He is an extremely hard-working child that needs all the rest he can get — I apologise, Minister, but that's the way it'll be," she harshly proclaimed while guiding Theodore away by his shoulders.

"Thank you," he whispered when they were at the end of the corridor and out of their sights. Professor McGonagall waved him away to return to the Tower with a smile that she couldn't possibly contain as Theodore did just that.

Sunset was dawning upon the castle as orange beams cut through the windows, slowly darkening as night was approaching soon. There were more people out strolling along hallways and stairs than he'd usually realise — Luna waved at him from three floors up, somehow being able to recognise him.

Theodore took in to the soft atmosphere around him, wondering how the day could be over so quickly so early into the year. It was only just the nineteenth of September: usually by October, it'd be — nineteenth of September… nineteenth of September…?

"You idiot! You fucking idiot!" he shouted so loud just before the Fat Lady's portrait.

"You certainly got a mouth there, don't you? No discipline among these children, I swear…"

Theodore tugged at his hair viciously when he finally understood it all — he remembered why today was so important; why it was so special; why Hermione was acting the way she was towards him. Her birthday… he'd forgotten her birthday for the entire day, not bothering to wait at breakfast for him to remember; not bothering to remember during their single lesson together on the day that was Potions — the day had gone by so quickly, and he…

"Idiot…" was all that he could say to himself before hesitantly speaking the password and climbing through, the churning going at ridiculous speeds, too fast for him to stomach. "You ignored her and forgot her birthday… what kind of person…?"

He slowly stepped further inside and observed the common room to see if anything had changed. The noise had been depleted by the severe lack of his fellow Gryffindors being present: he could count just five from where he was standing, and not a single one of them was in his year.

"She left…" he mouthed as the churning felt too much like a rip was running across his chest. Theodore couldn't even facepalm or pull at his hair anymore. What else was he supposed to expect, for her to actually wait for him like he wanted?

Five Gryffindors, not including himself, turned to four as Theodore went over to the squashy sofa to drop down to the ground and bring his head back to blow through his mouth. There was still some time until the night would fully set, but his chances were practically zero. Tomorrow, he'd — what would he even do when he'd see her? Apologise like it was nothing?

Theodore rubbed his wrist and brushed away at the floor that was partially littered with withered fireworks in shapes of spirals, unicorns, gnomes and dragons. He picked one up and flicked it away into the fire before remembering that his homework was left behind on the table. Well, if he could expect one thing to go right tomorrow, it was that his teachers would be — the soft pattering of feet coming down the girls' stairwell reached his ears, but he didn't turn to look. That was until it grew faint, then a little louder; then stopped just a few steps away on his left.

Standing there, legs slightly crossed was Hermione with her wand in hand and his bag in the other; his homework floating just on the right side of her head — her hair was tied up into a large bun, displaying her earrings that she didn't seem to leave off anymore. Hermione was still in her uniform, minus her shoes, robes and jumper, and Theodore, just for a second, paid attention to the fact that her top button wasn't done up, something that was all too odd for her to do. But…

Hermione's expression didn't change much from before he left as she lowered her wand and his homework consequently onto the table where she knelt down and unzipped his bag to put his homework back inside slowly.

"You don't have to do that," Theodore said in a voice nearly too soft for his liking as he moved forward to reach for it. "It's fine. I'll do —"

Hermione lifted an eyebrow towards him and carried on filling his bag carefully while Theodore fell backwards with his back against the sofa. She didn't once look up as she fitted each parchment to slide inside without crumpling up — Theodore could see that she must've ordered them before he arrived. He just watched her in silence, taking note of how the fire made her skin glow as if — no. No, she was still mad at him. He ignored her when he shouldn't have; he forgot that it was her birthday, but here she was, helping him. She knew, she had to know…

Once she was done, Hermione then zipped the bag up and left it to lean against the leg of the table before coming back up to her feet again — she was leaving again. She only came down to give him his homework, and that was it. But she didn't walk away. Although it was close enough to crawl over, Hermione took a stride and sat next to Theodore cross-legged but left a considerable space between them — he wanted to close it the second she sat, but he held it off completely. That would be so stupid of him. He had to stay put.

Hermione was tapping her nails on the floor and was staring forward, occasionally brushing a few strands of stubborn hair that would refuse to remain behind her ear. So they were just going to sit in silence until either of them would say something? Why did such a small amount of space feel as if they were strangers to one another?

"You know…" Hermione murmured finally, her finger tracing shapes onto the floor, "when something is not right with you, you always want to shut yourself away. I knew that already. But what I don't understand is why you do it. Is it because you don't trust us enough to know what's hurting you?"

"Hermione, I do trust you," Theodore insisted without forcing his voice to go louder, but it seemed as if he was incapable of raising his voice around her. "You, Harry, Ron — of course I do."

"I don't know too much about Harry and Ron, but I can't stop myself from overthinking it all when you act like this, and when you do, it really worries me — us!" Hermione quickly added as she straightened her legs and caressed her face that grew a faint shade of pink.

Theodore turned his head to face her, and she did the same instinctively. She was losing her hold on keeping her face vacant, but it was still strong. "If I did, then I'm sorry for that. I know that I… I just don't think straight when I'm like this, and honestly, I've barely changed," he whispered quietly to himself.

Hermione blew out from her nose louder than usual and interlinked her fingers in front of her before saying, "Then don't apologise. You won't ever have to apologise if you just talk, OK?"

"OK…"

"OK," she repeated before she used the sofa for support to lift her up — Theodore blinked when she was halfway up on her feet as the space grew immeasurably. "Well… goodnight then. I'll see you —"

Her words were cut off when she was stopped from taking her first step to the girls' stairway. Four Gryffindors, not including them, turned into two, both unobservant of Theodore and Hermione holding hands. Theodore had caught her hand by both of their surprises, both momentarily frozen — but then, the words just rolled out on their own as he asked her, "Can… can you stay, please…?"

The pinkness had grown stronger and spread to her nose. Hermione was blinking profusely, and more pressure was being applied to his fingers until she nodded without a word and calmly sat back down next to him — their thighs were touching, and Theodore let her arm fall to her lap, even if he could hold it forever. Hold her forever… His heartbeats were thunderous again, and his skin had grown so prickly with heat that it was hard to resist slapping against it. But it didn't matter — just two Gryffindors left, only Theodore and Hermione, him and her. No one else.

Theodore was holding his ankle tightly as Hermione brought her left knee to her chest to rest her chin upon. He could feel her shaking just a bit, and the pink was still growing across her face — was his face pink as well? Theodore quickly kneaded his cheeks, then focused back on Hermione to see her head swaying side to side in a relaxed rhythm — she was happy…?

A soft snort escaped from his nose as he bit his lip to force the unneeded smile not to show itself, but Hermione already noticed and asked him what was funny. "Oh, nothing," Theodore simply replied as he looked around the common room to see how truly huge it was for the first time: Godric Gryffindor's portrait; the grand clock that — nineteenth of September.

"I, uh… I didn't get you a gift today…" Theodore confessed painfully as he too brought up his leg to his chest to mirror Hermione.

"It's that what you were laughing about?"

"No! No no, of course not! I was — because I was keeping to myself like a stupid —"

Hermione pressed her thigh just slightly into his, and she decided not to look anywhere else except at him, only him as she said, "You never needed to get me something for my birthday — well, it did take you some time to say anything, but wishing me happy birthday is perfectly fine, just like the other times."

The clock read twenty past nine, although the four was oddly shaped to resemble a three when looked at closely. Twenty past nine, the nineteenth of September. He could say happy birthday just like all the other times… but it wasn't like all the other times.

"Now's your chance," Hermione noted when Theodore went silent for too long. Her legs were now stretched out and crossed over each other, and she was sat in a poised position waiting for the simple words to come out of his mouth. Just waiting.

'Now's your chance.'

Theodore shifted his upper body to face Hermione the second that she opened her mouth, most likely to ask him what the matter was. His leg was lined up against her thigh, and he was already so close. But he wanted more of her, he craved to be closer to her. Theodore slowly shuffled his body into a more comfortable position until he and she were but as close as he could manage without —

Theodore stopped moving when he saw her up close. Hermione was trembling terribly, her arms, legs, her entire being unable to keep still. She was nervous, scared even, and so was he. He couldn't imagine how he looked from her eyes — probably even worse than she was. Her agitation only piled up onto his, and his onto hers vice-versa. Almost there.

Now's your chance…

"Hermione…" Theodore began in a voice so tiny, he couldn't believe that it was his own. Hermione's gaze didn't exactly line up with his own, hers just focused a little lower, close to his mouth. "Hermione, you're… amazing… you're just amazing…"

Her jaw was juddering as her eyes refused to move away from his mouth — her shaky hands were tightly clasped to her skirt, and her breath was growing heavier as was his. It filled their ears as the only possible sound in the world as Hermione swallowed once more and forced herself to look Theodore straight in the eye, apprehensive to try but trapped to stare when she did.

And he saw it. Those feelings that felt so overwhelming when he first experienced it. Unbridled and unrestrained, so much just contained into a single person. It was unmistakable, and he couldn't run from it at all. Love. So much love from her, and all of it for him… she loved him…

Theodore's nose lightly brushed against Hermione's, both of them as close as the last time. She blinked like the last time before closing her eyes shut as their lips were just… he couldn't help but open his eyes to see hers for the last time, just for one second until it pierced into him, the staggering rush that should've utterly thrown him off…

But it couldn't hold him back — as if it stood a chance. Theodore broke through it all as he pressed his lips onto Hermione's, feeling his entire body being set ablaze, taking in all that he could from her, not wanting to ever pull away. Her lips that were softer than he could've ever fantasied tasted faintly of sweet mint which only made his everything grow wilder. It wasn't intense, not at all. Just soft and gentle, just like he imagined it would be.

When they pulled away from each other only just so that they were still so close to one another did Theodore long for more — it felt like an eternity, but it wasn't enough. He could try again to feel his body set on fire once more, but it wasn't about him. It was about her, only about her.

Hermione had stopped quivering and was completely calm in body, but as they both moved away from each other to see each other faces in full, the formally expressionless visage had been vanquished and replaced by something else, something that Theodore could look at forever. She looked so pretty when she looked at him like that — the rush didn't reappear at all.

The two suddenly broke their fixed gazes away at each other when what they had just done struck themhard — Theodore's heart was about to burst from his chest, pounding at a rate beyond what was healthy when he locked his stare at the fire that was burning brighter than ever. He could just see Hermione returning to shaking once more, and so was he. He did it. He kissed her…

Theodore didn't know what to do next. There they were together, no longer 'just friends', sitting in utter silence as they watched the fireplace as if they were mesmerised by the way it moved. So much was swirling around in his head, but Doomspell wasn't one of them. It didn't exist at all in his mind, for Theodore was finally hers, and Hermione was finally his.

"Ha-happy birthday, Hermione."

"Thank you, Theodore…"

Can we thank Harry for getting Theo's head on straight like a good cousin? Unfortunately, with Snape, it didn't go so well. We'll see how it'll play out soon, especially since we know why Theo is against competing in Doomspell.

Yikes, it's almost been a year since this formally little drabble was published. I think this calls for a celebration — to all the TheoxHermione out there, squeal in joy for the ship is sailing people! It's sailing. Hope you enjoyed the chap, look out for the next one. Later.

Just a thought: how do you think Theo would've been like if he was in Slytherin instead, and who do you think would he befriend in his 'denied' house?