A dream. It had to be a dream, no way could it be true. What had happened just a few hours ago was just a manifestation from his own mind, a mere figment — no, far from a mere figment. Far, far from just a figment. He kissed her… after so much self-deliberation and moments when they were just inches away from each other, Theodore kissed her. Hermione… He couldn't sleep when the taste of her lips was still fresh on his own. When they finally left the common room and parted ways, Theodore wished that they could've stayed longer, almost craving for her. The last thing they said to each other was goodnight, and goodnight only. Nothing else. Not another kiss, not even a hug. But did that even matter to them?
The morning of September 20th was surprisingly easy for Theodore to ease into, despite having his brain plagued for God knows how many hours in the previous night. It was early, a little too early for him but at the same time as always, serene and still, just as he liked it. After Theodore had changed and left a dormant Viripin her breakfast beneath his bed, he took everything that he needed and cut through the empty common room, aiming to go straight to the Great Hall instead. The choice to refuse to wait for the others momentarily confused him until he knew precisely why. What was he going to say?
'So you kissed her, Theo, and even if she didn't really kiss you back, she liked it — at least I hope so. Oh no… argh, whatever!' Theodore rubbed his palms roughly against his jumper and then tugged at his collar. One question that stood above all others that were on a rampage in his head rang out so loud that it was a surprise he didn't yell it out. 'Is she… she my girlfriend now, or do we have to do more for us to…?'
Theodore absentmindedly entered the sparingly full Great Hall without detracting from the question that became a pain for him to answer. Of course, he had absolutely no clue about what people did when they got together, never mind those who were best friends before. The happiest couple that he ever saw was Mr and Mrs Weasley and using them as a standard was too far out for him and Hermione. Was there any point in stressing over something like this? Theodore certainly thought not, but at this point, what did he even know?
Breakfast was already laid out across Gryffindor table, and Theodore filled his own plate up to calm his cramped thoughts. As he started on his baked beans and toast, he turned his attention to the steady flow of people arriving in the Hall, most from Slytherin and Hufflepuff. Theodore chewed without realising that he stained his trousers when he made eye contact with Nott — it didn't take much for him to notice Theodore either.
Nott was, however, forced forward by Daphne and Blaise when even more people started to flood into the Great Hall. The usual waves and hellos that came to him nowadays went by from his fellow students until he went back to eating — and when he noticed the baked beans that were sliding off his leg.
"And I just cleaned this yesterday…" Theodore mumbled distastefully. He pulled out his wand and waved it around the area for it to vanish; then he pocketed it. Sooner or later, the others would arrive, and Hermione — well, Hermione would…
Theodore felt the world around him grow dim and tiny when the small voice had touched his ears. His face became prickly, and his breaths were starting to become faster. He looked up to his right and saw Hermione standing beside him, her stuffed bag slung across her back with her left hand gripping her right forearm. Somehow, she was able to suppress the discomfort that she was admittedly feeling at that moment, albeit, not all of it. Hermione was still pink in the nose, and her head was bent forwards so much that only Theodore could see her face. That pretty face…
"Um… ahem — g-good morning," Theodore said a little weakly before patting his chest and clearing his throat again.
Hermione hastily sat down next to him, leaving just enough space between them that nobody would think suspiciously of them and squeaked, "Morning…" as Harry and Ron joined them shortly after.
"Theo! Finally out of the slump — I mean, are you OK now?" asked Ron when he sat down on the opposite side of the table with Harry. Theodore quickly told him that he was feeling great, desperate not to show any sign that he was flustered — he downed a goblet of orange juice and another to be sure. "Well somebody's thirsty. Just don't drown yourself, eh?"
Theodore let out a sharp noise from his nose and carried on eating his breakfast without looking up or to his right. Even with all the sound blaring in the background, Theodore could still hear the blood rushing through his ears, drowning everybody else out. Why was this so hard now, to act normal as if nothing happened? Before, it was natural to him, but now…? All from a kiss…
He finally turned away from his plate and to the right of him, and Theodore saw Hermione who mirrored his actions before she went to stare back at her book. Maybe it was because she looked away so fast that he couldn't tell, but was she staring at his lips just now?
'Overthinking this… you're just overthinking all of this…'
"Umm… y-you know, the whole thing hasn't really taken off that well," Hermione spoke up with her eyes still glued to her book — she scooted ever so closer to him. "JIM PICKENS, I mean."
"I was going to see if I could get more flyers and pamphlets out today, and… well, you see, I… I wanted…" Hermione began to go on, unable to get the words that she wanted out to him. "If you could…"
"What's going on with you two?" Ron blurted out. He stared at them both with equal amounts of suspicion and confusion on his face, the latter quickly diminishing after Theodore and Hermione answered suddenly in unison, "Nothing! Why?!"
Ron turned to Harry who had struck a conversation with Neville in the nick of time; then he shrugged it off but threw several glances towards them. Theodore returned to stuffing his face without saying another word to Hermione, and it seemed as if she got the same idea — neither dared to look back at each other with Ron refusing to look away. Theodore took out his timetable, even though he remembered all of his lessons, and made a note of Herbology being next. There was always something dangerous and weird in the greenhouses; it was perfect for him to take his mind off of —
"If you two are doing a 'thing' together," Ron's whisper travelled across the table, "then could you at least not make it weird when it's the four of us — you two are as red as my hair right now."
Theodore immediately bustled out from his seat upon hearing the bell ringing in all too good timing, and from his cheeks flaring up — he was beyond mortified, and so was Hermione, who scrambled away from the table as he did, yet again completely red in the face.
"Maybe don't be so obvious and say something next time —"
"Shut up, Ron!" spat Theodore as he rubbed his face vigorously, praying that nobody would notice him. He ignored Ron apologising jokingly on the way to the greenhouses while Hermione could be seen walking further up ahead with Elvira, head lowered — probably in embarrassment like he was. Why did Ron have to go and say that, in the Great Hall of all places?
Upon arriving at the greenhouse with Hufflepuff, the lesson started as usual; Professor Sprout instructing them all that the Bubotuber pus was to be ladled into a wide, bowl-shaped plant with a name that nobody could pronounce; everybody dividing into groups of three and going off to their stations. Theodore made a trio with Dean and Ron and took up to their station where Elvira, Neville and Hermione were right beside them — to be specific, Hermione was right beside him.
And that was all it took for normal to descend into aching awkwardness. Theodore was unfocused with the task at hand, occasionally dripping the pus onto his shoes, or pouring too much of it into the bowl-plant. And as if that wasn't enough for him to handle, it was nearly impossible for him to move without bumping against Hermione, even if he were to take a step back. Every time that it'd occur, both would apologise severely, even if it went down to simply skimming one another.
Charms, luckily for him, felt better to Theodore when Herbology cleared up after an ungodly amount of time passed by, mostly because of where he sat in the classroom. Hermione was three seats away from him with Ron and Harry in between. Perfect for him to give his mind a chance to calm itself and think of anything else… so why couldn't he stop?
It took so much effort to stop himself from leaning forward just to see her face from across the row. Theodore was questioning why he wanted so much from her — maybe this was what happened when he kept everything inside so pent up and suddenly let it all go. He couldn't be obsessed, right? He was just… what even was he? All from a kiss…
Theodore dropped his quill in his ink bottle and rubbed the bridge of his nose, breathing heavily through it. 'Here you are obsessing over one kiss when you're supposed to be learning. This can't be normal at all… just think about anything else, absolutely anything…'
"… now that seems to be the end of the lesson," announced Professor Flitwick when the bell rung — everyone was slow to pack their things away when they knew what lesson they had next after lunch: Potions. Professor Flitwick clambered down from his raised desk and continued to the class, "The Banishing Charm is what we'll be doing next lesson, everybody, so be aware of that — Mr Longbottom, please make sure to read up beforehand, and the same to you, Mr Finnigan."
"Yes, sir," mumbled both boys with melancholic expressions. Theodore couldn't tell if it was going to Potions soon that made them dismal or their poor performance in the previous lesson.
"Oh, Mr Riddle! Sorry for holding you up for your lunch; I'm sure that you're eager to get to the Great Hall on time," said Flitwick quickly when he stopped right in front of Theodore.
"Is there something wrong, professor?"
"Well, I should hope not! I was just simply letting you know that I'm offering to extend my help to you, should you need or ask for any of it, if I may add."
Theodore was blank in the face. "Help for…? Oh right, Doomspell! That's what you were talking about — I mean, of course, I'll consider it, professor! Thank you. I really ought to be going now."
Professor Flitwick said his goodbyes and tended to the heavily splintered desk that was caused by Neville while Theodore hoisted his bag on his shoulders, promptly leaving as the last one out. Dumbledore's words on him only acting as his guide and his guide only still echoed in his head, and he couldn't shake off the feeling that it applied to all the other teachers. But surely, they couldn't outright refuse his calling for help — now here he was, getting carried away with Doomspell.
He muttered to himself that he should just forget it in the meantime and saw the others waiting outside the door for him with Ron being the one to approach and swing an arm around his shoulder. "Let me guess: Professor Flitwick was offering to be 'your guy in the corner', huh? Tell me I'm wrong."
"Or maybe you were just listening outside the door?"
"But it would make sense, seeing as how he used to be a Duelling Champion back in the day," Ron continued as they made their way through the busy corridors for the Great Hall. "Not only do you have Flitwick and McGonagall to back you up, but don't forget that you've got Dumbledore as well."
"About that —" Theodore was suddenly shoved along to the left when a massive upheaval of excitable first-years joined the immense traffic of students, squeezing him against a startled Hermione. "Sorry! I didn't mean to — just loads of people!"
Hermione held the three books that she had in her hands tighter to her chest, avoiding Theodore's gaze with her nose still flushed from the morning as she replied a little above the noise, "No, i-it's fine!"
That's all they ever really did so far in the day: bump into each other by coincidence and apologise like nervous wreaks; then look away in ridiculous amounts of embarrassment. Not even a single conversation without stuttering could manage between the two. This couldn't be normal, not at all.
After pushing their way through the rush, did they finally enter the Great Hall that was noisy as always. Over on the Hufflepuff table did Theodore notice Cedric leading a massive card game in the centre with a few too many girls swooning discretely around him — he turned away from the sight soon enough, perplexed by how calm Cedric could be with all the attention around him. Just behind him was Gervaise and Gioveri whispering together (Gioveri was doing all the whispering) as Theodore sat down — and he watched the two split up for their own respective tables, taking note of the lifeless expressions on both faces.
"That's odd…" whispered Theodore to himself. The tables were soon filled to the brim with food, and Theodore took his first portion, expected to be large, but he found himself denied of his first forkful when a newspaper was wafted in his face. "Do you mind? I'm trying to eat here."
Parvati was sat on his left and scrunched up her face to show disdain — was it because of him? He couldn't recall anything that would've set her off since morning. "Look! The Daily Prophet has decided to shove you all the way back to page three to let some Death Eater headmaster have your spotlight! Honestly, who cares about that?!"
"What? That Durmstrang couldn't be in Doomspell because of Igor Karkaroff, or is it because Theodore is on page three?" Seamus jested before snickering alongside with Dean — Theodore was ashamed of himself for understanding while others were confused by the supposed joke, especially Ron.
"Shut up, I'm not a — anyway, Parvati, it's better that I'm not on the front page anymore. It's seriously off-putting, especially when giving me stupid names like 'The Champion of Hogwarts'," Theodore ranted before filling up his mouth.
"But you are 'The Champion of Hogwarts'."
"Tha's no' the 'ole poin', Neville."
"You got what you wanted in the end, didn't you?" said Harry from across the table, bearing a lazy but sly smile. "A chance to work in the shadows until you make your spectacular debut, ready to put on a show for everyone. Isn't that the 'Riddle way'?"
Theodore finished his goblet and spoke with it still on his lips, "Speak for yourself: if anything, it would've been better if it were you than me."
"I think we'd all know that if it were Harry picked instead, then there'd be someone out to get him pulling strings from the shadows," chortled Ron. "Eh, maybe in a different universe — why are you so quiet?" he then directed to Hermione.
"No reason," she said in a monotonous voice, flicking through her book. "Just not that hungry, that's all."
Ron's lips curled into a devious smile that was quickly smothered upon Theodore glaring at him dangerously with contempt. He slightly rolled his eyes and carried on, "Just don't faint when Snape starts to throw stupid questions to you from the back of his greasy head — sorry, Theo."
"No, you're not."
Theodore watched Hermione going through her book without the slightest hint of being aware that he was looking at her from the other side of the table — or maybe she did. It was difficult to tell anyway from how her head hung low. He blinked profusely and stared back down at his empty plate, feeling like he could eat no more — by perfect timing did the bell for the final lesson ring out in the Great Hall.
'Hopefully, I'll actually do some work this time instead of acting weird for the whole lesson,' he thought to himself, irked that he could do the easy thing, that being just to talk to her alone, that is.
The rush for the last lesson was equal to before lunch as it became a struggle to push through the tight masses of people firmly. Luckily, Potions was just across the Entrance Hall. Harry, Hermione and Ron managed to escape the madness with Theodore following behind on purpose to remain in his thoughts for a little longer. Of course, it was the same thing that was confined to cycle around.
When the Gryffindors entered the diverging archway, they could easily see the huddled up Slytherins talking amongst each other just outside Professor Snape's door — it seemed as if he wasn't inside. Rather odd, at least to Theodore who snapped out of his daydreaming. The Slytherins didn't attempt to make any snide remarks to cause an unnecessary confrontation as usual, but it wasn't like Theodore would've cared, or to be more precise noticed. Nott was leaning against the wall adjacent to the classroom door, and he looked visibly distressed by something. It didn't take Legilimency to see that something bad must've happened to him.
'Maybe I should leave the book off for later…'
"… and Longbottom might actually kill himself by blowing up his own cauldron this time," Malfoy taunted from the centre of the Slytherins, all too loudly. Crabbe and Goyle guffawed with Pansy masking her mouth with her hand. But others like namely Daphne or Blaise weren't amused, or they just didn't care from their faces.
"Don't listen to him, Neville, he's just being an arrogant arsehole like always," said Parvati as she patted his shoulder along with Elvira (she shot Malfoy a dangerous look that was unexpected and somewhat rare coming from her).
Neville's face lifted but out of nowhere did he recoil in fear with everybody else when the door slammed against the wall with such force that it was a wonder how it didn't shatter into pieces. Professor Snape stuck his head out of the doorframe and roamed his gaze across them all — his eyes looked sunken in as if he'd neglected his sleep. Did Theodore's words keep him up during the night?
"Well, what are you all standing around for — get inside!" he snapped. He moved to the side and allowed them all to pass, not a single one of them looking up to meet his gaze, not even Theodore. The door was shut firmly behind them; they all found their seats, and the lesson began.
"… and take note that poison antidotes will all have a similar base ingredient that is essential for the construction of an effective remedy," Professor Snape droned while slowly gliding around the desks to hang over their heads. "And it would not just be antidotes either: concocting the Impervious Potion that allows you to resist curses depending on its potency will have a similar composition — why aren't you writing this down, Potter? Too boring for you?"
"No, professor," muttered Harry with his head down as he dipped his quill in his bottle.
Theodore watched his godfather scoff at his cousin before drifting off to carry on speaking. The jab was seemingly shaken off by Harry as he shook his head and blew out of his mouth, scribbling on his parchments.
"I wonder why he hates Potter," whispered Nott without looking away from his own notes.
"Yeah, I wonder…"
Passing seamlessly through the afternoon proved not impossible when the lesson was hurrying forwards, even if it was all theoretical. Sure, Theodore could've filled the blanks to whisper back to Nott, even when he promised himself that he wouldn't at the time, just to keep his mind off of Hermione, but not even that was necessary. Perhaps the environment helped; he usually felt out of his head when down in the dungeons if that made any sense.
A relatively smooth lesson that ended in good time, Theodore was more than happy to call it a day now that he could finally let his brain work eventually in peace without external disturbance. He was quick to pack and tag behind Ron, Harry and Hermione, just a few steps outside the door when —
"Riddle," called Professor Snape from his desk, "a word if you will."
Theodore grimaced with his back turned to him and was met with looks of pity from his friends, even more so from Hermione. They told him that they'd be waiting on the outside for him as they left the classroom for the two to be alone. Wasn't this awkward.
"How come I'm staying back?" asked Theodore, agitated that he was inside the classroom instead of out with the others.
"Don't you remember last evening? You said that you would be coming next time, and that time is now — and don't forget about the lessons that you missed out as well."
Theodore had to refrain himself from rolling his eyes and said, "But I barely missed anything. What's one — two lessons to me anyway? I could probably use Occlumency on the spot — gah!" He reacted a second too late as he felt the foreign sensation in his head attempting to swim its way around before he purged it. "That's not fair!"
"Of course it's not fair — what did you expect me to do when you let your cockiness take you over," Professor Snape remarked, lifting the corners of his mouth a little to bare some of his teeth. "You still have a lot to learn, I see. That, and you're still distracted, only by something else this time."
"No, I'm not —" Theodore blurted out. From the way he saw his eyebrow lift up in doubt did Theodore know that he didn't believe him at all. Of course, he wouldn't, not after catching him out once again. Theodore looked away while rubbing his forearm, turning warm as he continued, "Can't I just make it up another time, like next week or something?"
"To let yourself become even more 'distracted'?"
"No, I —! I just wanted to…"
Theodore still looked him in the eye, nearly sure that his godfather was trying to mock him — if he was, then he succeeded. Professor Snape was still by his cluttered desk until he drew a short breath, then muttered, "Next week on the weekend, I want to see improvement: you are not to allow me inside of your mind at all, and under no circumstances will you make up excuses, understand?"
"Uh… yeah! Yeah, I promise — I mean, I'll be there, professor," answered Theodore in disbelief that his godfather was actually being rational for once.
"Good. Now you may leave."
He nearly smiled when he turned to the door and closed it behind him to see Harry and Ron standing together and Harry and Ron only. "Where did Hermione run off to?"
"Why, you're awfully curious for her whereabouts —"
Theodore's sharp intake of air through his nose told Ron to rethink on finishing the sentence which worked as expected. "I just wanted to know where she was, all right?" he stated in a smooth tone. "Can you tell me that, please?"
"She went to the library again for her JIM SICKENS thing," said Harry before Theodore corrected him. "Right, PICKENS. She's been going in and out of there more these days. Either JIM PICKENS is about to be a revolution in a few days because it's going so well, or it's going down in the drain with her barely able to pick up the pieces."
"She did mention putting out pamphlets and flyers out soon…" mumbled Theodore with a finger on his chin, thinking back to that morning when she tried to ask something from him. Did she want his help with it all but just couldn't find the words? Why didn't he pick up the signs earlier before and —
'You're doing it again. Always overthinking…'
The three boys then left the dungeon for the common room as a reasonable way to end a typical day. Theodore had recurring thoughts on telling Harry and Ron that he had forgotten something in the dungeons, just to see if Hermione was still inside the library. Of course, she had to be. And now she wasn't.
Hermione came rushing up the stairs, catching the moving staircase just before the Fat Lady's portrait in the nick of time with her face red. She threw her bag on the ground and held it by the straps as she puffed to them, "None of you — could hear me — calling out to you?!"
"We thought you were in the library," Ron shot back as he rolled his eyes, "why would we hear you from all the way up here?"
"What do you mean, I was right there on the — forget it! If you were wondering why I came back up here, it's because nothing seems to be working at all," she grumbled as she slung her bag back onto her back. "Not the stupid flyer or pamphlets — nobody wants to buy the badges anymore either. It's like something is missing, and I can't see it!"
Ron climbed through first and said, "You know what you should do? Follow Fred and George's example with their own thing that's going on. They're making their stuff marketable because people actually want to have them."
"My cause is better than their stupid pranks anyway," Hermione scowled as they walked inside. "What they're doing is experimenting on unsuspecting children and exploiting them for money."
"See, you get it now! Nobody wants to see something that's boring and won't catch their eye. We're in a magical school, Hermione, you can come up with something much better than just 'flyers and pamphlets'."
Ron couldn't hold his grin in when he left Hermione speechless in such a rare instance. Instead, she held her chin up high and plopped down on the free squashy sofa, as did Harry and Ron with Theodore taking up the armchair. The truth was that Ron was right in what he was saying: handing out simple paper to raise awareness seemed terribly mundane in a world full of magic. Maybe this could be his chance to… then again, perhaps not…
He went quiet as Ron and Hermione went back and forth with each other, watching them both while Harry was reluctantly starting his Transfiguration homework that was due the next day. Theodore twisted his body to sprawl across the supports of the chair to watch them upside-down, gaining entertainment from the two squabbling. And even from a different perspective, even when she was arguing her head off could Theodore still find her cute, especially when she'd look at him like she did now.
"I'll ask him instead — Theo, what do you think that I should do to get more people into it?" asked Hermione, instantly dropping her hostile voice to adopt a softer and gentle tone.
"M-me? I, uh…" Theodore sat up properly and felt his mind going a million miles per second. "Well, um… maybe you could, I don't know, get somebody whose face can be advertised, sort of like a mascot. Somebody… big and well-known. But what do I know about all this business stuff?" he awkwardly laughed off with a shrug.
But Hermione's eyes became filled with inspiration as she immediately took out a quill and began to scribble on a scrunched-up flyer. "That's a great idea, really! All I have to do is find the person who'd fit — thanks, Theo!"
Theodore's heart skipped a beat when he waved it off, hiding his face to look in the opposite direction. The way her face brightened up just by him suggesting something so simple made him wonder what kind of power he had. She seemed calm and undisturbed, unlike he had been the majority of the day, but he could still remember everything he felt from her when looking into those eyes, seeing that she actually loved him… Hermione Granger loved him…
"Theodore! Hi there, we thought that you were daydreaming!"
"What — huh?!" snapped Theodore, not in anger but the embarrassment that for a moment he thought that he'd been babbling out loud. He saw Dennis and Gervaise side by side standing near his chair with gleams of admiration in their eyes. "Oh, it's just you two — anyway, what is it, I'm… thinking about something."
"You know what your first Trial is going to be, right? It'd be wicked if you told us — Gervaise and I were just talking about it right now!"
Theodore looked over to Gervaise, confused by why he was so silent if he was friends with Dennis (and also the fact that Theodore hadn't heard Gervaise speak a single word since the beginning of the year) and shuffled around on the chair to sit properly. If he gave them what they wanted, then they'd leave him alone. "I haven't got a clue about what's coming first, but I'll know when Halloween comes around, and when the other schools come over here."
"They're coming to school here, at Hogwarts?!" Dennis nearly squealed. "That's amazing — wait! Since you're all famous and stuff with Doomspell, could you sign some of my stuff? Gervaise's too!"
"I'll… consider it," muttered Theodore as he straightened himself along the armchair again, hearing Dennis's whispers of excitement to Gervaise falling back into the background noise. 'Didn't know they were so friendly — he's doing better than his cousin with friends, that's for sure.'
"You shouldn't be so dismissive of your fans, Theo," said Ron with playful mockery in his voice. "Someday, they'll get the wrong impression that you hate them."
"First of all, those are Harry's fans, not mine — and if I did have any fans, you'd be my biggest," Theodore retorted while looking upside-down at Fred and George collaborating with Lee in the corner like they usually did nowadays.
Hermione made a small sound like a muffled giggle, quickly glueing her eyes back down to her book when Ron frowned at her — oddly enough, it didn't last long at all. He shrugged it off and carried on speaking to Harry until all of a sudden, he was motioned over to the notice board when it looked as if Quidditch tryouts were back on.
"It's because of when we had to go out to the country for the whole Doomspell thing," explained Angelina nearby when Harry asked about it. "Oh, by the way, I never actually said congrats for getting picked, Theo. Almost everybody in my year that includes myself are jealous, especially those two maniacs over there."
She pointed at Fred and George behind her shoulder, and Theodore peered over to the side to see them before saying, "They sure don't look jealous — also, thanks."
Theodore leaned back over across the chair once more when Harry and Angelina walked off to the board, but it had barely lasted for a moment when Ron flicked his nose and said above his head, "You done your Transfiguration homework yet — what am I talking about, of course, you have. Help me, please?"
"One of these days, you're gonna help me with my homework."
Ron patted his chest and dashed off after saying, "You're the best, Theo! Let me just get my notes, and I'll be back in a second — all right, Aquilina, I'll feed you. You're already getting too big to fit inside my robes anyway…"
Theodore flapped his lips and rearranged himself to sit upright; his neck was starting to grow stiff. It was growing easier to become bored when looking forward to something as grand as a competition that could've meant his life. Harry was off with the future Quidditch team, obvious to gain his place there; Ron was upstairs rummaging to find his uncompleted homework, and Hermione sat poised and heavily engaged with her book, by pure convenience alone. It had to be that.
He dug his fingernails into the squashiness of the chair, waiting for something inside to force him onto his feet and make him walk over to her. Theodore was just waiting for that thing that made him kiss her, and it came to him. Taking up to his feet, it only took him just three steps until he was sitting right beside her. With how strenuous his thoughts were on Hermione have been during the day, that was surprisingly easy for him. Finding the right words, however, didn't prove to be the exact same.
The noise behind them must've drowned whatever words came from Hermione as she made low noises from her mouth until it became apparent that it was useless. She stopped strumming her thumb along the spine of the book that she closed and rested her hands on top — like he, Hermione too didn't know what to say.
"It's… it's weird, isn't it?" Theodore admitted quietly off the top of his head, moving his thigh just a little closer to hers without thinking. "Feels like we've barely spoken to each other for the entire day…"
Hermione nodded her head and tapped her fingers on the book — she still didn't know what to say. Theodore couldn't blame her, he was still unable to comprehend that this was all happening. But it all rolled out of his mouth faster than he could rationally think.
"Hermione, I don't really know anything about… 'this'," he continued, pointing between the both of them. "I don't know what's going to happen, you know, even if we did…"
"Neither do I," Hermione confessed with haste, ceasing her tapping to near her fingers to his. "It's — it's really all new to me. I never actually… But… we're both pretty smart, right? It's not like we can't figure this out for ourselves, right? I'm saying 'right' too many times now…" she whispered so quietly that Theodore couldn't hear her, nor did he ask.
"Yeah, shouldn't be too hard…" Theodore sighed with some ease in knowing that it wasn't just him feeling this way. Here he'd been stuck in his own damn head, worrying over something that shouldn't have discomforted him. Not to say that it still didn't. Still, the feeling of the immense confusion lifting off of his shoulders: it was simply a joy.
"Huh — yeah, Hermione?"
She opened her mouth but closed it shut and shook her head, opting to return to her book again — but she didn't even open it to the page that she was on previously. Theodore pondered what she wanted to ask from him, taking note of how she bit her lip and fumbled with the pages. It was best to leave it up to imagination, even if it wasn't like him to do so.
'She still loves you…'
"OK, I'm missing some parts to it, I swear on my life," rambled Ron when he bounced back onto the scene with his parchment sheets everywhere, "but I promise that I'll do all the basics on my own." Theodore reflexively crossed his arms, and Hermione dove her nose into the book. Perhaps maybe they were too quick with their movements that it looked suspicious, but Ron didn't give any signs of noticing.
"Awesome! Let's get started right now!" Theodore yanked them out of his hand and began to arrange them as Ron took his quill and sat on his left. "Uh, do you want to help as well, Hermione?"
Hermione looked at Theodore as if he was asking her the single most perplexing question in the universe before she caught his eye on time and agreed, moving over to the side to have Ron in between them — that was unexpected.
'You were supposed to come closer to — it doesn't matter, Theo…' he smiled to himself. All of this was terrible for a 'sheltered' mind such as his. Just three years ago he would've never thought it'd be this way with her.
He glanced over to Hermione hauling out a series of books from her bag about the topics that they were tasked to research on and couldn't help but smile as it was now he who caught her eye this time. It was there, the same rush still hitting the back of his skull like always — but it felt good. She felt good, and there wasn't anything in the world that could do the same, not even one.
It had barely been just less than a week since that very day; Theodore felt as if time itself had decided to become lethargic for his convenience — or should he say their convenience. Given that nowadays Theodore, Hermione, Harry and Ron spent more of their time as a four rather than divided, not even that was enough to disrupt indeed what little time Theodore and Hermione had together when they could.
And in those little moments of shared time with one another did Theodore realise more of Hermione, noting to himself the subtle changes about her behaviour over the week. Little by little did she come back to the common room from the library less, and more did she seem more 'affectionate' towards Theodore. Maybe he could blame it on having total inexperience, but none of the changes could he fully identify in his head, unable to pinpoint exactly what it was — again, it was all inexperience.
Saturday dragged its heels when it finally arrived, and the weather reflected just how lazy the week had been when coming to its end: a heavy shower of rain had been dominant throughout the morning, forcing everybody to remain inside and find whatever entertainment that they could. Usually, this would result in a relatively dull day filled with homework or playing around with Viripin for Theodore, but not now when Doomspell and Hermione were hanging above his head.
"Hermione, this is honestly too much," sighed Theodore at a table inside the library — he was sat next to Harry bored out of his mind, and Ron opposite the two with a dead expression on his face as well. "I've got plenty of time to worry about the first Trial, and even so, I'll be fine when it comes. You don't have to worry."
The three boys sighed and balanced their chins on their stacks of history books, watching Hermione staring intently at the spine of a golden book as if she were willing it to open by itself. Theodore thought for a moment that his words fell upon deaf ears until she said, "You shouldn't be so passive about this. I don't know anything about Doomspell, but you have to be prepared, Theodore, because it can throw anything at you."
"Theo's right, Hermione," mumbled Ron. He closed the book in front of him that had been open for the last twenty minutes and continued, "Why wouldn't he be fine? Especially when he's got good, old Dumbledore in his corner, right?"
Theodore leaned back in his chair, grinning awkwardly while scratching his hair — he almost forgot that he didn't tell any of them. "Actually… Dumbledore can't do much to help me at all. Yeah, he said that I've got to do this on my own and rely on others, whatever that —"
He didn't bother to finish when Hermione's brief moment of smugness, followed by "Well then, that settles it, doesn't it?" went ignored by the three boys. Theodore appreciated, in fact, it was even more than that, that Hermione was looking out for him, but Halloween was more than a month away and…
"That reminds me: I can't be here for long," Theodore quickly declared as he stacked his books and moved them to the side. "I'm going outside the castle with Dumbledore somewhere — see you in a bit —"
"Since when?" asked Hermione and Harry at the same time — Ron merely flicked through the next page without care.
"Since Monday…" Hermione scratched her nose and looked away from Theodore as he sat back down in his chair, strangely feeling his motivation to leave the castle draining. Maybe it was because of the rain, or perhaps it was seeing Hermione trying to hide her face that made him want to stay…
Harry elbowed him, saying, "Aren't you leaving, then? Don't want to keep Dumbledore waiting."
"Might as well. I doubt I'll get the chance to do this again, anyway." Theodore got up from his seat and started to walk off hastily, stopping only just to look back and say, "Also, do me a favour and actually have some fun. Staying cooped up in the library is not doing Ron any good."
"Just piss off, mate," smiled Ron before yawning.
Letting out a quick goodbye before turning around the corner, Theodore began to think about where they could possibly be going for him to be at all driven, hell, caring to compete. The questions in his head continued to pile up when his hand clasped the door handle, but he did not pull it back when the sound of rushing footsteps hit him, followed by the tugging of his jumper.
He looked behind his shoulder and saw Hermione with a bag in hand — his bag that he'd forgotten. Theodore released the handle and turned to face her, the idea of him meeting Dumbledore to leave the castle slipping his mind completely. "You — you left your bag behind," Hermione breathed, outstretching it before pulling it back, "or do you want me to keep for you? You probably won't even need it when you're gone, so —"
"No, I'll take it, but thank you," Theodore said readily. His fingers brushed over Hermione's hand when he took it back, and he was quick to catch that it trembled against his touch — perhaps a single week wasn't enough for them to feel 'normal' around each other again. "When I come back, maybe — maybe we could just forget about Doomspell and… I don't know, do something else…?"
"You have to do something about it, though, Theo, sooner or later," Hermione said back softly, even if her unusually absent bossy tone was more fitting. "Being the youngest champion isn't going to be easy — I'm not putting you down or anything!"
Theodore shrugged and said, "It's fine, I understand. But Harry and Ron are right. When the time comes, I'll be ready for it, you'll see. We didn't go through all of that stuff for three years for me to suddenly get cold feet."
She sighed, then holding her elbow behind her arm did Hermione conjure a small smile that was all too genuine for Theodore to think otherwise. Theodore suddenly remembered that he had to be seeing Dumbledore and managed an awkward goodbye to Hermione (it'd be out of the question to attempt even a hug, let alone a kiss with Madam Pince surely lurking around the corner) before letting himself out of the library.
The rain was still going strong against the window panes high above his head, the sounds of water striking the glass reverberating along the hallways. Theodore began to take his first steps towards Dumbledore's office and crossed past the Great Hall that was filled with more students than usual. But it was only a few steps that he took before walking backwards and stopping at the marble staircase to see that Dumbledore was not in his office but actually walking out of the dungeons, alongside Professor McGonagall.
"Well if that wasn't perfect timing — Professor Dumbledore!" he called out as he traversed down the steps towards the two. "Professor, I was just about to go up to your office. It's about the thing you said on Monday, about us leaving the castle to go somewhere?"
"And you were right on schedule, Theodore. Perfect timing indeed," Dumbledore replied, tapping his wrist that lacked a watch, "shouldn't you say so, Minerva?"
Professor McGonagall, looking like her usual self today, was unfazed by Dumbledore's good-natured comment and looked down at Theodore as if he wasn't meant to be there. "Albus, need I remind you that Mr Riddle has a lot of homework to be catching up to; not just from me, but from all his other teachers. Taking him out of the castle is absurd, and he shouldn't be coming along —"
"I've actually finished all my homework last night, so…"
"I — I can't even go against that at all…" sighed Professor McGonagall as she brought her fingers to hold the bridge of her nose.
Theodore, knowing that he won Professor McGonagall over, then turned to Dumbledore and answered the question that was stuck in his mind as to where they'd be going. Dumbledore waved at Mrs Norris passing by and took the lead by walking to the door, replying, "We, Theodore, are going to be properly inducting our newest Defence Against the Dark Arts professor — you remember his name when dear Phineas spoke about Sirius on that day?"
"Yeah, 'Alastor'…" Theodore didn't want to cover his disappointment and masked it with confusion. Here he was thinking that the last place they'd be going was to his newest teacher's home, and absolutely not somewhere which reeked of magic — he at least expected to go beyond the mountains that were close by.
Tightening his bag straps around his shoulders, Theodore followed both professors behind as Dumbledore pushed the oak door on the left wide open, leaving a spray of the persistent rain to creep inside. "Such a shame for this weather. I would've thought it'd be sunnier with Sybil back to predict the weather every day — Repellere!" said Dumbledore, pointing his wand above his head. He stepped outside the door into the rain, and just above his head was a transparent dome that covered him whole, repelling the rain.
"Repellere — what are you waiting for, Riddle? We haven't got all day," huffed Professor McGonagall while stepping out into the rain. "You should be jumping at the chance to use magic outside school."
Theodore patted himself all over until he found his wand inside the waistband of his jeans and took it out, "What was the spell — Repellere? Oh!" Faint energy erupted from the tip of his wand and formed the umbrella-dome that was above both Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall's heads. Theodore was marked impressed with himself and stepped outside the door to follow behind.
Moving along the pathway that should've led to Hogsmeade Station was somewhat alarming with the amount of mud that squelched underneath Theodore's feet, and he was careful not to walk too fast to avoid making a fool of himself. But as they walked further down the path did it look as if Hogsmeade Station was out of the question. Dumbledore took a turn that diverged along the main track when they exited the gates and carried on towards somewhere familiar.
"Professor, why are we going towards Hogsmeade?" Theodore asked loudly to be heard above the heavy rain. His body tensed up when a horrible thought had occurred at that moment. "We're not going to Apparate, are we…?"
When they reached the golden archways of Hogsmeade, Dumbledore motioned Professor McGonagall and Theodore to huddle closer to each other as he replied, "Where we're going should have one too many Muggles around that may question why an explosion, followed by three people appearing out of nowhere happened."
Dumbledore slipped his free hand into his purple robes and took out what looked like one of the silver hooked instruments that belonged in his office, whirring and spinning with absolutely no purpose. "This should be a much safer method — a method that you are familiar with, no?"
Theodore stared uneasily at Dumbledore's smile with the same mad gleam from the day he was chosen flashing in his eyes. He then averted his gaze to the instrument and saw it wriggle as it began to glow faintly with a blue light. "That's… that's not a Portkey, is it?"
"It is! And it should be ready to go off any moment now, so I'd advise you to hang on very soon."
Professor McGonagall grabbed hold of it without hesitation; Theodore not so much. But he reached out and wrapped his index finger around the end of the hook at the last second before everything suddenly spiralled into a whirlpool of disaster. He was being dragged violently by the shoulders again, left and right, up and down — it was like he was being yanked by a jet at full speed.
Theodore was lucky to land on his feet when it came to an end, and he was even luckier that the nausea was able to become suppressed much better than before — he still wanted to be sick, however. Rolling his head around his shoulders to shake of his disorientation, he was barely able to notice that he was in somebody's else front garden. Theodore, when he was finally back to normal, wasn't so much interested in the house behind him than the street that they were on.
Of course, it looked exactly like any other Muggle street in the country; Dumbledore was correct on this one. From where he was standing did Theodore see that they were on the end of a cul-de-sac with multiple average cars parked along the short road as the rain crashed down on them. One or two Muggles did walk by, but none of them seemed aware of Theodore when they passed by — perhaps it was because of the rain, Theodore theorised.
"Who's there?!" Theodore turned away from the street and drew his attention to the door of a small bungalow that Dumbledore knocked against, only to have a muffled growl as a reply.
"Ever so cautious, aren't you, Alastor?"
It went quiet for a moment, and then the sounds of multiple clicks and metal snapping against each other could be heard until the door swung open with much force — Dumbledore nor Professor McGonagall flinched. She didn't even bat an eyelash. A scruffy-looking man — no, that wasn't the right word to describe him.
A man whose face did not exhibit a once of smoothness that belonged to a normal human stuck his head through the doorway before curling his lip and opening the door the entire way. "About time that you arrived," the man muttered in a grizzly tone as he allowed them all through.
Theodore passed him by and made the mistake of looking up at him, unfortunate to take in his full features as well as making eye contact. It was haunting, to say the least. Never did Theodore see anybody so… inhuman in the most humane way possible. Scars upon scars could be found everywhere on his skin, even his hands, and Theodore couldn't ignore that his nose might have well fallen off when most of it was gone.
But it was the eye: that large, nearly bulging, electric blue eye that whizzed around within the eye socket as if it were alive that made him stare, maybe for too long. His dark grey hair was extremely unkempt, even if it was tied up in a poor ponytail — it was like they'd waken him up from a nap. Theodore thought that this man was beyond terrifying to be employed at a school. This man was supposed to be his new teacher, this 'Alastor'?
'He must've been battling a dragon that scarred him all over and clawed his eye out, the madman! Wait… 'mad'…? Freaky eye… Mad-Eye…?'
Theodore forced himself to walk further down the foyer that was bleak with empty picture frames hanging on the walls. It looked bigger than what it let on outside, suggesting that magic was involved in such effect. He carried on down behind Professor McGonagall and heard Mad-Eye(?)'s footsteps heavy as stone, clunking along the ground until they all reached the living room that was, no surprise there, utterly ordinary.
"Got mud all over my new carpet…"
Theodore stared down to his feet and realised that he had indeed created a trail of muddy footsteps leading from the door. He was quick to apologise, but Mad-Eye was even quicker to take out his wand and with a flick, vanished the mud from existence. Embarrassed, Theodore thought that the best course of action was to stand still with his hands in his pockets and not talk at all. Dumbledore, however, thought rather differently.
"Good to see that you're still spry, Alastor — of course, Minerva," said Dumbledore before Professor McGonagall walked away from the living room and through a door that Theodore could've sworn he heard voices from — he didn't care, however, as his eye was lingering towards something blue and shimmering that was hidden inside a cupboard close by…
"… and Theodore, this will be your newest Defence teacher, Professor Moody."
'So he is Mad-Eye Moody. He certainly does look a little bit mad.' Before Theodore could open his mouth to speak, Professor Moody sat down in his faded maroon armchair — Dumbledore had vanished from the room and followed Professor McGonagall — and growled, "I already know who you are; there's no need for introductions. I've been seeing your name and face in the Prophet for a while now."
"You have…?" He knew who he was?
"Of course — you don't think that I'm some washed-up, old hermit who doesn't know how to tie his own shoelace, do you? I'm not that old."
Theodore looked down and saw that a wooden leg was attached to him and outstretched with a clawed foot at its end. He quickly raised his hands and protested, "No, I didn't think that, sir — Professor!"
"Calm down, son. There's no way that I'd believe a boy like you who stood up against a Death Eater is a complete nervous wreck. With the way they're advertising your name, plastering your face on every damn copy, you'd think that becoming an Auror would be your dream job. Well, is it?"
Theodore didn't need to think long on this at all but still took his time to answer — he merely just shrugged and stared around the room again, hoping to catch a glimpse of the blue object that looked like an oversized goblet of some sorts.
"Is that how you feel?" hummed Professor Moody while reaching to his side to grab a flask from a small round table and taking a quick swig of it. "Shame. I was thinking that you'd want to become one, you and your other famous friend, Potter. Professor Dumbledore has got me all caught up about how much you two tend to always follow trouble when it arrives."
"Well, it's usually trouble that follows us, Professor. Half the time, we're just trying to get through the year — but obviously, that never happens," Theodore trailed off, feeling the brief moment of newfound casual nature between them dying.
Taking another swig and chortling through gulps, Professor Moody wiped his scarred lips with his sleeve and said, "First catching a scummy Death Eater, and then being picked in one of the world's most dangerous tournaments? You must be a special one. How old are you — fifteen?"
Professor Moody chuckled again, although it was coarse against his throat, almost shaking the ground beneath Theodore's feet. "Fourteen, you say? Hasn't been one as young as you for centuries. If the Ring of Judgement is right in its choice, and it's never wrong, then I've got to make sure to keep an eye out for you, Riddle. Powerful young ones do not just come and go easily — you might want to reconsider your career in the future."
"I… see," Theodore let out. He was doing his absolute best to avoid staring at the wild eye that was facing the back of Professor Moody's skull. That thing was too active just to be a normal glass eye that had been enchanted to move on its own.
The room had nothing else to offer other than the door that Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall went through and the cupboard that was now shut closed for some reason. Theodore watched the jaded man roll his head back and stare up towards the sky, whirling his flask in one hand. Perhaps he had grown bored with Theodore already — perfect for him. Now if he could just move a little closer to the left and towards that door.
He checked his shoes and saw that the mud had partially caked, only dropping small flecks whenever he'd walk. Theodore crept along the living room floor while keeping his eyes locked on Professor Moody — it felt like he was committing a sin, even when the owner of the house was sat right in front of him. It didn't take long for him to be at an angle that was perfect to see through the cracks of the door — just through it did he see a young woman with short, bubblegum pink hair; a tall, black man and Professor McGonagall standing side by side, facing a particular direction.
Another set of voices that were familiar to him, maybe Proudfoot and Savage(?) murmured behind the door as Theodore neared to it, taking a step that was a little too enthusiastic for he didn't anticipate the loose floorboard.
"You've never been in somebody's house before? Stop snooping."
Theodore quickly drew back from the door. "Sorry! I just wanted to see —" There was no point in explaining himself when Professor Moody's face didn't show that he believed him one bit. Instead, he opted to change the conversation, eager to find anything stimulating to rid of his undeniably growing boredom. "We were supposed to go somewhere for me to be 'inspired' for Doomspell, only that… this isn't really what I expected."
"If anyone in this crazy world knows what they're doing, then it's Dumbledore, all right," Professor Moody huffed without his bulging eye rolling back to its 'normal' position. "Taking you along means that he must've expected you to keep an eye out, especially with all the sneaky eyes that you can't keep to yourself — you don't think I didn't see you looking inside there, did you?"
He pointed at the cupboard that was closed. Theodore knew that something must've caused it to close, and he was just moments away from asking him what he was hiding behind it when the chance was suddenly ripped away as Dumbledore walked back into the living room — not with Professor McGonagall, though.
Dumbledore outstretched his hand to Professor Moody, who slightly struggled to get up onto his feet, as he began apologetically, "I'm afraid that I cannot stay for too long, Alastor. Duty calls for being Headmaster, as well as Supreme Mugwump — they're starting to become a little overbearing these days."
"No problem there, Albus. You weren't missing much, anyway — I think I'd give up my other leg rather than allow Tonks to try 'spice up' my home again. Retirement shouldn't have me on my toes like this young man over there," Professor Moody directed his spinning eye to point at Theodore. "Quite the curious type, isn't he? I'll see what he's made of, and the rest of your students. Hope they aren't a soft lot."
Dumbledore smiled and just nodded while he shook Professor Moody's hand as Theodore stood still, watching both wizards say their final words to each other until Dumbledore ended the handshake. "Professor McGonagall has important matters to attend to right here that she won't be coming back with us, no," Dumbledore said to Theodore once they left the house — it was still raining terribly — after he asked him where she was.
"Oh," was all that Theodore could say back, not even trying to hide that he was disappointed for how unnecessary the whole trip was — he didn't even think that they'd been gone for twenty minutes. "I suppose it's by Portkey again?"
"Correct once again, Theodore." Dumbledore dug into his pocket and retrieved the same object that they originally hung onto and waited in the dominating noise of rain for it to change colour. "Here we go — quickly, Theodore, please hold onto it quickly!"
Theodore lifted his arm lazily and grabbed the instrument, firmly shutting his eyes for what was to come as they were suddenly ripped away from the ground and spinning aimlessly in the air, all familiar sensations that ended when they returned to the same spot that they left from. Very few wizards and witches were walking through the rain from what Theodore could see — he thought himself an idiot for not creating the shield for himself, leaving him soaking wet under the charm.
But he didn't even care about that. In all honesty, what even was the point in going? Did he lift his expectations too high when thinking of the trip? Of course, he did; it was Dumbledore! Underwhelmed wasn't even what he felt churning inside of him. Too many times has he been led on to think of something grand by Dumbledore, only for it to come up failing to impress him instead. When would he ever learn?
"I don't really feel that much inspired," Theodore voiced out loud when they started to trek towards the castle, "and I don't get why you brought me there just to meet my new teacher. It doesn't make any sense."
As they passed the front gates, Dumbledore looked behind his shoulder and replied, "My apologies. I should have foreseen that it would seem rather lacklustre, given that — I mean this quite humbly — my reputation is of being 'amazing'. But I don't think that it came out as fruitless as you thought. Professor Moody mentioned that you were interested in what was hidden behind his door, am I correct?"
"Well… it wasn't like I had anything better to do. I was just standing there the entire time."
"But did you see anything that may have caught your eye?"
They both stopped just before the oak doors, giving Theodore a chance to recollect what could possibly fit Dumbledore's expected answer. There were the two other people with Professor McGonagall in that room, but… "In this cupboard in the living room, I saw that there was this… big, blue thing. It sort of looked like a trophy on its side, but I have no idea what it could've been. So what?"
"Who knows? I would've thought that maybe you did, seeing as how well versed you are in Doomspell's history." Dumbledore pushed his glasses up his crooked nose and asked, "I trust that you are doing your best to educate yourself in this situation, right, Theodore?"
Theodore pressed his lips together and turned away to stare at Hagrid's home in the distance as he muttered, "I might've been putting it off for a bit. My friends were helping me today, but that's about it."
"So you've taken some of my advice? I'm flattered, Theodore, I truly am, but remember —" Dumbledore pushed open the door and waved his wand to both of their feet to clear off the mud "— do whatever you can to make sure that none of your disadvantages shows when the time comes for you to compete. You're on the right path, and soon you'll see the reason why I brought you to meet with Professor Moody so early."
Staring at the back of Dumbledore's head, Theodore couldn't believe that he just left it at that and carried up the marble staircase as if they casually passed by each other. Sure he should've been used to this by now, but he could never think of Dumbledore anything less than slightly mad, maybe even more. Theodore closed the oak door behind him — he just wanted to forget about the day and carry on. Be it reading more on Doomspell; going to Hagrid's or being alone with Hermione, nothing could possibly ruin the end of a perfect week —
"Oh, hey, Gioveri," greeted Theodore casually as he smoothed his wet hair back to stop it from going in his eyes. Gioveri came out from the corridor that led down to the Transfiguration classroom, and under his armpit were, as expected, a load of books. Behind Hermione, he was undoubtedly the only person he'd seen with a book on hand on least three occasions per day.
"H-hi, Theo — Theodore!" stammered Gioveri while slapping his palm against his books with agitation. Just like every other encounter the two had with each other, Gioveri's cheeks grew a faint pink hue as he grinned nervously, and just like every other encounter, Theodore just ignored it. "You just been outside? Looks crazy out there…"
"Yeah, it is. But it was nothing special, to be honest. Anyway, I have to go dry myself off, so… talk to you later then."
Gioveri gave Theodore an odd bow of the head until he realised that it came off as Theodore perceived: awkward. He quickly squeaked goodbye and hurried off up the stairs and out of sight.
'Honestly, he never seems to act normal — never around me, anyway. Guess that's what happens when you don't have any friends growing up. Now, I'm sure I know some sort of heating charm off the back of my head…'
Theodore wracked his brain into trying to recall the spell that he needed until he heard footsteps coming from up the stairs — a group of mixed-House sixth-years were the first to go down and just behind them were Ron, Hermione and Harry all talking over each other before they saw Theodore, dripping, at the bottom step.
Hermione was a little faster to get to him before Harry and Ron as she was inquisitive with where he went, rapidly asking him, "So how did it go? Was it his place of birth? Harry thought the same, but Ron — why are you still wet? Hold on, I think I know the spell that'll get you dry in just a —"
"Let's just slow down, can we? I'll tell you guys when we go up — wait, where were you guys just going now?"
"Hagrid's," spoke Harry — he softly snorted at Theodore's deadpan expression and continued, "We know it's raining, thank you, it's just that we don't care. Obviously, you don't either."
"This is different," Theodore said back as he checked his bag to see if anything had soaked through and was lucky that that wasn't the case. "Let's not waste any time then. By the time we get back inside, Filch will be ready to catch us out with mud on our shoes."
"Remember the last time? He was not a happy man."
Theodore and Harry chuckled as the four moved to the oak doors while Ron asked, and quickly began to pester Theodore about where he really went to with Dumbledore, only for him to give a hint that he saw their newest teacher for Defence. Not only did this rile up his curiosity, but it did so with Hermione and Harry as well, hardening Theodore to not tell them a word.
"When will you not be so stubborn?" moaned Ron once they reached outside, both him and Harry leading the way forward. "My money is on Mad-Eye Moody — now hear me out, Harry, because I think I might be part-Seer with all these bullshit predictions that I keep getting right…"
Theodore almost stepped out into the rain and narrowly dodged a star-shaped puddle that appeared out of nowhere before seeing his laces undone on both shoes. "I'll join you lot later; I just have to do these," he called out to the others without watching them carry on as usual.
"Come on, hurry up, Theo. I want to get inside before I catch a cold." Halfway through tying his laces on his second shoe, Theodore lifted his head up instantly and saw Hermione with her arms crossed tightly. Her hair was straining against the hood that she had it confined to from her large, bright yellow parka. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." He finished tying his laces in a hurry and stood up, squinting from the rain that splashed on one side of his face. "That doesn't look really comfortable. You sure you want to have that on?"
Hermione opened her mouth; then she pressed her palms against her hood that looked like a giant lemon and winced a little. "It's a little tight, but I don't want to get my hair wet. It's already a nightmare to deal with when it's dry, so you can't imagine it wet either. Let's just go and — Theodore!"
Theodore undid the small straps that framed her face and allowed her hair to burst free as it slowly began to collect stray raindrops. Before she could snap at him, he brought out his wand, pointing it to the sky and said "Repellere!" forming the transparent dome over their heads.
All signs of irritation were wiped from her face as she looked up with red cheeks when Theodore closed the gap between them, he too barely able to keep his composure from realising what he just did. "I — I've never seen this spell before…"
"Just learnt it today… should we…?" Theodore motioned towards Harry and Ron, who somehow hadn't noticed that the two were lagging behind.
"Sure…" Hermione hummed before balancing her head against his shoulder, letting her slightly frizzy hair tickle Theodore's ear as they came closer together, even if there was enough space under the charm. It was true, Theodore didn't have a clue about what he was doing, what could happen and even further beyond that — but he couldn't deny that this was by far a perfect end to his almost perfect week.
'She's really mine…'
How many weeks has it been since he arrived in the wretched place that was the home of his wretched past that reminded him of his wretched blood? Too long — far too long. Tom was unable to escape from it, unable to truly fend for himself for he had grown pathetically feeble once again, owing to the Muggle boy whose body his soul housed. How did it all come down to this? Harry Potter…
The scraps that he had to salvage from discarded waste around back several shops whose owners viewed him as another piece of scum that roamed the streets: Tom was sure to go ballistic with rage and utter hatred for the pity that they all hauled at him — until he realised that they were right. And he loathed that, he really did. Muggles dared to act on the truth that he, once the most powerful and feared wizard was nothing more than a mere remnant of his past: how did it all come down to this?
It was tough to sustain the dying body that he possessed from the child for food was becoming less effective as Tom frequently suffered from fits of coughs that led to significant losses of blood. That was until he realised that returning to Little Hangleton was not all failure on his part: Gaunt Shack. The home of his ancestors that bred themselves into extinction. Tom had it kept hidden for his personal… 'endeavours', knowing that it radiated with pure magic — and he was lucky for that. He couldn't explain how the plants that allowed him to make potions that slowed down his body from decaying managed to cultivate near his mother's old home, but he was lucky.
And as he spent hours upon hours, feeling himself slipping from holding onto his physical form, he would swear that hallucinations from his own mind — no, visions from his mind would appear by inconvenience, displaying images that he could barely hold onto for so long, like the one that was occurring at that moment — he could see… he could see five younger boys and… and that was Theodore, his son… his cheeks were…
Tom hissed and stiffly shook his neck when foreign feelings began to leak into his head as he waved his hand against the vines that curled back into their roots, letting him pass through. Why he could see his own child as if a dream had remerged in his conscious thinking was something that not even he could comprehend. But it must be a sign that he was destined to succeed — all he needed was time.
In one hand did Tom keep a small goblet that had rusted markings going all around it while he used the other to slip a wand into his filthy rags that masked his entire body, save his hands. He knew that the wand used to belong to his grandfather, who he knew died in his own home, his wand most likely to be unfound by his imbecile of an uncle. It didn't feel right at all upon his fingertips, but what other choice did he have?
As he cut through the roads that were in between numerous trees filled with leaves that shimmered white from the moonlight up above, Tom soon found himself back onto the main streets of Little Hangleton, barren with only those who took in the ambience of the peaceful night, and others who delved into 'less desirable' acts within the alleyways. If he were lucky, then maybe he'd be able to spot a healthy-looking child that would be worth replacing his current body… alas, it was fruitless. That didn't matter so much at the moment, however.
Tom finally reached his destination that was a bus stop, occupied by none other than a woman and her child, both appearing extremely exhausted from whatever that they were possibly doing. He pondered on it for a while but thought that it was best to not raise any suspicion, especially in an area like this. And so he waited patiently until the bus arrived — it had been this way ever since, every Saturday evening to use this very bus.
It didn't take long for it to arrive as Tom waited until the mother and child got on it first. He then took out the wand and pointed to the driver, croaking "Confundo…!" He swept past and placed himself at the front, waiting for the driver to get out from their haze. It always came to this.
A twenty-minute journey was all that it took for him to arrive where he needed to be. Tom slipped out of the bus at his desired stop, once again waiting for the woman and child to pass through before he did — call it courtesy, Tom called it him being lazy. However, he couldn't afford to be too at ease. Tom then started to walk down a familiar path in the empty crossroads where the rare car would be the only thing moving in sight. Left, another left and a right corner… there he was.
HM Greater Leston Prison
Tom took in the towering gate that was standing before him and the even more towering building that was behind it. If only it were this easy with Azkaban — to think of all those who sold their lives, their devotion to him and him only… Tom took out his wand and twirled it above his head, causing his entire being to vanish completely. A simple Disillusionment Charm that kept him away from prying Muggle eyes. It never failed him before. Tom slowly limped to the gate and without holding himself back, his body immediately Apparated just a few meters behind the gate. Short distances were less threatening to his health than across countries — it was unfortunate that he was limited to once every few minutes.
He didn't waste any time and hobbled hastily across the small field, aiming towards the heavy green door that he couldn't afford to open by magic — he made that mistake the first time and almost allowed himself to be caught when the prison was alerted of a foreign presence. But by luck did he have what he needed — the same guard that always guarded this particular area. Tom had even gone to know his name until he realised that it was the same as his. It irked him, yes, but he had a new name, his only name.
The guard became entirely complacent to his will and followed through with Tom's commands that were to open the door with his keys, knowing that this was another way inside through the laundry room. Once inside, Tom forced the guard to close it behind him, and he soon set off out the place, opening the door that wasn't connected to any alarms that would — he dug his nails into his stomach. It was going to happen right here, but he couldn't grow lazy he told himself. He couldn't —
"What the hell — who are you?!" yelled a voice from down the corridor — another guard had appeared, and the Disillusionment Charm had faded away, leaving him visible again. Oh well, it only meant one thing. "We've got a —!"
Silenced and pathetic like an unwanted child's toy, the guard had slumped to the ground as the striking emerald light filled the corridor, bouncing off its walls before it was just the moonlight again. Tom checked to see that he hadn't spilt a single drop from his goblet (he didn't) before he swiftly pressed on, stepping over the fresh corpse that had a look of confusion etched permanently on his face. He needed to find the cell before more would arrive at the guard's call — somebody was sure to have heard them…
But it seemed as if they'd be too slow to catch him. Tom stopped where he was, right in front of the cell door that didn't look a thing different to the others, and he flicked his wand, swinging the door wide open.
Inside did he see a nurse that nearly screeched in horror before Tom cast the Silencing Charm on her, followed by a Stunner to the chest. One dead body was already enough, especially in such a risky setting like where he was. Tom waved his wand and levitated her to the side and allowed her to fall to the ground as he slowly approached the bed that had a prisoner, unresponsive to his presence.
The prisoner gasped with every single breath as it was blatant that he was extremely old. His skin slid off his bones as if made by wet dough, and the hair on his head was extremely thin with only some tufts of pure white unevenly dispersed all around. His eyes were closed while he shivered in his bed, despite being well covered by his duvet, and the old man struggled to keep his partially toothless mouth closed. Oh, how Tom hated him with such passion…
Tom pocketed the wand and set the goblet down on the bedside table, shoving the clipboards aside until it piqued his interest that he look closer at it. It was not only clipboards but several types of medicines lined up, even against the windowsill. It was like a pharmacy.
He just scoffed. "Look at you — look at us," coughed Tom as he sat down in the chair, taking the goblet in one hand and using the other to squeeze the old man's jaw to open his mouth wider. "Weak in bodies that are sure to turn on us soon… but there's a difference between you and me. A much clear difference…"
Tom slowly poured the potion down the elderly prisoner's mouth, making sure that none spilt over to the side as he continued with great disdain in his voice, "How is it that your worthless life, your filthy being can still find purpose when death is at your door? You do not possess any power that is above my own…"
The old man gulped and thrashed around in his bed before Tom snapped his fingers, and as if invisible ropes held him in place, he became still once more. The wheezing ceased, and born from lungs that had no more use to carry on, the man croaked, "Henry…? Henry, my boy… my son… is that you…? Did you come to see me after all these years…?"
"Henry's dead," Tom spitefully remarked, running his finger along the edge of the goblet. "By now, he's surely just dust, not even bone. No, it's me — the bastard whose name came — came from you." He couldn't help but cough violently, leaving blood to trickle down his fisted hand. Even being in his presence made him sicker than usual.
"No… no, I only had one… one son…" mumbled Tom's father, the man who he never thought would live to see his son that despised him so much again. "Henry, my son… only one son…"
"To think that you can hold some sense in such a pitiful form — how did it come to this?" Tom leaned in closer to his father's face, noting how neither of them shared any resemblance with each other, despite them being identical in a different lifetime. He gripped his cheeks again, this time much tighter that his father began to groan in pain as he hissed softly, "I've spared your life for all these years because I need only one thing from you. Do not think that you are worthy of my mercy for you should be dust — you'll serve your purpose as you did all those years ago, do you hear me clearly? I do not live because of you. You live because of me… me…"
Theo and Hermione shouldn't even bother to hide anything with them making it too obvious. Guess that's one thing he can't keep a secret. Thanks for all the reviews from the previous chapter. I see that you loved it, huh?
I'm going to keep this brief and let this chap soak in for you guys, but I wanted to know just a few things: what do you think of Nott and Gioveri? Hope you enjoyed the chap. Later.
P.S: I promise to hurry the pace since we're still in September:) Plus 300 FOLLOWERS!