Painful anticipation was what had been rushing through the fourth-year Gryffindors inside the Great Hall. Lunch was nearing its end as fingernails were tapping against the wooden surface of the table, some surely on the verge of breaking from how vigorous it was. Underneath the usual volume that filled the room did hisses of excitement fly to one another, while others made their conversations more known and dispersed down the table, especially Seamus. And Theodore honestly could not blame him for it at all. Never had they craved for a lesson so bad, not even when Dumbledore had taught them already — they were in no way discrediting him at all. But how could they not just explode with the thrilling sensation that Mad-Eye Moody was to be their newest teacher?
Ever since the day from when Theodore had left the castle, Hermione, Harry and Ron's curiosity had peaked into an obsession, changing their questions of interest into hounding for answers. Theodore, oddly enjoying seeing them craving for any clue, put up his wall of resilience by not indulging them the truth about Moody — not even Hermione could break through, although she had gone the furthest out of the three.
But like almost every secret within Hogwarts, it became useless in the end when school had returned. Fred and George had come from the first lesson of the day to rejoice to every corner of the castle that Moody had just taught about Unforgivable Curses, inviting an army of people to listen to their stories.
And when it came to the others, none of them felt an ounce of spite towards Theodore for keeping it a secret from them. Although, Hermione did become a tad bit (the boys thought so anyway) annoyed that they came across a Belltor Moody, a former champion and victor of Doomspell when Theodore had known the identity of their newest teacher.
"It's just a massive coincidence, Hermione. What did you want me to do, spoil the surprise for you lot," Theodore had said earlier in the day.
Hermione simply turned her head in a huff, but it didn't last long at all when he joked that he was indebted with her extreme concern. "At least I'm taking it seriously…"
That was their calling. The Gryffindors immediately leapt up from their seats to rush towards the door in a tight bundle, neglecting the other Houses in the process. To be fair, it had been the same all around since morning with the shoving and pushing. They turned the corner sharply and headed to the Defence classroom where the year would truly start off.
"This is going to be wicked!" Ron effused with a skip to his step once they reached the classroom's corridor. "What do you think he'll teach us — Unforgivables, maybe?!"
"He's not allowed to teach us those because we're just fourth-years, Ron. Although, hopefully, he'll stick around long enough unlike our other professors."
Harry lightly elbowed Theodore and asked, "Is it just me or is there something up with the Defence Against the Dark Arts post?"
Theodore snorted and squirmed to the front of the crowd to go through first, much to Seamus's chagrin. "You just noticed?" He twisted the door handle and led the way into the classroom, one that had been relatively unchanged ever since Professor Lupin had last been inside —
"Hurry up and take your seats!" growled a voice that came from the front of the classroom. Theodore was lucky to not keep himself in the same spot as to avoid his classmates from behind hastily entering due to Professor Moody's unmistakable voice.
As he quickly sat down at his desk shared with Harry near the middle, Theodore could see from a glance Moody being draped in rough, brown robes that made him look like a slightly hulking figure — and he, like every other person sitting down, couldn't miss the eye that continued to spin within its socket. Just looking at it made Theodore feel a little bit dizzy.
Not a single sound came from anybody once they filled their seats, staring intently at Professor Moody's ever-unnerving presence as he finally moved. "Let's not waste any more time and get this over and done with. Brown!"
Professor Moody sped through the register without delay, only pausing just for a moment when he reached Harry and Theodore's names. After it was finished soon after, he flung his parchment sheet onto his desk and began to waltz in between the desks in a Dementor-like fashion, only he was with a noticeable limp instead. "Professor Alastor Moody," he began in a gruff tone. "I expect that you're all smart enough to remember my name when you leave this classroom — not only that but what I will teach you with the utmost certainty that you'll be willing to learn from me.
"Now, Professor Dumbledore has hired me for this job because he's certain that you'll need a realistic attitude to the world outside this cosy castle. Dark forces are always brewing in the shadows, no matter how much effort you put into trying to eradicate it. You must always be on the lookout — CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"
Theodore recoiled back as did everybody else. Their eardrums were slowly adjusting to Professor Moody's rough voice when he took them by surprise. He was certainly living up to the 'Mad' part of his name.
Seamus's hand was the first one up, and Professor Moody merely nodded to let him speak. "Um, Professor Moody? Are you by any chance a fan of Gilderoy Lockhart —?"
"Are you mocking me, boy?"
"No! N-no, sir, of course not, sir!" stammered Seamus while waving his hands in a frantic manner. "It's — it's just that Lockhart said something similar before he left, about being vigilant. Bit of a coincidence when he was our Defence teacher, huh…? …no?"
A tick ran across Professor Moody's face that made his nose close up a little as he grumbled, "Me, a fan of Lockhart. They never told me that you were comedians — no, I don't follow fools who have no credit to their names. He would've been chewed up and turned into dragon dung in my line of work, but that's not what we are here to discuss."
Professor Moody halted just in between the desks of Harry and Theodore on his right and Ron and Hermione on his left, his eye now having calmed down for the time being. "During the times of when I started off my career as an Auror fresh from the course, I've seen things… things that would make any man insane in a blink of an eye. Things that would haunt you for years until you couldn't take it anymore. I'm talking about the worst of the worst — the most vicious and unstable wizards and witches you could ever meet in your lifetime. Do you know who I'm referring to, Riddle?"
Theodore quickly turned his gaze away from Moody's eye to his whole face before remembering that he didn't like looking at it that much. "You're talking about Death Eaters, right?"
"Correct. Death Eaters: possibly the vilest creatures on Earth that aren't beasts. You'll hear stories upon stories about how they…"
Theodore wasn't sure whether to sit still for the entire lesson to just take in every word or to at least write something down instead. He wasn't the only one who had no idea as to what type of lesson this was going to be: Parvati and Neville had their backs straight and poised, but it seemed as if they were doing this to not give off the image of being slouchy. Maybe if Theodore could jot a few things down, then he wouldn't look like he was just —
"Lesson too boring for you, Riddle?" asked Professor Moody snappishly — Theodore pulled his hand away from his bag and started to protest against it while wondering how on earth could he see him with his back turned and no mirrors being present anywhere. "Then you won't want to be missing this part. I've read up on what you have all done in the past with your other teachers: Lupin and those other two idiots. You see me? I prefer a more practical approach when dealing with this. When you face the real thing, theory will only get you so far. Understand?"
A hand rose up in the air on Theodore's right, a hand that he correctly predicted to be Hermione's as she asked without permission, "Sir — Professor Moody, we will still be doing as much theory as possible this year, won't we —?" Hermione ignored the collective groans all around and continued "— because I've read most of the specification for this year which covers quite a lot of content."
Professor Moody had a brief look of amusement upon his face before it shifted back to normal. "Theory will always be necessary, Granger, but don't expect to be scribbling down little notes in each lesson — like this one. Everybody up! Out of your seats, now!"
Theodore turned his head side to side in confusion as everyone else bustled out of their chairs, not refusing Professor Moody's instructions; he then only moved off his seat when he was elbowed by Harry. As everyone was further instructed to move to the edge of the classroom, Professor Moody then brandished his wand and gave it a broad swish in front of him, and immediately did the desks and chairs zoom to the back to stack on top of each other. Just a large unmarked space was in the centre that made the classroom even bigger than it had ever been before.
"Potter, you go back into the middle. That's right, you're up first," said Professor Moody with suppressed glee from seeing Harry squirm a little. Harry did as he was told without question, and Professor Moody then began to circle him like a shark preying on a helpless animal. It wouldn't be a stretch for everyone to think he'd attack him out of nowhere. "I went through the reports that you had last year — yours was quite interesting, wouldn't you say so, Potter?"
"You think so?"
"One of the highest grades in the class, and from what I heard, you managed to conjure a Patronus with Dementors crawling around you —" Harry shrugged as he followed Professor Moody's moments, but even he couldn't stop his mouth from upturning into a grin; Theodore had to refrain from rolling his eyes at him.
"And let's not forget about everything else you've been doing since you got here — tell me this, Potter: you come across a Boggart that has been terrorising Muggles for a while now, and you happen to come across it. What do you do?"
Harry swiftly answered, "You perform the Riddikulus Charm which changes its shape to something you find funny."
"OK… but you all should've known that anyway — now here's a real tough one." Professor Moody had stopped moving around Harry and instead came to a halt in front of him. "There's been warnings in the area from where you live that there's a rogue wizard, completely gone in the head. He's been known to be extremely dangerous and just so happened to meet you on an average stroll. What then?"
This time, Harry wasn't so quick to answer as he brought his hand up to push his glasses back on his nose to think. Theodore didn't think that it was too vague of a question, but an answer didn't come up in his mind in time when Harry gave his own, albeit a shaky one at that. "Maybe you could try a… Shield Charm just in case? I mean, there has to be one of those out there."
"You're on the right track, Potter, but you have to go all the way," Professor Moody commented before spinning on the spot to face everyone else — they all nearly took a step back until realising that they were up against the wall. "Being on the defence is a natural way of thinking but remember — CONSTANT VIGILANCE! YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO ALWAYS BE ON THE DEFENCE!"
"Merlin's sake!" squealed Ron underneath everyone's gasps of fear. "He's seriously going to give us a heart attack — sorry, Theo, just got a little spooked there."
Theodore went to rub the area on his arm where Ron had dug his fingernails inside and shrugged it off, only to see that his other arm was being held down by Hermione instead. She quickly released her hold and pretended that nothing happened as did Theodore, even though his arm was stinging quite a bit.
Suddenly a scarred hand flashed in front of Theodore's face and began snapping violently — Professor Moody quickly told Theodore to switch places with Harry and began to elaborate on what was going to happen. "This is going to be an example of what I'm trying to get across to you all, and pay close attention, Finnigan," he growled, even when Seamus was in no way in his field of vision. "Riddle, I'll be the criminal wizard, and you'll be —"
"Wait, what?!" Theodore cut him off, feeling shivers trying to reach every part of his body.
"Calm down, you'll be fine. After all, you've been in this situation before."
Theodore looked across to Ron, Harry and Hermione, unsure if they could see the unease in his eyes. He wanted to blurt out that he was only lucky in the Forbidden Forest, but something else came to mind and forced its way to his tongue, "Professor, if you're the criminal, then that means you're going to try and attack me, right? But the thing is, I don't really know the Shield Charm at all, so —"
"The incantation is Protego," Professor Moody interjected as he brought his wand swishing straight down to display it to the rest of the class. They were all still stuck in the same positions and watching with wide eyes until Professor Moody barked at them all to take a note of it. "I won't force you to remember everything by the end of each lesson. Trust me, if don't have it all in your head, then… back to this — Riddle!"
"Yes?! I mean — yes, sir!"
"Wand at the ready." Theodore plucked out his wand from his pockets and held it to his side before he instinctively brought it up to aim at Professor Moody's feet. Professor Moody did the same, and a twisted smile that contorted his mangled features made Theodore feel odd — was he going to enjoy this? "There's no countdown, no warning: just your reflexes that you have to rely on. Let's see what you're made of, Riddle… Impedimenta!"
Theodore saw turquoise light aiming straight towards his chest like a rocket, but his hand was already in motion as he brought it up then dragged it down again in a near blink of an eye and yelled, "Protego!" Something akin to an invisible wall came between Theodore and the spell as it caused it to bounce off and dissipate when hitting the ceiling — 'All right, now what should I do? Maybe a Stunner —'
"Impedimenta!" growled Professor Moody again, as quickly as the first time. Theodore's heart nearly exploded as he said "Protego!" at the last second, this time feeling the strength of Professor Moody's spell that managed to push him back on his left foot.
"Stupefy!" Theodore pointed his wand at Professor Moody, who expertly deflected it to the far corner of the classroom and started to nod approvingly at Theodore, commenting, "Didn't know that you knew such a spell, Riddle — a useful one at that. You're a quick one, Riddle, and you've got some power behind that wand. Fast learner, I'd say, but not perfect."
Theodore squeezed at his robes but said nothing as Professor Moody began to circle him the same way he did to Harry. "I saw that you hesitated to counter me after you blocked my spell, and I could probably guess why that is. You were thinking too much, weren't you?" he correctly deduced while stopping behind Theodore. "That can't happen, because the second you think too much… you die. Simple as. I can even bet that your hand's shaking from holding your wand too tightly."
"My hand isn't — whoa," was all that he could say when he looked down to see his fingers trembling as they held onto his wand. But Theodore quickly dismissed it, deeming that it was him just being cautious to not let his wand fall.
"You say that now, but you're too stiff," said Professor Moody with no hint of attempting to sugar-coat anything — like he ever would. "Flexibility is what I'm trying to teach you as well — you're too stiff because you think too much, and that can get you killed. All great duellers have been known to never let hesitation get to them, those good and those bad. How do you think the Dark Lord became so fearsome by those who were lucky to be alive after facing him in the past?"
The question didn't sound rhetorical, and Theodore now had both his hands on his wand as he answered in a quieter voice, "Because he never hesitates…?"
"Exactly!" affirmed Professor Moody while returning to his old position. "He wouldn't have been half the threat he was if he had to think what spell he needed next after the first. Always remember," he added, knocking his knuckles against his temple before snapping at Harry this time. "Riddle, you switch places with me — Potter, you take Riddle's spot."
Theodore shuffled past Harry and took up Professor Moody's place, and he turned on the spot to face Harry, who already had his wand out in his hand. Looking back on it, Theodore didn't know too many offensive spells, but a Stunner was enough, right? 'You're thinking too much again. Don't lose focus…'
"Whenever you're ready, Rid—"
"Stupefy!" said Theodore instantaneously without letting Professor Moody finish — the Stunner streaked across the air, pelting towards a seemingly unsuspecting Harry until his reflexes kicked in at the last second. "Protego!" Harry yelled, bouncing the spell off to the side — but right after that did Theodore catch his cousin's wand-hand swish in the air as he said out loud, "Stupefy!"
A fraction of a second further and he would've been slammed onto his back — Theodore slashed in the air and formed the invisible shield in front of him, feeling his wand tremble from the force of Harry's spell. Wasn't at all as strong as Professor Moody's, however. Speaking of the devil…
"You got it, Potter!" Professor Moody grinned as he limped his way over to the two and began to point his finger across to everyone else. "That is what I'm talking about: conscious-thinking will get you absolutely nowhere in any duel! Always need to have those thoughts in the back of your mind, always! Never forget that! If I can get you all through this, the Unforgivables will be a piece of cake…"
As Professor Moody regained his space within the circle, Theodore didn't want to admit that he was feeling somewhat irked that he hadn't been commended like Harry was, even if his reaction time was just as good as his. He shifted himself a little to the back of the crowd to observe everyone rotating in and out, facing Professor Moody with all that they could. Most did averagely well against him; others were knocked off their feet and needed to be revived several times in a row (Professor Moody had taken enough pity on Neville to finally stop).
Theodore, however, didn't refuse to try again, even if nothing seemed to change. He could only take being told that he was thinking too much so many times before becoming internally frustrated. Eventually, did the bells marking for the end of the day go off with wrists aching all around but chest filled with painful joy. Professor Moody called them a 'hopeful lot' as they left through the door, and that was all he said before he plopped down to his desk to take a swig of his flask. Theodore just barely caught his eye through the crack of the open door and heard the faintest huff before they became closed off to each other.
"What do you say — up there with one of the best lessons since the first day?" Seamus asked everybody while walking backwards. "I feel like I can take ten Death Eaters after all that. Ron?"
"You read my mind, Seamus. Still think the Boggart lesson was the best, though."
Theodore was moderately silent, only managing a few words when asked what he thought about their lesson. He wasn't lying when he said that it was great; he just couldn't shake off what felt like jealously turning into something else that was building up slowly inside of him. After all, he was supposed to go up against four other schools, their champions being the peak of magical potential. Yet he was being reminded constantly that he was 'too slow'. So much for being the best.
"You know," Hermione started out of nowhere when she dropped back to his side, "I didn't think that you were slow at all. In fact, it was rather hard to keep up with you. Could barely see a thing."
Theodore pursed his lips to contain the smile and said back, "Now you're just saying things to please me. I don't like being lied to."
"You're being ridiculous. As if you'd really think what he said matters. You did just fine, Theo, and you know you did."
It was a failed effort, in the end, to stop smiling as he did so when they came to the Grand Staircase filled with several students most likely aiming to their common rooms. Theodore then just sighed, taking in the noise around him before expelling it from his head — maybe he was going about this all wrong. Never did it cross his mind Dumbledore's words of advice on that day, how it didn't need to be just him against everyone. At least until now did it not.
'Turn to those closest…' he thought to himself upon reaching the Fat Lady's portrait. The first-, third- and seventh-years were swarming around her portrait, making everything move slower than what would suffice for Theodore — but he was patient. 'Dumbledore is mad, but I think I can finally get him these days…'
The tight crowd of squirming Gryffindors soon came to an end as they finally decided that clambering inside like wild dogs was not the solution. Theodore shuffled closer to the portrait hole right behind Hermione, and he was still pondering on ideas that were latent until his chin was caught in Hermione's hair all of a sudden.
"Sorry," he apologised when realising that she was the second-to-last person to climb through — they sure went through quick. Once she turned to face him, albeit tilt her head upwards, Theodore took note of her half-closed eye with a strand of hair on her eyelash — and just before she could, he brushed it away to the side. "There you go… um, w-we should be getting inside now!"
Hermione briefly looked back to the open space behind the portrait and saw nobody lurking from the corner — absolutely convenient, thought Theodore. Convenient and perfect for her. "Or… we could just go off somewhere else… we don't have to stay here…"
Theodore's eyes became wide — he didn't think that she could be this forward. "I'm not saying that I don't want to at all, because I would, really! It's just Harry and Ron… I mean, we haven't even said anything to them. By the time we get back, Ron's going to be all… you know."
"Elvira's so much worse," Hermione groaned with an exasperated sigh, letting her head fall onto his chest. "I didn't even tell her about what happened on my birthday, but she knew everything! She swears that she didn't spy on us, but…"
She lifted her head up again and held both her hands onto his right arm, saying softly, "You're — you're going to do great in Doomspell, Theo. I really, really do think so. Just promise that you won't go off brooding on your own again. I'd rather have you all… unbearably cocky than that."
"Thanks for the encouragement, I guess…"
"OK…" she whispered before lifting off her tiptoes and slightly pulling Theodore down by the arm to bring his face closer to hers, pecking softly at his lips before stepping back. "H-how's that for encouragement…?"
All that Theodore could do was watch Hermione rush through the portrait before stumbling to the ground and disappearing into the common room — and a small voice in his head was mercilessly berating him for letting what could've been an interesting afternoon pass.
'What. An. Idiot you are, Theo…'
"Oi! I've been staring at this wall for the past ten minutes! Are you going in or not?!" Theodore apologised to the Fat Lady and climbed through, also landing clumsily on his feet as the portrait slammed shut behind him. "After all that sneaking around, they're finally a thing. I've spent way too long in this castle, far, far too long…"
Finally, did things seem to speed up around the castle as September was quickly left behind and October was beginning to roll in. Even then, the month was no stranger to picking up the pace as if it was also overflowing with excitement along with everybody else — Doomspell was getting ever so closer, and it was hard for anybody to contain it, even if they didn't particularly like their chosen champion.
As for the four, it was rather more complicated than that when they thought about what was to come. Up until the middle of the month did they work around the clock in the library uncovering anything in the past related to Doomspell, and what they recovered did aid them in some way. According to Unity Among Wizards: The Trials of Doomspell, each trial that was performed had been recorded in the book beforehand, giving them hope that they could use it to their advantage — who would've known that it would be Ron to spoil the mood by pointing out that no Doomspell tournament would repeat their tasks. A real shame, to be quite frank.
Nevertheless, they still encouraged Theodore to keep his head up (meanwhile, he'd rather be doing anything else), not failing to remind him that he was still the youngest of the lot. Maybe he could feel some motivation to really try, but something was just lacking inside. Perhaps when the time would come for him to compete, it'd appear in the nick of time — who knew?
"Hmm…" hummed Theodore to himself, holding his dry quill in one hand and a parchment sheet in the other. He was lounging along the armchair inside the common room that was unusually calm today, and he had his mind set on writing down a to-do list (recommended by Hermione) on what to achieve before the day Doomspell started. Only it wasn't coming to him as quickly as he initially thought.
Theodore turned his head to look over his shoulder to the squashy couch and saw Ginny and Elvira giggling with each other while Viripin was doing her best impression of Crookshanks to them ("she's sort of like me," Elvira effused, earning a nuzzle to the cheek). Ron and Hermione were on the other end while Harry was sitting down on the floor, apparently redoing his homework for Professor Snape. All of them looked so carefree, so unrestricted… oh, how he missed feeling that way.
'I should put going to Nott on the list because I've been putting that off for far too long now,' he thought to himself when returning to his list. 'Then again, he doesn't seem like he's in the mood these days. Probably be best not to say something that could set him off. Why couldn't this be a normal year…?'
"… and you wouldn't catch me doing that again. Say, Elvira," Ron asked with a lifted eyebrow, "that's your sister in Beauxbatons, right? Aren't you supposed to be supporting her, or is it going to be Theo instead?"
A confused look spread across Elvira's face, something similar to when Neville was asked how to perform a spell in Transfiguration. "I… well, I, uh, I guess I'll be supporting Theodore…" she answered reluctantly before cupping Viripin's jaw again.
"Wow, that's cold," Ron chortled.
"Stop it, Ron."
"What? OK, I'm sorry, Elvira — you happy…?"
"No, no, it's all right, Ron, you don't have to apologise." Elvira sighed and allowed her eyebrows to droop as she continued, "It's not like she is making it easy for me to stand behind her anyway."
"Don't you like her?" asked Ginny. "She is your sister, after all."
"Yes, I do… but…" Elvira's hair was slowly curling into red locks, and she coughed when all eyes were fixed on her — what a way to diffuse the tension. She turned to Theodore, who was still daydreaming and asked him, "So, do you have anything in mind about what will happen in the first trial? I'm guessing that they'll probably try to test you on a certain skill that you have, to prove your worth."
Theodore slightly raised his eyebrow and turned on the chair to sit properly. "That seems a little bit specific. Even we didn't know that that was the case — how do you even know that?"
"Remember when I told you about my family's history? I've had quite a few ancestors who competed and won Doomspell in the past. It's one of the only few recurring themes of Doomspell in each one. At least, that's what I remember my father telling me."
"Come on, Theo, even I remembered that," Ron chimed in while slouching further down the sofa. "Hermione's been repeating it to death forever — I wonder if you were actually listening to her…"
Meeting his eyes with everybody else's, Theodore saw the corners of their mouths lifting into mirroring grins, all except Hermione's face that was pink and slightly hidden behind her hair. "Sometimes, I really hate you, Ron…" muttered Theodore to himself as he curled up again on the armchair, also obscuring his face from the others.
As he brought his mind away from the distraction and to his list, hissing came from behind his ear and his shoulder felt heavy as Viripin slithered onto his belly, resting her head on his chest — somehow, Theodore could already tell what was on her mind. "You shouldn't be embarrassed, Theodore — you should be proud instead," hissed Viripin in a soft whisper, "I know I am. You finally took the dive with Hermione! Soon you'll be confessing that you love her, and —"
"I'm not — I didn't take any dive, Viripin!" whispered Theodore back, holding her head closer to his chin, "or at least… I guess I did, didn't I…?"
"You did, and it turned out well in the end. And you were so desperately trying to deny it all. Honestly, I thought you were so helpless…"
Theodore grumbled that he wasn't helpless and stroked her along her back, his quill and notebook slowly forgotten, even when Harry finally spoke up after chucking his work onto the table. "Can't wait until we get to the sixth year: then I can finally drop this stupid subject. Don't have you have to be somewhere, Theodore?"
"You're always going off at this time to your god— Snape's lessons. Is it on today, or are you avoiding it again?" asked Harry, lifting himself up to squeeze in between Ron and Hermione.
Theodore groaned and lifted Viripin's body to set her onto Ginny — he knew too well that missing the Occlumency lessons would cause problems, even if they were probably useless to him by now. Theodore reckoned he could block anybody out, including Professor Snape.
He told them all that he'd return in an hour or so, and he left the common room to make his way to the dungeons. Like usual nowadays, nothing presented itself to prove troublesome on his way down, and Theodore reached the Entrance Hall fairly quickly, but his legs stopped working when voices from the bottom of the staircase became heard. It wasn't Peeves — certainly not with how relaxed they sounded. Dumbledore, perhaps?
Theodore's deduction was proven correct when he lifted his head to observe from above. There did he see Dumbledore in his purple robes — and he wasn't alone from the looks of it. Lestrange was also present, as was Professor Snape with a student standing by his side with a large trunk beside him. But even in the growing darkness could Theodore recognise who it was.
"Nott?" Theodore inadvertently let out from the top step — he awkwardly tripped a little bit forward, fully exposing himself.
Everybody turned their heads towards him like robots, and Theodore, for a moment, thought to apologise for intruding, even when the presumption of Nott being expelled flashed across his mind. How could he not think that when Nott's face looked more miserable than the Bloody Baron — not only him but Lestrange too shared the same expression.
"Ah, Theodore," Dumbledore called out casually. "What a surprise to see you outside at this hour — may I so kindly ask why, if you don't mind?"
"I, uh…" Theodore murmured as he glanced over to Professor Snape; Dumbledore followed his gaze and raised his eyebrow as if he caught himself just in the nick of time and chortled, "Of course, of course! I'm very pleased to see that you're adhering to your lessons, young man."
As he walked a few steps down, Theodore tilted his head a little to the side and muttered loud enough for Nott to hear, "You all right?"
Nott barely even nodded.
"Come on, Theodore, the carriages are waiting outside for us." Lestrange miserably flicked his wand over Nott's trunks while Dumbledore was muttering some words by his side — Nott remained silent, forever staring down at his feet.
"I'm sorry to cause you trouble…" Theodore heard Lestrange whisper, "but Evangeline… she won't… she isn't going to recover… she wanted Theodore by her side before she…"
"Take all the time you need…" Dumbledore muttered back before sticking out his hand to shake with Lestrange. He shook it weakly and exchanged a simple tilt of the head with Professor Snape; he didn't even glance at Theodore as he motioned Nott and his trunk behind him.
Theodore slowly descended the staircase, staring as Lestrange and Nott disappeared into the darkened fronts of the castle until they became engulfed by the night. He couldn't hold it within himself and just had to ask, "Professor… what's going on with him — them? Did something happen, or…?"
Dumbledore sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose. "I'll ask you this time, Theodore, to not pry in other people's business for their sakes. Some things are far too sensitive to share amongst others, even if one is particularly close with another."
"OK, I understand," said Theodore as he began to walk towards the dungeons — only that his path was blocked by Professor Snape and not by accident. "Aren't we going to continue with the Occlumency lessons?"
"All lessons are postponed until further notice — don't bother to ask why, because I will not disclose it with you," Professor Snape said boorishly, crossing his arms. "That doesn't mean that I expect you to slack off. When the lessons return, and they will, I'll expect you to have a mastery over Occlumency that you'll resist the likes of me. Understood?"
Somehow, Theodore could tell that Dumbledore was probably enjoying himself watching the two together. He sunk his hands in his pockets and nodded, and he too watched his godfather leave the scene in silence, and not a single footstep was heard.
"I feel for Theodore — both of them, actually," Dumbledore lamented, staring up directly at the moon with a sombre cloud around him. "Dark days during a child's life can haunt them forever if persistent enough. I wish them all my strength. And I hope you will too?"
Dumbledore gently patted Theodore's shoulder and bid him goodnight, leaving Theodore behind like Professor Snape did, without a sound. Leading his eyes to the door again, it was slowly becoming clearer to Theodore. The sudden change in mood, being more reserved than usual, 'Evangeline'… Theodore didn't know what to feel, especially knowing that he could never be in Nott's place, ever. No, he was barely two years old when he lost his own mother. Sorry. That's what should be there. He should feel sorry for Nott, right? Right?
Theodore was appreciating the speed that was gained by October as the end was so close. Granted that lessons with Moody were considerably becoming more favourable, Theodore still felt like the rush for it to push into the next month was needed. Was it because Doomspell was starting to get to him — if asked by anybody else, he'd outright refuse, but something inside was telling him otherwise.
But despite how quickly the month was going along, Theodore didn't neglect to notice the subtle changes around him, namely Nott's appearances around school. He'd been absent from lessons for almost a week, and according to Daphne (yes, Theodore was that curious that he went to go ask her), he only gave out a single letter about the nice weather at home.
"I hope he's all right," she mumbled during Potions. "Theodore doesn't seem like the type to handle… whatever…"
That wasn't the only thing that he noticed: his Occlumency lessons had suddenly stopped. No mention of it being discontinued from Professor Snape, even when Theodore went to ask him. He'd receive the same excuse of it being pushed forward, no real date to look forward to. He didn't mind it at all, knowing that he'd have more time to spend with Harry, Ron and Hermione (something else to notice was that little by little did they start to care less about people seeing them. Only a little.) and focus on Doomspell. Still did seem off to him.
Harry, Hermione and Ron were stood around Hagrid's garden patch, standing perfectly still to observe the cluster of enormous pumpkins grown once again. It was an odd thing that they never acknowledged, which was watching the pumpkins as if they were exotic fish inside a tank. They surely did look exotic, with their skin almost golden and their leaves partially sentient, swaying in the air with a lack of wind.
"Dear god, it smells like shit…" Theodore gasped as he pushed open Hagrid's door with Hagrid following behind shortly. As he pinched his nose tightly with one hand, the other was clasping a large watering can by the tips of his fingers. Inside was something murky, foal and quite frankly, ungodly in Theodore's opinion. "Hagrid, what is this stuff? It's absolutely… disgusting."
"Ey, come off it now," grinned Hagrid, slapping his hands together for the sound to echo across to the Forbidden Forest. "It's jus' fertiliser fer the pumpkins. Gotta make 'em grow big an' tasty-lookin' fer the feast today. Hard work ter squeeze out the juice, I tell yeh."
Theodore quickly handed him the can when offered if he wanted to pour some in the soil. He joined the others in their staring and absent-mindedly asked, "So how are those… Skrewts, are they called? How's that going along?"
"Well, yeh'll have ter ask these three, but I think it's goin' great! Perfect! Everybody havin' a blast in lessons, they love 'em! Ask 'em yehself, they already said it ter me before."
"Yeah, we love it — if we were freaks who loved to torture ourselves, that is," Ron bitterly added under his breath.
"But wha' abou' yeh, Theo?" asked Hagrid after the can was empty. "Still ready ter fight and win Doomspell for little ol' Hogwarts?"
Theodore looked back at the castle; he turned back to Hagrid and said, "I can't escape it, can I? The other schools are supposed to be coming over here today about our first trial. In fact, it looks like I might have to go now…"
"It's barely into the evening, Theo," mentioned Harry — he swatted away at a shoot that drifted too close to his face.
"Doesn't mean I can't prepare myself right before. You should've seen the other champions up close: they're all older than me. And they're really intense, like unnecessarily so. I'm not going to let them try and intimidate me."
Hermione detracted her gaze from the 'smallest' plant and strolled over to Theodore's side to add, "Harry's right. It doesn't even seem like they've arrived yet, or otherwise, the entire castle would be screaming the roof off right now." She dug her elbow gently into his side and smiled, "And they're not going to intimidate you, once they know what you're made of —"
The horrid noise that sounded like an explosion went off nearby caused the four of them to leap back and instinctively huddle up altogether until Hagrid had to assure them that it was the Skrewts growing ever so quickly. Knowing that that was the perfect cue to leave, they slowly backed away and stammered claims of being with Theodore until he had to go.
"Tha's fine. But are yeh sure yeh don' —"
"Yes, we're sure!"
Hagrid shrugged and waved them goodbye as their trudging soon turned into scampering away before Hagrid could try inviting them to pet the abomination of such creatures.
"How have you guys — not died yet?" panted Theodore when they were at a far enough distance. "I mean, Hagrid's great, but… what the actual fuck were those things?"
The others just sadly shook their heads. Thank goodness that he didn't take Care for Magical Creatures.
"This shouldn't be allowed," Hermione complained, sticking out her hand in front of Theodore — he'd seen the burn marks on all three, but assumed that it was from something else, seeing as how they never told him, nor did he ask them. "One of them tried to cut me open while the other wanted to suck my blood. I'll be lucky to have all five of my fingers by Christmas! Shit…"
Theodore huffed amusingly through his nose and took her hand with both of his to take a closer look. "Yeah… it does sort of look like a hand to me…" He watched her attempting to hold in a giggle at the same time tightening her grip on his hands — there did his heart go again, not able to get enough of her. Even seeing her trying to hide her teeth made it all the more pleasing to Theodore.
The four carried on up — Ron didn't make a remark about the two, weirdly enough — to the castle, all sharing the same idea of their destination in their heads before Theodore would have to leave. Problem was; however, they were met with several, no, a mob full of students that were flooding the Entrance Hall in an excitable manner. They shoved, pushed and yelled over each other — that was until Theodore was finally noticed.
The crowd of students swarmed around them, all with hungry, exhilarated expressions as questions were being thrown left and right to Theodore like, "You're just in time! Did you know that they were here already?!" or "Theodore, do you know the girl from Mahoutokoro — what about the one from Beauxbatons?" Some were just screaming his name for the sake of it.
"Wait, they're already here?" Everybody nodded their heads dangerously fast before the questions rose again. Theodore looked back at his friends, reading their faces that told him it was all right to go before they heard a bang go off out of nowhere.
Professor McGonagall had her wand pointed towards the air with sparks flying off the tip, and she didn't look at all content with how the current scene looked. "Everybody go off to your common rooms, or away from here immediately — except for you, Riddle!" As everyone was scampering away, Professor McGonagall briskly arrived at the four and continued, "I'm sure that as you've heard from your 'loyal supporters' that the other champions are inside the castle. They're waiting for you inside the Headmaster's office — for ten minutes in fact."
"I'm sorry about — wait…" Theodore stared all around him. Nobody seemed to be going to their common rooms — more like they were waiting for something else. Suddenly did everything become calamitous with the shoving and pushing, and they all climbed up the stairs to enter the Great Hall in a non-orderly fashion — and it hit him. "I'm going to miss the feast?"
"Surely, that's not the one thing on your mind right now —"
"But what am I supposed to eat afterwards, especially if —"
"Headmaster's office, now. I'll trust that your friends will bring you a meal, but we must get going. Let's not make a bad impression, shall we!"
Theodore held in his huff and said goodbye quickly to Harry, Ron and Hermione after reminding them to bring him as much food as they could; — rolled eyes all around — then he trailed behind Professor McGonagall through the rush to the Great Hall. After the lengthy journey did they reach Dumbledore's office which oddly felt smaller with the number of people inside altogether. And there was quite the number of people standing around.
All of the other four champions were partially scattered around the office, each of them stuck close to their respective Headmaster, while Fudge and Crouch (Lestrange was not present) were talking casually with one another. Each one of them was clad in the very same uniforms from when Theodore had last seen them, and they couldn't have seemed more out of place, or perhaps Theodore felt so. Seeing everybody appearing entirely different from the next made him realise that his uniform was rather scruffy, in fact.
Fudge's face suddenly lit up, and he clapped loudly before approaching Theodore with his hands outstretched. "There he is! Been waiting on you for some time, Mr Riddle! Barty, did you call Rita? They'll have to be taking their pictures soon…"
"Not with the way he's dressed at the moment," Professor McGonagall huffed as she interjected, taking Theodore firmly by the shoulders to the centre of the office — and so were the other champions. "Riddle looks much too shabby to have his picture taken."
Theodore opened his mouth for a rebuttal but instead slowly tucked in his shirt and brushed his hair from his eyes. He knew that he didn't look exactly perfect, but there was no need for that sort of comment.
Dumbledore, who happened to come out from nowhere from where Theodore was standing, calmly lifted his palm and said, "It's all right, Theodore, we're not in a rush. Surely there'll be a day where you won't look 'much too shabby' — right, Minerva?"
"Yes, yes, it can wait for later," Crouch quickly said before Professor McGonagall could speak. As he began to rummage inside his robes, he continued, "OK, champions, if you are to make a circle around me… now where is…? Here we go…"
A look of triumph came across Crouch's face when he had seemingly found what he was looking for. From there did he produce a dull, bronze globe-like object the size of a slightly overgrown orange and held it out in front of him while spinning, displaying to each of the perturbed champions. Theodore was inclined to ask what it was but refrained himself, thinking that it would look childish to the others.
"What is that?" asked Christina, breaking the sudden silence.
"This… this relic that has existed as long as the Ring of Judgement itself roughly translates into Broken World," said Crouch in a morbid tone, his eyes widening uncomfortably to everyone. "It supposedly represents us all, coming from the different corners of the world to come together… only to face against each other… only the strongest will survive…"
Theodore shifted nervously on the spot when Crouch's gaze averted from Christina to his until the atmosphere was broken as he scoured for his wand. He lifted 'Broken World' and tapped the top of it with his wand, allowing it to float and spin like a miniature planet.
"Doomspell has evolved so much throughout the years that we as wizards are not granted power over it, even if we were its creators," Crouch continued as he backed away from the circle, keeping his stare on the globe; somehow, the office felt darker for some reason. "Always remember that objects can have power over us, for objects now control Doomspell. The Ring of Judgement, our Judge; Broken World, our Challenger, and The Doomspell Cup, its Prize —"
Crouch rambled on some more as Theodore couldn't look away from the globe, and neither could any of the others. Every single rotation looked faster than the last, spinning more rapidly as it began to give off a faint glow. And then did Theodore feel it — it was as if it was trying to draw him in by force, to heave him forward off his feet. Theodore was stood firmly still but still entranced by it. His senses were slowly being dulled as Crouch faded away out of sight and mind, and it was only them. They all looked so… blurred… so… unreal… It was like looking into the Sun, but it was kinder in an otherworldly way… so warm, so easy to touch…
Theodore's eyes fluttered as the globe hovered just a few feet above their heads, stealing their gazes towards it. It felt alive like somebody was there; Theodore could even hear something humming in his ear — and it was getting louder and louder. Why couldn't he just look away…? The humming… it was a voice in his ears, in their ears… and it was speaking to them.
"Ilvermorny… Mahoutokoro… Uagadou… Beauxbatons… Hogwarts…" a voice so raspy that it made the hair on Theodore's skin prickle up spoke out from up above. "Champions of Doomspell, chosen from the broken world… five of you, and four tests from me… what will be their defeat will be your victory… but know this: Doomspell will have no mercy for you… for you must do what it takes to survive… for your life means nothing to theirs…"
The globe then started to crack violently while descending slowly, still spinning at ungodly speeds. The broken voice drew in a hoarse breath and continued, "The first of four will be… leadership. I will trial you on leadership, and know this —" the globe stopped; then it fractured as if it couldn't contain an explosion from within "— by yourself you are one; together you'll make seven for you will never win on your own… Ilvermorny… Mahoutokoro… Uagadou… Beauxbatons… Hogwarts… Champions of Doomspell…"
Theodore broke out of his daze when a small fragment of the globe rested in the air in front of him, just like the flame did when he was chosen. It was still glowing, although dimly, and remained in front of his eyes, not wanting to move anywhere else. He took it carefully in his hands, noting how rough its edges were but he still clasped it tightly — still warm, and the humming hadn't disappeared from his ears… it was still trying to speak to him…
"Trust is the key…" it whispered. "Reform the Broken World when the first of four is completed…"
He didn't know what to say, or what to do. Theodore opened up his hands and saw the dull piece of a bronze globe sitting in his hand with the mark of Hogwarts's coat of arms etched onto it. Nothing was coming to him, not even the fact that he was damn hypnotised by a ball that could speak to him. His head felt as if his mind had been pouring out from his ears, only leaving him to just stare.
"Theodore!" Theodore jumped and turned around, holding tightly to the bronze fragment again. Crouch's voice had done the trick to stop him from gazing at his hands too long, and he seemingly resumed to what he was saying after giving Theodore an odd stare. "Now as I was saying, the first trial will be on the twenty-fourth of November, exactly at twelve o'clock. It should be taking place at Crecklestain's Arena — all of you will be given its location soon.
"And don't forget that there will be witches and wizards from outside the school spectating as well. After all, we don't wish for your families to… miss out." Crouch coughed. "If you're wondering about those pieces, they are to be on you at all times: do not lose it. They will be able to recite the message that was given to you should you need to hear it once more. Any questions?"
Theodore turned his head to the others and saw that from their relaxed, almost sedated looks on their faces that no questions were running through their minds.
"Marvellous," Fudge clapped while rounding the headmasters up in a circle, and he said behind his shoulder, "We can't wait for you all to compete and show us what you got. Good luck to you all."
Theodore quickly said a thank you and was excused by Professor McGonagall to join the feast, should it still be going on. Taking no chances to let anybody keep him behind, Theodore then slipped out of the room — Christina and Kofi were kind enough to say goodbye while Shizuka and Nicolette were not — and ran down the steps, passing people who tried to stop him for conversation, hoping that the Great Hall was still filled with food and —
"No!" Theodore cried when he saw it barren with people and not a single plate along the tables. People were still lingering around the doors of the Great Hall and weren't as keen to approach Theodore than to gush over how wonderful the feast was. Judging from how long it took him to stay inside Dumbledore's office, it was impossible for him to miss even the first half of the feast unless whatever the hell that was which had him hypnotised gave off the illusion that time went by quickly.
He sighed as his stomach growled dangerously. Lunch felt so far away looking back now. If only he could summon food out of nowhere; found the kitchens to quickly grab some food from the house-elves; even own a house-elf himself. Theodore tiredly blew out of his nose in amusement as he, in much less of a hurry, started to walk back to the common room. He could imagine Hermione not being all too accepting that he really did own a house-elf, even when her name could never cross his mind.
"Tilly…? Toggy…?" Theodore mumbled to himself once he reached the platform before the Fat Lady. "Tigger… ah, that's stupid. I'd probably remember if I had something in my stomach. Sticklewack."
Theodore climbed through and lazily closed the portrait behind him — at least the feast did its job by letting everyone stuff themselves silly so that they'd force themselves to their beds. He was honestly too moody for conversation; in fact, he was so moody that his own mind had him tricked that he could smell roast chicken and potatoes with gravy; beef, sweetcorn and treacle tart, all other things that he'd love to scoff down…
"You're finally back! I've been keeping this warm for an hour, and Fred and George were trying to nick some — Theodore, don't just stand there, come and get your food!"
Theodore stepped into the common room, and he could've sworn that tears would've ran down his cheeks right there. Standing on the sides of the table at the back were Harry and Ron, the latter munching on a glazed doughnut, and sitting down with her wand slowly swishing above plates of food was Hermione giving him a half-frown. "If you're not coming to eat this now, Theodore, then I'll just let Fred and George have the rest."
"No, no! I mean, thank you, really," grinned Theodore as he hurried to his seat. The enticing aroma of the food wafted in his face, making his mouth water in an instant. "Honestly, I mean this when I say that I love you guys. You're the best."
"Good to know," said Harry with a smile as he sat down.
Even if it was all for him, Theodore stared at the food with utter greed in his face — but then did he hear the deep grumbling emanating from the others in unison. "Didn't you guys eat already?" he asked, pulling his hands away from the plates. Although it wasn't clear at first, it was obvious that they didn't have their fill judging from how they stared at the food.
"Sort of," said Ron as he sat down as well. Theodore looked at him confusingly. "We were going to wait for you to come back down to eat with us, but you weren't there; so we asked Dumbledore if you were coming back at all."
"That's not right," Theodore interrupted. "Dumbledore was upstairs with us for the entire time, so he couldn't have been at the feast —"
"Just let me finish — and yes, Dumbledore was at the feast the entire time. Don't know who you saw. Anyway, Dumbledore said that it was unlikely since it would always take long. We thought — Harry and I thought that we couldn't get you anything until Hermione suggested something crazy, well, for her."
Theodore turned to see her frowning again and asked her what she did. "I didn't suggest anything, I was simply talking to myself, and you so happened to hear everything. Theodore, I only went through with it because I knew how hungry you'd be when you'd come back."
"It's funny how you're so thoughtful about Theo's stomach and not ours. We barely even got half a plate because you were paranoid that we'd get caught — for Merlin's sake, Hermione, just tell him that you dragged us to go steal food from the kitchens."
Theodore's mouth hung open as Hermione fell back on her chair, twiddling her thumbs. She stole food, she stole food for him? "Stop staring at me and eat your food, Theodore," she spoke softly, staring away in embarrassment, pink in the face.
Theodore looked over to Harry, who gave him a nod of confirmation. His heart raced for a moment as he shuffled around in his chair to stop his leg from going numb. "Well… seeing that you guys gave up your Halloween feast for me… we'll have our own one right here," he spoke while waving his hand over the dishes, making them slide across the table in front of Harry, Hermione and Ron. He pointed his wand to his knife, fork and spoon and said "Gemino!" — Hermione opened her mouth to protest but Theodore cut her off and said, "Nope, I won't take no for an answer; besides, you earned it. Not every day you get to break into the kitchens."
Harry pressed his hand against Theodore's forehead and said, "Something's not right with Theo, guys. He's actually sharing his food."
"I can just take it all back if that's what you —" Theodore smiled when Harry took his duplicated cutlery and instantly began on his plate, as did Ron and Hermione. But he didn't lift his hand to start eating as he couldn't take his eyes off of Hermione. It had only been just a month since then, but to him, it felt like only yesterday when he kissed her for the first time. Looking at her, just looking at her was enough for his chest to swell with something he couldn't quite tell what it was.
"Lunatic…" he whispered as he picked up his fork to start eating. Theodore could just see Hermione looking unimpressed before she broke into a smile to dive back down in her food. None of them spoke a single word, not even to ask Theodore what had occurred with the other champions as the bronze fragment sat comfortably inside his pocket. What did it mean to him at that moment anyway? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Harry pulled his spoon from his mouth to stare at Theodore, for he stopped eating out of nowhere. "Why d'you stop eating? Theo? What's wrong with him?"
"He didn't go that long without something in his stomach, did he?" Ron asked Hermione. She shrugged and leaned forwards to snap in his face at the same time calling his name repeatedly until —
"IT'S TWIGGY!" Theodore shouted before a large crack filled the whole room. All four of them fell backwards off their chairs, hitting the ground awkwardly without realising that they had bits of food hanging off their hair and clothes. Theodore gripped the sides of his head before crawling around to help the others up on their feet — Ron was quietly swearing to himself before he asked Theodore what exactly did he do, to which he grumbled, "I didn't do anything. Or at least I don't think I… what the hell…?"
They stood up straight when it began to twirl around on the table on one foot, the other dripping with gravy. Theodore first saw the bat-like ears flapping away; then it was the filthy purple pillowcase that he had seen before. Did he actually remember the name that was on the tip of his tongue for so long? "T-twiggy?" he nearly whispered.
The house-elf clumsily turned on the spot to face them, her foot now smothered in potatoes and tart, and the largest, toothiest grin came across her face before she fell to her knees. "Oh, Master Theodore, it's good to meet again! Twiggy thought that Master Theodore had forgotten Twiggy and wanted nothing to do with her!"
Silence. Complete, utter silence. They continued to stare, huddled up as if to expect a blizzard to pass over their heads. Twiggy didn't move from her spot, keeping her forehead pressed against the food-soiled table. Theodore wanted somebody to move or say something first, for he couldn't tell if it was excitement or confusion that he was feeling. Something, anything…
I know that this was really delayed, and that it feels odd in some parts. I feel even worse when I have to tell you that the next chap might come out even later because of school and everything. Hope you haven't dropped this story because it's not going anywhere, I promise. I won't elaborate on what happened in the chap and will let it marinate for you guys. Hope you enjoyed the chapter and I'll see you later.