Progeny of Slytherin: The Beginning of the Riddle

Bold Moves

"This is — this is scrumptious! Twiggy — Twiggy likes this very much!" The four circled the house-elf by the back table, who was mumbling happily through a mouth overstuffed with what was leftover from their plates. Some had drizzled down her mouth and onto her filthy makeshift dress, but it didn't seem as if she cared nor if she ever would for that fact.

It had been a while since she suddenly appeared from thin air, and Theodore, Harry, Hermione and Ron hadn't breathed a word; they didn't twist their necks to show each other their looks of bewilderment. The house-elf had completely captured them, forcing the four to watch her dangerously scoff down their food until she was brought to slap her chest violently.

Theodore quickly snapped out of his daze and stepped forward, exclaiming, "Hey — slow down before you choke! It's just mashed potatoes…"

"Of course — of course, master," spluttered the house-elf in between coughs, "but Twiggy cannot disrespect the blessed food that master has allowed for Twiggy to eat!"

"No problem…" Theodore turned to the others, hoping that they too had stopped staring like dulled zombies. Harry and Ron looked rather intrigued by the house-elf while Hermione seemed more confused than anything. All of them were still silent.

He turned back around and itched at his chin to think of a question which was obvious when it came to him. "So, uh… 'Twiggy' was it?" She nodded her head with a gooey smile. "All right then. Can I ask how — no. Can I ask why you are here? Like inside the castle?"

After smearing her hands along the front of her pillowcase, Twiggy then clambered on top of the table, shifting some of the plates to the side — and the floor — and straightened herself. "Twiggy is Twiggy, a house-elf, and Twiggy serves the Potters in Potter House! Twiggy was to serve and only serve the owner of the house, and now Master Theodore is the owner of the house before the mistress… before the mistress…"

"Before the mistress —?"

Wails of despair instantly filled the common room as Twiggy dropped down to her knees and clutched at her pillowcase, tears streaming down her bulbous eyes while she sobbed miserably.

"Tell her to be quiet, Theo!" said Ron in a panic as he darted his head towards the stairwells.

As Twiggy began to calm down once Theodore made it clear that they could be heard, Hermione brought out her wand and twirled it in the air to conjure a red handkerchief before handing it over to Twiggy. "There you go, Twiggy, don't cry. It's going to be all right."

"Th-thank you," croaked Twiggy. She closed it around her large nose and blew straight into it before it became riddled with viscous snot. Hermione did her best to hide her disgust when it was handed back while Twiggy continued, "Master Theodore has found very good and kind friends. You must be very close to Master Theodore."

"Me? I-I don't — wait, do you think so?! We're just —!"

"This is Hermione," Theodore cut in just in time, "Hermione Granger. She was technically the first friend that I made when I finally knew about magic."

Twiggy bowed her head towards the flustered Hermione as Theodore moved to Ron. "This is Ron Weasley. He's the only one of us that grew up with magic —" Ron did an awkward wave as Twiggy also bowed "— and this is Harry Potter, my cousin. I'm sure that you know —"

A deep gasp escaped from Twiggy as she slapped her hands across her lips. Eyes aimed nowhere else but Harry; they shimmered as if filled with disbelief from the image before her. As Harry shifted nervously from where he stood, Twiggy then lifted a bony finger that quivered in the air and pointed it to Harry's direction — he still looked as uncomfortable as he was confused.

"M-Master James…! Looks j-just like Master James!"

"I, uh… yeah…?" was all that Harry could say while awkwardly scratching at his thigh. "That's my dad, James Potter…"

Twiggy jumped off the table and did a little odd dance, clapping madly until she was told to quieten down again. "Master James has become a father, just like Master Fleamont before him!" she effused. "Twiggy does not doubt that Master Harry is also from the Lovely Lily — oh, how wonderful! It's been so long since Twiggy has seen Master James!"

"Uh, Twiggy…?"

"Twiggy will make sure to make him his favourite, and then —"

"Twiggy," Theodore repeated in a firmer tone — that stopped her from talking. But all sense of firmness left his being when he locked eyes with Twiggy, reading something almost childlike within hers. Something was smouldering inside his stomach as it came to him that she was stuck inside that house for several years. 'She doesn't know…'

But before Theodore could open his mouth at all, Harry then said, "My parents are gone, Twiggy. James and Lily… they're gone…"

It was like watching a knife being pierced into somebody's stomach at the slowest speed possible. The deadness in her eyes spread fast as she remained stiff, cursed by Harry's words. Suddenly, her knees began to shake violently before giving way, and she dropped harshly onto the ground. Theodore didn't even know her yet he felt the pain in his stomach worsening upon watching the choked sobs that Twiggy was trying to suppress.

"Oh, here you go," said Hermione with her lips trembling as she gave her another handkerchief. She looked like she could cry at any minute along with Twiggy. "It's all right to cry, just…"

"T-Twiggy — Twiggy was s-supposed to be there for them!" Twiggy hiccuped while blowing into her handkerchief yet again. "Even when they were just little, Twiggy w-was… Twiggy always caring for the Master and Mistress's m-m-miracles! B-but… but now, they're both… they're both…!"

Theodore felt something tug at his jumper and turned to Ron, whose face made it seem as if something bad was going to happen. "Err, mate? I think you need to watch out. I heard when house-elves get all emotional, they like to —"

"Hey!" Theodore leapt towards the table where Twiggy had clambered onto again while still sobbing at the same time and yanked at the discarded plate that Twiggy held high above her head, ready to smash it down. "What the hell are you doing?! Why are you always hurting yourself every time I see you?"

Twiggy swayed around before finding her balance again and slurred, "T-Twiggy let… let her masters die… must face the proper punishment…"

"You couldn't have done anything to change what happened, Twiggy," Theodore affirmed before he adopted a softer voice as her tears welled up some more. "Look — you didn't let anybody die, OK? Even though I don't have a clue as to why it all happened, I know that it wasn't your fault, so don't blame yourself."

She sniffed heavily, still letting tears run down her face until she nodded lightly as if she were a child. Twiggy dabbed at her eyes again and croaked, "Master Theodore is very kind, just like Twiggy hoped. No, he's much kinder. He reminds me of the mistress when she was just a little one — Twiggy feels like she's talking to her right now…"

"She… she was nice to you, right?" Theodore didn't know why he hesitated with such a question; he was relieved to watch Twiggy's face wrinkle up into a wide grin as she squeed, "Oh yes, yes, yes! The mistress loved Twiggy, and Twiggy loved the mistress — and the little master as well! None of Twiggy's masters has ever treated Twiggy with malice; that's for sure!"

A sensation of satisfaction of hearing something good about his mother bloomed in Theodore as he thanked Twiggy for telling him that before he opted to clean up her mess. Now looking at himself, he sort of missed learning small things about her — even meeting Erveris and Ms Padalin felt so distant.

"So, Twiggy, can I ask you a question — I'm just so curious," Hermione inquired, wearing the same determination she had on her face during lessons. "How did you get past the castle's defensive charms? There's supposed to be loads put on all around, and quite frankly, I don't think you could've just appeared here on your own."

Ron scoffed. "Well clearly, she did."

Hermione ignored Ron's remark and watched Twiggy intently, who also seemed perplexed by how she entered the castle. "Hmm… Twiggy is not too sure how she gets into Hogwarts. Twiggy's only ever been there twice — once to help Mistress Valerie sleep on her first day, and twice to help Master James sleep on his first day too."

Plates floated into a neat stack to where Theodore pointed his wand as he listened to Twiggy as well. 'So Mum couldn't sleep well on the first day either? Wouldn't have minded seeing Twiggy help me go to sleep… if I knew her then, that is.'

"… but aren't you getting paid for your services at all?" Hermione asked nearly forcibly. "You must have some sort of income, right?"

Twiggy blinked, clearly confused. "Paid for services? Why… why would Twiggy be paid for her…?" She continued to scratch her head while Ron told Hermione to back off with the questions, prompting another little squabble between the two as Harry was, unsurprisingly, brought in the middle of it. Perfect for Theodore to talk even further.

"Just let them be; they usually fizzle out in a minute or so," Theodore reassured a spectating Twiggy before regaining her attention. "So from what I'm understanding, since my mum and uncle left the house and — you know… you've been alone all this time, haven't you?"

"Yes… Twiggy has… Twiggy has been by herself ever since."

"Well, I can't just go and leave the castle whenever I want because I'm not allowed to. I would if I could, but I can't. So that's why I think you should stay here instead."

"Stay?" said everyone in unison: all in different tones of voices, of course.

"Weren't you guys just arguing a second ago? And yes, I mean for Twiggy to stay in the castle," said Theodore to the others. "There's supposed to be house-elves in the kitchens, right? So what better place is there for her to be in to have a lot of company?"

"Oh, master, you are too kind!" Twiggy squeaked as she shook his hand with both of hers — she was quite strong for somebody so small. "Twiggy will never forget this! Never!"

Hermione suddenly appeared by Theodore's side, looking visibly annoyed by the exchange as she said, "Don't you think she's already got enough work to deal with, Theo? I know that she 'belongs' to you, but letting her stay here with the other elves is —"

"Hermione, it's the only choice I have — what else do you expect me to do?"

"Well…" Hermione replied airily, twiddling her fingers, "you could just free her, you know…"

Twiggy gasped sharply and crawled away from Hermione just before she crashed into the stacked plates, thanks to Ron shoving them out of the way — unfortunately, Ron was a little too eager to reach them after all. "Well, that's just perfect, isn't it, Hermione? Could you not maybe make the house-elf have a panic attack next time? Thanks."

"Twiggy, calm down, all right?" Theodore then turned to Hermione, now he with the slightly annoyed expression. "I'm not freeing her because she has nowhere to go. She's been alone for more than ten years, remember? Plus… she really loves the family as well," he added quietly.

Hermione leaned in closer and whispered back, "But you barely even know her. It's not like she —"

"— and Master Theodore was one of the brightest babies that Twiggy had ever seen," babbled Twiggy, now near the armchair with Harry, who seemed to have forgotten about the others. "Mistress Valerie, oh, how beautiful she was when her little boy arrived! Twiggy had never seen her so happy before! The mistress told me that he was like a beacon in her life. Oh, my mistress… your little boy has grown up…"

Theodore continued to look on at Harry patting Twiggy's back while awkwardly looking over at the two as if to call for help. Naturally, did Theodore and Hermione look away — she then brushed her hair back and sighed, crossing her arms, nearly sulking. "I… guess I can see where you're coming from. But promise me that you won't use her like some… tool."

"What do you take me for?" Theodore shot back as he stood up again to stretch. "A Malfoy? I already know what I'm going to do with her. Twiggy, could you —?" She sprinted and skidded across the ground to bow at Theodore's feet. "Um, OK…? Anyway, I've been thinking for a bit about this entire… master-servant relationship and I understand that I'm technically your master…

"But what I wanted to say was that even though I am your master," he continued while kneeling to Twiggy's level, "I'd rather we treated each other as friends instead."

"F-friends?" Twiggy took a small, timid step back. "None… none of Twiggy's masters has ever called Twiggy their friend… but Twiggy is to serve her masters…"

"Think of it as… being a nice friend who pays a lot of favours. Is that even a good thing?"

Twiggy closed her eyes firmly, stirring her head in deep thought before it came to her as she bowed her head and declared, "From now on, Master Theodore shall be referred to as Twiggy's friend, even if she lives to serve."

Theodore gave a slight haughty smile towards Hermione, who appropriately rolled her eyes back, and continued to stretch. "That's great, Twiggy, really… great…" he yawned loudly. For being just a single day, it felt like months had already passed him by without him noticing. He then felt something tug at his trousers and looked down to see Twiggy attempting to bring him down again.

"The master looks sleepy, and it is quite late. Does the master wish to have Twiggy tuck him into bed —?"

Ron and Harry snickered as Theodore politely refused; then it was Theodore's time to laugh when Twiggy asked Harry the same thing, this time trying to comb his hair unsuccessfully and offer to clean his glasses. After Harry finally had the heart to tell her that he was fine without the tucking in, Theodore then proposed that it was getting late and that school was in the morning.

"Of course, of course!" squeaked the house-elf. "Twiggy does not want to stop her master from learning — and Twiggy wants to thank the master for calling Twiggy's name. Ever since the day Twiggy saw you in the house, Twiggy couldn't wait to meet you!"

"Well, now you're not alone — and we're going to talk about this 'calling me master' thing soon. See you later, Twiggy."

Twiggy gave a grand bow to the four, and then she waved excitedly until a large crack filled the room once again; this time just an empty space from where the house-elf was. And the funny thing was that they were as still as when she first arrived. Just still.

"She seems a lot more 'independent' than other house-elves," Harry spoke out as he walked over to the broken plates on the ground with Hermione. "Except for Dobby, that is."

Theodore lazily glanced over to the clock — he couldn't be bothered to ask who Dobby was again — and saw that he was underestimating the time: it was very late. He had no clue as to how nobody came storming down from the noise that they made. Oh well, a new day was ahead, and he was going to gather all the sleep that he could get — and the others agreed.

'I almost forgot why we were even downstairs… oh right, that piece of thing for Doomspell. Lucky, I didn't lose it or —' He slapped his pocket but didn't feel anything press against his leg except his hand. Theodore groaned and trudged back downstairs to retrieve the piece, right before a hand shot out just before the doorway. "Thank you very much," he mumbled gladly.

Hermione just shook her head and tutted while keeping the piece in her palm. "Let's not lose the single most important item that you'll need for the rest of the school year, yes?"

"You do see the time, right?" Theodore said back, holding back an unwanted urge to smile. "I've been tired since the meeting."

"But not so tired to be ready to scoff down four plates of food?"

"Food that you stole?"

"Please stop bringing that up," Hermione frowned, growing pink in the nose as Theodore's smile broke out. She outstretched her hand and forced it into Theodore's palm, adding, "Just don't lose this thing, OK? And you have to tell us about what happened at the meeting tomorrow."

Theodore simply murmured yes, and then he turned back towards the stairs, just imagining the plushness of his bed until he was stuck in place by two hands holding his arm back. Although it was quite firm, Hermione's grip was rather gentle and inviting, and so was she, eyes closed, lips pursed and face leaning towards his. He instinctively mirrored her and went forward for the kiss but then pulled back when their noses bumped into each other. Not wanting to waste any chances, Theodore tilted his head to the right and felt his lips press onto Hermione's once more, reminding him of the first time.

But it was over too quickly once they moved away from one another, both burning up to the surface. The two quickly said goodnight in unison and parted ways without a word — Theodore still had no idea how people did this so easily. It was scary, frightening even. But for some reason, deep down, Theodore loved every bit of it and he didn't even know why.

It didn't take long for Theodore to realise that he was becoming more drawn to Twiggy as the days passed by. Granted that he never took to visiting her inside the kitchens, Theodore was still inclined to see her now and then which turned into a habit he didn't mind having. He even felt compelled to go straight down instead of summoning her to him (at least when he was on his own).

"You know what…? I think I'll pick Elvira. She'd fit quite nicely, wouldn't she —?"

Theodore was instantly met with frustrated, even angry noises from the others as they just exited through the castle's front doors. Hogsmeade trips had returned once more, and so did the creeping winter. Theodore had geared up in moderately thick clothing, unlike the previous year, and shifted his hat to look at his friends more closely.

"What? What did I say?"

"It's what we've been saying!" Harry scolded, wrinkling his forehead into a frown. "When I said you should choose Elvira, you just ignored me and carried on daydreaming!"

Theodore thought back for a while, then he said, "Really? I don't even remember mentioning — oh, right! Yeah, now I do! I didn't say anything back then to make sure that the dynamic wasn't going to be ruined. I need the perfect team, after all."

"Perfect team, my arse," grumbled Ron. "You haven't even told us everything that's going to come up on the next trial, even when you picked us already."

Hermione scoffed and added, "Don't you remember, Ron? Theodore here was 'waiting it out for the right moment'. The longer you wait, the more difficult it's going to be to go in with a plan — you know that, right?"

Theodore span around and start to walk backwards while the snow crunched underneath his feet to look back at Harry, Ron and Hermione and said, "Can we just stop attacking Theodore and have a good time? You guys are acting like we've never won from improvising."

Before Hermione's rebuttal could leave her mouth, Harry then said while rubbing his hands under his armpits, "It's in four days, and you still need two more people, other than Elvira. You got anybody good in mind?"

"I'd say you should go for Cedric Diggory. Having someone older and more experienced on the team would be helpful."

"Of course you'd want Cedric on the team…"

"What are you talking about?! Theodore is my — wait, I-I didn't…!"

Theodore was still walking backwards watching Ron's smirk grow alarmingly wide as Hermione pulled up her scarf; he immediately turned to Harry and continued, pretending that nothing ever happened, "I think I've got the perfect person to also join: Malfoy. No doubt that he'd get his dad to fund us with some dark stuff that'll —"

"Idiot! Get off me!" Theodore sprang forwards next to Harry and turned to see Malfoy brushing his expensive-looking coat as if Theodore was covered in utter filth. "Speaking my name so casually when I'm not around? You were always so lippy, weren't you, Riddle —?"

"Just piss off, Malfoy," Harry spat, suddenly appearing in between the two. "Don't speak as if you two were friends at all."

Baring his teeth, Malfoy then steered closer to an unshakeable Harry and hissed, "Such a little saint, sticking up for anyone, aren't you, Potter? You know what, I still haven't forgotten about what you did last year —"

"Draco, let's just go! Don't worry about these Mud-lovers!" Pansy called out further down, her voice slightly distorted from the wind. Malfoy looked Harry up and down before swaggering off, muttering, "Absolute dogs…"

"You were awfully quiet," Harry finally said when they were far enough.

Theodore then replied, completely unbothered, "He's all talk, anyway. Plus, I've got better things to think about than to — hey, you two! Why d'you hang back so far?" He held his tongue when Hermione came marching over to him, face now completely red, even when hidden behind her scarf — and Ron had a smile on his face but not one of superiority, oddly enough. "Uh, what is —?"

Hermione walked on forward; she stopped and walked back to Theodore's side, pressing her arm tightly against his own. "We should get going, otherwise we're going to waste time," her muffled voice said.

Neither Harry or Theodore questioned what could've possibly occurred between the two and moved on, a bizarre atmosphere hanging just above their heads. 'I wonder…'

The four finally arrived at the wizarding village, taking in what they had missed for so long — Theodore always thought that it was better this time of year-round. As tradition, they immediately aimed for Honeydukes, eager to see what new types of sweets were available until it hit Theodore. "Oh right… haven't got any money…"

"What was that?" said Ron as he barged past three hefty-looking girls.

"Don't have any money…"

"Oh," Harry said quickly as he dug inside of his coat pockets, "then we'll just share with each other and —"

"No — that's yours, not my mine," Theodore interjected as the shop started to swarm with more excited first-years, including Ginny and her friends. "Looks like there'll be nothing left after today anyway…"

After refusing Harry's attempt to sharing some of his money and assuring Hermione and Ron that he was fine when they opted to search for Pumpkin Pasties, Theodore felt like he could burn up at any given second — inward embarrassment coupled with way too many people in a single shop and thick coat made his temperature go soaring. Suddenly, feeling the snow on his face didn't seem like a bad idea after all.

He told the others that he was going to stick outside for some fresh air and briskly made his way to the door, oddly not hearing them call out his name or feeling any resistance from his arm being pulled back. Whatever; he ignored it. The sharp coldness of the air all of a sudden washed all over him, relieving him of what could've made him topple over from too much heat. That'd be more than embarrassing — the school already knew that he had a history in fainting at the most inappropriate times.

'I almost forgot that I had nothing this year,' he thought slowly to himself as he meandered through the bunches of witches and wizards. 'And here I was getting excited over nothing. Typical… hmmm…'

This brought him back: the alleyway from when he and Sirius talked for the very first time. Still empty, and not as dark in the daytime but was heavily shadowed further down. Theodore could still remember how angry he felt when he pointed his father's wand towards Sirius — how he almost killed Sirius, an innocent man. He swallowed harshly, feeling his neck tighten when remembering nearly choking the life out of him.

"I can't believe I even did that, especially leaving the school as well… although, it would've been nice if I had Twiggy with me to help me leave instead of me sneaking —"

A crack from within the shadows shook Theodore to the core as he nearly slipped backwards on the hardened snow. He'd been so stuck in his head that he didn't notice the animal that was coming towards him — if that was an animal, that is. "Master Theodore! Master Theodore called for Twiggy?"

Theodore, having found his balance, looked around to pick out any suspicious stares that could be aimed his way before steadily pacing further down the alleyway, speaking out softly, "It's really you, Twiggy? Could… could you come out please?"

The pattering of feet was followed by Twiggy emerging from the shadows as they met in the middle. "How lovely it is to see you, master," she declared proudly with a bow. "And what i-is it that the m-master requests —?"

"Twiggy, remember what I told you — we're friends now. There's no need for the bowing and 'master' stuff. Also, don't you have any gloves or shoes — even other clothes? It's freezing." Theodore looked at her without paying close attention to detail, and it was clear as day that Twiggy was not used to the cold at all.

"T-twiggy hasn't worn new cl-clothes for a long time," Twiggy explained with her fingers pinching her nose, "and so Twiggy is left with this — M-Master Theodore is not thinking about letting T-twiggy go, is he?!"

"No, no, of course not," Theodore reassured after shushing her. He stepped forward and lowered himself to the ground to her level and continued, "I just don't want you to freeze to death. You should be wearing more clothes — but I can't give you clothes, not even give you money to buy them either because I don't have any of that…"

He suddenly felt ice-cold fingers on the back of his left hand as Twiggy squeaked with her ears perked up, "Did — did the master say that he can't give Twiggy any money because he doesn't have any?"

"It's OK, Twiggy, just go find somewhere warm inside the castle —"

"But Master Theodore has money! The mistress didn't leave her baby behind with nothing!" Twiggy said happily, almost hopping up and down. Theodore didn't know what to say as he had to piece everything together in his head that he possibly knew: the hidden inheritance from his mother's will, Twiggy claiming that people were taking gold from — crack!

Theodore was again caught off guard as he stumbled back onto the snow as the space in front of him was empty. His chest rose and fell in quick succession, and he couldn't even understand what had just happened. "I thought house-elves couldn't go against their — well, I'm not her master, though, am I? All right, Twig—!"

"Uh, Theodore, is that you?" A voice from behind caused Theodore to come back up to his feet, not considering that the ground was slippery. He rubbed his numb fingers across his chest and turned to see Gioveri, clad in winter clothing that was somewhat similar to Malfoy's, only less fitting on him.

"Ah, Gioveri!" Theodore called out as if he were expecting him to stop by. "Nice to see you here out of… all places… anyway, what's the reason for…?"

"It's your friends — they just asked around looking for you, so… yeah. Found you!" A nervous grin was all that it took for Gioveri to make the situation even more awkward. So much that when he asked Theodore why he walked off into the alleyway, he just replied with, "Oh, you know… just saw a pixie fly by. Ever since Lockhart brought them to school, there's been a… infestation! Just loads of them coming in now, so…"

The scepticism said it all on Gioveri's face as Theodore had to stop himself from talking any further. He just wished that something could just break this silence and — crack! "My God, Twiggy! Please don't just appear so close when — wait… what's that?" Theodore asked once the shock was over — standing just near his kneecaps was Twiggy holding two rustling sacks in each hand while grinning madly.

"These are just for Master Theodore, what the mistress left behind! Is that one of the master's friends staring at the master and Twiggy?"

Theodore quickly looked back at the stunned Gioveri; then he crouched back down and whispered, "Twiggy… is that really mine?" She nodded her head so fast that her ears could rip off at any moment. Theodore was also feeling gleeful but also too amazed to think that this was happening. It was starting to make sense now, the will. Everything given to him was at the one place nobody could get inside.

He then felt his kneecaps grow heavier as the sacks of (presumably) money were planted on there. Twiggy then took a step back and bowed, murmuring in the process, "With this, Twiggy hopes that the master has a beautiful day and a happy face all day long! Is Twiggy allowed back to the kitchens?"

"Well, that is where I wanted you to go in the first place," said Theodore as he stood up to find places to stash the sacks in his coat, "but I can't be angry about that at all, can I?"

"Twiggy lives to serve the —"

"Not 'the master' but 'Theodore', Twiggy, 'Theodore'."

Twiggy was still in a bowing position before she respectfully vanished back to the kitchens, of course, not without Theodore thanking her over and over again — he didn't even know that Gioveri stayed around that long just to wait for him. "Oh! You're… you're still here."

"W-what?" Gioveri let out before twisting his fingers around each other. "Sorry, I'm just… in my family, we don't have house-elves serving us, but it's — it's odd to see you with one…"

As Theodore finished stuffing the sacks in his pockets, a million thoughts of what he was to buy running in the back of his mind, he said nonchalantly, "Really? How so?"

"You're a half-blood, aren't you? N-not that there's anything wrong with that — it's great that you're a half-blood! I'm a half-blood too!" Theodore just lifted his brow to him. Gioveri quickly cleared his throat and continued, "W-what I'm trying to say is that you lived with Muggles growing up, so having a house-elf is just… odd."

Theodore eyed him up and down through the awkward silence but simply just shrugged it off. "Yeah, well, there's a lot of things you don't know about me," he said as they edged out into the busy street.

"Of course, r-right! You always being so mysterious and all," smiled Gioveri — Theodore could feel the timidness brushing against his face. No need for Legilimency at all. Even his face suggested it: red cheeks and nose, although Theodore could just blame it on the snow. However…

"How come you get so shaky around me?" Theodore asked off the top of his head as a band of goblins rudely barged past them. "Your face always goes so red, and you stutter like crazy. I'm just really confused —"

Gioveri began to wave his hands frantically, his cheeks now growing into a deeper shade as he stressed, "It's nothing! R-really, it's — I'm just a shy person, so —"

"Thank God I found you!" Someone instantly latched onto Theodore's right arm as he saw bushy hair escaping from a stripy hat just beneath him. "I didn't think you'd be this upset over — oh! Hello!" Gioveri squirmed a little bit as he let out a hello back — Hermione, still holding onto Theodore's arm then asked kindly, "I'm really sorry, but you don't mind me taking Theodore away, do you? Are you one of his friends?"

"F-friends? I don't really — well, we haven't really talked enough to be —"

"Yeah," Theodore cut in, sensing that Gioveri could spiral into babbling from the sheer amount of stuttering he managed. "We're sort of friends, anyway."

"Ron and Harry are in the Three Broomsticks waiting for us so… wait a minute… you're Ollivander's grandson, aren't you?!" Hermione released Theodore's arm and stepped forward towards Gioveri as if he were to be studied like a rare animal. "And of course — you're in our class as well, Ancient Runes! I remember Professor McGonagall also telling me that you're one of the best in the year as well!"

"You're stressing him out, Hermione," Theodore slightly gritted through his teeth; he wasn't wrong either. "And I can't believe you don't know who he is — he's only been here since the beginning of the year."

Theodore's words went unheard by her as she kept up her barrage of questions before she seemingly remembered that they were to be someplace else instead. "You have to tell me how you managed to get last term's recent problem so easily — anyway, sorry for keeping you here. I'm sure your friends are expecting you."

"Um… yeah…" mumbled Gioveri. Hermione didn't seem to notice that it almost sounded miserable, his voice.

'You're so… tactless,' thought Theodore until he felt Hermione link her arm into his, more tightly this time, and say, "It was nice properly meeting you, Gioveri. I hope we can talk more in the future. See you soon!"

As Gioveri managed a smile that was all too lonely and melancholic, he let out a small bye before turning away in the opposite direction as Theodore and Hermione made their way to Ron and Harry. Theodore wondered why Gioveri looked so sad all of a sudden — perhaps Hermione's comment unknowingly hit him harder than she thought. Not that Hermione was ever particularly good at reading a person well.

"Theo, can I ask you something?" Theodore looked down on his left to see Hermione looking a little puzzled as if something had been on her mind for a while.

"Uh, sure. What is it?"

She took a quick glance behind her shoulder than spoke in a lowered voice and said, "Was it just me, or was Gioveri barely able to take his eyes off you?"

Theodore sniggered. "What's that supposed to mean? It's probably because he was talking to me, then you came in and took me away. Not complaining, by the way."

"It's probably nothing…" Hermione sighed. The further they walked, however, the slower their pace and the tighter Hermione's grip was on Theodore's arm. She must've noticed something thought Theodore, and he was fast enough to notice as well.

From the snow-ridden pavements to brushing past them in the middle of the high street were wizards and witches giving them glances that were almost subtle enough for Theodore to not take any notice of. But these weren't any glances of contempt, absolutely none of the sort, but more of happiness and endearment…

Theodore's heart was racing again. He was sure that it could be the same for Hermione, but from looking down she looked fine. Cheeks a little bit rosy but otherwise perfectly normal, content even. In fact, she looked like she was extremely pleased with herself. It was a bold move on her part, and Theodore never thought she'd make such a one in front of many people.

"You, uh… you seem happy," said Theodore after clearing his throat. He met Hermione's eyes that were slightly curtained from the trapped locks that escaped her hat and felt the rush again: she was indeed happy. So happy that Theodore couldn't believe why until he remembered that she loved him.

"Well, of course, I am. Why wouldn't I be?" she smiled before letting her head rest on him as they carried on their way to the Three Broomsticks, the fear of others staring on ebbing away into nothingness.

I'm not dead! Nope, I'm still alive and well, guys! Hopefully, most of you guys are still here (I really hope). I've been in a slump for a while so it was hard for me to jump back on but I'm ready now. I'm pumped.

This chap is very slice-of-lifey so it's shorter than my usual word count but it's just to help everyone ease back into the story, including me. Next chapter is when the fourth year really kicks off, so be prepared. Hope you enjoyed this chapter and look out for the next one. Until then, later.

P.S: I appreciate the reviews in my absence, especially the spammy ones :)