"Outrageous! Unbelievable! Such disgusting behaviour from my own House! My house! I'm absolutely appalled!"
The three Gryffindors were sat inside McGonagall's study, each one of them receiving the livid professor's wrath upon themselves. Filch delivered them to her without a second's hesitation, and even requested that Theodore should be expelled for what he did to Mrs Norris. McGonagall did not oblige to this, but the way her nostrils flared with such anger, he might've been better off gone. And they weren't the only ones to be caught.
Neville was tailing Filch hopelessly as the old man slinked in with such glee on his face. "Caught this one following the brat that petrified Mrs Norris. Should I put him on the shortlist?"
"No, Argus. That will be all."
Filch crept out the room and shut the door behind him. McGonagall panned her eyes over the four. None of them could look her in the eye at all. They were deeply ashamed with themselves, not because they broke school rules (except Hermione) but that they had carelessly allowed themselves to be caught.
"All of this? All because you wanted to frame Draco Malfoy and get some petty payback, I presume? He's already been caught and so was Longbottom. You deceived the boy as well to drag him into your idiotic revenge plan, right?!"
"Hush, Riddle! You are in no position to speak out! Attacking the janitor's cat was crossing the line at its peak! I expected better of you. To risk your gifts for something so stupid. It's a complete waste of everyone's time - no, Potter, you may not speak! Miss Granger, you have disappointed me the most. I thought you were the mature one of the bunch, but I see that their influence was too strong on you… Fifty points from Gryffindor."
"Fifty points?" Harry exclaimed.
"Fifty points, each."
Theodore spoke out of turn at the seemingly ludicrous punishment. "Each?! But that's two hundred points, we'll lose the lead!"
"Will you be quiet, Riddle?!" Theodore hushed. McGonagall huffed through her pointed nose, unable to say anything else. The study was silent for ten seconds. "Leave. Get to bed, all of you. I can't look at any of you. My own Gryffindor students… Absolutely appalled."
She carried on tutting as the four walked out of the office with their heads low. Two hundred points. All gone. The House Cup was certainly lost; there was no way to regain the points back. Everyone was going to hate them for this. Theodore didn't know what to think of himself. After tonight, he only felt even more isolated from Gryffindor. He didn't belong there. This would've never happened if he was in Slytherin. All because of a stupid dragon and the stupid oaf that hatched him. His inner tongue became sharpened. Spiteful comments about Hagrid, Filch, McGonagall, Harry and even Hermione, zipped and raced within his mind.
'If they cost me my place in Hogwarts, I'll… I'll…! Whoa… Whoa, whoa, whoa. Relax… Where's this coming from? They're my friends… My friends. And it was partially my fault for petrifying the cat when I shouldn't have. I was to blame as well. Right?"
Theodore climbed into the common room without saying a word to the others. He didn't even say goodnight to Viripin, who was hurt by her master shutting himself off from her. Neville was crying in his bed for so long and he heard Harry becoming restless, signalling that sleep had escaped from him. Theodore rejected any feeling of falling off into slumber, scared that he'd get another nightmare from that high, evil voice in his head that poisoned his thoughts. His eyes were burning, but he had to stay awake. It wasn't like he could avoid the next day.
The next morning started off normally, with the other Gryffindors frantically asking why their points had decreased dramatically in one night. Theodore was hoping that it would stop at the questions, but the story was leaked. By midday, everyone knew that it was the Boy Who Lived that led the charge of losing points from Gryffindor. Theodore's name had been brought up as well as Hermione's and Neville's, but they were having a 'golden time' compared to Harry. Harry was being shelled with insults and hatred from not only Gryffindor, but from Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. He'd hear 'fucking pompous twat', or 'skinny little shit' from all over the school. It all seemed too much for him as he walked through the hallways as a pariah with shame whirling inside of him like an internal hurricane.
The following days had been the worst sort of kind. Like pre-Hogwarts, Stuggle's worst days. Theodore had shut himself from the group, believing that it was his fault that they were caught, despite Harry's insistence that it was his. The young Parselmouth would sit by himself away from everyone else, only to speak mostly with Viripin. He hadn't seen Dumbledore around anywhere to give him any of his frequent talks, Snape looked happy that Slytherin was back on top and the slimy professor pressured Theodore to do even more work for him, causing the boy a lot of stress. Being an outcast was nothing new to him. He actually started to like being alone as it made him feel like he was more to home than at Hogwarts.
Despite the harsh treatment from the other students, Theodore was still able to hold up with his studies, working as hard as he could to revise everything before the final exams would arrive. At least he'd go home with a bad reputation and good grades. He'd go off in the library on his own, or in the boys' dorm on his own, or anywhere in the castle that would be away from everybody else. Every once in a while, Viripin would travel in his bag and he'd let her see the outside that she was hidden from for so long. The snake was very pleased and almost slipped out of his bag before remembering what had happened all those years ago. It seemed that she had retained her phobia of gulls swooping down and snatching her away after the many years that she spent in the dungeons.
"I won't let them take you, not a chance."
"Thank you, Master. You are most kind."
In the library during his free period, Theodore was testing himself on Defence; Quirrell had become an even bigger babbling idiot, not being able to teach a single lesson from start to finish. Every time somebody would reach for his purple turban, he'd flinch like a scared chicken and would scurry out the classroom to fit it on properly. The man was impressed with the boy's aptitude on the subject and praised him constantly. Theodore thought that he was only trying to be friendly with him to see him as a great teacher, but it didn't work. Quirrell was now a bumbling idiot and a suck up. And he hated that.
Theodore had finished the section on Imps and Ghosts, and turned over to learn about werewolf bites when none other than Parvati, invited herself over to him, without Lavender or Padma. How strange.
"I'm not in the mood, Parvati. Please, just leave me alone. I don't want to hear-"
"I'm not going to say anything, all I wanted was to ask for your help."
"I'm not helping anyone," Theodore replied sulkily as his gaze didn't met Parvati's.
Parvati put her puppy eyes on for display and said, "Please? Hermione is over there with Harry, and it's kind of awkward to ask for their help."
She pulled out her Astronomy work with a map of Jupiter and sprawled it out. "It'll only be just a second, I'll be quick!"
Theodore glanced over to Harry, Hermione and Ron, who had left the hospital wing recently. They looked just as gloomy as he did. "I'll do it, only if you and Lavender stop following me around. It's annoying, you know."
"It's okay. Lavender sort of hates you right now, but she doesn't mean it. She's always talking about how you ignore her and act rude, walking around like you're some sort of god. Personally, I don't take the offence that seriously, but I'm convinced that she's totally in love with you."
The two clasped their hands over their mouths. The trio in the corner turned around to see who screamed, then went back to studying. They recognised it as Theodore's voice, but didn't bother to keep looking.
"I wasn't supposed to tell you that," whispered Parvati.
"L-let's just study this thing, okay?" The embarrassed boy traced the map and wrote down notes for Parvati to copy, still thinking about why Lavender was always leeching off of him. Theodore was many things, but didn't strike people as vain, in his appearance at least. He never really thought about how he looked and how others saw him from the outside. Even in the orphanage, the girls would gawk at him as he'd walk by, then they'd look away as if he didn't exist. Maybe they could see how strange he was compared to them, but the same thing was happening in a place full of people like him at Hogwarts.
The two carried on with Astronomy far longer than Theodore had intended, and left the library finally. Theodore scooted to the common room instead of the Great Hall, for obvious reasons. He fed and talked to Viripin until it was time for the next lesson. Viripin was reluctant for him to leave, but slithered back to her area. Theodore couldn't stand another lesson of being around venomous eyes.
During breakfast on the next morning, Theodore was slowly eating his porridge by himself on the far end of the table. He was near the older Gryffindors, but was not shaken by their constant murmur among themselves. A note was delivered to him, reminding him that he had a detention near midnight on that day. He groaned as he saw that he had to meet up with Filch in the Entrance Hall. The cynical old man would surely torture him for what he did to Mrs Norris. Theodore saw the cat skipping along the corridors, and it would spit and hiss at him every time they'd cross paths. The urge to kick her aside was almost too hard to resist, but it would only end up with a trip back home.
He instantly looked over to the other end of the table to see Harry, Hermione and Neville receiving the same type of note. Hermione's hair stood on end as her eyes couldn't widen any further. Theodore turned his head again at somebody cursing at the Slytherin table, the person being Draco. His pale face was red with anger as he scrunched the note and chucked it somewhere else. Theodore hadn't talked to Draco ever since the train, and had presumed that he finally had enough of him. Oh well. Any sort of friendship that Draco had in mind would've surely faltered sooner or later.
Eleven o'clock had arrived and the five children were standing in the Entrance Hall. The silence was unnerving to all as nobody, not even Draco, said a word. They all followed Filch out of the castle and across the grounds. Theodore was trailing behind the group, but Filch would always wave his lantern in his face, screaming at him to get back with the others.
"You think I'm stupid? I've seen it all before! You slow down behind everyone, and then run off to your little cosy bed! You out of all of them deserve the old punishments for what you did to my darling. You should be hanging by your ankles for a few days, scrubbing the soot off the castle with your fingernails! I ought to complain to the Headmaster himself, but who would listen to a wise old man like me, eh? If you touch her again, I'll make sure that you never wished to come here in the first place… We're here. Stop!"
The group all halted as they stood on cold grass in the dead of night. Temptation was persuading Theodore to kick Filch and leave, but he remained still. The light from Hagrid's Hut was bright from distance, and only grew brighter as the front door opened. Hagrid walked over and greeted them all before taking command.
"Now you kids be careful. I heard that there are werewolves and other beasties inside the forest, all hungry for little troublemaking children..." Filch said wickedly.
"Tha's enough," huffed Hagrid. Filch sneered and walked off into the darkness and back to the castle.
"He was joking, right? About the werewolves," asked Draco in a slight panic. Hagrid opened his mouth to speak, but chose not to. Draco didn't stop. "If you think that I'm going in there, then-"
"Then wha'? Cry ter yer daddy? This is how 's done in Hogwarts. Copyin' lines ain't gonna teach yeh anythin'! So suck it up, o' go home!"
Draco was silent. He looked like he wanted to curse at the half-giant, but he held his tongue. They all followed Hagrid towards the edge of the forest who explained what they had to do for their detention. According to the silvery substance that trailed into the forest, a unicorn must've been badly wounded, and was the second one during the week. Hagrid told them that they would find the creature to see if it could be saved. Otherwise…
"Alrigh', seein' as how there are six o' us, we're gonna split up inter three groups o' twos, an' we'll tryna find the unicorn. Cover more ground tha' way."
Neville paired up with Hagrid and Fang, which he was most ecstatic about, Harry wanted to be with Hermione, but was forced to be with Draco. Draco objected to this and insisted that Theodore would be his partner. After some convincing from Hagrid, Harry and Draco were stuck together while Theodore was partnered with Hermione. He didn't know how to react to that as he could see that she missed talking to him, but could also see some anger in her eyes. The pairs walked together inside the eerie forest and divided in three ways. Theodore and Hermione took the middle route and silently made their way, being in an awkwardly close vicinity with each other.
Twigs and dried leaves crunched underneath their feet while the moonlight partially lit the pathway in front of them. It was after two minutes of walking that they found a trail of blood leading and winding around the trees.
"Do you think it's close by," asked Hermione timidly as Theodore crouched down to take a closer look.
"Maybe. Although I would think that this is where it was first attacked, since there are some deep hoofmarks in the ground."
"Is there something wrong?" She shook her head. "Are you sure?"
"Uh huh." She didn't sound sure.
Theodore walked on while Hermione hopped next to him. They slowly took their time, foot after foot, making sure that they didn't make any suspicious sounds that would compromise their presence in the woods. Well, if anything nearby was dangerous, then it would've came for them already as Hermione had screamed before grabbing Theodore by the arm tightly.
"What, what is it, Hermione?! D-did you see something? A werewolf?!"
"Oh… no, sorry. I thought I stepped on a snake or an animal. I didn't mean to scare you."
Theodore swallowed while he regained his composure. "I-I wasn't scared… You were scared." He looked down on his arm as Hermione was still clinging onto it. "Erm, there's no monster so you can let go now.
"Hmm? Oh, you don't mind do you?"
"No, no. It's fine. Let's just find the unicorn and get out of here."
The two followed the bloody trail which diminished and thickened at times, almost throwing the duo off. Theodore suggested that they should stop every single minute to make sure that nothing was preying on them, but Hermione objected to that idea saying that if they stopped, they'd be sitting ducks. After a quiet quarrel, Hermione won, and they trekked on without stopping.
"I'm never leaving the common room after this," Theodore said quietly.
"It's not like you ever come out now these days."
"Are you angry, Hermione?"
"Yes, Theodore?" Here it comes.
"Are you angry at me?"
"Yes!" she hissed. Her frown became heavily pronounced as her hair seemingly reacted to her anger as well.
"It's not a good idea to talk about this here, you know. In a FORBIDDEN FOREST."
"Yes well, it wasn't me who decided to become mute and shut off his friends. All of us were in trouble, remember?"
"It's more than that," he replied softly.
She tightened her grip on his arm and stopped him underneath the arch of combining tree branches. "We've known each other for almost a year. It may not seem that much, but don't you think that when you had a friend for that long, you can at least trust them with what's on your mind? Whatever you're feeling, I'm sure it's the same for us lot."
'Not even close.'
"I'll tell you when I want to tell you. As of now, I'm not saying anything," Theodore said sternly as he looked in her eyes forcibly.
To Hermione, his eyes looked a bit cold and empty, but had some sort of life that was hidden. Some type of sentience which she thought was… honestly scary. He then softened his expression to a more comforting one, making Hermione's cheeks grow pink. She turned around and released his arm to march forward. The darkness that blanketed them luckily dulled the colour of the girl's face, giving the impression that she was sad that he didn't want to speak any further, rather than her being flustered by his face.
Theodore tagged behind her and hopped over raised roots and boulders. Hermione stopped in her tracks suddenly; her face turned white and her breathing was even louder than before.
"Hermione, why'd you stop," whispered Theodore as he caught up. He turned his eyes to where Hermione was looking, and fell under the same state as her.
Bending over and leaning against a tree was a hooded figure as black as the Great Lake in the night. It hadn't noticed the two children until Theodore released a semi-squeal from his throat. The hooded figure whipped its head around. Although it had no visible eyes, Theodore was sure that it could see them. Slowly, it walked towards them, silver liquid dripping from its chapped lips. Theodore backed up as Hermione snatched his hand quickly. She couldn't take her eyes off it and it looked as if all her other senses had been shut off. The figure came closer and hissed before speaking. In Parseltongue.
"The boy… leave the boy… kill the Mudblood!"
Theodore stupidly replied back, unaware that Hermione was right next to him and hissed, "Get back…! I said, get back!"
"Hermione, come on! Let's leave, let's - Oh no..."
She looked at him as if he was a feral animal. She heard him. She now knew. She knew that he could speak Parseltongue and now she would make the connection, which would mean that she would shun him forever like…
Theodore shook his head and pulled her by the arm as they ran in the other direction. He covered Hermione to make sure that the stranger couldn't harm her without harming him first. It only wanted to kill her. But why? As the two ran, they heard it rustle past the leaves, hellbent on pursuing the Muggle-born for no apparent reason. Theodore wasn't going to allow that to happen. He reached inside his pockets to grab his wand and pointed it to the sky as he ran. He released a jet of sparks in the air as a signal for the others. Hermione was well in front, so Theodore didn't need to worry about her being left behind. Now all he needed to do was to outsmart the stranger and escape from it somehow. But how was he going to…?
Overthinking so much in an adrenaline-filled setting was the wrong thing to do, no matter where you were. The only thing to keep you going was your basic instincts controlling you instead. Theodore, unfortunately, learnt the hard way. A protruding root had caught Theodore's left foot underneath, sending him slamming to the ground and smacking his head straight onto the forest floor. A large ringing noise filled his head as he couldn't hear the apparent screams from Hermione. A shadow was creeping up from behind, and it was exactly what he thought it was. He stumbled as he rolled over to gaze at the 'thing', all while having most of his vision being knocked out of him the second he hit the ground.
The hooded figure crouched down to lower its head while the unicorn blood still dripped from its mouth.
"Fresh blood… Slytherin's blood… Our blood…"
A cry from Hagrid racing over to the dazed boy made the figure disappear. The gamekeeper came thundering his heavy boots with an armed crossbow in his right hand. His face looked fierce and ready for a fight. Behind him was the rest of the group, all looking shaken to death, particularly Harry. His hand was clasped to his forehead, but Theodore couldn't see that.
"Theo?! Theo?! Yeh okay, lil fella? Come on, speak ter me!"
"Hagrid… I saw something…" Theodore slurred.
"'S okay. Yeh don' speak. Yeh had a nasty fall an' got a cut on yer head. We'll get yeh ter medical in no time. 'Arry, come over!" Harry helped Theodore on his feet as he struggled to get up.
"What happened to you?" Draco asked.
"I-I don't know. We saw this… person in a cloak. It had some unicorn blood dripping in its mouth… like it drank it."
Hagrid saw that this was now too much for the kids. He escorted them back to the castle and Theodore to Madam Pomfrey. The nurse was a lot like the Madam at home, strict but kind and generous at heart. She healed up most of the cut, but said that it was a bit deep, so she covered it with a bandage to protect it till the morning.
In the common room, Theodore was still shaken by what he saw. Viripin tried to comfort him, but he told her to stay put. His covers were well over his head to make him feel more secure. The hooded man had a similar voice as the one in his dream, only it sounded so much more poised in person, as if it had dipped its tongue into pure evil instead of unicorn blood. He snapped his eyes shut and thought of everything that had brought him joy in the past year: Louise, Viripin, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hogwarts, anything but that… thing. He felt something poke his side, thinking that Viripin had peeked under the sheets. Theodore threw the covers off and was about to scold the snake, only to be met with Harry and Ron.
"Whatever problem that we have with each other needs to die. We need you to help us," Harry said.
Theodore nodded slowly and followed them into the main room downstairs. Harry, and by an extension Theodore, explained exactly what happened in the forest and what they saw. Hermione sat next to Theodore as he looked the most hurt from all of this, but he insisted that he was fine.
"It was him. It had to be Voldemort. He was there, hiding in the forest and waiting for Snape to give the stone. Voldemort-"
"Stop it, Harry! Don't say the name!" Ron whispered. He shuddered at the sound of the feared Dark Lord, but Harry didn't care. Neither did Theodore.
"Yeah, I believe you. Voldemort was said to be destroyed when he tried to kill you that night, but even he was too powerful to die. Maybe he was drinking the blood… for sustenance…" Theodore added while rubbing his bandage. Hermione pushed his hand off as Harry carried it on.
"Right! And Voldemort needs the stone-"
"Stop saying that name!"
"-to come back to full power again! And if that happens then… I'm done for." Harry slumped onto the sofa with his glasses almost falling off his nose. He looked so worn out that he could've keeled over at any second. Theodore remembered what Viripin said about Parselmouths being rare in Hogwarts, and that the last one there came over fifty years ago. But that was his father, who was dead. He is dead. Never came back to life, dead forever.
"But guys, everyone knows that Dumbledore is the only wizard that You-Know-Who fears. If he's around, then You-Know-Who wouldn't even see you let alone come near. As long as he's here, you'll be safe," Hermione said.
"Yeah, for how long?" Theodore replied in a grim tone. All these downright dreaded days were putting him in a bad mood. He almost felt like lashing out to someone, making them squeal in pain like a pig being slaughtered inhumanely. He shook his head. What was with these thoughts?
The four went back to bed with Hermione making sure that the three boys were okay before heading up the opposite direction. As he laid in his bed, he stared up to the ceiling, running through all the possible outcomes of what could happen if he were to encounter the figure again. He turned to his right and gently petted Viripin before falling into the slumber that he now feared.
The exams had come around as the season for it was taking a toll on everyone else. In the bigger classrooms the summer heat penetrated through the windows, requiring for everyone to lose their robes and jumpers. Theodore felt drained from all the work that he had done, but tried his best to balance his exams and locking out all the nightmares that he was having. He and Harry seemed to have the same image of the cloaked man chasing after them; they only kept it between them because it felt as if they were affected by it the most. It almost linked them together, even if they were more connected than they knew.
Theodore was shaking in the practical exams and almost spilt his cauldron over in Potions. He didn't know if Snape had seen it, but it didn't matter. After History of Magic, the last exam, the room erupted with cheer as it was finally over. Theodore didn't feel as merry as the others, but cracked a smile when Ron told him a funny joke about Snape and his hooked nose.
"I can finally… relax," said Ron as he spread his body over the warm grass of the school's field. Harry was rubbing his forehead in pain like a madman. Hermione took notice and told him to go get it checked out.
"It's not hurting like that. It happened on the same day as the detention… It just keeps on burning like there's trouble coming!"
"Maybe there is," Theodore said as he stared at Lee, Fred and George playing with the giant squid in the Lake. Everyone turned to him. "Well, he said it happened! Maybe there's danger lurking around here somewhere."
"I doubt that. If Dumbledore's here, then the Stone is safe. You-Know-Who won't try anything, and Snape will definitely think again about going past Fluffy for the second time. The man almost became one-legged…"
"She's right, Harry. We're safe at the moment, no need to worry."
Harry sighed as he thought to himself. The other three could see his mind gearing up to faster speeds to process whatever he was going to blurt out. He sprang up from the ground.
"What's gotten into you?" Ron asked.
"Something that we should've thought of a long time ago. Theodore, could you go to Dumbledore's office and tell him about everything?"
Harry cocked his head to the side and widened his eyes.
"All right, I get it. But what are you guys going to do?"
"We're going to see Hagrid, right now."
The four broke as Theodore rushed all the way to Dumbledore's office. Looking back on the past weeks, they felt so much different than when he first came. Back then, he wanted to dominate, prove his worth among everyone else that he was superior. He still had the same ambition, but all of it was suppressed by the entire situation revolving around the Philosopher's Stone.
He had finally reached the tower of the Headmaster's office, and was about to knock until he remembered about the gargoyle.
"Grr, what's the password again? It was a stupid sweet… um, um… right, sherbet lemon!"
The gargoyle raised itself up as it pulled the spiral staircase from underneath. Theodore jumped on the moving stairs and waited until it halted to rush into Dumbledore's room. He looked around to see nobody there. The phoenix wasn't there as well. The office seemed empty without it. Theodore paced around the room, looking to see if the old man was hiding behind a wall or just in plain sight. Dumbledore seemed like the type to pull pranks for the fun of it.
The boy finally gave up looking and walked to the door to join the others at Hagrid's when none other than Dumbledore appeared in his chair, wearing his same purple robes without his pointed hat.
"I see you let yourself in, Theodore. Care for a sherbet?"
"There's no time! You have to listen to me, Professor! Something bad is going to happen soon! It's the Stone, the one that Hagrid's dog is guarding under the trapdoor! Voldemort has a plan, I know he does a-and he's using Snape to take it for him! Voldemort is trying to come back and… Why are you still sitting there?"
Dumbledore tapped his fingers together as he listened. He didn't seem shocked in the slightest.
"Professor, did you not hear what I just said, Voldemort is coming back and he's in the school somewhere! Don't you care?"
"My dear boy, I'm afraid that there's nothing that I can do about it for I'm needed at the Ministry of Magic. In fact, I mustn't dillydally, for I'm quite late!"
Theodore couldn't believe it. The supposed greatest wizard of all time would rather go to the magical government than protect his students from the most dangerous wizard in history. He was dumbfounded, clueless, felt like blowing his own head up. He went to go turn around when Dumbledore placed a hand on his shoulder. Honestly, Theodore just had enough at this point.
"If you believe in those around you, expect yourself to become like them. If the others around believe in you, then expect them to follow you forward."
Dumbledore walked backwards and vanished with a pop, after winking at the confused boy.
'Why does he always have to be so… irritating?!'
He spun back round and exited the office. He dashed through the hallways, almost ramming into Percy without apologising, and tried to find the other three. Peeves had insisted that they went through a certain door, but he knew that it wasn't really a door to begin with. He learnt that on his second day at Hogwarts. He ran, and he ran until he saw Harry, Ron and Hermione at the bottom of the steps in the Entrance Hall. He wheezed before telling them what happened all the way up there.
"Fucking hell," muttered Ron.
"We've lost it. It's gone forever. Snape is going to get it, and You-Know-Who is coming back."
Hermione chattered through her long front teeth and Harry looked like he was about to go mental.
The four were in the common room, thinking about what could happen if Voldemort came back on this very day. Ron bit his fingernails and Theodore tapped his foot loudly against the floor. The most powerful Dark Lord was coming back, and he was going to kill Harry. He was going to kill Harry and probably Hermione and every other Muggle-born in the school. And there was nobody able to stop Snape from delivering the one thing that would bring all of this true. It was hopeless.
"We're going to go get the Stone tonight, me and Theodore."
Theodore whipped his head at Harry. Now he was pushing it. Theodore shot up and loomed over the scar-bearing boy with anger leaking from his eyes. "You're actually sick in the head if you think that I'm going down there with you! After everything that happened, you still want to break the rules? Our stay at Hogwarts is shaky, Harry, and I'm not going to let you ruin it for me, just so that we can risk our lives for nothing!"
It was Harry's turn to shoot back. "For nothing? For nothing?! Are you that so far up your arse that you only see yourself coming out bad in this? Voldemort is coming back. And in case you hadn't noticed, Hogwarts won't even be there if he's back into power! You think that he'll care about your position here? He'd take over in a second and it'll be even worse than the last time he tried! You and I are going there tonight!"
Theodore got dangerously close to Harry's face. "You don't tell me what to do. I've already lost my parents and I barely have anything to my name. After all these years of having nothing, of being treated like shit, you really think I'm going to go kill myself, so that Voldemort can gloat over our dead bodies as we failed? I refuse. Take Ron and Hermione. I'm not going."
"Voldemort killed my parents, remember? You're not the only one who had to suffer through all that. I know how it feels like to be treated like you're nothing, like you don't mean anything to the world. All I'm asking is that you come with me, as a friend… We're alike, you and me. And you know that. The Sorting Hat put you in Gryffindor for a reason. I'm just asking for this one time, to stop being selfish and help me. Please, Theodore."
Theodore had already turned away from Harry, unable to look him in the eye as he knew that he was right. The young Parselmouth was still stuck between himself. He didn't answer for a while.
"Aren't you scared?" Theodore said softly.
"Of course, I am. And so are you."
The urge to do the right thing seared his insides. Harry was right about Theodore being scared. He didn't want to face whatever lurked underneath the trapped door. If they could get pass Fluffy, only god knows what was in store after. He sucked it down and nodded at Harry. He seemed relieved that he got through to the stubborn boy.
"How are we all going to get to the third floor then? You don't even have your Invisibility Cloak, there's no way we won't get through unnoticed."
"I got it back in the nick of time, don't ask me - wait, we all?" Hermione, Ron and Theodore all nodded. "But it's just me and Theodore, it has to be."
Hermione rose to her feet with her hands on her hips and said, "It doesn't have to be anything else than all of us! We're all going and that's final!"
"What she said."
Harry admired his friends' courage and loyalty at what seemed to be a suicide mission. They all agreed that they'd go after dinner when everyone else was asleep.
The four of them sat in the common room in the later hours of the day, shaking with fear on how they were going to do this. Hermione prepared herself for anything that they might encounter under the trapdoor while Theodore talked to Viripin in the very corner of the dorm, being careful to not wake up Seamus who was closest one by.
"Viripin, I'm not going to be here for a while. In fact, I don't know if I'll come back at all."
"What is it, Master Riddle? Why aren't you coming back?"
"I might… die. Might!"
The snake spat and hissed on the ground. "You cannot die! I won't allow it! I'll make you stay right here, so that you won't have to leave!" She quickly wrapped her body around his, clamping tight enough so that he couldn't move.
"Let me go! I…! I have to do this, okay? If I don't make it back, then leave the castle. In the night, go to the girls' bathroom and escape through the pipes. It'll lead you to behind the castle and away from any gulls. I'm going now." He stood up and lifted her from the ground to his bed. If she were a person, Viripin's eyes would've been welling up with tears right now. Theodore couldn't afford to stay any further and joined the group who were now the only ones in the common room.
Ron, Theodore and Hermione waited at the door for Harry to come down with his Cloak. He came down and the four were ready.
"I don't know if it's big enough to cover us all. We better stay nearer to the ground. Our feet shouldn't be seen by anyone-"
"You're doing it again, aren't you?" In the corner on an armchair was Neville in his pyjamas with his toad in his hands. Neville looked a bit frightened, but still found his voice.
"Erm, no, Neville, don't worry," said Harry as he stashed the Cloak behind his back.
Neville wasn't that absent-minded to see that they were lying to him. "Yes, you are. You're leaving."
"Neville, how about you go back to sleep, yeah? It's getting late," Hermione said.
"That's why you can't go. You'll lose Gryffindor even more points!"
"I can't let you!"
"I won't let you!"
"Neville!" Theodore shouted. He didn't care that he was loud enough to wake up the entire House. They were wasting precious time and as of now, Neville was only an obstacle in their eyes. "Don't make me hurt you."
"I'm not scared of you, Theodore! I know you won't hurt me!" Neville raised his fists. "Fight me then. Fight me!"
Theodore looked at Ron who gave him the eyes of agreement, and pulled out his wand. He intended to hex the resistive boy, but Hermione got to him first.
And just like Mrs Norris, Neville fell over like a cardboard cut-out, his arms and legs bounded tightly together.
The boys had to pull Hermione off as she continuously apologised to the cursed boy. They hid underneath the Invisibility Cloak, which was big enough for all of them, and made their way to the third floor. After a brief run in with Peeves, their journey across the silent castle was over. The children all waited outside the half-opened door, reassuring themselves that they could take on Fluffy.
"After we go in, there's no going back. Anybody want to turn back?" Harry asked. Nobody said anything under the Cloak. With one final breath, the four pulled the door open and entered the room.
Theodore was stunned by what he was looking at in front of him. The others had called Fluffy a giant three-headed dog, but comparing their description of the beast and what he was witnessing, they were incredibly underwhelming. But the young wizard kept his cool under the Cloak and tried to ignore the rising fear that was bubbling inside of him.
"Ok, guys. I've got the flute that Hagrid gave me for Christmas. I'm going to play it and you guys go to the trapdoor. I'll be right behind you," Harry whispered.
"Don't play for too long," said Hermione, "Snape could be right below, waiting for us."
Harry placed the wooden flute to his lips and played a series of orchestrated notes at the level of a five year old. The beast's eyes fluttered and it swayed side to side. Its heads flailed all over the place until they crashed onto the ground, shaking the entire room with them. Ron pulled the cloak off their heads as they stepped closer to Fluffy, looking for the trapdoor. Harry was still playing the flute, still rather badly, and followed the others forward.
"Okay, the big beastie is out of the way. Who wants to go first?" Ron looked over to Hermione.
She stiffened up. "No! No, no, no! I'm not going first!"
"You're the best one with spells, so if anything's down there, you would be the first one ready!"
"So is Theodore! Have you forgotten about him?!" Hermione hissed.
"Well, since you're the one shooting curses at everyone, I thought you would be most eager to follow through!" The two bickered some more until Harry made them both stop and handed the flute to Theodore.
"You didn't even wipe it…" muttered Theodore.
"I'll go down first, okay? Just stop arguing for once! Please!" Harry opened the trapdoor and hung down on his fingers against the edges of the opening. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, and then he disappeared. The three on top quickly circled the hole to see if their friend was all right.
"Harry? Harry! Harry, are you okay?" Hermione called down. There was no reply. Hermione was starting to shudder at the thought of Harry being killed on impact, but was relieved to hear his faint voice shout from the bottom.
"It's okay! You can jump, there's something here that'll break your fall!"
Ron went as stiff as a board and hopped in through the hole. Hermione held her hair in a massive bun and followed suit. Fluffy was still out cold so even if he stopped, Theodore was in no harm. Lucky too, because he didn't think that he would be able to carry on playing for so long. He quickly backed over to the trapdoor and copied Ron. The second the flute left his lips, Fluffy was on like a light, but Theodore was long gone, free-falling down, probably miles under the school.
Harry was right as a soft sort of mesh-like sensation hit his back as he bounced a bit. Hermione was shocked that he had landed so near as he nearly squashed her. He apologised and tried to figure out what exactly was underneath them.
"Really smells down here," said Ron in disgust.
"Well, at least these plants saved us, or we would've been mushy bits by now." Hermione stood up awkwardly, then her face dropped almost instantly.
"What's wrong, Hermione?"
"I think I dropped my wand, guys…" Theodore muttered.
"Hermione, what is it?" Harry asked, looking quite scared. Did the plants do something to her?
"Devil's Snare… It's Devil's Snare…"
"Well what the hell is - shit, is it moving?" Ron suspected correctly as the tendrils of the Snare wrapped themselves around the children with the intent to suffocate them. Theodore looked everywhere for his wand, but there wasn't anything in his pockets. Just the stupid flute. A plant appendage grabbed his right wrist as another caught his other. One of thicker ones twirled around his body slowly, making his skin tighten as it grew cold so quickly.
"Theodore, do something!" Harry exclaimed as he struggled against the killer plants.
"I just said I don't have my wand - ARGGH!" Theodore's neck and mouth had been encompassed by a creeping tendril as it caught him quickly. He shouted in desperation, he even tried to bite the Snare, but it was no use. The more he fought, the stronger the tension was on his joints. It would only be a matter of time before his dead body would be mangled and broken inside a thick web of Devil's Snare. What a way to die.
"Hermione, it's killing Theo! Do something!"
"I'm trying! I can't remember how to kill it!"
"What do you mean you don't remember?! You remember everything!" Ron bellowed as he too was slowly being entangled by the Snare. "Now you decide it's not the time to be a know-it-all?! Just get us out of here!"
"Don't rush me!" Hermione's left hand was free. She grabbed her wand and aimed it in the air, waiting for the spell to come to mind.
"He's dying, Hermione!" Harry mumbled.
Theodore was almost out of sight and could not hear a thing. His oxygen was being sucked out of his lungs as he couldn't think anymore. His body was to be found under the school grounds a hundred years later as a reminder of what happened when stupid children decided to chase danger. He'd never know who his parents really were. How he was supposed to be in Slytherin, his rightful place. How Louise would never see him again, never knowing the truth on how he died…
Suddenly, a strange warmth washed all over him as the vines whipped back, releasing him from their deadly grasp. Theodore sunk down until he dropped on the hard floor, gasping for air. He felt so dizzy that he almost passed out on the ground, had it not been for the others helping him up from the lower floor. Ron patted his back as Hermione lifted his chin to get a clear flow of air to his lungs. He was slowly starting to get back on, able to see his friends' faces in detail.
"Oh man! I thought you'd be a goner back there! Don't scare us like that!" Ron said. He gave Theodore a sincere look to show that he wasn't being sarcastic at his concern.
Theodore gave him a weak smile before shaking his head. "How did you guys break free from the Devil's Snare? Did you light a fire up in there?"
Hermione nodded proudly. Ron scoffed, but she didn't take any notice. Harry placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a worried look as well.
"I can see why you didn't want to come down here. Oh, I found your wand on the floor over there. Here you go…"
"Thanks. But there's no point thinking about what I said before. Let's just get that Stone before Snape, and get out of here."
Theodore took his wand back in his pocket and thumped his chest to clear his throat. His neck still felt like it was dragged by a noose. He was even sure that there was some bruising. No Madam Pomfrey to help him now.
Harry led the way as the other three followed. Hermione held onto her wand tightly, just in case a Snare had decided to snatch them up from behind. Theodore could hear the water drip from all around him, splashing into the murky puddles on the floor. He imagined that the Slytherin common room would be similar to this, only more refined. The idea didn't seem that bad, to be honest.
As they walked through the only passageway, the drips of water were slowly overtaken by another sound, far in front of them. A strange… chiming noise…
"What do you think that is?" Theodore asked.
"Dunno. It could be a bell, or a ghost…"
"I don't think a ghost would be down here, Harry," Hermione said.
Light was creeping out from the other end. The four were slightly glad to this as they had enough of the dark for a while. They reached the heavy arched door and pushed it open. The room, in contrast of the Devil's Snare, was luminous to the point that they all needed to shield their eyes for a few seconds. In the air were birdlike creatures, whisking all over the ceiling with their feathery snowy wings.
It was uncertain to know if they would notice and attack the intruding children, so they instead scooted along the walls with their backs firmly against it, trying not to be caught out. On the other side of the room, a larger door was facing the one that they entered. Surprisingly, the birds didn't attack them as they reached the opposite door. They pulled and pulled against its handle, tugging as hard as they could until their hands turned sore. Everyone tried the Unlocking Charm, but it wouldn't budge. Hermione and Theodore agreed to work on the door while Ron and Harry went around the room to look for a key. It had taken forever for one of them to realise what kind of room that they were in, and what the actual 'birds' were.
"Keys! They're keys! Look!"
Theodore and Hermione turned around to see what Harry was so excited about. Once he pointed to the sky, they all saw that he was right again. Winged keys of many different colours, raced around the sky without even skimming one another.
"Well, we can't get up there. And even if we did, we don't know which key it's going to be; there are way too many."
"It has to be the biggest one. The keyhole looks massive, so it has to be the biggest key. And look! Broomsticks!"
Five broomsticks leaned across the wall in the corner, unnoticed. Harry ran to retrieve one, as did Ron. Hermione reluctantly followed, but Theodore stayed put. He was useless on a broom; he'd throw up and topple over to the ground as soon as he was ten feet in the air.
Harry, Ron and Hermione kicked off in the air as Theodore watched them from below. He watched in awe as Harry was the only one who knew how to properly fly; he pelted straight after the large silver key. Hermione and Ron were behind him, but didn't possess the same type of skill. Harry went in loops and twists with his hand outstretched. It was only a matter of seconds before he spun around and landed with the worn out key in his hand. They all congratulated him briefly before they ran to the door. Harry twisted the key and led them through.
The next room was vastly different again. This time, a small hole in the centre of the ceiling allowed a beam of light to cover what seemed to be a large flooring in an equally patterned, black and white tiling. The light had also revealed that there were chessboard pieces on the tiles as well. Not ordinary-sized chess pieces. No, big ones. Large ones. Ones that towered the four children well above their heads. Ron stepped forward with suppressed excitement on his face.
"I think I know what we have to do here," said Ron as he rubbed his chin in thought.
"We've got to play across. It's chess, don't you see? They're just extremely bigger. Come on!" Ron ran forwards, leaving the others to catch up. He tapped the black horse which ruffled its head like a real one. Some of the black pieces turned their heads to Ron as he spoke to the Knight.
"What is he saying to them?" Harry asked as they reached the edge of the life-sized chessboard.
"Maybe he's asking for help."
Ron beckoned them over, and told them what they had to do. He explained to them that they needed to play chess and win, so that they could cross the other side. He instructed them to take certain positions on the board as he climbed onto the Knight. Theodore was a little offended that he was placed as a pawn, but argued his way to being the Queen.
The whites played first as a pawn moved forward two spaces. Ron was analysing the possible ways to win from the one move, and told Harry to move diagonally four spaces to the right. Harry didn't hesitate and did what he was told. Piece after piece, all of the black chessmen were under Ron's control as he ordered them to wherever he pleased. Hermione and Harry were jolted at the sight of one of their pawns being demolished by the White Queen. Theodore was feeling a bit cowardly that he was hidden in the back, away from everyone else, but did not dare move from his spot.
Time passed as the number of players on the board decreased. Harry had caught a little rubble to the face as a black piece flew all the way to his forehead. Ron was confident in making the moves, and even made Theodore move around as well. The game carried on further and the turn was on the black side, when Ron was suddenly silent. He focused long and hard until he said something drastic.
"I… I have to be taken, guys…"
"NO!" Hermione and Harry shouted.
Theodore was struck as he couldn't believe what he had just heard. Ron was going to let himself be… pulverised by the merciless White Queen?
"I'm sorry, what did you just say?"
"I said I have to be taken," said Ron, gritting through his teeth.
"Think of another plan!" Theodore shouted.
"There is no other plan, Theo! If I don't sacrifice myself, then we'd be stuck here, and Snape would've gotten the Stone before us! Is that what you want?! Huh?!"
"We can't leave you behind! We won't leave you behind!"
Ron turned his head and ignored Theodore. He said aloud that their 'Queen' had to corner the White King, giving them a checkmate after he had given himself up.
Theodore fumbled in his pocket for his wand. He was going to blow the White Queen to bits before she'd get to Ron. "Ron, get out of the way."
He didn't listen.
"I said, move!" Theodore shouted.
Ron stepped in front of the Queen, with terror upon his face. She slowly raised her arm up, ready to strike. Harry turned around to see Theodore's wand raised.
"THEODORE, DON'T! SHE COULD KILL RON!"
Theodore began to mutter a dangerous spell that he had learnt on his own, but he wasn't fast enough. Ron was sent skidding across the board, surely having cracked his skull. The Queen dragged him like a piece of meat, and flung him over to the other broken pieces. Hermione put her hands on her mouth as her eyes watered. Harry closed his eyes and breathed slowly while Theodore still had his arm raised, wand almost falling as his hand shook. Everyone was still. Even Harry couldn't speak. Theodore swallowed a burning lump in his throat, suddenly remembering what he had to do.
Theodore stepped in front of the White King, forcing him to throw his crown on the floor. Harry and Hermione ran to Ron on the other side, but were unable to, due to the broken, but still working, chess pieces blocking them from doing so. Theodore slowly walked to the next door with his head down. He gripped his wand tightly as venom filled his thoughts. He remained silent as the two reached him. Harry nodded and walked through the door while Hermione held his free hand for a bit. She left him alone and followed Harry.
Theodore inhaled deeply and released. He closed his eyes, then lashed his wand towards the White Queen, obliterating her completely. Some of the black pieces also cracked and crumbled at the sheer power of the young boy. He widened his eyes at what he had done and quickly left the room. Never in his life could he do something like that. He forced it out of his brain as he ran to the others.
There was a long passageway leading to the next room. This one now had a pungent odour that reeked of a familiar smell. A mountain troll that was knocked out on the floor, was laying spreadeagled… naked. The trio were immediately scarred at the horrid sight, and instantly pushed into the next room. Theodore didn't think that he could get that out of his mind.
Luckily, the next room was probably the most normal one yet, as a cauldron, three vials and various ingredients all over a table was placed in front of them. The familiar sight of the setup clicked in Theodore's mind as he knew who did this.
"Yeah. Which means that this must've been the easiest for him. What do we do?" Harry asked.
Theodore walked forwards and circled the table, looking closely at the specific ingredients. Maybe he could recognise what potion he had to make. Of course, he wouldn't know why as there was nothing stopping them from going onto the next door.
"Maybe we should just carry on forward," said Theodore as he walked over to the opposite door. "Snape probably cracked this obstacle and forget to —"
A purply-black fire burst from in front of the door as the same for the back one. Theodore managed to pull his hand back in time. He backed up to Harry and Hermione as they all began to panic. The fire had trapped them without any signs of escaping.
"Just great. Now what do we do?"
Hermione searched the table and picked up a note for her to read aloud. She traced along it as it said:
The path you take, will be a path of option,
For you are required to prepare a specific concoction.
A mixture that will aid and help you across,
Not a potion that will ruin you, and would reward your loss.
Be careful, be careful, as your mind must be quick,
As these dangerous ingredients are not to be handled by the thick.
Lion Fish spine and Death-Cap extract,
Ten centimetres cubed of Lobalug Venom to be exact.
These are the first steps for you to pass through the fire,
But failing to produce this carefully will only take you to the place that is 'higher'.
The rest is up to you if you choose to do this task,
For death or victory may be the only two things where you can bask,
To the witch or wizard that completes this test, shall be honoured by myself, a cut above the rest.
Theodore finished and reread it four times before getting to work. He carefully picked and pushed the jars and vials, completely silent and fully focused. He picked a small pile of wood from the corner of the table, and used his wand to set it alight under the cauldron. After that, Theodore was off. Both Harry and Hermione stood near his shoulders, intrigued by how professional he performed, measuring each powder with such proficiency. He stirred and poured, sliced and dropped, grounded and smelt. It was all natural to him. Maybe learning from Snape after all these months proved to be useful. They all stayed silent until Theodore called Hermione over.
"Uh huh? I mean, yes! What is it? Do you need help?"
He stared at the note with a puzzled expression. He carried on looking as he spoke to Hermione as well. "Yes. I need you to grind the Lion Fish spine, and the extract? Pour that inside the cauldron with the venom as well."
"Lobalug Venom with Lion Fish spine, and the Dittany I just saw you put inside there?! Are you mad, you'll kill us all!"
"No! We'll die if I put it inside!"
"I know what I'm doing. The Dittany is for the rapid regeneration when we go through the fire, and the Death Cap is for numbing our bodies from the pain. I've figured it out quite easily."
"Stop being so casual! The Stone is probably on the other side, and you're acting all calm about risking our lives! You can't do this."
"That's why I asked you. You have steady fingers. One little bit extra, and we all die. I just need you to trust me."
Hermione puffed up her chest.
Theodore was certain that he was right. He had seen this potion in Snape's notes when he was 'looking around'. He had memorised every single instruction to the type of spell used for the fire. It was all precise, and all he needed was her contribution. Plus, they were Potions partners, how could he not know this about her?
"Come on, Hermione. Theo has been around Snape for the longest time out of the three of us. If anyone knew what he was doing, it'd be him."
"Okay…" she said quietly. She picked up the spine and used the spoon to crush it to a powder and weighed it exactly before emptying it inside the cauldron. The mixture popped and released black smoke, making Hermione gasp. She carried on with the extract and venom, filling up two small vials. She lifted them slowly above the cauldron and waited. Hermione thought that Theodore was lying about her having steady hands as she could feel them about to have a random spasm at any second. She poured the venom first, releasing the extract a split second after.
The potion turned gold, then green, then purple and violently shook. Hermione stepped backwards and pulled Theodore to crouch with Harry away from the exploding cauldron. Theodore shut his eyes as he expected the burning sensation of death to kiss his body.
He could hear Harry sniff and Hermione coughing. He opened one eye, and saw that a cloud of dark blue smoke had covered the ceiling with the cauldron settling down. Theodore ran over and quickly used a small clean cup to scoop up the potion within. He turned around and showed it to the others, smiling.
"I knew I could do it. Probably could do it in my sleep."
Hermione rolled her eyes, but was very approving of his statement. Theodore proved himself that he was more spectacular than he had let himself on.
"Nice one! I didn't even know you could be that good. What's it called?" Harry asked as he patted Theodore's back. Theodore shrugged. Harry looked closer and realised something. The contents of the cup was barely large enough for two people. Hermione noticed this as well.
"Theodore, wasn't there supposed to be more of this," asked Hermione.
"Yeahhh, that's the thing… That little explosion that just happened evaporated most of the potion. It's useless as a gas so… this is all that's left..." Theodore said while he scratched his head.
"But how are we all supposed to get through? It would be all gone by the third person!"
"I'll drink it," Theodore suggested.
"If you drink it, then I will!" Hermione exclaimed.
Harry put two hands on her shoulders and gave her a serious stare. "Hermione. This is for me, okay? Voldemort was coming for me only. I have to take this. Me and Theodore. We'll go forward and try to stop Snape. If we're not lucky then…"
"But what could you do? Both of you? If You-Know-Who is with Snape then —"
"I'll have Harry," Theodore said smiling. "The cloud will drip from ceiling when it gets cold. Go back to Ron, get all the way to the top of the Astronomy Tower, and alert Dumbledore about everything, you hear me? Everything. Harry and I will… We'll try our best. Won't we?"
Harry gave him a smirk.
Hermione hugged both boys tightly, and stepped back to stop herself from hanging on forever. Theodore took a sip from the cup and tried to dull the revolting taste as Harry drank the rest. They felt their insides turn and twist until they couldn't feel anything. Granted that they could still walk, their bodies were absolutely numb and impervious to harm for a small while. They walked over to the forward door, ready to face what was held behind the last chamber, their destinies finally intertwined from this very moment in time…
Okay, this is the longest chapter I've written. I didn't know I could do so much. I've decided to keep this story as two-parter with Chamber of Secrets and will do the same for the others. Last one may be a story on its own but who knows if I'll get that far? This one was surprisingly fun to write and reread so I hope you enjoyed it. Later.