The Sugar Quill
Author: Persephone_Kore and Alan Sauer  Story: Trouble Brewing  Chapter: Chapter 2/4
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Trouble Brewing 2/4

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and the associated books and universe belong to J. K. Rowling. We intend no undue claim, no offense, and no material profit; we're just playing due to her inspiration.

Trouble Brewing
by Alan Sauer and Persephone
Chapter 2/4

Another week -- and another visit to the hospital wing -- later, Tom was convinced that he was going to fail Potions. Snape had laughed off his request to change seating, and Ginny, if anything, was made more nervous by his attempts to be undemanding. Neither of them could concentrate -- at least, if she could he couldn't see how -- and no matter how much he could learn from a book, Potions required practice. This was difficult to do from the hospital wing.

The really annoying thing was that -- barring actual malice or sabotage -- either one of them would probably have done reasonably well with another partner. At least, Tom knew he would....

And now the special Care of Magical Creatures session for the second-years was finally starting.

Tom had signed up for it because it was considered an advanced class, and at the time hadn't thought anything of it being a double class with Gryffindor. Now, of course... Tom wondered a bit morbidly if Hagrid would make him and Ginny work together too.

He didn't think Hagrid liked him. Harry insisted the gamekeeper would get over it given a little time, but Tom couldn't quite see why. Apparently he -- the other him -- hadn't even quite been Voldemort yet when he got Hagrid expelled.

Neither House was especially happy about working together. Magical monsters were quite enough of a challenge without being subjected to their least-favorite other students, seemed to be the general opinion.

The students were led, to a large enclosure and filed carefully in, one by one, under close supervision. Hagrid cautioned them to "Watch where yeh walk," with a chuckle, but the enclosure seemed to be empty. The walls, however, were gaudily painted with all four House colors.

"Anybody know any invisible monsters?" someone muttered.

"Not invisible," Hagrid's booming voice announced. "They're chameleons. Yer assignment is to catch and control one each. There're leashes hung on the walls -- one apiece, no fightin'."

Ginny edged a little bit farther away from Tom Riddle -- Harry insisted he was all right, but she just couldn't look at him or hear his name without thinking about.... She shook her head and stared hard at the walls and grass as everyone cautiously started edging toward the leashes. She should probably get one of those, yes.

She stepped carefully over to a wall, studying the ground before she put her feet down for any sort of difference in texture, and put her feet down slowly in case she didn't see something. At one point she did encounter resistance, but it scurried away before she could reach for it.

"Go on, then, get a move on! These 'un's aren't poisonous! Yeh can just pick 'em up, but watch out for the tails, they come off."

Ginny sighed and picked up a leash -- bright red, the same color as her hair -- and coiled some of the extra length around her arm to keep from tripping over it. At that point one of her classmates did trip, and fell flat on his face. She thought she saw a hint of movement away from his feet, and squinted at it.

Too far off, probably. Somewhere closer.... Where was the one she'd almost stepped on?

"And try not to look like an insect. Chameleons eat insects, yeh know. Tongues like frogs."

Ginny decided she wasn't too worried about this. She didn't know how to look like an insect if she tried. Besides, if by some chance she did, at least being hit by a chameleon's tongue would indicate that there was one in the vicinity. Presumably attached to the tongue.

Somebody else stepped on one and wound up with a tail. Assorted other people thought they glimpsed something and snatched at it; a Gryffindor and a Slytherin got in a fight over a chameleon that was probably long gone... in short, pandemonium ensued.

Ginny heard something hiss, blinked over in that general direction, and discovered that it was -- unsurprisingly -- Tom. She looked away quickly and then felt something step on her foot.

When she reached for it, she discovered that Hagrid's claim that they could "just pick them up" was probably based on his size, not theirs. She got what felt like a leg -- luckily -- that her hand would barely close around. She winced as it jerked, trying to get away, and hoped she hadn't made it sprain something. "Hold still, it's okay...."

"They like interestin' patterns, for the challenge. Any of yeh got a plaid handkerchief?"

Interesting patterns... maybe it would like the red leash on her arm? Well, maybe.... She saw someone else struggling with something; it was one of the vainer students, who was not wearing plain black work robes but a gaudy rainbow... thing.

With some difficulty, she got the collar of the leash in her teeth and her other hand on the chameleon's leg, then shifted one arm around its middle and tried to find the neck.

"Oh, well done, Ginny! All of yeh look at Ginny, now, she's got one. Just put the leash around his neck there, then. You there, Nigel, don't fight 'em like that, they'll run off and hide. Gentle's the word."

Tom was still hissing. The chameleon tried to run away from him, which Ginny thought privately was rather sensible of it. He sounded like a snake.

Of course he sounded like a snake.

"Hold STILL," she grunted around the leash, just as she was yanked out of her crouch and fell on top of the chameleon. She felt something poke her nose and breath on her lip; oh good, that must be its snout. She kept talking, trying to keep its interest so she could free her arm and get hold of the collar again. "I'm not trying to hurt you...."

She yelped as somebody ran by and stepped on her leg, but resisted the impulse to turn and glare at them.

"Why run after something you can't see?" she muttered. Her chameleon licked her nose with a tongue that stayed pink just long enough for her to see it. "Um, okay."

"What yeh want to do when yeh know where one is, is keep the background changing on it so it can't keep up. Wave yer sleeve around by it so it tries to blend in."

Sarah, one of the Muggle-borns, was humming. Ginny decided to concentrate on that instead of the staccato hissing from the opposite direction. The other thing you want to do when you know where one is is to hold on to it. "Stop squirming. It's not a real snake," she muttered. "Just hold still... where's your nose again?"

She'd finally gotten her left arm free and was hugging the chameleon firmly if a bit precariously, her right hand locked behind its elbow. Pick it up? The creature was as big around as she was! She found its face with her hand, though, and managed to slide the collar over it. The collar contracted a little as she got it into place; when she felt it, Ginny found that it had adjusted securely, with just enough slack for easy breathing.

"Well done, Ginny! Bring him on over here, then, and we'll put him to bed. All this excitement gets 'em sleepy."

Ginny grabbed the leash before she let go with her other arm, then stood up, panting, and wiggled the leash across the chameleon's back. It flickered red.

"All right," she called, and started to head for Hagrid's voice, tugging gently on the leash. All was going well until the lizard tried to bolt at another hiss.

She'd wrapped the leash around her wrist once, which meant that she didn't lose her chameleon. It also meant she was jerked off her feet. Again.

"Get back here." She got to her feet again and glared furiously at the Slytherin, then headed for Hagrid again, more carefully this time.

She made it this time, and handed Hagrid the leash with some relief, then crouched down to where the chameleon could nose her face again. "Hagrid, I don't think anybody here but you could pick one of these up. Not easily, anyhow."

Hagrid was shaking his head, squinting out into the enclosure as Ginny came up. "That Tom Riddle, he's scarin' 'em away, he is. Have 'em attacking everybody in a minute -- Ginny, would yeh do me a favor and straighten the little mucker out? Get 'im to stop that hissing, anyway. You're real good with these. Lovely little -- eh? Well, I suppose you're right. They grow up fast, they do."

Ginny had turned away before Hagrid could see her go dead white. With her collection of older brothers, she was used to assorted weird animals and to wrestling with people larger than she was; she liked most animals and had learned to deal with those she didn't calmly, if only because otherwise the twins would pester her with them endlessly given the hint.

As a result, she was expecting Care of Magical Creatures to be one of her best classes. Since she was much less flamboyant than most of her brothers at school -- at home was a different matter -- and was still humiliatingly unnerved by having to work with Tom Riddle in Potions, Hagrid was one of the few people who thought she was reasonably brave. She didn't really want to spoil it. So he was probably about the only teacher for whom she'd voluntarily walk up to Tom.

Tom, for his part, was utterly miserable. Everyone else at least seemed to have some idea how to start, and he wasn't getting anywhere. One or two flickers of movement, but nothing he could pinpoint except the time one of them had knocked him over. Pick one up?! Hagrid was mad. Actually, he reflected dismally, Hagrid was just large.

He'd tried Parseltongue, which unsurprisingly turned out not to work on lizards, and degenerated into snake-curses in short order. One chameleon bumped into him and promptly (as far as he could tell) arrowed away into the arms of a triumphant Gryffindor.

"Tom," Ginny said a bit faintly, and watched him jump as if startled out of his wits. She gulped and went on quietly. "Snakes eat chameleons, you know."

"Well, nobody told me that. I swear, Hagrid expects us to know everything he does about these things...."

"He's been calling out tips the whole time," Ginny pointed out. She tried to wipe her palms on her robes unobtrusively.

Tom eyed his leash with disgust. "I tried waving my handkerchief. One of them ate it, I think."

Ginny surprised herself by almost laughing, and choked on it instead. "Well, why didn't you grab it?"

"I tripped over this." Tom held the leash up sheepishly. "Somebody laughed. I don't think I'm cut out for this class."

"Try wrapping the loose end around your arm," Ginny said automatically, then blinked. Had she just given him advice? ...She had. He really did look uncertain -- and embarrassed. And, when he turned to scan the enclosure rather hopelessly for more chameleons, almost as nervous as she felt about him. "...Are you all right?"

Tom stared out at the chaotic tangle of students and lizard-shaped pieces of background, unseeing. "I wish I knew if that were good or not. That I'm bad at this, I mean. I mean, was he good at all his classes, in which case I think I almost want to fail at something. Or if he was bad at Magical Creatures, and I am too... what does that mean?" He blinked, then looked back at Ginny. "Um. What? Sorry. Wrap it around what?"

Ginny blinked back at him. "Wrap the leash around your arm, but keep the collar free. To keep from tripping." She hesitated. "He" couldn't be anybody but... You-Know-Who, and it startled her to realize Tom was worrying about... that. "And... I don't know. Just don't hiss at them; you're scaring them all off."

Tom wrapped the leash around his arm half-heartedly. "Like this? And no hissing, right. Thanks." He attempted a grateful smile. "How do you tell where one is? I mean, you latched on to yours right away; I was really amazed."

"...Mine ran away from you and stepped on my foot, actually." Ginny blushed almost the color of her hair for no apparent reason. "Otherwise... look for differences in texture; they can't quite get that the same most of the time. Scales don't look perfectly like grass no matter how good the pattern is; it's very close though. And look for motion." She closed her mouth abruptly, feeling that she was babbling.

"Texture and motion. Right." Tom blushed too, and looked away. "I'm not... used to this. People helping me, I mean. Just... thanks. And I'm... I don't know. Maybe I could... try to get a different partner in Potions, or something? In return. I don't know if I can -- maybe if I ask someone besides Snape -- you're nicer away from boiling cauldrons. And all I've really got that people seem to want is... to go away, I guess."

Ginny bit her lip and stared at the grass. Nicer? She hadn't -- she didn't -- Away? She felt guilty suddenly. "I didn't mean to spill half-done Firestarter on you," she said quietly.

"Well, I know that. I didn't mean... sorry. I asked Harry about it, and he said... well, never mind. I suppose you don't like thinking about it any more than I do. Four years." Tom shuddered. "I wish I knew when he... changed."

The first thing that came to mind was "I didn't know it bothered you that much." Ginny decided a moment afterwards that she had to learn to think before she spoke instead of at the same time.

Tom smiled crookedly. "Nobody lets me forget about it. All I want is to be me -- unless being me means being him, in which case I want to be somebody else -- but maybe wanting to be someone else is how he started, I don't know. Sometimes I want to apologize, but that just seems so stupid, as if the things he did could be apologized for, or as if I could apologize for them when I didn't do them. And even then, I can't apologize for my face."

Ginny winced. It wasn't even the face -- well, a little -- for her, it was more the name. She'd never told anyone that she had eventually remembered everything Harry and Tom had said to each other, arguing over her -- or maybe she had dreamed it.

But this Tom hadn't done that; he was younger than the memory in the diary.... That one had been appealing and charming and soothing and... the one thing he'd never, ever been was vulnerable. Or -- she glanced ruefully at the leash -- incompetent. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I didn't think." She'd been too scared to think. So much for Gryffindor courage.

Tom blinked. "You didn't do anything. Well, beyond spilling things, and being skittish, and I can certainly understand that. I want to hide from me sometimes. But you've been a lot nicer than most of your House. I mean, you came over to help me with these chameleons, and everything."

"Hagrid told me to." Oh, that was going to make him feel better. Hadn't she just decided to think before she spoke? And when had she stopped (mostly) being scared of Tom and started worrying about upsetting him?

Tom shrugged. "He could've found somebody else. Would've, probably, if he'd stopped to think. Not like Snape. But you still came over."

"Well... yes." This time she managed not to say it was because she didn't want Hagrid to think she was a coward. "I haven't been much help though."

Tom grinned. "We've been standing around talking instead of looking for lizards. I haven't exactly had the chance to try out your lessons." Suddenly he saw a blur in the grass off to his left, and dove for it -- but after a few seconds' thrashing, all he had to show for it was a long green tail, which he waved at Ginny. "It's a start, yes?"

Ginny tried desperately not to laugh. "Well, it's part of one." When she thought about it, Tom had been nicer than most of his house, too. He'd hardly even complained about her horrible performance in Potions all the time; all the nasty comments had been from other people... especially Snape.

She hesitated again, then plunged forward, conversationally speaking. "Look -- Tom -- I don't know if it'd make a difference if you did try to switch, the way Snape works, but if we're still partners in Potions I don't think I'll be as bad about it anymore...."

Tom grinned again, the first really unselfconscious grin she'd seen from him. "I think I'd like that. And at least when you spill stuff on me it's an accident -- anybody else Snape put me with would probably do it on purpose, and we've got that wart cure next week. Do you suppose Hagrid'll give me half marks for the tail, or should I keep trying for the rest of it?"

"Keep trying. There's supposed to be one for everybody," she advised him, looking around again. The population of the enclosure seemed to have decreased; apparently, since the class was at the end of the school day, most people who caught their chameleon left as soon as it was "put to bed." "Tom... turn around slowly. There's a patch on the grass a little behind you that looks funny. No, to your right."

Tom inched around, trying not to make any sudden movements. There it was -- a sort of oblong discontinuity on the ground. "Jumping didn't work last time," he whispered, abruptly nervous again. "Maybe walking up slowly? What do you think?"

"Try to relax." Ginny moved slowly up beside him without quite realizing it. "If you're nervous, it makes them nervous. And you're not quite close enough to pounce on it effectively."

Not being nervous by an act of will was... not easy.

"Relax. Sure." Tom took a deep breath and, surprisingly, managed to banish some of the tension in his muscles. "What's the lizard equivalent of sugar cubes? Not that it matters, I guess. Now what?"

"That's better.... Get the collar where you can get hold of it pretty easily, but you probably want both hands at first. Then move toward the chameleon slowly. And crouch, don't kneel."

Tom sidled up to the blurry patch, trying to think calm thoughts about things lizards liked, in case Hagrid hadn't told them that chameleons could read minds. He put out a cautious hand, biting his lip -- and touched dry, pebbled scales. The chameleon twitched -- Tom pulled his hand back reflexively, but when he reached out again it was still there. It took surprisingly little effort to loop the collar around the thick neck.

He turned back to Ginny, beaming. "I did it! We did it, I mean."

"You've got the leash," she pointed out with a grin. She'd never expected his smile to be that infectious. "You'd better take it over to Hagrid now." Most of the class had finished; most of the few left seemed to be the cut-ups who still insisted on diving at every flicker.

"Okay. Thanks... a lot, Ginny. I'll see you in Potions, then, I guess?"

She nodded, then squeaked as a passing student nearly tackled her and his chameleon did. "I was going to say," she said with as much dignity as possible, sitting up and eyeing her receding classmate irritably, "that there might still be a chance to pass it." For Tom, at least. With Snape, he probably had a better chance.

"I hope so. It's only been a little over a month; we should be able to get enough practice by the end of the year. And maybe... study extra, on the side, to catch up? There are probably books and things in the library."

"I should hope there are books in the library," Ginny quipped. She pushed her hair out of her face and started to get up, then paused, startled, when Tom released one of them from its deathgrip on the leash and offered it tentatively to her. "...Thanks." No. He wasn't like the diary. His hand was cold though. "That sounds good. Though he might make us stop working together if it doesn't seem like we mind." She tilted her head. "How well do you act?"

"Don't know, never tried.... If we're going to pretend we can't stand each other, though," and when did we start having to pretend that, he wondered, "I want a chance to spill stuff on you occasionally too." He grinned again. That seemed to be happening more often. "Seems only fair." A thought struck him. "You don't suppose we could occasionally spill things on Snape, do you? I don't think I've ever met anybody more deserving of purple and green spots."

A giggle escaped Ginny. "I don't know, he'd have to get close enough." She paused. She'd thought most Slytherins liked him... well, most Slytherins didn't have him force them to work with a partner who spilled things all the time, either. They began walking in Hagrid's direction again. "What'd he ever do to you though? Besides make you work with me, or was that enough?"

"No, no, it's -- well, he glares at me like he's expecting, I don't know what, only it's not like what the other teachers seem to be expecting. And anyway, he treats everybody like dirt unless they toady up to him. I thought I was the one being used as the punishment, honestly." Tom frowned. "I don't like being used."

"He probably figured... we'd make each other uncomfortable." A severe understatement, in her own case. "Ron says he likes Draco Malfoy." The second sentence, she noticed, had absolutely nothing to do with the first. "And I wasn't the one getting... scalded, and things." Just scared half to death.

"Mmh. Malfoy. That's enough right there -- believe me, and I say this as someone who has to live with the little -- well, anybody who likes Malfoy deserves the occasional potion mishap. Besides, anybody could see you wouldn't have spilled half that much if you hadn't, well, been working with me. I think Snape saw it, for one."

Ginny sighed and ducked her head. "Probably. And unlike most of the class he seemed to know why. I really shouldn't -- I knew you hadn't yet --" Oh, yet was a bad way to put it.... "I couldn't seem to help it." She wondered whether she could apologize without making things worse, and peeked up at him cautiously.

"Oh, I don't blame you at all, really. Or I did, but then I talked to Harry, and now I don't. I've been meaning to... try and explain, or something, for days, but you never stood still long enough." Tom tugged on the leash. "No wonder you're so good with these. Sorry. Um. Joke? I'm not very good with jokes, or at least people don't usually laugh. Edge away nervously, mostly."

Ginny looked up from staring as fixedly at her toes as was possible while walking, a bit startled, and smiled tentatively. "I wasn't going anywhere. Well, except -- " she waved her hand generally in the direction they were headed. "And I'm still sorry. I don't know what you'd have had to explain anyway."

What did he and Harry talk about? a voice gibbered in her mind, mortally embarrassed again about that crush.... She squashed it and took a deep breath. "And I didn't mean 'yet.'"

"I know you didn't. Pronouns and verb tenses get a little confusing sometimes. Maybe we could just... take all the apologies as having been said, or something? And start over, maybe."

"That sounds... good. Thanks. -- Look out for Mark, there!" as one of the remaining Gryffindors stumbled over the leash and the chameleon's head. Tom barely kept hold. Ginny frowned at Mark. "I know you can't see the chameleon," she told him, "but the collar really should be a hint."

"I don't know what they're all running for. The chameleons don't get any more visible when you've got a concussion from tripping and hitting your head, do they? Maybe I should've tried that first, d'you think?"

"Doesn't look like it's worked for them, does it?" Ginny helpfully hauled Mark to his feet and set off again, shaking her head a little "They're always like that. Showoffs."

"Gryffindor bravery by any other name."

Ginny bristled. "I've heard some things about the third-year Slytherins...."

"Yeah, well. Most of them want to be Malfoy, or Marcus Flint. But we're not all bad. It's sort of like... what if everybody thought all Gryffindors were like your brothers Fred and George?"

"I meant toward the animals. And I like Fred and George." She took two more steps before she added, "Most of the time."

"Mm. It's all the same thing -- well, you don't see as much of it, I guess. Malfoy tries to be better than everybody by treating everybody like they're less than he is -- so the people that want to be like him, that he picks on, pick on other people, and eventually you run out of people, so they pick on animals too. I think it's stupid -- Slytherins are supposed to be clever and individualistic, not a pack of sheep. And you have to admit, if you don't know Fred and George, it's hard to see their good qualities."

"Shh. You'll get us carnivorous sheep next or something," Ginny murmured with a glance in Hagrid's direction. "And... I don't know. Percy and Ron and I are probably their favorite practice targets, but... I've known them all my life, you know. It's hard to imagine being somebody who doesn't."

"I suppose. Some of us think they'd be better Slytherins than some of the people who actually are, you know." Tom grinned at her expression. "We used to be the house for pranks."

Ginny raised an eyebrow at him. "You did?"

"To hear some of them -- the older students my first year, I mean -- talk about what happened when their parents were here, anyway. It's only because of -- it's only lately, I mean, that we've gotten the reputation we have."

"I got the idea there were stories even before that, but...." She shrugged. "Speaking of pranks, I think --" She broke off abruptly, even though she'd been quiet, as they reached Hagrid.

Tom looked up at the giant teacher, suddenly nervous again. "Um. I caught one, sir. Thank you for asking Ginny to help me; I couldn't have done it without her."

"I just asked her ter get yeh ter stop scarin' them all. The rest of it was her idea," Hagrid replied bluntly, but amicably enough, scooping the chameleon up leash and all. It flickered before blending against his shirt. He eyed Ginny. "Wondered if I should've, for a minute, but it looks like it worked out all right."

"Yes." Tom shot a cautious smile Ginny's way. "Well. I'd better run if I'm going to make it to Herbology -- somebody in the class before us scared a water plant into splashing around and soaking all the cacti, so we couldn't have class at the normal time. See you later, Ginny?"

"Meet you afterward to study Potions?"

"Okay. I'll bring some of the books Snape has for us in the dorm; they're different from the regular ones."

"Can't believe you needed that much help to catch a little lizard, Riddle," someone called.

"A Muggle-lover klutz, too, Mudblood." That had definitely been someone from Tom's own house, too. He'd ignored the first one, but....

"Why am I not surprised?" Ginny murmured, glaring past him. Tom wasn't quite sure whether she was unsurprised about Snape's library or the jeering.

Tom glared. "If you'd pay more attention to the chameleons than you do your own bloodline, Rensington, you'd have caught three by now. Best get those robes to the laundry before the grass stains set." Under his breath, he added, "you little toad. See how you like a newt in your bed one of these nights."

He heard Ginny whisper something and looked back quickly to see her hand on her wand. She shrugged innocently as Rensington moved out of earshot. "I set the stains. At least they're still the right color. I thought about turning them pink." Out of earshot was not strictly the right term. Rensington could have still heard her if Hagrid hadn't started bellowing at him for language.

Tom laughed. "That I would've liked to see. I'll see you after class."

He noticed in Herbology that Rensington's robes were now pink-splotched. His face looked rather similar.

*****

Karie: We're glad it interests you! Yes, they're both in quite a state right now, aren't they? Poor kids.

Ozma: Thank you again. :) Cheering them up in this chapter.... Yes, Harry can be a dear sometimes. It must have been a terribly awkward thing to get stuck explaining, but really, how many other people could?

MrRobertsIII: The electricity-to-magic power conversion was... actually, I no longer know how I came up with that, but I suspect it had to do with wanting to make Tolkien jokes and figuring a ring stuck in an electrical outlet would be a good excuse. Glad to be original, glad you're enjoying the stories... I think hardly anybody would be quite sure how to deal with Tom like this. I don't know about actually writing his transformation into Voldemort; Alan has some ideas for parts of his school career, and we intend to show hints of how he did go wrong and what makes the difference now, though.

//
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