The Sugar Quill
Author: Persephone_Kore and Alan Sauer  Story: Worth a Thousand Words  Chapter: Chapter 2/8
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Worth a Thousand Words 2

Disclaimer and Authors' Note: Harry Potter, the associated fictional universe, and all characters and items contained therein are intellectual property of J. K. Rowling. We are just playing and have no intention of claim or material profit. It should be noted that this story takes place in an alternate timeline diverging after the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; preceding stories are "Who We Are" and "Trouble Brewing," which explain why Tom Riddle is running around Hogwarts, why he's friends with Ginny, and what happened to Voldemort.

Worth a Thousand Words
by Alan Sauer
and Persephone Kore
Chapter 2

Having gone in search of him the following afternoon (Quidditch practice at dawn had resulted in most of the morning being occupied), Harry peered around a tall bookshelf and spotted Tom reading at one of the library's less obvious tables. He paused for a moment, then concentrated and gave an experimental hiss.

It sounded to his own ears very much like "Hello."

Tom looked up.

Harry moved forward, feeling cautiously rather pleased at having succeeded in speaking Parseltongue without the presence or depiction of an actual snake. Apparently another Parselmouth would also do.

"Hello," Tom hissed back. "Amusement, or secrecy?"

Harry shrugged and settled into the next chair over. "Seeing if I could. I didn't know I was doing it the first couple of times, and until now it seemed like I had to be looking at a snake I could at least pretend was alive." He grinned suddenly. "Of course, it should keep us from getting in trouble for talking too loudly in the library...."

"Yes, but we'd frighten anyone who overheard. I wasn't sure I was doing it either, at first -- thought maybe when I was talking to the snake in the park I was just talking to myself and imagining the answers."

"The first time a boa constrictor thanked me for accidentally letting it out.... I wasn't sure if I'd heard it or not. The second it was pretty obvious the snake had understood me, but I had to be told I wasn't speaking English." Harry frowned. And he'd been accused of egging the snake on when it had obviously settled down as soon as he spoke to it. "Oh well. What are you reading?"

"I managed to figure it out on my own after reading ahead in some of my textbooks, but... oh, this? Riddles and Puzzles to Bewilder the Brain, by Conan Drum. Want to be up to snuff the next time I visit Kiffy."

"Ginny mentioned she seemed to have taken to you. Actually, that's sort of why I'm here... she's busier than she expected today and asked if I'd tell you about the chess tournament for her." To his great relief, she hadn't overturned anything or blushed in the process. This may have been because she was in too much of a hurry.

"Oh, that's right, she told me about that. How'd Ron do? She was pretty hopeful about his chances. Did she get a chance to see any of the matches after dinner?"

"There weren't any." Harry grinned irrepressibly. "He'd won already."

Tom blinked. "That's impressive. I wondered why you lot were so loud at dinner."

"That was it. And he's on the front page of the Daily Prophet for it -- probably you haven't seen it because Malfoy's been trying to destroy every copy he can get his hands on."

"All the copies I could find did seem to start with page two." Tom chuckled. "Good for Ron."

"He's thrilled. He keeps saying he finally got in a photo without at least two of his brothers in it. Mr. Weasley is in there -- something about a raid in Knockturn Alley -- but that's in another section. Wonder if Malfoy's been tearing those out too?"

"Wouldn't surprise me, especially if any of his father's stuff was in with what was seized. What was the chess tournament like? I played a little my first year, but not what I would call competitively."

"It was... very tense, and the chess pieces were always whispering. I don't think anybody'd expected it to go that fast, either -- some of the players looked very rushed."

"Sounds exciting. Wish I'd known about it... not that that would've done any good, I thought Snape was a little too pleased about the timing of our detention."

"I don't know how often they have it; maybe they'll do it again next --" Harry broke off as Professor McGonagall came into sight, looked around, and walked briskly toward them. Her lips were pressed together; this seemed ominous. Harry ran his mind back through his recent activities; he didn't think he'd done anything to get himself in trouble with her....

Tom blinked at her sudden appearance as well; he was still attempting to adjust his mental image of her from the young substitute professor his first year... although that expression was certainly familiar.

"Mr. Potter," she began, rather more stiffly than usual. "It appears that it will be necessary for you to visit Hogsmeade despite your guardians' failure to sign your permission form."

Harry's mouth fell open in surprise. "What do you -- I mean, thank you, but... why?"

"Only one visit, mind you," she amended sternly. "There seems to be...." To their surprise, she hesitated. "It seems that a large serpent has arrived and is writing messages with its tail that suggest it is looking for someone of your description with whom it conversed some time ago and since has been seeking."

Tom blinked. "A snake's writing messages? About Harry? Can I come?"

"You may not. The conversation, if there's to be one, requires only one human being, and despite the circumstances with his guardians, Harry Potter is a third-year whereas you, Mr. Riddle, are not. I'm sure he'll tell you all about it. Mr. Potter, please come with me."

Tom grimaced. If anything, she'd gotten even more strict. Practice, he supposed. "I'll see you later, then, Harry. You can tell me what happens."

"I will," Harry promised. "Maybe this is the boa?" He got up hurriedly and followed Professor McGonagall out of the library. He didn't see how or why the boa from the zoo might have found itself in Hogsmeade and writing messages -- though it had pointed to its sign for him, so perhaps it could read -- but he couldn't think of any other large serpent he'd talked to that might still be around.

*****

Hogsmeade was cool, but sunnier than Harry would have expected for the time of year. He supposed that was probably good for the snake.

Professor McGonagall was walking briskly enough that he had to trot to keep up, but he still found time to look all around at the wizarding village. What he saw only made him wish harder that he had permission to spend time there....

The Marauder's Map was certainly a find and he was still very grateful to the twins for it (though Tom Riddle's presence at the school tended to remind him at inconvenient moments about the potential hazards of things that wrote to you by themselves), but sneaking into Hogsmeade with it had certain limitations. He hadn't had that much time to explore outside the one shop, for one thing -- Hermione had kept worrying that someone might look for him.

He wasn't very happy to discover that they were heading toward a crowd, and was even less so when McGonagall steered him firmly between people until they emerged in an open space in the center.

The long snake lifting its head to look at the new arrivals did look like the boa from the zoo. He had spent a good bit of time looking at the boa; he thought he was reasonably sure of recognizing it. The snake wasn't the problem. He could have done without the audience!

McGonagall had her wand out, he saw. He wondered if he was expecting the boa to attack him, or everyone else when they saw him talk to it.

Harry looked at the ground. There wasn't much grass here, just bare dirt... with messages scrawled in it.

I was talking to a boy bac when I was at the zoo, time befor last it was properly warm. I heard this might be the place to finb humans with odd talents. Anybody seen him? Dark (here "fur" was marked out but still legible) hair, not too tidy? Little for one of yu, but he may be bigger now.

It took Harry some time to make all this out, as it had been stepped on in a few places and didn't look as if it had been very well planned in the first place.

He took a deep breath and walked forward. The boa started to hiss in protest, then broke off. "Hey, don't walk on -- well, I don't sssuppose it matters any more, does it?" A pause. "It issss you, isn't it? You look like the right one...."

"Er . . . yes, I think so," Harry replied, concentrating very hard on the snake to be sure his words came out right. "If you were the one in the zoo, and the glass disappeared and you frightened my cousin? The fat one?"

After all, there might be another lightning-scarred, dark-haired Parselmouth wandering around. Two years at Hogwarts had taught him that just about anything was possible.

There was a murmur from the crowd, but nobody stepped forward. Harry supposed they probably shouldn't be too shocked, really, considering he'd been brought in specifically to talk to the snake.

"Yesss!" The boa sounded absolutely delighted. "Finally! Sssomeone I can talk to properly -- have you ever tried to write with your tail, amigo?"

"...No."

"Well, I wouldn't recommend it. People keep trampling on the wordss."

"What are you doing here?" Professor McGonagall was starting to shoo the crowd away, for which Harry was very grateful, but the stragglers were still staring. Of course, people frequently stared at Harry anyway, and he was not exactly surprised that people had been staring a lot at a large boa constrictor that wrote notes in the dirt. He wished, however, that they would all stop.

"It turnss out Brazil is on the other sside of an ocean. Ssso I thought I'd come ssee how you were doing."

"Oh." It hadn't occurred to him to mention the Atlantic last time he'd seen the snake. "Pretty well. It's been... exciting."

"I hear that, amigo. You try ssslithering acrosss an entire country ssometime, that'ss what I call exciting."

"It sounds tiring," Harry said politely. That might be why it had taken more than two years, of course.

"I'll be grateful for a resst, that'ss for ssure. Ssso, where are you sstaying thesse dayss?"

"At Hogwarts. It's a school for magic...."

The snake nodded shrewdly. "That'd be how you can talk to me, right, amigo? Sssaw ssome ssstrange thingss in thiss village, iss why I rissked the notess."

"Yes -- I didn't find out until my second year that not all wizards could do it; I thought it had been the same as making the glass disappear." He looked down at the lettering in the dirt. "I didn't know you could write in English, though."

"Sssomebody dropped a newsspaper in my tank once. I wass bored. I wass almosst alwayss bored. Thankss again, by the way."

"You're welcome. I can't really take credit, though. I didn't know what I was doing then at all." He ran a hand through his hair, trying to figure out what exactly to do. It sounded as if the boa constrictor intended to come visit him. This was going to get an interesting reaction at Hogwarts, if hopefully a much calmer one than the initial revelation that he was a Parselmouth.

"Sso... how many of you are there? That can talk to sssnakess, I mean. When I ssaw the flying people -- ssilly practice, flittering around like birdss -- I thought I wass home free, but...." The snake flickered a disparaging tongue at the writing in the dirt. "It didn't work out that way."

"It's pretty rare, actually. And it disturbs some people. The Founder of one of the houses could, but I only know of two of us now." He wondered, suddenly, if it could be taught. He hadn't noticed the first time that he wasn't speaking English, and he still had to think about it, but there were definitely differences in the hissing....

"Two, huh? Iss the other one at your Hogwartss too?"

"Yes. There was another one -- sort of -- who used to be, but he was a lot older and he... turned bad. He's dead now."

"That'ss too bad. Ssay, amigo --" The snake looked a bit embarrassed, insofar as snakes were capable of that, or any, expression. "I don't ssupposse I could sstay with you for a while, could I? I'm a bit at loossse endss, you ssee, and you're the only human I know. I could maybe take care of the ratss at Hogwartss? Lotss of buildingss around here have ratss."

There had to be SOMETHING to eat there, if a snake the size of the basilisk had lived for a thousand years there. Of course, it could have been enchanted somehow, but it at least seemed to have been aware of the passage of time. And there had been those rat skeletons.... "I think we do too. And I might have to ask the Headmaster, but I think it would be all right." The boa constrictor was a lot nicer than the last large serpent to inhabit the school, after all. Harry glanced up at McGonagall quickly -- he'd have to ask her, first -- and then thought of something he should probably make sure of first. "You'd have to promise not to eat the other students' pets, though. Some have rats or toads -- and there's this one toad that's getting away all the time."

"Toadss, eh? There'ss good eating on a toad -- oh, all right, don't look at me like that, but I hope there'ss a way to tell whether ssomething'ss a pet or food."

Harry thought fast. "Um... probably if it smells a lot like a human it's a pet? You could always bring it over and ask if you're not sure. And we could introduce you to Trevor -- that's the toad that keeps getting lost."

"Fair enough. And maybe I could sssneak in occasssionally and take mealss with you lot? If there'ss meat, I mean. Or rollss. I ssnuck into a bakery truck in Edinburgh, and had rollss. I like rollss."

Harry paused before answering. "I'm not sure sneaking is an option, but you could probably come in. You might end up spending more time with Tom, though -- that's the other one who could talk to you -- his house's mascot is a serpent, so they'll probably especially like you."

All right. He had to ask Professor McGonagall about inviting the boa to Hogwarts right away, before they got past "probably." It wouldn't be fair to promise it could come and then find out McGonagall wouldn't even let it visit.

"That ssssounds nice...."

"Look," Harry said quickly, "I have to ask first, before I really invite you anywhere. Professor McGonagall brought me here -- she's not the Headmaster, that's Dumbledore, but I'll have to check with her before we could go back there at all."

The snake nodded. "Go ahead, then, it'ss chilly out here."

He took a deep breath and turned to her. She looked rather surprised. "Professor McGonagall... do you think the boa could come back to Hogwarts with us? It couldn't get to Brazil, and this isn't really... I didn't ask how it managed the last two winters."

She looked even more surprised. "I'm not sure that would be appropriate, Mr. Potter, particularly after last year. If nothing else, it is quite a large snake, likely to be difficult to feed -- and I believe you already have a pet."

"Tom doesn't," Harry said in a moment of wild inspiration, "and anyway it says it could hunt, mostly. There are rats some places in the castle, I've seen skeletons...." He swallowed. "And it's much nicer than the basilisk. It wouldn't hurt anyone."

McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "Professor Snape has been muttering about rats in his ingredient stores, and a snake in the Slytherin dormitory would be... less out of place than one in Gryffindor Tower." She considered the snake, thin-lipped. "I suppose a trial period might be permissible. But both you and Mr. Riddle will be held strictly responsible for its conduct."

"It didn't really do anything to my cousin Dudley, and he'd been bothering it," Harry told her. "I don't think there's anything to worry about. Thank you very much." He turned back to the boa and hissed, "She says you can come for a while at least, but that if you get into trouble, Tom and I will too. He's the other Parselmouth -- I'll introduce you."

"Jusst as long as there'ss food and warmth, I'll ssit up and beg. Thankss again, amigo."

"You're welcome. It's nice to see you again." He was a little nervous about the reactions back at Hogwarts, but he couldn't exactly let the boa spend the winter wandering around outside this far north, could he?

"Well, as the situation seems to have been resolved, we should return to the school. Mr. Riddle will need to be apprised of the situation -- if he declines, you understand, I doubt very highly that the snake will be able to stay."

Harry tried not to grin. He'd seen Tom looking enviously after them, even if Professor McGonagall hadn't. "I understand."

*****

Once they got back to Hogwarts, Harry rushed back toward the library in hopes of finding Tom still there. The boa kept pace without any difficulty through the corridors while other students gave them startled looks. Harry winced at the thought of the rumors that might be going around -- when he spotted Ron and Hermione, he stopped abruptly and grabbed Ron's arm. "Er, hi."

"Hey! Harry, what's the -- is that a snake?" He pulled out his wand. "You've got a snake chasing you, Harry, d'you need a hand?"

"No! Well, not with that. This is the boa constrictor I talked to at the zoo once before I came here. That hadn't seen Brazil?" Harry stopped and took a deep breath, aware that he was getting a bit off track. "It was writing messages in Hogsmeade to try to find me again."

Ron blinked. "It was writing? To you?"

"More along the lines of asking if anybody had seen me. It's going to stay here, at least for a while." Harry paused for thought. "We'll want to introduce it to Scabbers, to make sure it knows he's not to eat."

Ron frowned at Hermione. "Yes, Scabbers has enough problems already. Is it staying with us? I dunno if Neville and Seamus and Dean are going to like that -- Neville's really not keen on snakes."

"I was just taking it to meet Tom, actually, if I can find him. Professor McGonagall pointed out that I've already got Hedwig; he doesn't have a pet, and the Slytherins shouldn't mind it." He lowered his voice. "And their common room is warmer than the Potions classroom."

Ron chuckled. "So it is. We ran into him when we were coming in, I think he said something about nicking some food from the kitchens."

"I'd probably better introduce them soon. For one thing Professor McGonagall said we'd both be held responsible for whatever the boa did -- of course I don't think it'll do anything to cause problems, but it's only fair he know about it. Besides, he was there when she came to take me to meet it, and I think he was jealous."

"Jealous of going to meet a big snake. Must be a Parselmouth thing." Ron shook his head.

"Isn't it very large for a boa constrictor?" Hermione asked. "I read that they could grow to about eighteen feet, but this looks longer...." She was examining the serpent curiously, if a bit warily.

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. I hadn't read that."

"Well, I suppose he got plenty to eat at the zoo... you know, my parents take me there every year; I heard about him escaping but I didn't think to connect it with magic, I'd just gotten my letter the week before. It's amazing he's managed so well on his own all this time."

"I didn't know you'd been to the same one." Harry looked at the boa, who was watching them politely.

"She doesss look a bit familiar, I think. I don't remember everyone, though. She didn't try to make me move, but asssked lotss of quesstions."

"Sounds like Hermione," Harry replied, then continued in English. "He says you look a bit familiar."

Hermione blinked in surprise. "I wouldn't have expected him to recognize me. There must be thousands of people who visit."

Harry grinned. "Apparently you asked enough questions to be memorable."

She chuckled. "Well, that's nice. I... suppose we'd better go find Tom. Or would you rather look for him on your own, and we can tell people not to be surprised? Everyone seems to have calmed down about your being a Parselmouth, but you haven't been being followed around by a giant snake all this time."

"Why don't we do that, then? I can find my way to the kitchens easily enough; Fred and George told me how...." He raised an eyebrow. "You're taking my being followed around by a giant snake rather well, considering last year."

"Well, this one's hardly a basilisk, is he? I always thought that was an interesting exhibit, though I'll admit it wasn't my absolute favorite. Of course, I was startled, and it's a little unnerving not to have glass in between, but if you've had polite conversations with him there oughtn't to be anything to worry about."

Ron rolled his eyes. "Better go find Tom before she starts describing the really interesting ones. I'll head back to the common room and see if I can catch Neville and the others; I'm not going to get any more prepared for Shrinking Charms anyway."

"He's actually doing them quite well," Hermione confided before she and Ron hurried off to the Gryffindor dorm. "Don't forget to practice!"

As Harry was about to start toward the kitchens, Tom strolled around the corner, munching on a hot buttered roll. "Oh, good, you're back," he said, swallowing. "Got hungry waiting, and...." He stopped, staring at the boa in wonder.
  
"I didn't think you'd look that shocked," Harry said to him.

"Well, he's very big, isn't he?" He smiled, and hissed, "Nice to meet you. I've only talked to garden snakes before."

"Ah, ssso you're the other one he mentioned. Tom, yess? Nice to meet you too."

"Yes, I wanted to come down to the village as well, but...." Tom grimaced. "Rules. Are you going to be staying here?"

"At leasssst for a while, if you agree to it. Longer, I hope. That Professsor McGonagall seemed to think I might get into trouble, but I've no plansss for that."

"If I agree?" He shot Harry a questioning look. "And Professor McGonagall is... well, she's scrupulously fair, but she's also Head of Gryffindor, who are usually rivals to Slytherin -- which is the house I'm in -- and our mascot is a serpent. You should come down and visit; you'd probably have everybody getting you food."

"That sssounds nice." Harry got the impression, though he had no idea how, of a grin. "Sssshe said he already had a pet, and he ssaid you didn't, ssso it looks like I was already being encouraged to visit. Good to have a ssspecific invitation as well." The boa paused, then added, "I'm not sssure I'd call myself a pet, exactly, but as far as it goessss..."

"Well, of course you're not a pet. But you can be counted as mine as far as the rules are concerned if you like, and stay in my dorm as long as you want to." Tom paused, briefly aware that he was probably grinning like an idiot. "I don't suppose you're hungry now? All I've got are a couple more rolls from the kitchen, I wasn't very hungry and I wasn't expecting company."

The boa perked up. "I like rollss."

Tom dug one out of his robe pocket and put it on the floor next to the boa. "Here you are, then, and I can generally get more." He looked up at Harry. "You ever tried sneaking down to the kitchens? I was nearly given a whole chicken before I managed to convince the house-elves I just wanted a snack."

"No, I haven't...." Harry watched the boa swallow the roll. "I hadn't realized you understood English. I don't think I relayed all of that to you."

"I've heard more human ssspeech than sssnake, living in the zoo for sso long. I underssstand your language perfectly well -- I jusst can't speak it."

"Didn't McGonagall say he was writing notes in English?" Tom pointed out mischievously. "Hope you pay closer attention in her class."

"I knew that," Harry retorted. "I read them. But he mentioned learning that from a newspaper; I didn't know he understood it to listen to as well. Hermione says that's harder than learning to read a language anyway."

"Maybe it isn't for snakes. Besides, Kiffy understands English as well. And a bit of Parseltongue, actually, she said."

"Who're you talking about, now?" the boa asked.

"Kiffy. She's a sphinx, only she's mute, so she has to write her riddles down -- and Harry, tell Hermione she should've thought of that before trying the rebuses, by the way -- and she's in the same boat with Parseltongue as you are with English; can understand, or at least can a little, but not speak."

"That'sss an interesting one. I'll have to meet her ssometime." The boa lifted its head, tongue flicking out to test the air. "Thanksss for the roll -- and the place, both of you. Ssso. Care to go and sshow me what your dorm's like?"

"Sure. I'll see you later, Harry." Suddenly Tom laughed. "Malfoy's going to go absolutely insane he didn't think of having a snake first."

Harry grinned. "Tell me all about it. I'm going to go see what exactly Ron and Hermione are telling the Gryffindors."

*****

Karie: Glad you liked the end of "Trouble Brewing," and thank you for picking out lines from the new chapter. Making up the riddles was a very enjoyable challenge -- as was guessing each other's! And Hagrid's almost always fun.... --PK

To Karie: Poor Tom, he was so nervous. :) Thanks for pointing out your favorite parts, that always makes my day. --Alan

LC: *laughs* Well, thank you very much. I'm flattered you went and found us on ff.net! (I agree though, you have interesting timing. ;) Or we do.) --PK

To LC: I always think reminding people to review is kind of rude, but don't feel bad if you forget because every review is a gift. :) I'm glad you're enjoying the series. --Alan

Ozma: Thanks. Insecure Tom is fun to write, too, though so is having him become more confident. Of course, Kiffy's been pretty insecure herself, though she's also improving.... (Incidentally, she got into the series before I knew about Hypatia!) And, well, she *could* have been going to eat him.... ;) --PK

To Ozma: Well, Ginny _said_ they'd get along. :) And Tom's got a lot to be insecure about, but he's working on it. Glad you're enjoying the ride. --Alan

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