Life Study 1
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter series and universe belong to J. K. Rowling. We intend no undue claim nor any offense and are making no profit other than enjoyment.
Authors' note: This is part of the Time's Riddle series, an AU starting after Chamber of Secrets. Previous stories are "Who We Are," "Trouble Brewing," and "Worth a Thousand Words." There is also a prequel by Alan, "The Potent but Terrible Solution."
Summary: A disconcerting visit from Lucius Malfoy and an incident involving a rogue Acromantula and inter-House cooperation lead Tom to set about remedying Slytherin's damaged relations with the other Houses. Via a study group.
by Alan Sauer and Persephone
Time's Riddle series
"So." Startled by the smooth voice, Tom looked up from the book he'd sat down with after breakfast. The fair-haired man before him had a peculiar smile on his angular face. "I understand you have been putting my son in danger."
Tom managed not to blink. The good mood he'd maintained all night and halfway to the breakfast table, courtesy of the picture album his Gryffindor friends had made him, had abruptly evaporated when out of the chaos of the Great Hall he'd picked the words "Sirius Black shredded the Fat Lady last night." He hadn't been able to reach Ginny or Harry through the press, and trudged back to the Slytherin common room with thoughts whirling.
His mood had further soured upon recognizing Lucius Malfoy, resplendent in black velvet robes, relaxing by the fire; he'd never met the man, but the blond hair, grey eyes, and stainless-steel arrogance were unmistakable. And the last shreds of what three hours before had been shaping up to be a wonderful day dried up and blew away when the older wizard brushed off his own son to address Tom. "Not by choice," he managed, after a moment.
The odd faint smile broadened into what was to Tom's eyes an equally peculiar full one. "Well, naturally not." Lucius seated himself across from Tom and offered his hand. "I'm sure it must be quite unnerving to find yourself so... targeted."
Tom took it, cautiously; Lucius' palm was warm and dry, when by rights it should have been clammy. "Gryffindor was attacked, not Slytherin, and even there Black never entered the tower."
"Even so -- you must have heard the rumors of his intent."
"M--Draco was at pains to bring me up-to-date on recent history, yes." Tom cocked his head and added coolly "He seemed to know quite a bit more about Black's dealings with Voldemort than most people."
Lucius sniffed. "I should hope my son would be well informed regarding recent history. There are no excuses -- well," he amended with another smile, "there are very few excuses for the lamentable lack of awareness shown by so many. I do realize you have a uniquely legitimate one."
Tom shrugged. "I'm a fast learner, and I read the newspapers. I understand you and Black were... colleagues."
Lucius's eyebrows shot up. "Colleagues?" His voice dripped distaste. "I can assure you that I have never worked with Sirius Black."
"Shared interests, then." Tom allowed himself a dry smile. "But I think you'll find that we have very little in common, Mr. Malfoy."
"I don't know what interests you have in mind, I'm afraid. What little I knew of Black's tended to be either dull or troublesome." Lucius leaned forward. "It would be quite the shame if we found no common ground, though. One of Slytherin's brightest young stars is worth cultivating under any circumstances, and I'm aware of some of your... peculiar setbacks."
"Such as my father, for instance? Draco has given me to understand that a Muggle parent is considered a... setback... in some circles."
Lucius' eyes flickered. "I was referring, actually, to the difficulties of being displaced, with respect to your memories, and to your situation outside Hogwarts."
"I manage well enough. Tutoring for my weak subjects, and so forth, and the library carries several copies of the current textbooks. And I've managed to adapt rather well to the broomstick advances. I've come to value my self-sufficiency."
"You have weak subjects? I hadn't heard." Lucius sounded amused. "Self-sufficiency is... admirable, but you may eventually find that it does have certain limits, even for the best of us." He gave Tom a surprisingly warm smile. "Keep in mind, should you ever find yourself up against those limits, if you ever need anything... I am available. And generally capable of providing some variety of assistance."
Tom raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid I don't keep a diary, Mr. Malfoy."
And then he recovered his smile, if a slightly cooler one. "Have you been talking to the Weasley girl? I understand she has quite the imagination." He stood and offered Tom his hand again. "I have business to attend to, and a manhunt to spur -- but keep me in mind."
Tom shook the older man's hand as shortly as he could without seeming rude, and smiled thinly. "You've certainly given me a lot to think about. I won't keep you any longer." He watched Lucius leave the common room, watched the students' eyes follow him with awe, and then turn to regard Tom with new respect, and suppressed a shudder.
"I thought he might come to talk to you." Tom looked up with a start to find Professor Snape looming over the back of his chair and scowling down his nose, arms folded.
Tom's Head of House was considerably less pleasant in both aesthetic appearance and expression than Lucius Malfoy. Tom was nevertheless decidedly relieved to see him.
"It... makes sense, I suppose," Tom said, subconsciously wiping his hand on his robes, "but that doesn't make it any more pleasant."
Keen black eyes studied him. "Stop that. Give me your hand."
Tom blinked and extended it cautiously; Snape took his arm above the wrist, sniffed the palm, then tapped the wand he rarely used at the pulse point. "Sir, what are you --"
"Doing? Merely being cautious." Snape's eyes glittered. "You've demonstrated a penchant for tricks before."
Tom shrugged uncomfortably. "Just harmless ones. To be funny. I don't want to hurt anyone, but I'm not going to walk on eggshells just because people might think I'm following in--my--footsteps." He met Snape's eyes. "And I'm not accepting any help from Lucius Malfoy. I'll starve first."
"You're a proud one." Snape regarded him thoughtfully. "And, it appears, not too easily influenced. At least by... some parties. Try to stay out of trouble."
He turned away in a swirl of black robes and a faint smell of potions ingredients and was greeted by a hiss that Tom understood to mean, "Trickss indeed. Now what about that snack?"
Tom blinked after Snape. Two very odd conversations one after the other, were they trying to drive him mad? Well, Lucius Malfoy probably was. Disturbing thought. An exasperated, wordless hiss from the boa brought him back to himself. "Oh, right. I saved some rolls from breakfast." He fumbled in his pockets, and produced one. "Here you are."
The boa accepted it with a hissing laugh and swallowed it in short order. "Well, I meant to remind him he'd promissed one, but as long as it'ss on your mind too...."
Tom blinked. "Who, Snape? I didn't know you'd met yet. Or at least not that you were on snack terms with him. He doesn't like me much."
"We're both a little hard to misss, and he does like ssnakess well enough. Not jusst for shed sskin, either! Though that didn't hurt." Tom remembered that the boa had shed a few days ago; he was still rather shiny. "He'll come around."
"Mm. I won't tell him you eat with the Gryffindors sometimes, if he hasn't already noticed; that'll win neither of us points. Go on and beg, then, if you were going to; I think I ought to find Ginny, or somebody."
"He sstarted out grumbling about my coming in with Harry Potter," the boa hissed cheerfully. "You did the ssame and he'ss checking you over for contact sspells."
Tom laughed. "Well, if he's willing to look past that and still feed you, maybe there's hope for him yet."
The boa twisted his neck and eyed Tom consideringly. "Oh, that'ss right, you humanss can't ssmell. He's not too ssure of you, but he knowss he doessn't trusst Luciuss." He slithered back down from where he'd propped his coils on the arm of the chair and set off after Snape. "Sssee you later, amigo."
"That makes two of us," Tom muttered. The common room felt stifling, suddenly, even for a dungeon; a walk would clear his head. He could go skip rocks in the lake, maybe.
He glanced toward the fire and wondered when the younger Malfoy had left. It was interesting, he thought as he slipped out into the corridor, that the boa thought Snape had been checking for Tom's benefit. Malfoy had still been in the room then, hadn't he...?
"Hsst." He looked up, sharply -- that hiss wasn't Parseltongue, just a purely human noise meant to get attention -- and Harry stepped out of a shadow. "I heard Lucius Malfoy say he wanted to talk to you." A slightly awkward pause. "Are you all right?"
"Unnerved. He wanted to present an open-ended offer of help considering my 'circumstances.'" Tom paused. "Which I'm not going to touch, though I'm not sure he knows that."
Harry grimaced. "Good. ...I reckoned you'd know better than to trust presents from him. I just wasn't sure what he might try."
Tom smiled crookedly. "You know, this sounds a lot like the conversation I just had with Snape. He checked me over for contact-spells from shaking Mr. Malfoy's hand."
"Sounds like -- what?! Snape?" Harry spluttered for a moment, then got himself back under control. "Well -- good for him, then." He looked as if the words tasted bad.
"The boa just went to cadge snacks off him, in point of fact," Tom said, straight-faced.
"I didn't know they got along."
"Neither did I. Apparently Snape likes him well enough to overlook him coming in with you. Pity he doesn't hold me in the same regard." Tom chuckled. "Of course, the boa's never spilled anything on him."
"Best pictures Colin Creevey's ever taken." Harry grinned and shook his head. "I knew the boa had got just about everybody feeding him past House rivalries, but Snape? I'll have to see that to believe it, sorry." His eyes focused past Tom suddenly and he muttered in a low voice, "And I should know better than to ask for that sort of thing...."
"Why? ...Oh." Tom turned to find Snape walking back down toward the Slytherin dorms, the boa coiled around his shoulders and torso and munching happily on a rather large pastry.
The professor sneered as he drew closer. "Are you lost, Potter?"
"No." Harry watched a little dazedly as the boa took another piece of the pastry from Snape's fingers and swallowed it.
"Hm. I understand that you are partly responsible for this creature's presence here. Would that all the coincidences you seem to attract so effortlessly were so beneficial."
"That," Harry said with a bit of difficulty but utter sincerity, "would be nice."
"I notice," Snape said sternly, "that the boa has on occasion been eating with the Gryffindors at meals. If I hear that your housemates have been mistreating him...."
Harry gaped; the boa laughed hysterically. "We weren't planning on it," Harry managed after a moment.
"See that this state of affairs continues. The last time our House had such a mascot, I did not have the means to enforce such a guarantee." Snape eyed Harry darkly. "In any case, considering the hour I feel it is safe to say that you have not yet begun the essay I assigned for Monday; perhaps you ought to make a start on it while you still have time to produce something legible. Riddle..." Snape regarded Tom with what on another man might have been an uncertain expression, and then sighed. "Find something to do. Preferably mayhem-free."
Later, after Harry had made a dazed journey back to the Gryffindor common room, he collapsed in a chair next to Ron. "The boa seems to have become the official Slytherin mascot," he said by way of greeting.
"It wasn't already? 'S on all their banners."
"Yes, but not this one specifically.... Snape seemed to like him. He gave him food."
"...He does know it's a friend of yours, right?"
"He said it was too bad all the coincidences I attract aren't that beneficial." Harry sighed. "And I had to agree with him."
"Oh." Ron considered this. "Well, that's good, isn't it? He could've made a stink about it, and all. Bet the boa's horrified, though."
"The boa," Harry replied, looking somewhat disgusted, "likes Snape, too."
"No! You're having me on, aren't you? I mean, Snape? I thought even a snake'd have better taste."
Harry wanted to object to the "even" but was in no state to do so. "Snape did give him food," he said, trying hard to think of this as making things better. "And the boa... was climbing on him. Hitched a ride back from the kitchens, it looked like."
"You told the boa all about Potions, didn't you? I mean, does it know who Snape is? I mean, there's such a thing as principles, aren't there?"
Harry rubbed the back of his neck, looking rather unhappy. "I'd have thought Snape not liking him on my account would be more the problem, but... I don't think classes and house points mean very much to the boa. He knows I don't like Snape and he doesn't like me, but I'm not sure he sees where this ought to mean anything to him unless Snape were actually attacking me or something." He sighed. "But I wouldn't really have thought they'd get that... cosy."
"Well, I should think not! See if it gets any more rolls from me, I can tell you. Snape, of all people." Ron paused in mid-dudgeon. "Does Tom know?"
"He knew before I did." Harry considered this. "It could be good for him, actually. Since the boa spends more time down there...."
Ron thought for a moment. "You know, it'd almost be worth it to see Malfoy's face, I mean, really, this is about the ultimate one-up, isn't it? And if Snape starts leaving Tom alone, he'll probably lighten up on Ginny as well." To Harry's dismay, Ron seemed to be developing full-fledged second thoughts about the matter.
"I don't know. Malfoy'll probably start in about Slytherin stealing my pet or something."
"The boa's not a pet. You've reminded people of that how many times?"
"That wouldn't stop Malfoy."
"Snape might, though, I mean, if he was that impressed with it, it couldn't be the pet of a Gryffindor. I mean, that's what he'd think, wouldn't he? Snape coming down on Malfoy, I'd love to see that for once."
Harry blinked. That was an appealing vision. "I... see your point." He sighed. "The boa was still my friend first, though. He even scared Dudley."
"Well, from all you've said of him, a sick flobberworm would scare your cousin. And it's not like it won't still be your friend, right? It'll just... also be Snape's. You'll have a friend in common with Snape." Ron paused at the enormity of this vision. "That'll be kind of odd."
"That's... an understatement." Harry looked as if it the idea might be not only odd, but possibly somewhat indigestible.
Ron patted his friend on the shoulder. "Well, now you know how I felt when Ginny started working with Tom. And that turned out all right."
"Tom is a lot nicer than Snape."
"Yeah, well, the boa isn't your baby sister, either."
Harry gave a snort of laughter despite himself. "Okay. Point taken." He sighed and shook his head, looking bemused. "I guess he must not smell too bad to a snake, even if he doesn't wash his hair."
"The boa spends a lot of time down in the dungeons hunting rats. He probably has different standards for smell than we do."
"This is true. I have never sniffed Scabbers and suddenly felt hungry."
Ron frowned. "Especially not lately. I wish I knew what's wrong with him, he's lost almost all his hair and he won't leave the dormitories. --You did tell the snake coils off, right? Scabbers has enough to worry about with Hermione's mad cat."
"I warned him off all the pets, don't worry. He even brought Trevor back to Neville the other day. Very grumpily, and Trevor was in a state of shock for hours, but still."
"I wondered why Neville managed to keep him around all day. Do you suppose there's another kind of rat tonic we haven't tried?"
"I don't know any. Maybe Madam Pomfrey does. Or Hagrid."
Ron kicked at a crack in the floor. "Madam Pomfrey said he was probably just getting old, and Hagrid offered to take him on a hippogriff ride to perk him up."
"Oh." Harry privately agreed that it might be age, but didn't say so. "I can't see that helping, no."
"Probably be too much for his heart, a ride on one of those."
"Too much for most people. Although Tom says your sister is thinking about trying to talk Hagrid into giving the second-years a crack at it."
"Yeah, well, Ginny's bonkers when it comes to that class."
Harry looked mischievous. "I think Tom agrees with you."
Now it was Ron's turn to look as though an idea was indigestible. "Well... he can try talking her out of it, then, I've been hit with enough pillows lately."
"What have you been saying to her?"
"Well, she's been thinking about seeing if Tom can visit sometime this summer."
Harry blinked. "Hadn't thought of that. I suppose they are getting on well."
"Yes, well, it's still bizarre."
"The idea of having a Slytherin over? Want me to come keep an eye on him for you?"
"Hope you'll be there anyway. But... yeah. I mean, Weasleys've always been in Gryffindor. Mostly, anyway."
They hoped he'd be there. That was... warming. "Tom isn't a Weasley," Harry pointed out with a hint of a grin.
"Ginny said that too. After hitting me with a pillow. You're not coordinating your lines beforehand, are you?"
"No. But I'll hit you with a pillow, if you like," Harry offered generously.
Ron snorted. "No thank you."
"Seriously...." Harry tilted his head back and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. "It was... I hadn't ever really expected to be friends with a Slytherin, after everything I'd heard..." He snorted. "And after meeting Malfoy. I'm telling you, he's a thinner, wizard Dudley." He didn't mention the Hat. "After what happened, though, I couldn't just ignore Tom, could I -- and -- he's all right." A wry smile. "And if I can decide that somebody who could have grown up to be Voldemort is all right, I think the Burrow can probably survive a few days' visit from a Slytherin."
Ron grumbled. "Yeah, well, you're probably right. As long as it isn't the entire summer or something."
To Ozma: I think, for me at least, that this is one of possibly two front-runners for the most emotionally-affecting climax we've written so far--and considering how important friendship is in the actual books, I'm glad it is.
Tom and Hagrid have a bit of a rocky road ahead, but we have hopes for them. And the boa is always fun. :)--Alan
Ozma: We do have fun with the names. Mary Echidne is all Alan's; I was quite impressed myself. I'm glad you liked the teamwork. :) And Tom... you know, it's not easy to make him cry, but I suspect it's easier by being nice.--PK
To Myster web: Well, it wasn't originally, but given how much success PK and our friend Andrea (of The Thinking Cap series) had with that pairing in their stories, it might have been!
We have quite a few more stories yet to be posted here at the Quill, so the supply won't run out any time soon. Glad you're enjoying them.--Alan
Myster web: Um... maybe? ;) And yes, as Alan said, we have several more stories -- what are we about to start, the eighth?--PK
To Topaz: Well, it isn't quite so much a trilogy as sort of an open-ended series; I think we're up to seven stories just now, with several more planned. They just aren't all posted here yet. :)
Ron's reaction would probably be pre-empted by Ginny hitting him with something, but it's unlikely to be an issue; they're both young, and I tend to think that after the Chamber for Ginny, and given Tom's inexperience with real friendship, a romantic entanglement wouldn't be the healthiest thing for either of them. And friendship's wonderful enough on its own, don't you think?--Alan
We're glad you're enjoying them! I have to say, though, you're kind of not looking in the right archive if you want Tom/Ginny romance or... er, approximations thereof. This series is largely about their relationship, but it's not quite that kind of chemistry, despite some ghosts' eventual suggestions that perhaps it ought to become it. (Don't ask. You'll see when we get there, and probably laugh.)--PK
To Jelsemium: Mock? Me? Would I do that?
No, seriously, your campaign has been a success, and we now have plans to name the boa. We're just waiting for the opportune time, and the suitable person to do the naming. Wait and see. :)
Although I very much doubt anybody will be making any trips to the Well of Souls any time soon. ;)
The "Mary" is also a reference; rather the more obvious one, I thought, but good job spotting the other. (And Tom had a narrow escape; we find out in PK's other AU, with Andrea13, that had he grown up with his mother he would have been nicknamed "Puggle," after the baby spiny echidna.)
I think we're explaining the black-and-white photos Colin took as, well--he was a first-year at the time, and the color development potions are much more complicated than the black-and-white ones.--Alan
Jelsemium: Where to start... I suspect the thing with Fudge is in part that he's too comfortable. When not being acutely insecure, anyway. ...I'm afraid we picked on Seamus a bit there, but it was so much fun and it *would* be a surprise! ...Hermione and Tom did learn a fair amount, really. Just not quite what they were after. ...We aren't sure what the picture does either. The orange seeds, however, really are from an orange, and were somewhat random. Possibly Voldemort was toying with the idea of planting them. They may be tainted solely by association, but it's hard to tell. ...I don't think people-logic necessarily works on potions, but then again, magic is funny sometimes. ...I looked it up, actually. There were British flappers. Women's suffrage in... was it 1928?... was called the "flapper vote," which I thought was interesting. ...Ginny would certainly not like the idea of provoking Tom into becoming Voldemort, but at the moment, she's mostly thinking she doesn't want her friend embarrassed. ...And glad you liked the lines. :)--PK
To the silent speaker: Well, Sirius actually _does_ escape a good deal later in our series than he did in the books; the Weasleys didn't go to Egypt, so he never saw the photo with Scabbers in the Prophet during the summer, he sees the one of Ron after the chess tournament with Scabbers on his shoulder. Hermione finding out about the Fidelius Charm is, I admit, rather more of a plot hole, but I find myself unwilling to underestimate the girl who unmasked Rita Skeeter.
As for your riddle, PK and Kiffy and I puzzled about it for a while--is it thunder and lightning?--Alan
the silent speaker: Glad you're enjoying it! As Alan said, things did go a bit differently over the summer in this timeline; it splits off essentially right after the events of CoS rather than right at the beginning of PoA, if you see what I mean. Sirius didn't quite fit into the way the series started, but then we couldn't just leave him in Azkaban.... We may end up editing the Secret Keeper bit at some point; I don't know.--PK