The Sugar Quill
Author: Persephone_Kore and Alan Sauer  Story: Life Study  Chapter: Chapter 2/5: Acromantula Wrangling
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Life Study 2

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan-fiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor any material profit is intended.

Life Study
by Alan Sauer and Persephone
Chapter 2

"I don't think," Tom had told Ginny later on Sunday afternoon, "that Lucius Malfoy is very happy about our talking to each other now."

"I heard he came to visit the school." She hadn't wanted to see him and, thankfully, hadn't had to. "Did you talk to him?"

"Not willingly."

"Yes, then."

"Yes. He was... very... nice, in the most disturbing way possible. I like to think I'd have known better without warnings, but I'm glad to have had them anyway."

"Just because you can figure it out on your own is no reason not to let people make it easier for you."

Tom grinned at her. "Now have I been showing you the good side of Slytherin, or are you quoting the twins?"

"There's a good side of Slytherin?" She ducked as he pretended to swat at her with a roll of parchment.

"It's easier to find than the good side of Hagrid this week! Did he really get hold of a litter of graphorns?"

Ginny shook her head seriously. "No."

"What is it really then?"

"Three litters."

"I should have known."

*****

"I cannot believe we're studying the care and feeding of baby graphorns in second year."

"Cheer up," Ginny advised him. "They're very useful. If anybody tries to hex you, you can hide behind yours. They deflect spells."

"That's not much good if you get gored instead!"

Ginny opened her mouth to respond, then whirled in alarm as one of the purple-gray infants broke its student's too-ginger hold and bolted past them.

"GINNY!" Hagrid bellowed. "Can yeh chase that one down? I'm a little busy over here." As he was assisting with about four students' assigned graplets, this was indeed the case.

Ginny looked at hers, then at Tom. "Can you...?"

Tom looked from her to the graphorns and back up again. "If you leash it."

She looped a sort of harness around its neck and horns, then grabbed another leash and dashed in pursuit of the fugitive. Fortunately they weren't terribly fast at first, and were relatively easily distracted if they had nothing to chase. She was carefully circling it in hopes of a non-alarming approach and had almost reached it when it made a bizarre screeching noise and started to run again.

She dived for it and got hold of a horn before she heard the shouts from her classmates. She glanced over her shoulder and stared, eyes wide.

There was an enormous spider emerging from the Forbidden Forest, and there was no way on earth she was going to be able to get past it.

After a second's deliberation, she let the graphorn go. She was hardly going to be able to haul it back with her and needed the mobility... and it might as well be allowed to save itself.

To her considerable astonishment, instead of running away, this time it ran toward the acromantula and plunged its small horns into one foot.

The spider's head plunged down and snatched the squealing creature up.

It seemed that graphorn hide didn't become essentially impenetrable until later in life.

"Get inside, all of yeh!"

"But Ginny's--"

"GET INSIDE," Hagrid roared. "I'll try ter...." She didn't hear the rest.

That was sensible. If she remembered correctly, most spells were hard to perform on acromantulae.... She lost her train of thought upon realizing in horror that it was making intelligible comments about how tasty the class looked.

The drained body of the graphorn was flung to the ground, and the spider turned to look at her classmates. Ginny debated whether to run -- and if so, where. She'd risk setting off the chase instinct, but that might keep it away from the rest of the class....

Through its legs, she could see enough activity to realize that the class had almost all reached safety, although Hagrid's hut was probably a bit crowded. Especially since most of the graphorns were also in there.

The spider turned to hunt down one of the ones that wasn't, and Ginny took the opportunity to scurry a little closer to the hut. Unfortunately, this also meant closer to the spider, and one of the eight eyes caught her motion.

"Silly little creature," it clicked. "What do you think you're doing?" It started towards her.

She jerked out her wand, edging sideways. "Stupefy!" ...That didn't work.

One of the graphorns dashed past her; the acromantula pursued it for the moment, since it was moving faster and more likely to get away. Ginny tried to throw herself out of the spider's path and landed hard on the ground -- still with a foot coming towards her. She got to her feet, looked around wildly at the multitude of approaching feet, and jumped for the nearest ankle.

She was almost surprised to find herself clinging to it all through the next step. She'd have expected it to notice her -- perhaps it was too strong to care? -- or that she might miss. She tried to shinny higher, hampered by the downward-pointing slick hairs. They were sharp on the ends, pricking her face and arms and making her hold slippery.

*****

Those of the class who had fought for positions by the windows were trying frantically to figure out where she had gone.

"Where is she?"

"Did it step on her?"

*****

Ginny, of course, had no idea of this. Her world had narrowed to trying to climb a slippery, prickly pole that swung and swayed maddeningly over the ground. She wrapped a bit of her robe sleeves around her hands and made slightly better progress, finally arriving at the top joint of the leg almost exhausted.

Squinting cautiously through the hair plastered over her eyes, she could see Hagrid running around bellowing at the spider. She wasn't quite sure what he was saying, or what it was saying back, because she was so tired her ears were ringing.

The joint wasn't stable, though; she couldn't stay here. Turning around as best she could so that her back was to the body, she took hold of the hairs and started using them to climb down. The places they'd pricked her stung; she wasn't sure whether it was with sweat or venom.

Her feet finally touched an angle, and she looked back and down to find that she had reached the body. She half-fell onto it, wobbling and landing hard as she nearly stepped on an eye at one edge, and narrowly avoided missing it entirely and landing back on the ground. Sprawled on the rounded back with her sleeves over her hands, however, Ginny finally found the chance to relax a little. Relatively speaking. She could rest her shaking muscles, anyhow.

Ginny folded her arms together and buried her face in them for a moment. She was riding an acromantula. What in heaven's name was she supposed to do now? It wasn't as if she had reins -- not that it would care -- and it seemed very unlikely to respond to voice commands. And how on earth could she get down?

She grabbed hold of more hairs again as it jolted. Was it trying to shake her off, or was that random?

And where was Hagrid now? She dared to raise her head and look for him; he was back near the hut, and the spider was after another graphorn. One that had sense enough to run away this time. "Good thinking, Ginny!" Hagrid shouted as he spotted her.

Ginny had her doubts about this.

*****

"Didn't you get her?" Several of the Gryffindors sounded a bit hysterical about this. Tom was trying not to, and not succeeding very well.

"Couldn' reach her. She's climbed on top of it, though, so at least it can' reach her either," Hagrid panted.

"She -- climbed -- it?"

"Yes." Hagrid looked at the creature and shook his head as he spoke, voice sounding pained. "Goin' ter have ter put it down, somehow. Rogue one, that is. Maybe somethin' juicy -- drugged or poisoned."

Tom wondered how you could have a rogue acromantula. Wasn't their instinct to eat people?

Hagrid somehow managed to arrange to get a large haunch of something raw and drippy delivered by the house-elves -- it appeared with a bang a few yards from the cottage -- and threw open an aquarium of sorts to lift, with both huge hands, a blobby-looking thing with short legs and a long, pointy snout that dripped something onto the floor. Everyone moved back.

They moved back further upon noticing that the drip was sizzling.

Tom gulped and slipped out the door when Hagrid opened it. He was thinking irritably about Gryffindor's reputation for courage and weren't any of the students in there friends of Ginny's when Colin burst out and nearly ran into him, having been caught behind the press.

"Will yeh get back inside!" Hagrid snapped at them, striding over to the haunch of meat and poking the sharp creature's nose into it. He squeezed. The meat made an odd noise much like the drip on the floor.

"There's got to be something we can do," Colin said desperately. He was clutching his camera, wand wedged into one hand next to it, which didn't seem likely to be particularly helpful.

"Yeh can get out of the way!"

"Will it come after this?" Tom asked. "It seems more interested in things that run away."

"It better... this'll smell good... an' I might be able ter lure its attention over here."

*****

Ginny was half-sitting up, panting for breath and listening to the spider gloat about defying Aragog's admonitions about territory and bowling past everything that should have kept it bounded. She finally cut in with "What about that one over there? It looks fat and slow." That one was, as it happened, the fastest graphorn in the class, which the acromantula discovered to its fury when its prey escaped into the forest.

"Little idiot mammal! Dare trying to trick me -- dare -- I will have you down from there eventually and suck your juices!"

*****

"Did you hear her try to trick it?" Tom asked Colin in an undertone.

"I haven't heard her say anything."

"If it won't believe her...."

They saw Ginny look their direction while Hagrid continued squeezing what had to be venom into the meat. The creature he was squeezing was starting to snuffle complainingly; Hagrid was murmuring promises of dinner to it. It snatched a bite of the haunch while he was transferring it to another point, earning itself a light smack on the long side of the snout.

She scowled -- at least her expression changed -- and pointed sharply at them and then at the hut before turning and grabbing a tight hold of the spider's hairs again.

"Maybe we could tell her what we're trying to do?"

"How're yeh planning that? The spider can hear yeh, and I don't think yer going ter get an owl up ter it!"

Colin looked doubtful. "I might be able to climb it...."

"No! Get back inside, both of yeh. Now."

Tom gulped and stared at the spider. If Hagrid was warning them off from a monster.... Of course, even Hagrid could hardly ignore it when it said it wanted to eat them....

"I think I can get a message to her," he said suddenly. "I need a quill and parchment though...."

Colin looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "How are you planning to get it to her?"

"I've been working on a charm to write at a distance -- I don't have to have charmed the target surface too anymore -- maybe if I can get it to show up on the spider's back...."

"In black ink?"

Tom paused, then moved more quickly toward the door. "Has anybody got any chalk?"

Chalk was, after some confusion and a good deal of trouble convincing people he wanted it, produced. Tom was uncomfortably aware of the fascinated stares as he pressed the tip of his wand onto the wall, muttered to it, and started scrawling with the chalk. Especially when the chalk-lines disappeared.

*****

Ginny blinked as white powder started appearing on the spider's back.

"GINNY," it began. "Can you get the acr," the last three letters were crossed out, "spider to go for the meat out there? Hagrid poisoned it."

Ginny considered this while the acromantula ranted further about how it was never going to believe a word she said again, then leaned forward. "Well, you should. There's meat out there --" she pointed -- "that looks really tasty and can't run away," she swayed and clutched the hairs while the spider turned to eye it askance, "but they've poisoned it," she added. "Because they think you're a thief."

She was half expecting the whole thing to backfire. Instead the spider made a sneering sort of click, turned the rest of the way, and plunged toward the haunch. Ginny clung to it for dear life until it had sucked all the moisture from the meat... and swayed... and fallen down with all its legs crumpled.

Then she relaxed her grip, rubbed her cramped, stinging hands, and considered in a distant sort of way the possibility that she should try to climb down, versus the possibility that if she did, her legs would crumple and she would fall and break both her ankles.

As it turned out, she didn't have to. Hagrid came and lifted her down and carried her like a baby back into the hut.

Tom scooted over as soon as he saw her. "Ginny! Are you okay? Did you get the message? What were you thinking climbing on top of that spider like that?"

Ginny turned her head to look down at him as Hagrid tried to shoo most of the crowd out of the way so she could breathe, despite the fact that in his arms she was above most of their heads. It took her a moment to assemble her thoughts. "I'm not sure, yes, and mostly that I didn't want to get stepped on."

"That was smart, it was," Hagrid added. "Surprised yeh could get all the way up there, but it kept it from bein' able ter bite yeh, too." He cleared a space around a chair and set her tenderly in it.

"Well, um, good. I wasn't sure that would work, and then it almost didn't. Just lucky somebody had chalk. And... well, that was really brave of you."

Ginny rubbed her hands more and winced, then took hold of the seat of the chair due to an uneasy feeling that she might be going to fall off it. "Thanks. I don't think it was, though. I was panicking."

"I dunno, most people who panic tend to freeze, that I've seen. A panic reaction of 'do exactly the right thing in the situation at hand' seems a lot better, to me."

Ginny laughed shakily. "It would've looked really stupid if I'd fallen off, though." She closed her eyes and tried to convince herself that the chair was not swaying. Or, for that matter, rounded. "Thanks for the message."

"It was the only thing I could think of. It was supposed to be a way of passing notes in class without actually, you know, passing them."

"Oh." She thought about this for a moment and decided perhaps it was just as well she hadn't first seen the effect in ink on parchment. "I'd say not to say that around a teacher, but I guess Hagrid won't mind."

Tom laughed. "Well, at least I'd gotten the bugs worked out. I used to have to prepare the receiving surface too, and that wouldn't have worked very well here."

"Not really, no." She looked at the red marks on her hands, noticed they were a little swollen, and decided against feeling her face. "And then you had to go work another bug in...."

"You were the one who insisted on making the only available surface a spider's back. I had nothing to do with that one."

"You ought to be proud of me. It said it wouldn't believe a word I said from now on so I told it not to eat the bait."

Tom snickered. "A ploy worthy of a Slytherin, truly."

Ginny swatted at him half-heartedly amid squawks from her Housemates.

"Hey, you asked for that!"

"I know."

"Yeh should get ter Madam Pomfrey," Hagrid told her, on his way to return the odd little venomous creature to its tank. "And class dismissed, I think that's enough today."

The class agreed fervently with this opinion and poured out of the hut, giving the spider a wide berth. A few lingered around Ginny when they realized she wasn't moving very quickly or certainly.

"You need help?" Colin asked anxiously. "Are you hurt? I mean, besides...." He gestured at the prickled places.

"I'm okay... I think. Just shaky. And I got too used to the spider moving."

"You know," Tom said thoughtfully, "it's too bad you didn't get a picture of Ginny the Spider Wrangler, Colin. I bet the rest of your house would've gotten a kick out of it."

"I did. Through the window, while you were writing on the wall. I didn't see what else I could do at the time."

Ginny had to stop and lean on the doorframe, as laughing overbalanced her. "Ron's g-going to be horrified...."

"Fred and George are going to want to throw a party in your honor, though, I bet."

She looked at her hands and laughed ruefully. "More likely they're going to want to go pluck the spider-hairs or something before anybody gets rid of it. I wonder if you could core a wand with one."

"Are acro... big spiders magical enough?"

"I have no idea."

Colin looked at her somewhat askance. "Would you want to? Do those hurt? Are you sure we shouldn't carry you?"

"I can walk."

"That wasn't the question."

Ginny took this to indicate that she should try to speed up a little. She wasn't hurt, just still shaky from ebbing adrenaline. Or something.

"I'm okay, really. Just... having it all sink in."

Colin looked as if he might be seriously considering picking her up anyway. At this point, however, they were interrupted by a shout of, "GINNY!" as Ron came pelting toward them from the main building. "Ginny!" he panted as he reached them. "I heard -- something -- class -- are you okay?"

"Apart from a sudden attack of Gryffindor heroism, she seems to be," Tom said dryly.

"Huh?" Ron took his sister's wrists and inspected her hands and face anxiously. "What happened to your face?"

"I think I'm coming down with the measles," Ginny replied, straight-faced.

"You can't, you've already had -- Ginny...."

Tom snickered. "Look toward Hagrid's. Your sister decided to take an impromptu riding lesson."

Ginny pulled one of her hands free and wiped a sleeve across her face. "The spider hairs are prickly."

Ron obediently stared toward the collapsed spider and turned a disturbing shade of pale green.

"She's all right mostly," Colin put in reassuringly. He added, somewhat less so, "At least that's what she says."

"You rode... an acromantula...." Ron sounded rather faint. "You should -- uh --" He appeared to make a desperate sort of recovery as he dragged his eyes away from the heap of spider and back to Ginny. "You should get that looked at," he decided, and then scooped her up and started for the infirmary at a pace that forced the two second-year boys to trot to keep up.

"You know," Ginny protested without any real expectation of being listened to, "I can walk."

"He knows," Colin told her a bit breathlessly. "He saw you. I don't think he's planning to let you, though."

*****

Myster web: Well, it's not a snake's fault if that mouthy Gryffindor can talk to it. ;) Snape would be more inclined to be annoyed by the fact that the boa's happy to talk back civilly -- but the boa's a bit of a charmer, apparently. He does not tie Snape to his chair, however. Snape wouldn't like him nearly as much then.--PK

To Myster web: I think Snape had a pet snake of his own when he was at school--and anyway, he's very determinedly ignoring the boa's attachment to Harry as much as he possibly can. It's aggravating enough, as far as he's concerned, that the boa is technically _Tom's_ pet.

And I think the boa knows better than to interfere with class, but you never know what snakes find funny. :)--Alan

Ozma: Thank you! I imagine the Malfoys might like some other metal (charmed silver? platinum?), but those don't sound right. ;) Snape and the boa WOULD be fun to see drawn.... The boa is a good friend to have even if you can't understand a word he says. And a large and friendly snake is a very suitable mascot for Slytherin indeed. And it is sad, but I would not be surprised if there were times -- especially with Voldemort on the rise, at that -- when a pet snake in Slytherin (or perhaps at other times an especially prominent pet from another house) didn't fare too well among rivals. The boa is pretty safe, however, and he knows it. He's got all the lions feeding him, after all. ...I'm glad to hear the conversations came across well. Tom and Lucius both know the other is one to watch, and are thinking a lot more than they'll say. Trying to write that was fun, and rather challenging. I think Snape is genuinely concerned about the students' well being, even when he doesn't like them, and he definitely does not want Tom Riddle ending up under Lucius Malfoy's wing or other influence. Ron is indeed coming around; he has been for a while, really, so I suppose "slowly" is about right. :) Tom's a rather drastically different variety of Slytherin from Draco, and much easier to like.--PK

To Ozma: I wish I could draw too--there's so many scenes I'd like to see illustrated.

Lucius' characterization in this chapter is entirely to be blamed on PK, who did a wonderful job, I think.

I'm pretty sure that if Sirius were asked about previous Slytherin mascots he would cough shamefacedly and change the subject. He's a lot more sorry for the way he acted at school than he'd ever willingly admit to Snape's face.

The conversation with Ron is I think my favorite part of the chapter. Ron's a lot of fun. :)--Alan

the silent speaker: Cool. :)--PK

To the silent speaker: It was a very clever riddle--gave us a bit of a puzzle. Thanks. :)--Alan

//
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