The Sugar Quill
Author: Persephone_Kore and Alan Sauer  Story: The Gift of the Magus  Chapter: Chapter 2: Secret Passages
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The Gift of the Magus 2

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

The Gift of the Magus
by Alan Sauer
and Persephone
Chapter 2

Sirius Black clearly did have strange powers after all. This, at least, seemed to be the only possible explanation for how he could have found and arranged to purchase the only house in wizarding Britain more confusing than Hogwarts.

At least, Tom rather hoped that was the case, since if this sort of thing was standard he might have to apply to become a teacher once he finished school just so he could spend most of the year someplace vaguely comprehensible. It was very daunting when the third thing he noticed upon entering a house (after counting the walls and discovering the room was heptagonal, and noting that the fireplace periodically flicked small rainbows out onto the hearth) was....

"Where," Harry asked, twisting his head around in what Tom was relieved to note looked like equal bewilderment, "are the doors?"

"Oh, they're here," Black said, after seemingly popping out of thin air behind the coatrack. "You just can't see them. Great house, this." Grinning wide enough to rupture something, he added "Welcome home, Harry."

Harry beamed back; Tom squinted suspiciously at the coatrack. "What is this," Harry asked, laughing, "the only way to get out of this room is a secret passage?"

"The only way to get out of any of the rooms is a secret passage." Their host laughed in evident delight. "I don't know who built the place but I could shake his hand. And for some reason, no one else wanted it." He patted his right trouser pocket. "I've been doing a little exploring since I got the place, and Remus helped out with some fairly good maps you can use until you get the hang of things. He'll be along soon; said between helping me house-hunt and somebody's essays, he hadn't had time to shop properly yet."

Everyone, naturally, looked at Hermione. She blushed. Tom decided to let her have all the blame, so to speak; she might even deserve it.

Maps. Now that was a relief. Black passed out little rolls of parchment; Tom sneaked a glance at the rest while he unrolled his. Ron and Ginny had looked at each other and started laughing, but didn't seem too fazed; Hermione looked intrigued beyond measure and was practically vibrating in place as she waited for her map. The boa was looking over Harry's shoulder.

Tom looked down at his unrolled parchment. It was blank.

Harry snickered. "Password?"

"Help, help," Black said dryly, "I'm trapped in a madhouse."

Harry blinked and then had to try three times to activate his map without bursting into laughter.

Tom managed his without quite so much trouble and under the private suspicion that it might be the absolute truth, and blinked when a tangle of ink lines faded into view and resolved into a detailed blueprint -- including the house's current occupants, as tiny labeled dots. He poked at his own name, half-expecting to feel a nudge. "This is amazing work, Mr. Black."

"Sirius." The correction sounded automatic and seemed to surprise both of them slightly. "And, well... it was a lot easier than setting up the same thing for Hogwarts, I'll tell you that."

Tom found himself grinning. "You had a map of all the secret passages in Hogwarts? That must have been handy."

"I'm sure we missed a few. The castle cooperated with us sometimes more than others."

"Still. What happened to it?"

"Got confiscated by Filch."

"And then the Weasley twins found it in his office. I've got it now," Harry added. He chuckled. "I was thinking about telling them who Mr. Padfoot is as a Christmas present. You've apparently been their role models."

Sirius looked mischievous. "Maybe I should bring them here and see how they do for a little while without the maps."

"May we watch?" Ginny asked instantly.

"How could I refuse a guest? Come on in -- the living room is through this bit of paneling over here." Sirius did something to the indicated wall that made a section slide to the right, revealing a short tunnel. "Can I get anyone something to drink?"

Tom frowned at his map as he followed through the passageway, the boa slithering alongside them all; he'd seen something flicker as he approached the paneling, but the writing had disappeared before he could read it. He looked up quickly at the offer but waited until they'd reached their destination and everyone else had made their requests before siding with Hermione and asking for milk rather than butterbeer.

The living room was surprisingly homey -- Tom wasn't sure what he'd expected, but somehow well-padded armchairs and a couch that was as comfortable as it was ugly, which was saying a great deal, hadn't been it.

The room was dominated, however, by a very large, very full, very green Christmas tree, as yet undecorated. They all stared at it a bit curiously until Sirius climbed out from under the couch with drinks, smiled, and said softly, "My family always used to decorate the tree together."

Tom fleetingly wondered if that meant the rest of them were supposed to help or not, but thought it probably meant everyone.... He was distracted and had to smother a laugh when the boa murmured, "As long as I'm not sssupposed to be a garland."

"You have decorations?" Harry asked, a little more quietly than before.

Sirius opened the lone normal-looking door (well, it would have looked normal if it hadn't been set flush against the ceiling instead of the floor) and took out a box. "An odd collection, but yes. Some of them are --" He flushed slightly. "Well, I didn't run completely mad all at once, after I gave you to Hagrid, Harry. I grabbed a few things James and Lily wouldn't have wanted picked over by people. They've been in my vault at Gringotts."

Harry's eyes widened. "You mean they're -- some of these --" He swallowed.

"Yeah." Sirius took a slightly-yellowed cardboard box out of the larger one. "Your mum charmed some of these. And the little broomstick was from -- well, the three of us, for your first Christmas, because Lily wouldn't let you on a real one yet."

Tom snorted. "I know he flies like he was born to it, but somehow I think she was probably right."

Sirius blinked innocently. "Well, nobody was planning on showing him the Wronski Feint or anything. Really. Not even James."

"I thought Dad played Chaser."

"He did, but he'd learn broomstick maneuvers just for the hell of it. Not that he ever needed an excuse to go flying."

"Well." Harry's eyes were a little distant. "Who would?"

"Sane people," Hermione said tartly.

Sirius fished out a long strand of glittery popcorn that smelled like fresh butter and draped it over her hair. "What fun is that? But come on -- Remus should be here any minute, so we might as well get all of you settled in and have time for the tree before dinner."

*****

Professor Lupin did arrive in short order, and it turned out that decorating the tree didn't take enough time -- with all of them helping -- even to approach dinner. Decorating the entire house, on the other hand, sent them all scrambling through enough improbable passageways that Tom had stopped checking the map more than once every four trips or so by the time they all stood surveying their handiwork and its reflection in the darkened windows. He felt slightly better about his gift efforts on seeing that quite a few of the ornaments were obviously of almost wholly sentimental value and a number of those were homemade too -- but only slightly.

Harry and Sirius were just heading, in animated conversation, toward the passageway to the kitchen when a burst of harmonious chiming from every direction introduced Tom to the fact that someone, at some point, had managed to connect all the bells they'd strung about the house to the door-knocker.

They all piled back through the passageway to the front room; Sirius swung the front door wide and gasped, "Professor Dumbledore!"

"I'm sorry. Have I arrived at a bad time?" Dumbledore regarded him in amusement. "You seem to be slightly winded."

"No, no, we were just getting ready to do something about dinner, and I changed direction abruptly. Er -- would you like to join us? Please come in."

"I actually thought you would have eaten already --"

"Well, no, we just finished decorating the tree. And the house." Sirius grinned and waved a hand at the bells dancing across the ceiling.

"Then I shall certainly join you." Dumbledore took in the front room and all its occupants with an expression of great amusement. "I must say, you've done wonders for this old place."

"Fantastic, isn't it?" Sirius agreed happily. "Delighted to have you. I ought to warn you, though, I never did learn how to cook...."

"I do remember that, Sirius. Nevertheless, I believe I shall risk it. And may I be the first to wish you a very happy Christmas indeed."

"And the same to you. Right. Kitchen's this way, the dining room's through that painting...."

Dumbledore chuckled. "Good old Conrad Seale. He was a classmate of mine, you know. Ravenclaw. Quite mad, but an excellent bowler."

"He made this place? Why am I not surprised you knew him! Sir," Ron blurted.

"I believe your brother Percy has considered me a bit mad for some time, Mr. Weasley," Dumbledore said, eyes twinkling. "Perhaps you've been listening to him?"

Ron flushed slightly. Ginny piped up, "Well, he does seem to think it's a very admirable sort of madness, Professor."

"I've certainly done my best not to disappoint him over the years." Dumbledore smiled. "Now, I believe there was some mention of dinner?"

"Right." Sirius rubbed his hands together and led the way to the kitchen, which Tom couldn't help feeling was partly upside down. (He was proved correct when crossing to the other side of the room resulted in being abruptly flipped so that everyone else was, in fact, upside down from his own perspective.)

Dinner proved that if Sirius could not cook, he could at least take this fact into account and arrange to provide food that was edible anyway. He could also, apparently, remember how much Hogwarts-age children were capable of eating and had stocked his kitchen and pantry accordingly.

Afterward, the group went by various routes back to the living room, where Dumbledore managed to mortify both other adults with stories of their Hogwarts careers they'd never guessed he knew. Sirius finally surrendered the field by declaring it time for bed.

Tom yawned involuntarily, then consulted his map and climbed up an invisible spiral staircase in the corner by the bookshelves. The words "Keep going" appeared encouragingly as he approached the ceiling, and he found that he went right through.

He had just taken a short slide downward and was starting toward the exit into his room when Dumbledore's voice startled him nearly out of his wits. "Pardon me. May I have a word?"

"Of course, Professor." Tom cocked his head curiously. "Is this why you came to dinner tonight? To have a word?"

"As a matter of fact, yes." Dumbledore arched an eyebrow. "Would you care to divine its topic as well?"

Tom shook his head and grinned. "Wouldn't know where to start, and I don't know if I'm going to take Divination next year. Harry and Ron don't seem to like it much."

"Hmm." A thoughtful look over the half-moon glasses. "What electives are you considering then? Care of Magical Creatures, by any chance?"

"Well... yes, actually. I think so. And Arithmancy, and either Ancient Runes or Muggle Studies. Both, if they don't conflict with anything.

Dumbledore nodded approvingly. "Three is the ordinary complement, but it should be possible to manage one more. Excellent choices all."

"I mostly want Muggle Studies because, well, I missed out on all those years of history, and most of it's Muggle history -- but even if I'm not taking Divination I'm pretty sure this wasn't the word you wanted to have." He paused. "No matter how... reassuring... my class choices might be."

"Were I inclined to be suspicious," Dumbledore pointed out with a smile, "I would surmise that you had made them for precisely that reason. In fact, I might point you to some alternate sources -- you may find that Muggle Studies is not greatly weighted toward history, recent or otherwise, though it may present something of a helpful perspective on current events. But you're quite right; while I'm glad to discuss your curriculum, I actually came here to request that you accompany me on an errand tomorrow, if you're free."

"I'm on holiday," Tom pointed out. "And I've already done enough of my homework that I don't need to worry about it." He blinked. "What sort of errand?"

Dumbledore leaned back against the wall and regarded him thoughtfully. "I am well aware that it is something of a concern of yours to differentiate yourself from Lord Voldemort, and rightly so," he began. Tom wondered uneasily where on earth this could be going. "I know that you are not he. I have also determined, however, that for a number of reasons it might be expedient to persuade the administration of Gringotts that for their purposes you are."

"...What do you mean, sir?"

"Precisely what I say. The goblins are businessmen, Mr. Riddle, and their concerns are their own -- and do not, generally speaking, include the moral character or legal status of their patrons with respect to any other system. Voldemort could not have done all he did without funding, nor, for that matter, without acquiring a fair accumulation of assets. Currently, if anyone has access to those, it is likely to be some of his more trusted associates. You may agree, I think, that this is not exactly an agreeable state of affairs for the rest of us."

"And you think the accounts would be under the name Tom Riddle."

"I believe that at least one vault is. Others are probably under a variety of creative aliases, or none at all; I would not be remotely surprised if some are under the name of Voldemort. He would not, after all, have been likely to want any one representative to have access to every reservoir." Dumbledore pushed his glasses up his long, crooked nose. "You, on the other hand, if the goblins should accept your person as equivalent to his, would have access to them all. Including the ability to shut off the access of others -- and possibly to learn their identities, though I'm less certain of that."

"All right. What time should I be ready tomorrow?"

"Will ten o'clock do? Be sure to eat a good breakfast; I took the liberty of opening investigation of the matter on your behalf, but this could still be a long conversation."

"I will."

"Excellent. Good night." The Headmaster gave him a half-bow and vanished.

Tom nodded, and trudged the rest of the way back to his room. He lay for a while on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Even if it was for a good cause -- and this was definitely good; Tom hated to think what Voldemort's followers were doing with that money -- he felt itchy at the prospect of claiming that identity, as if he'd just put on a filthy cloak.

He firmly squelched the little voice that pointed out that if there were quite a lot of money, surely he could use some of it for real Christmas presents.

The voice didn't squelch easily, and Tom was a long time falling asleep.

*****

To Ozma: Well, Dumbledore, being Dumbledore, has Plans. ;)

Tom and Ginny's friendship, as implausible as it may seem on the surface, is very much the driving force of the series, so I'm glad you're still enjoying it. And it occurred to us that the majority of the canon picture of the Weasley family finances comes from Draco and Ron, neither of whom can really be trusted to be objective. Ginny's more sensible--although, as Ron would no doubt be the first to point out, she hasn't had to deal with the curse of hand-me-downs robes, so she has nothing to complain about. ;)--Alan

Ozma: What Alan said. :) (In fact, it wasn't going to be a series until we started plotting how to get them to make friends.) And making up for missed chances is one of the fun things about writing some kinds of AUs.... Of course we're playing with a murkier sort of structure than the real series, but we flatter ourselves we're still working with some of the same themes. --PK

To amulder: One of my favorite parts of reading OotP was _recognizing_ Ginny; obviously ours is going to have a very different experience between her second and fourth years at school, but I could see our Ginny growing into the Ginny in OotP, which was a very nice feeling.

We've talked about getting her up on a broom, actually, so when the new Quidditch season starts you may get your wish.

And as for your last question: we have solid plot through Ginny and Tom's third year, Harry's fourth, and a few ideas about the year after--and who knows where we'll finally end up? --Alan

amulder: Working out what to do with characterization was an interesting part of getting started with the series. We thought that logically, with that many forceful older siblings, Ginny would have to be either completely the little-flower sort or very spunky, and the signs we had pointed toward the latter. (And we were right. I'm still alternately gloating and ranting at people that there is no "New Ginny.") We also, of course, attended to such things as the possibility that Ginny's coordination would suffer under more types of stress than just the romantic. ...Alan already told you we'd been plotting to have her fly sometime. I'll add that we probably won't create the sort of personnel problems the Gryffindor team had in OotP, but darned if they couldn't use some actual reserves.... And he answered the plot question too. We actually even have some career ideas, but that hasn't gone past some discussions before they finish school. --PK

To GD: We procrastinate? :) Actually, we're still just catching up on our backlog here at the Quill; we have a few more stories up on FA and ff.net, and eventually we'll have more.

And we appreciate all our reviewers, not just the constructive ones, so please don't feel inept. Thank you for your comments. :)--Alan

GD: Glad you enjoy them! And don't worry -- being told what we do right can be constructive too, and is always pleasant. --PK

To MrRobertsIII: We'll be getting to that in later stories, don't worry. And hopefully you won't have to wait too much longer to see it. Patience is a virtue. ;) --Alan

MrRobertsIII: Hey, the first run of Tom Riddle was likeable. That's not to say this one is putting on an act, though he's certainly making an effort -- but keep in mind that the roots of that sort of thing don't have to show up in really horrid acts to be real. That said, as Alan noted, some of them will be... confronted before long. --PK

To Jelsemium: Tom has gone and hidden under his bed at the very thought, you cruel person you. ;)

I'm glad you're still enjoying the series, though. As I think we've said before, the chance to give people moments of happiness that they couldn't have in canon is one of the reasons we're writing it. --Alan

Jelsemium: We think it's fun too, and are glad you do. :) Thank you for commenting on the line! And I agree with Alan, that was just vicious. ;) I think he'd expect Ginny to hit him over the head with it. (Though she took his writing spell pretty well. Then again, when you're on an Acromantula's back, you take what you can get in the way of useful communication.) --PK

To Myster Web: Well, would _you_ like your bedroom smelling like boiled quicksilver and flobberworm skin? I didn't think so. Glad you're still enjoying the stories. :) --Alan

Myster Web: Glad you liked it -- and thank you for the picture! :) Ginny does keep things interesting, doesn't she? --PK

//
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