The Sugar Quill
Author: Andrea13 and Persephone_Kore  Story: Tea Leaves  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Tea Leaves

Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. No claim is made on the characters or setting, and no material profit is intended or expected.

Authors' Note: This story stemmed from the question, "What if Tom Riddle's mother had lived?" and the rather curious but strangely logical answer, "Apparently she would have married Rubeus Hagrid's father." It serves as a prelude to the rest of the Stepbrothers series, coming soon.

Tea Leaves
by Andrea and Persephone

There was a small shop lurking in Knockturn Alley where most of the merchandise could kill you.

This was admittedly not an unusual state of affairs even on Diagon Alley, a street of far better repute within the wizarding market district. This particular shop, however, was the source of much confusion among the Muggle-born, some of whom were perplexed and rather alarmed by the initial impression that wizardly gardening was for some reason classed among the Dark Arts.

It wasn't, of course. One could in fact purchase plants quite readily on Diagon Alley. Gardening equipment was another matter, as were certain special items from the proprietor's own garden and his ancestors' that could rarely be found with ease at even the most varied apothecary.

Said proprietor, who never gave a name and never named his shop, harbored too varied a supply to make the shop palatable to Diagon Alley and too few scruples to brook what competition wasn't crushed by the actual merit of his stock in trade.

Some of the items were certainly useful in the Dark Arts, and some had no known innocent purpose. Most had some possible use that was a bit shady -- but then, didn't everything? Gardening supplies were not, by and large, evil. Many were dangerous and alarming, but then, Muggle pruning shears weren't exactly the most reassuring-looking object in the world, now were they?

Mary Echidne Riddle rested her elbow on the counter and her chin on a slender hand. She missed living as a Muggle. Perhaps she should have found something she could do without returning to the wizard world entirely... something exotic and not too strenuous.

She could have been a snake charmer. Her Parseltongue was weak as the gift went, but good enough.... Or a fortune teller. Of course, there were fakes enough in that department even where magic was known to be real; wizards weren't that much better than Muggles about wanting to hear the truth of their futures.

She turned her head to look at her small son Tom. He was the reason she had taken a quiet position as a clerk in a magical shop; she'd never quite recovered from his birth -- of course she had tried magical treatment, but as she'd been kindly told, medical magic could do only so much. None of the ways she was still suited to support herself in the Muggle world were safe and stable enough for a woman with a child. Not that it would have been easy to find a position there at the moment anyway.... Not that it had been terribly easy as things were.

He had been playing on the floor with almost preternatural quiet for a two-year-old child until he curled up on a cushion for a nap, but then, she had made it quite clear that he was not to cause a commotion while there were customers present. He was very obedient once he understood that he would much prefer the consequences that way.

A canny child. He should certainly suit her own House when he was old enough for Hogwarts... despite the Muggle father.

Pain snagged at her just under the breastbone. It wasn't just living as a Muggle she missed. It was living with a Muggle -- her husband -- her Tom. He'd left her, and she'd still named their son in his memory... and in that of her father Marvolo Echidne, who'd looked with amusement on her fascination with Muggles right up until she married one.

She should have told Tom she was a witch before the wedding, better still before she fell in love enough for it to hurt that that bothered him. Before he fell in love enough to wonder if she'd enchanted him into it. Before they made promises to each other that shattered when he asked what else she'd been hiding all this time.

Or perhaps she just should have kept quiet a little longer about certain family members' opinions on mixed blood. A little longer, and they wouldn't even have been around to share their opinions for themselves -- she had been a child of old age, even for wizards, and Salazar's line had been drawn very thin for some time now.

Old blood, proud as princes but without the riches some assumed. Living amongst antiques was all very well, very luxurious and comfortable and so forth -- but it was not, in some cases, entirely a matter of choice. She supposed the Riddle wealth had been something of a point of attraction, but if that had been all she'd wanted she probably could have caught a Malfoy.

There was a reason the garden shop was comfortable for her; it was the same reason she'd been far ahead in Herbology when she arrived at Hogwarts. She'd done most of the gardening since she was seven. (And a funny sight she'd looked with some of the larger plants at the time, she was sure.)

Hostile plants were far more interesting than a moat, and generally less conspicuous.

And the few plants that did inhabit the dimly-lit shop were indeed of the dangerous variety -- the more animated ones were of course merely mischievous toward legitimate customers, but heaven help a thief.

Meanwhile, they added to the decor and the air of belonging in Knockturn Alley -- long, tentacular leaves with toothy mouths on the end dangled lazily from pots set on the rafters and over the awning to caress unwary visitors as they came through the doorway or surveyed the merchandise, for instance. There were few things more calculated to unnerve than spotting sharp white teeth in a trailing dark leaf. Being nuzzled by one was, admittedly, among them.

The scent of the shop had surprised Mary when she first entered. It surprised everyone. She'd been expecting earth and compost -- pleasant to her, though compost wasn't exactly a popular odor. Most people seemed to expect manure and mildew, for some reason.... Cinnamon and mint hadn't occurred to her at all.

They smelled... restful. Healing. She wasn't certain if they were doing her any real good, but they were nice. She had time to rest here; the shop was rarely hectic and it was best to move gently around the plants. And it was Knockturn Alley... so no one expected her to smile.

There had been a time when she would have thought it impossible not to smile for an entire day.

Mary leaned forward as she spied someone approaching. She carefully pushed several blades of a large Rapier-Leaf out of the way so she could see better -- with three flats and three razor-sharp edges to each blade, and as straggly and prolific as an untended spider plant, it sprouted from odd locations and occasionally slapped someone. With the flat of a leaf, if they were well behaved.

The rest of the plants there, of course, were carnivorous. Rapier-Leaf permitted her to push it gently aside by the flats; Aardvark's Tongue would have glued her hand to itself and begun digestion had she tried any such foolishness.

The door gave off a vaguely menacing rattle as it opened to admit Delilah Malfoy -- no, Rensington. She'd been Malfoy during school. Mary lifted a hand slightly in greeting but didn't move from her seat; Delilah was a regular customer and most likely knew what she wanted and where to find it. She also was an excellent source of gossip.

Mary also rather suspected that Delilah and the Malfoys -- well, and her own parents, but she'd never thought about it with them -- were responsible for inuring her to the arrogance she'd seen but not minded, had even found attractive, in the Riddles. Arrogance had never bothered her. And if Tom's parents hadn't quite approved of her, well, her parents hadn't exactly been welcoming either.

As she'd been in two weeks ago, Delilah rapidly exhausted the available news on most of the old wizarding families. Her little brother was still negotiating with a potential bride; the elder was looking into a new and particularly fascinating protective charm for the family home, although naturally she couldn't give details.

There was another Weasley child -- Mary was rapidly losing track of which ones belonged to whom and couldn't quite bring herself to care.

"And have you heard about Tavish Hagrid?"

Mary blinked. This was not one of Delilah's usual topics. "Not since leaving Hogwarts. I gather he's done something exceptional?"

"Or had done to him. Everyone's talking about it -- not many customers in lately?"

Presumably that had been intended to be cutting. "None so talkative as you, Delilah. What was done to the Gryffindor to make him so newsworthy?"

"Hm. You hadn't heard about his baby? It's said the one child's large enough for several -- honestly, from the rumors it sounds as though the man must have made a mistake filling a bottle. The man married some foreign witch -- we assume he married her, at least, although no one seems to know a thing about the wedding -- and she's run off and left him with the infant." Delilah raised an eyebrow in Mary's direction. "I thought you might care to know."

"I've no idea why. Unusual, but I hardly thought I was the only one to have a falling-out with my child's father." Not that she'd have dreamed of leaving little Tom behind even if she had given birth by that time.

Delilah shrugged white shoulders and came to pay for her purchases. "Simply a thought. Misery loves company, after all, and you've never had much care for propriety in your company."

"I'm hardly miserable." Mary ignored the rest with a fond glance toward her son.

"Mary," Delilah said patiently as she gathered her things to depart, "you almost never used to stop laughing."

*****

Mary gave the restraining password to the Devil's Snare that guarded the more precious stores and the stairway, then climbed slowly up to her room above the shop -- there were in fact four such rooms, all marked with signs of secrecy and forbiddenness calculated to drive the incautious wild with curiosity, but the other three belonged to the owner and the last daughter of Slytherin's line was too prudent to succumb. Such traps were classic; if a competent person truly wanted to hide a room or its contents, no one would see it.

She set Tom down on his bed and went to stare out the window at a brilliant sunset.

Delilah's words wouldn't quite leave her mind. Mary decided that the first thing to do was to dismiss Delilah herself. There might or might not be some advantage to her in Mary's knowing about the incident, or perhaps she'd just wanted to see if it stung... or perhaps she'd wanted to make her feel better. Perhaps all of the above. Delilah was that way; her comfort usually carried a bite, and her spite often hid a bit of salve. It didn't matter.

The question was what she thought about it. The question was, Mary discovered with quiet surprise, whether she intended to contact Hagrid or not. Even considering it was somewhat absurd; they'd been at Hogwarts at the same time and aware of one another, but certainly hadn't been friends.

Friendly on occasion, but... Ravenclaws were cutthroat primarily within their own house or with the very top students from the others, and Hufflepuffs were generally competent but not the attention-seekers that tended to fill Slytherin and Gryffindor both. The rivalry between those two houses, therefore, was naturally fierce to the point of being periodically vicious.

In short, most of the time she and Hagrid hadn't really liked each other. And really, what did she have in common with a very working-class Gryffindor?

...Aside from the obvious.

Mary was getting extremely tired of having no one to talk to who didn't think she was at least a little mad for marrying a Muggle in the first place, or who could remotely understand.... She thought she would feel less lonely if she never had to speak with anyone but Tom at all.

Hagrid would find it absurd too. How was he likely to react to her showing up on his doorstep? He'd probably think she was reduced to begging or some such nonsense....

Her mouth twitched up into a smile and Mary nearly laughed at herself. No, that had been a few years ago when she'd turned up here begging for a job, hadn't it? And there was no need for her to make up potential problems. Hagrid had always seemed to restrain his insults to the observable rather than the hypothetical (not always a bad trait) when he indulged in them; if anything, he might call her a snob and wonder sarcastically why she was gracing him with her presence.

She was tired. She'd been tired for more than two years now. It was getting old. Feeling isolated in the middle of a crowded city was becoming wearisome as well.

Hagrid lived out on the moor, behind the public areas of the Rare Magical Creatures of Britain Preserve. He was a caretaker, but he lived far enough back and was circumspect enough that he could have been a house elf. Mary thought that she would prefer to go and feel isolated somewhere... well... isolated for a while, with only three other people present. Perhaps she wouldn't be welcome, but she felt her spirits rise even at the prospect of a stirring argument.

She also admitted to herself that she was curious about the baby. If Delilah's remarks about the child's size were true, mightn't the mother simply have died? She'd come close enough with Tom, and he hadn't been an exceptionally large infant....

"Tom," she said thoughtfully, lifting her son into her arms, "what do you say to an evening flight?"

*****

Tom said a good many things to an evening flight, including "moon" and "windy" and other such astute observations. Mary kept him wrapped firmly under her cloak as her broomstick darted between cloud and shadow, watching fondly as he peered out wide-eyed at the world racing past them.

She hadn't flown a great deal of late; she hadn't had occasion once she found a place to settle, and she generally lacked the energy for recreational flight. Her broomstick had actually been used to sweep a floor, and she fancifully suspected it of being offended by this.

It didn't hold a grudge, however, and soared willingly enough. Her son barely remembered earlier flights -- she could tell he was a little frightened at first, but with a little time he relaxed within her encircling arm and talked happily -- as much as he could for the wind. Flying again was pleasant -- freeing, and delightfully so -- but not as exhilarating as she would have expected.

Mary landed silently on the moor, not too ungracefully for her lack of recent practice, and removed the invisibility charm that had concealed her flight from any Muggles who might have happened to be stargazing in her direction. She dismounted and found that her limbs were trembling from fatigue: either she should have been more relaxed or she was well and truly in no condition to be traveling....

The latter possibility did not bode well for her return home. Mary considered this briefly and decided that she would manage; barring some improbably violent reaction on the part of Tavish Hagrid, she should have had at least some rest by that time.

She would not, however, knock on a Gryffindor's door while this shaky. A Slytherin did have her pride.

When it suited her.

"Mummy?"

Perceptive child. He sounded worried.

"I'm fine, little one. Only tired." She wrapped her cloak more closely about them both against the cool air and looked toward the cottage she was going to visit. In just a minute.

The door opened to spill warm light onto the moor around a long shadow. "Who's there?" a rough voice called.

Apparently a very short minute. Mary lifted the broomstick and walked toward the cottage. "I am."

Tavish Hagrid leaned aside to let the light strike her face as she approached, and while his was still in shadow she thought she saw his expression change to a frown. "Echidne. Mary Echidne, isn' it? Yeh don' look well. Best get right inside."

Inside was warm and warmly lit, decorated mostly in shades of wood-brown. There was a baby playing on a blanket on the floor -- Mary controlled her astonishment upon realizing at a second look that the child was larger than her Tom but couldn't be more than months old.

"It's Riddle now, actually," she corrected mildly as she stepped through the door.

Hagrid watched her into a chair as if expecting imminent minor disaster, possibly in the form of her collapsing. Mary thought that this was overstating the case a bit. She didn't look that bad, did she? "Riddle?" He arched an eyebrow. "Not a name I recall hearin' before."

"You probably haven't. He's a Muggle." She was grateful for the chair. The stuffing was leaking out of it at one seam, but it was extremely comfortable.

"Is he now. Not quite the marriage I'd have expected of yeh."

"Of a Slytherin, you mean." She sank back against the cushion and let Tom stare around the room to his heart's content. "Most people wouldn't."

Hagrid didn't argue with this; he took up a copper kettle and went to fill it with water, then set it on the fire. "What brings yeh here this evenin'?"

"I came to visit."

He prodded the wood with an iron poker until red-gold flames licked red-gold metal cheerily, then seated himself in the other chair. "Without your husband?"

Mary looked to the fire, then back at her host. "He left for his parents' home before our son Tom was born."

"I see." She imagined what he was leaving unspoken: That explains your visit. Almost.

"I'm afraid I must confess that you're the subject of some gossip, though I'd imagine you already know. I came to see you... partly because I am at least fairly certain you won't say 'I told you so' regarding my marriage." She smiled mischievously. "Since we never actually discussed it."

"Yeh get that a lot, I imagine."

"Quite. I'm getting very tired of either hearing it or carefully avoiding the subject."

Tavish Hagrid's answering smile held wry humor. "Well, I doubt either of us was likely to go askin' the other for advice. And without knowin' your lad, I don' know what I would have told yeh anyhow."

"No. I suppose not."

"Until this evenin'," Hagrid said slowly, "I would have thought I could guess what yeh would have said to me, but I'm not so sure now."

"I don't really know," Mary began.

Then Tom squirmed on her lap; when she looked at him, he looked back up with wide green eyes and asked, "Down?"

She smiled at him, then looked up at their host.

"Ah, go ahead. Won' be anything he can hurt himself on or even break -- I've seen ter that."

She lifted her son from her lap and set him carefully on the floor, where he looked around with great interest and began toddling out into the middle of the room.

"I imagine you would have to." Mary nodded at the baby just as the two children caught sight of each other and stared. After a moment, she asked softly, "What was she like?"

"Vibrant," Hagrid said slowly. "Vibrant, carefree -- well, no, not always. She acted it, but she wasn' too sure about a wizard to start with. Only fair, really, the way we haven' gotten along at times...."

"Yours was also a Muggle?" Mary asked cautiously. Delilah had said "a foreign witch" but might have simply assumed or been given incorrect information. A Muggle... perhaps there was something to the talk after all. But then, there were mixed marriages that survived, however scandalous some of the other Slytherins thought them.

Hagrid was looking at her in surprise. "Yeh don' know? We were quiet about it, but when yeh mentioned gossip I thought it must have got out somehow. She was a giantess."

*****

Tom looked up at his mother with wide eyes, but she was talking to the bushy-haired man. Even though they weren't at the shop, he still probably wasn't supposed to interrupt. But... there was some... thing sharing the floorspace with him!

Tom looked warily back over at the... thing. It almost looked like a -- a person. Not a Big Person, like Mummy or the people at the shop, but Tom's size. Except... it had a big, round head, and couldn't seem to get its limbs to work well enough to walk or even crawl.

To top it all off, its large head was covered with bushy black hair that looked a lot like the hair on the other Big Person's head.

Tom chewed on his lower lip as he stared at the Thing solemnly. Mummy wouldn't have put him on the floor with a vicious creature... would she?

No, she was always very careful to make sure to keep him away from the nastier plants at the shop. But what if she didn't know it was vicious? Big People could be very blind sometimes. And -- it didn't help that the Thing had apparently caught sight of him and was baring its teeth.

Tom began very carefully and slowly scooting back across to floor to shelter by his mother's legs.

*****

"Well," Mary said after a moment, trying to hide her surprise, "you certainly did keep it quiet. I hadn't heard so much of a hint of that -- although I suppose it does explain...." She trailed off and turned to nod at the baby on the floor, then blinked and looked around for Tom, discovering him carefully edging away to put her between himself and the other boy. "I'm sorry. Tom hasn't had much chance to get used to other children."

"No?" Hagrid pushed himself out of his chair and went over to hoist his son carefully into his arms. "Rubeus hasn' either, ter tell the truth -- not so much chance, the way things are."

"Mm -- not the most populous area, no," Mary murmured politely. Not to mention that there could be a certain awkwardness -- the Hagrid boy would be gigantic compared to children his own age, and too young to cope well with those of his own size for some time, and that didn't even begin to account for the questions that might be raised. Of course, the child had been seen already, and so far the assumption appeared to be a spell or feeding gone a bit wrong....

"He's that fond of every live creature he sees, though -- outdoors he'll sit so still and quiet, most'll walk right up ter him for a smell. Hasn' learned yet they'll always run if he grabs for them, though -- he's only lately got to where he can sit up an' have his hands free. I don' know what I'll do when he gets ter movin' himself around, -- as far as he knows, not only is your Tom just another interestin' creature, but so's anything else. I worry some -- I think he'd latch onto anythin', and there're snakes about."

Mary laughed. "Teach him 'gentle' as soon as you can and he'll probably be fine even with them -- he's too big to eat." She looked mischievous again. "And we only bite if provoked."

"For most of the native creatures, I suppose he is." Hagrid set his son back on the blanket and took the kettle off the fire, busying himself with tea leaves and cups. "Didn' mean that as a jab, either -- yeh've been more polite than a lot who don' know as much about it."

She accepted the teacup with hands that still, to her annoyance, trembled very slightly. Hagrid wrapped his own carefully over hers until he was certain she wouldn't drop the tea; his skin felt rough, but almost as warm as the china. He gave her a rather worried frown -- Mary wondered if she looked exceptionally pale or unfocused; she still felt a bit weak since the flight, but not that unwell....

She smiled reassuringly and pulled the teacup closer to herself so that he let go and went back to his own seat. "I try. Still -- as wary as most have been taught to be of giants, to most of the... stricter... pureblood families, Muggles are more alien even if we are the same species."

"Is that so? I know some as seem not ter know whether they're scared o' Muggles or think they're some sort of harmless pet -- and I'd tell _them_ not to marry one, sure enough, though I can't see how they'd ever think of it -- but I hadn' thought of that."

"Well, giants are aware of magic."

"But magic and Muggle societies aren' that different, if yeh study a bit -- can't say as I'd be that able among 'em, but there's a lot of things we do alike, even if we use magic and they make it work other ways."

Mary looked at him in surprise; it had never occurred to her that the zookeeper might have troubled himself to examine Muggle society in enough depth for that insight. "I know that," she began, trailing off into a pause as she tried to assemble her thought.

To her surprise, Hagrid blushed faintly. "O' course yeh would. I shouldn' have gone off that way --"

"Oh, that's not what I meant." She sipped at the tea, startled to realize as she swallowed just how thirsty she was. She had actually meant to continue after one sip, but drained half the cup with her eyes closed (though she still remembered her manners enough not to gulp) before she managed to start speaking again. "I hadn't realized you did know," Mary explained with a smile, "so perhaps I should apologize instead, for underestimating you."

"I thought Slytherins liked underestimatin'," Hagrid retorted in amusement.

She leaned forward, green eyes bright with laughter she was sure. "Not when we're the ones doing it." Then she settled back into the chair, feeling her weariness again. "Let me try to explain... my family kept up a presence in the Muggle world, though not a conspicuous one. Aloof, but not too much so, with the potential for influence should it be advantageous but not so high a status as to draw more attention than we wanted to divert." Another soft, wry laugh. "I confess, though, it came as a shock to be on the other end of snobbery from the Riddles at first. They'd never heard of my family."

"When, o' course, every witch and wizard has and walks soft." Hagrid grinned. "Well, almost."

Mary conceded this point with a duck of her head. "Well, granted, mine wasn't terribly impressed with theirs, either. I wasn't disowned entirely, but leaving the house to a cousin by marriage -- in other words, no longer part of Slytherin's line -- was too drastic to be anything but a slap in the face." She took another sip of tea and shook her head a bit. "But I digress. The point is... I don't remember not knowing how to pass as a Muggle, at least in everyday situations. A crisis would be a bit more difficult. I didn't realize until I came to Hogwarts that an astonishing number of families in my ancestor's House and elsewhere either scorned the idea or, if they were willing to try, had absolutely no idea how." She snorted. "Of course the Muggle-borns had no great difficulty, but one would hope not."

"That's said ter be somethin' your ancestor wouldn' have cared for either, yeh know. Playin' Muggle or lettin' in their kin."

"Hmph. At least for the first, I'd imagine him to be somewhat more practical. One can't have secrecy without either complete avoidance or some kind of understanding, and the avoidance isn't reasonable at all. There are too many of them to ignore entirely."

"Yeh're proud of him," Hagrid said thoughtfully. "I can see how yeh'd have to be, in some ways, and he was one o' the Hogwarts Four -- but I'd think it'd be hard, too, the way he fell ter the Dark Arts and left."

Mary thought of being angry, but couldn't find the strength. Besides, he only said what everyone knew, after all. "Spells classed as Dark are in regular use, Tavish Hagrid, and not all by those we see as enemies. Aurors must sometimes kill, or do other ill to prevent worse, and what do you think is entailed by the spells for binding the Dementors to Azkaban?" She sighed. "Still, I can't defend devotion to that magic -- but blood of one's blood, I am more inclined than most to remember that the Founders were human, and likely subject to mistakes and even foolish quarrels." Her smile at this thought was painful. In foolish quarrels, she'd alienated her blood family before they died and now her husband -- and if it made her a fool to refuse to seek him out again, after what they had both said, she'd keep her pride and remain a fool.

"Something Slytherin's daughter is too?" Hagrid asked softly.

Had he read her thoughts in her face? She looked up sharply from the teacup, her hands tense and shaking. "Perhaps. But I won't go back crawling after him when he left me -- and if pride's not a language you understand, how if I tell you he broke his vows and his honor when he walked away?"

"Gently now." Hagrid looked startled and extended his hands; baby Rubeus, on the floor, made a querulous noise, and Tom, still silent, was staring up at her.

Mary put her hand on her son's head and closed her eyes. "I am sorry. That was uncalled for." Nor had it anything to do with why most wizards found giants less strange than Muggles. She didn't seem to be able to stick to the topic.

"Well, I shouldn' have said what I did. It's obvious yeh still hurt over it, and there was a funny sort of echo ter the way you mentioned quarrels that made me wonder if yeh weren' just speaking about the Founders, but I haven't got the right to pry." The voice had moved closer; she opened her eyes to find her host standing by her chair just as he gently lifted the teacup from her hands. It was almost empty. "Let me get yeh some more tea, how's that? Maybe with a bit of honey or somethin' in it. Yeh had a long flight ter get here from London -- once yeh said Riddle I knew I'd heard somethin' about the new lady in the garden shop -- and yeh look that worn out."

"You said nothing wrong. I... came here hoping to talk, not... shout. You likely understand better than most; there was no call to blame you for a question." She could hear the clink and rustle of tea-making again. She'd thought there was more left in the pot still.... "Thank you. But you needn't go to extra trouble; I'm not so tired as all that, and I don't wish to overstay my welcome, if I haven't already."

"Not a bit of it." She opened her eyes to see Hagrid looking thoughtfully at her. He nodded before returning his attention to the tea. "It's no trouble. And it's a chill night out there, as yeh ought ter know, so if yeh've plans ter fly in it so late -- and yeh can't Apparate home unless that boy's the greatest magical prodigy in centuries -- yeh'd best have somethin' warm in yeh." He smiled and brought over the tea. "Drink up. I'm thinkin' some soup wouldn' go amiss -- for me either, now, so don' go arguin' with me."

Mary smiled a bit wanly at him and took the cup with one hand; her other was hugging Tom lightly against her knee, his arms wrapped around her leg. "Thank you, then."

"It was a mite different for me, anyhow," Hagrid said mildly, prodding a fallen chunk of wood back into the fire with a long poker and then settling back into his chair as a warm, sweet smell burst out of the fireplace with ignition of the new piece. "I never did expect Fridwulfa ter stay -- I'm not sayin' it didn' hurt when she went, because it did, but I knew it would all along. Jus' a matter of when. It's not somethin' giants do, is it, makin' the kind o' families us humans do."

"Not their custom," she murmured softly over the tea, looking up into dark, melancholy eyes. He had indeed added the honey; she could taste it. Some other herbs as well, she suspected. Probably because he seemed worried about her flight. She would manage.

"No, that it isn't. I knew that much before I met her, knew more by the time I loved her, but it didn' matter. Well, it did, but not so as to mean I wouldn' care, yeh understand. Or that I wouldn' take the time we'd have before she decided ter move along. What I didn' expect, now, was Rubeus -- would have thought it'd take some trouble an' magic ter have a child together, yeh know, with a human and a giant."

"I've heard of other such half-breeds, I think...." Mary closed her eyes for a moment against the warm orange light of the room, the red and gold highlights the flames picked out in the wood. Surprising how comfortable she could be in such a very Gryffindor home. Everyone always claimed Slytherin's cooler colors were so much easier on the eyes. But these weren't exactly uncomfortable; they just seemed to be trying to soothe her to sleep....

"There are some, but not very many -- and I hadn' heard of them until later. Mind you, I'm not sayin' I'd give up little Rubeus for the world! But he did come as a bit of a surprise, he did."

"I can imagine." Her eyelids were drifting down again, the colors dancing behind them slowly fading into a steady reddish glow that darkened as she turned her head from the fire. The tea should be waking her up more than this... but at least her hands were steady now.

"But with the human part, well, he needs more lookin' after than a full-giant baby, so of course...."

She didn't seem to be able to concentrate, no matter how determinedly she tried not to be rude. Perhaps it was the warmth -- a dash of fresh night air should have her alert again, surely.

It had better. She could hardly ask to stay here for the night, after all....

*****

Tavish watched his guest's eyelids droop until her grasp on the teacup began to slacken. It required more grace than swiftness to cross the small expanse of floor and lift the cup deftly from her hands again before the liquid in it could spill. Her little boy looked up at him, green eyes wide with alarm, and clung all the tighter to her leg.

"It'll be all right, little one." Tavish set the cup on its saucer on the table and crouched down to look into Tom's face. "Your mum was just a little too tired ter go flyin' again tonight, and she didn' realize it until she went right ter sleep in her chair. Yeh've dozed off for a nap a time or two yourself when yeh thought it was still time ter keep playin', haven't yeh?"

The boy didn't nod, but then, Tavish probably wouldn't have admitted it himself at that age. "She's tired all the time," Tom said quietly.

That was worrying, if not much of a surprise. Tavish had been studying her enough to get the idea that she hadn't been well for quite a while -- perhaps it had been a hard pregnancy. Almost certainly, really, whether there were causes other than the strain of having quarreled to breaking with her husband -- and losing her parents on top of it, when they'd already been at odds.

But there was nothing to be done about those details, right now. The thing was to let her get her rest and look after the children, that was all. "Well, she'll feel better after a sleep. Yeh'll both stay here for the night, of course. I'll put your mum ter bed, and yeh can have some soup and play with Rubeus until bedtime; then I'll put yeh in with her and take the floor."

He'd always wanted to know what was supposed to happen, himself, especially when it wasn't the usual things. The unpredictable had grown on him eventually, but he still liked to have routines and grounds for reasonable expectations... whether he necessarily liked what he was expecting or not.

Tom was looking at him rather doubtfully. Tavish suddenly recollected the child's earlier reaction to Rubeus... well, it was understandable in some ways, especially if Tom hadn't met many other children at all. Though even then, he'd hardly have been likely to have met another half-giant, an infant who was bigger than some toddlers. It would be nice to know at least one boy somewhere near Rubeus's age could be taught to get along with him, though....

"Now, Tom, I know Rubeus -- that's my son, over there -- isn't what yeh've been used to. And you'll have ter be careful twice over, which might not sound fair but is true because you're older and know better what you're about. For one, he wouldn' dream of hurtin' you on purpose, but he is pretty big for not yet knowin' he could do it by accident. For another, he's still young enough that yeh could hurt him if yeh aren' careful. But I think yeh could be good friends if yeh tried it."

Why he thought this, he didn't bother to explore. Most would have thought it unlikely. But then, both children were a bit isolated and there were enough unlikely friendships in the world for Tavish to suspect that there could be a good deal more if the people involved (or not involved, as the case may be) should choose to try it.

"Now, if yeh don' mind, I think I'd best get your mum tucked in."

Tom nodded, eyes still huge but a little less worried, and detached himself from his mother's leg.

Tavish looked thoughtfully at the Echidne girl, then reminded himself that it was Riddle now. Then he went to a cupboard and took out his second set of sheets, set them on a chair, and began to strip and remake the bed.

Once the new sheets were in place and the top one, with the blankets, thrown back over the foot of the bed for easy access, he returned carefully scooped her up out of the chair. He was not a tall man -- she was nearly his own height, but easy to carry... too easy to carry. She'd obviously shed any extra pounds from the pregnancy and a few too many more.

Supporting her mostly upright with one arm around her waist -- the familiarity was unavoidable, and he'd had to manhandle enough colleagues and, earlier, fellow students not to be terribly concerned -- he carefully detached the cloak she had never removed and threw it over his shoulder. It was slightly damp; he should have insisted on taking it when she first came in.

From there, he crouched to put his free arm under her knees and carried her to the bed, settling her temporarily sideways across it with her shoulders propped gently against the wall while he removed her shoes. Then he turned her and laid her properly lengthwise, head on the fluffed pillow, and turned the covers up over her. Her head turned slightly, but other than that, she didn't move.

Tom had been watching him like a hawk the entire time, staying so near his mother he was very nearly underfoot.

Tavish knelt again to smile at the boy. "That's a good lad -- very gallant, the way yeh look after her. She's all right now, isn' she? Let me go introduce yeh ter Rubeus."

*****

Mary woke to an indistinct feeling of confusion. Her first thought was embarrassment -- she must have fallen asleep during the conversation, exactly the thing she had been trying to avoid. This thought, however, had to fight its way through the muffling sensations of being supine in a warm bed, and she entertained the notion briefly that she had dreamed the entire encounter. Then she realized that this was not her bed.

Something was not quite right here.

She lay without moving for a moment. She could hear the crackle of the fire, and smell it -- the same wood as last night, she thought. Then Tavish Hagrid's voice, low and soft -- trying not to wake her? And Tom's higher one in the same tone, and a gurgling laugh from the baby.

Rubeus must be a very contented child. If he had cried at all, surely she would have awakened....

She opened her eyes to stare at the wood of the ceiling. It was not her ceiling, either -- neither the one in her room above the shop nor the one from the bedroom she'd shared with her husband, nor yet the soft-green patterned one from her childhood. Mary was quite certain that she was awake now and not dreaming.

There was a strange taste in her mouth. Not simply from having slept without cleaning her teeth -- this was something else. She ran her tongue between her gums and cheek experimentally, eyes drifting shut again. That was the aftertaste of an herb she knew. Weak enough to be readily masked by other flavors, but persistent enough to give itself away -- nearly always too late, of course, when it had been used for sinister purposes.

Mary opened her eyes again and turned her head as Hagrid approached the bed. After putting a hand briefly to her upper chest to make certain she was still fully clothed, she sat up.

"You drugged my tea," she said.

He nodded. "I did."

"Did you think I wouldn't realize?"

A chuckle. "I figured yeh'd know once yeh woke up. It was havin' yeh fly off last night I was worried about." He turned entirely serious. "Yeh weren' in any condition ter be flyin' at all, much less with a passenger, and more than that, yeh were too tired ter realize bein' stubborn about it would be a bad idea."

"You didn't think you could make me listen, so you slipped me a sleeping draught?" Mary shook her head. "How... Slytherin of you."

Tavish snorted, but smiled. "It was very Gryffindor of me, as it happens, and you Slytherins might do well to remember that. It was ter protect you an' little Tom there, and I never said a false word to yeh -- and yet yeh still drank it, didn' yeh? Plus you're here an' safe, which is the important thing."

Mary shook her head and laughed weakly. "Amazing what one can get away with when trusted, isn't it?"

"True enough." He sat down on a chair beside the bed and looked at her gravely. "Still, I didn' do a thing ter hurt yeh. The herbs won' do yeh any harm, and yeh did need the rest. It don' look as if yeh've had much lately."

"And you have, with an infant?" She relented and offered a smile of her own. "I recognize the aftertaste of the herbs you used; I know they're harmless." She had to admire the plan, in a way, even if the results were a bit embarrassing. They were also refreshing, in all honesty, which probably helped.

"Your Tom's been helping out quite nicely with Rubeus, now. The second time they got near I explained Rubeus wouldn' hurt him on purpose, but he'd have ter be the one ter be careful because Rubeus was too young, an' after that we haven' had a single problem."

"Oh, well done." That was good to hear. Then another thought struck her, and she winced. "I'm sorry, but what time is it? I should be at work at eight --"

"It's half past six. Yeh slept for a good while, but yeh started early." Tavish gave her a friendly grin. "I'm not at all sure some time off for rest wouldn' be a good idea, but yeh aren' late. I do have a fireplace, don't I, whether yeh want to Floo back or call."

"The work's hardly a strain, but I suppose that would probably be a wiser method of travel. Perhaps I should have thought of that last night." She eyed him. "Not that you did either."

"I'd think Tom would be a mite young for it, and you didn' look as if yeh ought ter be carrying him through that at the time, so I didn' mention it. Yeh look better now."

"Thank you -- though as I haven't even washed my face, I shudder to think how I must have looked last night," Mary said wryly. "Then again, I'll confess I feel better, so perhaps it's no surprise."

Tavish chuckled. "Yeh look fine when yeh wake up, it seems to me. Yeh know what I meant. But if yeh want ter start gettin' ready for the day...."

He put an arm around her back and shoulders to support her as she turned sideways to ease out of the bed and rise. Mary leaned against him as they stood, finding him warm and very steady, and somehow found herself stopping with her head down on his shoulder even once they were both upright. It wasn't that she couldn't stand on her own... she was simply too comfortable, for the moment, to move.

He didn't rush her.

*****

Mary found herself thinking that Tavish Hagrid was comfortable many times in the ensuing days. And weeks. And months.

He saw her off from his home without her broomstick -- and then brought it by the garden shop when he made a delivery of Mooncalves' manure.

"I didn't know you made deliveries here."

"I'm not usually the one who does."

She stared at her fireplace the next weekend for a while before calling and inviting herself and Tom back over; she smiled without effort at the grin that came with his welcome.

Feeling she should thank him with something more substantial than mere words -- he'd very possibly saved her life and her son's that first night, after all -- she took a gift when she went.

When Tavish unwrapped the parcel and found it to contain a nice selection of teas, he looked up at her and raised an eyebrow expressively, and they both laughed until Rubeus crowed along with them and Tom stared as if he suspected his mother of having gone insane. Then they laughed more.

Delilah, Mar thought in the midst of it all, would approve. In her own caustic way.

Her poultice neutralized the venom and healed the wound cleanly when Tavish was slimed by a Flesh-Eating Slug, though she did tease him about being injured by a garden pest in the food supplies when he worked at a Preserve full of any number of less common dangerous creatures.

He persuaded her to take time off when she fell ill and insisted on helping her look after Tom for a while, even though she insisted it was only a cold. The chance to rest entirely was nice, really, and when she recovered more quickly than usual she began to consider the idea that he was right in saying she hadn't relaxed properly since her marriage had fallen apart.

She took up watching Rubeus during the days so Tavish wasn't forced to leave him or carry him amongst dangerous beasts; she began teaching the baby how to cope with dangerous plants (which mostly had the advantage of somewhat more limited motion) and found he took to it astonishingly well. Tavish could keep up seemingly no matter how energetic a child was and enjoyed taking care of two; Mary was relieved when her son had a chance to run wild a little without her having to chase a rambunctious toddler.

Tavish was restful; he never treated her as if marrying Tom had been madness in the first place and was therefore one of very few people who could talk about it without her plotting revenge behind a rare smile that would have warned them had they only known.

Her smiles were growing less rare again, too.

A few choice words in conversation with Delilah and other old friends made certain the rumors about him never touched on the truth and silenced the more malicious. Tavish might very well have been willing to be honest if asked -- he had told her, after all -- but if they'd "been quiet about it" he at least if not Fridwulfa had recognized the likely nature of the wizarding world's opinion and chosen not to court it. Rubeus's life could only be more difficult if his mother's species were generally known, so Mary chose to keep the decision of truth or lie out of their hands. No one need ask outright.

Tavish would hardly have room to complain if so inclined, of course, after the little stunt with the tea. Mary chuckled softly once when she thought of it; she didn't intend to spread that around either but could certainly see the humor even at her own expense. Delilah was in the shop at the time and studied her appraisingly for a long moment, but didn't ask what the joke might be.

She rather thought he liked the chance to speak freely to someone about Fridwulfa, though, and soon grew sure of it. She certainly appreciated being able to do so about her Muggle Tom as well, and as most people were either uncomfortable or annoyingly prurient when discussing either the failed romances or their offspring, she and Tavish found themselves often discussing the general challenges of parenthood (and of being left alone with a child, and sometimes the very specific challenges of a half-giant baby or what was turning out to be a highly precocious little toddling wizard) more and more frequently with each other.

"You realize," Mary said lazily one late winter's evening by his fire, "as much time as we spend together and as often as we look after each other's children, we almost might as well get married." Then she stopped and thought about this, staring into her cup as if trying to read their future in the tea leaves for a long moment before looking up at his startled, considering expression. "Actually... would you like to?"

Tavish smiled slowly and warmly. "I'd thought of suggestin' it myself, as it happens, but hadn' found the right time."

Her return smile was the brilliant one that she'd had as a schoolgirl. "Let's." She sobered after a moment. "You do know, though, that I likely shouldn't have more children."

He shook his head, the set of his lips quirking into light exasperation. "I seem ter recall spendin' a ridiculous amount of time tryin' ter make yeh rest. What makes yeh think I'd ask that?" Back to a grin. "Not sure I could handle more'n these two, myself." A bushy eyebrow went up. "If we're makin' silly objections, my bloodline's hardly up ter yours."

"Well, after all," Mary returned, absolutely deadpan, "no one's is."

*****

A March wedding was said to foretell for the couple knowledge of both joy and sorrow. Having made good acquaintance with both and being practical enough to expect them in future, Mary and Tavish found no objection to holding their quiet ceremony in a tree-sheltered glen on the first while winds roared through the dawn.

"This," Tavish claimed laughingly afterwards over the wind, "means a blessin' from Godric Gryffindor on our marriage."

Mary raised her eyebrows and said archly, "Between the leaves and the silver fog that wind keeps chasing out of hollows, Godric must nevertheless have left the decorating to Salazar."

Tavish brushed dark hair back from her temple. "And it's nigh as lovely as my bride -- so I'll thank him kindly and say I'm glad of your family's approval."

She kissed him. And it was no potion that led to her waking in his bed the next day.

*****

Review responses for the twelfth chapter and the epilogue of Moon and Stone, despite the lack of connection between the storylines.

Byrd: We actually answered the second question within the story, too, though we didn't specify the name of the village there. We were going to let people figure it out -- village near Hogwarts, magic inhabitants, places for werewolf transformation, special route to it from the school, hmm, wonder what that could be -- but apparently didn't put in enough clues. :-) As for the first, we think it's a pretty sure thing that Hogwarts's self-shifting floor plan has managed to incorporate some remodeling, including the plumbing facilities which are far too modern for "a thousand years or more ago." And yes... that's going to hurt for the rest of Godric's life, really.

beck: Thanks!

Julie: Thank you. It just seemed far more logical, with this Salazar, that he'd have died of the transformations and the story... shifted, than that he'd have gone elsewhere and taken the risk of biting someone else. Babbling is just fine; we're glad you liked the story. And to be honest, this Stepbrothers series we're posting now is something we've written and posted elsewhere before, but we're not planning to stop cowriting anytime soon, either!

Emily: Thank you very much. We did try to keep everything so that it would fit, and we're so glad you enjoyed the read.

Aerin: The Hat was fun, and the sword seemed a fitting explanation. And the progression of legend, well, we did say we were basing the whole story on the idea it had changed, so it seemed a good idea to show how it had gotten to the final version. :-) Glad you liked it!

Barb: Glad you enjoyed it. And, well, they did get into a fight, just not the one people might have expected. The Sorting Hat seemed more crucial to this story than the ceiling, though I'm sure making the ceiling was interesting when it did happen. We've written quite a bit together, actually, and will probably write more; meanwhile, we're going to be posting an AU we started some time ago, now that we're allowed to put it on the Quill again. :-)

Adi: Glad to have you back, and glad you liked it. Salazar's death was hard for us to write, too. :-/ It really was a hard way for him to go, for all of them. Sharessa's going to be behind that statue for quite a while... though William will at least visit.

Kate Lynn: We're glad we decided to post it. *g* And, wow. Thank you so much, for the compliments and for expecting them to be true. :-) Glad you enjoyed it!

//
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