The Sugar Quill
Author: Andrea13 and Persephone_Kore  Story: A Difficult Year  Chapter: Chapter 2/2: Left to Wake
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A Difficult Year Ch. 2

A Difficult Year
By Andrea13 and Persephone Kore
Chapter 2

"Boys!" Mary Hagrid hugged her sons to her tightly, feeling the tears welling up yet again at the trembling that wracked young Rubeus' body. Her Tom was stiff and pale, his dark eyes very large in his white face. She kissed them both on the cheek and pulled back, blinking the tears away. She had to be strong. For all their sakes. "I'm so glad you came."

"Of course we came," Tom said hollowly, patting her shoulder. He'd grown so tall already, she noted with maternal pride. Not that he looked that way beside Rubeus, of course, but she nearly felt small next to him. Tom was standing so straight and proud, obviously trying to be strong for Rubeus, but his voice caught a little when he asked, "H-how's Uncle Tavish?"

No, this wasn't the time for tears! She had to be strong, for their boys. "He's...stable." She sank back into one of the hard chairs that lined the corridors of St. Mungo's, pulling the boys into chairs as well. "He got hit very hard by...Firian Fire Fever." She couldn't repress the shudder that came with the name.

Tom made a startled noise beside her. "B-but I thought that was always...fatal." He whispered the last word.

"I was with him when it struck, so I was able to get him here right away. He' bad shape, but he could still pull through."


"He's strong," Mary said softly, stroking Tom's hair. "He'll make it."

Tom nodded fiercely, though his chin was trembling. Rubeus kept his head on her shoulder, dwarfing her, but the tears streaming down his face were a reminder that he was only twelve, and his father had been his rock since he was born. ~My poor babies,~ she thought, holding them to her. ~My poor Tavish. We need you.~

She would survive. She always did. She'd survived her first husband's abandonment, far weaker physically then, having just lost her parents, and with a baby to support. She'd managed then, though it had taken a long time for the laughter to return to her life. But now it wasn't just her and an infant son who'd never even known his father to miss him.

Rubeus frankly adored his father, who was understandably still the center of his young life. Tom, she sometimes thought, had neatly filed Tavish in his heart under "father" from the moment the large man had picked him up and enlisted his help in making sure Mary got her rest on that first meeting so long ago. How much would losing a second father hurt? Mary closed her eyes. Yes, she would survive, but Tavish had to pull through for their sons' sakes.

Waiting was nearly unbearable. Every moment that passed was another moment the mediwizard could step outside and say that Tavish had lost the battle. It was so quiet! Mary found herself straining to hear each time the slightest whisper of conversation wafted down their hallway. She could hear the low noise of measured footsteps and the soft swoosh of robes as mediwizards and witches walked by. Most didn't even look at the tiny family huddled outside the treatment room. Rubeus was still sniffling softly against her shoulder, the only disruption to the rhythmic breathing of sleep. Poor dear probably hadn't gotten any rest since getting the news.

Mary found her mind walking backwards, before she'd ever met Tavish, before Tom was born. Living as a Muggle, she'd been so amused at the Muggle view that magic could accomplish literally anything with a wave of the wand, totally ignoring the discipline and strength required for every spell. There was no known charm to counteract Firian Fire Fever, no potion to ease the flames that now wracked Tavish's body. They could treat the systems, the mediwizard had warned her, but so few victims even survived to the treatment stage that it would be mostly up to Tavish himself to fight the disease.

Mary didn't even realize she'd closed her eyes until a diffident cough drew her attention. Standing in front of her was the mediwizard who'd taken Tavish from her when she'd arrived by Floo, shouting for help. Her throat was suddenly dry. "Is--?"

He smiled, a professional smile intended to set patients at ease. It instantly set her on edge. "The first fever has broken, and your husband is still holding on strong. I believe he has a good chance."

"Oh, thank goodness!" Tears welled up and Mary held on to both her sons for a long moment as they all shook with relief and joy. When she finally managed to compose herself again, she looked back up at the mediwizard. "Can we see him now?"

"You can, yes, but the children should remain here. Their immune system isn't as advanced." The wizard's face was very serious. "I should warn you that only the first fever has broken. There will still likely be several more, so he isn't out of the danger zone yet."

"But he'll be all right," Rubeus insisted, scrubbing the tears off his cheek with one big hand. "Yeh said he'll be all right."

"Most wizards," the man replied gently, "don't even survive the first fever, so we don't really know what all will happen now. But he's strong, even after the first round, so I think he has a good chance." He turned his head courteously to Mary. "If you'll come with me, I'll take you to see him."

"It'll be all right, boys," Mary whispered, hugging each of them. Rubeus clung to her for a moment with a mostly-suppressed sob, but Tom still sat stiff as a board. She cupped his cheek for a moment, then followed the mediwizard back to her husband.

Tom stared at the closed door, his face still and unmoving. The only emotion that showed was in his large, dark eyes, which seemed huge in his pale face. Rubeus sat next to him, trying to mop up his tears with an overly-large, bright orange handkerchief. "T-Tom?" he asked hesitantly after several interminable minutes had past. "Dad -- he'll be okay, right? The mediwizard, he just has to be careful about sayin' stuff, but Dad'll be fine. Right?"

"I--of course he'll be all right, Rubeus. You heard the mediwizard; he's strong. He'll be fine." Tom's voice was hollow, though, and the reassuring pat he gave his brother's arm felt like it was coming from a million miles away.
Rubeus swallowed hard. "Yeah, I heard him.."

"Well, then." Tom tried to nod decisively. And not... waterily.

"Yeah..." Rubeus swallowed hard and stared at the door. Tom was doing that, and it was apparently helping him, so...

After several minutes of staring, Rubeus looked back at his brother and blurted out, "I'm sorry."

Tom actually jumped. "What -- what for? I don't -" He broke off. He'd meant to go and apologize to Rubeus today, after practice, and what with practice being interrupted it had been driven entirely out of his mind. "Rubeus, you don't -- it wasn't your fault, I was going to come apologize to you...."

"It was my fault, or yeh wouldn't have been angry." Rubeus sniffled again. "I just don' want us ter fight anymore, Tom. I'm sorry."

"I wasn't angry, I was embarrassed. And stubborn. You were angry. And I kept meaning to apologize sooner, I just...." Tom wavered dangerously close to tears himself and swallowed hard. "L-look, I'm sorry too."

Rubeus suddenly grabbed onto his brother tightly enough to make Tom wheeze. "I just didn't want anything bad ter happen ter yeh. If I hadn't shown up, yeh could've been really hurt. An' then yeh said it'd happened before an'...I don' want anything ter happen ter ANY of yeh!"

Tom hugged back and didn't answer for a moment because he knew Rubeus would let go if he sounded squashed, and he had suddenly realized he didn't want to be let go of. "Wasn't as bad as it looked," he finally whispered. "Honest. I'm sorry you were worried."

"Then why wouldn' yeh TALK ter me, Tom? It was weeks, and yeh didn' even say hello in the Great Hall!"

"I'm sorry." Tom rested his head against his brother for a moment even though Rubeus had loosened his grip. He didn't quite know what to say. "I don't know -- I kept meaning to -- I wasn't even sure if you wanted me to--"

"Tom," Rubeus said, somehow managing to sound both pleading and severe at the same time, "don' be an idiot!"

Tom choked on a laugh, thereby managing to sound amused and ill at once -- quite the talent. "I'm sorry, little brother. I'll try harder. I think it runs in the family sometimes."

Rubeus laughed a little himself. "And sometimes it's all you, Tom. Don' blame Aunt Mary."

Tom started laughing, until he was half-crying and still hugging his brother tightly. "It'll be okay," he promised fervently. "I know it will. Everything will be okay..."


"Aunt Mary?" Rubeus stirred on the uncomfortable, too-small chair when he saw his stepmother come back into the waiting area. She halted mid-step and looked at him in tired surprise.

"They were going to prepare a room for you two," she said softly, changing direction and coming toward him. "I'd been about to go look for you there."

Rubeus shifted and looked guiltily at Tom, who had somehow managed to fall asleep on three of the chairs without even transfiguring them into anything. "I didn' want to go before... well, before we heard somethin'... and Tom said he'd wait with me."

She winced. "There's little to tell, I'm afraid. The fevers are starting again; they have them in hand, so to speak, since it was expected and there are mediwizards all about...but I did have to get out of their way."

"But...Dad'll be all right, won't he?" Rubeus looked at her with pleading eyes. "He's sick, but he'll be all right."

"He has the best of care now. If they can keep the fevers low enough not to damage his mind, then he...has a good chance."

Rubeus nodded and bit his lip, his black eyes glittering with suppressed tears. "I--I heard th' nurses say how he wouldn't've made it at all if yeh hadn't been with him..."

Mary settled exhaustedly into the seat beside him, on the opposite side from the ones Tom had claimed, and put her arms around him, laying her head for a moment against his arm. "They said that after a few more hours of the high fever, unchecked, there would..." Her voice trembled and broke for just a second. "Would not have been enough left to wake, even if he survived."

The arm beneath her head started shaking. "I'm glad you were there." Very quietly. Well, for Rubeus.

She swallowed. "So am I." A deep breath. "But I was, and I cast a Cooling Charm as soon as I realized it was necessary. And the mediwizards here did bring the first fevers under control, even though they'd had time to build up freely. It... should be somewhat easier this time."

Rubeus bobbled his head up and down in agreement, since his throat felt too tight to speak a reply. After a few moments of silence, he was able to manage shakily, "I d-don' know what I'd d-do if I l-lost him..."

"You would go on. We all would," Mary told him softly, "but it would be very hard."

"I c-couldn't..."

"You shouldn't have to." She didn't specify whether this referred to rightness or probability.

Rubeus sniffled and suddenly clung on to Mary tight enough to hurt. "I don' want to. When Professor Dumbledore got that owl..." His words choked off into tears.

"I know." She held on as tightly as she could herself, which somehow made Rubeus's powerful grip easier to bear, and waited until he remembered himself enough to loosen it a little.

"And I know that he would fight to be able to stay with you. Is fighting." She reached up and smoothed the wild hair at the side of his head. 'They're taking good care of him, Rubeus. I can't make promises, but I think he will be well. And in the meantime... I'm sure it feels as though you can't, but you should try to sleep."

"I don't want ter sleep," Rubeus protested stubbornly. "Not until I've seen him."
"The risk of contagion won't be low enough for another two days." Mary's voice was gentle. "And they will test you beforehand; if you're too worn down from not sleeping it will be longer still."

"But--!" Rubeus frowned and tried to summon an argument, but he was too tired to think properly. Maybe Tom would have better luck...

Tom, of course, was still sound asleep. Rubeus thought this wasn't quite fair.

"We'll wake you if anything changes that you would want to know about," Mary told him quietly, "and there is nothing any of us can do right now by keeping vigil. The time until you can see him will seem to go quicker if you sleep, and will really be shorter as well."

"It'd feel like I was doin' something, at least," Rubeus muttered. He heaved a sigh, resulting in a minor gale across the room. "All right, all right..."

"Dream for him." It wasn't as nonsensical as it sounded; most magic done deliberately now, at least in the West, was calculated and careful, done with words and wands. Science had perhaps had more influence on magic than most wizards realized or were willing to admit. Still, even that was affected by the witch's or wizard's emotions and state of mind, and children's spontaneous magic was quite often entirely a result of that. Dreams were subconsciousness and feelings and symbols, when meaning was given them. Some people had visions of reality or prophecy in dreams. Others, far rarer, dreamed their will into reality.

"And," Mary added with a faint, tired smile, "would you mind terribly helping me get Tom to the room as well?"

"No, Aunt Mary," Rubeus answered dutifully, though with another heavy sigh. He let go of his stepmother reluctantly and stood, stretching half-heartedly to keep from scraping his knuckles against the ceiling. Then he bent and picked Tom up effortlessly. " yeh know where th' room is?"

"Yes. Just this way."

When they reached the room, Rubeus set Tom down on one of the camp beds while Mary inspected the other for a moment and smiled approvingly on finding the Expansion Charm that would allow it to be quite comfortable for Rubeus once he got into it, despite fitting into the same space as the other. She kissed them both good night before slipping out into the shadows to the separate room the hospital had offered her.

Rubeus thought about waking Tom long enough to wash his face, but decided it didn't matter that much and just crawled into bed. He was awfully tired, he found. But it still felt like a long time before he slept.


"Check," Tom said morosely. His queen strutted to the designated space and fluttered her eyes at Rubeus' king, who tried to shift away without leaving his square.

Rubeus sighed gustily and moved a bishop to block. Tom took the bishop with his knight, then announced, "Checkmate."

Rubeus didn't seem to notice his defeat. He was staring at the door, just has he had been for the past three hours. "Do yeh think they'll let us in soon?"

Tom sighed and gazed at the door himself for a moment. "I wish I knew."

"...I don't feel like playing chess anymore, all right, Tom?"

"Right. ...I understand."

Rubeus pushed the board away and crossed his arms. He and Tom had spent the past two days in this very room, not allowed to leave for fear of getting in the way of the healers. They took their meals here, slept here, and tried not to go insane from boredom and worry. Mary was in and out, but spent most of her time with Tavish. The fact that they STILL didn't know if Tavish was really going to be okay preyed most heavily on both boys' minds.

He simply HAD to be all right. No other alternative could even be considered.

To get his mind off that train of thought, Rubeus picked up a chess figure and started rolling it between his large fingers. The pawn squeaked indignantly at the treatment. "What do yeh suppose they're sayin' back at Hogwarts? Did Professor Dumbledore make an announcement, or are they jus' wondering where we are?"

"I'm sure he said... something. Possibly just 'It's a family matter,' so that we could decide how much to tell them when we get back.... Then again, probably he did say what's the matter. He'd almost certainly have told the teachers, I think."

"I guess so..." Rubeus found himself staring at the door some more.

Tom tried not to do the same, but between Rubeus and the wondering, the door seemed to have a truly remarkable sort of eye-magnetism.

It was something of a shock to both of them when it actually opened.

"Mum!" Tom said quickly, jumping to his feet and knocking the chessboard over. He waved his wand hurriedly to put the pieces back where they belonged. "Did something...?"

He couldn't bear to finish the sentence.

She smiled at him; he could see tears in her eyes, but what she said was, "The danger's past."

Tom closed his eyes and fell bonelessly back into his seat. Rubeus's eyes widened and he asked, "Does that mean we can see him now?"

"Most likely yes -- though they'll have to look you over first." Her voice was gaining energy; instead of weeping with relief it now sounded as if she might want to laugh. "He's not awake yet -- there's a sleeping spell that hasn't yet worn off and he does need the rest, so I'm not certain when he will be -- but he will make it, and it's safe for you to go in."

Rubeus shouted for joy and picked Mary up in an enthusiastic hug, then ran out the door after the mediwitch. Tom stayed where he was for a moment, a hand in front of his eyes. After a moment he looked up at his mother and asked quietly, "They're sure?"

She held out both her hands to him. "They're sure."

He didn't take them yet. "What if they're wrong? What if it comes back and they're not ready for it this time?"

"This isn't a recurring illness; they can tell when it's on its way out of the body for good."

Tom swallowed further protests, though they stuck in his throat and threatened to choke him.

"All right..." He stood up slowly. "We should go find Rubeus before he scares all the nurses."

"Yes, let's." She caught up his hands for a moment, then wrapped him in her arms before they went on. "Don't go on worrying," she whispered. "I wouldn't have spoken if it weren't certain."

He hugged her back once, fiercely, his arms shaking slightly. "I'm not worried. Really. I just...I was worried about Rubeus. Come on, we should find him."

Tom pulled away from his mother and left the room, pacing down the hallway to just outside Tavish's room, where Rubeus was chattering with the mediwitch who was running a slightly glowing wand over him.

"All righ' there, Tom?"

"Of course. Everything's going to be now, right?" The mediwitch finished with Rubeus and move to Tom as he added, "What about you?"

Rubeus had never been the type to hide his emotions. On the one hand, that meant every spilled out no matter what. But on the other hand, he got everything out and dealt with more quickly than Tom, who was still quivering with barely-suppressed anxiety. "Like yeh said, ev'rything's all right now. Madame Velos said Dad's sleepin' real peaceful now."

"Good. That's good." But Tom would feel better if they said Tavish were awake and lucid.

Mary came around the corner and went to join her sons, putting her arm through Rubeus's as the mediwitch continued checking over Tom. Contrary to Tom's earlier assertion, his face was still carefully blank, which his mother knew from long experience meant he was still anxious.

"That's you then, dear," Madame Velos finally announced, giving Tom a pat on the shoulder. "You can all go in now."

They trooped in, Rubeus carefully ducking the doorframe. Tavish lay very still in bed, but he was breathing easily and looked quite comfortable. Mary went to touch her fingertips to his forehead and then his lips; Rubeus hurled himself to his knees beside the bed and hugged his father extremely gingerly. Tom contented himself with taking up a limp hand and tried not to shake too much when it fell closed over his.

"We've been right here the whole time, Dad, me an' Tom," Rubeus was assuring his father. Tom wasn't quite sure how he was able to talk around the immense grin wrapping around his face. "Well, not here, I mean, because they wouldn' let us in, but just in th' other room an' we were worried about you an' -- well, we're glad yeh're better. Really glad."

Tavish drew in a long breath that might have been a sigh, or at least a response, if it hadn't been so exactly like every other breath he took... but then the next one hitched just slightly as if Tavish had thought of saying something and then given up on it.

Rubeus hugged him again. "An' we'll stay right here until you're all better."

"Rubeus," Mary said gently, "he's out of the woods now. It's just going to be a matter of recovering his strength, and that will likely be a slow process. You two need to get back to your classes."

"But Aunt Mary --!"

"You've already missed enough to keep you busy for quite a while. Tavish wouldn't want either of you falling behind in your studies. I've already owled your House Heads; they'll be expecting you back tomorrow."

Rubeus looked as if he wanted to protest, met Mary's green eyes for a long moment with his mouth half-open, then gusted out a heavy sigh. "...Yes, Aunt Mary."

Her expression gentled. "It won't be so bad, Rubeus. Truly. I'm sure you'll be glad to see your friends again. And you know your father and I will write to you. And Tom will be there."

"I know." He looked down at his father again. "I just don' like to leave him."

Mary put one hand on Rubeus's shoulder and the other on Tavish's. "I'll be here with him. I promise to take good care of him."

Rubeus smiled a little again. "I know yeh will."

"Mum's good at looking after people," Tom said softly, looking down at Tavish rather than at his brother. After a moment he swallowed and looked back up at Rubeus, forcing a big smile.

"Besides, the Gryffindor/Slytherin match is in just a few days. You don't want to miss that, do you?"

Rubeus snorted. "More like yeh want time to practice, right?" He looked back down at his father, then blinked at Mary. "Yeh two were plannin' to come, before, weren't yeh...."

She smiled ruefully. "I'd be surprised if we make it now, I'm afraid -- though I wouldn't put it past Tavish to try." Her mouth twitched. "So if he writes you after a week or so saying I drugged his tea, you'll know why...."


The room wasn't completely dark and silent like Tom had thought it would be. It was a perfectly reasonable thought -- a room in the middle of the night should be dark and silent, right? But this wasn't an ordinary bedroom. It was a hospital room, tucked away on the second floor of St.Mungo's, and apparently they were never quiet. There was a sliver of light from the hallway shining under the door even after Tom quietly closed it, illuminating the single bed and chair inside. He could still hear sounds coming from other parts of the hospital -- mediwizards and witches talking and casting spells, people running down the hall, even a singing telegram being delivered in the next room.

In some ways, that was comforting. But Tom had crept in here, all alone and in the middle of the night, precisely because he didn't want any of that around. He'd left his mother and Rubeus sleeping quietly down the corridor in the room they'd occupied since Tavish had been rushed here over a week ago. Tom had spent most of the day trying to smile and hug and reassure everyone that yes, everything was fine now. The mediwizards had cleared Tavish, after all, saying such a complete recovery from Firian Fire Fever was remarkable, even miraculous. Things were well enough that the boys were being sent back to Hogwarts and even Mary was going to go back home (at nights, at least) while Tavish kept recovering.

But...Tom still needed to just...sit here and watch as Tavish's chest rose and fell quietly, reassuring himself that everything WAS fine. Tavish was recovering. Everything would be fine...

He still couldn't shake the feeling that there was some awful mistake, a miscount or a new strain of the virus or something, that as soon as he and Rubeus were back at school an owl would be set winging off after them bearing the worst of news.....

Tom was very glad that there were no known Seers in his family.

Except some Muggles were thought to have a touch of what they called the Sight, at least, and -- no, no, no, he wasn't even considering that. He just... hadn't quite managed to let go of the tension of the past days. Either that, or he had let go and the shock of trying to relax had been too much. It was...absurd, really. He wasn't the one who'd been ill, and Tavish looked tired but completely relaxed. Then again, it was probably hard to worry very much while asleep, at least when the potions for stemming delirious hallucinations were still in one's system.

There wasn't anything to worry about.

Tom knew that. The rest was just... just on account of having become used to being afraid.

He knew.

And as he sat there, watching Tavish breathe easily and occasionally move a little in his sleep, Tom finally forgot to keep reminding himself Tavish was going to be okay and came to believe it. The tightness in his chest eased, letting his own breathing come as easily as his stepfather's, and some of the huge knot of tension coiled in his shoulders began to relax. This was foolish. Why had he even come? His mother and Rubeus hadn't had to; they'd believed the healers like intelligent people.

But he HAD come, and somehow he'd HAD to. Tom acknowledged that even as he acknowledged it was stupid. With one last deep sigh, Tom stood up. He didn't know how long he'd been here, but he should probably get some sleep before going back to Hogwarts. He'd have a lot of schoolwork to catch up on.

He paused for a moment at the door, then went back to the bedside and clasped Tavish's hand even while telling himself he was being foolish. It was warm and strong and alive, even in sleep.

Then it moved, and Tom barely managed to keep from shouting.

Tavish's eyes opened slowly a second after he grasped the hand in his. He swallowed once and blinked, then said, "Tom."

"Uncle Tavish." Tom couldn't keep the sheer relief out of his voice as his knees practically buckled. Hearing other people say everything was fine was all well and good, but that was nothing compared to seeing it for himself. He managed to control himself long enough for a shaky smile. "You're looking well."

Tavish smiled slightly. "Havin' made my own share of hospital visits, I'll take it that's a relative term." He squeezed Tom's hand lightly and one eyelid dropped in a wink. "I am feelin' a lot better. And it's good to see yeh, boy."

"I didn't mean to wake you up," Tom apologized instantly, even as his other hand came up to wrap around Tavish's as well. "I just...wanted to...make sure you didn't need anything before we left in the morning."

"Wouldn' that be a mite difficult ter find out without wakin' me?" The smile grew a little as Tom blushed, but it was a gentle one. "There, now. I mean it, I'm glad yeh came in, though I suspect you're supposed ter be asleep."

"I--I just..." Tom blushed even harder as he tried to come up with a way to explain himself. "I wasn't tired," he said lamely.

"Yeh look it." Tavish's hand tugged at his until Tom got the message and leaned down for a hug.

"It's just been a hard few days," he whispered, hugging tightly. He added quickly, "For Mum and Rubeus. They've been worried. I've been trying..." Tom blinked rapidly. "They're okay. I took care of them."

"I'm sure yeh did." For a man who'd spent more than a week fevered and bedridden, Tavish gave a very firm hug. Rubeus hadn't inherited all his strength from his giantess mother. "Been able ter count on yeh for that since yeh were what, three?"

Tom stood up and perched on the edge of the bed, keeping his hand wrapped tightly around Tavish's. "I was three," he confirmed with a weak smile. "And you were...the strangest man I'd ever met. But you were nice to Mum, so I figured you couldn't be too bad."

Tavish chuckled softly. "Well, Mary's too nice a lady not ter be nice back, isn' she? Can' help but be glad she did decide to visit -- even if she had no business flyin' at the time."

Tom stared at Tavish for a long moment, then suddenly leaned back down and wrapped his arms around his stepfather's chest. "I've never been more glad of anything in my life," he said fervently, though the words were a bit muffled by his speaking into Tavish's shirt.

Tavish put one arm around Tom and reached with the other for his wand -- left as standard procedure on a small table by the bed, though he probably wasn't really expected to be using it -- and Summoned one of the extra blankets folded at the foot of the bed to wrap around the boy who only then realized he was trembling slightly. "Couldn' possibly have turned out better," Tavish said softly.

Tom clenched his arms even tighter, until they shook with the effort, trying to fight back the moisture welling up in his eyes. He couldn't cry, not now, but...he never had to worry about being strong in front of Tavish, because Tavish could take care of it for the both of them. "You scared us," he whispered harshly around the lump in his throat. "We were so worried..."

"I'll try not ter do it again," Tavish replied quietly. He shifted a little to take some of his weight off the thin wrists locked together behind his back and moved a hand soothingly across Tom's shoulders. "Mary saved my life, I think, callin' in help when she did."

"Y-you can't die." Tom's voice was shaky but adamant. His eyes burned, the lump in his throat nearly choking him. "P-please, you can't die. I can't look after them on my own..."

"Tom.... Look, now. I'll try not to, of course." Tavish grasped one of Tom's shoulders firmly, still holding him close with the other arm. "But if I did --" Tom lurched slightly; Tavish overrode the incipient protest gently. "No, listen, if I did, yeh'd all make it through all right. Life does go on, and yeh'd look after each other. Believe me, though, I've got no such plans -- I'd have ter leave yeh, and I don' want to do that."

"We wouldn't get through it, because we need YOU." Tom gripped even harder, as if he would be able to prevent Tavish's death simply by holding on tightly enough. "I was trying to take care of Mum and Rubeus while you were sick, but I couldn't do it right! We need you."

"An' I'm not goin' anywhere," Tavish said firmly. "Not if I can help it, that's certain." He reached up and ruffled Tom's hair. "I'm sure yeh did just fine. You're a good son and a good brother. But yeh don' have ter do everythin' on your own, yeh know that, right?"

"Not as long as you're here," Tom mumbled into Tavish's shirt. His tears finally spilled over, burning his eyes. "You're the only dad I've ever known. The only one I ever needed. But I need you!"

"I'm not goin' anywhere," Tavish repeated quietly while Tom struggled to keep a sob silent. "I love you."

"I l-love you too," Tom gasped out. "That's why I don't want to lose you."

"I know. I'll do my best, son, yeh know that. I'm sorry about scarin' yeh all."

Tom sat back up and wiped his eyes. "I'm sorry; you're supposed to be resting, not listening to me cry."

"Tom, don' apologize," Tavish admonished him gently. "There's no harm done and sometimes everybody needs a good cry."

One corner of Tom's mouth hitched up. Tavish had been saying that for as long as he could remember. While Tom usually chose to emulate his mother's more...restrained style, Tavish had never let him be too serious for long. He leaned down again and gave Tavish a fierce hug.

"I'll try to remember. Thank you."

"Thank yeh for comin' in ter see me." Tavish returned the hug, then reached up to smudge away a tear-streak as Tom pulled back. "Yeh better get some sleep, though. If it's safe for yeh ter be in here, they'll be sendin' yeh off again soon."

"We're leaving in the morning," Tom admitted reluctantly. "I'd rather stay with you..."

"But yeh need to be gettin' back to Hogwarts. Probably missed enough school as it is." Tavish squeezed Tom's arm lightly. "If yeh want ter stay here tonight instead of tryin' to slip back out again now, I think we can make room." And there was already an inordinate number of blankets.

Tom shrugged. "I'm always ahead anyway...but I'm sure Rubeus has all sorts of things he's supposed to be feeding. We'll be going back to a bunch of one-handed second years if he passed it off to any of his friends." He grinned a little, then asked almost shyly, "You wouldn't mind? I just...want to be sure you're all right. But I don't want to be any trouble."

"Yeh won' be." Expanding the narrow bed into two to fit an extra person wasn't too difficult, not when the second person was a slender teenager. The sheets didn't want to cooperate, but again, there were plenty of blankets.

Tom curled up next to his stepfather, firmly squelched the voice that said he was too old for this, and laid his head on Tavish's shoulder. Everything was going to be all right. Tom smiled into the not-quite-dark and let himself be lulled to sleep by Tavish's quiet breathing.


Mr.RobertsIII: Thanks, we like Tom's touchy pride too. It's very...Slytherin, isn't it? ;) As for Hagrid's speech patterns...well, they were set very early in infancy. So were Tom's, as his aren't any more like Tavish's than Rubeus' are like Mary's.

Kalathetrumpeter: Thanks! Hope you liked the conclusion as well.

Emily: To be honest, it hadn't really crossed OUR minds either, until someone started a discussion about "What if Mrs.Riddle had lived?" and we started talking about the only other single parent from that era we knew of. Glad to hear it's working out for you!

Frankie Beeblebrox: We hope this was quickly enough for you! Tom was indeed very mortified, as you can see from this chapter as well. But it was better than getting beat up, in the long run. Poor guy. Rubeus was just trying to help. ;) Glad you liked it!

Pineapple Queen: Thank you, and here it is. :)

The Corinthian: It's exactly how much of an AU it looks like. (They say, unhelpfully.) Xavier seems a perfectly reasonable Weasley name next to Bilius, we think, even though we named him before we knew about Ginevra. At any rate, he grew into the story with his own personality rather than being patterned specifically on any one of the canon Weasleys. Tom's opinions of Muggles may come into things later on, good call. ;) As for the violent housemate, his identity isn't really particularly important.

Sarah: Well, he did die in Rubeus's second year in canon -- but as you can see, things went a mite differently here. We're rather fond of Xavier ourselves, but yes, we invented him and several others before JKR put it up, but she did mention Arthur being one of three on her site. We're glad you like the characterizations and find them convincing; thank you! And here's the update, of course.

Barb: Thanks. :) Whatever their intended destination, the Gryffindor boys got a bit sidetracked, didn't they? As for Tavish, as we said to Sarah, he did die in Rubeus's second year in canon, but you can see from this chapter that just having someone else around made a difference.

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