Called to Account
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.
Authors' note: Sixth in the Stepbrothers AU series, takes place during and after Tom's sixth year and Rubeus's fourth.
Called to Account
by Andrea13 and Persephone
"I'm not going to expel you."
Rubeus' knees felt weak, resulting in his nearly collapsing into the chair in front of Dumbledore's desk. "Thank yeh, sir! Thank yeh."
"I was going to ask you to sit down," Dumbledore added, "but that would seem to be unnecessary." He removed his glasses and shut his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose before replacing the spectacles and folding his hands on the desk before him. "I think that on the whole, since you have somehow managed to avoid any of the most obviously alarming possible consequences, expulsion would be too severe. I still cannot ignore the situation. Rubeus... what were you thinking? Did you know you had an Acromantula egg before it hatched?"
"...Yessir. Not when I first picked it up, but I looked it up in my Care of Magical Creatures book. But I couldn't jus' LEAVE him there, sir! He would've died!"
"Perhaps we should begin at the beginning. Will you give me the full story at once, or shall I ask every detail?"
"I was in the pet shop in Hogsmeade last year, durin' one of the free weekends. I heard a man tryin' ter sell an egg, but the shopkeeper turned 'im down. The man said he had ter get rid of it somehow an'....well, I saw him leave it on a trash pile. It would've died if I jus' left it there! So I...picked it up."
"Within the letter of the law, I see, up to that point -- and you never do seem to have been concerned about the strictures regarding what type of pets are permitted at Hogwarts. You then, at some point, determined that it was an acromantula based on some book on the topic -- I'm fairly certain they aren't covered in the current course text. Did you consider, at that point or before, that the creature might be a danger? How familiar are you with the previous attempts to breed acromantulae?"
"I read all about 'em!" Rubeus protested, sounding stung. "I wouldn't try ter raise something not knowin' about it. Dad taught me that much. People are afraid of acromantulae because they're so smart, yeh see. I knew I could teach it not ter hurt anybody. And he hasn't."
"It's not simply intelligence. They are entirely capable of hunting human beings -- or larger prey -- and have no compunctions about doing so. There are centaurs in the forest who might not be particularly pleased at his presence; I'm surprised they haven't protested."
"But Bane's the one who helped me find a good lair for him, sir!"
Dumbledore blinked. "That is, ah, impressive. I wasn't aware you'd met."
"Jus' a few times. He doesn' like dealing with humans that much, but he likes how I treat the animals. An' he said he'd rather know where Aragog is instead of him turnin' up in the middle of his herd's territory."
"An understandable perspective on it, I suppose. Even so -- and even knowing now that your... Aragog doesn't seem to have hurt anyone... you do understand that you were putting your fellow students at risk? Suppose he had chosen to hunt outside the forest?"
"He knew he weren't supposed to, sir. He promised he'd never hunt people. He doesn't even touch the students' pets, sir!"
"Yes, sir. I wouldn't have let him hurt anyone, honest."
"What exactly were you going to do if he didn't prove as cooperative as you hoped?"
"Send him ter my dad to find a home for him where there weren't anyone for him ter hurt," Rubeus answered promptly. "He was jus' a little thing when he hatched. It wouldn't have been hard."
"I think it possible that even your parents might have some difficulty finding a suitable alternate habitat for an acromantula, but I suppose it is a reasonable contingency plan." Dumbledore frowned slightly. "Do they know about him?"
"...Not exactly, sir."
Rubeus sighed gustily. "They talked once about me raising one, but it were jus' a joke. They don't know about Aragog."
"They will be informed. I advise you to do so before the official letter is drafted."
Rubeus gulped. "Yes, sir."
"Obviously, I can offer no such advice regarding Headmaster Dippet."
"H-Headmaster Dippet?" Rubeus stammered. "B-but sir, you KNOW what he thinks about int'restin' creatures! He won't even give Aragog a chance! He'll have people out ter KILL him before yeh can blink!"
"Rubeus, this is not something I can keep from him."
"But -- sir, Aragog ain't never hurt no one! An' he's in the Forest now, away from everybody. No one's in any danger but him!"
"I can present the point that there have been no injuries or losses attributable to him, but --" Dumbledore broke off. "'Now'?"
"Well, yes, sir. You saw him there."
"Where was he before?"
"In his cupboard, of course. He never left there, sir, just like he promised. Never hurt anybody, not even a toad!"
"Yes, sir. In the old Potions workroom."
"You had this creature inside the school." Dumbledore shut his eyes again and sighed. "This is not going to help your case."
"But he never hurt anybody! An' he was too little ter hunt on his own. I had ter keep him where I could feed him."
"Let me rephrase. It may support the argument that Aragog is not a threat, but it does make your offences considerably more serious."
"There's no law against having an acromantula, sir. I checked."
"You are not, however, supposed to have one here."
"...They're not exactly forbidden, sir."
"The pets students are permitted to have are listed, and the more common exceptions are well established. We have also been relatively lenient regarding most of your more unusual choices. Whatever the practice may have been in the Founders' day," Dumbledore said drily, "the school is not at present considered a suitable location for raising extremely dangerous creatures, particularly ones that could readily make a meal of a student if their... education didn't go quite as planned."
"But he was small enough when I started that he couldn't have eaten anyone!"
"Possibly, although I understand they have been known to take surprisingly large prey, at least as adults. He could still have been dangerous."
"He were jus' a baby!"
"I understand that, Rubeus, but some creatures can be extremely dangerous even from birth -- or hatching. I realize you have experience in handling some of them, but most of the other students do not -- and I am sure you are aware that intelligence gives the option of coming to a different conclusion from what one's instructors might wish." A long sigh. "As I said, since there has been no actual harm, you will not be expelled. You will, however, be punished, and I cannot make promises at this time as to Aragog's fate."
"Sir, I'll take any punishment yeh want ter give me, but PLEASE don't kill Aragog!"
"What happens to Aragog may be out of my hands. If, however, I have been able to meet him for myself before any further official discussions, I may be better able to vouch for his future intentions."
"I'll introduce yeh!" Rubeus promised desperately. "Yeh can meet him and decide for yourself, jus' like with Sharessa."
"I shall do that." Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Beforehand, however, I suppose I should inquire whether he's likely to come looking out of concern for you?"
"Oh no, sir. He knows better than ter leave the Forest. No matter what. I've told him."
"Well, that's something. Please return to your dormitory for the moment. I'll notify you when I am prepared to visit Aragog. I recommend that in the meantime you begin composing your letter to your parents."
Rubeus sighed. "Yes, sir." He rose slowly to his feet. At least he wasn't going to be expelled. That was a bright side, surely. And he'd managed not to mention that Tom knew about Aragog. That was probably against prefect rules, and he'd surely be ruled out for Head Boy then. But...Rubeus suddenly wished very badly to talk to his brother. Dumbledore's disappointed gaze was more than he could bear. "I'm sorry, sir. Really, I am."
"Naturally." Dumbledore's voice was gentle, if a little weary. "I will speak with you later."
"Yes, sir." He walked out with his head hung low, not even stopping to speak to Aloysius on his way out. It occurred to him that was the first time he'd ever visited Professor Dumbledore without being offered a sweet.
...Somehow that depressed him most of all.
Tom wasn't used to having anyone waiting for him when he emerged from the Chamber these days -- though he would never be surprised at Dumbledore again -- but as he emerged from the tunnel into the girls' toilet, a quiet voice said, "Hullo, Tom."
Sharessa slithered out of the tunnel enough to nudge Rubeus affectionately and hiss hello. Tom blinked at him. "Rubeus. Something wrong? You look terrible."
Rubeus swallowed. "Professor Dumbledore found out about Aragog."
Tom buried his face in his hands. "This day just keeps getting better. How?"
"He caught me visitin' him in the forest while everybody was at Hogsmeade. He doesn' know you knew," Rubeus added hastily. "But... well... he told Headmaster Dippet...."
For a moment, Tom could only sit there in stunned silence. Dumbledore was bad enough, but Dippet? "I -- I'll talk to him for you. I know you were breaking some rules, but you're not getting expelled over this, I promise. I'll take some of the blame myself; I never should've encouraged you."
"No, no, Tom, don' -- don' say anythin' -- I'm not worried about me. Professor Dumbledore already -- well, I'm in a lot o' trouble, but not expelled. Only," he swallowed hard, "Headmaster Dippet wanted to get Aragog hunted out an' killed, but he finally said he could stay -- if he'd come meet Sharessa and could convince her he's all right."
"He said what? No, I heard you the first time," Tom added hastily when Rubeus opened his mouth to explain again. This was unbelievable. "Well, they obviously don't know I'm involved. Why Sharessa, though?"
"He said it was because she was a guardian of the school. I think it's maybe because he knows Aragog'd be scared of her."
Tom's response was an eloquent groan. "And she isn't exactly fond of him, but...well, I think I can convince her. This has got to be the oddest test Dippet's come up with."
"She already said once she'd put up with him so long's he didn' hurt anybody, right? And he hasn't!" Rubeus glanced worriedly in the general direction of the Forbidden Forest. "I just hope I can get him to come and see her without runnin' away."
Tom wisely didn't voice the thought that perhaps that would be for the best. "If it's that or being hunted out and killed, I think he'll agree."
"I could alwaysss go into the foressst to sssearch," Sharessa observed with a hint of amusement. "Perhapsss Rubeus could tell the spider that if he doessn't wissh to cooperate."
Tom laughed and quickly translated. Rubeus snorted. "I'll tell him. I'll do ANYTHING if it means he doesn't get hunted down like -- like some kind o' animal!"
"I realize he's a very smart one," Tom said gently, "but he is an animal. So's Sharessa. But, well, we'll see about getting him to her. Uh, where?"
"Edge o' the forest. Dumbledore pointed out how the students would be a lot more used ter Sharessa comin' and goin' than ter seein' an acromantula."
"I'm sorry, Tom. I didn' mean for any o' this ter happen."
"Rubeus," Tom said in a sort of affectionate exasperation, "I don't think meeting Aragog is going to be nearly as hard for me or Sharessa as the other way around."
Rubeus sighed shakily. "I know. Aragog won't even talk about her. I don' know how ter convince him..."
"Well... how badly have you infected him with Gryffindor-hood?"
"Infected?" There was just a hint of the usual House pride in Rubeus' dejected voice. "It's not an infection. It's the proper way o' things."
"How much good would it do to suggest he ought to be brave or could brag about having faced a basilisk afterward?"
Rubeus managed a strained chuckle. "He might go fer it, at that. Well, I guess I'd better go find him. He's probably worried."
"He's worried! All right, should we go out too, or are we doing this later on?"
"Yeh'd best find Professor Dumbledore first. He an' Dippet are waiting for yeh in the Headmaster's office." Rubeus hesitated, then said soberly, "An' Tom, DON'T say anything about knowing beforehand. Whatever punishment I get, I deserve ter get. Don't go ruinin' yer chances for Head Boy, all right?"
"If you deserve it, I probably do too," Tom pointed out, "but I suppose it might just complicate things. We'd better warn Moira not to say anything, actually."
"I don' think Professor Dumbledore would think about askin' her, but I'll mention it when I see her. Now I'd better find Aragog before Dippet changes his mind and sends out hunters after all."
"I'm just afraid she'd volunteer the information! Right, go on then. I'll go tell them you found me."
"Right." Rubeus sighed. "Dad and Aunt Mary are goin' ter kill me, right?"
Tom considered this before saying, "Probably only a little bit."
The meeting with Dippet and Dumbledore went just as Tom thought, though Dippet was babbling a lot and seemed to be trying to convince Dumbledore to assess harsher punishment against Rubeus. He kept asking Tom for confirmation, which the young wizard restricted to noncommital noises and nods until he finally had to pin a slightly-reproachful look on the Headmaster and murmur, "Really, sir, he IS my brother."
Dippet blinked. "Oh. Yes. Quite right, of course. Slips my mind sometimes. You're, ah, not exactly very alike. We'd never have such a problem from you, eh, my boy?"
Tom met his gaze and replied evenly, "Well, sir, you weren't much happier when you found out about Sharessa. Who is waiting for us, by the way, if you want to get this started."
"Quite right, quite right." Dippet rubbed his hands together. "Well, lead on, Riddle."
They left the castle to convene at the edge of the Forbidden Forest and waited for Rubeus and Aragog to appear.
And they waited.
"I think the sspider is a bit ssshy," Sharessa observed idly.
Tom glanced at her and hissed back, "Do you think we'll need to go look for them?"
"I can ssmell them both from here."
"So they're not far?"
"No. But they both ssmell afraid. I sstill do not like Rubeus asssociating with acromantulae, Salazar's Heir. They are not to be trussted."
"Some say that about serpents," Tom pointed out. "I'll admit Aragog makes me nervous sometimes, but I think he'll do what Rubeus asks. Rubeus has been pretty clear that there's more in it for him if he behaves himself."
"Is there a problem, Riddle?" Dippet asked worriedly. "I knew Sharessa wouldn't trust an acromantula!"
"We were just talking, Headmaster. She says she can smell that Rubeus and Aragog are on their way."
"Aragog is the...creature's name?"
"That's what Rubeus calls him, sir."
"I think --" But Tom never found out what Dippet was thinking, as Sharessa reared up suddenly.
"Here they are."
Tom translated the hiss and watched, wincing a little, as Aragog stopped in his tracks immediately on catching sight of the basilisk. Rubeus tried coaxing him along; Aragog balked further and crouched down. "Aragog, come on, yeh got ter..."
"Just come up and tell the truth. It'll be fine. She won' do yeh any harm unless she thinks you'll hurt the school!"
"I will not walk closer." There was a pause, filled with a soft groan from Rubeus, and then Tom wondered if he was imagining that the next clicking words sounded ever so faintly embarrassed. "I do not think I can walk closer."
"Well then." Rubeus looked down at the giant spider for a moment, then squared his shoulders. "Well, then, I'll carry yeh."
And he crouched down and got a good grip on the body, bundling several gangly legs carefully together while a few others twitched with an odd sort of delicacy to keep Aragog's feet and their few venomous hairs away from Rubeus's body.
Dippet stared at the...rather unusual sight of one of his students manhandling a giant spider. "What...on EARTH are you doing, Hagrid?"
Rubeus' chin lifted defiantly. "Bringin' Aragog ter Sharessa, jus' like yeh asked."
Sharessa let out a long staccato hiss of laughter. "If he putss the acromantula down in front of me and it doessn't run, I sshall certainly be convinced it can overcome instinct more than any other spider-kind I have known...."
"It's all right, Aragog," Rubeus said soothingly. "See, Sharessa won't hurt yeh as long as yeh're not going ter hurt the school. An' yeh won't." Rubeus managed to haul the acromantula a few more feet to just in front of Tom and Sharessa, then hoped for the best and set him down, keeping one hand soothingly on Aragog's body.
Aragog stood there in silence and quivered, which might have been a triumph of intellect and will over magical instinct but didn't promise much in the way of Aragog speaking up on his own behalf.
"Well," Sharessa hissed after a long moment, "now what?"
"Now you give him your approval, because you know he won't hurt any students. Or any of the professors either," Tom prompted helpfully. Rubeus just stared at her pleadingly.
Sharessa hissed and said reluctantly, "But I don't know. How can I tell the Headmaster that?"
"Well, you do know that he knows that on top of displeasing Rubeus -- whom he really does like a lot -- he'd be in a lot of trouble if he did hurt anybody, whereas as long as he only hunts what he ought to, he can have a nice den in the kind of place he likes and Rubeus will make sure he stays fed and well."
"There iss that." Sharessa flicked her tongue out, making Aragog scuttle back a little nervously.
Aragog was shaking so badly he could barely be understood, but he managed to click out, "I won't harm any friends of Hagrid."
"Ask him to define that, pleassse," Sharessa requested of Tom.
"Could you be a little more specific about who you consider Rubeus' friends?" Tom asked politely.
Aragog clicked his mandibles in confusion. "Friend of Hagrid said all humans are friends of Hagrid. And Hagrid said centaurs also."
"Well, Sharessa wanted to hear it from you."
Sharessa was laughing. "That would have been you, I take it, Salazar's Heir? Nicely done. I suppose if there are ever any finer distinctions to be made they can be covered at the time."
"Then you agree?" Tom hissed back happily, hoping they didn't have to talk to Aragog anymore and reveal just who that "friend of Hagrid" was. "I can tell the Headmaster you approve?"
"I think you may. You might also tell Aragog that he need not fear me so long as he too guards Hogwarts, but if he does or deliberately allows harm, I will eat him."
"...Right." Tom blinked at scratched Sharessa's scales a bit as he reported back to the waiting professors, "Sharessa agrees that Aragog is under control if he can face her, and she thinks it's safe for him to stay here. She also said that if he ever causes harm to the school, she'll eat him." Aragog's mandibles began chattering audibly at this. "So I really don't think we have to worry."
"She won' go looking for excuses, Aragog," Rubeus reassured the acromantula in an undertone. "Yeh just do what yeh been doing and you'll be just fine." He looked up. "Thanks, Sharessa!"
"I suppose that's true," Dippet said slowly. "If the instinct to flee a basilisk doesn't... run away with him, I suppose that the hunting instinct is no more likely to do so."
"Can I go now, Hagrid?" Aragog chittered pitifully. "Please?"
"Could he?" Rubeus looked hopefully up at the professors. "He's proved he can fight it, but it's hard the whole time, and Sharessa agrees with me he'll behave...."
"Never thought I'd live to see the day an acromantula asked permission to leave," Dippet muttered.
"Which I think proves Mr. Hagrid's claim as much as Sharessa's endorsement," Dumbledore spoke up smoothly.
Dippet sighed. "It can go." In an undertone he added, "Makes me nervous, the great ruddy beast."
Aragog wasted no time in turning himself about and heading deeper into the forest at top speed.
"Well...if that's settled, maybe I should take Sharessa back to the Chamber now?" Tom suggested diffidently. "Even if the students are more accustomed to seeing her than acromantulae, she can still be surprising."
Sharessa tossed her head in affront and flicked out her tongue. "Really, Salazar's Heir. You suggest I would be harmful to the students."
"Never," he hissed back with a grin. "They'd just be so surprised to see how beautiful you are in full daylight that they might trip over their own feet."
"Flatterer," she hissed back, but he thought she was smiling. "Let us go. Though I might like to come out and lie in the sun some morning."
"Yes, yes, I believe we're done here. Thank you, Riddle, Sharessa."
Tom bowed slightly, flicked a reassuring look at his brother, and walked off with his hand resting on Sharessa's neck.
Rubeus swallowed hard when the dual gazes of his professors returned to him. "I...Thank yeh for sparin' Aragog, Headmaster. I swear, he won't be any trouble at all."
"I certainly hope not," Dippet said. "I suppose we may as well all go in."
Rubeus hung his head, though that still placed his gaze above the professors' heads. "Yes, sir."
...He wondered what his punishment from Dumbledore would be. But at least Aragog would be all right. That made it worth it.
Although maybe Dumbledore's punishment was the least of his worries. He still had to write his parents.
"I'm starting to think you're avoiding me."
Moira flipped her hair over her shoulder and smiled up at Tom archly. "Avoiding you? Out of everyone here, I am not the one spending most of my free time with historians."
Tom grimaced and slid into the seat next to her, dislodging a small stack of library books to touch her hand gently. "I thought their interest would die down eventually. If I wasn't getting extra credit for this..." He blew out a sigh. "But any time I DO have free lately, you've been busy."
"And vice versa, apparently." Moira closed her ink-bottle. "I've missed you. I briefly considered appealing to Sharessa, as she seems to approve, but I wasn't sure how that would work."
"She DOES approve of you." A bit TOO much sometimes, but he wasn't going to say that. "She does help sometimes. When I start falling behind, she'll put her, er, coil down and refuse to answer any questions for a while until I have some time off. I don't know what I'd do sometimes without her."
"Well, without her the historians wouldn't be swarming," Moira pointed out with a grin, "but I imagine she's very effective. Someone would have to be very passionate about history to try to cross a stubborn and protective basilisk."
"And very stupid. But I don't suppose you have enough time now for me to entice you out of the library? Unless you want to quiz me about bowler hats again, of course."
She glanced at her array of books. "Oh, I think the hats can wait for another day. And so can these."
"I was hoping you'd say that." He grinned at her as he helped her gather up the books. "What are you working on, anyway? I haven't seen anyone with this many books at once since the last time I checked in on Rubeus."
This was not a comment on his brother's growing interest in his studies, unfortunately. Knowing exactly what the very active student would hate most, Professor Dumbledore had assigned Rubeus to writing scores of essays as part of his punishment for breeding Aragog. Rubeus rarely left the library anymore if not for class. Tom sincerely hoped the punishment would ease off slightly after the holidays. He never saw his brother anymore!
Moira tapped one of the books, rolling her eyes slightly; Tom angled his head and discovered that the title was What Muggles Say about Merlin. "That's my topic. This time I was lucky, too." She patted a varied stack before sliding them into her bag with great care. "These are actual Muggle books about him -- well, most of them say they're about Arthur, but still."
Tom's mouth quirked. "You asked Muggle-born classmates this time?"
"Yes, and my parents sent Gwenhyvar so they could use her to write home and ask for them. She's bigger than most of the school owls."
"Your research methods are improving. I can't say my Slytherin side entirely approves of this...Of course, we ARE still vastly ahead of Gryffindor in House points, so maybe I should just give you your chance to catch up."
She made a face at him. "We'll get you yet."
"I would say 'good luck', but that would be an outright lie, so..." He carried most of the books for her as they left the library, keeping their voices low still until they reached the corridors. Tom was all too aware that the Gryffindors were so far behind because of all the points Rubeus had lost over Aragog...and Slytherin in all rights should have lost some of those for Tom's involvement.
But he was hardly going to say anything if nobody knew!
Leona appeared less than two minutes after they emerged from the library and rubbed against their legs, shedding enough to bestow tawny-golden accents on Tom's robes from the knees down. Moira laughed. "I think you're being claimed again, Tom."
He let out a long-suffering sigh, but still bent down to pick up the miniature lion and scratch behind its ears. "Do you have any idea how much I get teased showing up with lion hair on my robes? She even managed to get into Slytherin dorms once! I think she CAN walk through walls."
Leona purred loudly at this.
Moira tapped her lips with a forefinger. "Well," she said, "didn't you mention something about Sharessa being able to move through the pipes once...?"
"I'm still not sure how a serpent the size of a tree manages that, but yes, she does. I think she'd tell me if Leona was following her, though."
"You'd think her paws might be wet, too." Moira inspected a paw. "Oh well."
"And we'd have cat hair coming out all the taps," Tom added solemnly.
"She doesn't shed that much." A pause. "Usually. Well, I should probably stop off to leave my books, and then where shall we go?"
Tom gave this due consideration. It was getting cold enough that the castle was more occupied during the day than in better weather, and he really didn't want to share her attention with anyone. So he smiled charmingly and suggested, "Aragog's room?" Rubeus had put Aragog's cupboard there because no one used it, and Rubeus himself was unlikely to be showing up any time soon.
Moira winced, but after a moment she said, "That would do, wouldn't it?"
"Well, it IS empty now. We can go somewhere else if you prefer."
"It would almost seem strange without him there," she said in a low voice. "I'm not sure where else to suggest, though."
"Meet you there in ten minutes, then?"
"I will. Don't leave if I'm late."
"I won't, but do you think you'll be very late?"
"Not likely. It might be a few minutes if anyone who's helping asks about the project, though."
"I'll wait, then, but don't encourage them!" He squeezed her hands and passed the rest of her books back to her.
Tom sighed and strolled off, trying to look casual instead of antsy as he drifted towards the appointed meeting place. He stopped a few times to exchange some words of greeting with classmates, and once to stop a first-year from running in the hallway. He still reached the old Potions workroom entirely too early and settled in for a long wait.
To his surprise, Moira was not only on time but rushed in looking as if she might be about to laugh, plopped down beside him, and slipped something small and rubbery down the back of his neck.
He yelped and jumped up, trying to fish out (or shake out) whatever it was. "Hey!"
Moira giggled helplessly as he managed to extract a black rubber spider. "S-sorry. Xavier's been transfiguring them from bits of fluff. I left Leona playing with one, and I was surprised they seemed to be cheering Rubeus up...."
"Weasley's been making them?" Tom examined the spider closely. "Not bad work. I suppose that pathetic cat of his runs scared from them."
"Turtle's hunting skills have improved dramatically," Moira replied, straight-faced. "I don't think he likes the taste, though."
"The trick, I believe, is to not actually eat them." Tom shrugged and tossed the spider aside. "I'm glad they're cheering up Rubeus, at least. He needs it." Tom snorted. "Probably dreaming of hatching lots of baby acromantulae."
"Er... Aragog is the only one just now, right?"
"I certainly hope so!" he replied fervently. "At least the only one I know about. But I wouldn't put it past him to decide Aragog needs a family. Hopefully he's learned his lesson now."
"I can't tell for sure. You know what Professor Dumbledore's making him write, I suppose?"
"Essays on all the hazard ratings, Untradable classes, and associated regulations, isn't it?"
"Mostly. Historical encounters and reasoning, too. The last essay I peeked at was about the original acromantula training efforts."
"That Dumbledore knows what he's about, that's for sure." There was just a hint of quiet respect in Tom's voice for the Gryffindor professor. "Assign him all the chores or even beatings you like and he wouldn't bat an eye. He likes the sort of thing they usually assign. But make him sit and write?" He chuckled softly. "Torture."
"Most of the time, yes. Rubeus was waxing very enthusiastic this time, however, about where they went wrong and how to fix it."
"...I know my brother well enough to know that's NOT a good sign. I just hope I can keep him from launching a training program until he's out of school."
"Look on the bright side. He does have to turn it in."
"There's enough Slytherin in him for that not to stop him."
"Yes, hiding strange creatures in the depths of the castle does seem to be a Slytherin trait, doesn't it?"
Tom grinned widely. "I told him that stupid Hat made a mistake."
"You were quite vehement about it, too."
"Yes, well...I was right."
"Mmm... we're still claiming him, sorry." She glanced up at him slyly. "Anyway, if he'd been in Slytherin he might not have introduced us."
"Which is the only reason I've forgiven him." Tom returned the smile and leaned over to kiss her.
He broke off, though, sooner than he would've liked, looking away a bit uncertainly. "By the way...Mum said if you'd like to come visit for a bit over Christmas, she'd love to meet you."
"Oh!" Moira's eyes widened slightly; then she turned pink and beamed. "I would like that. I'll have to ask, of course, but I'm sure I'll be allowed." A shy smile. "Might end up asking you over for a bit too, if...."
"I'd love to meet your family." The words came out with a slight squeak. He swallowed and managed a smile as he added, "As long as you promise to protect me from your crazy uncle."
Her mouth twitched. "I promise."
"I don't think there's anyone I need to protect you from in return. Mum and Uncle Tavish were thrilled." His mouth hitched up at one corner. "Of course, that might be because I wrote when they were still furious over Rubeus' letter home, so they were just happy I wasn't in
trouble. I could get away with asking anything then."
"Well, I hope I'm not objectionable when they're calmer. Dare I ask if you 'got away with asking anything' else?"
"...Oh, you know. The usual." But Tom shrugged and turned away from her. "Extended curfew and a new racing broom, of course."
When he glanced back, Moira's eyebrows had drawn together, but all she said was, "I got to try the latest Comet model over the summer. I thought the reworked steering charms were too sensitive and didn't like it much, but perhaps it would just take getting used to."
"Those new Cleansweeps look impressive, though. I heard England's using them for the next World Cup." His foot was twitching restlessly. He glared at it until it stopped.
"That's probably a good idea. I think Horton and Keitch are still feeling their way a bit; they have some brilliant ideas -- their Braking Charm is excellent -- but everything has to be experimental. Cleansweep sat on their latest major change until they were sure it would still be as stable as the old spells." She frowned slightly. "Are you all right?"
"Um-hmm." Moira put her foot on top of the one he'd just stopped from fidgeting.
He looked up at her and sighed. "I asked Mum a few questions, that's all. Things Sharessa wanted to know."
"And you didn't?"
"If I'd wanted to know, I would've asked her a long time ago. Sharessa wanted to know," he repeated firmly.
Tom was silent for a few more moments before saying, "She answered."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"I suppose." He sighed. "She told me about my -- about Tom Riddle. How they met, where they lived. Just a little, but...it was more than she'd ever said before."
"I suppose it must be an odd thing to talk about," Moira ventured softly after absorbing this in silence.
He shrugged. "I suppose. It's been more than sixteen years since she's talked about him, after all. Who would she talk to? He was a Muggle." He swallowed the bitterness in his throat. "Nobody knew him."
"No one else." Quietly. "Should I ask what she said?"
Tom blew out a breath. "Nothing. Everything. She didn't really SAY much. Just a bit about how they met." He managed a smile. "Turns out his parents didn't like her any more than hers liked him."
"Seems odd... but they wouldn't have known her either, would they?"
"They knew her more than her parents knew him. Her parents wouldn't even meet him because he was a Muggle. They didn't mind Muggles, of course, but they didn't want Mum marrying one." Tom sighed. "HIS parents just didn't like her because they didn't know her family. Makes you laugh, doesn't it? Two sets of snobs...just in different worlds."
"It's hard for me to imagine anyone not knowing your family, or knowing of it anyway. Even if there's no way they could have."
"Hard for me to imagine too. I wonder if they're still even alive..."
"Seems there must be some way you could find out, but I can't think what...."
He shrugged. "I know the name of the village they lived in. They don't seem the type to change much... they're probably still there."
"Well, if you want to find out...."
"I don't!" Tom protested immediately and forcefully. "They didn't want anything to do with me, I don't want anything to do with them. We talked about this already."
Moira shrugged. "You're the one who said you were wondering. I'd certainly hope you didn't mean to leave now."
"Just idle curiosity, that's all."
"All right then."
"They had their chance. They didn't want to know me." Tom's voice was very tight.
Moira leaned her head against his shoulder. "How very silly of them."
He snorted. "I've always thought so." He leaned his head against hers for a moment, then looked down and summoned a smile. "Who needs them anyway? I have Mum and Uncle Tavish and Rubeus. And you."
Moira's answering smile looked very kissable.
Tom found that indeed it was. And really, even for the scion of a Muggle without a clue and one of wizardry's oldest families, there were far worse ways to forget to worry about one's ancestors for a while.
Barb: Sorry for the torture, hope we didn't make you wait too long! As you can see, Dumbledore really was taking the situation seriously, even though the penalty wasn't as severe as it might have been.
Morag Camshron: Thank you, we try. *g* And it did seem that being Salazar's descendants might meet some... variable responses. Glad you liked it!
Adi: Do you really think we would let poor Rubeus be expelled? He *will* have to face the consequences of breaking the rules, but since no one was killed there's not quite the pressure to expel him. We hope you continue to be happy with Tom's wonderings -- we thought it was logical his thoughts would turn towards his birth father even (or especially) with a better home life in this universe.
Beck: As you can see, no expulsion! You're quite right about the difference with no student being killed. Aragog will be hanging around for quite a while to come, just not in the castle. Remember, it's only the *eggs* that are Untradable!