Unexpected Contact 1/5
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan-fiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor material profit is intended.
Authors' note: We're back! It was somewhat startling to realize we hadn't updated since June. Sorry about that. So, having finished posting the Christmas story in June, we are posting one about preparations for the following summer at the end of November.
Additional author's note (this one just from PK): I messed up -- as half a dozen of you were kind enough to alert me about -- and uploaded a chapter from a different series. I just got back from a trip for lab this week, and couldn't fix this until I got back to a computer where I had the correct file. Those of you who thought the other story looked good, if rather out of place, are warmly invited to go over to the author page for Andrea13 and Persephone_Kore, where you can find the Stepbrothers series (to which that chapter belonged) and the unrelated Founderfic Moon and Stone. Thank you for your patience.
by Alan Sauer
It was early February and breakfast, as usual, was accompanied by a flurry of owls. Harry for once was seated where he could spot the Weasleys' aging owl Errol on his way through the window, which allowed him to use his Seeker skills (minus the broomstick) to intercept the exhausted bird before he could land in the orange juice. Harry set Errol carefully on the table, poured him a small glass of juice just in case he liked it, and flipped the envelope over. "Ginny? Letter for you."
Ginny reached over to give Errol an absent pat as Harry passed her the letter. He had just gone back to his own food and was chewing a mouthful of bacon when Ginny's own glass hit the table with a thump and nearly spilled. He looked up in surprise; her eyes were moving rapidly and the hand that had been holding her juice was curled into a fist.
"Ginny?" Ron sounded anxious. "What's the matter? You've gone all pale...." He reached for the letter.
Ginny slowly relinquished the letter "The gist of it," she said in an odd, thin tone, "is along the lines of, 'Ginny, why does the morning paper say You-Know-Who is going to be hiding out at our house over the summer?'"
Ron stared at her. Hermione looked up from her breakfast and did the same.
Harry blinked and ventured, "I suppose it's somebody being stupid about Tom, but is he staying with you?" It seemed as if someone might have mentioned the plan to him, in that case.
"There was one day in the library," Ginny said in a low voice, "before the holidays, when he mentioned not knowing yet what he'd do over the summer. I said I'd ask Mum and Dad." She bit her lip and added guiltily, "I haven't asked yet -- I wasn't sure what to write -- but I do mean to. I don't see how the paper would have known about that, though."
"They have been rather interested in Tom," Hermione remarked, paying the owl for her copy of the Daily Prophet and frowning into it. "Still, I don't see what they'd be doing in the Hogwarts library."
It was probably a measure of the worry and indignation over the article that Ron was trying to read over her shoulder and passed up the opportunity to comment on Hermione not seeing what somebody would be doing in the library.
Harry shook his head and turned to look over at the Slytherin table. "No idea." Tom could always stay with him and Sirius now, of course. If he wanted to. But Harry had been rather hoping to visit the Burrow at least a time or two himself, and at any rate it would be much better if Mr. and Mrs. Weasley liked Tom. He hoped the phrasing had just been taken from the article.
"Pity about your summer plans, Riddle." Draco Malfoy was feeding one of his family's eagle owls and smiling over both the paper and what appeared to be a letter from home. "My father tells me there are people questioning Weasley's... sympathies now. Imagine, hosting the Dark Lord in his own home."
"Sounds very unhygienic to me," Tom said as evenly as he could. "Voldemort's dead."
"They call it the Burrow and everyone knows about their pet rat now. Hygiene can't matter too much to them." A sneer. "I'm sure Father would have invited you to stay with us, but I don't know about that after you've expressed a preference for their little hole. As if associating yourself with Potter hadn't been bad enough...."
"And here I heard you tried to once or twice," Tom said pleasantly. He wanted to say something in defence of the Weasleys, but the trouble was, he didn't actually know if he was staying there or not, and he didn't want to say anything he couldn't back up.
Besides, pale cheeks had gone almost fever-red just at that. "Heroes don't always stay heroes, Riddle," Malfoy spat.
"And prats don't always stay prats, so there's still hope for you, but at the moment, he and Ginny both have better manners."
Malfoy flushed angrily. "I'm sure you'd know all about her manners, all that time alone. Some would have credited you with better taste, but as they say beggars can't be choosers."
"Oh," Peony piped up softly and in utterly innocent tones, "they've been inviting me along."
A victim of his own innuendo, Malfoy choked on his toast.
Tom reminded himself to look into expanding the study group again -- since their first attempt had been foiled by Sirius Black's arrival, they hadn't really made the effort -- and shot Peony a grateful smile while their housemate was still spluttering. "Nice one," he whispered. "I think we need to talk, though. Sooner would be better. The break at mid-morning...?"
"I'll catch you -- can you make it quick though? Too much noise to concentrate in the dorm last night, I have an assignment to finish."
"Yeah, it shouldn't take long. Could use your perspective on..." Tom grimaced. "Damage control."
Peony shrugged helplessly. "I didn't talk to anyone," she added almost inaudibly.
"No, I know you didn't. I just think... this might be bad, it's just the wrong kind of public attention, and we should stick together."
"Nobody mentioned me," she pointed out.
"I... I know. I guess, if you don't want to be any more involved, it's your choice. Sorry for assuming."
"It's okay. I'll be there." Peony grinned, suddenly impish again. "Just wanted to point that out." Then she shook her head. "Honestly, the Weasleys, Death Eaters? Anybody who takes that seriously will be laughed out of the country for an idiot."
"I hope you're right." He wasn't as sure, but Peony might know better. Even so, he wished he thought the idea of conflating him and Voldemort were as likely to be seen as laughable.
"Wait and see." She eyed Malfoy, who seemed to be able to breathe but was still coughing too frequently to speak, warily. "I'd better go though. I want to get some work done."
"All right. See you later."
Peony made her escape. Tom waited until Malfoy's wheezing began to sound as if he might be about to speak, then remarked blandly, "I'm still a little disturbed that Potions and Care of Magical Creatures bring romance to mind for you, but I suppose the state of your love life really isn't any of my business."
He looked up and toward the Gryffindor table sharply as a long hiss from Harry crawled beneath the other students' voices. "Can you come over here?"
Tom tossed one last mocking grin in Malfoy's direction and made his way over to the Gryffindor table before the older boy regained his composure. "You lot saw the Prophet too?" he murmured as he came within close earshot of the little knot of Harry, Hermione, and the younger Weasleys.
"Hermione's reading hers now." Harry gestured. Hermione waved without actually looking up from the page. "Ginny, ah, got a letter from home."
Tom winced and shot Ginny a concerned look. "Is everything all right? Your dad isn't going to lose his job or anything, is he?"
Ginny, who had been folding, unfolding, refolding, and possibly mutilating the letter in question, flattened it out agitatedly and looked mortified. "Not that I know of -- they saw the article, though, and they asked.... Well, I hadn't written to ask them about having you stay yet, so they were puzzled. I really meant to before now; I'm sorry -- I'll have to right away now of course...."
"Oh." He shrugged. "If it's going to be a problem, you don't have to, I could stay with Harry -- I mean, if it'd keep you out of trouble with your mum and dad."
She looked, if anything, more distressed at this. "Well, at the very least I have to explain. And I did mean to ask; I shouldn't have waited this long in the first place."
"It's okay," he said hastily. "I don't want to be any trouble."
"You aren't; it's my fault. I ought to have taken care of this already! It shouldn't be a problem, anyway -- if they thought anything was wrong they would have had me home for the Christmas holiday."
"What I want to know is how this--" Tom checked the paper in his hand. "How this Rita Skeeter person found out about it. And why she's bringing it up now. I mean, it's been weeks and weeks."
"Her!" Ginny gasped, suddenly all indignation. "They didn't say that -- I suppose I should have known it would be her; she's never written a good word about Dad, or not one she meant that way." She paused and frowned. "I don't see how she could have known either, though."
"Peony --?" Ron began.
"She wouldn't," Tom said quellingly. "And she said anybody who suggested Weasleys as Death Eaters would be laughed out of the country."
"Maybe Skeeter hid under the library carpet. I always knew she was low," Ginny muttered.
"Not a reliable news source, then?"
"She's very good at making people she dislikes look bad."
"If she doesn't care for your father's politics," Hermione said from behind her paper, "which certainly does look to be the case, I suppose that would explain why she decided to bring it up now in particular. It looks as if he's been very busy lately."
Tom grinned, flopping down in an empty chair. "Happy Christmas, Ministry of Magic, thoughtfully yours T.M. Riddle. I didn't think that was his department really, though."
"Oh, is that what they're using?" Hermione looked at him over the top of the paper. "I wouldn't have thought so either."
"Well, Bill says he and Mum helped Dumbledore a lot during the war," Ron said, "and there's probably enchanted Muggle stuff in what they're going after. Dad's not, you know, really important, but he is head of his department and people do listen to him."
"I just wouldn't have thought banking records and Misuse of Muggle Artifacts were very directly connected," Hermione replied with dignity. "Unless possibly they were Muggle banking records, which they aren't."
"Part of what I didn't keep was artifact storage," Tom said. "I didn't ask what was in it."
"Oh. ...In that case, I do see."
Ginny winced; Tom rather thought she saw all too well, considering that both the picture and the diary had probably qualified as Misuse. "Well, he probably appreciates all that," she said firmly, "so that should help."
"If he knows it was me that sent them." Tom frowned. "I just sort of had the books sent, I didn't take them over myself or anything."
"Who else would've been able to get the goblins to send them?" Ginny asked practically. "I suppose I could mention it, too." She tilted her head back to look at the ceiling, then jumped up. "I should just have time to write before lessons start if I hurry."
"I'm meeting Peony midmorning to try and short-circuit the rumor mill. Hope you don't get in too much trouble, Ginny."
"I really am sorry." Ginny hurried out of the Great Hall with Errol under one arm.
Harry watched her go, then turned to Tom and said solemnly, "I'm not sure you two were having the same conversation."
Andrea: Thanks! That was Alan's line, and seemed a very appropriate summation of Gnashtalon's effect. No, we can't say we're very surprised that you love Tom. :) We do too. And it seemed reasonable that there would be at least some of it he could keep with a relatively clear conscience. ...The Madhouse would definitely be an interesting place to visit. Very different from Grimmauld Place, isn't it, but just as weird.
Donna Breeding: We're glad you like it! The imagination, sometimes, seems to come with practice. And discussing it with people. "Who We Are" was going to be a standalone, once upon a time, and now it... um, isn't.
Ozma: Well, we've finally started posting the next one here. Tom's joy was very warming to write, especially considering we give him a hard time in some of the other stories. And Sirius needed some joy, too, and has time for it in the AU. *firm nod* As for Pigwidgeon, well, he was too cute to leave out. :) Thank you so much for pointing out that line -- it was one of Tom's key decisions for this story, along with deciding to be as honest as possible with Gnashtalon. Of course, defining himself as himself -- and not just as 'not Voldemort' -- may sometimes be a struggle, but then, 'not Voldemort' covers an awful lot of possibilities, and Tom is definitely looking for a good one.
To MrRobertsIII: Thanks for telling us your favorite parts--it's an interesting question, we think, why exactly Voldemort offered to spare Muggleborn Lily when he killed pureblood James out of hand, and that might be one of the reasons. And Sirius's first Christmas away from Azkaban is, we thought, a good reason for him to be a little overexcited. We hope the other characters understood and didn't strangle him too much for getting them up early. :)
To HeatherK: "The Application" was entirely PK's--but it's neat, isn't it? Thanks for telling us what your favorite parts were--those were some of ours as well. :) Here, at last, is the next installment, and we're very sorry for the wait; hope it continues to entertain.
To Myster web: I think that as long as the tree topper didn't smell like rolls, it was safe from the boa. :) Glad you're still enjoying the stories.
To Tasogare no Hime: I think they'd have to do something about the portrait, though. :) I don't think we've quite decided what Sirius is going to do with Grimmauld Place--we wrote the vast majority of these stories before we knew it existed--but that's definitely an interesting suggestion. And we're glad you enjoy the stories. :)