The Sugar Quill
Author: Persephone_Kore and Alan Sauer  Story: Unexpected Contact  Chapter: Chapter 2/5: Flaming Hair
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Unexpected Contact 2/?

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

Unexpected Contact
Time's Riddle series
by Alan Sauer
and Persephone
Chapter 2

*****

Tom hurried down the corridor toward the usual Gryffindor route to the Potions dungeon, after a brief and somewhat heartening conference with Peony at the midmorning break. It seemed only Malfoy and his immediate circle were taking the rumors about the Weasleys at all seriously -- Marcus Flint had even remarked that while the twins were as big a couple of smartarses as anyone was likely to meet, they were no more Dark than they were centaurs.

But he still wanted to catch Ginny before they actually got to class. Harry's remark about two different conversations had been weighing on his mind, and it had occurred to him that maybe Ginny thought he was trying to wiggle out of staying at the Burrow for the summer.

Tom found a spot next to one of the suits of armor and hunkered down to wait.

Most Gryffindors, while suitably punctual, did not hurry to Potions. Therefore when Ginny appeared walking quickly down the corridor, she was well ahead of any of her Housemates and thus caught alone in the ambush.

"Hey," Tom said, trying not to appear completely out of nowhere. "Since when are you in this much of a hurry to see Snape?"

"Tom!" She slowed down. "I was hoping to catch you, actually. I sent the owl off -- I gave the letter to a school owl; Errol's resting --"

"Great! I actually wanted to talk to you about that--something Harry said--" He fell into step next to her. "Look, you know it's not that I don't want to stay with your family this summer, don't you? And that I'm not mad you didn't owl your parents before now? I just don't want you getting in any more trouble because of me."

"I --" Ginny paused and shook her head. "Well... I wasn't quite sure which you'd rather do. But I'm upset about not having sent the owl; I wouldn't blame you if you were." She pushed her hair back and sighed. "I won't blame them if they are, either. I really did mean to do it sooner -- I couldn't quite figure out how to say it, but I should have just sat down and done it like this morning. Only... a few months ago."

"Well, it's a weird situation. But, I mean... as nice as it is to have a room at Sirius's house, this is the first summer Harry has with him. It'd be a lot more of an imposition staying there, really."

She smiled a bit and looked somewhat less flustered. "I doubt Harry would look at it that way, really, but... well, it isn't that I'd mind if you wanted to stay there instead, but I didn't want you to think I hadn't meant it...."

"That wasn't ever a question. Chalk it up to misunderstanding and interruption by acquitted felon?"

That got a laugh, rather to his satisfaction. "I still shouldn't have taken so long, especially since getting the Christmas plans settled would have been the perfect time, but all right. Thanks."

"What do you think your parents are likely to say?"

"That's... a good question right now. That's one thing -- it probably would have gone over better if it hadn't been sprung on them from somewhere else. It wouldn't be fair to hold that against you, though, so they'll probably just yell at me, and they didn't object about Christmas." She grinned. "And about having somebody stay at all, well, obviously there's precedent."

"With Harry, sure."

"I remember when I was really little Bill and Charlie had friends over for a few weeks sometimes too." Ginny coughed slightly and looked mischievous. "Of course, Mum did throw out one of Bill's girlfriends and made him sleep in the garden for a week one time...."

Tom snorted. "Good thing Harry's got a place of his own, then, huh?"

She turned pink under the freckles. "She likes Harry, and he doesn't try to tell her how to cook."

"Heh. From all I've heard, that'd be like...." They were nearing Snape's classroom now, and apparently Ginny wasn't the only Gryffindor in a hurry for Potions today. "Like trying to teach Colin how to develop photographs." Tom grinned. "Surprised you showed up at all today, Colin -- looking for an extra nap?"

Colin pulled a horrified face. "I wouldn't dare. Maybe you Slytherins can get away with not showing up or sleeping in Snape's class...."

Tom snorted. "You know very well he usually holds us to higher standards than anybody unless you're lucky enough to hack him off. I just meant you already know today's exercise back to front."

"He starts out hacked off at Gryffindors, but I was kidding you anyway," Colin replied cheerfully. "Mostly. And... well, yeah. I could make this one three times over during the class period if I used the shortcuts, but I think I'd better not."

Tom laughed. "Ah, but can you slow yourself down that easily? You wouldn't believe how many times I've done something and gotten blank looks from the rest of the class in Dark Arts. Professor Lupin is usually pretty pleased, but you lot really got cheated in that class last year."

Colin rolled his eyes. "Lockhart. I thought he was all right at first; then I found out all he did was tell stories, and without any practical details either." He shook his head. "I remember the usual instructions, though. Making it with the shortcuts will work for most things, but for really high-quality photos you want the slower version."

"Well, maybe we'll look over your shoulder then; I've never done this one before. 'Course, I am working with Ginny, and," he grinned as he aimed a sidelong glance her way, "there's precedent that Weasleys get up to some fairly advanced potions projects their second year."

Ginny buried her face in her hands. "You hush. Though I think the twins credit Snape and McGonagall both in the documentation for Canary Creams."

Colin blinked. "There's documentation?"

"They're planning to start a shop eventually."

Tom snickered again. "That's right, I'd forgotten about the twins. I'm sure Snape'd be overjoyed to see them giving proper credit, though."

"Somehow I can't quite see Snape approving...."

"You can't see me approving of what?"

"Just some rumors, Professor. Some of the fifth-year girls trying to brew love potion in the bathroom sinks, or something," Tom said frankly. It was true, even -- he'd heard two of the Slytherin girls in the common room giggling about Cedric Diggory, the Hufflepuff Seeker.

"I certainly do not," Snape said emphatically. He eyed Ginny severely. "Love potions are strictly prohibited at Hogwarts."

"That's just what Ginny said. I'd asked, since I couldn't believe the policy had changed since my first year."

"It has not. Although I have heard rumors about Miss Weasley's mother."

Tom raised an amused eyebrow at Ginny, who was failing to look shocked but at least did not look overtly like laughing, then turned back to Snape. "Well, I'm sure Mrs. Weasley made sure to warn Ginny, then. Today's lesson sounds fascinating, though -- I got a photo album as a gift earlier this year, and I've often wondered how it was done."

Colin was seen swallowing a comment, possibly, "You could have asked me!" -- but fortunately not by Snape, who thawed somewhat at Tom's expression of interest. "The development fluids are generally comparatively simple to make -- first-years should be able to handle them, though it seems that most cannot. I will warn you, however, that errors are likely to result in pyrotechnics."

"We'll be particularly careful, then, sir. I know I've seen enough of the hospital wing this term."

"You certainly have." Snape eyed Ginny severely. She looked meek. "Try to be moderately competent this time."

As they all filed into the classroom, Tom carefully gauged Snape's notorious earshot, and when the professor was busily assembling notes and demonstration materials at his desk, let out a breath. "That'll teach us to loiter in the doorway. I'm glad I ran into Gemma Pendleton and Valeria Smythe-Price coming back from the Quidditch pitch last night."

"Well, it shouldn't have been too bad -- he probably knows about the Canary Creams," Ginny replied softly. "They've given some out at meals."

"Yes, but you didn't need him glaring at you all period because he's mad at the twins."

"Well, no. Nice thinking." She shot Snape a glance to make sure he wasn't glaring at the moment before she gave Tom a quick grin. "Should I ask who they're after?"

Tom rolled his eyes. "Oh, Cedric Diggory, of course. Who else? I doubt they've got a chance, though; I hear love potions are tricky -- you can't always tell when you've gotten them wrong, and they can have nasty side-effects."

Colin blinked. "They fancy the Hufflepuff seeker?"

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong with that?"

"Aside from the love potions? It's... surprising."

Ginny shrugged. "Well. He is very good-looking."

Colin stared at her, scandalized. "I thought you liked Harry!"

Ginny's cheeks turned pink again. "Don't make me blush in front of Snape," she muttered.

Tom raised an eyebrow at Ginny and grinned wickedly. "That reminds me.... What does Ron think?"

"That if it went wrong he wouldn't know whom to kill. I just said...."

"All right, all right, I'll stop... unless you want me to see if I can grab Gemma and Valeria's notes, that is...."

Ginny gritted her teeth and tried with no success whatsoever to stop blushing. This made it difficult to pretend nonchalance. "No, thank you."

Tom snickered. "Well, you know where I am if you change your mind." He traded conspiratorial grins with Colin behind her back, then turned to regard the blackboard as the rest of the class arrived and Snape proceeded to begin the lecture.

Ginny's attentiveness was much improved over the first few weeks, despite the fact that once her blushes cooled she took on a thoughtful look that made Tom wonder if she was considering when there would be ingredients suitable for tossing at him or Colin. This wasn't a good day for it.

Snape went over the procedure, warned them sternly of the likelihood of pyrotechnics should they err, and then eyed Ginny and Tom for a long moment.

Tom made a point of having the materials and utensils laid out in an organized fashion, since Snape had apparently decided to breathe down their necks from across the room. He began to set the ingredients out in order of addition, then remembered that quicksilver and flobberworm skin occasionally self-combusted if stored too close together, and instead put them in two lines, on either side of the cauldron, well away from the flame.

Hopefully the professor would be appeased by this show of... well, he couldn't help but call it fussiness in his own head, but they'd been walking thin since the Laughter Potion incident.

Ginny mixed the base -- infusion of snapdragon blossoms in alcohol (probably responsible for much of the flammability) and silver salts -- and stole a cautious glance at Snape just as he was distracted by another group who were apparently on the verge of an explosion already. She breathed a bit more easily and glanced at Colin, who was working with a speed and enthusiasm that had his partner looking bemused and a bit alarmed.

Tom glanced over Colin's way, then muttered to Ginny, "Well, that's one person who won't be making fun of Colin for dragging his camera around everywhere."

She grinned a bit. "You should have heard him going on when he found out you could develop wizard photos from Muggle film if you used the right development potions."

"What'd he do, disappear into a spare potions lab and not come out until he had a gallon of the stuff?"

"He did disappear. I'm just not entirely sure to where. I'm not sure whether he got help or just used the books, either -- though I can't imagine Snape helping him with it!"

"Well, he did just say most first years don't seem to be able to handle them." He winced at a sudden flash and roar from the other side of the classroom, but managed to keep his hands steady as he stirred. "And some second-years."

Ginny shrugged, checked the instructions, and carefully added the quicksilver in small droplets. "I still can't imagine Snape helping a Gryffindor first-year with a potion for hobby purposes."

"Probably not, no. He might've had to get permission to try, though, especially if he used one of the labs."

"He brews it in his dorm room now," Ginny replied, after checking to be sure Snape was on the other side of the room. "He has a nice little fire in a jar -- I think Hermione taught him."

"I thought your brother the Head Boy was a stickler about stuff like that."

"He is. So don't tell him."

Tom laughed. "Right, I'll make sure not to bring up the subject the next time we sit down to tea."

Ginny grinned and hushed him. A few minutes later, while they were still carefully stirring in shreds of flobberworm skin, Colin leaned back and Snape almost immediately swooped down on him.

"The great photographer slacking off already, Creevey? Do you find my class... boring?" This last was delivered in a tone that promised remedies for boredom.

"No, sir. We've just finished."

"We, indeed." A thin-lipped smile spread across Snape's face as he regarded Colin's partner. "Perhaps you would like to repeat the experiment, since you're so obviously expert at it. Perhaps you can supervise your partner, this time, rather than doing all the work yourself."

"We both worked on it, sir," Colin said politely but firmly, "but may we have more quicksilver, or should we make a smaller batch this time?" Most of the ingredients had been available in at least double portions, but they were expected to be more careful with quicksilver, as it was both hazardous and expensive.

"Third shelf from the top in the second cabinet by the wall," Snape said shortly and went to defuse another near-explosion.

"Thank you," Colin said to the professor's back, just in case he was still listening, and went to fetch more quicksilver.

He was on his way back when another pair tried to add their quicksilver and flobberworm skin at the same time and directly behind Ginny. Snape spun around just as flame billowed out of the cauldron.

Tom ducked out of the way instinctively, but Ginny, on the wrong side of the cauldron, wasn't so lucky -- and when Tom straightened back up, he saw at once that this time "flame-haired" wasn't just a metaphor. "Fluvio!" he shouted, and water shot out of his wand to drench her head.

Ginny had just had time to feel the heat and remind herself firmly not to run or move too swiftly. As she reached the step of thinking how to put it out, she was abruptly doused in cold water. Oh. Yes. That should take care of it, she thought with a sort of shocked relief. I think I won't throw anything at him for the love-potion comment after all.

"Finite Incantatem! Ginny, are you all right?" Tom winced as the stream of water disappeared and Ginny's head came back into clear view. "Oh -- damn, your hair... are you hurt?"

"Mostly startled. A bit singed. Thank you." She felt gingerly at her upper back. Her neck felt a bit tender, but not much worse than a sunburn....

"Sorry about the hosedown, I kind of panicked." Tom winced at a few choice phrases from Snape's diatribe at the luckless pair who'd ignited her. "You went up like a torch... are you sure you're all right?"

"You were very quick."

"All right then. I think I've ruined our potion, though." The cauldron was, indeed, brimming, but showed no sign of exploding, or indeed of doing anything else.

Ginny looked at it ruefully. "Well, it's very diluted, at least, but I think I prefer it to the burns." She grinned wryly at him. "Although I suspect you could reassure me that Madam Pomfrey could fix them right up."

"Madam Pomfrey could fix those right up," Tom said obediently, returning her grin. "I suppose you really are all right then."

"Yes. Thanks again." She sighed and poked cautiously at the potion with a spoon, wondering whether it would be safer to ask Colin or Snape what it was likely to do now it had been watered. Colin would be nicer, but Snape probably wouldn't approve of asking another student....

Snape had, in fact, finished dressing down the other two students, and now turned around to regard Ginny, Tom, and the large puddle spreading across the dungeon floor. "Fifty points to Slytherin for quick action, Mr. Riddle. Well done. Miss Weasley, your injuries do not appear to be serious, but you may be excused to visit the hospital wing if you feel it necessary... and I would advise a haircut as soon as possible. In either case, dump out your cauldron and start again." He turned to regard the rest of the class. "This is precisely why I instructed you to be careful, children. Were it not for Mr. Riddle's reflexes, one of your fellow students could have been severely injured, all because of a moment's carelessness. Any more accidents of that kind will result in detention."

Ginny pulled out her own wand to mutter a drying charm at the floor so no one would slip on the puddle, then went to collect new ingredients -- since all their leftovers were soaked -- while Tom disposed of the mess. Colin poured the quicksilver and asked again if she was all right; she repeated that she was and gave the pair who had ignited her a quick reassuring smile behind Snape's back as she returned.

They were both Slytherins. Apparently her reaction confused them badly.

Tom chuckled as Ginny came back with the ingredients and he wiped the last of the wet flobberworm skin off his dragon-hide gloves. "Wouldn't be surprised if they think you're plotting some baroque revenge," he whispered. "I'll see what I can do after class."

"I was trying to be nice," she protested. "...Even if I'm half surprised he bothered to scold them."

"That's just it, I doubt they've had nice from Gryffindors before. And Snape's not that unfair -- he's right, you could've been really badly burned. You're missing about half your hair as it is."

"I noticed that." Ginny smiled faintly again. "I think it must have been the shock -- I nearly started giggling when he suggested a haircut. I don't think I want to know how that would have gone over."

Tom snickered. "Probably not well." He blinked abruptly. "Ah... as a favor, when you tell your brothers, since I may be living with them for two months...."

"Don't worry. I'll make it perfectly clear that your part was purely extinguishing."

"Thank you. I wouldn't ask, only I've seen how protective they can be and there's an awful lot of them."

"And that's just the ones here." Ginny grinned. "I wouldn't have let them think you'd done it anyway, though."

"Well, I know, but they might run off to pound me before you got to that bit. And the twins are Beaters, so they're probably awfully good at pounding off the pitch too."

"They're also devious," Ginny reminded him cheerfully. "I don't think any of them are expecting you to set me on fire, though."

"Well, I hope not. In public, in class, when I'm working with you? That's much too direct. Beneath me." Tom grinned. "Also I try not to set my friends on fire in any case. Not exactly conducive to continued friendship."

Ginny winced slightly. "Although for some reason it doesn't seem to prevent you from starting one."

"Ah. Yeah. Can you believe, I'd practically forgotten? Besides, that was an accident."

"Yes... though I'm slightly worried that I found it more memorable than you did...."

"If it's any consolation, I'm never going to forget getting allergies through two different noses."

Ginny blushed. "That was a very odd effect." She looked up, mouth quirking slightly in a suppressed smile, and offered, "At least it was before the chameleon ate your handkerchief."

"Can't argue that one. Of course, since that was when you stopped spilling things altogether, it couldn't really have been after."

Snape paused during a circuit of the classroom to inform them sternly, "If a chameleon is relevant somehow to the task at hand, you have done something dramatically wrong."

"Sorry, Professor. Just making conversation while we wait for the mixture to heat properly."

"Try not to let it ruin your concentration." Snape moved to check the potion Colin was "supervising" and passing ingredients for. He looked faintly disappointed that it was well under way and showed no signs of imminent disaster.

"So much for being the hero," Tom muttered with a grin when Snape had progressed to the other side of the room. "Ah well, I'll take the fifty points; I believe they put us in the lead for the moment."

Ginny stuck out her tongue at him before grinning back. "I can't exactly complain under the circumstances, can I? We'll get them back though."

"I wouldn't count on it right away -- don't the twins have Potions this afternoon?"

"I didn't say we'd get it back in here. I'm confident, not insane."

"Ginny 'Acromantula-Tamer' Weasley might want to reconsider that last bit."

"That was a completely sensible decision given the circumstances."

"There is nothing sensible about climbing aboard a giant man-eating sentient spider with poisonous hair. But I'll grant you didn't have many other options."

"It was sensible by comparison to dying," Ginny suggested.

Tom couldn't help but agree. "Well, yeah. Pass the shredded flobberworm skin, please."

Ginny handed it to him, keeping it well away from the remaining quicksilver, and thankfully, the rest of the class passed without incident.

*****

//
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