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

Swamprat

Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, with some inspiration from George Lucas and Star Wars. No undue nor any material profit is expected or intended.

Swamprat
by Andrea13 and Persephone_Kore

"Why do Dark wizards always have to live in the most inconvenient places?"

There was no answer but the droning of flies, but Godric Gryffindor hadn't really expected a reply. He'd come alone to this -- he grimaced as his foot landed in a mucky puddle rather than the somewhat firm ground he'd been aiming for -- exceptionally disgusting swamp, and whomever he met here was not likely to be up to casual chit-chat.

This swamp was the home of a wizard known only as the Serpent-tongue, a Parselmouth who'd started the habit of entertaining Dark (or at least shadowy) wizards. The villages nearby weren't very fond of this particular little habit, and Godric had heard more than one drunken plan of clearing out the swamp once and for all.

...Which had somehow led to Godric stumbling through the marsh, determined to find this Serpent-tongue. If he was a Dark wizard, a fellow wizard would have a better chance of dealing with him than drunken Muggle villagers. And if he wasn't, the poor fellow deserved to be warned.

He muttered a brief but scorching oath as he tripped over some half-buried branch and wound up sprawled in the muck. "I hate this bloody place!"

"That's not very nice," a new voice spoke up chidingly. "How'd you like to be tripped on and cursed at, hmm?"

Godric spent a mildly worried moment ascertaining that the speaker was not the branch or anything attached to it but instead a red-haired man crouched on a nearby hummock with his face screwed up into a decidedly bizarre expression. "Not very well, I suppose," Godric said, picking himself up and charming the mud off his robes as best he could. A thoughtful look at the stranger had led him to conclude he'd just found a wizard, though certainly not one who appeared likely to go by anything so sinister or supercilious as "Serpent-tongue." "Puck," maybe -- though the absurd could also be dangerous.

It wasn't the clothes -- the robes that signified a wizard who meant to be recognized as such were, as Godric was being forcibly reminded, not that practical for this kind of terrain. It was the midges. Or rather the lack of them. Godric had had to charm them away from himself less than half a league in, and he doubted they were avoiding the redhead without magical encouragement. "But then, if I sprawled about where they were trying to walk, I shouldn't have much room to complain."

"You'd be complaining if someone decided to take a walk through the middle of where you were taking a nice nap," the redhead suggested. "And telling the nasty person to go walk somewhere else."

"Quite possibly, but this doesn't strike me as a sleeping swamp." Godric shook himself slightly. That sounded dangerously close to nonsense. "Then again, I don't live here, and you certainly look to be more familiar with it than I."

"Sleeping swamp! Everything sleeps sometime." The redhead sounded as if the statement was completely obvious. "No one knows the Sleeping Swamp better than old Sal."

"Would that be you, then?" Godric asked politely. "I'm Godric Gryffindor."

For some reason, this made the other wizard laugh hysterically. "When did griffins get doors? Why would they need one?"

Godric stared at him for a moment, then reminded himself sternly that he was a stranger and should be courteous. "You'd be amazed what you find in a nest sometimes."

"Why are you in a Sleeping Swamp instead of your nest, then, Griffin-door?"

Groaning would not be polite. "I kept hearing tales of a wizard called the Serpent-tongue. I thought perhaps I'd pay him a visit."

"No one visits the Serpent-tongue unless they're seeking trouble. For him or for themselves."

Now that actually sounded as if it made sense, for a reputed dark wizard. "I'm not seeking trouble." He might be walking into it, but he was seeking to keep the total amount of it down. "Maybe I'll make a nice change."

"Oooh, what do you change into?" Sal hopped up from his perch and moved agilely through the swamp to examine Godric with interest. "A phoenix? A dragon? A flobberworm?"

Godric suppressed a sigh. "Not what I meant."

"Then you should say what you mean!" Sal shook his head with a deep frown. "I don't know why you'd want the Serpent-tongue. He doesn't like fools."

~Oh, you two don't get on?~ Godric thought. "Do you know him well, then?" he asked mildly.

"Well, well, dig a well. I know him."

"Ever visit?"

"Serpents have me over for tea!"

So much for halfway sensible conversation. "Serpents have tea and you worry about griffins with doors?" Oh, no, now he was doing it.

"YOU asked about the Serpent-tongue. If you don't want to know, don't ask." Sal began walking away, weaving an elaborate path. Godric wasn't sure if it was a safe way through the swamp or if the man was dancing with fairies.

"I'll try to avoid it from now on," he muttered under his breath.

Sal danced a few more feet away, then turned back around and said impatiently, "WELL?"

"Well, what?" Godric replied a little snappishly.

"Don't you want to see the Serpent-tongue?"

"Yes, and?"

"You think you can find him yourself?"

"I can look."

"No one finds the Serpent-tongue but those who know where he is."

"Well, once they found him, naturally they'd know, wouldn't they?"

And that had started Sal cackling again. Godric's suppressed sigh escaped this time.

"Did you spring a leak, silly wizard?" Sal was grinning like a loon and hopping about like a small child. "Come, come, I'll show you to him!"

Godric considered this. Well, it was beginning to get dark, and if this odd man did take him to the Serpent-tongue it would save some time, and if he didn't... Godric made up his mind to keep on the alert for a trap, but he supposed a wild goose chase didn't reduce his chances that much from blundering about on his own. "Thank you, then."

"Come on, come on. The Serpent-tongue isn't patient!"

"I wasn't aware I was keeping him waiting."

"He knows what happens in his swamp!"

"Well, if he's so hard to find, I can't imagine he'd expect people to reach him very quickly." But Godric did start across the stretch of mud between them.

"Hard to get to him if you don't get started, Griffin-door!" Sal's voice was sing-song. "Pick up your feet."

Godric sighed and started to step over a tangle of dead branches, which snapped unexpectedly upward as if they'd just come to life. He managed to get past them with a rather undignified hop, snagged robes, and a few new scratches, then turned to glare at them suspiciously as they stilled. Well, he didn't think anything had actually bitten him. Maybe he'd just caught the hem of his robes and pulled the tangle up.

Sal looked back at him and snickered. "Watch your step, Griffin-door. Maybe you need griffin-wings instead?"

Godric ground his teeth and caught up with his irritating guide, spine rigid. "They'll share sometimes, if one's polite enough."

"You're good at that." Sal turned his head to grin at the other wizard. "Being polite and stiff and boring."

Godric returned the gaze without a smile or blink. "I try."

"Now you look more like a basilisk than a griffin."

Godric turned away to look ahead again; he was going to have to blink eventually and might as well. "Spent much time with either?"

"Serpents have me for tea," Sal repeated, as if he were talking to a very small child. "But kings of serpents are as choosy about their company as kings of men."

"I don't blame them in the least," Godric muttered.

"They say the Serpent-tongue is as choosy in his company as kings. Why seek him out?"

"People say all sorts of things. I'd like to see if some of them are true."

"He speaks with the snakes. Maybe he'll tell them to gobble you up!" One of the branches hanging down in front of Godric's face suddenly turned into an absurdly colored serpent that hissed at him and nibbled at his hair.

Godric grimaced at it and ducked aside; if it had been a really malevolent spell, it would probably have gone for the eyes. He did feel a faint crackle of magic that turned out to be turning his hair to match the snake, though, and it took him a little effort to find the counter. "Very funny," he said sourly.

"What kind of wizard-hunter can't even avoid a little snakey?" Sal held out a hand and the snake slithered across the ground to slide up the wizard's arm, turning the sleeve as bright-colored as both the snake and Godric's hair before the snake became brown and stiff as a branch again.

"Seeker. Not a hunter."

"Hard to be a Dark wizard with hair that glows so bright!"

Godric involuntarily pictured several of the Dark wizards he'd previously encountered with lurid pink hair and almost smiled -- but his own was still that color, and he turned his mind back to that and returned his hair to normal with an irritated effort.

"Bah. A stick, you are. In hair and spirit." Sal stuck his tongue out at Godric and cavorted away through the swamp.

Godric stalked after him, and as they walked Sal casually grabbed a twisting stem of bindweed from where it had climbed halfway up a tree. More of it came away from the ground with the pulling, and Godric was half expecting it and managed to dodge when Sal let it go to spring irritably back into a mess of curls.

It wasn't the last "mishap" of their trek, though, and by the time they approached a long, low hill with a cottage at the top of it, Godric had been lightly hexed more than once and was well beyond suspicious about the markedly increased incidence of his "accidentally" tripping, getting splattered with mud, having slimy things slide off trees onto him, and on one occasion being yanked upside down by what Sal merrily proclaimed to be one of the Serpent-tongue's traps. And the cottage, when Sal threw the door open, proved to be small, cozy, and unoccupied.

Godric's patience was at an end. "I take it," he said dryly, "that he isn't at home."

"Of course he's at home. This is my home." Sal bounded inside. "Too late to go anywhere else. You'll have dinner with me and stay here tonight, if you want to see him."

"I thought," Godric grated, "that you said he'd be impatient."

"Patience is one thing, dinner is another. Never mix them up, or you'll be hungry."

"I don't think they're what's mixed up here." Godric ignored Sal's attempt to wave him into a seat. "I... appreciate the invitation to dinner, but I do mean to find him."

"He'll still be where he is now in the morning. You'll not find him stirring outdoors NOW." Sal was bumbling merrily through the cupboards. "If you want to stand like a lump, be a useful lump and dish up the stew."

A pair of wooden bowls flew through the air and clattered onto the table; Godric took them up and went over to the fire, where what looked quite like a brewing-cauldron was giving off more pleasant odors than such things usually did. "Is the swamp so dangerous at night, then?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder and noting that Sal was looking away before he surreptitiously took out his wand. He wasn't sure what this jester might have done to the stew -- but he detected no spells on it and no poison, so he ladled both bowls full.

"Only dangerous to fools who don't know what they're doing." Salazar emerged from the cupboards. A wave of his wand cleared off the only table, which Salazar then wiped off with a squirrel tail. The squirrel looked rather disconcerted by this.

"And what of those who are only one or the other?" Godric raised his eyebrows as Sal released the squirrel to scurry for the door and dived into a cupboard again. Godric turned back to the cauldron and set the ladle down. Sal didn't appear to be paying much attention, and after the fun he'd had on the walk, Godric didn't think a little payback would be amiss. Nothing too bad -- Sal hadn't actually harmed him, and offering a meal and a place to sleep was hospitable enough even if (unastoundingly) it wasn't guidance to the lair of the Serpent-tongue -- but before Godric put his wand away, there was a spell on the stew in one bowl.

"If you know what you're doing, you're not a fool, are you?" Sal frowned at his kitchen for a moment, then picked up a bucket and pulled out a shoe. He muttered, tossed the shoe over one shoulder (almost hitting Godric), and reached in again to pull out a large loaf of bread. He set this down on the table between the bowls, then took his seat and tore off a hunk of bread to sop up some of the stew. "Eat!"

Godric reached to tear off a good-sized chunk of bread for himself -- the shoe didn't look too clean, but he'd eaten worse -- and began blithely eating the stew as if he hadn't a care in the world. Sal had gotten so far as a third bite when the hex caught up with him...and he promptly found the bowl out of his reach as he shot up into the air, bouncing off the ceiling gently.

"Wha--" Sal spun around in mid-air to stare at the ceiling that was now mere inches from his nose, then did a measure somersault to peer upside-down at his guest, who was still eating. After a moment of silence but for the steady munching of stew and bread, Sal broke it with roaring laughter. "So there's fire in you yet, Master Gryffindor!"

Godric glanced up at him. "And some flightiness in you, my host."

"More than a little, to your mind." Sal kicked off the ceiling and grabbed the back of his chair for anchoring. Then...he opened his mouth, but instead of words, the hissing of a serpent issued forth, and the spell ended, leaving Sal standing on his feet by the chair.

Godric put down his bread slowly, the hair rising on the back of his neck. "So that's how it is."

"Well, I did tell you you wouldn't find the Serpent-tongue by going outside now."

"So you did, and I suppose I was keeping you waiting after all." Godric allowed himself to relax slightly; Sal seemed more pleased than angry about the joke, and hissing a little hardly changed that.

"I thought you'd give up after the first few brambles. Most of the stolid, upright sorts who come to rid the swamp of the wicked Parselmouth can't put up with embarassing themselves by falling over, even in front of an idiot."

"If you get a lot of those, I suppose it's no wonder you choose to act the fool."

"Half those and half Dark wizards seeking to 'recruit' me." Sal smiled bitterly and added, "By which I mean, seeking to steal whatever of my powers they could while insuring I wouldn't be a rival." He shrugged and sat down, pulling out his wand to wave it over the stew before taking another bite.

"I did hear a fair amount regarding your having unsavory company on a regular basis. Do the Dark wizards deal any better with the brambles?" He couldn't see it, himself.

"They're used to pushing their way through painful situations, but they can't stand being laughed at with pink hair."

People seeking trouble for him or themselves. Godric's anger at the pranking and pratfalls was ebbing rapidly with the descriptions of the visitors Sal usually got, though he wondered how many not "seeking trouble for him or themselves" had been run off with wounded dignity. And it wasn't yet certain that Sal wasn't a Dark wizard himself, although it did seem unlikely. Between the hospitality and the antics.... "Glowing, no less," he agreed, giving the Parselmouth a thoughtful look. "I must say, you don't much resemble any of their rivals I've met before."

Sal lifted an eyebrow as he calmly sopped up soup, looking very different from just a few moments before. "Despite what you may have heard, speaking to serpents does not equal either evil deeds nor a desire to conquer. I'm neither rival nor aid. I'd rather be left alone, but if upstart Dark wizards wish to seek me out, I'll not be forced out by them."

"I didn't think it necessarily meant either, though I've heard both. But after hearing what the village said of you, I thought if they were right, they'd be better off if I got to you before they came looking -- and if they were wrong, we all would."

"Oh? Formed another plan to burn me out, I suppose?" The Parselmouth merely looked amused by this.

"You don't sound too concerned."

"It's the...fourth? No, fifth, I think. Fifth such plan in the few years I've been here. Or at least fifth that made its way past drunken ramblings in a tavern. And as you see..." A slow smile. "I'm still here."

"So you are. I'm not sure this one is past drunken ramblings; I thought I'd best come looking before it got further." Godric shook his head. "Does it not trouble you that they repeat lies about you?"

"And what am I to do, go hexing their tongues out for the repetition? What a way to convince them I'm not evil."

"I wasn't going to suggest that," Godric said indignantly. "Giving them some truth to counter it, though...."

"People believe what they want to believe. I've more to do with my life than correct their misconceptions."

"So have I, but I don't omit that entirely."

"And I don't, for the few who come to see me who aren't out to destroy me in one way or another. YOU'RE still here, aren't you? But I have work to do here, and I won't leave it to go change the minds of a few silly Muggles who cause no harm but to themselves!"

"I came to find out if you were a Dark wizard or not, not assuming you were." Godric remembered his dinner and sopped up another bite before continuing. "But I'll not keep you from your work too long, then, and with your leave I will tell them the truth whether they listen or not."

"You may tell them what you wish. I don't care what they think of me, one way or the other. What would their good opinion gain me that their bad opinion does not?"

"Friendlier neighbors," Godric said dryly, "and perhaps a fraction less attention from people looking for a Dark wizard, if they stop helping to spread the word you are one."

"I have no dealings with neighbors, friendly or no, and striving Dark wizards are easier to get rid of than admirers. I simply wisssh to be left to my potions and my serpents!"

"I can go tonight instead of in the morning, if you prefer. I didn't plan to be unduly inconvenient."

"You'd be lost in ten steps," Sal said dismissively. "I'm not a hermit, I just don't see any reason to worry about what others say. Stay and eat your stew, Gryffindor."

"You sounded fairly vehement about being left to your potions and serpents. Are you guaranteeing I'd get lost or merely predicting it?"

"Do you see me brewing or dealing with serpents right now?" Sal asked impatiently, waving a hand around at the table. "It's a welcome change to have sensible company. One meal won't kill me."

"Well, I should hope not. I may be a stick, but my company isn't generally that deadly dull."

"But a stick with a sense of humor." Sal grinned and extended a hand. "We weren't properly introduced earlier. I'm Ssalazar Sslytherin."

Godric braced himself slightly when he reached to take the hand. "Well met, I hope."

"Relax, I'm not going to turn your hair colors again. It's just a handshake."

"Oh, I thought you'd probably come up with something else this time."

Blue eyes twinkled at him. "I'll cut you a break for now. A short one."

"Very short?" Godric let go and sat back, returning to his stew as advised. "Spending too long around you could grow exhausting."

"I believe in the importance of staying on one's toes."

Godric eyed him briefly and checked his stew for spells again before the next bite. This meant he missed the spell on the bread that made him suddenly erupt in violent sneezes. That hex was relatively difficult to summon the concentration to counter; he wiped his nose when he finally managed it, thoroughly out of breath, and reflected that in some ways a straightforward duel to the death might have been less irritating.

Salazar wordlessly offered a brightly colored square of fabric, eating his stew innocently.

"No, thank you."

Sal shrugged and wiped his mouth with it instead, to no ill effect. "As you wish. So, tell me something of yourself. Do you often make it a habit to go seeking out possibly-Dark wizards?"

"I wouldn't call it often." Godric paused and reconsidered. Then again, a dozen times in half as many years was probably rather too high a frequency for most sane people. Half that if he counted the ones he'd been fairly sure of separately.

"I suppose I should be honored to be one of the exceptions. Did you have any plans of what you'd do with me once you found me?"

"I expected to fight you if you turned out to be one. I've met only one so far who didn't take considerably less kindly to visitors than you."

"And what did you end up doing to THAT one?"

"Keeping in touch. So far as I can tell, her... practice," Godric said with distaste, "however unsavory, has harmed only herself and the local wildlife. I'm not going to fight her over rabbits. If I get wind of her expanding her efforts, I may have to travel that way again."

Salazar blinked at him. "What, she invited you in for rabbit sstew?"

"No, judging from the rabbits I did encounter near her home that would actually have constituted an attack."

"Sounds like a charming woman."

"I'll introduce you if you like."

"Hmm. Tempting, but no. What did she do, then?"

"She answered politely to a knock on her door and invited me in for leek soup, actually. She also offered me a blood pudding made with her own blood, the consequences of eating which I shouldn't care to guess, especially as she seemed disappointed when I didn't. I did not, however, find any sign of her having kidnapped and chopped up anyone else, and I think there would have been traces if she'd turned them into the rabbits."

"Do you make it your habit to look after everyone else, then?"

"Those I can."

"And who appointed you guardian?"

"The same as gave me the ability to act it."

Salazar frowned at him. "You should learn to relax."

"I thought you believed in keeping on one's toes."

"In a relaxed sort of way, of course."

Godric shrugged. "I wish you well with it, then."

"Do you enjoy being lauded wherever you go, then?"

"What makes you think it happens? I have some reputation outside my own... nest, and it pleases me to be thought well of, but most people have other things to do."

"I can't think of what would make you seek out Dark wizards if not for the reknown of vanquishing them." Salazar shrugged. "But then, I never pretended to understand anyone."

"To prevent them from doing any further harm. Glory is very well, and I should like to be remembered, but I think there might be easier routes to it."

"There are...quieter ways to preventing harm than charging in with drawn wand."

"No doubt there are." That didn't mean they always worked.

Salazar shrugged. "So I prefer those. And being left to my potions and my serpents the rest of the time."

"I already offered to leave you to them at once," Godric said a bit irritably.

"And I said 'no thank you'." Salazar looked up at him with an amused smile tugging at his lips. "Really, you seem very eager to leave."

"And you seem eager to be left alone, except when I actually propose to do so."

"Left alone by the ones who want to recruit me, get rid of the competition, or destroy a presumed Dark wizard."

"...Very well, then."

Salazar sighed. "I can see what you think of me, Gryffindor. But sometimes..." Another sigh, and a shrug. "You pick your battles."

"What I think of you?" Godric echoed. He regarded the Parselmouth appraisingly; the other wizard looked serious for once, and weary. Godric was rather surprised that Salazar had given any thought to his opinion at all. "You seem to have little interest in any but your own affairs, and less in what I'd have called some of those... but we all have our callings, I suppose." Dryly, "We can't all be busybodies."

"Try doing anything good out in the world when everyone automatically thinks you're evil because of how you talk," Salazar retorted bitterly.

"...That would make it difficult."

The other wizard snorted. "You could say that."

Godric studied him for a moment. "Not quite everyone," he said quietly, at last.

A very faint smile. "And you wonder why I don't want you to go just yet?"

It would be lonely in a swamp, with most visitors trying to destroy you one way or another. "No, I suppose not." After a few seconds Godric added deliberately, "After all, it can't be much fun practicing your tricks on yourself."

The smile grew larger. "And the snakes complain something fierce if I practice on them!"

Godric found a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Oh, and you don't think I'll complain, is that it?"

"No, your style so far seems to be retaliation. And I doubt you bite."

"Only as a last resort."

Salazar chuckled softly. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Try to give it a rest intermittently, though, would you? I usually save keeping on my toes for enemies."

"As you wish."

Godric snorted. "And I'd better not discard it here?"

"I promise to let you stay here unmolested for as long as you wish, how's that?"

"...I wouldn't want to ruin all your fun."

Salazar grinned. "As you wish, then."

Godric cast his eyes to the ceiling. "This is going to be an interesting stay."

*****

MrRobertsIII: The elder Tom Riddle may very well really be evil in the books -- we're largely playing on the fact that there's a lot we don't know. On the other hand, theoretically this one wouldn't have done anything differently up to this point of the AU.... He could very well have looked for her, though; even if he was generally the jerk described in the start of GoF, he could have cared, but finding a witch who had gone to any trouble not to be found would probably be difficult. Glad you found this version of him convincing!

Beck: Thanks! Glad you liked it. :)

B. Nonymous: We thought this Tom had reason to be a little more stable than the canonical one. He has a family and has been taught well, and some of the reasons for bitterness are muted. ...PK was actually going to Niffle "Oversexed, Overpaid, and Over Here" (sort of an organized rotating pack of fic recommenders over at FA), but yielded it to a different Niffler because she'd already done one of yours and the other person really wanted it. ;) Grindelwald, however, isn't really in the scope of this series as currently planned, though considering we project Tom as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor eventually, one imagines he may very well have learned from some of the heroes....

Pineapple Queen: Let the shrieks out, you'll hurt yourself. :) Thank you for your kind words!

Barbara the Wallpaper-er: Thanks, we're rather fond of this Tom ourselves! AUs are always so much fun to write (and read!) because you can answer all of those random "what if"s that pop up during reading.

//
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