The Sugar Quill
Author: Andrea13 and Persephone_Kore  Story: Herpetology  Chapter: Chapter 1/5: Snake in the Garden
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Herpetology
by Andrea13 and Persephone
Chapter 1: Snake in the Garden

There was nothing better after defeating a Dark Lord than sitting around trading Chocolate Frog Cards with the Weasleys. If you asked Harry, it beat the public celebrations and ecstasies all hollow. Quiet it wasn't, but it was warm, friendly, and blessedly free of reporters, and it involved the best company possible.

And, of course, it involved eating the chocolate.

"You'd better not be spoiling your dinner," Mrs. Weasley told them all sternly, looking in from the kitchen.

"Won't," Ginny said calmly around half a frog.

"Can't," Ron added.

"Chicken smells too good. We'll still be hungry," Harry finished with a grin.

"Here, catch!" George tossed a Chocolate Frog in his mother's direction; she gave him a severe look but picked it deftly out of the air and vanished back into the kitchen.

Harry tore the wrapper from another and popped the chocolate into his mouth, then took a look at the card and nearly choked. "Think this one's new," he managed when he could speak, and turned it around for the rest of them to see. "Didn't waste any time, did they?"

There, under a recognizable if not perfectly accurate picture, black letters read boldly, "VOLDEMORT."

"He'd be so disappointed," Ginny said drily. "They left out the 'lord.'"

Ron smirked. "Wonder when we'll get one of yours, Harry. Hope they've got a better picture than this, at least."

"Think if they don't, people will stop recognizing me? 'That can't be Harry Potter! He doesn't look a thing like his Chocolate Frog Card.'" Harry flipped Voldemort around again and stuck out his tongue at the picture. It flinched back a bit. "Let's see who else we've got."

"We TOLD you, Harry," Fred spoke up with a wide grin.

George took up the thread. "If you want people to stop recognizing you, just try--"

"Our new Chameleon Powder! Sprinkle a little in your drink and no one will recognize you all day."

"Of course, that's because you'll be purple with green spots from head to toe," George added with mock-regret, "but NO ONE will be looking at your scar!"

"And I keep telling you, you've really misnamed that stuff," Harry countered. "The point of a chameleon is it's supposed to blend in. --Anybody missing Queen Maeve?"

"No, I've got three. And we're still perfecting it. Trouble is, we tested it in the wrong room. Now it won't blend to anything ELSE."

"You'll want to be more careful about that. And stay away from my drink," Ginny told them.

"I've got Rowena Ravenclaw, Uric the Oddball, and Herpo the Foul over here." She wrinkled her nose at the last card. "I haven't got another Herpo, and I'm not sure I want him."

"Herpo the Foul?" Ron frowned. "What'd he do, inspire the bathtub?"

Ginny flicked the card over. "Worse."

Ron picked it up and read the summary. "Herpo the Foul. Ancient Greek Parselmouth reknowned for -- oh. THAT Herpo."

"Basilisks." She sighed. "Though you've got a point about the bathtub. His hair looks worse than Snape's."

"His picture probably isn't any better than Voldemort's," Harry pointed out, flipping through his cards quickly. "Anybody got a spare Helga Hufflepuff? She's the only Founder I'm missing."

There was a quick shuffle, but nobody did. "Not here, mate, but I think I've got two up in my room," Ron said after a moment. "I can go look --"

"After dinner," Mrs. Weasley's voice interjected. "Someone needs to set the table and help me carry -- Fred, George, if anything untoward gets into anyone's food, you're skipping pudding."

"Mum!" the twins protested in chorus.

"You act like you don't trust us at all," George said as he hopped up.

Fred followed suit and added, "Downright insulting, it is."

Harry took one look at Ginny's smile when she got up and decided he might want to carry the chicken himself.

*****

Ginny slipped out after dinner -- which none of them had spoiled despite her mother's warnings about the afternoon's chocolate frogs -- and went over to her tree, glancing over her shoulder once and going around opposite the house before taking out her wand and checking the lowest branch. Then she put the wand away, reached up with both hands, and pulled herself into the tree.

It was a very good tree. It had been comfortable even before she'd sneaked a Cushioning Charm onto the best sitting-spot, and while she was certain her entire family including the twins knew where she went, they generally let her alone here and she hadn't yet found any tricks left by the twins.

It was an excellent tree to sit in while everyone else ignored the twins' protests that they hadn't sprinkled Chameleon Powder in the cake. Ginny took the countercharmed biscuit from her pocket, popped it into her mouth, and watched the garish colors start to fade.

Fred and George would go get some for everyone as soon as the yelling tapered off a bit.

She settled comfortably where the trunk split and a sturdy branch stretched out and stared off over the garden while the sun set, watching the sky shade into warm colors in the west while the east went cooler. There was movement over the ground; they'd have to de-gnome soon. Probably it would be assigned as soon as somebody got in trouble, or else some of the boys would decide to compete for distance in gnome-tossing.

Harry had always done startlingly well at that for being smaller than her brothers -- she understood he'd felt sorry for the gnomes at first, and then one bit him. Then again, she wasn't that bad at it herself. And she'd listened when her brothers said they bit.
 
It was going to be nice this summer. Harry and Hermione were probably going to be visiting enough they almost might as well be staying, and even if they were all very tired and practically in shock with relief about it, there were no Dark wizards to worry about any more....

...And at that moment there was a strange sight in the garden, like the afterimage of a flash -- dark instead of bright, with blue around the edges -- and her ears popped.

Ginny blinked hard several times in an attempt to clear her vision before realizing that there was nothing wrong with how she was seeing, even though it felt as if she ought to need to blink. She could see the garden clearly enough, or at any rate as clearly as could be expected given the dimming light. ...And where the black not-flash had been, there was some sort of pale spot, and the little motions of the gnomes were converging on it.

There was some not-quite-smell that whirled up and reminded her of the diary, but then it seemed to fade. Maybe it had been a Dark spell that just went off... but unless it had deposited something dangerous, it seemed to have failed. She tried a diagnostic spell that Bill had shown her -- meant for stronger and nastier things than Fred and George made -- and found nothing, so she slid down from the tree and went cautiously down to investigate.

Ginny was quite surprised when the pale patch resolved itself into a person. Dark hair, somewhat pale skin -- that gave her a turn for a second, but the clothes looked like something out of ancient Greece of all things. The body was almost alarmingly thin (though she wasn't of a mind to assume it would be weak, so she approached cautiously), and the features were sharp and pinched and possibly Mediterranean and absolutely nothing like those of Harry or any incarnation of Tom.

Given that he appeared to be at most semiconscious, Ginny somehow doubted that the person had intended to arrive here, at least in this particular manner. She would have liked to approach slowly, quietly, and cautiously, but the gnomes made this impossible. One latched onto her leg while she was thinking. So she kicked at it, then charged them, knocking a few out of her way and surreptitiously hexing a few others so that they gave her a little breathing space.

The ones poking at the new arrival seemed to be waking him up. He stirred a bit and winced when one nipped his arm, then opened his eyes, scowling -- unless that was just how his face looked -- and swatting at a gnome in what looked like alarm before shutting them again and sneezing violently. Maybe one had got at his nose; some claimed Jack Frost was another variety of gnome....

Ginny secured her wand and knocked another gnome hard away so that they all backed off a bit, ringing her and the intruder warily. Probably wouldn't be long before they closed in again, but she gave them her best imitation-Mum glower to delay it and crouched down, wand out. "Hello?"

The man blinked up at her, still scowling but with a distinctly confused cast to it. His mouth opened and sounds came out, but they were completely unintelligible.

"Um...I have no idea what you just said, I'm sorry. My name is Ginny Weasley. I live here. Well, not here, but in the house over there. What's your name?"

More unintelligible sounds. This was not going well...

Ginny glared ferociously across the unintelligible man at a gnome and tried to think of a new approach. At least he wasn't doing anything terribly alarming at the moment. She pointed to herself and said carefully, "Ginny," then pointed back at him and tried to look inquiring. She felt very silly about it, too.

He stared at her for a long moment, suspiciously, so she sighed, repeated the whole thing, and this time tried to smile and generally look non-threatening. A look of what was possibly comprehension dawned and he pointed to himself. In a low, almost hissing voice, he replied, "Herpo."

Ginny blinked and spent a few seconds thinking very carefully about not falling over backwards. This was good. Falling over would have been very undignified. Not doing so was also a useful, if brief, distraction from the shock of having someone introduce himself as a Chocolate Frog card. Although he certainly didn't look a thing like the picture. Of course, it was extremely unlikely that it was actually Herpo the Foul. He should, after all, be dead by now even if his basilisk hadn't eaten him, not to mention he was supposed to have been in Greece. (The clothing did not make that thought reassuring.) On the other hand, how many people were really likely to name their child Reptile, even in Greek?

Especially when it was the name of a Dark wizard. This was not, Ginny thought, very promising either way. She wasn't sure how much good it was likely to do her, but just in case, she was rather glad she'd kept her wand out. She adjusted the position of that hand a little at the thought and was startled to see... Herpo... flinch.

He held out his open hands and hissed something else. It didn't sound like a spell, but other than that she wasn't sure if it was meant to be reassuring or threatening.

Wait a minute, hissing.... Okay, this was either Herpo the Foul or someone with his name, possibly a speech impediment, and a disturbing preference for ancient Greek apparel. So... if it was Herpo the Foul, he would speak Parseltongue. And if it wasn't, a Parselmouth would know for sure. Luckily enough, she happened to have a Parselmouth at her house at this very moment. Life really worked out very conveniently sometimes.

...Well, except for the random appearance of possible Dark wizards, but she brushed that aside for now. At the very least he seemed unusually nonthreatening for a possible Dark wizard. That might, however, only be because there was a limit to how much menace one could project while lying (or sitting, as without taking his eyes off her he rather gingerly pushed himself up to a seated position and wrapped his arms around his knees) in someone else's garden with a runny nose and a half-dazed expression.

She considered this and, as the conversation seemed to be at something of an impasse until she got Harry or got Herpo to Harry -- one of which would require leaving Herpo alone in the garden and the other bringing him to the house -- hunted a handkerchief out of her pocket and handed it to him while she tried to decide which would be better.

Herpo was, for his part, thoroughly confused by this point. He didn't know where he was, except that it was certainly not where he had started out. He had no idea what language the oddly-dressed girl was speaking to him. From the wand she was a witch, but she didn't know him either. At least she hadn't hexed him yet, though his name -- assuming that was what she'd really been trying to ask -- had seemed familiar to her. And even though it had to be clear from his voice he hadn't spoken anything but Parseltongue in quite a while....

She'd even chased off... whatever those things were that had been trying to bite him. Not that he was counting on a repeat performance, but... well, at least she hadn't hexed him. It wasn't as if he was in any shape to dodge. He shivered, more from cold than any sense of foreboding. How much worse could it get, anyway? He was in some strange place -- some strange cold place, he amended -- with an odd girl looking at him whom he couldn't even speak to. Then again, being able to speak to people had never helped much before....

All in all, he much preferred the company of snakes to humans. Why couldn't it have been a nice snake that had found him...wherever this was? That would have made things so much easier...but who was he to expect easy? The one good thing he'd ever managed to do was create his beauty, his basilisk, and for that he'd been shunned and hated even more than before. How could this fire-haired child be any worse than the others?

He mused on the basilisk a little bit -- lovely, at least once it grew a bit, lethal... but terror did not seem to substitute well for respect, at least not for him. He was certain they would kill him if they ever got past the snake. Except that he wasn't there anymore --

The girl gave a shake to a small square of white cloth that she was holding toward him; she looked irritated. Herpo took it, rather gingerly, and returned to staring at her warily.

Ginny finally got him to take the handkerchief, but then he just sat there holding it. And looking at her. She smothered a sigh and resisted an insane impulse to take it back and wipe his nose for him. It couldn't possibly go over well. He wasn't four. It probably wouldn't go over well if he were four. Right, then. She settled on taking him to the house; it would keep him from wandering around unsupervised, at least if she could get him to come with her, and there would be more people around in case he did decide to do something worrisome.

Besides, leaving him in the garden by himself seemed dangerous if he were evil and awfully rude if he weren't, especially since she couldn't explain anything to him. And she thought he was shivering a bit; he wasn't really dressed for the weather here, even in summer. So she pointed to herself, to him, and then emphatically back toward the house, then stood up and held out a hand to help him up.

After a bit more suspicious staring on his part and friendly (if impatient) smiling on hers, he slowly grasped her hand. His skin was clammy. Ginny struggled to keep up the friendly smile and pointed towards the house again, giving a slight tug to his hand. He looked down at his feet and took one careful step, then another.

He was definitely shivering; Ginny could feel the tremors coming up her arm. For some reason, this made it a little easier for her to wait patiently while he acted as if he either was out of practice walking or was expecting the ground to cave in if he stepped on it too hard. She spent the time trying to think what on earth she was going to say to her family, how to propose to Harry that he try conversing in Parseltongue to find out if this was Herpo the Foul, why his hands were so cold, whether perhaps he wasn't really or usually human and actually wasn't used to having feet, where exactly she'd left her cloak and if it might be somewhere she could Summon it from....

After considerable concentration on that last one, she built up a clear image of where it ought to be and pointed her wand up toward her own bedroom window. "Accio cloak." First a trunk lid and then the window creaked obligingly open, letting the folded fabric out to plop down into her arms. She shook it out and threw it over his shoulders, though he tried to duck. "It's a cloak. To keep you warm. What did you expect?" She sighed then; he couldn't understand her and sounding annoyed probably wasn't going to help anything.

Herpo clutched at the fabric that the girl had thrown at him. It didn't seem to have had any ill effects from first touch, though you could never tell what spells had been put on a piece of cloth. The horrors that witch Medea had inflicted on her husband's new wife were already legend. But...it seemed to be perfectly normal, if rather heavy...And it certainly was warm. He cozied into it slightly and nodded at the girl, who was starting to look a bit miffed. But really, what did she expect when she went around throwing random objects at people?!

Ginny nodded back and retrieved her smile, then picked up his hand again and led him the rest of the way toward the door. "Ah... Mum? Everybody? Harry especially?"

"Oooh," Fred and George started to chorus.

Ginny gave them one of the glares leftover from the gnomes, then tugged Herpo into view and went on before they could say anything more clever than that. "This is, ah, well, he says his name is Herpo, but he doesn't seem to speak English so that's as far as we got. He just appeared in the garden out of nowhere. Er... it sounds... hiss-like when he talks; Harry, could you try...?"

"Herpo the Foul?" Fred asked quickly, giving the new wizard an interested and excited perusal.

George grinned and intoned, "Cool!"

"I'm not sure, and stop looking at him like that, you're going to make him nervous," Ginny shot back quickly, giving Herpo another reassuring smile. "More nervous. Anyway, leaving him in the garden seemed like a bad idea no matter who he is, so I brought him in for Harry to talk to. Harry, please?"

Everyone looked at Harry expectantly. He rubbed his temples. "I thought I just got done with Dark wizards," he muttered to no one in particular. Now Ginny was finding them, possibly, in the back garden. He wasn't sure whether he should be more or less worried that the possible-Dark-wizard in question was being led around by the hand looking half-terrified. "All right," he added quickly, "I don't mind, don't worry. Not sure if I can do it without a snake here, though, unless another Parselmouth will do as well, so no promises."

"There's a picture of one," Ginny pointed out, "on the Chocolate Frog card."

There certainly was. It was actually a pretty good depiction of a (very small) basilisk, at least considering the problem with looking at basilisks. Harry was looking at Herpo, though, when he drew in a breath, considered what to say, and then let it out in a hiss. "I'm Harry Potter." It was odd hearing a lot of hisses as his name. "Who are you? And what are you doing here?"

Herpo sagged just a little in relief. A Parselmouth! A young one, but apparently on friendly enough terms with the girl and the other people here. He wouldn't be attacked for that, at least. He allowed a very small relieved sigh, then hissed, "I am Herpo." He omitted the usual honorifics indicating one's home and parentage; he didn't have those anymore, as far as he was concerned. "I have no idea what I'm doing here. I was in my cave until a few moments ago."

Harry tilted his head and tried to think whether there was any polite way to ask someone you'd just met if anybody called him "the Foul." Better leave that for a minute. He could always ask about the basilisk. "Your... cave?"

A wordless hiss of disdain, then, "My home."

"You weren't by any chance experimenting with transport spells, were you?"

"Experimenting, yes. Transport spells, no. Where have I been transported, then? This looks like no place I know of. And your language and dress are strange."

"Uh... Britain. Where were you in the first place?"

"...Cyrenaica."

Harry looked blank.

Herpo discerned that he had not only been transported very far, he had fallen among barbarians who might be friendly but were also ignorant of geography in important places. "Greek lands in Libya."

Harry couldn't help glancing at the card and tried not to be terribly obvious about it. "You're... er... quite a way north, er, northwest of there," he said after a moment. "Look. Did you, in any of your... earlier experiments, invent a basilisk?"

Herpo's face lit up in a smile, for one moment seeming less homely and suspicious. "My beauty," he said reverently, a faraway light in his eyes. "Word of him has spread this far, so soon? He truly is the King of Serpents!"

Harry rubbed a hand over his face in an effort not to either laugh or look appalled. "It's him," he said in English. "I just asked him about inventing a basilisk and... well, you see. He went sort of rhapsodic."

"Yes," Ginny said, "I do see." She eyed Herpo sideways, although this was due as much to the fact that she hadn't let go and moved away from him yet as to alarm. "Wonderful, I just dragged a Dark wizard into the house."

"Well," Harry said diplomatically, "he doesn't seem to have done anything alarming here yet. Perhaps it's all right as long as we keep him away from the eggs."

"He looks awfully nervous for a Dark wizard," Ron remarked speculatively. "'Course, so did Quirrell."

"He doesn't stutter," said Harry, "at least not in Parseltongue." Which he should probably switch back to now. Hmm. "We've heard of it," he hissed, "or, I suppose, them. It's not exactly 'so soon'; I think you've been transported in time, too."

"In time? How far in time?" Herpo asked, beginning to look panicked. "I have to get back to my cave. My beauties need to be taken care of!"

"Er... I don't think they're still there. It's been... about twenty-five centuries, I think, give or take, and," this was NOT going to go over well, he suspected, "I'm sorry, but according to history... er... your basilisks attacked the surrounding area until they heard a rooster crowing one morning at dawn, and then died." He wasn't lying, really. He WAS sorry, just more about the attacking than that the basilisks were dead.

At first, Herpo just blinked dazedly, trying to comprehend the "twenty-five centuries" comment. He couldn't possibly have jumped twenty-five centuries! NO ONE could do that, least of all someone who hadn't even been trying. This boy was just mistaken and -- "Died?" he suddenly whispered, stricken. "My beauties? My poor, precious babies?" He snarled and jerked away from Ginny, turning his back to the assorted Weasleys (and Harry). "Must they destroy everything that matters to me?!"

Ginny took a step back as Herpo whirled, nearly fetching up against the door she'd pulled shut when they came in.

Harry hissed, "Hey, she didn't do it. It was the chickens. And the basilisks were going around killing people; you couldn't really blame anybody for trying to stop them."

"OH YES I COULD!" Herpo roared, whirling back around to face Harry with his eyes flashing. "All animals hunt! They meant no harm! They were perfect, my beautiful creations, and they were SLAUGHTERED!"

"It wasn't one of yours, but a basilisk nearly killed one of my best friends a few years ago, and from what I heard it say it meant enough harm," Harry snapped. Oh, this was not going well. He tried to tell himself to think of it like Hagrid with his pets. Though Hagrid wasn't a Dark wizard. But still. "Look. I don't even think anybody knew the roosters would kill them until they already had." At least the first one.

"They would have killed my poor babies quickly enough had they known," Herpo snapped. His shoulders sagged suddenly. "My poor beauties. They did nothing wrong but be associated with me..."

"I really think going around killing people probably had more to do with it. Especially the part about killing by sight."

"What do you know of it? You weren't even there. It was centuries ago to you! Perhaps now Parselmouths are not hated and feared; perhaps you can walk in public with all knowing who you are and not have stones cast at you. It was not always the case. People feared me, and they feared my poor beauties. I did nothing to them, but they hated me and killed my babies."

"Harry," Ginny murmured rather urgently, "are you actually trying to calm him down or, well, not?" All Parseltongue sounded essentially the same to her, at least when humans spoke it -- garden snakes in her experience sounded considerably softer and less menacing. But Herpo was fairly obviously agitated even without using how he sounded as a cue.

"Sorry," Harry muttered to her. He thought for a minute and tried Herpo again. "All right. You're right, I wasn't there, and... people have tried to kill me before, but one of them happened to be another Parselmouth and the rest were serving him, so I'd say that wasn't why." Except for the suspicion that he had become a Parselmouth himself on account of the FIRST time. At least it was useful sometimes. "But still, in my experience if a creature's going around killing people, that's usually reason enough to want to get rid of it, no matter what you think of anybody who actually happens to like it."

Herpo shuddered and leaned against the wall, resting his head in his hands. "And they would not have left and become a danger if I had not abandoned them."

Ginny patted Herpo's arm rather gingerly. He jumped; she held up both hands, open and (hopefully) placating, when he looked at her. Apparently this was adequately reassuring; he dropped his head back to his hands. "Harry, what --"

"He says," Harry explained a bit uncertainly, "that the basilisks weren't supposed to leave his, ah, cave and be a danger to anybody. He seemed to think they'd been killed on account of being associated with him, though I might've convinced him it was their, er, hunting habits. I don't think he's any happier about that though."

"You mean he didn't mean them to kill all those people?" Ginny asked doubtfully. "Then why DID he create them? They kill just by looking at you."

"I haven't asked that yet... and he could be a Dark wizard and just lying, though... I think he really is that upset." Harry regarded Herpo rather uneasily and added in Parseltongue, "I don't mean to be rude, but if they weren't supposed to be a danger, why create something that can kill with a look in the first place?"

"People would kill us the moment they saw us!" Herpo protested hotly. "Why not give them a defense to use against a harsh world?"

Harry relayed this sentiment; the Weasleys, judging by their expressions, agreed with his opinion of it but agreed as well that it probably wasn't going to do much good to try to talk Herpo out of the notion at this point. "Aren't you exaggerating a little? Somebody has to have seen you at some point." He thought.

"Who then tried to hurt me, drive me away, kill me. I have little faith in the supposed goodness of humanity," Herpo replied in a low hiss. "They are cruel and vicious and unfeeling. I gave my beauties protection against them, so NO ONE could harm them! And they were felled by a chicken."

"If you can find time in between the history of basilisks, Harry," Molly Weasley began firmly before Harry had a chance to answer, "and if he isn't planning to attack anyone at the moment, would you mind asking him if he's eaten yet? Dark wizard or not, and it's sounding a bit more like not, he looks half-starved."

Harry blinked at her for a moment before managing to wrap his brain around the disturbingly normal question. "Uh, of course. Just a minute." Harry tried to sound properly welcoming as he hissed, "Whatever you may think of humanity in general, the Weasleys are good people. Mrs. Weasley thinks you look hungry and would like to give you something to eat."

It was Herpo's turn to blink, as nonplussed as Harry had been a moment ago. "She -- I -- what? ...Why?" This was not an intelligent question; he probably shouldn't be arguing the point....

Harry had never heard what amounted to semi-coherent Parseltongue before. A bit staccato. "Because," he said, fighting a rather absurd urge to laugh, "she does that." He squinted a bit and tried to guess Herpo's age. "And if you're less than about thirty, you're probably around the age of some of her kids, so she feels like she ought to mother you."

"...No one mothers me." Not even his own mother. But... he was hungry. This place was strange, but it seemed cozy and warm and... welcoming.

When had he ever had a welcome?

Harry's mouth twitched involuntarily. "She will if you let her. Looks to me like Ginny's been trying it, as well."

"I..." Herpo blinked rapidly. "I am hungry..."

Harry nodded. "He hasn't, and thank you." Granted Herpo hadn't actually gotten to the point of thanking her yet, but he still looked confused and Harry had decided to put it in anyway. As Mrs. Weasley began taking food back out and swiftly heated up a plate, Harry added in a wry hiss, "It might make you feel better, sort of.... We had chicken."

Herpo looked over at him, blinked rapidly, then started shaking and leaned back against the wall, hissing in nearly-silent laughter.

It was very disturbing to watch, but Harry thought he should probably take it as a good sign.

"Is he laughing," Ginny asked in a low voice, "or having some sort of convulsion?"

"Laughing, I think," Harry told her. "I said we'd had chicken for dinner."

"Oh."

"Odd, isn't he?" George remarked presently.

"Just a bit," Fred agreed. "Ginny, you find Parselmouths the strangest places, don't you?"

Ginny's face soon matched her hair. "It wasn't my fault. He was just there. I couldn't leave him to get nibbled on by the gnomes, could I?"

"I object to being 'found' like I was a lost puppy," Harry added dryly. "Besides, I found you."

"Well, no, not you. Now, Herpo there looks like a lost puppy," Fred pointed out, kindly not explicitly mentioning the diary.

"Come now, boys, there's no reason to insult him. He's a long way from home as it is," Mrs. Weasley chided, still bustling around. She set an overloaded plate at the table and gestured invitingly towards her guest. "Come on, dear, have a seat. You look starved."

Herpo's nostrils twitched. The food smelled unfamiliar, but good, and the warmth of the house was starting to seep into him at last. The red-haired woman was smiling at him. He couldn't remember the last time a woman had smiled at him, even if only because she felt sorry for him.... "Does that mean it's ready?" he hissed hesitantly.

"Yes," Harry hissed back, "she said to sit down." He was going to have to find a translation spell, or ask Hermione -- though if there was one, why hadn't Fudge used it to the Bulgarian minister...? Oh well. He hoped there was, or he was going to spend all his time translating. "And, er... you might want to wipe your nose," he added in as polite a tone as he could manage for the topic. "I think Ginny gave you her handkerchief for a reason."

"Her what?" Herpo looked blankly down at the scrap of fabric the girl had given him. "I thought it was some odd local custom..." He shrugged and wiped his nose with it. What odd people. At least there was food.

-----

Review Responses for "Swamprat":

Sreya: Yes, indeed they would. Yoda!Sal made us giggle too, and it was definitely a conscious parody. We have to admit that there was a lot of Fred and George in this particular pair... and a bit of McGonagall, on Godric's part. Glad you liked them!

MysterWeb: Thanks! Our past fics certainly show that we think an awful lot of Salazar. Glad you like him too! We'll see what comes out of this universe in the future.

Adi: Thanks for the kudos, and we'll admit that this one was simply trying to find an unconventional take on Salazar. More installments will depend on how inspiration strikes -- and reader response! As for Helga, Rowena, and/or "crazy-rabbit-lady"...well, we can't give EVERYTHING away, can we? ;)

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