This is the first fic in our new "Stepbrothers" series. It follows from "Tea Leaves", the prequel where Mary Riddle and Tavish Hagrid end up married. Now stepbrothers Tom and Rubeus are about to start their time at Hogwarts together. Will Hogwarts survive it?
Disclaimer: We don't own these characters; J.K. Rowling does, and I'm sure she does a much better job with them. We're just having fun playing in her playground. :) Feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
"That Sort of Brother"
By Andrea13 and Persephone Kore
King's Cross Station was always packed full of bustling travelers, in a hurry to be somewhere else and doing something more interesting than getting on a train. It always seemed to be full of the *strangest* people, though, on the first day of September, as small hordes of school-aged children pushing large trunks in front of them descended to the area between Platforms 9 and 10, accompanied by their families to see them off.
What only a small portion of the station's visitors could see was exactly what lay between Platforms 9 and 10, where the students set to begin the new year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry bustled anxiously around the bright red steam engine waiting at Platform 9 3/4. The Hogwarts Express.
This year, one student seemed to be drawing a few more eyes than usual towards him. He was looking around with the wide-eyed expression of a first year, but he towered over even the oldest students. His bushy black hair, though, matched that of the much-smaller man standing beside him, and the woman beside him with silvering black hair and a earnest expression had a hand laid on his arm familiarly. Another student -- probably a third- or fourth-year, judging from his size -- stood off to the side with a faintly bored expression. He finally broke in with, "Mum, relax! Rubeus has seen me get on the Express before. I'll be watching out for him. There's nothing to worry about. We'll write you tonight after the Sorting Feast."
The woman laughed ruefully and turned from Rubeus to hug the older boy. "I know you will, Tom." She broke into a grin that made her look much younger than before. "And you be careful too."
He gave her a look of wide-eyed innocence. "Mum, I'm *always* careful! What would ever make you think I wouldn't be?"
"The reminder never hurts." She reached up and put a stray lock of hair back in place on his head, eyes sparkling with amusement. "Make it a long letter, if you would?"
"I'm not entirely sure what there will be to tell about on the first *day*," Tom reminded her dryly, "but I'll do my best. I'll use my largest handwriting, perhaps."
"You can list who's sorted where," she returned briskly, "which ought to take up at least a roll, from the number of births I heard about in the relevant year. Perhaps you can take notes."
Tom sighed gustily. "You should've been a professor, Mum. Assigning homework during the Sorting? You're cruel." He looked at her soberly. "I shall do my best to fulfill your request." He grinned over at his little (well, younger) brother and grinned quickly. "I'd tell you to ask Rubeus, but he looks too excited to be paying much attention!"
"And I suppose you weren't in the slightest bit eager for your first year at Hogwarts," Mary retorted.
"I was ecstatic and fixed every detail of the first evening in my mind -- and then wrote it all back to you, which was obviously a mistake," Tom said solemnly.
"You have my hopes up now, so you can't start writing shorter letters, even if there WILL be two now." Mary stood on her tiptoes to kiss Rubeus on the cheek. (He obligingly leaned down to help.) "Although I expect letters from you too, dear. Don't forget."
"I won' forget, Aunt Mary." Rubeus beamed down at her. "I bet I'll remember everythin' from today, too."
"If yeh're anything like yer old man," Tavish put in, grinning at his son proudly, "yeh'll be so excited yeh don' remember a thing about th' whole Sorting. I only remembered what House I was in because I woke up in a red an' gold room!"
"Well, with any luck Rubeus *won't*...." Tom grinned mischievously.
"Hah! You an' Mary may have been corruptin' th' poor boy from infancy, but blood still breeds true, mark my words. Right, my boy?" Tavish elbowed his tall son and grinned up at him.
"And you'll owe me five Galleons when nurture proves true," Mary returned serenely. "Isn't Tom living proof of that? My boys will be Slytherins."
Rubeus blushed and shook his head. "Don' know for sure where I want ter be. The two of yeh keep this up, and maybe I'll beg the Sorting Hat for Hufflepuff."
Both parents made an offended noise, making the two boys laugh out loud.
"Don't worry, Mum. You can start counting your Galleons," Tom assured her. "Rubeus'll be waking up to green and silver tomorrow, just watch." He grinned widely. "We'll run the whole dungeons, little brother."
The laughter (Rubeus' a little nervous) was interrupted by the announcement that the Hogwarts Express was leaving in fifteen minutes and everyone who did not have their luggage on board by this point had best hurry up.
"That's us." Despite his bored facade, Tom's voice rang with excitement as he hugged each parent in turn. Rubeus followed suit, then picked up both their trunks with one arm and looked at his brother expectantly. "We'd best be gettin' on, then, Tom?"
Tom blinked, having clearly been expecting to carry his own trunk, but didn't argue the point. "Yes, we had -- it will be crowded if there are as many first-years as Mum says."
"Bye Aunt Mary! Bye Dad! We'll both write really long letters, I promise!" Rubeus called out, waving with his free hand as he followed Tom onto the train. Mary and Tavish waved back, Mary wiping one eye discreetly.
"Hey, don't go making promises for me!" Tom laughed, swinging up onto the train and waving too. "We'll write you from Slytherin dorms!"
You owe Uncle Tavish five Galleons. Don't. Ask.
"There he is! How's our star Seeker? Ready to win the Quidditch Cup for us again this year, Riddle?"
Tom looked up at his classmates and grinned. "I might be able to come up with something. Assuming the *rest* of the team can keep up."
"C'mon, have a seat," Jeffrey told him, tugging on his sleeve. "Hope the Sorting gets over with quickly. I'm starved! Who cares about a bunch of first years, anyway?"
"Don't be so dismissive. We'll get some good Slytherins out of this year, mark my words," Tom said assuredly, sliding into his usual seat between his friends.
"Hey, that's right!" Elliot, a tall blond boy who shared his dormitory, grinned over at Tom. "Your little brother's starting Hogwarts this year, isn't he?"
"Rubeus," Tom affirmed, then rolled his eyes. "He hasn't talked about anything else all summer."
"Sounds like he'll fit right in around here, though. You said he was always hatching something."
Tom snorted and muttered, "Literally," but their attention was drawn by the first years timidly entering the Great Hall in a scraggly line. Tom smiled encouragingly as Rubeus looked over at him. The other boy looked wet. As Tom watched, he mouthed excitedly, "There's a giant squid!"
Tom covered his eyes.
"Will you get a load of *that* kid?" Simon Quincy whispered loudly to the table. "Did he flunk out of Durmstrang already or something? He's HUGE!"
"Swallowed a bottle of Skele-Gro, more likely," Dolores Midford snorted, looking over at Tom and batting her eyes. The second-year had had her eyes on the handsome Quidditch star ever since arriving at Hogwarts herself. "What do YOU think, Tom?"
"*I* think you shouldn't talk about things you don't understand," he replied coldly, then crossed his arms and turned to watch the Sorting.
He waited anxiously as "Gardener, Alice", "Gupford, Norman", and "Hadley, Myrtle" were Sorted, though he applauded loudly when Norman was sent to Slytherin. Finally the professor called out, "Hagrid, Rubeus" and Tom's brother bounded eagerly up to the stage.
Unlike the rest of the students, the Sorting Hat didn't cover his eyes as he waited its decision, so the entire Hall was able to see his wide eyes and excited grin. He dwarfed the little stool all the students sat on. Tom flicked his fingers impatiently, wondering what was taking the bloody hat so long. ~Finally!~ he thought in exasperation as the rip at the brim finally opened.
"GRYFFINDOR!" the Hat bellowed to the Hall, sending the Gryffindor table into applause as Rubeus pulled the Hat off with a wide grin and trotted over.
Tom stared in open-mouthed disbelief as Rubeus took his seat. He was getting his hand shaken by GRYFFINDORS! What the--How could--ARGH!
Tom jumped out of his chair, making his classmates blink in surprise, and rushed over to the Gryffindor table. "What are you DOING?" he hissed, taking his brother's arm and trying to pull him away. "Get up!"
"But--the hat told me ter sit here," Rubeus protested, his eyes wide and confused.
"You're not a Gryffindor!"
"Yes, he IS, Riddle. What's it to YOU?" Edward Wood snarled. "Go back over with the rest of your sneaky friends."
"Don't talk ter my brother like that!" Rubeus protested, half-standing and dwarfing the entire table.
All the Gryffindors shut up and looked between the two in bemusement. "You two...are brothers?"
Tom leaned back lazily and crossed his arms. "What, you don't see the resemblance? Now go try that hat on again, Rubeus, and tell it to stop kidding around!"
While the other students blinked and attempted to decide what to say, Rubeus grinned and said, "Come off it, Tom. His mum married me dad," he explained to the rest of the table, "when I was just a baby."
"*You* were a baby?"
Tom couldn't identify the speaker, so he just glowered furiously across the whole table.
"Ahem. Do we have some kind of a problem here?" a mild voice asked from behind them. Tom whirled around to see the Transfigurations professor -- and incidentally the Head of Gryffindor House -- approaching. He also noted that the entire Hall was staring at him and fought back a blush.
"No sir, Professor Dumbledore. Just a mistake in the Sorting."
"A mistake, hmm?" Dumbledore smiled with distinct amusement. "Mr...Hagrid, is it? Do you think there's been a mistake?"
Rubeus swallowed hard. "I--don't know, sir."
"Hmm. And why do you think there *has* been a mistake, Mr. Riddle?"
"Ah...Rubeus isn't a Gryffindor, sir. He belongs in Slytherin."
Professor Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "And you know this better than the Sorting Hat, Mr. Riddle?"
"He's my brother, sir."
"Ah. Well, as much as I may understand your problems, Mr. Riddle, I'm afraid that siblings ARE occasionally Sorted into different Houses. The Sorting Hat's decision is final. Welcome to Gryffindor, Mr. Hagrid." He smiled warmly back at Tom and suggested, "You may wish to return to your seat, Mr. Riddle."
Tom huffed out a breath and blew his hair out of his eyes. "Yes, sir. I'll talk to you at breakfast," he hissed at his brother before stalking off his own table.
"Bye Tom!" Rubeus called out cheerfully.
Tom grumbled to himself as he sat back down at the Slytherin table, ignoring the hoots coming from Gryffindor and speculative whispers from his own table. His baby brother was in GRYFFINDOR. What ELSE could happen?
Tom wasn't very good company the rest of the feast.
I'm in Gryffindor! I can't believe it! This is the greatest! Tom didn't look so happy about it, but I reckon he won't really mind once he gets used to the idea. He came right over to congratulate me in the middle of the Feast, though! I think being a Gryffindor is great. Professor Dumbledore's the best. Do you know any stories about a quill, a rabbit, and a pair of earmuffs, though?
"An excellent beginning for all of you. Try not to be disappointed by your progress today. I had a classmate who took nearly a week to even turn her matchstick silver, but by the end of the year she managed to turn the professor's chair into a dog -- while he was sitting on it!"
The class tittered with polite laughter and began packing up their belongings. Before the first students darted out the door, Dumbledore reminded them all gently, "And do remember, if the urge strikes, that I AM well familiar with that trick by now."
He smiled benignly over the class, mixed Gryffindor and Slytherin first years, and added, "Mr. Hagrid, please stay a moment. I'd like to have a word with you."
Rubeus paled and gulped, exchanging a quick panicked look with the boys who shared his dormitory. They gave him commiserating looks, but looked thankful *they* weren't the ones singled out as they grabbed bookbags and hurried out the door. Rubeus carefully placed in quill back in his bag, swallowed hard, and approached the desk. "Yes, sir?" He *couldn't* be in trouble yet; it was just the first DAY!
Dumbledore was quick to recognize the signs of a terrified first year -- even if this one *was* bigger than anyone else in the school -- and gave him a reassuring smile. "Not to worry, my boy. I'm not planning on taking you to task for anything. Unless you have something to confess, of course." He winked cheerfully. Rubeus barely managed a weak smile. "I like to speak with all my first-years at the beginning of term, to get a feel for the newest class of Gryffindors. I believe you have a free period now?"
"Er...y-yes sir, I think I do..." Rubeus fumbled for a moment with his pockets, looking for his timetable, but stopped when Dumbledore laid a hand on his arm.
"Perhaps you'll accompany me to my office, then? We can have some tea and a good chat."
"Yes, sir." Rubeus smiled a little less uncertainly and offered, "I really don' *think* I've done anything, and Tom wouldn' have left out anything important when he was telling me about the rules here. Nothing he thought I might do, anyhow...."
"I've always found it a mixed blessing when younger siblings attend the school," Dumbledore observed with a twinkle in his eyes, collecting his own things and sailing out the door to his office, Rubeus trailing along in his wake. "On the one hand, they're familiar with our rules, but on the other, they've often been informed of all the loopholes as well!"
"Yes, sir." Rubeus wasn't quite sure what else to say to that.
Dumbledore stopped in front of a painting of a lion snoozing in a forest clearing and coughed pointedly. The lion looked up and gave a long yawn, stretching his back and flexing his claws before sitting up. "Is class over already? I didn't hear any explosions. It must be a good set."
"Indeed it is, Aloysius," the professor assured the lion with a nod and a smile. "This is Mr. Hagrid, one of our first years. You can go back to your nap now. Chocolate frogs."
With a rumbling purr from Aloysius, the portrait swung open to reveal a doorway. Dumbledore stepped inside. Rubeus followed with one last glance at the lion, who seemed to be resuming his nap.
"Do Transfiguration classes have explosions often?" he asked cautiously.
"Not so often with the first years, but we DO have a very mischievous set of fourth years this year. Peppermint?" He gestured to a candy dish resting on the edge of the desk.
"Thank you, sir," Rubeus said politely, taking a peppermint. "What did yeh want to talk about, sir?"
"Very direct, Mr. Hagrid. Most unusual for the brother of a Slytherin. Though that would be, of course, part of the reason you have joined us in Gryffindor instead." Dumbledore leaned forward to take a peppermint, popping it into his mouth like a schoolboy. "You seem very close to Mr. Riddle."
"Well," Rubeus pointed out, "like yeh said, he *is* my brother. Why wouldn' I be?"
"Not all siblings are fortunate enough to have that kind of closeness, I'm afraid. My brother Aberforth and I had some famous rows right in the corridors of this very castle. There was one incident with a quill, a rabbit, and some earmuffs that I believe is still whispered about in some corners to this day."
"Oh." Rubeus blinked. "Er, I'm sorry to hear that, sir."
"Oh, don't trouble yourself," Dumbledore replied with an airy wave of his hand. "As most siblings do, we patched up our differences as we reached adulthood. It was warming to see Mr. Riddle's, ah, concern for you during the Sorting. Tell me...does he often behave like that at home?"
Rubeus blinked again. That seemed a silly question, but he didn't like to say so. "Well, no, sir, of course not. We eat together at home. No call ter go rushin' about like that."
"Of course." It seemed to Rubeus as if the professor were trying to repress laughter at that, though he couldn't imagine why. "Many siblings are upset to be placed in different Houses. What do you think of Gryffindor so far?"
"Oh, I like it very much, sir. I figured I probably would. My dad was a Gryffindor, yeh know."
"Yes, yes, I've had the pleasure of meeting Tavish on several occasions. A fine man. I had no doubt you would be placed among us, thought apparently Mr. Riddle disagreed." Dumbledore's blue eyes crinkled with warm good humor. "I can't remember a more enjoyable Sorting. How are you finding your classes so far?"
"Tom told me where they all were, too," Rubeus assured the professor, then realized that hadn't been the question. "Er, quite interestin', thank yeh."
"Mm, I'm sure he did. A very gifted student, young Mr. Riddle. I'm sure you'll be favoring us with your own blend of talents soon."
"Well, I'll try, sir."
"Your father is very adept with magical creatures, if I recall correctly," Dumbledore ventured, summoning a tea tray over and pouring a cup from the bright purple kettle. "Do you have any inclinations of following his path?"
"Oh, *yes* sir -- I only wish I could go ahead and take Care of Magical Creatures -- but Tom introduced me ter the professor and she said she'd let me visit some of the animals anyhow."
"I'm certain she enjoys having a student so interested in the course. The animals will not suffer from the extra attention either, undoubtedly."
"I'll be sure and be real careful with them," Rubeus said earnestly. "Dad and Aunt Mary taught me that right off."
"I doubt you could escape such a lesson growing up in the household you did. Biscuit?"
"Thank yeh, sir. And we did have the plants, too, that's so." He grinned a little. "O' course, we also had Tom."
"And are you classifying Mr. Riddle as a safeguard or an additional hazard?"
Rubeus blushed deeply. "Well, Dad said he was little enough when he first started comin' over it was about time ter teach me what 'gentle' meant."
"Ah, I see. A little big brother, so to speak. A very interesting set of circumstances. And yet he apparently has still appointed himself in the traditional elder brother roles of protector and guide."
"Well, he does tend ter know what he's about."
"As I said, he is a very promising student."
Rubeus beamed as if he'd been the one to receive the compliment.
Dumbledore nodded absently to himself, as if a question had been answered, and took a long sip of tea. "Tell me what you think of your fellow Gryffindors then, Mr. Hagrid, since you are the first I've spoken to. You should know the friendships formed among Hogwarts roommates are often the most enduring in a wizard's life."
"Well, they've all been real nice so far, though I had to tell a couple of 'em not ter make comments about Slytherins...." Rubeus trailed off and looked embarrassed again. "Sorry, sir, but *really*!" He paused. "Xavier Weasley was one of those, actually, but he's been great apart from that and all. Lots of fun, and he understands about brothers, he does."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Yes, I would imagine he does. The Weasleys will keep all teachers employed even if the rest of the wizarding world disappeared, I believe. A wonderful, devoted family. Don't be embarrassed about defending your brother's House, Mr. Hagrid. While our Houses here may be like our families, there is nothing wrong with different families getting along."
"I don' see why anybody thinks it's all that odd. But then, I'm used to Dad and Aunt Mary, and I suppose they're not."
"Slytherin's last daughter marrying a Gryffindor *did* cause a few raised eyebrows, but they seemed quite happy with each other. I admit the Slytherins often tend to go it on their own -- a frequent side-effect of ambition, I'm afraid -- but the other Houses manage to work together quite harmoniously. Your and Mr. Riddle's friendship will be a nice example to the school, I think."
"Doesn' make a lot of sense to *me*. Yeh get further with friends goin' the same way, don' yeh?" Rubeus sighed and shrugged; the vagaries of the rest of Slytherin House were not his concern. "It's true they're happy, though, for certain."
"A very Gryffindor attitude, Mr. Hagrid," Dumbledore pronounced with pleasure. "It's fortunate they found someone so well-suited, then. Many are not so fortunate. Though perhaps the common bonds in that case..."
"Are yeh sure that's a Gryffindor attitude, sir?" Rubeus asked seriously. "I think it was Aunt Mary I heard say it first."
"Further proof that our Houses are not so completely separate in beliefs as many would like to believe," Dumbledore replied, eyes twinkling even more.
Rubeus grinned, thinking of the Potions professor's increasingly puzzled look and his classmates' (both Gryffindor and Slytherin) increasingly alarmed ones when he'd started listing herbs used in sleeping draughts and *kept going*. "Yes, sir."
"You will find," Dumbledore advised, his blue eyes growing more serious for a moment as he finished his tea, "you will achieve the most success, both here at Hogwarts and in life, by combining the lessons from *all* the Houses. I think you'll do well here."
"Thank yeh, sir." Rubeus swallowed the rest of his own tea quickly, not wanting to seem rude by taking up too much time.
Dumbledore stood up and reached out to clasp one of his student's hands. "It was delightful to speak with you, Mr. Hagrid. Please remember that as your Head of House, I am available to advise you any time you need it. My door is always open to my students."
"Yes, sir. I'll remember." Hagrid squeezed the professor's hand back firmly, but not too hard, and was ushered out. Well. Professor Dumbledore was really nice; that hadn't been bad at all.
"Come back sometime when it's not naptime," Aloysius advised him as the portrait swung back to cover the doorway. He yawned, showing large white teeth and a pink tongue, then curled up again with his tail wrapped around his body, the furry tuft right under his nose.
Dear Uncle Tavish,
It turns out I can scare first-years. Er, not Rubeus.
The short sentence was uttered in tones of darkest despair, and would have had Tom jumping up to investigate its source if not for the snort of derisive laughter that immediately followed.
"You always say that after Transfiguration. I promise, Professor Dumbledore is NOT out to get you."
"Easy for YOU to say," the first speaker grumbled. "He still hasn't forgiven me for setting his desk on fire..."
Tom snorted quietly to himself and slumped back down in the high-backed chair in front of the fire, having identified the voices as first-years complaining about classes and dismissing them in favor of "Runes, Relics, and Rituals". The chair by the fire was one of his favorite reading spots -- warm, comfortable, and as long as he didn't move too much, no one in the common room tended to spot him. Not that he always *hid* from his classmates, per se. It was just that he could only handle discussing the last Quidditch match for so long before his fingers itched to dive back into his Arithmancy book.
He *liked* Quidditch. It was a great game, and fine exercise, and he was as rabid as any of his Housemates about taking home the Quidditch Cup. (In fact, last year -- the first year he'd been on the House team -- they'd taken it home for the first time in three years.) But, alas, unlike many of his classmates, Tom made no secret of the fact that HE had a brain and was bloody well going to USE it on something besides calculating Quidditch team statistics or House points!
So when he was in a particularly bookish mood, he slumped in his chair and ignored the rest of the room until he chose to withdraw from the lovely, logical world of textbooks.
Or until something forcibly drew his attention.
"Trust me, you're NOT the biggest duffer in the class," the second speaker was still assuring his worried classmate. "I mean, come ON! Even Dumbledore couldn't make that Gryffindor freak look good."
That drew a laugh from his classmate. "Yeah, yeah. No one ELSE has to worry about looking stupid as long as Huge Hagrid's around."
Tom's hands flexed on the book binding. He shouldn't say anything. He really shouldn't. It was just stupid kids' insults. They'd move on to someone else in a minute--
"Even if you *did* set Dumbledore's desk on fire," the other continued, apparently warming to his subject, "at least you didn't sit on a hedgehog without even *noticing* it! Did you see the big idiot start to *cry* when he realized it?" A nasty snicker. "It's a wonder they even let someone like that into Hogwarts!"
"Someone like what?" Tom asked mildly, closing his book and standing up, leaning on the back of the chair with deceptive calm.
There were two audible gulps as the first-years' faces quickly assumed approximately the color and consistency of hasty pudding. One of them just stood there with brown eyes bugged out and mouth flopping open like a landed fish. The other at least *tried* to answer, but didn't manage anything beyond a few unintelligible syllables and a half-hearted squeak.
Tom moved out from behind the chair and leaned back against it instead, crossing his arms in front of him and raising one eyebrow in cool inquiry.
The first boy sucked in a breath and Tom transferred his gaze to him, hoping for something a little more interesting than the fish impersonation. But that seemed to be the most the boy could manage -- the air hissed out from between slack lips.
"Boys, boys." Tom shook his head regretfully. "The first thing you should've learned about how to be a proper Slytherin is always be able to explain your actions. This really doesn't speak very well for you."
"W-w-w-w-we were just--"
"Making fools of yourselves? Congratulations, you did an excellent job," Tom snapped. "I suggest you withdraw to your room before you manage to bring the general impression of Slytherin any *lower*"
"B-but he's just a--"
The first boy finally got enough presence of mind to elbow his classmate firmly in the stomach, shutting him up, then grabbed his elbow and dragged him towards the stairs.
Tom watched them go with a look of disgust, then flopped back down in his chair and whipped out his wand. "Incendio!"
Every candle in the room sprung to light at once with a very satisfying "whoosh". Tom sat glowering so fiercely at the fireplace for the rest of the afternoon that no one dared disturb him.
Dear Aunt Mary,
I'm starting to make some friends around here. There are so many people! But Tom promised to introduce me to a few Slytherins. I don't know why he looked so funny when he did...Maybe he ate something off.
"You can't tell me *that's* half-Muggle."
Tom sighed as quietly as he could and took note of the catch in the middle of the word "Muggle." He'd succeeded, during the past two school years, in charming or intimidating *most* of those otherwise inclined into keeping a respectful tongue around him -- most of the time. It helped that on the majority of occasions when scathing words (of the magical variety or not) weren't an option, it was because someone was supervising who wouldn't put up with the sort of behavior Tom would have been discouraging anyway, so he got to look both wronged and virtuously even-tempered.
All right, so dashing over to the Gryffindor table to try to retrieve the brother currently being stared after had not done much for his reputation of being well behaved and level headed.
"Actually," he said, letting some of his irritation into his voice, "I can assure you that both of his parents are magical." This was entirely true. Giants were magical. They just weren't human.
Camellia perked up slightly. "Really?"
"Don't you pay attention at all? We're stepbrothers. My mother and his father lost their first spouses and married each other when we were small children. Given the number of people who have seemed to think they knew more about the matter than I did, I was under the impression it was general knowledge."
"Well, no one seems to know anything about those first spouses *except* that your father was a Muggle. His mother's a complete mystery." She smiled sweetly at him. "Though I'm sure she isn't to you."
"I don't have much to tell about her. I understand she was rather tall, though Rubeus seems a bit extreme even so. Perhaps something happened early on."
"He's rather handsome, actually," Camellia said thoughtfully. "I wonder if he'll stop growing soon? Else dancing with him would be terribly difficult...."
"He's eleven," Tom pointed out.
"He won't always be. You're not jealous, are you?"
"Not in the slightest," Tom informed her with vast sincerity. There were girls, after all (in Slytherin, no less) who seemed more inclined to look at him than his younger and taller brother, even if he had managed to give the impression that said brother was more a pureblood than he. He'd noticed it last year, and was starting to be more inclined to look back.
Not at that one Gryffindor, though, even if she did share the fondness for Herbology his mother had instilled. It had been rather disconcerting to try to make conversation about Mandrakes and have her burst into tears. He'd learned later that she'd been being teased about him -- he couldn't understand it, as he didn't remember either of them giving the other much notice -- and she was afraid then it would never stop, but....
Honestly. The girl's infatuation was Quidditch; she'd just made Beater for Gryffindor this year and had been radiant enough about it to make up for several cloudy days. Personally, if asked to rank them, he would have listed the mockery of a cluster of Gryffindors as considerably simpler to navigate than malicious sports equipment, even if he did enjoy the latter. He wondered if she'd try to prove her lack of interest by knocking him off his broom; he'd better keep an eye out.
"Why try to discourage me, then?" Camellia was asking with an arch grin.
"I wasn't." Tom crossed the last "t" in his Transfiguration essay with a slightly overenthusiastic flourish and closed his book. "As you say, he won't always be eleven, and a Slytherin should be able to wait. I was trying to point out that he's hardly likely to stop growing at that age."
Dear Mum/Aunt Mary and Uncle Tavish/Dad,
Yes, we know it would save parchment to just write you at once, but writing that long of a greeting would use up more ink than we're saving! We promise we're behaving -- I don't know what you heard about the Sorting, Mum. It was pretty boring, actually. -- Anyway, things are quiet now, but Quidditch tryouts are about to start. First match is Gryffindor versus Slytherin!
Love, Tom and Rubeus
Lunch in the Hogwarts Great Hall was always an...interesting experience. One *could* call it "fun", if one's definition of fun included students randomly sprouting feathers or fur when one of their classmates was in a particularly mischievous mood, or the possibility of minor explosions in every dish.
Likewise, one might call it "calming", but only if one had been imbibing a rather large quantity of very strong spirits -- or at least had magically-enhanced earplugs in to reduce the din of hundreds of students chatting about the day's events, discussing their homework, and (mostly) gossiping about fellow students.
One *could* certainly call it "disturbing", "awful", or "hell on earth", but that ignored the good-naturedness behind all the students' actions. Well, *most* of them.
"Interesting" it was, then.
This particular day, the members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team were (good naturedly, of course!) offering their opinions about their opposing members in Slytherin, to the delight of the first-years at the table. Team tryouts were about to be held, and the team had to drum up interest. What better way than exhibiting the "friendly" rivalry between the teams?
"You have to watch out for Zabini, you know," Cameron Fuller, Keeper, was saying, gesturing at the bulky black-haired Slytherin who looked very absorbed in whatever he was eating. "We think he got dropped on his head a few times too many as a child. Explains why he's a Beater -- he doesn't even notice the Bludgers hitting him anymore!"
A pair of first-years giggled at that, then ducked back to study their food closely when Zabini looked up and glared.
"Now Murphy, he's a cheery, good-natured sort." One of Gryffindor's own Beaters, Carol Beene, picked up the narrative with a grin and a wild wave of her knife. The Slytherin in question was a red-headed chap whose face looked fit to crack if he dared smile. "He's always ready to brighten our days. Couldn't do without him, really."
"And don't forget the new Captain. Rumor is that his mother and father were a little *too* close, if you know what I mean." The table looked up at the new voice, to see the handsome, smiling face of the Slytherin Seeker, Tom Riddle. He winked and added, "Silly me. It's *Gryffindor* with the new Captain, isn't it, Wood?"
Edward Wood, Chaser and team captain, looked up at his biggest obstacle to the Quidditch Cup and glared daggers. Tom smiled winningly at him, then headed off to his own table.
"That *Riddle's* the one you really have to watch," Wood growled out as he watched Tom leave. "Can't decide if he's God's gift to Quidditch or God's gift to teachers. Heaven help him if he ever decides women are what he's after -- he won't know which way to turn."
"Arrogant little git, too," Fuller picked up, delighting all the first-years. "He *has* to make friends with the teachers, because no one *else* wants to be friends with him."
As Tom was currently surrounded by a group of Slytherins apparently hanging on his every word, this latest accusation didn't quite ring true, but the Gryffindor first-years lapped it up all the same. One of them, however, was wearing a thunderous frown and finally spoke up when the laughter died down. "That's not very nice," Rubeus said reproachfully. "People jus' like Tom, that's all. Always have."
"Oh, that's right, we have the expert on Tom Riddle right here," Wood laughed, looking over at him. "Come on, Rubeus, tell us how he was at home. Was he always such a sneak, or did that only happen after he became a Slytherin?"
"Wot do you mean?"
"Slytherins are ALL like that," Carol explained with a little grin. "They're always sneaking around the school and coming up with gossip about *everyone*. Look at them sniggering over there now!"
"Tom wouldn't do that," Rubeus insisted, looking over at where his brother sat, surrounded by laughing -- or was it sniggering? -- Slytherins.
"Sure he would. He's a Slytherin, isn't he? Family ties don't mean *nearly* as much to them as their own House does. Trust me."
"Not Tom," Rubeus protested stubbornly. "He's nice. And he wouldn't laugh at me -- he's my brother."
"He's not your *real* brother, anyway," Wood said dismissively. "He's probably over there making things up about you the same way he was about me a minute ago. Of course, with you I don't suppose he'd have to make them up, right? C'mon, what can you tell us about him?"
"He IS me real brother, and he WOULDN'T tell stories about me!" Rubeus insisted, his ruddy face growing even redder. "It's NOT nice of yeh to say that!"
"We're just having a little fun," Carol assured him, smiling cheerfully. "They say the same things about us, after all."
"No. He. *Don't*!" Rubeus slammed his glass down, rattling the table, stood up, and stalked out of the Hall.
Tom looked up from his plate at the minor thunderclap that was Rubeus slamming his cup down. The younger boy had learned at an early age to be very careful of his strength, but tended to forget sometimes when he was exceptionally wrought up. Thus Tom immediately narrowed his eyes at the Gryffindor table to figure out what had gone amiss. The Quidditch team members were laughing, and Wood kept looking Slytherin's way with a nasty smile.
"Bloody Gryffindors," he muttered, pushing his own plate aside and quickly following in his brother's footsteps.
He trotted through the corridors, peering into classrooms and calling out his brother's name softly. Where had he *gone*? Part of being that big was that he couldn't disappear that easily, though his long legs could eat up ground extremely quickly. Tom finally stopped in frustration and decided to put the excellent brain his teachers praised him for to work. Point one -- Rubeus was upset. Point two -- Rubeus wasn't anywhere he'd looked so far. So. Where *would* he be?
Tom didn't get top marks for nothing, and thus five minutes later he was walking up to his brother in the kennels that housed many of the beasts for the Care of Magical Creatures classes.
"Hullo, Rubeus," Tom said softly, eyeing the creatures around him with a bit of trepidation. He'd never quite understood -- or shared! -- his brother's fascination for the strange, and often dangerous, magical creatures.
"Go. Away." Rubeus' voice was low (well, for him). As Tom came closer, he saw that Rubeus was covered in several...green-spotted lobsters, each about a foot long. He was scratching one of them along the underbelly.
"Careful. You've had bad enough luck without adding a Malaclaw bite, you know," Tom said lightly.
Rubeus looked up and blinked in the dim light. "Oh, it's you, Tom." A slight, rumbling chuckle. "I never get bit, you know that."
"I know." Tom folded himself down on the ground beside Rubeus -- carefully avoiding any Malaclaw claws -- and craned his head up to look his brother in the eye. "Everything all right, then?"
Rubeus glowered at a perfectly inoffensive (presumably to him, at any rate) Malaclaw and replied unconvincingly, "I'm fine. Have one?" He rubbed one of the creatures on top of its head and extended it to Tom.
"Hmm. Tempting, but I'll let you keep it. They like you better, anyway. There's a *reason* I'm not taking Care of Magical Creatures, you know!" Tom reached out gingerly to scratch the nearest Malaclaw's head, though, to appease his brother.
"Can't wait ter take that class. Looks dead interesting. If they don't keep it to all boring creatures."
Tom smiled. "Well, most people aren't as fond of fangs and claws as you, little brother. Their loss."
"Don't see the point of learnin' ones that aren't any *challenge*," Rubeus grumbled. He set the Malaclaw carefully on his knee with a half-hearted smile at Tom's guarded attempt to be friendly with it.
"Good point," Tom replied, thinking of the more complicated potions he'd determined to teach himself just because it was *boring* doing one more Forgetfulness Draught. "So you came out here just to see the Malaclaws? No other reason to leave lunch?"
Rubeus sighed windily. "The Quidditch talk."
"I thought you liked Quidditch. You always like talking about it with me, at least."
"Not *that* Quidditch talk. The...OTHER Quidditch talk."
Tom blinked and tried to think of what the OTHER Quidditch talk might mean. They'd just been--"Oh! Don't worry about that, Rubeus. All the teams insult each other. It's just part of the fun to have a rivalry going, and you know Gryffindor and Slytherin have the biggest one there is. No one really MEANS it. Well," he amended quickly, thinking about Zabini, "MOST of us don't mean anything by it."
"I never heard yeh talk about the other players the way they were...." Rubeus looked somewhat dismally at a Malaclaw. "Well, not till today, anyhow."
"It's just something the teams get into." Tom shrugged. "It really doesn't mean anything. Wood's parents are actually very nice people."
Rubeus looked down and carefully scratched a green spot in the exact center of one Malaclaw's back. "I don't like hearin' them talking about you like that."
"It's really all in good fun. Don't worry about it." Tom paused, scratching the Malaclaw that seemed to have determined it just wasn't worth it to bite him just yet, then added casually, "What did they say about me?"
Another gusty sigh. "That yer a teacher's pet. An' arrogant."
Tom laughed. "You say *that* much yourself, Rubeus."
"But you're my brother. I'm allowed." Another long pause, then very reluctantly, "They said the Slytherins sneak around and gossip about everyone, and that you were probably gossiping about me too."
"...And you believe them?"
Rubeus' clear outrage made Tom feel slightly ashamed of himself but overall much better than the instant before he'd asked. "Good. I'm not."
"What d'yeh take me for? I *told* them that. They wouldn't believe me."
"Frankly, I couldn't care less if *they* do, as long as *you* do. It's a lot easier to get by in life if you don't care too much about what the unimportant people think."
Rubeus looked at him reproachfully. "They're my housemates, Tom, and you're my brother. I do care about it."
Tom shrugged. "You shouldn't. It doesn't bother me. Gryffindors have always called Slytherins sneaky gits, just like Slytherins have always called Gryffindors noble prats. It's just how things are."
"Well, it shouldn' be," Rubeus said stubbornly.
"Wouldn't be Hogwarts if Gryffindors and Slytherins weren't at each other's throats," Tom replied easily. "Don't worry about it, little brother. But thank you for sticking up for me."
"Course I did. I still don't like it -- insultin' each other and askin' to tell stories on people."
Tom smiled. "Not everyone's as nice as you, little brother."
"I suppose some stories're probably all right enough, but...." Rubeus trailed off with another windy sigh.
"I've told a few about you," Tom replied carefully. "Nothing malicious, of course. Some things about your pets...." Mostly he'd been relatively vague. This was an interesting turn, though... Rubeus could probably tell some very entertaining stories, but Tom wasn't entirely sure he wanted the Gryffindors to know all of them.
Rubeus gave his elder brother a rather perplexed look. "Tom, are yeh blushing?"
"Of course not," Tom replied quickly, though a very light red tinge stained his cheeks. "I was just thinking..."
"You don't -- I mean, there are stories *Mum* might tell, or us, and it's funny, but telling them to people at Hogwarts isn't so funny. Right?"
Rubeus looked at him for a moment. "I wouldn' tell anything embarrassing. Yeh know that."
"Yeah, I know."
"Like I know you wouldn'. So stop looking that worried." Rubeus paused and set aside a Malaclaw to put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Not like I don' know what *would* embarrass yeh, either."
Well, Tom wasn't quite sure how much belief to put into that. His brother had a tendency to believe the best about everyone, and let his mouth slip a little bit further than Tom would prefer sometimes. Still, he couldn't deny that Rubeus had a good heart and would never TRY to embarrass him. That would have to be enough. He smiled. "I'm not worried. If I can't trust my favorite little brother, who CAN I trust?"
"Depends on how many of the Slytherins they're actually right about," Rubeus replied, completely straight-faced.
Tom snorted and leaned up to hit the side of Rubeus' head lightly. "Noble Gryffindor prat."
"Sneaky Slytherin git."
Tom laughed and jumped to his feet, brushing his robes off. "Come on, little brother. Let's go back inside."
It sounds like you're settling in well. Rubeus, dear, you're not actually going to cheer against your brother, are you? Don't worry about your Housemates, they'll learn.
I don't know what you think we would've heard about the Sorting, Tom. But should we send you a Gryffindor scarf since we hear you're spending so much time at their table?
Love, Mum/Mary and Dad/Tavish.
Tom set down the letter and groaned. He looked at his brother in betrayal as Rubeus struggled to contain his laughter. "It weren't me, Tom, I promise!"
"Someone," Tom promised dourly, "is going to die."