Disclaimer: Harry Potter and the books, universe, and characters associated with him were created by J. K. Rowling. We make no claim and have no intention of offending; we're merely playing where she has inspired.
Authors' Note: This story is part of the Stepbrothers series, an alternate timeline or "What if?" in which Tom Riddle's mother survived and married Rubeus Hagrid's father ("Tea Leaves"); "That Sort of Brother" and "A Difficult Year" take place in Rubeus's first and second years at Hogwarts (Tom's third and fourth) respectively, and "Guest Who" is set in the following summer.
by Andrea13 and Persephone
The red steam engine of the Hogwarts Express puffed its way through the countryside, its compartments packed with chattering, over-enthusiastic students ready to begin a whole summer's worth of relaxation and fun. The first years were still full of awe over the completion of their start of magical studies, and the more hyperactive of them were nearly bouncing off the walls. (Literally, in the case of one unfortunate Ravenclaw who'd gotten in the way of her classmate's Levitation Charm.) Fifth and seventh years were half-collapsed after making it through O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, and students of all years were bidding farewell to friends in preparation for a summer apart.
In one particular compartment, a dark-haired Slytherin fourth-year was tapping his fingers restlessly as his little brother chattered with one of his Gryffindor classmates. The train was nearly to London, and he was eager to have his brother to himself for the summer! Finally he spoke up irritably.
"Right, a pleasure to talk to you as always, Weasley. Have a nice summer and see you next term."
"I'm sure I'll have a great summer." Xavier Weasley grinned in a manner that could only be described as "cheeky." "And you don't have to wait until next term to see me. Didn't Rubeus tell you? I'm staying at your place."
Tom blinked. Twice. "Excuse me, I think I need to... have a talk... with my brother."
"Be careful, Rubeus," Xavier advised in a stage whisper. "The last time Wence said that to me, he tried to transfigure me into a newt." Another cheeky grin. "Luckily he isn't very good at Transfiguration."
"I'd think that would make it worse," Tom said. "If I transfigured Rubeus, I'd be able to do it properly and then turn him back."
Xavier shrugged. "Wence missed and transfigured Mum's favorite vase instead. It ran outside and we never saw it again. Mum was furious."
"I can imagine."
"Didn' I tell yeh Xavier was stayin' with us over the summer?" Rubeus asked perplexedly.
"If you had, I wouldn't be so surprised now, would I?" Tom countered reasonably. "I mean...nothing against Weasley, but WHY? It's not like he doesn't have a big enough family to go home to."
"It's not like we don' have room, either," Rubeus pointed out reasonably.
"I didn't say that either. I just thought Weasley would like to spend time with HIS brothers." ~Not mine. Don't you Gryffindors get him enough?~
"Trust me, I see them all the time," Xavier put in with a grin. "Though I was thinking we might go over there once in a while too; we're both on the Floo Network." A brief pause. "You could come too if you want, of course."
"Thank you." Politeness had been drummed into Tom from the time he could speak, so the reply was automatic. So was keeping the further replies firmly behind his teeth.
Rubeus was eyeing his brother with some concern. "That would be fun," he said, then, "Could yeh excuse us, Xavier? I think Tom needs ter yell at me for forgettin' ter tell him things."
He pulled his brother aside and then into a different compartment while Xavier shrugged and settled down with a Quidditch magazine. "What's wrong, Tom?" Rubeus asked with a frown as he slid the door shut. "I didn' think ye'd mind Xavier coming. Dad and Aunt Mary were happy t' have him. I really thought I mentioned it."
"No. You didn't mention it."
"Well, I'm awfully sorry, then. I know I meant to." Rubeus frowned. "Yeh know I wouldn' keep that a secret on purpose. I didn' mean ter have yeh embarrassed or anything by findin' out like that."
"I'm not embarrassed, I just--" Tom cut off and ran a hand through his hair. "I was just surprised. I wasn't expecting anyone to be coming home with us! I just...was looking forward to a quiet summer. O.W.L.s coming up and all that."
"Xavier's not that noisy!" Rubeus looked distressed. "But, Tom, if yeh need the time to study we can keep out of your way."
Tom sighed. "Look, I'm sure it'll be fine. Just try telling me next time?"
"I'm really sorry, Tom. I thought I had," Rubeus said dismally. "I didn' mean for it ter start off like this."
Another sigh. "Don't worry about it." He craned his neck to look out the window. "We're almost to London. You DID warn Mum and Uncle Tavish, right?" Tom privately worried about having an extra person around the house. Despite his mother's reassuring letters, he wasn't entirely sure Tavish had recovered from his illness earlier in the year. No point wearing him out around a Weasley.
"I told yeh they were glad to have him," Rubeus pointed out. "Even if I did forget to tell yeh, I'm surprised Aunt Mary never made any comments in her letters to yeh, to tease or anythin' -- but really, Tom, I'm sorry. We'll be sure not to bother yeh or anything...."
"Relax, little brother. I'm sure it'll be fine." Tom grinned wolfishly as the train began to slow. "Besides, if he causes too much trouble, I can always transfigure him into a newt."
Rubeus shook his head and chuckled a bit. "Just make sure yeh do turn him back." Then he went back to find his houseguest and his trunk.
"Of course I'll turn him back," Tom murmured, searching out his own trunk, which had apparently managed to migrate during the journey. "Right before we get back on the Express in September."
Xavier, on being informed (somewhat inaccurately) that he should expect to spend much of the summer as a newt, replied gravely, "Just don't forget to feed me." Rubeus laughed, easily hoisted his trunk up, and led Xavier out of the compartment and off the train.
As always at this time of year, Platform 9 3/4 was full of rambunctious students, happy to be escaping from the toil of classes, homework, and exams for a precious few months. The air was full of voices as fast friends promised to write every day, rivals got in a few choice insults, and the Gryffindor Quidditch captain shouted threats at his team to remember to "practice EVERY DAY so we can grind those ruddy Slytherins into the dust next year!"
Tom laughed at that and made a rude gesture at Wood before they spilled back into the Muggle part of the train station where parents were waiting to take their children home. Tom had more sense than to court the wrath of his mother this early into the holidays!
He spotted Mary and Tavish waiting off to one side, in front of a display of train schedules. Despite his fears, Tavish looked just as hale and healthy as when he'd picked the boys up last year. Tom ignored Weasley calling out goodbyes to his brothers and hugged his stepfather tightly. Tavish hugged back and laughed when Rubeus picked them both up to hug at once before more delicately leaning down to kiss Mary on the cheek.
"It's good to have yeh both back. Tom, yeh've been growing again." He delivered this with perfect sincerity and as if Rubeus had not been continuing to shoot up to still more excessive heights.
Mary claimed Tom for a hug after a moment as well. "It is and you have, haven't you? Looking forward to the summer?" she asked with a smile, then looked past them to Xavier. "And I'm pleased to meet you."
"Hullo, Mrs. Hagrid, Mr. Hagrid. Thank you for having me this summer. I've been looking forward to it."
"I'm sure it will be lovely. Rubeus has been telling us about you."
"That makes one of us," Tom muttered under his breath.
As it happened, Mary had sharp enough ears to catch the comment but enough tact not to quiz Tom about it in public. "We'd best be on our way now," was all she added. Xavier looked utterly fascinated when they took the Muggle subway part of the way; Rubeus drew glances, but oddly enough the Muggles seemed no more inclined to goggle than wizards who hadn't met him before, some of them less.
"I'm sure Rubeus has warned you, but you'll have to be careful about some of the plants around here," Mary warned her new guest cheerfully as they finally arrived at the Riddle/Hagrid home. She calmly batted away a vine that reached out to investigate the boy's bright red hair. "Rubeus will show you which ones."
The vine made a rather pitiful noise and came back again. Rubeus swatted it lightly this time. Xavier shook his head as he was led through a gauntlet of interesting flora. "This explains a lot about you two, doesn't it?"
Tom raised an eyebrow. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Well, let's see." Xavier started counting. "The Herbology teacher raves about both of you. Potions too. I'm sure Rubeus told you about scaring his entire Potions class on the first day. Your house is surrounded by plants that you're probably completely used to but that for normal people would be deceptive or nerve-wracking or both."
Mary laughed. "You may have a point."
"I think so-called 'normal' people have nerves that are too easily wracked, then," Tom said mildly, petting aside another seeking vine that Xavier thought he recognized as predatory and moderately venomous. He grinned suddenly at his brother's friend. "If you're scared by the plants, I can't wait for Rubeus to introduce you to Gus."
"Aww, Gus'll behave just fine," Rubeus replied chidingly. "Nothin' ter worry about, Xavier, Tom's kidding yeh."
"The plants behave fine too," Tom protested.
Xavier looked between the both of them and tried not to look too nervous. "Um...who IS Gus? Or what?"
"He's Rubeus' baby griffin."
"A -- you're joking!" Xavier looked enthralled now, which Tom found somewhat disappointing.
"He's not," Rubeus said, obviously rather more pleased with the reaction. "Short for Augustus. He's awfully sweet, hatched over the Christmas holiday. Just be polite to him and all, it's a bit like with Hippogriffs."
Xavier's eyes were practically glowing. "Excellent! You have the best house."
Rubeus beamed. "Want ter go meet him?"
Tom shook his head and watched them go, briefly debating whether he ought to join them in case of having to prevent a disaster. Really, though, Rubeus could generally handle his pets... and there, Uncle Tavish had joined them. Definitely nothing to worry about.
"Tom?" His mother petted a Razorleaf lightly along the flat and gave it some water. "Is something the matter?"
"Of course not. I'm glad to be home. I should start unpacking." He grabbed his trunk swiftly and disappeared into his room.
Mary raised an eyebrow but didn't follow him, busying herself instead with noting which plants would require a specific introduction to Xavier. The fact that Rubeus had somehow forgotten to mention to Tom that they were having a summer guest had come out during the journey home, bringing Rubeus in for a good deal of teasing, but that didn't explain That makes one of us. Still, if Tom wasn't ready to explain, it would be his own problem until he was.
Tom flopped on his bed, leaving his trunk in the middle of the floor. He could hear laughter coming from outside; presumably Xavier had met Gus and found him fascinating. WHY couldn't he be as wary of a griffin as he was of carnivorous plants? Life really wasn't fair sometimes.
Fair. Tom snorted. If life was fair, he wouldn't be facing the prospect of sharing his home for the next two months with a red-headed, nosy Gryffindor. He had to share his brother with the Gryffindors most of the year. Holidays were HIS time! And why did it have to be the one who seemed to be entirely too protective of Rubeus? Tom was still smarting from the lecture he'd been given months ago.
Of course, if he was going to be fair, he had to admit that it had been much more comfortable after he'd talked to Rubeus -- but maybe he wasn't. Anyway, he'd been planning to all along; he hadn't needed Weasley's interference. And besides, if Weasley had that big of a mouth on him, he might say something about the...incident with that idiot this year to Tavish or Mary. Tom didn't want to worry them...
He sighed. Things would be so much easier if Weasley had just gone to his OWN home!
"See, I told yeh Gus would behave," Rubeus said happily. Xavier had been very carefully polite to the baby griffin (who had grown dramatically since Rubeus had last seen him, but still liked to sit in laps) and was now being allowed to stroke the bright copper-colored feathers.
"He's wonderful. I can't believe your dad actually let you raise one. I'm still trying to convince my parents to let me get a CAT! Aren't they supposed to be really restricted?"
"Well, he got rolled out o' the nest by accident -- that happens sometimes and yeh can't really put them back in since even if yeh can get close enough for the lost egg yeh can't get to the nest; it's awfully sad." Rubeus scratched the griffin just where the feathers gave way to fur and was rewarded by a purr, or as close to one as could go through an avian throat.
"Anyhow, it being winter an' all, nobody figured he'd live, but we managed to hatch him right enough. Dad and Aunt Mary got special permission and everything -- since Dad works with the Preserve and Aunt Mary's licensed for all sorts of restricted plants."
"You're so lucky. He's the best pet ever." Xavier grinned and scratched the feathers some more. "How did you get him to be so calm? I heard griffins are fierce and nearly impossible to train."
"Eh, it's not so hard as all that. Yeh jus' have ter respect them, that's all. He knows he gets fed and taken care of here, but we can' do that if he tries ter hurt people. He's really smart, yeh see."
"I can see that," Xavier said admiringly. His tone prompted Gus, who was also arguably slightly vain, to preen slightly. "It does make a lot of sense."
"Most animals can be domesticated if yeh get them from the time they're babies," Tavish explained, watching over the boys and griffin carefully. "I wouldn' let Rubeus here go up to a wild griffin, no matter how good he is with Gus. It's jus' a matter o' trainin'."
Rubeus looked thoughtful. "Yeah... yeh have to have time to let them know yeh aren' food or an enemy...."
"I think I like letting other people do the convincing, and just coming up to pet them when they won't try to bite my hand off for it," Xavier laughed. "I guess that means I have to keep being friends with you, Rubeus."
"Oh, there's a lot of creatures that'll be nice back if yeh treat them right even if yeh didn' have the chance to raise them. I didn' know the Malaclaws at school when they were little ones."
"Yes, but they were still raised by humans. Domesticated." His fingers were nearly buried in the warm feathers. Gus was going cross-eyed from sheer pleasure. "You could be the best animal trainer in the world after we leave Hogwarts, I bet. How many second years can say they've tamed a griffin?"
Rubeus grinned. "Well, Dad and Aunt Mary did a lot of lookin' after him, since I had to go back to school...."
"Yeh still did most o' the hard work when he was first hatched, son. Don' be discountin' yerself," Tavish spoke up.
"Well, he took a lot of takin' care of then, but he wasn' big enough to do all that much harm. Claws hadn' even come in hard." Rubeus stroked a bright wing. "He's a beauty, isn' he?"
"Absolutely," Xavier agreed with a sigh. "I think I'm glad he decided to sit on your lap, though. He's awfully big for a 'baby'!"
Rubeus chuckled. "Yeh ought to see his brothers and sisters. He's catchin' up, but he hatched a little smaller on account of the time away from the nest before we got his egg warmed up again."
"Does he mind, being away from them and living here instead? My brothers annoy me to death, but I'd miss them if I never saw them."
"Well... he never really knew them, and he seems happy enough. I don' think they'd recognize each other if he went back now; he wouldn' have the right scent anymore."
"Right." Xavier seemed perfectly content to just sit and pet Gus for a while. Since the griffin was being very well-behaved, Tavish excused himself after a while to make his rounds in the Preserve.
After he left, Xavier looked over at his friend and said solemnly, "Well, I've made it this long without being turned into a newt. Do you think Riddle's hiding behind the bushes to hex me now that your dad's gone?"
"Nah, Tom was just kiddin' about that."
"Uh-huh." Xavier didn't look convinced. "He didn't seem happy about me coming."
"He said he'd been plannin' to study for the O.W.L.s over the summer. I told him not to worry, we'd keep out of his way if he needed the quiet."
Xavier wrinkled his nose. "Studying for the O.W.L.s already?! But they're not until the END of the year. Why does he have to study NOW?"
"Well, he's Tom," Rubeus pointed out. "I think he wants to get more of them than any of the Ravenclaws."
"Ambitious." Xavier grinned. "Not that I'm surprised, of course. I guess I just thought that even Slytherins could take the summer off."
"Well, he does some of the time. He's always been a lot of fun."
"Hmm. I'll have to take your word for that," Xavier muttered. He gave Gus one more scratch, then looked back at Rubeus and asked, "So is there anything else I need to be introduced to so it won't decide I'm a snack? Plant or animal?" He laughed and shook his head. "I swear, it's only at YOUR house I'd have to ask that."
"Aunt Mary's probably made a list of the plants you need to meet." Rubeus eased Gus off his lap and stood up. "Yeh want to ask her?"
"Sure, that sounds good." Xavier stood up as well. "We'll be back to see you, Gus, I promise." He patted the griffin on the head and followed his friend inside. "I like your parents. They seem nice."
"They are. They're great." Rubeus caught Mary in a hug and grinned down at her. "We were wonderin' if yeh'd mind introducin' Xavier to the plants."
"Perhaps I would consider it, if you'd put me down," Mary replied with mock-severity. Rubeus blushed and set her down. She reached up to pat his cheek, then turned her smile on Xavier. "There aren't many who would really do you any harm, dear, but it's best to introduce you just in case." She took him by the hand and led him towards the plants at the front door, Rubeus trailing behind them.
It turned out, fortunately, that Xavier had both sense and nerve enough to stand patiently while plants were allowed to sense him in whatever way they did it, so that they would recognize him and let him pass safely, accompanied or not, in future. Tom emerged from his room just as they were finishing up the process.
Tom watched as a Jovian Strangler finished inspecting the redhead with the tip of one thorned vine, then retreated back to snack on the vole Mary provided for it. "So what did you think of Gus then, Weasley?" he asked, stepping forward out of the doorway he'd been leaning against.
"He's great. You've got an interesting house."
"I should've known you'd like the griffin."
"What true son of Gryffindor wouldn't?" Xavier retorted with a grin. "He's better behaved than most snakes I know."
Tom opened his mouth, but didn't have a chance to say anything before Rubeus put in innocently, "Well, now, I have been hopin' to get a Runespoor sometime...."
Tom's face lit up. "Now that would be a great pet! Three for the price of one. I bet they'd be fascinating to talk to."
"The trick with Runespoors is to keep them from damaging themselves, sometimes," Mary said with a grin. "Nobody likes a pessimist, apparently."
Tom laughed. "But I bet if the other two heads had someone else to talk to, they wouldn't get so annoyed at the right one." He shrugged. "And if all else fails, we could just seal that one's mouth to make it shut up!"
"But some sense of when one's in danger is needed for survival," Mary countered. "The key would be to get the right-hand head to trust you as well, I think. Certainly by that point you'd have won the others over as well!"
"I guess so." Tom gave her his best endearing smile. "Uncle Tavish would tell me if they got a Runespoor on the Preserve, right?"
"I'm sure he'd have you over in a heartbeat to charm it into staying there. The last two times they had any there, I understand, one escaped and the other killed itself. I think in the wild the other two heads get less impatient with the constant warnings."
"Excellent." Tom rubbed his hands together with an anticipatory grin.
Weasley laughed. "I see there are unforseen advantages to having a father working on a Preserve. Maybe I should try to talk Dad into changing jobs."
Tom stared at his Charms text blankly, frowning with an intensity that the basic spells really didn't deserve. He didn't need to be studying this page. He'd gotten 103% on his Charms exam this year. It wasn't like he was absorbing anything either. He'd been staring at the same page for over an hour now, without one word penetrating his cloud of depression.
Two weeks. Two weeks of sitting here, staring at his books, pretending to be happy about being closed up in his room while Rubeus and Xavier trailed all over the Preserve at Tavish's heels, played with Gus, and helped Mary take care of the plants. True to his word, Rubeus made sure they kept the noise down. So Tom could study!
Tom growled under his breath and slammed the book shut. Studying. He'd rather be out exploring the Preserve with Tavish and Rubeus, like they always did over the summer. Seeing what new animals had been introduced over the year, which babies had hatched, where new nesting grounds were located. But after what he'd told Rubeus on the train, he didn't have much choice but to sit here and study.
He sighed and looked at his watch. It was mid-morning, but he hadn't been out of his room yet today. He hated seeing Xavier and Rubeus chortling their way through breakfast, talking about all the things they would do during the day. But they should be gone by now, so he could get a snack or something...
The house was almost eerily quiet. Tom was starting to wonder if everyone had left by the time he heard his mother start singing softly to one of the plants. He followed the sound -- to the kitchen after all -- and she broke off when he came in. "Good morning, Tom. I was starting to wonder when you'd come down."
"I was working on Charms," he said by way of explanation, rooting around for something to eat.
"Before breakfast?" She raised an eyebrow, then came over and helped him find the bacon, which had been carefully covered in case one of the new plants tried to eat it. "I'm beginning to think your dedication a little excessive."
"O.W.L.s are coming up next year, Mum. I'm not about to let some Ravenclaw beat me for top marks. No time like the present and all that." He averted his eyes and quickly pushed a piece of bacon in his mouth.
"Well, no, but... they're coming up the end of next year, and to the best of my knowledge you're certainly not falling behind...." She paused. "Have you had some trouble, Tom?"
"Of course not!" he protested instantly and indignantly. "I was top of the House for every subject this year! I had top marks in Potions and Arithmancy." He huffed, taking a sharp bite out of another strip of bacon and muttering, "Falling behind, honestly!"
"Well, it didn't seem likely," Mary said mildly, "given what I'd heard from you and your professors, but you've been spending an astonishing amount of time cooped up studying so far."
"Well...O.W.L.s, you know..." Tom's voice trailed off. He'd never been able to fool his mother for long; he should stop while he was ahead. He seized on a change of subject and asked, "Rubeus and Weasley off with Uncle Tavish, then? It's so quiet."
"Rubeus and Xavier went off to visit the Weasleys, actually. Xavier asked if they should go up and invite you, but Rubeus said you sounded like you'd probably be glad of the quiet."
Tom stared at her wide-eyed and open-mouthed, his bacon falling unnoticed to the floor. "They LEFT?!"
"Yes." Mary took out her wand and directed the dropped bacon into a delighted plant. "I thought you'd gathered that much already. You're the one who suggested they might be out at the Preserve."
"Well, yes, but that's just...wandering around." He frowned and grabbed a piece of toast, biting into it fiercely. "How long are they going to be there?"
"They'll probably stay the night." Mary came and sat down at the table, resting her chin on her hand. "If you wanted to go, I'm sure you could still join them."
Tom grabbed another slice of toast and started back towards his room. He said over his shoulder, "I don't go where I'm not wanted."
"Tom, please come back to the table." Mary's voice was quiet and still very mild, but Tom swallowed toast that suddenly felt very dry and returned. "I mentioned that they were talking about asking you to go with them," she pointed out.
"If they wanted me to go along, they would have asked. They were just being polite in front of you," he muttered, slouching in his chair.
"I was in the next room, as it happens."
"Look, Mum, if they'd wanted me to come along, they would've asked. I'm not going to go barging into the Weasley house uninvited. I only know Xavier, barely, and Wenceslaus from Quidditch. It would be ridiculous, and awkward, and I have studying to do anyway."
"I believe at this point Tavish would tell you that no matter how much one has to do, it is generally a good idea at some point or another to take time to rest." Mary reached over and touched his hand. "Tom, really. I know you do not have to spend the entire summer studying to do well on the O.W.L.s. I know that you usually enjoy spending time with the rest of us over the holidays. You've very rarely seemed happy at all this summer."
"I'd be happy to spend time with the family," Tom said, staring intently at his toast as he ripped it into smaller and smaller pieces. "Rubeus is the one who doesn't want to."
"Rubeus is the one who has been," Mary said gently. She sighed. "I suspected from something you said at King's Cross that you weren't happy about Xavier staying."
"Why should I care if Rubeus wants to bring someone home with him? I'm sure they have fun together. They do all year."
"What is it you want?"
"I...don't know. What do you mean?"
"Well, the way the summer's been going so far obviously isn't it, or you'd be in a better mood."
Tom slowly demolished his toast even further, sitting in silence for a long moment. Mary just watched him, serene and silent, bringing no pressure...except with her eyes, which were trained steadily upon him. He finally cracked and said resentfully, "Why'd he have to bring anyone along? Those bloody Gryffindors get him the whole year! I hardly even SEE him except at holidays, and now they're taking over the holidays too!"
"Well, I should note that Rubeus and Tavish are a couple of 'those bloody Gryffindors,' and incidentally, watch your language."
Tom snorted involuntarily.
"I know you miss him during the year." Mary smiled faintly. "We miss both of you, just so you know. But Xavier is a friend of his and a very nice boy, and somehow I think everyone would be happier if you took some route to seeing more of your brother that didn't involve avoiding him."
"They've been perfectly happy without me so far."
"And you would know this... how?"
"I can hear them laughing together."
"That doesn't mean Rubeus doesn't miss you, Tom."
Tom snorted. "Why should he? It's not like he's been trying to talk to me at all since we got home." And why, oh why, was a conversation with his mother reminding him of the dressing-down by Weasley? "He obviously didn't think it would matter enough to even bother telling me Weasley was coming!"
"I really don't think he did that on purpose. As for not talking to you, he's been trying very hard not to interfere with your studying. He asked the other day whether I'd spent all the summer before my fifth year studying for O.W.L.s."
"He couldn't be bothered to tell me he was going to bring someone home who'd be taking up his entire summer, when we barely see each other as it is! He obviously didn't care very much, so why SHOULDN'T I get a head start on my revising?"
Mary shook her head and stood up to move behind Tom's chair and put both hands on his shoulders. "I agree, he should have told you. He agrees. And there's nothing wrong with your getting a head start, exactly... but I would like to see more of you, if you think you have time, and as I asked earlier... what is it you want?" She leaned over his shoulder and smiled. "And I'll add this time, what are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know what I want. I want a normal summer!"
"You want to spend it with Rubeus, perhaps?"
"Of course I do! We always spend the holidays together!"
"Well... what are you going to do about it?"
"...Continue sulking in my room?"
"I realize that's been overwhelmingly helpful so far."
Tom smiled wryly. "It has been. I don't suppose rigging the Floo Network so Weasley can't get back through would go over too well?"
"Not really, I'm afraid. Tavish and I did agree to his visiting." She came back around and sat down, looking mischievous. "Though I admit, I wasn't expecting you to hide from him at the time."
"I'm not HIDING from him!" Tom protested in outrage. Under his mother's calm gaze, he sighed and relented, "Maybe just a bit. But not because of him. Just...everything."
"You passed off your initial distaste for the idea by telling Rubeus you'd been planning to spend the summer studying, perhaps?"
"I might have implied that..." Tom hedged, shifting uncomfortably. "So now he avoids me, I have most of my homework done two weeks into the holidays, and he's still off having fun with Weasley."
"Well, the homework being nearly done isn't a bad thing." Mary grinned at her son. "It gives you more free time the rest of the summer, doesn't it?"
"If I had anything to do with it...."
"I think I can safely promise that Xavier Weasley will not bite you if you start joining him and Rubeus again. And if he does, you have permission to turn him into a newt as long as you put him back within the hour." Her eyes twinkled.
"Only an hour?" Tom asked in mock-disappointment. He grinned back at the look Mary shot him. "I...guess it wouldn't be that bad to see them a bit. Gus probably thinks I just sprouted red hair and freckles!"
"Well, why don't you reintroduce yourself to him after you finish breakfast? That's a start, at any rate."
"All right...And I'll help you with your afternoon pruning, if you like. You said Rubeus and...Xavier will be gone until tomorrow?"
"Most likely, yes."
"Then I'll spend today with you, and by the time you get back you'll be begging them to take me away." Tom grinned mischievously and covered one of her hands with his.
"Never." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "But I might be persuaded to let them borrow you, if you really want."
"I think I do. Thanks, Mum," he said quietly. He smiled, a quicksilver flash that lit his eyes for the first time in days, and stood up. "I think I'll go reintroduce myself to Gus, then."
"Take care. He tried to pick me up last time we were outside. Very gently, fortunately."
"Please, Mum, if there's one thing I've learned from my family, it's how to be careful around possibly bloodthirsty creatures." He winked and grabbed one more piece of bacon on his way out.
Tom didn't mope in his room the next morning as he had for the past two weeks; instead he was up at his habitually early hour and had already eaten breakfast and was helping Mary prune her plants when Rubeus and Xavier were suddenly deposited on the hearth again, covered in ashes.
"Wipe your feet," Mary said calmly, using her wand to carefully flick away the new buds on a Japanese Singing Bush. While the soft pink flowers were very attractive once they bloomed, she really didn't want to deal with the constant singing coming from the open buds.
The two boys obediently wiped their feet and brushed the soot off their clothing.
"G'morning, Aunt Mary," Rubeus said cheerfully. He blinked a bit at her gardening companion, then grinned widely and said, "Hullo, Tom."
"Good morning. Had fun at the Weasleys'?" Tom asked with determined good cheer of his own.
"Yeah, loads. Mrs. Weasley's havin' another baby in a few months. We were all givin' ideas for names. How's yer studying going?"
"Well," Tom paused and swallowed, not quite meeting his brother's eyes. "I've actually got nearly all of it done."
Rubeus' eyes lit up. "Already?! That's great! But--didn't yeh say yeh needed ter spend most of the summer studying? It's only been two weeks."
"Well, it turns out I, ah, over-estimated how much time it was going to take. I'll still have to do a little more, but I can hold off until towards the end. Erm...if you don't mind seeing a lot more of me now."
"Are yeh jokin'?" Rubeus nearly shouted with joy. "I've missed yeh even knowin' yeh were right in the same house!"
Tom suspected he had a rather foolish grin on his face as Rubeus bounded forward and picked him up in an exuberant hug. It didn't even falter when he managed to gasp out, "Air?"
Rubeus released him with a bit of a blush, but he was still grinning. "Well, I'm glad," Tom said, still around the idiot grin. "Still, you've had W--Xavier to keep you busy."
Xavier snorted eloquently. "I haven't been doing a very good job of it, apparently, though it seems my entire family's almost distracting enough to keep him from mentioning you every few minutes. I do hope you weren't thinking I was trying to steal your brother; I have plenty of my own!"
Tom's foolish grin got a bit wider. Rubeus was mentioning him every few minutes? He coughed a bit at Xavier's next words and protested, "Of course I didn't think that. I was glad he had someone to hang around with while I was studying." The nice thing about being a Slytherin, Tom reflected, was that it was utterly possible to lie without batting an eye.
"Yes, well, I don't believe you're that much worse than Wence about figuring out how busy your summer ought to be, but if you're the one that says so...." Xavier trailed off with a shrug and answered Tom's glare with a look that was half impudent and half innocent. "Confess it, you finally got bored."
Tom spread his hands out in front of him and somewhat reluctantly smiled back. "Well, maybe a little."
"Whatever the reason, I'm jus' glad yeh've got some time now, Tom," Rubeus spoke up. "It hasn't been half so much fun without you around."
Smiling at Rubeus wasn't difficult at all. "I'm glad too. You two were very considerate about noise, but I could still hear you laugh sometimes and didn't want to concentrate."
"We'll have fun together now, Tom. Why don' yeh come with me ter see Gus? I haven' fed him today, an' I know he's been missin' yeh."
"Well, I did go to see him for a little while yesterday, but that sounds great."
Rubeus half-dragged his brother out towards Gus's nest, Xavier trailing behind with an amused grin. Mary caught Tom's eye for a brief moment and lifted an eyebrow. He just grinned happily in return.
The rest of the summer passed with surprising smoothness, for a house full of two Slytherins and three Gryffindors. Now that Tom wasn't pouting over his brother's guest, he found the two boys together quite fun to be around, even if his elder brother dignity wouldn't let him clown around quite as much as the younger boys. But all three boys had fun tramping around the Preserve at Tavish's heels and wrestling with Gus in the fading light of evenings. Tom even helped both younger boys out when they realized they needed to do their summer homework a bit sooner than the night before school started again. Their Hogwarts letters arrived, and Tom was pleased if not terribly surprised to find the silver prefect badge in his. He grinned when Rubeus and Tavish both hugged the stuffing out of him, and even Weasley wasn't too bad then. It was terribly hard to dislike someone too much when they were congratulating you, after all.
It had been almost fun having Weasley around, Tom decided as they all sat around the dinner table for the last time. Not that he wouldn't be glad to have his family to himself for a while, now that Xavier was heading back to his own family for the last two weeks of holiday. But really, it hadn't been as bad as it could have been.
Tavish was in the middle of a story about his school days, during which his friends had apparently played or had played on them every prank in the book during a long-running prank war between every boy in their year. It hadn't been just confined to Gryffindors and Slytherins, though, as usual. Even the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw boys had joined in by the end of it, and from what Tavish was relating, Tom was glad the Ravenclaws were usually too busy studying to play pranks!
"An' what are yeh thinkin' there, Tom, that has you lookin' so serious?" Tavish asked as his story wound to a close.
"I was thinking," Tom said, very seriously, "that I'm extremely glad you aren't in Hogwarts while I'm there."
Tavish laughed aloud. "Well, I have thought about applyin' for the Magical Creatures post there if it ever opened up -- but I didn' try it the last time, and the Preserve suits me."
"Two Hagrids in one school?" Xavier asked with a look of horror. "Hogwarts would collapse before a month was out!"
"No, it'd just be overrun by wild beasts," Tom assured him.
"Yeh mean other than jus' me an' Dad?" Rubeus asked with a grin. "I wish I could bring Gus back to Hogwarts with us."
"Well, he would be a suitable House mascot..."
"I doubt you'd manage to convince even Professor Dumbledore that that would be a good idea," Mary said serenely, waving her wand towards the kitchen. A plate of biscuits floated in to land on the table, followed by the tea kettle to refill her cup. "Which should show the obvious superiority of Slytherin House, as several students have pet snakes."
"You picked a less specific symbol is all," Tavish told her with a grin. "The grass snakes aren' nigh as close to your rumored basilisk as a cat is to th' lion."
Tom's face went suddenly and completely blank, which he hid by stuffing a biscuit in his mouth.
"One of the third -- well, I guess she's a fourth year now -- anyway, she has a cat that looks like a lion," Xavier spoke up. "It had free rein over the whole dormitory."
"She wouldn' be friend or relative to the MacMillans, would she? There was one of them wanted to breed some like that."
"Moira MacMillan," Xavier confirmed. "It's a really smart cat, too." He grinned. "I've been wanting a cat for years."
"But smaller'n Gus," Rubeus interjected solemnly.
"Rubeus," Xavier said with equal solemnity, "a lion is smaller than Gus."
"...Well, there's that."
"I'm not sure if they'd let you have a pet Gus's size at Hogwarts," Tom said consideringly. "I'm sure if they did, Rubeus would have one there already."
"Well, I haven' asked yet..."
Xavier laughed. "Merlin only knows what you'll end up with after Gus. A chimera, maybe? Or an acromantula?"
"I'd like that." Rubeus looked thoughtful. "More likely the acromantula, if I could. A chimera's breath'd be a bit much indoors, even in stone."
Xavier groaned and covered his face. "I should've known! Next time I'll keep my big mouth shut. Rubeus, you're a great mate and all, but I don't fancy sharing my bedroom with a giant spider, all right?"
"I'm sure acromantulae aren't on the approved list," Tom intervened hastily and Prefectually. "Aren't the eggs Untradable?"
Rubeus sighed. "Unfortunately. Yer soundin' like a prefect already, Tom. Not nearly as much fun, yeh aren't."
"Well I can't go and condone your hatching an Untradable in front of people, Rubeus," Tom replied straight-faced.
Xavier perked up, looking interested. "Apparently having a Slytherin brother isn't all bad..."
"Even a supposedly well-behaved one?" Mary shook her head, laughing. "I'm sure it is possible to tame those things, but I wouldn't do it at a school. Don't encourage him, Puggle."
Tom immediately turned a brilliant shade of red and hissed, "Mum!" as he looked at Xavier significantly.
Xavier blinked, but grinned like Christmas had come early as he looked at Tom's embarrassed face. "Did I hear that right? Puggle? What's a puggle?"
"Oh dear." Tavish looked, to Tom's mind, excessively amused. "Blame that one on me, I'm afraid, though I haven' used it lately."
"It was funny when I was three," Tom hissed.
Rubeus was helpfully explaining to Xavier, who was soaking up every word with wide grins, "See, Aunt Mary's maiden name is Echidne, and there are these little hedgehogs in Australia called echidnas. An' baby echidnas are called puggles, right? So since Tom's a little Echidne --"
"If you do not all be quiet right this instant..." Tom vowed direly, though he appeared too wrought up to finish the threat.
"Aww, Tom, it's cute!" Rubeus said cheerfully. Xavier made a belated and ineffective effort to restrain his laughter and nearly ended up under the table.
"It is NOT cute! I am not cute! Weasley, if you ever breathe a word of this to anyone--" Tom was so red it looked like the tips of his ears were about to set his hair on fire. He alternated between glaring at all of them in turn.
"Tell? Who would I tell, Puggle?" Xavier asked between gales of laughter.
"Weasley," Tom growled warningly.
"I won't tell anyone. M'lips are sealed, honestly." Xavier made an exaggerated locking movement in front of his mouth. "I swear on the Weasley family honor...which it looks like you should belong to, Puggle."
"I -- you --" Tom sputtered incoherently and then buried his face in his arms as an alternative to flying at the Weasley boy in a rage.
He felt a hand patting his shoulder. "I'm sorry, dear," Mary said in an apologetic voice. "I'm sure Xavier understands about not sharing embarrassing childhood stories, coming from such a large family."
He could only guess at the fierce look Mary sent Xavier, for the other boy said quickly, "I'm just teasing you, Tom. I won't tell anyone at school. Honest."
"You'd better not," Tom muttered, eyeing him. "...And don't call me that either. Even they've mostly stopped."
"Yes sir, Mr. Prefect Riddle, sir."
"This is going to be a long evening, isn't it."
"I'm just in awe, Prefect Puggle, sir. No self-respecting Weasley would ever be a prefect. I'm not used to being around one."
"Mum," Tom said levelly, "how long after dinner do I have to wait to hex him?"
"Wait an hour for your stomach to settle," Mary said calmly, sipping her tea.
Xavier hmphed. "And I thought you liked me."
"You're jeopardizing that really quickly." Tom had another biscuit in the meantime.
Xavier snorted and grabbed another biscuit himself. "Fine, then. See if I ever help you out again."
"I don't need any help that goes along with nicknames you aren't entitled to use, and when did I ever --" Tom broke off abruptly and bit his tongue.
"I got your wand back for you, didn't I?" Xavier answered with a grin. "And saved you from the spongey stair off the hospital wing."
Mary blinked. "Tom, when were you at the hospital wing?"
"Oh -- you know, there are accidents sometimes -- it was because of a Potions practical."
"That's one thing to call it," Xavier snorted. "It was just when that Slytherin -- what was his name? -- tried to pound his head in, but--"
"Weasley, Shut. Up!" Tom snapped quietly.
"Tom..." Mary was frowning. "I should have already known about this..."
"It was nothing, Mum," Tom said quickly. "Just a bit of fun. Boys will be boys, you know?"
She eyed him. Skeptically.
"Mum, honestly. It's nothing. Really. Nothing at all."
"Tom," Tavish pointed out, "'nothing' doesn' land you in the hospital wing after a scuffle."
"A 'scuffle' was all it was. I just...er, hit my head. A bit. Miss Pomfrey healed it up in no time at all."
Rubeus was frowning at him in a way that left their parents in no doubt it had been more than a scuffle. "Tom," Mary said sternly. "You do realize that I will find out, if not from you then from other witnesses. I should have been informed by the school, for that matter..."
"Mum, some git was just mad because I upstaged him in Potions! That's all. There wasn't any reason to notify anyone." In fact, his Head of House had only been talked out of writing Mary and Tavish by Tom's pleading, cajoling, and outright begging. Tom glared at Weasley again for ruining all his hard work.
"If there really weren't any reason," Mary pointed out, "you wouldn't be nearly so vehement about it."
Tom slumped down in his chair. "I just don't want you to worry about it, that's all." ~Please, please, please drop it? I am never going to forgive Weasley for this!~
"Well, it does look like you've recovered well enough," Tavish pointed out, "so it doesn't appear we've got to worry about the injuries. But we'd appreciate if yeh would tell us what led up."
"I told you, it was just some git who was angry because I upstaged him at Potions."
Mary was frowning severely. "If being upset over marks leads to an all-out brawl, then standards for Slytherin House have certainly fallen. I've half a mind to write to your professors and sort this out!"
"There's no need for that, Mum, really!"
Tavish shook his head. "If they're turnin' a blind eye ter fightin', and over marks, of all things!"
"It wasn't just that," Xavier spoke up, looking at Mary worriedly and not noticing the frantic widening of Tom's eyes. "It was mostly because he's--" He stopped abruptly with a yelp of pain as Tom's foot collided with his leg under the table.
"Tom, do not kick Xavier. Xavier, please finish your sentence."
Xavier rubbed his leg and kept his mouth shut, eyeing Tom. Tom glared furiously at the other boy. His jaw was clenched tightly. Finally he stood up and said tightly, "It's because one stupid git couldn't handle a filthy halfblood beating him, all right?", then stalked out of the room.
The slam of his bedroom door reverberated through the house.
Mary flinched; Tavish looked as if he'd like to go after the culprit himself. Xavier took a look at Tavish's wrathful face, and then Mary's stricken one told him belatedly exactly why Tom had wanted to shut him up. Though she still ought to know what was going on, blast it, it wasn't like it was her fault!
"The idiot couldn't take having his stupid assumptions proved wrong," he said tightly after a moment. "Rubeus got him but good for it, and we turned him in, and... and I'm sorry to have upset things." He had to force out the last. "I didn't even think about you thinking like it was your fault, and reckoned he was just embarrassed and you still should know."
"I still should know." Mary's voice was almost inflectionless. "Xavier, I'm sorry, but given Tom's mood at the moment since you're to go home this evening anyway I believe this is a good time."
She sent him off through the Floo Network with an extra package of biscuits. Then she turned to face her husband and stepson. Tavish still looked angry, and Rubeus was looking everywhere but at Mary, his expression distinctly uncomfortable. She took a measured breath. "Tavish, could you two take care of the washing up? I...think I need to talk to Tom."
He agreed quickly, but she was already walking down the hall to Tom's room. A quick knock. "Tom, dear? May I come in?"
There was a silence that stretched several moments. "...Yes, Mum." He sounded reluctant, but at least it was a yes.
She opened the door and stepped inside, shutting the door quietly behind her. She looked around, expecting to see Tom at his desk, pretending to be studying, but he was stretched out on his bed instead. She crossed the room to sit down on the edge and leaned over to brush a stray lock of hair of his forehead. "I'm sorry, Puggle."
"I love Uncle Tavish very much," Tom said, eyes shut, "but I really wish he had never come up with that nickname."
"I am sorry for using it in front of Xavier."
"You could've found worse people." This was true. The Weasleys, while mostly pureblood (the few sons who'd married actual Muggles tended to fling themselves into it with the same sort of abandon with which Weasleys traditionally did everything and disappear almost entirely into the Muggle world, and they always had brothers) and sometimes oblivious, were rarely snobbish.
"Still. You were embarrassed, and that wasn't my intention." Mary paused. "And...I'm sorry about the other too."
"Not your fault. I didn't want to worry you."
"I'm your mother. It's my job, you know."
"I'm all right, though."
"Tom," Mary ventured delicately, "you don't usually storm out in the middle of a meal and slam the door just on a lark."
"...I'm all right from that. Weasley didn't have any business yapping like that."
"He thought you were embarrassed and I should know. And he's right, I should. I...always knew you might be teased, but then you were always so popular and..." She shrugged helplessly. "I had no idea you were having any problems over it."
"Not that many. There are always a few idiots, but... I was careless. The few who'd try anything don't usually get that far -- I'm good enough the ones with half a brain are warned off anyway, and my friends do keep an eye out."
"...I hate that you're forced to go to that trouble."
"It's not that much. Everybody has to deal with the occasional odd little clique under the impression that being Slytherin means doing absolutely anything to get ahead whether it's actually worth it or not."
"Yes, I recall that little phenomenon. It's just...well, every mother wants the best for her child, of course." She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and looked away. "Tom, I don't...regret...your father, even after...all that happened. But I do regret that it's hurt you."
Tom's breath caught, but all he said after a moment was, "I think of Uncle Tavish as my father." Which sounded rather incongruous, really.
"I'm glad you do." Very softly. "He is, in... almost every way."
Mary sighed quietly and smoothed back his hair again. "...Will you talk to me, Tom? I can tell you are upset. I'm not blind."
"...He left you. I don't understand why you still named me for him... I don't understand why you don't regret him. I don't mean for anything that happens to me. It's annoying but it isn't that serious. It's just... he doesn't seem like a very good example, for Muggles."
"Ah, Tom... Mistakes were made...on both sides. I did lie to him for so long about being a witch... I loved him, and part of me still does, and I'm always thankful that he gave me you. He was...a very good man, in many ways, but not a perfect one."
Tom sighed. "I still didn't mean to worry you."
"I'm worried for you, dear."
"I know. I don't want you to be! It's only a few idiots, and I can deal with it, and I'd rather be let do that."
"Better ask the sun to stop shining than to ask a parent not to worry over their child," Mary said practically, "though I'm truthfully more upset that you kept it from me so as to not worry me. You can tell me anything, Tom."
"I didn't want to have you apologize to me over it."
"...If I promise not to apologize in the future, will you promise to tell me these things?"
"...Don't overreact either?"
She sighed. "And I promise not to overreact, though in fairness I should mention we may have different ideas of overreaction."
Tom grimaced. "That's the best I'm going to get, isn't it?"
"I'd say so."
"I'll tell you." He sighed and closed his eyes again. "But I'm still angry with Weasley."
"Well, if it makes you more willing to come out and see us, you should know Xavier's already gone home. And he was sorry."
"He'd better have been." Tom scowled, then looked up at her sheepishly. "Don't worry, Mum. I'm not going to do anything, but I don't have to be happy with him, do I?"
"I would prefer you got along with your brother's friends, but Slytherins are nothing if not eminently practical. No, you do not have to be happy with him. Try to be at least civil?"
"I have to do that. I'd undermine my own authority as a prefect else."
She smiled proudly. "Good for you. I'm still very proud of you for that, you know."
He grinned. "Thank you."
"Although if half the stories I've heard are true, they shouldn't have even let you look at a Prefect's badge, much less wear one." She smiled and tapped his nose lightly. "But I'm quite pleased they overlooked that."
"I'm very well behaved when it counts."
"Which means when anyone is looking. Very Slytherin of you. I think Grandfather Salazar would approve."
Tom laughed. "D'you think he'd mind I try to keep Rubeus out of trouble? Not that it works that well...."
"Family loyalty was also very important to him, from what I understand, so I think he'd be pleased." She leaned over and kissed his forehead. "And Tavish and I are very pleased as well."
He smiled. "If you two are, that's good enough by far for me."
She smiled back. Tom had always had a very infectious smile, when he chose to use it. "Good. Come back out with the rest of us? Tavish and I want to enjoy having you two home for a bit longer."
He sat up and swung his legs down with a sigh. "Well... I'd like to enjoy it too." No point letting Weasley spoil things even after he'd left, was there?
"Good." Mary stood up, one corner of her mouth tugging up in a smile. "And I promise not to call you puggle for...the rest of the summer." A wink. "So beware at Christmas."
"I'll be sure not to bring guests!"