Disclaimer: This is a work of fan-fiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor any material profit is intended.
Creatures Great and Small
by Andrea13 and Persephone
"Can't you hide it?"
"Can't YOU? Throw the curst thing away if you have to. Just not here. It's more than my shop's worth to get caught with it."
Rubeus's ears perked up as the whispered voices reached him. He shuffled a bit more behind the shelves in an attempt to stay inconspicuous. Anything people were whispering about had to be interesting...
"You won't get caught with it. How hard can it be to find a buyer? You know how much these things are worth!"
The shopkeeper scowled. "Well, then, if it's so easy then you find one."
"I don't have time! I'm catching the evening portkey out and you know how they search you before that."
"Well you're not leaving the thing here. It's been a mite too long since the last 'inspection.'"
By this point, Rubeus was dying to know what the two men were talking about. He hadn't been expecting to find anything really absorbing in the pet shop, even one in the slightly...seamier side of Hogsmeade that none of the students were supposed to go to. But they wouldn't be talking like this unless it was a really interesting creature on the line!
He shifted a bit more, half-crouching behind a rack of cages. Usually the peculiar merchandise back here was supposed to warn the shopkeep if there was anyone lurking too long, but Rubeus had already made friends with them. He'd been considering bringing one back to Hogwarts, but this sounded more fun....
"Look, what am I supposed to do with it then?"
"I don't know. I don't care. As long as there's no trace of it left in my shop." Rubeus heard a sigh. "I'm sorry about this, I am, but you'll have to get rid of it somewhere else. If I tried handling a Class A Untradable right now I doubt I'd be in business next time you come through."
The other man grumbled. "Fine. Don't come to me next time you need a favor, then." Rubeus heard footsteps, then the slamming of the door.
He chewed gently and thoughtfully on the inside of his cheek for a moment and sneaked the last scrap from his lunch to something bright pink with claws on the ends of its tentacles, resolving to find out what it was some time later. He really, really wanted to know what kind of Untradable egg that visitor was carrying. And he kind of hoped the man wouldn't have ditched it before Rubeus could catch up to him. Well...not someplace too hard to find, anyway. Wasn't trading or even giving if he picked it up off some trash in the corner or something, was it?
He started to skulk his way back out of the shop, but his progress was interrupted by a sharp voice. "You there!"
When Rubeus turned, the shopkeeper's eyes were bulging over a scowl -- and there was a wand pointed at him.
"What are you doing still in here?"
Rubeus lifted his hands placatingly. "I was just lookin' at the animals." He hesitated. "If you're worried I heard stuff -- I heard a bit, but don' worry, all right? I'm no Auror or anythin' -- I'm just at Hogwarts, an', well, I really like... interestin' creatures." He smiled hopefully. "I can' get any today -- I think my roommates are a little tired of my pets -- but I'd really hate not bein' able to come back."
"You're at Hogwarts?" The shopkeeper looked over him dubiously, but no one wore robes with a Hogwarts crest on the front except students, no matter how tall they were. Then he shrugged sharply. "Doesn't matter what you heard. I didn't do anything but turn down merchandise like I was supposed to. Now get out of here. Come back when you have money to spend, and not before."
"I know you didn' take anything." ~But I'm planning to if I can!~ He grinned. "I'll sure be back when I can get the other boys to quit fussin'." Rubeus prudently shut his mouth after this, despite a strong urge to ask just what the shopkeeper hadn't taken. He'd do better to ask the other man anyway, right?
Out on the street, not quite as quickly as he would have liked, he looked both ways. The pet shop was conveniently near the end of the alley, so it was more likely Rubeus's quarry had gone left than right -- but there was a white spot in the corner at the end, and Rubeus wasted a precious several seconds finding out it was only some sort of mushroom. Probably not what the man had been trying to unload, then. Not in a pet shop. Rubeus hurried back in the other direction, glad his height let him see further than most. He'd only caught a glimpse of the nervous trader when he'd first entered the shop...The alley wasn't that crowded, but there were still several likely possibilities...
...Except one of them had been walking much faster than the others but had now suddenly stopped and was loitering casually beside a trash heap outside a book shop.
Rubeus kept walking quickly and purposefully, then stopped to peer into the window of the book shop. One of the books actually caught his attention -- it was a new one, called The Monster Book of Monsters, and the copy in the window was strapped down and struggling violently against its bonds. He felt rather sorry for it, but he had to keep an eye on the man who might have an egg. Maybe he should actually talk to him. What if he threw it down on the trash heap and let it break?
"Um....sir?" Probably not the most witty of opening remarks, but it was the best he could think of off-hand.
The man started violently. Rubeus winced a bit. Tom always said, if you insisted on doing something you weren't supposed to, you'd better act like you weren't doing anything wrong. "What do you want?" The man looked at him properly, looked up at him, and gulped. "Er..."
"I just...er...I was back in the pet shop," Rubeus blurted out, not sure how to say, "I know you have a Class A Untradable and I want it." Well, actually he supposed that was one option, but it didn't seem like a very good idea.
The man paled, and his eyes darted off to the side. "What about it?"
"Well...I, um, I'm good with animals. Interestin' ones, that most folks don't like."
"Uh-huh?" The stranger was sweating, and his lips moved a bit more without sound. Rubeus thought he might've said, "Not cut out for this."
"Well..." Rubeus wasn't cut out for this sort of thing either, as he really preferred to be blunt when he could, but he was determined. A thought occurred to him, and he brightened. "And I don' have to take a Portkey this evening."
The man started violently. "How much did you hear?" he whispered urgently, then looked around the alley nervously. "Never mind. I don't care. I don't know what you're talking about."
Rubeus grinned teasingly and mostly naturally, though he had his hand on his wand inside his pocket. "I can tell you've been out o' school for a while; nobody'd fall for that." He shrugged. "Do what you want, I s'pose." He lowered his voice a little. "Won' anybody find it if you leave it lying here."
The man's eyes shifted. "Right. Wouldn't want anyone to stumble over it accidentally." He sighed in resignation and turned around. Rubeus caught a flash of white as he reached into his robes and set something carefully in back of the trash heap, then straightened quickly. Without another word, he brushed past Rubeus and hurried back down the alley.
Rubeus fought with himself not to just reach down and grab it; instead, he went into the book shop and asked how much The Monster Book of Monsters cost. He winced at the price -- for real -- pled student-hood and limited funds, and turned to slump back out and get his egg.
To his surprise, he was stopped on the way out of a shop for the second time today. "Boy --"
He half-turned. "Yes, sir?"
The shopkeeper groaned quietly. "I never saw such a foolish trick for books; I can already predict I'll end up selling most of them for half price. I'll give you one for that now if you won't tell." His eyes narrowed. "If wanting one means that's the sort of thing that appeals to you, then if you can calm the rest of them down I'll cut the price to a quarter."
Rubeus's face lit up. "Really?" On the one hand, he'd get a book that for one just looked neat and for another might have some information on his new egg. On the other....he really didn't want to leave the egg out there for long on its own. It could get stepped on or something... "Well, I can try, sir."
"The ones in the window are all right for now. Come try in the back." The shopkeeper cursed when he opened the door to the back room and two of the books flew out in fierce battle. He aimed his wand, but they'd flown straight at Rubeus's head. Rubeus, rather startled, automatically reached up and caught them.
"Here now -- I can see why you're havin' troubles with 'em, sir -- easy there!" He tried to pull them apart; one let go of a sheaf of the other's pages and snapped at his hand. Rubeus clamped it shut, frowned at the books in either of his hands, and tucked one carefully under his arm while rubbing his thumb along the spine. "Settle down...." Petting them seemed to work well; he stroked the one he still held gently all the way down, and it went limp. He handed it to the dumbfounded shopkeeper after a bit more and repeated the treatment on the other.
"...They send me biting books that want to be petted," the poor man muttered in disbelief. "I never would've thought of that." He shook his head faintly while still petting the book gingerly. "I didn't think it would be this quick, but I'd say you've earned your discount."
"Thanks." Rubeus grinned happily and sidled into the back room; the rest of the books were tied down, like the ones in the display case, but they quivered angrily until he soothed them down. "There, I think that's settled them for a bit." He proceeded to purchase his book (from the front window -- this seemed like extra trouble, but he suspected the shopkeeper wanted people to see that the books could be handled safely) and hurried out. The little bit of white was still plain at the back of the trash heap, though it almost looked to have nestled down a bit.
Rubeus looked around casually, but no one seemed to be paying him a bit of attention. He crouched down, picked up the egg, and was back upright and leaning against the wall in the blink of an eye. The precious egg was balanced in front of him, shielded from other view by the book. It was large, for an egg (though not quite large enough for a dragon's egg, unfortunately). The shell was vaguely leathery, off-white, and warm to the touch.
"Better get yeh back ter Hogwarts, little one. Got ter keep yeh warm so yeh'll hatch right." He was delighted to feel something in the egg shift against the leathery shell and his palms. He'd have to find out just what was going to hatch out. Shouldn't be too hard; there weren't that many Class A....
He started. "Tom! What on earth are you doin' down here?"
"What am I doing down here? Why are YOU here? You KNOW students aren't supposed to be out in this area of Hogsmeade! Do you want your visiting privileges revoked? Come on."
Ignoring the disparity in their sizes, the dark-haired fifth year latched onto the much taller third-year's arm and tugged him out of the alley, lecturing the whole time. "--and then they'll write Uncle Tavish, and Mum will ask ME why I wasn't looking after you properly. Do you really want me to have to listen to a Howler from Mum?"
"'Course not," Rubeus replied promptly, tucking the egg surreptitiously inside his robes. "It's not your fault I was there, though. Still don' know why you were, mind..."
"Doing my prefectly duty and looking out for the other students," Tom replied tartly. "Though I didn't think anyone would actually go down there."
"It's interestin' though," Rubeus replied wistfully.
"If you're going to do something interesting, at least make sure you don't get caught at it," Tom chided. "Anyone could have seen you there. You're not exactly easy to miss."
"I can' help that," Rubeus protested. "I wasn' having any trouble, though."
"Well, you could have. If I spotted you, someone else could have." Tom sighed as he tucked a small book inside his robes. "Anyway, I thought you were going to be with Weasley this trip. I thought he was too good as sticking his nose in other people's business to let you slip off."
"He's busy findin' Christmas presents for his family."
Tom blinked. "But it's only Halloween."
"Well, he's got a lot o' family."
Tom muttered something about Weasleys under his breath that made Rubeus scowl at him. "Fine. Let's just head back to where everyone else is, all right?"
"Sure. What'd you get, Tom?"
"Thought you had a book?" Rubeus petted his own purchase again.
"Oh, that. Just a book. What's yours?" Tom peered at it more closely. "Is that one of the ones that looked like it was about to start taking hostages in the window there?"
"The Monster Book of Monsters," Rubeus agreed happily. "They're only grumpy until yeh stroke them a bit."
Tom shook his head and chuckled a bit. "Count on you to figure that out, little brother."
"Well, what else would yeh do?"
"I am considered the biggest book lover in Slytherin," Tom returned somberly, "and even I do not stroke my books."
"Well, what if they were upset?"
"I'd threaten to feed them to a bookworm."
Rubeus looked at him reproachfully.
"That's not nice, Tom."
"I never said I actually did it. A little judicious threatening can work wonders, though."
"Well, petting these down works real good."
"I'll keep that in mind, but at least I'm comforted that no Care of Magical Creatures professor in his right mind would assign those."
"Aww, they're not so hard to handle once yeh get the trick of it and they settle down." Rubeus regarded his book admiringly and felt happy about the weight of the egg in his pocket. "Can' wait to read it."
"Planning on raising any monsters soon, or are you still resting on your laurels from Gus?"
"I'm hoping to!" Rubeus glanced around and lowered his voice. "I got an egg, actually, but I'm not sure what it is yet."
"...I was being sarcastic, but I suppose I should know better around you." Tom shook his head and chuckled. "So will you let me see it?"
"Of course. Maybe get out o' the street first, though."
"Yes, I figured." Tom looked around, then headed for a small side alley. This one only offered a back entrance to a small handful of stores and a scraggly brown cat rooting through the trash. Tom took out his wand and waved it at the entrance, then grinned. "All right, we're fine as long as no one walks in. Show."
Rubeus let his book snuggle up under his arm and took out the egg, beaming as he cradled it in one large hand. "It's got to be pretty far along -- I can feel the baby move inside the shell. D'you want to hold it?"
"Sure." Tom took the egg carefully, knowing Rubeus would kill him if he so much as jostled his new pet. He examined the egg carefully and finally shook his head. "I don't know what it's from, but Care of Magical Creatures was never my forte. Still warm, though. That's a good sign. You'll want to find out what it is as soon as possible, in case it needs any unusual care in the egg."
Rubeus looked up from eager perusal of the table of contents in his new book. "Well, this has a listing of what creatures have Class A Untradable listings, so I'm lookin' to see about eggs...."
Tom stared at him. "Rubeus," he said very slowly, "if you don't know what it is, why are you starting with Class A Untradables? You wouldn't find one of those just laying around!"
"Well, I... sort of did." Rubeus shifted his weight and licked a finger to turn the pages. "I was in a shop, and the shopkeeper wouldn' take it -- was expecting a raid or somethin'. And the man tryin' to sell it to him ditched it in a trash heap."
"So you decided to just pick it up? An Untradable?! Rubeus! You know those are dangerous!"
"Well, else it might've either died or hatched out right there in the street...."
"If you were worried about that, you would've reported it." Tom frowned at the egg worriedly. "Rubeus, I know you're good with animals, but this isn't like Gus..."
"Look, Tom -- if it's too hard to handle I'll get it to the Forest, or to Dad, or...." He swallowed hard. "Or kill it, if I've got to. I'll be careful, yeh know I will. And it is like Gus -- getting started when it's just a baby -- and most of the Untradables, at least the Class A ones, part of what worries people so much is they're smart."
Tom blew out a breath. "I'm not going to report you, Rubeus. I just...want to make sure you're careful with it, all right?" At least he was being practical and acknowledged that he might have to kill it, if it got out of hand...and he'd always done well with animals, even the big ones. "All right. I just wish I had time to help you with him..."
"Bein' a prefect taking up all your spare time?" Rubeus asked with a grin. "Don' worry. I'll be fine. I'll want yeh to come visit sometime, though."
"Well, there's that, studying for my O.W.L.s..." Tom let his voice trail off, glad that he had the handy excuse of O.W.L.s for just about everything. "I know you'll be fine, but I'll definitely still visit."
"Good." Rubeus looked at a page and chuckled. "Well, it could be an acromantula egg after all. Don' know though, there might be something else here that'd fit."
"Do not tell Weasley, in that case," Tom laughed. "I doubt it's an acromantula, really. Those are really rare."
"Well it's supposed to be hard to find any of them," Rubeus reminded him, laughing as well. "Being Untradable, yeh know."
Tom rolled his eyes and grinned. "Well, we'll find out what it is soon enough, but we should probably get back to everyone else. Don't want people noticing we're missing, after all."
"Right." Rubeus tucked the egg securely back into his robes and followed his brother out of the alleyway.
Rubeus joined back up with Weasley and a few other of his housemates, leaving Tom to go off in search of some of his own friends. But after a few minutes of wandering around, he instead went and tucked himself in to a quiet table at the back of the Three Broomsticks. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out a small book called King of Serpents and began to read.
Tom hissed softly as he crept along the corridors, torchlight casting flickering shadows on the wall. He kept his ears cocked for an answering hiss, a slide of scales on stone, anything that would tell him he was close. He was close, he could feel it. After years of hearing his mother's stories, reading everything he could find on their illustrious ancestor, and more than four years searching every part of the castle he could reach, he surely had to be close to finding it!
Tom's spell-enhanced hearing was nearly deafened by the footsteps of an approaching something. A very large something. Tom muttered a curse (and a countercharm) as he ducked behind the statue of a glowering wizard. He'd chosen now to search because no one was supposed to be in this section of the castle. He'd timed it carefully to coincide with the pranks he'd heard two Hufflepuffs planning this morning. Pringle should be kept busy for hours...
~Please don't be a professor,~ Tom prayed silently as the footsteps came steadily closer. Another student he could intimidate away, but a professor meant explaning himself...
A long shadow slid along the wall, and a soft echoing hum joined the footsteps. Tom blinked. Even with the echoes, it sounded a little familiar -- could it be --?
And it was. Which was fortunate, since "it" also turned out to be observant enough to spot Tom. Rubeus paused, frowned at the statue, and then came over to peer more closely into the shadows. "Tom! What're yeh doing down here?"
"Oh, hello Rubeus." Tom stepped out of the shadows sheepishly. "Guess I should work on my concealment charms."
"And here I thought yeh were good at everything." Rubeus smiled and jostled Tom's shoulder lightly. "But isn' this kind of a funny place to practice?"
"I am good at everything," Tom said in affront. "I just wasn't trying that one at the moment."
"All right, all right. So what were yeh doing?"
"Out for a walk?"
Rubeus's mouth quirked and he folded his arms. "Come on, Tom.... I'll tell yeh what I was doing, visitin' my egg. About to hatch, I just hope I'll be able to be here when it does."
"Don't tell me about it," Tom advised with a grin. "It's only the eggs that are Untradable, so as long as I don't know about him until he's hatched, I don't have to report it."
"I didn't trade anything for it," was the rejoinder. "I suppose you weren' looking for it then?"
"No, of course not. I'd just ask you to take me."
"That's what I thought. So why did yeh decide to take a walk down here?"
Tom looked around, then tugged his brother closer to the statue and cast a dome of silence around them. "You have to keep this absolutely quiet, understand?"
"Of course I do. Yeh don' tell on me about the egg, do yeh?"
"I know, I just have to make sure. I don't think the professors would be very keen on this." Tom took a deep breath. "You remember the bedtime stories Mum used to tell us? About when Grandfather used to search the castle for," his voice dropped even lower, "the Chamber of Secrets?"
"Sure I do -- Tom, are yeh looking for it too?" Rubeus fairly bounced on his toes with excitement. "Do yeh have any good ideas? I bet the creature'd really like to get out and stretch its legs by now. Or coils, if it's a snake." He pulled a mock frown and shook his head. "I don' know about that Salazar, Tom, leaving a creature locked up for so long.... Well, maybe it's got more space than it seems like it would."
"I'm sure he took care for it, if he went to all the trouble of making the Chamber for it in the first place. But I'm sure it would like to stretch a bit and...well, I'd like to be the one who finds it again. Grandfather couldn't, nor his father or his father, and who knows how many others before them?"
"What is this, a family tradition?" Rubeus shook his head. "And if it is one, how'd you lose the room in the first place?"
"It's been a thousand years, you know. The story's been passed down, but it's still so cryptic, it's hard to find. It's only the past few generations that have been looking again."
"And yeh think it might be down around here?"
"...I'm not really sure. I've been looking since my first year."
Rubeus blinked and looked a bit hurt. "Yeh never told me. Or yeh made it seem like a joke...."
Tom winced. "I'm sorry, Rubeus. It's just that I was looking on my own for two years, and it was habit to keep it quiet..."
"Well -- just tell me if yeh do find it, all right? I'd like to meet the creature -- if it won't mind me...."
"I don't think it will. I don't know. I just have to be careful, you know? Family legend is that the creature was for protection, but school legend is that it was to cleanse the school of Muggle-borns. I don't want to hurt anyone." He smiled wryly. "For that matter, I'm not entirely sure what it would make of ME in that case."
"Doesn' seem like a very efficient way to do it if that's what he was after," Rubeus suggested comfortingly. "And anyhow, it ought to like yeh."
"Well, I hope so. I have to find it first."
"Good luck with it." Rubeus grinned. "Meantime, I'm going to go tend to my egg."
"Let me know when it hatches, all right?" Tom grinned and took down the dome of silence. "See you later, little brother. And stay out of trouble!"