Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction based on the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. No undue claim nor material profit is intended.
Snakes and Spiders
by Andrea13 and Persephone
Historians were insane. Or, Tom was prepared to admit (very charitably, he thought), possibly just exceedingly inconvenient.
He glared at his list of assignments. The professors, determined to have their students well prepared for the O.W.L.s this year, seemed to be trying to cram the four previous years' curricula into the time already occupied by the fifth-year curriculum. This was, of course, entirely normal, but nobody who wanted to talk to Sharessa seemed to remember it.
He'd thought searching for the Chamber took up a lot of his time -- and it had -- but it was nothing compared to the crazed historians who'd descended upon Hogwarts and Sharessa in hopes of being the one who would produce the definitive biography of the Founders. He couldn't blame them, really, but would it hurt anyone to try to find another Parselmouth somewhere? Or at least remember that this Parselmouth was currently trying to set a school record in number of O.W.L.s received.
At least he got to see Sharessa a lot. They'd taken to trading jokes in Parseltongue while the historians were composing yet another ridiculous question. (Why anyone needed to know if Salazar Slytherin preferred toast or muffins was beyond him.) But it was rather hard to translate and do schoolwork, and he'd rather die before asking a professor for special consideration.
One professor had surprised him. Dumbledore had taken to deflecting the crazed horde on occasion. Not often, but conveniently just when he needed to finish an essay or an assignment. As Dumbledore had rarely spoken in public since his battle with (and rumored defeat of) the Dark wizard Grindelwald a few years back, the historians were nearly as eager to talk to him as Sharessa. Tom found himself in the not quite comfortable position of feeling grateful to the Gryffindor Head.
With his hand still cramping in the wake of an Ancient Runes essay, it wasn't quite possible to feel too grateful, but at least it wasn't looming over him anymore. The fifteen other assignments in his room still were, but...well, he'd get to them eventually. Tom shut the books in front of him with a resounding thud and pushed back from the table. He was going to go flying. At the rate things had been going, he'd lose all his flying prowess and they'd lose to Hufflepuff.
He stretched out all his fingers and stood for a moment massaging his hand, gaze roving over the rest of the library. Not too many of his yearmates were in sight -- most would be in private corners or else meeting somewhere they could talk in groups -- but there was a scattering of busy students from other years.
A few looked down quickly as he glanced past them; he had just taken one long stride away from his table when he spotted a very pretty profile that hadn't moved.
It took him just one second longer to realize it was the Gryffindor MacMillan whom Fido had been so delighted with, and he suddenly wanted a drink of water.
Instead he focused on the bookshelves beyond her and walked toward them with purpose. He glanced sideways at her paper as he drew close enough to read the title.
It read "Muggle Custom in Costume."
He craned his neck unashamedly to look at what she'd written on the topic. He got as far as two sentences in -- which was great restraint on his part -- before exploding on the third. "Are you mad, or have you just never seen an actual Muggle in your life? Bowler hats are not primitive mating symbols! Honestly. They're headgear. If this is the sort of thing Muggle Studies teaches, I'm glad I never took that bloody class. Waste of time, if you ask me."
Tom realized approximately 1.00062 seconds after this left his mouth that it was really not a very complimentary thing to say, and while that usually didn't matter very much with Gryffindors (Rubeus and Uncle Tavish excluded, of course), for some reason he felt as if he's stuck his foot so far down his throat he was now dining on his sock.
She set her quill down and stared at him. "Well, I like it. But do you know, I don't think I have, not up close. Have you?" She blinked then and hurried to correct herself. "But I forgot, your father was one...."
Tom's eyes suddenly frosted over. "My mother," he informed her, with a slight emphasis on the word, "lived in the Muggle world for several years. She taught us everything we need to know about how to actually get along there."
She picked up her quill again and pursed her lips around the plume. "I hadn't thought I was making that many assumptions," she admitted, "but I hadn't thought of asking a Slytherin for help with Muggle Studies, either."
"Aren't there any Muggle-born students in Gryffindor? Seems like the logical choice, really." Tom leaned back against the table, trying hard to regain his composure after the flub and the insult coming one after another. Then again, she probably hadn't meant it as an insult. It didn't have the hard ring to it when the Slytherins said it. But still...
"Several, but the ones I know well enough to ask questions and might actually try to answer are all busy enough I don't like to bother them."
"Oh. Well...I have some free time, if you have questions." He pushed the thought of his broomstick and of the fifteen assignments piled up on his bed firmly out of his mind and smiled instead. "Purely out of the selfish desire to make the Slytherin fourth years work harder, of course."
"Either that, or you're trying to sabotage me by telling me where our textbooks are wrong, but not the professor." She grinned at him. "Are you sure? I keep hearing our fifth-years go on about O.W.L. preparation...."
A haughty sniff. "Maybe Gryffindors need extra time on it..."
MacMillan put her eyebrows up. "Well, after that I'm sure not to feel guilty. Sit down?" She nudged the nearest chair out from the table with her foot. "So, about those hats...."
"They're just hats. They aren't in code. Do ours mean anything?"
"Well, occasionally 'it's raining' or 'I have terrible fashion sense', but I suppose you're right. However, you've just forced me to come up with another topic for my essay."
She had to be joking, right? "The whole thing was going to be about hats?"
"...Not all bowler hats, but we were supposed to choose one aspect of the Muggle costume and discuss it."
"You could still write about hats. Just write something else about hats. The different kinds and when they're worn, maybe. Or... trousers." Or maybe hats were safer.
"Hmm. I'm not sure why they need so many different types of hats anyway." Moira grinned mischeivously at him. "Some of the ones I've seen them wearing I was sure magic had to be involved."
"Just fashion. Some of our 'fashionable' ones would look just as strange to them, if they got to see them. Which is why they don't, of course."
"Yes, but with ours I know there's magic involved."
Tom laughed -- softly, to avoid glares from the librarian. "Well, just think about how much more creative they have to be to come up with ways of doing it all without magic. Not that I'd like to live like that, but it's amusing for short visits."
"Have you... visited it then? When your mother was teaching you?"
"A bit, yes. We always take Muggle transportation to get to Platform 9 3/4, and Mum used to take us to the zoo and things sometimes. Rubeus kept asking where all the fun animals were, though -- and loudly -- so she stopped."
She put a hand over her mouth, laughing silently. "He was hoping for dragons, I imagine."
"Pretty much anything with poison or fangs would've worked, though I thought the snake house was interesting. We used to run wild on the Preserve with Uncle Tavish, though, so Muggle animals weren't very interesting."
"Especially from inside, er -- they keep them penned up somehow, don't they?"
"Cages with metal bars, or glass walls for things like snakes. Pretty primitive. The Muggles seem to like it, though."
"I suppose without Confining Charms.... Oh, that reminds me, though. How's Fido? Rubeus hasn't had him visiting for a few weeks, unless he's not told me."
"That's probably because I hardly see Rubeus to give Fido to him. I wish it was summer...though I'll have to leave Sharessa then, so never mind. Fido's...warm. And spoiled. He's starting to like my roommates more than me; they're the ones always giving him treats."
"What does he eat? I get the impression most of them live on the magic and heat, for as long as they do, but it wouldn't usually be that long -- or are these not food-treats?"
The corner of Tom's mouth quirked up in a smile. "Edward actually learned how to create a little bluebell flame. Fido loves it, and now everyone else is trying to conjure new magical fires for it. So if you hear Slytherin dormitory has burned down, you know why."
"Oh, don't worry. There's usually something on fire in the Gryffindor dormitory, and we haven't destroyed the place yet."
"So is that why Fido likes visiting so much?"
"Does he?" She beamed. "Maybe. The main fireplaces seem to be his favorite, though."
"I'm starting to think you see more of it than I do too. Not fair at all."
"If you barely get to see your brother and your snake, are you sure you have time to be talking to me?"
"Yes," Tom replied firmly.
"Well, I wasn't complaining, of course."
"Good. That certainly would've been a crushing blow to my ego."
"Not to mention quite silly of me."
"I would certainly think so, but I know Gryffindors can be slightly odd sometimes. I live with two of them."
"Well, I don't believe I've heard Rubeus complain about you either."
Tom smiled self-deprecatingly. "Then you don't listen enough? Brothers complain incessantly about each other. Lord knows I've heard Weasley going on and on about his. I know Rubeus does his fair share."
"If he does, it's not where I can hear him -- though I suppose there's plenty of time like that, of course."
"I suppose. Do, er, you have any brothers? Or sisters?" he asked somewhat awkwardly, realizing he knew nearly nothing about her save she was a Gryffindor, had a remarkably serpentine cat, and odd ideas about hats. And nice eyes.
...Where did that thought come from?
"An older brother. He'd have finished the year before you started. We're all for the moment."
"Oh." ~Very smooth, Riddle. Aren't you meant to be the charming one?~
"He's quite a lot of fun, when he has time. Speaking of which -- you sound as if you could stand to use your free time doing something other than helping me with my homework -- no matter how much I appreciate it -- so would you consider letting me see Fido again?"
"Of course. Any time you want to."
"Now would be good."
"Well, let's go then."
She grinned and started gathering up her things as Tom stood. "And I promise to do better research before I say anything else about hats."
Rubeus painstakingly crossed the last 't' on his essay for Transfiguration, holding his hand well above the paper so that he wouldn't smear it all. Ordinarily he'd be using a larger quill, but he seemed to have been going through them awfully fast this year and couldn't find any more of the big ones in the shops. Something about the birds not doing quite so well as usual, and milliners and haberdashers snapping up all the best ones at high prices because they were in fashion.
He thought it wasn't such a bad essay, though, even if it was messier than usual. Rubeus blew on the last line of ink, causing the wettest part to shiver a little, and looked back over it to see if he'd missed anything important. He'd probably covered everything major.
And he didn't have to write as much as some people, because his handwriting was so big. Though Tom tended to make faces if he said that. This essay was on turning things into animals, though, and Rubeus had proudly written a whole extra four feet on the subject, making his essay as tall as he was when he held it up by one end.
He stopped admiring his essay and looked down at Leona and then at her mistress as the cat leapt off Moira's shoulder onto his. Moira made a face. Rubeus grinned. "Hi there. Need me to look after yer cat?"
She laughed. "No, actually, I was going to ask a different favor. I... well, I was writing an essay for Muggle Studies and your brother gave me some advice on it. He said you knew about it too, so I was wondering if you could look it over for me and see that I haven't done anything else silly."
Rubeus beamed. He wasn't always the obvious choice to be asked for help on homework -- well, except for Herbology, Potions, or Care of Magical Creatures...well, anyway, he always loved it, and he didn't get asked about Muggle Studies often. "Sure, I'd love to. What's it on?"
He blinked. "Er...hats?"
"Muggle hats," she added hopefully, then groaned comically at herself and shook her head. "Naturally. Being a Muggle Studies essay. So much for not doing anything else silly."
"I'm sure it's a fine essay," Rubeus said encouragingly, looking down at the tiny, precise handwriting he could never hope to accomplish. "Er...would yeh mind reading over my Transfiguration essay while I read yours? I wrote a lot more than usual and...well, I just want ter impress Professor Dumbledore."
"Oh, of course! What is it you're on right now? --Oh." She grinned. "I liked this one too."
"We don' always get to do the interestin' subjects in Transfiguration," Rubeus agreed, beaming. "Thanks."
Leona purred in his ear as they settled down to pore over one another's essays. Moira made a few suggestions, which Rubeus scrawled on a scrap of parchment until she took it and his quill away from him and started writing them down herself instead. She found another scrap, selecting a larger one with a rueful expression, to write down his suggestions -- though the main thing he wanted to say was that he didn't think Muggles treated hats all that differently from wizards and witches, except for wearing less pointy ones. He supposed he could be mistaken.
"You've got quite a long section on snakes here," Moira observed, "but I suppose there's nothing wrong with specializing some. ...I suppose that's on account of Tom?"
"Well, partly. Dad'll work with 'em a right lot as part of his job, but it's more 'cause of Tom. And Aunt Mary, though she's not quite so strong at Parseltongue."
"Oh, I didn't realize your stepmother was a Parselmouth too. I suppose it would be a family trait, though, what with the Chamber and all...So was it strange growing up with half the family talking to snakes without being able to understand it yourself?"
"Aw, no, not so much. Tom's always been real good about telling me what they're talking about -- an' yeh know there's some things yeh don' have ter be a Parselmouth to understand. They can talk other ways as well as a cat, f'rinstance."
"Yes, I remember Fido angling for a scratch just like Leona." Moira grinned and scratched the chin of the feline in question, who purred loudly. "I suppose it's good he had a chance to learn how to play interpreter. He must be getting awfully frustrated with all those historians now."
"Oh, yeh wouldn' have heard him go on about them, would yeh? And right when he's got OWLs, too. Yeh know he was studyin' for them at the start of last summer, too?"
"Really? I'd heard he was a perfectionist, but isn't that a bit much? Does he usually study that much?"
"Well, he did ease off some after a while. I barely saw him for a bit there though." Rubeus shook his head. "S'pose he just wants to be prepared."
Moira propped her chin on her hand and tried not to appear too interested. "I know who to ask for help next year, then. He was a big help on my essay, though I was quite surprised he had the time to help. Especially a Gryffindor."
Rubeus chuckled. "I don' know about havin' time, but he'll help me out if I ask -- I suppose yeh did? What made yeh think of it?" He frowned suddenly, worried. Moira hadn't gone on about Mr. Riddle, had she? He wouldn't think her the type -- well, Tom wouldn't have helped out if she'd said anything nasty, surely, so that was all right.
She smiled ruefully and admitted, "I didn't actually think to ask, with him being so busy and I didn't think a Slytherin would want to help a Gryffindor. But he was reading over my shoulder when he walked by and apparently I was so hideously wrong he volunteered his help on the spot."
Rubeus burst out laughing. "I don' think Tom usually goes lookin' over shoulders for things to correct! 'Cept mine, maybe." He paused, struck. Tom didn't. But Tom had mentioned Moira more than once -- which was pretty impressive, considering how often anything other than revision, Sharessa, and historians seemed to get into Tom's conversation lately.
"Hmm. Mine must have been exceptionally egregious, then." Moira smiled. "But I AM glad he offered his help. My essay is much better, though it may not seem that way."
"Oh, sure it does -- I mean -- well, the only thing I can think of is, Muggle hats look different, but I don' think overall they do anything much different with 'em. There's only so much yeh can do with a hat, isn' there?"
"Well, if the Founders thought that, the Sorting Hat would be moldering in Godric Gryffindor's grave now, wouldn't it?"
Rubeus snorted. "All right then, there's only so much yeh can do with a hat for everyday, especially without magic, and we probably do all of that already too."
"True enough, but there are meanings to things that we don't always realize when we use them every day." Moira shrugged, then added, "And not ALL of us grew up with a lot of contact with Muggles, you know, especially not the all-magic families like both of ours. You're more the exception than the rule."
"See, that's a funny thing, it is. Dad an' I probably wouldn' have either, but Aunt Mary says her family's always been sure to keep track of the Muggles and what they're about and how not to stand out too much among 'em if need be -- for all Muggle-borns don' usually end up in their House."
"I suppose Tom's more interested in it than most, with his father," Moira offered casually, looking down at Leona's ears.
"...Not really." Rubeus lowered his voice. "Look, it's not all about him bein' a Muggle, it's about Mr. Riddle didn' take proper care of Aunt Mary, even if she did still like him enough to call Tom for him. So don' go on about him, right?"
"...I'm sorry, I didn't intend to offend." Though now that she thought about it, Tom HAD seemed to change the subject awfully quickly when the topic of his father had come up. "I didn't even realize that was, er, what happened. I suppose I'd just assumed he'd died when Tom was a baby. I'm sorry, I won't bring it up again."
"Well -- if yeh asked Aunt Mary, yeh might get a better answer. But some o' the things people say about Slytherins are true about just enough people in an' out that Tom's not so used to people askin' without meaning somethin' off by it, and then there's what he did, and that's that."
Moira didn't point out that she probably wouldn't get a chance to meet the redoubtable Mrs. Hagrid, and if she DID likely wouldn't have the nerve to ask such a personal question. She simply said demurely, "Thank you for saving me from embarassing either of us, then. I won't ask."
"Aw, don' sound so quiet over it. Well, I don' mean yell or anything -- yeh know what I mean." Rubeus waved a hand at her. "I'm jus' glad yeh don' want to. ...Yeh like him, do yeh?"
Moira colored slightly. "He's...very nice. And was kind enough to help me with my essay, so I should think I at least owe him enough not to bring up subjects painful to him."
Rubeus grinned. "Well, good. He liked how yeh handled Fido, yeh know -- remembers that."
"Really?" She was, Moira pointed out to herself sternly, pleased all out of proportion to the compliment. She appreciated people who were kind to Leona, didn't she? That was all. "It just seemed like common sense, really. He was acting enough like Leona."
"See, a lot of people won't see that in a snake. Gryffindors 'specially, it seems like, though I never understood it. Dad and me're fine with them."
"I haven't been around as many snakes as cats, I must admit, but a pet's a pet, in my mind."
"There yeh go!" Rubeus beamed warmly at her. "I bet yeh'd get along with Gus or Sharessa, too."
"Gus is your griffin, isn't he? Xavier couldn't stop gushing about him after summer holidays. I'm sure I'd like him, but what true Gryffindor wouldn't like a real griffin?" She grinned. "I think I'd like Sharessa, from what I've heard you and Tom say, but hardly any of the students get a chance to see her with the historians taking up all her time!"
"Well now -- why don' I take yeh to meet her? Without Tom we can' really chat, like, but I bet she'd like seein' yeh all the same -- meetin', really, as she'd have her eyes shut -- and she likes her eye-ridges scratched."
Moira's face lit up with a brilliant smile. "You'd let me meet her? I thought Headmaster Dippet said they didn't want students trying to find the Chamber and disturbing her..."
"Aw, she likes students! And there's a meetin' room set up -- easier if she's there, of course, I don' know whether she'd even be able to hear me if I tried callin' into the Chamber."
The prohibition had been more for the reason of not having any students accidentally killed by sneaking down while Sharessa had her eyes open, but this wasn't quite the same thing... "Well, I suppose the usual rules don't apply to you on that." Moira's grin turned daring. "All right, let's go."
"Great! Rubeus rolled up his essay and tied Moira's suggestions to it for later use, then thundered up the stairs to put it away and thundered cheerfully back down.
Moira had more quietly banished her own essay and set Leona to "guarding" it -- a cat-ism for "curl up beside it and go to sleep" -- and was waiting impatiently by the time Rubeus returned, bouncing a bit on the balls of her feet.
"Where are you two off to this time of evening?" one of Moira's roommates interrupted with a smirk as they were about to climb out the portrait hole.
Moira raised an eyebrow, then batted her eyes and said innocently, "Just going to see Tom Riddle's snake," before climbing out after Rubeus.