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 3/3
by Andrea13 and Persephone
Stepbrothers series

*****

Tom had made it through the rest of that evening and much of the following day with very satisfactory efficiency, to the point that his somewhat smug grin drew a curious and misty look even from Professor Binns.

Despite this, he still mustered the assertiveness to tell the historians courteously but very firmly that he had a great deal to do and would simply not be back to talk to them after dinner, though he did add graciously that Sharessa had said they were perfectly welcome to come and see her without him nonetheless.

He was enjoying himself very much and had just finished explaining to a laughing Moira why exactly Rubeus might have been grumbling about hats while he corrected his essay for transfiguration (and reassuring her that it actually had nothing to do with her own composition) when Leona stopped pacing regally alongside her mistress's feet, pricked up her ears, and darted through a door that stood slightly ajar into --

Tom lunged past Moira, shoving the door open, and started across the room. Bewildered, she followed him.

"Tom, what's wrong?"

"...Would even a Gryffindor mini-lion be stupid enough to go after an acromantula?"

"Um...I don't think so. Why?"

"Because Leona's about to crawl into Aragog's cupboard!"

"...Huh? Accio Leona --" Moira waved her wand in the air and summoned a distinctly Not Pleased cat to her, then turned back to Tom with eyebrows raised. "Now. WHAT is this about an acromantula?"

"...Rubeus is going to kill me."

"Definitely serious then." She gave the cupboard a wary look. "There's an acromantula named Aragog in the cupboard?"

"He's actually very nice," Tom said, for lack of anything more intelligent. In for a penny, after all... He crossed the room to the cupboard and knelt down. "Aragog? It's Tom..."

Under Moira MacMillan's incredulous gaze, a hairy, segmented leg pushed the cupboard door out slightly. "Yes?" Aragog clicked in wary tones. "You have not brought the monster, have you?"

"No, just a very impertinent pair of lions," Tom said wryly. "This is a friend of mine and Rubeus'. Her name is Moira. I wanted to introduce her to you." Or at least I did, he amended privately, once I didn't have a choice.

"You did?" Moira muttered under her breath. Keeping a firm hold on Leona, she walked cautiously toward the cupboard. "Hello... Aragog. I'm impressed; no one ever told me acromantulae could speak with humans."

"I speak with Hagrid. Hello, Friend of Hagrid."

"Meet our secret pet," Tom said with a wry smile. "Rubeus managed to talk an egg out of a traveler he met a while back. Er, keep a good hold on Leona."

"I am. Though she's not really trying to get away." Moira shook her head in wonder. "That's, um, definitely an unusual one. Rubeus would, wouldn't he?"

"This is Rubeus," Tom said with a big grin. "Of course he would. But then, he's starting saying the same thing about me with my creatures."

"Well, you've started deserving it, haven't you? An Ashwinder and a basilisk." She returned the grin and turned her attention back to Aragog. "How long have you lived here, if I may ask?"

Aragog clicked his mandibles fiercely. "Do not name the monster!"

"Erm, he's a bit sensitive about Sharessa," Tom explained quickly. "Spiders don't really care for...her kind."

"Oh." Moira blinked and eyed Aragog carefully. "I apologize. I didn't know." She had drawn back slightly at his anger; leaning too close to an unhappy Acromantula didn't seem wise.

"Do not mention it again," Aragog clicked. "But you are a friend of Hagrid." That seemed to decide things for him. "I have been here since I was an egg. When I am large enough, Hagrid will take me to the Forest where I may hunt."

"I'm sure you'll like that very much."

"I will. It is quiet here. Hagrid and his friend do not visit enough."

"Hey, I even brought Fido down to see you last week!" Tom protested.

"It is still not as often as you used to come." Aragog's clicks sounded rather wistful. "You prefer the monster, I think." It was strange to see a spider shudder.

"I'm sorry, Aragog. I'll try to visit more often," Tom said apologetically.

"And I can come visit you too, if you like," Moira suggested.

"That would be very nice." Aragog paused, then clicked, "You need not be concerned about your cat. I will not bite her; I promised Hagrid."

"Well, thank you. I'm a little more worried about her, though. Leona tends to be fearless."

Aragog extended a leg to tap the cat, who eyed it warily, then batted at it without particular hostility. "See? Nothing to worry about," Tom said easily, scratching Leona behind the ears. "She can get along with anyone."

"As is proved," Moira added merrily, "by her liking you."

"Everyone likes me," Tom said, airily and somewhat less inaccurately than even he may have realized.

Moira considered this thoughtfully for a moment, tapping her finger beside her mouth.

"Well...I have to admit, you're not the least popular boy in school. Word is you're a shoo-in for Head Boy." She winked. "And I have to admit I've never met another Slytherin named an honorary Gryffindor."

Tom made a strangled noise. "I -- what?"

"Didn't Rubeus tell you?" she replied brightly, seeing he wasn't getting any more coherent. "You've been named an honorary Gryffindor. We couldn't really do anything else, as fond of you as Leona seems to be -- she's our unofficial mascot, you see. Rubeus and I sponsored you, of course."

"You--Rubeus--" Tom stopped scratching Leona and looked at her in betrayal. "How could you? After I snuck into the kitchen to get you fish heads!"

Leona meowed and bumped his hand firmly. Moira chuckled. "Oh, come on. It's not so bad. You did have two of us in your family already, after all."

"Rubeus and Uncle Tavish don't count. They're Slytherins-by-association," Tom said with dignity. "And Fido and Sharessa both spoke for you to become an honorary Slytherin."

Moira gaped at him for a second, then started laughing. "Well, I suppose I couldn't get too much more decisive sponsors than a pair of actual serpents! But if Rubeus can count as a Slytherin by association, you can just as well be a Gryffindor by association too, so no more arguing."

"There's something horribly insulting about that," Tom grumbled.

She patted his knee. "There there. Think how much more satisfying it will be to torment Wood about Quidditch when you can claim actual Gryffindor allegiance. Not all of us are bad, are we?"

"Well.... No, I suppose not. You, for instance, do seem to have a certain affinity for serpents."

She grinned at him. "I like serpents. And some Slytherins aren't too bad either."

"Of course we aren't."

"Humans are strange," Aragog clicked, rubbing one long leg against Moira's. "But I like you. You may visit me more, friend of Hagrid's friend."

"I would be glad to," Moira told the Acromantula politely.

"Do you mind if she pets you?" Tom asked, with a quick glance at Moira to see if she minded. Her eyebrows shot up, but she didn't object.

"Not at all."

"I'd be delighted, but...I'm not exactly sure where you pet an Acromantula," Moira confessed, holding out a hand and trying to decide where to lay it.

"Oh... on the back or sides. Even the legs, just not under the feet, generally. Just be sure to pet in the direction of the hairs -- they're not exactly poisonous most places, at least at this age, but it's irritating if you prick yourself on them."

Moira obediently lifted her hand and gently stroked it along Aragog's back, going carefully in the direction of the growth. It was rather more pleasant than she would have imagined. The hair was fairly wiry, but springy beneath her fingers. "I seem to have the oddest experiences with you, Tom Riddle," she mused after a few moments.

"What, petting and talking to serpents and a baby giant spider? ...I suppose that is rather odd. Especially since I always thought of Rubeus as the one trying to introduce people to creatures most people don't consider friendly."

"Well... those and being declared an honorary Slytherin...." She grinned at him.

"It's better than being considered an honorary Gryffindor. Do you have any idea what my Housemates will say when that gets out?"

"It can't be any worse than what they said when you started having a miniature lion trailing along after you every time you stepped foot in the Great Hall."

Tom winced. "You have a point. I think. Nobody believes me when I insist she must be a transfigured snake."

"You did encourage her."

"I know!" Tom paused ane looked thoughtfully at Moira. "And what are YOUR Housemates likely to say about you?"

"Being an honorary Slytherin? Some of them will be appalled, of course. The ones who want to know if I'm kissing you will probably conclude I am."

"W-want to know WHAT?" Tom spluttered.

"Well you don't have to look so offended! For some reason, about half the House is completely convinced that we have some torrid secret relationship. The girls in my dormitory think that 'going to visit Tom's snake' is some kind of bizarre euphemism."

Tom blinked, then turned a brilliant shade of red. "Merlin," he said weakly. "You do realize you've just utterly destroyed any impression I might have retained about the Gryffindor stereotype of being high-minded?"

"And with you turning that adorable shade, how can we not name you an honorary Gryffindor?" Moira chuckled and continued petting Aragog. "Honestly, Tom, we're noble, not naive."

"I -- am not -- argh." Tom buried his face in his hands. It was very warm. He considered saying "Argh" again, but decided against it. "Then again," he muttered, "the first time they met again after Hogwarts, Uncle Tavish DID drug my mother."

Moira blinked, her lips curving in a delighted smile. "Did he really?"

"She was ill for a long time after I was born. We went out to visit him and he decided Mum wasn't well enough to make another trip by broomstick that night. So he drugged her tea, put her to bed, and played with me until I fell asleep too." Tom might have blushed a bit more, but by this point it was hard to tell. "She said it was very Slytherin of him."

"Or very Gryffindor. We are frequently accused of trying to protect people whether they like it or not."

"I think that's what he retorted. And a few months later they were married, so I suppose she didn't see anything too intrinsically wrong with Gryffindors."

"Doesn't look that way." Moira patted his shoulder kindly. "I really had no idea you'd be that shocked, by the way."

"Well, I just....I wasn't really expecting..." Leona reached up to bat at his face. He issued a sound that fell somewhere between a chuckle and a groan and buried his face in her fur.

"Look, you can't tell me Slytherin House is immune to gossip...."

"Of course not. It's just...not usually...about me," he finished lamely.

She raised an eyebrow. "Oh, so that interesting tidbit I heard about you and Dolores Midford last year--"

"Was completely and utterly false!"

She laughed at him. "I thought it was. I hoped you had better taste, at least. But it was still gossip, you know."

"Yes, but it wasn't about...anyone..." Tom coughed again. "You know, I'm usually much more charming than this."

"It wasn't about anyone?" Moira inquired innocently. "I'm fairly certain you and Dolores both exist."

"We do, but...well, she likes me, but I...well, there wasn't any kind of chance we'd..."

Aragog clicked with mild disapproval. "You are not making sense, Hagrid's Friend."

"Oh, he's making some...." Moira's lips were tense at the corners with controlled amusement. "No chance you'd actually be with Dolores, you were trying to say?"

Tom coughed. "Exactly. She's just had this idea for a while now that we...Anyway. What did you say when they asked you if you were kissing me?" he asked quickly, a bit desperately.

Moira actually blushed a bit. "'Not yet,' actually. They wouldn't have believed a straight denial anyway," she added quickly.

Tom managed to control his blushes long enough to grin a bit. "Well, it's nice to know no one believes you could resist my charm for very long," he said gravely.

"Hmph. And who's to say I wouldn't be the one doing the charming?"

"Hmm." Tom considered this for a moment. "I'd have to say I haven't seen any signs of it yet."

"Well!" She tossed her head, then settled abruptly into a more normal posture. "Fair enough, as you haven't been trying either. Wouldn't they be shocked?"

"You know them better than I do, but judging from those rumors, they probably would be." Tom angled his head slightly and put Leona aside, where she happily began playing "bat the Acromantula". Surprisingly, Aragog did not protest. "What do you think their reaction would be if you said yes next time they asked?"

Moira blinked, met his eyes, then swallowed. "I don't know. Some combination of gleeful, appalled, and asking for details, maybe."

"Appalled? Should I be insulted?"

"You are a Slytherin. Some would mind."

"I'm an honorary Gryffindor. Doesn't that count?"

"I didn't think you were going to claim that."

"I didn't get the impression I was being given a choice. It was done in absentia, after all."

"So was making me an honorary Slytherin, unless you did it in front of me in Parseltongue."

"Well, true..." Tom looked away for a moment, then looked back and asked, "Would you be gleeful or appalled?"

Moira turned a bit pink again. "I'm sure it would be very nice."

"Hmm...You know, since you're an honorary Slytherin now, you should know that Slytherins are great believers in practical demonstration..." Tom smiled a bit, then leaned over and kissed her. While he hadn't really expected their first kiss to come in front of an Acromantula and the Gryffindor mascot, it was still...quite nice.

Moira leaned toward him a bit and put a hand on his shoulder... for better balance, of course. When he moved back, feeling a few butterflies even though she had seemed to like it, she smiled at him. And then blushed. "I'd say gleeful."

He smiled back, a little gleeful himself. "Well, I didn't really plan on doing this in front of Aragog, but it somehow seemed appropriate." He reached down and twined his hand in hers. "How is it all our meetings stem from odd pets?"

"I don't know." Moira tilted her head at him, then put it on his shoulder. "But I'm not complaining."

"I don't believe I was either," Tom murmured, leaning his head against hers.

Aragog clicked his mandibles together once. "Humans are strange," he declared, then scuttled back into his cupboard.

Moira giggled. "I suppose we are."

"Well, that gets half our audience out of the way..." Tom frowned consideringly, then picked up Leona, covered her with a flip of his robes, then grinned back at Moira. "Much better," he murmured, then kissed her again.

Leona, instead of squalling like a proper cat should, purred very loudly from her cloth prison. Tom was starting to think that this was quite possibly one of the best days of his life when the door swung abruptly open and he heard his brother's version of a whisper calling out, "Aragog! I brought yeh some--"

He and Moira both jumped and leaned away from each other... not exactly guiltily, but definitely both red in the face. Moira looked alarmingly as if she wanted to laugh. "Er. Hello, Rubeus," she said in a slightly choked voice.

"Moira?" Rubeus looked very confused, looking between the two of them. "Were yeh introducin' her ta Aragog, Tom?"

Tom coughed and rescued Leona from his robes when she started to squirm. "Um...yes. Exactly. She thought he was very interesting."

"Very friendly, too," Moira added gamely.

Rubeus might not be in quite the same league in his classes as his brother, but he was no slouch either. "Er...why is he closed up in his cupboard then?"

"Well, he went back in after a while," Tom said reasonably.

Moira put a hand over her eyes. "To be specific, right after we decided to start kissing."

"After yeh WOT?!"

"Don't yell. We kissed."

"You don't have to look so horrified, little brother," Tom said with mild affront. "I'm told I'm now an honorary Gryffindor, so it's not like she's kissing the enemy."

"I don't know, we know he likes you," Moira observed. "I'm not that objectionable, am I, Rubeus?"

"You? No!" Rubeus protested immediately. "But--I mean--"

Moira laughed again. "He's starting to sound like you, Tom. Now I see you're brothers."

Tom favored her with a withering look. Moira remained defiantly unwithered, which was probably just as well.

"Tom," Rubeus said bewilderedly, "yeh didn't ever say anything!"

"Well, I didn't really plan on bringing her to see Aragog today. We just ended up down here and Leona tried to explore his cupboard."

"Not about THAT. About--" He waved his hands wildly. "Her!"

"...You knew we were friends, little brother."

"Well, yeah, but yeh never said yeh wanted ter kiss her!"

"If it helps, I didn't know he wanted to before today either," Moira put in.

"Apparently Slytherins are intrinsically more capable of keeping their feelings to themselves than Gryffindors," Tom said with great dignity.

"I'm yer brother. Yeh could have told me." Rubeus was clearly going to be offended about this.

Moira merely arched an eyebrow at Tom.

"It's generally considered good manners to let the lady know first, Rubeus." Tom was turning a very Gryffindor-ish color.

"The lady thinks that if she'd been as obvious as you implied a moment ago, you wouldn't have been nervous." Moira grinned, though she was still looking rather pink herself.

"Me, nervous? Honestly, I don't know what you mean," Tom said innocently, studiously examining the back of his hand.

"Mm-hmm."

"You hush," Tom ordered, grinning as he snared her hand again.

Moira grinned back at him. Rubeus shook his head and went to take Aragog his snack. "I dunno why yeh couldn't tell me," he muttered, opening the cabinet door. "I'm sorry I left yeh to them, Aragog."

"They are strange, but not bad," Aragog said with a shift of his legs that might have been a spidery shrug. "They brought a nice cat, too."

"I'm glad yeh like Leona." Rubeus pulled a package out of his pocket and started feeding the spider scraps. "What do yeh think of Aragog, Moira?"

"He's very nice. I admit he was quite a surprise, of course, but... well, I'm beyond being too surprised by any creature you might turn out to be looking after!"

Rubeus grinned over at his brother. "Well, Tom's got all the pets lately. Don' know what I'm goin' ter do. Maybe I'll have ter get named prefect now."

*****