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.
Authors' note: Sixth in the Stepbrothers AU series, takes place during and after Tom's sixth year and Rubeus's fourth.
Called to Account
by Andrea13 and Persephone
A wolf-whistle greeted Tom as he walked in front of the mirror in his dormitory. "Shut it, you," he muttered, pulling out his comb and running it through his hair.
"Even mirrors are coming on to you now, Tom?" Jeffrey laughed, looking over from where he was flopped on his bed. Shortly before the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year, the Slytherin boys were all ready early.
All except Tom Riddle.
"Just because you don't mind looking like a house elf doesn't mean all of us feel the same, you know," Tom retorted. "Of course, some of us are just naturally more blessed than others."
"Mm-hmm. Blessed. Doesn't have a thing to do with spending an hour getting dressed. It's just Hogsmeade, Tom."
"To us poor mortals, maybe," one of the other boys laughed, "but don't you know? Tom's got a date."
"You boys can have fun playing around at Zonko's," Tom said calmly, giving his hair one last pass before setting down the comb.
"And where are you taking the Gryffindor?" Jeffrey asked with a grin.
"You don't think I'm just going to tell you, do you?"
"It's not like we couldn't watch and find out. Sure, Hogsmeade's bigger than it looks, but we all start out at the same spot."
"Of course you can, but at least this way you have to put some effort into it."
From his seat by the window, Elliot stretched out casually and remarked, "Must say, I never saw you for following in your mum's footsteps. A Gryffindor." He sighed loudly. "What would Slytherin say?"
"Since Sharessa likes Moira, I'd say he'd approve," Tom replied dryly.
"Well, there's that. At least it was those footsteps -- MacMillan's a good family."
Tom blinked. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask, "What do you mean those footsteps?" but it occurred to him at the last second what Elliot meant. "Better a Gryffindor than a Muggle, you mean?" he asked casually, tucking his wand into his pocket and heading for the door. "I'll be sure to tell my mum you approve."
"Oh --" The door slammed over the sound of what Tom suspected was an entirely nonmagical curse.
Tom strode through the common room and out into the hallways before his roommates could catch up, angrily straightening his robes as he walked. It wasn't the first time he'd been teased about his relationship with Moira, but it was the first time someone had suggested the only reason they were together was because she was sufficiently pureblooded! At least the first time to his face.
It couldn't have anything to do with just liking her, of course not. Idiots.
Even if everyone seemed to prefer his mother's second choice, he couldn't ignore that it was the first one who'd fathered him. Even if Uncle Tavish had been his father in every way but that. And... to tell the truth, he preferred him too, even if his mother did insist that the break with her first husband had been partly her own fault as well. But it wasn't Uncle Tavish's blood in him. It wasn't Uncle Tavish's name he bore. It was the Muggle's.
He certainly hadn't picked Moira out on the basis of her family. If he'd wanted a pureblooded girlfriend and that was all, there were plenty -- quite a few of whom had only stopped flirting with him themselves when the gossip chain had told them he and Moira had essentially paired off. He wondered a bit uncomfortably if he'd have got interested in her without it... but he'd started thinking he'd like to kiss her long after they'd started spending time together with their respective pets.
It didn't matter. Anyway, Slytherin apparently hadn't been as obsessed with purebloods as many now seem to think, or his basilisk wouldn't have been as enthusiastic about accepting a halfblood as his Heir. Tom comforted himself with that thought enough to put on his usual charming smile as he appeared in the entrance hall and sought out Moira.
"Look out, Moira. The serpent approacheth," remarked a Gryffindor third-year. Tom might have taken offense, except that both of the boy's parents had been Slytherins -- so the ominous tone was probably good humored.
He obligingly came forward to take her hand and said, "Good morning to you too." Then he raised an eyebrow and hissed something else in the third-year's direction. The boy looked like he couldn't decide whether he should laugh or be insulted.
"All right, what did you just say to him?" Moira grinned. "And good morning. Will you be appalled if I announce that I want ice cream for lunch?"
"Hmm." Tom frowned over this and rubbed his chin consideringly. "Actually, I'd probably ask 'chocolate or rocky road?'" He grinned charmingly. "And all I said to him was good morning, of course."
Edgar, the third-year, shrugged and offered a smile that showed promise of stopping nearly as many hearts as Tom's in a few years. "For all I knew it was 'Please tell me the rumors about your parents hatching a hydra aren't true.'"
Tom blinked. "The what?"
"I'm sure I've mentioned this before," Tom said seriously to Moira, "but Gryffindors are strange."
"If Gryffindors are strange, then honorary Gryffindors are even stranger," she retorted with a serene smile. "Besides, you don't seem to mind us."
"A very select few of you."
"Slytherin elitist," she accused teasingly.
Moira blinked -- his ripostes were usually more interesting than that -- but shrugged and started for the carriages down to Hogsmeade. They managed to get a carriage to themselves instead of having to share, with most of the school still milling around in the entrance hall waiting for friends to arrive. Only the third-years had been over-eager to get down to see Hogsmeade for the first time. They sat in the rocking carriage in silence for a few minutes before Tom finally remembered himself and said, "You look very nice today."
"Thanks, so do you." Moira studied him for a moment and then moved next to him. "What's on your mind?"
"Nothing. Er, you, I mean."
She snorted. "Thank you so much. Seriously, Tom. It's obvious something is."
"Just...roommates being idiots again. Don't worry about it."
"I know the feeling -- sort of. You look more serious about it than usual. Are you sure you don't want to complain?"
"Why do you like me?" he asked suddenly. "I mean, you said your Housemates tease you about me. Is it just because I'm a Slytherin, or does anyone--Never mind."
"I like you because you're a lot of fun, brilliant, and very nice." One corner of Moira's mouth quirked up and she dipped her head slightly as she added, "And it certainly doesn't hurt that you're handsome. Why? Don't tell me somebody suggested I shouldn't."
"No." Tom stared out the carriage window, brooding. They were almost to Hogsmeade. "Where does family come into it, for Gryffindors? I know the Weasleys have Gryffindors back to Merlin-knows-when."
"It... varies, I suppose," she said slowly. "I mean... some families are very determined for children to be in a particular House; others don't worry over it nearly so much. I suspect we might tend to be the ones in a given family to be nastier about grudges between families than people in some of the other houses -- lions' pride and all that. It may not be a Sorting trait but sometimes I think it's over-encouraged."
Tom nodded thoughtfully, but as the carriage had just come to a halt, he waited until they'd clambered out of it and were walking down the street to reply. "My mum married a Muggle and a Gryffindor. I used to joke that I didn't think anyone in Slytherin thought there was a difference. Apparently they do. I've been...congratulated for choosing someone of such a good family." Tom's voice and expression were sour.
Moira gave this several strides' worth of thought. "It probably tells you something about me that I'm not as annoyed about that as you seem to be," she said thoughtfully. "But then, I decided fairly quickly that I was just going to laugh at the uncle-by-marriage who squawked at me the first two weeks of summer about how I couldn't be thinking seriously about Tom Riddle because 'He's a Slytherin! Moira, he's THE Slytherin!'"
Tom snorted. "Well that's just silly. THE Slytherin died a thousand years ago. I'm just his many-times-great-grandson." Tom went silent again. Eventually he added, "I didn't choose you because of your family. Or at least I don't think I did."
"I don't think you did either, but I could hardly be offended if they were a secondary consideration -- we can't really avoid dealing with somebody's family if we want to see them outside the school year for a while yet." Moira paused to send a ball that was scattering little rainbows all over the street back over to the children who'd lost it with a well-aimed kick. "And no, I'm not being deliberately obtuse; I know what you mean. Snobbery's hardly unique to the pureblood families that run predominantly to Slytherins; there are mixed ones who have a few members determined to be insufferable about their status in the Muggle world. There are people from predominantly Gryffindor families who wouldn't _dream_ of marrying a Slytherin -- including the uncle I mentioned. Some wizarding families deserve their reputations, and overall tend to keep them up, even if it's no guarantee about the individuals. Practically everybody at least thinks about it at some point, even if Slytherin's traditionally the least open about marrying Muggles or their children."
"Not all Slytherins are opposed to marrying Muggles," Tom said quietly, looking off into the distance. "But apparently I'm supposed to just ignore that and marry a good little pureblood." He snorted and kicked at a patch of grass. "Your uncle thinks I'm THE Slytherin and nothing else; Slytherin snobs thinks I shouldn't even be considered his heir since I'm half-Muggle."
"I said traditionally," Moira pointed out, "and I'd be quite as offended at being dumped because I'm a pureblood as I would if I thought that was the main reason you liked me. Which would be silly anyway, as it doesn't narrow things down that far. And there's no such thing as half-Muggle, or Muggle-borns would by extension be fully Muggle and couldn't do magic, which is demonstrably ridiculous."
He cast her a sideways look through half-hooded eyes that would have sent half the girls at Hogwarts running to their journals to compose poems about brooding heroes. "Don't nitpick. You know what I meant."
Moira, even if she was used to looking at him without having to sigh from a distance by now, had a certain high color in her cheeks as she replied, "Of course I do. It's still a silly term, and I'm in the middle -- or rather, forging into the beginning, really -- of a paper on language manipulation." She grinned at him a bit sheepishly. "Sorry, though."
"...So am I. I shouldn't have snapped. This...isn't about all that anyway. It shouldn't even bother me." He shook his head and straightened his shoulders. "I believe you mentioned wanting ice cream?"
"Yes, but it's a little early for lunch...." Moira trailed off. "Not that that's a problem." They turned down the nearest street in the direction of the ice cream parlor. "But if it's not about roommates imputing ulterior motives to us, what is it about?"
"It is, and it isn't," Tom clarified helpfully. He moved a little closer to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "It just...made me think a bit. About him. Not that it matters."
Moira put her arm around him in return, reaching up to his opposite shoulder, and took a moment to think about this. "Your father, you mean?"
"My biological one."
"As they appeared to be less than comfortable thoughts, I didn't think 'he' was likely to be Tavish Hagrid, no."
"Uncle Tavish has been my father since I was three. I don't even remember the other one. We didn't even meet once."
"Has your mum told you much?"
"Bits and pieces. I never really asked. He was a Muggle, obviously. His family was apparently fairly well-off in the Muggle world. He was so disturbed at finding out he was married to a witch that he ran off and never spoke to her again. What more do I need?" Tom shrugged. "I suppose he's still alive...Well, assuming nothing strange happened. He could've married again, I guess." He laughed, but didn't sound very amused. "I could have more siblings out there somewhere. Wouldn't that be interesting?"
"You could probably find out, if you wanted to look."
"I'm sure I could. And do what? Stroll up and say, 'Hello, I'm your brother Tom, the one your father abandoned sixteen years ago. Oh, you've never heard of me? Fancy that. I thought my picture would be up on the mantle.'"
"Sorry. Research mode again." Her hand flexed gently on his shoulder.
"I don't know why I should bother looking him up. He's the one who walked away from us. He has nothing to do with who I am."
"Except half your blood. And, more important, maybe whatever it was your mother saw in him in the first place."
Tom stopped and pulled his arm away, looking at her angrily. "I am nothing like him!"
Moira turned to face him. "You don't know that."
"What, you think I'm like someone who'd hate something he doesn't know anything about just because it's strange? Someone who'd run out on the person I married and my own son just because I found out something about her I didn't like? That's what you think of me?" Tom glared at her fiercely, then turned to walk away. "Get your bloody ice cream yourself."
"Come back here --" Moira's voice was sharp but little louder than Tom's, and Tom tended to hiss when he was angry instead of shouting. Otherwise they'd probably have a good deal more of an audience than his abrupt motions had garnered. She caught at his wrist and dug in her heels as he turned back for another glower. "No, that's not what I think of you," she said quietly. "Those are choices made, and they're not ones I'd expect of you."
"That's who he is, so don't compare me to him again!"
"That's what he's done -- some of it -- which is very much part of who he is, but also not even remotely hereditary." Moira took a step closer and looked up at him. "And quit yelling at me."
"I didn't yell."
"Hissing like that is the equivalent for you, but that wasn't the point."
Tom closed his eyes and visibly wrestled his temper back under control. He opened his eyes after a moment and said quietly, "I'm not like him. Don't say that again."
"You are absolutely nothing like anything you actually know of him." Moira tugged at his hand a little and, when he didn't resist, tucked herself back into his arm. "All I'm saying is that that isn't very much -- and I have trouble believing your mother ever wanted a man who had no virtues at all."
"She was foolish," Tom said quietly. "She did much better with Uncle Tavish."
"Well, I can't argue with that part."
He hmphed, but pulled her closer and started walking again. "Good."
"He doesn't worry me," Moira told him with a glance up at his face. "If he worries you, though, then maybe you should ask about him." She smiled a little. "But for now, let's not let him ruin the ice cream."
Tom sighed. "You're right. Let's go." But as they walked towards the ice cream parlor, Tom's thoughts stayed dark.
It was a fine day for the first Hogsmeade weekend of the term, with crisp air and a blue sky for the students to enjoy. Albus Dumbledore didn't find it precisely astonishing that one of his most outdoorsy students opted to stay on the grounds, but he did note it; Rubeus Hagrid tended to be genially sociable, and it was unusual for him to pass up an opportunity for easy inter-house mixing. All things considered, it had been almost inevitable to glance out the window and spot the boy on his way to the Forbidden Forest. With a faint sigh, Dumbledore turned his robes to a less conspicuous color and left his office. Time to see what the lad was visiting now.
As he walked, Dumbledore comforted himself with the thought that it was highly unlikely Rubeus could have dug up anything more dangerous and rare than last year's creature. Though calling Sharessa a "creature" seemed rude now that he'd become acquainted with her, of course. Still, he rather doubted that even the redoubtable Forbidden Forest had anything quite like a thousand year old basilisk.
Despite what the students whispered amongst themselves, he didn't think there were really werewolves there, at least not in the middle of the day when it was more than a week before the full moon. And even Rubeus would have some trouble concealing a dragon. Perhaps the lad was trying to meet the centaur herd that roamed the forest. Not a bad goal, but he was still a bit young for that. Perhaps in a few years....
Rubeus's woodcraft reflected the number of times he had ignored the meaning of the little word "forbidden." He was making no great effort at stealth, but he did walk confidently as if he knew where he was going, even as Dumbledore followed him deep into the forest where the trees contemplated their vast lives and muttered when creatures passed by or through.
"Aragog! There yeh are!" Rubeus exclaimed happily, coming to an abrupt halt and extending his arms. Dumbledore stopped hastily himself and stepped halfway behind a tree trunk, squinting as a leggy piece of shadow detached itself and started to approach the boy.
Then it stopped, and to Dumbledore's astonishment it spoke in a grating, clicking voice. "Hagrid has brought a stranger!"
"I what?" Rubeus exclaimed in astonishment, whirling around. "Get out of here, Aragog! Yeh'll get caught."
The creature moved again; Dumbledore, seeing he had been detected, stepped out and lifted his wand. "Lumos!"
Rubeus had taken an abortive step toward him with an agonized expression, but Dumbledore's eyes were on the gleaming black ones of a waist-high, hairy spider as it scuttled quickly out of range and was lost to the darkness beneath the trees.
"Pr--Professor Dumbledore sir. I -- I didn't know yeh were there."
"It happens, Mr. Hagrid," Dumbledore said deliberately, returning his gaze to his student, "that I had already reached that conclusion."
Rubeus lowered his eyes to the forest floor. "Yes, sir."
Dumbledore drew a deep breath. "Rubeus, did I just see you speak with an acromantula?"
"...Only if my luck is as bad as I think it is."
"Rubeus...." Dumbledore closed his eyes, then reconsidered the wisdom of this given their location and opened them again. "You just met with an acromantula."
Rubeus gave in to what his brother always called a "lamentable lack of proper Slytherin cunning" and did what no Slytherin willingly did -- told the truth. "Yes, sir, I did. His name is Aragog, sir." No wonder he was a Gryffindor.
"Would you like to explain this situation, Rubeus? Acromantulae are not exactly indigenous."
"Oh, no sir! I looked it up when I got his egg, and the next closest colony is -- er, that's not what yeh were asking about, is it?"
"Not...precisely." Dumbledore resisted a strong urge to bury his face in his hands. He really should be used to this type of thing from this particular student by now, but he still managed to be surprised. "To begin with, you raised this creature from an egg? Need I remind you that Acromantula eggs are Untradable?"
"I didn' trade it," Rubeus explained earnestly. "Somebody'd left it on a rubbish heap. He would've died if I'd just left him!"
"...Mr. Hagrid, there is generally a reason things are made Untradable. Acromantulae are dangerous. A danger to you and your fellow students!"
"Aragog's not! He wouldn' hurt anybody. I always made sure he had plenty to eat so he wouldn' go hunting before I could explain what he ought and ought not to try. He's real smart, understands everything I tell him."
Dumbledore opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again and shook his head. "This is not the place for a discussion, Mr. Hagrid. There's a reason the forest is forbidden to students. Walk with me."
"Yes, sir." Rubeus obeyed, and conversation gave way to the quiet sounds of leaves underfoot as they started back toward the edge of the forest.
It might have looked comical -- the student walking with eyes downcast and slightly trembling lips as he awaited his fate, towering over his professor as they left the forest behind them and crossed the grounds to the school proper. But Dumbledore's face was serious and drawn, his eyes lacking their customary twinkle. "I think I should impress on you, Mr. Hagrid, the seriousness of this affair. Your brother's experience to the contrary, this school does not make a habit of rewarding the raising of dangerous beasts. You have knowingly flouted school rules again and again, and judging from this Aragog's size, over a period of some months at least." They stopped in front of the sleepy lion portrait that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore's office. "I need to consider this. Remain here."
He didn't look at Rubeus' face as he closed the door.
He was NOT going to ask his mother.
Tom was very firm about that point. He'd toyed briefly with the idea of writing her and asking a few questions, but...well, that kind of conversation would really go better in person anyway. And...he didn't want Uncle Tavish to know he'd asked. But he wouldn't be seeing her until Christmas, and it was only the beginning of November. Tom thought he might go crazy in two months. Now that Moira had brought it up, he couldn't stop THINKING about it. What if he WAS like the other Tom Riddle? He had his name, and as Tom had never seen too much of a resemblance between himself and his mother, he might very well have his looks as well. What else might he have?
Did he even want to KNOW?
No, he didn't want to know, he thought irritably. He didn't even want to think about it. He just couldn't seem to help it. Knowledge is power. The quotation came easily to mind. A lesser known addendum: And almost as reliable a foe to fear as love is. Well, he certainly wasn't going to love the man.
Even if his mother had once....
Tom winced. He desperately needed to talk this out. He tried writing it and promptly destroyed all the ink from the page; he thought about whispering it and shied away from the thought. He could hiss it out in Parseltongue with no danger of being overheard, but while speaking Parseltongue to himself wouldn't get him any stranger looks than talking to himself out loud in English would, they wouldn't be any less strange, either. Besides, he needed someone to answer him....
His mind took one last turn around the solution and settled. Of course. The basilisk would listen, wouldn't she? According to her, that was one thing Salazar Slytherin had used her for, after all. Well, if it was good enough for his ancestor....
No one batted an eye anymore when Tom Riddle knocked on the door to the girls' toilet on the second floor and, when no one replied, walked right inside. This particular toilet had fallen out of common use since the Chamber's discovery anyway, except for the occasional girl who wanted to moon over Tom. He closed the Chamber entrance behind him and slid down the tunnel to land on rat skeletons. Despite everyone's interest in Sharessa, she'd insisted that only Salazar's Heir could come down to the Chamber, not every random person who wanted to see her (Tom didn't mention that she didn't mind when he brought other people down. He preferred it this way.)
So he walked into the Chamber itself and flopped down on the pillows he'd brought down after getting tired of the cold stone floor. "Sharessa? I need to talk to you."
"I listen well, Salazar's Heir." The soft hiss was accompanied by the quiet sound of scales on the floor and then fabric; one stretch of snake settled alongside him. "Are you well?"
"...Sort of. I just...wanted to talk to someone who wouldn't tell anyone else, and couldn't be overheard." Tom scratched her scales with his eyes closed. "Sharessa...what did Slytherin think about halfbloods?"
"He was...wary of those who were very close to their Muggle relatives, unless he was sure of those."
"What about those who weren't close?" Tom burst out, the words spilling over each other in their eagerness to get out. "What if they didn't want anything to do with them? What if the Muggles didn't want anything to do with them?"
A soft hiss of laughter. "Then he would watch a little to see that they were not so angry with the Muggles as to do anything foolish. Surely you are not worried that he would not have approved of you, Salazar's Heir?"
"I'm not angry with the Muggles. I just don't want anything to do with them. With him." Tom sighed and scratched harder. "I was talking to Moira yesterday about...my biological father. He was a Muggle who didn't want anything to do with Mum after he found out she was a witch. And I...I don't want to be like him."
"Well, blood iss important, Salazar's Heir. You must be like him in some ways, even if he only marked your looks, maybe." She moved a coil to drape over him, not too heavily. "There must have been something appealing about him, for Salazar's Heir to mate with a Muggle."
"Salazar's other Heir, you mean?" Tom said wryly, leaning his head against the coil. "It's going to get confusing if you start calling me and Mum the same thing. Sharessa, I don't WANT him to have marked me! In any way. He didn't want anything to DO with me. He's never even SEEN me! Why should I want to be like him?"
"What does wanting matter? I do not know if my egg was from two other basilisks or from chickens, and if it was the latter then my father's voice would have killed me."
Tom shook his head a bit. "It's really strange even thinking about you being small enough to come from an egg, much less a chicken's egg." He sighed softly. "You don't look like your father, if that's what it was."
"Perhaps Salazar would find it strange to think of me as large as a tree," Sharessa suggested. "And no, I do not. But if I were male I would have his crest, whatever he was."
Tom sighed and leaned more fully against the giant serpent. "It's silly. I don't even know what I'm upset about. It's just some of my friends were...congratulating me, about following Mum's footsteps with her second marriage instead of her first." He smiled wryly and added, "And it's a little strange that everyone has us married off and ready to have kids already. Not that I'm entirely opposed to the idea."
"If you found it appalling, you would need to seek another female," the basilisk told him.
"I don't find it appalling!" Tom said hurriedly. "I'm just still young."
"You already said you did not. And yes, you are quite young, and have some time. Moira seems as if she would make a good mate for you, though."
"You've mentioned that before." Frequently, Tom recalled with a bit of a blush. The basilisk had done everything to encourage the union short of putting a bed in the Chamber! Tom was glad for the support but would rather do his courting himself, thank you very much. "Anyway, my point was that they were all very pleased that I'd chosen a pureblood, even if she had to be a Gryffindor, instead of marrying a Muggle like my mother did." Tom sighed and rested his forehead against her cool scales. "Except that Muggle was my father."
"I am sure that if you wanted a Muggle you would pick a nice one. I still like Moira."
"I like Moira too. That's not the point!"
"What is? I do not think your father is endangering the school. You certainly are not."
"I didn't think he was. I just--I don't know! I...I think I want to know more about him, but part of me doesn't and another part just isn't sure if it will accomplish anything. And...I don't want to hurt Mum. Or Uncle Tavish."
Sharessa hissed softly to herself. "I think that it would be good for you to know. But I nearly always think that it is better to know. Salazar used to say that I should have been an eagle, or maybe had a tree."
"What if I don't like what I find out?" Tom asked softly. "I--I don't even think about him most of the time. I can't hate him, because I don't know enough. What if I do? Or what if he hates me?" Or even worse, Tom left unspoken, what if I like him?
"Then...it will hurt, Salazar's Heir. But whatever you think of one another it will not take away the family you have now."
"...What if Uncle Tavish thinks I don't want him as my father anymore if I start looking for...Tom?"
"I think that your Uncle Tavish would know better. If it worries you, then tell him you do, just to be sure."
"That'll be a fun conversation."
"I think that he will understand."
Tom sighed. "You were supposed to tell me it was okay not to find out anything about him and not to think about it again." He laid his head down against her.
"Well, then you should have said so to begin with," Sharessa pointed out reasonably, "but I suspect you would still have thought about it."
Another sigh. "I know."
"It is your choice, Salazar's Heir. I simply think you will feel more settled if you know."
"You're probably right, but I don't have to like it," Tom grumbled.
"You may grumble to me. I don't mind."
"Thanks." Tom wrapped his arms as far around Sharessa's coils as he could and squeezed hard. "I'm glad I've got you here."
Rubeus managed to stand stoically at Dumbledore's door for what he felt what a heroic seven seconds before thudding his head against the wall. "I'm dead."
"You seem awfully solid for that."
Rubeus lifted his head enough to glare at the lion curled up in the picture frame. "None o' that, Aloysius. I'm in serious trouble here!"
"Have a nap," Aloysius advised, stretching his paws out in front of him and flexing the claws rhythmically. "Nothing's so bad a nap can't cure."
Rubeus looked deeply pained. "You sound like one of Tom's snakes."
"Snakes and lions aren't as different as people like to think." Aloysius yawned, the tip of his tongue almost touching his nose, then settled down with his head resting on his paws. "What's wrong, then?"
"I think I'm about to be expelled," Rubeus said glumly, stepping away from the door only to slide down with his back against the wall.
"Oh. That doesn't sound very good at all."
Rubeus decided the lion had a vast talent for understatement. "Yeh think?"
"Quite often, but I don't share it with just anyone." Aloysius didn't sound ruffled at all.
Well, naturally not. He didn't have anything to worry about. "I couldn' just have left him, though," Rubeus added in a faintly pleading tone.
"This the 'dangerous beast' Albus was going on about?"
"Yes. But he's not! He's real well behaved."
"He sounds better than you lot of rampaging students. Always charging up and down the corridors, never letting a body get a minute's rest. Sounds like someone we should keep around."
"He's not even livin' in the school anymore." Rubeus brushed a few leaves off his robes. "But he didn' hurt a thing while he was here."
"Fear not, young Hagrid. Albus is very fair. He'll give you a chance to explain."
Rubeus drooped. "I did break the rules. He's right about that much. But I really was careful, honest!"
"Albus wasn't above breaking a few rules to get things done in his younger days," Aloysius confided with a rumbling laugh. "He might understand, if you give him your reasons."
A quick look up. "Do yeh really think he might? I mean -- he's always been great -- but he looked awful serious."
"He WAS serious -- don't see him without a smile often -- but that doesn't mean it can't be mended."
Rubeus let out a windy sigh. "I hope you're right." He brightened just a little. "But at least Aragog's all right...."
"What IS Aragog?"
"He's an acromantula."
Aloysius' head shot up off his paws and he looked at Rubeus in wide-eyed surprise. "There was an Acromantula in the castle?"
"Most of last year. I let him out in the forest over the summer, since I wouldn' be able to feed him."
"Oh my! Truly we have the makings of a first-class animal trainer here."
"Well, I don' know if anybody'd train me for it if I get expelled before I even get to OWLs, except I reckon Dad would let me help with the preserve still. He'd be awful disappointed though." Rubeus looked up hopefully. "Do yeh think so, though? It's what I'd really like to be...."
"I don't know of any full-grown wizards in this day and age who can train acromantulae, though I admit I don't get out much. They were bred as guards, but that project was abandoned, as I recall."
"I read up about that! Tom found me some books on it. I'm not quite sure why it was so much trouble, except I did get the idea maybe they didn' expect the Acromantulae to be as smart as they were."
"Smart is good. Makes for easier training, as long as you can make them see a benefit. Are you going to be training acromantulae, then?"
"Well, there's only Aragog right now. He wasn' hard to convince. I suppose they're all some different, o' course."
"Something to remember for the career interviews next year, I suppose."
"If I get to them." But Professor Dumbledore wouldn't really want to have him expelled, would he? Not once he explained how Aragog knew better than to hurt anybody or even their pets? Sharessa had decided to trust him about it....
Dumbledore liked Sharessa. Maybe he'd listen to her opinion. If he gave Rubeus the chance to explain. Maybe he was in there talking to Dad and Aunt Mary right now, telling them to come pick him up right now. Rubeus wondered if he'd at least be given the chance to say goodbye to his friends...
"You'll get to them. Here comes Albus. Just explain," Aloysius said comfortingly as he swung his portrait forward.
Rubeus swallowed hard and scrambled to his feet as Dumbledore appeared. "Mr. Hagrid." His face was still deathly serious. "Come inside."
"Yes, sir." Rubeus stepped forward past the portrait as Dumbledore moved back to let him in.
The door thudded shut.