Dressed in plain black robes, a relatively petite young man with untamed black hair and circular, wire rimmed glasses paused, startled at the abrupt call of his name. Especially, he thought as he looked around, when there was no one in sight.
Something hissed in clear aggravation.
:Down here,: the voice said in a scathing tone, if not with a somewhat mournful ring to it as well.
Harry looked down. :Oh.:
Down by Harry's feet, on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, lay coiled a pure white cobra, the front part of its body sitting upright, its hood proudly flared. The snake's pink mouth parted, displaying its fangs. It was a rather large and impressive specimen, but upon closer inspection, Harry thought it looked a little worse for wear, and very exhausted despite its intimidation ploy. Not to be mistaken that Harry wasn't still wary of it, but, barring Slytherin's Basilisk, he'd never met a snake who'd ever tried to hurt him, and therefore wasn't feeling very frightened of the cobra.
Although, he had to acknowledge, he hadn't exactly met many snakes in the first place to make a true generalization…
Nevertheless, Harry crouched down to be more eyelevel with the striking snake. Besides, he was an intrigued Gryffindor …they sometimes did things that may not be particularly smart.
:Um, you know my name,: Harry said, bewildered now that he actually registered this tidbit of information.
The snake hissed again. Apparently it had a bit of a temper, but still it made no move to attack him.
:Of course I know your name, boy. I know everything about you, more so than anyone else.:
Something about the snake's tone and mannerism clicked in Harry's mind, but it was when he noticed not the reddish-pink eyes an albino animal usually had, but the unsettlingly blood red ones this cobra carried that everything fully fell into place.
With a choked cry, a wide-eyed Harry Potter fell back on his bum in shock. The voice wasn't quite the same as the one from his nightmares, lacking the high, ethereal quality, and for the fact it was coming from a snake's mouth, but now it was unmistakable.
:No, Albus Dumbledore. Of course it's me, you stupid boy!:
Harry frantically glanced around, hoping there was somebody, anybody, out and about to at least go inside and warn somebody else that the bloody Dark Lord was here at Hogwarts and he might need a little bit of help. Meanwhile, his hand was scrabbling for his pocketed wand.
‘Of all the times to go sneaking out after curfew…’ Harry thought to himself when his search for help came up for naught. He turned to face Voldemort again, taking care to point his retrieved wand at the wizard-turned-snake.
:How uncouth,: Voldemort hissed, flaring his hood even wider. :Does it look like I have my wand, Potter?:
Harry narrowed his eyes. :You're a poisonous cobra, it's not like you're unarmed. Besides, do you really think I'm going to let my guard down around you?: Harry spat.
The snake seemed to snort in dismissal. :I will not bite you—put your wand away. You're the only one who can understand me, so I can't kill you.: They both knew the "yet" was implied.
Harry was confused, but that did not make him put his wand down. :You mean Parseltongue? What does that have to do with anything? Why are you here?:
Voldemort coiled his body tighter, eyes flashing, and said, :You are the only other person apart from me who can understand Parseltongue, and since I am a snake, you are the only one who can understand what I am currently saying.:
‘Well duh,’ Harry thought.
:That told me absolutely nothing. Now give me an actual answer before I make you. Why did you come all this way to talk to me as a snake? Sorry your followers are less interesting than I am,” Harry mocked in false arrogance, “but I would rather you just change back to your…regular snake-face form and chat with them. I have nothing to say to you, except maybe to piss off or die in a fire.:
It was then that Harry witnessed something he thought he would never see: a glum Voldemort. Granted, as a snake there wasn't much facial expression to work with, but the way his slender body slumped in an obvious pout spoke volumes.
Voldemort hissed-mumbled something too low for Harry to hear.
:Excuse me, what? I couldn't understand you.:
The snake sighed, his whole body inflating and deflating is succession. :I said that I can't.:
Harry lifted a dark brow. :Can't what?:
Voldemort susurrated under his breath again.
Harry made to stand up, realizing belatedly that sitting wasn’t exactly the smartest thing in this situation. :Well, since you don't want to talk to me then I'll just be going…:
Voldemort spat out an angry hiss and stood to his full height. :I said I can't change back, now are you satisfied?:
Harry didn't respond. He was too busy gaping at the Dark Lord who, apparently, was stuck as a six foot snake and, Harry twitched, the only one who could understand him and therefore help him was his mortal enemy.
He couldn't help it; he snorted. And then he chuckled, which slowly morphed into tickled laughing and then loud guffaws. Harry fell backwards again before rolling around in the grass, tears streaming down his cheeks as he laughed at the Dark Lord's plight. He couldn't remember laughing this hard in his entire life. Soon his sides hurt and his breath came in short, agonized gasps, and yet he could not stop. The whole time a slew of hissed curses and vile retorts flew from Voldemort's poisonous mouth, but they were lost on the wind and in the sounds of Harry's amusement.
Finally, after several minutes, Harry's merriment trickled down into quiet giggles. He wiped the tears off his face with his sleeve and sat up into a kneeling postion. Voldemort had flattened himself into the grass and was watching him with a murderous expression. Ah well, it was a well-known fact that, if one wasn't a Basilisk, then looks couldn't kill no matter how much a Dark Lord may wish they could. Harry would have been dead a long time ago if that was the case.
:Are you done yet?: Voldemort spat, obviously disgusted by the display he'd just witnessed.
Harry, still grinning widely, nodded. Venom pooled in Voldemort's mouth.
:Tell me, my dear Dark Lord, is there something I can do for you?: Harry queried, face like a Cheshire Cat’s.
:Potter, wasn't it you who said my bite was poisonous?:
:Yes, but if you killed me then where would that put you? Stuck as a snake and with no Parselmouth to help you get unstuck,: Harry said smugly.
Voldemort hissed a curse under his breath. They both knew Harry was right.
Voldemort rose to his full height again. :I have come to make a proposition.:
Harry nodded, face still full of mirth and gestured with his hand for Voldemort to continue. He hadn't known a snake's face was capable of much expression, but the Dark Lord certainly had sneering down-pat in his new body.
:A few days ago, an infiltrator, I do not know who or how, managed to put a potion into my tea.:
:You drink tea?: Harry blurted, somehow shocked at the idea of the Dark Lord Voldemort at teatime.
Who knew snakes could growl? Harry just shrugged and once again gestured for Voldemort to continue with his narration.
:The potion was, most aggravatingly, completely unknown to me by taste. I only took one sip before immediately knowing there was something in it, but that was all that was required; the effects were instantaneous. Before my full resurrection, my temporary form had been created from both snake and human materials, and the hybrid effect transferred to my completed body, though with a far more human emphasis. However, the potion I took seemed to have somehow overwhelmed the human portion of my body with the snake portion, resulting in my…transformation.:
:Yeah, okay. And what do you need me for?: Harry asked with flippant glee.
Voldemort's slim, pale body visibly inflated with a sigh again.
:In exchange for your help in returning me to my human form, I will leave the Wizarding World free from war for one year and give five of your chosen people amnesty in the following years.:
Harry snorted. :Really, that's all you've got? Maybe I should just kill you now.: Harry's voice was now cold and dead serious, a complete turnaround from moments before. They both knew that “deal” was one he would never accept because of its pittance.
Voldemort hissed sharply. :Fine, what do you want?:
Harry rested his chin in his hand and appeared to think for several moments.
:Well, I would say for you to just give up the war entirely, but I imagine you'd merely bite me and live the rest of your life as a snake out of spite. That doesn't really help the both of us, though, does it?:
Voldemort merely answered the question with a hateful glare. Harry chuckled, until Voldemort said ominously, :You’ve already seen what happens when I die…it doesn’t work.: Fearlessly, Voldemort slithered closer, rising up as a cobra can to his full height. :My forces know this now, too; they will not stop, in my absence. Precautions and plans have been made, on both my and their parts. War will come no matter what, because it has been brewing in our world for too long. Know this, Potter, and chose your next actions carefully.:
Externally, Harry remained indifferent, but inside he was wavering upon indecision. Voldemort had only spoken his fears…the Triwizard Tournament, Cedric’s death, the ritual in the graveyard, Voldemort’s rebirth, were all still fresh in his mind.
:I could lock you up somewhere.:
:That would only buy you time. No one will be safe in the end.:
Time…safety. That’s what Harry needed, the first for himself, the second for those he cared about. For the first time ever in his life, Harry had the power to control his situation. He had the chance to make a choice. He didn’t know how much of Voldemort’s words he could trust, but he could not doubt that the probability of at least most of it being true was high. The storm was building, events moving, and he was afraid nothing could stop it.
:Let me live my Sixth and Seventh years in peace while you go brood in your evil lair, and afterwards you leave Hogwarts and its students and five selected people alone. We can go back to being mortal enemies or whatever, but as long as the people I love are safe then I don't care.: And that was the truth…Harry just didn’t want to see anyone else suffer for this war. No doubt it was a hopeless fantasy, but with that…that damn prophesy, and the ominous statement about how he was the only one capable of defeating the Dark Lord, then he would do his best to keep the fight between he and Lord Voldemort. Perhaps, what was happening right now was his chance.
Do it, do it, a part of him whispered, and his wand hand actually shook in want to obey. But when he actually took in the image of his enemy before him, all he saw was a semi-helpless and exhausted creature, sitting on the cold ground looking so beat up and pathetic despite his attempt at defiance that a different part of Harry couldn’t stomach the thought. It was not a fair fight in the slightest, and how Harry hated people who picked on the little guy just because they could.
But it’s Voldemort!
‘Yes, yes, I know…’ Harry whispered to himself, but even then, it made little difference in the mental picture he’d already formed of the delicate circumstances laid out on a plate before him. Voldemort had come to him, totally defenseless, knowing it could very well mean his death by Harry’s hand. It showed a twisted sort of confidence—Harry thought of calling it trust, but doubted Voldemort was capable of that—he had concerning Harry’s ethics and nobility regarding life.
In that moment, Harry felt about as dejected as Voldemort probably felt, because he suddenly knew he was letting his best opportunity yet to rid the world once and for all of the Dark Lord slip through his fingers on account of his ridiculously mushy heart and conscience. Besides, while it might buy him time just as making a deal, the amount of which would be uncertain considering Voldemort could be in a new body the next day for all he knew. Damn.
Voldemort was taking too long, and in a bout of irritation—whether at Voldemort or himself was anyone’s guess—Harry declared, :Take it or leave it, Riddle, but that's my only offer.:
Harry knew, despite his stipulations, that he was at least still using this situation mostly to his own advantage. The deal was vague and hardly had any consequences to his own self, save for probably having to put up with a snakey Lord Voldemort for who knew how long, as it gave no time frame for his end of the bargain. Hell, he could take 100 years to figure it out. But, it was then that Harry understood just how desperate Voldemort was, because, baring his fangs, he hissed, :Fine, we are agreed.:
Magic had been hanging in the air, and the moment Voldemort agreed to the terms it snapped and sizzled in such a way that indicated the terms were binding. Harry blinked in befuddlement; it was someone else's magic—not Harry's or Voldemort's—magic old and strong. And then he knew what it was, and almost hit himself. Right, this should be made into a magical bargain. Duh, he could have blown the whole thing by giving Voldemort a way out. At least now there wouldn't be an easy way to get around the agreement now that Hogwarts had bound them to it. It was nice to know at least someone—thing?—was looking out for him, and perhaps even supported his decision. Voldemort looked very resigned now. Bastard.
The two sat in awkward silence for several moments. :So, uh, what now?: Harry ventured.
:Think, boy! It was a potion that did this to me. Where would you find a Potion's Master?:
Understanding dawned on Harry's face. :Oh, right, you think Snape's one of your Death Eaters.:
Voldemort snarled, and Harry realized what he’d just done. Shit.
:What do you mean, I think he’s one of my Death Eaters?:
Harry paused, wondering if he could somehow explain away his slip of the tongue, or if he now had to inform the Dark Lord of a certain piece of information about his supposed loyal follower. In the end he figured he was such a bad liar and, despite the man being a greasy git, he could put Snape on his "Do Not Touch" list…that is, unless he does something to piss Harry off before the end of Seventh year, in which case the spy would be on his own.
:Um, well, I hate to break it to you, Tom, but Snape is a spy. Now that I consider it, I think Snape is probably the one who poisoned your tea in the first place. He's part of Dumbledore’s Order.:
Rage burned in his scarlet eyes, a combination at Harry’s use of his true name and for the information he’d given him. Voldemort reared back and showed his dripping fangs, screeching in fury. :WHAT? That vile traitor!:
Harry shrugged imperturbably. :Sorry.:
Voldemort began slithering across the grass, back and forth in a mockery of pacing.
:If it was him, he would know the antidote, maybe even already have it brewed. I must find out!: He stopped his snake-pacing and looked at Harry. :You must take me into the castle. I swear everyone will remain unharmed.:
Harry stood. :How am I going to explain my new pet cobra to everyone? They already thought I was the next Dark Lord back in Second year when they found out I could speak to snakes.:
Voldemort's body moved in an odd way that could have been a shrug. :Tell them you found me by the forest and wished to nurse me back to health. I am an abandoned pet that was close to death from cold and starvation and you, being the bloody Savior, couldn't let me die. Do a good job and people will believe you, since you Light people love sob stories.:
Harry considered the story before nodding slowly. :I guess that could work. Can you handle being coddled, my poor little lost snake?:
:If anyone attempts to coddle me then they lose their rights to remain unharmed.:
"I'll just have to let everyone know you're a drama queen," Harry mumbled in English.
:I can understand you still.:
"I'm so scared," Harry said with fake melodrama. He approached the large white snake and looked down at it.
:So, um, shall I just carry you? Can I even touch you without it…hurting?:
:It was the magical part of our connection that caused you pain, and since in this form my magic is bound, there should not be any discomfort.: The snake sounded disappointed.
:Oh, okay. So, I'll just pick you up now.:
Harry hesitated before bending down and wrapping his hands around Voldemort's slender body, making sure he had a secure hold on him before lifting him up. It was at that moment he realized his little story about his new "pet" may not be much of a lie. Harry could tell the Dark Lord was somewhat thin, and very cold. There were various scratches among his scales, and the way he hung fairly limply in Harry's hands suggested he was exhausted.
:Have you eaten anything?:
Twisting his head around, Voldemort answered, :I've spent the last few days crawling through a forest to find a bloody brat amongst hundreds of others. When would I have had time to eat?:
Trying to ignore the snappish answer to a simple question, Harry turned his back to the forest and walked towards the vast form of Hogwarts Castle.
:How'd you get into the Forbidden Forest anyway? You couldn't have Apparated in. Speaking about that, what about wards? Oh wait, you don't exactly have the proper magical signature right now do you…:
Snapping his jaw, Voldemort told him, :I am currently lacking any magical signature. And it was Wormtail,: the snake scorned. :That sniveling rat found me and deafened me with his feminine screams before banishing me here. He actually shot a Killing Curse at me, the wretch, but my home is charmed so if that particular curse is ever aimed at myself, present in my self even in this form, the wards would transport me elsewhere before I was hit.:
Harry frowned. :You'd think Wormtail would be smart enough not to kill any snake found in your home.:
:Nagini is the only snake in my home that has my explicit protection. After all, you are a Parselmouth yourself and may be foolish enough to send one of the reptiles after me in hopes I wouldn't be able to speak to it beforehand.: Harry rolled his eyes at the paranoid Dark Lord, internally laughing at how that paranoia was almost his downfall.
:Hey,: Harry enthused suddenly. :Who'da thought Wormtail would try and exterminate you. I imagined that as a fellow pest, Wormtail would have felt some sort of sympathy, even though you're his Animagus form's natural predator.:
Voldemort hissed at the suggestion of him being a pest. :A dry bite may not be deadly, but it still hurts, Potter.:
:Bite me and I leave you here.:
Voldemort sneered but dropped his head with obvious pain in his shriveled soul.
"Good snake," Harry said happily, turning back to the castle with the snake held out awkwardly away from his body with both hands.
At first Harry hadn't wanted to touch the snake, let alone pick him up. But now that he could feel and see the condition Voldemort was in, he felt an uncomfortable itch of pity for the Dark Lord. Damn his Savior tendencies. The Dark Lord's muscles were tense, and Harry suspected it was because he was cold. Granted, it could have been from all sorts of hate and anger directed at him, but Harry thought that at least some could be from the cold. Snakes relied on their environment to stay in the optimal body temperature range, and currently it was early winter in Great Britain, which was significantly colder than what was comfortable for a tropical reptile. Voldemort was lucky it hadn't snowed yet.
But how to get the stubborn snake warm? Harry knew the git would never admit to being cold. Luckily a very legitimate excuse made itself known to Harry.
:Voldemort, you're going to have to curl around my neck so my hands are free.:
:Fine,: came the clipped reply. Smirking slightly, Harry maneuvered the snake so he could curl up around his shoulders, subtly making it such that he had to slither under his outer robe and closer to Harry's body heat. Once the man-turned-snake was settled around Harry's neck, the young man pulled out his Invisibility Cloak from his pocket and covered the two of them with it so he could sneak back into the castle, hating that he’d have to give up this secret, but it was use this or the Marauder’s Map to avoid a detention with Filch.
:Where did you get an Invisibility Cloak?:
Harry shrugged. Maybe he could play this off? :I borrowed it.:
:I know you’re lying…I can smell it on you.:
Sighing, Harry admitted, :It was my father’s. You know, the one you killed? I use it to sneak out.:
:Yes, I was quite surprised to be fortunate enough to see you wandering the castle grounds so late at night by yourself.:
Harry snorted. :Yeah, lucky you. Now be quiet.:
Harry had years of experience avoiding detection during his afterhours sneaking around, so it didn't take long for the two to make it back to the Gryffindor Common Room. Unfortunately, it was a bit more difficult to avoid detection there.
"Harry, where have you been?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "For a walk, Hermione. I told you that before I left."
The girl with uncontrollable brown, curly hair and a brain perpetually starved for knowledge gave the Boy-Who-Lived a scolding look. Ron was sitting on the couch and completely ignored the familiar confrontation, too absorbed in this month's issue of his Quidditch magazine.
"That was a long time ago. You're never gone that long."
Harry shrugged. "It was a nice night, and I lost track of time." Here he took a deep breath, deciding it was now or never. "And, I may have found a new pet." Ron looked up from his magazine and turned his head to Harry.
Hermione swept her eyes down his person. "I don't see any 'new pet'."
Trying to act nonchalant, Harry unbuttoned his outer robe and let it fall open, revealing the smooth, gleaming white scales of the Dark Lord in disguise. The evil bastard rose up and flared his hood, giving a mean hiss.
Hermione gasped and took a step back. Ron squeaked and ducked further into the couch cushions.
Harry, growling, flicked the Dark Lord on the nose. Indignant, Voldemort shot a rather nasty insult in Harry's direction, but nevertheless, ducked back down into his robes.
"Harry, that's a snake," Ron moaned.
Harry had to try really hard not to roll his eyes again, but he allowed himself to say, "Oh? I didn't notice. Thought he was a starving kitten, not a starving snake."
Hermione shot him another scolding glance for his cheek but gave the snake a concerned look and took a step forward. Ron merely looked at her like she was mad.
Without fully realizing what he was doing, Harry brought a hand up and stroked Voldemort's pearly scales before replying to Hermione. "Yeah, hungry and very cold. He, well, he told me he was abandoned in the forest. I couldn't just leave him there to die." Surprisingly, Harry didn't have to entirely fake the pleading tone, but he didn't let himself linger on the thought.
"Aww, poor thing. What's his name?"
Put on the spot, Harry thought quickly before breaking into a shit-eating grin. "I'm going to call him Tommy."
Another rather unpleasant rant on how his many deaths would occur and a tightening of the coils around his neck told Harry the Dark Lord was not pleased with this name.
Hermione eyed him with a critical and disbelieving stare. "Harry, that is eerily close to You-Know-Who's real name."
Harry shrugged, still grinning. "Well, he does kind of remind me of Voldemort, what with being white as death and having red eyes. But that's because the snake's an albino, and besides: who's going to be afraid of a snake named Tommy?"
:Potter, I can't tell if you're a sadist or a masochist.:
Harry merely responded by patting the Dark Lord on his head.
Later that night, after introducing his new "pet" to the rest of his Sixth year dorm mates, Harry placed Voldemort on his bed before heading to the bathroom for his nightly routine. When he came back, dressed in his dark blue, cotton pajamas, he crawled into bed next to the snake and shut his curtains, putting a sticking charm on them and silencing the area.
:Hungry?: he asked. Voldemort grumpily nodded his assent after a second of stubborn hesitation. Harry summoned a rat for him and petrified it.
:Mmm, looks tasty,: Harry commented, trying to see the humor in the situation instead of the unsavory part.
For a moment Voldemort had a look of utter disgust before his eyes went dull and he lunged at the rat, engulfing it with his mouth and swallowing it whole. Harry felt a little ill.
:What happened there?: Harry asked the now content Dark Lord, a visible bump in his belly.
:Instinct,: Voldemort sighed. Smiling in sudden amusement at the resigned tone, Harry brushed a finger down the snake's head, though the man-snake effectively maneuvered away from the touch. Shaking himself, Harry wondered why he did that.
:Where are you going to sleep?:
:You are short,: Voldemort huffed while Harry scowled at the jab; he was on the short side of average, thank you very much, not a midget. :I shall sleep at the end of the bed.:
Harry was momentarily surprised but hid it with a casual shrug. :Suit yourself, just no biting my toes and no sneaking off. I've spelled the curtains to give you a nasty shock if you try and leave.:
:Where did you learn that?:
Grinning, Harry shook his head. "My secret," he said in English. Thank you, Hermione. With that he crawled under the covers and settled into the mattress. :Goodnight,: he murmured awkwardly.
Voldemort was already asleep. It was very surreal to Harry, seeing the Dark Lord in such a moment of weakness—a moment that happened to occur in his bloody bed! Harry briefly wondered if he'd gone insane. The answer was "probably," but still, Harry felt strangely nonchalant about it. He was about to take his glasses off when a thought occurred to him, and he pointed his wand at the sleeping snake, casting a heating charm. Voldemort, in his sleep, seemed to sink deeper into Harry's comforter. Shaking his head, Harry placed his glasses beside his bed, his wand under his pillow (in easy reach), and fell asleep.