Warnings: cuddly snake!tired!LV, DADAprof!Harry, years after Battle of Hogwarts, canon compliant (EWE though), hopeful ending, OOC? maybe, there is fluff, and cute, and character development, all that good stuff, journey of self discovery
Pairing: LV/HP (Lord Voldemort/Harry James Potter)
Summary: Harry finds an oddly cuddly pet in the Dark Lord, and Voldemort finds a sanctuary for his heart in his old nemesis. Fate had never been so strange.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling, you guys know this already we've been over it...
"…So, allow me the chance to get this straight—you're the only teacher out of school for winter break why?"
Harry shrugged, jostling his snake a bit but not by too much. They were currently in Hogwarts' hallways, Riddle comfortably wrapped about Harry's torso and curled up to wind around his neck underneath his robes, making their way to the Great Hall.
"It really depends on which why you mean. Why as in why am I the only teacher who left, or why as in why did I leave in the first place when no one else did."
"Both, I suppose."
"Then to answer the first why, well… teachers prefer to stay here. It gives them the peace and quiet to grade work while still being comfortable and warm during the holidays. Not to mention, Hogwarts is their second home—they certainly wouldn't mind staying. To answer the second, well… even though Hogwarts is a home to me, too, I prefer that small cottage in the middle of nowhere for the winter. I'd rather be all by my lonesome self, if you know what I mean."
"You seemed rather desperate to have me stay with you."
"You're a snake," Harry said in a matter-of-fact way, as if it were the one answer to everything. Maybe it was. "And before you say it, I don't mean in the you're-not-as-intelligent-as-a-human way—Merlin knows how many times I forget who I'm talking to. It's just… animals are so much easier to get along with than people."
"I know," Riddle hissed quietly in agreement, momentarily forgetting his fake back story. "I can relate."
Fortunately for the Dark Lord-turned-snake, Harry decided not to comment, if he had a comment in the first place. Who knew how he took those words—whether it was in relation to what had happened to "Tom's previous owner" or a burning curiosity as to how a snake could relate to a human's point of view that animals were easier to get along with.
But, well, in the end, it probably didn't matter, seeing as the wizard didn't say anything anyway.
"…So why are we at Hogwarts a few days early if you usually come back at the very last second possible?"
"Oh, it wasn't obvious? I have to tell McGonagall that you're, erm, my new pet snake. And the most harmless creature on earth… you know, how you wouldn't hurt a fly? And then conveniently after I've convinced her of that tiny little detail, I have to ask for permission to keep you here with me during the school year."
"…Are you trying to ask me something, Harry?" Riddle didn't hold back on his heavy sarcasm.
The wizard stopped in his smooth gait, preferring to turn his full attention towards the serpent that was currently resting upon his shoulders. "Please, please don't do anything violent? Because if McGonagall says no, that means no. As in, I-can't-keep-you-here-no. Not even an I-can-try-to-smuggle-you-in-here-anyway-no! She's the Headmaster—sorry, Headmistress—and nothing can slip past her, so could you at least try to be on your best behavior? Without thinking she's dinner?"
"You want me to be a shy, docile pet snake?" Riddle drawled.
"Shy snakes exist."
"Me," he clarified.
"Oh. Well, pretend to be a shy snake then. I don't even care if you play dead for half of the meeting—just don't do anything that makes someone think oh hey, this snake is probably very aggressive and also has a lethal poison it's not afraid to use! Because that would be bad."
"…So I can take a nap?"
"If you don't try to bite her or jump if you're rudely awoken, then yes. If your answer is no, seriously—you're smart enough to act harmless! I don't even know why you're making such a big deal. It's not like the meeting's going to take a whole day. It'll just be a few minutes—an hour tops. Look, I'll even conjure you a nice fat rabbit to hunt afterwards, okay? You can watch it slowly die to your poison or something as entertainment."
"My, I didn't know you had such a sadistic imagination," Riddle commented dryly. "Want to try being a snake for a day?"
"Sorry. Been there, done that… albeit it was Malfoy when he was still a whiny little git hiding behind his father, but it's not something I want to repeat anyways."
"From the stories you've told me, that is in no way a proper comparison to being a snake. And I see what you did there—whether or not you want to be an actual snake, a Slytherin, or a real Slytherin is completely up to you, as long as it's one of the three."
"Was that comment about being a proper comparison in reference to all three of those options?" Harry asked.
"I'll say yes, but know it's only because I know you're easily amused by making fun of the mini-Malfoy."
"It's a habit."
"…Harry Potter, are you stalling?" the snake hissed.
"Uh… maybe. Look, all I'm asking is for you to act—"
"I know, I know. No means no, if I slip I'm not staying with you. I get it. A little faith, alright?"
"It's funny seeing you get frustrated," Riddle nonchalantly replied.
Harry cursed under his breath, but rather than turning around the way he came, he continued on towards the Great Hall in hopes of finishing the matter. "Why do I have a pet snake again? It could've been a dog. It could've been a cat. Hell, I probably could've even pulled off getting a pet lion. But a snake? Must be Voldemort's final act of revenge—irreparable damage to Harry Potter's brain cells," he mumbled.
Riddle at least had the courtesy to not say a word.
Living with Harry at Hogwarts was… different, to say the least. It wasn't just the two of them anymore. And even though the students were annoying and he was always at least half tempted to bite someone or other, he still found himself enjoying how his life was now.
There was a simplistic type of pleasure in the most mundane things. When he was still at school, he was obsessed with gaining power and influence, and before that, he was stuck in Slytherin as a supposed muggleborn. Riddle found he never had the chance to experience any other school life, where the most stressful things were exams and the thought of assassinations was ludicrous. In all honesty he felt a little jealous, to see it now in this new light.
He hadn't had the chance to live like this.
Then again, neither had Harry… to a point. Maybe he had been able to have normal friendships and petty troubles that hadn't seemed so petty at the time, but the thought and threat of Voldemort must've still panged in the back of his mind, his identity as the Boy-Who-Lived never helping matters. Now that Riddle thought about it, Harry never exactly had a seventh year either.
He wondered how Harry felt, seeing his students so carefree and innocent. So unlike what he had known back then, when Wizarding Britain was on the brink of a civil war.
Riddle hissed in inquiry when the Defense professor set down his quill with a long sigh. "Done?"
Harry smiled, tightlipped and tired. "Not quite. I think I'll need another cup of tea to get through this stack…"
"Rest," Riddle urged.
"I am I am!" Harry laughed. "Well, at least there's not too much red on these papers. I'm relieved—that means I'm doing my job right."
"Drilling information into young and impressionable minds?"
"More like making sure that information stays there."
"That's the student's job," the snake scoffed.
"Maybe, but I'm supposed to make it easier for them. Make learning fun, y'know?" Harry grinned as he took the tea that had popped onto his desk. House elves were probably the most efficient creatures on earth.
"Fulfilling the desire for knowledge is 'fun', as you so say."
The professor snorted. "Right. And the next thing you're going to say is that the study of wand lore stimulates the mind in ways that hormonal teenagers don't dare fathom."
"What? Really?" Harry exclaimed.
"Hardly," he sighed. "But wand lore is actually interesting, if you know what parts to read. How wand cores effect the magic of the wizard, how the lengths of the wand can actually prove detrimental to the power of said core—there's a possibility of magical backlash, in answer to that look of yours—reactions between individual wands due to their material make ups—"
"Wait," the professor interrupted. "How do you know all this? You're a snake!"
"Hss…" Riddle paused, "the human who last had me wanted to be a wand maker."
Harry stared at him in disbelief. "Who wants to be a wand maker?"
"It's a craft that requires magical sensitivity and a great deal of finesse," defended Riddle. "That's why you don't see more of them around. Not everyone can be a wand maker, so naturally there are many stereotypes surrounding it that are in no such way true. But in the end, wand makers are probably the most influential people in the British Wizarding World. Obviously my previous owner failed in his short-lived dream, but there's still merit in the craft."
"I… admit to being speechless," Harry sighed, "You're actually making it sound interesting, damn it! You're not supposed to do that!"
"If your curiosity is piqued, feel free to read up on it," the snake hissed. "I'd say you have potential to be a wand maker yourself, if you ever feel like quitting your Defense job."
"Me? A wand maker? You're joking."
"I'm not. You have the power, the sensitivity, a close bond with your own wand, and your control over your own magic—I've seen you do wandless—is practically flawless. You teach because you love Hogwarts, but you're still young. Consider your other options."
Riddle was pleased to see the contemplative look on Harry's face, and even more pleased because the papers that had been causing his wizard exhaustion were forgotten.
Despite how content Riddle felt staying at Hogwarts, he knew he couldn't laze around for long. He had a purpose.
Which was why he was heading down to the Chamber of Secrets through Hogwarts' pipe system.
In the Chamber, he could probably find a book or two (maybe not even, it could be just a paragraph) on his… situation, and the solution to it. Salazar Slytherin was a genius, after all, and Riddle had read his fair share of books by the brilliant wizard to know if anyone knew about his problem, even if it was centuries in the past, it would be him.
Well, Salazar or Rowena, certainly. But it wasn't like he could gain access to Ravenclaw's hidden library, could he? So might as well go to the former's.
Besides, the Chamber of Secrets was much easier to gain access to than, say, the Room of Requirement right now, and Hogwarts' Library certainly didn't have the information he needed (he was sure he read most if not all those books by his sixth year), so that was his justification for traveling down these dirty old pipe lines that the basilisk once had.
Hadn't Harry mentioned he had killed her? Fuck. Her corpse was probably still there, perfectly preserved. Now he really, really wanted to get some potions materials from her, but snakes couldn't make potions and he doubted he could get away with forcing Harry to make some for the sake of using expensive materials.
All of that skin, those teeth, the venom… all going to waste…
Riddle sighed. If he managed to find a way to become human again, harvesting it all would be one of his first priorities.
He entered the still-open entrance the basilisk had came through, and navigated his way through the maze to locate the library, completely bypassing the giant snake's room as well as Salazar's own bedroom. Perhaps he should ask the man himself whether or not there was a cure for him, but that would be last. The less people to know about him, the better, even if it was his ancestor—the literal definition of a Slytherin.
Slytherin's library was much smaller than Hogwarts', but it was still a worthy size. Book shelves reaching the ceiling lined the walls, all full with volumes varying in lengths and sizes and age. Riddle remembered adding some of his own books to the collection, all dark tomes that would've gotten him in the deepest trouble one could imagine had he been caught with them in his possession.
But that was beside the point.
The snake hissed in discomfort. He wished he had a cleaning spell for all of the dust. Well, it was a lesser matter. He knew there was water in the front where he could bathe off some of the grime before he went back. Harry would notice his absence in an hour or two, so it was best to get to work.
It was a good thing all of the searching spells the Founder had installed were in parseltongue.
He couldn't find it. No matter what shelf he browsed, how many books he scoured, there was nothing alike his situation, and thus, no cure. Nothing to turn him back to a wizard—to a human form, at this point, was all Riddle wanted. Because maybe if he was a something like a person it would still be okay, he would still have a chance, at least, to protect what was his, and hell, having legs would be closer to a wizard than a snake was, so maybe—
But it was rather pointless if there was nothing.
He found it easier and easier to sneak away as the year went on, Harry being stuck with grading papers and teaching classes and tutoring. And each time, each time he snuck away, his mind turned to the portrait hanging in a certain room of the Chamber, where perhaps his answers lied but that 'perhaps' was, little by little, chipping away to impossibility the closer he got to the end of the library.
Salazar was a great wizard. Great and powerful, but not omniscient.
A part of him told himself to try anyway, that it wouldn't hurt to exhaust all of his options, but then Riddle would always stop and wonder that if he did exhaust all of his options, what would become of himself? What would he do? It was hard trying to predict oneself in matters of desperation, and he didn't want to think about it past a certain point.
He wondered if he would go insane, forever the receiver of Harry's kind smiles and affectionate touches that he would never be able to return.
Of course, there was, by technicality, a shortcut to see if he were to ever become a wizard again. If he could get into the Room of Requirement, then perhaps that could tell him. Or maybe if he took a drop of Felix Felicis—though he never believed in the exploitation of such a potion, considering the person in question it suddenly became an option.
But again, it was the blaring uncertainty of the future passed that, passed his next immediate decision that caused that thrill of fear to run down the expanse of his scaly body. While his situation certainly wasn't the best, it was better than a lot of things—the memory of the cold and solitary forest still haunted him on his worst days—and if maybe, just maybe, the Fates prefer he stay where he was now… well, wouldn't that be better than nothing?
It was hard to have so many conflicting views inside of oneself. There was still the original Tom, the Tom that wouldn't settle for less than he desired, the one who couldn't stand the place he was in now because it meant giving up what he felt he should rightfully have, and then there was this new humble side that he was still unused to. The side that went through a near-death experience, the side that went through life as a snake, utterly alone and lacking the bliss of a completely animalistic mind... and met Harry, and received his kindness, and feared—oh dared not to take more, lest it all be yanked out from underneath him.
And Riddle wondered, secretly, not for the first time, if it would really be so bad to let Harry know. Perhaps the man would forgive him, would still accept him, and then they could search together for a cure, because Merlin knew the Fates loved Harry at all the right times, and maybe this would be one of those times.
But the thought was pushed away as quickly as it came. He could not tell. That was foolish, and an ignorant man's hope. No, Harry would not accept him as he truly was now. He would have to be in a state to woo him first.
Not to redeem himself, but to show a different side, a different choice, from before.
But until he could get there, he would be stuck. Stuck in this form, stuck at this fork in the road, for he could not choose—could not fight himself for it, as he didn't know what side was him anyway.
Apparently, the Fates felt he had taken too long and had decided for him. Riddle wondered how he ended up in the Come-And-Go Room—oh, he remembered how he got here, but just because he saw the memories didn't mean he completely understood the hows and whys and just what. Because really, the last two hours were just a jumble of absurdities that he didn't even want to go through explaining, never mind recounting.
Other than that, well…
"Oh my! Now why did the wrackspurts lead me to Hogwarts, of all places?"
Riddle immediately reeled back into a defensive position, ready to strike but wary. From an innocuous cabinet in the back of the room came a feminine voice, and out stepped a young blonde that looked vaguely familiar, but then again he had seen a lot of people in his life so it wasn't out of the question to see a distant relative and confuse the two.
She had a dreamy smile on her face, as if she was often dozing off and never paying much attention to anything at all. Her slow pace in glancing around the room combined with the small skip in her step threw him completely off—and were those radishes she was wearing on her ears?
"Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Voldemort. I seemed to have missed you there!" the blonde said, finally noticing him as she skipped over without fear ever touching her scent. "But I suppose it's Mr. Riddle now, isn't it?"
"Who the hell are you?" he hissed before realizing she couldn't understand him. Bollocks!
"Ah, we seem to have a little language barrier," she giggled. "I don't speak snake, but Harry does. Maybe I should get him to come translate—oh, you don't seem to like that idea. Alright, hmm… how about you write? No? Well I suppose that would take too long, wouldn't it? Hmm…"
"I can help you there miss," a deeper voice said from behind an old, velvet curtain.
The blonde tilted her head and went over to pull them aside, revealing four portraits containing people Riddle recognized instantly.
"Hello there Mr. Slytherin!" she greeted immediately, "and that would be brilliant, thank you."
"He asked who you were."
"Oh! Why, I completely forgot to introduce myself!" The snake was in too much of a shock at seeing the four Founders—albeit only Salazar seemed awake—to even bother questioning how she knew what Slytherin looked like to begin with. "I'm Luna Lovegood. Some people call me Looney, but for some reason they seemed to have stopped. I think Harry's the one who's been stopping them, actually."
Riddle wondered, for perhaps the first time, why all these strange things were happening to him. Besides the fact that, well, you know, he had been the most powerful dark lord of the century and all…
"Salazar," he greeted, turning his head to dip into a bow before his ancestor. "It's been awhile."
"So it has, descendant of mine. And I see you've gotten yourself into quite a bit of trouble since we've last spoken."
"They have not been my best years," replied Riddle.
"But certainly, as of recent, not your worst?" The question was innocent, but nothing about the Founder was ever so simple. Riddle read the implication loud and clear.
Suddenly, Luna brightened and clapped her hands together in excitement. "Oh! Oh! I see now! You're in love with Harry, aren't you? No wonder you've got such a bright shine to you, Mr. Riddle! Love tends to do that to people, you know. Oh! This is such wonderful news! I must go see Harry right this minute, and check and see if he has such a beautiful shine to him as you do!"
Alarmed, Riddle positioned himself between the blonde and the only door in the room, rearing back with a threatening hiss. "Don't you dare!"
"That would not be the wisest idea, miss," interrupted Slytherin. "I doubt Harry knows of the… affections that our acquaintance holds for him."
Luna, completely unaffected by the dangerous snake in front of her, tilted her hand and hummed thoughtfully. "You don't say? Well, I guess that's understandable. Harry is undeniably adorable, but he can be rather oblivious when it comes to things like this, and it'd be terrible if I ruin the surprise. He'll be overjoyed that Mr. Riddle is alive, but it'll turn him into a stuttering mess if we tell him Mr. Riddle's in love with him! Not that that isn't adorable too…"
Riddle wondered whether he should be annoyed or bewildered with the woman. It certainly didn't help that he found himself agreeing with her on some aspects… But wait, certainly Harry wouldn't be happy to know Voldemort was alive, right?
"Perish the thought. He'd probably kill me three times over," he spat bitterly. It didn't matter what Harry thought of his past participation in vanquishing the dark lord. He'd still see Riddle as a threat should his existence be revealed, and then would set about vanquishing him all over again. Even if he had a body, it wasn't like he could just walk up with a bouquet of flowers (not that he'd do such a cliché thing in the first place anyway), present them to his ex-nemesis, and announce his intentions to court him!
Slytherin looked amused. "He says Harry would kill him three times over, if he found out."
Luna covered her mouth with a hand as she gasped in shock. "What! Oh, he would never! Perhaps Mr. Riddle is joking?" She turned to look at the snake expectantly.
"I do not jest," Riddle hissed.
"He isn't," translated the portrait.
Luna frowned. "Well, Mr. Riddle, both Mr. Slytherin and I can agree that Harry certainly wouldn't! In fact, I'm surprised you haven't told him yet! He'd adore you, I assure, even more than he does now! He can't stop talking about you in his letters, you know—Tom the snake, that is. And Mr. Slytherin can attest, with a great deal of credibility, that it doesn't matter if you're Mr. Voldemort or Mr. Riddle. He'd love to have you either way, I'm sure."
"Somehow I doubt that, woman," Riddle deadpanned. "Considering he killed me, before."
After listening to Slytherin's helpful translation, Luna pouted. "He didn't kill you, otherwise you wouldn't be here! And, well, never mind that. We were young then, you know? Harry was probably just insecure. He didn't know if he loved you yet."
He turned to the Founder, who was staring at them in great amusement. "This woman is making less and less sense as she continues to speak. Tell me, if you would, is she insane?"
"After what happened with Cho, you have to understand," Luna babbled on, "he was so unsure of everything after that, even confounded himself into thinking he loved Ginny! And oh, Ginny's a dear friend, even though she refused to go hunting for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack with me, and certainly if they were truly in love I'd have given them my blessings in a heartbeat, but they just never fit that way. Harry just won't fit in a relationship that has him doing all of the taking-care-of."
"Not completely," Slytherin replied with a smirk.
"—And that's why you shouldn't doubt yourself, Mr. Riddle! You might not be the easiest to love, but Harry does so have a knack for taking to everyone with the slightest bit of good in them, and you've already got his affection in the form of a snake, so—Hm? What was that, Mr. Slytherin?"
"Nothing, miss," the Founder waved off. "Rather, isn't it about time we help Mr. Riddle with his problem, and lighten the weight on young Harry's shoulders?"
"Oh! Yes!" Luna clapped, nodding her head enthusiastically. "I believe that's why the wrackspurts lead me here in the first place!"
The whole meeting in the Come-and-Go Room left Riddle exhausted, but lighter and with some ounce of hope in him. And, perhaps, the whole affair could be summed out quite simply: Harry had strange friends.
Luna Lovegood, for one, who may or may not be a seer, and who may or may not be "completely" insane, was someone he would never understand. Hopefully, he'd be seeing more of her, because apparently she and Harry were the best of friends and if, when he had a body again, Harry felt comfortable enough with having a dark lord meet with one of his dearest companions, then he was probably on the right track, as they say.
And then there was Salazar Slytherin—actually, no, all of the Hogwarts Founders were friends with Harry. Apparently. Riddle wondered to what extent Harry would manage to get to before he stopped doing amazing things.
The man probably had no limit anyway. If he had amazed Riddle when he had been Voldemort, and still managed to do so now, then it was safe to assume the limit would never be reached.
The snake slithered his way back to his rooms, knowing exactly where Harry would be at this time. He knew Harry's schedule by heart; for all of the man's unpredictability in abnormal situations, his mundane life was… startlingly normal, Riddle supposed. He hadn't ever thought about it until coming to Hogwarts again, seeing Harry work like a normal citizen earning his living. Yes, even this… this was humbling.
"Tom!" Harry greeted, eyes lighting up as he saw his snake enter through the portrait guarded door. "Welcome back."
"Ssss... I'm home," Riddle remarked dryly back. And, he realized with a start, he meant it. Wherever Harry was, was home.
"Enjoying Hogwarts, I take it?" the man asked as he set aside his papers. It appeared he was all done for the night.
"The castle is large," he said, purposely vague. "I enjoy it most at night, when there are no students about."
Harry laughed. "I suppose you would, but I do miss my cuddly pet snake when I go to bed." The comment was light, but Riddle sensed the hidden where are you going these days? behind it. Well, now that he had a plan to get a body back, Riddle resolved to spend as much time as he could with the man.
"Only you would ever think to cuddle up with a snake."
"You started it," Harry argued playfully back. Standing up, he moved around to extend an arm down to Riddle, waiting patiently for the snake to fully wind its body around his arm before moving.
"Mm… warm…" hissed Riddle.
"I think I've spoiled you."
"There's no such thing."
"Are you surprised that I don't believe you?"
Riddle hissed something unintelligible. Harry shook his head fondly and nuzzled the scaly head that came around to bump against his cheek.
"Oh, very well you oddly affectionate snake," he mock-sighed, "to bed with you. I'll not stand to keep my eyes open a moment longer—I swear, I'm apologizing to all my teachers in the past who had to read my horrible handwriting!"
"It's better now though."
"Only by a bit," Harry huffed.
Upon reaching his bed, he carefully unwound the snake and placed him on the soft comforter before undressing himself. It could easily be done with magic, and Harry admitted to doing so when he was dead tired, but today wasn't one of those days. Perhaps it was growing up with muggles that left him accustomed to it, perhaps he just wanted to keep his hands busy—either way, going through his nightly ritual without magic helped relax his tense body from its instinctual, always-be-ready mindset.
Once he crawled underneath the blankets—topless, as he had become so accustomed to these days; honestly, Tom was so spoiled!—Harry turned around to lie on his stomach, tucking one arm under his pillow and placing the other on top to hold it tight. He felt scales slither across his bare skin, crisscrossing over his spine, the weight now familiar and comforting. This… this was his life now. He couldn't think of it any other way.
Riddle's white triangular head rested upon his shoulder, peeking over to stare at his face with his red eyes. His tongue flickered out, just barely tickling Harry's cheek. "Are you…" he paused, "satisfied?"
"Huh? …Well, yeah, I guess I am. What makes you say that though?"
The snake tilted its head, staring unblinkingly at the human. His tongue flickered out again, a little closer this time, brushing against skin for hardly a fraction of a second. "You're smiling."
Harry blinked. "I guess I am. So what, I can't smile these days without you saying something about it?"
Again, there was a pause.
"Never mind," Riddle hissed slowly. "Go to sleep. You have to wake up and teach a bunch of brats tomorrow, remember?"
"Yes yes, whatever you say," Harry grumbled. "You sleep too."
"I will. Goodnight."
And how much Riddle wanted to kiss that smile, how much he wanted to keep it there directed only at him, how much that smile described every little thing he hadn't known he even wanted—contentment over satisfaction, pleasure over victory, love over hate—it all went unsaid, because he didn't know how to put it into words, never mind a full sentence.
He couldn't, anyway. It wasn't his place yet. And someday, Riddle knew he would make it his place.
One more chapter to go! Thanks for hanging around, and definite thanks for those of you who reviewed as well! Your joy is my joy :)