Author's Note: What happens to Harry in this chapter will make a lot more sense if you know that an Aitvaras is a creature from Lithuanian folklore which takes the form of a fiery, flying serpent and steals food and gold for its master.
— CHAPTER TWELVE —
Malfoy's footsteps faded in the distance. Harry struggled pointlessly against his bonds for several minutes, then slumped to the ground once more. He wasn't certain how long he lay there, exhausted and gasping for breath. It was difficult to keep his thoughts focused; his head ached abominably.
But why, Harry reflected through a blur of pain, should being tied up pose such a problem for him? He had no trouble getting around as a serpent without the use of his arms and legs. It was simply a matter of curving one's spine correctly ...
Harry flailed and squirmed, but his spine obstinately refused to curve. Finally, out of sheer frustration, he transformed into a snake. That was much better. Not only could he now wriggle his body in proper side-to-side waves, he was tiny enough to crawl easily out of the ropes. Yet although more mobile as a snake, Harry was still disoriented and badly hurt. He had to get away from there, his instincts told him, it wasn't safe. He needed to find a place to hide and rest.
Harry fluttered his tongue. A peculiar smell rode the evening breeze. Strangely drawn, he glided through the undergrowth in its direction, managing a fair turn of speed in spite of his weakened condition. Soon Harry was out of the Forest and heading for the lake. The smell was noticeably stronger now. It appeared to be coming from -- there! A wickerwork cavern rose up from the muddy shore as though it had sprouted there. Harry slithered gratefully inside and coiled up to sleep.
Some time later he was woken by a bright light and a cry of triumph. His burrow was wrenched violently upwards, flinging him about. Before Harry could get his bearings, a hand reached in, gripped his neck tightly and pulled him out. Malfoy's grotesquely enlarged face filled Harry's vision.
Harry was shaken to and fro as Malfoy rummaged in the pocket of his robes. Then something hard but warm touched his head. Malfoy drew his wand and spoke an incantation. The warmth grew blazingly hot, coursing through Harry's body, soaking into his very bones.
Malfoy dropped Harry back into the Snake Basket. Harry gazed upwards. He could see stars through the mouth of the basket. Malfoy's spell had driven away most of the pain and dizziness he'd been suffering, and the night sky seemed to call to him. A fresh wave of heat surged over Harry. He shot straight up out of the basket like a bullet from a gun.
It was as if he was riding a Firebolt -- as if he was a Firebolt. Wind whipped past him; all of Hogwarts was receding below. He could see Malfoy and Pansy standing by the lake, gaping down at the burning Snake Basket. He could see the castle, the vegetable gardens, the greenhouses, the Whomping Willow ... and Hagrid's hut.
Harry went into a steep dive. The ground rushed towards him and he did not pull up. The force of his impact sent a shock through his entire body, yet he felt no pain.
Harry clambered out of the smoking crater made by his landing. A door as tall as a cathedral loomed in front of him. It swung magically open as he approached and closed behind him once he had crossed the threshold. He found himself inside a vast, dimly lit room. Its cupboards and ceiling were full of food, and there was gold in the pockets of the great black overcoat hanging by the door. Warm embers glowed invitingly in the fire.
As Harry was gathering his coils to slither towards it, a low, sleepy voice growled, 'Who's there?'
'It's me, Harry,' said Harry.
He felt an almighty thud as two gigantic feet hit the floor and heard massive fingers scrabbling at the bedpost. Hagrid lit his lamp. Harry swiftly changed back into himself.
A small, flinty object bounced off the end of his nose and the pain in his head returned, worse than ever. He collapsed against the door-frame and slid to the floor. Then Hagrid, wearing a voluminous canary-yellow nightshirt, was bending anxiously over him.
'Yeh've got blood in yer hair! What's happened?'
Harry looked up at Hagrid owlishly. 'Malfoy kicked me in the head. He was doing that spell you didn't want him to.'
Hagrid threw on his overcoat, scooped Harry up in one arm, flung open the door with the other and began striding across the lawn.
'Hagrid!' said Harry indignantly. 'I can walk!'
It was just as well that Hagrid didn't take him up on this. Merely lifting his head made Harry feel horribly sick and dizzy. Perhaps it would be best to let Hagrid carry him, Harry thought, so that he himself could concentrate on not throwing up. He had the oddest notion that this was not the first time Hagrid had done so, but trying to remember the previous occasion only made his skull pound harder ...
Harry tugged at the giant's beard. 'Who're you?' he asked irritably. 'Where's my mum?'
The giant threw him a worried look and stepped up its pace.
'Jus' hang on, now, Harry, yeh're gonna be fine. Madam Pomfrey'll have yeh right in no time.'
'Oh -- oh, right, Hagrid,' muttered Harry, sinking back.
Next thing he knew, Hagrid was setting him carefully down on a bed in the hospital wing.
'You jus' lie still,' he said. 'I'll go an' fetch Madam Pomfrey.'
Hagrid quickly reappeared with the Hogwarts matron, who clucked over Harry's injury and gave him a potion. Harry drifted off to sleep shortly after drinking it, but he didn't rest easily. He dreamed he was a prisoner again in the Dursleys' smallest bedroom. Hot, bright sunlight poured through the window and Ron was hovering above the trees in a golden car. Harry tried to fly up to meet him, but Uncle Vernon clutched at his ankles with hands as cold as iron ...
Harry awoke at the first light of dawn in an unfamiliar room. He was lying on his front with his head at the foot of the bed. When he attempted to roll over, he discovered that his feet had been chained to the headboard. As there was no one about, Harry freed himself by the simple expedient of changing into a snake and back.
There was a jug of water on the bedside table. Harry drank nearly half of it, then checked the door, which wasn't locked. He set off down the corridor outside. A second door led him to the main hospital wing, where his attention was drawn to an apothecary cabinet at the other side of the ward. He went over to it and pulled open a drawer, which turned out to be full of chocolate.
As Harry was starting on his third piece, a voice behind him said in an incensed whisper, 'What do you think you're doing?'
Harry suddenly realised that he was eating his way through Madam Pomfrey's medicine chest.
'I was hungry ...' he said lamely.
'Back to bed at once,' she stormed, grabbing him by the arm and hustling him across the ward and back up the corridor. When they reached Harry's room, Madam Pomfrey saw the manacles lying unopened on the bed and stopped short. 'How in heaven's name did you --'
'Er -- magic?' said Harry. His eyes narrowed. 'What's that you've got round your neck?'
Madam Pomfrey's hand flew to her throat. 'This? It's my mediwitch's amulet ...'
She pushed the chains aside so that Harry could get into bed right side up and conjured him a bowl of porridge .
'I don't suppose you recall how you came to be injured?' she said as he ate.
'Malfoy kicked me in the head,' said Harry.
'Yes, Hagrid said you told him that,' said Madam Pomfrey, 'but you're positive he did nothing else to you?
'I'd caught him casting a spell to catch snakes,' said Harry. 'Hagrid said it was almost Dark Magic.'
Madam Pomfrey eyed Harry dubiously but didn't press him further. She would not permit him return to Gryffindor Tower, however, insisting he remained in the hospital wing for observation.
Harry lay in his bed feeling very stupid. What had got into him to go chasing after Malfoy like that, alone and without his Cloak or his wand? He was lucky Malfoy hadn't decided not to bother with the snake and finished him off then and there.
When Ron and Hermione showed up to visit Harry later in the day, their expressions of deep concern made Harry feel all the worse. This was the third time in less than a year that his own poor judgement had nearly got him killed. They'd be furious with him, especially Ron. Why hadn't Harry woken Ron up when he saw what Malfoy was up to, or gone and found a teacher?
Harry briefly considered telling Ron and Hermione that he'd banged his head on the bedside cabinet whilst climbing out of his four-poster, but of course they'd soon learn the truth from Hagrid, if they hadn't already.
'Look, I'm really sorry about last night --' he began.
'What happened last night?' said Ron tensely.
'I woke up and saw Malfoy messing with the Snake Baskets --'
'What, again?' said Hermione, frowning. 'Hagrid told me he'd chucked them all in the fire --'
'I expect he did, afterwards,' said Harry. 'Anyway, I went running down to stop him. I don't know, I must not've been properly awake. Malfoy tied me up and kicked me in the head --'
Ron and Hermione exchanged nervous glances.
'Harry, that was last week, not last night,' said Ron. 'You've been in hospital wing for almost four days.'
'What?' said Harry.
'You were delirious,' said Hermione in a trembling voice. 'You had a fever -- you got so hot the sheets caught on fire. Madam Pomfrey had to put an Unburnable Charm on the bed, that's when she moved you to a private room. Then you started flying, really flying, which is supposed to be impossible. You kept trying to go out the window, so she borrowed some of Filch's manacles and chained you down.'
'Nobody knew what was wrong with you,' said Ron. 'Potions lessons were cancelled on Monday, Snape was so busy brewing stuff for Madam Pomfrey to try giving you. Dumbledore was going to call in a specialist from St Mungo's if that last batch hadn't worked.'
Harry stared at Ron in astonishment. Then his gaze snapped back to Hermione.
'What's that you've got round your neck?'
It was another day and a half before Madam Pomfrey agreed to let Harry leave the ward. He felt perfectly normal. Strain his memory as he might, he could recall none of the behaviour Ron and Hermione had described. Whatever damage Malfoy had done by kicking him in the head and turning him into an Aitvaras had evidently been completely mended.
In Harry's absence, a fashion for gold jewellery had sprung up overnight amongst the girls (and even some of the boys) at Hogwarts. His fellow Gryffindors were caching food and Galleons in their dormitories like Muggle survivalists battening down for a nuclear war -- maybe Harry's accident had finally persuaded them to take the threat of Voldemort seriously.
Rumours of his bizarre indisposition had definitely spread. People eyed Harry furtively at breakfast, although nothing to how they had done the previous year after Cedric's death. That was one consolation: as humiliating as it was to have let Malfoy get the drop on him, at least this year nobody had been murdered ... yet.
Malfoy himself was trudging around the school with the look of a man faced with the end of the world, or his own execution. This was not because of any punishment for his attack on Harry. Malfoy and Pansy had managed to sneak back into the Slytherin dormitories with no one the wiser whilst Hagrid was bringing Harry to the hospital wing. When confronted by Hagrid next morning, Malfoy denied everything, maintaining that Harry had hit his head walking into a tree and hallucinated the whole incident. As Hagrid had already destroyed the Snake Baskets, he had no evidence to the contrary.
No, it was clear that what Malfoy was dreading was going home with his mission for Voldemort uncompleted. Harry had hoped Malfoy would have the sense to blame his illness on an Aitvaras bite, but apparently he did not. That night, Harry fell asleep brooding over how he might suggest this course of action to Malfoy without giving away his secret ...
High above the clouds, Harry was flying. A fiery snake once more, he sizzled across the sky, then started abruptly to descend. He was plummeting towards a grey stone building -- either a large, showy manor or a small, plain castle.
Harry dropped into one of its many chimneys. The rising hot air broke his fall, so that he landed gently in the fireplace. He settled himself amidst the crackling flames, feeling pleasantly warm and contented. Then he caught a whiff of the wizard sitting at the desk in front of the fire. It had been months since Harry had last smelled that curious mixture of human and snake, but he would never forget the scent of Lord Voldemort.
There was anger in Voldemort's smell and, more alarmingly, there was excitement -- the same excitement he always smelled of when he was tormenting his servants. Harry could smell fear on the draught of a door at the far side of the room, and he suspected that it was only too well justified.
Voldemort shifted in his seat. The door opened and the frightened smell grew much stronger. Odd shuffling vibrations travelled through the floor.
'So,' said Voldemort. 'The end of another year at Hogwarts ... and Harry Potter is still alive.'
'My Lord --' said a terrified voice.
Though the desk blocked Harry's view of its owner, he had no difficulty identifying the voice as Lucius Malfoy's.
'I told you, did I not, that this was to be your last chance?' said Voldemort conversationally.
'My Lord, it was Dumbledore, he must have found out,' said Mr Malfoy rapidly. 'Snape must have told him ...'
'Indeed?' said Voldemort coldly. 'Unless someone was foolish enough to mention it to him, Snape did not know.'
'No -- no, my Lord, I swear, I didn't --'
'Many years ago, I was given reason to doubt Snape's dedication to our cause. He offered me a rather convincing proof of his loyalty. Surely you have not forgotten this?'
The smell of dread coming from Lucius Malfoy increased tenfold.
'Yes ...' hissed Voldemort. 'I said I would hold you personally responsible ... but truly the failure was your son's ... it hardly seems fair that you should suffer for his blundering. Bring him here ... I'm certain we can settle upon an appropriate punishment ...'
'Y-yes, my Lord,' said Mr Malfoy in a barely audible tone.
Harry felt him crawl out of the room. The door swung shut and Voldemort's high, mad laughter filled the air. He swivelled his chair to face the fire. Harry gazed, petrified, into the gleaming red eyes --
'Harry, wake up! It's eight-thirty!'
He was back in Gryffindor Tower. Ron had drawn the curtains of his four-poster and was looking worriedly down at him. Harry climbed shakily out of bed.
'OK there, Harry?' said Ron. 'Not having a relapse, are you?'
'No,' said Harry. 'I had a dream.'
Harry and Ron met up with Hermione in the common room and Harry recounted what he'd dreamed.
'And when Voldemort was talking about a punishment for Malfoy -- he's going to kill him. He's going to have his father bring him there, and he's going to kill him.'
'How can you be sure?' said Hermione in a slightly higher voice than usual.
'I could smell it on him,' said Harry quietly. He stared into the fire. 'Voldemort hates the Malfoys, he hates them because their blood is purer than his. It's not just the Muggle-born who want to watch out if Voldemort ever really gets in power ...'
'Does Malfoy's father realise?' said Ron.
Harry remembered Lucius Malfoy's panic-stricken odour.
'Yeah ...' he said. 'He realises.'
Harry slumped in his armchair. Another year, another death ... it should have been Harry, but Malfoy would die in his place ... just as Cedric had done.
'I need to tell Dumbledore,' he said abruptly.
As Harry strode along the corridors to the Headmaster's office, he couldn't help thinking that telling Dumbledore wasn't going to do much good. Dumbledore could scarcely refuse to send a student home to his parents, even if they were planning to hand him over to Voldemort. Perhaps Malfoy could go into hiding in one of the secret passageways ... Harry could lend him his Invisibility Cloak ... but would Malfoy believe Harry that Voldemort intended to murder him if his father told him otherwise?
Harry drew level with the gargoyle. Just as he was opening his mouth to speak the password, it hopped aside on its own. The wall behind it split apart, leaving Harry face to face with Lucius Malfoy.
It would have been impossible to say which of them was more appalled at seeing the other. Mr Malfoy gave Harry a look of such utmost loathing that it made Snape's glowers seem friendly and benign in comparison. Harry gaped back at him in horror. Before Mr Malfoy could react, Harry dodged past him, bolted up the moving staircase two steps at a time and went skidding into Dumbledore's office.
'Mr Malfoy -- he's come to take Draco, hasn't he?' Harry gasped. 'You can't let him, Voldemort will kill him, I had a dream --'
Funnily enough, Dumbledore did not appear to be at all distressed at receiving this information.
'Have you now?' he said calmly. 'Tell me about your dream.'
Harry told him.
'Could we say that the snake did bite me?' Harry asked Dumbledore. 'Only Hagrid had an antidote in his hut, and that's why I didn't die ...'
But Harry had a nasty suspicion that this would not be enough to satisfy Voldemort. At the close of his interview with Lucius Malfoy, Voldemort hadn't even smelled particularly angry any more. It was as though murdering Draco was a treat he was looking forward to.
'I'm afraid we could not,' said Dumbledore. 'The Aitvaras is not, strictly speaking, a venomous serpent. Its fangs inject a concentrated form of liquid fire -- the victim is burnt to ash in a matter of moments. There is no known antidote, and no time to administer it even if one was discovered.'
'But Malfoy --' said Harry. 'Voldemort will kill him. Can't you do anything?'
'As it happens, I can,' said Dumbledore with a sudden, brilliant smile. 'You were wrong about Lucius. He did not come to Hogwarts to take Draco away, but rather ... to seek asylum. I was not certain whether to trust him -- I could not risk having Voldemort plant a spy on us yet again. But as your dream has confirmed that he is acting in good faith, I have no more qualms ...'
Humming to himself, Dumbledore took a piece of parchment from the drawer of his desk and reached for a quill.
'Yes ... I shall be accepting Mr Malfoy's application for the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.'
— THE END —
Author's Note: Future Stories
The next serious fic I'll be working on is the story of what happened to the Weasleys at Christmas. I want to get enough of a head start on it that no more (and hopefully less) than two weeks will go by between chapters when I finally start posting. This, however, will probably take two or three months. In the meantime, I'll be putting up a few more chapters of "Harmless and Easily Domesticated", which are short and relatively self-contained. After the Christmas story will be the tale of how Harry didn't murder Snape, and after that a sequel to "The Serpent of Lord Voldemort" about how being an Aitvaras affects Harry's Quidditch playing.
Questions from Reader Reviews:
So why did Harry go running after Malfoy like that?
Stress, exhaustion and the fact that Malfoy had just cast seven Serpent Summoning Spells in rapid succession
Will Voldemort ever find out about Harry's snake form?
As the storyline is currently planned, not until Harry's seventh year.
Hang on. What happened to the Weasleys and to Professor Snape?
Various interesting things, but nothing to do with Malfoy catching his snake. I skimmed over this stuff because I didn't want to put "The Serpent of Lord Voldemort" on hold again to tell another story like I did with "The Butterflies" and "The Bug". The stories of what happened to the Weasleys and Snape will be the next ones I work on.
I'm surprised Voldemort isn't suspicious of a snake that can talk human language.
Harry was careful to speak only Parseltongue when Voldemort was around, so he never found out the snake could speak English too.
Why would the Dursleys send Harry a cake and a gold wristwatch?
As Professor McGonagall said, it was necessary to restore the magical protection on Harry and on the Dursleys themselves, which had been weakened by their having left him over the summer. That was also why Professor McGonagall told Harry to start keeping the Dursleys' Christmas presents, and for that matter why the Dursleys were sending Harry Christmas presents in the first place.
Will Draco always be as evil as he is now?
Yes, he'll still be evil, he just won't be working for Voldemort any more.
Under the Rose Bush - Snape acquires his Famous Wizard card of Harry.
The Serpent - Madam Kelly tries to steal the Famous Wizard card; Harry learns he can transform into a snake.
The Butterflies - Lupin, Snuffles and Snape are hauled in by the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol for questioning about Harry's disappearance.
The Bug - Rita Skeeter investigates the attack on the Dursleys' house and gets exactly what she deserves.
An Unusual Specimen - Yet another reason why eating Wormtail would have been a very bad idea.
Harmless and Easily Domesticated - Hagrid's wet lesson on Augureys.
Thank you to all the people who've reviewed my stories.
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.