Disclaimer: The recognizable characters, settings, and events in this story do not belong to me, but to J. K. Rowling. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Notes: Hello, and welcome to the second installment of the Massive Freaking AU I find myself in the process of writing.
This is the sequel to Saving Connor, and will probably make no sense at all if you haven't read that story. This is the version of Harry's second year at Hogwarts, in a world where his parents are alive, Peter was sent to Azkaban, and his brother Connor is believed to be the Boy-Who-Lived, thanks to a heart-shaped scar he bears. Harry is Connor's guide, guardian, and protector, and proud to be so, despite being Sorted into Slytherin and picked at to be more Slytherin by both Draco and Snape.
That's enough, I think. You already know what to expect if you've read Saving Connor, and if you haven't, no summary's going to be enough.
Warnings: Language, violence, eventual HP/DM slash in fourth year and beyond. Also, beyond this point, multiple character deaths, including ones that do not happen in canon. No one is safe. If you find it very hard to read a story like that, bail now.
This story is also considerably darker than first year, and the series will go on getting darker from this point on.
That's it, I think. Here we go.
No Mouth But Some Serpent's
Chapter One: The Scabbed Summer
"Harry, are you all right?"
Harry swallowed a groan before it could form, and smiled at his brother, who was sitting up in his bed. Connor was usually too heavy a sleeper to awaken for any sound in the same room. Harry must have sat up harder than he thought, or cried out when the dream let him go.
"I'm fine," he murmured. "Just a nightmare. I'm going outside to sit for a while." He threw the covers back and checked to make sure that his pyjamas were fastened all the way up. Then he threw on the jumper he'd worn that day, which was tossed over the end of his bed.
"You're sure that you don't want me to come with you?" Connor's words were already slurring, though, and a yawn slipped out from his throat. Harry let out a grateful little breath. He might wake up, but nothing could keep his twin from going back to sleep.
"I'm sure. Thank you."
"All right…" Connor was snoring before he could finish the sentence. Harry carefully crept out of their room, shutting the door behind him, and down the stairs. No sounds came from his parents' bedroom beyond the stairs, and no lights moved in the kitchen. Just to be sure, Harry used a Lumos spell to look at the family's clock on the wall. Sure enough, everyone else's hand pointed to IN BED, even Sirius's and Remus's, though they weren't in Godric's Hollow right now. Harry's hand pointed to TRUANT, but moved to TRAINING as Harry decided what he would do with his extra time.
He might as well, he thought as he slipped out of the house, just as silently, and padded to the edge of the front lawn. He wouldn't get any more sleep tonight.
It was two weeks since they had returned from Hogwarts for the summer, and every night Harry had dreamt of two dark figures. One curled in a place far too small for it, crying out in pain and misery. The other thrashed in a place that seemed only slightly larger, a steady stream of whimpers coming from its throat. Harry had no idea what to make of those dreams. He supposed they might be leftovers of the confrontation with Voldemort, but he didn't understand why they would be attacking him. He could understand if Connor were to have them. His twin was the Boy-Who-Lived, the one with the heart-shaped scar and the connection to Voldemort.
But Connor slept undisturbed, while every night, Harry dreamed.
He shook his head and put it from his mind. He'd had odd dreams during the school year, too, and worrying about them got him nowhere. When and if the significance of the two dark figures ever revealed itself, then he would be ready to do something about it.
For now, he would run through his array of wandless spells.
"Wingardium Leviosa," he said, concentrating, and when he pulled his hand back, his wand floated in the air. Harry smiled and glanced up at the bright crackle of isolation wards that surrounded their house and separated it from the rest of Godric's Hollow, somewhat dimming the sight of the stars beyond. The wards had been there all their lives, preventing attack by vengeful Death Eaters and other minions of Voldemort. They also prevented the Ministry from sensing the use of any underage magic within them.
Their mother had once claimed that was an accidental side effect of the wards. Harry doubted it. Lily Potter seldom did anything on accident. Besides, it somehow never got reported to the Ministry.
He hurtled easily through the array of spells he'd practiced so long without his wand that he came near to doing them in his sleep, and which therefore made good spells to use during the transition between sleep and waking. Nox, Lumos, Finite Incantatem, Wingardium Leviosa, Incendio, Accio, Protego, Reducto, the Blasting Curse, and several others, raced forth from his mouth, had their effects, and left him feeling nothing but relaxed and slightly more awake.
Harry frowned when he was done with the lot of them, concentrating. He knew what spell he most wanted to perform next: the cage spell that Voldemort had used on Connor during their deadly battle at the end of May, Cavea. Harry wanted to see if he could do it, and, importantly, reverse it. If he'd known how to reverse it during the battle, he could have spared Connor some pain and panic.
But the last time he had tried it, it had resulted in a pulse of blinding blue light which had beamed through the windows and awakened their parents. Harry had had to apologize and make up a tale of accidental magic while sleepwalking for James, who didn't know about Harry's extra training and silent vow to protect his brother. Their mother had taken him aside after that and warned him not to try it again until she was there to guide him.
She was not here now.
Harry closed his eyes and thought of a different spell, Diffindo. He was about to try it when a voice spoke from the grass beside him, startling him badly.
"What are you doing? The magic is disturbing my sleep."
Harry whirled around and gathered his magic into a single focused point, calling the Protego shield up. That would defeat most hexes, and after so much experience, it was his as swift as thought.
But he saw no one standing on the grass, and he blinked, hesitating. Perhaps Connor had come out to play with him, but he didn't think his brother was so good at hiding in plain sight, nor at sounding so petulant.
It could be a trick of Sirius's, he thought, and smiled. His godfather often visited Godric's Hollow, and he would think it a grand joke to come sneaking up in the darkness and scare Harry like that.
"Very funny, Sirius," he called back. "You can come out now. You caught me. I was bored and practicing my magic."
"Who is Sirius?"
Harry saw a movement at the edge of his Lumos spell this time. He stared as the grass parted and a small snake slithered out of it, halting to look at him inquiringly. Her tongue flicked as if tasting his scent.
Harry hardly breathed. He recognized the snake's markings, variegated black on gold. If he tilted his head to the side and squinted just a bit, he could make out the shape of a skull and crossbones, repeated several times. This was a Locusta snake, a magical creature rare in Great Britain. One small bite from it could kill a man, and one snake contained enough poison altogether to down a whale. Worse, the venom itself was magical, altering from hour to hour to try and counteract any antivenin applied to it, and the snakes were clever and sadistic enough to hunt small children when they were angry, and to direct their poison to linger instead of killing at once.
Harry did not know how a Locusta had crossed the wards into Godric's Hollow. He did not know how it was speaking to him. He did know that he didn't want it anywhere near Connor.
"Go away," he whispered, wishing he knew Avada Kedavra, and readying his magic in an attempt to put all his will behind the Blasting Curse. "Just go away."
"Why should I? I just arrived here. And I am rather enjoying your company." The snake slithered a few inches nearer. "It is not often that one finds a mortal who can speak to serpents. I knew one, once, but she and I did not have much in common. She spat at me and told me to leave after less than three seasons around me." The snake lifted her head and twined back and forth in dancing patterns, which made the skull shine forth from her all the more strongly. "Am I not beautiful?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Harry. "I can't talk to snakes." The fact that he was, and understanding this one right back, was beginning to bother him. He tried not to let it. The important thing, as always, was to protect Connor.
"Oh, yes, you can," said the Locusta, sounding amused. She lowered her head and blinked her eyes at him. They were a stunningly bright green, like Lily's when she was angry. "You could some time ago, at least, when your battle disturbed the Forest I was living in, and I watched you fight the other one who talks to serpents. He gave an order to his snake." The Locusta gave a small angry hiss which Harry thought meant the same thing as an offended pureblood matriarch's sniff of disdain. "Degraded creature. That she lets him so command her! I would die before submitting to such control."
"You saw Connor's battle with Voldemort?" Harry breathed. He remembered Voldemort speaking to Nagini, ordering her to attack, but—"He talked in English."
"He did not," said the Locusta, and inched a bit nearer. "He commanded her in Parseltongue. You understood him. You speak Parseltongue even now, but to your ears it sounds as your own language. I do not know why that is." She did not sound very interested in it, either. "I followed you because I was curious about you, and from what I have seen, you will do very well."
"Do very well to do what?" Harry kept his wand leveled at her, and remembered other things he'd heard about Locusta snakes. They struck very fast, nearly as fast as runespoors. They were self-willed, serving no master for very long. The wizards who kept the snakes to breed them or observe them or milk them for their venom almost all died, and the snakes wandered on, free, making the mere possession of a Locusta a high crime in Britain.
Of course, from what Harry could remember, none of the wizards who had studied them had ever been Parselmouths.
And neither am I, he thought at once, his mind abruptly boiling on the edge of hysteria. Only Dark wizards have that talent, and I'm not Dark. I'm not. The Sorting Hat put me in Slytherin, but Connor said I was still good. I must be.
"Take care of me," the Locusta said, pulling his attention back to her. Harry scolded himself for having lost it in the first place. Whether or not he was a Parselmouth, it was not as though he was ever going to use the gift, so he would not worry about it. "I require someone to care for me, to burnish my scales and tell me I am beautiful and feed me the choicest bits of their food. I like eggs. And milk. And the flesh of birds. And sweets. And—"
"I am not going to take care of you!" Harry hissed back at her, and for a moment, he thought he heard his voice the way she must be hearing it, full of intricate twists and turns and soft sibilants. It was certainly not speaking English.
He blocked the thought from his mind. He was not evil. He would not let himself be.
"Yes, you are," said the Locusta. "I've watched you. Your dearest possession is that lump of a boy who shares your nest. If you do not take care of me, I will bite him."
Harry swallowed. He knew she could do it. There was no way he could watch Connor every moment of the day and night, and unless he destroyed her now, she would find some way through and bite him.
Unless I destroy her now.
He lifted his wand, about to unleash a curse, but the Locusta moved, darting forward, looping herself up his leg, and coiling around his left arm. Harry prepared to be bitten, but changed the angle of his wand. He would still kill her, even if she died. He had always been prepared to sacrifice his life for Connor. He could do it now.
The Locusta did not bite him. Instead, she shimmered once, and then she was gone.
Harry brought his wand closer, to see his arm by the light of Lumos. The Locusta was a bright golden-and-black pattern on his left forearm. Harry poked it with his wand. He felt nothing but skin.
Like the Dark Mark, he thought, and for a moment trembled with revulsion.
My name is Sylarana, said the Locusta's smug voice in his head. You will care for me and make much of me, while I stay with you like this, or I will come to life and bite your lump of a boy. Or anyone else I want to.
"How can you?" Harry whispered. "I never heard that Locusta snakes could do this."
We can, with one who speaks to serpents. And I want to. Now, pet me and make much of me.
Harry stroked the skin of his arm, feeling ridiculous, but not daring to do anything else. He thought up a few compliments that made his mouth feel full of sugar, and murmured them.
Her contented hissing resounded in his mind a moment later.
Harry fought back the desire to be sick, and went on petting her.
Harry looked up, smiling. He and Connor had spent most of the day outside—Harry doing the extra homework that Professor Snape had assigned him over the summer, Connor studying the books of magical history that Lily had insisted he start reading—and the heat had struck Connor half-stupid. Harry wasn't at all surprised that, when the Weasleys' battered old owl, Errol, had stumbled through the special hole created in the isolation wards for him, Connor had seized on both Errol and the letter he carried to distract himself.
From the sound of his twin's voice now, Harry thought the letter had carried good news.
"What is it?" Lily Potter asked, stepping out of the house. Harry felt himself relax a bit. Their mother was the only one who knew everything Harry had trained and prepared and put himself through, who had encouraged him to be Connor's secret guardian, who knew that Harry was to sacrifice his life for his brother's if necessary, and stay in the shadows, protecting him and not outshining him, at all other times. She didn't know everything about Harry, but she knew most of it, and so he could let down his guard with her, no longer careful to keep up a mask.
"The Weasleys want me to come shopping with them on Diagon Alley on July thirty-first!" said Connor, jumping up and down. He paused for a long moment, then added, as if Lily would forget the significance of the date, "That's our birthday!"
"I know," Lily said, and glanced once at Harry. Harry shrugged and blinked, letting his mother know that Connor going to Diagon Alley was all right with him, as long as he had proper protection. Their mother turned back to Connor, whose hazel eyes were beaming at her with hope. "All right, Connor. You may go. Your father and Harry and I will come along. We could certainly buy school supplies that day as well."
"Yes!" said Connor, and hugged Lily around the legs. "Thank you, Mum! I'm going to go write Ron right now!"
He darted into the house, presumably to find a quill and parchment. Harry shook his head. Connor had left all the writing implements he'd been using to take notes right beside his books, and could have used them.
Lily stood looking into the house for a long moment. Then she turned and strode over to Harry, sitting in the grass beside him.
What does she want?
Harry ignored Sylarana's question, though he did touch his left arm to gentle her. Sylarana seemed more curious than threatening whenever she asked questions about their parents. And she was willing to wait for the answers, which their mother gave in the next moment, talking in a low, intense voice.
"Harry, how would you say that Connor's training is going?"
Harry sighed and let the last trace of the smile slip off his face. When he spoke with Lily, very nearly equal to equal, and one guardian of the Boy-Who-Lived to another, he could not lie. "Not as well as I hoped, Mother. He doesn't see why he needs to learn all this history and politics now, after we've kept him ignorant of it for so long. I've talked with him a few times, about the Boy-Who-Lived needing to unite and lead the wizarding world so that he can get rid of Voldemort, but he doesn't see it that way. He sees it as a dramatic battle between him and Voldemort, the way it was in May. He doesn't think about what happens after, or about having help."
Lily sighed in return and nodded. "I thought so," she said. "Well, I will keep giving him books and telling him that he needs to learn. I'll also tell Remus to give him a few stories about life among the werewolves. That might let the virtues he needs to learn slip in unguarded. Connor likes stories better than history."
Harry nodded, feeling a glow of fondness deep in his chest. Connor liked stories better than history, and tales of duels best of all. He liked sweets better than learning. He knew the first-year spells he should know, and performed them competently, without any ambitions to have greater power. Until his confrontation with the Dark Lord, he had known little even of true evil; Voldemort had come hunting him, and scarred him when Connor reflected the Avada Kedavra back upon its caster, at an age when he was far too young to remember anything about it.
But Connor was marked for a life of hardship, and Harry was not about to let that hardship corrupt him or kill him. He would know the history, the pureblood courtesies, the spells—Dark and otherwise—that Connor had no time or use for. Perhaps that was why he had been placed in Slytherin, so that he could seek the best path among Dark wizards for Connor to take. It was the only reason that made any sense to Harry.
You are a fool, said Sylarana comfortably in his head.
The aspect of his relationship with the Locusta that most disturbed Harry was the way she seemed to see into his thoughts. He told her now that she was beautiful like the sunlight in grass, and she hissed and let herself be distracted.
He blinked and came back to the present, the reality that was their mother bending over him.
"Sirius is coming with you to Hogwarts this year," Lily began.
Harry stared at her. Their mother quickly put her hands on his shoulders and shook her head.
"Not because of that," she said. "Not because of anything you failed to do, Harry. No one could have known that Voldemort was hiding in Quirrell's head. No one." She gave him a little shake. "Do not blame yourself for that."
Harry nodded, but slowly. He thought the guilt was valuable. If he took it to heart, then he would be more alert in the future, when the Dark Lord's attacks on his brother might become even subtler.
A natural-hatched fool, Sylarana announced.
"Officially, he'll be Madam Hooch's assistant, and help referee the Quidditch matches," Lily continued, smiling at Harry. "Unofficially, he'll keep watch over Connor, even in the Gryffindor Tower and the classes where you might have difficulty going. Just a little help, Harry. He'll think he's Connor sole guardian, of course, since he doesn't know about you, but we both know what a wonderful job you've done for him." She hugged him and held him close for a long moment.
Harry let himself relax, little by little. No, he hadn't failed. He'd guarded Connor from a troll, and from the Lestranges, and helped hold Voldemort off until Connor could defeat him with the pure love he bore in his skin. He could do this. Really, he should welcome Sirius's presence. Their godfather was wonderful fun to be around, he would help with Connor, and he had no tolerance at all of Slytherins or anything Dark. If Harry started to slip into murky, shadowy pathways, then Sirius would be sure to tell him, and haul him back to the Light—by the scruff of his neck, if necessary.
"Remus can't come?" he did ask. Remus was Connor's godfather, and as protective of Harry's brother in his own gentle way as Sirius was in his rough one. Plus, he was the best one at enchanting Connor with stories.
Lily shook her head. "They still haven't perfected the Wolfsbane Potion. Until they do, the parents wouldn't tolerate Remus being at Hogwarts."
Harry nodded. Well, even the addition of Sirius was good fortune he'd had no right to expect. He would enjoy his godfather's company.
He is someone else I would like to bite, said Sylarana dreamily in his head.
Harry opened his mouth to say something, nearly forgetting his mother's presence, and then heard her exclaim. Harry looked up.
A black eagle-owl was fluttering about outside the isolation wards. After a moment, it found the hole Harry had cut in anticipation of its arrival, and soared regally downwards, landing a few feet away from Harry. It held out a talon, around which a letter was bound.
"And who is this?" Lily's eyebrows nearly reached her hair.
Harry flushed as he freed the letter. He had thought he would have time to explain to his mother before this actually happened—especially since he hadn't thought it would happen at all. "Um, Mother, this is Imperius, Draco's eagle-owl."
Imperius stared at Lily with brilliant yellow eyes. Lily stared back with brilliant green ones, which narrowed.
"A Malfoy owl can find its way in through our wards," she said.
Harry winced. "Um. Yes?"
"Harry," said Lily, in the gentle, sorrowful voice that showed she was most disappointed in him. "That was dangerous."
Harry ducked his head, flushing. "I know. But Draco wanted to write to me, and I thought it would be less dangerous for an owl to come here, maybe, than for Hedwig to be seen leaving."
"You could have refused him," their mother pointed out.
"It was hard, without telling him why," Harry admitted. His mother hadn't been there to hear Draco's gaily chattering voice, and she certainly hadn't been there to see the shock and dismay that crumpled Draco's face when Harry hinted they might not be able to communicate over the summer. "And I didn't think I should tell him why."
"Well, of course not," said Lily, and went on staring at Imperius for a moment more. Then she shook her head. "What does young Malfoy say?"
Harry scanned the letter, then closed his eyes with a sigh of exasperation. "He wants to meet me in Diagon Alley. On our birthday."
"Of course he does," muttered Lily. "Well, now it is imperative that we go with you and Connor." She rose to her feet. "Write him back and tell him you will come."
Harry nodded, standing. "And do you want to check for tracking and tracing spells on Imperius?" he asked, but his mother's wand was already out.
Quietly, he went into the house, to find writing implements and to fetch food for Sylarana, who was indicating that Connor-flesh would taste quite good if there weren't Chocolate Frogs about.
Lily sighed. She had performed every detection charm she could think of, and nothing had shown up. Imperius shifted from foot to food and gave her a look of quiet disgust, then took wing for the impromptu owlery in the back of the house, where the family's owls spent most of their time.
Maybe it was silly to worry, Lily thought, sitting back and letting the sun and the wind stroke through her hair. But these are the Malfoys.
She had been almost frantic with concern after Harry's first letter of the last school year, when he wrote that he was becoming friends with Draco Malfoy. What did the Malfoy boy plan? More, what did Harry think he was doing? He knew the Malfoys were Death Eaters. He had studied, in detail, all the families who were enemies to Connor or might be.
But the necessity of keeping Harry's power and position relative to Connor a secret had encouraged her to allow the friendship. So far, it had not had many negative consequences that she saw; Harry had even survived a visit to Malfoy Manor last Christmas intact.
Lily closed her eyes. The Malfoys have always been drawn to power. And Harry…
Harry was the most powerful wizard of his age she had ever seen, bar none. Since the night when she and James had reached the deserted house where the Dark Lord supposedly held their sons captive and realized, in awful blinding fear, the trick that Peter had played on them, and had charged back to the house at Godric's Hollow to find the wards down and the Dark Lord dead or less than dead on the floor, it had been so. Harry's power boiled around him restlessly, seeking something to do. It could easily have drawn him into the Dark. Lily had arranged for him to be protector to Connor for his sake, too, so that he could learn spells and even wandless magic with a dedicated purpose, working for the Light instead of against it.
But only partially for his sake. Connor was the Boy-Who-Lived, the most precious figure in this war. Harry was the sacrifice, the knight in the shadows to Connor's brilliant king. If Harry had to die, or give up life and safety and health and a normal childhood to guard Connor, then he would do it, Lily knew. He would do it gladly, after his long training. He thought there was no higher purpose in life.
She knew it was the right thing to do, since the prophecy had proclaimed so clearly that the younger twin of the two was their savior.
Lily Evans Potter ducked her head and clenched her fists together.
I know it was the right thing to do. But I still lie awake at night and wonder if it was the fair thing to do.
Thoughts like that were another thing that encouraged her to allow Harry's friendship with the Malfoy boy. Until Draco did something to hurt Connor, he might still be all right, even a consolation prize of sorts for a boy who had given up so much else.
But the moment he does…
Well. The moment he tries to hurt Connor, Harry will know what to do.
"Lily?" James's voice called from behind the house.
Lily rose and reached for her smooth, happy mask, tucking the edges back into place. She and Harry had given up their innocence; Connor and James retained theirs. It was too precious to stain. James must never know what was wrong.
"Here, James," she called, and let her husband rush around the side of the house and embrace her.
She closed her eyes as she leaned against him. Hold me, please, she thought and dared not say. When you hold me like this, then I can believe that everything's going to be all right, and I don't have to believe in Dark Lords.