Title: Darkest Hour
Pairings: Tom Riddle/Harry Potter
Rating: R for now, it will go up later
Disclaimer: Not mine now, wasn't mine then, will never be mine in the future.
Summary: Young Harry Potter was your average normal young boy living your average normal childish life. He was unfortunately, too average and too normal. Struggling to prove his worth under the shameful cloud of being a squib, Harry forges a dark, dangerous friendship with the only person who seems to understand him.
--------- -- page break/scene change
::meow:: -- Parselmouth
meow -- thoughts
A huddled figure sat on the top of the stairs, pale hands clutching the carved bars of the elegant wood railing. Bright, luminous green eyes shone in the dim light as he strained to hear the voices filtering from the living room just below.
"I just don't understand," a male voice stated gruffly. "How can he be my child? It doesn't make any sense!"
"It shouldn't have too," a delicate feminine voice retorted. "Harry is your son, James. Just because he's not what we expected him to be shouldn't make him any less."
"Less then we expected? Merlin, Lily, the child is a worthless squib!"
The sharp sound of flesh against flesh erupted like a gunshot. The small child stifled a gasp as his eyes widened, tiny hands reflexively gripping the bars.
"You will never call my child worthless, James Augustus Potter," Lily hissed. "Harry is a child. A beautiful baby boy who doesn't need to be gifted with magic to make him special. You, as his father, should know this!"
"No more!" Lily exclaimed. The slender woman, her wildfire hair blazing in the candlelight, turned her back to her husband. "I will speak no more to you this night, James, or any night."
James sighed, running an agitated hand through his unruly black locks of hair, hair identical to Harry's. "As you wish, Lily," he whispered.
Harry James Potter, the very child who was the focus of such a heated argument, bit his lower lip as he scrambled up to his feet. He dashed into his bedroom, softly closing the door to not alert his parents that he was awake. Leaning back against the heavy oaken door, he surveyed his room with eyes that held too much wisdom, too much pain, to belong to a fragile five year old boy. His parents' words kept echoing in his head as he struggled with his feelings. Harry knew his father and mother could do magic. There were such as things as spells and potions and spectacular creatures that most none magical people, or muggles, just could not see or do.
Harry wasn't able to do magic. Harry wasn't allowed to touch anything to do with potion making. Not because he wasn't magical. No. It was because he was a squib. A child born to two magical parents, but with no magic to call his own. Harry sometimes wondered if it would have been better to live with muggles, never knowing about magic, never realizing what he was lacking. With a soft sigh, he trudged towards his bay window, crawling up onto the soft pillows and curled up. With mournful eyes, he gazed out into the world from his window, wishing for something better. Something magical.
-----Three months later------
Harry scrubbed at the side of his face before returning his attentions to the garden bed. Crouched on his knees, surrounded by blossoms, sunlight, and butterflies, the child seemed to have stepped straight out of a fairy tale. Small, slender, with large emerald eyes that dominated his face, Harry seemed to be kissed by the Fae, so soft and gentle was his appearance in the bright summer sun. He grunted as he worked a troublesome weed out, setting it neatly aside before continuing his work. Harry knew he didn't have to do weeding. He knew that his mother could simply spell the weeds away or get a house elf to do the task. But Harry genuinely enjoyed gardening. He looked forward to days spent out in the sun, amid the soothing sounds of nature. And if the success of a riotous bed of blossoms and flowers in the back yard permitted, they very much enjoyed the attention lavished on them by the child.
With a little murmur of delight, Harry leaned back to admire his work. Ivory white cala lilies bloomed before him, their petals velvet soft to the touch. This flower was perhaps Harry's favorite. Regal yet elegant no matter what color variety, the arrow shaped leaves a perfect match to Harry's eyes, cala lilies seemed to call to Harry. It didn't hurt that his mother shared his favorite flower's name. Some nights, when young Harry was cocooned amid his blankets, he fancied that his mother was the cala lily come to life. He had seen a picture of a lily named Fire Glow and immediately knew that if his mother could truly have come from a flower, it would have been from that. When mature, the Fire Glow lily's petals were a fiery red-burgundy with soft cream colored undertones, the exact match to Lily Potter's hair. No matter what his mother did, she attracted attention, admiration, and adoration. To Harry, his mother was perfect. And he wanted his garden of lilies, a tribute to the beauty of his mother, to be just as perfect.
Harry wrinkled his nose at his wayward thoughts. He leaned forward, preparing to gather his tools to put away, when a soft caress slid across the back of his hand. With a jerk, Harry glanced over.
There, laying amid his precious blossoms, was a large shimmering serpent.
Harry blinked. Shimmering? he thought incredulously. But it was true. The beams of sunlight that bathed down upon him reflected off of scales so black, they seemed to shimmer. The snake was large, as round as Harry's leg, the blunt arrow-shaped head the size of his fist. Unblinking gold eyes stared back at the child, forked tongue flicking out to taste the air.
Harry froze, unsure of what to do. He knew if he were to bolt, he might trigger the instinct to strike and that was the last thing he wanted this snake to do.
::Such a strange man-child.:: a voice hissed in the air. ::I can taste your fear, why do you not run?::
Harry gasped. Is this . . . is this snake talking to me?! He didn't see its mouth move and considering the fact that snakes didn't necessarily have lips, nothing else had changed.
::Silly man-child,:: the snake continued. ::Silly small man-child. How I wish I could eat you, but my Master told me not too.::
Harry gulped. Okay . . . so the snake really was talking to him, if not indirectly. If I can understand the snake, maybe it could understand me? Harry decided to take the chance.
::I am grateful your Master told you not to eat me,:: Harry returned cautiously. ::I really don't want to be someone's dinner.::
The snake reared back, and if snakes could show expression, it would have clearly shown shock on the serpent's features.
::You speak my tongue, man-child!:: it hissed in surprise, the snake's hood flaring out to double its size. ::How can this be? Only my Master has the power to speak to serpents.::
::I . . . I didn't know I was speaking any differently from before . . . :: Harry stumbled, more frightened now then ever before. Oh Lord, now he recognized what type of snake he was conversing with. A King Cobra. A highly venomous King Cobra. Oh Lord . . . oh Lord . . . oh Lord . . .
::Yes, young man-child,:: the snake answered, settling back down. ::The ability to speak my language is called Parseltongue. Those who can speak it are called Parselmouth. It's a gift, a privilege only a very select few are given. I know of only one man who can speak Parseltongue.::
::Oh.:: Harry bit his lip as the snake began to move forward. It circled Harry with its heavy body until the child was completely surrounded by ebony black coils. The snake reared back up until it was face to face with Harry, a mere couple of feet separating his tender flesh from fangs dipped in deadly poison. ::Are . . . are you going to eat me now? Because I can talk to you?::
Hissing laughter filled the air, causing Harry to jerk back in surprise. ::You are a silly serpent-speaker,:: the snake teased. ::Did you not listen? Being a Parselmouth is a gift, why would I eat a gifted child? Besides, I told you, I am not allowed to eat you or anyone near here. My Master has ordered me not too and I must listen to my Tom.::
::Tom? Is that your Master's name?::
::Yes, although only I am allowed to call him thus.::
::Well, I'm Harry! Harry Potter. Pleased to meet you.::
::The pleasure is mine, young Harry. I am Nagini.::
::Pretty,:: Harry crooned as he leaned forward. Without a second thought, his hand slipped forward to caress the underside of Nagini's jaw. Her scales were cool and smooth beneath his impish fingertips. Nagini certainly enjoyed his tentative touch, as she hissed low and soft, leaning into his hand for more attention.
Suddenly, the surreal atmosphere shattered when the sound of a window sliding open filled the air. Nagini's hood flared out once again, her mouth opening to reveal needle-sharp fangs already glistening with poison.
"Harry!" Lily's voice called out. "Time to come in for lunch, sweetie!"
Luckily for both of them, Lily didn't see the fearsome creature currently surrounding her only child.
::I have to go now,:: Harry said mournfully. ::Will I see you again?::
::Yes, young serpent-speaker,:: Nagini replied, moving forward to caress the side of Harry's face with her own. ::You will see me again. I promise.::
Harry's face split into a bright smile filled with childlike glee. He kissed the tip of Nagini's nose before scrambling to his feet and darting off, his voice ringing in the air as he called to Lily. Nagini, frozen at such an innocent gesture, could only stare at the precocious man-child as he disappeared into his den.
"Momma, momma guess what?" Harry chirped excitedly as he scooted up onto a chair.
"What's that sweetling?" Lily replied, her ever present smile on her face as she set a plate of sandwiches down in front of her child.
"I saw a snake today! It was a King Cobra." Harry reached forward, completely missing the stark terror that filled Lily's face. "It was so big, momma! But it was really pretty, all black and shiny."
Lily gasped and grabbed Harry's shoulder, startling a cry from the small child. "Did it bite you, Harry?" she demanded. "Please baby, answer me! Did the snake bite you at all?"
Harry shook his head. "No, momma. It didn't, honest!"
Lily breathed a sigh of relief as she gathered Harry in her arms. "Thank Merlin," she whispered. "If you see that serpent you run away, is that clear Harry? Run as fast as you can to get away."
"But momma -" Harry began, wanting to explain how nice the snake was, how he could talk to it and how her name was Nagini.
"No buts baby! If it comes anywhere near you, you run and find your father or me understood? I won't let him get you, Harry. I won't I won't I wont," Lily chanted as she rocked Harry in her arms.
Frowning, Harry wisely kept silent. Some secrets were meant to be kept from those dear to a person, a lesson a five year old boy knew all too well.
Just then, a figure stepped into the bright kitchen, suit slightly rumpled and worn.
Lily looked up, eyes wide with tears. "James, oh James," she called out. "Harry saw his King Cobra in our backyard. Our backyard, James!"
James glanced sharply down at Harry, eyes scanning for any damage. "Are you all right, Harry?"
"Yes, sir," Harry murmured, chin dropping to rest on his chest. "It didn't bite me at all."
"We have to tell Dumbledore," Lily continued. "I'll make the fire call. Harry baby, stay here okay?"
Harry nodded, his mother disappearing and leaving him alone with James. A thick tension immediately filled the air. Ever since that conversation three months ago, a conversation he was never meant to hear but did, Harry and his father's relationship steadily went downhill. Strained smiles, stuff hugs, and cordial tolerance were all that was left of a once warm and caring relationship.
James sighed, raking a hand through his already disheveled hair. "I'm glad you're okay, Harry," he said, breaking the silence.
"Thank you, sir. I'm sorry I frightened mother."
James looked away. It pained him to hear his son sounding so formal to him almost as much as it pained him to see his only child lack the ability that he was gifted with. He rarely heard Harry call him 'father' unless amid company, and the word 'daddy' seemed to have vanished from the child's vocabulary altogether.
"Don't worry, Harry. Everything will be alright." The lie slipped between James lips as easily as a wisp of smoke.
"Of course, sir."
Harry looked up. Peering from the underbrush of a nearby hedge coiled Nagini.
::Nagini!:: Harry hissed excitedly as he darted to her. ::You came back!::
::I promised that I would, young man-child,: she intoned, her triangular head peek out from beneath to flick her tongue across Harry's chin before returning into the shade.
::Nagini . . .:: Harry began hesitantly. ::I told my momma that I saw you. She was very upset. Why?::
The serpent wanted to hiss in annoyance. ::How much did you speak to her about?:: she returned.
::I just told her I saw a King Cobra in the garden and she told me to run from you if I saw you again. I know King Cobras are dangerous, but you're not going to hurt me, are you?::
::Of course not, Harry. I'd never hurt a serpent-speaker. Did you tell your mother about your Parseltongue ability?::
Harry shook his head. ::No. After I saw how upset she was, I didn't mention anything else.::
::That's good, young man-child. Very good. By the way, I bring you a gift from my Master.:: Nagini craftily changed the subject. With the tip of her tail, she brought out a silver bangle from amidst her coils and held it out to Harry.
With impish delight, Harry cupped the elegant bracelet in his palms. ::It's so pretty!:: he whispered. ::It looks like you!::
And indeed, it did. The silver jewelry was shaped into the image of a snake, each individual scale artfully crafted in perfect precision. The tip of the jeweled snake's head touched its tail in a never ending circle. On the back of its flared hood glittered a red ruby the size of Harry's thumbnail. Harry excitedly slipped it over his wrist, watching the sunlight dance across the silver band.
::It looks very expensive,:: Harry noted. ::Are you sure it's alright for me to have this? I have nothing to give in return.::
::So polite. So formal,:: Nagini hissed in a pleased tone. ::My my, an adorable and respectful man-child.::
Harry blushed, face ducking to hide his heated cheeks. ::It's just so pretty. Too pretty for me,:: he murmured.
::Nonsense. My Tom told me to bring it to you and I did.::
::But . . . but how will I explain to my momma where it came from?:: Harry spun the trinket around his slender wrist, watching the ruby flash into view again and again. ::She'll notice it right away. Her and father.:: Harry paused slightly just before whispering James' title.
::No worries, young serpent-speaker. My Tom has spelled the bracelet so that only Parselmouths can see it.::
::Oh! Tom can do magic?::
Nagini tilted her head to the side. ::Of course, Harry. How else can a person speak to serpents?::
::But I'm not magical. I'm a . . . a squib!:: Harry spat the word out.
Nagini reared back. ::No squib can ever be a Parselmouth,:: she hissed. ::Of this, I am sure!::
::Sorry Nagini, but I can't do magic. I never have.::
::What utter nonsense. Just wait til tonight, Harry. You'll see.::
Curiosity perked, instantly taking precedence in the small child. ::Why, what happens tonight?:: he questioned eagerly.
Soft hissing filled the air as Nagini chuckled. ::Patience, serpent-speaker. Patience.::
Much later that night, Harry crawled into his plush four poster bed. Snuggling down into the downy covers, he once again twirled the silver bracelet around his wrist. Nagini was correct in her statement that his mother and father would not be able to see his gift. All day Harry walked on eggshells, waiting for a startled exclamation about his new trinket. It never came and by night's fall, he was happy and content that this very special gift was his and his only. His secret to add to his many he kept hidden.
Just as the young boy shuffled deeper down, the ruby flashed violently, illuminating his room with a red glow before immediately dimming.
"Hello, young Parselmouth," a soft strange voice declared from the jewel.
Harry gasped, staring down at his glowing bracelet. "Who . . . who are you!?" he exclaimed softly so not to alert his parents.
"I am Nagini's Master. My pet has spoken very highly of you, young one."
"Oh! So . . . so you're Tom then?"
There was a lengthy pause following Harry's innocent question. For a moment, Harry believe he overstepped some sort of invisible boundary and that no further conversation would come forth. But after a terse silence, the voice returned.
"Yes, I am Tom. May I have your name, since you know mine?"
"I'm Harry. Harry Potter. It's nice to meet you, Mr. Tom."
::The pleasure is all mine, young one.::
Harry knew immediately this 'Tom' had switched to Parseltongue. Without a visible snake to see, Harry was able to tell the differences between the two. With Parseltongue, the words were drawn out more and elongated. Each syllable and vowel seemed to dance in the air just that second longer then during normal speech.
::Nagini said Parseltongue was very rare,:: Harry hissed back. ::I'm . . . I'm sorry for taking such a priceless gift away from you.::
::Never be sorry, young Harry. I'm, in fact, quite happy to see another serpent-speaker in the world. Speaking to serpents is glorious and now I have another wizard to converse with.::
Harry bit his lip in nervous agitation. It was a habit he was trying to break out of, without much success. ::I'm not a wizard,:: he whispered brokenly. ::My momma is one though, and my father too.::
::Tut tut, Harry. Nagini told you before, only those with magical abilities can ever be a Parselmouth.::
::But they said I was a squib. I heard them! Father was very upset when he found out I couldn't do magic.::
::Don't be sad, Harry. The most priceless of gifts are often the ones hidden in plain view. I know there is power within you. I can sense it. How else can we converse with snakes? How else can I converse with you through a special charm that reacts only to those with magical abilities?::
::But my parents . . .::
::Hush, Harry. Say no more. Would you like for me to help you unleash your magic ability? I can help you discover and use it, if you permit me.::
::You mean, I'll be able to use magic like mum? Be a real, true wizard?::
::I give you my word as a Slytherin I will help you uncover your power, young Harry Potter,:: the sibilant voice crooned. ::But I must have a promise in return.::
::Oh anything!:: Harry said eagerly. He'd promise anything if he could do magic and make his parents proud.
::You must promise not to reveal anything to anyone. You can't tell your parents or your friends or any other family member about me, Nagini, this bracelet, or my promise to you. Can you do that for me, Harry?::
For a moment, Harry was disheartened. He wouldn't be able to share with his parents after all. But the temptation to do magic, to finally accomplish spells that came so easily to his mother and father . . . it was too great for the young child to resist. ::I promise, Tom!:: Harry declared firmly. ::I promise I won't tell anyone you're helping me. It'll be our secret.::
The trap has been set, the bait taken, and now Harry Potter begins his journey down a dark and dangerous path. This can be read as a one-shot in a sense, so please tell me how you feel about it so far!