Yeah, yeah- I KNOW we writers aren't supposed to work on more than one thing at once, but seriously- come ON. I'm not afraid to admit I'm a bit whimsical. I write what calls to me- and this story was calling.
I don't know. Whatever.
I don't own Harry Potter.
He was in the library.
It was a very different sort of concept for him, finding sanctuary in the library. That was more of a Hermione thing.
But he needed answers. And while he was at it, he might be able to find a little of that peace of mind that she always told him about, too.
But no, he couldn't let himself get caught up in that. He had to keep his mind on his work. Maybe... maybe then he could find a way to save her...
He turned the page in his book, shaking his head to clear it. This was heavy stuff, but it wasn't like it wasn't interesting... or pertinent...
The gift of Parseltongue is passed on not through bloodlines, but through the choosing of an heir- whether by personal choice or by force- by the transfer of magic from one individual to another (see "Magical Resonance" pages 341-370). The most common of aspects of this dark gift is the ability to speak to snakes, closely tied with their innate charisma that draws serpents to a Parselmouth and allows them to bend the creatures to their whim. It has been said that a snake will not willingly betray a Parselmouth, and along the same lines it has been told that venom and other effects that a magical snake may have will not affect one of serpent-kin, but there have been several cases of a more powerful Parselmouth being able to command one of their pets to attack another with the dark gift successfully. It has been so called the "dark gift" because of the secondary abilities that can be accessed through it- every recorded Parselmouth in history has been a prodigy in every sense of the word, but most if not all of them have been shunned for their exceeding talent in Dark Magic and abnormal control and connection to dark creatures. Most of them show signs of exceedingly superior magical abilities very early on in life, but as they grow up and are introduced more and more into normal society, their gifts seem to fade away. Salazar Slytherin himself has been quoted as stating that a Parselmouth can only break the restraint that they impose on themselves through practice of the art of Parseltongue, a double edged blade that not only unlocks their true potential but also opens their soul to the dark corruption that they are known for. Under no circumstances is a Parselmouth to be attacked unless by highly trained individuals. If encountered back off and inform the proper authorities...
Harry almost felt like being sick, but he held back his emotions until he closed the book, tucked it under his arm, and checked it out of the library. Madame Pince shot him a wary look as he left, but he ignored it.
Only once he was in a relatively deserted hallway on the fourth floor did he break down and fall to his knees, holding an arm over his eyes.
It was a Defense Against the Dark Arts guide...
They wrote about it like he was just another dark monster to be defeated. Like he wasn't just another wizard like them. But that wasn't the thing that truly disturbed him...
It was that it made sense.
The exceedingly powerful magic in his early childhood. The way that everyone expected him to be a genius, but he was just another kid. Why everyone was walking on eggshells around him...
No. He wasn't like that.
He wasn't some murderer. Not for the first time, he desperately wished Hermione was there to help- to think for him so that he didn't have to figure all this out.
It wasn't him. He knew that.
That was the one thing he was sure of. He was not doing these atrocities. He couldn't be- after all, how would that work? He didn't remember anything about that, and if he was doing it in his sleep, then why did the attacks come about when he was awake...?
Shaking his head, he turned away from the way to the great hall and headed towards the hospital wing. Hermione had always been there for him before- always been able to solve everything.
He supposed it was only now that she couldn't help him that he realized just how much he relied on her...
Damn it. Damn it. This was like the ultimate ironic quandary... he was trying to prove that he wasn't evil, but in order to do so he had to be smarter in order to figure out the whole damn mess. If he wanted to be smarter, he would have to practice Parseltongue, which would just make him evil. Damn it... Hermione, Ron... he needed them both, but...
Slipping through the door to the infirmary, he walked over to the curtains around Hermione's bed, unable to force himself to go inside and sit by her. Seeing her would just be too much for him, like that...
His hand went out to the cloth, but it only stayed there, grasping the folds. He could see her well enough without using his eyes... her frozen body, cold as ice... the look of partial shock on her face...
"...don't... don't hurt her!"
He whirled around startled, having not realized that he had company. It was a little boy in a bed in the corner, covers pulled up to his waist, but he seemed to be sitting up with a great deal of effort, wand grasped in one hand. From what he could see of the boy's face, it was half covered in a thick, leathery black skin. House colors... black and yellow...
Harry turned away again, unwilling to do what he had come here to do with someone else in the room. He had wanted to read to her- to come and tell her what had been going on. To let her know how classes were going, on the off chance that she could hear him... And now, this boy thought he had come to finish Hermione off. The Hufflepuff thought Harry was here to kill his best friend.
He turned away, trying to hide his face from his unwanted company, wiping his cheeks of tear trails quickly. Apparently not quickly enough, as the boy's expression turned from one of seriousness to one of slight shock.
"...I'm sorry for disturbing you..." Harry whispered, trying to slip back out the door again. The fates truly weren't on his side, however, as the Nurse seemed to choose that exact moment to re-enter the room, noticing him immediately.
"...Potter?" she called out. He froze in place, the Defense book almost slipping from his weak hands, but he managed to hold on to it. Madame Pomfrey hurried over to him, frowning slightly. "...what is it, Mr. Potter? Did you need something?"
"...n... no, ma'am." he shook his head quickly. At her incredulous look, he couldn't help but allow his eyes to roam over to the curtains hiding the bed that Hermione had been given, and all at once, the woman seemed to understand.
"...ah. I see." she nodded. She appeared to hesitate for a moment, but finally she got out what she was trying to say. "...perhaps... perhaps if you were to return later, with Mr. Weasley?"
It took him a moment to work out what she meant. Did she know he couldn't handle seeing Hermione by himself? Or did she mean to get across the point that the Hufflepuff boy in the other bed would be gone, later?
When she refused to meet his eyes, another... much more disturbing idea crossed his mind.
Did she think that Harry would hurt Hermione if he was left alone with her without Ron there?
That realization dawning on him, he shied back from her, his bangs falling over his eyes as he stared at the ground. It had to be the last one. Why else would she be looking at him like that?
"...I..." he almost started to protest, but conceded to the two of them at last. He had to get used to this, he realized. Even if everyone found out that he hadn't petrified anyone, he would still be a Parselmouth- always and forever. He would always be looked at like this... maybe even by his own friends. "...I'll just... you know, go fetch Ron then, shall I?" he moved for the door, fully intending to do no such thing. He just wanted to go up to Gryffindor tower and bury his head in the pillows, shut out the whole world and pray to whatever cosmic force would listen to him to make everything go back to normal.
Two steps away from the door, the nurse caught his sleeve.
"...Mr. Potter..." she trailed off, and by the look on her face, she had noticed that he realized why she had been so anxious about allowing him near Hermione alone. He forced a weak smile, feeling absolutely miserable inside.
"No, you're right." he murmured, a spiteful farce of the weak happiness he had long since forgotten boiling within him. "Wouldn't want 'Parseltongue Potter' anywhere near his own best friend alone, would we now?" he shook off her hand, bolting for the door.
Halfway up to his common room, he collapsed, unable to hold it in any longer. He managed to drag himself behind a suit of armor before he broke down crying, book laying forgotten at his side.
Just another monster, to them. Just another thing out of the Defense Against the Dark Arts books to be learned about and dealt with accordingly...
It took him a good long time to pull himself back together, but when he did, he managed to wipe his eyes on his sleeve, book clutched to his chest. That book was all the information he had been able to find on Parselmouthes in the whole library- all the information he knew about himself. He couldn't dare loose it, or even that little scrap would be lost to him.
How stupid. He was so useless, in the end...
His head snapped up, not wanting any more company, but...
"...Neville?" he muttered, quickly wiping the tears from his eyes. Damn it- even Neville was stronger than he was. At least he wouldn't be off crying in the back corridors like this... didn't he have any self control, today...?
To his great shock, Neville came up to him and put a hand on his shoulder, looking at him in concern. Harry could see from the look on the other boy's face that his tears had not gone unnoticed.
"...You're..." he trailed off, trying to figure out something to say that wouldn't be inappropriate. "...come on." he finally got out, his voice quiet. "Let's get you up to the tower. Okay, Harry?"
Harry hid his eyes behind his hand, shaking his head. He wanted to go back to the common room, sure- but that just meant everyone staring at him as he passed by, and in his current state, it wouldn't be prudent to let them see him crying. He just wanted to go bury himself and never come back...
"Are you sure?" Neville asked, and at the insistent nod that Harry gave him, he put a hand on the Parselmouth's shoulder, steering him away from his dreary alcove behind the statue. "Do you want to go outside? Will that help?" Harry shook his head again, still not dropping his hand from his eyes. He wasn't ready to let Neville see the look on his face- not yet.
His final suggestion made Harry pause, however- it was the first thing he had actually considered instead of simply dismissing it instantly.
"That's fine, Harry. What about one of the empty classrooms? Do you want to go inside and talk for a while?"
He slowly looked up, meeting the other boy's eyes at long last. He didn't know it, but his own eyes were shining a killing-curse green with tears from behind his glasses. After a few moments... he finally nodded, looking down at the floor.
Neville was the first one besides Ron and Hermione to just... come up to him and give him unwavering trust without a second thought. And even they had seemed to wonder there, for a while...
Allowing the botanically-inclined boy to gently shepard him into one of the many empty rooms of the castle, he only held the book tightly to his chest like a lifeline. This was all he could do. Neville had been raised by wizards, right? He knew about stuff like this, right?
As soon as the door was closed and the lights were lit, Harry turned on his heel to look straight at Neville, searching his face for any small hint of a lie in response to what he asked him.
"What do you think of... of people who can..." he bit it back, not really realizing how adverse he had grown to be to saying the words out loud. "...you know... people like me?"
"What do I think of Parselmouthes, you mean?" Neville asked. When Harry nodded, the boy gave him a weak smile. "...I think... you know, it's just like Werewolves and Vampires and things. People say they're bad, but it's just superstition, right? I mean... I know you'd never hurt Hermione. You'd never hurt anyone, is what I mean... but especially Hermione." he said it clumsily, almost like he didn't know how he was supposed to phrase what he was trying to say, but yet... it made Harry relax.
The green-eyed boy flopped back into a chair, more drained than he had been in a long time, but comfortable. Neville wasn't going to harp on him for it. Maybe one of the only ones in the whole school...
It took him a while to speak up, but when he did, it was the most meaningful thing he could think of. And it was what he had first told Ron and Hermione when they found out...
"...I didn't know what it was." he got out, at last. Neville was looking at him patiently, knowing that Harry needed someone to listen in his current state. "Because I was raised by Muggles. Isn't that stupid? I didn't even know what it was for forever." he trailed off for a moment, immersing himself in a memory from what seemed an eon ago. "...I even... used it before. My cousin's eleventh birthday we went to the zoo. There was this... uh... this python, you know? It just looked so sad and bored, and... well, you know..."
"...you started talking to it, and it talked back?" Neville tried to finish, taking a stab in the dark. Harry snorted.
"...er... I set it loose on my cousin, actually." Neville's eyes bugged out, and Harry raised his hands in his defense. "It's not like that- my cousin is... he deserved it. And it wasn't like it hurt him- just scared him a little..."
Silence. His companion seemed to be processing this.
"...you know what's weird?" he finally asked. "It's stranger to hear you talking about your relatives than it is to learn you set a snake on one of them. You... you don't really talk about them much."
"Oh." Harry looked down, drawing back a little bit. Finally admitting to himself that he couldn't just freeze up at this point and refuse to talk, he formulated the best response he could get out. "...well... it's not like you're missing much or anything. They're..." he trailed off, rubbing his shoulder. He had a scar there from when his uncle had hit him with a vase and it had shattered, driving the shards into his skin. "...they're not exactly... you know... that pleasant."
Neville was silent, staring sideways at Harry's expression. The green-eyed boy scratched the back of his neck, trying to shrug off what he had just said.
"...come on- I don't want to talk about them." he stated at last. Neville interrupted that thought.
"Fine, but just do one thing for me before we move off this topic."
"What is it?" he asked, confused. Neville's response made him freeze in place.
"Tell me three good things about your family without lying."
Silence. Harry was stuck here...
"...well, uh..." he began, determined to think of at least three things. "...they're... uh, clean. And they... they care a lot about Dudley... and, um..."
"But not about you?"
Silence. Harry couldn't bring himself to say anything to that.
"...I'm ...sorry. But Harry, I just..." Neville trailed off, seeming to still be having trouble figuring out how to say what he wanted to say. At last, he got out, "...The only other person I know who talks as little about their family as you do is..." he sighed, biting his lip. "...she was abused by her parents." Harry couldn't hold back a wince, looking away quickly. Apparently, his silence was all that Neville needed to confirm his suspicions.
The Gryffindor sat back in his own seat, letting go of a breath that he didn't seem to remember holding.
"...so it's true, then...?" Neville whispered. "...everyone always sort of knew in the back of their minds, but... no one ever... you know... mentioned it."
"...everyone knew?" Harry looked up, horrified. "What do you mean, everyone knew...?"
"I mean, we all sort of guessed why you didn't talk about them, but no one ever mentioned it. It... wasn't too hard to guess, when you pieced it together. A... lot of people thought you would break down if they said anything about it, so..."
"...they... they knew..." he trailed off, closing his eyes. This was outright hellish. He had thought that speaking with Neville would at least calm him down, but now the boy had brought up things that Harry didn't even want to think about.
He shook his head, buried once more under the weight of a decade's pain brought to bear in a single moment of rejection. He didn't need this. Not now. Not while he had so much else on his plate- he didn't need to be reminded of what waited for him back at his farce of a 'home'...
No. That just redoubled his resolve.
Standing up, he stared at Neville for a moment, and the boy looked up at him, innocently concerned for a friend. At long last, he made his decision.
"...yes, Neville." he finally said, calm and cold. "My relatives don't like me. But you know what? That means that if the school gets shut down... or if I get expelled... then that's what I have to go back to. That's what I'll be dealing with until they kill me- lock me in a hole and forget to feed me 'till I starve. So you know what?" he continued, ignoring the look of shock and horror on the boy's face. "I have to stay here- at Hogwarts. I have to be good and stay here, or I get to look forward to going back there and never coming to Hogwarts again. So you know what I need you to do, Neville?" he raised an eyebrow, biting back the lump in his throat. "I need you to tell me everything you know about Parselmouthes. Everything. Every tiny rumor, all of the most inconsequential myths and stories... everything. I need to know what my name really means before I can clear that same name. Can you do that for me?"
Neville nodded quickly, eyes wide.
"...o-of coarse, Harry. If it'll help you, then..."
"Help?" he closed his eyes, reveling in the moment. This was what he needed. This was exactly what he needed... "Neville... this is more than help. I... I don't even know anything about this. I don't know anything about... you know... being a Parselmouth. I don't know..."
He looked up, eyes wide. That had been exactly what he was about to say...
Neville smiled at him, weakly shrugging.
"...you looked... er, kind of lost. For the last few days, you know? I asked Ron, and he..." Neville glanced down, biting his lip. "...he said you seemed like you... didn't even know yourself anymore. He was... sort of worried, see? So don't get mad at him for it..."
Harry bit his lip for a moment. On the one hand, the fact that Ron was talking about him behind his back made him sort of angry. ...on the other hand, he had been concerned for him. That made things... just about even out, in his opinion.
"...I won't." he agreed. Neville allowed him a small smile, relaxing a little bit in his chosen chair.
"...alright." he closed his eyes, thinking. "...okay, Harry... just- promise me you won't hold it against me? What I'm going to tell you?"
"I wasn't going to." Harry shrugged. "From what I've heard, most of this is... unpleasant." the more shy Gryffindor winced.
"...that's putting it... mildly." The green eyed boy grimaced, staring at the floor.
"Then... just get it over with."
"Parselmouthes aren't supposed to exist." Neville said, out of the blue. Apparently, he took that order seriously. "They're supposed to be myths- you know how rumors escalate so easily. There were all these stories about Parselmouthes, but they're..." he frowned, biting his lip. "...the stories are the sort of fairytale you'd hear at bedtime when you're really little. They're sort of like the... the Muggle... what's the word for it? Bogeyman?" Shuddering, Harry nodded, wanting Neville to say these bad things to get them out of the way. Better to hear them for the first time from the mouth of a friend who meant it as a concerned warning than from the people who actually meant these things...
"...but we do." he murmured. "We do exist. So what does that leave us with?"
"...it leaves us with a whole bunch of mixed up stories about things that Parselmouthes can do. What do you know so far?" Harry thought hard, staring up at Neville for a moment.
"...we speak to snakes, obviously." he murmured. "That makes the connotation to Slytherin, which seems to automatically denote 'dark wizard'. We..." he frowned a moment, remembering some things he had experienced himself. "...can't... actually tell we're speaking it. Did you know that?"
"What do you mean?" Neville blinked. Harry nodded.
"Yeah. I can't tell I'm speaking it, I don't know that the words I'm saying or hearing are in a different language, and above all..." he smiled weakly. "...I have absolutely no bloody clue why the hell people look at me the way they do when they hear it. Does it really sound that weird? It's just hissing, right?"
"...uh..." Neville looked like he was trying to smile, but it looked more like he was sucking on a sour lemon. "...well, sort of... only... you know... creepy? ... almost like Latin mixed in with it..."
"...I'm still lost." Harry sighed. "But it doesn't matter too much. Come on. Isn't there anything else?"
"Lots- but most of it's useless junk. You don't have a split tongue and you don't sleep in a bed of your own shed skin, so that pretty much invalidates more than half the stories..."
"Wait, I don't what-?"
"Don't bother with it." Neville shrugged, looking awkward. "Just stupid rumors. Ah- have you ever been bitten by a snake before?"
Harry just stared at him blankly in reply.
"...ah... that's a no, then?" the boy tried to laugh it off, awkwardly. "See, poison from snakes isn't supposed to affect you. I don't know though- you might not want to test that unless it's really really necessary..."
"Agreed." Harry nodded, staring at the chalkboard. Something else had popped up in his mind, and he realized what might be best. He had a book- harsh words meant to be taken as 'fact'. He also had a friend- a boy steeped in the lore of the wizarding world. Why not compare them with one another?
Silently, he set the book on the table, flipping it open to the well-thumbed page that he had been on countless times before. Neville came over to him, confused, and read over his shoulder for a moment- and as he did so, Harry got to watch the strangely amusing show of how the expressions on the boy's face twisted oddly as he skimmed it. Finally, he closed the book, closing his eyes with a pained wince on his face.
"...most of it's... I'd like to say that most of it's rubbish, but... I mean..."
"You don't know." Harry nodded, realizing what was really wrong here. Neville was no expert on Parselmouthes. There were no experts on such a rare thing.
"I'm sorry Harry, but this isn't-"
"I understand." he reassured the boy, interrupting him. There was a moment of silence... but then, Harry had made up his mind. He turned to Neville, looking serious.
"...I've asked far too much of you." he murmured, very quiet. His timid classmate shook his head vigorously, denying it.
"No, it's no trouble!" he bit his lip shyly. "I'm just sorry I couldn't be of any help..."
"It's alright. Really." Harry smiled at him, realizing the insanity of what he was going to ask. He had no right to ask this of the boy before him. ...and yet, he had to. "...but Neville? I have... just one favor to ask."
"Sure- what is it?" Harry didn't miss the way he perked up at the prospect of being trusted enough to be asked for favors. Harry's expression turned sad, but he still managed to keep the smile on his face, though it looked rather forced.
"...this is going to take a second to explain, so just... hold on a second." he took a deep breath, closing his eyes. "...I need to know this. I really do need to know if it's true. But there's only one way I can do that, isn't there?" at the intake of breath, Harry worked out the fact that Neville had realized what he was aiming at. "Yeah, that's right. I'm going to try some of these things. ...but you read that page. I might go crazy. Go... dark. So I need you to do something for me." He opened his eyes again, staring imploringly up into Neville's shocked face. "I need you to track me down every once in a while and get me to talk to you. I need you to figure out if I'm still alright or not. And if I'm not... well, Dumbledore's easy to find when he wants to be."
Neville was staring at him like he had just professed to being a transfigured gerbil.
"...Harry, you can't be serious...?" he whispered, horrified. The boy who lived shrugged, his mind made up by that point.
"I remember what you did." he pointed out. "Back in first year, when you stood up to Ron and Hermione and I. You're a brave person, Neville. You do the right thing- no matter what else happens. If I asked this of anyone else..." he trailed off, thinking. "...I can't really... ask Hermione to do it, you know? And if I asked Ron..." he shook his head at that idea. "...no, I know that I could fool him into thinking I was still light if I ever went dark. And even then, if he realized... he might not say anything in order to protect me. But not you. I couldn't fool you because you follow your heart, don't you?" he couldn't help but smile at that.
Neville looked torn between being humbled by Harry's assessment of him and being scared of the duty that was being asked of him.
...but in the end he looked up, a light in his eyes that hadn't been there before- and Harry knew what his decision was.
"...you really need to this...?" he whispered, a pained look on his face. At the raven haired boy's nod, Neville sighed, staring at the floor. His feet seemed extraordinarily interesting... "...then... you'll need someone to look after you..."
Harry put a hand on his classmate's shoulder, relieved.
"...you really are much more courageous than people give you credit for." he said, gratefully. Neville shook his head, biting his lip.
"...n-no, I'm not." he denied, voice quivering. "If I was... I'd go report you right now, before you have a chance to do this..."
Harry didn't have a reply to that. He just picked up the book, standing and walking to the door. Then, he paused, glancing back over his shoulder.
"...You coming?" he inquired, after a minute. His friend nodded, stumbling after him, the weight of what Harry had asked him still pushing down on his shoulders.
When he reached the common room, Harry immediately went up to the dormitories, plopping the book down on his bed and opening it up to the page he practically knew by heart. Neville watched nervously from the doorway, biting his lip- and at last, he asked,
"...what are you doing?"
"Looking for a spell." he murmured, distracted. "Malfoy summoned a snake during our duel. The spell... it was..."
He pulled out his wand, beckoning Neville into the room.
"Close the door. I don't want anyone else to know I'm doing this besides you."
"Not Ron?" He asked, shutting and locking the door quietly. Harry shook his head.
"...no. Not unless I really do go evil and you need help keeping me in check, alright?"
Harry turned back to his wand, satisfied. He remembered the spell.
A little flick of the wrist and the spell was complete. Something shot from the end of his wand and impacted onto his bed, tangling itself into the sheets. When it finally managed to lift its head from the sheets, he heard a gasp from his left, but he ignored it, staring straight at the snake.
It was a hooded cobra, mouth opened wide, hissing like it was about to strike.
The snake hesitated, closing its mouth immediately. After a moment's confused reluctance, it replied.
"...you are a speaker." it hissed back, and Harry nodded.
"Er... yes. That's what I wanted you here for. I need a snake to speak to, if you don't mind."
The cobra drew back, but this time, it was more in indignation than the need to bite.
"...I was not... summoned to bite? To kill?"
Harry shook his head.
"...you are a strange master." it hissed back, and as it said this, it visibly relaxed, slithering towards Harry and perching on his knee.
Said Parselmouth turned to Neville, smiling slightly at the dumbstruck expression on the boy's face.
"It's okay." he reassured. "He won't bite you. Not while I'm here, at least." Turning back to the cobra, he inquired, " Do you have a name? Something I could call you by?"
"Seth, master." it curled over into what could be called almost a bow at this. "It is an honor to be in your presence."
"...Stop it. Call me Harry, not master."
Seth blinked, looking up at him in shock.
"...but you are a speaker. It is only propriety that I address you thus."
Harry sighed, shaking his head.
"Well, 'master' feels uncomfortable with that name. Please call me Harry." at the obvious reluctance that the snake had, he belatedly thought of one way to fix this name thing. "-Alright, call me Harry- that's an order. Do you understand? "
Seth bobbed his head up and down.
"Of coarse, Master Harry."
He blinked, opening his mouth, only to shut it with a resigned snap.
"...better, but... well, it doesn't matter too much. Listen, Seth, I have something to ask you... "
The cobra appeared to brighten up at the prospect of being able to assist his 'Master'.
"What is it, Master Harry?"
Harry winced at the title once more, but forced himself to ignore it. There were more important things to do right now.
"How much do you know about Speakers...?"
Yeah, okay. There it is. Have at it, then.
...you know, this is actually mostly fueled by a cross of Voltaire music (The hell is up with Headless Waltz, anyways?) and being bored with a pencil in hand. I started drawing someone, and they morphed into Harry wearing a really strange white tunic-like robe... and when I was done, my brain had planned out this whole damn story.
I don't get it. My brain doesn't really follow my commands. ...let alone anything close to being called 'rules of logic' and/or 'sanity'.
So have fun while you can. I don't know how long I can keep writing before the white-coats come to drag me back to their nice little padded room. Until then, see ya.