Author's note; disclaimer: JKR owns the characters. I've borrowed some of them and hope to keep them undamaged.
The orphanage is based on a school a relative attended; I'm sure there are some very nice nuns out there too.
This opens just after the start of term in Harry and co's fourth year before the first task of the Triwizard. I use some events and some dialogue from canon; but events start to pan out differently. This is the first piece of writing I have done in the Potterverse, some years ago, and it's a bit rough in places. I started this after reading OP. Rated M for the implicit violence in the orphanage.
I'm a Brit and I stick to English spellings. Please honour my right if you want to criticise
Chapter 1: The Ivory Snake
The knock was repeated, impatiently.
"If you do not open this door immediately, girl, I shall open it with force!" the harsh voice without commanded. The handle shook, but the chair back was wedged too well beneath it to budge easily, even though there was no lock to the door.
The slim figure seated on the bed gave a rather wry smile of grim satisfaction; but said nothing.
She was not a little shocked when the door exploded inward with a bang; though noise she had been expecting. Her visitor too recoiled slightly as the pyrotechnics of an improvised booby trap of home-made fireworks exploded noisily and with a profusion of stars as the makeshift lock failed; but he was quickly under control. He regarded her sardonically with one eyebrow raised.
She was tiny, slight and skinny to the point of near emaciation; and her pale skin and almost silvery blonde hair gave her a look of incredible fragility. Her violet eyes seemed too large in her solemn and rather peaked face but held an animation and intelligence that belied any initial impression that she was in any way fragile enough for passivity.
"I grant you cool points for not squawking" she said, grudgingly.
The man sniffed.
"I suppose your own reaction was not excessive" he said. His tone was equally grudging. They sized each other up.
He was a tall man, also slender to the point of skinniness; his nose was long and hooked and perfectly shaped for looking down, which was what he was doing, regarding her with cold black eyes. He was sallow, and his hair hung in black curtains at the side of his face, merging into his dead black garb. His clothing seemed strange, not the usual suit nor yet the studiously casual of those who were convinced that they understood youngsters. Instead he wore what could only be described as robes, something akin to the academic robes affected by some clerics and dons such as the girl had seen on the television, but somehow….different.
The girl's hair was also a curtain, a veil; though hers was longer. She pushed it back, scorning to hide, and looked down her own retrousse nose. It did not have the same effect; but something within the man appreciated the gesture, for his eyebrow twitched almost appreciatively.
"You don't look like a priest – or a social worker" she said, dryly.
"Just as well, for I am neither. My name is Snape, Professor Severus Snape of Hogwarts school. I am come to see whether you have talent enough to teach: or if I must erase your memory of using talent."
Her brows drew together.
"I will be no easy target to hypnotise" she said grimly. "I would resist any such effort – whatever you may mean by talent. I suppose you are from some kind of Borstal. Well it can't be worse."
"I don't know the word. I am a wizard. Hogwarts is a school for wizards and witches."
"Yeah? Prove it."
"How do you think the door opened so readily?" he said scornfully.
"A good kick… explosives on the hinges…it doesn't PROVE anything. Why should I believe? For all I know you're some kind of pervert trying to kidnap me. Mother Superior isn't with you" she added shrewdly.
Snape was keeping his temper with difficulty.
"Very well then!" he snapped.
There was a brief tingling in the girl's body; and where she had sat was a large, black snake. Another tingle; and she was restored.
Expecting terror in her eyes, Snape was astounded to see that they glowed with excitement, a smile of pleasure on her face. The pale child was glowing with excitement – and an ethereal beauty such as he had never seen!
"Do it again please!" she begged.
"It is not proper…."
"Please! I – I did not get a chance to be fully acquainted with the new senses!" her violet eyes were compelling.
"You were aware of being a snake, using the senses?" he asked sharply.
"Obviously!" she returned equally sharply. "What would be the point of a demonstration I was not aware of?"
"Most people retain the memory only…very well, but you cannot spend long in the form. One begins to become too…animal like if exposure is prolonged." He lifted his wand and released the spell…felt it taken over, twisted.
Instead of a large black snake, before him was an ivory snake with lavender eyes, and cruel scars down the scales of its back.
The snake elevated the front four feet of her body and tasted the air in front of his face with her tongue. He stood motionless, fearless.
"Enough!" he said after a few minutes, preparing to reverse the spell.
Before he had a chance, the big ivory snake shimmered and changed; and the girl knelt before him. Snape stared.
"Well you had shown me how….I believe you now. I will go wherever you want me to. Nobody has ever given me such a gift before!" she sighed contentedly. "Do you think I have enough talent?"
Snape debated telling her it had not been intended as a gift; and chose to grunt instead.
"Talent?" he said dryly. "You have enough and to spare. Nobody has ever twisted one of my own spells from me before."
She looked concerned.
"Was it very rude? I'm sorry. I hate to be UNINTENTIONALLY rude" she said. "I – I wanted to see how to do it for myself, and I thought the easiest way was to ride along and – and change some things."
"I forgive the rudeness. It was….transfiguration should not be approached lightly, yet you make light of it!"
"I like snakes" she said simply. "There are snakes in a tank at school. I like to chat to them, they're nicer than most people."
He stared again.
"And do they reply?"
"Of course! Is that a wizard thing? To understand animals? 'cos I never got enthusiastic about guinea pigs or mice nor ever felt a desire to talk to them."
Snape took a deep breath.
"Speaking to snakes is a…rare ….skill. those who can do it are called Parselmouths. The language of snakes is Parseltongue."
"Oh!" she said. "Do you speak it? I guess you like snakes or you wouldn't have picked the form."
"I am not a Parselmouth" he replied harshly. "The symbol of the House of which I am Head – we have four Houses at Hogwarts – is a snake. House Slytherin was founded by Salazar Slytherin – and he WAS a parselmouth."
"So am I likely to be in your House? Or – or if you're my Guardian, will I be put elsewhere?"
"The sorting hat will choose where you are put" he replied "And your own wishes will be of importance within that choice. I – well I suppose I must be your guardian, at least for the time being."
"Am I supposed to call you Uncle Severus?" she asked.
"NO!" he exclaimed revolted.
"Don't tell me – you like to be on first name terms and your first name is 'Professor'?"
"Yes" he said.
"Have you many wards?" she asked.
"None!" he replied quickly.
"I get you all to myself? My own special somebody?" her eyes glowed again. "I never had anybody special, 'cos you can't count a letter from a mother who knew she was going to die of you, can you?"
He made a non-committal sound. She was not responding as she was supposed to!
"So I shall think of something to call you…I know, you're going to teach me things, so I shall call you Domine!"
"If you must. But I must be harsher on you than on the others if you are my ward. And I am not in general noted for my….tolerance….in class in any case. Is that clear?"
"Pellucidly" she picked the word deliberately, and grinned at him, then added, " it is fully understood. Discipline; and not wanting to be accused of favouritism. Besides, I scarcely want to be bullied for being teacher's pet."
"Quite." He said.
"At least you don't hide the fact that bullying does exist by pretending that it never happens in your school like lots of teachers do."
"I loathe bullies" he said vehemently.
"Doesn't anyone who's more intelligent than the general herd and likely then to get picked on?" she said cynically.
"Those scars on your snake form – how did they get there?" he asked suddenly.
She taughtened; then turned and pulled up her white blouse, revealing her back. Scars old and new criss-crossed it.
"I don't conform very easily; I question" she said. "I speak out if I think someone's been punished unjustly. I refuse to kneel and beg forgiveness for sins I don't think sinful." The most recent scars, angry and red at the edges, opened up and started bleeding again as the shirt pulled away from them.
Snape was revolted. His wand was out again in a trice and he tapped her back, muttering a spell to himself. Those recent welts at least closed up before him and the redness faded.
The girl's eyes widened.
"You can take away pain with magic too? You are wonderful!" she whispered, and flung her arms about his neck to kiss him warmly on the cheek. Snape stiffened and half recoiled, taken aback.
"Foolishness" he said. "You have no need to be so demonstrative."
"Why not? You healed me…and if I cannot be demonstrative to my own guardian, to whom can I show affection?" she enquired. "Am I not allowed to be pleased and grateful? 'cos I shall be anyway whether it's allowed or not."
"I only did what any reasonable man who was so able would do. I am a harsh disciplinarian, but that…That is sick" he said.
"They are" she said, indifferently, pulling her shirt back down. "They enjoy it – some of them, anyway. I could conform, at least outwardly. I choose not to. It's only pain. I'd rather have them scar my back than scar my will and spirit."
"We're leaving this loathsome place" he said, grimly.
"How are you going to square it with The Penguin – Mother Superior that is?" she asked.
"A little….mental persuasion" he said.
"The force has a great effect on the weak minded" she murmured.
"Film reference….it's how I've learned something about life outside the orphanage – by sneaking out to watch films or visit the library. Can you really make her give me up so I don't ever have to come back?"
She unwound herself and stood up, revealing just how tiny she really was: she came no higher than Snape's breastbone. She pulled open the small cupboard beside the bed and slipped an arm through his to give it a brief squeeze as she started to throw her meagre possessions into an old bag.
"Then I'd better call you Uncle Severus in front of her…to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."
"Gilbert and Sullivan I have encountered" he said. "I concede a brief necessity. The less a mind has to be altered the easier the task is. What do you know about your parents? It might help to convince her I am a relative."
"My mother was just my age – fifteen – when I was born, and she'd had some kind of presentiment that she would die, I guess. She wrote a letter telling me that she'd been reared by an aunt and uncle and had run away from home when she found out she was pregnant. My father was a creep, to seduce a kid then dump on her, for she said he was quite grown up, and very charming and plausible. I" she added "Never trust charming and plausible men. It's why I think I like you."
Snape was torn between outrage and amusement; but the grin she gave him was so infectious he felt the corner of his mouth twitch, amusement winning.
"Why, thank you" he said with heavy irony.
"Y'welcome" she twinkled at him. Had he thought her face solemn? It was alive with mischief! She went on, "My father's name was Thomas Riddell, she wrote."
"Thomas? Or Tom? Tom Marvolo Riddle?"
"She wrote 'Tom' in the letter….the nuns put 'Thomas' on my birth certificate, assuming a shortening. His middle initial was 'M', I assumed for Mark or Matthew or something…do you know him?" she asked in consternation. "Does this mean I can't have you as a guardian if I've a living relative?"
"Oh yes" his voice was dangerously soft. "I know him. It explains the Parseltongue – and your power. Tom Riddle, otherwise self styled as" he looked around and dropped his voice "Lord Voldemort, - whom we do NOT name normally - is or was the most feared Black Wizard ever. He desires domination and power over all the Wizarding world and over muggles – non wizards – too."
She made a disgusted noise.
"LORD? How pretentious! Even – contumelious!" she declared. Snape raised an appreciative eyebrow at her vocabulary. "Not named? Names being power? Yet you say 'or was' which implies he's dead and yet you fear to name him."
He nodded. She reasoned well enough, listened to words and tones, picked up inferences quickly.
"Most people – even though he is assumed dead – refer to him as 'You-know-who'."
"As childish as Lord Thingey. I shall henceforth refer to him as 'Fishface'. That's got no mystique to it!"
Snape stared; then he laughed a harsh, unaccustomed laugh.
"I approve" he said "But GIRL! He is very, very dangerous. To fear him is not childish, but prudent. He knows spells that can wrack you with pain until it takes away your mind; or kill you outright. And he can charm your soul from you."
"And that's more fearsome to you than pain or death, too, isn't it?" she asked shrewdly. "To be enslaved. The same as me taking punishment not repentance. Talking of names, and power, can I change mine if I'm to have a new life?"
"What were you planning on changing it to? Augusta is your name is it not – it seems perfectly serviceable."
She made an indelicate noise.
"You've not thought little boys and their horrid minds through on that" she said. "They call me 'Gusset' and they mean of knickers, not as a general tailoring term. I want to be Krait. It's the smallest snake of all and one of the most deadly – and it strikes from cover and without warning."
"I am familiar with the snake. Very well. It seems appropriate. Now! We leave. You can ask further questions later. I am sufficiently acquainted with Riddle's family to make being a connection inappropriate; but that you are his daughter certainly gives me food for thought."
Snape's handling of the Mother Superior was masterly, flattering her with spurious admiration for her concern for poor motherless children and assuring her that her ex charge would be receiving excellent but strict schooling. He had already provided himself with – doubtless forged – muggle papers declaring that the child Augusta Day Riddell was to be handed into his custody, and he filled in the details with Krait's help with a wave of his wand. She had been impressed and said so.
"A simple trick" he had murmured and told himself firmly not to be pleased at the admiration of an untutored child.
Certainly the details were sufficiently convincing to Mother Superior who was all smiles and ingratiation to Snape, admonishing Krait to behave in her new home and to remember to say her prayers.
"Of course, Mother Superior" murmured Krait, determining to pray that something awful happened to all the nuns.
Snape sighed in audible relief on leaving the place.
"And now" he said "We shall go and purchase such things as you will require for your schooling."