"GET DOWN HERE BOY!" Harry sighed as Vernon bellowed up the stars at him. "RIGHT NOW OR YOU WILL REGRET IT!" It was Dudley's birthday today, and Harry knew if he wasn't on his best behavior he would be punished. Life as usual. He unfolded himself from his bed and stood, sighing again as he pulled the collar of Dudley's old t-shirt up over his shoulder. "Coming, sir." Harry tucked his parchment away and opened Hedwig's cage, whispering that she should be back before the Dursleys got home. She cooed, and winged out the open window silently. "HARRY!" He hurried down the stairs.
"If you had taken any longer, I might think you were being ungrateful," Vernon said as Harry hurried to the front door. "Or do you miss the closet?" Harry knew his bedroom privileges were always on thin ice.
"Sorry, sir." He mumbled as Petunia stepped out from the kitchen.
"Are we ready then?" She asked. "Duddykins, are you ready to go to the zoo? It's where you wanted to go, right? For your birthday party?"
"Yes, mum. Did you invite my friends?" Dudley rounded the corner and shook some picture frames crooked with the pounding of his feet. Petunia righted them unconsciously, and said, "Of course. Anything to you, my little angel!" Dudley smiled, sickeningly sweet, and then shoved Harry towards the front door.
"Go, you're in my way!" Harry huffed, but opened the door just the same. Sometimes it was easier than starting a fight he knew he would lose. They piled into Vernon's car, Harry shoved against the door and Dudley sprawled across the rest of the backseat.
Harry was rather excited, if only for the reptile house. He'd made friends with a little garter snake he found in the garden while hiding from Dudley's band of terrorists, and he wanted to see if the snakes at the zoo were anything like it. Though he was worried that the zoo would be a golden opportunity for Dudley to throw him into a lion's cage or something. Wouldn't Malfoy find that fitting; the fearless Gryffindor devoured by a lion.
Harry's cautiously optimistic attitude diminished to resigned acceptance when, after paying for Harry's pass to the zoo, Vernon whispered that Harry couldn't have any food for a while to make up for the expense. Maybe he'd find couple pounds on the ground and be able to buy a candy bar for later.
As Dudley waddled over to his cronies and cast glances around the zoo entrance maliciously, Harry waited for the moment he could disappear. If he wasn't allowed food for who-knows-how-long, he was going to talk with the bloody snakes to his heart's content. He saw his opportunity when Vernon offered to buy the boys ice cream and Petunia gazed on in pride as Dudley snatched the bill out of his father's hand. He sidled away and joined the stream of people making their way farther into the zoo.
He followed the signs to the reptile room, getting sidetracked at the flamingos. They really were odd creatures. Harry wondered if anyone used them to send letters in place of owls. He stifled a chuckle and continued on his way. The alligators were basking in the summer heat, green scales glistening. Harry wrinkled his nose at the briny scent wafting towards him, and turned to leave. He ran smack into the rotund stomach of his cousin, and barely had the time to think 'bollocks' before Dudley knocked his head sideways with a meaty fist.
"What have I told you about being. In. My. Way?" Each word was punctuated with another blow, and he was knocked against a support beam that held the canopy up. Harry vaguely heard menacing laughter in the background, but his world narrowed to a pinprick of light as Dudley landed another punch to his chest. 'We're at the fucking zoo! Is no one paying attention?' Harry slouched, and Dudley took a moment to laugh.
Seizing what might have been his only chance, Harry slid around the pole and stumbled away. The scrape of trainers on the blacktop behind him kept him moving, clutching his chest where Dudley had hit him. He ran, but his pursuers gave up quickly. Harry thought he heard, "We'll get him later. Let him think he's free," and some unintelligent laughter before he yanked open a random door and slid inside.
It turned out to be the aquarium building, and Harry sat on a bench and stared at the jellyfish floating around to catch his breath and feel himself out for injuries. They hadn't had time to kick him that time, so he was relatively unscathed. He wondered how he would hide his black eye from the concerned zoogoers, and wondered where their sidelong glances where when he was actually being pummeled.
Apparently there was a type of jellyfish called a sea walnut, and he watched its technicolor cilia wave as he stood abruptly. He'd gotten off track, but the reptile house wasn't far from here. Harry smiled wryly at the volunteer behind the petting aquarium and left.
He opened another door soon after, and sighed in relief. He lied this room the best, and not only because the snakes were here. It was dark and quiet, the sounds muffled by the décor of fake branches tied to the ceiling. Muggles usually only offered the lizards a cursory glance and left, leaving the room emptier than other places in the zoo. He was essentially alone, and he walked down the corridor and looked for a snake that was already awake. They got tetchy if he woke them for some simple conversation.
Ah, the timber rattlesnake was up and about, coiling around the length of tree trunk in his enclosure lazily.
Hello there. The snake halted its undulating motion, but gave no hint otherwise that it was listening. I'm Harry. Do you have a name?
You are the first human who speaks. Why?
It's a long story you would no doubt tire of.
Perhaps. Harry was glad the snake didn't insist on him explaining Voldemort.
What do you do all day in there? Harry asked it. You must get bored.
Don't you ever wish you could be back outside? Have more space to uncoil than this tiny box?
How could I wish for what I know nothing about? I am content. Humans bring me food. My pond is cool. The tree pleases me. The solitude pleases me. Harry nodded, getting the hint, and moved on. Some snakes were set in their ways. It was better to find one that had been recently moved to the zoo.
Hello? He asked a Burmese python. Are you awake?
I am. It is surprising to me that one human may speak with serpents while others seem intelligent enough to speak only to rocks. Harry smiled at the sarcasm obvious in the sharp sibilant voice.
Some humans may not even be that smart. The rocks wouldn't understand their babbling.
It has been a long time since I spoke with anyone.
When were you brought here?
It is hard to keep track, in this place that never changes. Harry looked around and thought the snake was right.
Do you remember your old home? Harry sat cross legged on the floor in front of the glass, disregarding the glances a few passing muggles shot his way, and listened to the snake tell him of the jungle he had once lived in.
Some time later, the snake finished an anecdote about a rabbit mistaking his burrow fir its own and said,
I grow weary of speaking. Your company is most welcomed, but I think I will sleep now.
Your tales mean more to me than you know. Thank you, Snake. And goodnight. The snake hissed to Harry one last time before dozing off with his head tucked into his coils. Harry realized with a jolt that this was the first meaningful conversation he had had since Hogwarts last year. He stood and rolled his head to relieve the kinks in his neck, unsettled by the thought.
Harry was once again sitting on his bed at the Dursley's, nursing his wounds from the day. Along with his black eye, he had a bruise on his ribs and a gash on the back of his head where Dudley had shoved him to the ground. And an empty stomach, Harry thought as the organ in question grumbled. Vernon had extended Harry's fast when it took him more than five minutes to find 'the boy' when Dudley wanted to leave the zoo and had found him at last asleep in the reptile house.
He was not alone, though, and he extended a finger to stroke the crown of his little garter snake's head. The little thing was no longer than Harry's arm, but its weight on his knee was comforting.
I am glad to see you again, little friend. I thought of Malfoy today in a non-threatening way. I obviously am in desperate need of a friend right now. The snake lifted its head and tilted it to the side.
What is a Malfoy?
Oh, he's a boy at my school. He's in Slytherin, and can never pass up a chance to torment me.
Why does he do this?
I really don't know. Perhaps it's because I turned down an offer of friendship before I really knew him. And because I am a Gryffindor. Dunno. Harry shrugged. He'd never really thought about it before; he'd just accepted his animosity and retaliated. We probably could have been friends, or at least acquaintances. He's smart, and loyal. And so hard to read. I can never get a handle on what he's feeling like I can with Ron and 'Mione. Maybe that's why I don't like him.
Perhaps. The snake nuzzled his head into Harry's fingers, and he resumed petting him. 'Is that the only reason I can't stand Malfoy? Because I never know how to act around him?' Harry thought. 'Huh.'
Author's note: Dear ASH (), who posted a review as follows:
Why would Harry find a dollar on the ground in an English zoo? I'm not going to read the rest of this story. I really dislike obvious americanisms in HarryPotter stories.
Thank you for the suggestion to improve my story! I'm sorry that I'm American and can't catch everything. And if insignificant details like that, which aren't even relevant to the paragraph much less a 12 chapter fic, turn you off of my story, good riddance. (For the rest of you, the sentence: Maybe he'd find couple pounds on the ground and be able to buy a candy bar for later. Used to say dollars instead of pounds; that's what he's complaining about.) To the rest of you- thanks for reading!