Title: The Children of Set
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter and I am making no money with this fanfiction.
Summary: Tom Riddle, searching for a rare book in Cairo, finds more than he ever suspected.
Rating: PG-13 [torture and nudity]
Word Count: 5,600
Beta Editor: the lovely DARTH_ELDRITCH of livejournal
Author's Notes: This was written for a "introduce a villain from another fandom" challenge and I'm finally posting it in my journal. The story mixes J.K. Rowling's world with elements from the stories of H. P. LOVECRAFT and R. E. HOWARD, some of which later FOUND THEIR WAY INTO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE. The villain I introduce is FATHER SET, accompanied by his children. Although I make use of Mythos lore in general, I particularly draw on THE NAMELESS CITY and THE CURSE OF YIG. It is not necessary to have read these stories in order to read this one, however. I was inspired by two drawings of Voldemort in Egypt by the amazing LIGHTPOINT of deviantart: IN SEARCH OF TIME and BAZAAR. I must also recommend 'THE PARSELMOUTH', a fun website which renders words into "Parseltongue". I had great fun getting the application to translate such phrases as: "Iä! Iä! Fhtagn! Tekeli-li!"into snake language. Creepily, the programme actually translates "Yig" into something frighteningly close to "Set".

He disappeared after leaving the school… travelled far and wide… sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many dangerous, magical transformations, that when he surfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognisable."

– Albus Dumbledore [The Chamber of Secrets]

The souls of Serpent Men upon the death of the body do not go on to the usual afterlife… but rather to a bleak, limbo dimension… Some Serpent Men can return from this dimension to possess the living, at least with the help of conjurers on Earth. Whether or not this dimension is the same place where Set dwelled until recent times remains unknown.

– The Spawn of Set [History of the Serpent Men]

Where shall I begin? Shall I tell you first of Salazar Slytherin, whose self-imposed exile was born of a cause older than any medieval text? Perhaps I should cast my line further into antiquity, to the spooling coils of that noble basileus, Ophion – who journeyed far from the Nilotic valley of his birth to found his Attic kingdom – or Cecrops and the infant Erechtheus whose scaled form drove some to madness? Or the gifted Herpo, that sorcerer who left us rituals shaped beyond and before humanity, and who first birthed the King of Serpents? I could craft a beginning from the stars themselves or start in the midst of my story with broken fingers scraping against bloody stone.

No, none of that. You should begin as I began: with the dreams.

They came in the dog days of summer, when sleep came hard in the stifling heat and opening a window into the night let in not relief, but the effluent stench of the Thames. In that fetid, perspiring darkness swirled lisping whispers which carried me from my narrow bed to cities of sky-flung, Cyclopean monoliths which emerged from the sand as parts of a corpse might protrude from an ill-made grave. Weird glyphs crowded onto dripping, serpentine columns and ghastly, squamous creatures curled and pulsed in unearthly revelry under the light of a verdant moon, crying out in voices which were not voices but a chaotic sensation which fractured into sound almost as an accident of vibration.

It was with a strange mix of euphoria and terror that I awoke and sought the comfort of my wand, rolling my fingers possessively around the smooth, reassuring wood. I had not dreamed of such fantasia since childhood and it made me flush like the boy I once was, to be so enthralled and discomforted by a simple illusion of heat-troubled sleep. I was a man, some five years out of Hogwarts, and no child to dwell over-long on nightmares. Yet it unnerved me, and I recalled the opaque eyes of my divination professor, who set great stock by the prophetic guidance of dreams. I stood and crossed to the window. It was not dreary London I unbolted the shutters of my temporary accommodation onto, but the exotic skyline of Cairo. Knowing I would be unable to sleep again, I stood and watched the sun rise, bathing its winding ways, carved domes and ethereal minarets in golden light. Then I dressed myself in my plain travelling robes – dark hood low to shelter my sensitive eyes and pale complexion from the sun – and apparated out onto the streets, as I had fallen into the habit of conducting my business early and retreating to my lodgings before the temperature swelled under the noon sky, thence to refresh myself and read in the shade until the sun dipped and the city cooled once more.

Wizarding Cairo was everything one might imagine: labyrinthine alleys redolent with aromatic secrets; arabesque balconies and oriels almost touching above the narrow, cobbled streets; a cosmopolitan hive which put magical London to shame. The bazaar was a kaleidoscope of polychrome robes, veils, turbans and tar-brushes; sellers hawked their wares loudly: spice, perfume, magic carpets, Dragon and Erumpent hides, and potion ingredients both legal and contraband. As I passed by, a fat merchant was desperately attempting to get a jewel-coloured Fwooper under control, which was nimbly avoiding his Silencing Charms, as the high notes of its strange, maddening song drifted above the crowd. Salamanders slept on well-stocked braziers, their bright-skinned bodes nestled together atop red embers, and a circle of arguing, excited wizards interested in bidding for a caged Sphinx, were enthusiastically testing the beast's quality by puzzling through its riddles.

I ducked behind a beaded curtain into the dark, incense-weighted quiet of my destination. A witch in Alexandria had directed me to the proprietor, a certain Abdel Hazred, in response to my search for a rare copy of Herpo's Ophiomantica. Books and scrolls were jumbled high on chaotic shelves, mixed in seemingly at random with intriguing artefacts and pharaonic treasures. Bizarre instruments of ivory, silver and glass dangled from the low ceiling, along with a shining unicorn skull with its horn still intact, its blind sockets staring. The air was dense with Dark magic and it appeared to me to be a delightful oriental cross between The Room of Hidden Things at Hogwarts and the back room of 13b Knockturn Alley. The Arab himself was not in immediate evidence in the shadowy corners of his premises, so I busied myself studying his merchandise.

My first job after leaving school involved the identification of cursed or otherwise bespelled objects, an experience which had stood me in good stead on my travels, as it bequeathed to me a healthy dose of paranoia when browsing wares such as those belonging to Mr Hazred. It was thus with considerable wariness that I moved between the shelves, taking every precaution before touching any of the tomes. As I paused thoughtfully before a volume with a particularly strong aura and reached up to examine it, a wizened hand, bound in pale silk, shot out and snatched the book between crooked, long-nailed fingers."Al-Azif… interesting."

Readied for a duel, with my left hand on my wand, I turned to regard Hazred. His emaciated figure was swaddled in yellow silk and the material stuck to his face, hiding his features, perhaps covering some leprous disfigurement. He was not looking at the book in his hand, but at me – as if I were a curiosity he had been asked to appraise. Hazred's voice was thin and insubstantial and floated about him like dust on the air. He had no accent. It was almost certainly a trick of the dim light, but it seemed to me that his darkly amber eyes were slitted like those of a cat. In his other hand was a long pipe and he slowly exhaled his words with a plume of green smoke which blossomed from within his obscuring garments. "That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die…" I frowned at the unknown quotation and fought the urge to take a step back as his gaze fixed on the spot where the locket I planned to turn into a Horcux rested beneath my robes.

"I presume you are Mr Hazred?" I inquired politely, "I am–"

"You have read Bullock," Hazred interrupted, closing the book with a loud snap and replacing it carefully on the shelf. "An inferior work… vastly inferior… and you now seek Herpo's original text. Asanath was right to send you to me, ye-es…" He tottered off on light feet, as though suddenly oblivious to my presence, turning his back on me with supreme unconcern. Hazred's eyes were closed as set his pipe down, his hands lovingly stroking the spines of his collection. Laboriously, he ascended a hazardous-looking stepladder and I was immediately reminded of the venerable Ollivander. "Mmmm…" he smacked his lips together in a grotesque fashion as his grasping fingers finally settled on a particular book. "Yes! The Children of Set, this is the grimoire you want."

He thrust a thick book – bound in some dusky, indeterminate hide – into my arms. "Excuse me, but this isn't the book I'm seeking – I'm looking for the Ophiomantica."

Hazred stilled, tilting his head to one side, his sulphurous eyes glassy within his oddly wound scarves. "No," he exhaled at last, "it is not the work you seek – but it is the one you want."

I had learned many things on my journeys throughout the world, one of which was the inordinate passion powerful, elderly sorcerers have for semantics. Combine this peculiar fixation on patronising wordplay with the authority some of those venerable witches and wizards possess, and the result is truly wearisome. Almost every one of them, from the insufferable Albus Dumbledore to the notorious French necromancer François Balfour, simply adored playing the part of gurus whose cryptic, quibbling statements their – probably confunded – students accept as articles of genuine wisdom. Abdel Hazred appeared to be cut from the same cloth.

Smiling, I took the book to my breast as if it were a long-lost treasure of mine. "I'm most grateful, Mr Hazred – how much do I owe you?"

His mouth was not visible, but the corners of his eyes crinkled with nearly lecherous pleasure and I imagined an ugly leer on his lips. "No cost… no cost… you deserve the book as the book deserves you."

"You are too generous! I shall find it illuminating, I am certain. Do you have a copy of Herpo's OphiomanticaI might purchase, in any case? I feel I owe you my patronage after such a gift." My voice was sweet with hidden malice.

"No…" Hazred whispered dully, waving a dismissive hand as if batting away a fly. "Read… read of Set and his progeny and return to me if you still desire Herpo's childish experiments." A skeletal hand gripped my arm tightly but, just as I was about to respond, Hazred let go. The old Arab turned away, silks rustling, swaying a little as he retreated. To be sure, I would return, and it would be to take the Ophiomantica from his hardening corpse. That was another thing about such venerable sages – they expected younger wizards to abide by their rules. I thanked him again and left without complaint.

That afternoon was spent casting exhaustive revelative spells on the old book. I admit I was curious about the old man's gift, but even the geriatric do not tend to give things away to strangers. I would be a fool to even open it without care – I knew first-hand the damage a simple book might do in unsuspecting hands.

It was getting on toward evening when I finally determined that The Children of Set was not cursed, hexed, enchanted, or in any way sentient. What little magic the volume possessed appeared to be but residue due to keeping company for so long with the many Darkly enchanted items in Mr Hazred's shop. After such effort, I could not help but find this rather disappointing, but I was still intrigued enough to finally flip open the bruised leather cover and read the words therein.

It was a handwritten text, smudged and faded, its language both familiar and yet utterly alien. The pictograms bore some small resemblance to Hieroglyphics but curved in odd ways, drawing upon images surely unknown to the wizards of Ancient Egypt. At the same time, the sentences, which coiled about the page in an odd, looping scrawl, seemed as natural to me as my native English. Ordinarily, such a thing might be attributed to an especially powerful Translating Charm, but I had already determined that the dusty pages lacked any such spell. I could not think how I might be unacquainted with the obscure glyphs and yet know them with such peculiar intimacy.

Leaning back in my chair, I wracked my mind for an occasion in which I had come into contact with this elusive script and could not recall a single instance. It was only when I tried to read a sentence aloud, one long finger tracing the circuited path of the glyphs across the page, that I discovered the source of my knowledge. The words came out high and sibilant, slurring into one another as my tongue slid between my teeth: Parseltongue.

But it made no sense! As fond as I was of the clever creatures – even if they managed to overcome the substantial logistical difficulties – serpents were not capable of the thought needed for writing. Nor was it feasible that I might intuitively understand the efforts of another Parselmouth to represent the language in a written form. Puzzled, I began to read.

It was not a spell-book, but a mythological narrative concerning a deity called Father Set, also known by the far older name of Yig. Set was described as a serpentine god from beyond our stars. The creature sounded very much like the now extinct Hydra – a vast seven-headed serpent. As the heads of a Runespoor each house a different segment of its brain, so the sevenfold heads of Father Set supposedly inhabited differing dimensions, incapable of bringing the whole of its awesome bulk into any single world until the heavens align and Set awakens fully from his sleep of eons. Apparently, when last wholly present on earth, Set spawned six children: Sligguth, Damballah, Degei, Nüwa, Ningishzida, and Ophion. The seventh still rests inside the dreaming deity. These creatures were worshipped in their own right and founded the so-called Valusian civilization which flourished in the ages long before humanity.

While I confess to possessing a somewhat boyish love of dark and esoteric legends, I have never been one for cults or religion. Priests are nothing but masters of adjectives. They call one thing bad and another good, solely to suit their own inclinations and keep their credulous disciples fearful or satiated with the illusion of immortality. The only thing I learned from the Sunday mornings of my childhood was the power of those inclusive or exclusive adjectives over the minds around me. Were it not for the language I seemed to be able to read and the discomforting similarities between Valusia with the strange city in my dreams, I would have abandoned the book altogether due to its bombastic, fervently religious tone.

Inevitably, this grand, Palaeozoic civilisation passed out of sight and was forgotten, and those Valusians who remained either fled underground or mated with other reptiles or humans in order to survive. The best recorded bloodline was that of Ophion, who married the powerful, human sorceress Eurynome. Their royal descendants, Cecrops and Erechtheus, ruled over a Grecian kingdom. Herpo too, was born of Ophion's lineage according to the account. There were graphic, grotesque illustrations of the results of such horrorifying interbreeding. Naked, hairless, lipless, scaled anthropoids with long tails and red, lidless eyes which stared up at me beadily, and a flat-faced, wriggling human child, patterned like a snake, depicted without arms or legs.

The origins of Parselmouths – that was what this book purported to relate and what Abel Hazred had given me. How had he known? Many Dark wizards would be interested in the Ophiomantica– but Parseltongue was a rare gift. My Occlumentic shields were excellent and the number of individuals to whom I had confessed my ability could be counted on one hand: two of my most loyal schoolfellows and Professor Dumbledore. I couldn't imagine Dumbledore relating anything to the kind of person who might know Miss Asanath Waite or Abdel Hazred, and Abraxas and Cygnus had both taken Unbreakable Vows to keep my secret. So how had he known? It was impossible for him to have known! Then it came to me - there was one very simple way: he had been speaking Parseltongue himself and I had not noticed. A low, clever trick. I found myself amused by the man's cunning pretence to mystic knowledge.

The genealogy became more disjointed as it continued. Pages had been torn out and names inked over. But name of Slytherin was there, listed in the descendants of Sligguth. None of the trees stretched further than the sixteenth century and many ended long before that time. Occasionally the lines would cross, presumably in an attempt to strengthen what little Valusian blood was left. The last name in Ophion's line was Paracelsus. It made me wonder if it was he – widely credited with the "discovery" of Parseltongue along with his alchemical advances – who authored The Children of Set.

The segment on Salazar Slytherin I read over and over again. It described intriguing, Dark rituals and potions involving the milk of the Basilisk, by which one might draw upon the influence of sleeping Set to reform a soul in the image of the Serpent Father and purify oneself with the lost alchemies of Valusia. But although Slytherin's efforts were fruitful and the line of Sligguth strengthened, Salazar was forced to abandon his precious school, not wanting anyone to see the deterioration of his form into one of the hybrid creatures somewhere between man and Valusian serpent. Slytherin had ended his days in seclusion – that much I knew. But having seen the colossal statue of the tall, wizened old man in the Chamber of Secrets, I was extremely sceptical about the idea that his solitude might have been due to some perverse, ophidian transformation.

As I read on, the book dissolved into delirious raving – as if the author were losing his mind. Ink was carelessly splattered across pages. Sentences devolved into nonsense sounds such as: Tae'ka, tae'kaa! Aa'ea'isss! Lissyeite-ii! Lissyeite-ii!– none of which meant anything, even in Parseltongue. Then there were no glyphs at all, just scribbled lines, like the primitive drawings of a child. The parchment was oddly serrated, as if someone had subjected it to a wild Slicing Hex or… claws.

I could feel the sand hot under my feet. The backs of my hands had singed in the sun as I walked the baking, undulating dunes, seeking a nameless city lost to history. When I returned to Abel Hazred's shop, it had vanished – no doubt the work of the Fidelius Charm. Furious, I returned to Asanath Waite in Alexandria, from whom I had received his address in the first place. But she – even when broken by the Cruciatus Curse, her mind dripping secrets like the juice of an over-ripe fruit – was unable to give me any more information on Hazred. But she knew others, antiquarians, curse-breakers, and archaeologists who had seen the glyphs I described on jewellery taken from an ancient city in the Arabian Desert. A site that the Gringotts Goblins had tried to keep to themselves, yet had abandoned soon after… an odd thing, for creatures such as Goblins to discard a source of potential revenue. One of their curse-breakers, Fadil Mostafa, showed me memories of accidents that had haunted those working at the site, of disappearances and inexplicable collective dreams – and the raving Nagnok who ran out into the desert, screaming in a strange language that was neither Gobbledegook nor human.

The perils their minds imparted did not concern me as I gazed across the valley, searching for the landmarks Mostafa had given me. I would perhaps have missed the ruins entirely had I not stumbled over the remnants of a shattered column, just as the moon began its ascent, illuminating the blurred engravings which might have once been Parselglyphs. Then, looking at the lines of the desert, I realised that I must surely be standing in the very midst of the ancient city, with its buried battlements raised all around me, now obvious in the tall drifts of implacable sand. There was a perfect stillness to the air which seemed to bewitch me. I felt myself to be a long lost citizen of Valusian antiquity, returning at last to the place of my true birth, which surely could never have been squalid London, but this ancient, magical place beneath the vast Arabian sky.

I arced my wand and sand rose around me like a great swarm of tiny, dark insects pulling away from the earth, billowing thickly across the air before vanishing into the night, leaving me staring at the ghostly, inarticulate remains of the eerie metropolis which had haunted my dreams. Crumbling, anguine statues coiled under the moonlight, reminding me of the great, diamond-headed snake tomb I had admired at Petra, and the emerald-eyed gardians of the Chamber of Secrets. Their empty sockets followed me as I touched my fingers to the time-smoothed stone – tracing the almost-glyphs with covetous fingers. Where the bed-rock rose were hewn squat houses or temples, with low entrances eroded by the centuries. One was partially excavated – doubtless by the Goblins here not so long ago. Being tall, I had to crouch in order to enter through the small aperture and make my way across the low chamber on my knees.

Here there were primitive alters, curving pillars and shadowed niches, all bearing the tales of the ancient place: a city that had ruled in a golden age of beautiful, garden-clad wonders. The pictograms, bathed in shivering blue wandlight, showed those same creatures I had seen in The Children of Set: stylised reptilian hybrids trampling their enemies to return in triumph like the pharaohs of Karnak. They were dressed in lurid robes, worshipping Set, whose seven, ghastly heads descended from the sky like the rays of the sun. And – painted across the expanse of the altar – how the prophets of Set ordered the people to chisel down through the rock to the ecstatic world beyond, to the great caverns of K'n-yan and green-gilded Yoth.

"We will wait for it to run, yes, yes… tasty mammal… and take our fill before the swooping birds can…"

Instantly, my head snapped up, causing me to crack my skull against the ceiling. My mind was still awhirl with Parseltongue, and I swore loudly in that same language. The thickly-striped body of a three-headed snake swayed down from a hole in the ceiling, its three tongues tasting the darkness. The beady eyes of the middle head glimmered: "Easy to go down to those beneath… the door of bronze Yoth stands open night and day… but to wend back the way one came… that is the task, yes, yes…"

The third head snapped viciously at the other two, hissing irritably. "We've drawn the warm one's attention – and told it too much! Don't you taste it's not a human at all, but a serpent in disguise? It's listening to us!"

"The guardian waits for it, then… who guards the chill-visioned gates to dreaming Yig… yes, yes…?" The left head replied. The heads on each side of the serpent began to bicker, opening their black mouths aggressively while the middle one's glazed gaze remained fixed on me.

"What, or who, is this guardian?" I demanded.

But the snake appeared to be quite impervious to my question. "We did not know all that human grunting and sing-song vibrations were a language – what do you say to each other?"

I lost my temper: "Listen, you insolent worm – tell me of this place and the guardian you speak of, or Lord Voldemort shall cut your head from your body!"

The snake reared back and its other two heads fell silent. "I told you so!" said the right head sulkily. "Call the guardian!"

I raised my wand to cast the Imperius Curse on the recalcitrant Runespoor, but all at once the three spoke in unison, almost as though a fourth were speaking through them: "Lissyeite-ii! Yig-O-Yig – Tae'kaa! Ka Nama Kaa Lajerama!" Immense pain, greater even than the Cruciatus Curse, shot through my body and sparking dots spun in my vision. It felt like my mind were being pulled out through my eyes, that my spirit was being torn from my body as easily as pulling at a seam of silk. My limbs collapsed and my wand rolled away as my head struck the altar with a dull finality.

The rest of what occurred that night I have striven to set down to the best of my ability. But part of me still wonders if it was not the result of desert heatstroke which causes travellers to see phantasms on the air, or concussed delirium brought about by injury. And yet I now possess evidence of the truth of all I witnessed in the darkness below that ruined city… I remember their claws sunk into my flesh, dragging me down a narrow tunnel, my limbs grating against stone as I fought to escape, and breaking my fingers trying to gain purchase on the rock – anything to slow up the inexorable descent. I screamed for my wand until my voice was nothing but a shattered whisper. Blackness hid my captors from me as I slid in and out of consciousness, yet I heard their noisome, panting breath and felt their sticky tongues on my flesh and the viciousness of their claws and teeth.

They carried me as a man is borne on a wave and I felt their slick, scaled bodies tight against me in the narrow tunnel. High-pitched, tittering laughter spun all about me and the ghosts of their terrifying, scarlet eyes dancing like guttering candles and I lapsed once more into unconciousness. There was light when I next woke: dizzying phosphorescence against which I had to shut my eyes as deep, low, moaning seemed to pulse in my ears, like a throng of condemned spirits accompanied by strange, primordial percussion. A thick, rhythmless pulse beating from the earth. It grew and grew until I was drowning in its deafening, ghastly reverberations. My legs and back pricked strangely as my mind drifted in a haze beyond pain. It was then that I opened my eyes, though I wish I had not. For I was being carried aloft through a glittering cavern and stretched out below me was a great, writhing sea of horrifying creatures. The prickling I felt was my passage from one set of claws to the next as they lifted me. Some had golden, mask-like, almost human features crowned with undulating medusan tendrils, while their thick bodies were entirely serpent. Others had humanoid limbs with long, twisted fingers and white, scaled bodies like slippery wax. All had slitted, crimson eyes, like holes gashed into their sockets, lighting their upturned faces with an unearthly red glow.

Eventually, I was lowered onto an altar similar to the one on the surface. My robes, shredded to rags, were pulled from me and the coils of two giant serpents bound me to the stone. Above me reared a creature with a cobra's hood and hungrily glittering eyes – its green scales, yellow teeth, and black, greedily slathering tongue like a cross between a Basilisk and a Dragon. The foul heat of its breath left me dizzy and retching. One of its monstrous talons reached down and slashed what might have been glyphs into my chest. In my mad vision, the blood seemed to move in arcane rivers, forming into unspeakable designs and opening up new channels in my skin, and I found the voice to scream again as the symbols tore up my flesh. "Set accepts the sacrifice of this human sorcerer!" breathed the monstrous creature. Its speech was like a thousand voices crying out from some abyssal plane, thundering over the noise of the eager, swaying multitude.

"No!" I cried, not knowing what language I screamed, only that terror and despair drove me onward. "I am of Slytherin and Sligguth – I am a child of Set!"

The priest – for that was surely what the monster was – laughed; great spasms of unhinged mirth. Its tongue rasped against my chest, coating me in its thick, pungent saliva. "You speak it, Human-born filth, but your blood is hot and Father Yig – undying Set – is far from your mammalian disease. Still… let the little sorcerer stand!" My arms and legs were released and I rolled helplessly off the altar and onto the ground, accompanied by the jeers of the assembled creatures. My left hand twitched, if only I had my wand"…Nimatziis, come! Let us see you teach this human what it is to be born of Set."

A space was cleared in the hissing, throbbing, eldritch assembly and a serpent creature stepped forward amidst feverish chanting. Its livid eyes were blankly predatory, bleached, squamous form untouched by sunlight. Naked, it moved like a dancer on wicked talons, lithe figure stalking forward with claws extended, and mouth open in wordless challenge. I desperately tried to find my footing, to summon magic to my aid as I did as a child, but it lunged with savage celerity, pumping poison into my shoulder. The cavern swirled and its faces receded to a delirious blur.

Yet as the mutant came in for a second strike, something deep within me recognised it and rebelled. The children in the orphanage torturing me in just such a ring as this, flinging me down beneath them: do it again, Tom, make something happen! The Slytherins: whoever heard of a wizard named Riddle, Mudblood? Their cruel games, torment after torment until the day I proved my superiority and chose new name for myself. I will not be reduced to this!Fury gripped my entire body. It did not matter that I was alone and wandless, betrayed by more antecedants. Rage surged through me and I screamed – not a cry of terror, but an enraged, animalistic shriek – and hurled myself at the thing called Nimatziis, slamming it against the altar, wiping the symbols with its blood. I dug my broken fingers into its neck and tore at its throat with my teeth as the lethal claws sliced up my back. I do not know when the serpent creature died, only that I kept ripping at his body until the poison sapped the last of my movement, impervious to the frenzied chanting of the reptilian assemby.

When I lifted my head, the priest and his worshippers had vanished. All that was left was a shining, phosphorescent void. That small part of my mind still capable of thought wondered if I had been blinded by the toxin. Voldemort…? A quiet voice gently lulled the name, almost as I'd imagine a parent would speak. It was beautiful. Magic such as I had never dreamed existed confronted, surrounded and pervaded me. It seemed to be a part of me… and for that brief, shining experience I was a part of It too: coexistent with all time and coterminous with all space. What you wish, We have found good. Step out of your skin, child. It has grown loose.

And it had, itchy and torturous, shredded to ribbons; far better to get rid of it altogether. I stripped it away unhesitatingly like so much detritus: hair, face, and flesh – all of it – and stood painless and pearly, scaled and pure. There was no need to speak. I stretched up my arms and flexed claws in sky-flung worship, euphoric. Its coils were mine and I saw vast, ever-varied worlds lost in an eschatic orgy of limitless power. Where I once felt horror, I now glimpsed perfection beyond human comprehension. But I was no longer a man, but of Set and Its body surrounded me with Its pulsing, squamous magnificence. The great, slitted nostrils fanned my face and Its seven tongues caressed my naked spirit, one slick with ichor and the others spectral; possessive umbra that twined around me and spoke as one:

You shall bring Us to your island across the seas. You are Our child as Erechtheus was Our child, and you shall offer Us such sacrifice that your name shall be anathema to men for eight generations. And you shall be undying, divided even as We are, until the ages wind once more upon themselves and the key who is Yog-Sothoth turns in the lock that opens all. Eternity shall be your sign, child, and it is eternity We shall grant you…

For many years I regarded the events I remembered of that ancient place as but an eerie dream, prompted by my obsession with the remnants of Valusian civilisation. When I woke, my face full of sand, there was no one there – not even the impertinent Runespoor. My wand lay beside me where I knew it had fallen and the sun was slowly rising, paling the blue dawn. I searched the whole of the crumbling city but could find no tunnel, no descent to the Stygian caverns I had seen. Nor was it possible to apparate back. Unsure of the line between fantasy and memory, I left Valusia and Egypt for the marvels of Africa and tried to forget such brief and inexplicable madness.

It was only years later, when my eyes began to bleed red and my handsome features grew waxen and cold with the enchanting of Slytherin's locket and Ravenclaw's diadem, that I again gave thought to that hauntingly esoteric experience. And later when, in the forests of Albania, Yig came to me once more as I existed in the minds of Its lesser children, whispering, whispering... It is eternity we shall grant you...Less than a ghost as I was, I pledged myself anew to the Great Old One and I did not doubt Its power. In my quest toward immortality I have left man behind to revel in the beauty of the serpent. Now, when I kill, I offer up ululations to Set in the language of Its children and It answers me with magic woven before mankind. I have cast aside humanity, have purified myself according to the ancient tenets. And my beloved Horcrux, my Nagini, my own, shall bear my tribute to the Serpent God.

For it was not the creation of lurid nightmare, but the truth of my precious soul, offered up to the eternity my true father promised.