Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter and am making no money from this story.
Summary: Tamper with the deepest mysteries – the source of life, the essence of self – only if prepared for consequences of the most extreme and dangerous kind. It appeared that one or more of Voldemort's experiments had worked. This story was requested by, and is dedicated to, Cerebral Cerberus.
He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.
'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'
He awoke in shivering silence, pressed into a thickly cooling darkness.
Was this death?
No, death was pain beyond measure – a swallowing of the excruciating void – and was he not Lord Voldemort who, long ago, had taken measures to ensure that such a fate would never be his? It seemed that, once again, one or more of his experiments had come to his aid.
He strained blindly against the softness that surrounded him. A great noise was pounding like fierce rain against the black pulp walls of his prison. Voldemort shrank from it, weak with fear as he hid in this strange, viscid place, hoping the cacophony of vibration would cease.
Time passed and the sound faded a little. Voldemort extended his tongue – testing, tasting – the wet heaviness. He could not feel his hands but his mouth could dig into the gloom. Teeth tore at the tightness, tearing away meaty gobbets of dark that tasted of magic gone sharp and sour with decay. It filled him up and drove him on as he gorged a bloody path, not knowing whether he was headed up or down or anywhere at all; a lost explorer hacking his slow way through a dead swamp of sinewy bracken.
Eventually, he reached a smooth tunnel. Its distant termination painted the darkness a livid crimson. He pressed eagerly toward the shaft of light, but stuck – wriggling – at its opening, unable to traverse the small passage. So frail and small had this form been that its new-found breadth shocked him. Fat with the weight of feeding, he lunged and coiled and thrashed until the walls of the tunnel tore and he ate his way down it, losing everything to the hunger which only grew and grew as he struggled. The hole of light passed almost unnoticed above him as he hit the end and attacked it, fangs striking through to juicy softness that sparked power as he glutted himself. A tiny thought in the back of his mind whispered of whys and wherefores and stop, but he ignored it.
When his flat nose struck clean bone, the snake rested, comfortably spooled in the skull of his prey. He slept for an indeterminable time, measured only in the continued, unnatural swelling of his body. Fevered dreams of wands and conquest broke open as he awoke to find himself hemmed in painfully tight on all sides, his still-growing form knotted up so that it was almost impossible to move. Too slowly, he pushed through his own coils to emerge through the dead-thing's slack mouth.
Release was sweet. The sounds still echoed up through him but he could not taste the heat of the frenzied herd beyond. This was his home, his first kingdom. He knew these smells well: ink, chalk, parchment, ozone, sweat, and old stone walls. Satisfied, he slithered beneath a heavy desk, awaiting fresh prey.
"What happened?" It was a great rumble from far off.
"Sir, I… I didn't…!" Another – the snake ached with disappointment – two was too many to kill. He needed to find these big mammals alone to have a chance at eating one.
"Don't worry. I won't put it in my report. Merlin, he deserves it. I'd have done the same myself if I'd been alone with that thing. You get along – Rosmerta's brought barrels and barrels of Butterbeer up from the village. I'll take over guarding snake-face over there."
The snake ought to be concerned with what the two warm-blooded animals – wizards? – were discussing, but he was too ravenous. Aurors, the thought made him shudder. I have to leave, I have to – and suddenly their words caught up to his slipping mind. He could no longer see or feel the still, cold thing on the floor of the empty classroom. He could only smell a stale meal and his tongue flickered in horrified hunger for the corpse of Lord Voldemort.
Sick with realisation, the snake – I am Lord Voldemort – fled as fast as he could, out between the legs of the Auror, who shouted and flung spells which burned the snake's scales but did not penetrate them as the snake slithered to safety through a crack in the stone.
He brought down several elves and a stray human before setting his sights on larger fare. While the castle herd noisily saw to its own, the snake sought out bodies abandoned in death on the battlefield. Trolls. Half a giant. Nothing disturbed his feasting except his own disgust, but the bubbling memories never surfaced long enough to make him stop.
Glutted and ponderous, he soon became far too big to slip through holes and cracks any longer. Then he grew too big to fit through doorways and the castle's narrower corridors. His own weight fatigued him, begged him to sleep. But the snake knew that to be found would mean final and agonising death and dragged himself fearfully towards the secret place he alone had discovered long ago. A few humans saw him as he moved sluggishly along and died before they could scream. He ate them too, still hungry even though it hurt.
He squeezed through the passageway, breaking stalls and porcelain as he went, opening the sink and sliding down to the bottom with abject relief. Here, he could rest his too-massive-too-fast body and sleep in the shadow of his noble ancestor. And the Basilisk would be –
Yet another corpse on the air, fetid and rotten, and the snake cried out in despair. Everything was lost. Everything he had worked for – all his power, all his Horcruxes – lost. He could not even recall what experiment might have resulted in his current existence, only that he was mortal and afraid and alone. And this time everyone would believe him dead, having seen him fall with their own eyes – no faithful would come to their master's rescue. His tail could not wield a wand and his mouth was equally ill-suited to such a task. The miserable snake stared down at his still expanding, still lengthening, dark green body and then up at the cavernous vaulted ceiling. What had once seemed so wonderful to a boy named Tom was now the snake's prison. I will never fly again.
How he had duelled through the sky, like smoke on the wind. How easy it had been – how little thought he had given to such pleasures. And his intellect, his brilliance… the snake knew the fate of those trapped in minds far simpler than their own. They devolved into the creatures magic had made them. Without Horcruxes his spirit was trapped in this flesh, unable even to escape into the feather-light formlessness of the forest he had known.
He curled himself in the bed of Slytherin's monster and eventually agony gave way to a deeper sleep than he had ever known.
When the snake stirred again, many years had passed. His dreams had spanned decades. Fully grown, he fit too-snugly into the massive nest Slytherin had made to house his legendary monster; near two-hundred feet long, the giant snake was over three times the size and weight of the average Basilisk. Without an outlet, his prodigious magic had turned inward and exhausted itself in growth, leaving him as devoid of magic as any animal. He blinked gleaming, yellow eyes and wondered at his waking, his forked tongue probing the air for answers. There were little things skittering around his chamber, their shrill voices calling out to each other in chirping, fluting noises.
"Uncle Ron told me how to get in!" one of them exclaimed, "You just have to say – open – it means open." The snake shifted, irritated by the squeaks that could barely pass as Parseltongue. "Open, open, open!"
His immediate thought was to eat them and put an end to their mocking laughter. But then he realised that their strange words had once been his words and perhaps they could help restore him – though the snake did not know what to make of such strange desires. He was large enough to bring down any prey. To rip and tear and feed. He had no need to be anything other than what he was. The King of Serpents, his mind supplied.
Deciding that they were best eaten, for he was hungry, he found he could not leave the nest. Unlike flesh, the ancient stone would not give way, and he could only stick his blunt nose through the hole by which he was supposed to leave. Trapped, he hissed and thrashed but it did not good. The warm smell of the little creatures tortured him. They screamed and chittered words that passed through his mind like ghosts – he could grasp their meaning little more than he could sink his teeth into them.
Eventually, they left, leaving him still straining to follow. He tried to sleep, but hunger allowed him only fitful rest. Escape was impossible: some force – magic – preserved the chamber and would not let him out no matter how hard he threw himself at the stone. The snake was enraged by this helplessness and railed bitterly at the walls of his prison.
"Hello," called the voice. How familiar it was. How different.
"You shall let me out!" the snake commanded imperiously. Finally, a servant had sought him out after so many years of waiting.
"I can't do that, sorry," the disobedient servant replied from the safety of the other side of the wall. "But I could move you to somewhere with more room and give you something to eat. How would you like that?"
"Very well," the snake agreed – agreeing to any bargain that mentioned food. He would deal with other things after he'd eaten.
"Great – you know, you're much more reasonable than the last Basilisk I talked to. I'm really sorry about this next bit… but Rolf has developed this potion so you won't feel a thing while we move you. Here, you must be starving." And suddenly there were little prey animals with him in his nest. Goats – delicious – and it was the work of moments to devour them all. But then things began to spin and he hissed softly, pathetically, at such betrayal, desperately trying to think through blissful heaviness that rolled his eyes upward as the darkness caught him.
When he woke, he was blind. His eyes stung and he raged, but to no avail. There was the enticing stench of cattle and he held off eating them for as long as he could, but eventually his stomach won out over his fears. These ones did not make him sleep, but they dulled his thoughts, until eating and sleeping was all he could think of. He could smell the humans but he could not find them. Their voices were muffled, opaque. Though he ruled a great territory, he seldom ventured far from his favourite warm place to sleep.
"How's life at the park treating you, Rex?" the voice asked him as if he were a child. It sounded from a distance away, projected on the air. The human was cowardly, it would not fight him. It knew the snake would win. "What Luna and Rolf have done here is amazing. I'm sorry I haven't had the chance to visit you. Lots of other people have though. Everyone says you're the largest Basilisk on record."
"They took my eyes, they milk my venom," the snake retorted furiously, "and my name is not Rex!"
"I know, but your eyes kill people, so it was either that or kill you," the human said with a sigh. "And your venom is very special – very rare – it helps keep this place running. I'm sorry. Why don't you tell me your name, then?"
It was tamed out of him, lost with his eyes, lost with his precious treasures… he could not remember. "I… I do not know. Say it again."
"The other part…"
"Your venom is very rare?"
"Special…" the snake drew out the word, reveling in it. "That is my name. Special, special, special…"
"You're a very special snake," the human coos and the snake basks in the attention, happy at last. But, all too soon, the human abandons him. He doesn't remember the human's name. It was common and unimportant.
"I was thinking," Harry said thoughtfully, sipping his coffee, "that when I retire next month I might work with Rolf and Luna for a while. You know, help with the snakes, and do something that doesn't involve paperwork. The Basilisk is lonely."
Hermione nodded, "That sounds like a great idea, Harry. It must be hard being the last of your kind - and it's impossible to get dispensation to hatch a mate for a monster like that. The only explanation for its size I can think of is that it must have been the magic of Hogwarts. I can't believe Slytherin would hatch two of the creatures."
Harry took a biscuit. "He didn't, that's the thing. It must have been Voldemort who hatched the one Albus found, because it's still quite young, according to Luna." He laughed and looked out the window at the grey sky as he nibbled the biscuit. "He'd probably be pretty upset if he knew his Basilisk was on display at a park for rare magical creatures, you know, making people happy."
It took Harry several months to get Special to trust him. There was a lot of work to do, and he frequently fire-called Charlie for advice. The cows the great snake ate were bred for size and, even then, still enlarged with magic. He also had to brew the potions which kept Special docile, which was a pain, since Harry had always hated brewing and the recipe was fiddly – as it had to be extra strong for the massive serpent. Luna was very strict about not drugging the animals, but the Basilisk was the exception. As a creature classified XXXXX, they were required by law to either keep him on sedatives or put him down.
Special was highly intelligent, for a snake, and enjoyed talking to Harry. His weakness was flattery and Harry was quite happy to humour the lonely creature with all the grandiose compliments the serpent desired. After a year of being his part-time keeper, Harry was confident to enter the enclosure whenever he liked and pet the snake. The pen was the size of a Quidditch pitch but Special was so large he made it seem small. One sunny morning, Harry decided to bring his broom.
Usually, Special was quite contented in the mornings – Harry always fed him a few hours before the park opened. But today the snake slithered up and down his enclosure disconsolately. "What's wrong?" Harry called down to the Basilisk, "still hungry?"
"I want to fly!" the snake cried.
Harry looked down at the giant snake and laughed in disbelief. It would take twenty skilled wizards to levitate a creature as large as the Basilisk even a few feet of the ground. "I'm sorry, Special," he chuckled, "but even if your scales weren't resistant to magic, you're far too big to have a go on my broom."
"I do not need a broom," the snake replied haughtily, obviously hurt by Harry's amusement. He tried rising as high as he could off the ground, but Special was still extremely dozy from his morning tranquilizers and the result only made Harry laugh even harder. Eventually the Basilisk gave up and curled up in what looked suspiciously like a sulk.
When he touched down, Harry tried console the great mountain of shining green scales. "Basilisks just weren't meant to fly."
"You are an ignorant human," Special retorted stubbornly, head buried in his coils. "I remember flying. Before. When I was like you."
"What do you mean?" Harry frowned. His knees ached from the flight – he wasn't young any more.
"When I had my treasures… my wand… when… when… before I was as large and strong as I am," The Basilisk was always consoled by his size, despite the fact that it had almost killed him in the Chamber of Secrets. "I am the largest and most dangerous one here, after all. No other animal is nearly as rare and valuable as I. I would hate to be a scrawny little runt of a human like you, even if you can fly. It would not stop me eating you if I wished to."
Harry politely refrained from asking Special how exactly a blind, doped up snake – no matter how abnormally sized – planned to catch an experienced wizard carrying a broomstick. Not to mention that he'd already killed a Basilisk once before. "Of course you could," he agreed with the proud serpent, "you're an especially large and deadly snake. But then, who would you talk to if you ate me?" He reached up, petting the smooth scales. "Special, special, special…" he sang to the Basilisk, mad thoughts blossoming in the wake of the snake's strange words. He voiced his suspicions, his hand stilled against the cold flesh. "Voldemort…?"
"That was it," Special sighed contentedly, "Voldemort. Say it again so I can remember."
"Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort…" The name was like an incantation, but nothing happened at the final syllable. The Basilisk was exactly the same. Harry supposed this was better than limbo, better than endless suffering. He wondered at Tom's determination to evade death, and how – in Merlin's name – he'd ended up like this.
"No one else could fly like I could," Voldemort told Harry proudly, the great flat face nosing his keeper affectionately. "Only I figured out how it was to be done."
"I believe you," Harry replied, drawing out his wand and vowing to keep the snake's secret as he stared up at the blind eyes of the monster.
Special can no longer remember flying or Voldemort. Keeper Potter ensured it long ago. His memories have been closed to him. "For your own happiness, Special, I promise…" were the soft words he lost first, before everything else fell away too. He is, and will always be, a snake. Nor does he remember who the last Keeper Potter was, or that he once lived in a park with lesser creatures. Special is ancient and his keeper is very young. He imagines she has red hair. She, rightly proud of her inheritance, says that he is a part of everyone's magical heritage and her parents say there must always be a Parselmouth Potter to keep their family's Basilisk. A kept thing. A pet. He gave up minding a century ago. His milk keeps them rich and they revere him, this great, immortal snake, and he – for his part – is content to be thus revered.
He is still human enough for that.