The Snake

That summer, he stepped off the train and went to Diagon Alley, returning to the same pub of which he had resided the summer before. A week later, and his Head of House stood scowling down at him, his voice a liquid snarl.

“You are required to reside with your muggle guardians, Mr. Potter. Disobedience will not be tolerated.”

Harry considered his choices, their outcomes and risks, and finally nodded.

After a prolonged shopping trip, he returned to Surrey, content to put the confrontation off until another summer. He could learn Occlumency in muggle london as well as in the magical quadrant.

“What do you think of the Potter boy, Draco?”

The tone was casual; the words were not.

Draco looked down and did not meet his fathers eyes, even as he stood straight in a practiced noble posture.

“He is very quiet, Father.”

Lord Malfoy swirled the liquid in the glass he held, then took a brief sip before placing it down on his desk with a solid clink.

“And? This is all you have to say, after spending an entire year in a dormitory with him?”

Draco hesitated. He could not say the other boy frightened him; he could not say that Potter intimidated all the Slytherins, even those far older. There was simply something about the expressionless green eyes, the way he held himself, the ruthless way he responded when challenged.

As he had responded when Draco demanded an answer from him on the train. He had not had the courage to approach him again with an offer of friendship, especially not with Nott and the mudblood so firmly entrenched at his side.

Draco took a steadying breath.

“He is a true Slytherin, in every way except one; he is friends with Granger.”

The older man smiled down at the papers on his desk, then waved a dismissive hand, his words following his Heir from the room.

“Women are a weakness for many men. Remember that.”

The elf listened, and wrung his hands, and debated.

He had saved them; He had defeated the bad man, the one who slaughtered human and beast alike.

He would be in danger, Dobby knew it was so. Dobby knew there was something he could do about it, ways to help, ways to prevent Him from going back to the dangerous place.

But the Master’s boy, the cruel boy who liked to kick and pinch and punish had said He was a true Slytherin. The bad man had been Slytherin; so were Master and Master’s boy.

Perhaps Dobby should wait and see. Perhaps He would need no help.

Perhaps it would be very unwise to risk helping a true Slytherin.

Harry received owls from Nott and Granger. He read them, and did not reply.

The third letter from Granger contained only one sentence, underlined three times with sharp strokes.

If you can not deign to write back, O Silent One, send me some sign you are in fact alive!!!

Harry smiled, and placed a single feather inside the letter, folded it, and returned it to the owl’s claws.

As it winged away, he made the choice not to laugh. It was late, and he hated to break the silence.

The second year of Hogwarts, he felt that invisible hand on him again, pressing, pushing at his mind. It wanted him to be a hero; wanted him to make the right decisions, not just the good ones. It pushed and pushed and pushed, and Harry dug his heels in, cleared his mind of all thought, and focused on silence.

The Chamber of Secrets was opened. Muggleborn’s and half-bloods alike fell prey to the monster that resided within, along with a ghost and Filch’s cat.

A dueling club was started, ostensibly to teach students defense, though Harty saw no rational expectation from it. Perhaps it was only to give students the illusion of safety; the fallacy of control.

Harry felt that hand press him into a duel as he watched a session from the sidelines, and even as he mentally said no, he was commanded up on stage by his Head of House, forcibly volunteered to face a Malfoy that was no longer smirking. The blond had not forgotten their first encounter.

Malfoy was cautions, casting spells with no power behind them.

Harry stepped to the side, and heard Lockhart praise his avoidance technique. Harry only stared into Malfoy’s eyes, daring him to strike, daring him to threaten.

Instead, Malfoy summoned a snake, letting another do his dirty work, the blond’s proven tactic.

Harry watched the serpent come, and considered simply speaking, commanding it to stop. He knew what he was capable of; knew he could hear the snakes of the world, and make them obey.

But that was a bad choice. Instead, Harry burned it with fire, listening to its hissing tormented screams, reminding himself it was a creature of construct, not truly alive.

But the sounds rang in his ears when he looked into Malfoy’s eyes, and cast his own spell.

When the blond was taken to the Hospital Wing, Harry knew the hand that prodded him was not pleased.

Harry did not make a choice to find the Chamber of Secrets. He was content to let other authorities deal with the mayhem.

But then Granger was stricken, holding a mirror to her face with wide frightened eyes, and in her palm was written the monster’s species. It seemed Granger had not been content to leave it alone as he had, her curious cat’s nature a bad choice once again.

So, technically, it was her choice, and Harry now needed to make his own in reaction.

And he discovered a new rule of his own.

Not just when he himself was threatened would he respond. When one of his own was threatened, was hurt, he would hurt in return.

So he must choose the best choice among the bad ones, for he always followed his rules.

Nott showed no more reaction to Harry speaking Parseltongue than he did to the fact that the entrance to the Chamber was inside the girls loo.

He did, however, blink three times in succession when Harry told him they would be slaying a basilisk in Grangers honor.

He supposed it was out of character for both himself and any self-respecting Slytherin.

Still, the boy followed him down and down and down, deep into the Chamber, until they found the nexus of the system of pipes, right before a huge statue of Salazar Slytherin's head.

The man looked old and ugly, and Harry wondered why the sculptor hadn’t at least made the formidable icon look handsome.

Still, he didn’t have much time to think on it, as the basilisk attacked with lightning quickness.

Of course, basilisks had one weakness, and Harry had made Nott practice the transfiguration spell a dozen times before they entered the Chamber.

The roosters crowed all at once, a cacophony of riotous sound, echoing off the chamber walls with deadening force. The basilisk shrieked and hissed and screamed until Harry thought his ears must be bleeding, and then it lay still.

Nott cracked open one eye, before his shoulders dropped in blatant relief. Harry stared down at the large serpent, and tilted his head before speaking aloud.

“Know anyone interested in some unique potion ingredients?”

Within a day, the basilisk had been butchered and divided with rigid professionalism by an expert on such things from Knockturn Alley that the Nott family dealt with, and both Harry and Nott were a great deal richer as well as proud owners of several reams of basilisk hide to be used in the clothing of their choice.

Harry had also acquired several mature mandrakes, and without waiting to ask Madam Pomfrey, gave Granger a good dose of the potion made from the roots screaming bodies. She blinked and then blinked again, sucked in a deep breath, and before she could scream Harry placed his hand over her mouth.

“Please, don’t.”

Granger’s eyes widened. Then her mouth closed, and Harry dropped his hand. She sat up, glanced at the other students still petrified beside her, and frowned.

Then the questions began.

What happened?

Why aren’t the others waking up?

What did you do?

How did you do it?

Did you save some basilisk ingredients for me?

At the last perfectly reasonable question, Harry suppressed a groan, and looked to where Nott lounged against a bed, looking down at a still Creevey and flicking one stiff nose with a absent finger.

The Slytherin glanced up and tilted his head at them.

“I doubt you could even find a speck of the stuff, once it disappears into the Alley.”

Granger wilted back onto the bed. Harry heard a noise from the healers office, and began to move towards the door. When given a choice, he avoided authority figures. They made choices more difficult.

Granger’s voice reached him as he opened the door.

“Thank you, Harry.”

A week later, Ginny Weasley was found in possession of a dark artifact that had taken control of her mind. The Gryffindor first year was carted off to St. Mungo's for treatment, and the artifact carefully destroyed by the Headmaster and the Ministry. The artifact, apparently a book, was blamed for influencing the girl to petrify students without her knowledge.

Harry and Nott shared a glance and a shrug at the news, and returned to their silence.

That summer, it took Severus Snape a month to find him, holed up in a small inn in Calais. It was enough to make him consider the possibility of tracking charms, though the thought was thrown out just as fast.

They would have come sooner, if it had been that easy, and Harry had already checked his person for such items before vanishing into London off the train.

Instead, he decided it must have been a ritual of some sort. Which meant they had one of his possessions, in the least, or a piece of himself like blood or hair, at the worst.

Harry allowed the professor to portkey the two of them back to Surrey, and began devising plans for the next summer’s escape.

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