Harry remembered the first time he realized Golden must be magic.
Golden had been with him always. He was a small snake at first, and he could curl around Harry’s feet in the cupboard so they could keep each other warm on cold winter nights. Then it became harder and harder for him to fit in the cupboard, so he had to sleep outside it sprawled on the floor. It didn’t matter as far as the Dursleys seeing him, because they never seemed to notice Golden anyway no matter how much noise he made.
Sometimes Vernon or Dudley would trip over him, and make loud noises about how much trouble Harry was going to be in. But since he never actually ended up getting in trouble after Golden glowed a little, he could ignore it as they ignored him.
So, yeah, Harry knew he wasn’t normal. Normal people didn’t have invisible snakes (he had thought that maybe they did and he couldn’t see them just like other people couldn’t see Golden, but that had only lasted until he realized that the Dursleys would have talked about theirs all the time if it was normal). Normal people didn’t avoid getting in trouble because their invisible snake (that they didn’t have) looked their relatives and glowed a little. And normal people’s invisible snakes, even if they had them, probably wouldn’t have writing on them.
Harry liked to trace the writing on Golden’s scales when he was doing chores in the kitchen and Golden was basking next to him near the heat of the stove, or during chores outside and Golden was basking in the sunlight, or doing chores in Dudley’s room and Golden was hunting the mice that inevitably got attracted by the crumbs Dudley dropped all over the place. (The Dursleys thought they didn’t have mice. They only didn’t have them because of the invisible snake they didn’t know about. Harry kind of liked the double secret).
The writing was jagged and slashing, as though someone had carved things into Golden’s scales. Harry had been worried the first time he saw it, wondering if something had managed to hurt Golden that he’d never seen, but Golden had nudged at him in the gentle, insistent way he had and forced him to stop worrying. Sometimes those letters glowed when Golden was making his relatives leave him alone.
But all of that was just not normal, the way curtains of the wrong color on the neighbor’s house were, to hear Aunt Petunia tell it. No, Golden had to do something else to be magical.
And one morning, they found it together.
Harry had been weeding the garden, and straightened up with a little creak and groan. Sometimes he thought he would have old bones before he should, the Dursleys made him bend down so much.
“Come on, Golden,” he told his snake. “Let’s go see what’s for lunch.” Aunt Petunia didn’t often try to withhold food from Harry anymore, since (from her perspective) half would come flying over to him anyway. Golden didn’t technically need to eat, even the mice, since he seemed to live fine just being around Harry, but he enjoyed eating.
And Harry never wanted to keep anyone from anything they enjoyed doing, unless it hurt other people.
He and Golden had just started towards the house when Uncle Vernon came pulling off the road. His car was going so fast that Harry flinched even before he realized what was true: it was going to hit him. Uncle Vernon was going too fast to stop.
Harry closed his eyes and shoved Golden as hard as he could. If he was going to die, he wanted his snake to be all right.
But nothing happened. No pain, no crashing. Nothing except what sounded like a shout from his uncle. Harry slowly opened his eyes.
Golden was rearing up in front of him, swaying. The subtle light that sometimes glowed around him was so brilliant right now that Harry found it hard to look directly at him. Instead, he glanced at the car, and found that Uncle Vernon was sitting on the back of a donkey, which had a bridle around its head the color of the car’s paint.
As Harry stared with his mouth open, the donkey bucked Uncle Vernon off and trotted off down the driveway with a flick of its ears. Harry found himself hoping it would run away and never be captured again or turned back into a car.
Harry turned back to his uncle. Vernon was backing up and clutching his chest the way he did when he was afraid he would have a heart attack. Harry stood still. He knew Vernon would probably blame him for this, maybe even try to shove him down the stairs that evening or grab his arm, but right now, he was too full of awe to care.
Golden lowered his head to the pavement and stopped glowing. He yawned, gave a full-body stretch, and took Harry inside the house. They found meat and cheese and bread they could make into a sandwich. Harry made two and gave Golden one. Then he went to the cupboard and just lay down against his snake and looked at him.
“You’re wonderful,” he said. “Magical.”
Golden, eating his sandwich, just coiled the tip of his tail around Harry’s wrist, and didn’t answer otherwise.
Uncle Vernon ended up not blaming Harry for the car, despite all the “freakish” things that happened around him. It was like this was so bad that he didn’t even want to think about it again. He somehow ended up getting a new car through his company. Harry was pretty sure he’d lied about it, but that didn’t bother him.
He had new things to think about.
He started lying awake at night, when the little lightbulb in the cupboard was working, and studying Golden and the writing on his back. Golden was always happy to just stretch out and be petted while Harry did that, although his length meant he couldn’t lie coiled up in Harry’s lap the way he could when they were little. Harry stroked his head and smiled down at the snake’s lazily blinking eyes.
“You’re amazing,” he whispered over and over again.
Golden didn’t disagree. Honestly, he almost never disagreed with anything Harry did. The only reason Harry knew he was actually stubborn was because, after he had realized how stupid a name “Golden” was and wanted to change it, Golden refused to answer to anything else. Even the really brilliant names Harry thought up, like Thunderbolt and Pirate and King’s Crown. He would just go on lying in the sun until Harry called him Golden again, and then he would get up and do whatever Harry wanted.
So his wonderful magical golden snake was stuck with a name that Harry had dreamed up when he was three years old. But there could be worse things.
Golden could be freakish and not magical.
Harry could be mental and making things up.
Harry could be all alone at the Dursleys’, without anybody to care for him.
The nightmare of that last idea made Harry lie awake sometimes, always savoring the way Golden draped over him. He would whisper more praises, but Golden usually didn’t notice, because he was asleep.
Then Harry would go to sleep himself, and there was always a slight smile on his face. It would be a nightmare if he was alone, but he wasn’t, and he always woke up into reality again, where Golden was his and no one could ever take him away.
When the Hogwarts letter came, suddenly some things made a lot more sense. But Harry was actually a little surprised to find out he was magical, too. Golden, of course. But him?
He looked down at the anaconda twined around his legs—because it was cold in the mornings at the Dursleys’ house and Golden used the nearest source of warmth available—and said, “Do you think I’m magical?”
Golden lifted his head slowly and gave Harry an extremely patient look.
Golden was the reason Harry could smile when he first stepped into the wizarding world.