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The Serpent That Devours Us

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When Harry heard the rumours of a basilisk living in the magical part of the forest in Van Vihar National Park in India, he knew he had to go and find it.

“Have you gone insane?” Hermione asked him once he confessed the destination of his next journey. He hadn’t meant to tell her but Hermione had a way of pulling the truth from him even when he was determined to hide it.

“Listen,” Harry said and gestured up and down his own body. “I’m the first parselmouth in Britain in centuries. Maybe even the world. I’ll just have a chat with it, nothing more.”

Ron was a little more reasonable than his fuming wife, but not much. “Mate, going to India to have a chat with a basilisk is a bit much, even for you.”

Harry shrugged, which infuriated Hermione even more. “I’m telling your mother.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Please don’t,” he pleaded.

She did.

“Harry, dear,” his mum said later that day after she and his dad had invited themselves over for tea. Lily sat on the sofa, cup balanced in her hands while his dad paced in front of the fireplace. “We respect your choices, but going to hunt a basilisk is not a good idea.”

Harry gasped, insulted. “I’m not going to hunt it, Mum. I just want to meet it.”

Sighing, his dad stopped and pushed his glasses up his nose. “Just because you can do...this thing, doesn’t mean you should, Harry.”

“You mean parseltongue, Dad,” Harry said, beyond tired of his dad’s rejection of Harry’s magical talents. “I’m a parselmouth that speaks parseltongue.”

His dad waved his comment away as though it was irrelevant which only infuriated Harry more. “You’ve been gallivanting around the globe for a decade now,” his dad said in his most annoyingly lecturing tone.

“Because I am a magical zoologist,” Harry said loudly, but James fucking Potter, Head Auror extraordinaire, ignored him completely. Story of his life.

“It’s time you think about your future, Harry,” his dad went on. “Look at your sister –“

“Enough.” Harry jumped up from the couch, glaring between his mum and his dad. “I’m a grown man of 33 years old with a successful career that I love. That’s it. No need for your input. Thanks for stopping by. See you in a few weeks.” And he marched to the fireplace, threw in a hand of floo-powder, called out Potter Mansion and waited with tightly crossed arms until his parents got the right idea and left.

He loved his mum and dad but they drove him up the wall more often than not.

The next afternoon his sister stopped by. “If you get eaten by a big fat snake I inherit everything, just so you realize,” Hyacinth told him with a grin.

Harry snorted but let Hyacinth pull him into a hug. “Seriously, Harry, be careful please. Your niece or nephew wants you to stick around long enough for them to meet you.” She gestured at her baby bump and Harry gave her a genuine smile.

“I promise I’ll do my best not to get eaten. I have plans for your kid.” Harry winked at her.

“As long as those plans don’t involve basilisks I’m fine with it.” She accepted a kiss on the cheek from him. “See you in a few weeks. Send us a postcard.”

“Always.”

That evening his business partner stopped by. “Bring back some venom if you can coax it out of the beast,” Severus said while accepting a tumbler of firewhiskey.

All throughout Harry’s childhood and adolescence, his ‘uncle Sev’, as Lily insisted Harry and Hyacinth call him, had looked down his hooked nose at Harry. The man was Hyacinth’s godfather and perfectly friendly towards her, but Harry hadn’t had a decent interaction with the man until he was well out of Hogwarts and decided on a career in magical zoology. Severus had cornered him during his mother’s birthday party and quietly asked him what kind of rare potions ingredients he was expected to come across during his next trip.

And that was, as they say, the start of a beautiful friendship. Harry got to travel the world looking for magical creatures, and Severus used and resold any ingredients he brought back. It earned them both a pretty Galleon.

“Some scales wouldn’t go amiss either,” Severus said, sipping his whiskey. “Shed skin if you can find it. Blood is also worth something.”

“So just bring back the whole beast, is what you’re saying.”

“As long as it’s dead, certainly.”

Sirius sent him a postcard from Lisbon, where he and Remus were spending a week to celebrate their wedding anniversary. “Have fun! Don’t get eaten! Remus says to take some pictures he can use in his classes.” Remus, of course, was the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts, while Sirius was an Auror.

Last but certainly not least, his best friend Luna stopped by. “It’s going to be fine,” she assured him in that peculiar way of hers. “Here, you might want to use these.” She handed him a pair of plastic muggle sunglasses with iridescent lenses.

“Thanks,” Harry said with a smile, having long ago learned never to question anything Luna did. He hugged her tightly. If Harry had at all been straight he would have proposed to her in a heartbeat. But alas, he wasn’t, and Luna met and fell in love with Rolf Scamander. And sadly, Rolf didn’t have a gay brother hiding in the closet.

It took Harry three portkeys to get to Mumbai and from there he could use the floo network to travel within the enormous country. For the very last part of the journey Harry used his broomstick, aided by his trusty invisibility cloak.

The magical part of the forest was surrounded by a thick layer of wards to keep people, magical and muggle, out. But the wards were decades old and decaying and it took Harry less than an hour to create a small opening for him to slip through.

He called out in parseltongue and almost immediately a king cobra answered.

“The King of Serpents?” the cobra wondered. “Yes, I know where he lives. A monocled cobra told me right before I ate him. A friendly chap he was, but a girl’s got to eat. Goes by the name of Voldemort.”

“The monocled cobra?” Harry asked, crouched before the snake.

“No, silly, the King of Serpents. I never ask my prey their name. I might get attached and then where would I be? Starving, that’s what.” The cobra snickered to herself. “I’ll show you where he lives if you like.”

“That would be lovely.” Harry got up and followed the king cobra through the forest.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” the snake assured him. “It gets a bit lonely, you know, when the only creatures you can talk to are the ones you eat.”

“I’m sure it does,” Harry agreed, realizing the cobra had a point. “So you never talk to Voldemort?”

“Oh no,” the cobra said while shaking her head. “A silly old girl like me, chatting with the King of Serpents? I wouldn’t dare. Also, I hear he gets a bit cranky from time to time.”

“Huh.” Harry swallowed and wiped his suddenly sweaty palms against his jeans. “How cranky exactly?”

“I hear that every few years he throws a tantrum. He tries to leave, can’t, and destroys some part of the forest. Eats a few deer. One time a tiger, I heard. Imagine eating a whole tiger. The rests of the time he sleeps, I think.”

“Okay. I can work with that.”

The snake eyed him up and down to asses his size. “I hope you can, wizard, because you’re much smaller than a tiger so he could swallow you whole.”

Harry’s hand shot to his necklace, which functioned as an emergency portkey. It was still there. Good. “I’ll be fine,” he said to assure himself more than the cobra.

“If you say so.” The cobra stopped moving and indicated a large hill in front of them. “Behind that are lots of big caves. That’s where he lives.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, meaning it. The cobra had saved him days of searching on his own. “I really appreciate it.”

“It was my pleasure,” the cobra said and waved her tail at him. “Goodbye, wizard. Don’t be prey!”

It took Harry most of the day to trek through the forest across the hill. Once he was across he pulled his suitcase out of his backpack and climbed inside. The suitcase was Harry’s pride and joy, enchanted by Newt Scamander himself just a month before his death about a decade ago. Harry just counted himself lucky to have gotten to know the man before he passed away.

Being a parselmouth in an upstanding Gryffindor family had its challenges. The Sorting Hat wanted him in Slytherin for one, but at eleven Harry was still naive enough to believe that being sorted into Gryffindor would earn him his father’s approval. It didn’t, not in the way Harry wanted.

James Potter just couldn’t accept that his oldest child, his only son, was somehow a parselmouth.

When Harry had talked to a grass snake in the garden when he was six, his father had first accused Lily of infidelity, which earned him a slap in the face from a fuming Lily. Then he had flooed Professor Dumbledore in a blind panic.

Dumbledore had looked Harry up and down and assured his parents there was nothing wrong with their son, that sometimes such magic could appear after laying low for generations, and that just because their son displayed a Slytherin trait didn’t mean he was evil.

Harry wondered what all the fuss was about when all he’d done was discuss the frogs in their pond with a friendly snake.

Lily had tried very hard to accept him for who he was, and for the most part she succeeded, but his father had since that day treated Harry as just a little bit defective.

Surprisingly it had been Sirius, his beloved godfather and staunch Gryffindor, who had helped Harry the most by introducing him to Hagrid when he was seven.

“Show him what you can do, Harry,” Sirius said with an encouraging smile while he conjured a garter snake.

And Hagrid had clapped his massive hands when Harry talked to the animal about the weather. “Jolly good, Harry. Wish I could talk to some of me animals. Dead useful that would be.”

And a beautiful friendship had been born. Harry credited Hagrid for nursing his burgeoning love for all creatures, and it was through Hagrid that Harry was introduced to Newt Scamander when Hagrid invited Harry over for tea in his first year just as Newt was visiting. Harry had listened in awe and fascination to the soft spoken man, and since that day they kept up a steady correspondence.

It was Newt that had inspired Harry to become a magical zoologist when the whole world expected him to follow his father into the Auror department.

And Harry had no regrets. He loved his work, made a nice living thanks to Severus’ business savvy and some of the books Harry had published, and felt he was contributing something by educating the public about all magical creatures great and small.

The only regret Harry had was that being abroad as much as he was made it hard to have a relationship. He’d dated a few wizards over the years, some more seriously than others. Oliver Wood had been a potentially great future husband, but between both their hectic schedules that relationship had petered out before it ever really got started.

Blaise Zabini had been a casual relationship with some of the best, most intense sex Harry had ever had. But Blaise wasn’t interested in anything more serious, and Harry needed commitment, so they’d broken it off after almost a year.

There had been others, but none kept Harry’s attention for long. The forests and oceans of the world called to him, and Harry always answered.

Besides, Luna assured him he’d find someone eventually who would accept him and his career, and Luna Lovegood was rarely wrong about anything.

Harry made himself a simple dinner of bacon sandwiches with some scrambled eggs on the side in the small kitchen in his suitcase. After eating he took a cup of tea to bed with him and read a zoological journal about a colleague’s travels to meet a thunderbird until his eyes drooped shut.

The next day Harry took a refreshing shower, had some porridge and a strong cup of coffee for breakfast and packed up his suitcase in his backpack.

It was only another two miles or so until the mouth of the cave. The entrance was enormous, easily as big as the great hall at Hogwarts. Harry walked to the middle of the entrance, inhaled a deep breath and called out in parseltongue.

“Greetings, King of Serpents. I come in peace.”

Something moved in the shadows deeper inside the cave. “Listen, krait, I told you to bugger off. I have no interest in your schemes.”

It was spoken in perfect parseltongue, at once familiar but with an other-worldly quality to it.

Harry cleared his throat. “I’m not a krait. I’m a wizard.”

Massive dark-green coils erupted from the shadows, and on instinct Harry squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fingers around his emergency portkey.

Scales ground against the stone as something massive came closer and closer until it encircled him. Harry heard the beast move and breathe, but he kept his eyes shut tightly, his breath caught in his throat while sweat dripped down his back.

“Well,” the basilisk said as Harry heard his head stop in front of him. “That took you long enough. I’ve only been waiting for decades.”

Harry was so shocked and flabbergasted by that response he accidentally opened his eyes and stared right into a pair of bright yellow orbs. Shrieking, Harry clapped both hands over his face, emergency portkey quickly forgotten.

“Not a very bright one, are you,” the basilisk said in a quite frankly snooty tone. “Ah well, beggars can’t be choosers. You can open your eyes. Parselmouths are immune to a basilisk’s gaze.”

Very, very slowly, Harry lowered his hands and looked at the basilisk. He was enormous, easily sixty feet long with a head that indeed could swallow Harry whole should it desire to.

“Hi,” Harry said, so awed by talking to an actual basilisk he had no clue what else to say.

The basilisk rolled his eyes and sighed. “Really not a bright one. What is your name?”

“Harry Potter. And you are Voldemort, right?”

The basilisk gave what could only be described as an embarrassed shrug. “I made the mistake of telling a Russell’s viper that name when I first arrived here and it stuck.”

Harry got more and more confused by the minute. “So Voldemort is not your name?”

The basilisk moved closer until they were almost nose to nose. “My name is Tom Riddle and I need your help to turn me back into a wizard.”

Chapter Text

“What?” Harry gaped at the basilisk, mouth hanging open. He knew he must look the fool but he was too shocked to care.

“How thick are you?” the basilisk – Tom! – asked him. “I’m a wizard. I need your help.”

“No, I got that part. Just...how did this happen? Is it an animagus transfiguration gone wrong? I’m an animagus, so I might be able to help you.”

The basilisk – Tom – shook his massive head. “I’m an animagus as well, but I became one years before this happened and my form is not a basilisk.” Tom looked away from Harry. “I performed a ritual, but...I was betrayed. The sorceress who gave me the ritual knew this would happen. She wanted this to happen.”

“What kind of ritual? I’m really not well-versed in rituals, to be honest.” Harry shrugged helplessly. Of course he wanted to help this wizard, but his expertise was magical creatures, not magical catastrophes.

Tom ducked his head, his coils tightening for a second. “It was a ritual of longevity. Do the ritual, have a guaranteed 1000-year-long lifespan, that sort of thing.”

Harry couldn’t help himself. He snorted. “So the ritual did work. Basilisks do live that long.”

“Yes, thank you,” Tom snapped. “I had realized that a time or two or five hundred since I got stuck like this. Wait, what year is it?”

“It’s 2013.”

Tom visibly recoiled, his yellow eyes widening. “It’s 2013? I knew some decades had passed but I thought it might be the eighties.”

“When did you get stuck like this then?” Harry asked, his heart aching for this guy. No wonder he got cranky sometimes and tore up the forest. “How old are you?”

“I was born December 31st, 1926. I performed the ritual on midsummer’s eve, 1953,” Tom whispered.

“Wow. You have been stuck here for a long time.” Harry considered the situation and knew at once what to do. “Come with me.”

Tom’s head snapped up. “Are you mad? I’m a basilisk, in case you haven’t noticed. I go beyond this forest and the whole world will hunt me down.”

Harry’s smile was wide as he slipped off his backpack and pulled out his suitcase. “Oh mate, the world won’t know you’re with me.” He placed the suitcase on the floor and flipped open the lid. “Just follow me. You’ll fit, don’t worry.”

And Harry quickly climbed down the stairs into the main area of the suitcase. Newt had charmed it, much like his own suitcase, to have a main holding area with many habitats bordering it, with a small apartment off to the side. Harry heard scales sliding above him and he watched quietly as Tom lowered the bulk of his body inside the holding area, forked tongue flicking in and out of his mouth.

“This is quite impressive,” Tom said, carefully sliding along the floor as he checked out all the different habitats.

“Plenty of space for you to move around in until we can reverse the ritual.” Harry crossed his arms, leaning his hip against a support beam as he watched Tom get familiar with the place. “I don’t have any animals with me now. My owl, Hedwig, always travelled with me but she died a few years ago. I use the habitats for sick creatures or ones that need relocating. I’m a magical zoologist,” he added, not sure if he’d told Tom that yet or not.

“And a Gryffindor,” Tom said with a sigh as he poked his head inside Harry’s living quarters where Harry kept a Gryffindor flag above the sofa. “Of course you had to be a Gryffindor, blundering your way inside a basilisk’s lair as you did.”

“What’s wrong with Gryffindor?” Harry asked with a grin and then realized something. “Wait, are you British? Did you go to Hogwarts?”

Tom gave him a disbelieving look before rolling his eyes. “Born and raised in London. I’m a Slytherin. Prefect. Head boy, even. I had the highest NEWTs score, at least until then.”

Harry chuckled. “You sound like the boy my friend Hermione complained about after she went through Hogwarts’ student records. She wanted to be the best and she was determined to beat your scores but she couldn’t quite manage it.”

“Well,” Tom said with a smug look. “It’s nice to know I left some kind of legacy behind.”

“So, what do you think?” Harry gestured around the space. “This way we can take our time getting you back to yourself, and in the meantime you get out of the forest and I can do my job.”

Tom stared at him for a moment. “I suppose that is acceptable. It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.”

“Great,” Harry said, but he sobered after a moment of excitement. “Just promise me you’ll be careful with your gaze. I might be immune but the rest of the world isn’t.”

“I can shield my gaze with my third eyelid temporarily.” Tom demonstrated by raising an opaque lid over his bright yellow eyes. “But perhaps it’s wise to not let anyone else down here.”

Harry nodded. “The suitcase is warded. No one can enter without my express invitation.”

“Good. There is one thing left to do.” And with that, Tom raised himself up and slid out of the suitcase. Harry jumped up the ladder and followed him out. Tom led him deeper inside the cave to a part where it was almost too dark to see. “You’ll need to bring this for me.” Tom nudged his nose against a small rocky ledge.

Harry leaned closer to see what was on it. “Is that your wand?” he asked after he managed to identify the object in the near darkness.

“Yes. If you could grab that for me I would be much obliged.”

Harry did and the moment his fingers closed around the pale wood an almost familiar warmth shot up his arm. “What’s it made of? It feels almost like my own wand.”

“Yew and phoenix feather.”

“Ah.” Harry reached for the holster in his sleeve and pulled out his own wand. “Holly and phoenix feather.”

“Might be from the same phoenix if they are that similar,” Tom suggested.

“Might be,” Harry agreed. He placed both wands inside the holster. “I’ll take good care of it until you can hold it again, I promise.”

Tom was quiet for a moment before he whispered, “Thank you. That wand is what has kept me sane over the years. Knowing it was there, that it was mine, that I was a wizard, it kept me from giving up.”

Harry placed a hand on Tom’s scaly side in comfort. “We’ll get you sorted out, Tom. I know a lot of brilliant people. They’ll help.”

Tom nodded his head and without saying anything else he slid back to the suitcase. Harry followed him with a sense of purpose brewing in his chest. He would help Tom get back to himself and in the meantime he had a companion for his travels.

Before Harry climbed down in the suitcase he aimed his wand at the cave. “Accio shed basilisk skin.”

Three long almost translucent skins came flying towards him. One, the oldest, was too far gone to be of any use, but the other two were still in good shape. Harry folded them with a wave of his wand and ignored Tom’s amused look as he carefully stored them in an empty trunk.

“The rent doesn’t pay itself,” Harry said, closing the trunk. “I’ve got to sell things I find to fund this operation.”

“You should milk some of my venom. That should earn you a nice pile of Galleons.” Tom briefly opened his mouth to show off his enormous fangs. “If you dare,” he added with a hissed laugh.

“If you let me I’ll dare.” Harry offered him his cockiest grin. “Gryffindor, remember.”

“How could I forget. Though what the Sorting Hat was thinking in placing a parselmouth in Gryffindor, I’ll never understand.” Tom stretched his coils out before getting more comfortable.

“Well, it hadn’t seen a parselmouth in a long time,” Harry offered. “Dumbledore told me I was the first parselmouth in Britain in centuries.”

Tom reared his head up with a terrifying hiss. “Dumbledore is full of shit. I’m a parselmouth, which I told him when he came to give me my letter when I was eleven. He never trusted me afterwards. And now he’s erasing my existence altogether.” Tom’s eyes positively glowed as he glared at Harry.

Not knowing how to respond to that, but slightly cowed in the face of a basilisk’s fury, former human or not, Harry lowered his gaze. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

Tom seemed to deflate slightly. “I realize it’s not your fault. It just angers me beyond belief that Dumbledore would do such a thing. That man has never given me a fair chance.”

“So I guess asking Dumbledore for help is out of the question? Because he’s at the top of my list to go to, if I’m being honest,” Harry said carefully.

Tom’s eyes started glowing again. “That man is still alive? And yes, going to him is definitely out of the question. I’d rather remain this way than ask him for anything.”

“Okay, point made,” Harry said, meanwhile wondering what the hell Dumbledore had done to this man to make him hate the headmaster that much. To be honest, Harry had never had much to do with Dumbledore. His parents were friendly with him, his dad had business with him through his work from time to time, and his mother, who worked as a healer in St Mungo’s, had called upon the headmaster for his expertise in transfiguration in a few difficult cases. But Harry himself, especially after he became a zoologist had never garnered much of the headmaster’s attention. Then again, he’d never been an exceptional student outside his interest in creatures and his talent on a broom.

Harry had figured out years ago, after a few nights drinking wine or whiskey with Severus and listening to some of his stories about his time at Hogwarts, that Dumbledore was the kind of man who surrounded himself with talented people who could solve his problems for him. Severus wasn’t overly fond of the man for his abysmal treatment of Slytherins, and Blaise had always had lots to complain about the headmaster as well, and Harry realized Tom might very well have similar experiences as those two when it came to the headmaster and Slytherins.

Best to respect his grievances and find help elsewhere.

“I’m getting a sandwich. Do you need to eat?” Harry moved inside his small apartment, amused when Tom stuck his head inside the door to see what he was doing.

“No, I ate two deer just the other week. I don’t require much sustenance.”

“Let me know when you get hungry. There’s plenty of deer and wild boar in the world.” Harry prepared himself a simple roast beef sandwich and a cup of tea and flopped down on the sofa to eat it.

Tom flicked his tongue in and out. “I miss tea,” he sighed.

“I think I would, too,” Harry said between bites. “What possessed you to do such a ritual in the first place?”

“Stupidity,” Tom replied with a bitter laugh. “Arrogance. Ambition. Immortality.”

“Immortality? Really? That sounds a bit...much.”

“I have, since being stuck like this for sixty years, come to the conclusion that immortality is overrated, yes.” Tom’s gaze was miles away. “I wonder if this was the sorceress’ goal when she gave me the ritual. I’d spent so many years trying to lose my humanity and yet, now I would do almost anything to be human again.” And with that Tom pulled his head back and disappeared into the holding area, leaving a baffled Harry behind.

Chapter Text

Harry left Tom alone for an hour while he stretched his legs out on the couch and wrote in his journal. If there was something that Newt had taught him, it was to take lots of notes, then some more notes, and just when you thought you had enough, you added a few extra just to be safe.

After logging the highlights of his adventure so far, Harry stuck the journal in the back pocket of his jeans and went in search for Tom.

He found the basilisk swimming in the mountain lake in the temperate habitat.

“Isn’t that a little cold?” Harry called out as he stood on the shore, water lapping at his shoes. “There’s also a big lake in the tropical habitat.”

Tom swirled around in the water a few times and swam towards him. “No,” he said as he slid on land beside Harry. “Basilisks can tolerate much colder temperatures than most other reptiles.”

Harry reached for his journal and dutifully wrote that titbit of information down.

“Besides,” Tom said with a little sigh. “I love this view.” He nodded his head at the snow-capped mountains in the distance. “I’ve had enough of trees to last me a very long time.”

Harry quirked a smile at that. “Hey, I’ve been thinking.”

“Oh dear,” Tom said in mock sympathy. “Did it hurt a lot?”

Staring at the enormous basilisk beside him, Harry wasn’t sure how to react at first. He settled for rolling his eyes, though he couldn’t hold back a grin. “How old were you again?”

“Older than you.” Tom seemed to shake himself a little. “But go on. Share your thoughts with the group.”

Merlin, this guy. Harry snickered quietly. “When we get you turned back into yourself, you’ll need to start over, right? I’m assuming here you don’t have wealthy relatives or a fat vault at Gringott’s waiting for you.”

“You assume right. I grew up a penniless orphan, and even though I worked after Hogwarts and managed to save a small amount, taking 60 years worth of inflation into account that amount would barely buy you a set of robes nowadays.”

“Hmm.” Harry nodded in agreement. “My business partner and I sell rare ingredients, among other things.”

Tom seemed to cotton on where this was going. “And I’m a living, breathing treasure trove.”

“Something like that, yes. You go in with us, we sell your venom and shed skins and split the profits three-way.”

Tom tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. “No, we split 50-50. I take half, and how you divvy up your half is up to you. Share with your partner or not, I don’t care.”

“It’s a deal,” Harry said with a huge grin. Half of the proceeds of selling basilisk products was more than enough to add a small fortune to both his and Severus’ vaults.

“Then you’d best get milking, hadn’t you, Harry.” Tom grinned in a way that showed off his fangs.

Harry stared, reminded himself he was a Gryffindor, turned on his heels and marched back to the holding area. He called out over his shoulder, “Come on then. I promise I’ll be gentle. I’m quite adapt at...milking other wizards. Never have any complaints.”

Tom inhaled a sharp breath and shot forward to catch up with him. “Was that flirting, Harry?”

“You’re not sure?” Harry asked, deeply amused by Tom’s overly dramatic response.

“I don’t speak Gryffindor, so no, I’m not sure,” Tom said with an almost bashful tilt of his head. “After all, we’ve only just met and you are being very forward with my person.”

“Wow, you managed to get all of that out with a straight face. I’m impressed.” Harry couldn’t stop grinning as he collected a pair of galvanized buckets and hit them with the most abrasive cleaning charm he knew.

“Mission accomplished,” Tom said. “Being a sixty foot basilisk wasn’t impressive enough, apparently. It’s my conversation skills that were ultimately needed to truly impress.”

Laughing, Harry found a stretch of old canvas. He cut out two big squares and fixed them over the top of the buckets so Tom would have something to bite down on that would create enough pressure to release some venom.

“Seriously though, do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve had some reasonably intelligent conversation?” Tom mused as he watched Harry work.

“Sixty years?” Harry guessed as he pulled a pair of dragon-hide gloves out of a nearby trunk.

“Sixty years,” Tom agreed sagely. “So excuse me if I’m feeling a little bit starved for socialization.” He shook his big head in obvious bewilderment. “Which is the height of irony because for my entire life, before I came here, I prided myself on being a loner, on not needing anyone but myself.”

“What you went through would change anyone.” Harry pulled open a few other trunks but couldn’t find a pair of protective goggles. He suspected the orphaned litter of nifflers he’d raised the previous spring had done away with them. And then he remembered. He summoned his backpack, pulled out the ridiculous pair of sunglasses Luna had given him and slid them on.

“I’m not even going to ask,” Tom said. Harry had no idea basilisks could look that unimpressed. “Let’s get this over with.”

The procedure was fairly simple. Tom opened his mouth wide, Harry levitated the two buckets into place below the fangs, and Tom bit down. Thick, yellow venom squirted from the fangs, filling the buckets almost three quarters full.

“Sweet baby hippogriff,” Harry said as he carefully levitated the buckets to the floor and removed the canvas. “That’s a lot of venom.”

“Not bad.” Tom raised his head and peered over Harry’s shoulder at the buckets. “Just give me a week and I’ll have that amount again.”

Harry swallowed and turned to stare at Tom. “We’re going to be rich.”

“I imagine it will take at least a few weeks to find a way to reverse the ritual, so yes, we’re going to be very rich,” Tom said with what passed as a huge grin on a basilisk.

Harry transfigured lids out of the canvas and spelled them on the buckets so not a drop would be wasted. One bucket for Tom, and one bucket for Severus and himself.

“There’s no reason to stay here, is there?” Harry asked after he put the buckets away in a locked cupboard.

“I’ve been trying to leave this forest for sixty years. I’m beyond ready to go.” Tom gave Harry an inquiring look. “The wards around the forest won’t let me through, though.”

“Those wards are old and poorly maintained. I was able to squeeze my way through in under an hour. If you stay in here I believe I can take you through without a problem.”

“Well then,” Tom said with no small amount of excitement in his voice. “I’ll be over there, swimming, while you rescue me like I’m a princess locked in a tower, Gryffindor hero that you are.”

Harry snorted with laughter. “Some princess you are, you scaly worm. More like the monster that’s guarding some innocent maiden.”

Tom gasped in mock offense, threw his head to the side in a very dramatic fashion and then slithered towards the mountain lake. Halfway there, he stopped, turned around and called, “And what does that say about you, brave Gryffindor hero, that you are rescuing me?” And then he was off again and within seconds he disappeared beneath the gentle waves of the lake.

Harry shook his head, deeply amused by his new friend’s antics. Tom had so far shown him he was capable of great fury, but also of silly flirtations, and Harry liked what he’d seen of him so far. He couldn’t wait to get to know him better, first as a basilisk and hopefully soon as a man.

Harry left Tom to the lake, packed up the suitcase and mounted his broom. It took only an hour of flying close to the forest canopy, startling various birds and some screeching monkeys, to get across the hill, and then another half hour to get to the ward line. Harry dismounted and pulled out his wand to reopen the crack in the wards so they could slip through.

“Oh hello again,” a familiar voice said behind him. “Still alive, I see. Did you meet him? What was he like?”

“Hi there,” Harry said to the king cobra who had helped him the previous day. “Yes, I met him. And he’s a wizard stuck as a basilisk.”

The cobra flared her hood a little. “Well, that’s a little disappointing. The King of Serpents, a wizard.”

“Perhaps to you,” Harry said as he waved his wand at the wards in a repeating pattern. “But I’m going to help him become a wizard again.”

“You’re taking him with you?” the cobra guessed. “Do you think that’s wise? I heard he ate a whole village of people once.”

Harry whipped his head around. “He what now?”

“When he first came here, long before my time, he destroyed an entire village. That’s why the wizards came to put up the magic lines.”

“Well,” Harry said, but then didn’t know what else to say. He could see it, though. Tom, recently betrayed and trapped in a basilisk’s body, his yellow eyes glowing as he took his anger and fear out on a nearby town. He didn’t agree with it, but he could understand.

“Still want to save him?” the cobra asked with a curious tilt of her head.

“Yeah,” Harry said, and meant it. “No one deserves this. Thanks again for your help.” And with one final smile at the cobra he slipped through the wards, mounted his broom and took off into the sky.

Harry didn’t look back. If he had, he would have seen a woman standing in place of the king cobra. Tall and black of skin with four arms and wearing a necklace comprised of human heads. When she spoke, her voice echoed with destiny. “The one once destined to kill you will be the one to save you. You will hear him as he speaks your tongue. You will see him as he will find you. You will love him as if your souls were bound. Only he can restore you, oh great King of Serpents.”

And she was gone.

Harry travelled as quickly as he could back to the UK, not wanting to risk anyone finding out he was smuggling one of the deadliest creatures known to wizard-kind across international borders. Once home in his cottage in Hogsmeade, Harry immediately sent a Patronus to Severus even though it was already evening. His translucent stag, once a point of pride when he was still trying to win his father’s affections, only annoyed him these days. Still, it darted dutifully away and only ten minutes later a translucent bear burst through the wall, informing him he was welcome to stop by.

Gathering the trunk with the shed skins and the buckets with venom, Harry said goodbye to Tom, who was sunbathing in the desert habitat, and set out into the village.

Severus also owned a cottage in Hogsmeade, though one much larger than Harry’s, with its own potions labs, and on the opposite side of town. It was still only a short walk, since the village wasn’t very big.

Severus opened the door and ushered him inside and towards the laboratories. “You were successful?”

“Oh yeah,” Harry said with a grin, just as the door to his right opened and Hilde stuck her head out, her blond ponytail in complete disarray.

“Hi Harry, good to see you. There is tea and strudel in the kitchen, help yourself. I have three brews on, so I have to go.” And she quickly disappeared behind the door again. Harry was used to her behaviour so he didn’t blink an eye.

Severus had married a German witch ten years his junior named Hilde Baumgarten. She was a passionate potioneer, having invented and marketed three potions before she even finished Durmstrang. She was also the most vicious chess-player Harry had ever met. After Harry introduced them, even Ron had been intimidated by some of her strategies, and that was saying something.

Severus adored her, not in the least because she was the mother of his children.

It was one of life’s little ironies that one of the most intimidating men Harry had ever met, Severus Snape, had fathered the world’s most adorable six-year-old twin girls. Severus doted on them with all the love and dedication of a mother bear and woe to anyone who so much as looked at them funny.

Naturally, Harry was the proud godfather, while Hyacinth was their godmother.

Harry followed Severus inside the lab on the left, because as Hilde always said to anyone who would listen: “Separate labs, happy marriage.”

Severus stared at the buckets once Harry removed the lids, and then in a rare show of affection he threw his arm around Harry’s shoulders and gave him a brief squeeze. “That is our retirement right there,” Severus said with as big of a smile as Harry had ever seen on his face. “Both of our retirement.”

“There’s more,’ Harry said, flipping open the trunk and pulling at one of the skins to spread it out a bit.

“Retirement and a very nice family vacation,” Severus said, bending down to take a closer look.

“As many as you like,” Harry said with a huge grin. “There is a lot more where that came from.”

Severus glanced at him for a second before going back to examining the skins. Then he stood up abruptly and glared at Harry, apparently having just remembered he was dealing with a Gryffindor.

“Did you bring the beast back with you?”

“Er...no?” Harry tried, quite unsuccessfully, to lie.

“Is. It. Dead?” Severus loomed over him. How he managed this, Harry had no idea, since they were the same height.

“Define dead?”

“I define dead as Not. Being. Alive.” Severus seemed to suddenly notice the backpack at Harry’s feet and before Harry knew it there was a hand around his throat that started squeezing. “Are you telling me, Potter, that your brought a basilisk inside the house my children are sleeping in?”

Harry coughed and tried to swallow. “Not a basilisk,” he gasped. “Not really. A wizard. Stuck as basilisk. Botched ritual.”

Severus released him and Harry desperately conjured a glass of cold water to soothe his aching throat. He gulped it down in two seconds flat.

“A wizard stuck as a basilisk, you say? And how much is he willing to donate before you help him get unstuck? Because I’m assuming that’s why you brought him back.”

Ah, Slytherins and their pragmatism. You had to love them. “Plenty,” Harry rasped and cleared his throat. “He wants half though.”

“Hmm.” Severus eyed the buckets of venom. “If he gives us a few more of those I see no problem with that.” Then he rounded on Harry. “I still want him out of my house.”

“Yeah, okay,” Harry conceded. He’d only brought the suitcase because he was paranoid about leaving it alone in his home. What if it got stolen with Tom inside? “Do you have any idea how to get Tom unstuck?”

“Who?”

“Tom Riddle. The basilisk.”

Severus’ glare was full of condescension. “Harry, you have unlimited access to perhaps the finest magical library outside of Hogwarts. Go and do your homework.”

“Fine,” Harry sighed. He’d hoped that somehow Severus would have the cure to Tom’s situation handy on a silver platter, but alas, it seemed he was going to have to do this the complicated way. “I’ll floo Reggie.”

Chapter Text

When Sirius Black decided to elope with his half-blood werewolf lover, exactly no one was surprised. A few old biddies spent an afternoon or two sipping tea and decrying today’s youth, but that was about all the fuss it caused. Ever since Sirius was sorted into Gryffindor he had let the world know, loudly and repeatedly, that he was nothing like the rest of his conservative, blood-prejudiced family, and that he couldn’t care less of what society expected of him.

Sirius was quietly disinherited and his younger brother Regulus was made heir, and that was that.

But when three years later Regulus Black announced that he was marrying a man, all hell broke loose. Quiet, studious Regulus, the perfect pureblood son was expected to marry a pureblood witch of good upbringing and produce copious amounts of pureblood children.

The only good thing about Regulus’ intended was that he was a pureblood, but he was neither a witch nor capable of giving Regulus heirs.

Bartemius Crouch Jr was easily as quiet as Regulus and far more studious. A Ravenclaw, he met Regulus in the Hogwarts library during their fifth year when Regulus looked about ready to burst into tears over a particularly nasty arithmancy problem. Bartemius, who had admired the Slytherin from afar for a while, kindly asked him if he needed help. Regulus accepted the offer and before the year was over they were madly in love and joined at the hip.

Walburga threatened everything from disinheritance to the Unforgivables. Every single high society luncheon and ball was filled with nothing but gossip of this scandal of the year, nay, the decade. Pollux Black, Walburga’s father, got involved, publically accusing Barty of dosing his grandson with love potions. Barty Crouch Sr wasn’t about to take such an insult to his family lying down and had the entire Auror corps raid Pollux’ family mansion looking for dark artefacts after conveniently receiving an anonymous tip.

Meanwhile, Regulus kept his chin up and his mouth shut and his hand firmly holding on to Barty’s. No matter how anyone begged, pleaded, bribed or threatened, Regulus would not be dissuaded.

It was Arcturus Black, still head of the family despite his advanced age, that had to step in to keep the peace in his family, and indeed in the rest of British wizarding society. He declared that Regulus could marry who he wanted and that he would remain heir to the family and could simply appoint someone else in the Black family as his heir apparent.

On the day of Regulus’ wedding, Sirius showed up uninvited, hugged his little brother and told him he’d never been more proud of him. And thus the rift that Walburga had spent years driving between her sons was fixed once and for all.

And that was how Harry and Hyacinth grew up with an Uncle Reggie and Uncle Barty added to their extended family.

After having sworn Severus to secrecy, Harry had gone home and flooed Regulus to ask him if he could stop by the next day. Regulus agreed and was waiting for him when Harry tumbled out of the fireplace the next morning.

“Uncle Reggie!” Harry cried out in his best child-like voice.

Regulus sighed. “How often do I have to tell you to call me Regulus? You’re a grown man.”

“Apparently one more time,” Harry told him with a shit-eating grin, and then just to rub it in he added, “Is Bartemius home? I could use his advice.”

“You little shit,” Regulus muttered and then turned to call up the stairs. “Barty! The zookeeper’s here, probably freeloading again!”

Harry bent over laughing as Barty came thundering down the stairs.

“Hey, Harry. I heard you went to India to meet a basilisk. Are you back already?” Barty gave Harry a pat on the shoulder and then followed his husband into the drawing room. Regulus’ ancient house-elf Kreacher served them tea while Harry got comfortable on the sofa.

“That’s why I’m here. I need your library, and your expertise, Barty, to help the basilisk,” Harry said. Barty was a Rune and Ward Master and knew a heck of a lot more than Harry did about rituals. In fact, Barty was the kind of person who knew a heck of a lot about most things, and if he didn’t then he needed two hours in Reggie’s family library and he’d be completely informed.

“Help the basilisk?” Regulus asked with a frown. “What on earth does a basilisk need help for?”

“A basilisk that is actually a wizard who got stuck after a botched ritual,” Harry explained and took a sip of his tea and watched shock flicker across Barty’s and Regulus’ faces.

“How the hell did this wizard manage that? What kind of ritual even was it?” Barty wanted to know, ever the Ravenclaw.

“Who is this wizard? What’s his name?” Regulus demanded, ever the pureblood socialite no matter his slightly more progressive leanings.

“He got the ritual from a local sorceress. I don’t know more than that yet. And his name is Tom Riddle.”

Regulus stiffened and very carefully sat his cup and saucer down on the coffee table. “And did Mr Riddle have another name by any chance?”

Harry blinked in confusion. “Er...oh, some of the snakes there called him Voldemort, but Tom seemed a bit embarrassed by that name.”

“Did he now,” Regulus said with the kind of forced calm that made the hair on the back of Harry’s neck stand up.

“You know him?” Barty asked.

“I know of him.” Regulus inhaled a deep, controlled breath, his grey eyes as sharp as shards of ice. “A few years before his death, my father told me about him when they had Riddle declared legally dead. They hadn’t heard from him in twenty five years and they wanted access to his vault to get back some of the priceless tombs and artefacts several members of prominent families had gifted him.” Regulus picked up his cup again and took a careful sip. “The way my father told it, Riddle was the second coming of Merlin, if Merlin was a blood-prejudiced killer hell-bent on world domination.”

Harry swallowed against his suddenly dry throat.

“Riddle was a poor half-blood, but a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin and a parselmouth. He was also one of the smartest students to ever attend Hogwarts, and more powerful than most of his Slytherin year mates combined. He also really enjoyed doling out the cruciatus curse if any Slytherin did something to displease him. All that, combined with his ambition to rule the wizarding world while permanently getting rid of muggleborns made it so my father and many others of his standing followed a half-blood without question.”

“Merlin’s saggy pants,” Barty muttered. “Why have we never heard of this guy?”

“What happens in the Slytherin common room stays in the Slytherin common room. And to the outside, Riddle was a model student. Humble, helpful, a prefect and Head boy. My father said Riddle was one of the greatest actors he’d ever met.”

“But...” Harry cleared his throat, desperately looking for a way to explain this that didn’t paint the Tom he knew as a monster. Yet no words came to him that could.

“Riddle was responsible for at least one student death. My father didn’t know the details, but he knew Riddle did it and framed another student. He also knew Riddle murdered his muggle father and grandparents. Again, no details, but Riddle framed it on someone else.”

Harry gulped down the last of his tea and wiped a hand across his sweaty brow. “It’s been sixty years, though,” he argued weakly. “People change.”

“They do,” Regulus agreed with the same tight control he’d been holding onto for minutes now. “But I believe, Harry, that you had best make sure you are not simply turning one monster into another before you visit our library.”

“Yeah,” Harry whispered, having nothing else to say to that.

“Look at the bright side,” Barty said with forced cheer, “You’ll get to travel to India again. Such a beautiful country with amazing food.”

Apparently the look Harry gave them was very telling because Barty gasped as Regulus raised his eyebrows. Then both of them noticed the backpack at Harry’s feet.

“For fuck’s sake, Harry,” Regulus snapped, his calm finally broken, “Get that thing out of my house.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Harry muttered, grabbing his backpack and standing up.

Regulus got to his feet as well. “Once you have reached a well-thought out and careful conclusion about the fate of your new friend, I will gladly listen to your arguments and decide to grant you access or not. But until that time, I’m afraid the library is closed.”

Harry nodded in understanding. He himself was very confused and even a little bit hurt about all he’d just learned. He needed to talk to Tom. He needed to know the truth about the other man.

Barty jumped up from his leather chair and grabbed Harry by the elbow. “I’ll see you out, Harry.” He guided Harry to the front door, looked over his shoulder to make sure Reggie was still in the drawing room, and then he leaned close to Harry. “Get me that ritual. Any details you can find. Send me an owl and I’ll see what I can do.” He gave Harry a cheeky wink and opened the door for him.

Ah, Ravenclaws. The thirst for knowledge trumped everything else.

Harry found a secluded spot around the corner of Grimmauld Place and apparated to the doorstep of his cottage. Once inside he dropped down on the couch and ran both hands across his face. He did not look forward to the conversation he would be having, but he was a Gryffindor and talk to Tom he would no matter how unpleasant.

He pulled the suitcase from his backpack, flipped the lid open and climbed inside, his heart slowly sinking towards his stomach.

“You’re back soon,” Tom said as he came sliding out of the desert habitat. “Did you get to visit that library you mentioned?”

“The Black family library,” Harry said softly.

Tom’s yellow eyes widened. “You have access to the Black family library?”

“Yes, the current Head of the Black family is part of my extended family.” Harry summoned a wooden kitchen chair from his living quarters. He needed to sit down because his knees were trembling. “Tell me, Tom. Do you know Orion Black?”

“Yes, I went to Hogwarts with him. We were dorm mates,” Tom said pleasantly, still not cottoning on to Harry’s growing distress “Is he still alive?”

“No, he died quite a few years ago, but before he did he mentioned you to his son when they were having you declared legally dead.”

Tom let out an annoyed hiss and curled his large body around itself. “I was afraid they would do that. Probably wanted their books back.”

Harry couldn’t stand it anymore. “World domination, Tom? Blood prejudice? The cruciatus curse?”

Tom stopped moving and he gave Harry a very careful, even a calculating look. “Harry, I can explain.”

“Explain?” Harry jumped up from his chair. “How do you explain killing a student?”

“That was an accident, I swear, Harry.”

“And when you killed your father and grandparents, was that an accident as well?” Harry balled his hands into fists as he glared at the basilisk.

Tom shot forward until his nose nearly touched Harry’s chest. “They deserved it! They were living in the lap of luxury while they left me to rot in a muggle orphanage. Do you have any idea what it’s like to grow up in an orphanage during the Great Depression? During World War 2? Surrounded by ignorant muggles who punish you every time you accidentally perform magic? Do you, Harry?” He waited a moment but Harry had no response. “Until you do, you do not get to judge me for this. Judge me for everything else, but killing those monsters is something I will never regret.” Tom inhaled a deep breath, his scaly side heaving as he moved back a bit.

Harry looked down at his shoes for a moment. “Fine, I won’t judge you for that because you’re right. I have no idea what your childhood was like. But everything else, Tom? Explain everything else to me.”

“Explain?” Tom snorted, shaking his head. “I was young and stupid.”

“You’ve got to do better than that,” Harry snapped.

“I can’t explain it to you in just a few words besides that. I was far too clever for my own good and far too ambitious. But the real truth is, that I was far too scared. I had learned long ago in that fucking orphanage that the best way to keep from being hurt was to strike first.” Tom curled up tightly, his coils winding over each other. “When I got to Hogwarts and was sorted into Slytherin as a suspected muggleborn, I very quickly learned that the same principles applied in the wizarding world.”

Harry sighed, his mind reeling. Tom sounded so reasonable, so likable, so genuine. But Orion Black had called him a great actor, hadn’t he? “I don’t know what to think,” he said honestly.

Looking at him with wide eyes, Tom crept a little closer. “Please let me explain myself to you, Harry. Please give me a chance.”

“I don’t know if I believe a word you say,” Harry whispered. Tom released a wounded little hiss and tried to follow Harry to the ladder but Harry stopped him with a gesture. “I need to think about this, Tom. Alone.”

Tom nodded, looking absolutely despondent. “Just promise me you’ll listen.”

“I can’t promise you anything right now.” And with that Harry climbed the ladder out of the suitcase. Tom didn’t follow.

Mind in turmoil and heart aching, Harry made himself a strong cup of tea. He settled on the couch and stared at the opposite wall for a while. This was not at all what he’d been expecting when he’d decided to help Tom change back to his old self. He’d expected hours of research, not having to judge if a fellow human being was even worthy of being a human.

How had Reggie put it? He might be changing one monster into another.

Then again, people did change, didn’t they? The problem was, Harry had no idea if what Tom was telling him was even true. Tom could tell him all sorts of pleasant things, meanwhile plotting murder and mayhem. How was Harry to know?

The facts didn’t lie. Tom had murdered people. His own father. Sure, he had reasons to hate the man, but that wasn’t a justified reason to kill him, was it?

A knock sounded on the front door. With a sigh, Harry got up, determined to send away whoever it was. He really wasn’t in the mood for company right now.

Harry opened the door and came face to face with Blaise. Arms loosely crossed, shoulder leaning against the doorpost, Blaise struck a carefully constructed, carefree pose.

“Hello, my dear,” Blaise said with a little smirk. “I heard you got yourself a pet basilisk.”

Chapter Text

Harry grabbed Blaise’s wrist and yanked the man inside, quickly shutting the door. “Who told you this? Severus? Reggie? If this gets out, if the ministry finds out I have –“

“Relax, Harry dearest,” Blaise said with the kind of smug smile that drove Harry to contemplate murder. “I merely heard you were looking for a basilisk in India and, knowing you, I drew a few logical conclusions.” Leaning over, Blaise gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “And you, my sweet Gryffindor child, have just confirmed all I needed to know.”

Harry stared in disbelief. He probably should be surprised, but he’d been hanging around Slytherins in general and Blaise specifically long enough to know how cunning they could truly be. He sighed, shook his head and marched back to the couch. Throwing himself on it, he dropped his head back and stared up at the ceiling.

“You look like you have all of the world’s problems resting on your shoulders.” Blaise moved around Harry’s living room towards the liquor cabinet with the familiarity of someone who had spent a lot of time there looking for missing socks and boxers in the dark at three in the morning. He grabbed two tumblers from the cabinet and filled both with a generous serving of firewhiskey.

“For fuck’s sake, Blaise, it’s not even noon yet,” Harry complained, but he accepted the drink and took a fortifying swallow.

Blaise sank down on the sofa beside him and carefully arranged his acromantula silk robes while crossing one leg over the other. Blaise liked to present himself as a wizard of leisure but Harry knew he was an avid investor in both magical and muggle businesses, and that kept him plenty busy. It also kept him plenty rich.

Blaise indicated the suitcase, sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, with a twist of his foot. “I knew when I started associating with Gryffindors I would be living dangerously.” He raised his glass at Harry. “But contrary to you, I need my courage to be liquid when I’m in the same room as a basilisk.”

Harry sighed and took another sip. “He’s not a basilisk. He’s a wizard who got stuck as a basilisk after a botched ritual.”

Blaise raised a single eyebrow, but barely, as though he was only a tiny bit impressed.

“And I was going to help turn him back, but now I’ve found out he wasn’t a very nice guy before and I’m not sure if he deserves to be human again.”

“Hm.” Blaise glanced at Harry, swirling the whiskey around in his glass. “How long has he been stuck?”

“Sixty years.”

“A lot can change in sixty years, especially people,” Blaise said with a knowing smile. “This reminds me of someone else who changed quite a bit, though he needed far less time than sixty years.”

“Draco?” Harry guessed.

“No.” Blaise frowned. “Well, yes, but that is not who I meant. I was talking about you.” And to drive his point home, Blaise poked him in the chest with a finger.

“Me?” Harry asked, affronted.

“Harry, dear, you were a self-righteous little prick for most of your Hogwarts career. You are a parselmouth and yet you despised everything and everyone Slytherin, simply because of what an enchanted piece of cloth said about us when we were eleven. And you didn’t start changing until our sixth year.”

Harry swallowed, memories rushing him. “That summer, after my OWLs, I told my parents I wanted to be a zoologist. They had always assumed, though they never asked, that I would become an Auror. We had the biggest fight and I realized I’d been trying to be someone I’m not, so I changed.”

Blaise gave him a fond smile. “I remember it well. October of our sixth year in the library. You passed me in the stacks and you said hi with a smile on your face.” Blaise clutched a hand to his chest. “I was so shocked I almost fainted. And when I told Draco what happened he didn’t even believe me.”

Harry punched Blaise lightly in the arm though he couldn’t hold back a grin.

“And even then it took you another three years to have a polite conversation with a Slytherin without looking like you’re constipated.” Blaise observed Harry quietly for a moment. “Rather like you were looking earlier. So I can only assume the gentleman in question is a Slytherin.”

“How did you...” Harry narrowed his eyes. “Are you using legilimency?”

Blaise cracked a sly grin. “There is no need for that, my dear. To me you are an open book.” Blaise ignored Harry’s grumbling with all the grace of a cat who ate both the canary and all the cream. “So we have a no-name half-blood or muggleborn sorted into Slytherin at least 70 years ago.”

“How could you possibly know he’s – “

Blaise waved Harry’s interruption away. “If he was a member of a pureblood family you would have told me his name already. Anyway, Slytherin has a very specific culture within its walls. Eat or be eaten. The weak will sink to the bottom while the strong rise to the top. And especially that long ago these traditions were still accompanied by a certain amount of violence.”

Harry frowned. He’d heard enough about Slytherin House over the years from Severus and Reggie and Blaise to know he was glad to have chosen Gryffindor, but was that really enough to explain Tom’s behaviour? Better yet, to excuse it?

“You must remember, though, that whatever his past sins were, the man has spent sixty years trapped as a serpent. One could assume that he’s been punished enough.” Blaise gave Harry a patient look while Harry mulled this over.

With a sigh Harry downed the last of his whiskey and placed the empty glass on the coffee table. He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees and wringing his hands.

“You have a point,” Harry said, while Blaise placed a comforting hand on his back. “But I don’t know if I can trust anything he says. He could pretend to be a model citizen and the moment I help turn him back he could go and murder anyone I care about in their sleep.”

“Ah,” Blaise said, rubbing lazy circles across Harry’s back. “I see what this is about. Your family was betrayed once before, and now you fear being betrayed again.”

Harry glanced over his shoulder at Blaise while he raised his eyebrows. “You mean Pettigrew?”

Blaise nodded. “I mean Pettigrew.”

Peter Pettigrew had been best friends with Sirius, Remus and his father all throughout their Hogwarts years and beyond. He’d kept up the act of good and loving friend for years while he secretly built a criminal organization that sold everything from illegal potions and endangered magical creatures to child prostitutes. He’d used all the information he learned from James and Sirius, who were assigned to the case as Aurors, to always stay a few steps ahead of law enforcement. And when his organization finally was exposed he almost managed to frame Sirius and Remus, having long ago fabricated ‘evidence’ that pointed in their direction. And plenty of people, even some of Sirius’ own colleagues, had bought it. After all, Sirius came from a dark family and was married to a werewolf. They were quickly thrown in prison to await trial.

Pettigrew might have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for Regulus Black. Reggie didn’t believe for one second that his brother was capable of such things, and he brought the might of the Black family down upon the Ministry. Every great-aunt and uncle, every second and third cousin was called upon to investigate, threaten or bribe anyone necessary until the truth was revealed. Pettigrew was sentenced to life in Azkaban.

Harry, barely eight years old at the time, remembered a lot of crying and shouting from his parents and later on, when Sirius and Remus were released from prison, a lot of hugging and again a lot of crying. It had changed them, though, as people and as a family. Lily became a lot more suspicious of others and James lost a lot of sympathy he might have had for people who found themselves in trouble with the law through life’s unfair circumstances.

And Harry learned that trusting people, even those you thought were good friends, came with huge risks.

“Yeah, maybe,” Harry said with a deep sigh. “Though why my parents ever trusted Pettigrew in the first place is a mystery. The bastard turned into a rat for fuck’s sake. That was a pretty clear indication of his character.”

“If only our mystery wizard was an animagus, we’d be able to judge his personality easily enough.” Blaise himself had become an animagus with Harry’s help. He turned into a raven. A fitting form for a clever and resourceful Slytherin with commitment issues.

Harry sat up and looked at Blaise with wide eyes. “Tom told me he’s an animagus, but he didn’t mention his form.”

Blaise gestured towards the suitcase. “Then I suggest you go and find out what it is.” And with that, Blaise emptied his glass in a single go and got up from the couch. “Sorry to cut this short, but I have an appointment in Aberdeen in fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks, Blaise,” Harry offered with a smile as he walked Blaise to the door.

“Anytime, my dear.” Blaise cupped Harry’s face with a warm hand, gently running his thumb across Harry’s cheekbone. “Though if you want I can come back later to help you take your mind off your troubles for a while.”

Harry gulped. While he and Blaise had officially broken off their relationship years ago, whenever they were both available they still hooked up from time to time. The sex was pretty fucking spectacular, but that wasn’t the only reason. Sometimes it was just plain comforting to sleep wrapped in a pair of arms belonging to someone you loved and trusted. And while Blaise never said such things out loud, Harry knew he felt the same.

Tempted beyond belief, Harry considered the offer for a moment but ultimately realized he had other, bigger things on his plate right now. Namely a sixty foot basilisk named Tom. “Maybe next time.”

Releasing his face, Blaise gave him a knowing smile. “Yes, I suppose you’ll want to spent some time with your new paramour.”

Harry sputtered. “He’s not my paramour.”

“Isn’t he? Then why are you feeling so hurt by what you’ve found out about him?” And before Harry could reply, Blaise slipped out of the door and apparated away.

Ugh. Fucking Blaise and his annoying habit of always needing the last word. Harry shook his head and closed the door. He contemplated making himself a strong cup of tea to ward off some of the effects of the whiskey, but quickly decided he had no patience for that.

He needed to know what Tom’s animagus form was because it would say a lot about the man’s personality. It was by no means an exact science, but in Harry’s experience it was a pretty good indicator.

Sirius, loyal to a fault, loving but aggressive when needed, turned into a big dog. His father, social, loving to his family, but full of pride, turned into a stag. Blaise and his clever, resourceful raven. Pettigrew, willing to sell out his closest friends, abandon them to a fate worse than death, became a snivelling rat.

There was a lot of information to be found in the kind of animal that chose you, both as an animagus and for your Patronus charm. The animagus transformation and the Patronus charm had been areas of magic Harry had been interested in during his years at Hogwarts and he’d studied them vigorously. Hermione used to tease him it was because both fields featured animals, and Harry supposed that was true, but he also was fascinated about what the inner animal said about the person once they were revealed.

So Harry was quite confident he could make an educated guess as to Tom’s real personality once he knew what kind of animal lurked beneath his skin.

He flipped the suitcase lid open and climbed down. Almost immediately, Tom came sliding out of the temperate habitat.

“Harry,” Tom breathed, and then seemed at a loss for words as he gave Harry an anxious look.

Harry pursed his lips and ignored the nervous fluttering in his stomach. “Tom, I am going to ask you one question and you need to answer honestly.”

“Yes, anything,” Tom said at once, no hesitation.

“What is your animagus form?”

Tom blinked his big yellow eyes at Harry. “My animagus form?” Tom ducked his head, looking away from Harry. “It’s...” And Tom muttered something unintelligible.

Harry bit back a sigh of frustration. “A what, Tom? Speak up.”

Tom’s blazing look was positively defiant. “It’s a magpie, all right? An itty, bitty bird. Some animagus form for the wizard that once aspired to become the greatest dark lord that ever lived.”

Releasing a shuddering breath, Harry lowered his head. A bird, which meant a thirst for freedom or wanting to break away from something. A magpie, which was a thief and a trickster, but which also represented joy and good fortune. An animal with a dual nature, delivering both good and bad omens.

In other words, someone capable of both good and bad, possessing both a dark and a light side.

In short, a normal human being. Not some evil megalomaniac set on death and destruction.

“Okay,” Harry said with a relieved sigh. “I can work with this.”

Tom observed him quietly. “This pleases you?” he whispered.

“Yes, in so far that I’m willing to listen to what you have to say for yourself. I’m willing to give you a chance.” Harry grabbed the chair he’d left standing in the holding area earlier, flipped it the wrong way around and sat down, arms leaning on the backrest.

Releasing a long hissed breath, which sounded more relieved than anything else, Tom slid a little closer to Harry and gave him an expectant look.

Harry considered the situation for a moment. He wanted, needed to know everything about the other wizard if he was to make any kind of informed decision. “I’m not sure where to begin. Maybe we should just go about this the Gryffindor way and dive in headfirst.” He gave Tom a long, hard look. “What would you say is the worst thing you’ve ever done?

“Easy,” Tom said with a pained yet resigned sigh. “It’s also the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. I once split my soul.”

Chapter Text

“You split your soul,” Harry repeated, but no matter that he heard the words again, they still made no sense to him. “Why would you even think of doing that?”

“Immortality,” Tom said in the kind of tone that suggested he was tired of even thinking about the subject, let alone talking about it. But he soldiered on. “All throughout my Hogwarts years I asked Dumbledore and Dippet to let me stay at Hogwarts during the summer. They always refused, even when the war broke out and the Blitz hit London. I had to spend months during the summer hoping the orphanage wouldn’t take a direct hit while around us street after street, building after building was destroyed by muggle bombs dropping from the sky.”

Harry listened quietly, wondering why no one had thought to offer those magical kids living in London during the Blitz a place to stay outside of the city. He knew from his history lessons at the muggle primary school he and Hyacinth had attended that a lot of muggle children were evacuated from London to the countryside to stay with complete strangers for their own safety.

“I was genuinely terrified I wouldn’t see my next school year,” Tom continued. “So when I came across a method for immortality in the restricted section, it seemed like a perfect solution to my problems.” Tom fell quiet for a moment, eyes squeezed shut. “I was so terrified to die, so desperate to stay alive that I never wondered about the real consequences of such a method. As I know now, all rituals that promise powers of that magnitude come at a terrible price.”

“What was the price?” Harry asked, fascinated yet horrified by the idea of achieving immortality by literally ripping your essence apart.

“Insanity,” Tom whispered, eyes still shut as though admitting these things physically pained him. “The price was slowly becoming insane without even realizing it.”

Harry wrung his hands, his head down. That certainly explained a few things, didn’t it? Why Tom choose to do some of the things he did.

“But there was another price to pay,” Tom went on, finally opening his eyes and giving Harry a resigned look. “The only way to split your soul is to commit murder.”

Inhaling a sharp breath, Harry sat back a little and stared at Tom, meeting his yellow gaze head on. There it was. The reason Tom decided to kill someone, a fellow student if Harry guessed correctly.

“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” Tom said, coiling his body tighter around himself. “At this point I was a child that had grown up in a harsh environment, that had to fight for every scrap of anything he’d ever gotten, that gave as good as he got, but I wasn’t a killer. Still, I was desperate and terrified. I got lucky when I found the Chamber of Secrets.”

Harry, who had been staring at the floor, snapped his head up. “The what now?”

“The Chamber of Secrets,” Tom said slowly with an amused glint in his eyes. “Salazar Slytherin himself built it when they constructed Hogwarts. It requires parseltongue to enter it.”

Astonished there were still parts of Hogwarts he hadn’t known about, Harry slowly closed his mouth which had dropped open. He’d used his father’s Marauder’s Map diligently throughout his Hogwarts years and he was certain he’d explored every last inch of the castle. Apparently, though, he’d missed a spot.

“Slytherin left a basilisk inside the chamber and I used her to take out my anger and resentment on the student population during my fifth year. I didn’t mean for her to kill anyone, just petrify a few muggleborn students who got to go home to safe places in the muggle world. But there was a student hiding in the bathroom when the basilisk left the tunnel to her lair and before I could stop her she’d killed the girl.”

Harry’s mouth had dropped open again. “Tom,” he said, and swallowed once, twice. “Tom, what happened to the basilisk?”

“She went back to the chamber and stayed there, hibernating. I didn’t dare open the chamber again while I was at Hogwarts.”

“Tom,” Harry said again, voice pitched higher, in tune with the rising panic bubbling in his chest. “Is there currently a basilisk at Hogwarts? A basilisk that’s already killed at least one student?”

“When you say it like that, it sounds quite terrible,” Tom said with a little shake of his head. “She’s asleep, I told you.”

“How do I get into the Chamber of Secrets?” Harry demanded as he got up from his chair. There was no way he was leaving a basilisk sleeping in a secret room at Hogwarts. People he knew and cared about worked there or attended it. “We’re getting that basilisk and we’re relocating her to your old home in India. That’s already warded and the local government knows a basilisk lives there. No need to tell anyone we’ve replaced you with her.”

“Very well,” Tom said with a resigned nod. “The girl’s bathroom on the second floor. There is a sink with a tap with a snake on it. Speak parseltongue and the entrance will open.” Tom frowned at him. “Best let me out after that point to talk to Aisa. She wasn’t all that put together after spending so many centuries alone.”

“Fine. I’ll call you out once we get there.” Harry gave Tom a firm nod and climbed the ladder out of the suitcase.

Harry had spent quite a bit of time during his Hogwarts years sneaking out of the castle, but this was the first time he’d be sneaking in. Usually, when he needed to be at Hogwarts, Hagrid simply let him in. But he couldn’t risk anyone finding out about the basilisk. She’d almost certainly be killed, especially if people found out she’d actually killed a student in the past, and Harry wouldn’t allow that to happen. Whatever happened, it wasn’t the basilisk’s fault. She’d been locked up in a castle for centuries. She deserved whatever semblance of freedom Harry could give her. A nice set of caves in a vast yet warded forest in India seemed like a pretty good deal compared to a secret chamber in a cold and damp castle in Scotland.

Thankfully, it was the summer so the castle would only house a few staff members. No students would be endangered. Still, Harry would be transporting an actual basilisk halfway around the world this time, not just a wizard stuck as one. It couldn’t hurt to be prepared, so Harry grabbed a decorative pillow from one of the armchairs near the fireplace and transfigured it into a rooster. After making sure he could make it crow on command with a well-placed imperius curse, Harry hit it with a sleeping charm and stuffed it in his backpack.

The Unforgivables were only unforgivable when cast on humans. That was a nice little loophole most magical zoologists readily exploited when subduing prey animals or relocating dangerous beasts.

Harry also grabbed the Marauder’s Map from his old school trunk that was stored in his attic. Finally, he draped the invisibility cloak around his shoulders and he was ready to do some breaking and entering.

Honeyduke’s was open for business as usual and Harry had no problem slipping inside after a customer. He wasted no time and made his way to the cellar and through the trapdoor into the dark tunnel that led straight to Hogwarts. He lit his wand and activated the map, studying the positions of various staff members as he made the long trek.

Hagrid was on the grounds, McGonagall was with teachers he wasn’t familiar with named Bilkes and Roseworth in the Great Hall and Dumbledore was in his office. Harry would enter Hogwarts on the third floor, so he’d have to hurry down one floor and into the bathroom and he’d be in the clear.

Just as Harry neared the entrance behind the statue, Dumbledore left his office. Harry wondered if he’d tripped the wards. Squeezing himself through, Harry kept a close eye on the map. Dumbledore was slowly but surely making his way to the third floor.

Bugger that. Harry was not ready in any way to explain to the headmaster why he was kidnapping a basilisk from the castle, and more importantly, how he even knew the animal was there in the first place. Thankfully, Dumbledore was beyond ancient and used a cane to get around. And Harry was in the prime of his life, supposedly.

Casting a silencing charm on his feet, Harry wrapped his invisibility cloak tightly around himself and made a run for it. He dashed through the corridor, practically threw himself down the stairs to the second floor and then was stumped for a moment where the girl’s bathroom even was. It’s not like he’d ever had to use it while attending school.

“Come on, come on,” Harry muttered to himself as he speed-walked up the corridor until he spotted the bathroom in question. He burst through the door and immediately started speaking in parseltongue. “Open, Chamber of Secrets, where ever you are.”

To his left a section of the wall started moving, stone grinding across stone.

“Yeah, that’s not loud at all,” Harry whispered, just as a female ghost came flying out of a toilet stall.

“Who is there? Who is talking? This is a girl’s bathroom, and I can hear you’re a boy!”

Harry ignored the wailing ghost and squeezed himself through the gap as soon as it was large enough. “Please close now. Good chamber, what a good chamber you are.” The wall stopped moving for a second before it started sliding closed again.

Harry let out a sigh of relief, and then realized it was quickly becoming pitch black. “Lumos,” he said as he drew his wand from its holster. What greeted him was an abyss. “Couldn’t have warned me, Tom,” he complained as he summoned his broom from his backpack. He’s learned long ago that a broom was a very valuable tool in his line of work. It only took a minute to fly down what Harry realized was some kind of big stone sewer pipe that ended in a cavern with a low, rocky ceiling.

It was probably a good idea to let Tom out now because Harry had no idea where the other basilisk was hiding. He pulled the suitcase from his backpack, opened the lid and stuck his head inside. “Tom! We’re in the chamber!”

Harry heard Tom before he saw him, scales scraping across the floor as Tom moved towards the ladder. Harry stood back as Tom emerged from the suitcase, tongue flicking in and out eagerly and almost anxiously.

“This isn’t the chamber yet,” Tom told him once he was free and Harry tucked the suitcase away. “But I can smell a shed skin to our right if you want to collect it.”

Of course Harry wanted to. More Galleons in the bank. The skin was in pretty good shape, so Harry folded it carefully and dropped it down into his suitcase. That would do for now. Tom was already moving forward and Harry had to hurry along to catch up with him. They saw a round, metal door which opened the moment Tom spoke to it in parseltongue. Apparently Salazar Slytherin wasn’t big on actual security, perhaps trusting that only his own kin could speak the language of serpents. Well, Harry was living proof good old Sal was wrong about that.

“Now this is the Chamber of Secrets,” Tom said as Harry followed him through the round door. Around them torches lit up with bright orange flames. Harry admired the charm work that must have been applied many centuries ago but still worked like, well, a charm. Statues of snakes lined a stone walkway that ended in a large room dominated by a truly ugly statue of a wizard.

“Best stay behind me now, Harry,” Tom whispered and Harry did as he was told for once. No need to accidentally provoke a thousand year old basilisk in taking a bite out of him.

“Open,” Tom called towards the statue, and Harry watched in surprise as the mouth and jaw unhinged to form a tunnel. “Aisa, wake up, dearest. It’s Tom.”

“Tom?” a hissed voice echoed in the dark tunnel before them. The voice was distinctly female though just as other-worldly as Tom’s.

“Yes, it’s me,” Tom said, slowly winding closer to the statue. “I’ve brought a friend. He’d like to meet you.”

The basilisk that emerged from the tunnel was, if anything, even bigger than Tom. On second thought, Harry realized, that wasn’t all that strange taking her age into account.

“Tom, you look different. I was so worried when you stopped visiting,” Aisa said as she slithered towards Tom and gently bumped her nose against his.

“I’m sorry I had to leave like that, but it wasn’t safe.” Tom gestured towards Harry with his head. “This is my friend Harry. He’s here to take you to a beautiful new home.”

“Hi,” Harry said with a little wave as he took a careful step closer.

“You brought me another speaker,” Aisa said happily. “Hello, Harry. Why do you want to take me away from my home?”

“Er...because your new home is a beautiful set of caves in a large forest. Lots of deer to hunt and sun to bask in.” Harry gestured around the chamber. “A much nicer environment than this.”

“Will you be there, Tom?” Aisa asked as she pressed her side against Tom’s large body.

“I will visit,” Tom assured her. “As will Harry.”

“Yes,” Harry quickly confirmed. If they played this right, they’d have a supply of basilisk venom and shed skins for the rest of their lives, even after Tom became human again. Harry did not want to screw this up.

“Harry, why don’t you show Aisa how she will be travelling,” Tom suggested with a pointed look.

“Aisa, you’ll be travelling in style,” Harry said as he got his suitcase out and opened it. Tom slid inside first while Aisa looked on curiously. “Go on, you’ll love it,” Harry told her and after a few more moments of intense tongue-flicking Aisa followed Tom down the metaphorical rabbit hole. Harry quickly slammed the lid closed, trusting Tom to give Aisa the grand tour and explain things if she had any questions.

Harry wanted to get out of there and get Aisa relocated as quickly as he could. Yes, he’d wanted to meet a basilisk, yes, he’d sought one out, but that turned out to be a wizard in disguise. The idea of taking an actual basilisk into populated areas made Harry very nervous indeed. He was immune to the basilisk’s lethal gaze, but the rest of the world wasn’t. Aisa was, in essence, a magical weapon of mass destruction and the damage she could do if she got out at the wrong moment was unimaginable. Harry inhaled a deep breath to calm his wily nerves and pulled out the map to see if it was safe for him to exit the chamber.

Dumbledore was walking through the second floor corridor.

“Buggering fuck,” Harry muttered. He was almost sure at this point that he’d tripped some kind of ward and that Dumbledore knew someone had snuck in. And the ghost in the bathroom may have told him what she’d seen and heard.

Wait a minute. Did Hogwart’s wards encompass the chamber? If it had been built to be a secret then there was a good chance the wards didn’t cover it. Harry pulled out his wand and cast every ward detection spell he knew. He smiled. He was right. He could get out of there without trekking all the way back through the castle and alerting Dumbledore even more to his presence. Harry picked up his backpack and apparated home.

He didn’t waste any time and sent a quick Patronus to Severus, telling him he was travelling back to India for reasons and not to expect him back for a week or so. Harry’s friends and family were used to Harry leaving the country at the drop of a hat, and if they needed him they knew to check with Severus where he was at any given time.

Harry booked the necessary port-keys and left immediately. He made a pit stop in the black forest in Germany and summoned a handful of deer and wild boar, which he unceremoniously levitated down into the suitcase, trusting that two basilisks knew how to hunt them. He guessed Aisa had to be hungry and this way she’d be less tempted to have him for dinner.

It wasn’t until a stopover in Pakistan that the excitement of the last few days caught up with Harry and he felt dead on his feet. He booked a simple, cheap hotel room, but still pulled out his suitcase and opened it. He preferred to sleep in his own bed in his living quarters. He made sure to close and lock the lid behind himself so there would be no basilisk encounters of the accidentally lethal kind if the maid decided to stop by unannounced. Tom and Aisa were nowhere to be found, but Harry trusted they’d found a comfortable spot for themselves to spend the journey.

Stretching out on the sofa with a cup of tea, Harry pulled out his journal to log the latest developments. Just winding down for a moment before calling it a night.

The door burst open and Tom rushed inside. All sixty foot of him. Harry’s living quarters were tiny. It didn’t fit and Harry’s coffee table cracked and then crumbled beneath Tom’s coils. Tom wound himself up as small as he could and gave a gaping Harry a pleading look.

“Harry, you have to help me!”

Chapter Text

“What the hell, Tom,” Harry said as he looked around his living quarters. The coffee table had disappeared under Tom’s bulk entirely and Harry’s small desk against the opposite wall was lost as well.

“It’s Aisa,” Tom said, his scaly sides heaving with every anxious breath he took. “She keeps trying to...mate with me.” Tom buried his nose inside his coils, eyes peeking over just enough to give Harry a look that dared him to laugh.

Harry couldn’t help himself. He guffawed. He quickly pressed his fist against his mouth to control himself, but it was no use. He fell over on the couch, laughing until his sides hurt.

Tom hissed. “So glad my misery amuses you so.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, not feeling sorry at all. He inhaled a few big gulps of air, trying to calm down enough to have an actual conversation. “I’m surprised you’re turning her down,” Harry said, barely holding back a snigger. “It must be at least 60 years since you got laid.”

“She isn’t exactly my type,” Tom snapped, burying his head even deeper inside his coils.

“Too scaly?” Harry guessed.

“Too female,” Tom replied with an edge to his voice. He raised his head a little and looked at Harry with a challenge in his yellow eyes.

Harry held up a hand immediately. “Mate, I’m gay myself. The wizarding world has become a little more accepting in the past decades. Even the head of the Black family is married to a man. You don’t have to worry about this at all.”

“Truly?” Tom raised his head, coils visibly losing some of their tension. “In my youth it wasn’t talked about in polite pureblood society. If one was inclined to prefer one’s own gender, it was expected one marry the opposite gender anyway and just dally on the side.”

Harry nodded in agreement. “There are still families like that these days, but they are few and far between.”

“That is a welcome development.” Tom stared at Harry for a long moment. “Are you married to a man, then?”

“No,” Harry said with a shake of his head. He reached for his cup of tea, realized it had been lost beneath Tom’s bulk, and just sat back with his hands folded in his lap. “Not for lack of trying. I’ve dated some, but I’m away for work so often that maintaining a relationship is difficult.”

“I can imagine. Magical zoology certainly is an interesting career choice.”

“Are you complimenting me, Tom?” Harry said with a teasing smile. “I’m certain I heard a compliment in there somewhere.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Tom said with a snort. “I’m merely commenting on your privileged background, that you were able to choose such a financially mediocre career.”

Harry wasn’t surprised or insulted by Tom’s assumptions. He knew his last name made people believe they knew him and his family. “Yeah, you couldn’t be more wrong,” Harry said with a sharp smile.

“Oh?”

“My parents weren’t exactly happy with or supportive of my career choice,” Harry explained patiently. Any old feelings of anger or frustration he’d had about his parents’ decisions had long been erased by the success he’d had with his chosen careers. “They made it very clear they would not be paying for my mastery or my upkeep while I pursued magical zoology as a career. So I played professional Quidditch for a few years while I got my mastery in Care of Magical Creatures. I got signed right out of Hogwarts by the Montrose Magpies as their new Seeker and that allowed me to move out of my parent’s house and go my own way.”

“You were a magpie,” Tom said with a smile in his voice. “How amusing.”

“Look who’s talking. My animagus form isn’t a little black and white bird, just in case you were wondering.”

“I was wondering.” Tom’s smile turned into a toothy grin. “I’ve told you mine. Perhaps you should share with the class now, Harry.”

“Nah, I don’t think I will.” Harry couldn’t help returning Tom’s smile with a teasing one of his own. “Too tired right now. I’m going to bed.”

Before Tom could reply there was a thump coming from the door, sounding exactly like a basilisk bumping her nose against the wood. Another thump, and another one.

“Tom?” Aisa called out. “Tom, are you in there? I can smell you.”

Tom ducked his head back inside his tightening coils, giving Harry a desperately pleading look.

Laughing all over again, Harry managed to call out, “Tom’s not feeling very well, Aisa. He’s asleep right now, and I’m about to turn in as well.”

“Oh.” Aisa sounded disappointed indeed. “Then I will see him in the morning.”

“Good night!” Harry said cheerfully, and both he and Tom listened to the sound of Aisa slithering away from the door.

“Thank you.” Tom’s voice was soft but heartfelt. “Please let me sleep in here tonight.”

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said, since he couldn’t very well let a man spend the whole night being sexually assaulted by a giant snake. “I wasn’t lying when I said I was tired, though.”

“It’s been a very exciting few days, hasn’t it?” Tom said, moving his body away as much as he could so Harry had room to leave the couch. Harry still had to climb across Tom’s body to get to his bedroom.

“It sure has been,” Harry agreed as he stepped inside his bedroom. “Good night, Tom.”

“Good night, Harry.”

It wasn’t until Harry was tucked in his bed and stared up at the ceiling that something occurred to him. “Why would Aisa be trying to mate with you?” he called out towards the living room. “Do basilisks even reproduce sexually? In order to create a basilisk you have to –“

“Stick a chicken egg under a toad and let them hatch it,” Tom finished for him as he stuck his head inside Harry’s tiny bedroom. Harry turned on his side to look at him. “I have no idea if basilisks can breed but Aisa certainly thinks so.”

“You know,” Harry said with a snigger as an idea came to him. “Maybe you should give it a go, you know, for science.”

“Absolutely not.” Tom gave him a look that spoke of being deeply, deeply insulted. “I will not subject myself to these kind of sexual acts just so you can satisfy your professional curiosity.”

“Aw,” Harry said with an exaggerated pout. “Just close your eyes and think of England. I’ll even give you credit in the paper I’ll be writing about your sexy times with Salazar Slytherin’s giant snake.”

“You are an impossible child.” Tom threw his nose in the air and retreated back to the living room. Harry was sure he heard the couch groan and crack in a way it shouldn’t, but he was too amused to care. Besides, he had magic. A few waves of his wand in the morning and everything would be fixed. Harry closed his eyes and fell asleep with a smile on his face.

It wasn’t until the next day, after Harry arrived in Mumbai for the second time in a week that it occurred to him that he’d had a really nice time talking to Tom, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

Tom was a murderer and a man who had once aspired to become the world’s most powerful Dark Lord. Harry had heard that from Tom’s own lips. Then again, Tom had been an utter imbecile while still a child in many ways and had accidentally turned himself insane. There was still a lot Harry didn’t know about Tom and what exactly had happened to him over the years.

Not to mention, Harry still didn’t know what kind of ritual Tom had used. Harry was determined to find out all this and more, but after he relocated Aisa. Harry didn’t think he’d ever been as nervous in his whole life as he was when he walked from the Mumbai portkey station through some very busy muggle areas to the public floo stations. Around him, hundreds of people were going about their day, driving cars while honking their horns, selling and buying spicy foods in dozens of shops and stalls, and here Harry was walking among them while carrying two creatures around in his bag that could kill them all with a look.

Harry allowed himself no more distractions, internal or external, and focussed on getting to Van Vihar National Park as fast as he could. It took him another day of travelling and of sharing his living quarters with Tom while he caught a few hours of sleep until he stood in front of the ward line again. The crack he’d opened a week ago was still there, closed again but easily wrenched open with a few flicks of his wand. Inside the warded area Harry used his broom to get to the cave system Tom had called home for sixty years.

Everything looked the same as how they’d left it and Harry doubted anyone had even noticed the basilisk missing for a week. They probably wouldn’t notice a different basilisk, opposite gender and all, taking up residence either. Harry opened the suitcase in front of the cave system.

“Aisa, Tom, we’re here.” Harry stood back as Aisa stuck her head out of the suitcase, flicked her tongue a few times, and then slid outside, blinking in wonder while looking up at the sun. Tom was far more reluctant to follow.

“It smells so nice here,” Aisa said as she slithered around. “Like earth and water and prey and Tom.”

“Aisa, could I ask you for a favour?” Harry asked, not wanting to miss this opportunity. He wasn’t sure when he’d have a chance to visit her again. “Could I take some of your venom?”

“My venom?” Aisa looked at him while she tilted her head. “Do you want to use mine because you don’t have your own?”

“Something like that. All you’d have to do is bite down in some buckets.”

Aisa nodded. “You can have some because you brought me to this wonderful place.”

Harry got to work at once, preparing two buckets, while Aisa wandered around, exclaiming how much she liked her new environment. Tom stayed close to the suitcase.

The process of extracting Aisa’s venom was as easy as Tom’s had been and before long Harry carefully levitated two almost full buckets down into the suitcase to store in a cupboard. He couldn’t wait to see Severus’ face when Harry gave him two full buckets now, and another two next week when he could milk Tom again. Severus would probably spread out the sale somewhat as not to flood the market and bring the price down. Then again, Basilisk venom was so rare and every potioneer worldwide would dearly love to get their hands on some that Harry didn’t think a few extra buckets would make a dent in the global demand.

“Are you staying with me, Tom?” Aisa asked as Harry told her it was time to say goodbye.

Tom gave Harry a very anxious look which Harry didn’t understand at first until it dawned on him that Tom was genuinely worried Harry would leave him there. “No,” Harry said in Tom’s stead. “Tom is coming with me. He’s going to help me with my next job.”

“Oh.” Aisa gave Tom a very disappointed look.

“I’ll visit,” Tom assured her. “Goodbye, Aisa. You’ll love this place, I’m sure.” And with that Tom slid inside the suitcase and Harry quickly closed the lid.

“We’ll stop by as often as we can. Enjoy the sun and all the prey that lives in this forest. Goodbye.” Harry mounted his broom and took off at once, suitcase in hand. He did not want to give Aisa a chance to demand to come along or forcibly try to make Tom stay. Thankfully, Aisa stayed put and Harry could make a clean escape.

That night, Harry warded a small patch of forest many miles away from Van Vihar and opened his suitcase. He met Tom in the holding area.

“Did you think I was going to leave you there?” Harry asked, both amused and a little sad that Tom apparently thought so little of him.

Tom shrugged. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had.”

“You think I’m the kind of guy who would do that? Who’d leave you to be assaulted for the next few centuries?” Harry really was feeling a little hurt by this latest development.

“No!” Tom seemed surprised by his own sharp denial as he blinked at Harry. “I’m just not sure I deserve a second chance. Maybe it would be better if I was locked away for the rest of my life. Preferably without Aisa, but still... I wouldn’t blame you, Harry, if you made sure I was properly punished. I haven’t been a good man in the years I was human.”

Harry sighed. Tom just voiced some of the thoughts Harry had been struggling with himself. “I haven’t decided yet, to be honest. I want to hear more about what happened to you before I make a decision.”

“That’s fair. Whatever you want to know, I’ll tell you.”

Harry’s stomach let him know he had other priorities now. “Thanks, but that has to wait until later. I’m starving right now.”

Tom followed Harry to his living quarters but kept the bulk of his body outside this time. Only his head rested inside to observe everything Harry did. Harry peeled a few potatoes with a flick of his wand and got them boiling in a pot of water on the stove. Then he opened a can of beef stew with carrots, dumped it in a pan and got that heating up as well. Harry loved muggle canned foods. They kept forever, came in lots of variety and tasted pretty good combined with potatoes, rice or pasta. Harry was a busy guy, especially when on the road. He didn’t have time to prepare elaborate meals.

“Did you mean it?” Tom asked just as Harry put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. “That you needed me for a job?”

“At that time, no,” Harry said as he stuck a teabag in a mug and poured boiling water over it. “But I’ve been thinking. How would you like to go hunt some acromantulas? Their venom sells for quite a bit these days, not to mention their silk, and we’ll split the earnings.”

“Acromantulas?” Tom moved a little further into the living quarters, but still keeping most of his body outside. “Where? And how do you hunt them?”

“I know a few colonies here in India. There’s a big one in the Sundarbans that’s considered vermin and open to hunting because they occasionally hunt the local endangered tiger population.” Harry stirred his stew as he waited for his potatoes to be done. “When I hunt them alone, I fly high above the colony, because those fuckers can jump, and summon one into a wooden crate I have hanging from my broom. Not without risk, because one gust of wind and the spider misses the crate and ends up in your face.” Harry grinned at Tom who was looking at him as if he were completely mad. “But with you there, we can simply drop in the middle of the colony, you take a look around and we have a dozen or so dead spiders while the rest flee in terror. Easy.”

“Easy,” Tom repeated, but in an entirely different tone of voice. “You call that easy?”

“Compared to my earlier method, sure.”

Tom sighed. “I suppose it would be good to add a bit more to my savings in case I do one day get my old body back.” He moved as though squaring his shoulders and gave Harry a decisive nod. “Very well. Let’s pretend I’m a Gryffindor and we can hunt some giant man-eating spiders.”

“Awesome,” Harry said, excitement coursing through him. “It’s a date.”