A/N: snake speech-the S-s-s on some words indicate a long hiss, the double ss on some words means a short hiss
Harry stared up at his potions professor, struck dumb. He couldn't believe that he and the tall wizard had some ability in common. He was relieved that he wasn't going insane, but at the same time didn't know what to think about his new ability. "A Parselmouth? What's that?"
"It is the name for wizards who can speak to snakes," Severus explained, beginning his ministrations again on the boy's hand. Harry winced. "Flex your fingers for me, child." When Harry did so, he nodded. "Circulation is restored. You'll be stiff for awhile, however."
"Are you the only one who can speak to snakes at Hogwarts?" Harry asked then.
"Except for you, yes. The ability is usually found in Slytherin students, the first Parselmouth was Salazar Slytherin, one of the Four Founders of Hogwarts. Have you never had an episode where you encountered a snake before coming to school?" asked Hogwart's other resident Parselmouth. Most Parselmouths were drawn to seek out snakes and talk to them from a young age.
"Uh . . .yeah, I did see a Brazilian boa constrictor in the zoo once. On Dudley's birthday. And I used magic to free it and my cousin fell into the snake tank. The snake . . .I sort of thought I heard it say something, but Aunt Petunia was screaming so loud I couldn't be sure . . .and then Uncle Vernon grabbed me and dragged me away . . .I never got the chance to say anything to it or hear it talk again." Harry said slowly, trying to recall what had happened last year. It seemed a lifetime away now.
"That would explain your confusion. I find it odd that a Gryffindor, who is usually the polar opposite of a Slytherin, has inherited the ability." Severus peered hard at Harry.
Harry gulped, wondering if he ought to tell Snape the Sorting Hat had nearly put him in Slytherin. "I . . .well . . .err . . .you see . . ." he began hesitantly.
Severus reached for his other hand, frowning in exasperation. "Spit it out, boy!"
"The Hat was going to put me in Slytherin first, but . . ."
"The Hat does not usually change its mind."
Harry swallowed. "I. . .well . . .I asked it not to."
"Why?" Now Snape was scowling. "I suppose, like your sainted father, you thought yourself too good for the House of Serpents?" He sneered unpleasantly.
"No, that's not true! I . . .I like snakes!" Harry protested.
**That is well, little one,** put in the giant golden serpent. **You'd not have been born with the ability else.**
"Really?" Harry gasped, peering at the beautiful serpent. "How can you understand me when I'm not . . .speaking snake language?"
The large snake looked amused . . .if a snake could be said to express that emotion. ** Boy, do you not know what I am?** She swiveled her head to stare at Severus. **Has your wizard master neglected to teach you about my kind?**
"I teach him potions only, Revered One," Severus protested, feeling himself flush slightly at the snake's censure. "I did not know he was a Parselmouth until tonight, else he would have learned all about the different types of magical snakes."
Harry's eyes widened slightly as he heard the soft hissing speech coming out of Snape's mouth, though to his ears it sounded like perfectly spoken English with a few extended softly hissed sibilants. "So, what are you then?"
The serpent turned to face him, swaying gently a foot above his head. **I am a ruffed golden serpent, the offspring of Quetzalcoatl and Gaia, Mother Earth and Skyfather. I served the god Apollo as his counselor and tutor in medicine when he was young. He gave me the name, the Wise One. I have been known by it ever since. As such, I have the gift of tongues. Technically, I am more kin to dragons than serpents, as I am a warmblood. Though I do like to hibernate during the winter. It is entirely too cold here! Ah, how I miss my rocky cave at Delphi! The sun was always so welcoming there. But . . .all things must come to an end. At least here I am not bombarded with requests to heal everything from a hangnail to heart disease. Nor am I hunted for my skin and venom. Welcome to my home, Serpentfriends.** She bent her head in a brief nod.
"We are grateful to have found it. Otherwise we might have frozen to death," Severus acknowledged. "Or been a bloodspawn's next meal."
**S-s-a-a, bloodspawn need to be taken down a peg! They dare to hunt in my territory!** the snake hissed angrily.
Harry didn't understand half of what they were saying. Bloodspawn? And wasn't Quetzalcoatl a Mayan god? "I don't understand. What's a bloodspawn and how did a Mayan god get to Greece?"
The Wise One laughed softly, an odd bubbling hiss. **Poor boy! So confused. But then, your head is injured. The bloodspawn are dark wizard created hybrids which live to hunt and eat good wizards like yourself. As for my sire, a god is not bound by mortal place and time and can be where he wishes when he wishes. Good thing too.** She coiled up a few feet, watching as Severus reclaimed Harry's hand. **Who might I be speaking to?**
It was Harry who answered. "My name's Harry Potter, and this is my potions professor, Severus Snape."
**Well met, Speakers. It has been centuries since I have had a decent conversation with a human. So many two-legs fear my kind and think the only good snake is a dead one. Foolish! Snakes do more to help the environment than any two-legger ever did. It was I and mine who taught Aesclepius the right way to heal injuries and dose patients with medicinal herbs and powders. Although back then, we were called Pythias—which the Greeks translated as Python, though that's not quite correct, since I am both constrictor and venomous.**
"But . . .I always thought a snake could only be one or the other," Harry said.
The Wise One flicked her tongue at him. **And in your sshort life, youngling, have you s-seen all the creatures there are? I am unique among s-s-serpentkind, Harry. I can both constrict my prey and render it paralyzed with a single scratch of my fangs. My venom is only fatal to dark creatures and those who have sworn allegiance to the dark. Otherwise, it is an elixir of potent healing efficacy. Long ago, petitioners would come to Delphi to beg the priestesses there for a tiny vial of my venom. Snake's milk, they called it, and it was known as the panacea for all ills. Of course, that is a bit . . .exaggerated.**
"But didn't Apollo defeat the Python in the Greek myths?" Harry asked, recalling that old story from his primary school days.
**Defeat me! S-s-such strange things you mortals tell!** The Wise One looked highly amused. **Always you two-legs must vanquish us. Hiss-ss! Apollo had no need to fight me, I was always his friend. I taught him the Healing Arts and how to do things in moderation and to make thoughtful decisions. I was his advisor for a long time, and during that time, I and mine were s-s-sacred, revered, and never hunted or killed. It was not till much later that opinions changed, and men and wizards feared us, called us s-s-servants of evil and tried to des-s-troy us."
"Oh," said Harry, feeling a bit stupid, though how he could have known the truth was beyond him. "Is that why you're hidden away here?"
**Partly. I enjoy the s-s-solitude. But it's also for ssafety. Even here, serpents are s-s-still reviled. That is why only you S-speakers are allowed to enter my home. No one else may even catch a glimpse of it.**
"Honest? Professor Snape and I are the only ones who can find the cave?" Harry asked. He rather liked having a secret place only he could find, and was sort of annoyed having to share it with Snape. The Wise One nodded. Harry felt a sudden sharp pain in his hand as Severus pressed down upon the thawing fingers. He jerked his hand and tried to pull away. "Oww! Could you try and be more gentle? You're mashing my fingers."
Snape shot him a pointed glance. "I am not "mashing" your fingers, Potter. In order to restore circulation I have to massage them firmly. Now, why did you not let the Hat put you in my House?"
"Because Ron said You-Know-Who was in there and he murdered my parents. And Malfoy was acting like a stuck-up prat." Harry snapped. Then he yelped as the familiar burning sensation started in his fingers. "Don't you have . . a potion I could take for the pain?"
Severus sighed. "Potter, I do not carry a pharmacy around in my robes. I was patrolling the halls, not visiting the Hospital Wing." He began to massage the base of Harry's thumb. "I know this is painful, but you must bear with it."
Harry squirmed despite himself. His right hand seemed to hurt worse than his left one had. "Easy for you to say."
**Perhaps I may be of assistance?** the Wise One offered. She uncoiled rapidly until she had five feet of her length stretched out beside Harry's prone form. **Now then, littling. Look into my eyes.** She suddenly thrust her face into Harry's, speaking in a soft singsong tone, her emerald eyes growing larger and mesmerizing.
Harry felt himself start to drift off, the Wise One's eyes were compelling and hypnotizing.
**Very good. Look at me.** The serpent began to gently coil about the boy, wrapping him snuggly in her coils. Harry was not uncomfortable, in fact he felt warmer than he ever had in his life. **You are cold as ice, child. Not good at all. Now, relax and breathe in the mist.** She snapped her ruff back and then forward and a fine white mist sprayed Harry right in the face.
He breathed it in and felt sleepy and utterly free of pain. Everything was blessedly numb. "Feels good . . ." he muttered drowsily.
"What did you do to him, Wise One?" asked Severus respectfully.
**My ruff contains glands which produce a soporific and narcotic mist. I have put him into a twilight sleep so you may treat him without further pain. He is suffering from frostbite and exposure to the cold, yes?** answered the snake.
Severus nodded. "He ran out into the storm without so much as a pair of gloves on. Sometimes he makes me doubt he has any common sense at all!"
The serpent chuckled. **That is the case with any offspring. I doubted at times -sssome of mine would live to sshed their first s-s-skin, they were so . . .reckless-ss. But then, that is why they need our guidance, is that s-s-o, S-Severus S-S-Snape?**
Snape answered in an affirmative hiss and continued to work on Harry's hand until the boy's hand was a normal pink color once more. "There! At least now he won't be in danger of having his fingers amputated."
**You are a competent Healer,** the Wise One noted approvingly.
"Hardly. I . . .just know the basics, Wise One."
The Wise One hissed. **Modesty does not become you, S-Severus-s. You are a powerful wizard and all Speakers are Healers in s-s-ome way. That is-s-s the nature of a Parselmouth.**
"Maybe, but I know of one Parselmouth who has never Healed anything," Severus disagreed.
The Wise One cocked her head.
"His name was Tom Riddle. But now he's known as Lord Voldemort, the darkest of dark wizards. His familiar is a queen cobra called Nagini."
The Wise One looked dismayed. **That is too bad. S-Still, even Parselmouths may go dark. Perhaps-s-s before he became dark he had s-s-ome Healer tendencies. Now, though, he must be very dangerous-s-s. A dark Healer us-s-sually is.**
"Oh, he is. Believe me, he is," Snape said, shuddering as he recalled some of Voldemort's more depraved pastimes, like vivisection.
The serpent gave him a knowing look. **He hurt you badly, child, did he not?**
Severus looked away, he was not used to admitting weakness to anyone, not even this magnificent creature, who seemed so wise and kind and knowing. He didn't want her feeling sorry for him. "I . . .chose the path I walked."
The Wise One thrust her head into his face, her emerald eyes whirling. **There are choices and choices, S-S-Severus. S-Sometimes choices are made from circumstances beyond your control. S-Such was what happened to you. But when given an opportunity, you chose the right path.**
"That doesn't negate what I did before."
**Or what was done to you. All of us have made bad decisions in our lives, nothing is perfect, not even nearly immortal s-s-serpents like myself.** The Wise One said, laying her head for a brief moment upon Severus' shoulder. Her tongue gently caressed his cheek and he felt a measure of peace flow into him.
He reached up a hand and gently stroked her scales, they were smoother than silk and radiated a soothing warmth. "So warm," he marveled.
**Indeed. I am as warm as you need me to be. Do not dwell upon the past. What is done, is done. Instead think about the present and what you can do to make a difference here and now. As you did with the boy here.**
Severus looked down at Harry, who was dozing in the Wise One's coils, and felt a small spark of compassion flare within him. "It is my duty to save him from himself."
**A duty you chose. And therein lies all the difference,** the snake said simply, then withdrew her head to fan Harry with some more mist. **Do what you mus-s-t to tend him, S-severus. I s-s-shall hold him steady while you work.**
"Thank you." He set to work, removing Harry's sneakers and socks, exposing his frozen feet. Harry's toes were bluish and his foot was mottled blue and white. Severus placed the tip of his wand at Harry's ankle and chanted the same Restoring charm he had used upon Harry's hands, gently drawing the wand down over the top of the foot and across the toes, sending the magic where it was most needed.
The Wise One watched approvingly. This one should have been a Healer, she thought. He had the instinct, though he buried it beneath a façade of sarcasm. There was much pain in this one, she thought sadly. Much guilt also for things he wished had been otherwise and decisions made too young. One of her abilities was to read auras and what she saw in Snape's aura both saddened and made her angry. How many graves have you wept over alone, Severus? How much guilt can you bear before your heart freezes like ice? 'Tis the season of warmth and giving, remember? And I fear you and Harry shall need all the warmth I can give you, inside and out.
She turned her gaze upon the younger of the pair and hissed softly at what she saw in his aura as well. He too had been marked by the Dark, through a vicious attack as a baby, and had faced evil more than once. Poor boy, to know such pain and suffering so young. But perhaps . . .with the help of your mentor, you can heal. You both need each other, though you may not know it yet. He is the best—the only protector you shall ever need. And he loves you, Harry, though he doesn't know it yet.
The Wise One said nothing to either wizard of her musings, like all snakes, she knew when to keep her own counsel. What she saw would come to pass in its own time and way.
Severus continued to massage and encourage the flow of blood to Harry's extremities, thankful to the golden serpent for putting the boy to sleep so he did not have to endure anymore pain. Snape did not like it when Harry was in pain, he did not enjoy watching children suffer, though he had seen all too much of that in the past, as Dumbledore's agent, his eyes and ears in the Death Eater camp. They had enjoyed the pain and suffering of others and sometimes, despite his revulsion, he had been forced to join them, forced to sully his soul with dark magic. The things I have seen I would wish upon no one. The things I have done in the name of the Light would make an Auror cringe, and no one can understand what pain means until you are forced to inflict it upon an innocent. This once, I can honestly say that pain has a purpose, and it will end in a good way. This once, I can save instead of destroy.
Harry groaned, but the snake's coils held him still despite his attempts to thrash about.
Severus finished with the right foot and began on the left, repeating the same procedure.
While he healed, the snow fell outside, covering the entire forest beneath a frosty coverlet and burying the entrance to the cave so that not even the bloodspawn could sense them.
Severus paused once or twice during his task to rub his eyes and rest a bit, he was still feeling the effects of the cold himself and though the air inside the cave was warm, his chest was still heavy with phlegm. He wished he had thought to shove a Pepperup Potion into his pocket when he went to patrol the school. Then perhaps he wouldn't have to stop and blow his nose every fifteen minutes.
He wondered what time it was, and thought it might be close to five o'clock in the morning. No one would have missed either Potter or himself as yet, but Snape decided to send out a Patronus after he had finished healing Harry. That way no one would go crazy searching for a missing Harry or accuse him of kidnapping.
**Are you ill, S-s-severus?**
"Huh? No. Just a slight cold. Nothing to worry about," Severus reassured the Wise One. "I'm almost done here." He started to coax the blood back into Harry's other foot.
Just then Harry opened his eyes. They were glazed over and half-aware. He looked about at the stark gray walls and muttered, "Where am I? Not in my cupboard . . .must be in hell . . .'s where Aunt Petunia always said I'd end up.. ."
Severus looked over at the boy in alarm. "What are you babbling about, Potter? Is he out of his head?" he asked the golden snake.
**S-sometimes my mist has that effect upon mortals. It causes them to relive memories and events . . .good or bad . . .**
"Real or hallucinations?" Severus queried curiously.
**Real, of course.**
Severus did a doubletake. Potter was in a cupboard? What in hell was that supposed to mean? Petunia had told him he'd end up in hell? That doesn't really surprise me, she always was a nasty piece.
But what Harry said next shocked him to the very core of his being.
Now, I know that is a very evil cliffy, BUT . . .I want all of you to tell me what you think Harry revealed here to Severus and the Wise One. No matter how stupid or silly, what do you think Harry said that would shock Severus? I will tell you one thing it would NEVER be . . .absolutely no rape. Not in my fics. Hope you all tell me something interesting, I'm looking forward to reading your ideas and guesses. Should be lots of fun!