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Chapter 8 : Nott & Nagini
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It had been two months. Well, two months and a few days. Something like four or five. Not that I’d been counting or anything.
Two months since I had last spoken to Tom Riddle. It was as if I had never met him; he never made any gesture of familiarity toward me, and my own stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to so much as smile and pass him a cup of doxy eggs in potions. I pointedly ignored him in class and nearly made myself sick silently trying to outdo him. No outsider would have thought we were ever friends. I pretended not to know he existed while I was secretly obsessed with being better than him in any way I could.
I had taken his departure from Flourish & Blotts as a personal insult, and the fact that he didn’t seem upset in the slightest that we weren’t talking was just lemon juice on an open wound. He should be dying to have my attention, like everyone else was. I had worked hard to become a central figure in the Slytherin common room; I made jokes, I helped people with homework, I told stories about showing up Gyffindors, I laughed and talked with everyone. I flaunted my skills and paraded around like a peacock. Everyone came to know me, so even the upperclassmen had some idea who Anne Harley was.
Marcella and I had become close girlfriends since I was done with Tom. She asked once why we weren’t speaking, and I had satisfied her with simply saying he was weird. It wasn’t hard for her, or anyone else, to believe. Tom was weird. He was always perfectly respectful and polite if anyone ever spoke to him, but mostly he just lurked around the library and sat by himself in the common room. Lately I had noticed him handing Madam Pince notes and getting into the Restricted Section. I knew very well that nothing we were learning in class had anything to do with the Restricted Section, and I ached to know how he was getting teachers to sign him notes to get in. No matter how much I pretended he didn’t exist, I couldn’t help but glance furtively at him and try to see what he was reading or what magic he was practicing.
While I wasn’t with my Slytherin friends or brooding over Tom, I was with Joey McGill. At first I found him immature and dopey, but it would have been hard to continue disliking him. It was impossible to be annoyed around the boy; if ever I had a sour look on my face he’d question me incessantly or try to cheer me up in such ridiculous ways I’d end up in peals of laughter. He didn’t seem to care if I was laughing with or at him, he’d just grin his ear to ear grin and bounce around with victory.
He was especially happy I think, now that he had just succeeded in making his house quidditch team as a chaser.
“I hope you’re a little more coordinated on a broomstick than you are on the ground,” I teased, after he had bounded into the dining hall and knocked my pumpkin juice over in his excitement to tell me.
“You’ve got no idea, Harley. Just watch, the Canons’ll be recruiting me by the time I’m outta here!”
“We’ll see,” I said, siphoning the juice off the table with my wand, “if you stun me with your flying abilities once you play our team.”
“No offense, but you’re done for,” he said, taking a piece of toast off my plate without asking, and stuffing into his mouth in a most inelegant manner. “We have a killer line up.”
I made a “psh” noise. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of one of Farlow’s bludgers, but—”
“Well you guys haven’t seen our seeker like this before, he’s been working the Wronski Feint like there’s no tomorrow—”
“—we’ve got all new Cleansweep Threes—”
“—and not to mention the addition of an extremely talented and handsome new chaser…” Joey finished, stopping my arguing and causing me to snort.
“Shove off, I’ll bet you five galleons we win,” I said, closing the matter.
“Done. Pretty sure eagles eat snakes, Annie.”
“It’s Anne,’” I corrected, pulling my plate away from him before he devoured my entire breakfast.
Despite my resolution to start working on becoming an animagus, I really had nowhere to begin. There were books in the library that claimed to have instructions, but they were rather vague and had no explicit steps. Phrases like “mastering oneself” and “focusing on one’s inner animal spirit” were common, and I quickly became frustrated with the wishy-washy wording. Never before had I encountered such an open-ended sort of magic, a magic that didn’t have any set rules or incantations, but was formed on my own and at my own desire and skill.
I considered asking Dumbledore for help, but quickly rejected the idea. I was going to do this on my own, by my own steam and my own abilities. I wasn’t going to ask for help. I couldn’t help but think of Tom, of what he would say if he found out I had asked Dumbledore for help in accomplishing something.
Anyway, without any real guidance, I started trying to turn myself into an animal. The phrase itself sounded ridiculous. Turn myself into an animal. I didn’t want to think about what all these books meant when they said that if attempted with inexperience, this process can go horribly wrong. I had a sudden vision of myself lying in the hospital wing with tentacles for arms. I shuddered. I didn’t like the idea of randomly pointing my wand at parts of my own body and trying to transfigure them, but I didn’t seem to have another choice. I was annoyed there was no way to tell what animal I’d become, since it might’ve been easier to transfigure into it if I knew what I wanted.
Since I couldn’t manage that sort of magic, I delved into another: Legilimency. I made sure to prop the book up in the common room, so anyone with eyes would see what I was reading. I would hold it in front of my face as Tom sat across the room, and the whole time I’d absorb nothing about navigating the mind, since I was peeking up to see if Tom saw me.
Personally, I found the idea of Legilimency very frightening. For a few days after finishing the volume, I became paranoid that anyone who stared at me for too long was attempting to read my mind. I was quite sure Dumbledore did it all the time, and I couldn’t decide if it made me like him better or want to shield my eyes every time I went near him. It occurred to me that Occlumency, or the defense against Legilimency, would be another useful sort of magic to add to my already long list of things to learn.
It was on a night that I was actually completing assigned homework in the common room that one of our beaters, Nott, came down the stairs from the boy’s dormitories carrying a snake. A very familiar green snake that happened to be Nagini. I watched in dread as he pinched her between two fingers, ignoring her futile attempts at thrashing away.
“Oi, everyone! Check this, a snake in the dormitories!”
Everyone in the common room looked up, including the owner of the snake, who was buried beneath books and parchment at his usual corner table. I watched Tom’s eyes widen in shock and quickly after, narrow in anger.
His voice managed to cut across the room, over the various chatter and squeaks of surprise at the snake dangling from Nott’s fingers. Nott turned to survey Tom.
“Yours, is she?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “She your pet?”
Tom didn’t answer, but pushed his books aside and walked over, palm out. “She’s mine,” he repeated. “Give her back.”
The common room had gone rather quiet. Nott chuckled softly. “Keep your pants on, kid. I’m just lookin’ at her.”
Tom wasn’t amused in the slightest. His shoulders tensed at Nott’s nonchalance, watching as he transferred Nagini’s squirming body from one hand to the other.
“Ya know you’re not supposed to have snakes in here right? Tryin’ to have a better connection to Slytherin, are ya?”
Tom’s lips were a thin line. His hand twitched toward his pocket, but the moment passed. I, like everyone else in the common room, was watching him intently.
“Give. Her. Back.” Tom annunciated every word slowly and clearly; the affect was as if he were speaking to a child, a child who was going to be punished if they didn’t obey. But Nott wasn’t a child, he was a hulking, rather brutish looking teenager, and his face had slipped from its taunting smile into a frown.
“Ya know, you should be a little nicer, kid. Who do you think you are? If I wanna see your snake, I’m gonna see your damn snake until I’m good and satisfied.”
My hands were frozen around the book I had been reading, my eyes glued on Tom. He was tall, but nowhere near as tall as Nott, and he had a skinny, bookworm-ish quality to his stature whereas Nott was all muscle-y and athletic. But Nott didn’t seem to notice the livid gleam in Tom’s eyes, or the way his entire body was subtly trembling. I noticed. If Tom were looking at me like that, I wouldn’t have been taunting him. Rather, I’d be moving as far as I could in the opposite direction.
“MIsbehavin’, isn’t she?” Nott asked, as Nagini attempted to plant her fangs in his thumb. Not a very good pet, maybe she just needs a good whack—ARGHHHH!”
The entire room gasped. Nott had fallen to the floor; it looked as if someone had kicked him in the back of the knees. But no one was there. Somehow, whether it was a result of magic or stupidity, his hands weren’t quick enough to block his fall and his gorilla-like face went right into the stone floor, a shower of blood spurting from his nose. Nagini was released from his hand, and she fell to the ground, hissing as she bounced once, her body twisting in the air.
But Tom wasn’t done. Instead of leaving it at that and taking Nagini back upstairs, he stood over Nott like a triumphant hunter over his prey. He opened his mouth, and out of it came the hissing sounds I had become so familiar with over the summer, as I tried to learn how to talk to Nagini. He was speaking Parseltongue in front of the entire Slytherin common room.
Everyone was whispering in disbelief, and a few more people gasped. The murmurs were running through the room like a wave of electricity when Nagini, apparently on Tom’s command, shot like lightning across the stone to where Nott was still lying. Without warning, there was a flash of miniscule fangs, and there was another spurt of blood, this time from his finger. Nott yelled in pain and swatted at her, but she was too quick. Within seconds, she was far away from him, sliding into her master’s waiting hand.
Nott spent two days in the hospital wing. Though Nagini was not yet fully grown and deadly, her venom was apparently still powerful enough to cause a handful of trouble for the Hospital Wing Matron, Madam Bellhurst. She had demanded to know where Nott had received such a bite, but evidently, he had refused to tell her. No one outside of Slytherin house seemed to know of the incident or of Tom’s newly revealed Parseltongue abilities.
Tom had become an instant celebrity within Slytherin. He was asked daily to demonstrate his talents, people asked to hold Nagini, and everyone wanted to know how he’d managed to knock one of the biggest guys in the school to the ground without a wand. I could tell Tom was deeply uncomfortable with the attention. He was as courteous as ever, but he rarely responded to any of the fuss except to warn everyone to keep it within the house.
“I mean, it makes sense,” Tom explained, speaking to a group of sixth year girls who had gathered around him, “it was Slytherin who made the gift famous. If we just kept t between all of us, it’d be so much better than having everyone know all about it, right? We don’t want Gryffindors trying to get in on the greatness of our house.”
They all nodded vigorously, and I had a fleeting urge to hex them all. I should be right there next to him, knowing the true depth of his secret: that he didn’t just have the same gift as Slytherin, but was his descendent. I didn’t want to be just another stupid girl gossiping about “that second year Parselmouth.” I wasn’t just another girl, dammit. I knew more than they did and I deserved to be right there next to him.
The truth was, no matter how sour and grumpy Tom would get, I would have taken it over just seeing the veneer of politeness and charm. I wanted to see the inside, the undercover part of him, I wanted to know firsthand what was going on, know his secrets more and before everyone else did. I didn’t want to share him with the world; I was the one who had met him first wasn’t I? Shouldn’t I naturally feel somewhat…well, protective?
I know now that protective wasn’t the right word. Possessive was.
But being my stupid little twelve-year-old self, I was bored and jealous. I knew he was doing things and discovering things, and I wanted to be a part of it. I could swallow my pride and claim him back. I wanted everyone to know Tom Riddle was my friend, and even more, I wanted to be a part of whatever he was doing, because it was probably greater than anything else going on …
I tried to plan. I couldn’t just waltz up to him and tart talking like nothing had changed. But I couldn’t act like a complete stranger either; I wanted to remind him that I did know something about him that no one else knew. But I couldn’t make him feel indebted. He liked to think everything he did was by himself. I approached him one day in the library, still unsure of what exactly I was going to say. So much for having a plan.
He barely looked at me, only flipping a page of the book he was reading: Alchemy, Elixers, and Immortality. I sat down anyways.
“Have you finished your potions essay yet? I’m confused, I was just wondering if you could help me…” I trailed off, biting my lip in a way that I hoped came off as unsure.
Tom, to my amazement, put his book down and smiled. “What do you want, Anne?”
“I need help with potions, and I just figured since you’re the best in the class…”
He raised his eyebrows. “That’s strange, it seemed like your Draught of Delerium was perfect last class.”
“Oh, er, well…”
“What do you want?”
I fidgeted. “I don’t know, I suppose I only wanted to say hello. We haven’t talked in months, you know.”
“I know,” he said. There was no hint of emotion in his voice.
“Well,” I said, adjusting to having to commandeer a conversation again, “let’s talk again.”
Simple enough, I guess. Straightforward, that’s for sure.
“What would you like to talk about?”
He wasn’t going to make this easy was he?
“I don’t know. What are you up to? Do you mind sharing?” I pointed at the book in his hands.
Tom said, unflinchingly but rather vaguely, “Immortality interests me.”
I managed to turn my snort of laughter into a cough as soon as I realized he was utterly serious. “Are you planning on achieving immortality any time soon? May I ask how?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he admitted. “But I will. I’ll be the only wizard to do it.”
Jesus Christ. Tom made the rest of us Slytherins look like lazy bums who had absolutely no ambitions in life.
“If anyone’s gonna figure that out, it’s you,” I sighed, half-meaning it, half sucking up. My comment had the desired effect; he looked smug again.
“So are we still friends?” I asked, after we sat for a few moments in silence.
“Sure,” Tom said carelessly, flipping another page.
Well, that was easy. Time to ham it up.
“Oh, Tom I can’t lie to you, I’ve missed you so much. It’s been terribly boring, no one else has anything serious or smart to do,” I said, thinking it’d be good to be a little overdramatic about it, you know, make him feel important.
“What else do you expect?” he asked. "Why bother with all these idiots? I haven’t time for it.”
“Everyone’s obsessed with you now,” I informed him. “That thing with Nagini in the common room…no one talks about anything else!”
Tom scowled. “I wouldn’t have done it if that moron hadn’t gotten into things that didn’t concern him.”
“You sure took care of him though,” I said, grinning.
“I shouldn’t have,” he said quietly, more to himself than me. “But he won’t tell any teachers. He wouldn’t dare, and no one would believe him anyway…he’d be sorry if he told.”
“I don’t think he’ll even consider it,” I said happily.
Nott didn’t tell anyone. He returned to the common room in an unusually modest manner, his finger bandaged up but his nose back to normal. I was half expecting him to tackle Tom as soon as he saw him, but Nott did nothing but cast him a fearful look before sitting down with his friends. Tom paid him no attention at all.
“You’ve turned our beater quite pathetic,” I commented. “He better get some of his confidence back before the match next week.”
Tom mumbled something that didn’t sound very complimentary toward quidditch.
I needn’t have worried—we won the game, 180 to 60. The celebrations of winning the first match of the year weren’t confined to our dungeons, evidence of our victory was all around the castle. It was impossible to walk through the halls without someone waving a Slytherin banner in your face, or slipping on some of the confetti that had been magically spewed across the Great Hall.
Say whatever you will about us Slytherins, but one thing was for sure: we knew how to throw a party.
“Joeyyyy,” I called, seeing him trudging up the stairs with the rest of his team, occasionally shaking sparkles out of his sandy hair. He turned to look at me and scowled.
“Oh, don’t start—”
“Come on, I just wanted to say good game,” I said, catching up to him. “I was pretty impressed, at least.”
Joey frowned, looking for a moment as if he were wondering if I was pulling his leg. “Thanks, I guess.”
“I mean it! You scored three goals your first game, that’s pretty unheard of,” I said fairly. Joey opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. “But don’t start thinking I forgot our bet. You owe me five Galleons.”
His face split into a grin. “You’re a piece of work, Harley. You know that?”
I don’t remember much past that day of my second year at Hogwarts. The entire thing was a blur, a happy, carefree blur. It was the last time I’d had in the castle where I wasn’t worrying, or furious or plotting or obsessed. It’s funny how the mind and memory work. Instead of sharpening the last purely happy days I’d had, I had forgotten them; let them get taken over by the dark days ahead.
My second year is only a series of things to me now—the sunlit corridors of Hogwarts, Joey’s smiling face, Tom before I had come to love or hate him, and myself, as utterly foolish as I had ever been, but still without any consequences.
I remember mostly that second year is the year that everyone began to know our names, Tom and I. Tom Riddle and Anne Harley. We were known as friends for the first time. Both of us Slytherins, both of us brilliant and surely future prefects…so alike, yet, there was still something different between us. Tom harbored the senseless and putrid hate toward Muggles and everything to do with them that was so characteristic of Slytherins. I had not yet learned such hatred.
But I do remember the precise date that I did. September 7th, 1940. It was the day Muggles killed my grandfather.
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