Disclaimer: All characters and institutions are the property of whomever owns Harry Potter. I just borrowed them, and make no profit from their use Beautiful…
Harry’s tongue writhed within his mouth, slipping syllables into the air. He stood against the Quidditch stands, huddled under his invisibility cloak, watching a lone flyer tracing patterns against the sky. Beautiful enough to quit studying?
The magically bred eastern coral snake, native to the Americas but occasionally imported, wound his way up Harry’s neck to flick his tongue against Harry’s ear: snake laughter. The bushy one won’t agree. Why do you pretend not to know her name?
Harry laughed quietly. I’m just taking a break. Hermione won’t even notice. Too busy yelling at copper-top, yes.
Elapis paused, as if considering. Why do they not come together? I am not familiar with humans, but they move well together. Couldn’t tell you.
Harry was only half listening, eyes trained on the sky. Why doesn’t he fly like that during games? What games are these?
Elapis coiled himself around Harry’s neck. As the late-night flyer was returning to Earth, Harry headed back towards the warm lights of Hogwarts. As he walked, he told the curious snake all about Quidditch. I think I understand, but the next time you play, I will come with you,
Elapis hissed quietly into his ear as they entered the Gryffindor common room.
“Harry! Where did you go?” Ron looked aggrieved, having borne the exclusive brunt of Hermione’s onslaught in Harry’s absence.
“Harry! Did you go somewhere?” Hermione hadn’t even noticed. Her keen eyes took in Harry’s cold-red cheeks and the bulge from his invisibility cloak in the front of his robes, but she just shook her head at him and pointed to the pile of books he had yet to work his way through. Told you so.
Elapis’ laughter tingled in Harry’s mind. Smug serpent.
This was thought more than said, but Elapis understood.
Harry had found the snake at Henri’s Herpetarium
, a specialty magic store just off of Diagon Alley, the week before school started for the second semester. He had been wandering the street a bit away from Ron and Hermione, who were trying very hard not to touch or look at one another, when he saw the massive serpent coiled around a staff held by a very short man at the edge of an alley. Moving to examine the snake more closely, he was surprised by the susurration rising from behind the opaque glass storefront just past the corner.
“Henri, at your service!” The little man almost toppled over as he tried to sweep a bow and keep the staff upright at the same time. Harry grabbed the staff just below the snake’s head, steadying Henri with his other hand. Thanks,
hissed the snake.
“Oh, my. Gregor likes you! That’s a good sign; he’s a real nasty one. Come in, then, come in!” The man thumped his way into the store, the snake bobbing along with him. “He’s a Levant viper, from Afghanistan. Nasty bugger. Venom’s nice, but his disposition…terrible.” Wouldn’t you be irritable if you were flung around all day?
The snake, Gregor, hissed at Harry. Harry hid his laughter, knowing that Parselmouths were not well-looked-upon.
“Now then, what do you want?” Henri gestured towards the interior of the shop, and Harry followed his movements with wide eyes. The store was wall-to-wall snakes, wending their way up trees or across tiny deserts, through water or over rocks.
“Um…I already have a familiar.” Harry peered at a beautiful green ribbon snake, whispering hello
to him from its enclosure.
“An owl, yes? You look like an owl kind of fellow. Doesn’t matter. Snakes aren’t familiars, not to people like you.” Harry’s head snapped up, but the little man, tipping Gregor back into an empty terrarium, didn’t notice. “Yes, yes. Parselmouths. Wonderful things. Think of the snake as a…friend. Great fun, too. Incredibly sarcastic, some are. Depends, of course, on the kind.”
“Oh, please. Henri. Can’t bear all this politeness, these days. No ceremony for me!” He crowed, levering himself up to the countertop.
“How did you know…I mean…Can you speak to them?” As Harry had been assured there were only two living Parselmouths, this was a matter of some interest.
“Oh, only with the potion, lad. But I recognize the look. They don’t focus like that unless they’re talking to someone.”
“The potion?” Harry was surprised. He hadn’t known there was an artificial means of speaking to snakes.
“Of course. How else would I keep my pretties under control? Now, what kind will do?” He popped back off of the counter and looked speculatively around. “They’re a great deal like wands, you understand.”
“Like wands? How?” Harry couldn’t see a single similarity.
“Not that you flop them around in the air, or anything, of course. But the snake chooses the wizard, and then, well, there’s the magical aid. I mean, magical creatures are a bit unusual on their own, but add human intelligence and a telepathic link…” Henri wound down, his head stuck into a tank full of writhing orange and white kingsnakes.
“Telepathy?” Harry had presumed the intelligence, having spoken to a few snakes over the previous summer when he got too bored at the Dursleys’, but telepathy was a new concept.
“Not real telepathy, of course.” Henri’s voice sounded hollow, as he was now braced over another cage, running his fingers over a red and black banded viper. “Just empathy. But since you can understand them, and other people can barely hear them, it works out to almost the same thing. The empathy only comes when you’ve bonded, of course.” He thunked back to the floor in front of Harry, empty-handed. “But that shouldn’t be a problem. Bonding is easy. It’s finding the right bond that’s the problem.” Human.
The voice was loud, right behind Harry’s ear. In following Henri around the store, he had ended back by Gregor’s terrarium. Tell the little one to try the Gryffindor. The Gryffindor?
Harry was sure he’d misheard. The snake simply bobbed his head.
“Um, Henri? Gregor just suggested…” He trailed off. It really did sound ridiculous.
“Gregor’s got an idea? Excellent. Out with it! He’s my favourite, always knows best. If he’d only quit trying to bite the customers…” Henri looked up at Harry expectantly.
“He said to try the Gryffindor.” Harry expected the little man to laugh, but his eyes lit up instead.
“Excellent idea!” He scrambled up a ladder against one wall, bringing down with him from one of the many cages a small snake, seven inches and black in the dim light. “Come here, boy!” He beckoned Harry over, turning a lamp from a stack of documents to the little snake. Harry was surprised to note the beautiful jewel-toned red, yellow and black bands along its back. “Gryffindor. He’s new, just hatched. Mother imported for potions ingredients, but the babies don’t have any properties as ingredients. I bought him, just in case. He’s a bit hard to match up, actually, as he’s incredibly acerbic and rather powerful.” Hello, there,
hissed Harry. Hello, human. What do you want of me?
Harry hadn’t realized he wanted anything of the beautiful little snake until it spoke, but then he was shocked by how much he wanted to walk out with him in his possession. For you to grow with me. Will there be fun? Adventure? Have you friends and enemies?
Harry nodded to each. You have much magic. Yes. I am Elapis. Tell the man.
Harry did as he was bid. Henri clapped his hands with glee. “Excellent, excellent. They only tell their names to ones they like.” He looked Harry up and down. “For you, five galleons.”
Harry had already fumbled a great deal more than that out of his pocket. “Sir?”
“Treat him well.”
“Yes, sir.” He thought for a moment. “How?”
Both man and snake chuckled. “He can tell you. Generally, keep him always with you, if you can. He can move fast enough to escape physical harm. Most snakes grow sluggish through constant exposure to warmth, but he will not. You are a student, yes? Slip him those potion ingredients he asks for. Meat, generally. Dragon liver’s always a favourite. He only needs to eat every few days.” He thought for a moment. “He’s highly toxic, affects the nervous system. He should be able to control the dose he administers, though. Fangs are erect…” He trailed off once again. “I think that’s about it. Enjoy!” Henri perked up and held out his hand for the money. Harry handed it over and left the store, the tiny snake cupped in the hollow of his collarbone, head peeking over his collar.
“Harry, where on Earth have you been?” Hermione yelled at him as he emerged from the shop. Before he could explain the shop, she and Ron had practically frogmarched him off to Florean Fortescue’s for hot chocolate.
“Potter, what is that?” Professor Snape jabbed with his wand in the general direction of Harry’s neck. Harry had grown used to the near-weightless presence and the snarky little voice in his ear, and his friends had quickly grown accustomed to the tiny head popping out to taste the air or look around, but Elapis had not yet shown himself to any professor. Tell the ugly vulture that I am a ‘who,’ not a ‘what.’
Harry could tell the snake was a bit affronted, and reached up to pet the tiny head. I would, but I don’t think I would survive the experience
Harry hissed under his breath. “He is an eastern coral snake, sir.”
“I recognize the breed, boy. But why are you wearing potions ingredients in my class? No potions have exploded yet today.” Snape sneered down at them, but Harry was distracted, comforting his terrified companion. Does the evil man seek to cut me up?
Harry could feel the snake’s fear coiling at the back of his skull as Elapis wound his way into Harry’s hand. I would never let him,
whispered Harry. But he could make you, yes? He is in charge. I like being alive. I like being with you.
Most snakes protect themselves by flattening out, attempting to look bigger. Elapis was shrinking, trying to minimize his presence, as if Snape would forget he was there. He could try to make me. I am stronger than him. And you could just bite him, anyway.
Harry, in his urgency to reassure Elapis, forgot to speak quietly. The entire class, which had been watching the silent exchange with blatant curiosity, gasped as the soft sounds wound their way through the air.
“Please try not to disturb my bond-partner, Professor.” Harry spoke with stilted formality. He had researched, to Hermione’s great delight, the nature of the bond between the snake and himself, and discovered that the snake and he shared near-equal status in the Wizarding world. Bonds with snakes were only moderately unusual, but a partnership, a bond wherein both partners were coherent, empathic, capable of communication, and could use the magic of the other, was incredibly rare and almost exclusively limited to bonds between humans.
Snape looked dismayed. “You have…partner-bonded with an…eastern coral snake?”
“You will see me after dinner this evening.” Snape’s entire demeanour changed; he resumed his dictatorial state.
“Professor,” Harry acknowledged. Elapis, who had found his way back to Harry’s neck, flipped his tail at the Professor’s retreating back.
Class progressed quickly. Harry was pretty sure Snape had seen him slipping a few pieces of dragon liver to Elapis, but the man said nothing. The silence continued through the end of class, when Snape simply gestured for them to deposit their bottled potions on the edge of his desk and leave.
Harry ate his dinner as slowly as possible while Ron kept coming up with new and terrible plans that Snape might have for Harry. Eventually, though, he was full and Professor Snape was gone from the Head table. He pushed away from the table, swigging the last of his pumpkin juice, and accepted the commiseratory commentary of his friends.
“She’s huge, which is why you’ve never seen her. She goes under my clothes.” Elapis laughed into Harry’s ear at the jolt the thought gave him, but Draco continued, talking about the strangely coloured snake wrapped around his extended arm. “She’s about twenty inches, now. Wasn’t much bigger than yours when I got her, though. Most get twice this long, but she says she’s done.”
“What kind is she?” Harry breathed. As the snake rippled along Draco’s pale skin, her black scales scattered rainbows.
“Sunbeam snake. Isn’t she gorgeous?” Draco seemed to realize that he was speaking civilly to Harry Potter, of all people, and snapped his mouth shut.
“Yeah, she is.” Harry slipped his hand into his collar and Elapis wound his way through Harry’s fingers. Wanna play? She’s so big! Will I get that big?
Elapis sounded excited.
Harry chuckled and moved his hand to the other boy’s arm. “May I?” He asked, before resting his fingers lightly on the back of Draco’s hand. Elapis slithered off and wound his way up the long, dark body until his head bumped against the larger snake’s. Watching the two snakes talk, Harry forgot to remove his fingers until he felt the muscles in the back of Draco’s hand twitch. He pulled back with a murmured apology.
“Now you see why I was surprised. Bondings are rarer than familiar pairings. I think Draco might be the only other in the school. And a partner-bond…” Professor Snape, who had simply directed Harry into the open classroom and towards Draco, who was perched on the edge of his desk with his snake in hand, spoke for the first time. The vulture is surprised, how nice.
Elapis spoke from his place, nuzzled into Draco’s elbow. Once he had Harry’s attention, he spoke again. This is the one you watch fly, isn’t it? Yes.
Harry knew there was no point in trying to hide it. Elapis could tell, and would only tease him more for trying to hide it. He extended his hand and Elapis slithered back up to his neck. You are right. For a human, he is beautiful. His snake is nice. She is Iris. The name means goddess of the rainbow. Would you like to meet her? Ask the pretty yellow man if you can play with his snake.
Elapis hissed this into his ear, too low for Iris to hear. Iris?
Harry hissed to the sunbeam snake. I am Harry.
The English word sounded odd, couched in the nest of sibilance. I know who you are, human.
She raised her head from Draco’s arm, extending on her body until she was a few inches below Draco’s shoulder. Come to me.
Harry moved until his nose was inches from her blunt head.
Her tiny, non-poisonous fangs scraped against both sides of his earlobe, barely digging into his skin.
She withdrew slowly. It is a true partner-bond,
she said. Harry’s was shocked, but when he looked to Draco for an explanation, he found the other boy wide-eyed and terrified, focused on his arm. Just above where Harry had clasped his arm for balance when leaning in to Iris, Elapis’ fangs touched lightly to his flesh. Elapis!
Harry was surprised. Come back. They should not have done that.
Elapis sounded surly, sweeping regally up Harry’s hand. I doubted your claim. I am sorry.
This voice was harsher, richer on the ‘h’s and smoother on the ‘s’s. Severus Snape was speaking Parseltongue. You are no Parselmouth!
Elapis’ denial was vehement, though Harry felt he had no basis for the claim. True, serpent. I use a potion.
Severus seemed surprised, though, that Elapis could tell. Oh. Like the little man.
He directed this at Harry, who nodded. Little man?
This came from Draco. Harry heard his voice slipping around the sounds of Parseltongue and almost sank through the floor. Though Elapis’ more vulgar comments had been quietly said, he would have heard most of the innuendo.
“Henri. From Henri’s Herpetarium
, in Diagon Alley.” Proper names didn’t translate well into Parseltongue, so Harry simply spoke English. Elapis could pick the meanings from his mind, generally. It was how he understood when others spoke to Harry.
“Henri sold you this snake? You must have emptied your vaults!” Snape looked, once again, taken aback.
“No, sir. Elapis only cost five galleons.”
Snape processed the information. “Do you know why Draco was so scared just now?”
“Because Elapis was about to bite him, I’d assume. His venom’s a pretty powerful neurotoxin. Dissolves flesh, all of that.”
“Indeed.” Snape slipped back into Parseltongue. I see your master doesn’t understand. Do you, little one? I have no master. I have a companion, a bond-partner. Do not degrade me to appease your own jealousy.
Elapis bared her fangs, letting venom bead at their tips. But yes, I understand your concern. Although you presume a great deal, vulture, assuming the pretty yellow man knows. He is only scared of death. I’m sorry, sir! He insults everyone, really,
Harry interjected quickly. That is irrelevant, I am used to worse.
Snape considered Harry, then Draco. Neither of you know? No. Are you going to tell us, then?
asked Harry. There are levels of bonding, as you obviously know. And all of the attributes of a magical snake: empathic bonding, ability to cogitate, an ability to perform the magic necessary to facilitate survival of itself and its bonded… all of those, if you think of it, can be applied to House Elves.
Here he reverted to English. “That elf of the Malfoys’, Dobby.” Draco’s head snapped up from his focus on his snake. “He switched his bond from the Malfoys to you, correct? And then he could find you wherever you were, perform magic without spells and wand-waving… Draco’s bond with Iris is much like the one you share with Dobby, though the level of magic Iris can perform is much lower. But you have bonded with a toxic animal. The production of venom undergoes an interesting transformation when the process is found in a magical creature.” He pondered for a moment. “Nagini. In your report, Potter, you said that Wormtail milked Nagini to feed the Dark Lord. And the potion from which he was reborn, that included Nagini’s venom as well.”
Harry looked to Elapis, curled around his fingers. Clarification, please?
Snape sighed disgustedly. “I assume you asked him what I meant?” At Harry’s confused look, he gestured to his throat. “The potion wore off. I took it before dinner.”
“Oh. Yes, sir.”
“You drink unicorn blood, it keeps you alive, but in exchange for some undefined integral part. Your humanity, perhaps. Yes?”
Harry nodded. Elapis tightened around his fingers.
“You drink that snake’s venom, you live, but keep your humanity. Your snake bites someone, you absorb their energy. Some of their magic, if you will. That’s why Arthur Weasley’s bite-wound wouldn’t heal. He was leaking magic, through Nagini, into the Dark Lord. Elapis is far more toxic than Nagini. One bite, Draco’s power would be absorbed into you.”
Harry looked to Draco in horror. He looked shaky, paler than usual, petting Iris for comfort.
Harry whirled on Snape, Elapis coiled in the centre of his upraised palm. “Why did you risk him, you fool? Elapis is a baby! What if he hadn’t realized that Iris didn’t hurt me in time?”
“We didn’t believe you.” Draco spoke this time. “I thought it was just another bid for attention. Most people know you can speak to snakes. You could fake a regular bonding. A partner-bond, though…the magic involved…”
“I am sorry, Draco.” Professor Snape looked sincere, to Harry’s surprise. “I truly believed he was in error.” He turned back to Harry. “I have known Henri for a very long time. That snake, sold to anyone but you, would have cost hundreds, if not thousands, of galleons.” He bowed his head for a moment. “I will see the both of you in class on Thursday.” He left. Elapis?
Harry sat back against the edge of a desk. You okay? I am fine. Your pretty yellow man wants to talk to you. Mine? Wishful thinking.
Elapis snickered, flicking his tongue against the ball of Harry’s thumb.
“Potter?” Draco was sitting cross-legged on the next desk, Iris pooled in his lap, stroking the iridescent scales.
“Yeah, Malfoy?” He kept his eyes on Elapis, who was stroking his blunt head against the pulse in his wrist. Why do you watch me fly?
Harry’s attention snapped to Malfoy, who didn’t seem to have moved.
“I thought the potion wore off?” I took it right before you came in. He tested it hours ago. Why do you watch me fly?
Harry’s fingers closed over Elapis and he moved towards the door. “Goodnight, Malfoy.”
Elapis’s fangs scratched Harry’s skin. You will answer your pretty yellow man’s questions or I will absorb your power for myself. I do not like to be made fun of, Elapis. And you would not do such a thing. I can feel it.
He could feel the snake’s frustration, though, tinged with disgust. Why do you watch my bonded fly?
This was from Iris, who peered around Draco’s waist. Draco still had not turned from his earlier position, facing the front of the room. He was completely still; he no longer stroked Iris’ scales. Why do you wish to know? Because he does. Because his tears will make my scales salty. Why does he shed tears? Because you are leaving. Why do you watch him fly? Because he is beautiful.
Harry left the room.
… I want to learn of flying.
Elapis spoke into Harry’s ear just before he reached the Fat Lady’s portrait. It is cold. Late. I have work to do. Please.
That night, Harry flew.
He mounted his broom in silence, stiff and uncomfortable after the night’s revelations, invisibility cloak tucked around him. Elapis, sensing his mood, said nothing, but he pressed his emotions into the back of Harry’s mind. His excitement about the upcoming experience, his love of his bond-partner, changed the way Harry sat the broom. The cold against his cheeks and the scathing wind raking his hair back, the dazzling feel of speed, the stars overhead in the unusually clear sky falling underfoot as he spiralled across the pitch, all melted together to take away his tension. When the second form darted out onto the pitch and took to the sky, he began to chase it, race it from star to star. He flew just ahead, for awhile, watching the rigid mask blend into bliss, watching tear-tracks dry.
Harry was flying by Draco’s side when he pulled off the invisibility cloak and tucked it up his jumper. Draco was flying with his eyes closed, but he felt Harry’s hand on his arm. He barrel-rolled from the contact, coming up with his wand out and ready. When he saw Harry, he motioned to the ground.
They landed together, but Harry spoke first. Why do you fly? Because it makes me feel beautiful. You are always beautiful. Even Elapis says so. So I heard.
He paused, and a snub-nosed black head poked from under his jumper and nudged at his ear. I also heard…that you wanted me.
Harry was suddenly wary. He had forgotten about that particular exchange. I apologize if my interest offends you.
His words were excruciatingly formal, and he could hear Elapis snickering where he curled into Harry’s collarbone.
Draco moved closer. Who spoke of offence? Why do you fly alone?
Draco looked disconcerted by the change of direction, but Elapis and Iris both hissed approval. After Snape disclosed sensitive information in front of Draco, he was almost sure. But he wanted confirmation. I have chosen. And my choices took me from my companions. From your family, as well? Yes.
Draco’s eyes were sad, but his voice spoke resolve. Will you fly with me?
Harry tried to be understanding, but he was shaking with hope and anxiety. Yes.