Whispers In The Dark
The sun only made itself known by a dappled pattern cutting through the shadows this deep in the forest. Sounds were few: the crack of a twig, the hiss of wind that sounded like a thousand hushed voices, the sudden squeak and deafening silence as some small creature's life was wrenched away. A narrow stream wound its way through the ferns near the lichen-crusted rock he leaned against. Its soft bubbling all but covered what sounded like music to his, and a few other, ears.
"There's a lovely girl," he cooed. The snake looked at him, cocked its head, slithered around his wrist. The crinkled lines of light and dark running down her body seemed to flicker in the dimness. A cool gust of wind whispered through the undergrowth; the snake hurried up his arm, into his lap, and underneath his jumper.
He chuckled, teeth bared in joy as she climbed him. Her head popped out from the neck of the jumper. She looked at him. He grinned wider. "Hello there."
She cocked her head.
"Would you like me to sing to you some more, darling?"
She rubbed the side of her head against his neck. In the ferns, he heard the other snakes hissing in amusement. "Where's the ring?" one called.
"Go puff yourself."
The snakes laughed. Even his little girl gave the tiniest hiss, flicking her tongue against his throat. He threw his arms around her, gave her the lightest of hugs. The surrounding hiss died, and only the occasional rustle on the mat of leaves gave evidence to the serpents' watch.
He bent his head, brushed a small kiss over the snake's nose. "Would you like me to sing to you some more?"
She said nothing, only butted his chin with her striped head.
"Very well." He took a breath, and opened his mouth to let his tongue form sounds no other living human could understand.
He'd learned the song from a she-serpent. She sang it, her eyes rolling with the strain of the young fighting their way from her body, in soft stanzas and sharp cries. She'd hissed at him; he'd told her he had no desire to harm her, and knelt to stroke her head as the ground grew thick with young squirming like sodden ropes. Later, while she slept, he sang it to the infants, drying them one at a time on his robe.
The song rose and fell, hissing and winding. The snake weaved her head from side to side, her black tongue flickering, her body sliding beneath his hands. The wood around them fell silent, silent as death. Still, he sang, gazing down at her, a smile crinkling his eyes.
Another voice rose to join his. It was soft, with a smile hidden in the words. He stopped. The voice continued, slithering through sounds with no meaning in human terms. He glanced up, hugging the snake close to his chest, one hand creeping towards his pocket and his wand. He frowned; the snakes keeping watch had said nothing.
A slender figure stood just the other side of the stream. Black robes shrouded it, loose, so he couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. They were scorched and dusted with powdery white ash. A heavy hood covered the figure's face. All that was visible of the person was a pair of long, slender, bone-pallid hands, spidery in the darkness. Still singing, the figure grasped its ruined robe to lift the hem, stepped across the stream, and knelt before him.
"Hello," it said.
He blinked. "Who are you?"
A chuckle - more like a hiss - came from beneath the hood. The figure whispered something too low for him to hear, reaching out a hand. The snake in his jumper flicked a tongue across his jaw and slithered out. She scurried down his body before he could catch her, up the figure's shrouded leg to be picked up in those spidery, white hands. Her head weaved from side to side, and the figure laughed.
"Beautiful!" it hissed. "Where did you find her?"
"I trod on her."
The figure lowered the snake. The hood twitched in a way that made him feel very much like he was being studied. "She said nothing?" the figure asked. A hint of amusement, like that of a cruel teacher who knew the answer, hung in its voice.
"Only after I'd done it. She asked me to please lift my foot because I was on her tail. Who are you?"
The figure shook its head. "A friend, Tom, only a friend."
"How d'you know my name?"
"I know a great many things about you, things even you don't know. I know that you are just sixteen, and just beginning the second weekend of your fifth year of schooling. Or am I wrong?"
Tom blinked. "If you know that, when was my birthday?"
"Today. You've chosen to spend it with the snakes. I expect your friends are worried."
"Why should you care? Who are you?"
The figure said nothing, only lifted the snake to his face. "Stunning. Utterly stunning." A black, forked tongue darted out from the hood, met the snake's. She gave a little hiss of surprise, darted her head closer. The figure sighed in pleasure. "She's an adder?"
Tom said nothing.
"A disciple of the great and terrible Lord Voldemort, perhaps?"
Tom's hand flew to his wand. He thrust it at the figure's face. "Put her down," he snarled. "Tell me who you are, and I might let you live." He swallowed hard, opened his mouth to pant as his pulse shook every corner of his being. "Nobody knows that name."
An amused hiss came from the depths of shadow. Letting the snake wrap herself around its arm, the figure pushed back its - his - hood. An impression of scales hung on his pallid skin, and his tilted red eyes gleamed. A permanent serpentine smile crossed his wide mouth. Tom scrabbled back and up against the rock, his wand scraping a track through the lichen. "Salazar!"
The figure put a hand to his chest. He gave a shallow bow, his eyes averting for the barest moment. "I am Lord Voldemort, Heir of Slytherin and future ruler of this world."
Tom's mouth set hard. The wand trembled in his outstretched hand, shudders running through his arm as he restrained himself from stabbing this... this monster through the heart. "Liar."
Voldemort blinked. He lifted the snake to his lips, such as they were, and whispered something Tom couldn't hear. The snake wiggled, weaving her head. Voldemort chuckled. He laid a small kiss on her mouth and set her in the ferns. She slithered to Tom, a happy, inarticulate hiss running from her throat. She settled around his foot.
Voldemort got to his feet in a fluid movement. He stepped closer, just taller than Tom but far, far more slender - skeletal, even. He reached out, traced the height of a cheek and the curve of jaw beneath it.
Tom dug his wand into Voldemort's chest. "I don't know who you are or what you're playing at, but you have made a lethal mistake. Avada Kedavra!"
Green light pierced Voldemort's chest. It flowed in squiggled currents through his robes, over his skin. An edge like a piece of burning paper ran behind his pupils, disappearing in the red of his eyes. He blinked. "I'm afraid that didn't work the last time somebody tried it, either."
Tom whimpered. The strength drained from his legs as they buckled. He slid down the rock face, staring at the standing, living, breathing thing before him. Air rasped in his throat. The snake squirmed out of harm's way as he fell to the ground in a tangle of robes and limbs. His arms hung limp at his sides, the wand useless in his hand.
Tucking his shroud behind him, Voldemort knelt. He picked up the snake, laid her in Tom's lap, took his face between those long hands. They were cool, like snakeskin. "You wish to rule the world?"
Tom trembled. He tried to pull his face away. The rock behind his head blocked his way.
"Do not kill the Potter child's mother before him. If you do, he will destroy you."
Tom swallowed. "I don't know anyone named Potter." His voice was high, thready. He tried once more to wrest free.
"Shh." A pale thumb stroked his cheek. "I shan't harm you. I am you. You, Tom Riddle, shall shed the skin of your Muggle life and rule the Earth. You simply have to listen to me. Don't repeat your mistake. Stun the woman. Kill the child. Otherwise, our arrogance will remain our downfall."
A sob tried to fight its way out of Tom's throat. He leaned hard against the rock. "You're not me. I don't know what you are."
"You are not me yet. You shall be. I promise you, the world will one day fear to speak your name. Here." Voldemort stroked Tom's cheek once more and slipped a hand into his shroud. He withdrew a wand, pale as yew and streaked with soot. Sliding Tom's from his grasp, he held them up. "No two are the same, yet these might have come from the same branch."
In the dimness, Tom could barely make out the grain of wood, or the faint stripe running along the edge of his wand. Even Ollivander had commented how odd that stripe was. Yet, he saw two. He blinked. "That impossible."
Voldemort's eyes narrowed. His voice held only amusement, though, as he whispered, "No, Tom. Nothing is impossible."
Tom blinked. He stared as Voldemort's eyes ran over his face, down his chest, his body. "Such beauty," the monster murmured. "A shame it has to die."
Voldemort glanced up. "The price of greatness. I know you're not vain, Tom. You never shall be. Still," Voldemort leaned close until his breath tickled Tom's lips, "such beauty."
Tom swallowed. The mouth that pressed against his was too wide to be human, too chill, too smooth. There were no lips on which to linger. The mouth opened, taking Tom's with it. A forked tongue, heavy as a man's, darted inside. Tom whimpered. His heart fluttered like a panicked bird. He felt the man's slight weight crush him against the rock.
Voldemort pulled away. He pressed their foreheads together. "Rule through fear," he whispered. "Do not kill the woman." Their mouths brushed once more as Tom's eyes fell closed. The kiss lingered even as the presence against him faded like evening twilight.
Something nudging at his hand prompted Tom to let his eyes flutter open. He looked down. The snake was curled around his wand, bumping his hand with her head. Tom looked around. Lord Voldemort was nowhere to be seen.
He reached down with shaking hands, lifted both snake and wand to his chest. His legs were still tangled beneath him. Tom glanced around again, peered at his wand. It looked the same as it ever had. Gazing down into the snake's eyes, he wheezed, "Was he really here?"
She weaved her head in a "yes".
"Are you sure?"
Again, she weaved her head.
A cold gust of wind slipped down from the north. It bit through his robe, his blazer, his jumper and shirt. Huddling against the rock, Tom clutched the snake to his chest. He buried his face in her striped side. The tickling of a tongue grazed his ear.
Tom blinked. He lifted his head, stared at the snake. "What did you say?"
"He named me."
She weaved her head. A moment later, it lay tucked in the crook of his arm.
Tom stroked her back with pallid fingers. He swallowed hard. "Nagini."
The wind echoed him, a thousand voices whispering through the trees.
Return to Archive