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King of Serpents (The Scrapbook Remix)

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Tom Riddle keeps a scrapbook. It’s dedicated to the history of Slytherin house and its founder, and while this earns him laughter from his housemates for an overabundance of school spirit and keenness, he is proud of his work.

A corner of his desk in the second-year dormitory is occupied by a small stack of reference books and a neat collection of paper, glue pots, brushes, photograph corners, coloured inks, and quills. The scrapbook itself is kept in his trunk, under lock and key, for nobody’s close inspection but his own.

Item: A photograph capturing a twelve-inch section of the Hogsmeade Tapestry. Across the top of the tapestry is stitched the name Salasar Serpens. Below is a depiction of a standing figure directing workmen in the construction of Castle Hogwarts.

 

Salazar Slytherin is rendered in black thread, a dark-haired, bearded man in sombre robes. The snake coiled around his neck is picked out in green. The hands he holds outstretched are crooked and gnarled to the point of caricature. The artist would have known that Salazar Slytherin was educated in the church and served as a priest until his gift for the tongue of serpents was discovered. He was tortured by his former friends under a charge of consorting with the devil. His hands were broken bone by bone, and though he could wield a wand, they never truly healed.

 

Tom prefers the authority of typeset print and taught himself duplication charms well ahead of the curriculum. By age twelve, he was skilled at leading ink at wandpoint, directing it in a slither from page to parchment. Sometimes, however, for the purposes of aesthetic variety, he might copy out a particularly interesting passage in his own careful cursive. Occasionally, a glossy photograph or pen-and-ink illustration is too much to resist, and he surreptitiously enters the library with a scalpel liberated from the Potions laboratory. He has a steady, straight hand for cutting.

He has always known how to find things. At the orphanage, he knew every key and every cupboard, and every loose floorboard under which the unimaginative hid their uninteresting secrets. By the time he was eight years old, there was no longer any sport or adventure in the pursuit.

Hogwarts is different, however. There are the official school archives, of course, and the trophy cases, and a library full of a millennium of history. Beyond that, there are rooms too numerous to be counted, some closed up for centuries with treasures casually abandoned on bookshelves and in desk drawers. There are staircases that move by whim or secret design, and there are hidden passageways where once, a thousand years ago, Salazar Slytherin himself surely walked.

Item: An excerpt cut from The Slytherin Letters, edited and translated by Honoria Hyslop.

“Herodotus tells us of the wife of Intaphernes; she who found herself before King Darius to plead for the lives of her husband, brother, and sons, who were to be put to death for sedition. The king was moved enough by her plea to grant that she might save one of the doomed men. To his surprise, she elected to save not her husband, nor one of her sons, but her brother.

“When asked why, the woman explained that she could marry again, and with the gods’ blessing she could bear more children, but as a woman grown with parents dead, she would have no more brothers.

“So it is with those among us born to the ordinary peoples, and it is why I will not teach them. Just as the richest man’s wife will run home to her natal hearth after a quarrel, so the ordinary-born will hide among their kind when suppressing forces come for us. And if we allow it, they will carry our secrets with them.”

Christmas brings a gift. When the school empties out over the holidays, Tom has the time and solitude to explore. The closed-off fourth floor of the east wing has never been properly cleaned out, and he has not had the opportunity to fully search even a tenth of the rooms. This was where visiting scholars once lodged, when scholars still came to Hogwarts to teach and study and copy books from the great library. White sheets cover the furniture, and no matter how gently he lifts them, his uniform soon grows streaked with ancient dust.

For the most part, all he finds is rubbish. What gets left behind is usually just scraps of parchment, most so old that they crumble at a touch. The vellum is a little better off, stiff and odd-smelling, but even it usually bears nothing he could not find in the library—pages copied out and then discarded for some error or another, lined with scribbles and drawings in unfamiliar hands.

He has developed a good eye, however, and his quick appraisal of Gothic and minuscule advances along with his self-directed studies in Latin and Anglo-Saxon. This time, his prize is found folded in between the pages of a brittle copybook left in the bottom drawer of a night table. The ink is old and faded, but in the margin is a now-familiar name: Baldric Salazarus. And in the text, a single word that makes his heart pound and his skin prickle.

He doesn’t dare touch the page, having had even more coveted works literally fall through his fingers, but rather slips stealthily through corridors, to return with his dictionaries and grammar books, parchment and quills, and a candle to take him through the night.

Item: A sheet of parchment containing a transcription of a fragment attributed to Baldric, son of Salazar.

[...] was not always thus. I was a small boy who misadventured as any other and I was often lost in those labyrinthine hallways. My father told me once that when I had three summers, I wandered from my nursemaid and in error insinuated myself into a gap in the foundation. All were in a windstorm, for strange creatures grow in the darkness where magic washes away into water under the castle.

My father climbed himself down into the waterways. This was quite out of character, for he was a fastidious man naturally. He feared that the water had carried me away or that the rats had got to me, for they grew to the size of dogs in that place. However, in the deepest chamber he found me. I slept there, as at my mother’s breast. I was safe, enveloped in the embrace of his familiar, the Little King.

That night, when the ink on his translation is dry and the only Housemate who has stayed for the holiday is fast asleep, Tom retrieves his scrapbook from his trunk. Under the false bottom lie the dry grey corpses of his first three familiars, tenderly preserved, and the twisted shape of a fourth unidentified creature. The toads were never named, and in truth, he suspects no one noticed when one succeeded the other. The first two were his own error; he was inexact with the charms to force them to stay atop their respective hen’s eggs, and they wasted away from hunger and thirst in their single-minded devotion. The third survived long enough to be paralyzed and partially eaten by the doomed, misshapen thing that hatched and drew breath but lived for mere minutes.

Never mind, he tells himself, frowning slightly at these reminders of his failure. Animal husbandry is a hobby better suited for the long, bleak summers. The school year is for scrapbooking.

Item: A family tree, unfinished, that spans the length of six pages. At the top, in flourished cursive, is the name Salazar Slytherin. All written records on the matter assert that while Salazar Slytherin eschewed the practice of marriage as a custom appropriated from the non-magical, he adopted as his own not only three natural offspring—two sons and a daughter—but each of his students who had the talent of Parseltongue, referring to all in his writings as his children.

At the very bottom, after a span of several empty pages, is another name in equally large and decorative script: Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Sometimes, in between classes or on idle weekend evenings, Tom wanders the castle in search of new places to explore. Away from the noise and childish distraction of his classmates, and out from under the prying attention of his professors, he turns over stones and peers into dark places. His fingertips trail along the cool bricks as his footsteps quietly echo in the empty corridors.

“Father,” he whispers, the word a flickering hiss full of barely suppressed longing.

And somewhere, deep in the castle, a serpent stirs from its slumber.