Not for the first time, an argument had broken out between Harri and Professor Snape over breakfast. They were in Africa still. They were not moving as quickly as Snape wanted them to.
“I don’t see why you want to stop in every village we pass through,” he sneered unhappily as Harri pointed to her map that updated magically as they traveled. She had purchased it at a travel shop in London while waiting for their international portkey.
“It’s not a village! It’s a natural formation. The Domes de Fabedougou are runic centers of magic.” This explanation was stolen from the guidebook she had also purchased.
Snape gave a long-suffering sigh. It had been like this for nearly six weeks. He had hoped to be out of Africa and into central Asia within a month. So far his quest to collect a plethora of rare potions ingredients had gone belly up.
They had managed well enough in the DRC. The Erumpents he had been searching for had been easy enough to find after two weeks of travel around Salong National Park. Erumpents looked rather like rhinoceros at a distance.
Snape had informed Harri about its thick hide which repelled most charms and curses, so it took a gentle hand to collect horn, tails, and the exploding fluid that was contained in the horn. Harri at first thought it was horribly barbaric that Snape wanted to cut an animal apart. It sounded like Muggle poachers.
“They’re magical animals, Harriet. A witch or wizard can discuss it with them, offer something in trade, and promise magical restoration. It just takes getting the beast in a good mood.”
When they had found the Erumpents, Harri had watched in amazement as Snape made a careful call that was similar to the grunts the animals let out. They looked at him appraisingly as he approached them, crouched low and arms spread wide as if to show he meant no ill towards them.
The herd snorted and pawed the ground several times, before the large male who seemed to the main bull, lowered his snout towards the ground while making eye contact with Snape. The herd calmed, and Snape slowly approached.
He spoke in a low voice that Harri couldn’t hear from several meters back. He presented the peace offering he had made for the Erumpents, caps for their horns that would prevent them from exploding each other during mating season. The Erumpent bull gave out a mighty bellow, and the rest of the herd followed suit. Then to Harri’s amazement, their tails literally began to fall off of their own accord.
What followed was several hours of carefully collecting the fluid from the horns. After each extraction, Snape would take a few shavings from the horn. The animals didn’t seem to mind at all.
Harri had to stay back through of all of this, but it was fascinating to watch. She had been duly impressed with Snape that night and asked all sorts of questions about the properties of the animals, where he had learned to approach them, and which animal they would be looking for next.
“I am a Master Naturalist, Harriet,” he had stated. “It is necessary for a potions master to be adept in Herbology and Zoology.”
“Did you do your apprenticeship with New Scamander?” Harri asked with unabashed excitement.
“With Newt? No,” Snape had replied in what could almost be called a laugh. “He was long retired by the time I was doing my apprenticeship. He did sit on my board for mastery approval.”
Their next stop was to search for a Fwooper. The shells of their eggs were apparently useful in stimulating brain cell regeneration. The Fwooper itself was quite dangerous because its song could drive the listener insane. Harri was personally hoping for a few feathers to give as gifts since Snape had mentioned they made rare and valuable quills.
“Fwooper’s aren’t allowed to be bred in the UK,” Snape explained as they made their way through Nigeria on a Magic Carpet. “They can only be sold once sterilized. Eggs can only be found in this region.”
But Harri’s attention was quickly stolen away from their quest when she saw the beautiful blue of the Nigerian coastline. She had never been swimming in warm water. She had never run on a pristine sandy beach. Seeing the frank longing in her face, Snape agreed to take a day to explore the inlets and tide pools fifty miles outside of Lagos. One never knew what kind of creatures might be lurking in the tides, he had reasoned
Snape's plan for one day turned into two weeks. She browned in the heat, spending most of her days in a swimsuit and sandals, her auburn hair streaked with blond from salt and sun. While it was hard to picture Snape outside of his flowing black robes, he had fully converted to khaki's and a linen button up (though he resolutely did not tan).
Harri wanted to visit every coastal town in Nigeria. Lagos had a large magical community that practiced a lovely runic magic that was almost like a light show to watch. They weaved magic into their clothing, baskets, and shoes. Harri had begged Snape to let her borrow his runic dictionary so that she could begin to study what they all meant. Sadly, she usually could only understand basic ruins such as ‘protection’ or ‘fortification’. Much of the magic was lost on her.
Snape kept trying to leave and go further inland, where he knew Fwooper nests often were. Harri would just find some new reason each day that they should stay near the coast.
She had never been fishing.
She had never seen a Summer Solstice ritual.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go on a plain Muggle tour of the country to see the muggle animals? Ones not in a zoo?
He was surprisingly easy to distract, and with minimal convincing, Harri was experiencing a summer like she never had before.
After two weeks of ‘lollygaging’, Snape pulled Harri away from Nigeria and north into Benin and then into Burkina Faso. They found several Fwooper nests as they went, and Snape even let Harri help collect the egg shells (wearing earplugs of course).
The bright plumage of the Fwooper was enchanting to look at, and Harri found the bright pink ones the prettiest. She was able to snag several lovely plumes out of a nest along with the broken egg shells. She knew that Lavender and Parvati would love them, and hoped that Hermione might too.
Now, deep in the Dida Forest of Burkina Faso, Snape saw little reason to accommodate Harri’s fancies. They needed to get moving, as they only had two weeks of good collecting time left before he needed to be back in England.
“Pllllleeeassee,” Harri pestered. “We can do it on the way. We need to buy our portkey at Bobo-Dioulasso anyways, and the formation is basically on the way.”
“Fine,” Snape said sharply. “You will have an hour. No more. This is it, Harriet, I mean it. No more stops.” This was the fifth time he had told Harri that.
Two hours of carpet flying later, and Harri found herself at the top of a spectacular rock formation. “Apparently they’re 1.8 billion years old, and have been used as runic centers as early as 200,000 thousand years ago,” Harri told Snape, quoting her guidebook again.
“Yes, I can see why they would appeal to our ancient ancestors. You can see the formation has a pattern; a swirl to it,” he gestured at the natural pattern of the Domes. “Magic likes flow, and this area, while primitive, does have the benefit of being a conduit.”
“And you can see all the old runic markings,” Harri exclaimed. “Look, they even have the Runespoor rune here. I didn’t think that developed until much later.”
“The Runespoor is originally from this county,” he explained. “They aren’t very accommodating to wizards though. Research is quite limited on how their venom or scales might be used in potions.”
“Why don’t you just ask them for a sample?” Harri asked absentmindedly, watching the shadows on the rocks and how they seemed to move like snakes.
“Yes of course,” Snape grimaced, “I’ll just talk to the snake like a ruddy Parslemouth.”
“Well, yeah,” Harri said, looking up at him. “Can’t everyone talk to snakes?”
Snape squinted at her, “Very few wizards can talk to snakes.”
“Huh,” said Harri feeling much quieter.
“Would you like to share, Harriet?” Snape asked, looking at her intently.
“I sent a Boa Constrictor I met once to Brazil. He was very chatty. I just assumed that wizards could talk to snakes once I learned about magic.”
Snape sat down on top of the rock formation, clearly surprised.
“It’s not normal?” Harri asked, feeling flustered.
“It is rare, Harriet. There are of course Parslemouths wherever there are snakes. The skill is more common in South America, and even here in Africa compared to Europe. But it is still extremely rare. I have only met one Parslemouth before.”
He said the last part so slowly. Like he didn’t want to say it at all. She felt uneasy. Like snakes were in her stomach.
“Just… just the one? Was it here in Africa?”
Snape shook his head, looking grim. “It is a Slytherin train, Salazar Slytherin was known for it.”
“Oh, another student then?” Harri asked hopefully, well aware that she was grasping. She could tell where this was going.
“Harriet… the Dark Lord was a well known Parlemouth. A trait passed down from Salazar Slytherin.”
“We’re going to find a Runespoor,” Snape declared when they were safely on the ground again.
“We are?” Harri asked.
“It’s not every day that I have such a useful collecting tool,” Snape said with what could almost be construed as glee.
“You want me to talk to snakes?” Harri squeaked.
“You told me that you did it easily enough before. To think we could have such an expansion in brewing,” he seemed starry-eyed. “The paper I’d be able to write! The first Grand-Master of the guild before fifty if this works out.”
“You just… want me to ask for a sample?” Harri asked, unsure.
“No, Harriet. I want you to ask one if it will come back to England with us and work with us. You’ll be assisting in this project. A fitting punishment for galavanting after the Stone.”
Harri sighed. She had known a real punishment was somewhere around the corner. Talking to a snake to help Snape with his brewing wasn’t too horrible. On the continuum of horrible things Snape was likely to do, this was pretty low.
“If I help you,” she began with hesitancy. “Are you going to tell anyone about me being a Parseltongue?”
Snape fixed her with his heavy stare. “I was planning to tell the Headmaster of this most recent development,” he answered.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” Harri told him sullenly. “You tell him things about me so quickly. I…. I don’t want everyone to know things about me. You ran off about the Dursleys, you told him about my mark, and now you want to tell him about this. Why does he need to know?”
“The Headmaster is the most powerful wizard I know,” Snape told her firmly. “If you are in a fight against the Dark Lord you need Dumbledore on your side, with as much information as possible. He can protect you, Harriet.”
“What does Parsletounge have to do with Voldemort,” Harri groused.
“It has everything to do with the Dark Lord,” Snape snapped. “It is a hereditary trait, Harriet. The Potter’s are not related to Slytherin. Lily was not a parseltongue. Where do you think this power came from?”
“You think Voldemort gave me the power to talk to snakes when he tried to kill me?” Harri gasped.
“I do not know,” Snape said without meeting her eyes. “But I do know that Dumbledore will need to know this. Anything that connects you and the Dark Lord-”
“I’m not connected to HIM,” Harri nearly shouted.
“He needs to know Harri. If you would like to tell himself you are welcome. But Dumbledore needs to be informed. For your safety.”
“Fine,” she groused, changing the subject. “Where are we going then.”
“The forests where the Runespoor is protected are unplottable. They won’t be on that map of yours. But there is one about an hour from here by carpet. We’ll be there by late afternoon.” Snape looked too satisfied, like the cat that had gotten the canary.
Snape was right about the flight not taking very long. They were flying over a lush green forest that was so thick with leaves, moss, and vines that Harri was hard pressed to see the forest floor.
Snape waved his wand and murmured a spell, and a small glowing light emitted from his wand. Harri knew this was a tracking spell, and he had used it several times to find Fwooper nests. It hadn’t been useful when hunting the Erumpents since they were spell resistant.
The light got brighter as they made their descent, and they landed in a clearing. Harri was glad they hadn’t needed to blast their way into the canopy.
Snape turned to her, “Now Harri, be very careful when talking to this creature. I know it’s said that a serpent won’t strike a speaker, but that could all be folklore. Runespoor are very venomous. If it looks like it’s going to strike, get away from it.”
Harri nodded, but she couldn’t bring herself to be frightened. She had stopped being afraid of things like snakes and spiders when she was young. Hours in Aunt Petunia’s garden, pretending that the snakes were her friends, had taken that fear away. It was a strange realization that the snakes really had been talking to her all those summers. It hadn’t just been the imaginings of a very lonely young girl.
Snape directed her East, and they began a careful trek through the forest. Harri could hear hissing. As they walked it began to become clear.
“Humans! What are humans doing here? They must be wizards,”
“I never much cared for wizards, always poking their noses in where they don’t belong.”
“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live near a Wizard? Where a fresh wind could slide over the scales, and magic flows freely. To just taste it on the tongue”
“We should get rid of them, they’re getting closer. Come on, get closer so we can do something. You two are always just lazing about.”
“Stop being critical. If we stay still they won’t see us, and they’ll be on their way.”
“Actually,” Harri hissed, “I was wondering if I could speak with you three.” The Runespoor stopped its conversation with itself. It was very quiet. Snape was looking at her with a strange kind of awe.
“If you don’t mind that is, I’m sure you have lots of snake things to do. But I’ve heard many tales of the magnificent Runespoor, the three-headed king of serpents.”
“Speaker,” hissed one of the heads longingly.
“Don’t go near,” hissed another. “ I’ve told you a thousand times that wizards are no good. Don’t be foolish going near her,”
“It’s a speaker,” said the third. “ We are no serpent at all if we do not meet with a speaker who has called to us.”
The Runespoor came slithering out from the brush. It wasn’t as big as Harri knew they could grow. This one was probably four feet long. It had orange and black stripes and bright green eyes. Harri figured that having three heads also indicated that it wasn’t a full-grown Runespoor yet. Usually, the right head got bitten off because it was overly critical.
“Greetings, speaker,” said the head on the left.
“Hello, speaker!” the middle head hissed. Its tongue flicked out. “ Ohhhh, the magic on you and your companion,” it hissed longingly.
“Speaker,” the head on the right greeted shortly.
“Hello, Runespoor. My name is Harri.” Her name didn’t translate well. It came across as fur or animal hide.
“ What a strange name,” hissed the right head in a mocking tone.
“Please ignore my brother, Furry,” the middle head implored. “What do you wish of this humble serpent.”
“My companion is a master of potions. He seeks to know more about the mighty Runespoor and how your venom or scales might affect magic. Being such a strong serpent, and knowing that your eggs are so powerful, we would like your help to discover what magic you make.”
“And have you wizards come in and hunt us down if you find out that we are worth something to you,” the right head hissed sharply.
“It is known that wizards cannot come near a Runespoor that does not wish it,” Harri replied. “There a reason no Runespoor has ever been a companion to a wizard without its consent.”
“Where are you from Furry?” the middle head asked.
“A place called England, very far from here. It can get very cold there, but the place you would live would have many mice and rats. And magic in the air so thick you would be able to scent it at all times.”
The head on the left had remained very silent through all this, considering. Finally, it hissed, “My brother makes a fair point that it is dangerous for humans to know more of the Runespoor. You already hunt our eggs, what will we do when you hunt our young?”
Harri turned to Snape, “They’re concerned that if they help you it will lead to wizards poaching them for potions ingredients.”
Snape nodded thoughtfully, “A valid concern. So offer them something. What does each head want? You need the planner most of all, but if you can get the critic or the dreamer as well…. Offer the critic a cone to protect it from being bitten off.”
Harri turned back to the snake. “We cannot guarantee that the hunters will not come. We will attempt to use any knowledge we gain with your consent. There are protections that can be placed in these forests that none many enter with ill intent towards the Runespoor. To each of you, we are willing to offer a gift of your choice. I cannot say what you, planner and dreamer would like. However, to you critic, I can offer a cone to protect you from your brothers’.”
The other two heads hissed angrily at this, but the third head looked rather pleased. “A worthy offer,” he hissed back.
Really Harri knew that it came down to what the planner wanted. It was the one that controlled the body and decided how it moved. All three heads needed to be at least amiable to the plan, or the right one could strike out against the other two and bite Harri or Snape.
“Very well,” hissed the left head. “But if we seek to return to our forest, you will bring us. That is the deal. To help a Speaker is the calling of a serpent, magic demands that we help you. However, you will not bind us with magic to this deal. We will be free to return.”
Harri turned to Snape and told him the Runespoor’s answer. He looked pleased and nodded his consent to the snake’s request.