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The Long, Quiet March of History

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In another world, Lord Voldemort had adopted a massive snake whose only real interest was biting people, and he made her a Horcrux in 1994, and he named her Nagini. We all know the rest of that story.

In this world, he is a little ahead of the game. He had always planned to split his soul into seven parts, with the last a living animal. This time, before he goes hunting Potters, in the year 1981, he finds a suitable viper, makes her huge and enchanted and smart, and makes her a Horcrux. This Nagini, created before her master accidentally rips part of his soul off into little Harry Potter, is an entire 1/64th of a Tom Riddle, instead of 1/128th, and picks up a few extra personality traits – namely, his interest in ancient knowledge. This Nagini, therefore, is not so upset as her alternate universe counterpart might have been, when Voldemort, thinking to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, sends her down the road to visit Bathilda Bagshot while he finds the Potters in Godric’s Hollow. Stay there until I return, he told her. Don’t kill the old woman unless you must, she might know more than she has written down – just find what you can in her library about the Elder Wand.

So Nagini goes, and she slithers into the old historian’s dusty study, and she contemplates the shelves. Bathilda Bagshot is a historian, perhaps the wizarding world’s most prolific; she ought, somewhere, have written something about this powerful wand-artifact, if it exists. It ought to, Voldemort thinks it does and in the approximately six months she’s known him she hasn’t noticed him being wrong about magical lore yet. Snakes normally can’t see well enough to read, of course, but venomous snakes also aren’t usually the approximate volume and weight of a fully grown male tiger. Nagini, she is proud to report, is special.

There is nothing so convenient as a book actually titled The Elder Wand, so Nagini carefully tips Wand-making Traditions of England, Scotland, & Wales off the shelf with her tail and curls up in a dark corner to peer at it, flipping the pages slowly and carefully with her nose. It transpires that there have been multiple wandmaking traditions in the isles, though some might more accurately have been called staff-making traditions, and they were largely outcompeted in the late third century by the Ollivander family’s much more efficient smaller wands. There is a whole chapter on the Staff of Merlin, an artifact which supposedly existed but about which there have been no substantiated reports in the last twelve centuries, because apparently Merlin was one of the last holdouts on using staves.

In the distance, there is an explosion, and Nagini feels a peculiar searing pain ripple across the part of her brain where her master lives.

It is not followed up by any instructions, and he told her to stay here, so here she stays, and she sleeps during the day when she gets tired, and she keeps reading.

(On Privet Drive, a small child – who in another world would be fourteen before there were two conscious Horcruxes wandering about in the world – can see, dimly, the study, and the book, at night when he is asleep. He can’t read, yet, but he’ll learn early. Then, of course, he will very promptly learn to pretend not to, because it takes his cousin rather longer.)

About two weeks after she first came to Godric’s Hollow, Nagini finds that she is hungry, and she sets down Wand-trees of Wales and looks around. Bathilda Bagshot has wandered in and out of the study a few times, putting away books that have escaped to the rest of the house or picking one up to go sit in the other room with. Nagini is not really sure why this latter activity seems always to coincide with an odd high-pitched shrieking noise, but it’s not really her problem, since the old woman is very nearsighted and the house is not very well-lit. So far as she can tell she has not yet been noticed; she left Wand-making Traditions of England, Scotland, & Wales when she was done with it a few days ago on the floor near where it was supposed to be shelved and Bathilda had said “oh, silly books, always jumping off the shelves, poor dear, are you feeling neglected?” and carried it off to re-read, patting it fondly and paying no mind to Nagini lurking nearby.

Nagini is technically not sure if she needs to eat, she supposes, as she haunts the field behind Bathilda’s house, hoping for rabbits. She is not entirely clear on what a Horcrux is, exactly – Voldemort tried to explain when she expressed curiosity, he loves his monologues, but she had only been a person capable of understanding things more complicated than trees and mice for about five minutes, at the time, and it’s all a little fuzzy – but she’s pretty sure the point of it is that she is basically indestructible. Which probably means she can’t starve to death? But being hungry is still not fun, it’s sort of distracting actually, so hunting it would have to be, so long as she doesn’t get too far away from the house. It wouldn’t do to not be there when he comes back for her.

When she comes back, Bathilda has a visitor, a somber, light-haired wizard who is drinking something from a steaming hot cup and saying a lot of sentences about the costs of war and the loss of brave children and so forth which don’t really make a lot of sense to Nagini. She slinks in the back way, unsettled by something about him, and idles anxiously, unable to quite focus on a book until he is gone. “Oh,” Bathilda is saying, “oh, that poor sweet little boy – he was so young, how will he remember his parents?”

The white-haired wizard who hurts to look at says something about the longevity of archives and the value of her extraordinary work and love conquering all or whatever. Nagini is shivering a little, in her corner.

“Well,” says Bathilda. She is making a facial expression, but Nagini is not good at human facial expressions and can’t tell what it means. “I suppose I’ll have to write a book, shan’t I.”

In the next few months, Bathilda scribbles away at her desk, feeding treats to Prophet owls and spreading out piles of newspapers covered with headlines about Voldemort’s defeat and the BOY-WHO-LIVED!!!! and pictures of the unsettling white-haired wizard. Nagini wants very much to eat the owls, they look so fat and tasty, but she is a responsible snake and she knows perfectly well that Voldemort is not dead and so she is supposed to Stay Here and Learn Facts and Not Kill The Old Woman She Might Know Something and that means she has to be stealthy. (She is so, so stealthy. The stealthiest giant snake. She is doing so good and he is going to be so proud of her.)

Nagini reads, continuously, but not very fast; even when you are pretty much the most magic snake that has ever snaked except for maybe a basilisk, it is actually really difficult to turn pages without thumbs. This is very annoying, but she is patient and determined! Plus, the library that Bathilda Bagshot the historian has spent her life collecting is full of a bunch of really neat facts, such as that divinatory omens are strongly cultural – if you’re born in a place where the Grim is bad luck, you’re much more likely to see black dogs before you die in a horrible accident, but if you’re instead born someplace where it’s vultures, you’ll see those instead. In some places, she finds, instead of being basically the root of all evil like the modern English wizarding community thinks, snakes are actually considered good luck!

Nagini wants to be a good luck omen. Maybe after the war is over next time she can get Voldemort to take her to Egypt to see the Temple of Wadjet. Apparently the Muggles don’t think the temple is there anymore, so that would be good, he likes places there aren’t any of those. Nagini is not super sure why, they don’t taste different from wizards, but apparently it’s important.

Sometimes, when she sleeps, she has flashes of a strange view of a strange place, where everything is large like it was before she became enormous and magic and smart, where a small child makes earsplitting gibberish noises and hits her. She keeps trying to bite him, but the body doesn’t do what she wants, and runs away, instead.

Nagini has been haunting Bathilda’s library for about a year when the old woman casually offers her a saucer of some sort of mysterious transparent liquid and she nearly goes directly from zero to strangle. It seems sort of like … the exact opposite of a threat, though, so instead she collects herself (don’t kill the old woman, she might know something) and shifts on the floor, coils recoiling and tailtip twitching, and lifts her head to meet Bathilda’s eyes. She makes a very confused hissing sound.

“Oh, sweetheart, I’ve known you’re here since Halloween,” says Bathilda kindly.

Nagini rapidly reevaluates her own sneakiness, and her gaze wobbles confusedly from the saucer to the books to the door. She has definitely invaded this woman’s home without any permission, aren’t humans usually kind of upset about that? Isn’t Bathilda an enemy of her master? Does she … not … know?

Bathilda is not a Parselmouth, of course, but it doesn’t take a genius to be able to understand a sentient person who is just loudly emoting ?????????WHAT?????????? with every fiber of their being.

“You looked so cozy curled up in the corner with a book,” explains Bathilda, quite like she is talking to a beloved grandchild and not a massive venomous snake, “I rather didn’t have the heart to kick you out. And you haven’t been damaging anything.”

This is, to be fair, true. Nagini has been trying very hard not to damage anything, mostly because she thought she hadn’t been noticed yet, but especially the books, because they have so many neat facts in them and that kind of seems like it would be sacrilege. She settles down a bit, weirdly charmed, and squints at the mysterious transparent liquid.

“It’s tea,” explains Bathilda patiently. “You drink it.”

But why, though.

Bathilda shrugs at her extremely dubious look, takes back the saucer and putters back to her kitchen.

Nagini sort of sits there for a while, in immense confusion, and eventually concludes that this is weird but probably not dangerous and goes back to her book, this time not making much of an effort to hide in the shadows since apparently that didn’t work anyway. Today she is reading about Greek oracles, because some of the books about divination talk about prophets who found ancient artifacts using their visions of the future, and maybe one of them will be about the Wand she’s looking for.

It’s relaxing, in an interesting way, feeling like she is not just where she is supposed to be but actually welcome in the place that she is. Usually whenever she is around people, they are all immensely unhappy about it, and even Voldemort, who loves her very much, is not very warm. The old woman is warm to live with; her house is full of rugs and pillows and soft chairs and the strange steaming liquid she is always drinking, and one time she absent-mindedly pats Nagini on the head as she passes by, which is strangely nice.

So she continues not to break things, and to read the books and put them back, and leave twice a month to find food that isn’t bringing mail, and eventually she tries the “tea” and discovers that while she cannot actually taste whatever it is supposed to taste like it is sort of nice to feel all warm inside. It’s also lovely, she finds, to sit by the window and read by sunlight, instead of cobbling together magic vision and ultraviolet to sort of half-effectively squint through shadows. Nagini slinks away whenever Bathilda has visitors, which isn’t very often – most of her friends, she says with mournful equinamity, are dead – and otherwise stays put, cozy and content.

And so time passes, strangely comfortably, in old Bathilda Bagshot’s house.

When she’s been there a couple years the vision in her dreams learns to talk. It takes him rather a while longer to realize that he is now capable of holding conversations, since every time he tries to talk to the Dursleys he gets yelled at, but he’s around five when it occurs to him that there is an obvious experiment he can now perform.

“Can you hear me, library person?” he says, quietly, in the garden where he is weeding. Nagini stirs slightly in the afternoon sun, curled comfortably on Bathilda’s crocheted living room rug where she had been napping. Her vision flickers strangely between the garden and the coffee table.

Sleepy hiss. Why can I hear you, little snake, and why don’t you bite your enemies?

He gasps. “You can hear me!”

Only while I sleep, mostly, she mumbles, settling back into her curls and trying not to wake up too much for fear of losing this interesting new source of information. Enemies. Biting. Why not.

He yanks another weed, with great effort, because he is very small. “Because then I would just get hit more probably.”

Hrm. Reasonable I suppose. Why do I dream of you. Do you dream of me?

“I think so, all of my dreams are books. Have you got a tail?”

It is a fine tail if I do say so myself.

“It is a pretty good tail if you can hold books with it,” the small child nods. “I wish I had a whole library of books instead of this place. Nobody likes me here.”

To my enormous surprise the historian seems to like me, Nagini agrees, which seems a strict improvement on … what are you doing?



“Uh um. It’s like. Aunt Petunia says that these plants are weeds and gotta not be in the garden for some reason? And this is called weeding. I am not sure why it is not un-weeding.”

A fascinating question. Perhaps the historian has a book of etymology somewhere.

She can’t see his face, since she is looking out of his eyes, but some of the joy associated with his bright smile leaks through their mysterious linkage, which makes Nagini feel… something. She’s not sure what, but it’s new and bright and a little bit like the way the white-haired wizard hurts to look at.

When Harry Potter is eight, he does bite one of his classmates. The bully spends a week in the hospital with a bizarrely medication-resistant infection and Harry gets almost an entire extra month of peace after he returns from being grounded before they start in on him again.

Nagini grumps, taking a break from reading about the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy’s effects on magical historical sites that suddenly had to be destroyed or hidden, and curled up half in Bathilda’s lap. Don’t judge her, the old lady is warm. You should bite them too.

Harry has figured out that Nagini is rather bigger than he is. It’s hard to miss, she can stretch out with half her coils still on the floor and take books off shelves that he wouldn’t be able to reach even if he stood on a table. He is jealous; if he was that big he could just bite Uncle Vernon and leave. “Um, I’m sure that would work for you but I am little.”

Get bigger, she complains. With extensive self-reflection and more books she has identified the feeling she has toward Harry as, approximately, ‘that there small child is MY small child and I want to eat everything that threatens it.’ She would like him to grow up into a big strong bitey snake so that he can be safer and she can feel less constant maternal anxiety.

“I’m working on it!” he sighs, and peeks out of his cupboard door to see if it’s a good time to dart out and steal something from the fridge yet.

When he’s nine, he reads about himself in Bathilda’s book about the First Wizarding War, and the realization that this is definitely why that random guy bowed to him in a bookstore once is bowled over by the realization that he is a wizard. Nagini’s secret world, the world he visits when he sleeps and that hovers half-visible in the corner of his vision as he dodges Dudley around the schoolyard, the fascinating stories Bathilda Bagshot tells about young Albus the bright genius who doesn’t visit her much anymore – that’s a place he can go, when he’s old enough. Just knowing it’s there, knowing he has this secret to keep, having a friend with him wherever he goes, would have been enough, but he can go to Diagon Alley, he can go to Hogwarts. Hogwarts, with the history book that Nagini rereads often enough that he’s got half of it memorized because the person who told her to stay in Godric’s Hollow had used to love the castle very much, apparently, before he disappeared.

(Nagini is very cagey about the identity of her missing person. He is a little bit too nine years old to be suspicious about why this might be.)

When he’s eleven, he gets a letter on fine parchment paper with emerald ink, and Nagini drops the book she’s holding and screeches HIDE IT so loudly that Bathilda actually looks up from where she’s mixing breakfast scones and asks if she’s all right. (Nagini blinks a little dazedly at the old woman, double vision swimming, and then, to distract her, slithers helpfully over and unsticks the rusty cupboard door so that the honey can float over to the table.)

Harry does as he’s told and shoves the letter into his pants on his way back to the kitchen. A few hours later, he marvels at it in the quiet of his cupboard. He had known, sort of, but he'd always been a little afraid he was wrong. Why send the Boy-Who-Lived away to live with the Dursleys, why leave him with people who believe magic isn't real, unless there was a reason? Suppose that his great victory had been a fluke, all along, and he wasn't special at all. Nagini certainly seems to think it must have been, there's no way a baby could really have defeated the Dark Lord. Maybe he was a Squib, he had thought for a while, after the initial burst of optimism, doomed to imagine the castle but never visit. But here was the letter, in his hands, you have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and it was nearly everything he had ever wanted. 

They do still eventually send Hagrid. Whatever magic would have noticed if he hadn't received the letter seems also to notice that he doesn't have any way of replying to it or getting to Diagon Alley. 

So Hagrid shows up at Number Four, Privet Drive, and whisks Harry away on his flying motorbike with a surprising minimum of shouting, and you would be forgiven if you thought that the subsequent shopping trip was quite indistinguishable from the same one he might have made in another universe, until he reaches Madam Malkin’s Robes For All Occasions. At this point Draco Malfoy says "Hogwarts, too?" and Harry, instead of stammering in confusion, nods confidently, and Draco drawls boredly about how he's going to get his father to buy him a racing broom, "I don't see why first-years can't have their own..." 

"Oh, it's because in 1936 a first-year almost died jumping off the Astronomy Tower before their first flying lesson," says Harry immediately. 

Draco blinks at him. "So?" 

"Uh, so they decided we shouldn't be allowed to have brooms until after we've had flying lessons so we don't die?" 

"I guess," says Draco dubiously. "There should be an exception, it's not my fault if some people are stupid. I'm great at flying, my father says it'll be a crime if I don't make my House team." He pauses thoughtfully. "Who are you, anyway, I don't recognize you." 

"You first, you're not going to believe me," says Harry dryly.

Draco squinted at him. "I'm Draco Malfoy, of course - how do you know all that about the brooms and not know who I am?" 

“Oh! Your dad’s the one who – ” lying liar who lies– “switched sides at the end of the war? I’m Harry Potter, nice to meet you.”

Draco gasps in amazement and grins widely and immediately launches into a well-rehearsed speech about how Lucius Malfoy of course always secretly supported the right side and personally funded many of the reparations after Harry’s heroic victory and so on. Harry has a hard time keeping a straight face through this speech because Nagini is spending the entire time hissing lying liar liar lying lies LIAR sure call SNAKES a paragon of deception why don’t you you LIAR et cetera, but he at least manages not to outright laugh. He is really very unclear on why Nagini is so mad about Lucius Malfoy not being on the side of the evil Dark Lord who almost murdered Harry, but she has been his only friend for approximately his entire life and she knows an extremely large number of things so he’s just sort of taking her word for it that Malfoys Lie. He has however also eventually argued her around on the strategy of not going directly to biting people when they aren’t actively hitting you because this has, historically, mostly resulted in more, rather than less, being shouted at. So he doesn't just immediately accuse Draco of not meaning any of that, even though he definitely does not mean any of it, Harry has like one (1) social skill but he knows how to tell when people say they're not going to hurt you and they're lying. 

“Um,” he says, “okay then," and then awkwardly fails to produce another conversational topic. 

Draco also idles in uncomfortable silence for several seconds once he’s run out of rehearsed words, because he has approximately never had an unscripted social interaction before. Eventually, however, he hits upon the existence of Hagrid outside the window, and says something snide and hurtful. Harry, who is really trying here, he swears, reaches for a polite rebuttal, fails completely, and says, "wow, I bet even Hagrid's dog has better manners than you," at which point Draco storms off in a huff.  

They collect the rest of Harry's supplies, Harry receives birthday cake and decides that Hagrid is now his favorite human-shaped person in the universe, and then he's back to Privet Drive to be stonily ignored by the Dursleys for a month, which honestly competes with the cake as the best birthday present he has ever received. Harry then spends about three of the four weeks between his shopping trip and the start of term patiently explaining to Nagini, in his new bedroom, that he will not be eating Hedwig, who is great, and has the incredibly novel experience of this time being the one reading a book about magic while Nagini looks curiously over his shoulder. Although it turns out he’s already read the History of Magic textbook, because Bathilda wrote all of those and Nagini uses the bibliographies as a sort of poor snake’s library card catalogue. Nagini is absolutely no help in understanding any of the parts where the books try to teach him how to cast spells, unfortunately, since she has in fact never cast a spell in her life.

There is no confrontation with Draco Malfoy on the Hogwarts Express, because Draco already knows who he is and is instead bragging to anyone who’ll listen that they’re totally best friends while Harry and Ron eat prodigious amounts of candy. After they boat across the lake and fish Neville out, Harry excitedly compares rumours about ghost history with other first-years (the Fat Friar: executed by the Ministry for saving Muggles from the plague, or killed by jealous Muggles who were mad about him being magic and snuck up on him while he was asleep?), and after beginning at least one sentence with the phrase “well, Hogwarts: A History says –“ ends up with Hermione Granger approximately glued to his side, at which point Draco feels like he has to step in with a speech about the wrong sorts of people.

This child, here, might be a far cry from the terrified child who in another world would come to Hogwarts not even knowing ghosts existed, but he is still Harry Potter, even or perhaps especially with a libraryful of historical context in his head. Nagini doesn’t really understand, Nagini has never actually encountered the concept of humans being horrible to each other over demographics, but Harry has been to public school, Harry has been bullied for being weird and different, Harry knows what it means when the books say that Muggle-born wizards were discouraged from intermarrying, from working in the Ministry, from daring to exist in the wizarding world.

“I think I can figure out who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks,” he says sharply, and Draco storms off in a huff, again. This is as it should be. He talks to Ron Weasley about Quidditch, and sympathizes with Neville Longbottom about his toad, and this is as it should be. He sits under the Sorting Hat for a long, long time, and - look, snakes are great but I wouldn't be anything in Slytherin, have you read a history book, I would just be dead - eventually he goes to Gryffindor, anxious but relieved, and this, too, is as it should be. But not only has this Harry not come to Hogwarts unaware of his history, he has come to Hogwarts uncomfortably well-informed indeed about the history of certain other parties; and this change is measured not only in the books stored in his head but the arcane connection carved into his very being, a fraction of a soul stapled to his own. 

So Harry settles into his seat, and looks up at the head table, glances past the be-turbaned Defense professor and the ominous glaring Potions professor both without much interest, and meets Headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s piercing, friendly blue eyes... and the white-hot pain that spikes through his head almost knocks him onto the floor.