BAPHOMET I - The Lion, the Serpent and the Grail
Chapter I - The Slytherin and the Parselmouth
It was the first day of classes at Hogwarts, and Dumbledore had summoned him to his office. He probably wanted to schedule those blasted Occlumency classes. Harry couldn't decide what would be worse: Dumbledore wanting him to take classes from Snape again, or teaching him himself. At this point, Harry hated them both deeply.
Close to the entrance, he saw the dark silhouette of the potions master, twice as ugly as the gargoyle.
"Potter! What are you doing here?"
"The Headmaster sent for me."
With a suspicious look, Snape faced this student he hated so much, before saying, "Boysenberry smoothie!"
The gargoyle moved away, the wall opened and the spiralling staircase raised them to the office door, which opened immediately.
"Severus, Harry, come in!" said the Headmaster with the usual twinkle in his eyes. "Sit down and join me for tea."
Harry couldn't believe it. The previous year, Dumbledore had simply abandoned him to his own fate. And at the end of the last term, after one of the most dreadful moments in Harry's life, when he had witnessed the death of his godfather, the Headmaster finally revealed what he should have disclosed years before and gave him an absolutely hypocritical lecture. Now Dumbledore assumed the role of Father Christmas once more. That was unbearable.
Teacher and student sat down, facing each other with the deepest hatred, while Dumbledore poured them tea.
"Headmaster, I don't know what you have in mind, but you'd better speak at once. Madam Pomfrey asked me to brew her a potion and..."
"I'm sure the task will prove much easier if you take the time to relax a little and have your tea in peace," said Dumbledore. "Very well, my boys. I called you here to ask you a favour."
Harry almost choked on his tea. Snape made a horrible face.
"One of the spies for the Order," the Headmaster winked at Snape, "recently brought me something that was in the hands of a Death Eater and that might have inestimable value in our war against Voldemort: a manuscript by Salazar Slytherin. However, this manuscript is composed in an unintelligible code, at least to my eyes... Anyway. I'm almost positive that this mysterious code is the written version of Parseltongue. And, as you're surely aware, we only know two living Parselmouths today. One of them, obviously, won't help us."
Snape shook his head, in a gesture of impatience.
"But the other one is right here before us, and could aid our dear Head of Slytherin, who has studied Salazar's ideas thoroughly, in the task of deciphering this highly important document." The Headmaster looked from Harry to Snape, and back to Harry. "So, my boys, what do you say?"
Snape narrowed his eyes, then took a deep breath. Harry waited for him to say something, to snarl that he wouldn't accept working with an arrogant brat. But, as Snape seemed to be paralysed in shock. Harry had to make his move. "Er, Headmaster, it's just that... I don't understand written Parseltongue, I can only speak it!"
"One more reason for the two of you to work as a team. Not only does Severus understand many languages, but he also knows Magic-Generative Linguistics. I'm sure you'll wind up deciphering the code."
"Headmaster, you know I have never refused you a favour. But this student is extremely irresponsible and betrayed my trust irreparably. I cannot work with him."
"And I don't want to work with the one responsible for my godfather's death!"
"What? Have you gone mad, Potter? If I hadn't alerted the Order, you'd probably be dead now. I'm not to be blamed if your asinine godfather..."
"Severus, Harry, please. Calm down," said Dumbledore sharply. "I know it's hard for you both, but it's a very important job for the Order, and only the two of you can do it."
"The Headmaster will agree that, as the Head of Slytherin, potions master, member of the Order of the Phoenix, the Headmaster's Lefthand Man and... You-Know-Very-Well-What-Else, there's hardly any time left in my schedule to fit this new task."
"In order not to get in the way of your other tasks, you could take out only one night a week for that. And you can work in Severus' office, or in the Potions classroom, if you prefer. Harry will tell his classmates that he's in need of remedial Potions..."
"Again? Oh no!"
"Potter, respect the Headmaster!"
Harry made a face of disgust.
"You see, Headmaster? This boy is much too arrogant, doesn't have respect for anyone, it's impossible to work with him."
"Severus, Harry... We shall make a deal. If you do this for me, you can be relieved of the Occlumency lessons. I'll be in charge of teaching Harry Occlumency myself."
"Ah, Potter. Come in and close the door."
Harry acquiesced, entering the teacher's office without a word. Snape indicated the chair before the mahogany desk behind which he was sitting. "Sit down. Here's Slytherin's Manuscript."
Harry glanced at the sombre walls, full of glass vessels with abominable contents. In a corner, a scrying mirror, similar to the one Harry had seen in his Divination book. What was Snape doing with a mirror like that? Harry sat down and took the voluminous roll of parchment, which was covered with incomprehensible scribbling.
"You really expect me to read this crap?"
"Watch your language!" Snape sighed. "Potter, focus. I know it's too much to ask from your hollow brain, but..."
"Listen, if you're going to keep insulting me..."
Harry lowered his head. This wouldn't work out.
Snape pulled at his oily hair with his hands. "Try to read what's written here aloud."
Harry raised his head again and held the parchment before him. "But I don't know what these scrawls are supposed to sound like. Are there letters?"
"From my analysis, it's a code of double articulation, in which a signified is attributed to a corresponding signifier, just as in human languages."
"Oh, okay. That simple, huh?"
Snape stared at the ceiling. "I will try to descend to your level, even knowing it won't be easy... I'm saying that each symbol is associated with a sound. Only we don't know what sound is associated with which symbol!"
"So how am I supposed to read it?"
"I told you, *that* is your problem. If it were easy, the Headmaster wouldn't have told us to do it."
"Why don't you ask a snake to read it?"
Snape was about to give one of his devastating replies, but something stopped him. He narrowed his eyes, as if in maximum concentration. He took his wand from his cloak and pointed it to his other arm. "Serpensortia!"
A little golden snake, about twelve inches long, appeared, coiled around his left wrist.
"Cute!" Harry exclaimed. "It's a boa constrictor."
Reluctantly, the teacher handed the boa to Harry, who held it on the palm of his hand and started talking to it. Snape observed them closely. In his eyes there was a glint of... envy?
"Her name is Ceci."
"Ask her if she can read the Manuscript."
Harry talked to Ceci for quite some time, showed her the Manuscript and kept on talking. Snape, who couldn't understand a word, was about to lose his patience. Finally, Harry turned to him. "She can't read, and thought it was really funny that you would think a snake could read."
"That's not funny. Quit chatting with that snake, I can tell it's useless."
"She's afraid you'll get rid of her, since she can't help."
Snape sighed. "Give me that snake back and quit this nonsensical talk," said Snape, taking the boa constrictor from Harry's arm.
Then something rather curious occurred. Snape petted the tiny boa's scaly skin with an expression of... tenderness?
Harry faced him with the classic 'who are you and what have you done to Professor Snape' look.