A boy loses one pet and gains something else.
"Just tell me where my toad is," he snarls, barely remembering to cut himself off before he appends some insult and gets hexed for it.
They laugh at him, and one of them points towards the girls' toilet. "I think I saw it hopping that way. Don't they say, 'Like master, like familiar'?" They make more comments, crude and blatant untruths that sting all the more for the casual, impersonal contempt, that he is not worth the effort of insulting. He seethes quietly until they have moved on, wondering where his toad is. Dare he believe them?
It can't hurt unless the girls come in from Quidditch practice before he completes his search, and even so, he believes he might be able to play for sympathy on the strength of his history of losing his toads.
He wants, and doesn't want to find it. It doesn't know enough to judge him, but then it is Baldric the Second, a creature as unmagical as Baldric the First, which he caught because he wasn't certain he could even afford his books. In truth, it is really Baldric the Third, but nobody has noticed yet that it is a different toad, and he's not about to point it out. He brought it into this place where it does not understand the rules, with predators, smug in their magical blood, waiting around every corner for this outsider.
He wants to find it.
He looks around cautiously, but there is no one in the vicinity. He goes in, and wants to call to Baldric, except that Baldric will neither understand nor answer, and all it will achieve is attract the attention of a passer-by. He searches, even knowing he will find nothing that he wants.
Then he sees it. Baldric's skinny legs are rigid and oddly extended, moving in a way no toad ever did. He looks under the sink, and a snake stares at him with flat reptilian eyes, cold and expressionless. It is in the process of swallowing Baldric, its jaws distended as it works itself over the toad, legal prey because it is not of this world.
It is irrational, because Baldric is already dead, but he wants Baldric back and he wants Baldric not to be food for its killer, and he doesn't think to care if the snake is envenomed, grabbing it around the bulge in its neck so it cannot take in any more of Baldric. He shakes the snake, and tries tentatively to pull on Baldric's legs, afraid he will pull them off altogether, and the snake glares at him, determined not to be robbed of its meal.
He drags it up to the sink, hopeless and furious that he feels this way when he could have left and found himself a new toad, and struggles ineffectually with the angry snake even though he can hear girlish laughter and voices coming closer. "Damn you," he hisses at it, "let Baldric go! Open up, damn you!"
- and the tap is a burning white sun spinning in place, and the sink is sinking into the floor, and overbalanced, he falls in with the snake and Baldric down an endless tunnel, and he thinks, into another world, like the Muggle Alice, except he is following a snake.
He cannot see in the darkness, and he has no idea where the snake is, or Baldric. He is covered in slime, cut off from the world as if he has fallen back into the womb. He wants to stay. The silence is restful.
He is a sensible boy, however, and once he has recovered from the long and unexpected slide, he takes out his wand and lights it.
It is a mausoleum for small creatures, full of the memories of rats and helpless toads, forgotten in their long, chill seclusion from the friendless world. The snake has swallowed Baldric while he was distracted, and now gazes at him in sleepy bemusement. "Damn you," he says quietly, without heat.
"You speak my tongue," it says to him in tones like wonder. "Are you a snake?" No more than his unknown father was a wizard, but then perhaps he is as much snake as wizard after all, the only difference being that the snake sees him as a strange and marvellous creature, not a misbegotten and unwanted child shameful for his lack of pedigree.
"Where are we?" he asks, picking up the snake, which coils easily around his arm as if it has always known him. They look back at the tunnel which brought them.
"I do not know," it says, "but we must find another way out." It is a sensible snake as well.
They set off into the cold darkness together, the snake comforted by the warmth of the boy, who warms himself on their new closeness. "My name is Nagini," says the snake, its tongue flicking ticklishly on his cheek, like a kiss, or a benediction. The boy starts to reply, but thinks better of it.
"I am Lord Voldemort," he offers, trying out the sound of a new name, a new beginning.
One day, the pampered children of the pure-blooded wizards who scorn him now will crawl before him and beg his favour, and he will crush beneath his heel the Muggles and Mudbloods who abandoned him to wizardly mercy. None of them will ever know that his father was one of these contemptible worms, weak and cowardly, without Nagini's smooth armour. They will all pay for their sins, and no one will remember the weak and foolish child who had wanted their approval and favour. He will be...