When Harry awoke the next morning Nagini was still lying beside him, more pale than he had ever seen her. He had been awoken twice throughout the night by a sharp pain in his chest before Nagini herself had begun to convulse beside him. They needed to hurry.
He lay there for a moment beside the large snake, 'Nagini?'
'I'm sorry you're in pain.'
''Ss okay ssnak-ing…'
'We're going to fix you, I promise. Everyone is working hard to make sure you get better quickly.'
The snake was silent but she had opened her eyes and was attentively watching the boy. At some unnamed moment in time the two had become quite attached to one another. It had never been a secret that Nagini was extremely possessive of Voldemort, but yet she had allowed this scrawny young boy into their circle and even allowed herself to bond with him.
Nagini had been with Voldemort when he was weak and his body not much more advanced than a frail child. She had nurtured him until he was able to return to power, but something deep inside her cherished the time when the man had relied on her so heavily. When Voldemort regained his body and power there was a small part of the snake that still yearned to be that same security for her Master, but he was the most powerful wizard in the world and the last thing he needed was someone to coddle him. Then Harry, who was not unlike a younger version of the powerful wizard, came along and needed care and protection much like Voldemort had. Maybe this protective desire came from the horcrux, maybe it was something completely different, but Nagini had become quite protective and possessive of this young boy.
'Not that he'll say it out loud, but Voldemort is really worried about you too…'
"I can hear you."
Harry perked his head up and looked across the room to where Voldemort was occupying the chair at his desk.
"Good." Harry said as the man rolled his eyes.
Harry stroked his hand along Nagini's scales for a short while until she once again began breathing deep with sleep.
He rolled over and got up from the bed. He glanced over to Voldemort and paused as a long-forgotten memory came to his mind. He smirked and confidently marched over to the dark wooden desk.
"Is there something you need?" Voldemort drawled unenthusiastically, "Or have you simply come over to pester me?"
"You have to show me what you're working on."
Voldemort stopped writing and looked up towards his cocky protégé, "Excuse me?"
"You told me that if I joined the Dark you would show me what kind of 'paperwork' you do." The boy crossed his arms as a know-it-all expression graced his features, "So let's see it."
"I said no such thing."
Harry's mouth dropped, "You did so!"
"I believe you are mistaken. Nevertheless, I don't see what harm it can do at this point."
Harry rolled his eyes, "For Merlin's sake, just admit it."
"Never. Do you want to see or not?"
"Then be quiet."
Tossing his pride to the side, Harry uncrossed his arms as he placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward. He peered at various small stacks of papers.
"Right now," Voldemort began as he pushed a large unfolded map he had just been writing on towards Harry, "I am trying to deduce what the best course of action is once we get inside Hogwarts. Assuming that you and Draco can get along for two minutes to complete a simple task…"
Harry let out a frustrated sigh but stayed silent as he stared at the exorbitantly intricate map of the wizarding school.
"The last thing I need is Death Eaters running around haphazardly and destroying everything in sight."
The intrigued boy finally interrupted, "You make it sound like they're a handful."
"They are most certainly an unfortunate necessity. Continuing on," the man flipped through an assortment of papers and quickly commented on each one, "These are people I have stationed in various countries, a list of those who have become allies and where they are located, Death Eaters who have been killed…" Harry tried to keep up and get a look at each paper but Voldemort pressed on.
The Dark Lord paused for a moment before moving on to what could quite possibly be the most indispensable information he possessed. Not even his followers knew of the details, but he had access to every corner of Harry Potter's mind- he trusted the boy, and the boy trusted him. "This," he paused and looked up, making sure he had the boy's full attention, "is a list of all the departments within the Ministry of Magic."
Harry finally got a good look at the paper, "Who are the people listed?"
"Those are the names of every wizard within The Ministry under my control, as well as their position within the department," Voldemort said proudly, anticipating Harry's reaction as the information sank in.
Harry stared and swallowed thickly, there were hundreds of names, "What does this mean?"
"It means that once Dumbledore is dead and I have control of Hogwarts, there will be no one to stop me from fully controlling the entirety of The Ministry of Magic."
"And The Ministry controls the wizarding world…"
"Precisely, my little snake."
The upper half of Harry's body was practically lying across the desk as he stared at the names.
Voldemort's followers were working in departments of The Ministry that Harry had never even heard of before.
"So once you get into Hogwarts and kill Dumbledore…"
"My people within The Ministry will take control."
"Wow," A few moments passed in silence as the information sank in, "But what about The Order? They'll still be around to try to stop you."
Voldemort broke into a laugh, "Even if they do attempt to put a stop to my plans, which would be a severe mistake on their part, I will have control of Hogwarts and The Ministry- what will they have? They will be a measly group of rebels who will be on the run for the rest of their existence."
"I thought you said you weren't going to hurt them?"
"I said I would consider it. Understand that I won't hesitate to kill anyone who chooses to rebel against my new government, but they will be given a choice."
Harry knew The Order would never agree to live peacefully under Voldemort's control.
After a few moments Harry pushed himself up off of the desk and with eyes wide stammered, "Merlin's balls that's impressive," Before Voldemort could get a word out the boy hastened, "I know I know, 'watch my language'. Sorry, but seriously, that's incredible."
"Glad you approve."
Harry felt the familiar sensation creep into his chest, "Ah, here it comes…"
He had barely gotten the words out before pain erupted in his chest and Nagini was sent into convulsions. Voldemort stayed seated, knowing there was nothing he could do for either of them.
Once again, the episode stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
"Alright," Voldemort said as he stood, "Enough of this. Let's go, you have work to do." He grabbed the recovering boy by the shoulder and practically pushed him from the room.
"Alright Malfoy, listen up. I'm not taking any of your lip today, okay? I've had enough, just tell me what to do and I'll do it. Don't talk to me other than that, got it?"
"Whoa whoa, does the Boy Who Lived have his wand in a knot today?" The blonde boy teased as he hauled the same large book they had referenced the previous day and dropped it on the table with a thud.
"Seriously Malfoy, I'm not in the mood."
"Whatever," Draco mumbled as he perused the tome, "Let's see…"
Harry stood for a short minute in frustrated silence as Draco browsed. His anger grew as his mind wandered to the weakening snake, "Are you deliberately going slow?! You do realize we only have a couple days left and that's it right?!"
"OF COURSE I KNOW THAT POTTER!" The large book was slammed shut, "Don't you think I know what it means if we don't get this finished in time?! Or hell, what it means if we do get it finished in time?"
Harry was startled into silence by the outburst.
Draco stood from his seat, "It means nothing for you! You're The Dark Lord's pet! What do you think he's going to do to you if we don't fix this bloody thing? Huh? Yell at you? Punish you? That's NOTHING! He will kill me if we can't do this! He will kill my parents!" Draco took a deep breath which seemed to calm him, even if only in the slightest. "You have nothing, Potter. You have no parents, no friends, nothing. You have nothing to lose- no one to care about. I do. So if you think for one second that I'm not trying my ABSOLUTE HARDEST to do this well then you're bloody well wrong!"
Draco's loud panting was the only noise that filled the room for a long time as the two stared one another down. Harry didn't know what he felt- anger, frustration… pity?
No, not pity. Not any longer.
Draco sat back down and was holding his head in his hands as he mumbled something to himself, and even still, Harry felt no pity for the boy. The old Harry might have though. The old Harry might have apologized and agreed to work peacefully, even if only for a short time. He might have felt bad for the blonde boy who sat there alone and scared, knowing that he might meet his death in a few short days, knowing that his parents might be slaughtered before his eyes… the old Harry might have felt sorry for that boy.
But Harry was no longer that person. He was tired of being that person.
"Would you get up?"
Draco raised his head from his hands.
"You heard me. Quit sulking about like a twat and get up."
A brief flicker of fire flashed in Draco's eyes before he stood to his feet. He knew Harry was right; moping about his problem wasn't going to get the job done. They needed to finish, and since they essentially wasted the entire previous day they had a lot left to do.
Hours passed, and even though the two boys were working quickly it was still taking much longer than either had anticipated. For the most part they had kept the arguing to a minimum, which was really a success in itself. Harry had been forced to mask the pain two different times when his chest had begun to throb. Draco had heard the small grunt of pain the first time and asked what was wrong, only to receive a curt 'Nothing' from Harry, whose mind wandered once again to Nagini in their chambers.
"Ok, I say we stop for now and just finish tomorrow. I'm exhausted."
"We can't stop. It's not done yet." Draco snapped.
"I know, but we haven't done almost anything the past hour except yawn. I'm done. We'll finish tomorrow."
"We don't have much time left! What if something doesn't work?!"
"MALFOY! Shut. UP."
"No! We're going to stay here until it's done and that's that."
Harry was already halfway to the door before he responded in a sing-song voice, "Goodnight Draco!"
The blonde boy was still talking when the large wooden door slammed and broke off the sound of his voice.
Harry stood in the hallway and realized he had no idea where in the manor he was. Thoroughly grateful for the reprieve from the Malfoy heir, he began walking and tried to retrace the path he and Voldemort had taken the past two days.
As he walked, he realized he hadn't given much thought to what was about to happen. In less than three short days he was going to be breaking into Hogwarts along with the Death Eaters of all people… or was he? Voldemort hadn't mentioned if Harry was going to be part of the attack. Knowing how overprotective the man was, the boy would probably be locked in their chambers to make sure he didn't try to tag along. Merlin forbid he get injured even in the slightest… Voldemort wasn't a man to think twice about killing someone should they so much as breathe on Harry incorrectly, but yet he seemed to have no issue with hurting Harry his own self.
Not recognizing any of the corridors yet, Harry continued to walk and paused only for a moment when he heard voices in the distance. "They won't hurt me. They won't hurt me," he mumbled to himself as he turned the corner and quite literally ran face first into the chest of Severus Snape.
"Geeze…" Harry said as he stumbled backwards.
"What in Merlin's name do you think you're doing?"
"I'm walking, that okay with you?"
Another man appeared behind Snape, "It'll do you well to watch your words, Potter."
Time to test the waters to see exactly how much fear Voldemort had instilled when instructing his followers not to harm the boy. "I'll do whatever I so please. I'm not his student anymore," he snapped at the man, "Who are you anyway?"
"Hm. Never heard of you," Ok, not completely true as Harry had seen this man at the few Death Eater meetings he had attended. Rodolphus was a member of Voldemort's inner circle.
Snape spoke up once more, "Is The Dark Lord aware that you are roaming unaccompanied?"
"I don't know. Does Dumbledore know you're here hanging out with the Death Eaters?"
Somehow Severus Snape's skin paled even more than usual, "Everyone here knows of my purpose within Hogwarts, Potter. They know where my true allegiance lies."
"Hm," Something wasn't right about this whole spying-Snape situation and Harry didn't trust the long nosed man one bit. "Whatever. I'll be on my way now, tell Dumbledore I said hello," he added sarcastically.
He quickly peeked over his shoulder before he got too far and smiled as he saw Snape being curiously questioned by Rodolphus.
Relieved that he averted a serious confrontation, Harry continued on his way and it wasn't too long before he began recognizing portraits on the surrounding walls. He jogged up the familiar staircase and entered Voldemort's chambers.
Nagini was no longer on the bed, but instead had made her way over to the lit fire- her favorite place. Harry walked over and knelt down.
'Did you get here by yourself?' he asked her.
'Oh, I see.' Harry looked around awkwardly, not knowing how to act around this uncharacteristically quiet Nagini. Instead of speaking, he lay down beside her on the rug and began to run his fingers over her dry scales. Harry felt helpless, but the snake seemed to appreciate the affection. Guilt began creeping in as he realized he hadn't spent much time with the ill snake in the past two event-filled days.
The boy yawned. He hadn't expected working on the vanishing cabinet to take so much energy and concentration. His mind was exhausted. He let his eyes close and fell into a light sleep.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, it could have been minutes or hours, when he jolted awake. He looked around the empty room, expecting someone to be standing there. He was sure he had heard…
Harry Potter! I asked you a question!
Oh sweet Merlin, Voldemort didn't sound happy. Then again, did he ever?
Harry! Explain why I just had to call you three times.
I didn't hear you, I was asleep.
A moment's pause.
Where are you, boy?
In your chambers.
A longer pause. Harry jumped when a loud and sudden pop echoed in the room as The Dark Lord appeared.
"Why the bloody hell were you not with Draco?"
The young boy stood from where he had been napping. "Because we were finished for the day. Why? What did he say?" Harry asked, suddenly worried that Draco had told Voldemort about their fight. The man hadn't been happy about the boy's tiff the previous day.
"The boy doesn't speak, just mumbles nonsense, although it was quite obvious that you left on your own. What did I say about traveling the halls by yourself?"
Trying to hide a snicker at the thought of Draco fumbling in fear in front of The Dark Lord, Harry quickly recovered and said, "Uh…"
"Exactly. If I catch you roaming around alone one more time I will make sure you regret it, Harry Potter."
"I didn't get hurt, everything was fine. You told the Death Eaters not to bother me."
"I have also said that the Death Eaters are imbeciles have I not?"
Harry stayed silent.
"Precisely," Voldemort walked over to Nagini and knelt down beside the sleeping creature. "How is she doing?"
Harry shrugged, "The same I think, she said she was cold but that was it. She's lost more of her color…"
"So I see. How have you been today? How many times has your chest troubled you?"
"Only a few times."
"Does it seem to be changing? Does it hurt worse? Less?"
"Umm…" Harry considered it for a moment, "No not really. It's kinda been the same."
Voldemort nodded and stood as he reached into a fold in his robes. "Here," he said as he pulled out a small vile of red liquid, "I informed Severus of what was happening and he said it may help."
Harry wanted to scoff at the mention of Snape, "It may help?"
"Yes, he could not guarantee it would ease any of your pain. Horcruxes are powerful and little can affect them."
The boy eyed the vial, "Hm."
"I don't trust him."
"Is this some petty feud from your days at Hogwarts or is it actually worth my time to listen?"
"It has nothing to do with Hogwarts," Ok, not entirely true as Harry had a general dislike for the man's consistent glumness, "I just don't trust him. I've seen him work with the Order for too long…"
"You understand what the term 'spy' means do you not?"
"Of course I do! I'm just saying…"
"I understand, but you needn't worry. Severus has been in my inner circle since before the first Wizarding War."
"Hm," the boy eyed the potion once more.
Voldemort sighed, "Will you just drink it before I shove it down your throat? I do not wish to see you suffer any longer."
"Aww, how sweet," Oh how Harry loved to push Voldemort's buttons.
He smirked as Voldemort gave him a look before tilting back the vial and emptied it into his mouth.
A few hours later Harry was watching distractedly as Voldemort once again showed him the correct way to hold his wand.
"If I have to show you this one more time..." Voldemort let his threat drift off into silence, "I simply don't understand why you insist on gripping your wand so tightly. This is basic. Don't they teach you these things at Hogwarts?"
"I don't know why you get so upset about this!"
"I get upset because this is why half of your spells are absolutely pitiful. I don't know what kind of magic you intend to do without knowing the correct basics."
Harry sighed tiredly and rubbed his eyes, "Can we just stop for tonight?"
Voldemort began to admonish the boy for whining before he realized it was in fact almost midnight. He looked at the tired boy sitting on the edge of the bed. Harry's hair was tousled and his eyes were red rimmed. He slouched, almost looking as if he could topple forward and fall asleep on the spot.
"Alright, you have much to do tomorrow. You need rest."
"Thank Merlin," The boy sighed as he flopped backwards onto the comfy bed, "You're a slave driver."
"I'm trying to get you past magic that involves tickling spells," the man said from where he had taken a seat in one of the large armchairs.
The two sat in silence for a few moments before Harry pushed himself up onto his elbows, "By the way, I'm going with you into Hogwarts right?"
"What in Merlin's name would give you that impression?"
"Well I thought that might be why you're pushing this training thing so hard."
"Do I have to repeat myself? Your magical abilities leave much to be desired."
"You know, you don't have to keep saying that."
"It's hardly your fault, Harry. Plus, you have improved greatly since we first began I must admit."
"Then why can't I go?"
"You may have improved but you cannot adequately defend yourself."
"The answer is no."
"If I just stick close to you, I'll be fine."
"Harry, I understand that you have been in combat situations before, but as long as you're under my watch you will do no such thing again until you are properly trained."
Harry let out a dramatic sigh and flopped back onto the bed once more.
"Don't sulk. I cannot guarantee your safety, so therefore you will stay here. You are helping in other ways and for now that is enough."
"Fine," he grumbled as he stared at the ceiling.
"Good, now that's settled. Maybe in the future. Now go to sleep, we all have much to do tomorrow."