Chapter 26: The Snake and the Marten.

The four wizards stood in Snape's sitting room later that afternoon; three were packed and ready to leave.

"Are you sure you don't want me to join you?" Remus asked as he looked from one boy to the other. "Severus and I have already gotten started with the spell and I can work as we go…the rest can-"

"No Remus," Harry interrupted. "I don't know exactly what you're doing, but I know it's important. I promise we'll keep you updated and we'll let you know if we need help."

"All right," the werewolf conceded. "Use your Patronus if it's an emergency. Do you remember that spell I showed you the other night?"

The bespectacled boy nodded and offered his surrogate godfather a smile. "Don't worry; this isn't even the craziest thing I've done without adult supervision…and I have Draco with me."

Remus smiled gently, his warm eyes shined with both concern and mild amusement. Meanwhile, Draco arched an eyebrow as though the green-eyed boy was insane to think that was supposed to offer any comfort, and Snape was clearly scrutinizing the young Gryffindor.

Finally, the lycanthrope nodded to the two boys. "Harry, can you find your way back to the river near here?" The raven-haired boy nodded an affirmative. "Good; you should head that way before you Apparate to avoid being seen by any Muggles."

"Good idea," Harry smiled at the nervous werewolf again. While he hated that he made the man worry, it was nice to know he cared so much. "Any other suggestions...?"

Remus did not hesitate in his response. Harry had to wonder if some part of the scarred man wanted to prattle off warnings the way Mrs. Weasley sometimes did. Instead, Remus offered practical advice in his usual gentle manner. "You should use a Disillusionment charm when you leave here," the lycanthrope indicated Snape with a nod- "For Severus' safety as well as your own.

"I'll leave first; wait five minutes before you follow so I can warn you if the coast isn't clear. Please be careful."

"We will be," answered the green-eyed boy sincerely. "Just make sure you do the same."

"Both of you," Draco added with a pointed glance to Snape. Something resembling a faint smile touched the sallow-skinned man's lips.

Harry blinked in astonishment and wondered if the two usually curt males were sharing some sort memory or a private joke. He noticed that Remus was looking at the two Slytherins curiously, but with a certain level of fondness Harry was sure he had never seen directed at Snape before.

The obsidian-eyed man noticed the other two watching and arched an eyebrow, turning a challenging gaze toward them. "One more suggestion, Potter: as you failed to acquire your Apparation license, you should ask that Draco perform a side-along Apparation to avoid further risk. Obviously, it would not due to be arrested at this time."

Harry narrowed his eyes as he met the obsidian gaze; Draco shook his head lightly with a sigh; and Remus rolled his eyes. The green-eyed boy finally offered a tight reply. "I haven't been caught yet, have I?"

"Not by the Ministry," Snape drawled in response. Harry glared further, even as he felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment.

"All right, I think the boys know to be cautious well enough," Remus commented kindly but firmly while meeting Severus' eyes. The two men simply stared at one another for a moment before turning to the two youths.

The werewolf pulled Harry into a brief hug and then he patted Draco on the shoulder. "Look out for each other…and don't forget to keep Ron and Hermione updated."

Both boys nodded and offered their thanks; Remus only nodded and smiled in return. Then the scarred man picked up his rucksack and shrugged it over his shoulder. Harry almost called out a warning when he noticed Snape raising his wand, but Remus turned to him as though expecting it.

Snape's wand tapped the top of the werewolf's head and Remus' skin changed from that point outward, until the man blended in with the bookshelf behind him like a gecko.

"If I run into trouble on the way to the river, I'll send notice; otherwise, it's clear." Harry strained his eyes and still, he could barely tell where the lycanthrope was as he spoke. "Remember to wait at least five minutes and be cautious. Severus, I'll keep in touch and return as soon as I can. Take care."

Snape may have offered the slightest nod in response, or he could have just been shifting his head slightly for all Harry could tell. Then the Remus-shaped outline moved and shifted colors to match the change in surroundings as the Disillusioned werewolf left the house. Harry had to blink a few times to get his focus to return to normal.

"You have all the potions you'll likely need?" Snape asked as he turned to Draco. The blonde nodded and offered a small, reassuring smile. The obsidian-eyed man nodded once in response before inquiring further, "And you've enough food and money? You may be in Little Hangleton longer than you were in Godric's Hollow…the Riddles' old manor is considerably larger than the Potter's house."

"I packed enough food to last us a couple days and I took the money I had hidden in my room while we were in the manor," Draco drawled, sounding as though he had already had this conversation or otherwise thought he had made these points previously.

Harry watched as Snape -whose gaze never left the blonde- nodded once again. As much as he despised giving the sallow-skinned man any credit, this was clearly Snape's version of the same concern Remus expressed.

"Do not do anything rash," obsidian eyes shifted to Harry. "...Either of you. The were-" Snape paused when Draco's expression fell, then he took a breath and continued with a foul expression. "Lupin and I are making certain preparations. We are allowing you to find Nagini on your own; however, we will not allow you to fight the final battle by yourselves."

Snape turned to Harry, his gaze hardened and his tone turned no-nonsense. "The Dark Lord cannot be defeated until each of the Horcruxes has been destroyed. To confront him before then would be most unwise."

The sallow-skinned man turned back to Draco, his voice and face softening slightly. "Whatever you make of your current condition, know this; you are not expendable." Snape placed a hand on the boy's shoulder and whispered, "I will not live to mourn you as I have your mother."

Regret, sorrow, and relief filled grey eyes before Draco carefully stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the taller male's waist. An expression of equal regret and slight confusion passed Snape's features, even as he raised his arms to return the gentle embrace without thought. The obsidian-eyed man murmured something too softly for Harry to grasp, but Draco must have understood, because he whispered a response just as quietly.

Then the blonde stepped away from Snape and picked up his bag of holding. The grey-eyed boy and the raven-haired man shared a look and a nod before the man raised his wand to the top of the boy's head. The Disillusioned boy soon turned to Harry. "Would you like me to Disillusion you? I doubt you would permit Severus to do it…"

Harry narrowed his eyes at the potions master as he answered the other boy. "I know he won't do anything to intentionally harm you or our mission, but I still can't quite trust him." Green eyes turned to Draco…or where the Slytherin had been. "Go ahead."

Harry could not follow the rise of Draco's wand, but he felt something touch his forehead before he felt as though something cold were washing over his body. He looked down when the sensation had ended and found that he could barely make out the outline of his own shoes against the floor.

He looked up at the sound of Draco's voice, "Ready?"

The green-eyed boy nodded, and was glad that the charm would at least prevent either of the others from seeing his blush of embarrassment. "Yes; let's go."

Draco and Severus exchange simple goodbyes, and then the blonde quietly left the house. Harry looked between Snape and the door for a moment before turning to follow Draco.

Snape's voice stopped him just before he reached the door. "Do not take any foolish risks with him, Potter…or with yourself. Lupin and I have given up more than you can imagine, so that the two of you could survive to see a world without The Dark Lord."

Harry was suddenly reminded of the guilt trip Remus had sent him on during his third year. "Then we'll repay you by doing everything we can to survive…but you two had better do the same. Goodbye, Snape."

The raven-haired boy stepped out of the house and paused at the sidewalk, realizing that he had no hope of finding Draco by sight. He called out to the other boy quietly, and started when he felt a hand touch his own.

"It's just me." Draco's voice stated quietly from Harry's left.

"Good," the green-eyed boy gripped the blonde's slender hand. "Let's go. Do you know the river Remus was speaking of?"

The grey-eyed boy walked beside Harry, making no comment on their joined hands. "Yes…that's where Severus taught me the Serpensortia spell."

"I thought all underage wizards weren't supposed to practice magic at home," Harry stated curiously. "How did he teach you without the Ministry being alerted?"

"I was with him and he's a registered adult wizard," Draco answered offhandedly. It sounded as though he had never considered the question before. "The Ministry likely just assumed that he was the one performing the spells."

Although Harry knew the blonde could not make out his pondering expression, the other boy explained further. "When an underage wizard or witch lives among other magical folk, the Ministry has to rely on their guardians to enforce the laws unless the child does something dangerous or powerful enough to merit a closer look. Besides, conjuring spells are usually more advanced; you don't typically learn them until sixth or seventh year, so they really wouldn't suspect a small child for that."

The green-eyed boy frowned. "Why was Snape teaching you then?"

"Why did Lupin teach you the Patronus Charm in third year?" countered Draco smoothly.

"That was different," Harry insisted, deciding not to ask how Draco knew who had taught him the spell and when. Actually, he would have been slightly surprised if the blonde had not figured it out already. "I needed to learn it then; otherwise, Remus would have waited until I was older."

"Knowing the sorts my father associates with, Severus wanted me to know how to protect myself without doing anything I wasn't ready for;" Draco answered slowly. Harry could tell by his careful tone that the blonde was choosing his words carefully. "Conjuring a snake gives you some time to run or disarm while your opponent is distracted.

Furthermore, I saw Severus conjure one and I wanted to learn." It sounded as though Draco's mood was lifted somewhat by the memory. "Severus had a tendency to indulge me back then."

"Indulge you?" The bespectacled boy was caught between amusement and bewilderment. "You make it sound like he let you stay up past your bedtime to watch the telly or something. He was teaching you advanced magic to protect yourself…what did he think your father's friends were going do?"

The blonde's voice grew somewhat guarded as he replied; "They weren't his 'friends', Harry…Malfoys aren't meant to have friends." He added the last part softly. Then, his tone turned confused, "And what is a 'telly'? Is that short for telephone or something?"

Harry chuckled, "And here I was starting to think you knew almost as much about Muggles and I do." He managed to stifle his chuckle -but not his grin- when he felt the blonde stiffen slightly. "Don't worry; you know loads more than Ron at least. Anyway, not quite: telly is short for television. Do you know what that is?"

"Isn't that those Muggle boxes that show news and those play-like things?" Harry could hear the thoughtful frown in the grey-eyed boy's voice. "I never really saw the purpose in those."

"They're for entertainment," the green-eyed boy replied. "I couldn't really see you enjoying- Hey, hang on…" Harry frowned and narrowed his eyes at the boy beside him. "You changed the subject on purpose! What about your father's, er, associates? And what was that about Malfoys not being allowed to have friends? What about Grabbe and Goyle?"

"It's your own fault for falling for it," Draco replied unflappably, "And I actually didn't know what a 'telly' was. Grabbe and Goyle were almost…assigned to me...I suppose you could say. Their fathers wanted them to learn to follow and my father wanted me to learn to lead. Our parents arranged grooming sessions, not play dates."

"What about the other Slytherins or the other members of your Quidditch team?"

"Most of the other Slytherins come from families that either fear or loathe my family for various reasons…they aren't likely to try to befriend me unless they're hoping to gain something from it, and that's not truly friendship, is it?" The blonde sounded resigned, if a little bitter, and Harry gave the slender hand in his a squeeze.

Draco returned the gesture before continuing in a more subdued tone. "As for the other members of the Quidditch team; well, my father ensured that they would not treat me like a normal boy from day one. The brooms were not a bribe to get me on the team, as Granger suspected; he supplied them after I made the team on my own. He just couldn't have his son on a losing team if they couldn't keep up."

The pallid Slytherin sighed quietly. "They were also a bribe to keep the team at a distance…remind them who my father was and all that."

"Sounds isolating," the raven-haired boy commented. Harry had always felt segregated at his aunt and uncle's house, but at least he could interact. He and Dudley might not have been friends, but at least Harry was always himself.

Not to mention the fact that he gained good friends once he attended Hogwarts. Harry could not imagine getting through the past few years on his own, let alone having to keep up a front. The green-eyed boy surprised himself with his next question, "Were you at least able to spend more time with Snape without your father's interference once you came to Hogwarts?"

"That was one of the highlights of attending Hogwarts." Harry could not see Draco's subtle smile, but he could hear it, and he was sure he could feel it too. "It was a large part of why my mother was so adamant that I go there instead of Durmstrang, as my father wanted. She knew Severus would watch out for me and Dumbledore would prevent anyone from trying to turn me into a Death Eater."

"And it's much closer to home," Harry interjected with a grin. "Of course she wouldn't be able to stand having you so far away."

There was a pause before the blonde responded, good-naturedly if a little embarrassed. "Heard that bit, did you? I suspected you were listening. You know, I- oh, we're here."

The emaciated Slytherin stopped walking and his tone grew serious again. "How close to the old Riddle manor do you want to Apparate?"

The bespectacled boy stopped when he accidentally tugged the immobile blonde forward by their linked hands, and took in their surroundings. They had reached the fence that followed the dingy bank of the river. "Well…we obviously can't Apparate into Little Hangleton, and I don't think it's wise to Apparate straight to Riddle Manor."

"I agree," Draco replied. "Severus seemed sure there wouldn't be anyone there just now, but I'd rather not risk landing right in some Death Eater's lap."

Harry nodded, more to himself as his companion could not truly see him, and then thought of something. "The Dark Mark only alerts you if Voldemort" -the slender hand in his own suddenly shook and he rubbed the back of it with his thumb- "Calls his Death Eaters, right? It doesn't alert you or him of anything else…?"

There was a moment of silence before the grey-eyed boy responded slowly, in an oddly confused tone. "It only alerts when activated, like the Protean Charm. Remind me to show you my arm again once we've finished with this."

Harry blinked. "Why?"

"Because you're clearly under the impression that I have the Dark Mark," Draco stated quietly, almost wearily; "Which I don't."

Harry felt both floored and elated…before confusion settled in. "But I thought-"

"He asked me if I wanted the Dark Mark -knowing I didn't- so that he could have another excuse to punish me after my failure. I told you he said he would see me marked either way. He did, but he didn't mark me…Greyback did."

"Greyback…but-" The green-eyed boy suddenly had a vision of Bill Weasley, after the fight at Hogwarts several weeks prior. "That's why Remus had a hard time healing it…and why he said it would scar."

"At least it wasn't during a full moon," the blonde commented uneasily. He took a deep breath before speaking smoothly once again. "We can talk about that later. Right now, we should be concentrating on how we're going to infiltrate Riddle Manor."

The bespectacled boy had dozens of questions running through his mind, but he knew the pale Slytherin was right. He took a deep breath and willed his mind to focus on the task at hand, hoping that they would have time for questions and discussions later on.

"There's a cemetery," Harry said after a long moment. "It's on the outskirts of Little Hangleton, near the church, and not to far from Riddle Manor. There aren't any houses between the two either, so we aren't likely to be seen by any Muggles."

"That sounds best," Draco agreed. Then, he gave Harry's hand a light squeeze. "Are you ready?"

The raven-haired boy tightened his grip n the slender hand. "Let's go."

Harry felt Draco shift just before he was swept away in the familiar pressure of Apparation.

When the feeling faded and Harry righted himself, feeling slightly ill, he saw that they were in an unpleasantly familiar churchyard. The gravestones that were damaged during his duel with the newly risen Voldemort had been repaired, several more gravestones had been added over the past couple of years, and a fresh layer of grass covered the unmarked patches of earth. He could see Little Hangleton in the distance; the town looked still and dark.

Harry heard Draco's soft voice beside him. It sounded like he was facing the other direction. "I suppose that's it, then?"

The bespectacled boy turned and saw a large, faded manor on a hill overlooking the town. The once grand structure looked faded and decrepit…exactly as it had the last time Harry stood in this graveyard.

"Yes," he answered levelly, "That's it. We should probably keep our Disillusion spells up until we reach it. Come on." With that, Harry reluctantly released the other boy's hand and started heading toward the derelict residence.

The trek toward the manor was mostly silent. With the Disillusionment spells in place, Harry called out to Draco on a few occasions, just to make sure the blonde was still close to him. The grey-eyed boy simply assured Harry of his presence with a few words or a touch before they continued.

They stopped by silent agreement just before they reached the manor's overgrown garden.

"I don't see any signs of use," Harry whispered as he looked over the cobwebbed eaves, dusty shutters, and rusted hinges of the dwelling. Several windows were boarded up and appeared to be broken, the roof was short a few shingles, and the garden was growing out of control.

"Why don't you wait here while I move closer and check for any anti-Apparation wards;" Draco suggested softly. "If there are any -and they're still in place- then we know no one could have gotten in recently…except Pettigrew, perhaps."

Green-eyed narrowed slightly. "If that rat is in there, then I'm not letting him go so easy this time."

"This time?" the blonde repeated curiously yet quietly. "You'll have to explain that someday…assuming we live long enough."

"We will." Harry gripped his wand tightly. "Be careful and shout at the first sign of trouble."

The blonde whispered a response before he started moving closer to the house. "I would think you, of all people, would know that I'm not above screaming like a girl and running if it means saving my arse."

Harry could not hear him at all and could not as much as make out his outline as the other boy headed toward the house.

The following moments of silence and stillness were agonizing for Harry. Although he suspected that it actually did not take as long as it seemed, he was still debating whether it had been long enough to merit going after the grey-eyed boy when he saw the blonde striding back to him.

It took a few seconds for the relief of seeing him to settle enough for the bespectacled boy to realize he was seeing him. "You removed your Disillusionment charm," he stated crossly. He had even folded his arms and glared slightly before he remembered that Draco could not see him.

"The house did, actually," the fair Slytherin responded, sounding completely unfazed by the other boy's ire. Harry dropped his arms; between Lucious Malfoy, Severus Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Voldemort, he supposed his own wrath was probably laughable to the blonde.

"There are anti-Apparation wards up and they're undisturbed. There were also some protective spells on the entrance gate…I got them down, but not before this one took effect." Emaciated shoulders shrugged gracefully, "It seemed the least harmful and I had to let one slip by to dispel the rest."

"So, aside from Nagini, Wormtail, and anyone else small enough to fit through the pipes or cracks, the house is probably clear…" Harry nodded to his own statement, even as Draco did the same. "Let's go in then."

"Not so fast," Draco drawled. "I removed the protective spells that allow one to approach the house, but there are still some defensive spells on the house itself. I thought it would be best to get you before I started on those." The blonde glanced away as he added, "I wouldn't want you to try any heroics if you thought I was in trouble due to taking too long."

The green-eyed boy was once again glad for the Disillusionment Charm that was hiding the proof of his embarrassment. How the pale boy had known he was growing impatient and worried when he could not even see him properly, he would never be able to guess. "Okay, get this spell off of me then and let's start on those."

Harry felt the feather light touch of a wand tip against his temple and then felt the charm drain away. He raised his hand and saw that he appeared quite normal again.

"That's better," Draco murmured. Before Harry could remark on the faintest upturn of the corner of his mouth, the blonde turned and headed toward the empty manor. A grin flickered over Harry's own features before he followed.

The grey-eyed boy cast Revelio over the boarded door and a few windows, and each showed a complex array of spells and enchantments. A pale brow furrowed and then Draco cast the spell again, studying the results closely when they repeated. A white-blonde eyebrow arched; "That makes no sense…"

Harry, who had not recognized any of the spells revealed, looked between the boy and the door. "What doesn't?"

"Each entrance is sealed with the same spells, three are simple, two are rather complex and the last…" Draco furrowed his brow again. "It would have to be released from the inside."

The raven-haired boy waited until it was clear that the other boy was actually not going to add anything further to that explanation. In fact, the blonde began removing one of the protective spells. Harry's eyebrows rose slightly as spoke, "But…no one can get in."

Draco nodded idly, looking pensive as he began countering another spell. Harry waited another beat before adding, "So, how can the spell be removed from the inside?"

"Nagini or Pettigrew could enter, and He usually has one of them with him…" Draco appeared to be thinking as he turned to face the darker boy. "V-Voldemort could easily force one of them to let him in, if he so desired."

Grey eyes flicked over the Gryffindor, "How well can you control snakes?"

The raven-haired boy had been thinking over the blonde's initial statement when the sudden question halted his line of thought. "What?"

"Do you remember the dueling club demonstration from second year?" Draco asked. Harry found himself marveling, for the first time in several days, at the lack of arrogance in the other boy's tone while he explained something that should probably be clear already. "I can summon snakes and you can speak to them. The question is: can you get one to go inside and touch the door?"

"Er…I'm not- I don't really know," the green-eyed boy scratched the back of his neck and he thought. "I've only really talked to a couple. I didn't ask anything of the one at the zoo, and I think the one you summoned stopped attacking Justin more because it was surprised I could speak it's language then because I asked it to. Besides, what if the spell hurts it when it touches the door…or what if removing it is more complicated than just touching it?"

"I don't think it will hurt it, but you do have a point on the latter concern," Draco remarked thoughtfully. He took a deep breath and held up his wand directly in front of his face. "Plan B then…take a step back please; I've only tried this twice before and it didn't turn out quite right the first time."

"Wait," Harry grabbed the pale boy's thin wrist. "What are you going to do?"

"After I learned how mother's cousin escaped from Azkaban, I started studying up on Animagi. I had planned to wait until I was old enough to register, but once He returned, and I learned that father and the others were planning for me to join his ranks, I started trying. I figured I was likely to end up dead or in Azkaban anyway, so why not?"

The blonde's even tone combined with another graceful shrug made Harry's stomach flip nervously. In the end, he supposed he had accepted his own fate in a similarly resigned manner. Still, he did not consider his future quite as bleak as the one Draco faced once Voldemort returned.

Pushing such unpleasant and distracting thoughts away, the green-eyed boy lowered the pale hand he held captive. "You're an Animagus? And you've gotten far enough since fourth year to think you can transform?"

"Yes. I've only actually transformed once. I'd probably be further along, but I haven't really focused on it since…" The pallid Slytherin looked away, "Since last summer."

Neither boy said anything for a brief moment, until Draco finally returned his gaze to Harry. "Just let me try this, all right? I have more confidence in my ability to do this than you seem to have in the probability of you convincing a snake to do it."

Harry stared into clear grey eyes for a moment, thinking of the numerous ways the situation could turn out wrong. Finally, he asked, "What happened the time it didn't quite work out?"

"Nothing terrible," the blonde replied evenly. Harry had a feeling that they had different definitions of the term, and that must have shown on his face, because Draco sighed and explained further. "I shrank…and grew a tail. Nothing life-threatening; Actually, Severus found it irritatingly amusing."

The idea of an amused Snape managed to shock Harry out of his own amusement. "Snape knows?"

"Of course," Draco replied as if he would have been mad not to tell the raven-haired man. "You think I'd be foolish enough to try a spell this complicated without telling him? What if I'd needed assistance while in my Animagus form or couldn't change back?"

Realizing the slender boy had a point; Harry decided to ask another question. "How long did it take you to change back?"

"Ten, perhaps twelve, minutes," Draco replied offhandedly. "It would have taken only half as long if Severus had helped me reach my book. I think he was trying to teach me a lesson."

"I could imagine Remus doing the same," Harry finally commented. "Alright, we'll try it…but stop the transformation if anything seems to be going wrong. And be careful in there; run at the first sign of trouble."

"Didn't I already remind you of my lack of issues in fleeing when the need arises?" The blond showed no signs of insincerity or insecurity as he responded. "I see no shame in a necessary retreat. If anything, I value the strategic advantages of knowing when to withdraw."

Running out of excuses and knowing that he would do the same thing -only without the benefit of the warning that Draco had given him- the bespectacled boy finally nodded his consent. The grey-eyed boy nodded once in return and then stepped back to place some room between them before raising his wand and closing his eyes. Harry bit his lip and watched nervously as he witness the somewhat familiar sight of an Animagi transformation until he found himself staring at an unusually pale and scrawny marten.

Harry crouched down and looked at the boy who was now a creature smaller than Crookshanks. While he had only seen seasoned Animagi transform before, he still had the impression that the grey-eyed boy-turned-marten should not be behaving as he was. The fair creature was quivering, breathing hard, and tightly holding his jaw closed, as though he were refraining from screaming or biting something.

The Gryffindor watched in concern for a moment until the pale Slytherin calmed, stilled, and then looked about as though planning his next move like nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

"Draco…are you alright?" The white-blonde marten looked up and nodded. Harry frowned, but decided he could hardly argue with the other boy while he was incapable of speech or human facial expressions.

"Okay…" The green-eyed boy straightened and looked at the old manor. "Now how are you going to get in?"

Draco made a cute chittering sound and then dashed up a drainpipe, scurried along a window ledge, and disappeared into a gap between the boards covering a broken window.

The green-eyed boy sighed in relief before the reality of the situation came crashing down on him: Draco could not perform magic in his current form, he would need a moment to transform back -assuming he could transform back at all- and he was alone in a house that could contain curses, hexes, snakes, and Death Eaters. Harry suddenly remembered why he had hated this idea I the first place.

The raven-haired boy clutched his wand and paced in front of the door during every painstaking minute that he did not know what was happening to the pale Slytherin. Eventually, the door shimmered a bright violet and Harry aimed his wand, hoping it was a good sign but not taking anything for granted. Vaguely, he thought that Remus would be proud.

Nothing happened for a long moment before Harry heard Draco's voice call through the door. "Now I just need a minute to remove the remaining spells. Don't touch anything until I say it's clear, all right?"

The bespectacled boy felt relief upon hearing the blonde's voice, but frowned when he was told not to touch anything. "Of course; I'm not an idiot you know…no matter what you and Hermione may think at times."

"I've never said you were an idiot," the blonde chimed from the other side of the thick door. "...Just that the traits that define 'imprudence' and 'bravery' coincide remarkably often."

Harry continued to frown at the door until the unspoken implication of the grey-eyed boy's statement registered. Then, he grinned. "So, you've said I was brave before?"

"And imprudent, yes," came the muffled and slightly distant reply. Harry realized that the blonde was probably concentrating on opening the door and decided to let the subject rest for the time being. He could not help the slight pulling at the corner of his mouth, however.

Harry finally sobered when he heard Draco call, "I'm going to try to open it now…back up just in case-"

The raven-haired boy interrupted once he understood what the other boy was planning. "Wait! Why don't I open it?"

"That would fall under the 'imprudent' category, Harry," Draco sounded tired, which only made Harry less keen to let him open the door if there was a possibility that it still contained harmful spells. "Most of the spells were only designed to harm someone trying to enter the house, not exit. I cannot be certain, but I believe there is a curse left that can only be revealed and removed from your side."

"Well hang on then." The green-eyed boy raised his wand to the door, "Revelio." A strange blue shadow overtook the door for a moment before fading away. "Yeah, it's still cursed. How do I remove it?"

"You don't," the blonde responded, still sounding drained. "Just let me open it from this side; it's perfectly safe." The raven-haired boy groaned and Draco spoke through the door again. "I'll take that as a sign of grudging acceptance. Now, step back already."

Harry stepped back a few paces and faintly heard the fair Slytherin cast Alohamora before the door unlock and opened with a tight squeal from the hinges. Draco looked no worse for wear as he beckoned Harry to enter. After sharing a quick glance, they raised their wands and turned to take in their surroundings.

They were in a large foyer that branched off to several large rooms. Just like the exterior, it was clear that the manor had once been grand but had fallen to ruin in the years since its owners and -later- caretaker passed. It reminded Harry of the Shrieking Shack in a way, with its boarded windows and worn, dusty floors. Damask sheets covered the furniture and light fabric covered the wall decorations.

Green eyes continued to scan the house as Harry whispered; "Do you think Nagini is here?"

"If not, then she was here quite recently," Draco replied softly. "I could smell her while I was transformed. It was actually rather frightening. If it weren't so convenient, I'd wish I turned into something a little larger."

The bespectacled boy nodded. "At least you can hide easily if need be…if we suddenly come across more than we can handle."

"You expect me to just leave you?" The blonde asked quietly but his disbelief was still clear. Before Harry cold reply, he shook his head and added; "I doubt I could transform under those conditions anyway."

Harry grudgingly nodded his acceptance to the Slytherin's point. They continued looking around and Draco asked another question. "Do you think Nagini would come if you called her? Or does she only respond to Him?"

"I think she only heeds Voldemort, but that doesn't mean she won't come if I call." The raven-haired boy glanced at the blonde. "You know more about Horcruxes than I do, do you have any idea how she'll respond to-" Harry's voice broke and he swallowed thickly before rephrasing his question, "To you?"

The grey-eyed boy paled further and turned his gaze to a cobweb hanging off an old, unused sconce. "When I first turned, I thought I… It wasn't so much that I felt something, but I sensed something was…odd. About me, I mean.

"But I keep my human mind when I transform, so maybe I was just overanalyzing. There are some things books can't tell you; perhaps all Animagi feel that when they're in their animal form." The blonde sighed and finally met Harry's gaze. "Or perhaps she feels it too."

Harry reached out to place his free hand on the emaciated blonde's shoulder. He was at a loss for words. He had no idea what the pale boy was feeling or how to help him. "We should ask Remus about that when we're done here…maybe Sirius, Pettigrew, or my dad mentioned something about that."

The green-eyed boy looked around the still, musky room once more. It was clear to Harry that the grey-eyed boy hated that part of Voldemort's soul resided in him.

"Do you think that Nagini wants to be rid of him too?" The bespectacled boy turned his gaze to the blonde beside him. Cautious grey eyes were carefully neutral. "I think you made it pretty clear that you would rather d-" Harry swallowed thickly, "Maybe she feels the same way."

"I don't know." Draco shrugged gracefully and spoke with a soft, level tone, but his aloof eyes gave away his unease. "Even transformed, I still have a human's consciousness with an animal's instinct. Nigini does not. Assuming she does sense something, she might not be able to make any distinctions."

Harry nodded slowly, "The reason Dumbledore suspected her as-" He had felt the other boy tense slightly upon hearing their former headmaster's name, but when he felt Draco actually shiver as he approached the subject of the Horcruxes, he felt a new sort of anger swell in his chest. Swallowing it down, Harry just hoped that he would be able to put an end to all of it soon.

The raven-haired boy gave the fair Slytherin's shoulder a squeeze. "He thought it was odd, the way she responded to him…even considering that he spoke Parseltongue."

Draco nodded slowly, but frowned. "I thought the same at first but now…that doesn't make so much sense. I felt no inclination to obey Him, even when given orders directly. Maybe it's because she's an animal or perhaps she really is a familiar."

The blonde sighed, "I don't know. Can we just…do what we came here to do, please?"

Harry nodded and both boys began moving down the foyer. The bespectacled boy saw a familiar staircase upon entering what he assumed was the great room. "In the summer before the Triwizard Tournament, I started having this dream…it took place here. I remember seeing this staircase."

The green-eyed boy glanced at the blonde beside him and saw that he needed no further explanation. Draco clearly knew exactly what sort of dream Harry was speaking. "Do they know about the dream?" Draco murmured as he looked at the staircase thoughtfully.

"No," Harry frowned. "I don't believe so anyway, and neither did Snape when he explained them to me the following year."

The grey-eyed boy appeared impressed, but Harry was not certain which part of his comment cased that reaction. He himself had been impressed that he and Snape could be alone together long enough for such explanations without killing each other. Before he could ponder further, Draco spoke again, indicating the staircase. "I suppose it's as likely a place to find her as any."

"Yeah," Harry agreed as they approached the stairs. "Stay close."

Draco was already at his side, "Likewise."

The raven-haired boy only nodded, for they were already halfway up the stairs and he thought it would be wiser to remain silent until they knew where Nagini was. The blonde seemed to be thinking among the same lines, as he did not make another sound either.

They paused at the head of the stairs. The hall was dark in both directions and Harry honestly had no idea where to start. The green-eyed boy was trying to recall which direction the room from his dream three years earlier had been, when he felt Draco touch his arm.

The grey-eyed boy was looking away from Harry, down the hall nearest him. Harry squinted into the darkness and considered casting Lumos to see what caught the other boy's attention when a voice told him all he needed to know.

"Who iss there…?"