A/N: I'm freaking you out with these fast updates right? xD You should be...*evil grin*

Also, yay for 100,000 words! Double yay for all your reviews! :D I didn't have time to respond to all of them (bad author!) but then I thought you'd probably appreciate a new chapter more anyways...

Enjoy! :)

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Chapter 24

Harry fell.

Down, down, down it went, like a gigantic slide made out of stone. The surface scratched at his bare hands and tore at his clothes as he desperately tried to stop his half-fall, half-glide.

His body rotated a few times, until he finally managed to slip feet first down the pipe.

In the end it spat him out in a damp, mushy and stinking pile of things Harry didn't even want to think about. He laughed anyway, his heart thumping madly in his chest. Blind, disoriented and with new bruises, but alive.

"Harry?" came Draco's concerned voice muffled from above.

"I'm fine!" he yelled back while patting himself down, trying to get rid of human and inhuman waste. "It's more like a giant slide, but I don't think I can get bac-…"

"Awesome!" squeaked Draco and to Harry's horror his laughter suddenly came nearer.

What the hell was wrong with that kid? Oh, right, kid. Slides. Shit.

Harry groaned helplessly as Draco's delighted squeals came nearer and nearer. He considered if he should try and catch him, but the force would most likely knock them both down. Draco would land softer in the unsavoury pile.

"Eww!" exclaimed Draco horrified as soon as his journey had ended. "It stinks!" He looked at Harry accusingly.

"How is that my fault?" he hissed at him. "What were you thinking? You could have hurt yourself! How do we get back up if no one knows where we are?"

"We…W-we can't go b…" Draco's eyes went wide in the darkness, looking as if he'd start to cry every second.

"Ah, no, don't cry! Please! Gods, just…Come on, let's see where we landed. Don't worry, we'll find a way." He hastily grabbed one of Draco's tiny hands and led him forwards.

At least he hoped it was forwards.

The tunnel they were in seemed to grow bigger in that direction. And brighter. Harry took it as a good sign. Maybe it was connected to the dungeons?

Draco sniffed a few times besides him, but luckily didn't start crying. Blasted kid. What if he had broken his neck?

Harry hoped at least Nagini had the common sense to stay where she was. He really didn't want to think how the snake might be slithering behind them.

They walked for a good while until they stood in front of a heavy ornamented stone door. Draco grabbed his hand more tightly. Harry knew what he felt. There was no other way out, if the door didn't move, they would only be able to wait and hope for somebody to find them.

The door was locked, of course. In fact, it didn't have any handles to open it in the first place.

"It's n-no use, I'll- I'll die here," sobbed Draco.

"Oh hush," reprimanded Harry harshly, "We won't die for at least three days. The walls are wet and with water we'll be able to wait here for a good week or more."

Draco only sobbed harder.

Okay so maybe the prospect of spending a week down here wasn't exactly comforting, but he didn't know what to do with a child, much less a crying one.

He inspected the door as well as the faint light allowed him to. No handles were odd, besides, with such an elaborate mechanism for the sink, it wasn't a far stretch to think the door opened the same way.

A week ago he would have been excited at the puzzle. But his last encounter with a secret door hadn't exactly gone according to plan.

Upon closer inspection, he could see all the ornaments were movable to some extent. They were small figurines mostly, animals or strange symbols. Did he have to move the pieces to the right place to open the door? It looked similar to a very complex lock. There had to be a code…Which Harry had no way to figure out, but since when did he need instructions?

"Hmm, let's see…That one here, this over there-…no, that will block the snake…Is that a language?..This one up, that one…left…I think?...Then push here…"

He stepped back and tilted his head in contemplation. He nudged the door once again but nothing happened. He squinted to see the pieces better. The only figure he could still move was the snake. But there seemed no definite space for it.

He pushed against it and slid it along its path. Now that the other pieces were in their places, it made a perfect circle. And then something clicked audible into place.

Harry grinned at Draco. "No camping out after all."

"What did you do?" asked Draco wide-eyed.

Harry shrugged. "Cleared the path for the key, I guess?"

"But you moved them randomly!"

"I didn't!" protested Harry indignantly.

"Then how did you do that?" huffed Draco suspiciously.

"Err…I just…looked? Come on, let's get out of here."

'Out of there' sadly wasn't really out. Instead the tunnel now bore more resemblance to a long hall. A huge, mostly empty hall. The stone floor and walls were slightly wet and there were several stone statues as well. Where were they? Some kind of secret underground church? Why would that exist under a boarding school? Or maybe it had been there long before that…

At least there was more light here, though Harry couldn't figure out where it came from, which somehow put him on edge.

"Oh look! There's another door! Maybe another puzzle?" Draco pointed at the far end of the hall. Harry had no clue why he sounded already excited again.

A distinctive, sharp hissing sound behind them made Harry whirl around in fear.

Nagini…The snake appeared even deadlier in the dimly lit tunnel. And the shadows made her look bigger than she already was.

"Can't you, ah, talk to her or something?" he asked Draco, who had started to whimper softly.

"Sh-she only listens to lord V-Voldemort. I've never seen her so angry."

Brilliant Riddle, thanks a lot.

Nagini hissed again and began to move a lot faster.

"Uh-oh, run!"

Harry grabbed the frozen Draco and sprinted towards the door. There was little hope it would open but he had no time to think - that beast was fast. And there was nowhere else to run anyways.

He rattled at the door - at least this one had a handle - and cursed resigned when it wouldn't open.

He slowly turned around, his back facing the door, Draco still half in his arms.

Nagini had stopped her pursuit about a meter in front of them and now raised her head lazily, as if she knew exactly they were trapped. Her tongue flickered between her impressive fangs.

Harry's eyes darted hectically around, searching for something that might possibly help them. Somewhere to hide, a stick, anything that would separate him from the snake.

She stared directly at him and he stiffed in dreadful anticipation. Even small snakes triggered a primal fear in most humans. A snake as huge as Nagini…Well, he wasn't ashamed of the slight tremor in his hands.

Painstakingly slow, not daring to startle the snake into action, he put Draco down behind him, trying to shield him from the beast. He could hear him whimper in terror, though he did his best to keep silent.

"She knows you right? You'll be okay Draco," he assured him, his voice barely above a whisper.

Nagini closed in completely, raising her head until she was on eye level with Harry. Wasn't that just ironic? He had crossed the country to be killed by the bloody pet of his lord. He hadn't even seen the library yet.

Nagini's tongue darted out, almost touching his nose, and then…tilted her head? If snakes had expressions, this one looked pensive.

Harry's eyes widened in surprise when she lowered herself a bit and slithered slightly to the left, as if it was trying to get around him.

But that didn't make any sense. Harry was the stranger so she should attack him, certainly not Draco.

Without thinking, Harry turned his body as well, blocking her path to Draco. The snake turned around and slid to his right. Harry pushed himself once again between her and Draco.

He didn't understand Nagini's behaviour. Not that he knew much about snakes, but if Draco truly was her prey then she wouldn't slither around them so deliberately slow. It was almost as if she was expecting him to protect Draco.

"Nagini?"

Harry sucked in a shocked breath. The voice was muffled and came from behind them, but by now he would know it anywhere.

"Riddle! For fuck's sake open the damn door!"

There was a noticeable pause on the other side of the stone door, then harsh murmurs followed by several pairs of feet and finally a scraping sound.

Harry never left Nagini with his eyes and because he and Draco were pressing their backs on the door behind them, they promptly fell backwards when it suddenly opened.

Both of them all but scrambled on the floor, trying to get away from the snake.

Harry vaguely registered that they were in some kind of study. It was very similar organized like Riddle's personal coach on the train, just better furnished, including a fireplace, and bigger.

Apart from Riddle, there were also Lucius and two other men Harry hadn't met yet. The three of them stared at him and Draco in disbelief, while Riddle stood outside the study, petting Nagini.

"D-Draco?"

Harry was shocked to hear the stutter in Lucius' voice. Lucius Malfoy did not stutter.

He turned to Draco and saw what the dim light of the tunnel had obscured. Both of them were still covered in mud, waste and other slimy things, as well as several scratches. Poor Lucius looked ready to faint.

Riddle came back in, Nagini draped around his shoulders like a bloody scarf.

"Though I have no idea how you could have possibly ended up here," he began calmly, "I'm not particularly surprised either. I am surprised however, that Nagini is here as well. Tell me Dolohov, what is my snake doing here?"

Riddle fixed one of the unfamiliar men with a cool look.

"I do not know my lord," confessed the man, sinking to his knees immediately.

"And where, Nott, should my precious pet be?"

The other man followed Dolohov's example and went down on his knees. "Secured in the abandoned east wing my lord."

Riddle turned to Lucius, cold anger radiating from him. "And who, Lucius, is currently responsible for that?"

"I will find out immediately my lord."

With Lucius kneeling as well, only Riddle stood since Harry and Draco still sat on the floor as well. This irritated Harry immensely, but he knew standing up now would immediately draw Riddle's attention to himself.

"Do that," commanded Riddle coldly, "Now."

The three men hastily picked themselves up. Lucius threw a last glance at Draco. It was obvious he wanted to take his son with him, but Riddle had somehow made it clear without words that Harry and Draco were not yet dismissed.

Alone with Riddle - and that beast pet of his - Harry itched even more to stand up. He consoled himself with the knowledge that at least he was only sitting and not on his knees.

Riddle kept silent, still petting Nagini who evidently enjoyed the treatment. Then Riddle extended his right arm and she winded herself along it.

"Your hand, Harry."

He gaped at him. "Not bloody likely! That beast almost killed me! Get it away from me!"

"She won't attack you once she sampled your scent. Apparently she already decided you should not be killed, but we better make sure."

Since he most definitely didn't want to get attacked by her again, Harry slowly extended his own arm towards Riddle's.

Nagini's tongue flickered over his hand a few times before she continued to slid along Riddle's arm and onto Harry's.

"W-what is she doing? You said she would only sample!"

Riddle watched him curiously. "She seems to like you."

"What?! She didn't like me a minute ago! Make her stop!" Harry tried hard to suppress his panic, but it was hard when a gigantic snake slowly wrapped herself around your torso.

Once Nagini was completely off his arm, Riddle straightened and watched him struggle in her grip. She squeezed Harry just enough that he couldn't move his arms at all.

Forget about her fangs, she could probably squash the life out of him with little effort.

"Riddle…" warned Harry, hoping it didn't sound like a plea.

"She won't harm you unless I say so," told him Riddle with a smirk that didn't reassure him at all. "She gets a bit irritated when I'm gone for too long. That's why I ordered my followers to keep her strictly in one wing of the castle and stay clear of her. She certainly shouldn't have met you. I must congratulate you on staying alive, it is hard to impress her."

"Impress her?" echoed Harry tonelessly, trying to ignore Nagini's tongue on his neck.

"I have no doubt she attacked you the moment she saw you. But you, foolish child, you tried to shield Draco isn't that right?"

"She was suddenly trying to attack him!"

"No. She realized you were protecting him and thus decided you were not a threat. I don't know why you thought Draco needed protection since he never was in any danger unlike you, but if you hadn't you would be dead by now."

Harry stared at Nagini's eyes only centimetres from his face. She blinked at him and flickered her tongue over his cheek.

"Get her off me!"

"I quite like the picture." Riddle settled in a chair by the fireplace, never taking his eyes off Harry. "Now, how did you end up on the side of my chambers that leads to a dead end?"

"I, um, kinda…fell?" When Riddle continued to just look at him he went on. "The sink in the bathroom on the first floor. I, ah, fell through the hole when Nagini attacked me."

"Hmm…We did think it had to lead somewhere with such an opening, but I never thought it's connected to the hall outside this study."

"But you must have noticed the other door in the hall right? Why did you never follow the path from there on?" asked Harry.

"Because, my stupid genius, no one has been able to open it."

"Oh."

"I have a few theories concerning the purpose of the hall, but the only certain thing is that they went to great lengths to keep it secret. This study is only accessible through a maze of dungeons, tunnels and secret openings and like I said, the other door remained firmly locked."

"So you either know the exact way through the dungeons and all the hidden pathways, or you jump down a pipe?"

Riddle tilted his head in contemplation. "A pipe that leads to a closed door. You won't find the hall or the study if you don't know the way, but if you don't know how to open the door you'll die."

"You think they threw people down there to die?" Harry grimaced at the thought of the mushy pile they had landed in. He dearly hoped he wasn't covered in human remains. "But it is possible to open the door if you know how or, err, just try it."

"My best theory is that it was some kind of cult. Cults often put their members through an initiation ritual. The members that wished to join them could have been forced to jump through the pipe. The locked door would have been their test. I saw the ornaments on the door, my guess is that if you had enough knowledge about the letters or the story represented on the door, you could open it."

He smirked at Harry. "Or you could just try, of course. Though I'll have you know that my attempts didn't accomplish anything. Wipe that grin off your face this instance child!"

Harry ducked his head slightly, still grinning. After all, Riddle had just confessed he hadn't been able to do something.

"How many times has your father told you not to go near that hole, Draco?" Riddle addressed the young Malfoy almost as cold as his father.

"Um, I-I didn't count my lord," sniffed Draco. He was obviously quite terrified to be the source of his lord's anger.

"Oh come on Riddle! Leave him alone!"

Riddle chuckled. "So protective. I didn't think you would take your job so seriously."

"Yes well, some babysitters actually care for their charge."

"Are you insinuating that I don't give you enough attention Harry? Why, we can rectify that immediately." Riddle gracefully stood up and approached the still struggling Harry. His expression did nothing to put Harry at ease.

"W-what are you planning? Stay away!"

Riddle harshly placed his hands on Harry's cheeks, his nails scratching the sensitive skin. Harry hissed at the sharp pain, struggling even more in Nagini's grip but achieving nothing.

"Draco close your eyes," Riddle ordered softly.

"Huh? I- yes my lord."

Not needing to check if Draco obeyed, Riddle bent down and claimed Harry's lips.

Riddle hadn't kissed him since the day he had tried to save Snape's live. The feeling was still utterly alien to him, especially because it changed every time. On the balcony their lips had only brushed, the second time had already been much more intimate, but this…this was devouring.

Harry couldn't move his hands, couldn't even move his head due to Riddle's grip. He wasn't able to touch him or do anything except opening his mouth for Riddle's relentless attacks.

He tried not to give in completely, but there was only so much you can do if you could only move your tongue. And Riddle was clearly more proficient in that art, judging from the way he claimed Harry's mouth as his.

One of Riddle's hands left his cheek in favour of pulling sharply at his hair. Harry would have hissed again, but he was in no state to make any sounds.

It was weird not being able to move at all. He could only sit and wait until Riddle was sated. For some reason his body didn't seem to care at all, even though his mind was protesting weakly.

When Riddle finally pulled away, Harry was almost glad he had already been sitting. He wasn't sure he would be able to stand right now.

"Nagini, be a good girl and let go of him." Riddle locked eyes with Harry, smirking. "I want to see him tremble."

Harry tried to stop, he really did. But his body betrayed him and as soon as Nagini didn't hold him anymore, he was shivering violently at Riddle's feet. He hated his lack of control, but realized there was nothing he could do and settled for an intense glare to keep some of his dignity.

He expected Riddle to gloat, mocking him for his reactions. Instead he leaned forward again, bringing his lips close to Harry's ear.

"Beautiful." His voice was hoarse and Harry bit his lips to keep the undignified sounds in that tried to escape him. The action didn't escape Riddle's notice.

"No comeback? You're unusually quiet child." His amusement was seeping through now.

"Bastard. Just you wait…"

"For what? What can you do Harry?"

"I will get better at this," vowed Harry determined. He refused to be so helpless, refused to have Riddle take charge so easily, refused to be the only one that lost his cool.

Riddle blinked surprised before taking a step back and starting to laugh. It wasn't his usual chuckle, it was the same laugh Harry had heard after he had tortured him at the inn. Somehow he knew Riddle wasn't laughing at him, but was genuinely delighted at his response, though he couldn't guess what could possibly be so funny.

When Riddle managed to compose himself again he tilted Harry's chin up, forcing him to stare up at him.

"I'm not sure if you actually realize what you're saying or if you just take a perverse pleasure in defying people's expectations. Whatever the reason, don't make me wait too long, child."

Harry wasn't sure how to respond to that, so he kept silent.

Riddle released him and went back to the chair in front of the fireplace.

"You can open your eyes now, Draco."

Harry's eyes widened in shock. He had completely forgotten about Draco sitting only a few inches next to him.

Draco blinked, looking slightly confused to Harry as if to ask him what was happening.

"Both of you will go and wash yourself upstairs. Take the first turn left and then go straight, I will have somebody waiting for you that will escort you out. Harry, I trust you'll remember the way, you will come back here immediately afterwards, preferably without jumping into a pile of mud first."

The relief Harry had felt upon hearing they would be dismissed vanished when he was ordered to come back again so shortly.

"Why?" he asked warily.

"To fulfill your end of our bargain."

Harry chewed his lower lip nervously. He wanted to get that blasted command over with, but he also dreaded what Riddle would demand. He stopped abruptly when he saw Riddle watching his lips.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Harry stood up shakily and left the study behind Draco.

Apparently they were a level under the dungeons. Dark tunnels spread out in front of them and Harry knew that even if there had been a map of Hogwarts, these wouldn't be on it.

They followed Riddle's instructions and there was indeed a man waiting for them. Harry remembered Riddle calling him Dolohov. He led them through the maze of tunnels without a word, revealing several hidden openings in the process. Harry sure hoped his brain wouldn't fail him when he came back. Though maybe getting lost was less frightening that Riddle's command?

After going up a narrow winded staircase that literally appeared out of nowhere if you touched the right stone, they found themselves in the dungeons. The light was still dim and it was everything but cozy, but at least it looked like it was made for humans to walk through.

Dolohov turned around without a word and left them there. Harry felt inclined to tell him that he still had no clue where they were, but apparently Draco did.

"Sev's quarters aren't far from here," chatted Draco, once again unconcerned now that they were somewhere he recognized.

"Sev?" asked Harry, then laughed. "Severus? Snape lives in the dungeons?"

He didn't know what amused him more, the fact that the man chose the dungeons even though there was a whole castle above him, or that Draco called him Sev. He would need to call him that the next time, just to see how the man would react.

"He likes the quiet," shrugged Draco. "Come on, I'll show you the bathroom with the best tub!"

"I hope there aren't any holes in that one," muttered Harry, but followed Draco anyway.

Harry let out a sigh in relief when they entered the entrance hall. He definitely preferred places with windows.

The other members had stared at Harry before, but now that both of them were covered in mud and worse, they were openly gaping. Harry did his best to pretend everything was perfectly normal.

A small group of people emerged from the great hall and all his pretences flew out the window when he caught sight of flaming red hair in the middle of them. It was a small girl, a few years younger than him. Another lost generation.

No way, they were in the north of former Europe after all, it wasn't like there couldn't be other redheads…

"Draco, who is, um, that girl over there?"

Draco turned to see who Harry was looking at. "Oh her. My father found her when he was still a lord. My mum just got me you see, and he thought I'd need someone to play with. But she isn't fun at all! She won't even talk most of the times." Draco grimaced indignantly. "She should be grateful to me and my father!"

"Did she lose her family?" asked Harry cautiously.

"Don't know. She wouldn't speak to us. She didn't even know her name or age. My mum named her Ginny."

The girl turned and Harry could see her face clearly for the first time. She was younger and female, but not even Harry's most desperate theories could deny the resemblance.

'They are searching.'

Oh gods.

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A/N: Before you bombard me with questions about the twins, I must tell you I won't be able to answer them^^. That's every bit as depressing and enigmatic as it sounds...

Who else is looking forward to Riddle's command? I certainly am xD. I hope I can surprise you with it, because it's not exactly what most of you are probably thinking...Then again, Harry could not possibly get any less comfortable :P.

On a completely different note: If you're by chance looking for something to read, I'm just going to randomly suggest 'Keep Your Enemies Closer' by 'Riddletobien'. This story is so gravely underrated, I'm wondering if it has a notice-me-not charm stuck to it. If you like Harry and Voldemort to stay in-character while still developing that certain chemistry (she claims it's not slash, with her latest updates I'm personally not so sure anymore :P) go check it out ;)!