Author's Note: Not dead. Ten points to Gryffindor (or house of your choice) if you understand that reference. I'm not dead and have been hard at work on a number of things (I maintain a blog on my website and on Blogger if you're really interested). I am at home today, thanks to some eight or nine inches of snow. I decided to use my unexpected free time to post a chapter. This has not been beta-read, but I think you'll enjoy it just the same. ;)


Harry crawled out from under the blankets in Gryffindor Tower, cursing clandestine meetings with teachers, mad Dark Lords, and valet vampires the whole while. He had managed a good forty-five minutes of sleep for his first night back at Hogwarts, and thought himself lucky for that much. None of the other boys were moving yet. He shrugged off the idea of waking them and moved towards the showers.

He was attacked by an overenthusiastic vampire the minute he stepped into the room. Cassius had him stripped and into a stall in less time than it took Harry to protest that he needed no help. The shock of cold water caused him to give a manly scream before the water changed to warm. "This is payback for the rice last night, isn't it?" Harry demanded as he lowered his head underneath the spray of the water, reaching out to lean his hands against the walls of the stall.

"I? Revenge? Now, really...would I enact revenge on my charge? Especially a charge that knows vampires count things." Cassius gave a chuckle that made Harry wonder if his own neck was safe from the vampire. "You'd better hurry, young master. It'll go cold again in exactly three minutes." Cassius sounded very proud of himself.

Harry grumbled some rude words he was sure the vampire heard before rushing through his shower. He did stay in long enough to allow the cold water to shock him awake again. He had the feeling he might need it again later; he was exhausted.

Harry stepped out of the shower and took the towel Cassius offered, pausing only to glare at the vampire. Harry brushed off the man's help and returned to his room to find one of his new uniforms waiting for him. Harry decided not to fight Cassius's plans and submitted to the new uniform without a complaint. Pick your battles, Harry. Pick your battles.

He packed his school bag with all of his books and supplies for the day, wondering why schedules weren't given out ahead of time like they were at St. Judes. St. Judes had always posted schedules the day before, so that the students knew of any changes as classes, activities, and therapies shifted around. It was helpful, especially since Harry had had two sets of classes to try and finish while at St. Judes. He set a featherlight charm on his satchel and stood, waiting for Cassius to finish.

The vampire swept around him in a flurry, doing things to his hair that actually allowed it to stay manageable. Harry finally stepped back and thanked him, knowing that Cassius would spend a lot of time on it if Harry didn't stop him now. Cassius only smoothed down Harry's shoulders and sighed. "You still look tired, young master." He told Harry seriously. "An early bedtime tonight, I think." Harry nodded in agreement and sighed. He felt tired, even though he just woke up.

"Go to breakfast and make sure you eat something wholesome. We have a few things to go over, but that will wait until this evening after your other classes. I'm sure you don't want me following you around to classes today, but please be sure to make some time to write to your father; he enjoys hearing from you."

"Yes, Cassius, thank you." Harry finally said, shouldering his satchel. "I'll see you later." Cassius was gone before the sentence was finished. Harry wondered where the vampire had managed to find a place of his own in Hogwarts, but decided that it was none of his business. The vampire had probably found the nicest room in the whole place and decided to make it his own. If he knew Hogwarts, she had probably welcomed Harry's bodyguard with open arms and personal house elves carting in bottles of blood got by house elf secrets...he firmly pushed those thoughts away and went down to the Great Hall for breakfast.

The Great Hall was filled with an expectant energy when he entered it. There were groups of first years everywhere, clustered together, whispering between them. There were other groups scattered about, some bleary-eyed and still yawning, and others, like Hermione, full of excitement for their first day. She waved at him and scooted aside to offer him space to sit. "Good morning, Harry! How'd you sleep?"

Harry considered glaring at her before shrugging in a noncommittal way as he dropped into the seat next to her. "Eh," he said, dropping his bag behind him. "Had a difficult time falling asleep after the meeting." He said, knowing she was too observant for her own good. Some kind house elf in the kitchen must have heard his comment as a mug of coffee appeared in front of him. "Oh, the source of my power." He cackled, taking up the mug. "Thank you, the providers of caffeine and sanity."

Hermione slowly turned to him with her eyes wide in shock, with an air of astonishment about her. "Harry...did you not sleep at all last night?"

"'Bout forty-five minutes...give or take." Harry admitted, lifting the mug to his lips. He wondered if Kreacher had visited or if Cassius had stopped in the kitchens to tell the elves how he took his coffee; it was perfect, sweet and dark. "My precious...coffee."

"Right, Smeagol. That was disturbing." Hermione turned back to her books and breakfast, giving Harry time to drink his coffee and ponder the breakfast selections in front of him. He had no appetite again, but he knew eating was sort of required, especially since his magic was telling him that Cassius was closer than he thought. Did that vampire never sleep? Hermione slipped some fruit on his plate when he pretended to be considering some pastry and scrambled eggs somehow crawled onto his plate all by itself. This makes me miss Aunt Petunia's porridge. At least she's upfront about it. He had three more cups of coffee before breakfast was over, and suddenly, Professor McGonagall was handing out their schedules and wishing each of them good day. Harry looked down at his schedule and groaned, just barely refraining from bashing his head into the table. Potions was first thing that morning with the Slytherins.

Does anyone else know, I wonder? How ridiculous...how pointless this is?! His frustration climbed inside of him and he seriously considered skiving off Potions to go take a nap and then find some way to create a telly and VCR so he could watch Star Wars. He memorized his schedule and then folded it up to tuck away in his bag. "Ready for class?" Harry asked, rising to his feet.

"Yes, I am." Hermione's voice was even and serious. "Let's go."

The walk down to the dungeons was silent. They reached the Potions classroom to find the door still locked. Harry slid down the wall to sit on the floor to wait for the Potions Master. Hermione dropped down in front of him, her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. She studied him, watching his face for some clues. She simply waited.

Don't tell her. She's suspicious about you...you're tired. When you're tired, you're weak and she'll have it out of you in seconds if you open your mouth. Don't do it. Do. Not. Speak. At. All.

"We can sit here all day, Harry. Eventually, you'll tell me what's bothering you." Hermione said evenly before becoming silent again. One eyebrow arched, as though telling him to get on with it.

"I-"

"YOUNG MASTER HARRY!" Cassius's scandalized voice snapped into the hallway, startling Harry into shooting to his feet. "Sitting on-the ground!" Cassius did a fairly accurate impression of swooning. "Young men of your status do not sit on the ground with young ladies!"

Hermione snorted as Harry reached down to offer her a hand to her feet, but she nodded and took it to allow him to pull her up. "He has the worst timing." She muttered to Harry.

"I heard that," Cassius told her. "And I have perfect timing, for your teacher will be here shortly. Please, Master Harry, I do have to sleep and cannot be at your side every second, so please have a care for your status in this world...and your father's status in the world."

"I don't care about my status." Harry told him.

"But you should and will care about your father's status. Your behaviour reflects on him. Keep it in mind." Cassius smoothed Harry's robes, fussing a bit with how they were hanging before disappearing as quickly as he had appeared.

"Did you have to bring a vampire to school?" Hermione asked him.

"I had no choice in the matter!" Harry objected. "He just sort of showed up on the train and hasn't left since." Harry folded his arms and growled. "This is not my fault!"

"It never is, is it?" Hermione asked, voice full of sympathy.

"No, it's not." Harry said. "Well, either way, it's almost over, yeah?" Harry told her. "Just this year to get through and things should settle down...I hope so, anyway." He shrugged again.

"GAH!" Hermione and Harry whirled towards the staircase in shock. "Back, you fanged lunatic!"

"That was Professor Snape." Hermione said softly.

"Yes, it was." Harry agreed.

"Sounded like he was talking to Cassius." Hermione leaned out to see if she could see further down the hallway.

"Yep." Harry agreed.

"No, YOU CAN'T HAVE JUST A TASTE!" Snape's voice bellowed. "POTTTTEEERRRR!"

"Think I should go rescue him?" Harry asked Hermione.

"Harry, do you-er, do you think Cassius fancies Professor Snape?" Hermione asked in a horrified whisper.

"I just-can't imagine anyone fancying my Potions teacher, Hermione...I mean, I know he's human and all, but-"

"POTTTEERR! NOW!"

Harry sighed, tilting his head back. "Cassius, leave him alone now...that's an order." Harry muttered, knowing the vampire could hear him without a problem.

Snape came storming down the hallways towards them, buttoning his collar. "Keep that...thing away from me, Potter, or so help me, all of your progeny will feel my wrath."

Harry wondered if Snape knew that no Potter progeny was likely to happen. "I'll do my best, sir." He told Snape. Their teacher motioned them into the classroom, grumbling to himself about something Harry couldn't quite make out. Knowing him, it was probably a potion that would kill vampires.

The rest of their classmates came into the room at intervals, still chattering. Harry and Hermione sat side by side, their books, parchment, and quills already out, their caldrons ready for brewing. Snape slashed his wand at the blackboard and instructions for a potion scrawled themselves onto the board behind him. Harry's last days at Hogwarts had begun.

Sunlight filtered in through the curtains, breaking him out of his deep sleep. Things were going perfectly, he thought. The boy was away at school. That was good. Hogwarts was good. Can't protect him, not there. Not with Dumbledore. He was fine. Things were fine.

A quick stop in the bathroom saw him ready to face another day. You're not okay. The boy did something. The boy wouldn't do anything.

The boy liked him. Cared about him.

No one cares about you.

Not true! The boy cared! Wanted to make their plans become reality. The boy cared! He cared.

No, no he doesn't.

Of course he does.

Like Dumbledore cared?

He's not Dumbledore. He cares. He does. He looked down as his old familiar slithered down the hallway. He couldn't understand what she wanted anymore. She's quit talking to me. She only hisses at me, as though she's angry.

You don't understand her anymore. She's speaking clearly. You chose not to understand.

"Shut up!" He snapped at the voice, wanting the peace quiet would bring. "I don't want to hear what you say!"

What I say? YOU'RE saying it.

"Be quiet, I said! I don't want to hear what you say!" He demanded obedience. That's the way to win, wasn't it? Demand obedience. Expect it. Punish those who don't do as he says.

The boy is not obedient. He's pulling the wool over your eyes. You fool, a little boy is making a daft idiot of you.

"Not my boy! He would never!" he countered, practically spitting the words against the offense voice. "Not my boy!"

That's right, he's not your boy. He never belonged to you. You liked to think that. He's a consummate actor, I'll give him that. Then again, you were easy to fool. PATHETIC.

"No, no, no, NO!" He pressed his hands to his ears. "No more, no more." He mumbled.

Fool yourself if you like. I'll get to say "I told you so!" very soon.

"My Lord?" a hesitant voice said at his elbow. Voldemort looked up, only realizing just now that he had fallen to his knees at some point during the argument he had had with the voice that never seemed to go away these days. "Breakfast is prepared for you, and there is a letter. From the boy."

"He wrote to me?" Voldemort stood up, eager to see what his boy had to say about school so far this week.

"It appears so, my Lord. I left it next to your plate." Voldemort strode into the dining room and spotted a parchment envelope sitting next to his plate, with no address on it. He snatched it up, ignoring the breakfast on the table. He dropped into his seat as he broke the seal.

Dear Sir,

I hope my letter finds you in good health and that the days are not very dull without me there. I'm settling in well at school and find my classes to be satisfying. You were right, the food is as good as you led me to believe, and my bed is very comfortable. School this year was the right decision. There's no place like home, you know.

My Potions Professor seems to be having some difficulty fending off a vampire's amorous attentions. It's quite hilarious to watch. I know the vampire is not really interested; he's just trying to keep things lively. I suspect it's fifty percent boredom and a slight hint of attraction. Either way, the thought of anyone dating one of my teachers is slightly disturbing.

After my first night back, things have been very calm. There have been some sightings of what people call "the Dark Lord's student" here and there. Some wild rumors are making their way around the school and even the staff here. It's fun to hear them speculate. The person they are describing is so powerful Merlin himself would be afraid of him. England's losing sleep over the young Dark Lord...and not in a respectful way. All of the girls here seem to think he's...quite the lover...something about haystacks. Barking mad, the lot of them.

Regardless, it makes things interesting. Nothing else has happened while I've been here, so I've not a lot to tell. I'll make sure my next letter is full of news...or more gossip. Either way, it's amusing.

Sincerely,

Your student Tom

Voldemort chuckled at the boy's letter, imaging what kind of havoc he was creating and how much fun he was having. "My boy, oh my boy."

In the hallway, three Death Eaters were watching the Dark Lord laughing at what was clearly a blank piece of parchment. No words could be seen at all. They shared loaded looks as the man folded up the parchment and tucked it away in the pocket of his robes. He had been talking to himself all morning, actually arguing with himself over the boy, his familiar, and who knew what else. The disturbing behavior, these spells of insanity were becoming alarming to everyone. It was time to take action. "Contact the young Dark Lord."

"How, exactly, am I supposed to do that?" The one demanded of the others.

"Find Robinson. He should know." The man nodded and moved away from the others, leaving them to watch the Dark Lord. He was glad he had done so when he heard Voldemort scream.

"This is not acceptable!" Voldemort threw the dishes from the table and whirled on the remaining Death Eaters. "Crucio!"

Minerva McGonagall dropped into her favorite armchair and heaved a sigh, feeling her years more now than she had for some time. It wasn't just the teaching, the papers, and the start of a new school year that was on her mind. It was on the feeling of the school in general, as though they had lost something when Dumbledore retired, as though some of the young people's energy and joy had gone out of the whole group. True, they were on the edge of the impending war, but still, the complete loss of optimism was weighing down her students like nothing else she had seen.

Especially the boy. She always thought of him as "the boy" these days, regardless of the fact that he was starting to look like an old man, weary and wary of the world around him. Once he heard the young Dark Lord rumors, he seemed a little hunted, a little unsure of the people around him. As always, any time a new rumor appeared, there was some backlash against Harry Potter. The press was not helping matters, and there were some students speaking out against the Gryffindor, as though it was his fault that things had come to this. As though Harry Potter could be the young Dark Lord! She laughed to herself a bit as she stood and moved out of her office.

She made it a point to be seen walking the halls of Hogwarts nowadays. She wanted the students to know that she was sharing the same space as they were, that they were able to see her whenever they wanted. She was their Headmistress, after all. The students should be able to speak with her on a daily basis without guessing candies or making the trek to the head's office.

She turned a corner and heard laughing coming from the end of the hallway. It was carefree, and slightly hysterical at the same time. She was curious to see what her students were up to, so she crept forward to the end of the hallway as silently as she could manage and peered around the corner. The first person she saw had been the subject of her thoughts earlier. Harry Potter was leaning against the wall, holding his sides as he threw back his head and laughed again.

"And then, get this, he giggled. Just sank into his chair and giggled. I tell you, Harry, I almost died trying not to laugh at him. I mean, he's supposed to be this big, fearsome person, so fearsome we can't say his name, and he giggled." The boy had a slight accent she couldn't place, but it seemed that he and Harry knew each other well.

"Tom, seriously!" Harry leaned forward, resting against the wall, his back heaving as he tried to catch his breath. "I can't-" He laughed again, shaking his head.

Minerva caught sight of the other boy and gasped silently to herself. It was the other boy! The Dark Lord's student! So, there was some substance to the rumors that he was at Hogwarts, then. Strange, that she did not recognize him as a current student. She checked his robes for a crest, but it seemed that the robes were plain black. The pair of them seemed without a care in the world as they talked and laughed with each other. Minerva watched them for a few more minutes. They appeared to know each other very well if their interaction was any evidence.

"Did you hear something?" the boy's voice said suddenly.

"I don't think so," Harry answered lightly. "I'm still hearing the Dark Lord giggle. It's high-pitched, right? Kind of high?"

"Huh, now that you mention it...it is!" the two boys started laughing again.

Minerva rounded the corner and stood watching them. Both boys looked up at the same time and their smiles faded a bit. Harry whispered something to the other boy and then stepped forward, blocking Minerva from advancing. She watched as the other boy turned with a swirl of his robes and started down the hallway.

"Out of the way, Mr. Potter. I simply need to speak to your friend there."

"What friend, Professor?" Harry asked, looking confused.

"Your friend..." she trailed off when she saw that the other youngster had disappeared. "Well, where did he go?" She asked him.

"Where did who go?" Harry asked before shrugging. "If you'll excuse me, Professor...I have some homework to finish." The boy nodded to her as he passed her. "La, they seek him here, they seek him there, the students seek him everywhere!" He turned the corner and was gone. Minerva stood in the hallway for a few minutes in indecision, trying to find her options without upsetting what she knew she had to do. There was always the parchment; she knew Tom would respond to messages she wrote out. She would far prefer a face to face meeting with him. He was just a boy, but she knew little of his motivations. He didn't seem to want to hurt anyone, but he still claimed his status as the Dark Lord's student without a qualm. He seemed very young, especially when he was laughing with Harry Potter, but his eyes had been sad and tired the first night she met him. He was a conundrum, and she wasn't certain if pursuing him was the best idea as this point. She wrapped her arms around herself and sighed, feeling every bit of her years.

Paul dropped his bag inside the door of his house and toed off his shoes, giving a tired sigh of relief. After twenty-six hours at St. Jude's it was good to be home again. His current patient had turned violent, attacking other students and staff with abandon. It took three of the nurses to subdue him, and even Paul was not safe from the boy; his face showed the evidence of a well-placed punch he had not been expecting.

Sadly, St. Jude's had a strict policy against physical attacks and the boy had to be transferred to an adolescent treatment unit until his

behavior stabilized. Paul would make a once a week journey to continue seeing him, in hopes that he would be transferred back to St. Jude's once he made some progress in controlling his anger and violent attacks. You can't help everyone, Paul. He reminded himself again, feeling a little lost. He wanted so much to help everyone he could. He just had to face the idea that not everyone needed his type of help. Some needed other things, and other people. He wandered into his tiny kitchen and opened the fridge, hunting for something that would quiet the growling in his stomach. He didn't want a full meal, just something little that would keep the hunger calm so that he could fall into bed for eight to ten hours before reporting back to St. Jude's the next day.

He selected a container of yogurt and closed the fridge, pausing to study the pictures he had hung there. These children were his success stories, the children who went back to their lives with the skills and coping mechanisms to allow them to live their lives without falling back into the problems that had brought them to Paul in the first place. The latest picture still caused a moment of concern every time he looked at it. Harry stayed very much in Paul's thoughts, regardless of the fact that he was considered a success case by St. Jude's. He had recovered from his depression and anxiety, had a wonderful support network, and was a great person that Paul enjoyed knowing. There were things that worried Paul about Harry; his ability to hide his thoughts and feelings even when he had the opportunity to share them, his overwhelming sense of responsibility for others' actions, and his certainty that he would not survive the wizarding world all made Paul question exactly how much help he had been to the boy.

Paul sighed. It was out of his hands now. Harry had returned to his life and no further follow up appointments had been scheduled for him. He had called Petunia about Harry, citing some concerns, but she firmly believed that Harry was recovered enough to return to school and his life. He asked for her to schedule a follow up appointment for Harry during the winter holidays; she wanted to ask Harry what he thought first.

Paul walked into his living room and stopped in shock as a light flicked on. There, sitting in his living room, was a vampire. Paul stared for just a minute, a little surprised that out of everything his brain, his scientifically-trained brain, could use to describe the man before him, supplied the word vampire. The man smiled at him, gesturing for Paul to enter the living room. Paul was aware of several things at once. Someone had managed to enter his house without the alarm going off. This person had made himself very much at home in Paul's living room; there was a glass of water on the side table and a novel resting on his knee in his lap. Most worrisome at all, he looked pleased to see Paul.

"Good evening, Doctor. I've been looking forward to meeting with you. I have heard a great deal about you." The smooth voice drifted to Paul's ears.

Paul blinked and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I wasn't aware we had an appointment."

"Oh, weren't you? An oversight, I'm sure. Please, call me Vlad."


Author's Note: I'm not sure when the next chapter will be posted. I'll make notes on my blog as I go along. ;) Thanks for reading!