Author's Note: Hello dear readers! It's short, but it's here. I hope you all enjoy.
Harry was sitting in his new favorite place at the top of the hill, simply watching Hogwarts dance again. He was spending a lot of time here lately, especially if he couldn't sleep. It was soothing, listening to the Lady Hogwarts sing as she danced. He had no doubt now that Hogwarts was female, and she was feeling particularly maternal tonight, as the song seemed closer to a lullaby than any song Harry had heard before. Warming charms were keeping him comfortable enough to sleep if he wanted to, but it all honesty, he didn't care to sleep at the moment. He only wanted to watch Hogwarts for a while. Harry Potter being gone from his bed wasn't anything unusual these days, anyway. He startled a bit, afraid that Cassius had found him, only to see Hedwig come out of the night towards him. He held up his arm for her and smiled as she perched there, an envelope in one of her talons. "What do you have there, girl?" He asked, taking it from her. She walked up his arm to his shoulder and immediately set about taming his hair as Harry opened the letter.
Please don't think me disrespectful for not using your title, but one can never be too cautious these days. Others have come to me about certain things our boss is doing, and we fear that it may be time to retire him before things become bad for the company. We would like to meet with you regarding future strategies for your leadership and the company.
Harry sighed and destroyed the letter with a touch of flame. This was the last thing he needed.
Hermione wasn't sure what was going on with Harry lately. He was distant, and while she was sure that Cassius was watching him, she could also tell that Harry was keeping something from her. Something was changing in her friend...and she couldn't quite put her finger on what was wrong. She pondered the differences she had experienced between the Harry she knew before and the Harry at Hogwarts now. When she asked, Harry reassured her that everything was alright, just that he had some schoolwork pressing or a letter to Remus to write, or something Cassius needed him to do. It was always an excuse to not spend a lot of time with her.
Sure, she could accept those reasons, but those reasons were not Harry. He never seemed to have enough sleep lately. He always acted exhausted, even when he reported sleeping through the night and he looked fine. She suspected him of using a glamour, but she was sure that he wouldn't give her a straight answer if she asked if he was using one. He was withdrawn. He looked sad when he thought she couldn't see...Harry Potter was changing, and she couldn't figure out what to do. She thought of going to Cassius about it, since he was here to take care of Harry (and nothing Harry said about how Cassius wasn't necessary would change that opinion). The vampire was proving difficult to find. She sighed and closed her books to pack them away in her bag before returning to the common room. The library had become her sanctuary lately, since there was so much chatter in the Tower that she had trouble concentrating.
Harry seemed very popular lately. It was as if all of the girls in Gryffindor had suddenly noticed Harry had grown up somewhere along the way and had to have him. Even Ginny Weasley was participating in this, flirting with Harry every chance she got. Harry seemed to be taking it all in stride, having a smile for each girl before he extracted himself from the conversation. He could ooze charm when he had to, so no girl was left feeling slighted in the least. She had to wonder when he learned that. Probably from Dracula… Hermione thought as she left the library behind and headed down the hallway.
There was another puzzle she kept turning over in her mind that had nothing to do with Harry. The young Dark Lord seemed to be hanging around Hogwarts a fair bit. So far, he had been reported as being seen in the Great Hall when no teachers were present, in each dormitory (oddly, not when Hermione had been around), and in several classes, only to disappear when he was noticed by a professor. He had even appeared in Professor Snape's Potions classroom once or twice, whispering instructions in people's ears when the professor wasn't looking. Snape, of course, had spotted him almost immediately and chased him down the hallway, only for the boy to disappear around a corner, and seen in the next few seconds on the other side of the castle. It seemed that Hogwarts herself was protecting the young Dark Lord by providing him instant access to any location he wished. It was driving the professors mad.
Hermione paused when she heard whistling. She turned the corner, curious as to the person loitering in the hallway, and found the subject of her thoughts leaning against the wall, his eyes closed and head back, whistling a tune that sounded vaguely familiar to her ears. "Hello there," she said softly, hoping not to startle him.
Her hopes were in vain. He jumped a fair bit and whirled to face her. "Oh, it's you." He said softly. "Sorry."
"I don't believe we've ever met. Hermione Granger." She said, offering her hand.
He simply bowed from the waist and did not take her hand. "A pleasure, Miss Granger. If you'll excuse me, I have somewhere I must be in just a few minutes." He said, turning in the direction she was originally heading.
"May I walk with you? We're going the same way." She said, following him. He paused to allow her to catch up and she felt a little thread of victory go through her. "Long day?" she asked in an absent-minded tone, hoping that he would talk to her.
"You could say that." The boy said. He shrugged and sighed. "Not much longer, I'm afraid."
"Oh?" She questioned, trying to maintain her composure and not scare him off by dancing in the hallway.
"Well, dinner will happen in about an hour, so, the day's almost over." He shrugged again.
"Right." She cast about for a topic, and then realized that he had not given a name. "What's your name?" She asked.
"Huh. Clever witch. Call me Tom." He said, shooting her a fast glance.
"Nice to meet you, er, Tom." She had a feeling that wasn't his real name, and she was getting the same feeling from this boy as she did from Harry when he was trying to keep something from her. They reached Gryffindor Tower before he had a chance to respond and he simply nodded to her and left, moving down the hallway at a good pace that she wouldn't be able to catch up. She gave the password and entered the Tower, mind still on her conversation with Tom.
She froze just inside the portrait and almost shrieked in surprise. Harry was sitting on one of the couches in front of the fireplace with a girl on his lap. Closer inspection revealed it to be Parvarti Patil. Hermione cleared her throat, feeling her status as a rule-keeper in Hogwarts come onto her shoulders.
"Oops." Parvarti said softly before removing herself from Harry's lap. "I'll see you later, Harry." She told him, pecking him on the lips before leaving the common room. Harry continued to sit there, casually crossing his legs as he looked up at Hermione.
"Am I to guess that Cassius is sleeping, and that is why you don't have a vampire hovering over you screaming about a necessary engagement due to your behaviour with a young lady?" She asked tartly.
"I'm not sure where Cassius is." Harry told her with a shrug. He was a little breathless, and Hermione was pretty sure she could guess the cause.
"Well, you may want to move further such activities to a more discrete location in future." She told him.
"Uh-huh." He said, lowering his head to the back of the couch and sighing. "Sorry. A little tired."
"If you didn't have clothes on, I would be sure of the cause of that." She told him, feeling laughter bubble up inside her. She took a deep breath to remain calm.
"I'm not going to live this down, am I?" He asked, sounding defeated.
"Oh, you wait until I tell your Aunt Petunia!" Hermione teased, dancing a bit in place. "She's going to be thrilled."
Harry sat up, suddenly recovered from his exhaustion. "You wouldn't…"
"Oh, try me, Harry Potter." Hermione squeaked and fled out of the portrait hole and back into the hallway when Harry roared and came after her. He did not want Petunia to know anything about Hogwarts except what Harry told her, and Hermione let Harry think that she didn't drop a line to Hermione now and again. They didn't get far, because Professor Snape stopped them halfway down the hall and gave them each a detention for being annoying Gryffindors.
Dracula sent off his last email message to his last contact today and sighed as he shut down his computer. The plans for the boy were coming along nicely if he had to assess them himself. All of the arrangements he thought were necessary were made and confirmed. Places to go, people to talk to, and staff were ready to be called in at a moment's notice. He could only hope that things would go as planned when the boy made his move. If not, well, he had backup plans, of course, but that didn't mean that Harry would react the way he thought he would, and all of his careful planning would be a waste.
Still, though. Something was worrying Cassius, and sadly, Harry showed that he was more than adept at keeping things to himself, even with a vampiric guardian hovering over him.
Harry was sitting at the breakfast table in the Great Hall, feeling as though everything he was planning was starting to come together. Or falling apart. Whatever came first, really. He toyed with the porridge in front of him, shooting a frantic look over this shoulder, looking for Cassius. That vampire was making him paranoid, he was certain of it. He popped up whenever he felt like it, and there was no reasoning with him either. It was as though Cassius had stubborn running in his DNA.
Hedwig hopped down in front of him and Harry froze at the sight of an red, angry-looking envelope in her beak. She dropped it in his porridge and beat a hasty retreat, not even bothering to wait for a bit of bacon. Harry gulped, certain that he knew what this letter was about. Hermione hissed next to him, covering her ears. Harry cast a silencing bubble around himself and opened the letter.
HARRY JAMES POTTER!
JUST YOU WAIT UNTIL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU, YOUNG MAN! I KNEW SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT WHEN YOU LEFT FOR SCHOOL, BUT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION? NOT THAT I'M UNGRATEFUL FOR LETTING ME KEEP MY MIND DURING THOSE TRANSFORMATIONS, BUT YOU COULD HAVE WARNED ME! WE NEED TO HAVE A VERY, VERY LONG TALK ABOUT PLAYING AROUND WITH MAGIC YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND OR HAVEN'T TESTED! OR HAVE YOU!? CONSIDER YOURSELF GROUNDED THE FIRST WEEK YOU ARE HOME FROM SCHOOL THIS SUMMER. Your aunt wants to say a few words…
Harry, I understand why you did what you did, but you should really think things like this through. Or ask first. Remus is very grateful, I am sure, for giving him some control over this, but at the same time, Harry, you didn't ask. That, I think, is most upsetting. You didn't ask, just like Dumbledore didn't ask when he placed you with me. That's limiting people's choices, Harry. Not good, nephew of mine. Remus and I have discussed this, and I think we agree that you should be punished for this, even though you did it with best intentions. We'll talk consequences when you come home for break. Here's Remus again….
Harry, I want to tell you that I love you. This is a tremendous gift you have given me. I'm upset about how you went about it, not that you did it. We'll talk when you get home for the holidays. In the meantime, study hard, behave and have fun.
With those ending calm words, the letter tore itself up and erupted into flames. Harry canceled his spell and saw Hermione staring at him with wide eyes. "What?" he asked.
"You are going to teach me that spell!" Hermione told him. "So, what did your aunt and Remus want to yell at you about?"
"Not ready to talk about it yet, Hermione, but it got better towards the end. I did something before I went away to school, and well, they found out about it." He told her with a shrug.
"Oh?" She arched an eyebrow.
"Experiment with drinking, which I will probably never do again." Harry told her. "Now, what do we have this morning?" He asked, hoping to redirect you.
"Well, I'd say you got off lightly, if all they did was send you a Howler." Hermione said sharply. "The one time my parents caught me even trying it before….well, I would have preferred the Howler. I felt a little like a worm on the ground." She paused and looked at Harry. "It's the disappointment that gets to me more than anything else…"
"Yeah, me too." Harry agreed. He braced himself as Hermione seemed to be gathering herself for a discussion.
"Harry, I think we need to tal-"
"Hey, guys." Neville said as he sat down across from them. "Good porridge this morning?"
"Every morning, Nev. Just like always." Harry said, pushing back from the table and standing. "I forgot my Potions book. I'll see you guys in class." He told the pair of them. Hermione watched her friend leave and she frowned.
"Uh...he does know that we have Potions tomorrow, right?" Neville asked as he filled a bowl with porridge.
"I'm sure he does." Hermione said. "I'll catch up with you later." Hermione left the Great Hall behind and checked the time. Perhaps it was time to write to someone about Harry and his changes.