As the spider flees the basilisk, so the rat flees the vampire. The boy should have, but did not notice this ominous sign. He could be forgiven for his myopia, as he was thinking only of his not yet sated desire which was growing with every step. He felt the need of this beautiful creature as acutely as his own, not understanding that her needs were more carnal than his. He tugged her hand in an attempt to turn her around. She resisted with a surprising amount of strength.
“How much farther?” he asked.
“Not much,” she replied, giving his hand a squeeze. He felt a chill that had little to do with the coolness of her skin.
After another uncountable span of time and another several hundred feet, she stopped. Behind her, the boy did not see the savage look in her eyes as she spotted doors set at an angle at the end of the alley. Not disguising her hunger now, knowing the boy would misinterpret the look in her favour, she placed her lips momentarily to his neck.
“Come.” She tightened her grip on the boy’s hand and pulled him forward.
He followed willingly.
Even with the extraordinary sense of hearing gifted to all of her kind, the vampire was so focused on her prey that she did not hear the loud crack that sounded near the mouth of the alley, a crack that startled the rats a second time.
Cursing silently, as though to make up for his own noisy arrival, Harry Potter spun on the spot to get his bearings. He held his wand aloft as he did so, taking in as many details of his surroundings as he could.
He was standing at the elbow of two alleys – one led to the street on which sat the pub the vampire had been in earlier that evening. Finney, as his friends had called the boy, had been chatting her up all night, too young, or too inebriated to realize what she was. His friends had been both amused and appreciating of the fact that he had left with such a beautiful woman. They, like their friend, had not realized that she was the unnamed, yet no less infamous, bloodthirsty beast of recent headlines. When thus informed, they all jumped off their stools and expressed such strong and sincere desires to help that Harry was forced to Apparate to prevent them following him. He had already wasted time, perhaps too much to save their friend, the very last thing he needed was more potential victims.
Something scuttled over his foot and Harry directed the beam of light down: a rat. He scanned the ground and saw that rats were streaming away from the L-bend, towards the street, proof enough that the vampire was here, and recently. If he hurried, he might be able to stop her from killing this time.
The stench of rubbish left to cook in a weeks long heat wave was almost unendurable. Harry pressed on with the thought of Finney and his predecessors to propel him. The alley stretched on for an indeterminate length, twisting and turning in a manner eerily similar to Diagon Alley. It was quite plain, however, that nothing like Gringott’s would grow out of these buildings, which were as shabby as their overfilled skips indicated.
Preferring speed to stealth at this crucial juncture, Harry left his wand lit, and covered ground faster than the vampire and her prey had. Within minutes he was rounding the last bend, the beam of his wand light fell on a pair of steel doors set into the ground at an angle. He scanned again: the walls on three sides were smooth without easy means of escape, even for a vampire.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he felt a chill despite the nearly stifling heat. The metal doors looked heavy, but would be nothing for a vampire so well fed . . . Harry approached slower now, reaching in his pocket for his latest acquisition: a handy silver chain marketed for vampire catchers. He had not yet had a chance to test it out, but it was supposed subdue on contact. He hoped it would work as advertised, unlike some of the other items he’d wasted gold on in years past, but in case, he was not going to rely on it. Wand ready, Harry magicked one of the doors open.
Darkness ate up the wand light and spilled into the alleyway like noxious gas, and along with it came an unnatural coldness, as if this was not merely a cellar but an underground freezer. Harry would not have been surprised to see his breath. He didn’t wait to see if this was the case but instead plunged into the darkness.
The narrow beam of light from his wand fared poorly as Harry headed down the stairs and he had to move slower still. It would not do to take a wrong step and tumble down the stairs, losing his wand in the process. He had the silver chain wrapped around his left hand, but his precarious trust in it waned further as he moved closer to the bloodthirsty vampire.
A soft hiss broke the silence, lingering on the air that grew thicker and danker the farther Harry descended. He reached the bottom stair, muttered ‘Nox’, and stopped, trying not to breathe, willing his heart to be still for a moment so he could listen.
Again the soft hiss, no nearer or farther away than before, but accompanied for the first time by a child-like moan, and shuffling, then quiet once more until . . .
Harry froze as his blood turned cold. It couldn’t be . . .
But of course it wasn’t. James was not here in this cellar, he was in his own bed at home. Had Harry misheard, or was this some trick, either of the vampire, or merely of the darkness?
Silence returned for another minute, as though the vampire knew of Harry’s momentary indecision, but it passed and the hissing – more insubstantial now – resumed, bringing with it a shambling gait from Harry’s right. The moving figure was quite clearly not the vampire, who moved much more stealthily, like a cat. She might, even now, be using the cover of molasses thick darkness to her benefit, approaching Harry where he stood. She had all the advantage down here.
Harry moved away from the stairs and towards the shambling noise. It could be anything given how vampires were known to associate with all manner of dark creatures, but this vampire seemed to work alone. In the fortnight he had been tracking her, Harry had not seen or heard any sign, any whisper, of a traveling companion. The movement to his right, therefore, had to be Finney.
Ensuring Finney’s safety was most important, no matter how bad he wanted the vampire off the streets. Harry moved to the right, wand and chain both ready for whatever he would meet..
The darkness thinned ever so slightly as Harry moved away from the stairs and as his eyes adjusted, he could see the dim outline of a boy whose white shirt shone as vividly as a ghost. He was ambling on like a zombie; his arms swinging at his sides.
The urge to light his wand grew so strong that the words were already forming, but Harry suppressed them at the last second. He did not need to give the vampire another advantage. A moment after the thought had occurred to him, Finney straightened up, stopped ambling, and pounced. It happened so fast that Harry was almost caught off his guard. He threw up both hands. Mid-spell cast he heard a metallic slithering: a length of the chain had unwound itself from around his hand and snaked around the boy’s wrist. He hissed, a spine-chilling sound of the sort that Harry had first heard when coming down the stairs. The chain worked on humans? Or did this mean she had turned Finney?
The boy writhed and sank to his knees, clutching at the chain which held tight. After a moment, he stopped moving, docile as a well-trained dog. A hiss of rage sounded behind Harry, accompanied almost simultaneously by a great rush, as of wings, and Odette, the vampire, had covered the distance between them. Foregoing other safety concerns, Harry relit his wand in time to see a cat-like face swarm just in front of him, baring long, blood-stained fangs.
She lunged, Harry jumped back out of her way. The other end of the chain unwrapped from his hand at her second lunge and darted for her as though magnetized. She dodged it and Harry’s next spell, retreating further into the darkness.
“Come on, now,” Harry said, into the blackness. “You’re not giving up already, are you?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Harry Potter,” she replied. “We must dance first. We always need the dance.”
Contempt dripped from her voice like blood from her fangs.
“I don’t dance.”
He moved forward, hoping for a second chance to lasso the vampire.
Another hiss filled the darkness with a sound like many snakes, and she leapt again. This time Harry anticipated her, as did the chain. He barely felt the coldness of her body when a second soft clink, followed by a strangled cry of rage told him she, too, was now his prisoner.
The unnatural darkness lifted a little more, and when Harry lifted his wand he could see the cellar properly. It was a storage area, full of neatly stacked shelves of boxes.
“This is cheating, Harry Potter.” Odette spoke from her kneeling position on the floor. She, like the boy before her, was trying to pick at the chain, as though she could loosen it. “I would have expected more.”
Her eyes were red-rimmed and she looked sincerely disappointed.
“We can’t always get what we want,” Harry replied, pulling on the chain so that both Odette and Finney got to their feet. “And you’ve been dancing long enough, if you ask me. Let’s go.”
He led his two captives out of the cellar, and prepared them for transport: Odette to the Ministry to await her hearing, the boy to St. Mungo’s for examination and treatment. Just before they Disapparated, he looked back at the locked cellar doors, and had to suppress the feeling of disappointment. Whatever he said to the contrary, he, too, had expected Odette to be a worthier opponent.
* * *
The healers said James Finney was going to make a full recovery but that he would need to stay on Blood Replenishing potions for a few days. He had come very close to being turned, and the healers said he should stay away from vampires for a while. The boy, looking sheepish beneath his waxy skin, agreed. He and his parents plied Harry with a thousand thanks before they would let him go, and as a consequence it was the early hours of the morning before he got home.
The house was completely silent, something that only happened at night when the boys were sleeping. And speaking of the kids . . . Teddy was away for the night with his grandmother, but James and Lily should be asleep in their beds. Pausing only to remove his cloak, Harry headed upstairs. He peered in the door of his and Ginny’s room. She was asleep, lying on her side, hand on her stomach, the blankets kicked to the bottom of the bed. At least she was sleeping.
The unsettling feeling brought on by the vampire’s sibilance had not dissipated, even hours later. Harry headed further down the hall, past two doors that sat open, looking into nearly empty rooms, right to the end where two more doors were pulled almost shut. He entered the one on his left as quietly as possible.
James was safe and sound, as Harry had known he would be, but it was a relief nonetheless, to see him starfished on the bed, deeply asleep and without a care in the world. He was unaware of the many nights one or other of his parents spent time there for their own reassurance and comfort. He did not know how very close he had once come to death. Neither Harry nor Ginny felt any urgency to tell him about this part of his past. They agreed long ago that they wanted as much of their children’s lives to be free of dark magic as possible. One day they would have to know, for the downfall of Voldemort and his Death Eaters had not removed all dark witches and wizards from the world, and not telling them would be tantamount to putting them in danger, but as there were no immediate threats . . . They felt that a few more years with as normal a life as possible was warranted and deserved.
Satisfied that James was not in Odette’s clutches, Harry left his son to sleep and walked across the hall. Lily had fallen asleep reading again, her arm over a Spellotaped copy of her favourite book. Smiling, Harry carefully pulled it from her and took a quick look at it before setting it on her bedside table. She would need another copy soon, her third of this particular title.
“Daddy?” she asked, sleepily, rousing his attention from the book.
“It’s me, Lily. Go back to sleep.”
She did the opposite. Still quite groggy, Lily pulled herself up a bit. “Did everything go OK?”
“Will you tell me about it?”
Lily hardly looked tired now. Her eyes, so like Harry’s own, had lit up. She, unlike her brother, was the one who pushed the rule about no dark magic, and much to Ginny’s consternation, Lily usually got her way. It wasn’t like Harry wanted to tell her these things, to give her nightmares, but she seemed genuinely interested, and (he felt like a prat for admitting this) he had a hard time denying her anything. This night, however, was not one for fanged tales.
“Not now,” Harry replied. He couldn’t help smiling at her disappointed expression. He stood and headed to the door. “You should be sleeping, it’s very late.”
“What time is it?” Lily asked, staring at her alarm clock, which clearly showed the time: two-oh-six. She let out a gasp, untangled herself from the covers and ran over, throwing her arms around her father. “I almost forgot. Happy birthday, daddy.”
With that out of her system, Lily returned to bed and said goodnight. Within a few minutes she had drifted into sleep again, also untroubled, despite the fact that she knew more than her brother about dark things (partly an occupational hazard of spending so much time with her father). Harry left her to sleep.
Exhausted, he nevertheless lay in bed, eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling for some time. It was nearly fifteen minutes after he’d crawled into bed that something occurred to him that he’d never thought of before: Dumbledore had once said that he had waited nearly five years to share the full contents of the prophecy with Harry, because he wanted to spare him from more terrible burdens. Close to twenty years removed from that conversation, and a decade after the birth of his own children, Harry could finally say that he fully understood Dumbledore’s position.
* * *
Devon, 31 July, nine a.m.
Except for the tears that cut tracks down his face, it was impossible for anyone to make out whether Tobias Sinclair truly understood the goings on around him. He looked straight ahead, not at the simple pine box that held his beloved. He grasped his daughter’s hand but had neither spoken nor looked at her since their arrival. The fellow mourners who took the time to notice, saw that neither he nor Abby were particularly well-groomed. Tobias looked as though he had forgotten to bathe. While his daughter was cleaner, it looked as though her clothes had been pulled from the laundry.
It was a beautiful spot to lay someone to their eternal rest: at the foot of a hill below the broad canopy of a yew tree. The sea was just visible. May had loved the sea.
Mourners stood in little groups, Tobias and Abby in the centre facing the casket. To their right, just a short distance away, stood an elderly woman, leaning heavily on a cane. She was May’s mother, Lannice Murray, and was suffering from a less virulent form of magicosis, – the disease which had so recently killed her daughter. To her right were a scant collection of friends of May’s, and some of the people who had been there throughout her sickness, such as the lately arrived Augustus Pye and his fellow healer, Adrasteia Gerard. It was easy to distinguish who had come with whom, owing to the gaps left between each cluster of people.
To Tobias’s left stood the largest and best dressed knot of people. A tall, straight-backed woman with short, silver hair stared forward. She was annoyed, but the only betrayal of her annoyance was the flexing of her long fingers against her hand bag. This had started the moment that her eyes had beheld Tobias’s tears. Of the party of six, only the eldest man showed anything close to sadness. He glanced frequently at Tobias and Abby, twitching. Only once had he turned as though to go to his son, but his wife’s steely expression stopped him from doing so. So he was relegated to frequent looks at his middle son and and granddaughter, the first of whom he had not seen but sporadically since Tobias had married May, and the latter who he was laying eyes on for the first time.
A bird chirped somewhere in the tree above. Abby looked up at it as the Minister started to speak.
“We have entrusted our sister, May, to God’s mercy, and we now commit her body to the ground: earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust -“
“No.” Tobias’s voice was small, but audible to the mourners.
” – In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“NO,” Tobias said again, more audibly.
The minister looked up from his bible. When several minutes went by in which there was no further interruption, he continued.
“Who will transform our frail bodies that they may be confirmed to his glorious body, who died, was buried, and rose again for us. To him glory forever. Amen.”
“Amen,” was repeated by all the mourners, with the exception of Tobias. He was, instead, staring at the casket without blinking. Silence had barely fallen after the closing of the minister’s words when Tobias let out an anguished cry familiar only to those who had been with him on the day he’d seen Death. He released his daughter’s hand and flung himself on the closed casket, pressing his cheek to the wood in the approximate position of his wife’s head. His arms were spread wide, hugging her funeral bed.
“Come back, May. Come back, my love,” he called. He pulled his cheek free from the casket and turned his eyes to the heavens, beseechingly. “I’ll be better, I’ll stop all this nonsense. I will. I will.”
His voice broke. He returned his head to the casket and sobbed, wetting the wood. Abby started to cry, too. After standing a moment alone, she heeded her ailing grandmother’s call, and was enfolded into loving arms.
“Come now, son,” the minister said. He put a hand on Tobias’s shoulder, a hand that was shaken off almost at once.
No one else dared approach Tobias for several long minutes. People looked round at each other, all silently willing another to take up the impossible task of offering what comfort there was. At last, two of the men, standing with Tobias’s parents detached themselves and went to their brother. Each man took an arm and they wrestled Tobias from atop the casket. He fought them, not violently, but desperately. They let go as soon as he showed signs of slackening his struggle. While they remained standing on either side of Tobias for the remainder of the ceremony, they did not talk or touch him again.
No one took in the last few verses of the minister’s speech. They merely mumbled along with the Lord’s Prayer, and were already heading away as they said their final amens.
Only two people remained: the late-comers Adrasteia and Augustus. Abby had gone a ways away, helping her grandmother navigate the uneven ground. It was Adrasteia who first noticed Tobias’s mother talking to him in a stern voice. She was too far away to hear more than mumbling, but it sounded as though the woman was reprimanding her son for his behaviour, and not in the kind way a caring mother usually would. This woman’s eyes were darting too and fro, the well-practiced move of one ever concerned with their public reputation. She saw Adrasteia watching and fixed her with that unyielding stare until Adrasteia looked away.
“Do you see that?” Pye asked right at that moment.
“Yes, I do. She seems a right old -“
“She? Who are you talking about?”
“Them.” Adrasteia nodded in the direction of Mrs. Sinclair. “Who are you talking about, if not them?”
Pye nodded his head in the direction of the car park. Two men leaned against a tree, smoking. They were effecting a false casualness. Their eyes were fixed on the Sinclairs.
“Aurors, you think?” Pye asked as they started to walk away from the grave.
“Could be.” From the look they shared, Adrasteia knew that Pye did not think these were Aurors any more than she did. They were careful to give these men a wide berth.
As they stepped off the grass and onto the road, a second familiar cry of great anguish and terror rent the silence. Adrasteia and Pye turned in time to see Tobias snatch his daughter from her grandmother’s grip, knocking the woman to the ground, and run with her towards the sea.
“He’s not going to -” Adrasteia asked, starting back in the direction they had come. She wondered for a moment what had caused this latest outburst from Mr. Sinclair, but supposed it had something to do with the fact that the cloaked men that she and Pye had supposed were Aurors were now on the move.
Tobias was not heading for the sea, as it turned out. Once out of the cemetery, he paused only to look back for the men. They had come to a stop fifty feet past the casket. The three men stared at each other for a moment, and as the two cloaked figures made a gesture with their wands, he turned on the spot and Disapparated, once again with his daughter in tow.