A trail of crumbling brickwork creeps up a hill, piles upon piles of broken stone and dusty mortar, with hints of what might have been walls, might have been pillars, sticking out here and there. At the heart of the ruin, there is a single upstanding structure, a building that might have once been a great hall of what used to be even greater castle. With painted windows and vaulted rooftops, it is of a style not even the Nobility favoured, an older style, style forgotten many, many millennia ago. What used to be called medieval, before medieval style became the present.
It didn't use to be there, less than night ago.
D looks up at the castle ruins, taking in their makeup. It's all stone, no plastic, no wood, no metal, just stone. That alone is strange, but stranger still is the lack of mechanisms, of barriers or cameras – there's not even a hint of automation of any sort. No robot ever touched this place, and even when the many halls and corridors and what must've been half a dozen great towers stood still whole, there weren't so much as an automated door there. It is all… just stone.
And yet it had, somehow, appeared where it didn't use to be before.
Silently D dismounts his horse at the very edge of the ruins. "Stay," he says to his mount and then leaves it to cool down and graze at the tufts of grass sticking out from amidst the ancient brickwork.
There is a path through the rubble, a thin trail that has been tread only by feet. No hoof prints, no burrows of cartwheels – just thin line of hard packed earth where grass didn't grow. Someone had walked this little trail hundreds, perhaps thousands of times.
Soon, he is at the entrance to the solitary building. It has grand wooden doors, old and weathered but still firmly standing in the way. Judging by the looks of the hinges, they were in regular use.
Slowly, D presses his hand on the wood and waits.
"Hmm, nothing," his hand murmurs, half muffled on the wood. "No defences, no traps I can sense. It's just… wood."
D pushes – and with a creak of metal hinges, the grand doors give away.
Inside, it's all one room – some great ballroom, or perhaps a dining hall, with polished stone floor and stone walls carved with simple, angular designs. And above them the sky.
D stares up at it for the moment. Outside the hall's ceiling had been unbroken, and still he can see the sky above, with clouds covering most of it and only shreds of deep blue visible here and there. It is about to rain.
There are no hologram projectors anywhere in sight.
"Illusion," his hand comments. "A powerful one."
"But benign," D says.
"Looks that way – dunno how it would be in a thunder storm, though."
D looks a moment longer, slight frown on his face. It's an impressive display of power and of spell work of truly a bygone era. Even at the height of their power, few were the Nobility capable of such wonderful illusions – and he is not sure even they would have used one for mere aesthetic purposes. Yet here it is, a ceiling bewitched to look like the sky above, seemingly for no reason than because it happened to be possible.
Finally, D looks down, taking in the rest of the hall.
There are long tables that run along the length of the grand room – four in total, with long benches to match. They are covered in golden plates and goblets, with various eating utensils scattered all around. At the very end, there is fifth table that faces the four longer ones – and a podium that stands in front of it.
There is a person there – a dark haired man in impressive red and gold robes and cloak sitting at the head table, leaning his chin into his palm… fast asleep.
D hesitates for a moment – at a distance he can't tell what the man is. It is late enough in the day that the man could have been a Vampire, and light of illusions isn't the same thing as true light – even if the charmed ceiling above showed a sunny weather, it might not burn a vampire. This man could be of the Nobility – and certainly place like this, even in ruins, could not be created by anyone but one of the Nobility. Even without machinery, the magic here is obvious.
The castle's lack of defences, however…
D moves his cloak aside, holding his left hand at the ready in case he needs to grab his sword and then he steps forward. The man at the head table is perhaps in his twenties, and if he is a vampire he is a strange one – he is wearing a pair of golden rimmed round glasses on his nose. He also seems to have a scar on his forehead, something a born Noble would not have, and which even on a bitten vampire would fade over time.
D stands at the foot of the table, and the sleeping man opens his eyes. They're vividly green, almost luminous in the fading light of the charmed sky, and altogether startling in their intensity.
For a moment there is silence, as they eye each other, D trying to surmise whether the man is of the Nobility or not, and the man just watching him, his face still slack and expressionless with sleep.
"Welcome," the man says then, his voice rough, and lifts his head slowly. "… I guess. How did you get in here?"
"I walked," D says simply, watching as the man straightens his neck and then leans his head to the side with a yawn, his spine audibly cracking.
His canines are long and sharp. D's eyes narrow. Vampire then.
"Well that's not right," the short haired, bespectacled vampire says and scratches at the back of his head. "This place is hidden with magic; it takes magic to see it."
D says nothing, watching him warily, his hand opening and his stance widening to get better purchase on the smooth floor. The vampire at the table glances down at his feet and then sighs, leaning his cheek into his knuckles. "What, do you want to fight?"
"You're a Noble," D says slowly.
"I'm not," the vampire says, sounding bored. "I'm a nobody."
That is not what D was expecting, though at this point he is not entirely sure what he's expecting. A magically appearing ruined castle, while not completely beyond his experience, is strange enough, but to have a vampire just sitting there, sleeping defencelessly out in the open… he certainly isn't behaving like a Noble.
The vampire looks him up and down and then yawns again, pushing himself up from the table and to his feet. "Are you hungry?" he asks. "We haven't got much, but I think we can whip up a meal. Oi, you lot," he then calls into nothingness and snaps his fingers. His nails are short, unusually blunt for a vampire. "We got a guest!"
Nothing happens, at first. D looks around warily, waiting for tricks, for traps – and so misses it when it happens.
The table by which the vampire is standing is suddenly covered in food. Pitchers of water, juice, milk and beer and other things, plates and trays of ham, chicken, cheese, eggs, bowls of various sauces, baskets of bread… it's enough food to feed easily twenty people and more, and it all appeared without sound or sight, seemingly from nowhere.
The vampire looks down at it all and then sighs morosely. "Looks good, doesn't it?" he asks wistfully and then takes something from his pocket – something which makes D frown even harder than the magically appearing food did.
It's a vividly crimson lollipop, wrapped in clear plastic wrap. As he watches, the vampire unwraps it and pops it into his mouth.
"Oh, sorry, do you want one?" the vampire asks and takes out another, identical, lollipop from his pocket. "I mean, you are a dhampir, right? You lot can do both, can't you?"
D stares at him silently.
"Come on, it's just a blood pop," the vampire says, waving the wrapped lollipop invitingly and then popping the one in his own mouth out again. It gleams wetly and, yes, it smells like fresh blood. "It's almost as good as the real thing, except for all the human sacrifice."
The moment stretches awkwardly and finally the vampire shrugs and drops the red lollipop onto the table, popping the one he'd already unwrapped back in his mouth. "Alright, suit yourself," he says and turns away. "You could at least try the food, though. They don't get many chances to cook these days, the elves."
Another moment of expectant silence, before the vampire sighs at him. "Alright, fine," he says. "You sure are talkative; I can barely get a word through. Slow down a little."
D stares at him as the vampire walks away from the table and to the nearest window, to peer out. As the vampire peers outside, D glances at the food on the table – it smells real, wafting out scent of ancient spices and warm, freshly cooked food.
The blood red lollipop still sticks out amidst all of it. Even though the wrapper, D can smell it. He's never scented such convincingly real odour – and yet, it isn't blood, it can't be.
Then, frowning, D looks up again as what he saw on the window registers.
Outside there are the towers and walls of a great castle, surrounding them on all sides. The ruins he'd walked through, fully restored. Another illusion – or were the ruins an illusion, and the scene outside the window reality?
How much power ran rampant in this place?
"If you're staying," the vampire says almost boredly, peering up at the sky. "Breakfast is at eight, lunch at eleven and dinner at six, and I'll see about making sure there's some snacks available here around the clock if you want them. If food just sort of appears around you, don't worry about it – they get like that with guests who can actually eat. You can have any bedroom you want, granted you can find it. Library is just on the left of the great hall – just follow the corridor and you'll find it."
With that said, the vampire turns to leave, slowly wandering towards the doors D had used to get in.
"What is this place?" D finally asks. "Who are you?"
"Harry Potter, the last Headmaster of this place," the vampire says and sighs. "Welcome to Hogwarts."
With that said, the vampire pushes the doors open – the doors which D had also pushed open, but which now open the other way, strangely. Maybe that is the key to the illusion, because where before they only revealed ruins, now… now there is a corridor outside
D hesitates just for a moment – and then he follows the vampire.
Harry Potter glances at him over his shoulder and then simply shrugs his shoulder. "Sure, why not. Come on, my talkative friend," he says and rubs at his neck, still looking sleepy and bored. "I'll give you the grand tour."
And he does, too – and it is, indeed, grand. The castle isn't quite as large or impressive as the greater castles of the truly old nobility, those who had lived for thousands and thousands of years. In relative terms, the Castle Hogwarts is actually rather small. But then this castle, D can see, wasn't build by machinery.
However the castle had been hewn, by hand or by magic, it was done by people. It has those small flaws and quirks of human construction that lot of Noble castles, perfect by not only design but by building method, simply lack. It gives every corner of this place a rough, lived in feel, where as Noble castles tend to feel more like art works, rather than living spaces.
And this place is, indeed, very lived in.
There are little nooks and holes in the walls, where D can tell by the marks left there people used to be, to hide. The carpets are worn, the curtains have holes – they also have marks of repair. The decorative statues have been chipped, the armours have dents. Everywhere he looks, he can see the wear and tear of use.
"We had hundreds of students here," Harry Potter says idly, staring down the long corridors, their worn down carpets, their statues and decorative armours. "Hundreds and hundreds of little people running around, making a mess."
"This is a school?"
"This was a school," Harry Potter says and pulls the blood red lollipop from his mouth with a pop. "It was… oh, when was it…" he stares at the floor for a moment, frowning. "Well, I have no idea. What year is it?"
D tells him.
The vampire looks at him for a long while. "Oh," he then says and looks away. "I've been asleep for a while, huh. Little over nine thousand years ago, then."
D almost stops on his tracks, which thankfully is unnoticeable – Harry Potter has stopped by a large, painted glass window. He points through it with the lollipop, and outside. "See that stone?"
D looks. It's not so much a stone as it is an obelisk of smooth black stone, a spire that reaches almost higher than the castle's towers.
"Last students of Hogwarts are written on it," Harry Potter says and sighs. "Well, last witches and wizards before we got wiped out."
He shrugs plops the lollipop back in his mouth, shrugs his shoulders, and continues on while D stares at the spire.
Last witches and wizards?
"You are…" D trails away, turning to the green eyed vampire.
"On my way to the kitchen," the vampire says. "There will be new generation of elves here by now, I should go say hello."
D blinks after him and then, with a last glance at the spire – carved full of names – he turns to follow the vampire.
The kitchen is… a surprise, but then so is pretty much everything in this place. It is full of activity, strange activity, conducted by strange, goblin like creatures. They flock around Potter happily, touching his robes and bidding him good morning and welcome in little voices that blend into each other.
Potter falls to his knees amidst them. "Who's the head elf now?" he asks the little creatures.
One of them is pushed forward. It – he, she, D can't quite tell – wrings the ragged cloth it's wearing and then bows its head. "Retta, milordy, at your service."
"What happened to Nierra, Retta?"
"Nierra passed, milordy, old age. She was an old elf. Retta took Nierra's job over five years ago, milordy."
Harry Potter bows his head for a moment and sighs. "Thank you Retta," he says and then looks at the other elves. "Anyone still around from when I was last awake?"
"H-here, milordy," one of the creatures, bend down low with painfully crooked back, says, coming forward with the other elf creatures helping it. "Delbert, milordy."
"Dolbert," the vampire says and holds out his hands. "I'm sorry, I don't remember you."
"Dolbert was but a wee elf when milordy went asleep," the elf says and takes the vampire's hands, letting the Noble – because at over nine thousand years he can't be anything but a Noble – support him.
Harry Potter hold's the old creature's hands gently. "Where are we, Dolbert?"
The old creature frowns, thinking about it. Then he shakes his head and then looks away, at the first elf, Retta. "Where are we, Retta?"
"Retta doesn't know," the first elf admits ashamedly. "Castle moved just yesterday, we elves haven't gone out seeing yet. We will go today, milordy, we will find out."
Harry Potter sighs, squeezing Dolbert's crooked hands, and then he stands up. "It's alright, we'll figure it out. There's time. Now, this is…" he trails off and then turns to look at D. "Who are you?"
D bows his head a little, looking between this… strange, strange vampire, and his small army of strange servants. "D," he says finally. "A vampire hunter."
Harry Potter blinks at him, but doesn't seem particularly worried. "This is D, a vampire hunter. Try and find him something he will actually eat," he says and then looks at the elves. "Has anything happened while I've been asleep?"
There is a minute of nothing but noise as all of the elves around them babble all in unison, reporting apparently anything and everything that happened while their lord slept. It's quite bit of noise, so much that even D can't keep up with it. Mostly it seems to consist of animals wandering in, windows breaking, crops failing, and then all those things being dealt with accordingly.
Harry Potter listens and nods here and there and then hums. "No people?"
"No people, milordy," Retta says and then frowns at D.
Harry Potter nods and then turns to D. "How did you get inside?" he asks again.
"I walked," D says again, watching him, trying to figure it out.
"Walked," Harry Potter says and takes the stick of the blood pop off his mouth – the candy is gone now, just the stick remains. He looks at it and then looks down, as every elf in vicinity holds their hand out for it. He drops it in the nearest palm, and sigh runs through the elves.
"Walked," the vampire says again and shakes his head, turning to wander out of the kitchen the same way he'd wandered in.
D casts a look at the strange elf creatures, and then follows him.
"House elves," Harry Potter says. "They gain power from the upkeep of magical domiciles."
D doesn't answer, he doesn't really have anything to say to that. He's not hundred percent certain this isn't some sort of illusion, all of it. This place seems to have many of them.
And then ghosts descend from the ceilings.
"Lord Potter," the first one, a rotund spirit in strange robe says and bows. "Good morning to you. You have slept for nearly eighty years."
"So it seems – hello Friar," the vampire says and then nods his head to another ghost. "Baron," and to third, "Nick. Anything to report?"
"Nothing what so ever," the spectre called Baron says with a huff. "The castle's protections stand ever strong. Nothing has come in that hasn't immediately gone. Except for this one," he adds and peers at D. "How did he get inside?"
"Apparently, he walked," Harry Potter says and looks at D. "How did you walk in?"
D considers him and the ghosts – the house elves which are now peeking at the corridor from the kitchen. "There were ruins that appeared from nowhere. I… investigated."
"And just walked through this place without anyone noticing?"
"The castle was in ruins – only the hall I met you was still standing," D says and then looks through the window – at the spires and walls and impressive causeways that made the castle. Had they been there before, he certainly wouldn't have been able to just walk up to the great hall. "I merely walked."
Harry Potter frowns at that a little, running a hand over his chin. "So, the charms failed partially," he says, his tone a little flat. "Specifically on the Great Hall."
D doesn't answer and the vampire shrugs, turning to the ghosts. "Gather everyone and go check the ward stones."
"Yes sir," the ghost called Nick says, throwing in a salute.
"I fly them every day," the Baron says with a scowl. "There is nothing wrong with the ward stones. The keystone stands as strong as ever."
"Check them anyway," Harry Potter says with a sigh and waves the ghosts away. They disperse, leaving D alone in the corridor with the vampire lord.
"You know," Potter says and takes out yet another bloody lollipop. "I'm not entirely sure what to do with you. What do you want, vampire hunter? I don't think you're here to kill me, you didn't even know I existed before now, did you?"
D narrows his eyes a little. "Are there others here?"
"Just me, the ghosts and the house elves, now. Maybe some pixies, probably some gnomes… the usual pests," Harry Potter says. "There are no people here if that's what you're asking. And no, I don't go attacking people. The castle moves around, as it is – has since they destroyed the island it used to stand on. I don't even know where it is half of the time, never mind where to find people to attack."
D arches an eyebrow and then motions at the window.
The vampire looks that way and then arches an eyebrow. "Oh," he says
Right now, the castle sits on top of a hill, overlooking a fairly sizeable human town built into a valley below. Good three thousand households, almost ten thousand people – all of whom had gotten understandably nervous when the ruins had simply grown on the hill overlooking their previously safe, quiet little town.
"Oh," the vampire says again and scratches the back of his head. "That's… why you're here."
"Yes," D agrees. "When a magical castle appears out of nowhere like this, it has the tendency of making people… nervous."
"Yes, I can see how it would," Harry Potter says, pushing the window open. The sun has set now, and the sky deep, dark red, growing darker as they watch it – while below in the town, streets are lighting up, and houses glow with inner light.
"Oh, they have street lights again," the vampire murmurs and leans his elbows onto the window sill. "That's nice."
"What is your purpose here?" D demands.
"I have no idea," Harry Potter says and turns his attention to the lollipop he's holding. He starts unwrapping it. "I usually don't, really. Hogwarts moves when she feels like it, I've long since given up trying to guess her whims. There might be a reason we're here, there might not."
"And how long are you going to stay?"
"Again, I have no idea," the vampire shrugs and pops the lollipop into his mouth. "Guess we'll see."