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1. Two Types of Darkness

Even amongst magical folk, the fact that the monster exists—that I exist—excites a degree of fear and distrust on an instinctive, even visceral level. It is obvious that I must make strenuous efforts to assure you of my innocence, at least of the crimes of which I am currently accused. I will vouchsafe my tale to you. When I’m done, you can seek out my witnesses. They will validate my account.

I will begin with an account of my meetings with Tom Riddle. It was those meetings that forced me onto the road I have travelled for more than half a century. I met young Tom on only two occasions, however, we corresponded frequently in the years between those two meetings. You will have to take me at my word, regarding this, for I’m certain he destroyed my letters to him. In nineteen-forty-six, he destroyed not merely his letters to me but the building in which I kept them, and every other building I owned.

I shall tell you how we met and what happened. It is important that you understand, because that is the reason the records you have obtained from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures list me as “destroyed by person or persons unknown”. As you see, the records held by “Magical Creatures” are inaccurate. Hardly surprising, as they did not investigate, and I went into hiding.

Destroyed is the official Ministry terminology. What other word would you like me to use? No one can kill me, because I am already dead.

I want you to trust me, and I know that gaining your trust will not be easy. For that reason, I will be completely honest. This will reflect badly on me.

I will begin with my second encounter with Tom Riddle, the night everything changed, the night I became hunted, not hunter. There were no witnesses to that encounter, so nothing of what I’m about to tell you can be corroborated.

It was late in the summer of 1946, and I was hungry. Eight weeks earlier I had pulled my penultimate victim from the Thames. She had jumped into the Thames from Westminster Bridge, and was still alive when I pulled her out. Not for long. When I finished feeding, I simply put her back into the water.

That murder was inconsequential, at the time it didn’t trouble me at all. My victim had obviously wanted to die, and death at my hands was quicker—and no more painful—than drowning. By 1946 I had been “assisting” suicides and “removing” criminals for five years. I believed I was doing the right thing, that I had changed. Someone seeking death, or causing suffering, had died. In dying, they had fed me.

That is who I was at the time. Now, those killings trouble me, but I can’t change the past. I do not dream, but there are times during the last half-century when I look over my shoulder and expect to see the mountain of corpses I’ve left in my wake. They are never visible, but I can sense their presence, and hear their voices. I cannot deny what I have done.

After receiving a rather cryptic letter from Tom Riddle, I left the safety of London and took the train to Yorkshire. That night on the clifftop at Whitby I faced the monster hiding behind his lovely smile. Despite more than a century of experience, I foolishly judged him by his appearance. In those days he was a good looking young man.

When I met him on that second occasion he was an adult, and he exuded confidence and power. It was obvious that he was on the cusp of something. I had no idea what, but I was about to find out.

As everyone now knows, Tom Riddle wanted to live forever, and he did not care who died in order to achieve that goal. In many ways, the path I took is the same one he followed. I want to assure you that I turned away from that path more than half a century ago.

Like me, he chose to corrupt himself. Unlike mine, his corruption brought with it a change in appearance. Once he started to look like a monster people became wary, or in awe, of him. My corruption can be felt, but it can’t be seen.

I was foolish. Given my years of experience I should have been more cautious. We all judge by appearances, don’t we? Unless we know better, we assume that good looks and good intentions go hand in hand. Look at me. My form and size, or rather my lack of size, are enough to disarm most people. How could this small and slight young thing be a killer?

The answer, of course, is very easily. You are wary in my presence, because you recognise me for what I am.

People will describe someone’s appearance as disarming, or alarming. In the end, Tom looked alarming. By then he was so powerful that it didn’t matter. Had he always looked like a monster on the outside—and I have little doubt he always was a monster on the inside—I don’t believe he would have achieved a fraction of what he did. Appearance is an advantage I retain. Perhaps he should have taken me up on my offer.

I digress.

It was 1946 and the war was over, but Britain was still struggling in the aftermath. It was Tom’s idea that we meet. He wrote to me, to the address I’d given him, and he told me that he had made his decision. He referred in some detail to the conversation we’d had six years earlier. As I mentioned, we had corresponded over the intervening years. Despite our letters I had met him on only one occasion, during the blitz. His letter was discreet, and full of vague allusions to my abilities. I naturally assumed that he wanted me to share my gift with him. I was both flattered, and willing to do so.

You may think that it isn’t a gift and that, like him, I too am a monster. I agree, I am, spending more than half-a-century as an “ordinary” person has convinced me of that. I hope that I have changed, but you must be the judge.

On that day in nineteen-forty-six, I truly thought of my condition as precious gift, and of myself as merciful. After my encounter with the priest, I had killed only people who were about to kill, or about to die. I had spent six years of war convincing myself that I was a killer, but a killer of evil, not an evil killer.

When I travelled to Whitby to meet Tom Riddle I was so pleased with myself. I was a much better person than I’d been before the war. Before my encounter with the priest I had killed indiscriminately. Killing was my nature, it was what I was, what I did.

Thinking back, what troubles me more than anything else is the fact that I was prepared to turn him. I’d convinced myself that I had changed, that I took only those who sought death, or those who led a violent and criminal life. Despite my self-satisfaction, I was prepared to take his lifeblood. Not to kill him, but to create another monster, another killer.

I have no idea why I didn’t stop to consider his future victims. Of course, he didn’t need my help to become a killer, I know that. But I was prepared to turn him, so in truth, at that point, I had not changed. Now, I have, I am a different person; motherhood does that. I still don’t know what I am. My son tells me that I’m a glamorous granny. It would be nice if that were true.

How many people have I killed? I honestly do not know. It must be several hundred. In fact, as I think about it, it is likely more than a thousand.

I see the horror in your face. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But you must remember that I have been killing for a long time. I am not trying to excuse my actions; I am simply stating a fact. I have allowed myself to be incarcerated in an Auror cell, I have chosen my path, and I must face the consequences.

More than a thousand dead, but less than two thousand. I can be certain of that. Until my second meeting with Tom, my murder rate was no more than one death a month but I had been killing for a century-and-a-half.

If you want a better guess, I’d say more than twelve hundred, but less than fifteen hundred. They are the deaths I’m directly responsible for. Hopefully, it will never reach two thousand. That number is likely more than Tom and his Death Eaters managed, isn’t it? That’s a sobering thought.

My margin of error is three hundred lives, and even that is a number I now find horrifying. There is, unfortunately, nothing I can do about it. When I was young I didn’t keep count, it didn’t matter. The corpses in my wake meant nothing to me.

Tom Riddle was one of the four stepping stones on my journey out of that river of death. The others were the priest, my final victim, and a woman I killed only a few years after I first arrived on these British Isles. All four are responsible for my current situation.

I met Tom on the harbour side at Whitby, at one hour before midnight. The moon was full, and it was slowly climbing towards its zenith. He had suggested Whitby as a meeting place in his letter to me. Perhaps he was trying to be funny when he did so. I doubt it, as he showed no sign of having a sense of humour on either of the occasions we met.

After we’d said a polite hello, he silently led me up the one-hundred ninety-nine steps to the remains of Whitby Abbey. The summer night was clear and cloudless and, on our right, the ruins were a dark and jagged shadow silhouetted against the stars.

Still unspeaking, he led me past the Abbey and across the grass to a bench on the cliff top. He made the appropriate gesture, I sat, and he joined me. We were side-by-side, but not together; we certainly didn’t touch. I wanted to, but I knew that he would have to instigate that first contact. There was a gap, a distance, between us. It intrigued me.

Remaining silent, he stared out into the night, out to the limit of vision. I followed his gaze and tried to chart the faint line where the darkness of the star-sprinkled sky met the black and treacherous sea. The separation was no more than a slight change in colour. At that point on the distant horizon two different types of darkness met. They seemed to touch, but their proximity was illusionary.

I moved my gaze closer to the shore, to a point where the bright moonlight shimmered and danced on the waves. To my eyes, which are accustomed to the dark, it was a wonderful sight. Despite the view, the silence was beginning to oppress me.

‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ I asked him. ‘The moon reflected on the sea.’

He seemed to think I was fishing for a compliment. Perhaps I was; he had that effect on me.

‘Not as beautiful as you,’ he told me.

I smiled at him, and he took my hand. He did not flinch when he touched me. Most people do, but he was not “most people” he was different. I didn’t realise how different.

You have to realise how he made me feel. His gentle touch almost overwhelmed me. His hand was full of warmth, full of life, full of blood. He was so very much alive.

I know what he was, what he became, and what he did, but that was later. When we sat on that cliff top he was still in his late teens, and our proximity was as illusionary as that of sea and stars. At the time, so far as I knew, he’d done nothing. He had grown from the child I’d first met into a handsome young man, and I liked him. He was clever, and witty, and charming, and he certainly knew how to charm me. I am not the only person to have been charmed by him.

He was charming. But he was always a monster. I have thought about him often since that meeting. Now, with the benefit of almost sixty years of hindsight, I am convinced that his charm was a mask, a necessary disguise, and that when he became powerful enough he simply discarded the mask. Nevertheless, his actions that night forced me to look at myself afresh.

That second encounter on the clifftop, or at least its aftermath, was when everything changed for me. The Muggles’ war had lasted for over six years, I’d grown smug and complacent. His actions forced me to see that I had slipped into self-satisfaction and over-confidence. Sitting next to him on that cliff top I thought that I was wise, that I knew everything. I thought that I was at the top of the food chain. He showed me that I was not.

I sat on that cliff top seat and accepted his compliment. Turning, I examined him. His hair was slicked back, a style that was fashionable at the time. He was wearing a blue pinstripe suit, a demob suit, and he looked every inch the young ex-serviceman. I was in a suit too. Mine was a slate grey pinstripe, the pencil skirt was calf-length, my hat was a wide-brimmed navy-blue thing, and my stockings were sheer silk. Women’s fashions were so much more elegant in those days. They were a little drab, perhaps, but the war had only just ended and the Muggles weren’t feeling particularly bright or cheerful. I found them much more comfortable than the movement restricting corsets and petticoats of the late Victorian era.

I squeezed his hand, not too tightly, but tightly enough to remind him what I was.

‘You’re strong, aren’t you?’ he said, smiling. He showed neither pain not fear.

‘A lot stronger than all Muggles, and almost all witches and wizards,’ I told him.

‘How old are you?’ he asked.

‘Tom!’ I said, pretending shock. ‘You must never ask a lady her age. You should know that! You are such a naughty boy.’ I paused and looked into his face. He gave me his most self-depreciating smile.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m simply curious, Camelia. I ask too many questions, I always have done. I did the same the first time we met, but that’s because I want answers.’

‘I’m twenty-one, Tom,’ I told him. ‘I will always be twenty-one. Don’t you know that?’

Squeezing my hand, he smiled politely. ‘And you don’t look a day older than twenty-one, Camelia,’ he assured me. ‘But, when were you born, where were you born? Tell me a little about yourself.’

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Years of looking back over the events of that evening has convinced me that he knew the answers. He wasn’t seeking knowledge, he was simply confirming that he had identified me correctly. I fell into his trap.

‘I was born on the twelfth of August seventeen-sixty-six, in Transylvania,’ I told him, suddenly nostalgic for the old country. ‘To me, and to my compatriots, it will always be Transylvania. Nevertheless, when I left the country, many years later, the Muggles were already calling it the Kaisertum Österreich, later, it was Roumania. Who knows what they will call it in the future. No doubt, now that this latest conflict between the Muggles is over, they will once again redraw their national boundaries. I find it tedious having to keep track of such things.’ I admitted. ‘Do you know, I think that’s why I like these islands so much. Here, there are no significant land borders to be redrawn. For close to a millennium the borders between England, Scotland, and Wales have changed very little.’

‘You are one hundred and eighty years old today, Camelia,’ Tom told me. He was smiling. ‘Had you really forgotten your own birthday?’

That was another clue I missed at the time. His choice of date for our meeting was deliberate. It was another indication that he’d been researching me. I had been open with him. Six years of correspondence was enough for him to be able to discover a great deal about me. Foolishly, my reaction was one of surprise, not suspicion.

Even when I told him my birth date, I did not make the connection. I simply had not realised what day it was. Why should I? My birthday was unimportant. I had no one to celebrate it with. It was simply another meaningless day.

‘Happy birthday, Camelia,’ he said. He drew his wand, conjured a bouquet of red and white roses in mid-air, caught them, and presented them to me with a flourish. They were fresh and beautiful and their perfume was pungent and heady.

‘Not camellias?’ I asked, as I smiled my thanks. ‘Over the years, the majority of my suitors have given me camellias. They seem to think that it’s fitting.’

‘Really?’ he said. ‘I am surprised. Roses are the loveliest of flowers; their beauty and fragrance are unsurpassed. Nothing else I could offer you would be enough. The white is like your skin, which is perfect unblemished porcelain, even after almost two centuries. The red is for the bright ruby of the blood you drink.’ He leaned forwards, and for a moment I thought that he was going to kiss me on the cheek, as I had kissed him all those years before. He didn’t. Instead, he whispered his final sentence in my ear. ‘The thorns are a reminder that your ageless beauty has a sharp side.’

He raised his thumb in front of my eyes. He had pricked himself on a thorn, and a single drop of his blood glistened wetly in front of my eyes. I licked my lips. The shining red sphere was a tiny, juicy berry awaiting my bite; it was the finest and most full-bodied of red wines; it was the only thing which could quench my always raging thirst. I moved forwards to lick the blood, but he snatched his hand away and sucked the blood himself. Close to losing control, I bared my teeth.

‘I don’t like the taste of blood,’ he said, observing his now clean thumb. ‘Do you? It seems to me that it is a craving. Can you control it?’

‘Control it?’ I asked. The hunger was growing within me, the smell of his blood, the sight of it, was making me yearn for a taste. I put on my haughtiest expression and remained calm. ‘Of course I can control it,’ I assured him.

He raised an eyebrow. ‘Liar!’ he said harshly. ‘It’s a hunger, rather an unquenchable thirst. I’ve studied the documentation, Camelia. Last century, in Whitechapel, the man the Muggles called Jack was one of you. He was a ravenous beast.’

‘He was an aberration,’ I said.

‘An aberration you created, Camelia,’ he told me.

‘How do you know that?’ I asked. He’d uncovered a secret I’d thought long buried and forgotten.

‘Study,’ he told me. ‘You’d be astonished at the things I have discovered. The man Jack’s crimes were so bloody that the Ministry was forced to enact new laws. Because of you, your kind are licensed and catalogued. By law you must inform the Ministry of the location of every one of your resting places.’

I stared at him in admiration; his self confidence was astonishing, he was not afraid of me, not in the slightest.

‘I know all of your secrets, Camelia,’ he told me. ‘You are better at fighting your urges than most of your kind, but you are driven by your lust for blood. You won’t have mine.’

‘Be very careful, Tom,’ I warned him. He was beginning to make me angry.

‘I have been,’ he assured me, his eyes boring into mine. ‘I have been very careful, indeed, Camelia. Diagon Alley, Inverness, Auchtermuchty, Litchfield, Conwy, Penzance, Winchelsea.’ I listened in horror as he listed every grave soil location I had given to the Ministry in order to retain my freedom. Somehow, he knew the locations of my properties, my bolt-holes, my sanctuaries. ‘They are all gone, and so are the ones you tried to hide from the Ministry.’

I would have struck, but I was too late. His wand, fresh from conjuring distracting flowers, was on my chest.

Avada Kedavra,’ he said softly.

Chapter Text

2. Blitzkreig

My first meeting with Tom Riddle took place during the Muggle’s Second World War. It was a war where all sides deliberately targeted civilians. Because of this, it was a time of plenty for those of us who hunted among the Muggles.

From the early days of the Blitz, when London was burning, through the arrival of the American GIs, to the celebrations on VE day, things were good for my kind. People were dying, people were going missing, and in the chaos, no one noticed. If a crying, dying, black marketeer trapped under the rubble of the blitz died a little quicker because of me, no one cared.

It was the night of one of the very first air raids. The Nazi Third Reich was just beginning to give old Blighty a pounding. The little ships had done their duty at Dunkirk, and Britain was all alone. On the radio Mr Churchill had told us, in his own inimitable style, that the Battle of France was over, but the Battle of Britain was about to begin. He was correct, and I was there to witness it.

On that night I did not see a Battle of Britain, I saw a capital in chaos. I was prowling the streets when the air raid sirens began screaming out their warning. The sirens’ banshee-like wail, like that of a real banshee, presaged death.

Everyone’s grip tightened on the gas masks they carried. At that time, poison gas was a very real fear. Like everyone else, I carried one, although it served no purpose. I don’t need to breathe. The posters, however, made the official position very clear: “Take Your Gas Mask Everywhere”. It wasn’t illegal to walk around without a gas mask, but by openly carrying it I avoided awkward questions.

Wherever I looked there were frightened Muggles. The streets were full of them, their hearts were pounding and the blood was surging through their veins. The fear of death made everyone around me become even more alive. I was a wolf in the midst of panicked sheep.

As the sirens’ keen rose and fell, grim-faced men in suits appeared on the streets and attempted to take control. The only difference between those men and the confused and frightened masses was a black “tin hat” bearing the letter W in white, and a simple armband which bore the initials ARP, for Air Raid Precautions. These were the Air Raid Wardens.

As the wardens attempted to marshal the crowds into the nearest shelters, I ducked into an alley and zigzagged my way through the back streets. I had to keep away from those well-meaning men with armbands. They would, I knew, attempt to get me into a crowded shelter. They would try to save my life, but they were more than a century and a half too late for that. I needed to be alone, because the conditions were ideal for me. I was on the hunt; all I needed was a solitary straggler.

In the starlit darkness above my head, I heard the Dornier’s deadly drone. Searchlights lit up the sky, darting back and forth through the heavens with anxious urgency. The beams of light criss-crossed each other in their anxious attempts to locate their enemy. As the first bombs fell, no more than a vague thumping in the distance, the anti-aircraft batteries joined in, firing their first salvos.

The ack-ack guns tried in vain to protect their city as the bombers thundered ever closer. As they approached, the noise became almost musical. The night became a percussive symphony of engine noises, explosions, and one lonely bell.

When I first stopped to listen to the music of Muggle madness, I didn’t hear the bell. In the air above, the growls and purrs of the Dorniers were a constant background harmony. All around me, the ack-ack guns steadily beat time: bang-crump, bang-crump, bang-crump. Every so often the thumps of bombs became a kettle-drum beat as an entire payload landed in a steady line of destruction: boom, boom, boom. When I finally registered the ringing, it took me a while to realise what it was. Somewhere in the cacophony a solitary bell tolled: ding-dong, a few moments of silence, and then, once more, ding-dong.

Curious, I moved towards the tocsin. It didn’t take me long to find the source of the alarm. I turned the corner and saw the church. It had suffered a direct hit. There was a gaping hole in the roof, and one stone wall, a wall even older than I was, had fallen into the tiny graveyard. Rubble and debris littered the street. Astonishingly, the bell tower survived.

I’m allergic to churches and was about to leave, then I saw him. He saw me, too. He stood in the gap where the wall had once stood, and urgently beckoned me forward. Curious, I moved closer. As I stepped out of the shadows I watched him carefully. As he saw my dress and registered my sex, I saw his face fall. I don’t usually have that effect on men, but he was a priest.

‘I need help, miss,’ he shouted. ‘I need several strong men.’

I moved closer. I was curious, I wondered if I’d be able to enter the partially-demolished church. As I approached the collapsed wall, I discovered that I couldn’t. Although the wall was gone, the boundary remained, and it was impossible for me to break through it.

The priest stared at me, and I stared right back. He was a thick set man in his thirties, broad of shoulder, and thick of neck. I was looking at a once active man who now carried the beginnings of a paunchy middle-age. It is sobering to see what growing old does to the human body. The man’s robes were long, black, and covered in dust and grime. His torn dog collar hung crookedly from his neck. He wiped sweat from his forehead with a grimy hand and ran his fingers around his neck, further exposing his jugular vein. I could see his pulse, strong and solid. Most importantly, I noticed, he wore no symbols, no crucifix.

‘What?’ I said. Cupping a hand over my ear, I feigned deafness. He approached, scrabbling over the rubble towards me.

‘I need men,’ he said.

‘Don’t we all?’ I asked, doing my best to sound like Mae West. Although he looked at me in distaste, he continued to move cautiously over the rubble. Soon, he’d be within reach.

‘Please,’ he begged. ‘You toll the bell, and I’ll go and find help. Come here, miss, come into my church, please help me.’

An invitation! I moved forwards, but only a single step. As everyone knows, I need to be invited into a dwelling. Religious buildings have their own rules, but I was uncertain as to how they worked. That was when I discovered that not even a vicar could invite me into a church, even when it was partially demolished. His words were earnest and heartfelt, but they were not enough. I tried to step further forwards, but I couldn’t. With difficulty, I had made it onto the rubble which had fallen outside the original line of the walls, but I could go no further.

‘There are children trapped inside,’ he implored. He was becoming increasingly desperate, and he was moving ever closer to me. I could hear his heart pounding. I licked my lips in anticipation.

‘I gave shelter to children from the orphanage,’ he told me, gesticulating in the direction of an austere looking institutional building a short distance along the road. ‘But there was a bomb—a direct hit—they’re trapped in the cellar, frightened. I can hear them screaming, but I can’t reach them. I’m the only one who knows they are there and, after the bomb, I’m worried that the floor is unstable. It could collapse on them at any minute. Please…’ He stopped moving and stared at me in desperation.

It was obvious that he wasn’t going to leave the children, so I stepped forward as if to do as he asked. As I did so, I deliberately slipped on the rubble and fell heavily. I screamed, held my ankle, and began to sob.

Good men are easy to manipulate. He finally scrambled out from the protection of his church and was at my side. I timed it perfectly. As he arrived I leapt to my feat, grabbed his arms, and bared my fangs. He instantly recognised me for what I was. Before Bram Stoker wrote his book, only the magical community were able to recognise me.

‘Please, don’t harm the children. For God’s sake, save them, I beseech you.’ They were his last words. Even as I bit deep, he was not thinking of himself, but of others. I suppose that made him a truly good man. I know that I felt the power of those words as I hungrily gulped down that which gave him life.

He was taking his last rattling breath, and I was extracting the last drop of his blood, when Tom Riddle spoke.

‘You’re a vampire,’ he said.

He startled me. He had managed to sneak up on me. That was something which had not happened for fifty years. No one sneaks up on me, not even when I’m feeding.

I dropped the lifeless priest, snarled, and turned to face my new adversary. He was a boy, no more than fourteen. He was wearing short trousers and a shapeless grey pullover. He appeared to be harmless; but I couldn’t relax, because he carried a wand.

‘I’ve always wanted to meet a vampire,’ he told me calmly. ‘They don’t teach us much about vampires at school. I think that it’s because they don’t know very much.’

‘They don’t, and that’s because we don’t tell them,’ I replied. As I stared at his wand, I tried to size him up. He had a remarkable confidence; there was a cool arrogance about him which belied his years.

‘What do you think you can do against me?’ I asked. ‘Underage magic is illegal.’

‘You’re a vampire, and I’ve just watched you kill a Muggle priest,’ he told me. ‘I’m sure that would count as extenuating circumstances. And I’m fast.’

‘There are children trapped in the rubble,’ I said. I pointed at his wand. ‘You could use that to save them. You’d be a hero, and that would be extenuating circumstances, too.’

‘They’re Muggles,’ he spat the word contemptuously. ‘They’re all from the orphanage, and I don’t like any of them. Besides, why do you care? Surely, to you, they’re only food? I’ve just seen you kill. I was taught that it’s against the law for you to kill, but you did it anyway. It seems to me that you creatures do whatever you want, and the Ministry usually don’t interfere. Why don’t they?’

‘Why do you want to know?’ I asked.

‘I don’t want to die,’ he told me. ‘I want to live forever. If you answer my questions, I won’t report you to the Auror Office.’

I was, I admit, amused by his self-confidence and his rather pathetic threat. I decided to humour him.

‘Ask your questions,’ I said. ‘I’m Camelia.’

‘Tom,’ he said shortly. ‘Are you a witch?’

‘Once, I was a witch,’ I said. ‘But I died, and now, I’m a vampire.’

‘You’re dead, really, properly dead?’ he asked. He sounded disappointed. ‘I thought that was just a rumour, just misinformation.’

‘Dead,’ I confirmed. ‘No pulse, no heartbeat, no breath in my lungs. I’m unliving, unbreathing, and unalive. Yet here I am; still thinking, still moving, and still a physical being. The Muggles call this state undeath.’

‘How?’ he asked the question everyone asks.

‘Many years ago, for the three nights before the full moon, I allowed my creator to take my blood. Finally, on the full moon night, I drank his blood, the blood of a vampire. And then he killed me, drained me of the little blood he’d left me. I died and was buried, and three nights later I rose and “fed on the blood of an innocent” as the stories say. When I awoke, I was starving, so I killed an innocent—though from her attire not that innocent—young woman. Once satiated, I became what I am to this day. I’ve been dead ever since I was bitten on that night, one-and-a-half centuries ago. I survive by feeding on the blood of others, as you’ve just seen.’

‘Are you tied to your creator, beholden to him in any way?’

‘No, Tom,’ I assured him. ‘That is simply a rumour.’ I smiled before continuing. ‘But you strike me as a clever boy. You must realise that I would say that, wouldn’t I? Particularly if I wanted someone beholden to me. If I’m any judge of character, you would, too.’

Anger flashed across his face, and then he smiled. ‘I would,’ he admitted. ‘You said “once” you were a witch. Why aren’t you still a witch?’ he asked.

‘I am dead. No wand recognises an unliving hand. The spells I once knew require a life force to create and power them.’ I told him. ‘That doesn’t mean that I don’t have any magic. I can turn into a wolf, or into a flock of bats. I’m a lot faster, and stronger, than I look.’

To prove my point, I took three rapid steps towards him. He wasn’t boasting, he was fast, but I was faster. I held his wand arm tightly. He smiled, surprisingly unafraid, and touched my cheek. I listened carefully. His heartbeat was steady, and completely normal. He was not afraid of me, and that was something I had never before experienced. I released his wand arm, and he smiled.

‘You’re cold to the touch,’ he said.

‘I’m dead,’ I reminded him. ‘And I’ve been dead for a very long time.’

‘Do you have any enemies?’ he asked.

‘None still living,’ I told him.

‘But you can be killed,’ he said. ‘A stake through the heart, beheading. And you must sleep in a coffin.’

‘I must rest on soil taken from my grave,’ I corrected him.

‘You can’t go out in daylight,’ he said, continuing to probe.

‘I can, but it weakens me,’ I said. ‘Dawn, noon, and dusk, are the danger times. Then, but only then, I must rest, or age. You are very interested in my abilities, Tom. Why is that? Would you like me to drink your blood? Do you want to drink my blood on a full moon night? Would you like me to kill you? Do you want to become a vampire?’

‘It’s an option I’m considering,’ he said carefully. ‘But, not until I’m older.’

I smiled. ‘Very wise. You are much too young to take such a big step. But, in five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years, you may be ready. When you make your decision, let me know. Camelia Tepes is my name, and I live on Knockturn Alley. Any owl will find me. I look forward to hearing from you. Goodbye, Tom.’ I leaned forwards and kissed him on the cheek. His astonished expression made me laugh. I don’t think he’d ever been kissed before.

Taking a step away from him, I shook myself into pieces and, as a cloud of bats, I flew into the sky.

I didn’t fly far. On the main road below me, I saw a fire engine. Returning to my human form I dashed towards it, waving frantically.

‘Please help,’ I begged the firemen. ‘There’s a church been hit, about half a mile in that direction. There are children trapped in the cellar.’

Perhaps drinking the blood of a priest did it, I don’t know, but in the years following that encounter I changed my feeding habits. It was no instant transformation, but I have come to believe that was the day when my life began to change. I didn’t stop killing until 1946, but after that incident I chose to take blood only from the dying, or—on two occasions—someone I believed deserving of death. During a war, it’s easy to find people who are close to death. Some were even happy to let me end things quickly. Some, but not all.

Chapter Text

3. An Ending

You want proof that I’ve changed? I don’t blame you. When all is said and done, I am a mass murderer.

I have told you about my first encounter with Tom Riddle as a young boy, and much of my second encounter. Dora Glendenning will, I have no doubt, will confirm my story. As she refuses to leave Ely, I will provide you with her address. How many murderers can count on the testimony of one of their victims to help them? For my family’s sake, however, I’d rather you didn’t contact my dear Ralph.

I will come to the facts pertaining to my arrest later. Be assured that I understand your scepticism. I’m no fool. It’s obvious that finding someone like me in the same room as an exsanguinated corpse leads to one very obvious conclusion. The reaction of your colleagues, is proof of that. But escaping would have been easy. I escaped Tom Riddle. He tried to destroy me, and he failed. There aren’t many of us in that group, are there?

Perhaps I am the only good Tom Riddle ever did. But you must judge that for yourself.

Let me return to the events at the clifftop in Whitby.

I was foolish to trust him, I realised that as our second encounter reached its catastrophic close. However, I now believe that much good has come from my mistake. After that night in Whitby, after my return to London and—unfortunately—my subsequent pointless murder of poor Gladys Robertson, I have not killed anyone. It is fifty-eight years since my last murder. As I speak, I realise how hollow a boast that is, and how much I sound like an alcoholic. However, even had I been given a life sentence for my last crime, I’d still be free by now.

As I said, in 1946 Tom Riddle was an attractive and well-dressed young man. He was dark and pale, like a dashing hero of the cinema, he appeared to be a Rudolph Valentino—no, that was earlier—a Cary Grant. His heart, however, was as cold as my own, and he had proved himself to be treacherous, and much more devious than I suspected.

I sat on that cliff top in Whitby, admiring the elegant young man in his demob suit, and listening to his flattering words. I was certain that he was about to accept my offer, convinced that I would soon taste his hot, sweet blood. I was wrong. He changed in an instant.

His attack was sudden and callous. One moment he was talking, smiling, flirting, the next, he was uttering a spell, the Killing Curse. I could not have sprung a trap better myself. He was cold, calculating, and completely without remorse; he was a striking snake, burying his fangs in me, withdrawing, and waiting to see the effect of his poison. As I stared into his eyes, I wondered if that was how my victims felt.

If I was surprised by his attack, I was astonished by his choice of spell. It seemed that, despite everything I'd told him, he had forgotten one important fact; I was already dead. The Killing Curse has no more effect on me than it would on a ghost. If you want to destroy me, you must find another way.

The instant his curse hit me, I seized my chance. Before he realised his mistake, I threw myself to pieces. Instantly, I was no more than wisps of swirling mist and the bouquet of roses he’d given me were tumbling to the ground.

I have often wondered why I acted as I did. After all, I could have counterattacked, I could have fought. I may even have beaten him, bitten him, drained him. I did not attempt it, because my instincts screamed flee.

I have always followed my instincts, that is why I am here. The lust for blood pushes many of my kind over the edge. Times change, and many vampires find change impossible to deal with. I have always embraced it. Half a century ago, the Ministry was not interested in a few dead Muggles. That is no longer true, and it is one reason why I’m here. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I have survived for more than two hundred years because I know when to fight, when to run, and when to change.

Faced with Tom Riddle, I chose flight, not fight. I have no regrets about my actions. Had I fought, I’d have been destroyed, and my son would have grown up in an orphanage. My decision was the next step on the way to making me a better person. If I had, by some miracle, defeated him I wonder if what kind of monster I would have become. Who knows what effect swallowing even a single drop of his blood would have had.

Less than twenty-four hours after that encounter I had discovered how cruel he was. By then I was certain that he’d used the curse, not to kill me, but to torture me. The killing curse was a ruse. He wanted me beaten and broken. His plan was to destroy me in the cruellest way possible.

You know what I am, and you probably know what the Ministry was like in those days. It didn’t change until after the Battle of Hogwarts. Now, progress is being made. There is even a werewolf in the Auror Office. Not all magical creatures are treated so well. These may be enlightened times, but when a vampire is ended, no one mourns; not even other vampires.

Tom could have destroyed me in an instant, and claimed self-defence. Everyone would have believed him. Instead, he chose to torture me.

'Interesting,' he said as he stared at the mist I had become.

I could sense him watching me, and I hoped that he would choose to ignore the scattered remnants of my incorporeal form.

He did not. With a wave of his wand, he created a strong wind, scattering the tiny particles of my being across the sky. In desperation, I allowed myself to be dispersed by the wind and lost in the darkness. I wanted him to believe that he had truly finished me.

'Goodbye, Camelia,' he muttered contemptuously. 'What use is Vampirism? I am already a great wizard, and one day I will be the greatest. Magic is everything to me, it is me. I could not give up my wand in exchange for unlife as a vampire. I cannot rely on the blood of others to keep me alive and so must decline your generous offer. I have found a better way…' For an instant, his eyes blazed red. He Disapparated.

I could have coalesced immediately, but I did not. I was, I admit, extremely frightened of him. He had tried to destroy me and, just before he had struck, he claimed to have destroyed all of my resting places. If that were true then he had found the cruellest way to be rid of me, a way which would guarantee that my final days were filled with suffering.

When I was far out over the sea, and certain that he was long gone, I finally brought myself back together. The insubstantial fog of my being coalesced to become a black cloud of bats. As I flitted away, I pondered his words. I had a powerful enemy who wanted to destroy me. A man who—I hoped—now believed he had eliminated me. If I were to survive past the next full moon, I needed to make certain that at least one of my resting places remained. One lunar cycle. That was no time at all to someone as old as me.

Tom Riddle had finally shown his true colours. He had flattered me and flirted with me, and I had fallen for his lies. He had deceived me, but why had he tried to kill me? And why had he failed? He knew exactly what I was. As I flew back towards the shore, my fear turned to panic. He was very clever, yet he had failed to kill me. It was an elementary error, but he wasn’t the sort to make an elementary error. I knew that I had to assume he knew I’d survived his attack.

Perhaps I had been naïve in my belief that he would join me. But it seemed to me to be such an obvious and logical choice. It was the one I had made on that fateful day in the autumn of the year seventeen-eighty-seven. I had decided to live forever as a vampire rather than die as a witch. I had been so sure that he wanted the same, that he wanted to live forever. I recalled his final words, and I knew I was correct: he did want to live forever, but he wanted to keep his magic, too.

The alternative I had offered, the alternative I had been so certain he sought, was not for him. He was not prepared to die, not even in the knowledge that he would rise again. He was not prepared to join the ranks of the vampires. Magic was all-important to him, and without a life force to drive it, his magic would cease. He wanted both magic and a life eternal.

As I flew through the darkness I wondered what he planned. I assumed that he intended to create a Philosopher’s Stone. It was something which only one other wizard had ever achieved. Although he was still young I was certain that, should Tom attempt to make a stone, he would succeed. Tom was cold and hard, but very clever. It would be difficult, and making a stone would take him decades, but he certainly had the ability, and drive.

I was wrong about that, too, wasn’t I? He found another way, and the route he took was at least as dark as the one I am on.

Making sense of his sudden attack was my first priority. Just before he’d struck, as he stared into my eyes, I had sensed something. I now knew what it was. Tom’ had been probing inside my memories. He had listed the locations of my seven Ministry-registered sanctuaries—my resting places—and then, with deliberate cruelty, he had added “And the hidden ones.” That was when I felt his mind bore into mine. He had been trying to trick me into revealing my tombs. If my suspicions were correct, then he had been trying to be certain that he’d found them all.

When you have survived for as long as I have, you have a lot of memories and a lot of instincts. I had almost two centuries of sanctums hidden in my brain, and I did what I have always done when someone tries to use Legilimency, I showed him the location of my three most ancient sites, all of them in my native Transylvania, and all unused for well over a century. Perhaps he would go and check, just to make sure. If he did, then he would be out of the country for some time.

His Killing Curse was a ruse. The intention wasn’t to end me in an instant, but to destroy me slowly, to see what would happen to me if all of my grave soil was gone. Nevertheless, I was still confident that I would be safe, that he did not know the whole truth. I convinced myself that, even had he destroyed all of my Ministry-registered coffins, I would survive.

I assured myself that Tom could not possibly have discovered the location of my two secret coffins in England. The two whose locations I had “forgotten” to add to the Ministry’s list. One was in Ely and the other in Clerkenwell and I was confident that no one knew of their existence. Yet Tom had told me “And the hidden ones”.

As I continued my journey south, his words haunted me, and I began to wonder. What did Tom know? He knew my name and he knew the coffin locations I had registered with the Ministry. The logical conclusion was that he had read my Ministry file. My Clerkenwell property was mentioned on that file as a previous address. I had bought the building soon after my arrival in London, ten years after Queen Victoria’s Coronation. If, Vlad help me, Tom had searched that property he may well have discovered the hidden cellar.

The second secret coffin was in Ely, it was the safest of my sanctuaries. In order to find that place he would have to know that, in 1834, I had married an elderly English Muggle and that my husband owned a large house on the outskirts of that city. As we’d married in Prussia, not England, I was confident that Tom could not possibly have discovered that refuge. I decided to go to Clerkenwell first.

By the time I arrived in London, I had finalised my plan. I wanted to be sure that my sanctuary was safe, but I needed to be circumspect; I needed to ascertain whether or not my refuge was being watched, so I needed to change my appearance. I looked for a victim.

As you can see, I am neither tall nor sturdy. For centuries, I have been perceived as a “fragile” creature. Some men want to help me, to protect me. Others believe that they can overpower me, that they can do what they want with me. Both beliefs are erroneous, and both are very useful to me.

Despite the fact that I can crush a man’s neck with one hand, or throw him across a room—and there have been times when I have done those things—I appear weak. Being constantly underestimated provides an advantage, but you know that, don’t you?

There have been occasions, at least a dozen over the years, where my “victim” has selected himself. The men who grabbed me, pawed me, tried to … a century ago the term was “have their evil way” with me, invariably met their deaths. I promised to be honest with you, I said earlier that I regretted all of the deaths I caused. That was not completely true. Those deaths—the last was a blond brute of a G.I. who I pulled from on top of a woman in Whitechapel—are the exception.

When I finally reached London, the pre-dawn glow was already a glimmering threat on the horizon. I was tired from the long flight, I needed shelter from the dawn, and I had only minutes in which to find it. She was one of the first people I saw, she was leaving a house in Finsbury, and she was my size. For six years I’d been surviving on suicides and criminals, but exhaustion, hunger, panic, and fear of the dawn light turned me into the beast.

Swooping into a narrow alley, I pulled myself together. The furious fluttering of bats became a person. Harmless little Camelia Tepes in her blue pinstripe suit stepped out from the shadows into the path of the tiny, bespectacled, fair-haired woman wearing Airforce blue. As I stepped from the shadows, I startled her. Upon seeing a woman no taller than she was, she relaxed.

I will never forget the look on her face when I attacked.

Moments later I had drained the life blood from her. Hers was the first innocent life I’d taken since August nineteen-forty. It was also the last life I ever took.

I have shocked you again, but she was—I promise you—my final victim. I know the date: on the nineteenth day of August, in the year nineteen-hundred and forty-six I murdered another innocent. I know her name: she was Gladys Robertson, she was twenty-three years old, and she did not deserve to die. As I drained the bitterest blood I have ever tasted from her neck, I knew that.

I discovered her name by checking the Identity Card she carried. Her ration book confirmed it. She was a Corporal in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, and I had killed her simply because she was my size, because her uniform would fit me. As I looked down at the corpse of my final victim, I knew that I was no better than Tom Riddle.

He wanted me dead because I knew his secret, I knew that he was planning to live forever. He believed that he deserved it, that he was better, somehow more important, than others. Perhaps, like me, there was also a fear of the unknown, of what awaited me beyond the veil. My desire to remain had driven me to take another innocent life. I could have accepted my fate, allowed myself to die in agony. Instead, I selfishly took her life. This is proof of my cowardice.

I still have Gladys’ identity card, I kept her uniform, too. They are a morbid memento of my final victim. I don’t want to forget her; I need to remember what I was, what I am.

The pre-dawn streets were deserted. After feeding, I carried her corpse back into her bedsit and closed her curtains. As I sheltered from the light of that dawn, I felt the first faint stirrings of age. I had no coffin in which to rest, and until I rested on grave soil, my years would slowly catch up with me. Although I was worried about my situation, my conscience was troubling me.

Yes, I have a conscience. I put the blame for that on the priest I killed during the blitz, although I believe that it first pricked me more than a century before then. The voice which told me “you didn’t need to kill her” spoke in the priest’s voice. These days, I don’t hear him so often. That’s a good thing. It means I am behaving morally.

Trying to ignore the voice, I told myself that desperate times required desperate measures, that it was kill or be killed. The priest continued to whisper his reprimand. “You’re trying to justify something you know is unjust.” He spoke the truth. Her killing wasn’t essential for my survival, I’d killed merely to provide myself with a disguise and, hopefully, a new identity. I had killed because I was afraid of Tom Riddle.

In an attempt to escape those troublesome thoughts, I reminded myself that the deed was now done. Dead is dead, and no one could bring Gladys back to life. After stripping her corpse, I searched her room. Packing her few clothes into her suitcase, I distributed the cash—I can still remember the amount, six pounds, fifteen shillings, and thruppence ha’penny—into the pockets of her uniform.

Her WAAF Identity Card included a photograph. Fortunately, it was a little out of focus. Unfortunately, two words on her physical description, “Hair: fair.” Were enough to make it obvious to anyone that I wasn’t her. Fortunately, I had a solution.

To pass the time until the local shops opened, I dressed Gladys in her night clothes, and put her back into her bed. Leaving her uniform and the packed suitcase in the room, I went out to find the nearest dispensing chemist. I was waiting outside when an assistant unlocked the door at nine. The woman gave me a sympathetic smile and headed for the counter. She was already reaching under it when I asked her for peroxide. Her smile vanished.

Returning to Gladys’ bed-sit, I began my next life. Turning my hair from its natural black to blonde took me some time. Doing a good job would have been impossible were it not for my most treasured possession. I own a magical compact. Does anyone use a compact these days? The mirror isn’t large but, unlike every other mirror, it actually shows my reflection.

Dressing in Gladys’ uniform, I pinned my now blonde hair into a bun, and put on her uniform. Next, I pushed the lenses from her spectacles. Many years ago, I discovered that most people see the frames and assume that there is glass. Picking up her suitcase, I walked the final three miles to Clerkenwell. My hope was that, even if Tom was watching the place, he would be expecting a black-haired woman in pinstripes, not a blonde and bespectacled WAAF wearing RAF blue.

As I approached Seckforde Street I was faced with catastrophe. The building on the street corner—my destination, my secret sanctuary—was surrounded by Muggles. Firemen in dark blue serge and military style tin hats were coiling up their hoses. Several khaki clad soldiers stood outside the smoking remains of my property. Masking my distress, I moved forwards to get a closer look.

There was no sign of Tom, but I had a feeling someone was watching me. Wary, I concentrated on the heartbeats. In an empty shop doorway to my right, a heart was beating. An invisible someone was watching the scene, and they were bored. They had not recognised me, the heartbeat was to steady for that.

As I tried to move closer, the solitary policeman on scene plodded ponderously across the pavement to intercept me. He held up an authoritarian hand. ‘Sorry, darlin’, road’s closed,’ he said firmly.

‘Why?’ I asked, stepping sideways to get a better look.

‘Looks like one o’ old Adolf’s presents finally decided to go off,’ he said grimly. ‘Fire Brigade reckon it was probably one of them doodlebugs what Jerry was sending over a couple o’ years back. The neighbours reckon that the place went up like a bomb. It was deserted, thank the Lord. They hadn’t seen anyone visit for a couple of years. You don’t know who lives there, do you?’

‘Sorry.’ I shook my head.

He jerked his head towards the soldiers. ‘The bomb squad are just going to check, in case there’s something else in there.’

‘Thanks, Constable,’ I said loudly. ‘I’m a little lost, what’s the best way for me to get to the Air Ministry?’

As he told me, I glanced over at the ruin. Even from a distance, I could see enough. The evidence of a Blasting Curse, and of Fiendfyre was obvious to anyone with any knowledge of magic. My sanctuary had first been blown apart, and then cleansed by scorching magical fire. Tom had known exactly what he was doing when he had used the Killing Curse on me. He wanted me to face my end slowly and in suffering.

My Clerkenwell lair gone, I hurried off. Not to the Air ministry, of course. I went to Threadneedle Street. As I’d hoped, the Merchant Taylors' Hall was untouched. Scolding myself for not storing grave soil in that sub-basement, I strolled in and identified myself to the doorman.

I needed a new name, so I stole forenames, Margaret Elizabeth, from the little princesses. My key, and the surname Hunt, were the only other proofs he required. Astonished and excited by my unannounced arrival, he demanded that I sign his ledger as proof of my visit. With that signature, Margaret Elizabeth Hunt made her first appearance in the Muggle world.

After a hundred years “The Hunt Arrangement” had become one of the legends of the place. I have one of only two keys to the sub-basement, the other remains with the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. The basement is, supposedly, a continuing bequest from the Hunt family and is home to more than a century of female fashion. In fact, the place is my wardrobe and treasure room. I cannot bear to throw away my old clothes and jewellery. I took very little: a diamond ring, a pearl necklace, ten sovereigns from the eighteen-forties, and a bottle-green early-Victorian cloak.

That done, I headed to Charing Cross Road. As I entered the Leaky Cauldron I threw the cloak over my Muggle clothes. My attempted disguise was unnecessary. Though it was still an hour before noon, the place was abuzz with the news that a “vampire nest” on Knockturn Alley had been destroyed. The address on everyone’s lips was mine. This was confirmation enough for me. Checking my remaining registered sanctuaries would, I was certain, be a waste of precious time. Tom had already told me that he had destroyed them.

I was bereft, empty. I had but one, desperate, hope. Ely, the island in the fens was the home of my first English home. If that lovely long-abandoned property remained, then I still had some grave soil on which I could rest. I’d fled the place for good reason, but now it was my only hope for survival. If Ely was gone—if Tom had found that property and destroyed it—then he had destroyed me.