Hermione was only a vampire by mistake.
Really. Because everything had been going fine up till she’d fought her way out of a startlingly vicious mugging only to find she was bleeding from the neck and not bleeding from the arm.
“The neck bleeding is ceremonial magic,” John had said nervously, voice still shaky from the examination, most of which Hermione still didn’t quite remember. “It’ll go away in a while, so you shouldn’t –”
“Just tell me what isn’t going away, John,” Hermione had told him exasperatedly, head already mistakenly busy with thoughts of some horrid long-term curse that John, with his preternaturally nervy handling of distasteful news, hadn’t wanted to tell her about. “Oh, do go on, for Merlin’s sake...”
Now that she thought about it, Hermione felt increasingly glad that Harry had been there for the revelation. Else, there’d probably be two disgruntled vampiric ex-Healers packing up shop in the building right now. Not to mention the fact that the generous severance package St. Mungo’s was giving her might not have been quite so generous.
Shaking herself out of her morbid thoughts, Hermione opened her door as wide as it would go. It wasn’t very wide, but enough that she could set up a simple spell for circulating in fresh air - the charm they had provided with her office with her raise last year had broken down an hour into her search for a well-loved testing kit she remembered seeing stuffed into one of her filing cabinets, and had let the air fill with a dusty old smell Hermione couldn’t quite believe was a part of her office.
I’ve become old even without realising it, I suppose, Hermione thought, digging a slightly grimy hand through her hopelessly frizzy hair. Irritatingly enough, being a vampire seemed to agree with her hair about as much as cheap Muggle hairspray. Not that tossing and turning all last night and showering hastily this morning would have helped, but -
“That is not funny, John!”
Hermione ducked her head out of her office, quite happy to be distracted from her futile search, only to duck back in again as quickly as possible, hoping that Penelope was too peeved by whatever John had said to pay attention to Hermione. Penelope looked shocked and upset, and John— well, he still sported several bruises from Hermione’s attack yesterday, more than he would have had as a newly vampiric individual if Harry hadn’t still had the reflexes of a much younger man.
Well, maybe not that much younger— him, her and Ron still sort of looked halfway through their twenties instead of halfway through their thirties, and were still treated that way by their older colleagues. Especially Ron, being the youngest manager at Comet—
Hermione gasped, dropping a file she’d been about to stuff away in her portable cabinet. Oh god, Ron. The date! The— the—
Her office door banged open, making her jump. “Hermione!” Penelope Clearwater’s voice was warm with concern, warm enough that Hermione couldn’t quite regret bowing her head and pretending she hadn’t tried to avoid the older woman. “I couldn’t believe it when they said you were leaving...” Penelope trailed off as Hermione looked up, stunned into silence.
Probably, Hermione thought, she’ll start going on about how pale I am. She looked down, trying hard not to chew on her lip. The way everyone says that, for crying out loud— like I used to be some florid, blotchy old—
“Ron,” Penelope whispered instead. “Is he— did you still meet him, or...?”
“No,” Hermione said faintly, ashamed of her inconstant, petty thoughts. Penelope edged round the open file cabinets, dodging stacks of paper and odds and ends with the ease of someone familiar with messiness. By the time she’d cleared herself a perch on one of the half-buried armchairs, Hermione had found her voice again. “I didn’t meet him as planned, so...”
“So how did that scum get to you?” Penelope asked, sitting heavily in the armchair, genuine distress on her face. “Not that I—”
“Say scum if you like,” Hermione said tightly, turning to cram more paper into her portable cabinet. “It’s how I felt— still feel.” A moment of silence ensued, strained and heavy, unbroken till Penelope cleared her throat softly, familiarly.
“I don’t suppose they got into your flat,” she said haltingly. “Not with how you’ve done it up, all these years—”
“No, no,” Hermione said, heart aching sharply at how Penelope, whom she only ever spoke to in the ward, was the second person to go through things like this with her. Logically, and everything. “I...went down Flannigan’s for a bit to eat, you know— I’d done some filing at home.” Hermione shut the second drawer of the portable cabinet, knowing she couldn’t fit any more in. “I stayed late, because my flat was empty, and...”
Penelope sighed. It was a small thing, but somehow comforting. It brought tears to Hermione’s eyes, tears that she blinked away with a sharp laugh. “God, what a mess. What a bloody joke -”
“No it is, isn’t it? I— I’ve worried so, so hard about—” Hermione gulped “—about being kicked out over— over Hannah Abbot and her bloody mess of a contract, and now this.” She shook her head bitterly. “This just— this just walks along and bites me in the arse, doesn’t it?” She sighed. “And the neck. And the arm -”
Penelope sighed again. “Consultancy?”
Hermione snorted. “I’ll just keep holding on to the fact that they gave me a severance package, shall I?” She turned away then, fighting the desire to expound at length on the many grievances she was packing home with her from this job— an almost unending list, after twelve years of toil in St. Mungo’s desperately competitive Research Ward. It was a list she’d gone over with Ron and Harry and Penelope and Mum thousands of times— a list that had never seemed to stack up against the sheer prestige that came from working on the most experimental treatments and treating the most difficult conditions.
A list that she would now leave behind. Hermione set down another of her old, non-transferable files with a sigh, heart aching fiercely for yesterday’s dull filing hour in a way that was decidedly unscientific. At least she’d been certain of boredom— now, nothing was certain.
“So,” Penelope said, a little too casually, “have you told anyone yet?”
Hermione almost smiled. “Well, Harry. But I think John called him first when they found me. I, er, spent the night at Seamus’ place, too, since it was the nearest.”
“Finnegan’s place? How come the Prophet isn’t crawling all over here, then? I can just see it—”
“He knows how to keep things quiet,” Hermione said, interrupting her friend’s familiar invective with a shake of the head. “Seriously, Penelope— he’s not all bad, especially not since he and Lavender—”
“Mmm,” Penelope said, with a dismissive gesture. “I suppose he’d do it for you, though. War hero, and all.”
At a comment like that, Hermione usually coloured, and felt compelled to another abortive attempt at explaining that the last war— or, The War, as most of her colleagues said— had been more of a scramble for steady wand hands that could kill than some sort of glorious struggle for ascendance. Now, all she felt was a little heat in her cheeks— nothing like a real blush. That somehow made it easy to stop herself from getting on the useless thread again.
“I suppose I’d better leave you to it,” Penelope said, rearing up from the armchair with a slight creak. “Remember, if you need someone to talk to, or vent at…”
“Thanks,” Hermione said softly. As Penelope left, she restrained herself from adding, I don’t know why you bother.
An hour later, all was ready. Hermione looked round her small office, which seemed large and empty once denuded of the files and dust and knickknacks that had crowded it before. Despite the irony of it, she bid it farewell, moving from desk to cabinet to stuffed armchair and touching each. A heavy, awkward desire to cry weighed on her, but didn’t result in real tears.
I learned not to cry, Hermione thought wonderingly, dimming the lights. If only I could remember where…
* * *
“Come back and see us, won’t you?”
“It’s a shame, I say, a crying shame!”
“Do write as soon as you can— perhaps you’ll get funding for the project after all—”
“I will,” Hermione answered severally, not really listening to it all. Her coworkers clustered around her as she made her slow way to the lifts, burdened and slowed by the portable cabinets and boxes she had floating and following here and there. It was all very sweet, really, except for the fact that she knew Zachariah Smith didn’t give a fig for her project, or that Miranda Montague was probably going to move right into Hermione’s office and possess it without anyone approving it in that odd way she seemed to get hold of anything she wanted. Hermione did her part, all the same, smiling bravely, and even kept up the act all the way down to the lobby of St. Mungo’s, to where only Penelope and John bothered to trail her.
Penelope hugged her silently. “Take care of yourself, dear,” she urged, smoothing Hermione’s sleeve in the anxious way Hermione was sure she would do to her children, if Percy ever got round to seeing his burns and his ambivalent past as the meaningless non-issues they were . John nodded and looked guilty, and mumbled some sort of jumbled goodbye.
And then it was all over. Quite suddenly, Hermione found herself staggering out onto the street with horribly heavy pockets, and no idea of how on earth her job had evaporated so quickly. She reigned in her bitter astonishment somehow, anyway. Home, she thought, strolling casually towards the usual alley, if I just get home—
Apparation was only slightly uncomfortable, thank god. Hermione shrugged off the slight spin of nausea that came with lugging so many material things along on the trip, then began to make for home with a very real eagerness. But the moment she set foot on the path leading to her gate, she knew something was wrong. Hermione shivered at how sharply the feeling came over her— like the prickling of the hair on her head during that final, unspeakably violent strike of Voldemort’s, only multiplied until her hands shook with it. Her hand tightened on her wand as she put her hand to the gate that blocked her street from prying eyes, and the password seemed to fall from her lips as something dead.
Stepping inside, Hermione shut the gate. The lush front garden was now at the fifth house on the right, an ill omen. Hermione ground her heel into the ground almost unconsciously, ignoring the strange habit that had refused to disappear with the cessation of constant spellfighting and pervasive fear as her thoughts raced. Feigning a lazy yawn, she scanned the street and began to move again, her abnormally sensitive skin prickling under the light of the automated street lamp that sprung into being to her right.
Aha. Hermione noiselessly summoned her wand, eyes now trained on the moving, shadowed person who had been lounging by another, already sinking street lamp a ways ahead.
“Hey!” the person, or rather, the man said, his voice strangely muffled. As he got nearer, Hermione saw the hooded parka he wore, and guessed why. “You, how’d you get in here?”
Hermione attacked. She barely felt the cold as the coat was peeled from her shoulders by some vicious spell for,s moments later, she had the bastard in a grip of iron, his wand already spun away into the second front garden now sprouting on her left. He screamed as she yanked him to the ground as easily as a child, the sound kindling hot satisfaction within her.
He screamed again, something garbled and horrifyingly familiar, and suddenly Hermione was meters away, a furious, terrified Aqueus on her lips. The fire on her robe sleeve shed an acrid steam as it went out, quelled by both the water and quenching charm Hermione had silently forced into it. Looking up, she darted backward when she saw her attacker was advancing on her. Wandless magic, eh? He’ll taste some more before we’re done—
“Hermione?” Hermione looked at him properly then, but kept moving away despite the shock of seeing such a familiar face under that parka hood. “Oh god, you’re so pale…”
“If you think,” Hermione got out, through gritted teeth, “that concern will fool me into believing you’re Ron, you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought.” She focused her wand dead on the impostor’s heart, whose eyes widened just so, just like Ron’s might—
“Um,” the impostor said, staying very still, “will the passwords from the war help?”
“If you get out of this alive, I suggest you kill whoever sent you,” Hermione said coldly. “Sending you here with passwords? They obviously want you dead.” Still, looking into those eyes, she hesitated, the deadly curses staying firmly on her tongue, and finally she jabbed her wand in his direction, hoping she wasn’t about to make a mistake. “Go on, then. Tell me your fake passwords, so I can kill you.”
Silence ensued for a moment, the confusion on the man’s face so real that Hermione found herself wanting to lower her wand. Gritting her teeth, she glared at him. “In a minute, I’m freezing you. Talk or die.”
The impostor’s shoulders drooped. “I…I didn’t know what to think last night,” he said quietly. “I— I came here. Stayed here, even when you didn’t…”
The next taunt dropped away from Hermione’s lips. Her wand wavered for a moment, then stilled. “What does my cock look like?”
“You know perfectly well that it looked like mine for all of an hour, Hermione. Can we not just drop this?”
“You know I have to check,” Hermione said tightly, lowering her wand and looking away, unable to face that look of hurt. “If it hadn’t been you—”
“Hadn’t been bollocks!” Ron spat, stepping forward. “This isn’t— this isn’t even about last night, or about the date. I just— couldn’t you have said whatever it was you were doing? You know, whatever reason you had this time. We could even start with why you look two steps from a corpse, if that’s not so hard to do.” Ron’s eyes flashed. “Or is that too personal? Bit too much like we’re really giving this another—”
“I’m a vampire.” Hermione tried to hold his gaze, tried to go on, but all that seemed available to her faltering tongue was more silence. She looked down for a moment, struggling to compose herself. “It just— happened.” The silence sprung back into being, so thick that Hermione looked up, just to see what kind of effect those words had had.
Ron’s mouth was open, empty and silent, so for a long, horrible moment, Hermione couldn’t really tell.
“You know,” he said, slowly, an angry flush spreading over his cheeks, “you could just have said no.” Hermione blinked, opened her mouth to explain, but— “You can just say no, you know? It’s not that hard. I’m not fragile, I won’t die—”
“Ron—” His Apparation felt like a slap, it was so loud. Hermione’s fingers curled restlessly around her wand, already twitching it in the tracking…ah. The spell failed spectacularly, producing the results they’d trained everyone to aim for with their countercharms in the war.
Sitting down, Hermione took a few deep breaths, ignoring the cold, hard stones beneath her. Somehow the first coherent thought that occurred to her was how, other than Harry, Ron was the only person on her Anti-Apparation exception list, and that broke something.
Sighing, Hermione set her wand down. The tears followed soon after.
* * *
It was only slightly embarrassing that Harry popped in while Hermione was in the middle of showering and openly having another cry. Embarrassment gradually became relief when she started to hear banging sounds coming from the kitchen— god knew she hadn’t had the heart to go in there for more than cutlery to eat the takeaway with for the last few days. Smiling ruefully, Hermione ducked back into the toilet to watch herself through the hairstyling spell— overkill, surely, but this was the first time she’d seen Harry in days. Well, other than in life-threatening situations. Fluffing her dry hair a little, Hermione shrugged on a slightly less dirty nightgown and grabbed the dressing gown from where it was puddled at the top of the stairs, and soon she was heading for the nicely smelling kitchen with a will, stomach growling.
As she entered the dim, tiny little kitchen, Hermione slowed to an inevitable stop. What was that soft, sweet sound? Harry turned toward her, saying something she didn’t hear, so hard was she trying to listen. Then he set the pan back on the stove with a shrug, drawing Hermione’s restless eyes to his neck and shoulders, and suddenly Hermione knew. Blood.
All too suddenly, Harry was moving towards her, and his warm skin was within reach. Hermione grabbed him without a thought, only seeking to be closer to that sweet sound, only seeking to hear it, taste it, feel—
Harry bucked in her grip, panicking. God, he was strong. Vital. It excited her, made her salivate to struggle with him like this, to hear his harsh breathing only centimeters from her ears as she bent her head to his neck—
“There’s a vial on the counter,” Harry got out, stilling a little in her grip. His voice sounded faint, almost fainter than the warmth she could almost feel, in his neck— “It’s sheep’s blood. Snape said to—”
“You’ll do better, Harry,” Hermione said, faintly ashamed of how breathy her voice was. She shifted closer, stroking his neck with her lips. God, she’d probably regret this— “So kind of you to come—”
“I’ve my wand and yours, Hermione,” Harry said, jerking his neck clear away from her despite her grip, his legs scrabbling for purchase as she shoved him harder against the counter to try to keep him still. “I can— I can set fire to you in seconds, and not that pathetic stuff Ron tried on you the other day.” His voice was shaky, almost afraid— that didn’t excite her, so she breathed a little of her lust onto his neck, and he relaxed.
“That’s better,” Hermione said, licking her bottom lip. Her fangs felt sharp to the tentative touch of her tongue— they would hurt him, probably, and she had some some dim sort of inkling that he’d start shaking— but no. Harry was strong, wasn’t he? He wouldn’t be afraid— “This won’t hurt as much as you’re thinking, you know—”
“No, you don’t know,” Harry got out, blinking, his chest heaving in panic. “Star— star burn! I’ll do it, Hermione—”
“A year and a day’s normal for recovery time,” Harry insisted, his voice getting louder as she bent closer. “Three years, Hermione, I swear to god— a star burn blackens your skin, doesn’t let it heal. Stinks. You won’t be able to disguise any of it. No one would trust you, even come near you without being drugged— you’d probably starve. But,” Harry drew in a sharp little breath, “you don’t have to.”
Hermione sighed. “It’s not like I’m going to drink you dry, Harry,” she said quietly, tightening her grip on him when he tried to shift his neck away again. “I just— just want a little—”
“You haven’t had blood even once! You’re a new vampire, for fuck’s sake— it’s protocol that you drain your first victim dry—”
“Tell me you don’t remember that,” he said desperately, struggling again. “Tell me!”
“Tell me,” Harry said, stilling dangerously. Hermione stared hungrily at his twitching neck muscles for moments, unable to ignore the heavy scent of magic starting to gather around them both. The smell triggered distant-seeming memories of blood, pain and rotting death, and as the feel of it pressed threateningly on her skin, Hermione knew to back down. Breathing hard, she relaxed her grip.
“That’s it,” Harry said, now carefully beginning to extricate himself from her tense embrace. “Good.”
“No need to take that tone with me,” Hermione said petulantly, feeling her cheeks heat very slightly. “I’m not a dog, thank you.”
“Didn’t say you were,” was the answer, delivered in an almost calm tone of voice. “Now if you’re done terrifying me, I’d appreciate it if you went and downed the blood in the vial on the table. I promise it’s good—”
“How would you know?” Hermione retorted crossly, drawing him close again. “It could be poison.” Harry stayed still, his heartbeat growing loud with fear as she took a long, deep sniff of his neck. “I’m just saying, you know. Poison.”
Harry gulped; it sounded wonderful. “Er— when you’re done sniffing me up…”
“I wasn’t sniffing,” Hermione said, automatically. Harry shrugged, as much as he could with her arms still holding him close, and the frightened smile she saw forming on his lips made her lose her head. She carefully licked his neck, tasting hungrily of his fear. Then, glorying in the odd noise Harry made as she did it again, Hermione pulled away, releasing him abruptly.
Harry shook, yet tried to hide it with bravado as Hermione grumpily summoned the vial on the table. “You know, it could be poison,” he said, deadpan, ignoring the glare she gave him before uncorking the vial and taking a sip. “That was unfair.”
“Then don’t pretend I’m sniffing your neck,” Hermione murmured, savouring the odd, bitter tang the blood left in her mouth. “Honestly, Harry.”
“So you mean to say weren’t?” Harry raised his eyebrows, the look on his face turning disgustingly smug. “I suppose you didn’t lick my neck, either—”
“Fuck you,” Hermione started to say, before remembering she could just smile the same thing. Harry lost the little colour he’d regained, a fact that pleased her a little too much despite how her fangs pricked her lower lip. Inwardly berating herself, she raised the vial again and downed the rest of its contents with an almost merry flourish. Only then did the curious recklessness begin to seep away, leaving Hermione to snatch a look at Harry’s face, his calm expression failing to distract her from how his hands were shaking.
God, she thought, the idea of it worryingly free of guilt, I want to do it again—
“I’m sort of glad I decided not to let Snape do this,” Harry finally said, turning slightly away from her. “He wanted to, you know? God knows what he’d have done to you.”
Hermione blanched at the thought of Snape in her arms, his clammy skin replacing Harry’s hot, rough— answer, you idiot. “Fried me to a crisp, most likely,” she somehow got out. She licked her lips again, out of habit, and couldn’t help but notice that her fangs were gone. “Or was it— what was what you called it –”
“Star fried you to a crisp,” Harry said, reaching over to twitch the vial out of her unsteady hands with a wariness Hermione couldn’t quite blame him for. “And it really does take three years to recover— remember Neville? That’s what he did to Voldemort. His last spell.”
“So that’s why…” Hermione started, her voice trailing off uncertainly as she remembered the ugliness that had been Tom Riddle in his final hour. She sank into one of the nearby chairs, running slightly shaking hands through her hair. “Honestly, I thought that was normal. For him.”
“Wasn’t,” Harry said decisively, starting to clean the vial with a suddenly sudsy couple of fingers. “Anyway. Snape would’ve cooked you hours ago. Although,” he said, pausing to give her an indecipherable look, “if you’d licked him like that, he’d have— what was that, again? Star fried himself.” He offered her the vial with a sly grin, leaving it in the air with an impatient jerk of his hand when she refused to take it from him. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m serious.”
“I can’t believe you’re joking about this.”
“Why not? I’m safe, you’re not hungry, everything’s fine,” Harry said firmly. “And by that point, I don’t think I’d have minded so much, if you’d—”
Harry held up his hands. “I’ve always wanted to say this,” he began grandly, “but there’s never been a good time.” Hermione rolled her eyes at him, but even then— “You’re disturbingly hot when angry.”
Hermione groaned. “So ‘in bloodlust’ falls under ‘angry’ in your vocabulary—”
“I’m only saying,” Harry insisted, ignoring her glare, “that you can lick me like that, any time you—”
“Stopped, stopped.” Pulling out one of the chairs at the kitchen table, he sat down across from her with a scrape and a thump. “The vial will refill on the hour, ever hour. Well, unless there’s anything in it.”
“Ah,” Hermione said, now understanding why Harry had bothered to clean the thing with his hands. “One of those old replenishment spells, I take it?”
“In the glassy flesh,” Harry said, nodding. “We had to use a tricky variant, but I daresay you’d much rather clean up after yourself instead of pop in at the Blood Bank every hour. A month of good behaviour’ll get you their fridge and the standard spells that come with it, but for now, Severus says a minimum of one of these,” he gestured towards the floating vial, “should keep you functioning and safe.” Harry flicked his hand lazily at it, and it was rolling around on the table a second later. “Twice in that time if you want to be really safe, and three times if you want to put some colour in your cheeks, but—”
“No, let me guess,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes, “any more will make me fat?” She still half-regretted teaching him and Ron the law of volumes that governed ingestion of magically prepared substances. Learning about it had tickled them immensely, and for years Hermione had endured the occasional joke or recital. “Don’t worry,” she said now, sarcastically. “I know all about it.”
Predictably, Harry winked at her. “Do you really? Strange, I really don’t remember you being this chubby a year ago.”
“Well we both know the only reason you work out. Eh, Harry?”
“Because I’m lonely and pathetic,” Harry recited, his tone mockingly dutiful. But there was something real and entirely different in the half-smile he gave her, and somehow that suddenly brought home the fact that she could still hear the beating of his heart now.
“Don’t forget, it also ensures that stream of arse keeps flowing through your house unhindered,” Hermione said, but the joking words were hollow. The kitchen seemed too bright now, too bright and too small and too full of the sound of her living, breathing friend. Hermione drew in a sharp, useless breath, and somehow didn’t cry as Harry’s hand covered hers and squeezed firmly.
“Yeah, let’s not forget that,” he murmured, rising to his feet. “Come on, up with you.” When she didn’t move, he came round to her side of the table and began to urge her chair backwards. “Get up, Hermione.”
“Fuck off,” Hermione muttered at him, obeying anyway. “I think I’ll go back to bed,” she said finally, shivering in the sunlight now starting to filter into the kitchen through the curtains over the lone window to their backs. “I’ve spelled the windows from my room, I’ll be fine.”
“If you say so,” Harry said, shrugging. Then his arms were creeping around Hermione from behind in that tentative, careful way of his, the nearness of him and his blood briefly silencing her.
She stayed as still as she could manage, fighting the urge to turn and do something undoubtedly foolish, and when Harry stepped back, Hermione made herself ask a question, one to take her mind away from such wrong thoughts. “Who’s paying for the blood bank?”
Harry rolled his eyes at her, seemingly oblivious to the danger he’d just put himself in. “Don’t ask stupid questions,” he said perfunctorily, as she’d expected. “And don’t worry, you’ll bloody well earn your keep. Severus needs all the help he can get at the school, and I need a willing victim to smile on my arm at the next Ministry function.” He winked at her, now heading slowly for the door. “If you’re feeling extra guilty, you might consider coming to the one after that as well.”
Hermione couldn’t help smiling at that, despite the thoughts still half-in and half-out of her mind. They’d— he’d come so far, hadn’t he? Being able to demand help hadn’t been his style for a long time. But now… “What about whats-her-face? Tamzin, Tamzin…you know—”
“If you dare say I told you so, you’re automatically inviting your sorry arse to every ball this summer, understand?”
* * *
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