"We're not open yet," Harry calls as the door bell chimes with the arrival of a very early customer. The sun isn't even up yet from what he can see through the dirt tainted windows and he hasn't even started setting up the shop into any sort of shape ready to receive people – never mind getting so much as a coffee pot going.
It had been a rowdy night before, a full house of drunken idiots – and with Tessa skipping from work again claiming sick, Harry is alone minding the Cauldron. He'd need to let her go soon, if this kept up – and find a bit more reliable replacement.
There is no second chime of the door being opened again and with a shake of his head Harry sets the tin of coffee down to turn to face whoever just entered. He's expecting Mr. Arakan, but it's not the business man – it's a stranger, definitely no one from around these parts. Black cloak, black hat, black everything – not exactly common at their dust bowl of a town.
"We're not open," Harry says again, looking the man up and down. Sword in his back, collar that goes nearly up to his nose, well worn boots – hmm. Traveller. Maybe even a hunter. "I have nothing to serve you with, if you're looking for your breakfast."
"You're Harry Potter – you employ Tessa Sinome?"
Harry blinks at the cool tone. "Yes," he agrees slowly. "For now anyway – she hasn't been around enough to really justify the pay I give her. What about it?"
The stranger steps closer, his steps nearly silent on the old wooden floor as he steps to the light. He's pale under his wide brimmed hat – pale and almost unnervingly pretty, with long dark hair that falls in waves over his shoulders, down his back. Definitely no one Harry knows – he'd surely remember. Then the stranger speaks again, and Harry completely forgets his face. "She's dead."
"She was found dead in her apartment this morning," the stranger says. "They said you might know about it."
"I – what? Tessa's dead?" Harry asks incredulously. "She was fine the last I saw her – well she claimed she was ill, but -"
"Ill?" the man in black asks.
"Tessa's dead?" Harry asks again and leans against the bar counter. Shit. Hadn't he just hired her? What was it – last month? No, last year? Shit, had he gotten distracted again – how long has it been?
"She claimed she was ill?" The man in black asks, eying him coolly.
"Um, yeah, she's been skipping work for – uh, couple of weeks?" Harry asks and turns to check the calendar, just in case he's lost track of years. No, it's the right year, he hasn't lost track. He's only been here for five or so years – which means he's only hired her for about three?
"How did she look?"
Harry frowns and turns to the stranger. "Not that ill really – who are you?" he then asks and straightens his back. "And what's all this to you – you're definitely not from around here, not in that get up."
The stranger is quiet for a moment before looking away, at the windows. Sun's first rays are hitting the bottom of the dirty window panes now. "I was passing through when they brought her body out. It piqued my interest – and when I asked about her, they told me to ask you."
Harry eyes him and then shakes his head. "Shit," he mutters. "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to ask you to leave now – Tessa's got no family here. If she's dead -" he hesitates at the counter and then shakes his head. "I should go and see if there's something I can do."
He turns to the stove to turn it off, doing the same with the coffee machine before quickly putting the lid back to the coffee grinds. When he turns to get his coat, he finds the stranger still there, watching him.
"The door is right there," Harry motions, as he shrugs his coat on. "I'm pretty sure you know it's there – you just used it. Feel free to use it again."
"She was killed by a vampire."
Harry stops. "What?" he asks again, his mind grinding to a halt.
"The girl, Tessa Simone, was killed by a vampire," the stranger says, watching him closely.
Harry stares at him, trying desperately to keep up. He's still stuck in the idea that Tessa is dead at all – now she's killed by a vampire? What? "There are no vampires here," he says slowly.
"And yet one of them killed her," the stranger says coolly.
Harry waits and then shakes his head. "I'm going to see her," he mutters and then tries to push the man towards the door by the shoulder – the guy doesn't as much as budge. It's like trying to push a brick wall. "Get out of my shop, please," Harry says with some frustration.
It takes a moment but the stranger moves – like a statue, coming to live. He steps ahead of Harry out of the shop and then looks down at him as Harry locks the door and engages the security.
They would've taken the body to the clinic, Harry thinks and then turns to head that way, ignoring the stranger – at least until he realises the man follows him. "Is there something I can do for you?" Harry asks, irritated and feeling a little harangued now. It's hard to keep track of things – he's not so good with surprises these days – and trying to keep his thoughts in order is hard enough with Tessa's death – by a vampire of all things – without this... person shadowing him.
"You said she was ill."
"I said she claimed she was ill," Harry answers, waving a hand. "She didn't look ill – a little pale, maybe, but she worked the evening shift mostly, she was always a little pale." Or was she? He's not so sure now. He might've not paid as much attention as he should have.
The stranger looks at him and then glances towards the raising sun and then back at Harry. Harry frowns at him with confusion, peers at the sun's direction and then shakes his head. Whatever.
He hurries on towards the clinic, the stranger following close behind him.
There's a small crowd of people by the clinic, trying to peer in through the windows – much cleaner than Harry's windows are, and thus clear enough to see through. There's the Deputy, hanging by the door way, keeping people out – until he sees Harry.
"Potter!" she calls and waves at him. "Come here, the Sheriff wants a word with you. He with you?"
She points at the stranger in black.
"I – don't know," Harry admits and shakes his head. "He told me about Tessa – is it true, is she -?"
The deputy – he can't remember her name, started with an A or something – looks at him, and then at the stranger behind him. "Go on," she then says. "They'll be in the back."
Harry goes in, ignoring the murmuring of the townspeople around him as he ducks around the deputy. The stranger in black follows – apparently he is with Harry now.
The back of the clinic is a makeshift morgue – basically an office with high power cooler and few makeshift mortuary slabs. There, Harry finds the sheriff, there he finds the doctor – and there he finds his employee, lying dead and naked on one of the said makeshift mortuary slabs.
"Oh," Harry says. She looks... younger than he'd been expecting. He's used to people dying older than this – young and old, it's all the same to him, but she can't be thirty yet. She was pretty too, though death had slackened her features out of her usual shapely smiles.
She used to put wild flowers in her hair, Harry thinks, when she could find them.
"Mr. Potter," the Sheriff says, in tones of mingled regret and sternness. "I'm sorry for your loss but you understand I have to ask – when did you see Tessa last?"
"The day before yesterday," Harry says – he's pretty sure that's right anyway. She hadn't been in yesterday, after all. "She came in to beg off from work, she said she wasn't feeling well."
"Did you notice anything strange about her?"
Harry shakes his head. He doesn't... pay that much attention to people anymore. It's easier on the long run – though, her skipping work had been getting annoying. "It was a bit strange that she was sick so often, lately – she's been pretty healthy while she's been working for me. I thought she caught a bug or something, though. I didn't think much about it, to be honest."
Had he been sympathetic with her? Told her to rest and recover – or had he been irritated, told her to walk it off? He can't remember now. She's dead now – her slack face melting into hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of other dead people that vie for attention in Harry's head.
Harry looks away, frowning. "He said," he turns to the black clad stranger – seriously, who wears black in this heat? "He said Tessa was killed by a vampire."
"Hmm," the sheriff says and turns to the doctor – and elder woman with white hair done up in a bun, and glasses so thick they make her look owlish. "Doctor?"
"She died of blood loss, that's for sure," the woman says, prodding at Tessa's bare neck, the puncture marks there. "But it wasn't all in one go – there's multiple marks her, overlapping each other – see," she turns to grab a magnifying glass, holding it out for Harry.
Somewhat woodenly, he accepts the thing, and then bends down to eye his dead employee's neck through it.
"You can see here, where parts of the wounds have started healing," the doctor says. "The first marks are about two weeks old, I'd say."
Harry shakes his head and sets the magnifying glass down. Two and half is bit more likely, he thinks distractedly – there's six sets of overlapping marks, like rings around the newest punctures, getting increasingly red and inflamed towards the centre. The distance between the marks indicates adult, male more likely than female – and they didn't bite in deep. The wounds were shallow, just barely deep enough to reach the artery.
They'd been stretching her out.
Harry runs a hand over his forehead. It's already starting to ache and he didn't even do anything.
"Mr. Potter?" The sheriff asks. "Are you alright?"
"Y-yeah, it's -" Harry says and shakes his head, turning to the man. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"
"I asked if you've seen anything unusual, anything suspicious. There's no Nobility in these parts, haven't been for decades – and if there's someone new in town, you'd be the first to know," the Sheriff says and folds his arms. "And chances are whoever got to Tessa might've met her through your place."
"Travellers come and go," Harry admits and tries to think. People are like a never ending flood to him – he can't keep hold of faces. Did he see someone strange or suspicious? He has no idea. Did it seem like Tessa had maybe met someone, someone she might've entertained at night? He has no idea about that either.
"Did her neighbours see anything?"
It's the black clad stranger talking now.
"I'm sorry – who are you?" the sheriff asks. "I think I saw you before – he with you, Mr. Potter?"
"I don't know," Harry sighs and falls to sit on near by rickety bench, running hands through his hair. Tessa is still dead on the mortuary slab, her skin going grey.
Fuck his head is aching now.
"Well, stranger?" the Sheriff asks with a frown.
There's a moment of silence, during which Harry can feel the man staring at him. "I'm a vampire hunter," the stranger says finally, and nothing more.
The sheriff frowns, expecting him to continue. "Well, we've not hired you on," he says and looks at Harry. "Mr. Potter, have you employed this man?"
"Have I?" Harry asks and looks up at the man. He doesn't look like someone Harry might hire – but there's a Vampire and he's a vampire hunter and Harry's employee is dead – it makes logical sense he might've hired the guy. "I think I might have – I'm sorry, I'm having bit of a hard time here – Tessa was..."
"Perfectly understandable," the doctor says and pats Harry on the shoulder with a wrinkled hand. She has a mole on her middle finger, and Harry frowns at it. "There now, Mr. Potter, you just sit there for a moment – I'll get you something for your nerves."
Harry feels momentary twinge of longing – Fire whiskey, he'd like some of that right about now – but just nods. Moment later, she puts a glass in his hand, and pill in the other – he takes the pill and washes it down with the water without complaint.
It won't work, he knows, but sometimes it helps to pretend.
"Thank you," he says and looks at Tessa again, feeling completely at loss about what to do with this. He hadn't even been that close to the girl – she ran the register well and waited tables with flirty efficiency, he'd like that about her. But he hadn't really known her. She used to have flowers in her hair, didn't she?
"About her neighbours," the vampire hunter says again after moment of silence.
"Didn't see anything, didn't hear anything, and didn't care until she turned up dead," the Sheriff admits. "She lived in Coalfront district – people down there mind their own business."
"Old apartments for the miners, back when there was still coal left to mine," the sheriff shrugs. "Not much there anymore, but drunks and wastrels. The woman might've been butchered with a chain saw, and no one would've given rat's ass except to complain about the noise."
Harry looks down at Tessa in something of a stupor now and then glances up at the vampire hunter. The man doesn't look at him.
The sheriff looks from the vampire hunter down to Harry. "Well," he says. "I can't say I'm happy to have a vampire in the town – we've seen neither hide nor hair of a Noble in a good generation and more. But if you really are a vampire hunter," he says, turning to the stranger. "And know your business, then I'm glad to have you in the town. Especially if Mr. Potter hired you. Anything I can do to help?"
"I'd like to see the apartment," the vampire hunter says.
"I'll see that the manager will let you in, then," the sheriff says and looks at Harry again. "Best you take your employer off now, though. He doesn't look too good."
And then they're out, walking back towards Harry's bar, Harry trying to shake himself out of his memories while the Vampire Hunter paces with him silently in the dusty street.
"How much did I hire you for?" Harry asks worriedly. He's pretty sure he doesn't have much – enough to manage and live a comfortable life, but he's not exactly rich enough to be hiring hunters these days.
"You didn't hire me," the vampire hunter says and looks down at him. "Your memory fails you, doesn't it?"
Harry looks at him for a moment, trying to gauge how insulting he's being – but it's just a statement, nothing more. "I'm not good with surprises," Harry mutters and runs his hands through his hair. "I get – tangled up."
The vampire hunter eyes him with coolly thoughtful look and then looks ahead again. "I see," is all he says.
Harry frowns at him. "I don't think I have enough to hire you," he says then dubiously. "I'm not even sure why I would, to be honest."
The vampire hunter glances at him. "Your employee was killed by a vampire. Don't you care?"
Harry shrugs. "I care – but I don't need a hunter to deal with it."
That catches the vampire hunter's interest and he turns to face Harry more fully. He doesn't say anything, but Harry has his full attention now – and it's really something. The guy is... something else under his hat and behind his high collar.
Harry looks away awkwardly and rubs at his forehead. The ache is passing by now – the memories are receding. "Okay, listen – you want a cup of coffee or something? Because I could really use some tea right about now."
The vampire hunter doesn't say anything for a moment; his expression doesn't shift – had it changed at all since they've been talking? Harry can't recall. "We should see to the apartment."
"Right," Harry says and sighs. "It's on the other side of town – we'll need a ride."
"I have a horse," the vampire hunter says.
"Right," Harry answers again, frowning, and for a moment thinks of things no longer around. Like actual horses. These days, a horse is something very different from what it used to be. Merlin, this is a bad day, isn't it – his head is starting to throb now. "Well, I have a motorcycle. I guess I'll race you there."
The hunter glances at him. "I don't know where the apartment is," he says then.
Harry takes a breath and then sighs. "Fine, we'll take the horse. Lead the way – uh, you got a name?"
"Okay, sure," Harry agrees. At least it was easy to remember, even for him. "I'm Harry. Nice to meet you and everything."
"Hm," the vampire hunter answers, and leads Harry to his cyborg horse.
Tessa's apartment is... an apartment. Harry scratches at the back of his head at all the laundry strewn on the floor – the bra hanging from the door knob, the shirt thrown over a fan. There are socks everywhere and he almost trips over a sandal that's, for some reason, discarded in front of the kitchen door. The place is a mess – but it looks like Tessa's mess, not something an intruder might've caused.
She had wild flowers hanging from the window frame, drying up in the sun. Harry stares at them listlessly while the vampire hunter eyes her bedroom.
"No blood," the man comments. "Not even a drop. His attacker was neat."
"That's really comforting, that is, near vampire," Harry mutters and runs a hand over his face. He can't remember the last time he'd visited someone else's house. He'd somehow forgotten that people had... even outside his limited world view – they had habits and made messes and lived their messy short lives, even when he wasn't looking.
That's bit narcissistic, isn't it? Or, what was it, dissociative? Antisocial? Self-centric? Damn he can't remember. It's rude anyway. Of course people were people even when he wasn't paying attention to them.
His headache is not improving his ability to think much.
"They were very careful with her – saving her blood for as long as they could," D says. "Not a blood crazed vampire, this one."
"Hmm," Harry agrees and shakes his head. Focus, you old idiot. "Do you think it was accident?"
"Inevitable one," D admits. "Vampires who can stop once they've had a taste of blood they like enough to savour it and then return for seconds... they are rare. But they didn't try to turn her into one of their kind – or rather, went through efforts to ensure she wouldn't be turned. That is interesting."
Harry nods slowly, frowning and rubbing the skin between his brows. A vampire who tried to not to kill for as long as they could, made sure not to turn their victim into a vampire... that's almost humane. It's also old fashioned. "Weird," he mutters confusedly. "Noble like that would be using synthetic blood, wouldn't they?"
That makes D turn to look at him. "What makes you say that?"
"No new Noble did this – they don't have the restraint, they wouldn't be able to stop, never mind be neat about it. It almost looks like he did the minimum possible damage," Harry explains. "And the old ones have access to all sorts of things. Synthetic blood is the least of it. Why didn't he use it?"
D eyes him for a moment searchingly and then looks away. "Maybe he didn't have an access to it."
"Hm. I guess this place is pretty removed from anything," Harry mutters and looks around again.
There's nothing really useful around in Tessa's apartment. No sign of anyone intruding, anyway – though the window locks are all open, so it's not like anyone who could fly or at least climb a wall with any skill would've needed to break in. All they needed to do was shimmy a window open and they were in.
Harry runs a hand through his hair and sighs, turning to D. "Can you see anything useful?"
D looks at the bedroom again and then shakes his head. "They were too meticulously clean about it," he says. "There's nothing here."
"Yeah," Harry sighs and turns away. "I'm leaving. This place is giving me a headache."
D follows him, casting one last glance at Tessa's bathroom before closing the door after him, and locking the apartment behind him. There are people peeking out of their apartments curiously when they enter the hall, one even asks them if they, "See any blood in there?"
"Did you see anything?" D asks in return.
"Didn't see no nothing, nor hear it either," the man answers and scratches at his hairy belly where it sticks out from under his stretched shirt. "Quiet as a mouse, that girl was. Had some trouble with a fella down a floor – Jay or something, I dunno his name. He was in a right rut over her, lemme tell you. He might've spotted something, the way he panted over her."
They go down a floor, to see Jay or something. Jay or something is a skinny streak of nothing of a man, with scraggly little beard and bloodshot eyes. "Yea, whaddya want?" he slurs at them, when D knocks at his door.
"Tessa Sinome," D says simply.
"Fucking shame," Jay answers. "But I got nothing do with it. I didn't even see her in days, before they carried her off, all cold and stiff. They're saying it was Noble that did it – that true? There's a fucking Noble in town?"
Harry looks at the guy – thinks he might've visited his bar time or two dozen. He might've thrown the man out once, even. The guy stinks of beer and worse things, and looks like he might've made a mess of himself at some point.
Definitely not a neat guy, this one.
"Thank you for your help," D says and turns to leave.
"Oi, wait, you didn't answer my fucking question – is there a fucking vampire in town?"
"It tends to take a vampire to kill someone by a vampire bite," Harry comments.
"Fucking vampires," Jay – or something – says and spits at the corridor. "If I get my hands on that fucking bastard, I'm going to wring his fucking neck for touching my Tessa, that fucking ..."
Harry walks away with a shake of his head.
"The people here..." D says and then trails off.
"There's probably like two people alive here who have ever seen a Noble," Harry shrugs. "They're ignorant – not brave."
"Hm," D answers, not quite in agreement and they step out of the apartment building and into the sunlight. They're quiet for a moment before the vampire hunter turns to look down at Harry.
"Tea?" Harry offers.
D considers him coolly for a while. "Before I take that offer... do you know me?"
Harry arches his eyebrows and then pauses. The man's expression hasn't changed a bit – but there's something about him that seems to be expecting something. "You know me," Harry says slowly.
"You don't remember, do you?" D asks.
Harry frowns at him and tries to remember. There is something familiar about D, something about the cape he's wearing, the hat, the sword. In the end he's forced to shake his head. "Sorry," he says finally. "My memory isn't that reliable. I take it we've met before, then."
D is quiet for a moment, waiting. Then he looks away. "Well, since you don't remember – I'm a dhampir. If you don't mind that, then yes, I would like some tea."
Harry frowns. "Huh," he mutters. Another thing to wrap his head around, somehow. Wonderful. Then Harry shakes his head. "Yeah, it's fine, I don't really care. Let's go."
It doesn't dawn on him until they've already mounted the robot horse – dhampirs don't age. "Um, when exactly did we meet?" Harry asks worriedly.
"Which time?" D asks and without waiting for an answer sets the horse galloping.