The mist was heavy on the ground in Gwydir Forest. It floated on top of the river, slowly flowing with the direction of the gurgling water. It oozed through the woods, sliding around the trunks of trees like ghostly fingers. It drifted in a lighter mist up the slope of a nearby mountain, disappearing partway up before it reappeared near the peak as surly-looking clouds. And it sat lazily in the hollows, including the one that currently contained a very ordinary-looking white canvas tent.
A young woman in jeans emerged from it, carrying an empty bucket. She looked to be in her late teens, with light brown hair that was tied back with a ribbon of the same color. She trudged to the river, mist swirling around her legs, and collected some water. Then, with a grunt, she hauled her bucket back to the campsite.
The interior of the tent was much larger than the outside. The young woman went down a step or two and took the bucket into the kitchen area, which sported a small potbellied stove, several crates containing dwindling supplies, and a rickety countertop. She poked her head out to glare at some bunks that lined the open area in the center of the space. “Are you two going to get up, or aren’t you? I’m not doing everything for breakfast myself again.”
There was movement in two of the bunks. A very tousled head of red hair poked up, with a drowsy and rather sulky pair of dark eyes beneath. “Well you don’t have to wake up at the bloody crack of dawn always, do you, Hermione? Some of us need sleep.”
“I think if you had your way, Ron Weasley, you’d never do anything else.” She disappeared back into the kitchen. “Come on.”
The dark-haired young man in the other bunk sat up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. “Maybe that would have gone better if you’d brought up the word ‘splinched.’”
“Guess not.” Harry got out of bed and put on his shirt and a pair of round, dark-rimmed glasses. “I knew one of us should have taken the locket overnight instead of her.”
“Not me,” Ron grumbled. “Bloody thing gives me nightmares.”
Hermione filled the stove with wood and drew a wand out of her pocket. “Incendio,” she said, and the wood caught fire. She got to work making a pot of porridge while Harry filled the tea kettle from the bucket. Ron set the table in the background. “We’re going to need more supplies,” she said, glancing at Harry as he readied the teabags. “We’re almost out of everything. Rolled oats, tea, eggs, milk…”
“Yes, I suppose we are.” Harry eyed her hesitantly. “Maybe you should let me carry it for a while.”
“No.” Hermione scowled at him. Her expression softened at the look on his face. “All right, fine. But remember, I’m not letting you carry it for hours on end anymore.” She took a locket on a silver chain from around her neck and gave it to him.
They sat down to breakfast. Hermione alternated bites with counting the bills and coins from a black drawstring purse. “Have we got enough?” Ron asked with his mouth full.
“Just barely,” Hermione said with a sigh. “We’ll have to figure out how to get some galleons soon, I think. Either that or learn how to live on leaves and river water.”
Harry patted her hand. “We’ll figure something out.” He got up, his chair scraping against the floor. “Do you need help with the dishes?”
“No, I’ll handle them. You two go,” Hermione said. “The sooner we get that out of the way, the better. Otherwise, I’ll just spend all day worry...I mean, working. Doing everything around here.” She waved him off. “Go on.”
It didn't take long to wash up after the meal. There were only enough dishes for three people, after all. Hermione put everything away neatly. Then she turned and regarded the inside of the tent, her hands on her hips. Usually she'd take this opportunity to get some heavy reading in while she was alone. But she felt restless today, and the thought of sitting still wasn't at all appealing. Maybe she could sit outside with a cup of tea, she thought, just for a while. She couldn't go outside the bounds of their magical shielding, not without a good reason, but she could stroll inside them if she needed to. She poked her head out to see if it was raining.
Something was moving around out there. Hermione froze, listening. Was it just an animal? If it was, it was moving with very human-like, rhythmic steps. She slowly drew out her wand and tiptoed toward the sound, her eyes darting around the woods. Then she spotted something, and stopped. A flash of grey moved somewhere on her right! Whatever it was, it had moved with inhuman speed. Now, however, the footsteps resumed more of a normal pace. She could see more of it now. It was a short human figure; Hermione could make out dark, spiky hair and pale skin, but not much else in the fog. She was female, that much she could tell.
And she was heading straight for their shielded campsite.
There wasn’t time to make conscious decisions. Any second now, those catlike steps would move past the magical shielding, and then the person would get shredded by it. There would be no going back. Hermione stepped forward and held up her wand. ”Petrificus totalus!” Her target uttered a soft grunt as the spell hit. She dropped like a rock onto the forest floor.
Hermione lowered her wand to point at her now-paralyzed target. She couldn’t hear anybody else near. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t do to leave this woman out in the open like this, not with snatchers working in the area. She made a temporary gap in the shielding with her wand.
When she tried to drag the paralyzed woman through the gap, Hermione’s fingers closed on legs formed of something other than human flesh. She snatched her hands back as if she’d been burned. - No, not burned, nothing related to heat at all. This person’s legs were hard and cold, like stone. Bewildered, she drew her wand again. “Wingardium leviosa,” she said. Her prisoner floated into the air. Cautiously, Hermione brought her inside the tent and lowered her in an empty corner.
It was only then that she could get a good look at her unexpected guest. The stranger looked about the same age as she was, perhaps a year or two older. Her hair was short and dark. She wore jeans and a sweatshirt with the words ‘Whitman College’ printed on it. There was blood on her front, and on her hands, and – Hermione realized in sudden horror – around her mouth. She thought back to Voldemort’s drinking of unicorn blood a few years ago. This woman couldn’t be anything but a Death Eater.
...Or could she? There was something very strange about her. She was, Hermione realized, inhumanly beautiful. Her eyes, now staring at her out of a helplessly still face, were a strange but lovely shade of gold. Hermione reached out to gingerly touch one of the woman’s arms. Her skin was pale and deathly cold. The muscles, like those in her legs, were incredibly hard. They were like steel cables beneath their silken covering. “You’re not human at all, are you?” she murmured. Her prisoner couldn’t answer her yet, of course. And Hermione would need to ensure that she was safely bound before she could. “Ebublio.” A gently-glowing bubble enveloped the stranger’s body.
Not a moment too soon. The...Death Eater? witch? creature?...stirred a little not thirty seconds later. Slowly, gasping as the paralyzing spell wore off, the dark-haired prisoner got up on her hands and knees. She rolled back to sit down. They stared at each other for a moment, in mutual horrified curiosity. Then the stranger reached out to touch the bubble that imprisoned her. It repelled her fingers. “What have you done to me? What are you?”
“I could ask you the same.” Hermione had her wand pointed at her. One couldn’t be too safe. “You’re American, aren’t you? Whatever you are. I recognize the accent.”
“Yes,” the captive said. “I was born in Mississippi.” She touched the bubble again. “Seriously, what is this? What are you?”
“I’m a witch, of course.” Hermione’s brows lowered. “You know that quite well. You can’t be anything but a Death Eater yourself. Playing stupid isn’t going to get you anywhere, you know. It’s not like I didn’t see you tracking me.”
Golden eyes widened. “Track...death eat...I’m sorry, did you say you were a witch?”
“I am,” Hermione growled. “Now what are you? I know you aren’t human, and I know you drink blood. Are you some creature with a charm on you? What are you really, a troll? A fae of some sort? Some kind of an inferius? Something worse?”
The young woman looked down at her own bloody hands. She rubbed at a few rust-red spots to remove them. “I’d accuse you of being ridiculous for bringing up mythical creatures, but you did just use a stick to levitate me and...well, make this thing.” She poked her prison wall again. “So all right. I’m not human, even if I was born one. I’m a vampire.”
“You’re a vampire.” Hermione’s tone was dry.
“Yes.” Golden eyes flicked up to meet hers. “Just learned we exist? Well, we’re even, I guess. I never thought witches were an actual thing.”
Silence fell. Hermione studied her captive with narrowed eyes. “So you’re claiming not to be a Death Eater.”
“I’m not sure what that is,” the prisoner said quietly. “So I don’t know. If you’re referring to my blood drinking, I do kill animals to do that. I don’t eat them, though. We don’t need to eat.” She paused. “My name is Alice. What’s yours?”
“Hermione. Hermione Granger.” She watched Alice closely, but saw no reaction to the name. Most likely Alice wasn’t a snatcher, then, at the very least. Hermione knew quite well her name was high on their list. “Why are you here if you aren’t a Death Eater and you don’t know what witches are?”
Alice scratched her jaw. “Here as in, here in the forest? I was hunting. Caught a deer.” She indicated the crimson splotches on her shirt. “Here as in, here in the UK? Well, we’ve been reading headlines from around here about people disappearing and things like that. We thought maybe there might be nomad vampires acting up, so we came to look into it.” Alice let out a long breath. “I take it the problem is something witch related instead?”
“Who is ‘we?’” Hermione wondered if this were some kind of American group of monsters. Why had none of her schoolbooks ever covered this?
“My family,” Alice said. “Well, my coven. There’s Carlisle and Esme, who are kind of like our mother and father. There’s me, and my brothers Jasper and Edward, and my sister Rosalie. And Rosalie’s husband, Emmett, and Edward’s wife, Bella.”
Hermione cocked her head. She was still cautious, but was beginning to be fascinated by her prisoner. It was like examining a new specimen in one of her Magical Creatures classes. “You have a family,” she said slowly. “How does that work, exactly? Do you have jobs and cars and things like that, or is it more like you all live in the same hole and hunt together?”
That made Alice laugh. “Do I look like a caveman? Of course we have houses and things.”
“All right. Sorry. Some magical creatures look really human, but aren’t at all.” Hermione considered for a moment. Then she pointed her wand at her. “Revelio.” Alice flinched and shrank back, but nothing happened. “All right. Just checking you really don’t have some kind of charm or illusion on you.”
Alice grimaced. “Would you mind not pointing that stick at me anymore? That first thing you hit me with kind of hurt.”
“It’s a wand,” Hermione said coldly. “Vine wood with a dragon heartstring core. It’s not a stick.”
“Okay, whatever. Just please quit zapping me with it.” Alice held up her hands. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“How do I know that? You admitted to being a vampire who drinks blood.” Hermione scowled at her. “And last I checked, I’ve got blood.”
“You do,” Alice agreed. “But I’ve already fed, for one thing. I told you I caught a deer. And I don’t drink human blood, for another. That’s why my eyes are yellow instead of red. We’re not like the Volturi, we don’t believe in that kind of thing.”
“Not like the what?”
“The Volturi.” Alice rested her arms on her knees and laid her chin on them. “You really don’t know anything about them, do you? This is fascinating. How can our worlds be this far apart from each other? And how didn’t I know about you? Do your witch powers block psychics?”
“I doubt they do. At least, not completely,” Hermione said. “We had a professor who could sometimes predict the future at school. Most of the time she couldn’t, though. She was dotty.” She paused. “Wait, can you see the future? You’re not a Muggle, then.”
Alice nodded. “I can. Well, most of the time. I can’t see werewolves or half-vampires.” She glanced around the tent. “Or witches, I suppose. I certainly never saw any of this.”
“Is that a vampire thing? Some kind of spell you can cast?”
“No. Well, kind of,” Alice said. “Vampires don’t always have gifts. And when we do, they vary a lot. My brother can read minds, for example. My sister-in-law can shield herself. And it’s not spells, it’s just...I don’t know, things we can do.”
“Ah,” Hermione murmured, rubbing her lower lip. “Intrinsic magic. Interesting.”
Alice touched the wall of the bubble again. “How long are you planning to keep me here?” she asked. “I haven’t hurt anybody, and I’m not a Dead Biter, or whatever you said. Will you let me go back to my family? They’ll be worried about me.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t.” Hermione shook her head. “I can’t trust you, and no one can know where we are. It’s too dangerous. I can’t let you go.”
Alice’s large, golden eyes studied her soberly. “Please? I want to go home. I won’t tell anyone about you if it’s that important.”
“No. At least, not yet. Not until I know for sure.” Hermione’s ears pricked up. She’d heard the telltale sound of someone apparating nearby. Ron and Harry must have returned with the supplies they’d gone out to find. “Excuse me,” she said. “I think my friends are back.” She headed out of the tent.
The two approached from the edge of the clearing. Ron carried a cloth bag bulging with items. He was absolutely covered from head to foot in some kind of half dried green goo. “We got the food,” he said cheerfully. “Had a bit of an accident involving the kiwis in a corner market, but we got out all right.”
“I did tell Ron not to try a levitation charm in public,” Harry muttered. His jaw was tight with irritation.
Hermione studied him a moment. “Here, hold still, Harry. I think it’s my turn to carry this again.” She took the chain and locket from his neck and put it around her own. It settled against her chest, surprisingly heavy and cold. “It looks like you two did well.” She hesitated, trying to think how to bring up their guest. “I might have caught something while you were away.”
“What?” Ron said, looking up from his attempts to clean squashed fruit from his sleeve. “A cold?”
“Not exactly.” Hermione scratched her nose. “A vampire.”
“A what?” Harry stared at her in astonishment.
“A vampire. She was hunting and almost got inside our wards.” Hermione turned back to the tent. “Come on, take a look.” The boys followed behind.