ONE BLOODY FAIRYTALE
Summary: *AU* A beautiful couple living in a forest estate seems like a fairytale, except he's a vampire, she's a witch, and the property is cursed to keep trapped a creature who lurks in the shadows. Hermione might be able to free herself, but can she do it without releasing the most terrifying female vampire in history?
Fancast: Ben Dahlhaus as Thorfinn Rowle; Scarlett Johansson as Elizabeth Bathory [just imagine her with dark hair and crimson eyes]
Thorfinn blinked hard, that dreadful clouded sensation filling his head. "Damn," he said in a hissing whisper, lifting his gaze to the break in the forest canopy.
He glimpsed the first rays of the morning sun through the leaves. He'd been gone too long last night securing nourishment. With an exhausted, self-deprecating grin, he shook his head. He should be grateful, he supposed, that he did not—as myth held—burst into flames at the touch of daylight. Of course, it wasn't comfortable for him, either, but . . . .
His steps faltered and he winced, pressing his hand to his head. This was not the time for unnecessary reflection.
He was not far from the estate grounds, now. Just a bit further, and . . . .
Thorfinn gave himself a sobering shake. Just a bit further, he could make it.
Or so he thought.
Stumbling sideways, he groped blindly for balance. He didn't even recall hitting his head against the closest tree as he fell.
Hermione paused, drawing in a deep breath of the crisp, early morning air. She wasn't normally much of a morning person, but it was the best time to gather herbs—the fresh dew always gave her potion ingredients a little extra zing.
As she bent toward a patch of clovers, careful not to overstep the boundary—fairy circles were no laughing matter—she spotted the most amazing things. Dropping to her knees, entirely, she looked closely at it.
"Oh, gods," she said, breathing out an airy laugh. "I can't believe it, a four-leaf clover?"
She reached out a tentative hand, gently plucking the delicate thing from the ground. Lifting it closer, she shook her head in wonder as she examined the four, perfect leaves with her gaze.
"I wonder what sort of luck you'll bring me, after all?"
A sudden, sharp thud from somewhere in the depths of the forest made her jump, just then. Her chestnut eyes wide, she looked about the surrounding trees.
When silence followed, she returned her attention to the sprig in her hand. "Why do I feel the timing of that isn't coincidence?" she asked with a frown, as though she expected the clover to answer her.
Sighing, she tucked it away in her pouch and climbed to her feet. Cautious, she drew her wand, holding it out before her as she made her way toward the sound she'd heard.
The entire forest was cheerful and bright, alive with the noise of animals scurrying through underbrush, and birds singing. The presence of a witch never disturbed the natural balance, a thing she always considered wondrous.
Yet, somehow the unperturbed wildness of her surroundings only made her more aware of the shaded area toward which she seemed to be making a beeline. Just as aware of the sound of the rustling grass beneath her feet as she moved, and the mild tinge of copper winding through the air.
She halted midstride, her brows shooting up. It was the faintest wisp, something she knew she probably wouldn't even notice, were she . . . were she, well, normal. But that didn't detract from the instant coil of apprehension winding in the pit of her stomach.
Not that this was an unusual scent to encounter in an untamed place, but . . . . "Blood?"
Giving herself a steadying shake, she moved faster. She might just as easily find a predator settling down with a fresh kill in its jaws, but she had a sinking feeling that was not the case.
Her brow furrowing, Hermione gave a flick of her wand to track the blood in the air. A line of sparkling ruby shot forth, sprinkling across the forest floor. Swallowing hard, she ducked her head to one side, trying to follow the line with her gaze at it disappeared around a tree.
Hurrying the last few steps, she was surprised she didn't fall down in shock at the sight that greeted her as she rounded to face the trunk.
"Oh, gods," she said in a whisper, tucking away her wand.
Settling on her knees beside the unconscious man, she hurried to pull a wad of cloth and a vial of dittany from her pouch. She pushed back the tumble of golden hair that had fallen into his face to get a better look at the bleeding lump on his forehead.
Her mouth fell open in shock and she settled back on her heels, staring at him. Obscured only slightly by the beard and mustache framing his perfect lips and lining his jaw, she found herself genuinely stunned by his features. Strong, as perfect as his mouth, yet the faintest bit delicate-seeming, somehow.
Forcing a few rapid blinks, she shook her head. "Oh, Hermione, stop being silly!" As she whispered the reprimand at herself, she applied the dittany, carefully patting the cloth against the wound. He barely appeared to be breathing.
Fretting, she looked about. There were no signs of how he'd gotten here. Nothing to convey a struggle or a fight. He must've stumbled into the woods from the road.
Sighing, she shook her head. "What happened to you?" As she returned her attention to him, she started, not expecting to find his eyes open and focused on her face.
Bright blue eyes that caused her breath to stick in her throat.
"Are you all right, Sir?" she managed in a voice that was almost steady, a tentative smile playing on her lips.
It was her closeness that had woken him. The warmth of her skin and the beat of her pulse through her veins. Yet, as he'd opened his eyes, he found himself transfixed by the young woman before him. Her own eyes, a deep, rich brown mixed with flecks of dark red, widened as she met his gaze.
He could hear the way her breath shivered as she exhaled and there was no mistaking the wash of pink tinting her cheeks. Even freshly fed, he found his thirst gnawing at him from her presence, alone.
She said something, but he didn't quite catch her words. He was too distracted with getting his sudden surge in appetite under control.
The girl looked worried, now, as she repeated herself. "Sir? Are you all right?"
Gods, she must think the bump to his head had him in a daze. It was fortunate that she happened upon him now, while the wound was still new enough to not have started healing, yet. He could only have been lying here a few moments before she'd found him.
He didn't now if that was good luck, or bad, for either of them.
Forcing a gulp down his throat, he nodded, only to wince at the sting the motion caused. "Yes, Miss. I'm all right, just . . . woozy, I think."
She lifted the cloth to examine the bump. "Oh, look at that! It's a little better, already." She snickered softly. "Suppose head wounds always do look worse than they really are."
"I kind of like that a strange girl is so worried about me," he said with a tired grin. He knew he shouldn't entertain this, but he couldn't seem to help himself.
When that flare of color lighting her cheeks deepened, he placed his hand over hers before he even realized that he'd moved.
His skin was a little cool to the touch, making her worry just how long he'd been out in the brisk morning air like this. How large his hand was wrapped around hers sent a little thrill zipping through her.
"Can—can you stand?" she asked, fighting to keep her bearings.
"Oh, I'm sure I'm fine." Thorfinn cursed himself for getting caught up. He needed to get away from this girl. "I don't live very far, I can make it."
Pressing his back against the tree as he got his legs under him, he pushed up to stand. Once more forgetting just how weak he was in daylight, he slumped in place.
"Oh, dear!" Hermione jumped to her feet. "You shouldn't move so fast with a head injury!" Though she'd been about to close the distance between them to help the man steady himself, she was momentarily staggered. She'd not meant to pause, but there was just something distracting in the way he towered over her.
The way his brows pinched together as he flicked those currently dazed blue eyes over her, she was certain he noticed her wavering attention.
Shaking her head, she spurred herself into motion, moving to his side.
As she slipped her hand around his wrist to tug his arm over her shoulders, he said, "Honestly, Miss. I really can't let you—"
"Oh, nonsense." She tried to ignore how much she liked the feel of his side pressing to hers as she wrapped arm around his waist. "You'll barely make it two steps on your own."
They started off at a staggering pace, the difference in their statures making the progress difficult.
"I'm twice your size," he said with a weary chuckle. "If we trip and I fall on top of you, that's going to be the end of this little adventure."
There are worse things, she thought, biting her lip to hold back an grin, embarrassed at how easily this man's mere presence was sending blushing notions through her head.
They continued on in silence. She wasn't certain if that was willing and comfortable on his part, but she thought it sensible that he focus on his balance, just now.
He kept his gaze on their direction, marshalling what little strength the prolonged exposure to the sun had left him. He would need it to keep her from crossing onto the grounds. If she didn't believe he could make it from the gate to the front door unassisted . . . .
His senses were at odds with his desires. He wanted to keep this strange girl, but knew that was something he needed to prevent. But then, who was he kidding? He did barely have the strength to walk on his own.
Dear gods. This had the potential to go very, very badly.
Hermione did almost stumble, then, as the gated estate came into view. She'd tried not to pay attention to the sensation that they were going deeper into the woods, rather than toward the road, but it hadn't registered on her until now. Now, as she watched the sun glint off the darkly styled stained glass windows in the steepled towers of the magnificent main house.
She'd been in this forest so many times, and yet, she'd never had any idea such a place existed here.
Thorfinn felt her still against him and wisely halted, as well.
"You . . . you live here?"
"Old . . . family home, yes. If we make it to the gate, I can go the rest of the way on my own, I'm sure."
She arched a dubious brow at the distance from the gate to the front door, but nodded. It was the man's property, after all, if he was so insistent, she would respect his wishes.
They started walking, once more. It must be her imagination, but it felt like the closer they got to the gated grounds, the more certain she was of a chill in the air.
She knew she was imagining the sudden absence of common forest sounds. She had to be. Not that it mattered, she was hardly going to trespass on his property.
As they reached the boundary, he peeled himself from her side. He tried to make a good show of not propping himself up against the gate.
"Well," she said, pivoting on her heel to face him, "I suppose this is where I leave you, then."
Holding her gaze, he nodded. For a moment, he seemed at a loss for words, and then he gave himself a shake. "Thank you so much for your help, um . . . ."
"Hermione," she finished for him with a smile.
As he started to turn away, the expression on her face caught his attention from the corner of her eye. "What is it?"
"Nothing, nothing." She smiled, again, shaking her head. "I just feel like I've heard your name before, just . . . not sure where. Oh, well. I do hope to run into you again, sometime, Thorfinn."
He nodded. "That would be nice."
She watched as he turned away and started along the path toward the doors. His pace was slow, staggering, but steadier than he'd been as they'd made their way through the forest.
Letting out a breath, she nodded to herself—it was time to get back on her own way. She checked her pouch, with how she'd hastily stuffed away the dittany vial and cloth, she was amazed nothing was a mess.
Sighing, she sorted through her things.
Her precious four leaf clover fell out. "Damn," she said, watching as the breeze carried it just a little past the gate.
"I'm so sorry, Thorfinn," she called as she stepped toward it. "I just need to get this, then I'll be on my way. Promise."
He turned toward her voice, just in time to see her cross the property line. "Hermione, no!"
Startled by his shout, she looked up, wide-eyed as her fingers closed around the clover. Taken aback by how he was watching her—as though she'd done something terribly wrong—she backpedaled.
The way he was glancing from the house to her, and back, frantically, sent a chill down her spine. Her instincts hadn't led her astray. There was something wrong with this house. "You have to leave, now!"
"I'm sorry," she said again, turning back toward the open gate.
As she tried to cross back over the threshold, she was jolted painfully backward. Hitting the ground hard on her bum, she stared up at the gate, unblinking. "Wha—?"
She was too aware of the sound of Thorfinn's trudging footfalls as he tried make his way back to her.
Before she could even question him, he said, "What are you?"
Swallowing hard, she shook her head, mystified at the situation. "I'm . . . I'm a witch."
He winced, his broad shoulders drooping. "Damn." At least that explained how appealing he found her. But that only made this worse.
"Thorfinn?" Hermione pushed up to her feet, dusting herself off. "What exactly is going on?"
He held up his hands in a sign of surrender as he opened his mouth to answer.
"Thorfinn . . . ."
Hermione's brows shot up at the seductive voice coming from the house. His eyes widened as he looked back over his shoulder.
"Who is that?"
"Someone you don't want to meet," he said as he turned, placing himself between the witch and the path leading to the doors. "You said you're a witch, right?"
"Yes?" She didn't like that someone like him was in fear of anything.
"Do you have spells to hide your presence—scent, sounds, sight, whatever?"
"Thorfinn? I'm hungry."
"Cast it, now!"
Her heart hammering against her ribcage, she withdrew her wand. She'd never cast a concealment charm so fast in all her life.
"Walk behind me. When we get inside the doors, find a place to hide."
Dear gods, what had she gotten herself into? Though, she knew he wouldn't hear her answer, he started off, assuming he had her compliance.
Until she knew what was happening, she had no choice but to follow along.
Up the winding path, she kept her gaze on the steepled towers. Though she was so very uncertain of, well, everything, she couldn't help reaching out to place her hand on the small of Thorfinn's back. Somehow, the gesture calmed her.
She tried not to like that he reached back, placing his hand over hers. There were too many things wrong with this to find comfort in his touch, despite that that was exactly what she felt.
As they reached the entryway, he pushed the doors open. The interior of the house didn't look to have a single light. She tipped her head around his arm, peering inside as they walked. The place was as grand inside as it was outside, but shadowed, what little illumination there was shaded rich crimson hues by the stained glass windows.
When they crossed the threshold, he made a subtle nod she almost didn't catch. Following his hint, she slipped from behind him. Footfalls sounded through the main floor, and she darted into the first hiding place she could find—an alcove housing a large, antique vase.
She must've made it in the nick of time, because she heard that voice, again, as she ducked behind the vase and turned to face the foyer.
"Thorfinn? Where have you been?"
"I was waylaid for a few minutes. But let's not pretend you're actually concerned."
Hermione pressed her hand to her mouth, covering a gasp as a woman appeared virtually from nowhere, seeming to slink out of the very shadows of the house. She was the most beautiful creature Hermione'd ever laid eyes on.
But her eyes . . . . They were an unsettling, vibrant red, bright even in the sparse illumination. She drew closer to Thorfinn, then, inhaling long and deep.
"My, don't you smell divine. What did you get up to last night?"
He frowned, shaking his head. He pulled his long hair and over his shoulder and started unbuttoning his collar. "Nothing more than the usual. What you smell is the witch I bumped into this morning."
Hermione swallowed hard, backpedaling a step.
"Next time, get her blood!"
The witch in question barely refrained from jumping at the sudden change in the voluptuous woman's tone. She'd gone from seductive to demanding in a blink.
"She was gone once she realized what I was. Can we dispense with meaningless discussion, now? It is very late, and I'd like to rest before sundown."
"Here I thought you liked to pretend we were willing roommates," she said with a smirk.
Hermione did jump, then, as the woman reached up, lighting-quick, gripping a hand into Thorfinn's hair and pulling him down to her level. There was no mistaking the gleam of ivory in the darkness a split-second before she sank her teeth into his throat.
The vampire emitted hungry, animal sounds as she fed. He all but went limp where he stood, holding her to him, though there was a grudging quality in their embrace.
In spite of herself, and the surreal terror of the moment, Hermione was fascinated. The noises shifted the longer the vampire went on, becoming a satisfied purr.
That was when the witch realized where she'd heard the man's name.
The vampire withdrew slow, catching her breath.
A tale told to witches and warlocks when they were mere children. Not to wander the woods at night. Yes, yes. What was it?
Thorfinn gave himself a shake, regaining his bearings as he dropped his arms from her. It seemed no accident when he pushed her away from him so hard she stumbled just a bit.
But the jet-haired woman only let out a hearty laugh at his rough gesture.
Thorfinn Rowle . . . the woods at night . . . . Hermione's face fell as the memory finally shook loose from the cobwebs in the back of her mind. A bogey man, not even whispered about by Muggles, anymore. Barely believed by magic-folk. Like Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy, or . . . .
Or four-leaf clovers . . . .
Thorfinn Rowle, the sad, dark figure. Charged as caretaker of a creature still whispered about, even in Muggle tales.
Lone, unwilling companion of a notorious murderess. The beautiful, cruel vampire who'd vanished from the annuls of history.
Hermione watched the gorgeous woman with the crimson eyes turn on her heel and slink back into the shadowy recesses of the massive house. The Blood Countess . . . .
Swallowing hard, she turned her attention to Thorfinn. Thorfinn Rowle, the fallen vampire lord. He was collecting himself, straightening his shirt and starting for the wide staircase that led up to the second floor.
He paused, looking into the shadows. Apparently assuring himself that Elizabeth had retreated, he made a coughing sound and continued on his way.
Despite her charm still being intact, Hermione felt her heart in her throat as she slipped from her hiding place. She didn't like this at all, but she still didn't understand why she couldn't leave. Being with Thorfinn was certainly a better idea than being discovered by the Countess while she tried to figure a way out of here on her own.
She followed him up the stairs and down a long corridor. Though she could feel her heart thudding in her chest, she didn't let her gaze stray from him. She was vaguely aware of antiquated, gilt-framed paintings and ornate candle holders lining the walls.
Finally, he led her into a plushly decorated bedroom, giving her time to enter before he shut the door.
"Tell me you're here," he said into the quiet.
Dispelling the charm, she stepped in front of him. "Nowhere to go right now, have I?"
Thorfinn groaned, crossing the room to sit down heavily on the bed. Now that he was out of the sun, he felt a little better. He was still very drained, from the hour and Elizabeth's feeding, and would be useless shortly. He needed to explain fast.
"I'm sorry, had I realized what you were sooner, I'd never have allowed you to even walk me to the gate. I would've realized it too risky."
Her shoulders slumping, she maintained her distance, but lowered herself delicately to sit on the chaise positioned parallel to the bed. "I know who you are, now."
He sighed and shook his head. "Three hundred years, and they still tell the tale?"
"Not really. Bits and pieces I only heard it as a child because of what I am. I discarded the story, because no one believes it, anymore."
"So, then you know who she is, as well?"
Hermione nodded, searching his gaze with her own. "Now for the rest."
His brows drew together as he blinked tiredly. "The rest?"
"Why can't I leave the property?" She shrugged, aware he could've attacked her at any time, but he hadn't. She wondered what kind of control it was taking him to sit here with her like this if witches smelled as good to vampires as Elizabeth's words had lead her to believe. "And why do you do this to yourself?"
Thorfinn tore his gaze from hers and lay back in his bed, staring up at the canopy. "Elizabeth defied death. Even for a vampire. No matter what was done to end her, she returned. No one understood how, or why. But they knew that she needed to be contained. Her lust for the blood of young women was endangering all of us. At the time, magic was not as refined as it is, now. The property was cursed to keep her within its boundaries, but in actuality, it was very . . . ." He yawned. "Very general, intended to keep female supernatural entities trapped here. As a witch, you—"
"As a witch, I count as supernatural." She chewed at her bottom lip, nodding and dropping her attention to her hands. "You didn't want me on the property when you thought I was only human, because you thought she'd find me."
"And the second part?"
He forced out another sigh. "I'm cursed, too. As long as she exists, I must return here; this morning was a fluke. I venture out each night and gorge myself. I have to feed enough for both of us." He was so tired that his whispered voice was taking on an inebriated quality. "She despises feeding from a male, so it sort of amuses me. I was tasked with this . . . because I could have stopped her before she became this way. I had the chance to kill when I first realized what a monster she was becoming, and I didn't."
Hermione nodded, thinking she understood. Elizabeth was the very definition of breathtaking. She could imagine anyone easily falling head over heels for the woman before she'd become the monster.
"Was it because you loved her?"
He snickered, a sleepy sound, uttering his reply as he drifted off to sleep. "Because I hated her."
Furrowing her brow, the witch stood. Moving closer to inspect the sleeping vampire, she frowned. The bump on his head had vanished. And it was true. Vampires didn't breath in their sleep.
He hadn't been barely breathing when she'd stumbled across him, he'd not been breathing at all.
Vampires . . . . And she was trapped in this estate with two of them. Two who, clearly, hated one another. Gods, what a mess!
She tried not to think on the coming day. Recasting her shielding charm, she sat back down on the chaise and started rooting around in her pouch for parchment and her quill and ink bottle. It would not do to have Elizabeth catch her unaware simply because she'd breathed too loud at the wrong moment, or something.
She had time, and a little information on the subject. Nodding to the quiet room—with the still, handsome vampire on the bed—she started making notes and calculations.
She thought back on that stupid clover that had clearly been a portent of the wrong sort of luck. Well, Fate didn't know what it was dealing with.
If anyone could find a way around this curse, it was her.