A/N: Here it is, the long awaited final chapter of this story. I apologize before-hand about any loose ends. I tried my best to tie them all up, but I didn't have time to go back and re-read all of the previous chapters. I also apologize for the long wait. I know a lot of people have this story on their alerts and I'm an evil evil person for not updating sooner. I know it's a common excuse to say that real life is being a pain in the keister, but it does happen.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Harry Potter franchise, it rests in the hands of the inimitable J.K. Rowling. I'm certainly not making any money off this story, or my student loan company would see fit to stop calling me.
Caught! Chapter 11
Hermione stared and the tall, thin fellow standing before her, taken aback. Logically, she knew this man wasn't Severus, as she had just seem the former potions master recently. After an assessing glance over the man's sallow face, Hermione noted that his eyes were a deep green instead of black, his nose not quite as large and straight instead of the crooked appendage she had originally thought, and he had some graying hair at his temples. Hermione abruptly stuck her hand out and rambled,
"Good afternoon, Sir. I'm Hermione Granger and this is my, er, friend, Charlie Weasley." The old man, and Hermione had established that he was well into his hundreds after a second assessing glance, simply smiled beatifically at Charlie and took her hand in his, turning her knuckles up and ghosting his lips across them.
"Greetings, madam, and welcome to my home. I am Vladamir Dracul the third, but you may call me Vlad, as do all my friends." He looked over her shoulder as he stood from his bow and beamed at her companion, "Charlie! How wonderful to see you again! I trust your family is well?"
"Oh yes, Vlad, they're fine. Mum and Dad send their best, although I'm sure Mum worries about you as much as she does any member of her extended family." Charlie grinned as he glanced sideways at Hermione's blushing visage. Charlie thought to himself he rather enjoyed making her blush, as it made those amber eyes sparkle along with the flush staining her apple cheeks. Charlie's woolgathering was interrupted by the Viscount clearing his throat.
"Come in, come in, my friends. I promise I do not bite." Vlad grinned at his own joke before continuing, "I'm curious, though, Miss Hermione, what name did you call me at the door?"
"Hmm? Oh, I called you Severus by accident, sir. You look an awful lot like my benefactor. It's a bit disconcerting, actually." Hermione replied distractedly. She was having a hard time not letting her gaze wander around to the different portraits. She had read Bram Stoker's Dracula for entertainment during one of her summer holidays while she was in school. It had never occurred to her that the main character of the book might actually be real.
If that were the case, how many more of her muggle fairy tales were steeped in fact? Passed on orally from generation to generation, each repetition more ludicrous and silly than the last, until sometime during the Age of Enlightenment, when a scholar, or group of adventurers, such as the Grimm Brothers, decided to record the stories and have them bound into books. Her thought process was interrupted when Charlie jabbed his elbow into her side.
Charlie could see the cogs turning in her head, and he suspected she had long since stopped paying attention. The Count, a pleasant sort that had long since grown out of his violent tendencies, seemed to be completely at ease with her daydreaming. It was, however, still rude to not answer a direct question.
"I apologize, Count, I was off in la-la land. What did you ask me?" Charlie and Vlad both chuckled at the expression before Vlad repeated the question.
"This benefactor you speak of, Severus. Does he have a last name?"
"Oh, yes. Professor Severus Snape. He's the potions master at Hogwarts."
"Ah, yes, I thought it might be the same. Severus is a distant cousin of mine, I forget how many times removed." Vlad dismissed the statement with a lazy flick of his hand. They had arrived at a well established drawing room and Vlad gestured the couple to a squashy looking loveseat before seating himself rigidly in a wingback chair across from them. A fire crackled merrily in the grate at the far end of the room. Vlad picked up a wand that had been carelessly left on the small table between them and summoned a decanter and three glasses to him. He held up a bottle of amber colored liquid in question. Charlie nodded once in reply and Hermione gently shook her head.
"Is there anything else I can offer the lady, then? Some tea, perhaps?" Hermione agreed to this, as it was getting close to time for afternoon tea anyway. Vlad reached behind him and pulled a bell-cord that was hidden behind a tapestry, an ornate silver tea service appearing on the table before them just a few minutes later. Vlad motioned for Hermione to attend the service while he poured out two fingers of what appeared to be a fine whiskey for him and Charlie as he continued,
"Severus. Yes, I believe my father and his some-time-odd-great-grandfather were brothers. Which would make us cousins, as mentioned before. I've only ever met him once, he was just a wee fellow, hiding behind his mother's skirts. Bit of a surly child, I can't imagine he'd be much different as an adult. You say he's your benefactor?"
"Was," Hermione corrected after swallowing her sip of tea, thankfully not laced with fire whiskey. "I was interning with him this summer, but my internship will be over with the fortnight next. After that I will be a full-fledged potions mistress in need of a job. Not an easy thing to achieve in a field dominated by crotchety old men." Hermione blushed as she realized who she was talking to. He had to be at least 500 years old. Crotchety, indeed. She opened her mouth to apologize when Vlad interrupted her with a very loud round of laughing.
"You do have some spunk, Miss Granger! I wonder how Severus tolerates you."
"I would think he didn't have much choice, life debt and all." Charlie grinned as he took another sip of his whiskey. Yep, he thought, there's that blush again.
Indeed, Hermione's face had filled with color again. She wondered if whatever she had with Charlie would ensure her constantly looking like a steaming lobster. Considering it, she would gladly give up her dignity for those arms and those lips. Stop daydreaming and pay attention! Her inner-voice yelled at her, causing her to snap back to reality. The Viscount was watching her expectantly, she hadn't missed yet another question, had she?
"Apparently Hermione helped Professor Snape out a dire situation involving a snake bite. Isn't that gist of it, Love?"
"Oh yes, quite." Hermione mumbled in response. She had to focus on a spot on the wall above the Viscounts left shoulder to keep herself from tacking Charlie bodily to the floor. When that small word, Love, had slipped all gravelly from his throat, Hermione felt her stomach twist and a fission of heat down her lower back. Not quite sure what to make of her body's reaction to the pet name, Hermione set her tea, only half drunk, down as gently as she could onto the ornate platter of the service. The enchanted set, assuming she was done as all the pieces had been returned to their original position, disappeared from sight.
"Excuse me, Monseiur le Compte, I need a bit of fresh air. Might we take a tour of the grounds. I'd like to explore a bit, it's a lovely keep."
The Viscount puffed up with pride at the compliment to his abode and agreed amiably that a walk in the open air would probably do them all some good after the stuffiness of the drawing room. They spend the afternoon exploring the castle, Vlad regaling them with tales of battles fought and won, love affairs that had gone on behind the closed castle doors, and describing in lavish detail parties and celebrations that his home had played host to over the years. The trio sat on a low copse in the west garden, watching the sun sink below the Transylvanian hills, when Hermione began to shiver in the cool night air. Vlad decided to make a quiet departure as Charlie tenderly wrapped his cloak around her shoulders, noting the admiration shining in the redheads eyes. Charlie would make an excellent Viscount one day, as well as a wonderful addition to the Order Of The Dragon, a group of wizards who tended to the upkeep and secrecy of dragon reserves all around the world. What the Catholic church didn't know wouldn't hurt them, he thought to himself and chuckled. Vlad himself had long since outgrown the look of a knight in shining armor prepared to fight dragons for a lady's favor, but his young protégé certainly fit the part well. From the looks of it, Charlie had already picked out the perfect Lady to cast his favor upon.
Hermione and Charlie sat on the low stone wall, silently watching the sun sink behind the trees when she felt Charlie warm cloak slide around her shoulders. He stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders, not squeezing or rubbing, just resting. She decided she rather liked the feeling, knowing his presence was behind her. He was dependable, she could fall back on him. As if she had to give credence to her thoughts, she fells slowly backwards, where her shoulders rested against his lower stomach. He laughed, the rumbling sound roiling through his stomach, making her shoulders vibrate.
"That can't be very comfortable, Love. Let's try it like this."
Charlie took her hand, helping her stand, and walked around to the front of the copse, sitting on the ground with his back to the wall. He placed her between his legs and helped her lean back against his broad chest. "Better?" He whispered in her ear, causing goose pimples to rise on the back of her neck.
"Charlie…" Hemione started, not sure what she wanted to ask, but knowing they needed to establish where they stood.
"Yes, Love?" Charlie asked, ghosting his lips against the shell of her ear.
"What…How…Where is this going?"
"Where is what going?" Charlie asked, turning her chin so she could look at him over her shoulder.
"This…thing we have. Between us. Are we in a relationship? Am I your girlfriend? Are you my…friend? Boyfriend? Lover?" Charlie chuckled at the barrage of questions.
"One at a time, Hermione. Yes, I agree there is something between us. I rather fancy you, and I believe you rather fancy me. At the moment, we are friends who fancy each other, as anyone with two eyes and brain can see. If you want there to be more, then you'd best decide soon."
"What about logistics? After all, I live in London. And you live in Romania. I know you said you have an apartment?" Charlie nodded in assent to this question, "But provided we took the next step and decided to live together, how would that work out?"
"Whoa, slow down, Love. You're over thinking things. Yes, we live in different countries, but didn't you say in two weeks you would be looking for a potions' mistress position?"
"Yes. What does that have to do with this?" Hermione gestured between them with her hand.
"I happen to know of an opening in the infirmary at the reserve. Something about needing a constant supply of medicinal potions, that the monthly bill was getting expensive and that it would be more cost-effective to just hire someone to brew for them. Sounds right up your alley, and we'd see each other on a much more regular basis."
"Oh, Charlie! How wonderful, thank you!" Hermione threw her arms around his neck, effectively turning around in his lap, making him groan internally. "I'll get Severus to write up a commendation as soon as he returns."
"That'd be a good idea. Another good idea would be to stop wiggling," Charlie groaned as she shifted to sit with her arms around his neck.
"Oh, really, Mr. Weasley? And just what are you going to do about it?" Hermione teased, then shrieked as Charlie picked her up bridal-style and started heading towards the keep and to the room they would be sharing for the night.
Vlad watched to two from a dormer window in his quarters before heading to bed. His last vial of the Elixir of Life stared at him from his bedside table, right next to the most recently edited copy of his will. He remembered a day, five years previous, when he had literally run into a jovial red-haired man in town, effectively knocking them both over, twisting his ankle in the process. The friendly chap had flung Vlad's arm around his shoulder and helped him hobble up the hill to his large estate: the one the locals feared so much, believing that some crazed monster that fed on blood of humans to live eternally lived there. After some discreet inquiries, Vlad had discovered the red-headed fellows name, Charlie, and that he came into the town every Wednesday evening for a pint of ale with his mates and to buy some paper and ink, for letter writing, or so he said. The locals weren't sure where the young men came from, they believed them to be nomads who lived in the hills, or so Vlad had been told when he had inquired.
Vlad was no fool. Parchment? Ink? Letter writing? He knew Charlie must be one of the wizards who kept up the Reserve not far from his abode, and he sent him an invitation to dine with him post-haste. Charlie had gladly accepted the invitation, inquiring after the old man's health, and a friendship had sprung up long before either one established how many mutual acquaintances they had had in common.
Vlad pointedly ignored the vial and slid between the comforting white cotton sheets of his bed. He had never gotten used to the feel of silk sheets, they were too slippery on his skin, and had insisted that he have warm cotton instead. He took one last look at the vial of Elixir and sighed. He knew quite well if he didn't take it, his next sleep would be Eternal. He saluted upwards to the room where he knew Charlie and Hermione were located and grinned. Yes, a perfect couple to leave his holdings to. Vlad fell asleep to dream of a wedding day, a tall red-haired man carrying a bushy brown-haired girl over the threshold of his home.
A/N 2: I wikipedia'd Vlad The Impaler, then took a LOT of liberties, just to let you know. I hope you enjoyed this wacky ride with me. I doubt there will be any kind of sequel, but you never know, and if anyone should decide they want to write a continuation of their own, just let me know so I can read it. Thanks so much and please leave a review!