Lord Vaclar was a demanding instructor.

Not like Nicolas, who in his own way was quite demanding of Harry during the four months they'd spent together, keeping him constantly occupied with work and forcing him to deal with dangerous Magical Creatures; Harry had excelled in this form of tuition, and his skill at various kinds of magic had increased several fold, by his own estimations.

Nor like Professor Snape in detentions, where Harry had scrubbed out cauldrons and floors by hand with a variety of cleaners as Snape dictated how useless he was. Though truthfully, he'd managed to learn quite a bit from Snape's instruction as well, earning a decent grade on the O.W.L. exam that he took last June.

No, Vaclar was a whole different sort of demanding. He didn't insult Harry without a reason – he always referenced a recent mistake the boy had made, so that Harry knew exactly why he was, as Snape would put it, a "dunderhead". He didn't give Harry chores with implied direction to practice his complex spellwork. Chores with Vaclar, instead, were labor intensive but useful to the vampire Lord, and served as a time with which he could lecture. The proper role of Harry in a prestigious apprenticeship such as Nicolas' was a popular topic, as was magical theory – Harry had learned early on to charm a quill so that he didn't have to take notes while brewing potions, for instance.

In the first few days, it had become apparent to Vaclar that Harry was not learning enough from this method of teaching – focusing on the task of brewing or rearranging the current room while cleaning, for example, and trying to review the notes at a later time – so Vaclar had taken to occasionally randomly cursing Harry to ensure that he paid proper attention. Interrupting the brewing process of some of the potions was potentially explosive, and the spells often left marks on the walls that made Harry's job of cleaning that much more difficult, but it was hardly Vaclar's fault that Harry was so single-minded.

The very first thing that Vaclar did when Harry arrived was to inspect his belongings. He took objection to the warm clothes enspelled by Nicolas, and confiscated them.

"If you are not capable of even these simple enchantments, then you do not deserve to use them." He'd said in Russian as Harry shivered when the inspection continued. Vaclar took offense at so many Muggle-style clothes as well; he believed in a proper separation between the Wizarding and Muggle populations, and that Wizards should stick to robes and other traditional garments. Harry's Russian still wasn't good, but he understood enough of the gist of Vaclar's rant to add several words to his expanding vocabulary anyway.

After that, he was set off to unpack his things into his new room. The room, which was most similar to a cupboard, was dark, with no windows or any sort of natural light, and so dank and musty and moldy smelling that Harry nearly gagged.

"Is this supposed to increase my appreciation for House Elves?" Harry muttered under his breath at this not-unexpected treatment. However, Harry had been an apprentice for four months, now, and in that time had cleaned out far more disgusting places than a moldy cupboard, so he drew his wand and quickly set about fixing up his erstwhile home.

A barrage of "Scourgify" spells littered the walls, floor, and ceiling as Harry scoured every inch with nearly every cleaning charm he knew. A quick "Tergeo" scoured the grime off of the walls, which Harry then Vanished it in distaste after bottling some. After all, if pond scum was a common ingredient, then moldy grime had to have its place in a potion somewhere.

Harry also decided that he needed a bit more breathing room than the current space allowed, so he slowly added a subtle Undetectable Extension Charm – he'd learned it fairly recently from Nicolas, and it was a tricky, N.E.W.T. level Charm. It was quite challenging to work the charm on an entire room like this, since he had practiced applying the charm more on containers such as backpacks and such, the easiest application, but he managed to nearly double the available space, which made it quite a bit more comfortable. After three failed attempts, he also managed to transfigure the lumpy mattress on the floor – made of what he thought was straw – into a simple wooden bed frame and comfortable mattress with sheets.

"Apprentice," Zarek, now the Senior Apprentice, called out mockingly from the doorway, "Master Vaclar has decided that it is time for your first lesson." Harry trudged away, still freezing cold in the drafty mansion without the enchanted robes from Nicolas, as he heard Zarek muttering under his breath, still in the doorway. Ignoring him, he continued to his first lesson.

In the smallest of the several laboratories Harry had found so far – there was no actual tour, of course, but Harry was expected to know where everything was – Vaclar began the day's lesson.

"You will clean this room while I lecture." He said, again in Russian. Harry set about quietly muttering cleaning and scouring charms all around the room's many shelves, cleaning the dusty heavy curtains – which of course remained drawn in the vampire's house at all times – and brightened the room considerably with a few charms on the dull lighting fixtures.

"The Master/Apprentice relationship goes back to time immemorial…" Vaclar began on his first lesson. Harry informally titled this lecture series, "Why Harry should be so grateful to Nicolas for accepting his unworthy self as an Apprentice." One sub-lecture in the series, "Why Vaclar was such a better apprentice to Nicolas than Harry could ever possibly be," was particularly revealing about the vampire himself, if Harry read between the lines.

Vaclar was a promising young Durmstrang graduate and Dueling Champion when he'd been turned against his will by a powerful old vampire – whom he'd subsequently killed. His Turning – and Harry well learned that this was a significant event in a vampire's life and deserved capitalization – had forced him to live life differently than he'd expected, as he was suddenly ostracized by former friends and mentors. British Wizards were not alone in their racism towards magical creatures, it seemed, and Vaclar was nearly killed several times by would-be vampire hunters, including his main rival and second finest Dueling Champion of Vaclar's year at Durmstrang.

Nicolas, however, in the old man's infinite wisdom and patience, was the one who'd saved Vaclar from the typical vampire's short life of abduction and murder. Indeed, Vaclar gained an understanding of mortals from Nicolas, the one man who was arguably not one, that allowed him to coexist with them. Of course, the great respect he received from being Nicolas' apprentice helped somewhat, as did the instruction in Alchemy.

Despite the vampire's rather cruel treatment and harsh teaching techniques, then, Harry felt a budding respect for Vaclar. He certainly wasn't 'nice' to Harry, as Nicolas was, but seemed to legitimately want him to learn many kinds of varied lessons.

Zarek, on the other hand, infuriated Harry daily. That first day, Zarek's muttering had been to undo all of the enchantments that Harry had cast on his room, leaving him once more with a cupboard-sized room crowded with a lumpy mattress and trunk. At least he couldn't recreate the grime, Harry thought angrily as he re-cast all the spells. It wasn't the last time he'd had to do so, as Zarek cancelled every spell Harry could think to cast on the room whenever he passed by, so that every time Harry entered, it was the same cupboard and lumpy mattress.

Defiantly, Harry persevered through the treatment, as each day he merely got much faster and more comfortable at casting the spells, and his bed was now a fine finished mahogany thing that looked hand-carved from a single tree, instead of pine planks that looked like a drunken college student's creation with his first batch of power tools.

It was another four days before their schedule of lessons had its first interruption, in the form of a visitor late at night, when Harry was already in his quarters reviewing the day's lessons so that he would remember them well in the morning.

"Lord Vaclar!" A large man called out in Russian after he had arrived outside with a sharp 'Crack!' and knocked on the door. Vaclar strode out, appearing almost immediately – Harry had no clue how he managed to always do that – and opened the door. What could have almost passed for a welcoming expression on his face appeared as he greeted the bear of a man.

"Alferii, it is good to see you again." The vampire said smoothly in greeting. Then, unbelievably, the man picked up the vampire in a crushing hug, actually lifting him up off the ground. The man wasn't quite the size of Hagrid, but he was likely at least seven feet tall, and must have weighed four hundred pounds if he weighed anything. He was built like a gorilla, with a ragged but fairly short mane of hair that encircled his head and face.

"You are getting weak, my friend! Your old age, I think!" The man, Alferii, said boisterously, obviously in jest as a familiar smirk arose on Vaclar's face.

"Oh, I just thought it would be rude for me to show up my guest so easily before his introduction to the latest Apprentice to Master Nicolas Flamel." At this announcement, the Russian looked around with a grin, his eyes finally resting on Harry, who had approached the Entrance Hall when he first heard the crack of Apparition.

"This little boy? He must be the youngest I have ever seen Nicolas take!" Harry deciphered, still having only a few translation problems with Russian after nearly a solid week of speaking it.

"Indeed." Vaclar said, giving away nothing. 'Interesting…even around this obvious friend, he is still guarded. Constant Vigilance, I suppose…' Harry thought.

"And a vampire, too. Odd that Nicolas would choose him." 'WHAT!?' Harry thought frantically, looking at himself. His arms were quite pale, come to think of it…even paler than they had been at Hogwarts. And he'd thought that he'd gotten quite a tan with all the time spent outside at the Reserve, in the greenhouse, in the barn, driving to the Muggle city…he had to have gotten a tan. He self-consciously checked his teeth, and sure enough he had fangs like he'd seen on occasion displayed by Vaclar and Zarek.

But when had he been turned? He certainly remembered no bite. It could have happened when he was asleep, he reasoned…but then, Flamel had hit him with an unknown transfiguration spell before the Portkey had whisked him away. And there were no mirrors around – obviously, as they were useless to a vampire – so he wouldn't have noticed. That must have been it – Flamel, for whatever reason, had transfigured him to look like a vampire. At least he hadn't joined the blood-sucking demons of the night, he thought thankfully. Bad enough that he had to look like some pale teenage malcontent.

"Yes, well, unorthodoxy is, of course, Master Flamel's trademark." Vaclar said with a glance at Harry that was unreadable to the boy.

"And of course, you would never speak ill of your Master, even for his choice in boys to train, eh? Still the same Vaclar, then!" The Russian man laughed boisterously at this, and Vaclar smirked in agreement. Harry was still too thankful that he wasn't a vampire to focus too hard on translating their discussion.

"Apprentice! Take our guest's bags to his room immediately, don't lay about like a useless coat rack!" Vaclar said in a harsh tone, for the first time addressing him. Harry nodded dutifully and went to grab the thick – and amazingly heavy – bags, which looked to be almost wraps of animal fur that were the man's luggage.

"Ah, I will join you to the room, then, boy." The Russian said as he moved away from Vaclar. As Harry struggled up the stairs with the two bags, the Russian eyed him somewhat oddly. Of course, if Vaclar's supposed superhuman strength was any indicator, then Harry as a vampire should have been able to heft the load without much difficulty. As it was, he knew that only the permanent enhancement potion he'd taken at the start of his apprenticeship with Nicolas was allowing him to carry the bags at all.

"You are weak for a vampire, boy." The Russian said in a doubtful voice when they finally reached the rather luxurious guest room. Vaclar had many, each of them almost ten times the size of Harry's quarters.

"Yeah, well, I'm still young and growing." Harry said uncomfortably in a slow use of the Russian language. The Russian man smiled broadly at this proclamation.

"Ahaha! I like you boy, you have spirit! Not yet crushed by Vaclar, eh? Good for you, he is hard to take sometimes. I will help you to be stronger, then, young vampire. And how to handle the strong, too, I think. With an attitude like yours, you will need it!" The Russian smacked him on the shoulder – Harry barely refrained from wincing as he did – and retreated to the comfort of his room as Harry did the same.

Later than usual to bed because of the Russian man's arrival, Harry also heard something else for the first time that night.

"Yes," a deep voice called out sensually; there was something inherently wrong about the voice that made Harry shiver unconsciously as he lay in his bed, "Yes, it's only a bit farther…I just know you'll like what you'll find there." Harry was finally able to identify the Russian tongue as belonging to Zarek, though he usually did not speak in such a deep voice. Kissing noises could then be heard as Harry got up out of bed, not bothering to put on the glasses that he knew he no longer needed except for enchantment purposes.

He glanced out into the hallway just in time to see a rather pretty young girl – possibly fifteen or sixteen – with beautiful dark brown hair and a well-tailored gown pulled into Zarek's room, Zarek's pale hands gripping her arms tightly as she moved in what seemed to be a trance. Not really wanting to know all that much about the vampire git's habits with women, Harry quickly retreated back into his own room and contemplated self-Obliviation as he tried to go to bed.

"No, no, you weak little vampire!" Alferii yelled at Harry at the end of his weeklong stay. Vaclar would not allow these lessons – which the Russian called "Vampire fighting techniques" just to annoy Vaclar, Harry thought – to cut into his usual daily lectures, so they cut into the already short time Vaclar had granted to Harry to sleep.

"You duck out the way of my attack, let my momentum trip me up! I put more force in my attacks because I am stronger – like older vampire! – so use that to your advantage! Again!" Alferii continued his yell, immediately continuing his blisteringly fast assault.

Harry had found that, surprisingly, he took to the big Russian man's style of fighting quite quickly. After all, he'd spent most of his childhood evading clumsy tackles and grabs from Dudley, so he supposed that his quick reflexes and evasive – "slippery", Alferii called him – nature was an outgrowth of his childhood. Probably the only positive outgrowth, he reflected. Of course, Fred and George Weasley whipping Bludgers at me during Quidditch practice for their benefit and mine probably never hurt either, at least in terms of situational awareness.

"Good, Harry. Your lessons with me are done, I think. Good enough at fighting, I think, for you to go with me and Vaclar on our trip. And his little boy, too." Harry had no idea what Alferii was talking about, of course, and said as much.

"Vaclar didn't tell you? Oh…well, he left the decision to take you up to me, anyway, so I guess that's not surprising. There is a big meeting of the vampires in the region. It's why I'm here in the first place, actually. I found out about it, but not the specifics, so I had to ask Vaclar. He told me to come when I did, and that he'd give me the information when I got here. I'm not…strictly…invited, you might say. But I'm going anyway." Alferii gave a rather bloodthirsty smile at this, despite his not being a vampire.

"I see…so, Alferii, what are you exactly, that you spend so much time around vampires. I mean, you know better than anyone I've seen how to fight them, but you're friends with Vaclar." Alferii nodded seriously.

"Well, Harry, that's a pretty simple one. I'm a Hunter. Kill vampires, you know. Thing is, with me, I kill the rogues. The vampires on the up and up don't mind me, then, let me be. Some, like Vaclar, are even friendly towards me." Alferii said, confirming what Harry suspected. Only someone with vast amounts of experience fighting vampires or beings equally physically formidable would be able to, or even think of, teaching the fighting tactics and techniques that Alferii had.

"I thought so…so what is this meeting all about, anyway?" Harry questioned, curious.

"Bit surprising, kid – most young vampires get pretty nervous around me when I tell them I'm a Hunter. I like that about you – guts." 'Oh right, I'm supposed to be a vampire now…' Harry thought, adopting a smile on his face as he repressed his surprise and embarrassment at having forgotten the transfiguration of his features by Nicolas.

"Anyway, the meeting's about one of the rogues that's loose. I've been tracking him – or them, I suppose – for a few years now. Vaclar's helped me out a bit from time to time, so he told me about this meeting the vampires are having, as a bit of a favor. I'm dropping in a bit unexpectedly," his grin was once more rather feral as he finished.

"Why are the vampires concerning themselves with these rogues? I mean, one of my friends in school kinda wanted to be a Vampire Hunter for a while," indeed, it was Ron's ambition throughout second year, "So wouldn't one of you guys normally handle it?"

"Ah, well that's the thing, and why I personally think there's more than one rogue. They're too good, too successful. The respectable vampires are running low on feeding stock." Harry fought against his eyes widening at the term 'feeding stock', realizing that a real vampire would think of townsfolk – some even of wizards – as nothing more than cattle.

"So these rogues are…killing people off? From local villages, I'd imagine?" Harry asked, confirming his own definition of what exactly defined a 'rogue' to vampires.

"That's right, Harry. And 'local' is as good a term as any, because almost all of the victims – been a few dozen, now, and more all the time – were from around the Carpathian foothills. Not much farther than a hundred or two hundred miles from here, I'd wager. And since Romania has probably more vampires than anywhere else, most of them in places like the foothills, if dozens of their cattle die suddenly, it becomes harder for the vampires to survive by only draining a little bit at each feeding, keeping their 'herd' alive." The situation became much clearer to Harry now – these rogues would force all of the vampires in the region to kill when they fed.

"I see why this is such a problem that the vampires need to take action," Harry said carefully, still thoughtful.

"Yes. Of course, some of the more…conservative…vampires will no doubt argue that others are responsible." Alferii said casually, "Could even cast doubt on some of their enemies, I think." Harry wasn't sure what he meant, so he continued, "Werewolves, hags, maybe even goblins or wizards. Vampires have made many enemies over the years."

Harry's natural defense of Remus jumped out of his mouth almost immediately, "Werewolves? That's ridiculous! They can't help that they're cursed one night of –"

"It is most strange," Alferii interrupted, his eyes rather narrow, "For a vampire to defend werewolves so strongly. Unique, I think."

"Er…I…had a good friend who was a werewolf. And he couldn't control it, it wasn't his fault! He took every precaution when he transformed, and he was a great wizard." Harry said, realizing his mistake but unwilling to back down from his defense against Remus.

"I see. He is the exception, then, Harry. You are right, they cannot control it, but…most concern themselves little with 'precautions' to protect others on the night of the full moons. There is nothing that can control the feral emotions," 'Yet,' Harry added with a thought, "that control them during those times, and many give into them even when they are not transformed. They live like animals by their own choice, mostly, and kill and infect many innocents. Most of them simply need to be killed, before they spread their curse." Harry was silent at the end of the man's rant. Truthfully, he could not say that he knew all that much about werewolves even in his own time, excepting Remus and what he'd learned in Defense Against the Dark Arts class, so he kept his mouth shut, accepting that Alferii assuredly knew better than himself.

"Now," the big Russian finished, "I think that's enough for tonight! Tomorrow night, we make for the vampire meeting. It will happen at night, of course – Vaclar's one of the oddballs who functions at all in the daytime – so make sure to get a good rest tonight."

With that, Harry went to bed, once again noticing Zarek's nightly visitor – a different girl every time, it seemed – before he went to bed. Harry still hadn't gotten the courage to risk insulting the vampire Senior Apprentice by questioning him about the girls, but always had a distinctly uneasy feeling about the whole thing. Perhaps he could ask Alferii later.

The following day's lessons flew by quickly, as Vaclar spent the morning lecturing on Arithmancy for curse-breaking, while Harry brewed four simultaneous cauldrons of Blood-Replenishing Potion. Vaclar always needed that particular potion, because he administered it to his victims – though he didn't call them that – after he drank their blood and Obliviated them. After lunch, the topic switched to one still marginally related to curse-breaking: Egyptian and Gobbledegook runes.

Curse-breaking was one of the most interesting topics that Nicolas had introduced to Harry, and it seemed that Vaclar either knew about his interest and cared – unlikely – or enjoyed it himself. Harry also suspected that Vaclar had spent some time in the field as a curse-breaker, because a few of the warnings during the Arithmancy lesson were a bit too detailed for him to have come up with them as hypothetical.

Finally, dinner was served in the elegant formal dining room – another important topic Vaclar had introduced to Harry was the etiquette for formal dining – and Harry was sent to prepare himself for the meeting that night. A Portkey later and Vaclar, Zarek, and Harry arrived; Alferii could not arrive with them of course, because of the awkward position that would put Vaclar.

"Lord Vaclar, welcome," Two vampires, with an air about them similar to Vaclar's, but colder, if possible, walked up and greeted them smoothly in what Harry thought was Romanian – it was similar enough to French that Harry was having few problems adapting to it, with the help of his potion – as they arrived. One of them looked straight at Harry for a moment, seeming to sniff cautiously.

"Ceranis, I hope the night finds you well." Vaclar responded without any of the friendliness with which he'd greeted Alferii. The one who hadn't talked continued to stare at Harry, who'd become quite uncomfortable with it. Was his deception so easily seen through?

"Quite well, thank you…though, your apprentice seems to have had a better one. Did you just feast, boy?" The other, Ceranis, asked him anxiously. An unreadable look by Vaclar, though Harry knew it was because he'd made some sort of mistake, and he smiled uneasily. Not knowing the language well enough to speak, Harry just nodded.

"Yes, well, I can smell it on you…it's…distracting, to me, because I haven't eaten for a day. This one," he motioned to the vampire next to him, who was still barely holding back from Harry, a hungry gleam in his eye, "must have been longer." Ceranis whapped the other on the shoulder. Apparently even vampires have Crabbes amongst them.

When they turned, Harry muttered a quick scent-masking charm, like he used to hide from the dragons at the Reserve, and noticed a glare from Vaclar that said many things, such as, "How could you be so thoughtless, you fool," and, "You're lucky not to have been eaten."

"One among us," A Vampire dressed in an even more old-fashioned manner than most said coldly in a magically magnified voice, "Threatens all." Nearly one hundred vampires were gathered in this manor, and Harry took a moment to survey them. Some of them looked gaunt, with sallow, sunken cheeks and eye sockets, which darkened, looking eerie against the alabaster skin; others, like Vaclar and Ceranis and even Harry himself, looked nearly indistinguishable from humans except under close examination.

"We must discuss options to deal with this." The vampire continued.

"You're damn right you do!" A boisterous voice called out in Russian. It was Alferii, of course, who made quite an entrance, strolling up with a wand in one hand and a thick stake that might have once been a table leg in the other.

Hissing erupted from many of the vampires, mostly those who looked less human, while everyone at least adopted a cold glare. Vaclar's face mirrored that of his fellows – Harry quickly attempted to adopt it as well, though he really wanted to erupt with laughter – while Zarek perhaps had the fiercest glare of them all. Come to think of it, Harry realized that he hadn't ever seen the Senior Apprentice around while training with Alferii; not that Harry was complaining, of course.

"You have no right, Hunter! No right at all to be here! This is a private matter!" The proceeding had apparently switched to Russian, now, much to Harry's relief. Both humans expected spittle to fly from the mouth of the enraged vampire leader, he was so visibly angry.

"About killing vampires, exactly. Happens to be a hobby of mine, really, and I'll be happy to help you out. Who needs slaying, then?" Alferii asked the gathered crowd. Even Vaclar had to fight off a bit of a smirk from his face at the big Russian's antics.

"Even you, Hunter, are not arrogant enough to believe you could defeat us assembled." In less than an instant, the vampire had drawn a wand – a twisted, blackened thing that looked as ancient as his wardrobe – that was pointing at Alferii, who still managed to smirk comfortably.

"Of course not, Count," Alferii finally said, "but you and I are not enemies today, despite any history. Working together is the best way for all of us to be successful." Alferii lowered his own wand, but Harry noticed a bit of nervous energy – he was ready to defend himself in an instant.

"We must discuss." The noise of Apparition was heard all around the room; Vaclar or Zarek must have grabbed Harry, because he was Side-Along Apparated to a much smaller room with a massive ebony table and matching set of chairs. Disoriented slightly, Harry noticed that only the dozen or so vampires that looked the most reminiscent of humans, each visibly carrying at least one wand, had Apparated into this room. It was obviously some kind of 'elite' meeting.

"It is rare that such a meeting has taken place." The leader, the Count, said darkly as everyone took a seat at the impressive table. The lighting in the room was dark, though it was decorated in elegant black and silver all around; the sconces on the wall cast long shadows making the monsters within look even more menacing.

"We have not ruled out the possibility of the werewolves being responsible, Count. I, for one, do not think –"

"Those beasts cannot make kills such as have been made, you fool! Only vampires can be so elegant, so careful! And not just any vampires! Those things out there are little better than werewolves themselves! No, the one responsible is here, of that I am sure." This news sent an uncomfortable shockwave through the room.

Vaclar was one of the few to take the news well, continuing to meet the steely gaze of the Count. Others looked around suspiciously, as though the guilty party would jump up and reveal themselves at that moment. Zarek had a bit of a smirk on his face, watching it; he had an odd sense of morbid humor, Harry thought.

"How dare you –" One rather fat vampire leapt out of his chair and yelled with a snarl, revealing his fangs.

"I will slay you where you stand if you don't sit back down and calm yourself!" The Count said, once more having drawn is wand some time while Harry blinked, in a hiss. The fat one sat back down with a glare.

"Lord Vaclar." Harry watched Nicolas' former apprentice rise steadily, seemingly not perturbed by the attention of everyone in the room.

"You, along with that Hunter who interrupted our proceedings, are to take charge of the investigation." Vaclar responded with a nod of his head and sat back down. One more glare around the room – Harry seemed to get the focus of this one, for whatever reason – and the Count Apparated out; the others joined him and Harry was once more Side-Along Apparated, probably by Vaclar, to the room full of vampires and Alferii. While the seemingly mindless vampires seemed to gather close around the big Russian, he did not look much concerned as he merely wiped the blade of a long Russian Shaska saber, the type typically used by their military. The threat to any approaching vampire was quite obvious.

"The decision has been made!" The Count announced, once again in his magically magnified voice, "Lord Vaclar will lead the investigation, with the advice, as needed, of Alferii the Hunter. Return to your own homes and coffins!" The hall was once again filled with the cracks of a dozen Apparitions, as well as the sound of the simpler vampires making their way towards the various exits in the hall.

Vaclar nodded to Harry and Disapparated, so Harry did likewise and returned to the outside of Vaclar's mansion.

"Get to bed, Harry, and away with you, as well, Zarek. Alferii and I have much to discuss that doesn't concern either of you." Harry, so shocked at hearing his name come out of the mouth of Vaclar, instead of the somewhat disdainful, "Apprentice", nodded and shuffled into his closet, which had once more, like always, been shrunken back to normal size by Zarek at some point in the day. Despite the curse that Harry had set up that should have been expelling the vampire's entrails by now.

Harry re-enlarged the room and set his things to their proper place with only so much as a glance towards Zarek's room and a slight narrowing of his eyes.

After the first two weeks of humiliating scolding in front of Zarek during each lesson – which helped Harry's Occlumency progress rapidly, actually, as he learned to ignore them – potentially deadly explosions, random cursing – which aided Harry's situational awareness greatly – and daily dueling practice where Harry was supposed to put into use the various things learned in lectures, Vaclar had learned that Harry was almost totally incapable of nonverbal spell-casting; their focus narrowed almost immediately.

The night of the meeting was not a topic discussed by anyone in the manor, despite how curious Harry may have been. Alferii had dropped in and out regularly since, but hardly so much as spared a greeting to Harry, even though he always seemed friendly, if tired. Vaclar, too, obviously spent his nights elsewhere after he finished lessons with Harry and Zarek each day; not needing sleep, he was at an advantage over his human partner, but still managed to get slightly more irritable almost every day.

This made Harry's instruction, when he was so incompetent to begin with at nonverbal casting, even more painful and possibly lethal than usual.

"It is a matter of focus and determination. The study of Occlumency should aid you in nonverbal casting," Vaclar here nonverbally shot a Tripping Jinx at Harry that he lifted up his foot to avoid, "because your mind should be clear of other distractions if you are skilled enough. You should have noted by now the lack of correlation between screaming a curse and power – it is just as effective to mutter your curse, given sufficient practice. Of course, emotions can increase a spell's effect, and therefore the ignorant might believe that it is their scream that helps the spell, but they are wrong."

'I don't know…I'm pretty frustrated often enough with nonverbal spells…that's an emotion that doesn't seem to help me much.' Harry thought wryly. For his inattentiveness, he narrowly avoided tipping over the bubbling cauldron he was standing over as Vaclar's next nonverbal Trip Jinx nailed his leg and he was flung off balance and fell to the cold stone ground.

"You might consider paying closer attention, considering your ineptitude at the subject, Apprentice." Vaclar never referred to Harry by name apart from a single instance, just as 'Apprentice'. Harry constantly wondered if that instance was a slip up on the part of a weary Vaclar, or for his adequate performance at the meeting, managing to convince a hundred vampires that he, too, was one. Harry tended to believe the former, but hoped for the latter.

"My apologies, Master. I shall focus harder." Harry said dutifully, masterfully keeping the disdain out of his voice. Disdain when addressing the Master only led to a rather painful punishment at the hands of the Senior Apprentice, he learned.

It was so different than at Nicolas' here, he knew. Questions were altogether discouraged, instead the Apprentice must learn the information on his own. At Nicolas', Harry at least wasn't punished for asking, though he sometimes got cryptic or partial answers. Harry of course preferred Nicolas' tuition, but unfortunately couldn't deny that Vaclar's lessons were well learned. Vaclar, of course, allowed nothing else.

"That potion is as complete as it shall be, Apprentice. Now, we shall see how well the lesson has stuck, I believe. Cast a spell at me." The instruction for a nonverbal attack was implicit. 'Cheek' shown if Harry had verbally cast the spell, which was technically not expressly forbidden, would be swiftly punished.

'Everbero,' Harry thought. His focus was not much improved from the beginning of the lesson, and nothing came out of the tip of his wand. He tried once more, and a third time, before the punishment struck.

"Crucio." Vaclar said in a bored tone. It never lasted much longer than a second or two for minor failures, but the excruciating, mind-numbing pain was the frequent punishment. In either case, Vaclar's heart wasn't really behind the spell as Voldemort's had always been, so it wasn't nearly as terrible.

Three more attempts and failures, complete with a short "Crucio" each from Vaclar – who was starting to put a bit more desire to cause pain behind the spell with each casting – angered the vampire and wore out his patience. He strode in that impossibly fast gait across the laboratory as Zarek watched on, an eager light dancing in the cruel boy's eye as he looked up from his own work.

Vaclar, with strength Harry would once have believed impossible, tossed him against the wall as easily as Harry might a doll and held him, strong but wiry hand crushing Harry's throat against the plaster wall as Harry heard it crack from the pressure. He saw stars as blood and oxygen were cut off from his brain and struggled vainly to raise his wand on the attacking Vaclar.

"Curse me, Apprentice!" Vaclar snarled viciously, one of the rare instances where his fangs were displayed in a terrifying reminder of what he was. His mouth open in a threateningly animalistic manner, Vaclar said once more in a raised voice, "Curse me!" as he lowered his mouth to the side of Harry's neck that had only his thumb around it, closed around a now throbbing carotid artery.

Harry was, of course, physically incapable of speaking at this point, or he would have long since cursed the vampire. His mind swam as he suffocated, and he realized that he would quite likely die here, possibly even becoming a vampire if Vaclar didn't think him too incompetent. However, Vaclar did think him incompetent, and if he couldn't cast a bloody nonverbal spell to save his life – literally! – Harry was tempted to agree.

He could feel unconsciousness approaching, blackness creeping into his vision, as his last thought saved his life.

'Depulso!' He mentally screamed, forcing all of his frustration at his ineptitude into the Banishing spell he felt explode from his wand.

Vaclar was now the one flung like a rag doll as his body impacted with a crash against the shelf on the other side of the room. He landed at an odd angle, his neck obviously broken. Harry, oblivious to it all as he was on his knees gasping for breath, hardly noticed the flash of light from Vaclar's own wand at the back of his neck. He only looked up as he saw Vaclar twist his head in either direction as it cracked noisily. Harry scrambled and picked up his wand once more, but Vaclar only regarded him dispassionately.

"Well," he said, gazing down somewhat coldly at Harry's obviously frightened and battered form, "I think you have overcome your block for nonverbal spells. You have the rest of the evening to practice, Apprentice."

And indeed, Harry was able to reproduce the effects, in rather less spectacular displays, all throughout that evening and the rest of the week as Vaclar moved on to advanced dueling techniques that could only be attempted with nonverbal spells, as well as working to improve his form and casting speed.

In his own spare time, Harry still struggled with casting spells nonverbally. With diligent nightly practice at targets and blocks of wood he'd managed to conjure up – he'd done several essays on inanimate conjuration during his O.W.L. year in Transfiguration, after all – he managed to reproduce the focus necessary and was constantly improving.

First and second year spells gave way to simple jinxes and hexes, which in turn gave way, with the help of Occlumency-enhanced concentration, to Vanishing spells, O.W.L. level transfigurations – including his nightly bedroom modifications – along with the more advanced charms that Harry had learned in his time with Nicolas and the variety of deadly curses that Harry had learned from his time with Vaclar – mostly from the vampire hurling them at him, then making him research them. None of the advanced curses, especially, were as good as when he cast them verbally, but he was still only at the elementary stages of the technique, so he considered himself quite adequate.

His nightly diligence paid off quickly; by the end of the week, Vaclar's advanced dueling lessons actually made sense and were able to be implemented – at least rudimentarily – by Harry. He still couldn't snap off curses with the impunity that Vaclar or Zarek could, but he was getting faster every day, and at least thought himself quite a bit more creative in his dueling methods. Of course, dueling wasn't his specialty any more, since Nicolas had introduced him to the world of enchanting. But he still kept up the skill, if only by necessity at Vaclar's hand.

Zarek, in particular, because Harry was certain that Vaclar had never truly attempted to defeat Harry with all of his skills, was a straightforward duelist. Were it not for his entirely silent casting, elaborate knowledge of painful curses Vaclar was reticent to quickly reverse, and frightening speed – a perk of being a vampire, of course – he would have fit in well amongst the average D.A. students.

Harry, however, since gaining such proficiency with them under the tutelage of Nicolas, was anxious to try out his other skills. He performed transfigurations that he set upon his opponents with a silent Oppugno, used the stealth skills developed at the Reserve after setting up a layer of fog to sneak up behind even the wary Zarek, and generally had a fun time trying out new strategies as quickly as he could think them up. Not to say that he was a slouch with the straight-ahead curse-and-shield technique that Zarek used, of course, but he couldn't yet go head-to-head with him, so he rarely tried unless desperate.

It was the beginning of the fourth week that Harry's tutelage once again shifted.

"Apprentice!" Vaclar called out that morning at breakfast, "Alferii and I have done all we can here, so the next part of our task will by necessity take place in the field. We will be gone nearly every day and night, so your instruction will not take place by my hand." Harry's hopes were foolishly raised when he expected Nicolas to burst through the door and take him pack to Devon.

"Instead, the Senior Apprentice will continue your instruction." Zarek's superior smirk grew malicious at the announcement. The bastard had known, apparently.

"Since I will not be here to reverse any injuries you may sustain," Vaclar continued with a glare at Harry, "There will be no dueling. Instead, Zarek will work with you on one of the topics of his thesis. He is quite knowledgeable in the area, and it will be good for him to begin basic instruction. After all, Senior Apprentice, when you get your Mastery, you are expected to take on an apprentice and instruct him." A leer towards Harry either inferred that Harry was inexperienced enough to be Zarek's apprentice or that Harry would never achieve the rank of Master and instruct an apprentice of his own. Either way, Harry refrained from a roll of his eyes by blocking his frustration with Occlumency.

Harry knew, at Zarek's first glance, that his last week as a vampire would be the most troublesome.

Harry knew the idea was crazy. Zarek was Vaclar's trusted Senior Apprentice, after all.

But still, he had the suspicion, and he just couldn't shake it.

With Vaclar and Alferii gone from the manor – Harry hadn't seen either since the announcement at breakfast three days prior – Zarek had taken to strutting around like it was his own manor. The nightly visits by various girls continued, and escalated quickly – the first night, Harry supposed in celebration, there were two girls entering Zarek's room instead of just one.

And never, despite many attempts, had Harry seen one leave.

Harry had finally stayed up all night in vigilant observation this night, and finally, Zarek emerged, looking refreshed and normal. When he saw Harry sitting in the hall on the floor, he eyed him suspiciously.

"Apprentice? What are you doing on the ground?" Harry, his mind only slightly sluggish from his long vigil and lack of sleep, tried to look defiant and suspicious as he got up off the floor.

"Where's the girl, Zarek?" Harry asked simply. Zarek's eyes widened almost imperceptibly, but then he adopted his usual smirk.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Apprentice." He made a move to go past Harry, who shot his arm to the wall right in front of Zarek's face, not allowing him past.

"That's a lie. The girl you took into your room last night, where is she?" Zarek's look grew glacial, and he put his face right next to Harry's.

"Your delusions and fantasies are of no interest to me, Apprentice." A quick blow to Harry's stomach left him gasping for breath, flung across the hall despite Alferii's training.

"Now, I'd suggest you get ready for breakfast and your lessons." Zarek said, eyes blazing towards the younger boy. He casually waved his wand in the direction of Harry's room, for the first time easily canceling all of his enchantments in front of Harry.

Harry took a moment to get up from the ground and briefly eyed Zarek's room. If he hadn't known of the deadly curses Zarek bragged about placing on his door, Harry would have snuck in and investigated; he wasn't suicidal, though, so he refrained. He used Cleaning charms and got dressed as Zarek suggested, and went down to an uncomfortably silent breakfast, which Zarek spent most of eyeing Harry as though he were a book on display.

"Today we shall attempt a different sort of lesson." Zarek announced when Harry walked into the classroom, the vampire's signature smirk once more plastering his face. Harry was cautious as he listened to him continue; 'different' could have something to do with his morning's accusation. Zarek merely Apparated outside the room into the nearby hallway.

Harry, suspicious of the vampire's smirk, cast a series of revealing spells that indicated a solid layer of wards – including blood wards – that locked Harry within the room.

"As to your earlier accusation, the girl you saw enter my room has been Vanished." Harry's face grew hard, his eyes narrowed.

"If only Master Vaclar was as observant as his ignorant little apprentice, then perhaps the mystery of the disappearing Muggles would be solved…of course, I've enough minions and scapegoats to keep him busy until I complete my apprenticeship, at least, and then I intend to keep far away from my former master, as a proper Journeyman should. I suppose he might scold me for harsh teaching methods when he finds your corpse in here, dead from…whatever it is you mortals die from. I shall, of course, talk of your ineptitude and the incident shall be forgotten. Too bad, fool." Zarek laughed out loud, in a typically villainous way. Harry would have rolled his eyes at the whole thing if he hadn't been so furious at the Senior Apprentice.

"You think I won't get out of here, Zarek?" Zarek only laughed harder at Harry's question.

"Please! These wards are far beyond your pathetic skills, I assure you. I didn't even bother making them permanent in any way, and they're still beyond you! You are more than welcome to try – in fact, I do encourage it, as it will speed up your death – but I'm sure that I'll not be troubled by any pathetic little plot you might think up, little Apprentice." Harry merely glared in response, and set about casting the standard revealing spells while Zarek confidently strode away.

Two days later, Harry was still inside the room. He felt a bit like he was back on Privet Drive, starved and locked away as he was. He was forced to admit Zarek's superiority at ward creation, despite all his best efforts to prove the vampire wrong. Harry's ace-in-the-hole had even been thwarted – while there was nothing preventing a House Elf from bypassing the wards, there was a modified Silencing Charm preventing them from hearing Harry's calls.

Despite his attempts at using his Arithmancy skills in an attempt at curse-breaking, it seemed that Zarek wasn't exaggerating one bit; Harry thought he had finally managed to chart out a few different possibilities for the Anti-Apparition Jinx that blanketed the room – a N.E.W.T.-level feat that he was quite proud of – but even that was so complicated that breaking it would be beyond him, and it was nothing to some of the blood wards that Zarek specialized in.

"Zarek must be the only one keyed into those," Harry muttered to himself – a new habit developed over the 48 hours of solitude – as he examined the first blood ward he managed to map out by taking several liberties with what he knew of Arithmancy; this was a supposition at best, but Harry had no better guesses. Fortunately, the one he'd picked at random seemed to be the most important one, tying the entire scheme together.

"No, definitely can't bring that one down…if I was keyed into it, though, the whole thing would be totally ineffective." That was one of the key points that Zarek had harped on during his lecture on blood wards – keyed into them, you'd barely notice their presence unless you were looking for them, like those on Privet Drive that Harry had lived under his entire life and never noticed.

"That's it, then…I need to key myself into the wards in order to stand a chance." Harry continued to himself, not noticing the half-crazed tone he'd adopted as a combined result of his solitude, desperation, and exhaustion. "But knowing Zarek, he'd keep the blasted thing on him at all times…"

A plan beginning to take form in his mind, he began screaming over and over again for Zarek; he hoped the wild craziness in his voice was intentional, and not even more pronounced than he noticed previously.

"Would you cease that incessant racket, you ignorant twit!?" Zarek roared as he finally came down the stairs – his bare chest was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and his own obvious tiredness indicated that he hadn't gotten much more sleep than Harry had; Harry filed this information away for later, attempting to remain calculating through his tiredness.

"I've figured it out, Zarek, the weakness in your wards!" Harry yelled crazily. After all, within every great lie was a bit of truth. Zarek remained unconvinced, perking an eyebrow.

"Oh, is that so? Well then, why don't you reveal this crucial weakness to me?" Zarek said sarcastically.

"It's simple, Zarek!" Harry said, spitting out the name like vile poison, "I just need to summon your ward stone from your room or wherever it is, and then the wards are useless!" That actually might work, if Zarek were an idiot and didn't protect the stone from Summoning. "Accio Ward Stone!" Harry said, waving his wand with a flourish. His brief bit of hope that Zarek had not, in fact, been that intelligent, was bashed as no stone came forth, and he hoped that magnified on his face. Zarek laughed with a cackle.

"Oh, well done, Apprentice, very clever. Of course, I could simply cast an Anti-Summoning Charm on the stone, rendering your plan a total failure! Look," he said, pulling the stone out of his pocket just as Harry hoped he would, revealing it to him, "It was in my pocket the whole time, not in my room. It was right here, and you still couldn't Summon it. Damned fool, stop wasting my time and die with a bit of class!"

Before Zarek turned on his heel, stomping away, Harry summoned up every bit of will and determination had and silently Vanished the pinprick of blood in his palm, hoping against hope that it would reappear on the stone in Zarek's pocket, keying Harry into the wards. However, nothing changed that he noticed – he didn't have enough experience with using blood wards to know if this was usual or not – so he waited thirty seconds or so for Zarek to leave and somewhat frantically cast the series of Revealing Spells like he had previously.

To his audible relief in the form of a sigh, the mosaic of wards had changed just a bit; it would have been imperceptible if he hadn't spend the past two days staring at the pattern, he never would have noticed. He could only guess that it was the addition of two people keyed into the wards instead of a single person, and had no time or energy to verify that with Arithmancy.

Heedless of the consequences if he was wrong, he marched through the door that had previously meant his likely death and guaranteed incapacitation. Instead of lightning arcing across the room, fireballs exploding in a hellacious display of pyrotechnics, or his organs exploding within his body, he felt nothing, just as he'd earlier predicted he would have if keyed into the wards. He quickly Disillusioned and Silenced himself, also erecting the Scent-Masking Charm.

Zarek, however, had not spent the time idly, making use of Vaclar's time away. Three vampires – Harry didn't recognize them from the gathering he'd went to a few weeks ago – passed Harry, who knew well enough to recognize them as the mindless variety, unlike Zarek.

Harry silently cast three Petrificus Totalus hexes, and then Disillusioned the frozen bodies of the three after moving them to a secluded closet of the manor. A quick Repelling charm on the door, and they likely wouldn't be found for a few hours, at least.

Harry continued his progress through the manor, finally standing outside a room when he heard Zarek's raised voice, "No, I don't care if ten of you have been slain by Vaclar and Alferii, you should not have come here! I have to get rid of you and all traces of you before he gets back. I am powerful, but Vaclar is a century my senior, and very skilled. Now, get out! And take the drones with you!" A female vampire, more human-looking, and likely more intelligent than the blood-sucking parasites that Harry had tied up, was in the room there with Zarek, Harry could see, getting screamed at by the frantic Zarek.

"Of course, Master," 'Leave it to Zarek to be arrogant enough to need someone to call him Master,' Harry thought, annoyed, "Shall we continue our feeding schedule as planned?"

"Yes, of course Sariahna. Go kill the Muggles to your heart's desire." Harry left hand closed into a tight fist as he heard them casually talk about killing people like they were nothing, but he forced the violent urges to run into the room wand blazing from his mind with a bit of Occlumency and good sense. The girl left the room at the same time as Zarek, and Harry decided to follow her – Zarek was shooting cleaning spells and Air Freshening Charms all along the hallway, trying to get rid of any sign of the fifteen vampires that visited while Vaclar was away.

The vampires were quickly rounded up in the snow outside of the manor; the chilling wind whipped fresh powder in Harry's face, and he was thankful for the warming charms he'd enchanted into his robes that protected the rest of him from the bite of the weather.

The vampire who talked to Zarek was busily making Portkeys for each of the 'drones', as Zarek had called them; two were left as she beckoned, "You two are coming with me this time." And Harry knew that it was time for him to act, in order to prevent the deaths of at least a few Muggles.

"Confringo!" He yelled, as a blast blew the three from their feet. One of the drones, dressed in rags like a homeless beggar, had caught a bit more of the blast, and when he got back up, most of his face and rags were charred; he seemed not to notice. Harry's own Disillusionment Charm faded when the vampire witch pointed her wand in his general direction and must have cast Finite Incatatum, ending his concealment.

"What are you doing? You are no drone!" The woman, her long black tresses whipping around so that they flowed around her, screamed at him over the gale winds. Harry answered her with two quick curses that he'd learned from Vaclar in his first week specifically to deal with vampires.

"Telum Ligneus" Harry called twice in quick succession. Because it was a paired conjuration and curse, he couldn't cast it silently – it was too complicated. However, the element of surprise was enough that nonverbal spells weren't needed; both of the drones took the wooden stake – they were small spears, really, more than stakes – in the chest and the curse that kept them alive failed. Where the vampires stood, mere corpses fell.

"Bah! Mere drones! You think they are not replaceable? I could have ten more of them tonight, if I so desired!" She taunted as her wand erupted with a bright orange curse that Harry didn't recognize. He sidestepped it handily and quickly sent off two nonverbal spells of his own – a Dancing Jinx aimed slightly to her left, and then a Flinging Hex to her right that hit her just as she dodged. Harry grinned broadly with his success and silently cast a Protego shield for her imminent retaliation.

"Viscus Expello" She screamed the Entrail-Expelling Curse rather viciously, which he confidently strode into at a run. His shield stood up to the curse and his surprise move allowed him to hit her with a tackle, just as Alferii had taught him. She went down heavily, but Harry soon felt the unnatural strength all vampires possessed as she wrestled for dominance with him, easily flinging him on his back and straddling him as she quickly raised a fist to hit him. Harry, however, had no intention of fighting fair, and had already worked to keep his wand hand unhindered by his opponent.

"Expulso!" While physically, Harry may have been no match for the girl, his spell at such proximity hit her like a wrecking ball; she flew through the air like a rag doll, and landed heavily in a burst of powder with several 'snap's of broken bones.

"Crucio!" She cried desperately; her curse flew wild, and before she even attempted to turn on the spot to escape with Apparition, Harry flung one last Telum Ligneus at her. His aim was true and she too was vanquished, leaving only a pale corpse behind.

The adrenaline worn off, and two days of exhaustion finally catching up to him, Harry too collapsed as the fight ended, on his knees crawling back towards Vaclar's manor. He opened the door to find three men in the entrance hall, two of which he was happy to see.

"He still hasn't learned the lesson, Master, so I'm not sure it would be prudent to interrupt him. He was making good progress, when last I checked." Zarek said smoothly before seeing Harry emerge from the door, albeit on his knees, no doubt looking a fright from a lack of food or hygiene.

Vaclar looked curiously over at Zarek, and then back to Harry. "It would seem, Senior Apprentice, that he has finally managed to break the Anti-Apparition Jinx and Apparate outside the manor. I might also advise that you allow him simple conveniences like a shower – mortals tend to smell even with frequent bathing."

"Did you catch the leader of the ring of vampires, Master Vaclar, Alferii?" Harry said, somewhat rudely interrupting Vaclar, who raised his eyebrow imperiously at the show of disrespect; he may have dismissed it from Harry's obvious lack of sleep.

"Not the leader, boy, but we rounded up a few of the less intelligent ones and killed them pretty easy. Probably just a bunch got together and decided to start killing. What were you two up to?" Alferii said, a smile from the seeming success of the mission. Harry finally found the strength to get up off of his feet and shakily stood, wand still in hand and at the ready. Zarek's murderous gaze promised death as he stared Harry down.

"I found the leader; those drones, as he called them, were just taking orders from your Senior Apprentice, along with one other girl vampire who had a wand. Why don't you tell them where you sent the drones, Zarek?" Moving blindingly fast, Zarek sent off twin curses at Alferii and Vaclar before Harry had even finished speaking. Vaclar was driven to a knee, while Alferii was blown back, hitting the stone stairs heavily but immediately whipping out his sword and wand even as he broke a few ribs.

Zarek, all in one motion from the spell-slinging, continued on a straight course that was a mix of a run and a horizontal leap, launching himself straight at Harry. In an instant, Alferii's main lesson for vampire fighting came back to him, and he knew what he had to do.

"Use their strength against them, turn their momentum around. They're strong, so you have to be fast; don't let them get you where they want you, or you've already lost!" Alferii had said seriously, so many times.

Harry grabbed Zarek's arm before he could be grabbed himself and yanked the young vampire straight past him, into the solid wooden door. Zarek's neck snapped with a loud crack, and Harry once more fell to the ground from exhaustion and weakness. He saw Vaclar's menacing figure approach him just as blackness seeped into the edges of his vision and overtook him.

"Good morning, Harry."

Harry groaned pitifully as consciousness regained its handhold on him. His eyes were still protesting the abuse they'd taken, so he chose not to bother them for something as trivial as opening, and instead lay there – where 'there' was, he really had no idea, but it consisted of at least a bed more comfortable than anything he'd been able to transfigure over the past month – attempting to resume his sleep.

"Apprentice, your Master is not someone whose time you can waste whimsically! Have I taught you nothing in this past month?" Vaclar's harsh voice called out. Harry regretfully opened one eye a crack, and groaned once more in greeting to his guests.

Nicolas was there, smiling down at Harry like he always did. Vaclar's face held no emotion – again, typical – but neither did it hold the borderline disdain that it usually did when Harry was around. Perhaps Harry had gained a bit of respect from Nicolas' former apprentice.

"Alright, Harry, I believe that you've slept quite long enough – you've much to do today, so you really must get up. Ennervate!" The spell gave Harry just enough of a jolt to allow him to get up completely, and he quickly sat up.

He was in his familiar bed back in Devon, at Nicolas'. He could feel the warmth – relatively – that came with a significantly lower altitude than Vaclar's manor, and luxuriated in the beam of sunlight that was illuminating his bed. Cor, but it was good to have a window in his bedroom again!

"This is yours, now," Vaclar said suddenly, dropping a black leather-bound tome on the edge of his bed, "It is the only copy of Zarek's thesis. He never completed it, but I did so as a favor to you while you were sleeping. It won't be published, so share it with whomever you like." Harry ran his hand along the cover appreciatively.

"Thank you, Master Vaclar, this is a priceless gift. If I may ask, what happened with Zarek after I lost consciousness?" Vaclar's face darkened, but he answered.

"You snapped his neck with that throw – Alferii was intolerable afterwards, bragging that his lessons were more valuable than my own, so thank you for that – and Alferii and I both hit him with rather destructive curses. Permanently destructive, in several cases. Despite that, he Apparated away to safety before either of us could cast an Anti-Apparition Jinx. The killings have stopped, and the vampires are mostly satisfied with the outcome; especially those of them who didn't care for me, as I have lost quite a bit of respect from them because my Apprentice was responsible." Vaclar mentioned this without emotion, and it seemed not to bother him.

"I also inspected your work outside – at least you made use of my lessons there, it seems – and I was…rather impressed. For a half-trained monkey with a wand, your performance was rather adequate. You could have a future in dueling, Harry." Harry was quick to note that once more, Vaclar had used his name; he had definitely impressed him, then.

"Truthfully, I'll be happy to leave that skill behind, Master Vaclar. Fighting may be something I'm good at, but I can't say that I enjoy it like I do so many of the other things Master Flamel here has taught me." Harry said; Nicolas beamed with the praise as though Harry had given the right answer.

"A wise choice, I think. Very well, then, I shall take my leave of you. Apprentice, it was…an interesting month. I will see you again, I think. Master, a pleasure as always." Nicolas smiled at Vaclar before he popped away, leaving the old man and the young one alone.

"Vaclar told me of your exploits this past month, Harry. I must say, when I talked to him about it, I had no idea he would be so…forceful in your education. I apologize for any pain and suffering you might have had. I am quite sure, however, that your next two experiences abroad will be different. Are you fully recovered?" Harry quickly took stock of himself. He didn't feel tired or sore, and it wasn't woozy when he sat up or stood up.

"Yeah, I'm pretty good."

"Then drink both of these. Potent memory potions, even compared to what you're used to." Nicolas immediately pointed his wand at Harry once he took the two bottles and swallowed their entire contents. The old man seemed to grow twice his size as some sort of transfiguration took place.

"Well then, enjoy your next month, Racksnap!" Harry caught his miniature trunk when Nicolas threw it at him, and could only wonder how he'd spend the next month as the familiar hook took hold behind his navel and he sped off.