Author's Note: At last, here's the new chapter. My muse is back, so I'll do my best to update much more regularly.
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter series written by J.K. Rowling and the Southern Vampires Mysteries written by Charlaine Harris belong to their respective authors. I do not make profit from writing this story.
Well if I'm judged on the life I've been living
And if Heaven is not so forgiving
Well I don't care 'cos I won't know anybody there
- The Script, Anybody There
Driving towards Bon Temps in my rented little car with the windows open felt great. Liberating, even. Yes, I was far from home, all alone in America, but such a distance was a relief. I knew more than anyone else that I was past due for a change in scenery. The project that had brought me here would be a welcomed distraction. Adjusting to the Southern ways, a far cry from my English upbringing, would certainly be an interesting challenge. Such thoughts about the new world opening to me were swirling in my mind on my thirty minutes drive from the Louis Armstrong airport to the Merlotte's Bar and Grill where I'd meet Sam Merlotte. He owned not only the bar but also the only flats, or cottages as he said, you could rent in town for a decent price. Back home, I'd done some research and unless I wanted to live in a motel room, this had seemed like the best option.
After living months in a tent, I felt that splurging now on a little cottage rental was perfectly justified.
My first sighting of Bon Temps, after exiting highway 167 and turning right at Morrow Street, was not a terribly exciting one. I could count the number of shops I crossed along the way on two hands. The town was proving to be a far cry from the neat suburbia I'd live in my whole life. The billboards scattered along the main road, advertising the sale of vampire repellent items was also a major clue that I definitely wasn't in England anymore. We'd just got news of the Great Revelation, after all. I wondered how long it would take for our magical and muggle governments to follow in the footsteps of the AVL and push forward our own Vampire Rights Amendment. But if memory served correctly, the world would eventually follow America's lead. No matter how prepared the wizarding world was in welcoming such dangerous beings.
Coexisting knowingly with Muggles was one thing, but living alongside vampires and respecting each others' existence would certainly prove difficult to accept. The war had taught me many invaluable lesson, one being that people were prejudiced by nature unless thought differently. I hoped the climate of tolerance following the end of the second great wizarding war in Britain would prevail.
My musings were however soon interrupted when I finally reached Merlotte's, Bon Temps' only bar. It may have been only eleven on a Monday morning, but the parking was already filled. I found a spot besides a black pickup, rolled up my windows and crossed the parking lot towards the entrance.
The smell of greasy food and spices immediately assaulted my senses upon stepping foot in the door. The 80's style music playing didn't escape my notice and neither the curious stares I was starting to receive from everyone seated. I was a newcomer in this tiny town where everyone knew each other. Suspicious glances were therefore required. I ignored their looks as best as I could and reached the bar counter to ask the girl pouring pints of beer for help.
"Hello, I'm looking for Sam Merlotte."
The girl walked closer, looking somewhat confused and asked me, "Sam, you said?"
I nodded and she walked up to the edge of the counter and hollered into the hallway leading to the kitchen, "Sam, get back here! Someone for you!"
I didn't have to wait for long, a shaggy brown haired man in a grey t-shirt and jeans soon opened a door at the end of the hallway and walked towards the bar.
"Tara, what did I say about yelling like that? Just come get me." Sam replied to the girl who'd helped me. She rolled her eyes. Sam then quickly scanned the bar stools before seeing me standing by. He walked towards me with a smile and we shook hands.
"Hi, you must be Hermione." He said, mangling my name like so many others before him. "Nice to meet you."
"Hello, yes I'm Hermione. I'm here for the flat #12."
"Good, follow me. I've got some papers for you to sign before I can give you the keys."
As I walked behind Sam to his office, I couldn't help noticing that people had been not only openly staring, but listening too. Yes, I had an English accent. I wasn't from around here. This would be enough information to satisfy their curiosity. For now. People loved to gossip, especially in tight-knit communities, and I was fresh meat.
The meeting with Sam didn't last long, he had me sign a couple of documents for my six months rental and that was it. Friendly, but not to the point of pestering me with questions, I told him that I was doing a journalism apprenticeship and left it at that. It was close enough to the truth. I would be indeed investigating and writing for a journal. Researching what exactly, I felt better left unsaid.
"Well, I think everything is in order. Let me just go warn the waitresses that I'm leaving and then I'll show you to your place."
After Sam finished his business, I followed his truck to my new home. My first flat. I'd spent my whole life either living at home with my parents, staying at Hogwarts during the school year or holidaying at Ron's place, but I'd never truly lived on my own ever before. I was looking forward to it.
No snoring and no dirty clothes covering the floor. Everything would be in order.
Just the way I liked it.
From Merlotte, it took us less than ten minutes to reach Ellenwood Drive where we both parked in front of a small cluster of white, wooden cottages. It was nothing fancy, just a kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom masquerading as a living room. Sam informed me that something unfortunate had happened to the previous owner, which explained why I wouldn't have to buy extra furniture. He answered all my questions, handed me the keys and then left back for work. If there were any problems, I always knew where to find him.
After dragging my suitcase through the front door and unpacking my clothes and laptop, I made a list of everything I'd need to buy before tonight to turn this house into a home. Seeing as I didn't know the area, I guessed that the Super Save-a-Bunch I'd drove by would be a good place to start. First item on the list: an air conditioning. I wasn't used to such heat and if I didn't want to start living in the shower cubicle under the cool spray, then I'd have to find a solution. Cooling charms could only be reapplied so many times in a single day.
By the time I got back home from my shopping, my car was filled with furniture, linens, cleaning products and food to last me a week. The jet lag had finally settled in and didn't help my growing nervousness. But I did my best to ignore how sleepy I felt from the long day I'd had so far, because I hadn't even seen the end of it. Getting settled was after all nothing compared to paying my first visit to the vampire bar called Fangtasia, in Shreveport. The pun about the fangs wasn't lost on me.
Yet, I wondered what kind of person would call their bar this way.
Apparently, Eric Northman did. At least, he'd kept his sense of humor after being turned.
Mr. Northman and I exchanged many emails before he even agreed to a meeting. There was no point for me to travel hundred of miles to be denied pursuing my research, after all. Of course, it was common knowledge that vampires, in general, didn't mix well with any other supernatural being, werewolves and witches ranking at the top of their enemies' list, I was therefore glad not to belong to the more common group practicing Wicca. Thankfully, I didn't have to go into too much details about what kind of magic I used, since Mr. Northman knew already. He told me he had connections in our world, therefore he was reassured that I was indeed telling the truth. I wasn't that hard to track down either, every other week my name would find itself plastered all over the newspapers. However, considering how secretive our ministry was about our existence, this Mr. Northman was either extremely well-connected or was very old and had encountered our kind at some point in time. Or he was both.
I was curious in finding out the answer, but considering how tightly vampires guarded their secrets, I never dared asking.
He would probably only have ignored my question, anyway.
Mr. Northman might have been kind enough to invite me to discuss my project, but he didn't appear to be ecstatic about my presence in his area, either. I would have to thread carefully in order not to lose his support.
No matter how reticent the first vampire that I would be meeting was, I was still looking forward to properly meeting with the Sheriff of Area 5 tonight. I didn't know what to expect which was at once thrilling and frightening. There wasn't that many accounts of meetings between vampires and our kind in journals or books. I'd thoroughly researched the Hogwarts' and the Ministry's library for any scrap of information relevant to my meeting and came up empty handed. Yes, there'd been mentions of sightings and encounters with them during the 1900s, but besides the usual warnings regarding glamouring and draining, there wasn't that much for me to go on.
I was especially anxious about whether I would be quick enough to use my magical abilities to protect me.
Not knowing whether it would be sufficient or not was certainly not reassuring. Even though Mr. Northman had assured me that no harm would come to me, since I was meeting with the Sheriff, that didn't mean that he couldn't be a threat either. I had to take my chances, but I didn't have to be stupid. I would make sure to wear silver jewelry, just in case, and to keep a silver chain in my purse.
My wand would be hidden away on a upholster on my upper thigh. It was always easier to reach if it was hidden in a shirt sleeve, but since I would be conducting most of my meetings in a vampire bar, I had to dress the part. Ginny and I had went shopping specifically for such occasions where I'd discovered the wonders of club dresses. And really, dresses was only an euphemism for the tiny pieces of cloth that I'd seen on display. If Ginny thought that I'd be exposing myself to everyone, vampires no less, in such scantily clad outfits, then she had another thing coming. I didn't want to have the word "bait" plastered over my forehead.
It took a while and many shopping trips, but we eventually found what we were both looking for. Ginny convinced me that if I wanted to blend in as much as possible and gather the information I was looking for, I would have to adapt to the environment. There was no other choice.
Short black dresses, it would have to be.
Miles away from the modest floor length gown I'd worn at the Yule Ball.
Ron would've probably burst an artery if he'd seen me in my new work uniform.
By the time I'd unpacked everything and gave the bedroom and bathroom a thorough cleaning, it was already close to sun down. I decided to review one last time my notes for tonight's meeting before jumping in the shower. God knows I was badly in need of one, I couldn't take much longer all that mix of heat and sweat sticking to my skin.
I couldn't remember the last time in my life I'd pampered myself that much for an evening. Following the end of the war, I'd only put that much effort into dressing up for funerals. Celebrations were a much quieter affair, usually consisting in an evening spent eating delicious food and drinking Butterbeers in the Weasley's courtyard surrounded by all my closest friends. Tonight's evening preparations therefore required that much more effort, sneakers and a hoodie sadly wouldn't do.
But if Mr. Northman expected to see a war heroine dressed as a barbie doll to walk through the door, he would be sadly mistaken.
I'd probably be wobbling in my high heels through his front door instead.
As always, whenever you are impatiently waiting for something to happen, it always takes forever to occur. While whenever you are waiting as much as dreading for something to happen, it always occurs far sooner than you'd like it to be. Tonight's events were no different.
I soon realized that there was no more time to waste, since the stroke of midnight was soon upon me. And I hadn't even reached Shreveport yet. It was time to go, the Sheriff would be waiting for me. I wasn't inclined to infuriate him on my tardiness on our very first meeting, god knows what would happen.
Minutes later, I was entering the parking lot of the renown vampire club Fangtasia where I would finally step foot in the vampire world and from there on, there was no going back. Although everything was in order, I was on time and ready to meet with the person who would be my liaison in the vampire community, I was still anxious. Breathing heavily with clammy hands clutching the steering wheel. Had I made the right decision in coming here? Or was it just an incredibly stupid one? I would be meeting vampires, for heaven's sake.
They weren't house elves you could knit a hat for.
They were bloodthirsty beings that would stop at nothing to rip your throat out.
But I needed this. For the first time in months, I wasn't worrying about all the loved ones I'd lost in the war. Feeling like an empty shell without them. I was nervous, but excited at the same time. It resembled the kind of feeling I always felt whenever Harry, Ron and I were breaking the rules trying to save the world. It was exhilarating not knowing the answers for once. Not knowing what would happen in the next minutes or hours. I only had to trust in my own magical abilities and pray that I wouldn't meet any young senseless vampires that couldn't be talked out of draining me. Or worse, snapping my neck in the blink of an eye. Hopefully, I would reach Mr. Northman's office before such a thing happened. I couldn't bear thinking otherwise.
So I rested my head on the steering wheel for a few seconds, breathing in the fresh air from the open window.
I'd promised myself that I wouldn't enter the bar a nervous wreck.
I couldn't worry about my own peace of mind while also scanning my surroundings. That was just calling for trouble.
When I finally felt that I was as calm as I'd ever be in such a situation, I stepped out of the car and walked towards the entrance. There, I stood in line behind two other girls being carted by a tall woman dressed in leather. At first glance, it didn't even look like clothes, more as if the outfit had been painted on her skin.
I had to make a conscious effort not to let my real thoughts show. Better to act as if the whole thing was normal for me.
Going out clubbing in vampire bars? Sure thing, every Friday night.
My turn came sooner than I would've liked, so I carefully approached the woman doing the bouncer duties. Before I could even show her my driver's license, she cocked her head to the side, studying me, and told me, "Well, aren't you a treat Miss Granger."
I sticked out my hand to shake hers, out of politeness, but I guess that wasn't standard procedure because she merely looked at it with distaste. Vampires didn't shake hands. Good to know.
She kept looking at me in silence. Appraising me. I didn't know what to do, but staying immobile didn't sound like such a bad idea. So I did, anxiously waiting for her to do something. Anything.
"Welcome to Fangtasia, Miss Granger. My name is Pam." She told me with a patronizing smile. "Eric has been waiting for you. You should be able to find him inside." And then she let me walk pass her with no further comment.
I quickly entered Fangtasia, preferring not to linger too long with her outside in the empty parking lot. She was making me tense just standing next to her.
I'd try my luck inside the building.
Fangtasia was certainly living up to its name upon first sight. Blood red color was covering the walls and tall leather chairs spread around round tables were scattered all over the floor. And that's not to mention the two small stages for dancers. Vampires, from the looks of it. They were moving too fast for me to catch their every move. The music was blaring through the speakers, making it hard to think, let alone ask anyone for help in directing me towards this Eric Northman. The club was packed and all I could see in front of me were people either drinking at the bar or grinding into each other on the dance floor. I hoped I wouldn't be asked to participate in either before the night ended. I didn't fancy getting that close so quickly to a complete stranger and drinking Butterbeer was certainly nothing compared to vodka or tequila. I needed all my wits about me if I wanted to convince the Sheriff to participate in my weekly columns.
The entire floor was a gigantic mass of moving bodies, making it harder for me to find the vampire I was looking for. But my hopes soared of finding him when I looked up from the crowd. There was only one person in the bar that was doing very little compared to everyone else. While most people were too busy dancing, drinking, kissing each other or doing a combination of those activities, a tall blonde man was sitting on a large golden throne with a bored expression on his face.
He had short slicked back hair and was dressed all in black, emphasizing that much more his pale skin. He was wearing a tank top underneath an embroidered leather jacket while his obviously long legs were spread out before him, clad in black pants. I would surely look minuscule next to him. His arms were resting over the armrest and if it had not been for his fingers tapping the red upholstery at intervals, I would've believed him to be a marble statue.
This had to be Eric Northman.
And he knew I'd arrived, because as soon as I spotted him, he'd immediately turned his attention in my direction. But he hadn't been the only one. I was soon accosted by someone else before I could even walk towards him. A man with long brown hair wearing an open leather vest over his bare chest was blocking my path.
"Hey there doll, fancy a drink?" He said to me, clicking his fangs out and giving me a devilish smile.
My heartbeat quickly skyrocketed, but I replied simply, "No thank you, I'm not interested."
And I left him there.
I had business to conduct and I didn't need any distractions. But by the time I stepped away from the first vampire who'd bared his fangs at me, I soon realized that here again I was given far more attention than I ever wanted to. The whole club wasn't staring, because there were still many people mindlessly dancing the night away or drunkenly kissing whoever they wanted, but a couple of them standing on the edge of the crowd were following me with their eyes.
I didn't know if I had to be scared already or not.
I hurried my pace towards the stage and surreptitiously slipped my hand closer to my thigh, just in case any of them dared to get any closer.
They would meet my wand first.
I raised my eyes towards the throne and saw that Eric was still sitting proudly, hardly doing anything besides following my progress towards him with interest.
Before reaching him I had to elbow my way through the crowd of girls lasciviously dancing before his very eyes. It was shocking and it certainly made me feel awkward. So I kept my eyes on him, instead. A smirk soon found itself on his face. It wasn't hard to understand what that meant.
He was amused by my obvious discomfort.
Yes, he was very handsome, even I could recognize such a fact, but there was no need for anyone to drop to their knees in front of him, begging for him to bite them. That part of the vampire culture, I couldn't understand. I waited near the edge of the stage for the last begging girl to leave him before stepping forward. And when I did, I discovered that he already had a tiny smile playing at the edge of his mouth while shamelessly scrutinizing me from head to toe.
My blood boiled.
I wasn't a piece of meat.
And I wouldn't be the one waiting for him to make the introductions. I wanted to get it done, already.
"Hello Mr. Northman, my name is Hermione Granger. I'm here on behalf of the Daily Prophet —"
"I know who you are." He interrupted me before I could go into any more details.
"I welcome you to Fangtasia, Miss. Granger." He replied in a low voice, his eyes piercing into me. "I am glad to finally be meeting you, the British war heroine if it is to be believed."
I didn't pause to think and just answered, "Yes, there was indeed a war and I played my part."
"Very well, too."
"I only did what needed to be done," were the only words I could find.
"Of course. Yet, some would say you were only children fighting in an adult's war."
Who did he take himself for?
I didn't have to justify my actions to him.
But before I could tell him so, he rose from his seat, towering over me even in my high heels and told me that we'd be conducting the meeting in his office, instead. So I unsteadily followed in his wake, the crowd parting like the Red Sea before him. No wander he was so presumptuous, everyone appeared to be treating him like royalty around here.
More girls tried to catch his attention along the way, while I was sent death glares.
I wouldn't be making any new friends in this place, that's for sure.
We exited the bar area and soon reached a big black door. His office, I thought. Eric entered and after I did, he closed it behind me. My heartbeat was again racing and I crossed my fingers that I hadn't misjudged the whole situation. Handed myself on a silver plate, so to speak.
I reached for the edge of my dress.
And Eric was upon me, towering over me in an instant and grasping my wrists, preventing any further movement.
"Hermione, there's no need for whatever you're thinking." He whispered in my ear.
My eyes were nevertheless set on his face, expecting at any minute his fangs to pop out.
But they never did.
"How do I know that? How can I be assured that you won't harm me?"
He held my hands a few more seconds, then released me and slowly backed away towards his desk. Showing me that he meant no harm.
"Let's have our meeting, shall we?"
I kept my eyes trained on him, unblinking, and slowly approached the chair he offered me. Although it felt heavenly to just sit and relax my aching feet, my back was ramrod straight and I'm sure if Harry would've seen me he would've said that I had my no-nonsense face. I maybe wasn't a six foot four tall vampire, but I was one of the brightest witch of my age and I wouldn't let anyone intimidate me.
I watched Eric settle in his black leather chair, lean back and say, "So, Hermione I understand what I can do for you. What will you give me in exchange?"
A deal. He wanted a deal.
Merlin, one step through the door and we're already talking bargains. Well, hello complications.
And if the smirk plastered over Eric's face was any indication as he stared at my poorly hidden confusion, he knew he'd won the first round. But I'd always loved a good riddle and he was the embodiment of such a thing as my brown eyes clashed with his blue eyes in wonder.
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