"Did any of you see Dumbledore's new friend?"

"He's soooo gorgeous! It's like Cedric's back"

"He creeps me out like he's a vampire or something"

"I heard that he is"

"He reminds me of Professor Snape"

"Snape's a vampire?"

"If he's a student, he's definitely a Slytherin"

The gossip echoed from one end to another of Hogwarts castle, and then back again. It had started ever since Dumbledore was seen walking rather swiftly in the corridors with a mysterious, extremely pale stranger with an American-tinged accent. Even though the stranger kept to himself and refused to associate with either student or teacher.

It was during Defense Against the Dark Arts that the question emerged

"Professor MacCool, do you know anything about the new student here?"

"Miss Abbot, assuming you are talking about Mr. Cullen, I'm afraid I have to tell you that he is on very private business with Dumbledore."

"Professor MacCool?"

The wizened, blind wizard turned his head sharply in annoyance, keen hearing identifying the speaker.

"That is enough, Miss Granger! I know next to nothing about who Mr. Cullen is. You'll have to talk to Dumbledore"

"I'm not asking about Mr. Cubbin" Hermione Granger sighed in exasperation, "I'm asking about the homework. Professor Snape refused to lend me another sample of the anti-pheromone potion. I still need to finish the assignment on common luring charms"

"Oh" MacCool sighed in relief, "I knew I can count on you, Granger. Did Professor Snape give a reason?"

"He said I've used far too many in experiments and that you should try making some yourself"

The old teacher laughed, "Ah, still has his cruelty, that Snape. I taught him Defense Against the Dark Arts myself. He had a morbid fascination with cutting and breaking things. I told him that I would still have my other eye if it weren't for that kind of magic. Ah well, that's what I'm here for. Right, Miss Granger, I'll talk to him myself and perhaps demonstrate why blind men make poor potions"

Ron Weasley and Harry Potter grinned at each other. Revenge on Snape was something they never got tired of.

"Professor MacCool?" A hand was raised

"Is it pertaining to the lesson, Mr. Longbottom?"

"Not-not really, but I wanted to know if there was vampires outside Europe"

"Vampires are all over the world. Did Miss Umbridge teach you about those yet?"

"Only that they suck blood" Ron quipped

"You know, Ronald, you're a lad after my own heart" MacCool smiled, light reflecting off his dark spectacles. Very well, I think we should turn to the subject while we're on it. The headmaster himself told me it would be wise to teach….."

"Well done, Neville. I thought that the lesson would never start. I've got the book on them if you're interested" Hermione put her hand on her partner's shoulder.

"Really? I mean, it'd be great, but don't you need it?" the round-featured boy blushed

"I've read it twice already. I'll give it to you at the common room"

The great thing about this year, Hermione reflected, was that the teachers were completely used to her, the school was back in order, and her friends were all back. So were Snape and Malfoy, but with Harry and Ron and Ginny and Neville and Luna and Katie and Alicia and all the other students, all the old friends, she felt like she was still at home.

Things had changed, of course. Harry was more alert about everything. Neville was starting to develop his confidence. Ginny was asserting herself everywhere. Still, Ron was the same. On one hand, she was very glad he was. On the other, it was terrible, since her feelings towards him were starting to change.

"How am I supposed to know what that means? I don't speak Romanian"

"Books like these should have glossaries or something."

Hermione was tempted to explain to Ron and Harry how to read terms in context, but she wasn't in the mood. She turned back to Neville.

"Which chapter are you on?"

"Um, regional variations. Do you think we're supposed to know how to counter a Managaganagall?"

"Manananggal." Hermione corrected, "No. I don't think he'd want to call our head of house a vampire."

That got a laugh out of everyone in earshot.

"There should be a vampire called a Snape," Ron said with a smirk

"He's worse than a vampire," Neville shook his head

"I don't know about that. According to this book, some vampires have extraordinary senses, speed, and strength which make them very dangerous when roused." Hermione turned back to the book

"So vampire powers are different from each other?" Neville looked confused

"It depends on how they were made. There's a lot of ways to make a vampire, and categorizing them has been very difficult. That's why they're not in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or any general book on beings."

"That is, according to the ministry", Luna Lovegood called out from her perch on top of a bookshelf.

"What's your theory, Luna?" Harry grinned up at her.

"They're being used as a secret police, of course. The less people know about them, the better. Only the ministry knows how to make vampires, and they're not going to tell anyone how"

Hermione rolled her eyes. As much as she liked Luna, sometimes her theories were just plain silly. Harry's imagination and Neville's nervousness were bad enough without her adding fuel to the flames. She held her temper this time, hoping that her friends wouldn't go into a panic. Part of her suspected that Luna didn't believe what she was saying sometimes.

Her train of thought was interrupted as a chill ran down her spine. Pince was strict about the temperature in the library, and the cold took her entirely by surprise. A dementor, perhaps? Somehow she doubted Dumbledore would allow them in for another year. She spun around in her chair to see if the door was opening or if someone had cast a cooling spell.

A vampire entered the room. Hermione knew it was a vampire. Only someone who had never heard of them would not have identified him as such. The skin was pale like a sheet, almost glowing white like bones bleached by the sun. The eyes were dark gold like that of that of an owl or a wolf, but without the living warmth behind them. Tall, muscular, and seemingly carved from a piece of cold ivory, vampires always looked otherworldly. No wonder so many girls thought this stranger beautiful, especially under the influence of their pheromones. For Hermione, however, the vampire was terrifying.

The vampire walked briskly through the room like a winter breeze. Everyone seemed to stare at him except for Luna, who was too busy trying to decode a cookbook. Hermione saw her friends as terrified as she was; Harry was sweating, all of the color in Ron's face had drained, and Neville shrunk into his seat as if to force himself into as small a space as possible.

Pausing, the vampire looked at the students. His look was of sheer contempt and boredom as his eyes traced around the room. Snape himself would be proud. He stared for a long time at Hermione, who in turn had begun to shiver uncontrollably. Harry's hand clenched around his wand, but his whole body shook. Ron moved protectively towards Hermione. Neville was first to speak.

"C-c-c-can we hel-h-he-help you?" He stuttered.

"I was just wondering who you are" The stranger said very blandly. No menace, no warmth, just words.

Harry took the lead.

"I'm Harry Potter. Dumbledore may have told you about me"

"Yes. He did"

"And these are my friends" he gestured, "Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom. The two girls over there are Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood. Um, is that all you want?"

"No. Thank you. My name is Edward Cullen. I'm from America. I have business with Dumbledore. Goodbye." His face never changed expression, his eyes still fixed on Hermione.

And as if he had apparated inside the school, he was gone. After a minute, Ron broke the silence as he moved away from Hermione

"He's got to be a vampire. Or a Dementor clown"

"Why was he staring at me?" Hermione asked quietly.

"Yeah, that was odd. He was looking at you like you were the special of the day. I wonder what's going on", Ron said as he scratched his head.

"He looked hungry. Very hungry." Harry narrowed his eyes.

"I hope he leaves soon. I don't want to see him again", Neville said with a shudder.

"Harry, do you think we should tell Dumbledore about this?" Hermione turned to Harry.

"No. He's got more important things to worry about. Anyway, I can't imagine this vampire will stay for long"

Hermione hoped so. She was sure of three things: First, there was a vampire in Hogwarts. Second, he looked at her like she was a dessert plate. And third, she unconditionally and irrevocably loathed him on a primal level.

For a while, it looked like Harry was right. Things progressed rather normally. On the exam on vampires, Hermione was proud to get top marks, relieved that Ron passed, and surprised that Neville actually did better than Harry. It did seem odd that the curriculum reached the section on combating vampires exactly when a vampire came to the school. When she told Harry about this, he responded by saying how grateful he was that they weren't doing dragons.

Of course, there was the Ron problem. Hermione refused to back down first, but Ron was often ignoring her. To her frustration, Lavender Brown had asked Ron out to Hogsmeade, and Ron accepted. He was getting back at her, goading her, trying to make her jealous. She had to admit that it was working. Harry and Neville agreed with her about how sappy it was, but confessed that they were happy for their friend. Men could be so frustrating.

She considered fighting fire with fire, but the options were fairly slim. Ginny had Dean, most of the other boys weren't interested, and the only boy interested was Cormac McLaggen, and she knew better than to ask him out. All she could do is just grit her teeth and endure Lavender and Ron. This ate away at her, frustrated her, and made Hermione start to, bit by bit, withdraw from the rest of the world.

If it wasn't for academics, she'd go mad. Not only did she succeed in getting straight O's in her classes, she even got Snape to grit his yellowed teeth to compliment her potion. To make it better, it was one she was working on with Neville. She had to admit, she was starting to spend more time with him than with Ron and Harry, who were starting to have their own problems. In fact, she was starting to wonder what was happening to their friendship when she had a second encounter with terror.

It began one day when she was walking down a hallway alone, early for class, when she heard a gurgling and gasping noise. She turned to see the vampire called Edward Cullen holding Draco Malfoy by the neck with one hand. Draco somehow looked even paler than usual and was kicking and grasping frantically at the strange man's iron face and icy fingers. Hermione gasped in shock and interrupted Cullen.

"Please, Mr. Cullen, let him go. He's not worth it and Dumbledore would be in trouble with his parents. You have no reason to go choking people!"

Edward turned, his hand still on the student's throat and his eyes piercing into Hermione.

"He was going to attack you."

"And how do you know that?"

"I can read thoughts. It's sad how much you care even for the people who you despise. If anyone tries to attack you, I will kill him."

"It's not about him, it's about killing people. You can't use it to get what you want! Besides, why protect me when Malfoy bullies practically every student in the school? Honestly, this makes no sense. Why are you doing this?"

"You want to know something you should never learn. You know too much already: I'm not going to tell you any more." His relentlessly bland expression and voice send a chill of revulsion down Hermione's spine. The ghosts actually had more emotion than him.

"You have every reason to be afraid, but I'm not going to hurt you." He predicted exactly what she was going to say.

"Oh, that's relief", she said sarcastically, regaining her composure.

"You're right not to trust me, but that doesn't mean you can avoid me forever."

"L-look", she stuttered, "Why are you so interested in me when we barely met? If you can read minds, you know what I think of you. Why are you following me?"

"The way you smell. The way you think. You're not like the other people here." His words came out like Viktor's, but with no warmth. No affection. No humanity.

"Leave me alone!" Hermione finally had the presence of mind to draw her wand.

"You can't keep away for ever. We'll meet again"

And with that, Cullen dropped Malfoy in a heap and walked away like a wisp of shadow at dawn.

As Malfoy got up, breathing heavily, he snarled in the direction of the vampire.

"My dad will have Dumbledore's head for this."

"You're an idiot, Malfoy. Mr. Cullen was doing this of his own accord. You wouldn't need veritaserum to find that out."

"Why is he protecting you? Might as well guard the toilet. The man's deranged. Bloody suckers aren't fit for any society."

"I'm going to find out about him. Stay out of my way, Malfoy, or it'll be me strangling you." Her look of determination flickered warningly at the Slytherin boy before returning to the hallway Edward had disappeared into. It's often said that the things you fear the most entice and appall you the most are the most attractive. Hermione had often thought it just nonsense, considering exactly how much time she wanted to spend with bad grades or with people like Malfoy. Still, her relentless curiosity drove her on. She would learn, one way or the other.