All the usual disclaimers here. I highly doubt I'll ever revisit this story line again so I hope you enjoy what's here. There isn't nearly enough Cirque/HP crossovers out there.
There was a terrible-absolute terrible-ache in my head. I scrunched my eyes tight to try to erase the pain as my brain throbbed against my skull but it just would not go away. I felt grass beneath me which I knew was wrong. I should feel the soft fabric of my hammock or the stone of the mountain. But I felt small, itchy blades of grass poking at my skin.
I forced my eyes open, feeling a throbbing ache in my right leg. So much pain, but nothing I hadn't felt before. My eyesight was bleary but as I focused I noticed one very critical thing. Bars. I sprung into a sitting position ignoring the sharp flare of pain behind my eyes. Not just bars; a cage.
The memories flooded back. The humans on our trail; the trap we laid, thinking them hunters; the shouts; the lights; the strange odor I smelt on their outdated clothes; the light that cut my leg. And the red light that hit me dead between the eyes. Blackness.
Whatever it had been, it had knocked me out cold. And the coming to was nearly unbearable. I forced myself to look around. Tall trees surrounded the clearing I was in, shading out the sunlight. The cage itself was large. Larger than my room at Vampire Mountain even. It wasn't meant to torture me, just contain me. As I sat there and tried to reign in the terrible pain, I heard movement. Lots of movement. A group of people were approaching.
"Now, he's nocturnal he is, so we 'ave to keep 'im away from the sun."
I didn't know the voice. It was deep, booming, and excited. I smelled the people before I saw them. It was that same odor I'd smelt before, during the fight. It was such a distinct smell and I'd never known anything like it before. What was it?
They came through the trees just then. The owner of the voice was one of the tallest men I'd ever seen. He was even taller than Mr. Crepsley, who towered over me even on the rare occasion that he was slumped. This man was at least eight feet tall. He was shorter than Mr. Tall, but he had at least five times more girth. Following him was a good twenty or thirty school children. My head was throbbing too hard to get an accurate count. They were all wearing a school uniform with an old fashioned robe. Each of them had at least one badge on their robes, some of them had two. Following them was a squat, pink woman with a clipboard and a stick.
I was too confused to speak, much less demand to know what was happening. I sat there in the grass, in the cage, wondering if I had somehow accidentally ingested any hallucinogenic mushrooms. At least the sarcastic part me, the part that sometimes sounded like Steve, thought that. The rest of me was just blank.
"Ah, good! He's awake," the large man boomed. "Now, who 'ere c'n tell me the two types of vampire?"
A couple of hands went up, one much faster than the others.
"Y's, Hermione," the giant said with a nod at a brown haired girl at the front of the group.
"Vampira Mammalia and Vampira Humanus," she replied confidently.
It was then that I had a bizarre realization that this...hallucination was some sort of class. That explained the school children but absolutely nothing else.
"Excellent," the giant breathed, "and wha's the difference between the two?"
"One's purple and one looks human," she replied just as confidently.
It took me a moment to realize where the strange, high-pitched cough came from. It took me a second to move past the word purple. It was the pink lady. The giant and the kids all looked at her expectantly.
"Are you aware that Vampires are a Class A creature?" she asked in a simpering tone.
"He's been well trapped," the giant responded a little flustered. "He won' be goin' anywhere." He paused, expecting more from her but when she said nothing he continued. I ignored the words floating around, concentrating on the simple looking bars of my cage. It was wood, not even expensive or treated wood, just plain wood. I could break them in a second as if they were nothing.
I vaguely listened to the giant ramble about the sun and immortality. I climbed to my feet and made my way to the bars, completely ignoring the stabbing pain in my leg. Looking beyond them I saw the crowd closely watching and waiting. They looked incredibly interested. I stopped just inches from the bars. I closed my eyes and sniffed at the air. The strange smell drenched the wood. But all that meant to me was that these people, whoever they were had built it. I opened my eyes and placed both hands on a bar, ready to bend them. However, the second my hand touched the wood my skin burned and I dropped my hands immediately. Turning my palms up I saw red, tinged skin.
"The bars 'ave been charmed to keep 'im from touchin' 'em," the giant explained. "Vampires are very strong, you see."
As the giant's 'class' continued I walked the length of my cage, counting paces and listening intently. Apparently, these people believed in the same vampire legends as most humans, just with the Vampaneze thrown in. We were immortal but couldn't bear the sun's touch. Garlic, crosses, and water all had their effect. Nobody knew why, but some were purple and others weren't.
I felt the most ridiculous mixture of feelings inside me. Amusement at how wrong they had it; fear at what they were planning to do if I escaped; shame for having fear and allowing myself to be caught; uncertainty for what I was facing. And I still had a feeling none of this was actually real.
As the lesson went on, I sat back down in the grass to watch and listen. I didn't speak. When they started talking about how no one was sure if vampires understood anything more complicated than the most basic of concepts, I felt a little insulted but still didn't speak. There was a reason we didn't give our secrets away to humans. The more surprise elements we had the better for us.
It wasn't in the nature of a vampire to be sly and politic. Most of my friends would have already leapt at the bars, burns be damned. Everybody else would have spoken up indignantly, demanding to be let out or there would be violence. But I was so confused and more than a little curious. So I held my tongue in the hopes that in the next few hours I'd have answers and I could then break out.
Group after group of these classes came though the pink lady never came back. I heard the same spiel over and over. The only variance was when the kids started asking questions. Some were actually questions I had once asked Mr. Crepsley when I was newly blooded.
"What do they eat?"
"Are they social?"
"How are they converted?"
"Have we discovered anything specific about their anatomy?"
"Do they really only have the intelligence of a common animal?"
I replied to all the questions in my head though mine were never the same as the giant's.
Food. Sometimes. Blood. Dear Gods, I hope not. Rare enough. Screw you.
"We believe they are, for the mos' part, pack critters," he explained. "We caugh' this one in a Ministry ambush. He was with two others who escaped."
I barely suppressed my sigh of utter relief. They didn't think I understood them and I wasn't ready to disabuse them of that notion.
"What does a pack usually look like?"
"Usually jus' two 'o 'em," the giant replied. "There 'ave been only two sightings of children. The res' 'ave been all adults."
"Why are children so rare?"
"We think 'cause they don' survive as well," the giant said a tinge of sadness to his tone. "This is the firs' youngin' we ever caught."
I felt their interested stares refocus on me. I pretended to be preoccupied with the hole I was digging with a twig. It was a surprisingly good distraction.
"Do we know anything about how they interact with each other? Is there some sort of observable family unit?"
"The specifics aren' clear to us," the giant said. "We believe there is a strong family sense between 'em. The Ministry is doin' research on it now. They're known for lookin' after each other. We had to apparate him out so they couldn' follow his scent."
I didn't know what 'apparate' meant but the rest I understood just fine. I was on my own. Great. Of all the times I had wished Mr. Crepsley would disappear why did it have to be now? Where was the red, ding bat when I needed him?
"What were the other two vampires like that were with him?"
"Both o'em were male but he seemed to be closer to one over the other," he answered. "We think it was his father." It didn't surprise me that they thought that. When we first became aware that we were being followed I had been sleeping so close to Mr. Crepsley I had almost been on top of him. It hadn't been my fault; I'd been cold and Mr. Crepsley radiated a ridiculous amount of body heat for someone who was never in the sun. But I wouldn't go so far as to say he was my father. If I had to assign a familial role to Mr. Crepsley, it would be the cantankerous uncle that the kids all loved to rile up.
"Is it ethical to break up the family unit like that?"
What kind of question was that? I barely restrained myself from giving an honest answer. Of course it's unethical to kidnap people.
"Once he's tagged, they'll release 'im," the giant replied. "Vampires are good with findin' one o'nother. He'll be fine."
My mind went blank at that. Tagged? What did that mean? Would they pierce my ear with a piece of plastic like they did with grizzlies? Would they put it around my ankle or wrist? Either way I'd never live it down. I'd be the laughing stock of the clan. This was shaping up to be one of the worst days of my life. And I still wasn't sure if I was dreaming or not.
I spent all of that night alternating between restless sleep, intense boredom, and nursing the wound on my leg. The giant, who I found out was named Hagrid, gave me a little food and blood before disappearing. He seemed nice enough, if a little kooky.
When I was awake I tried to figure out how I was going to escape. The burns on my hand were enough to last a while and that was from barely touching the bars. If I held on long enough to bend them I could lose my hands completely. And if I managed to get stuck as I going through I'd be dead. After barely surviving the Hall of Flames, the last thing I wanted was more burns. My best bet would be to trick someone into letting me out. I had absolutely no idea of how I would even approach that.
Frustrated, I moved to a new thought. How were these wood bars burning me? Hagrid had mentioned something about a charm. What did that mean? And more importantly, was it defeatable?
The week passed slowly. During the day, I was a science experiment. Class after class came to study in front of my cage and it was all I could do not to give myself away. There were moments when I was tempted to but I kept forcing myself to shut up. I wasn't even sure why anymore. It just seemed like the right option. I wondered if the humans ever even considered that I understood everything they were saying. I doubted it.
I began to hope that Mr. Crepsley would have somehow found my scent, somewhere, and be able to track me. It was a childish hope but it was the only thing I had to puncture my loneliness and boredom. I was social by nature and I had never gone so long without speaking or interacting. Even when I'd been exiled among the wolf pack I had been interacting. There was nothing in my cage.
By the time Friday rolled around I was absolutely miserable. All I wanted was to be back in Vampire Mountain, running through the tunnels and annoying my fellows. What I wouldn't give to see that hilarious tick in Arrow's jaw right about now.
"Yes?" the giant acknowledged. This group was the youngest I'd seen so far. Maybe twelve, thirteen at the most.
"Does he look a little sad to you?" the young boy asked. The question surprised me to the point that I looked over, forgetting that I wasn't supposed to react. No one seemed to notice though.
"Vampires are wild," Hagrid replied. "He's been cooped up near a week now. An' he's been separated from his pack. He's probably a mite sad."
"When will they let him go?"
"Not for a leas' a year," the giant replied. "The Ministry is goin' to take 'im nex' week."
"Why didn't they take him right away?"
"Because they 'ave to set up the research lab he'll be goin' to. Once it's ready they'll be comin' for 'im."
This did nothing to ease my tension. I wished again that Mr. Crepsley was here. However, the conversation did give me something to work with. If I was being moved, that meant that the cage would be opened. The smart thing to do would be for them to knock me out before opening it, so I would bet money that would be their plan. All I had to do was figure out how to get them to open it without knocking me out. Once the cage was open I would have the best shot of escaping. There was no telling how secure this lab was. My only shot at freedom would be to escape in transfer.
I had a week left. That should be enough time to come up with a plan that wouldn't make a General cringe. I was a Prince. I could do this.
I wondered when exactly I'd gotten into the habit of giving myself pep talks. It was a bit pathetic that I was the only one willing or capable of giving me pep talks and that I was constantly finding myself in the position of needing one. Did all vampires go through this? Or was it just because that after all this time and after all I'd been through I was still just a teenager? If I even got out of this mess I'd ask Paris. He's the only other vampire I know who grew up this way.
That night one of my fewest hopes ran out. A group of people wearing official looking robes came through the clearing dragging a person behind them at the end of two long chains. It was Mr. Crepsley and he looked terrible. His clothes were ripped and dirty. He looked more disheveled than I had ever seen him. He, like me, was shoeless. His teeth were bared at the people dragging him along like a dog, looking fierce and violent.
They paid it little mind though and simply threw him into the cage, chains and all, slamming the door shut behind them. He glared at them as they walked away, laughing and jeering. When they had exited the clearing the chains draped around the older vampire disappeared with a small 'pop'. My jaw fell, my eyes widened, and my mind screamed that no hallucination lasted this long, it was real.
Mr. Crepsley turned back to me and raised a rather amused eyebrow at my expression.
"How are you, Darren?" he asked politely as if we were meeting up for soup and not sitting in Wonderland.
"What is going on?" I squeaked, nearly at my wits end.
"We have been captured by the Wizards," he replied his tone normal and calm which, of course, made me want to punch him. "Have you spoken to any of them?"
I shook my head. "No," I said. "They think I'm slow."
"Hmm." Mr. Crepsley frequently accused me of being slow when we were riling each other up. Of course I was usually riling on purpose and he was usually just reacting. He was fond of reminding me that even though I was a Prince now I would always be that little, do-gooder thief he first met. It was rather annoying.
"Seriously, what is going on? What do you mean Wizards? Why am I the new class pet and where are we?" I rambled off perturbed that he was so calm after I'd been fretting for a near week, alone and in a cage.
"Calm yourself," he said as he sat next to me on the grass, both of us facing the path the 'Wizards' usually came through. "Darren, has anyone told you that Magic is real?"
"No," I said but deep down I wasn't all that surprised. After being turned into a Vampire, seeing all the craziness of the Cirque, Mr. Tiny and Vampire Mountain, thinking that Magic was possible didn't seem all that stupid.
"Yes, well, it is," the red man replied bluntly. "The people you keep seeing are the Wizards and Witches of Britain. We are at their school."
"A magic school?" I asked incredulously. The only Magic I had ever heard of was that really nasty stuff where you had to sell your soul to the Devil. Were they selling children's souls?
"Whatever you are thinking, stop," Mr. Crepsley said roughly cutting into my thoughts before my imagination could go haywire. "This is not one of your little movies. You are born with Magic, you do not achieve it by selling your soul."
"Oh," I replied and changed the subject. "What do they want with us?" I don't know what answer I was hoping for but Mr. Crepsley didn't give it.
"They are going to experiment on us using various rituals in order to gain knowledge about our inner workings. Most do not survive the process and those that do go mad."
"Right," I said, this knowledge fueling my desire to leave and never come back. "How do we get out of the cage?"
"We do not," the man replied and my shoulders slumped. When I accepted the whole Hunter of Vampaneze Lord job I hadn't expected to be killed before ever even seeing something with the color purple in it. Not that I particularly wanted to see a Vampaneze, but this was just silly. "Do not worry Darren, I have a plan."
"What plan?" I asked quickly. Knowing Mr. Crepsley his plan was much less likely to embarrass me in front of the clan. It wasn't that my plans were always a failure or anything, I usually had great plans. They were just-as Vanez put it-youthful. Apparently I was quite the amusement to my fellow Vampires.
"We need Magic to open the cage," he said.
"But they won't help us and we don't have Magic," I replied.
"Correct, but not all Magic is with them," he said. "There is a very powerful Magic that these Wizards and Witches do not know about. A practitioner of this Magic is a good friend of mine."
"You haven't met her," he replied. "Her name is Lady Evanna. Vancha has gone to ask for her help."
"And you're sure she'll help us?" I asked a little wary.
"She will," he replied. "The Wizards once did her a great injustice. She will relish the opportunity to upset any plans they may have for us."
"How much longer?" I asked.
"Not long," he replied. "Patience."
"How did they catch you?" I asked.
"I let them."
"Why would you do that?"
"Vancha needed someone he had a mental connection with in order to lead Evanna to where you were. Besides, one should never venture into the Wizarding World alone."
I nodded and we spent the rest of the night waiting for sunrise. Mr. Crepsley wanted to see these classes and asked me a lot of questions about what they seemed to know. He was as amused as I was about what they believed about us, but didn't really comment. I was able to slip in a few questions about them and soon knew everything Mr. Crepsley knew, which wasn't much but enough to satisfy my curiosity.
"They have their own world hidden away from the eyes of the rest of the humans," he told me. "Some of them go their entire lives without ever setting foot outside of their community. Sometimes the Magic is passed through a bloodline and other times it just springs up randomly. The random ones are not well treated by those who come from centuries of practitioners."
"Why would they discriminate their own?"
"Power," he said. "The old, Magic families believe themselves to be above everyone and everything not like them. They find solace and power in placing themselves on a pedestal they built. They have their own customs, traditions, and morals. When they called us animals they truly believe that we are even though they know nothing about our people. They will spare no thought in killing you so you must tread carefully."
"What kind of power?" I asked, sort of ignoring the warning he'd just given me. He warned me about things all the time even if he never had any intention of stopping me. Mr. Crepsley believed in telling me what he knew and thought and then letting me do with it what I will. Within reason of course. Even before I became a Prince he did everything he could to make sure I didn't break a clan law, purposefully or not.
"Political," he replied. "They have their own government completely separated from the outside world. It is nearly as sheltered as we are."
"Yeah but we never killed anybody just because we thought they were dirt," I said indignantly.
"No we have not," he agreed. "Vampires are not in the habit of preaching prejudice."
The next morning Hagrid was very excited. He was practically dancing as he led his class through the clearing and towards the cage. I really didn't understand it. I had enough perspective to know that Vampires were interesting under any circumstance but to be that giddy about it seemed a bit overkill. The giant gathered his students further away than normal, and talked much lower. I actually had to strain a little to hear what they were saying.
"Now, the Ministry was able to track down another member o' the youngin's pack," he told the kids. "If we're lucky we may see somethin' nobody else has before. Try not to distract 'em. I want you to watch, take notes on what you see, and write up a report for homework."
I had a mental flashback of the time my science class went to the zoo and we all had to pick an animal we saw there and do a presentation on it. It was degrading to realize that I was now the animal being observed and presented.
The class fanned out around the cage quietly and took seats in the grass armed with feathers and old looking paper. Mr. Crepsley was dozing and I sat with my back to him near his stomach. He was on his side and every now and then I would rest my back against him. He had healed my somewhat infected leg wound as best he could but it was still giving me little twinges of pain. Nothing I couldn't live with. Unless it was touched. That really hurt.
I had been staring at a tree doing my best to ignore all the people staring at me and trying not to snarl when I saw Hagrid poking meat through the bars of the cage. My stomach rumbled at the sight of a rabbit's hind leg and I immediately got up to retrieve the food. Returning to my spot I picked apart some of the meat to save for Mr. Crepsley. If it happened to be the tougher pieces of muscle that really wasn't my fault. He should know better than to sleep through meal time.
I froze when I heard a growl and the good meat that was in my hand was ripped out. A scowl crossed my face and I turned, trying to swipe it back from the now fully awake Vampire. I didn't succeed but then I hadn't been trying to. Even with knowing that I was being degraded I couldn't help but put on a show. It was fun and Mr. Crepsley had told me to try to maintain stereotypes for the moment. Something about pushy Merlins and wars we weren't a part of. I hadn't pressed the issue as he had started grumbling about it and a grumbling Mr. Crepsley was an irritable Mr. Crepsley.
The man sat up and ate what was left quickly before taking a good look around at the people surrounding us. They seemed absolutely fascinated. I could understand that part of it. When I first met Mr. Crepsley I had been absolutely terrified and utterly fascinated with him. Until he blooded me, at which point I was angry and rebellious. The students were silent for the most part which made them easier to deal with, I thought. It was really the questions they had that got under my skin as some of them were just downright insulting.
Knowing that neither of us was going to eat the nasty parts of the rabbit I picked up what was left and carried it back towards where Hagrid was standing. Carefully slipping it back through the bars into a small pile. I stood up looked him right in the eye, looked pointedly at the ground, and shook my head. When he didn't move I jabbed my finger in his direction and then pointed at the ground, doing my best to tell him he should clean that up. It wasn't that I was trying to be rude even if it did seem that I was trying extract some sort of petty revenge. I had heard some growls in the forest a couple of nights before and with my luck it was probably a mystical, demonic creature with four heads that spit fire and was attracted to the smell of raw rabbit.
Blinking surprise from his eyes the giant stepped forward to collect the meat while I stood and watched. I wanted to make sure he got it all; I would not be eaten so close to be being freed. I heard a small giggle and turned my head to see a platinum blond boy and his friends trying very hard not to laugh. I didn't see the joke. But then it wouldn't surprise me to know that they had never spent the night out here listening to that growling. They continued to giggle at Hagrid until that bushy haired girl with all the answers shushed them and darted a look at me.
The group instantly sobered when they realized I was staring at them unabashedly. They probably thought I was contemplating how good they tasted but I really was trying to figure out the joke. Seriously, what was so funny? The clearing descended into silence as I contemplated the group and they fidgeted. That silence was shattered by a loud howl somewhere from the depth of the trees. Hagrid jumped and dropped the meat; the class jumped with squeaks and small exclamations; I jumped and my head snapped toward the call so fast I was lucky not to have whiplash; Mr. Crepsley just turned calmly and howled back. After the second call I howled.
It was a common Vampire trick to inform two separate groups of where and how many. Vancha was here with that Magical lady friend of Mr. Crepsley's. Thank the Gods. I was beyond ready to be out of this dratted cage.
There were shouts and screams as that odor filled the air. I was beginning to associate the odor with Magic but this time it was slightly different. The smell had shifted somewhat, it made the air feel heavy, almost tangible, and it pressed down on my lungs making it hard to breathe. It was Magic. Strong Magic. It filled the clearing pushing at everything it touched. To me, it felt like it was searching for something. It surrounded the cage and I backed away from the bars a bit. The pressure eased the further I was from it. It touched and mingled with the bars shifting the scent.
I smelled the change as it happened. The bars smelled better than before. There was no longer a promise of hurt in the scent. The pressure disappeared as quickly as it came. I stepped to the bars and placed my hands on them gently, testing them. There was no pain. The Magic that had been there before was now gone. It was now simply a wood cage. One that was easily broken by a Vampire. I pulled at the bars and felt them bend easily eventually snapping.
Mr. Crepsley was soon at my side breaking his own set of bars. The humans screamed in terror and I rolled my eyes at the melodrama of the scene. They were scrambling, hurriedly packing, and pulling out sticks of wood that I could only assume were wands.
"Get to the sun!" Hagrid boomed and the class fled the way they'd come, their giant teacher hot on the trail of the last one. When they were gone, I heard footsteps and a laugh from the opposite direction. Vancha stepped from the shadows grinning like a mad dog, and beside him was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. She was even worse than that Pink Lady from the first day. Her back hair was a tangled, lopsided mess, her eyes mismatched, her face twisted and grotesque. She looked as if she had been pressed down by a tremendous weight as no person could naturally be that squat and scrunched. She was dressed in a long twisted rope that wound around her like a dress.
I was so shocked by her appearance that I monetarily froze in my escape to stare, mouth a gape. I snapped out of it a moment later, blushing at how rude I must look and darted my eyes back to what I should be focusing on. The bars. We were soon standing on the outside of the cage, and I felt pure relief. No more science experiment for me! I would never think of a zoo in the same way again.
"That was quicker than I had expected, Vancha," Mr. Crepsley said by way of greeting, clasping the other man's hand.
"We flitted," he replied still grinning madly. "Did you see them run?"
Mr. Crepsley nodded respectfully to his Prince but I knew that deep inside he was rolling his eyes.
"Hello young one," the...woman greeted me. Trying to mask what I was thinking about her appearance I replied politely, "Hello. Thank you for helping us."
She grinned, revealing jagged, crooked teeth and I did my best not to whimper. She was very scary and I was wondering if it hadn't been her I had heard growling a few nights ago. Nevermind the fact that Vancha had only arrived with her just moments before.
"Of course," she said. "Anything to disrupt the Wizards."
"Why do you not like them?" I asked thoroughly curious.
"They once called me a Witch," she growled and I realized it couldn't have possibly been her in the forest. The growls were completely different.
"If you're not a Witch then what are you?" I asked not thinking that it might be an obtrusive question until Mr. Crepsley smacked the back of my head. She paid it no mind though and gave me a soft smile. Well, as soft as her face would allow.
"That is a simple question with a difficult answer," she replied vaguely. "I will answer it later but for now we have something important to do."
"Larten," Vancha said cutting in and getting our attention. "Evanna says that the Wizards have some information we need about the Vampaneze Lord."
"What information?" Mr. Crepsley asked, peering at the woman.
"His name," she said simply. Mr. Crepsley's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hair. My jaw dropped again. That seemed to be happening quite a bit lately.
"How would they know something like that?" I asked. "Have they been in contact with the Vampaneze?" That didn't seem likely to me considering that they thought us all animals with little to no intelligence.
"No, they happened upon something a long time ago that has the information we need."
"What?" I pressed.
"A portrait," she said.
"What good is a painting going to do us?" I asked.
"A few hundred years ago," Vancha began going into 'story mode' (the man loved to tell stories), "some humans broke into a manor and stole everything they could carry. The portrait was one of the things they took. After the robbery the family went to America, lost all their money, and went through many tragedies.
"With each tragedy the family became a little darker and a little more twisted until the line ends with the Vampaneze Lord. The portrait that was stolen made its way through the London black market until it somehow ended up here."
"How could you possibly know that it's in there?" I asked.
"The family that the portrait belonged to were from this Magical World," Evanna said. "There was a black curse on them that they had tried to flee from by going to America. However, it did not work and the family has been marked ever since. They are plagued by the Darkness that exists beyond this realm. The same darkness that Destiny associates with. A Wizard had recognized the woman in the portrait as being a member of this Magical Family and brought the painting back to this school. The Wizards all have a strong connection to the school. It is iconic for them and it is great honor to be memorialized there."
"So you're saying that it was a magic curse that made the Lord of the Vampaneze?" I asked trying to make sense of the story.
"No," Mr. Crepsley said. "The Vampaneze Lord would exist with or without the curse. The curse is what makes him evil." Evanna nodded.
"The Vampaneze are no more inherently evil than the Vampires," she said. "Unfortunately, the blackness that marks their Lord's soul makes his legend black."
"Okay," I said slowly, understanding only somewhat. "So all we have to do is go into the school full of people who want to dissect us to try to find a centuries old portrait that may or not give us the name of the Vampaneze Lord?"
"Yes," Evanna replied simply as if that wasn't a suicide mission.
"Are you insane?" I snapped. "I'm not doing that!"
"It is not as bad as all that," she said, irately. "All you have to do is find the Headmaster."
"What will that do for us?" Mr. Crepsley asked.
"He is famous for his compassion," she said. "He will give you the chance to explain yourself. But you must contact him quickly or you may never reach him."
"We'll wait until dark," Vancha said. "Then we'll sneak in."
"No," Evanna said. "You cannot enter the school."
"Why not?" he asked a little put out.
"They have spells that will alert them to your presence," she said. "A Vampire cannot enter without setting them off. If that happens you will never have the chance to get to the portrait."
"So how do we get to the painting?" Vancha snapped annoyed.
"The spells detect Vampires," she repeated, "but the Wizards do not know that there is such a thing as a half-vampire. Only Darren can enter without detection." All three of them preceded to look at me. Brilliant.
"How do I know which portrait it is?" I asked.
"She guards a home."
The sun beat down on the vast lawn that separated the woods from the school. The school itself was a huge castle that looked to be at least a couple of centuries old, probably older. The grounds were beautiful with the mountains, the lake, and the forest. From where I stood I could see some sort of stadium, several greenhouses, and a small hut. It would make a great postcard.
Taking a deep breath I stepped out into the sunlight and quickly ran the length of the grounds towards the castle. I didn't have much of a plan beyond get in and try to find someone who seemed to be the most in charge. It was a terrible plan, nearly as bad as the one I'd had to stop Kurda which had been nearly nonexistent beyond not letting the story die with me. But if I could sneak around well trained Vampire Generals I could sneak around these people.
I had no problems in crossing the lawn as the grounds were eerily deserted. Probably due to the escape. I couldn't blame them for locking everything down as they thought I would eat them, but it did make things a little more difficult on my part. I had no way of actually getting in. Going through the front door seemed a stupid idea for many reasons so I darted around the side of the castle looking for some other door or window. I finally found a window that went to what looked a deserted corridor. Looking about me I spotted a rock and grabbed it quickly.
As quietly as I could I tapped at the glass bringing the rock down with a little more force each time. Unfortunately the window didn't seem to want to break. I brought the rock down in frustration, putting my full strength behind it but nothing happened. There was no way that window was stronger than me. It must be the Magic that this place reeked of. It was starting to irritate my nose. It wasn't lost on me that their odor sent warning bells ringing in my head. It had done that before I'd even learned that Magic was real. We must be natural enemies. I made a note to ask Mr. Crepsley.
Giving up on that window I looked up to see a window on the second floor just above it. Maybe they wouldn't protect it as much as the easy to reach ones. I easily climbed up the side of the castle, the jutting stones providing easy hand and foot holds and my tough nails helping my grip. I came level to the window, carefully looked through to make sure no one was there, and took the rock from between teeth. This window didn't give nearly as much resistance but I still wasn't able to break it. I went up to the next floor. This window broke easily and I slipped through, landing silently on the floor.
I began to creep along, staying low and huddled to the wall always keeping a hiding place in mind, before moving forward. It was slow going for the most part as I was moving a lot more cautiously than what might have been necessary. I couldn't help it. I was nervous. Not to mention that with the reek of Magic, I was down a full sense. I crept along until a movement caught my eye. I glanced sharply to the wall across and above me. It was a portrait of a bunch of peasants dancing.
A moving picture. Literally. It was a painting for sure and not some sort of TV playing a footage loop. I could see the brushstrokes! Oh my gods! I was starting to think that when Evanna had said that this portrait would tell us the name, she meant literally tell. As in talk. I had been under the impression that I would have to do some sort DaVinci code cracking or some such.
I was startled out of my trance by the opening of a door just behind me and I darted behind a suit of armor (awesome!) and crouched down as small as I could.
"Hagrid believes that they'll just run off into the forest," a man said. "He says that they'll be more scared of us than we are of them."
"He also assured me that they would not break out of the cage," said a woman. I recognized that voice. It was the Pink Lady! "He is clearly incompetent."
"But Dolores," the man replied. "The Department of Magical Creatures built that cage specifically for a Vampire. They could not have broken the bars without the charms being tampered with from the outside."
"Do you suspect sabotage, Minister?" she asked. This must be their government leader that Mr. Crepsley told me about. I peeked around the suit of armor to see him, cataloging his face as one to avoid if I wanted to remain free.
"Well, with Dumbledore's untimely demise as Headmaster it was only a matter of time before his followers stepped up their antics. Keep a closer eye on Potter, he was in that class." I closed my eyes in frustration. Great so the Headmaster I needed to find was no longer here and they thought our escape was some sort of conspiracy. But they did give me a new lead.
All I had to do was find this Potter kid. At the moment he was my best shot.
This school was entirely too big, I decided. Not only that but it had a floor plan nearly as confusing as Vampire Mountain. It didn't help that the people in the portraits not only moved but could move into other pictures. I was quickly losing my way and I was completely terrified of being lost in here. Between the winding corridors, moving portraits, moving staircases (wasn't that a nifty surprise), and dodging all the people in my attempt to locate a single unknown person, I was quickly becoming exhausted. I had faced Trails of Death that hadn't seemed this difficult!
I had followed the Pink Lady for a bit, hoping she would lead me to this Potter character but all she did was corner some poor fellow and proceed to interrogate him about some sort 'potion'. The man reminded me strongly of Mika, in both looks and attitude, and I couldn't help but feel sympathy for him. He clearly didn't want to talk to her; I didn't want to listen to her. Her simpering tone (which wasn't present during the brief exchange of words I'd overheard between her and the Minister) was degrading, patronizing, and frankly, just plain annoying.
I had begun to wish fervently that she would just shut up and move on not just so I could escape her voice but because I was stuffed behind a statue and my wounded leg was starting to cramp. It was an odd position to say the least; I hadn't known my leg could bend like that. Move, move, move, move! Eventually she did, and so did the teacher. I removed myself from the strangest position I'd ever been in and followed the Mika look-a-like.
I didn't discover any sort of Potter but I did discover the crankiest person in school. The man hissed, yelled, scolded, and gave more detentions than any teacher I had ever heard of. He seemed a nightmare to me but that only made think more strongly of Mika. The dark Prince was just as cranky as this guy. Finally the man came across the bushy haired girl I'd seen in the class.
"Granger," he snapped. "Why are you not in class?"
"I have a break Professor," she said.
"You should be in your common room," he snapped back. Really he snapped more than he talked. "You know lock down procedures. Ten points from Gryffindor."
"Yes, sir," she said, slightly cowed. "Sorry."
"Where is Potter?" the man continued. "Is he where he's supposed to be?"
"I'll check Professor," she said and then scattered off. He made his exit and I attempted to follow the girl, Granger. But I lost her in the maze that was this school and with the Magic cloaking my sense of smell I was unable to track her. Damn.
I stood in the empty corridor trying to reorient myself. Somehow I'd ended up in some sort dungeon, which was very creepy, and was trying my best to find my way back out. I had been positive I'd heard voices in this corridor but when I'd peered around the corner, there was nobody there. Well, shucks. This was near impossible. How was I supposed to locate this Potter guy, when I wasn't even sure if I would see the outside world again?
Suddenly what I thought had been a wall opened and students began pouring out. I dove back around the corner I'd just rounded, landing heavily on my arms and muffling my grunt.
"Stick together!" someone yelled. "Lockdown is still in effect." I didn't know who they were or where they were going but good grief there was a lot of them. Finally as the last one left I began to follow them, hoping they'd lead me out of this infernal labyrinth. My luck was turning and I found myself looking at the front door.
Looking to me left I saw what looked to be huge dining hall. The huge doors to the hall were opened towards me and I was able to dart behind one in order to peak through the large crack by the hinge. It looked as if the entire school was there as nearly every seat was filled. There were four long tables and they were grouped based on the badges they had in what looked like some sort of assigned seating system. Recalling that the Granger girl had a red badge I quickly located their table and began scanning the crowd for her hair-the only part I could recognize.
I found her sandwiched between a black haired boy and a redhead. I remembered seeing both of them in the classes. When the teacher had cornered the girl he'd seemed to think that she would know exactly where this Potter character was. Maybe they were friends? Maybe he was one of these boys?
Good gods of Paradise, could that have been any louder? I clapped a hand over my sensitive ears as the obviously fake cough reverberated through the hall. That had to have been magic. Nobody cleared their throat that loud.
"Students are not to leave the castle proper until Ministry officials have confirmed that the escaped creatures are no longer on school property," she simpered. "However, you may resume normal activities inside the castle as it has been confirmed that there is no threat within."
Clearly, someone wasn't doing their job right. With my sensitive hearing I was able to catch some of the remarks.
"Oh course they aren't inside. They'd have to step into the sun."
"Well, at least we can get to the library now."
"What about Quidditch?"
"This is ridiculous. The animals just ran off, like any freed wild animal."
"Still, no reason not to take caution."
I eyed the girl I thought could lead me to Potter and soon enough she was up and moving, leaving behind the two boys she'd spent the entire meal talking to. She gathered her book bag stuffed the biggest book I'd ever seen under her arm and took her leave. I followed her up a flight of stairs and into an empty corridor. I had little to no time left before my luck thoroughly ran out and so made a bold decision. I ran up behind her quietly, grabbed the back of her collar, and dragged her into the nearest room before she'd even realized she'd been manhandled. As I closed the door behind us I let go of her and she backed away quickly with a terrified squeak. That stick they all seemed to carry was brought up to point at my face and I brought my hands up in surrender.
"Don't shoot me!" I shouted. She paused, shocked.
"You can speak?" she asked, momentarily forgetting that I had sort of just kidnapped her.
"Yes," I snapped. "I may not have finished high school but I can understand English. And Spanish, some French, and a tiny bit of Hungarian. Just enough to tell Jansen to pass the salt. Look I need your help." Did I ever mention that I ramble when nervous? It doesn't happen a lot but when it does it's annoying even to me.
"My help?" she asked lowering her wand just the tiniest bit.
"I'm looking for the Headmaster of your school."
"He's gone," she said. "I don't know where he went and anyone who might be willing to tell you is gone as well. You should leave."
"I can't," I replied. "Look, that pink, Dolores lady told your Minister that a kid named Potter was in league with the Headmaster. Potter's my only hope and I know you know him."
"How do you know that?" she asked looking a little shocked.
"I was following that really grumpy teacher," I told her. "I overheard him asking you where Potter was so I figured the two of you were friends. Can you help me talk to him? It's important."
"Why do you need to talk to him?" she asked suspiciously.
"I just need someone who will give me a chance to explain," I said. She eyed me critically and then folded her arms determinedly.
"I'm listening," she said. "Start explaining."
It threw me a little off balance but to be fair to her, I probably did owe her some sort of explanation as to why I was in the school. She hadn't started screaming and she hadn't accused me of trying to kill her so I figured why not. Even if she didn't lead me to Potter, she might give me the information I needed. I didn't really matter who I talked to, as long as I got what I needed.
"Uh okay," I hedged. "Are you sure you want to be involved?" She only raised an eyebrow in response. I took the hint. "Well, it turns out the school is housing a centuries old painting that was stolen from a cursed family and has some information I need in order to fight a war you've never heard of."
"What?" she asked blankly. Clearly I'd confused her.
"I can't give you any more details," I said. "I just need to talk to this one painting. Ask it a couple of questions and then I'm gone."
"Why should I help you? You haven't explained anything."
"Do you remember the first day you saw me? Hagrid asked you a question about the difference between the two kinds of vampires and you said that one was purple and one looked human." She nodded along, trying to follow my point. "Well, the purple ones are called the Vampaneze. They're another clan that split off from the Vampires about a thousand years ago. Our clans are at war and if I don't talk to this portrait my people won't have the advantage we need."
"Why should I get involved at all?" she asked. "Shouldn't you be talking to the Ministry?"
"Those people are only interested in dissecting me and nothing else," I told her with a shake of my head. "Look, it may be counterproductive sometimes but Vampires keep things from the humans for a reason. The less you know the safer we are. And trust me when I say that you don't want the Vampaneze to win."
"Because it's the Vampaneze that always kill when they feed," I told her. "Vampires don't. I can't explain everything, but please, can you help me?" She looked ready to break and I put on my best puppy dog face. The one that worked on Seba even though the stiff, old Quartermaster prided himself on discipline.
"You'll leave right after?" she asked.
"Scout's honor," I said.
"Okay," she said uncertainly, and I resisted the urge to hug her. No need to freak her out anymore than she already was. "What portrait do you need to talk to?"
"I'm not sure," I said. "I was told that it was of a woman and that she guards a home. Ring any bells?"
"Well," she said contemplatively. "I guess 'home' could refer to one of the Houses. The only House that's guarded by a woman in a portrait is Gryffindor. We should start there."
"Okay," I said, not understanding nearly anything that she just said. "Lead the way."
"How am I supposed to sneak you all the up there?" she asked.
"Don't worry about that," I said. "Just walk there normally and I'll take care of the sneaking."
"Are you sure?" she asked looking uncomfortable.
"Yeah, I've been sneaking around this place all day," I told her. "This floor plan makes no sense and I appreciate all the statues that I can hide behind." She glared at me but didn't comment.
Getting to this Gryffindor House place was relatively easy. Lunch was still in process and most of the students were still down in the Hall and out of my way. Granger walked with purpose, and I followed like a sneak feeling like some sort of twisted stalker. It only took us about five minutes to reach a hallway I hadn't been in before. At least, I didn't think I'd been there. There was no telling.
She stopped in front of a portrait of a very fat woman, dozing against the side of her frame. Granger poked her with her stick as I popped up beside her. The woman woke with a small snort and smiled when she saw the girl. The smile dropped instantly when she saw me.
"Oh, oh dear," she said a little concerned. "You're that poor Vampire boy they keep talking about. Are you alright dear?"
I don't know what reaction I had been expecting but that hadn't been it. This may be easier than I thought.
"I have lived through worse, Madam," I replied politely.
"Oh, yes, I am sure you have," she said. "Those Vampire brethren of yours. Always so eager to kill themselves."
"You know of my people?" I asked a little surprised.
"Of course," she replied. "Do tell me child, is that darling Paris Skyle still alive?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "He's my fellow Prince."
"You are a Prince?" she asked, her eyebrows rising in surprise. I nodded. "So young to be a Prince child. I am honored to meet you."
"And I you," I replied. "Madam, I came here for a reason."
"Yes, I know the legend that surrounds my family child," she said. "You are here to ask me a very important question are you not?"
"I am here for that," I confirmed.
"Be careful of what you ask," she warned. "I will only answer one question." Granger was looking between us, completely fascinated. I paused for only a moment of consideration before going with the first question that came to my head.
"What is your name?"
"Madeline," she said. "Madeline Leonard."
"Thank you," I said tightly, refusing to react.
"Good luck, my young Prince," she said sadly. "You must leave quickly before Destiny moves this story in another direction. Quickly now."
I turned and ran from the corridor as quickly as I could, back towards where I knew the front door was. It was the best option at this point. There was no longer a need for subtlety. Before I was out of ear shot I heard Granger asking the portrait what that conversation had meant.
"There are some things that exist in this world that Wizarding Kind are best left ignorant of. Put it out of mind. Password?"
I didn't hear what Granger may or may not have said. I was already down the stairs, through the entry way, and out the door as it opened to admit some official looking Wizards. They screamed and took aim as I burst through them and into the daylight. I turned briefly to see their utter shock that I wasn't burning alive. I didn't spare it much amusement though, simply continuing on my way back to the forest.
They gave chase but by the time they reached the tree line, we had already flitted a dozen kilometers away. Lady Evanna had left while I was in the castle but I didn't care much.
"Well?" Mr. Crepsley asked, as he let go of me. I still couldn't flit on my own, despite being a Prince. "Did you get the name?"
"And?" Vancha pressed. I looked down at the ground unsure of how to continue. Vancha wouldn't recognize the name but Mr. Crepsley would and that was all that mattered.
"Darren?" the red Vampire pressed sensing that something was wrong.
"Mr. Crepsley," I started, finally bringing my eyes up to meet his. "Do you remember Steve?"