Okay, everybody. For those of you who kept on asking, thank you. I just needed some motivation. I apologize for how late this is, but life has been pretty hectic lately. I'm trying to finish school and graduate, but I decided to take a lot of classes and work two jobs, so there you have it. I hope you enjoy this chapter. We jumped ahead, but stuff is starting to pick up. Thank you to everyone who kept on supporting me! I greatly appreciate it.
Her breath stuttered in her throat as she forcibly ripped her body around a corner only to lean against it heavily, chest heaving and legs shaky. She raised a trembling hand up to her face to shove her frizzy hair away from her eyes, which had become loose as she fled. Her eyes frantically searched the alley, catching on any identifying markers but seeing none. Her breath suddenly caught, a hostage in her throat, as the distant, pounding footsteps of her chasers sounded behind her. Her fingers curled into her palm as she pivoted on worn, and mud-stained boots to her right, and began to sprint through the back alleys once again, her cloak whipping around her legs.
As she rounded another corner, hands attempting to find slots to hold, she cursed. She was already late, damnit. She huffed out a breath as she sped past a beggar and his dog. In her head she analyzed and organized her thoughts, spitting out those that would not work as she tried in vain to remember where she was supposed to meet her correspondence. Rain pounded the street and her head, drenching her hood and making the alleys slippery and deadly. She found it difficult to see, and missed, narrowly, a black and looming wall. From behind her, the footsteps were growing fainter. Panic raced up her spine and the sound, rather than making her glad, caused trepidation. She wished she could apparate, but she was in America, and the American government paid deep and close attention to international tourists who apparated in their country.
But only to those who weren't legally there. Needless to say, she couldn't apparate.
She cursed again as she sprinted through another alley, splashing herself in the dense, and mottled puddles. She was soaked through and desperate. Where was the damn building!
Suddenly, a hand latched onto her arm, and pulled. She let loose a scream that didn't have the opportunity to omit sound before another hand to match the first was shoved over her mouth. It was attached to a strong, drenched and clammy arm around her neck. Her heart thudded through her skin as hot breath coasted across her skin.
"Shhhhh," the voice whispered, calmly and soothingly. "It's Eric."
Hermione felt her body liquefy, and she would have slithered to the water drenched ground if Eric hadn't caught her.
"Oh, Merlin." Hermione whispered, voice ragged and reverent. "I was at the spot, and then I realized I was being followed. I tried to lose them but, well…. I got lost."
"Never panic." Eric parroted as he unwound his arm. "It's what they want you to do."
Hermione swallowed back a tirade. She wanted to ask where Eric had been, and why he hadn't been in the agreed meeting spot. It was really all his fault. If he had been where he was supposed to be and on time, Hermione wouldn't have had to wait, and, as a result, wouldn't have been spotted. Her face felt hot as she curled her lip. She even opened her mouth, prepared to let her vitriol escape, before she felt her stomach heave at the sound of pursuing footsteps growing louder with each second. Eric must have heard them, too, because his whole body stiffened before he grabbed her hand, and dashed further into the alley he had pulled her into.
Hermione curbed her opinion at the action, although she was sure this alley led to a back end. As they ran toward the back of the alley untouched by the insignificant lighting of the headlamps that illuminated only certain corners infinitesimally, Hermione wondered what Eric was planning on doing as he sprinted toward what she could only assume would be the hard, slime coated, dense brick wall. But instead of impacting with the structure of the building, Eric instead stopped abruptly, waved his hand, and a door popped into existence. Immediately, Hermione watched, fascinated at the concept of the infinite number of spells that could make such a thing possible.
Eric stepped very close to the door, face nearly resting on the dark stained wood, before Hermione caught the end of a small whisper. The door creaked open, nearly soundless in the pounding rain. Light spilled out onto their feet, and Eric yanked her inside, blinding her in the process. She lifted a hand to her face to block out the sight as she heard Eric close, lock, and mumble something at the door. She assumed that it had disappeared, and they were safe for the moment.
Grumbling ensured from before her as she took her hand away from her face, eyes watering and face tight from the abrupt change in temperature. Delicious smells wafted about and coated her nose. She swallowed as she panted, struggling for breath.
"You're late!" A voice boomed from off to her right. Hermione resisted the urge to flinch, but just barely. Any sign of fear would only be weakness here.
She refused to be weak. She had an important message to deliver.
"I know," Eric responded, voice tight and steady as if to hold back annoyance. "I got caught up."
"By what!? A pretty lady!" The same voice shouted, deep and throaty. Hermione blinked away her tears as she searched the room for the voice. Her eyes landed on a thick man, sitting atop a worn and wooden chair with kingly deception. His long and graying beard reached the middle of his chest which contrasted sharply with his bald head and bushy eyebrows. There he waited, eyes settled and determined on Eric, who Hermione turned to watch.
Eric's face was pale except for two bright, red blotches resting high on his cheek bones. His face looked harsh on his already think and sharp face. His rain soaked, and black, shoulder length hair dripped down his own cloak. "No," he responded through a tense chin, neck stiff. "Vampires, Mark. You idiot."
There had been other sounds in the room and people moving about out of the corner of Hermione's eye, but she had ignored those in favor of the interaction between these two men who were seemingly at odds. Hermione was glad she had, even if she had to hold in her gasp.
The same astonishment was reflected back in Mark's face as he sat forward. Hermione tried to ignore his food stained shirt which rested tightly over a protruding belly. A grimace wanted to crawl up her face, but she resisted, and focused instead on his face closely.
"What?" Mark whispered. A tentative tension built behind Hermione with the small crowd hovering behind her. She listened as all sound seemed to stop, and spotted, out of the corner of her eye, other long, solid tables with benches on each side, and men and women watching the discussion.
"Yeah," Eric stated back. "Vampires. Two of them. Newborn. I was stalled. They tried to corner me in an alley. So…" here Eric looked directly at Hermione. "Sorry."
Hermione nodded to show her forgiveness, although she felt the familiar tingle of excitement begin in her fingers when she knew a puzzle was close to becoming finished.
"So." Mark started, voice slow. "That's why this girl is here? Some informant from England to discuss the vampires with us?"
Hermione turned to face Mark, face stoic and hands quiet. "Yes. But first I need to speak with Dumbledore. Do you have a floo?"
Mark's face turned a most hideous shade of red before he opened his mouth, meaty hands clenched.
"Of course we have a floo," Eric inserted himself into the conversation naturally and with grace. "If you would only come this way?" He then began to walk away, heading straight for the small group of listening bystanders, who Hermione ignored as they watched her, faces blank and eyes tired.
Eric and Hermione passed through the rest of the dining room area until they reached another door, through which they went through into a long, dark hallway. Dark paneling ran up and down both walls, making the shadows crouch and shiver. They passed four doors until Eric opened a fifth one on his right.
"Here we are. The living room. There's a fireplace directly in front and some floo powder on the shelf above the fireplace. Just walk straight back the way we came when you're done. We'll all be in the dining room. I'll leave some food for your."
"Thanks," Hermione responded distractedly as she headed toward the fireplace, mind leaping. She grabbed a fist full of the green powder and sank down to her knees as she heard the door softly "click" behind her. She then threw the powder directly into the fire itself as she shouted, "Hogwarts! School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" and then she inserted her head into the fire, eyes closed instinctively to the heat and ashes.
"Ah, Miss Granger." A voice wisped through the connection, and Hermione opened her eyes, taking in the old, wrinkled face of her beloved Headmaster.
He chuckled. "None of that, Miss Granger. Albus, please. I'm no longer your Headmaster."
Hermione gave back a wavering smile. "Of course, Albus."
He smiled for a moment before he, too, also leaned forward. "Now," he started. "What exactly did you find concerning Harry Potter."
Hermione licked her lips as she looked down, anticipation growing in her belly. "Well, sir," she began, voice wavering and cracking, her eyes alight in excitement. "He's alive."
"Excellent." Dumbledore whispered, eyes faraway. "Very excellent. Tell me what you have."
Hermione took a deep breath and settled herself more comfortably on the ground. She really hated floo. Her knees ached so badly, and her body felt stiff from the flight.
"Of course, sir," she responded, but then hesitated, licking her lips again. "But first I think it's necessary to tell you what I have heard regarding the vampires."
Dumbledore nodded. Hermione took a deep breath before she began.
"Well, they're headed by a female vampire called Victoria. I'm not quite sure she's entirely sane, of course. She's also working toward recruiting as many vampires as she can. It's growing exponentially, although it backfires at times because they are what the American Magical Community calls "newborns," which means they are basically newly turned vampires with no control over their desire for blood. These newborns, in their thirst, usually end up destroying each other. However, even with these minor setbacks, Victoria has been managing to build her army. I believe she has close to sixty vampires under her control. From other rumors I've heard, I believe she may somehow also be in contact with Voldemort. It would make sense. With that many vampires, she would need a safe place to rest, and a continual supply of food. The muggles were growing suspicious when this all began last year."
Dumbledore's face went ashen, and Hermione felt unease at the graveness etched deeply into the lines of his face. He brought his hands up near his face, fingertips resting together below his chin as he contemplated Hermione. "Why do you believe such a thing?"
Hermione shifted again. "Well, I've heard her mention Bellatrix Lestrange, and I've intercepted mail that indicates the two are responding. However, the letters are in a code I haven't had time to break or understand yet. There was also, recently, a building sold under the name of Bellatrix Lestrange to one Victorial Morrigonn."
"I see," Dumbledore murmured, voice low and slow.
Hermione nodded and began again. "I believe that Voldemort is working in close conjunction with Victoria and her army through Lestrange. The vampires could be a very useful army should a war ever begin between us."
Dumbledore closed his eyes, lips thin as they pressed together. Hermione couldn't remember him looking so old.
"The vampires here are particularly dangerous," Hermione continued, voice rushed and unsteady with her nerves. "They're faster and harder to kill. They can walk around into the sunlight. It's actually quite fascinating. They're actually a type of mutation."
Dumbledore opened his eyes and looked at her before he asked, voice somewhat steadier. "What have you heard about Harry Potter?"
"Well, that's the interesting bit." Hermione murmured, before she began again, voice stronger. "I've heard from resources that Harry actually grew up with a family that consisted of vampires. They must have someone who hides their records because I couldn't find anything about his hospital visits, past schools, or anything. Supposedly, if my findings can be trusted, Potter was responsible, somehow, for the death of Victoria's mate. She swore revenge, which seemed to spark the decision to create her army. But then it escalated, which I can only presume to guess began because she received some sort of missive from Voldemort."
"And where is Mr. Potter now?" Dumbledore questioned, leaning forward.
"The man I believe to be Harry Potter currently lives with his partner, a Deric Andrew Carrigan. They have been together almost a year… From what I've witnessed, it doesn't appear to be a very healthy relationship."
Dumbledore frowned harshly. "What makes you believe so?"
"Deric is… highly involved in the distribution of drug paraphernalia. At first, he wasn't using, at least to my understanding, but now… he's quite… consistent with his doses. He tends to become violent, and he strikes out."
"Indeed." Dumbledore paused, eyes unfocused before he turned back to face Hermione. "Are you sure he's Harry Potter."
Hermione nodded. "He has the scar, and I managed to do a blood test. It matches."
Dumbledore closed his eyes as he sagged in his chair, hands falling to his sides. "What name does he go by now?"
"Hale. Hale Cullen."
Dumbledore nodded. "Perhaps it is time to invite Mr. Cullen for a visit."
Hermione nodded. "I'll ready the others."