For me the Second World War, as the Muggles called it, was a good time; it was a time of plenty.
From the early days of the Blitz when London was burning to the days before the invasion of France when the GIs arrived, and even beyond, to the victory celebrations, things were good. People were dying, people were going missing, and in the chaos, no one noticed. For those six years, no one ever saw me when I took someone for myself, no one except him.
We first met on the night of one of the very first air raids. It was August 1940, and the Reich was just beginning to give old Blighty the first of many poundings. Afterwards, they called that time the Battle of Britain. On that August night, I called it chaos. I was prowling the streets when the air raid sirens began screaming out their warning. The sirens' banshee wail, like that of the real thing, presaged death.
Everyone clutched anxiously at the gasmasks they carried. Poison gas was a very real fear. I carried a gas mask, even though I didn't need one. It was required; without it I'd have been stopped and questioned. Wherever I looked there were frightened Muggles. The streets were full of them, their hearts pounding and their blood surging through their veins. The sirens brought the fear of death. The fear of death made everyone around me become even more alive.
As the sirens' keen continued to rise and fall, worried looking men in business suits appeared on the streets and attempted to take charge. The only difference between those men and the confused and frightened masses was a hard hat and a crude armband. Both hat and armband bore the initials ARP, for Air Raid Precautions. With shouts and urgently waving arms, they began to marshal the crowds into shelters.
Avoiding the ARP Wardens, I ducked into an alley and zigzagged my way through the back streets. I needed to keep away from those well-meaning men with armbands. They would, I knew, attempt to get me into a crowded shelter. They would try to save my life, but they were almost two centuries too late for that. I needed to be alone, because now I was on the hunt, and I needed to find a solitary straggler.
Above, I heard the Dornier's deadly drone. Almost immediately, the searchlights lit up the sky. The lights darted back and forth through the heavens with anxious urgency. Dozens of beams of light pierced the night, each one anxiously attempting to locate their enemy. The first bombs fell, a vague thumping in the distance, and then the anti-aircraft batteries joined in, firing their first salvos.
The ack-ack guns tried in vain to protect their city as the bombers thundered ever closer. As they approached, the noise became almost musical. The night became a percussion symphony of engine noises, explosions, and one lonely bell.
I stopped and listened to the music of Muggle madness. In the air above, the growls and purrs of the Dorniers were a constant background harmony. The ack-ack guns steadily beat time: bang-crump, bang-crump, bang-crump. And every so often the thumps of bombs became a kettle-drum beat as an entire payload landed in a steady line of destruction: boom, boom, boom. Added to this cacophony, somewhere close, a solitary bell tolled: ding-dong, a few moments of silence, and then, once more, ding-dong.
Curious, I moved towards the bell. It didn't take me long to find the source of the noise. I turned the corner and saw the church. It had suffered a direct hit. There was a gaping hole in the roof, and one stone wall, a wall even older than I was, had fallen into the street. Rubble and debris littered the pavement.
I like to tell people that I'm allergic to churches; I certainly cannot enter them. Only the dark shape in the ruins prevented me from leaving. It was a man. At the moment I saw him, he saw me, too. He stood in the gap where the wall had once stood and urgently beckoned me forward. Curious, I moved closer. As I stepped out of the shadows, I watched him carefully. As he saw my dress and registered my sex, I saw his face fall. I don't usually have that affect on men, but I could tell from his robes that he was a priest of some sort.
'I need help, miss,' he shouted. 'I need several strong men.'
I moved closer. I was curious, I'll admit. I wondered if I'd be able to enter the church. As I approached the collapsed wall, I discovered that I couldn't. Although the wall was gone, the boundary remained, and it was impossible for me to break through it.
The priest stared at me, and I stared right back. He was a thick set man in his thirties, broad of shoulder, and thick of neck. I was looking at a once active man who now carried the beginnings of a paunchy middle-age. It is terrible what growing old does to the human body. I could save him from that fate. The man's robes were long, black, and covered in dust and grime. His torn dog collar hung crookedly from his neck. He wiped sweat from his forehead with a grimy hand and ran his fingers around his neck, further exposing his jugular vein. I could see his pulse, strong and solid. Most importantly, I noticed, he wore no symbols, no crucifix.
'What?' I said. Cupping a hand over my ear and feigning deafness. He approached, scrabbling over the rubble towards me.
'I need men,' he said.
'Don't we all?' I asked, doing my best to sound like Mae West. He looked at me in distaste, but continued to move cautiously over the rubble and closer to me.
'Please,' he begged. 'You toll the bell, and I'll go and find help. Come here, miss, come into my church, please help me.'
An invitation to enter! I moved forwards rapidly, but that was when I discovered that not even a priest could invite me into a church. His words were heartfelt, but they were not enough. As you probably know, I need to be invited into a dwelling. Religious buildings all have their own rules. I tried to step forwards, but I couldn't. I could, with difficulty, make it onto the rubble which had fallen outside the original line of the walls, but I move no closer.
'There are children trapped inside,' he implored. He was becoming increasingly desperate, and he was moving ever closer to me. I could hear his heart pounding. I licked my lips in anticipation.
'I gave shelter to children from the orphanage,' he told me, gesticulating in the direction of an austere looking grey building a short distance along the road. 'They would have been better off where they were. There was a bomb—a direct hit—they're trapped in the cellar, frightened. I can hear them screaming, but I can't reach them. I'm the only one who knows they are there and, after the bomb, I'm worried that the floor is unstable. It could collapse on them at any minute. Please…' He stopped moving and stared at me in desperation.
It was obvious that he wasn't going to leave the children, so I stepped forward as if to do as he asked. As I did so, I slipped on the rubble and fell heavily. I screamed, held my ankle, and began to sob.
Good men are so easy to manipulate. He finally scrambled out from the protection of his church and was at my side. I timed it perfectly. As he arrived I leapt to my feat, grabbed his arms, and bared my fangs. He instantly recognised me for what I was; Bram Stoker is to blame for that.
'Please, don't harm the children. For God's sake, save them, I beseech you.' They were his last words.
As I bit deep, he thought of others, not of himself. I suppose that made him a truly good man. I know that I felt the power of those words as I hungrily gulped down that which gave him, and me, life.
He was taking his last rattling breath, and I was extracting the last drop of his blood, when Tom spoke.
'You're a vampire,' he said.
He had startled me. He had managed to sneak up on me. That never happens; no one sneaks up on me, especially not when I'm feeding.
I dropped the lifeless priest, snarled, and turned to face my new adversary. He was a boy, no more than fourteen. He was wearing short trousers and a shapeless grey pullover, but I didn't relax. He carried a wand.
'I've always wanted to meet a vampire,' he told me calmly. 'They don't teach us much about vampires at school. I think that it's because they don't know very much.'
'They don't, and that's because we don't tell them,' I said to him. I stared at his wand, and tried to size him up. He had a confidence, an arrogance about him which belied his years.
'What do you think you can do against me?' I asked. 'Underage magic is illegal.'
'You're a vampire,' he told me. 'I'm pretty sure that would count as extenuating circumstances, and I'm fast.'
'There are children trapped in the rubble,' I said. I pointed at his wand. 'You could use that to save them. You'd be a hero, and that would be extenuating circumstances, too.'
'They are Muggles,' he spat the word contemptuously. 'They're all from the orphanage, from that orphanage.' He pointed in distaste at the distant building. 'I don't like any of them, mewling brats. Besides, why do you care? Surely, to you, they are only food? I've just watched you kill a priest. It's supposed to be against the law for you to kill, but you did it anyway. It seems to me that your kind often do, and the Ministry doesn't interfere. Why not?'
'Why do you want to know?' I asked.
'I don't want to die,' he told me. 'I want to live forever. If you answer my questions, I won't report you to the Auror Office.'
He was trying to threaten me. I was, I admit, amused by his self-confidence. I decided to humour him, although in fact I didn't tell him anything he could not have discovered with a little research.
'Ask your questions,' I said. 'I'm Camelia, by the way.'
'Tom,' he said shortly. 'Are you a witch?'
'Once, I was a witch,' I said. 'But I died, and now, I'm a vampire.'
'You're dead, really, properly dead?' he asked. He sounded disappointed. 'I thought that was just a rumour, just misinformation.'
'Dead,' I confirmed. 'No pulse, no heartbeat, no breath in my lungs. I'm unliving, unbreathing, unalive, and yet I am still thinking, still moving, and still a physical being. The Muggles think that makes me undead.'
'How?' he asked the question everyone asks.
'Many years ago, for the three nights before the full moon, I willingly allowed my creator to take my blood. Finally, on the full moon night, I drank his blood, the blood of a vampire. And then he fed on me. He killed me, drained me of the little blood he'd left me. I died and was buried, and three nights later, I rose. I awoke with a raging thirst, but I soon found drink. He was the first man I ever killed. I never knew his name. He was a peasant, a big man in his thirties, but I lifted him with one hand.' I stared into the young mans eyes. He was interested in my story, and utterly unmoved by the peasant's fate.
'Once I was satiated, once I replaced the blood my maker took from me, I became what I am to this day. I've been dead ever since I was bitten on that full moon night. I've been a vampire since my first kill,' I explained.
'Are you tied to your creator, beholden to him in any way?'
'No, Tom,' I assured him. 'That is simply a rumour.'
'You said "once" you were a witch. Why aren't you still a witch?' he asked.
'I have no life force, therefore I cannot wield a wand, I can no longer cast any spells,' I told him. 'But, that doesn't mean that I don't have magic. I can turn into a wolf, or into a flock of bats. I'm a lot faster, and stronger, than I look.'
To prove my point I took three rapid steps towards him. He wasn't boasting, he was fast, but I was faster. I held his wand arm tightly. He smiled, surprisingly unafraid, and touched my cheek. I listened. His heartbeat was steady, a little faster than normal, perhaps, but it was not beating in a frenzy of fear. He was not afraid of me. That was something which I had never before experienced. In respect of the fact, I released his wand arm.
'You're cold to the touch,' he said.
'I'm dead,' I reminded him. 'And I've been dead for a very long time.'
'Do you have any enemies?' he asked.
'None still living,' I told him.
'But you can be killed,' he said. 'A stake through the heart, beheading. And you must sleep in a coffin.'
'I must sleep on soil from my grave,' I corrected him.
'You can't go out in daylight,' he said, continuing to probe.
'I can, but it weakens me,' I said. 'Dawn, noon, and dusk, are the danger times. Then, but only then, I must sleep. You are very interested in my abilities, Tom. Why is that? Would you like me to drink your blood? Would you like to drink my blood on a full moon night? Would you like me to kill you? Do you want to become a vampire?'
'It's an option I'm considering,' he said carefully. 'But, not until I'm older.'
I smiled. 'No, you are much too young to take such a big step. But, in five, ten, or fifteen years, you will be ready. When you make your decision, let me know. Write to me, Camelia Tepes, 169 Knockturn Alley. You won't find me there, but your message will reach me.' I leaned forwards and kissed him on the lips. His astonished expression made me laugh. 'Goodbye, Tom.'
Taking a step away from him, I shook myself into black fragments and, as a cloud of bats, I flew into the sky.
I didn't fly far. On the main road below me, I saw a fire engine. Returning to my human form I dashed towards it, waving frantically.
'Please help,' I begged the firemen. 'There's a church been hit, about half a mile in that direction. There are children trapped in the cellar.'
I had never before attempted to save anyone. Perhaps drinking the blood of a priest did it, I don't know, but I think that was the day when my life began to change.
Sometimes, however, I think that it wasn't the priest. Sometimes I think that Tom was responsible.
I was looking directly into Tom's hate-filled eyes when he hit me with the killing curse. As I stared into that suddenly less-than-human face, I knew that his intention was to destroy me. However, it seemed that, despite everything I'd told him, he had forgotten one important thing. I was already dead.
I seized my chance. The instant the curse hit me I threw myself to pieces, dissolving instantly. Suddenly, I was no more than smoke before his eyes.
'Interesting,' he said.
I sensed him watching me, and hoped that he would choose to ignore the scattered remnants of my corporeal form.
He didn't. With a wave of his wand, he created a strong wind, scattering my particles across the sky. In desperation, I allowed myself to be dispersed by the wind and lost in the darkness. I wanted him to believe that he had finished me.
'Goodbye, Camelia,' he muttered contemptuously. 'What use is Vampirism? No magic, and a reliance on blood to keep me alive. Alone, either of those would be enough to make me decline your offer. I have found a better way…' He shrugged, and Disapparated.
I could have coalesced immediately, but I didn't. I was scared. He had destroyed my resting places, and he had tried to destroy me. It was only because I was already dead that I had survived.
You can no more kill a vampire than you can kill a ghost. If you want to destroy us, you must find another way. I was certain that, if Tom found out that I had survived, he would find another way. There were plenty of other ways, and all were very well documented.
I brought myself back together. The mist became a black cloud, and the bats flitted away. I needed to hide. I had a powerful enemy who wanted me dead. And I needed to make certain that at least one of my resting places survived.