|SIYE Time:21:14 on 20th October 2017|
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Category: Alternate Universe
Warnings: Death, Disturbing Imagery, Intimate Sexual Situations, Violence
Story is Complete
Summary: A bored Ginny Weasley finds her world turned upside down when a handsome and mysterious young wizard with a dark reputation offers her a job. Together, they seek a lost treasure and battle monsters while she learns many new things about herself.
Hitcount: Story Total: 20474; Chapter Total: 2019
Awards: View Trophy Room
As I type this, the first spoilers are coming onto the web regarding ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and I find myself intrigued by them. Not enough to book tickets to see the show, mind. Still, what a shock to learn that Hagrid has had a sex-change. That failed relationship with Madam Maxime must really have screwed him up…
Anyhoo, he’s the next chapter in which we get not one, but two classic Hammer Horror monsters (even if one doesn’t make an appearance yet). Ginny proves she’s growing into her new job, and Harry reveals that he hates sparkly things. Snigger.
Massive wobbly thanks to Arnel for beat reading and to (ex-) Mrs Brennus for lending me her books on ancient Egypt.
Chapter 7 — Village of the Damned
The door swung open giving Ginny her first look into Teta’s tomb. Her brother’s glowing ball of light revealed a large room, perhaps twenty or thirty feet square, in the very centre of which stood an impressive stone sarcophagus. Piled around the walls were a huge variety of items, including various weapons, jars and pots of all shapes and sizes, a number of statues, books and papyrus scrolls, plus a vast number of boxes.
“Hang back, you two,” Bill said firmly. “Let me enter first and check it out.”
“You’re the expert,” Harry agreed.
Bill edged into the tomb, his wand extended in front of him. He paused every few feet and cast various different spells, his eyes scanning the room intently. After some ten minutes or so, he beckoned them to enter.
“Come in, but don’t touch anything,” he advised. “Even after all this time, this place is filled with powerful magic. It’s going to take a whole team weeks to sort it out, but I’m fairly certain we’ll be alright as long as we don’t try and take anything.”
“That could be a problem. The whole point of me being here was to take something,” Harry pointed out.
“Yes, but the object you’re after didn’t belong to Teta, did it?” Bill replied. “I don’t think the original curse should affect it.”
“One way to find out,” Harry said, and pulled out his magical compass. He quickly scanned the room before pointed to a large box tucked into a corner. He walked over to it and peered inside.
“Is the piece of the Moon Hare in that box, Harry?” Ginny asked.
“Yes, in fact it appears to be sitting on top of a pile of amber. I should be able to pick it up without touching anything else, assuming Bill thinks that’s okay.”
“Let me just have a quick check,” Bill told him, before joining Harry in front of the box. The tall redhead waved his wand over the container several times, apparently without effect.
“Well? Am I okay to take it?” Harry asked impatiently.
“I think so,” Bill replied hesitantly. “There’s a lot of strange magic coming off that piece of jewellery, but I don’t think it’s connected to this tomb.”
“In that case…”
Harry reached into the box and deftly snatched up the piece of the Moon Hare. They all held their breaths, but nothing happened.
“That makes a nice change. Normally things aren’t that easy,” Ginny noted.
“Yeah, they…” Harry begun, but his voice trailed off. “I hate to ask, guys, but didn’t that sarcophagus have a lid on it a moment ago?”
“Oh, shit. I had to open my big mouth,” Ginny cursed.
A moment later, a figure began to slowly sit upright in the stone coffin. It looked exactly the way Ginny had always imagined a mummified body would be, save that it seemed rather large. With agonising slowness, it rose up and began to turn its head towards them.
“Time to leave, I think,” Harry said urgently.
“Yeah, I… bugger! When did the door to the tomb close?” Bill asked in horror.
“I never even heard it! Damn. Okay, let’s not panic. As we said earlier, we haven’t touched any of the original treasure in this tomb. Perhaps this thing will just let us be,” Harry reasoned.
“Yeah, I’ll bet that’s exactly what will happen,” Ginny replied in a voice that left no doubt what she really thought.
“Keep your wands ready,” Bill advised.
The mummy began to climb out of the coffin, swinging its legs over the edge until they touched the floor. It must have been at least seven feet tall, Ginny reckoned, and powerfully built. In fact, it didn’t look human.
“Is this really the body of Teta the Magician?” Harry gasped, obviously thinking along the same lines as Ginny.
“I think this must be his Kas, or double. No doubt Teta magically enhanced the thing to act as the tomb’s guardian. His actual body must be elsewhere,” Bill replied while warily watching the mummy.
For a moment, the tall creature paused, as if uncertain what to do, before suddenly raising its arms and lunging towards Harry.
“Damn,” Harry yelled and fired a spell at it. Ginny wasn’t certain what spell her employer had used, but whatever it was it looked powerful and deadly. It struck the mummy square in the chest, knocking it back a few feet. Unfortunately, the bright purple beam of light seemed to be absorbed into the creature’s body without any other effect. A moment later, the mummy again raised its arms and began to move towards Harry.
“I think we might have a problem,” Bill announced and began shooting his own curses at the advancing monster. Harry also began to throw a variety of spells at it, but nothing seemed to work.
“Fire! Try fire spells!” Ginny yelled, thinking that the bandage-wrapped creature would likely burn easily. She threw an Incendiary Curse at the monster and for a moment felt a surge of triumph as the mummy was engulfed in flames. A few seconds later, however, the flames died leaving the beast unharmed.
“What will destroy this thing?” Bill yelled, before grabbing something that resembled a jewelled sceptre and wielding it like a club. He charged at the mummy, intent on using his improvised weapon to smash in the monster’s skull. The mummy almost contemptuously grabbed his arm and without any apparent effort flung the tall redhead across the tomb. Bill hit the far wall with some force and he let out a loud yell on impact. He fell to the ground like a ragdoll and began to cradle his arm.
“BILL!” Ginny yelled. She tried to reach her fallen brother, but the mummy was between him and herself.
“Stay there, Ginny,” Bill called out between gritted teeth. “I think I broke my arm, but I’m okay.”
“For the moment, anyway,” Harry pointed out as the mummy began to advance on him again. “Let me try something.”
Taking the piece of the Moon Hare he’d recently retrieved, he threw it at the mummy, obviously hoping that if he returned the item that the creature believed he’d stolen it might make it halt its attack.
It didn’t. The creature lurched forward again, its hands extended in front of it.
“Damn, this thing is grumpier than Ginny when she’s been forced to get up early in the morning,” Harry snarled.
“This is really not the time to be making jokes, Harry!” Ginny snapped. “Besides, not all of us are morning-people, you know.”
Harry actually laughed, before launching himself at the advancing mummy. He twisted in the air and caught the monster squarely in the face with his right heel. Ginny marvelled that he appeared to know some form of martial art, but gasped in horror as the beast swung his arm and caught Harry in the chest with a powerful swing. She heard the breath being knocked out of him as he was flung backwards through the air, landing roughly in a pile of boxes.
“Harry!” she called, but was relieved to see him climb to his feet.
“Will nothing stop this thing?” Harry cursed. “Anyone got any ideas?”
“Sorry, Harry, I’ve never encountered anything like this before,” Bill said while awkwardly climbing to his feet. He appeared to have lost his wand.
As the mummy began to advance on the two men once more, Ginny began to desperately look around for a weapon or at least some means of escape. As her eyes scanned the piles of treasure, her gaze fell on a strangely shaped sword. It resembled a sickle more than anything, and had an odd hook at the end. Leaping forward, she grabbed the sword with both hands and looked up. She nearly shrieked in horror as she saw that the mummy had managed to grab Harry around the throat and was strangling him, despite Bill’s best efforts to loosen the beast’s grip. Without thinking, Ginny sprinted towards the mummy and with a mighty swing embedded the sword in the back of the monster’s head.
Harry slid to the floor as the mummy’s grip on him loosened. The monster staggered a few steps, its arms flailing wildly as it tried to grab the sword still sticking out of the back of its head. Then, without warning, its legs collapsed and it fell to its knees. The mummy let out a mighty cry, the first noise the beast had made, before falling flat on its face.
“Oh, sweet Merlin!” Bill gasped. “Well done, Ginny.”
“Yes… that was brilliant,” Harry managed to wheeze between deep breaths.
“I’m just amazed that a simple bloody sword worked on that thing,” Ginny replied, her heart racing a million beats a second.
“That’s a khopesh,” Bill informed her. “The fact that it was left here suggests it might have been magical or had some other special properties. Either way, it did for that bloody thing.”
“Yes, and we have Ginny to thank for that. Now you see why I employed her?” Harry asked the curse-breaker.
“I always knew she was special,” Bill replied casually, still cradling his arm.
“Right, I vote we try and fix your arm, before we work out a way to get out of here. Did you see where your wand went, Bill? I’m sure you’ll need it to get that door open again,” Harry asked.
“Over there somewhere,” Bill replied, grunting as Harry cast a number of Healing Charms on him.
By now, Ginny had managed to regain her composure, somewhat. With measured steps, she approached the fallen body of the mummy and viewed it with satisfaction. In the weak light provided by Bill’s hovering light charm, she saw something glittering. Reaching down, she saw it was the piece of the Moon Hare that Harry had thrown at the mummy. Carefully, she let the jewel dangle between her fingers, and she admired the wonderful craftsmanship of it.
“I’ve got what we came for, boys,” she announced. “Now, let’s get the hell out of here!”
There was no disagreement to her words.
It was evening before the three of them were able to gather together again in Harry’s tent. On their return to the camp, Bill had been rushed to the group’s Healer who immediately set to work on his arm, repairing what Harry’s spells had not.
The news that the three of them had discovered the tomb of Teta the Magician was met with both scepticism and anger, not least because a pair of non-Gringotts personnel had been involved. In the end, Harry had to escort a couple of senior bank staff to the site of their discovery and show them the tomb. The revelation that the tomb was actually what it had been reported to be set off a mild panic amongst the curse-breakers, and Harry had been coerced into signing an agreement stating he had no claim on anything in the tomb, not that he cared.
As most of the Gringotts staff had decamped to Tanis to explore the new discovery, the existing site was soon nearly deserted. Harry, Ginny and Bill all pulled up chairs and sat outside Harry’s tent, watching the sun setting on the horizon and sharing a bottle of chilled white wine that Harry had produced.
“Well, that was an interesting day,” Bill noted, before taking a sip of his wine.
Ginny snorted. “That’s an understatement!”
“Is this the sort of thing you two normally get up to?” Bill demanded. “Bloody hell, Ginny, Mum would have kittens if she had any idea you were involved in stuff like this.”
“Oh, and you think she’d be any happier if she discovered exactly what your job entails? Just because you can pull the wool over her eyes doesn’t mean I can’t, either! Why is it alright for you to risk your life hunting through ancient tombs and not me?” Ginny demanded.
“She makes a good point,” Harry interrupted. “Besides, don’t you think Ginny proved that she can handle herself? We’d probably both be mincemeat if it wasn’t for her.”
Bill scowled, but reluctantly nodded in agreement. “I have to say, I was deeply suspicious when I heard you got this job, Ginny. I thought Potter here must have ulterior motives, but I guess you showed me I was wrong. You two make a good team, actually.”
“We do,” Harry agreed. “I’m coming to rely heavily on your sister. She’s become just about indispensable to me.”
“Only because you can never be bothered with all the small details of our trips,” Ginny countered. “I swear, you’d forget to pack any clean underwear if it wasn’t for me.”
“I’ll leave my underwear entirely in your hands, Ginny,” Harry confirmed with a roguish smile. Even Bill snorted at that.
“So, this should be a huge shot in the arm for your career, big brother,” Ginny told him. “As Harry graciously signed away all rights to the discovery, you can claim the glory all to yourself. I bet Gringotts gives you a promotion, at least.”
“Yeah… maybe,” Bill said glumly.
“You don’t sound very excited by that prospect,” Harry noted.
“No, I guess I’m not,” the tall redhead replied.
“Why? I thought you loved this job. A promotion would mean you could pick or choose what site you worked at,” Ginny exclaimed.
“Actually… I’m thinking of asking for some time off, a leave of absence, if you will.”
“Why?” Ginny asked.
“I thought… I thought I might visit France,” Bill said hesitantly.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to be chasing after Fleur,” she gaped. “I thought you said she was history.”
“I know I did, but… look, to tell you the truth, seeing you and Harry has made me realise what I’m missing,” Bill explained.
“You what?” Ginny cried in surprise.
“What you said to me yesterday has started to hit home. If I truly cared about Fleur, I shouldn’t have let my family’s opinion of her put me off. If living in England made her unhappy, I should have been prepared to compromise, but truth be told, I loved this job so much that I didn’t want to give it up. I think I used you and Mum’s hostility to Fleur as a bit of an excuse, really, when at the end of the day it was my reluctance to really commit that broke us up. Well, I’m starting to realise what an idiot I’ve been, and I’m going to go and beg her for a second chance. If she wants me to move to France then no problem, and if that means quitting Gringotts, then fine. I know the circumstances are very different, but seeing the casual way you and Harry act around each other really drove home what I’ve been missing. All this excitement and adventure is meaningless unless I have someone to share it all with.”
“Wow, that’s a bit of a turnaround,” Ginny muttered.
“If you want my opinion as an outsider, I think you’re doing the right thing,” Harry said. “Becoming obsessed by your work can be a dangerous thing, and loneliness can be a terrible burden. If this girl means as much to you as she appears to do, than you should risk everything to get her back. If you don’t, you could be regretting it for the rest of your life. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can hold your head up and say you gave it your best shot.”
“Seriously, Bill, I may not like her, but if you really do love her, then I’ll welcome her into the family with open arms. Hell, I bet Mum will even warm to her when you present her with her first grandchild,” Ginny told him.
“Ginny!” Bill protested. “Besides, I have no idea if she’ll even want me back. She might have moved on.”
“Best you don’t wait too long to find out, then,” Harry said.
“No, I guess you’re right. I’ll speak to the group leader in the morning,” Bill replied with a steely determination.
“Then I wish you good luck,” Harry said, raising his glass.
All three of them clinked glasses, and watched as the sun dipped under the horizon.
“That doesn’t get any easier!” Harry gasped as he lay panting on the floor.
Ginny hurried over to him and helped him sit up, before draping a towel over his shoulders. The third time in, and she was starting to become more use to these Detection Rituals, even to the point she felt comfortable touching the half-naked Harry. Perhaps ‘comfortable’ wasn’t the word, she decided, maybe ‘eager’ was more fitting.
“What did I come up with this time?” he asked, smiling at her as she wiped him down with the towel.
“Sounds like another trip to Europe,” she advised. “You kept muttering ‘Carpathian Mountains’ and ‘Count Rugila’.”
“What? Oh, I didn’t, did I?” Harry moaned sounding like a petulant schoolboy.
Ginny blinked. She’d never heard him anything less than enthused for any of their destinations. To hear him almost whining was something new.
“Is that a problem?” she asked.
“Yes, the Carpathian Mountains mean one thing: vampires! I think I might have heard of this ‘Count Rugila’, too. If he’s who I think he is, he’s an ancient and powerful vampire who owns a large castle in the mountains. He’s a dangerous bastard, and pure evil!”
“You’ve already faced down a demi-god, Harry. One vampire isn’t going to cause us much trouble, is he?” Ginny asked, thinking of the vampire that had visited Hogwarts during her time there. He hadn’t seemed that impressive.
“Samedi was just humouring us until he got caught up in his own scheme. If he’d decided to just attack us we’d be dead by now, although admittedly we’d probably still be moving about and doing a lot of moaning and groaning. Rugila won’t mess around. He’ll just attack us on sight. He’ll be damn powerful, too, and he won’t be alone. I expect his castle is full of blood-sucking servants and flunkies. Damn it! Why did it have to be vampires? I hate vampires.”
“Are we giving up, then?” Ginny asked, a little shocked.
“No, of course not. I’ve never given up on anything in my life,” Harry said, echoing her own words back in the Hurtgen Forest.
“So, how do we approach this?”
“Carefully, and we go in fully prepared,” he informed her. “The best way to kill a vampire is decapitation, so we’ll both carry swords. That means I’m going to have to train you how to use one. I’ll also have a few spells to teach you, too. Although it’s a myth that vampires are destroyed by sunlight, they certainly don’t like it much. I know a spell that can simulate blazing sunshine which should blind them, if only temporarily. There’s another curse that attacks their blood and leaves them paralyzed, the weaker ones, anyway. I doubt an elder vampire would even notice it being cast on them.”
“Okay,” Ginny said, starting to feel a little nervous. “Are we going to try and negotiate with them initially? I mean, they might be willing to sell their piece of the Moon Hare.”
“No, they won’t have any interest in dealing with humans; they hate us. We’ll try and sneak in to this castle, but I highly doubt we’ll have much success remaining undetected. No, if the situation requires it, we’ll have to go in all guns blazing and kill as many of the bastards as we can. Trust me, we’ll be doing the world a service. If things get too dicey, we’ll simply Apparate away. For all their powers, vampires can’t cast magic.”
“Alright,” Ginny agreed, happy that they had an easy escape mode if the situation got out of hand.
“Know this, however, Ginny. There can be no hesitation or mercy shown when dealing with vampires. They are born killers and totally without remorse. They also have powers of mind control and, if you let them, they will take over your mind and have you begging them to drink your bloody. If you see a vampire, you kill it, instantly. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Harry. I know you well enough by now to know you’re not joking around with this.”
“I’m glad,” Harry said, his expression brightening. “By the way, I didn’t say you had to stop rubbing me with that towel.”
Laughing, Ginny just slapped him lightly over the head with it.
“ I have to say, Harry, you’ve taken me to nicer places!”
Ginny looked around critically at the small Romanian village of Solca. When Harry had selected the location as a suitable place from which they could launch their assault on the vampire’s castle, she’d pictured a rustic, medieval place with quaint buildings full of mystery and charm. What she got instead was a hovel.
“It’s not quite what I imagined, either,” Harry admitted.
They had arrived just outside the village having taken a Portkey from Bucharest. While there were a few older buildings evident, the majority of the houses were ugly breezeblock constructions, all painted in drab colours and in serious need of repair. Several large, metal sheds were located nearby, presumably for agricultural purposes, but they did little to add to the aesthetics of the place. Add in the fact that the weather was damp and miserable, and Solca looked a very unwelcoming place.
“We could just pitch the tent somewhere,” Ginny suggested, not liking the look of the village, at all.
“I was hoping to get a taste of rural Romania,” Harry said, sounding a little disappointed. “I’ve never really explored this part of Europe, the major cities, aside. I was interested to see what this part of the world was like these days. It’s not so long since the Communists lost power here, after all.”
“I guess we could check it out,” she said grudgingly.
“Well, we have come all this way. It would be stupid not to at least have a look around. Besides, I’d be interested in finding out if these villagers know anything about their vampire neighbours. We are only about five miles from the castle, after all.”
“Let’s go, then,” Ginny said with a sigh, and the two of them began to walk into the drab village.
As they walked, Ginny became less and less impressed with the place. The roads were in serious need of repair, with potholes everywhere. Most of the houses they passed seemed in a fairly bad condition, too, with rotting doors and window frames, peeling paintwork, and overgrown gardens. She noticed several rusting cars without wheels, propped up with bricks.
They’d nearly walked through the entire village before they came to an ugly building with a sharply slanted roof, similar to many she’d seen in Germany. The houses in Germany, however, had all been in good repair and had looked sturdy and welcoming. This place looked badly-kept and rather shabby. It was also, she realised with a sinking heart, the village’s only hotel.
“The tent is starting to look more and more appealing,” she muttered.
“Remember, we only brought the small tent, so you’d have to end up sharing a bedroom with me,” Harry pointed out, “or was that your desire, Miss Weasley?”
“My desire, Mr Potter, is to sleep somewhere I’m not likely to catch something off the sheets,” she retorted. “I’d rather share a bedroom with you than a million cockroaches, which is what I’ll probably be doing here.”
“You’d rather sleep with me than a cockroach? Oh, Miss Weasley, you do care!”
Ginny managed to suppress a snort of amusement.
“Seriously, Harry, are you sure about this place?” she asked plaintively.
Harry shrugged. “I do want to gather some local intelligence,” he insisted. “If the place is as bad as it looks, we don’t have to stay here. Believe it or not, I’m not a huge fan of sleeping in insect-infested beds, either.”
“Okay, let’s go in, then,” Ginny agreed.
They entered and found themselves in a large, gloomy room that was littered with numerous tables and chairs. Immediately to their left was a small bar area, featuring a dark-wood counter and a cracked mirror mounted on the wall behind it. Numerous bottles, none of which Ginny recognised, were haphazardly arranged on a shelf beneath the mirror. The whole room smelt of over-cooked meat and cigarette smoke.
Harry headed straight to the bar and wrapped his knuckles loudly against the counter.
“Service!” he called out, there apparently being no other means of attracting the attention of the staff.
A few moments later, a man shuffled into sight from a side room. He was thin, balding, and apparently in his late-forties/early-fifties. He was dressed in a white shirt with a rather threadbare cardigan over it. For some reason, the man reminded Ginny of her father, although he would never have appeared in public quite as grubby as this fellow.
“Yes?” the man said, looking at them inquiringly.
“Good afternoon,” Harry greeted him politely. “I was wondering if we could see a menu?”
“A menu?” the man repeated, as if he’d never heard of such a thing. “Ah, being that we tend only to cater to the local community, we don’t have a printed menu, as such. In fact, we rarely have visitors here in Solca. May I ask why you have come here? We’re not exactly a normal tourist destination, you know.”
“We’re backpackers,” Harry answered smoothly. “There’s nothing my girlfriend and I like better than to head off into the wild and discover new places. We really aren’t much for touristy locations, you know.”
“Ah,” the man said simply, but continued to regard them strangely.
“Yes, we came across this place purely by accident,” Ginny added quickly. It was a good cover story, although she’d had to hide her surprise when Harry had described her as his girlfriend.
“So, would we be able to sample some of your local cuisine?” Harry pressed.
“Of course, although I’m afraid we have only a limited selection available,” the man replied. “You’ve missed our normal lunchtime rush, and normally we don’t serve food again until early evening, but as long as you’re not too picky I’m sure we can rustle something up.”
“We’re always keen to try out the local fare. Please, bring us whatever you have available. Perhaps we could have a couple of glasses of beer while we wait?” Harry asked.
The man nodded and retrieved a glass from underneath the counter. He began to fill it from a pump that had a badge marked ‘Timisoreana’, presumably the name of either the type of beer or the brewery that made it. Soon, Ginny found herself cradling a large glass of frothy, golden beer. Harry soon had one, too, and took a long pull from his. It obviously met his satisfaction, as he smiled appreciatively as he wiped the foam from his lips.
They took seats at what looked like one of the less battered tables and waited for their food. Harry seemed quite happy to sit and swig his beer, although Ginny felt decidedly on edge.
“Well? What do you think?” she asked him quietly while keeping an eye on the bar in case the owner returned.
“I think they make good beer in these parts,” he replied.
“I mean, what do you think about this place?” she growled, resisting the urge to pour her beer over his head.
Harry chuckled. “I think the barman is extremely suspicious of strangers, but that is probably true of any remote village like this. Still, something about him makes me wary. He got this look in his eyes when I said we were backpackers that made me think he didn’t believe me. There’s something odd about the whole village, too. I ask you, Ginny, during our time in this country, have you seen anywhere quite as rundown as this place? I know this country is still recovering from years of being under a dictatorship, but the rest of Romania looked like it was on the up and up. This place… it feels like it hasn’t changed in the last fifty years.”
“Like you said, this is a pretty remote location. Change probably comes pretty slowly to somewhere like this.”
“True, but still, I had the feeling…”
Whatever Harry was about to say was interrupted by the arrival of a young girl bearing a laden tray. She was small, dark, and quite pretty. Ginny judged her to be about fifteen or so, but was more interested in why the girl seemed to be utterly terrified of the pair of them.
“S…s... sorry for keeping you waiting,” the girl stammered. “I hope this is… all… umm… acceptable.”
“What do we have?” Harry asked, offering the scared girl a friendly smile.
“There’s a bowl of tocana, that’s a lamb stew. Some tochitura, which is pan-fried pork. Dovlecei umpluti, that’s stuffed zucchini, and a few sarmale, those are cabbage rolls. Is that okay?”
“I’m sure it will be delicious,” Harry told her kindly.
No sooner had the girl deposited the bowls and plates on the table, then she turned and practically fled from the room. Harry and Ginny shared a look, surprised by her odd behaviour.
The meal proved satisfactory, if not particularly spectacular, but Ginny reasoned that she should expect nothing more judging by the surroundings. Still, the food was honest, hearty fare and she had to admit she enjoyed the pork particularly. They had just finished when the bartender reappeared and came over to them.
“Was that alright?” he asked in a voice that suggested he didn’t care either way.
“Yes, it was very nice,” Harry confirmed. “Tell me, are we very far from the next village? Would we be able to make it on foot before dark?”
“No, you would not. The next village is many miles away, and night would fall long before you reached it. It is best not to walk around here in the dark, either.”
“You’re probably right, this far up into the mountains walking in the darkness would probably be a very bad idea,” Harry agreed.
“Yes,” the man said simply, his eyes guarded.
“Tell me, do you have a room we could rent for the night?” Harry asked, sounding like he’d only just thought of the idea.
“Yes, we are a hotel, after all,” the man replied. “Just the one room?”
“I’ll go and get it ready. Please, finish your drinks and I’ll come and get you when it’s prepared.”
With that, the man vanished behind the bar. Ginny instantly turned on Harry.
“One room? Is this the point when you tell me that this job involves performing duties for you that I wasn’t previously aware of?”
“Ginny, if I thought I could get away with it, I would have suggested that a long time ago,” Harry said with a mischievous glint in his eye. “No, I might be being a bit paranoid here, but I think we should stay together tonight. Something is definitely wrong here, and I believe we should take turns maintaining a watch through the night.”
“Really?” she exclaimed in surprise. “Are you sure we wouldn’t be better off in the tent?”
“No, something is definitely going on around here, and I want to know what it is. This village is only about five miles away from the vampire’s castle, yet everything here seems oddly normal. What did you make of our hosts assertion that we wouldn’t make it to the next village and that we shouldn’t walk around in the dark?”
“It seems sensible advice,” Ginny pointed out, before pausing for a moment. “Although something about the way he said it did give me the creeps.”
“Exactly. There’s more going on here than meets the eye, and I want to find out what.”
“Naturally,” Ginny replied, trying not to roll her eyes. When had Harry not wanted to find trouble?
Suppressing a yawn, Ginny stared out of the window into the dark street below. It was only a little after midnight, but it had been a long day and she was tired. Unfortunately, it was Harry’s turn to sleep.
They had taken the room offered by the hotel owner, and it had proven to be as dingy and dirty as Ginny had feared. As soon as they were alone in the dismal room, Harry had laid out his plan for the evening. He was convinced that the hotel owner was up to something and insisted they maintain a watch throughout the night. After a rather aggressive game of rock, paper, scissors, a victorious Harry had bestowed the first watch on Ginny before curling up in his sleeping bag, neither of them trusted the hotel supplied bedding, and going to sleep. Ginny was left sitting in the dark, trying desperately not to nod off. Sleeping, after all, was one of her favourite hobbies.
She began to rub her eyes again when something outside caught her attention. At the end of the street a bright light flared into life, illuminating the shabby buildings. A moment later, a second light appeared, followed by a third. Ginny watched in fascination as the lights began to move towards the hotel, bobbing up and down slightly as they came.
Eventually, the lights came close enough that she realised what they were: torches. They looked exactly like the ones that had illuminated the dark corridors of Hogwarts during her school days, and appeared to be held aloft by shadowy figures.
As she continued to watch, the torchbearers halted around ten yards in front of the hotel. Soon, in the flickering light she began to see other figures emerge from the darkness and join the three torchbearers. More and more shadowy bodies began to join them, until a sizable crowd was assembled below her window. Realising something odd was going on, Ginny leapt to the bed and woke Harry.
“When did this lot arrive?” he asked her after he had a chance to examine the crowd covertly out of the window.
“Only just a moment ago,” she explained. “They just appeared from out of nowhere and…”
“Wait!” Harry interrupted. “Someone has just come out of the hotel to meet them. Ah, it seems our friendly host has decided to make an appearance.”
Ginny peered down and did indeed see the hotel owner approaching the crowd. The man seemed untroubled by the mob, and in fact seemed to be giving them instructions. With a few waves of his arms, several figures scuttled off left and right, apparently having been given some task.
“Want to bet that they are planning to surround the hotel?” Harry asked.
“Fat lot of good it will do them,” she snorted. “We can just Apparate away, can’t we?”
“Obviously they don’t realise we’re magical,” Harry suggested. “I think they have just been ordered to detain any strangers that come to this village.”
“Ordered? By who?”
“The vampires, obviously,” he replied. “You don’t think this lot have been able to happily live in the shadow of a major vampire settlement without coming to some form of arrangement with their neighbours, do you? I think this merry bunch outside are the bloodsuckers early warning system and first line of defence.”
“They work for the vampires?” Ginny exclaimed in surprise.
“I suspected as much from the cool reception we got when we first arrived. Remember how terrified that serving girl who brought us our lunch was, too. No, something is rotten about this village, and I want to find out exactly what.”
“You mean, we’re not simply going to Apparate away, then?” Ginny asked.
“No, I have a better idea. We’ll gather up all our things, then find a quiet corner to hide under the cover of my Invisibility Cloak. Hopefully, our unruly mob out there will assume we’ve done a runner and simply disperse. After that, I think a little chat with our wonderful host is in order, don’t you?”
“Okay,” Ginny agreed reluctantly. “We’d better hurry, though. It looks like the villagers are starting to enter the hotel.”
“Which is why we always keep our belongings packed away until we need them,” Harry said smugly. “I do have to say, Ginny, this is something of a turn-around. I thought torch-wielding mobs were supposed to go after the monsters, not the monster hunters.”
“Yeah, I suppose they are meant to, aren’t they?” she agreed.
“Indeed. Come on, Ginny, let’s grab our gear and find a nice hidey-hole.”
It was but the work of a few moments to grab their belongings, only the unrolled sleeping bag requiring any effort. After they had stuffed the bag into Harry’s rucksack, they hurried out of their assigned bedroom just as the sound of the mob could be heard coming up the stairs. Harry led them down the corridor and randomly selected another room. They then made themselves comfortable on the single bed the room contained, before covering themselves with Harry’s cloak.
It wasn’t long before they began to hear angry shouting and the sound of running feet. It was, however, a good ten minutes before the door of the bedroom they had taken refuge in was thrown open and a pair of villagers entered. They quickly scanned the room, going only so far as to open the closet and look under the bed, before they left again. Ginny had the impression that the locals believed they had already fled, and hence why only a half-hearted search was made.
In fact, she was more distracted about her close proximity to Harry than worrying about the rampaging locals. They were pressed extremely close together and Ginny luxuriated in the warmth of his body. He had a wonderful, manly scent about him, too. It was strange, no matter what dangerous situation Potter found himself in, he always managed to smell good. She would have to ask him about it one day, she decided. But for now, she was more than happy to be lying next to him, even if she was struggling not to succumb to temptation and start touching him more then she should. Now was most definitely not the time for such things!
They remained on the bed for another forty-five minutes, listening intently as the noise of the mob clattering around the hotel died down. Eventually, silence reigned and Harry pulled the cloak from them.
“Let’s Disillusion ourselves and look for the hotel owner,” Harry whispered. “Hopefully, he won’t have joined the other villagers out hunting for us.”
They stalked out of the room and headed down the stairs to the hotel’s bar-come-dining area. The whole place was dark, but Ginny could just make out a shape leaning against the bar. They approached as quietly as they could, and only when they were a few feet away from the figure did Harry make his presence known.
“I believe you’re looking for us?” he asked casually.
The figure spun around to reveal it was indeed the hotel’s owner who had apparently been frequenting his own bar. The man looked around in confusion, unable to see either of them due to their Disillusionment Charms. A moment later, Harry shot a spell at the man, binding him tightly with ropes. As Harry had become visible the moment he cast the spell, Ginny dropped her charm, too.
“You two!” the man exclaimed. “But you’re… magical!”
“Oh, what gave it away?” Harry asked wryly.
“But I don’t understand. What is a wizard doing here? Your kind know well enough to stay away from this place!” the man said in confusion.
“Oh, Harry never knows when to stay away from somewhere dangerous. I swear, he lives to stir up trouble,” Ginny explained.
“Play nice,” Harry admonished her before turning back to the hotel owner. “Now, you know, I don’t believe we ever learnt your name.”
“It’s Mircea Eliade,” he replied instantly. Ginny could see the fear in the man’s eyes clearly.
“Pleased to meet you, Mircea,” Harry continued in a conversational tone. “My name is Harry Potter, you might have heard of me. The beautiful lady next to me is Ginny Weasley, my friend and travelling companion. You and I, Mircea, are going to have a little chat.”
“Harry… Potter? You are he?” Eliade stammered. “I have heard of you! You are a Dark wizard!”
“Nonsense. Harry’s only moderately evil,” Ginny said with a chuckle.
“I can, however, be quite disagreeable when people don’t answer my questions truthfully,” Harry added. “I’m sure I won’t have to resort to unpleasant practises to ensure I get the right answers, will I? I will know if you’re lying to me, Mircea.”
“I… I… know what your type can do,” Eliade confirmed in a defeated tone. “Ask your questions, and I will give you truthful answers. As much as I can, anyway. I have nothing to lose now, as they’ll probably kill me for this. I might as well spare myself from whatever torture you are planning to inflict on me.”
“Very well,” Harry said. “Firstly, you can explain how this miserable little village can co-exist with one of the most dangerous vampire communities in Europe right on its doorstep.”
“It is simple: we work for them,” Eliade said, confirming Harry’s beliefs. “We have for centuries. We do whatever work they require of us, be it repairing their castle, carrying messages out into the world, or acting as lookouts for anyone suspicious in the area. We informed them of your arrival just minutes after you walked into the hotel.”
“Damn, so they’ll be ready for us,” Harry cursed.
“Do they really leave you alone?” Ginny pressed. “I mean, I can understand that you’re useful to them, but surely the vampires just view you lot as food most of the time, don’t they?”
“We… we have to appease them, from time to time,” Eliade admitted. “We have to give them a quota of young people every year, on mid-summer’s day. They prefer young female virgins, normally.”
“Don’t we all,” Harry agreed.
“Harry!” Ginny exclaimed, and slapped his arm. “How can you joke about this? This is barbaric! These people hand over their own daughters to those monsters. Remember how terrified that girl who served us at lunch was? I wouldn’t be surprised if she was on the list to be handed over to the vampires one day.”
“She is,” Eliade said despondently. “She is my niece, Madalina. She will be given to them two summers from now. She was scared because strangers in the village normally means trouble, and trouble upsets the masters. Sometimes, if we have displeased them, they demand we hand over more people, and not at the normal time. Madalina feared she might have to go early.”
“She knows this will happen to her? Why doesn’t she run?” Ginny demanded.
“They are elder vampires… where could she possibly go to escape them? Besides, if she ran they would punish others here,” the man explained.
“So, that poor girl has to live her life knowing that in a couple of years she’ll be sacrificed to a blood-sucking monster? That poor, poor girl,” Ginny said, feeling outraged by the idea.
“Oh, they don’t always kill them, you know. Sometimes, if the youth is especially attractive or strong, they turn them. I gather the vampires are not on good terms with each other, and clashes frequently occur amongst them. On occasion, they take our children to replace those that have been killed. It is a terrible thing… to see a familiar face, perhaps your own child, to return here stripped of all humanity… to have become one of them… I am glad I never had children, that is all I can say.”
Ginny looked at the man with a mixture of disgust and sympathy. What an awful life these villagers led, being nothing more than slaves to the vampires, unable to ever escape, and having to potentially hand over their own children to be either drained of blood or turned into a monster. She decided she would rather die than live like that.
“What do we do now, Harry?” she asked.
“Firstly, we’re going to Obliviate old Mircea, here. No one will ever know we came back to the hotel. Then, we’re going to get out of here and find a nice, quiet spot to pitch our tent. I’m sorry, Ginny, but you were right in the first place. We should never have stopped in this village.”
“At least we got some useful information. You were right about that,” she pointed out.
“Yes, but the price we paid wasn’t worth it. The vampires know we’re here now, and I’m sure our mysterious escape from that angry mob will have alerted them to the fact that we are not normal tourists. There’ll be no point messing around now, Ginny. I had hoped to try and infiltrate the castle quietly, but that’s not going to work now. We’ll have to launch a full-on assault on, and kill any vampire we come across.”
Ginny nodded. After hearing what was to be the fate of that poor serving girl, she had no problem with that plan, at all.
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