Hermione Granger, newly-appointed Deputy Director of the Vampire Liaison and Advocacy Division, was not happy.
It wasn’t that she didn’t think vampires deserved someone on their side or that she had anything in particular against them; it was just that she’d spent five years fighting for elf rights and she felt rather insulted that, now that they were finally making some real progress, she was being shut out—and all over a couple (dozen) complaints from stuck-up purebloods who didn’t want their servants taken away.
It was simply unconscionable.
But, there was nothing to be done about it now. She’d argued with her supervisor (or rather, former supervisor: Gregory Gallard, Director of the House-elf Office) until she was blue in the face, and then she’d taken it to Minister Shacklebolt, but nothing had been changed. She was deemed too passionate for the office and had been transferred to the V.L.A.D. without so much as a by-your-leave.
She’d got her own office, at least. In fact, everyone in the V.L.A.D. got their own office, and each office had a Floo. While she had to admit this was terribly convenient, she wondered what was so special about vampire liaising that warranted such amenities. That question was answered in part when she saw the papers she had to sign in accepting the position. Among the usual sorts of things about Ministry policies and procedures, there was a thirty-foot scroll which constituted the Division’s confidentiality agreement.
“What you must understand, Ms. Granger,” her new supervisor, Florence Fenwick, explained when she turned in the paperwork, “is that not all vampires are the centuries-old sort you read about in literature. Some are people that have only recently been changed. And some of those are still believed, by the public and even their own families, to be dead. For reasons of their own, they wish it to remain that way.”
Once she heard this reasoning, Hermione acknowledged that it made perfect sense, but it still did not prepare Hermione for the sight that greeted her on this particular spring day: the first vampire to step through the Floo into her office.
“Oh, joy,” sneered a familiar voice. “It’s you.”
Hermione gaped, stuttered, then blurted, “Professor Snape?”
“Observant as ever, I see,” said Snape, raising a derisive eyebrow. “I suppose there aren’t any other agents of this division who could assist me?”
Hermione shook her head, still gawking at him. “All busy.”
“Very well,” Snape said with an air of long-suffering, then sat down in the chair before Hermione’s desk.
“You, er, look good,” Hermione offered, trying to appear the consummate professional that she was supposed to be.
“I presume by ‘good’ you mean ‘not a rotting corpse in the ground’.”
“Er . . . yes.” While it was true that Hermione was astonished to see him alive when she had—she’d thought—witnessed his death seven years ago, she did in fact mean more than Snape suggested. Severus Snape, never an attractive man by any standard—at least while human—had become, to Hermione’s befuddlement, very nearly handsome. His hair was no longer stringy and greasy, but seemed to possess a sort of ethereal shimmer. His skin, previously perpetually shining with the oil of the unwashed, appeared now to be on the verge of—Hermione couldn’t help but think it—sparkling in the simulated sunlight that poured from her window. And his face . . . There were subtle, indefinable changes which nonetheless added up to a marked improvement. His nose was somehow more aristocratic than beakish, his mouth more sculpted than merely thin, his sharp cheekbones more elegant than harsh. His complexion had gone from sallow to simply pale, and his eyes, once flat and black, now were rimmed with crimson. Hermione flushed and tried to think of something to say. “Sorry about . . .”
“Leaving me to die?”
He waved it off. “All things considered, I should be grateful. My lot is, by and large, better now than it had been at the time. I have no master to dictate my every move, no students to vex me with their incompetence, and while the need for blood is admittedly bothersome at times, there are certain . . . compensations.”
Hermione didn’t argue. “Well then,” she said, folding her hands on her desk, “how can I help you today?”
“It’s my . . .” Snape’s lip curled. “There really is no word for it that doesn’t sound like paperback tripe. The vampire who changed me from what I was into what I am.”
“Your sire?” Hermione asked, recalling with an internal rolling of the eyes the term she had been told most vampires preferred.
In response, Snape’s lip curled more deeply.
“What is the problem with . . . him?”
Snape inclined his head in confirmation of the pronoun. “He is utterly unbearable.”
“Really?” Hermione pulled a quill and parchment toward her, bracing herself for the worst. “How so?”
“He whinges incessantly,” said Snape, examining his fingernails. “He berates himself for his own nature, cursing both himself and the vampire who changed him. He moans for hours about the evilness of his past actions and tells me that if I had any decency in me, I would do the world the favor of killing him. He won’t even feed, so I am forced to procure enough of the both of us or watch him either writhe in agony or scrounge for rodents. It’s becoming very tiresome.”
Snape paused, which Hermione would have recognized as a chance for her to speak, had she been listening. Unfortunately, she had become so distracted by what horrors Snape’s procurement might entail that she didn’t realize he’d stopped speaking for several seconds. When she did, she cleared her throat and made another note. “I see. And—not that I’m encouraging this, of course, but—why do you not . . . do as he asks?”
“Kill him?” Snape pursed his lips and looked away before continuing. “I don’t know. Perhaps some remnant of human compassion?”
Hermione choked on her own saliva.
“No,” Snape said, giving her a cruel, knowing smirk. “I doubt that, as well. Maybe something in the magic of the transformation prevents me hurting him. Whatever the reason, I have no desire to hurt him. He irritates me endlessly, yet I cannot kill him. It’s terribly vexing.”
“And what is it you want me to do?” Hermione asked.
Snape gave her the sort of look he’d done when she’d ask what he considered manifestly obvious questions in class. “I want you to talk some sense into him.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “You want me . . . to talk him into not feeling guilty for killing people?”
“I want you to do your job,” Snape stated. “You are an advocate, are you not? Advocate.”
“I advocate for vampires,” Hermione said, shocked. “Not vampirism! I can’t tell a vampire he should go out and kill people!”
“Well, you’d better do something!” Snape snapped at her. For an instant, his eyes blazed, and Hermione honestly feared he might lunge across the table and kill her. It was, to her surprise, and oddly familiar feeling.
“All right, then,” she said, drawing herself up and meeting his steely gaze, “I think you’d better take me to him.”
Moments later, Hermione stepped out of the Floo and onto a rich, plush carpet. She was in a house—a Muggle house, if the television was anything to go on. She looked around nervously. Pictures of an Asian family were lovingly arranged on the mantle.
“Professor,” she said, watching him out of the corner of her eye as she looked around, “whose house is this?”
“Do I look like I’m still a teacher to you, Miss Granger?” Snape asked in an icy tone.
“Fine, then, Mr. Snape,” Hermione shot back. “And it’s Ms. Granger if you don’t mind. Now, would you please answer the question?”
“Certainly,” said Snape, as if the answer couldn’t have concerned him less. “It’s the house of the family we most recently killed.”
Hermione let out a small shriek.
“Or should I say, I most recently killed. He didn’t lift a bloody hand to help me.”
“Mr. Snape!” Hermione gasped, flustered. “I don’t really think you ought to be telling me these things. You realize my best friend is an Auror, don’t you?”
“Do you really think I desire to spend my eternal existence keeping tabs on the Golden Trio?” he sneered. “Though I’m certain if Minerva knew I hadn’t died, she would update me at every available opportunity. More to the point—the Ministry knows perfectly well that vampires live amongst wizards and Muggles, as the existence of your division proves. What do you suppose they believe we live off of?”
Hermione thought of the paperwork she’d recently read. An entire section had been devoted to the vampire’s diet and how, as long as they fed only on Muggles, the Ministry of Magic had no jurisdiction to try them for murder, since (as in any wizarding criminal case) either the victim, the accused, or both must be magical. And once a wizard became a vampire, he was no longer a wizard—either legally or in actual fact.
“This way,” Snape said, and led her through the living room and into the kitchen.
Her heart skipped a beat and she felt sure that if she suffered any more shocks today, her heart would simply give out, no matter how young she was.
“You’ll have to get used to that if you’re going to work for the V.L.A.D. for long,” said the young man—the young vampire—sitting glumly at the table.
“Cedric!” Hermione shouted at him. “You’re—but—” Words failed her.
It was enough of a shock to see Snape back from the dead. There had always been a strange sort of mystery about him, and if Hermione was completely honest with herself, some part of her had always almost believed he could do just about anything. But Cedric Diggory? It was so unexpected, so random, so utterly unreal that she could hardly process it.
He looked exactly as he did when she’d last seen him, charging off into the maze. Well, nearly so, at least. His skin was paler, his eyes black, his brown hair had taken on a strange bronzish hue, and he had somehow grown even more handsome.
“Cedric, how—I saw your body! Harry brought your body back from the graveyard! You were dead!”
Cedric shrugged. “It’s a long story. I can tell it to you if you’d like. I have the time.”
Vampires, Hermione would come to learn, possessed a gift for understatement.
“From the top, then, if you don’t mind,” Hermione said a few minutes later, once she’d composed herself and taken a seat across the table from Cedric. A clean scroll of parchment was unfurled in front of her, a new ink bottle placed beside it, and a quill was gripped firmly in hand.
“It was in the maze,” Cedric said, staring at the table between them. “I was surprised they’d put a vampire in the maze. Seemed a little too dangerous, you know. But when I found out Professor Moody was actually a Death Eater in disguise, it sort of made sense.” He spoke with the kind of depressed monotone that sucked the energy right out of a room, and the characteristic dark circles under his eyes gave him a drawn, sickly appearance. Snape was right; he was depressing.
“So you fought a vampire in the maze,” Hermione prodded after Cedric had said nothing more for several seconds. “I presume it bit you?”
Cedric nodded. “I didn’t notice it at the time. I think it must have grazed me with its teeth while we were fighting. I Stunned it and ran off. I didn’t have time to examine myself for damage because as soon as I turned the next corner, I spotted the cup.” He let out a small, bitter laugh. “I think you know what happened from there.”
“Er . . . yes,” said Hermione. It wasn’t something she cared to dwell on. “You didn’t feel any pain from the bite, though? I’ve read that vampire venom is agonizing.”
Cedric shrugged. “Maybe it was the adrenaline. Maybe it was the fact that I’d already gotten on the wrong end of a Crucio and it still smarted a bit. A lot was going on at the time, and it all happened so fast. I thought I was about to win, and then we were in a graveyard, and then someone was coming. The next thing I knew, I was lying in a box in the darkness, and I felt different.”
“Fascinating.” Hermione’s quill was dripping ink onto her parchment. After a moment, she came to herself and started scribbling furiously. “The vampire venom must have changed you just enough so that the Killing Curse merely brought you nearly to the point of death, but not quite across the line. Oh, Harry would be so interested to know he’s not the only one now who’s—”
“You can’t tell Harry!” Cedric looked at Hermione with wide, urgent eyes. “Not anyone, but him especially!”
“I’ll remind you of your confidentiality agreement, Ms. Granger,” Snape said softly from the head of the table.
“I didn’t mean—No, of course I wouldn’t tell anyone! But . . . why especially not Harry?”
“Because he”—Cedric looked down, ashamed—“he thinks I’m a hero. If he knew what I really was . . . No. Cedric Diggory died in that graveyard. That’s what everyone believes. That’s what I want them to believe.”
“But why, Cedric? People know vampires exist. I’m sure they’d adjust. Your family—”
“I think perhaps Cedric should tell you the rest of his story,” Snape said smoothly.
“All right,” Hermione said after a moment, and waited.
“I did very well in Defense Against the Dark Arts, you know,” Cedric continued. His brow was pinched like he was in pain. “It didn’t take long after I woke up for me to realize what had happened. When I clawed out of my own grave with barely any effort and saw the vampire from the maze waiting for me, I knew I was right.”
“Waiting for you?” Hermione asked. “How did he know?”
“He was a foul creature. Not all that old. He thought I’d be his minion. At first I was astonished at some of the things he said to me, but then I realized he wasn’t saying them at all. He was thinking them.”
“Of course!” Hermione gasped. “When I came in, you knew what I was thinking. You’ve got an extra ability. I’ve read that sometimes happens.”
“Have you?” Snape asked in mock astonishment.
Pointedly ignoring Snape, Hermione asked, “So, you didn’t stay with him, I take it?”
“I . . . killed him, actually,” Cedric answered. “He was . . . just horrible. It made me very angry.”
“Oh.” Hermione made a note. “Er, then what? How did you adjust to being a vampire?”
“Poorly,” Snape answered for him.
Cedric didn’t argue with that. “I didn’t want to be this way, Hermione. I’d had it all planned. I’d finish school, take a job at the Ministry, maybe find a nice girl to marry. Speaking of which—I know Harry felt guilty about dating Cho. I wanted to tell him he didn’t need to. Things were never all that serious between us.”
Cedric hesitated. “After I disposed of the other vampire, I tried to stay away from humans. I thought that if I wasn’t near them, I could avoid hurting them. Obviously, I couldn’t return to Hogwarts. So, I stayed away from everyone. I didn’t feed. I lived off animals. But then another vampire found me, told me Voldemort had returned and was gathering forces, and suggested I join him.”
“I could hear in his mind what they were planning. A group of vampires was going to attack a Muggle village. I couldn’t let them do that. Muggles don’t even have magic. They’d have been defenseless.”
Hermione looked pointedly at a family photo on the wall. “I can’t help but notice your philosophy seems to have changed.”
Cedric grimaced. “They weren’t killing for food. They were doing it for sport, and because Voldemort told them to. So I stopped them.”
“I called the Volturi.”
Hermione searched the catalogues of her mind for the name. “The Italian vampires who act as self-appointed law-enforcement for the world’s vampire population?” The Ministry of Magic did not care for them, as they rarely cooperated with investigations.
“They don’t like vampires being that obvious about their killing,” said Cedric. “A group of them came to England, tracked down the vampires who were going to attack the village, and killed all of them before they got the chance.”
Hermione stared. “The Volturi were in England?” The possibilities were harrowing. “But surely Voldemort would have got them on his side?”
“He tried. But the Volturi . . . aren’t really evil. They like the existence of vampires to stay a secret, at least from Muggles. Voldemort would have had vampires running amok, killing whoever, whenever, wherever they wanted. The Volturi didn’t want that to happen. So they made it known that any vampire who was Voldemort’s friend was their enemy. And you don’t want to be the Volturi’s enemy.”
“That’s why there weren’t any fighting with him in the battle. Were the Volturi in Britain the whole time?”
Cedric shook his head. “They told me to keep my ear to the ground, so to speak, which I was only glad to do. I knew I couldn’t do much in the fight against Voldemort, but if I could keep too many vampires from joining his side, it would be something. I started staying close to Hogwarts—listening in on people’s thoughts, mostly. There was a cave outside Hogsmeade. I was able to keep tabs on things. That’s also how I learned the truth about what Severus was doing at the school during that last year. He could hide it from everyone but me.”
“Aggravating, but ultimately for the best, I suppose,” said Snape.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him. In some crazy way, Snape really did seem more relaxed and tolerant as a vampire than he had as a human. It seemed to suit him in a way it clearly didn’t suit Cedric.
“So, I was there when it all came down at the end,” Cedric continued.
“The battle at Hogwarts,” Hermione whispered.
“I wanted to help—so badly. But it didn’t take long for the blood to start flowing, and I knew if I got in there, I’d lose my mind. I’d kill people without caring whose side they were on. But I thought—I hoped—that maybe I could at least do something, just one little thing. Then I heard people in the Shrieking Shack. Yes, Hermione, I heard you there, and Harry, and the others. I heard everything that happened, and I saw my chance. I thought you’d try to save Severus, but I suppose his disguise as a Death Eater was good enough even to fool you and Harry. But I knew better. I’d read it in his mind. His Occlumency wasn’t strong enough to stop me.”
“So, that’s what happened!” Hermione thrust her quill point at him. “We wondered where his body’d gone. You went in after Harry and Ron and I left and saved him. But we thought he was dead when we left!”
“Not quite,” Snape said, and steepled his fingers.
“So many people died that night,” Cedric said, frowning. “I wished I could have saved more of them. But at least I did something.”
“I must say I’m surprised. If you weren’t happy being a vampire, why would you make someone else one?”
“Because I needed to do something. And, at the time, I thought that it was better to be a vampire than to be dead.”
He seemed to be getting to the point. “And what changed your mind?” Hermione asked carefully.
“I killed my father.”
Hermione’s hand flew to her mouth, but she quickly regained herself. “Amos Diggory . . . I’d—I’d heard there was some kind of attack, but they never discovered . . .”
Cedric’s face was screwed up in self-loathing. “I’d thought I had enough control, and after the war was over . . . It had been so long. I wanted to see my family again. I thought that finally I could. I was wrong. He . . . smelled so much better than I expected. Maybe because we had the same blood . . .”
Finally, Hermione understood why he was acting the way he was, why he so hated what he’d become that he’d ask Snape to kill him and refuse food unless it was brought to him.
“Cedric . . . I’m so sorry.” There were tears in Hermione’s eyes. She couldn’t imagine the sort of emotional turmoil Cedric must have felt.
“I didn’t bring you here to feel sorry for him,” Snape snapped. “I brought you here to fix him.”
Hermione blinked away the tears and looked at Snape, astonished. “What can I possibly do to make this any better?”
“Obliviate me.” Cedric looked at her as if surprised at his own suggestion. “Neither Severus nor I can attempt it, since we’ve lost our magic, and I don’t want any more people than necessary to know about me. But you’re a witch, Hermione. You can take the memories away.”
“I—Cedric, I can’t.” An image of Gilderoy Lockhart flashed through her mind.
“Why not?” Snape asked. “You are . . . adequate at memory charms. Enough to try it on your own parents, at any rate.”
Hermione shook her head. “That was different. That was a much simpler charm. Making a memory go away forever is much more delicate, if I want to do it without risking damage to the brain. And I’ve never done it to a vampire before. What if it’s not the same?”
“Please,” Cedric implored.
“I’m sorry, Cedric. I can’t risk it. I just don’t know enough.”
“Then, I suppose it’s back to plan B,” Snape said, folding his arms comfortably. “I know I didn’t want to, Cedric, but it appears Ms. Granger has forced my hand. When would you like to die?”
“Wait, now!” Hermione interjected. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t help! I’ll—I’ll find something, some way to help you, Cedric. Just . . . give me a little time.”
Cedric frowned and stared at the table. “All right. But please try to hurry.”
“Yes.” Snape glared at her as if his problems were all her fault. “Our time may be limitless, but our patience is not.”
The Floo flashed, and Hermione nearly snapped her quill in two.
Cedric’s was only one of Hermione’s cases, but it held a monopoly on her time. This was largely due to the near-daily visits from Snape. They were jarring at first, these visits, and reminded her unpleasantly of her first weeks at Hogwarts, when she was forever dropping her books because she’d turned a corner and nearly walked through a ghost. After the initial phase, there were a few weeks where she’d enjoyed them quite a bit. Snape was an intelligent person, and she enjoyed hearing his take on life as a vampire, the political developments following the war, and any number of other topics. Then, as she got busier and her boss began demanding why she was so behind on her other cases, Snape’s visits had begun to take their toll.
“Ms. Granger,” said Snape by way of greeting, and sat himself in the chair across her desk. “Any progress?”
“Since yesterday? No. And how exactly do you expect progress to occur when you come here and badger me all the time?”
He ignored her utterly. “I was rather proud of Cedric today. I think he might be coming around after all.”
Her stomach rolled. This didn’t sound good.
“He killed a human.”
Hermione grimaced. “That’s . . . delightful.”
“It was a low-life,” Snape said as if this were a disappointment. “A hoodlum ten seconds away from raping some girl. But still. He killed the man, and he liked it.”
“Oh.” To her annoyance, Hermione didn’t quite feel so bad about Cedric killing someone now. “He saved a girl from being raped?”
“Please do try to remain on-topic, Ms. Granger.”
“Does this mean you don’t need help with him any more? Have you . . . sorted him out?”
“No.” Snape scowled impatiently. “He was already berating himself for it before we’d hidden the body. But, I suppose, progress is progress.”
Hermione sighed and went back to her paperwork. She tried in vain to ignore Snape for nearly an hour before he finally gave up, leaving her alone and all the more determined to find a solution to Cedric’s problem.
In one of the last phone booths left in London, Hermione picked up the receiver, inserted several pounds’ worth of coins, and dialed. She’d spent the last four months researching ways to help Cedric, and it had seemed nearly impossible. But finally, she’d heard of someone who could help.
“Forks Hospital. How may I direct your call?”
“Is Dr. Cullen there?”
Jazz music began to play. Hermione tapped her fingers on the window of the booth. The receiver clicked.
“This is Dr. Cullen.” The voice on the other end of the line was pleasant and professional, as well as familiarly English with just a bit of an American accent seeping in around the edges.
Hermione was suddenly flustered. “Er, Dr. Carlisle Cullen?”
“Yes . . .” The voice grew wary.
“Dr. Carlisle Cullen . . . the vampire?”
There was a long pause—then, much quieter and more cautious: “Who is this?”
“My name’s Hermione Granger. I’m with the Ministry of Magic in Britain.”
“Ah.” Relief. “Ms. Granger, you do realize you’ve called me at work, don’t you?”
“Yes, Doctor, and I apologize for that, but I couldn’t find any other number for you.”
“If you know where I work, then you know I can’t talk now. You also know that you could have spoken to me in person.”
“Of course. But I thought it best not to surprise you by simply showing up unannounced.”
“Perhaps a good idea,” Dr. Cullen allowed. “Now that you’ve announced yourself, would you care to come to my house for dinner?”
Hermione froze. Was that some kind of vampire humor?
“Sorry,” he said into the uncomfortable silence. “Sometimes I forget . . . I would prefer not to discuss whatever you have to discuss with me over the phone. And really, my wife loves any chance to practice cooking for—others.”
“Of course, Dr. Cullen.” Now it was her turn for relief. “When should I be over?”
“Actually, let’s make it breakfast. Tomorrow morning at seven, your time, if that’s not too soon.”
“But that’s the middle of the night for you!”
“That’s not a problem, Ms. Granger,” he said gently, and she flushed, grateful that he didn’t mock her for her slip-up.
“Then that sounds great.” She almost said goodbye, but something else came to mind. “Would you mind if I brought a guest?”
“Should we set another place?” The wariness was back.
“No,” she admitted. “He’s one of you, but he’ll behave himself.”
“All right, then.” He didn’t sound entirely convinced.
On the way to Cedric and Snape’s purloined residence, she bought a live chicken, which Cedric accepted with a grimace and thanks. Snape, she was dismayed to see, had already eaten.
“Why are you going to America?” Cedric asked, and Hermione cursed her inability to keep her mind shut. “It’s not your fault. I don’t think there’s anyone whose mind I can’t read, whether I want to or not.”
Hermione started singing the theme song to Darkwing Duck in her head. “Never mind, Cedric. Just drink your chicken. Mr. Snape, a word, please.”
To get ‘a word’ in private, Snape and Hermione had to take a Muggle bus to a park half-way across the city.
“I’m going to meet some vampires in the States,” Hermione said without preamble. “I’ve done some research, and I think they might be able to help Cedric.”
“Oh?” One eyebrow crept up Snape’s forehead.
“They call themselves vegetarians. They only feed on animals. If they’re willing to take Cedric in, I think they could help him come to terms with being a vampire.
Snape’s face was frozen in an expression of mild horror. “They only feed on animals?”
“Don’t look like that!” She slapped him admonishingly on the chest; it stung. “I think it’s noble they’re trying to be good.”
“Good vampires, Ms. Granger? There’s no such thing.”
“You’re just cynical.”
“Do you want to come or not, then? I thought that since you’re sort of Cedric’s family now, you might care about what happens to him.”
“Visit the vegetarian vampires?” His lips curled in amusement. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Dr. Carlisle Cullen was, it had to be said, drop dead gorgeous (no pun intended)—but no more so than the two vampires he introduced as his sons. In the back of her mind, Hermione observed that Cedric would fit in well with them.
“So, you’re a witch, huh?” said the one called Emmett. He was massive, with a disconcertingly boyish grin. “That’s cool. I’ve never met one before.”
“How old are you?” Hermione asked. His inexperience with wizards, as well as his manner of speaking, seemed to corroborate his youthful look.
“He’s a kid,” said the most gorgeous woman Hermione had ever laid eyes on. She was wearing a wry smile. “Only eighty-eight.”
“Why have you come here?” asked the tall, lithe vampire whose straw-colored hair hung past his clenched jaw in waves. There was nothing whatsoever youthful about him—unless one were fooled by his face.
Hermione felt a vague sense of restlessness and a strange twinge of hunger. Beside her, the other vampires tensed.
“Patience, Jasper,” said Dr. Cullen. “Alice, will you take him outside, please? You’ll know if we need you.”
Pouting a little, a tiny pixie of a vampire took Jasper’s hand and led him out.
“I’m sorry about that,” said Dr. Cullen. “Jasper’s the newest to our way of life, and he’s . . . seen enough to be suspicious of others of our kind.”
Pushing down a desire to hear what sounded like an interesting story, Hermione asked, “How did he adopt this lifestyle in the first place?”
“He and Alice came to us.” Dr. Cullen’s mouth twitched into a smirk. “They said they were joining our family, and it was simply no good refusing them.”
“Do you often take in strays?” Snape asked, sizing Emmett up.
“I get the feeling this is what you’re here to talk about,” said Dr. Cullen’s wife, Esme, who had the air of a long-time mother about her, despite looking barely older than Hermione. “Please, won’t you come to the dining room? Then you can start from the beginning.”
The dining table was large enough for eight people and laden with food enough for ten. There was only one place setting.
“I didn’t know what you like,” said Esme, as if preparing twelve entrees, four sides, and three dozen pastries were the natural solution to this quandary.
“It smells delicious!” Hermione hadn’t seen a meal like this since Christmas breakfast at the Burrow, and she thought that if the food tasted as good as it smelled, Esme could give Molly a run for her money.
“Does it? Oh, good. I can never tell.” Esme’s tone was modest, and she looked genuinely pleased at the compliment.
Snape looked as if he thought the spread smelled like a dead raccoon. Though as he’d probably have preferred a dead raccoon, Hermione didn’t think his opinion on the subject mattered much.
They all took their seats, and the vampires watched as Hermione ate.
“Er, Mr. Snape,” she said after several minutes, “why don’t you apprise our hosts of the problem.”
“This ‘vegetarianism’ is spreading,” Snape said. For the next three hours, Hermione and Snape explained the situation to the Cullens. It took longer than it might have done owing to the need to explain even such things as Hogwarts, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and Voldemort. Around the time Snape was talking about what would have been his death, Jasper and Alice came back in and joined them.
“I see,” said Dr. Cullen when they’d finished. “And you want us to take this Cedric into our family.”
“He’s not like other vampires,” said Hermione. “I thought perhaps with some guidance from someone with experience, and living among others with a similar lifestyle, he might not be so miserable.”
A look passed among the Cullens: a silent conversation.
“Of course we’ll take him,” said Dr. Cullen, looking at Hermione with the compassion for which he was so famous. “If he truly wants to live as we do.”
Esme frowned. “Have you talked to him about this?”
Hermione blushed, and Jasper leaned forward in his seat. “Er, no. I wanted to find out if it was even a possibility before getting his hopes up.”
“It is.” Dr. Cullen nodded. “Talk to him. You know where to find us when you’re ready.”
“Really, Mr. Snape, they weren’t that bad,” Hermione said as she walked back up to her office from the Department of Magical Transportation, where the Portkey from Seattle had dumped her and Snape.
“Which is precisely the problem,” Snape replied, holding a door for her. “I’ve never seen a more pathetic group of delusional goody-goodies.”
“The fact that one does not regularly commit homicide does not make one a goody-goody.”
“It does if one is a vampire.”
“They’ll help Cedric. Isn’t that what’s important?”
“Oh, I have no doubt that Cedric will fit right in with that lot. Like seven little flobberworms in a pod.”
“They are not boring, Severus! Dr. Cullen is three hundred and sixty-four years old. Think of all he must have seen in that time.”
“He went three hundred and sixty-four years without killing a single human. How interesting can he be?”
“Has it occurred to you, Severus, that I am human?”
“I’m well aware of that fact, and I intend to murder you as soon as you’re no longer useful to me. And I have not granted you leave to use my given name, you insolent chit.”
“Sorry, Mr. Snape. I hadn’t realized I’d done so. And I’ll remind you that killing me would get you arrested.”
“I’m positively aquiver.”
“You should be, Severus, or I might just forget about my confidentiality agreement, and you’ll have to spend all your evenings for the foreseeable future telling Harry stories about his mum.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“You know me better than that, Severus.”
Snape grumbled something she couldn’t hear, followed her into her office, and grabbed a handful of Floo powder.
Cedric was shaking his head before Hermione had even finished explaining.
“I appreciate the effort you’ve put into this, Hermione, but it’s not good enough.”
“What do you mean? I couldn’t have imagined a better scenario if I tried. These vampires don’t kill humans, and they’re willing to accept you into their family and teach you how to live like they do.”
“Which is all well and good for the future. But it still wouldn’t take away the memory of killing my own father. I’m sorry, but I can’t live with that. You can’t imagine how unbearable it is.”
“I’m sure that would lessen over time,” Hermione suggested.
Snape gave her a hard look. “You’re sure? Tell me, Ms. Granger—how many loved ones have you murdered?”
“Then what do you suggest?” she shot back, refusing to feel chastised.
Snape didn’t answer.
“Cedric, I’ve already told you—”
“Please, Hermione. It’s the only way. I can’t live for eternity knowing what I’ve done. If you don’t . . . I’ll find some way to kill myself, even if I have to anger the Volturi to do it.”
“Cedric, you can’t!”
“I will, Hermione, if you don’t do as I ask. I don’t want to, but I will. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. Severus won’t kill me himself, but he won’t stop me if I find someone else to do it.”
Hermione gaped and looked to Snape, who shrugged. “He’s right.”
“I don’t believe you!” she shrieked. “You’re a horrid man, Severus Snape, if you’d just stand by and—”
“Correction,” Snape said calmly. “I was a horrid man. Now I’m a horrid vampire. And if someone truly wants to seek the coward’s way out, who am I to refuse them that choice?”
“So, that’s it, then? Just let him go get himself killed?”
“That is not it,” Snape pointed out. “You could do as he asks.”
Cedric nodded. “If you’ll remove that memory, then I’ll go live with these other vampires. Please just do this one thing.”
Hermione looked between the two of them, weighing her options. But there really were none. Not if Cedric was sincere in his threat, which she believed he was. There was a risk with memory modification, but death was a certainty otherwise. “Fine. I’ll try it.”
Cedric flashed her a heartbreaking smile. “Thank you.”
Since they were already sitting across from each other at the dining table, Hermione pulled her wand from her bag. There was no point in delaying. She’d already looked for any precedent when it came to Obliviating vampires, and there was none.
“Hold still, Cedric, and look me in the eye.” He did so, and she pointed her wand at him. She stopped. “You’re quite certain?” He nodded. She pointed her wand at him again. “Legilimens.” The memory was not hard to find; it was just below the surface, as Hermione imagined it probably always was. Hermione watched in horror as Cedric walked into a back garden, smiling; his father walked out from the house, stared in shock at Cedric, and then—“Obliviate,” she whispered just in time to see Cedric grab his father before the memory vanished.
She let out a breath and sat back. “It’s done. I got it.”
There was no response.
“Cedric? It is gone, isn’t—” Hermione gasped.
Cedric was staring blindly at her. Unresponsive. Catatonic.
Words slipped from her mouth that she could only have picked up from Ron, and she shook Cedric by the shoulders. “Cedric, wake up! Come on, Cedric!”
Then he jerked, met her eyes, and he was back. “Hello, Hermione.” He lifted one corner of his mouth in a strange, crooked grin—like his smile was only half working. She was sure it was nothing. “Is everything okay?”
She sighed and sat back down. “Yes, Cedric. It’s okay.”
But it wasn’t.
The next day, Hermione went back to work and started making arrangements for Cedric’s move to the States. She was just beginning to count her first case in this job a success when Snape appeared in her Floo.
“Come to kill me now that I’m of no use to you?” she quipped.
“Unfortunately, Ms. Granger, I still have need of you.”
“Come look for yourself.”
She stepped through the Floo to find Cedric sitting in an arm chair, muttering.
Hermione approached cautiously. “Cedric?”
Cedric’s voice was low, his fingers twitching in the air. “Maybe I should call her. We had a good time, didn’t we? So she didn’t let me kiss her. Maybe she’s just playing hard to get.”
Hermione barely registered the sound of a car driving past, but in the same moment, Cedric’s demeanor changed.
“He doesn’t understand. Obviously he’s never been in love or he’d get it. He’s just jealous. Well, I don’t care. I’m in love with Jason and if I have to run away to be with him then—”
Cedric’s head snapped around, and he stared with wide eyes at Hermione, his expression a perfect mirror of her own.
“Oh Merlin, what’s wrong with him? He’s gone mad. What’s he doing? My thoughts—he’s reading my thoughts. What have I done to him?”
He didn’t stop. Words kept coming in an endless stream—Hermione’s thoughts spoken with Cedric’s mouth as if they were his own. He didn’t appear to know the difference.
Then a cold hand was on Hermione’s shoulder and a voice said, “Calm down, Ms. Granger. It’s your agitation he’s picking up on. Control your emotions and it will stop.”
Hermione struggled to do as Snape said; she took deep breaths, closed her eyes, and finally Cedric’s words ceased and he settled back into his chair, staring at the wall. Hermione clapped a hand over her mouth and struggled to control the tears that wanted to come. Taking her arm, Snape led her into the kitchen.
“How long has this been going on?”
“Since before dawn. At first it was sporadic. When he came out of it, he would be more or less himself again. It worsened quickly.”
She paced the room, shaking her head. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have done it. Why did I let him talk me into it?”
Her heart started racing again, and she heard Cedric resume his muttering in the other room.
“Because the alternative was letting him commit suicide. Wallowing in guilt will do nothing, Ms. Granger. The question is what you will do now.”
She stopped pacing and looked at him. “What can I do? What more can I do that won’t make him worse?’’
“I don’t know. But from the looks of things, doing nothing isn’t an option.”
Hermione nodded, took another deep breath, and went back into the living room. He was muttering again. Hermione pulled up a chair across from him.
“ . . . hired me for a reason. I’m perfectly qualified—”
“ . . . dress is too short. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. In the interview I’m sure he was staring at my—”
“Cedric, look at me.”
It was no good. Cedric wasn’t home.
With a sigh, Hermione pulled her wand. She needed to see what was going on in his head. Maybe if she could see what was wrong, she could see how to fix it.
His mind was a tangled jungle of memories, and none of them were his. A little girl running from a playground bully. A husband caught with another woman. An old man being told he has a fatal illness. They flew at her one after another with no logical flow.
She broke the connection and sat back, no closer to an answer.
Cedric had stopped talking. He was still as a statue, staring into nothing.
“What did you do?” The voice was quiet and flat, but it made Hermione start. She hadn’t heard Snape enter the room.
“Nothing. I didn’t do anything. I just looked.”
They watched Cedric in silence as the minutes stretched on. Cars passed, and he said nothing. A group of arguing teenagers walked down the street, and he said nothing. Hermione grew frantic with worry, and still he said nothing.
“You’ve broken him,” Snape observed.
“But I didn’t do anything!” Hermione protested.
“Perhaps,” Snape mused, “the minds of vampires are not meant to be poked around in.”
“No.” Hermione shook her head fiercely. “There’s got to be a way to fix this, and I’m going to find it.”
“Thanks for fitting me in, Terry,” Hermione said, taking the seat on the other side of his desk. “I know you must be very busy.”
“Nonsense. I’ve always got time for a fellow D.A. member.” He winked. “What can I help you with?”
“What do you know about using memory charms on non-human beings?”
Terry frowned in thought. “Only that it’s not done often. Given that you’re working in the V.L.A.D. now, I presume you’re talking about vampires?”
She nodded. “I’ve got one who . . . wants to be rid of a certain memory. I was thinking of using an Obliviate.”
Terry leaned forward, his hands folded, his elbows resting on the table. “I wouldn’t advise it. We don’t know enough about how the minds of non-human species work, but it’s a good bet they’re not the same as us. What would work for a human could cause serious damage to another race.”
Hermione frowned. “Yes, that’s what I thought. But surely you have some idea how I could help him.”
“Not that I know of,” he said apologetically. “Well, maybe . . .” He broke off and looked away.
“Nothing. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Terry, what is it? This is very important to me.”
“I can’t, Hermione. I’ve said too much already.” Then, sheepishly: “There’s a reason they call us Unspeakables.”
“Terry, if you know of something that can help, please tell me. I won’t tell your supervisors.”
“No, Hermione. I’m sorry. Thought is a very delicate thing, and our knowledge of it is still very sketchy, even after years of studying it. And what I was thinking of is far sketchier still. It’s way too dangerous.”
Hermione chewed on her lip, trying to think of something she could say to convince him. But she knew Terry well enough to know that if he thought it was his duty to keep a secret, he would. It was a quality she’d always appreciated in him—until now.
Cedric’s face swam into her vision, his eyes blank and hollow. She’d done that to him. And she had to fix it, no matter what penalty she’d have to pay.
She pulled her wand.
Hermione lost her balance, falling onto the carpet with a thud. She scrambled up, ignoring the soot in her hair and on her robes.
“Come on,” she ordered. “There’s no time to waste.”
Snape raised an eyebrow at her. Cedric did nothing at all.
“Come on!” she shouted, pulling one of her quills from her pocket. “They’ll be here any second! Here, this is a Portkey. It’s set to go once we’re all three touching it.”
“Ms. Granger, what is the meaning of—”
“Just do it, Severus!”
Scowling, he rose from his seat and came to where she stood beside Cedric. She held out the quill and he grasped the tip. She picked up Cedric’s hand—cold and stiff and lifeless as if he were really dead—and placed his finger on the middle of the quill.
She saw the flash of Floo powder in the fireplace the instant before she felt the tug behind her navel, then they were gone.
Cedric’s body collapsed with a muffled thump, but Hermione ignored it. It wasn’t his body she was concerned with.
“To where have you abducted us, Ms. Granger?”
Hermione looked around at the landscape before them. It was an arid, empty desert, as far from London as it was possible to get.
“Somewhere in Namibia. It’s this way, I think. Pick him up, will you?”
Snape did so, carrying Cedric as easily as if he were no more than an oversized rag doll.
“And why did we leave in such a rush?”
“The Aurors were after me.”
“I see. And why—”
“Because I used an Unforgivable on a fellow Ministry employee with no good cause whatsoever,” she snapped.
“Did you?” He sounded impressed. “Only the Imperius Curse, I suppose.”
“Yes. Only the Imperius Curse. Which is still enough to send me to Azkaban for the rest of my life.”
“And why, exactly, did you do something so phenomenally stupid?”
Hermione jerked her head toward Cedric. “To save him. Terry Boot knew of some way that might work, but he wouldn’t tell me.”
“So you took the choice out of his hands.” He nodded approvingly. “Ms. Granger, you’re becoming positively corrupt.”
“I am not! I—I didn’t have a choice!”
“The cry of the corrupt.”
“If I’m corrupt, then it’s you who’s corrupted me.”
“Well, who else?” She stormed onward, grumbling, “They should have let me stay with the house-elves.”
They walked deeper and deeper into the heart of nowhere until, with startling suddenness, they came upon an encampment: six animal-skin tents arranged in a circle around a campfire. Hermione saw no one.
Snape looked around. “This place is not as empty as it looks.”
There was shuffling, then a man appeared in the doorway of one of the tents. He was black as the night around him, with strange piercings all over his face and hands. His robes were sewn from some sort of skins Hermione couldn’t place. The wand in his hand was crooked and gnarled. His eyes seemed to glow.
“What is this, Hermione?” Snape asked, his voice barely above a whisper, but dangerous.
She ignored him and addressed the man across from them. “Are you Malak?”
The man nodded slowly. “I am.”
She reached to where Snape stood beside her and laid her hand on Cedric’s shoulder. “This vampire has suffered damage to his mind. I was told you might be able to restore him.”
“Lay him here,” said Malak, pointing to the ground between himself and the campfire.
Hermione met Snape’s eyes and nodded.
“Hermione,” he warned, “this is dark magic.”
Snape stared at her, but she didn’t look away from him. After a long moment, he stepped forward, laid Cedric down, and resumed his position beside Hermione.
Malak crouched beside Cedric’s inert form and waved his wand over him in some kind of evaluative charm.
“I didn’t mean what I said,” Snape said quietly as they watched Malak work. “You are not corrupt.”
“Are you sure you want to do this? There’s a chance they might forgive the Imperio if we turn around and go back now.”
“I can’t leave him like this.”
They stood in silence, shoulder to shoulder, until Malak finished his analysis. “There is much damage. Too much to rebuild his mind from what is here.”
“What?” Hermione gasped. Panic flooded her. She’d risked everything and now it wouldn’t even work. “Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“There is. But it requires a . . . donor. To make patches in his mind.”
Hermione’s eyebrows pressed together. “You mean . . . fill the missing parts of his mind with parts from someone else?” Malak nodded solemnly. “And . . . what would happen to the donor? Would it hurt them?”
Malak shrugged. “Can’t say. Never have I done this with vampires.”
Hermione swallowed hard. “All right, then. I’ll do it.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Severus! But it’s my—”
“The patch will likely work better from one vampire to another.” His gaze softened just for a moment, and there was something in it which Hermione couldn’t read. “I won’t let you do it.” His voice was soft, but his command was clear.
He left her and walked to Malak. She wanted to reach out, to argue with him, but she knew that if this was really the way he wanted it, she wouldn’t be able to stop him.
She watched helplessly as Malak pointed his wand at Snape and a thin tendril of blue light crept from the tip and encircled Snape’s body. Like a snake, the tendril lengthened and crept toward Cedric, winding itself around his body, as well.
Snape jerked and cried out, and Hermione gasped. She’d taken a step toward him before she caught herself. Malak’s face was tight with concentration, but he didn’t look surprised. Whatever he was doing, this was what was meant to happen.
A scream broke the night stillness, and Hermione stepped forward again. Snape was clearly in pain, writhing and gnashing his teeth. What had she done to him? How many people would she hurt before she cleaned up this mess?
Unable to watch Snape twist in pain, she focused on Cedric. She had no idea if this was helping him at all. He lay like a corpse on the ground, surrounded by the light of the spell, until he finally—finally—showed signs of life once more.
When it was over, she ran to them with tears in her eyes. “Are they all right? Did it work?”
“It worked,” said Malak.
She let out a scream of shock as Snape’s ice cold hand closed around her wrist.
He opened his eyes. “I think,” he said, “that I’m still all here.”
She breathed a sigh of relief and looked at Cedric. He, too, was just beginning to stir. “Thank you,” she told Malak. “Thank you so much.”
“He will not be the same person as before,” Malak warned. “He is too much different.”
For the first time, Hermione wondered what to do now. She hadn’t expected this. She’d thought the warlock would be able to make Cedric as he was before. But now . . .
“What do we do with him?” she asked.
Snape sat up and wrapped his arm around her shoulder for support he wouldn’t normally have needed. “We send him to the States.”
Hermione shook her head. “We can’t. We already told those vampires too much. If he’s not the same person he was before, finding out anything about his past could upset and confuse him. We should . . . make up a story for him.”
“Are you suggesting modifying his memory again?” Snape asked in disbelief.
“Now this,” said Malak before Hermione could respond, “is not so hard. Vampire memories, like Muggles, are easy to change . . . if you know how.”
“You could change his memories?” Hermione asked. “Make him forget killing his father, like I tried to do?”
“Make him forget anything.” Malak leaned toward her, his eyes bright. “Or everything. Give him a new life to remember. Make him whoever you want him to be.” He grinned conspiratorially, showing several missing teeth. “Even change other minds so they remember him in the proper places.”
Hermione’s mouth dropped open. “You can change the memories of people who aren’t here?”
“Vampires, yes,” he said. “Very easy.”
“Hermione . . .”
She ignored Snape’s warning tone. “Could you . . . change the memories of a family to make them think he was there all along?”
“But they’ve already agreed to take him, Severus! How much easier would it be on all of them if they believed he’s been part of their family for ages?”
“How old will you make him, then?” Snape bellowed, getting to his feet. He wobbled only slightly. “Fifty? One hundred? Five hundred?”
Hermione felt a different hand on her wrist now, and looked over to see Malak grinning. “I will read him, read the others, make up a story that fits.”
“You can create a whole lifetime of memories for him? And others?”
Malak nodded, then shrugged again. Hermione wondered just how powerful he was.
Suddenly, Snape straightened and looked back the way they’d come. “Apparition. Three of them.”
Hermione’s mind raced, and she wished she had more time. It was a huge decision, but the chance would never come again.
“Can I help?”
Malak raised his eyebrows at her.
“Can I help you make up the story? I want to make sure it’s something . . . something that won’t haunt him.”
Malak grinned and raised his wand.
“But don’t change Severus’s memory!” she added, just before a light shone from Malak’s wand and blinded her.
It was like Legilimency, to an extent. Her mind felt invaded, but also . . . stretched. And then she saw others, and she knew she was seeing into the minds of many others—at least a dozen, maybe more—though she didn’t know how. She wasn’t controlling it, just going along for the ride. In the passenger seat of Malak’s memory spell. Occasionally, they came to an intersection, and she felt the press of a question. Before long, she got the hang of it, and more and more she nudged Malak’s mind with her own, pointing out something that could be changed or done differently. It felt natural somehow, instinctive, though she didn’t understand it. Then it faded, and she felt the minds pulling away from her one by one until she was alone.
She could hear the footsteps before she could see again.
Someone was calling for her. It was Harry.
Her vision returned just in time to see him and two other wizards jog into the circle of tents. He looked relieved, and concerned, and pained.
“Harry, I can explain,” she said quickly.
“No, you can’t,” said a voice at her side.
“Snape?” Harry gasped. “It can’t be!”
“Of course it can, Potter,” Snape barked. “A fact which you’re just going to have to accept, as an explanation will not be forthcoming.”
Harry said something else, but Hermione was distracted and didn’t listen. She was staring at the spot where Cedric had been lying. It was bare.
Cedric was gone.
Harry had reached them, wand drawn but lowered. The other two Aurors were still pointing their wands at Hermione as if they expected her to fight back.
“Hermione,” said Harry, ignoring Snape for the moment. His voice was filled with anger and sadness. “Why did you use an Unforgivable on Terry? I know you must have had a good reason. Just tell me what it is and we’ll get this straightened out.”
For a second, Hermione thought about telling him the truth. But there was no truth any more. Cedric Diggory had died in a graveyard, just as everyone believed. And the vampire who stood in his place was someone else entirely, who wouldn’t corroborate her story even if she wanted him to.
She shook her head, blinking away tears. “I’m sorry, Harry. There’s nothing I can say.”
Tears filled Harry’s eyes as well: tears of confusion and anger. “Damn it, Hermione! Give me something! I can’t help you unless you give me some kind of explanation!”
“Then you can’t help me,” she whispered, staring at his feet.
He didn’t speak for a long moment, and she lifted her eyes to his. They were swimming with emotions, each of which stabbed her in the heart.
“Then I have to take you in.” His voice, too, was a whisper.
Snape cleared his throat, reminding both Hermione and Harry of the presence of others. “There is another option.”
“No, there’s not, Severus. I broke the law. I knew the consequences when I did it. I won’t run, and I certainly won’t fight Harry.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
She looked up at him, into eyes that were still a brilliant red. And she understood.
“A loophole,” she breathed, terrified.
“What loophole?” Harry asked.
“Only those who can use magic may be convicted of magical misconduct,” Hermione recited, still staring into Snape’s eyes. Turning back to Harry, she explained. “It means I can only be convicted of using the Imperius . . . as long as I’m a witch.”
Harry’s eyes widened, then flashed to Snape. “Hermione! You can’t mean—”
Harry was right. Even contemplating such a thing was preposterous. It would mean the end of her life as she knew it. No more working for social justice. No chance to have a family. Surely even Azkaban was a better alternative.
No. It was completely unthinkable.
“Strike three! You’re out!” Esme cried, and Rosalie stormed off with ill grace, throwing the bat to the ground, where it lodged three feet into the hard dirt.
From the mound, Jacob grinned. “Too much heat for ya, Rose?”
Edward rolled his eyes at the bad joke and stepped up to the plate.
“Ready or not, Pops!”
In the few milliseconds between when Jacob said the words and when the ball crossed the plate, Edward ground his teeth. But he would not allow Jacob to throw him off. The bat connected with a crash like thunder, just as a lightning bolt streaked across the sky.
He made it to first base just ahead of Nessie. He felt bad. She wasn’t as fast as him, and it always felt like taking advantage when he used his speed to beat her in games like this. But she was too much like her mother. After she’d caught on that he was going easy on her, she’d refused to play unless he did his best.
He opened his mouth to needlessly apologize, but she’d already turned to throw the ball to Jasper.
Emmett was up next, and he hit the ball so far that both he and Edward made it home before Carlisle returned to the field, his lips already pursed in defeat.
Edward stiffened. No. Not defeat.
Company, Carlisle thought, even as he called Jasper in from right field.
“Nessie!” Edward shouted, far more loudly than was really necessary. He ran out, picked her up, and brought her back to the group at home plate before she could protest.
“What is it?” asked Bella, putting an arm around Nessie when Edward set her down.
The next moment, Jacob was there, too, all humor gone from his face. Edward didn’t hear him repeat Bella’s question, as his attention was focused elsewhere. A vision flashed through Alice’s mind: confirmation of what Carlisle had already heard farther into the forest.
“Visitors,” Edward told the others.
They were all on alert, all wary as the ten of them huddled around Nessie. Most vampires they’d met understood about her by now, but there were still those who thought it would be better for the vampire community if she didn’t exist.
“How many?” Esme whispered.
“Two,” said Alice, and Emmett let out a breath.
Edward’s mouth tightened. Two could still cause problems.
They turned their heads toward the sounds of approach which had just become audible from this distance.
“Who are they?” asked Carlisle.
Alice shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen them before. At least, I don’t think so. I didn’t see much of their faces.”
Carlisle turned to Edward, his eyebrows raised, but Edward could offer no more information than Alice.
It was too late to run. So, they watched, listened, and waited.
They waited for only five seconds.
As one, they saw them, two figures emerging from the tree line. The strangers slowed down as they approached, moving at a casual stroll once they were a hundred feet away. The man was remarkable in his plainness. For a human, he’d have no lack of female admirers, but for a vampire, he was practically homely. The woman with him was as beautiful as any other vampire. In fact, with her brown curls, he reminded Edward rather strongly of his own Bella. The couple was thoroughly uninteresting—in most respects.
Carlisle blinked in surprise. “Forgive me,” he said. “I thought I knew all the vampires who were of like mind as ourselves.”
His meaning was obvious to everyone present. The two strangers had eyes that were not the crimson of a typical vampire, but golden. They did not prey on humans.
Most of the Cullens relaxed—if they rejected such an integral part of vampire life, they wouldn’t likely object to Renesmee—but Edward and Bella remained tense, staring hard at the strangers as they walked to a more comfortable speaking distance and stopped.
The woman smiled warmly. “We don’t associate much with other vampires. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of us.”
“You’re British,” Carlisle observed, as if this were a mild yet pleasant surprise.
“Your grasp of the obvious is most impressive,” the man drawled.
The woman shot him a glare. “Don’t mind him. He’s like that with everyone.” She smiled again at them, and her eyes lingered on Edward. There was something strange in those eyes—like caution, affection, and curiosity mixed. “I’m Hermione, and this is Severus.”
“Your mate?” Esme inquired.
The woman looked at the ground for an instant. If she was human, Edward was certain she’d be blushing. “My companion,” she said, but it seemed to Edward they were somewhat more than that. A small part of him wondered what their story was—but the relationship between these two strangers was not his primary concern.
“You’re a Shield,” Edward said, not bothering to disguise the suspicion in his voice.
Esme gave him a questioning look. “What?”
“I can’t hear either of their thoughts,” Edward explained.
“We enjoy our privacy,” said the man, Severus.
“A Shield?” Bella perked up, but Edward squeezed her hand, warning her not to give away more than necessary.
“Then you knew about Edward’s gift,” said Carlisle.
Hermione nodded, giving Edward such a Mona Lisa smile that he felt a rush of curiosity and frustration unlike any he’d felt since he’d first realized Bella’s mind was closed to him. “We may not interact with our kind much, but news of your family has gotten around.”
“I’m sure it has,” Carlisle hedged. “What brings you to Washington?”
“You,” said the man. “Hermione has been badgering me for years to come and see the famous Cullens. Only recently have circumstances allowed us to do so.”
“You mean she learned to control her power well enough,” Edward guessed.
Severus raised an eyebrow, not denying it.
“What have you got to hide?” Jacob challenged. Edward knew what he was thinking, of course. Jacob was afraid it was a ruse, that the Volturi had sent these two to do something to Nessie. Edward couldn’t say it was a crazy thought. He didn’t like secrets—at least not other people’s.
“Jacob . . .” Carlisle tried to remind him of manners, but that was always a wasted effort with the wolves.
“Nothing that concerns you,” Severus said harshly, sneering at Jacob. “What are you, anyway? You’re not a vampire, and you don’t smell human.” He sounded suspicious, and Edward got the feeling that there wasn’t much that was new to Severus.
“Why don’t I show you?” Jacob growled, making a move toward Severus.
Before he could shapeshift and potentially light a match on the entire situation, Nessie stepped in front of Jacob, placing her hand to his chest. “Please, Jacob, don’t turn this into a fight. They’re not here to hurt me.” She turned her brown eyes to the two strangers as he put his hands on her waist protectively. “You’re not, are you?”
They truly looked at her for the first time, and Hermione’s eyes widened, alight with curiosity. “What . . . I’m sorry, but what are you?”
The Cullens exchanged looks of disbelief.
“You don’t know?” asked Carlisle.
Hermione shook her head. “The last I . . . had heard, your family was only the seven of you.” She gestured to the seven eldest Cullens. “I wasn’t expecting there to be so many.”
“I’m afraid your gossip is a little out of date,” said Carlisle with a small, proud smile.
“I’m Bella.” She gave the strangers a little wave with one hand, and squeezed Edward’s hand with the other. “Edward’s wife.”
“And this is our daughter, Renesmee,” said Edward. His tone was sharp, daring them to challenge him.
Both of the strangers looked stunned. Hermione was now looking from Edward to Bella to Renesmee. “You mean your biological daughter?”
“Yes,” said Edward, beginning to doubt his suspicion. “Have you honestly not heard of her?”
“Amazing,” Hermione breathed, in answer. She looked at Edward again with that strange affection, and a ghost of the same sort of smile Carlisle had just worn. Then she looked attentively at Bella and Nessie. “I’m very glad to meet you both. And no, Renesmee, I wouldn’t dream of hurting you.”
Edward still couldn’t read her mind, but for some reason, he believed her.
I don’t think she’s lying, Jasper thought to him. Edward nodded.
As Edward and the others watched, Hermione looked at Severus and something almost imperceptible changed in her expression, like a long-carried weight slipping away. Her mouth tightened, and he put a hand on her shoulder, seeming to understand whatever she was trying to convey to him. It was an oddly private moment, considering the ten people not five paces away, staring at them.
Then Hermione smiled at them more brightly than before. Severus, in a grudging voice, said, “You have an impressive family.” It was a compliment which should have been addressed to Carlisle, but for some reason Severus was looking at Edward. Then he raised an eyebrow at Jacob. “Even if one of them does smell like something from the gutter.”
Someone laughed—Emmett, of course—and the moment was broken. Then the other vampires laughed, and Jacob’s scowl grew increasingly half-hearted.
“We were just finishing up our game,” said Carlisle. “Unless you’d like to play an inning with us.”
“I don’t think either of us knows how to play,” said Hermione, “but . . . I imagine we can pick it up as we go.”
Emmett shook his head and nudged Edward with his elbow. “Brits. Don’t know anything about sports, do they? Let’s wipe the floor with ‘em.”
Edward’s mouth turned up in a crooked smile. “Why not?”
As he headed for left field, letting Carlisle, Alice, and Esme explain the rules to the newcomers, Edward thought that his family may have just made two new friends.
Or, a mysterious voice deep in the back of his mind suggested, two old ones.