The Vampire's Gift
I own nothing here except the plot. All characters belong to J.K. Rowling. This story is for my enjoyment and the enjoyment of any who happen to read it. Further it improves my typing skills.
A/N This story started life as the epilogue to a sequel to Blood Bound: A Vampire Tale. I am working on that but this grew to have a life of its own and I'm posting it a one shot short story. I hope you like it.
The months seemed to pass swiftly after the Werewolf uprising that previous Spring. The new dynamic in the lives of the wizards gave them plenty to do and crisis always seemed just a step away as they adjusted to not being the only human (most of the time) magical community in the United Kingdom. All this was set against the seasonal round of holidays where wizarding tradition echoed the Muggle ones. The Muggles were blissfully unaware of the power shift around them. Only the very top offices of the Parliament were aware of what had happened. Now the year was drawing on Christmas.
The day before Christmas Eve Arthur was winding up the year's work and preparing for the tasks the new year would bring. It was the end of the morning when he received a note from Ron asking to join him for lunch. He launched a note in the affirmative and finished the morning's reports. At noon a brisk knock on his office door let him know Ron had arrived. "Come on in, Son!" he shouted.
The noon meal was pleasant as the father and son talked "shop" and Ron gave his father the extra piece of pie Luna had sent him.
"You will be coming home Christmas day, won't you? You know your mother is cooking enough for your family and Father-in-Law."
"You have enough room or should we stagger our arrival with the Longbottom brood?" Ron inquired.
"We have enough room, Neville and Ginny are going to South Hampton to spend part of the day with his parents. Bill and Fleur, Percy and Penelope, and Charlie will be there for lunch and presents. I expect Fred and George to make an appearance, not sure how long they will stay. Then Neville and Ginny will join us for supper and more presents. I've planned for that meal to occupy the dining room and front parlor." Arthur smiled in anticipation of having the family gathered under one roof.
"Glad you have room for everyone, how long before we need to start knocking out walls?" With that Ron leaned back and the smile slipped from his face, "May I ask you a personal question?"
Arthur noted the change in Ron's demeanor. "Anything." he said, knowing he could not refuse his son's request.
Ron lifted a small piece of quartz crystal mounted on a fine steel chain over his head and placed it on his father's desk. He was unable to meet his fathers eyes as he screwed up his courage to ask. "How long have you known that Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are vampires?"
Recovering from his initial surprise the elder Weasley quickly gathered his thoughts. Arthur had practiced this conversation in his head for many years. It varied in some particulars with the one he had imagined for Ginny. He easily slid into his memories, yet he did voice a couple of questions of his own. "Since you are just coming to me now, may I assume you have recently recovered some memories? If so would you share with me how? Harry's powers in this area are most formidable. Be assured I will tell you everything you want to know."
"This crystal," Ron answered, he picked up the crystal by its chain and let it spin between them. The quartz caught the light casting rainbows on their faces. "Luna made me several. They record what I see and hear, my memories are retained in the crystal, I can review them for my work. Not as good as a Pensieve, of course, but for writing good reports they will do. I was just reviewing my activities on the night of the Uprising, you can imagine my surprise at viewing the crystal versus what I actually remembered from that night. Since it records what I see as it happens it couldn't be made to forget. The recording stopped when Harry began to modify my memory. The sensation is most odd, I know the crystal recorded the true evens, yet against the memories Harry planed in my mind it feels like that night happened to somebody else."
"Can anyone review the memory or just you? I'd love to see it if I can." Arthur asked eagerly.
"I modified it so you could, be my guest."
For long minutes Arthur was lost in Ron's recording of his encounter with the vampires.
When he finished, Arthur set the crystal aside. He took a few moments to gather his thoughts before launching into his monologue. "I knew that Hermione was a vampire first. Fred recognized her the night the Death Eaters attacked the joke shop. He swore us to secrecy before he would tell us what he saw. Since Harry or Hermione had gone out of their way to keep the secret from you we honored their decision. We deduced they had come to Bill's wedding because of your dream. At that time we speculated that Harry was a vampire too, perhaps even Hermione's sire. The timeline of events eventually bore all that out."
"I've seen Harry four times since he crossed over. Once he was caught by Lupin near Hogwarts, we told him the Order would do all it could to help him against Voldemort, the second was the night he destroyed Voldemort. Later we crossed paths in St. Petersburg, Russia of all places. I was there for an international conference. The last time I think he wanted to speak to me about encountering you. He told me what had happened and thanked me for keeping his secret. He doesn't want what happened to him to make you unhappy. I've never mentioned any of this to you. How did you know that I might know something?"
Ron leaned back as his mind flitted back to the past and he thought of the research he put into what was really going on in his father's mind. "You developed an interest in vampires around the time we were fighting Voldemort, it has never waned, so I knew it was more than a passing fad. I researched the archives, and found that everything the Ministry has on vampires has been read by you at one time or another. I don't have clearance for those files but you've signed for them all. Sound police work is all. First rule of interrogation, never ask a question you don't have some of the answer to. Next question, do you know how to contact him?"
"No," Ron frowned, he was sure is father wasn't being entirely truthful with him because of the quickness of the answer. "Lupin managed to find him in the day time, and that was with a great deal of luck. He was sick from his combat with Voldemort the second time I saw him. I see why now, that bit about You-Know-Who trying to possess him was news to me. In Russia we happened into a art gallery at the same time and had a chance to chat for a bit while Hermione was out hunting. The last time he planted an idea in my head, I think, and they talked to me. Why do you want to contact him?"
The question seemed to catch Ron by surprise. "He's my friend, why wouldn't I want to include him in my life, I don't care that he's a vampire. I owe him so much and I've treated him rather badly at times. Hermione too, I thought I loved her, before Luna taught me what love really was, I'd like to try to make it up to them."
"Ron, you must understand, Harry has gone to a great deal of trouble to stay out of your life. He has always wanted you to be happy. You would be undoing everything he has done to try to keep you that way."
"No, Dad, you don't understand. They were my friends. We looked out for each other and I…," Ron stopped and closed his eyes, swallowing past the sudden lump that had formed in is throat. "I let them down," he choked. "…wasn't there for them when they needed me. I want…need to let them know I'm sorry for what I did to them."
Arthur watched as Ron tried to compose himself. He knew how hard those first years had been on his son after Harry and Hermione had disappeared.
Arthur nodded. "Come with me. I'd like to show you something." He and Ron left his office. Pausing while he gave instructions to his secretary. "Tell everyone to finish up what they are doing and go home for the holidays. If there is something really pressing they can come in between Boxing Day and New Years if necessary. Otherwise we will take up planning for the new year when we come back. I've finished my work and won't be back this afternoon. For emergencies Floo me at home. Happy Christmas, Agnes."
When they reached the Atrium, Arthur instructed, "Side along with me. If you don't know it the place can be hard to find." A few seconds later they appeared in an old factory yard. "This is one of their first lairs, they hid the basement of that building over there. When Harry asked me to meet with him that last time I saw him we met here."
"Could they be here now?" Ron asked eagerly.
"I doubt it, but we can check," he showed Ron down the stairs pointing out the loading dock where Harry had been shot by Carstairs and the building across the street that Hermione's blasting spell had destroyed, now crumbled further into ruin. When they reached the old storage room the door hung open. "They aren't here, Ron. Harry would have disguised the door and locked it if they were. Ron looked into the room. The desks were still placed side by side. Ron waved his wand and a very faint blue glow sparkled about the desk tops. Arthur raised his eyebrows.
"Jason Thatcher lost a bet, You are right, they haven't been here in a long time. The ammonia is leaching out of the wood. They may have met you here but they weren't staying I'd bet."
"Come on, Ron there is something else I need to show you." He led his son outside and into a more secluded section of the factory. There, unlikely as it seemed, a tall fir tree was growing in a carefully managed patch of grass. "Harry and Hermione planted this after the first Christmas that they were vampires. Evidently it was their Christmas tree. This more than anything is what convinced Shacklebolt that they could possibly be trusted in the fight against Voldemort. They've been here several times, I believe, to care for the tree and grass. If you wish to contact them this is your best bet."
Ron's face fell as he thought about what he might do to ward the place to let him know if Harry or Hermione were to show up. Arthur watched Ron as he considered angles and spells. After a few moments he made up his mind. "I know that look, Ron. You got it from your mother. She looks just like that when she's on a mission. There is another place we might try, but I warn you it probably won't be pleasant."
"Doesn't matter. They endured a lot of unpleasant stuff from me and they didn't complain…much"
Arthur took a handkerchief from his pocket, "You might need one of these, got one?" Ron nodded yes. "Grab my arm, I warn you the place is under Fidelius and it will be dark too. This is going to be extremely disorienting. After we're in kneel down until the feeling passes."
Apparition was usually disorienting but this was much worse, it left Ron very nauseated when he appeared in the pitch black space. He knelt as his father had suggested until the feeling passed. It seemed to help to have his hand pressed to the floor. The first thing he noticed was the smell. To say the atmosphere here was stuffy was being extremely kind. He had been in many crime scenes over the years, the first scent he recognized was the faint odor of blood, layered over an odor that could best be described as musty, it didn't stink, fortunately for his stomach's sake, but it wasn't pleasant either. There was a sharp odor that burned his sinus and throat. He used a sticking charm to seal the edges of the handkerchief over his mouth and nose, it seemed to screen out the worst of the ammonia. His next sensation was one of cold, the temperature here was above freezing but not by a comfortable margin. He had expected the cold outside but not here in this enclosed space.
Arthur's wand light dispelled some of the gloom. As Ron activated his own light the first thing he noticed were two backpacks set against the wall. Along with a pair of boots and a pair of sturdy women's shoes. The footwear seemed to be middle European in style.
"Over here, Ron, this is what I need you to see." Ron turned around. There on the floor between he and Arthur were two bodies. As he approached he noted that the figures had been lying on their sides facing each other. He instantly recognized Hermione. Ron guessed that as the sun came up she had slipped into unconsciousness. Her weight had shifted and she had rolled away from Harry. He noted that she was barefoot, as was Harry, his thought was they were making sure they made no noise. She was wearing a simple peasant blouse and a long skirt that were common wear among the poor in the Balkan countries. Harry was wearing a loose shirt and trousers with a wide black belt common to the gypsy folk of that region.
Harry's face was concealed by Hermione's hair. Hermione's face was turned partially toward the ceiling, her eyes about three quarters open and her mouth hung open exposing her erect fangs. Ron had seen his share of dead bodies in his time, Hermione's eyes had the same glassy look as any other corpse. Unnerved, he gently closed her eyes. Upon closer examination of her face he noticed clots of blood covering her lips and a trickle of sticky, blackened blood trailing from the corner of her mouth. Arthur noticed the stricken look in Ron's eyes. He gently pulled Harry's collar back, revealing the wounds in Harry's neck. "Be careful if you move her, I'd bet that Harry's fangs are embedded in her shoulder. As you can see they are very sharp."
Gently he pulled Hermione away from Harry. Fortunately, her body slid easily away from Harry's. Suddenly a deep sense of grief overwhelmed the younger Weasley. It was as if a vice closed around his lungs and heart. His breath began to hitch. Gently he gathered Hermione into his arms and he began to rock with her. The pressure would not let him cry aloud and Arthur was startled at the keening whine Ron was making. After a few minutes he lay her back down with his forehead pressed against hers as he chanted," Oh God, no, Oh God, no, Oh God, noooo…," before dissolving into quiet weeping. His father laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Hermione, I'm so sorry that I was so pig-headed back then," and then, even knowing that she had forgiven him in their brief encounter all those months ago, he felt he had to add, "please forgive me." Arthur realized that a part of Ron needed this, a small but very real part of his heart that had belonged to Hermione needed to grieve and come to terms with the fact she was lost to him. It is what he would have done if her body had been found after the Death Eaters had killed her and she was truly dead..
For some reason Ron felt he needed to see Harry's face. Leaving Hermione, Ron's hands trembled as he rolled Harry onto his back and quietly studied the vampire's face. Ron seemed to regain a sense of peace as he stared at the unconscious vampire. Harry appeared to be sleeping peacefully. His pallor was so pale that Ron couldn't discern the famous lightning shaped scar anymore. A quick check revealed that Harry was about the same temperature as the room, that he had no pulse, no sign of rigor mortis, pushing back his lip revealed his retracted fangs, finally Ron examined Harry's talons, retracted but very sharp . Looking at the base of Hermione's neck he saw a similar wound to Harry's.
"Were they feeding from each other?" Ron's voice, steaming in the cold, sounded shaken.
"Possibly, Hermione has a problem taking blood from people she considers innocent. Her preferred victims are petty criminals. It is more likely she and Harry were sharing memories. She told Minerva that the exchange of blood enhances the memories almost to the quality of a Pensieve memory. It can be very intimate, for them it takes the place of sex."
Ron was horrified, "You mean they might have been having…"
"You know very well, when you go barging into places were you are not invited, that you don't know what you will catch people doing. They won't be embarrassed, they are totally unaware of out presence, kiss her or slap her, she won't feel either."
"You saw Harry and Hermione walking and talking that night," Arthur continued. "You have no idea how different they are as vampires. Those files you aren't cleared for, I will tell you what is in them. The Ministry knows a bit more about vampires than we let on. What you see here are actually four creatures, two human and two vampires. The vampires actually look rather like caterpillars, red-eyed with a face covered by several hundred small tendrils. There are several netlike appendages that extend out from its sides. We know they are from a different dimension, they are not as impeded by matter as we are though it does affect them. When Harry transformed Hermione he almost drained her body of blood. Then he forced her to drink her own blood back. At that time the vampire transferred a spore to the new host body. The spore moves within the host and aligns itself along the inside of the spine, The head penetrates the skull and the tendrils spread out through the brain, the side appendages attach to the nervous system where the nerves emerge from the spinal column. The process takes about thirty six hours to complete. The creature stops the heart and shuts down the nervous system almost becoming a new nervous system. They are similar to dementors in that they capture the soul of the person they inhabit, except by forcing the host body to ingest human blood they can maintain that soul indefinitely. It is that captured soul that allows the vampire to blend in with its surroundings for the host's memories, feelings and knowledge are all maintained. Though the vampire can override the actions of its host they generally don't, they just augment what the host would normally do."
"Here, feel her arm what do you feel?" Arthur instructed.
"Her skin is like a corpse, hard, claylike, and cold."
"That is because the cells have lost their water pressure, her muscles are the same way, one reason for their greater strength, the muscle dries out and becomes like sinew. There is some replacement that helps keeps flexibility and fluid volume, we don't know quite what it is, but there is a significant increase in strength and toughness in the tissue. Have you ever wondered why they are so fast?" Ron shook his head. "That is because the speed of the nerve impulses in the vampires is about twenty times as efficient as the electro-chemical method in our bodies. Couple that with their ability to read your mind. That combination is lethal. They are counter-attacking before you can decide what to do and carry it out. Harry and Hermione can do that with magic, exponentially more lethal. If you can catch Kingsley at a weak moment, he might describe to you how they look in combat. Watching them fight the infiri, he said, was one of the few things he has seen that truly frightened him."
"Why are you telling me this?" Ron asked suspiciously.
"I want you to be careful, Ron. You invited them to your home because they look like the people they were twelve years ago, I need you to understand that they are not. I'm not saying shun them, but you have a responsibility to your family, not to put them in danger. Harry and Hermione love you, I'm sure, but they are trying to keep their distance because they aren't safe. Sometimes the vampire creature overwhelms them. You may have read about the attack on that serial rapist, twelve years ago. The one that blamed a rival gang for scarring his face? That wasn't a rival gang, that was Hermione. Harry told me so."
Ron vaguely remembered something about the incident, and resolved to check the details. "What do you want me to do, I sense an agenda here?"
"Not exactly an agenda, just something I want you to consider." Arthur took a deep breath. "I want you to consider letting them go, not try to contact them anymore." He studied the look in Ron's eyes. "It is a part of real love sometimes. You do what is best for the object of your affection. Sometimes it is necessary in interpersonal relationships, but it is still something most of us must learn. Your mother and I did it with each of you. A parent raises the child to become independent. One day we won't be here anymore and we want you to be able to live on your own. You will do the same for your children, for the same reasons. Ever wondered why your mother was like she was? She poured her life into yours, she kept nothing for herself. That tended to make her impatient and rather intolerant of your mistakes. In reality she was tired all the time and had no emotional reserves. I hope you've noticed the improvement of her behavior with your children. We aren't the main ones responsible for their upbringing, you are." Ron was nodding in agreement.
"I asked Harry if I could tell you and Ginny about him the night he defeated Voldemort, he didn't want me to. He felt you might be jealous of his abilities and the fact he isn't ageing anymore; but as time goes on I wonder who has the most to fear from whom. When we talked in Russia, Harry told me that Hermione has had a difficult time accepting vampirism and the loss of her dreams of life and family. In the beginning she was uncharacteristically cruel to Harry, beyond the fact of her grief. Harry had agreed to lay her to rest when their task was completed. He was trying to destroy them both when she changed her mind. The Order of the Phoenix also considered putting them down, but it just seemed wrong. The hope is they will keep each other more human, but if one of them had perished in the fight with You-Know-Who, we were seriously reconsidering our plan to kill the survivor. It seemed it would be a kindness rather than force one of them to exist without the other, when they were obviously so dependent on each other. One day they will die, though." Arthur's eyes showed his pain. "That is a vision that haunts my nightmares. Them clinging to one another, each holding on to the most important thing in their universe, seeking comfort in that embrace and escape from the pain as the sunlight which is so pleasant to us burns them to ashes. Thankfully, I will be long dead before that happens, I'd couldn't bear to watch, could you?" Arthur used his sleeve to dab the tears from his eyes.
"I'm wandering, aren't I," Arthur remarked. "Getting back to the point, I think they have more to fear comparing their 'lives' to yours than you being jealous of them. Look at all you have; the daylight, wife and children, family, a good job with dedicated friends and folk who have your back. What do they have? Harry has been a orphan for most of his life, neither of them had siblings, Hermione saw her parents murdered, didn't you notice the look on her face when she saw your children, knowing that she and Harry can't have any and wanting parenthood so badly. Go back and really look at her in your crystal memory. The hurt she felt when you rejected the touch of her hand? Existing only in the dark, drinking blood to survive for even a half-life, a rather monotonous diet, wouldn't you say? Do you really wish to torment them with the richness of your life when you are around them? Please, Ron, leave them to eke out what happiness they can. They have so little, let them enjoy what they have in peace."
He paused for a couple of minutes to give Ron a chance to consider what he had said, then he changed the subject. "Do you recognize where you are?" Ron shook his head in answer. "This used to be your room, I sealed it for them when you moved out. I intend for it to be a sanctuary, a familiar place to hold on to where they can feel safe."
Ron was stunned, "I'm the secret keeper for the Fidelius Charm, you are in on the secret, if you wish I will modify your memory of this place so that you can forget it. I've given you a lot to think about so take a little time to sort it all out." finished Arthur.
"No, no time needed, when you put it that way, you're right. It was selfish of me to try to force myself on them, it's just…" there was a look of disappointment in his eyes.
"I can't imagine how hard this must be for you." Arthur sympathized. "You grieved your way past the loss of your friends and made a life without them. Now you find out they are still with us, that brings all of the old guilt back, and to make it worse they look just as they did when you felt you wronged them, I understand the desire to make it up to them, you just need to decide the proper way to do that without inflicting more harm."
"Since when did you get so wise?" Ron grumbled.
"Since I raised seven difficult children to become some of the finest wizards and witch, of our time. That plus riding heard on the most eccentric wizards on the staff of the Ministry of Magic. Wisdom just kind of sneaks up on you, it can't be helped." Arthur smiled bleakly.
"Um, Dad? I think your information may not be quite correct as concerning how unaware they are, Look at Hermione's face."
Arthur looked down and was startled to see an streak of blood leaking from her eyes. His own eyes widened in amazement, " She's crying, Ron. How extraordinary."
Ron reached into a pouch on his belt and removed a small crystal vial, and added some anti-coagulant. He deftly caught Hermione's tears and then scraped Harry's blood from her cheek and lips. Swirling the liquids dissolved the clots and turned the liquid back to a dark red color. At last he took Hermione's hand, pricked his finger on one of her talons, and added his own blood to the mixture then filled it to the top with the anti-coagulant. With a sigh he sealed the vial and then used a spell to crystallize the liquid. His wand tip glowed as he inscribed the now crystallized tube.
Bound by blood and tears.
In hope of happier meetings
Somewhere beyond the years.
He levitated the glass and with a "Lumos" set it to softly glowing in the dark space above the unconscious vampires.
Then he whispered, "Harry, you were a great friend and are one of the most generous people I know. Thanks for the sacrifice you made so I and my family could live without the fear of Voldemort hanging over us. I'm glad you have Hermione with you. You need someone that you know has your back. I'm sure you know that her loyalty is as fierce as her intellect. Take care of her because she is the best partner I can imagine."
"Hermione, I'm sorry I never appreciated you for what you tried to offer me when we were younger. I really missed out on that one. You always had my best interest at heart. I'm glad you have Harry. Take care of him, please. You will find that he will always do whatever it takes to make sure you are okay. There is no one more selfless in taking care of others and you need to keep him from going overboard. I will be leaving now, and won't trouble you any more. Just take care of yourselves, okay. Oh, and Happy Christmas you two." Ron pushed the bodies of his friends together and laid Hermione's hand in Harry's. With their wand lights extinguished, the last thing he saw was the vial shining like a small star in the darkness, illuminating his friends with its pale blue light.
Moments later Arthur and Ron appeared in the Atrium of the Ministry. "Well done Ron, I hope you will get a bit of closure from this and I know it will take time. Forgive the sharpness of the lesson, but you needed to see them as they really are. Anytime you want to talk I'll be happy to listen. I'm off home, see you Christmas?"
"Sure, Dad, I still have some work to finish today, but we will be there bright and early Christmas morning. Take care." He waved has his father stepped into the fireplace and Flooed home. Ron spent a couple of hours writing reports and filing paperwork then he left the Ministry for home and the Holidays as well.
His evening was taken up by playing with his children and supper with the family. Baths and putting the kids to bed was a bit more difficult with the Christmas excitement building toward the holiday, but at last it was done and he had a bit of time to read for himself and enjoy the quiet of the winter night. At last he banked the fires, turned out the lights, and started up the stairs to bed. The light coming from under the bedroom door let him know that Luna was still awake, probably reading.
As he came abreast of the window Harry's voice spoke in his mind, "Ron." Startled he stopped and looked about, not really surprised that Harry had penetrated his wards undetected. "Look out your window." There hanging upside down from a couple of icicles were two bats. Beyond them the moonlight was shining on the snow covered trees that screened his house from the Muggle roads.
"Shouldn't you be hibernating through the winter?"
Hermione's silvery laugh ghosted through his mind, while beautiful it was also cold and a bit hard, he found it slightly unnerving. "Vampire bats don't hibernate, Ron."
"Of course not." He placed his hands on the window glass.
"We liked your gift, it was very thoughtful," Hermione continued. "Thank you, we left it there, I didn't want to risk losing it, and it lights the space beautifully."
"You know me, Hermione, desperation is the mother of invention."
"It was thoughtful, Ron, May I ask what you want?" Harry inquired.
"I was going to ask you that."
"No fair, Weasley, I asked you first."
"Yes, you did. Okay, If you need anything, and I mean anything, come to me. I will do whatever I can to help you. Then, let me know how you are doing, no more than you are comfortable with, of course, but occasionally…please. I will be…content with what ever level of contact makes you comfortable."
"That sounds fair, Ron. I believe I can 'live' with that." smiled Harry.
Ron nodded, "Any plans for the immediate future?"
"Traveling, we are going to Japan, leaving after Christmas and going by Trans-Siberian Express. We've never been to that part of the world."
"Mount Fuji, Zen, serenity, and the eightfold fence…communal bath houses, sounds perfect.
One of the icicles broke off beneath one of the bat's claws, falling noisily to the ground.
"Lighten up, Hermione, you still can't tell when I'm trying to make a joke?"
"Ron, you know that relationships take work, right? Living or undead it is never easy. I'm afraid I've not been doing right by Hermione lately. We are traveling, in part, to help repair out relationship." Harry explained.
"Okay, I admit it was in poor taste, but really, it was just a little funny. Admit it."
A vision of Hermione frowning sprang into Ron's mind. A grin spread over his face, "Ah, Hermione Granger, you don't know how much I've missed that, Thank you for the memory." Ron sighed.
"It is Hermione Potter now, vampire weddings are uncommon but not unheard of. We would have sent you an invitation but the only living person there was our Wedding Supper."
Ron's grin faded as the looked at the bats with renewed seriousness, he could not help wondering if it had been someone he had known.
"Got'cha. I see it in your mind, you can't lie to me." she crowed, as Harry's laughter echoed through his mind. Ron said nothing of the vision he received of a solemn gathering of vampires standing in a circle while Harry and Hermione had pledged faithful devotion to one another before a vampire with bushy eyebrows and heavy jowls.
"I surrender, you did indeed," Ron smiled back.
"We'll be gone for a while, but I promise we will contact you when we can. Farewell and Happy Christmas, Ron."
"Wait, what made you cry like that, Hermione? You're supposed to be dead or near enough during the daylight."
"I don't know, all I know was there was this feeling of overwhelming sadness. Perhaps some profound emotion affected the creature within me. I remember no words just emotion. Rarely, we feel things around us during the day. Sometimes they almost wake me up."
"One last question, Harry. Why are you here now? I mean you could be anywhere in the world. Dad said he saw you in Russia, for heaven's sake."
The questions caught Harry by surprise. "I…we, that is…" his voice trailed into silence.
"Then consider, Harry, that even though you are keeping your distance because you aren't human anymore, you aren't so far gone you don't feel the desire to be near family at Christmas time. We are the closest thing to family you two have left and I hope sometime you will feel comfortable enough to make an appearance instead of standing in the fallout of our happiness."
"Ron," Harry said sadly, "I don't know about that. Years ago your mother saw us, I was taking blood from Fred and George, they offered and my need was desperate, but I can't forget the look of horror on her face and what she was thinking at that moment. I don't think I could bear to see that again. There are some things that are better the way they are. I think we can satisfy you but still leave your mother out of this. I will do the best I can."
Ron was silent for a moment, "I know you will. Well, farewell you two, I do mean that in the fullest and oldest sense of the words, Fare Well, until we meet again." he smiled hopefully as the two bats dropped into flight, a twist and a flick of their wings and they vanished into the night. With a sigh Ron stared into the darkness for a few minutes, at least Harry and Hermione seemed to accept his knowledge of their fate. They could have showed up with those eerie red eyes and wiped his memory again.
At last he turned and trudged up the steps to the bedroom.
Luna was indeed reading as she waited for her husband to come to bed. Ron changed into his nightclothes and climbed into bed. He lay silently staring at the ceiling, when she asked, "Ronald, what is the matter? You've seemed sad all evening."
Ron had long given up trying to hide things from his wife, for all he knew omniscience was just one of her many powers. "I just had some sad news about some old friends is all. But I think everything will be okay, it will just take some getting used to."
Luna tilted her head and looked at Ron, her brow wrinkled in concentration as she considered what he said. "Ron, none of the people we know have mentioned anything sad happening to them, since they are OLD friends, did you find out that Harry and Hermione are vampires now?"
"How did…" Ron began. Then he closed his mouth, he knew Luna would explain if he didn't interrupt. After a moment he simply said, "Yes."
"I'm on the Committee of Magical Brethren, Ron. The house-elves know. I've heard them talking about it. Nobody pays much attention to them so that fact isn't widely known, but they are worried about Dobby, he is still deeply grieved about them.
"Speaking of Dobby, they are coming to cook for Christmas Eve aren't they?" Ever since Ron had graduated from Auror training Dobby had undertaken to cook the Weasley's Christmas Eve dinner. He always said it was an honor to do something nice for "Harry's Wheezy".
"Yes, but I wouldn't mention you know what happened to them to him. At least not tomorrow, it should be a happy time for him, he enjoys doing something to honor Harry. Later you might broach the subject if you really want to talk to him about vampires. Though I've known about Harry and Hermione for a while now. I first found out from Bill and Fleur. We were visiting them and I couldn't sleep. I was sitting in their parlor when Fleur had a nightmare about them. I overheard them talking about seeing them in coffins while the Order of the Phoenix was taking them somewhere. I've never seen a vampire. Have you seen them? Are they that horrible now?"
"No, not really, unless their eyes have that red glow, that would unnerve anyone, well, that and the claws and fangs," Ron shuddered. "If they are trying to pass for human they look like they did when we were in school. During the day they just look dead. The horror comes from knowing them the way they were when they were alive and comparing that to how they are now. That gives Dad nightmares too."
"Of all the sentient beings in our world, I think vampires are the saddest, they are also among the wisest. They have learned two of the hardest of life's lessons; loss and acceptance. I'm sorry, Ronald, for them, and because it hurts you to see them like this." Luna bent and kissed Ron, turned out the light. She drew him into her arms and held him close, trying to soothe his heartache.
Ron lay awake for a while pondering the day's events and what Luna had said. Loss and acceptance needed to become his goals too. There was no way back for his friends, he would just have to accept the loss of their human lives. Seeing them in his old room, they appeared as they would have looked if that vampire had not been present. Harry would have died at the hand of those thugs. If left to the Dursleys, a pauper's funeral with him looking like that in a cheap coffin. If the wizarding world had undertaken his funeral there would have been more ceremony, but Harry would be just as dead. Voldemort would have descended on the wizarding world like an avalanche. If there had been a time lapse in finding Harry, Hermione would have looked like that in her casket being buried with her parents. If not then being Muggle born she might have died trying to defend her parents, or they might all have died together if the Weasley's had taken them in. With a sigh, he stopped speculating.
As he fell asleep he considered accepting the way things were. His friends were vampires now, their human lives were over. They had had to come to terms with that and seemed to have done so, but that did not mean that they hung around were they could be constantly reminded of that loss. It would be difficult but he had promised that what ever level of contact made them comfortable he would accept. He just hoped that he had not just seen them for the last time. With those thoughts uppermost he finally fell asleep.
Christmas Eve dawned crisp and clear. The Weasleys started stirring early spurred by little Hermione's needs. Dobby arrived with four helpers as breakfast was being served and quickly took over the kitchen. He was planning a traditional menu of roast goose with chestnut dressing, Buttered Brussels Sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, Roast potatoes, and a Christmas pudding for desert.
In the midmorning Ron and his two sons were outside having a snowball fight while Luna and little Hermione watched.
The third time his wards alerted him to a Muggle intrusion he called for a break and sent his family inside to warm up. He disguised his robes under a Muggle Ulster and trudged through the snow to the road. It took him a few moments to spot the intruder but he recognized a Muggle from the village of Ottery St. Catchpole. Ron had seen Eric Chatterly from a distance but he had had no dealings with the local solicitor.
The man was acting as if he desperately wanted to head back to the village, no doubt impelled by Ron's Muggle repelling charm. Yet he kept coming back, obviously under some magical influence. He had a medium sized, flat box tucked under one arm. As he turned back toward the Weasley property he noticed Ron standing by the gate. A smile broke out on his face. Chatterly made a bee line toward Ron.
"Ah, Mr. Ronald Weasley, I recognize your red hair, you have been pointed out to me in the village, sorry we've never been introduced. I'm Eric Chatterly." He approached with his hand extended. Ron shook hands with the man across the fence.
"Good Day, Mr. Chatterly, what brings you out so far on a holiday?"
The solicitor's face fell slightly. "My firm has been tasked with a delivery to you. Our instructions were that this was to be handled with the utmost dispatch. Some years ago this box came into a sister firm's office in London with instructions it was to be delivered. Due to an unfortunate misfiling the instructions were separated from the package and it has lain there ever since. Fortunately, the paperwork was re-discovered quite recently and steps were taken to get this to you as soon as possible. We hope no injury to you or yours has occurred due to our sister firm's negligence, and they stand ready to make good whatever damages you have incurred by its late arrival."
"Do you know what is in the box?" Ron inquired, wishing he had his wand at the ready.
"No, Sir. I was told it was in the nature of some kind of legacy." Chatterly seemed to relax a bit since it didn't appear that Ron was preparing to take him to task over the lateness of the delivery.
"Very well, Mr. Chatterly, thank you for your diligence. I'm sure there is no great harm done."
Chatterly bowed stiffly from the waist. He produced a form from an inside pocket, laid it on the box, and pulled a pen from another pocket. "Thank you. If you will please sign here and here, I will not trouble you further." Ron used the Muggle's proffered pen to sign the papers. He appreciated Muggle ingenuity but preferred the elegance of a quill.
"Once again, Mr. Chatterly, thank you. You need not fear that I will forget the efforts you have made on my behalf and if I need your services you will have my complete confidence." Ron waved the Muggle on his way. "Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year!"
"And to you Mr. Weasley." Chatterly walked the down the lane to where his bicycle was parked and rode off toward the village.
Ron tucked the box under his arm and headed for his home. Once inside he used his wand to examine the box before he opened it. He wasn't surprised to detect magic inside the box but was a bit surprised at the spell on the box itself. It was apparently set to gently counter the compulsion caused by his own Muggle repelling charm. Poor Chatterly had been bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball caught between two offsetting compulsions. The wizard that sent this had been trying to alert him without making him feel threatened, Ron found that comforting..
Ron set the box aside while they ate a light lunch and put the younger children down for naps, that took a bit if time and it seemed that the holiday had upset the routine of the day so there wasn't a guarantee that the naps would last long. It was early afternoon when Ron returned to the mystery box, accompanied by his wife.
Except for detectable spells the box was sealed Muggle fashion with tape. They slit the tape with a letter opener and opened the box. It was packed with loose newspaper wrapped in tissue paper. On the top of the wrapping was a single piece of parchment written in green ink. All it said was "For Christmases yet to come." it was written in a firm script that Ron didn't recognize.
They removed the wrapping and found a large cream colored envelope and two medium sized boxes one larger than the other. There was a small piece of parchment, folded in half resting on the boxes under the envelope and at the bottom of the box a third piece of parchment that appeared to be blank.
Ron laid the contents of the box on his desk and unfolded the parchment. It was a note written in a small, neat, all-too-familiar handwriting. His hand trembled as he read Hermione's letter.
Harry and I believe that we have held onto these things long enough and we are depending on you to bestow them where they will do the most good. In this task, please think with your heart because our parents would have been really nervous if they knew of the magic we had at our disposal.
We hope that the future circumstances in which they find use will be far less dire than when we possessed them and they will help the next generation to discover all that they can become with their responsible or perhaps not-so-responsible use.
Ron picked the envelope and noticed "For a Leader" written on the front. He opened it and removed a large, carefully folded piece of blank parchment. Luna frowned as Ron's eyebrows lifted into his hairline.
Trembling he touched the point of his wand to the parchment and said, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good." Instantly lines began to spread out from the wand's tip, quickly recreating the outline of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ron was stunned. There were only a few names on the map and many of them were unfamiliar, but the Marauders' Map still functioned perfectly. "This saved us many times when we needed to avoid Filch and the prefects," explained Ron. "Harry's dad and his friends made this. Fred and George pinched it from Filch and then gave it to Harry in our third year. 'Mischief Managed'." he incanted and the lines disappeared from the parchment.
The smaller of the two boxes said, "For an Explorer". Ron had seldom felt such a swirl of emotion as he regarded the box. His intellect said one thing and his heart replied "no way" Yet when he opened the box and caught sight of the familiar silvery material he felt as though someone had poured a pitcher of warm water down his spine. His eyes blurred with tears as he lifted the Invisibility Cloak from the box, "I would never have believed Harry would give this up." he whispered. Luna instantly recognized it for what it was. Her wonder at the magnitude of the gift left her speechless with surprise. All she could do was take Ron's hand as she stood beside him. After several minutes she took the cloak and folded it away while her husband tried to recover his breath.
Ron sat down again to open the third box, it took him a couple of tries to make out "For a Scholar" on the top of the third and largest box. He took a couple of deep swallows as he lifted the top off the box. There lay a brown, leather-bound book. Though it was protected by magic its cover was worn and its pages showed the wear of being turned through often. Obviously this book had been treated as great friend and source of comfort over the years. He hardly needed to read the title "Hogwarts: A History" in gold leaf on the spine to know what he held. In some ways it was Hermione's heart as the cloak had been Harry's soul.
He sat back as the tears overwhelmed him. It wasn't really grief, it was memories that overpowered him. Remembering the first time Harry had worn the cloak, the mirror of Erised, the time he had frightened Malfoy outside the Shrieking Shack, the look on his face when he thought Sirius betrayed his parents, and a hundred other times. All the times Hermione had quoted that book. Among those early memories he now remembered the Horcruxes and what they had been preparing to do when disaster had struck the Trio. He felt amazed and humbled. The tears just wouldn't stop. It seemed they were dissolving twelve years of self-inflicted guilt over things that now he saw he had little control over. Every thing comes to and end, eventually his tears stopped too, leaving him feeling lighter and cleaner in heart than he could ever remember.
"Why is Daddy crying, Mamma?" a small voice intruded.
Luna picked up her daughter and stood her in her lap. "Sometimes, Hermione, big people's hearts get so full of love it just spills out of their eyes. Those tears are happy tears."
"Down, please, Mamma." when Luna set her on the floor the toddler grabbed onto Ron's knee. "I love you, Daddy."
"I know, Minny, I know." Ron said as he scooped up his little girl.
"Look, Daddy, I'm big too, I have happy tears" She pressed her forehead against Ron's so he could see her big, blue eyes, brimming with tears in response to his own. Then she threw her chubby arms around Ron's neck as she held on to him as tightly as she could.
A few minutes later she released her strangle hold on her father, "What a pretty book, Daddy. Does it have pictures? Will you read it to me?"
"I'm sure we can, but we might wait until you are even bigger so you can understand it better. I don't know if it has pictures but we will find out, okay?"
"Okay, Daddy, can Dobby give me a cookie?"
"Yes, but only one, I want you to eat dinner" he said to Minny's retreating back.
"What is this?" asked Luna. If Ron thought the days surprises were over, he was mistaken. She handed him the parchment from the bottom of the box. When Ron's fingers touched the parchment two words appeared at the top: Friends Forever. Nothing further happened until he spoke the words out loud. Instantly silver lines began to form on the left side of the paper, it was the outline of a country. Ron thought he recognized Albania. In the north western corner of the country there was a small square. On the right side of the map there was a magnified detail of what was in the small square. There was a small cross just south of a small village labeled Gurtje on the shore of Lake Fierzas. Without warning the silver lines began to fade, in a couple of minutes they were replaced by black lines. This time the country on the left was the UK. The same small square was in the south of England. Ron's jaw dropped as the recognized the cross was near a village named Ottery St. Catchpole, it could only be the Burrow where the vampires slept in his old room.
"This, is trust, my darling Luna. Two vampires who are helpless during the day have put their very existence in our hands. It is a map to show us where they are if we need them, I guess." He placed the map into a drawer, as soon as his fingers stopped touching the parchment it faded into blankness.
Ron smiled. "You feel okay?" Luna asked
"Better than okay, I feel included, trusted, and…forgiven. A long time ago I hurt Hermione's feelings with my arrogance and lack of respect, because of that Harry was alone after I broke my promise to stay with him. Harry died alone. Then Hermione's family was murdered and they were just gone, I felt it was all my fault. You know how I was when I came back to Hogwarts after that, your love helped put me back together. I thought the Order defeated Voldemort and got on with my life, even then I felt more guilty that I had survived and was living my dreams. Recently I recovered memories that Harry wasn't dead like I believed. A little digging and I found it was Harry and Hermione that defeated Voldemort, in spite of being vampires and outcasts they still fought to save us from him. I wanted to help them, instead Harry and Hermione fixed me, just like they did with the Neville's parents. I feel like celebrating, this is going to be the best Christmas ever. After I have a long discussion on the true nature of vampires with my baby sister."
He swept Luna into his arms. Here on the verge of a new year life had taken on a precious new value. When you accepted that your time was brief, and he had had far longer than Harry and Hermione, you had better make the most of what you had. He had two undead friends that had taught him that valuable lesson. He was determined to make the most of it.