This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoat Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
For all my childhood, since the very early years, I have been enthralled with vampire stories. I dreamt of getting acquainted with one of these fierce and proud creatures. Many times late at night I would imagine myself as a faithful friend and companion of some vampire prince. Later, of course, I came to understand that all these fancy tales were but silly fantasies, made up by uneducated common folks to amuse themselves on long winter nights. Little I knew, though, that the truth was even more fascinating than this frivolous fiction.
My life took the most remarkable and unforeseen turn in June 1948, when I was looking for lodgings in the countryside of Northern Wales. I was young then, a fresh-made Hogwarts graduate, and was quite ambitious in spite of being a poor orphan. My parents, killed during the war with Grindelwald, had never been wealthy, and my inheritance was just enough to see me through school. I was not really penniless, as my uncle left me his respectable fortune, but the old codger was too prudent (or too avaricious) and added some special clauses to his will. I could not use his money, aside from some small sum that had to be transferred into my vault each year, until I proved myself worthy and began to make a steady income on my own. Thus, I was a nominal owner of a treasure, hidden at Gringotts, that I could not touch, and an ungrateful receiver of alms my uncle had seen fit to give me annually.
That day I went to the Muggle village of Llangynog to look over a cottage that was on offer for rent, according to an advertisement in a local newspaper. It was a small old house that looked a bit battered, but still nice and comfortable. Two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, what else could an English gentleman need? The most fortunate feature of all was a garden. For someone interested in proper gardening it would seem too unkempt and wild, but for a wizard, who would like to hide from curious neighbours behind overgrown privet hedges, rank hawthorns and old apple-trees, it was perfect. I loved the place from the first minute and was most disappointed to know that the price, previously more than reasonable, had been raised.
"I am sorry, Mr. Worple," the estate agent told me apologetically, "but that's the life for you. After this damned war, everything costs so much and the taxes are so high that people have to make their living in all the ways possible. I can give you a piece of advice, though. Last evening there was a gentleman here, who liked the place too, but was also a bit short of money to rent it on his own. If you don't mind the idea, you could share the rent. He looked a bit morbid maybe, but all in all seemed a decent fellow. You don't seem to be a married type, so it mustn't be a real hardship. As far as know, he stayed at the Sleepy Dragon for the night, so you can easily find him there. Just ask the old Lloyd to let you speak to Mr. Dusk."
Truth to be told, I wasn't all that ecstatic to share lodgings with anyone, but the old cottage looked so utterly cosy and romantic that it was hard to abandon the idea of settling there. The genuine Victorian atmosphere of the place made me actually consider the idea, so I thanked the agent and went to the Sleepy Dragon, the local inn.
The old innkeeper was just as sympathetic to my problems, as the estate agent, but much less optimistic on behalf of the mysterious Mr. Dusk.
"I would be quite wary of him, if I were you," Lloyd told me. "Strange lad, that one. Didn't seem to be a sharing type to me. Likes his steak real raw, and hates garlic. Asked me thrice, if I remembered not to put it anywhere. I may be old, but not that slow yet, thank Goodness!"
Strangely, I didn't get the importance of his words and dismissed them as normal ramblings of an old bored village innkeeper. The time proved me wrong, as you, my dear readers, have already surely guessed.
Lloyd showed me the stairs leading to the first floor of the inn, and soon I was knocking at the door of the room 7, a bit excited and not a little afraid of the forthcoming conversation. Mr. Dusk turned out to be a thin black-haired man in his early thirties, with pale face, pointed features and suspicious dark eyes.
"What do you want?" he asked brusquely, not even inviting me into his room.
I explained the situation, trying to sound more confident and enthusiastic than I really felt. My efforts were for naught, though, as he dismissed the idea almost immediately.
"Absolutely impossible, Mr. Worple," he said. "Good bye."
His rudeness, however, made me more courageous, and I was barely quick enough to physically stop him from closing the door in my face.
"But why?" I asked him. "Is it because of my age? I may be young, but I am not a boisterous or nosy type. After seven years in a boarding school, I respect other people's privacy and prefer peace and quiet to noisy parties or other frivolities of the kind. I assure you, I wouldn't be an inconvenience..."
Now that I know the man for more than thirty years, it doesn't seem strange that he found my speech ridiculous, but at the time I was baffled and a bit hurt at the way he laughed at me.
"Be that as may," he said at last with a chuckle, "your idea is absolutely preposterous nonetheless. You wouldn't want this companionship as well, were you to know me."
"Let me be the judge of that!" I exclaimed, thinking, that he might still agree, after all. I didn't understand then, why I was so keen to persuade him to share the cottage with me, but now I surely can assert that from the minute I saw him I was being consumed by the curiosity, and even the fate of the proverbial cat couldn't dissuade me.
"Well," Mr. Dusk said slowly, "if you are so sure of yourself, please, come in."
I came into the room, simple and even humble, and waited patiently, while my unwilling host closed the door. I was startled, though, when he took out the wand and proceeded to ward the aforementioned door with locking and silencing charms.
"So you are a wizard!" I told him. "Was that the reason you were so cautious? If that is the case, I can assure you that it would actually make things easier, as I am one myself."
He gave me a strange look, that now, of course, I can understand completely, and waved his hand at the worn-out armchairs near the fire, inviting me to sit down. I did as he asked.
"I knew you were a wizard the first moment I saw you," he said, claiming the second chair for himself. "No, the reason I find your idea of sharing the house immensely ridiculous is that I am not what I seem to be."
He smirked slightly, as his fangs changed right before my eyes, getting longer and sharper, and suddenly I knew with a shudder what my host really was.
"Ah, so you understand at last," he smiled rather evilly. "I guess, now the idea of sharing the lodgings does not have the same appeal as before, does it? You wizards are not very keen on my kind. Too busy with being afraid of us most of the time."
Shocked as I was, I could not help but take at least partial offence at his words.
"I cannot attest for all the Wizardkind," I said with as much dignity as I could master, "but I am not afraid of vampires whatsoever. I would rather call myself fortunate to make an acquaintance with one, as that has been my dream from my very childhood."
For some reason, my statement sent him into a new fit of uncontrollable laughter. I was about to take offence again, when he seemed to collect himself at last.
"Trust Night Goddess to send me an admirer instead of a dinner," he chuckled. "You are an unbelievably humorous person, Mr. Worple."
"I will take it as a compliment," I answered as nonchalantly as I could. "Speaking of dinner, are you hungry?"
To any sane man I should have seemed to be crazy, but in reality, I had not been as foolish as I looked like. The moment Mr. Dusk showed me what he really was, I was suddenly taken with a rather ambitious and dangerous idea. For my last two years at Hogwarts I dreamt of becoming a writer, a famous writer, who could be popular (and thus rich) in the Muggle and Wizarding world alike. I was quite ready to dedicate myself to hard work and bear hardships of more than modest life until I make the name for myself, but to achieve that I needed to find something to write of, some original idea or a subject that could ensure my success. It seemed that the fate was providing me this subject. The vampires were notoriously closed society, and even wizards knew next to nothing about them, aside from most simple and common facts. I was ready to offer my companionship and even blood to Mr. Dusk in exchange for information and permission to write about him as I see fit.
Mr. Dusk, however, did not know of my daring plans yet, so he just gave me a telling look; obviously, he considered me absolutely insane.
"Are you feeling quite all right, Mr. Worple?" he drawled. "It would be most unfortunate if the shock of meeting me drove you mad."
"I feel more than fine, thank you very much," I answered coolly. As a matter of fact, I was beginning to feel aggravated with his pointless sarcastic remarks. "I was trying to be polite and asked you a simple enough question —"
"Mr. Worple," Mr. Dusk interrupted me harshly, and his eyes suddenly narrowed dangerously, "asking a vampire if he is hungry is by no means a simple question. Neither it is a polite one. I would be immensely grateful if you stop pestering me and leave my room as soon as possible."
His fangs glimmered, as he sneered.
"You have my sincere apologies," I told him, suppressing the shudder. "I did not intend to offend or insult you in any way, quite the opposite. I ask you, however, for one more chance to make you a business offer that, I hope, you could found interesting."
He gave me a long thoughtful look, and then grumbled, "You have five minutes."
In spite of being tremendously nervous, somehow I managed to regain my self-control and, in the end, four minutes were enough, though through all of my speech I carefully avoided my host's eyes. When the fount of my eloquence dried up, I looked up at him. It seemed I managed to shock Mr. Dusk into silence. He stared at me, as if I had turned into a Thestral or some other rare beast.
"Mr. Worple," he said at last, "I must assure you that what I just heard was the most inane idea I have ever been asked to consider in all my life and undead existence altogether. I must say, however, that it has some merit. As much as it pains me to confess, I am really tight on money at the moment. The Ministry is not all that fond of tolerance and equal rights now, after the damned war. Sharing the rent with you would significantly help my financial status. Giving you some information is not that much trouble, though I fail to see how that could help you with your ambitious plans. I must decline, however, your offer of blood, as generous as it is. I understand that you were not aware of the fact when asking, but drinking blood from a human being more than once is... too intimate."
I must have blushed, hearing that, as he chuckled and shook his head.
"Ah, the imagination of the youth! Reality, as always, is much less frivolous. The blood we consume changes our metabolism, and if a vampire feeds on the same human several times, their bodies become... similar, for the lack of a better word. The most apt analogy is saying that they would become... brothers. As you understand, doing that to a stranger would be absolutely inappropriate."
I nodded, feeling fascinated and honoured to hear that explanation. I was beginning to understand, just how little everybody knew of vampires then, as for the last five minutes I heard more useful facts on them than for all my school years.
"I wholeheartedly agree, and apologize again for my impoliteness, as unintentional as it was. May I assume that you accept?"
He smiled, and his fangs changed again, hiding his nature.
"Against my better judgement maybe, but yes, I accept. Let us give it a try. By the way, my name is Pietro Sanguini."
"I am honoured. You are not a pirate, despite the name, I guess?" I dared to joke. To my delight, he immediately understood the allusion.
"I am not an Irish either, nor a surgeon," he laughed. "Though I am used to shedding blood too, so that is one more similarity to take into account. You should find yourself a room and get some sleep, though, if we are to proceed with our deal tomorrow and rent that house."
I nodded, and then frowned, as one more possible problem came to my mind.
"Are we going to visit the agent during the day? Won't you be hurt by the sun?"
"You will be surprised, my dear Worple, how much of those legends and rumours you told me about are just that — legends and rumours. Vampires are not inflamed or killed by the sun, contrary to common beliefs. We do not like it, and too much of the direct sunlight can cause something like intense sunburns, but it is by no means fatal or even dangerous, just unpleasant. Good hooded cloaks and wide-brimmed hats take care of that perfectly. So I won't have any trouble with visiting the agent and concealing my true nature from Muggle villagers."
"Let me bid good night to you, then," I smiled.
"Good night," he smirked, and his fangs elongated again.
I was judicious enough not to comment on that, and left to ask old Lloyd for some dinner and a room.
~ 2 ~
After moving in, we settled in our routines almost disturbingly easy. Evenings were spent talking over a glass or two of wine, as best as our modest budget could permit. Sanguini would tell me of vampire society, of their customs, traditions and history, and I would listen to him avidly, making as much notes as it was possible without making the whole scene seem impolite. Then I would show him the latest drafts of the book I had already made, based on his stories. On more than one occasion Sanguini would unashamedly make fun of my writings; I was quite angered and hurt at first, until I understood at last that almost any human interpretation of his kind's life and lore made him laugh as a mad hatter. His wit, dry and sarcastic, just could not let him accept other people's ignorance lightly.
"Worple," he told me once, after an extraordinary long fit of merriment, "you must know by now that I am not the best audience for your masterpiece. I cannot be but a source of some humble piece of knowledge on my kind; I am definitely not a fiction connoisseur. Why do you insist on subjecting yourself to this torture?"
His question caught me unawares; I was startled to understand that I had more than got used to his barbs and sneers, and that I had come to like them as I had always liked a good joke from a good friend.
"I guess," I answered, as flippantly as possible, "that I am just trying to catch you by surprise and kill you off with laughter, when you least expect it. It is also probable, that I somehow got addicted to your twisted sense of humour, my dear friend."
Surprisingly, Sanguini did not laugh at that, just gave me his usual unreadable look that meant he was thinking hard on something he did not want to discuss. From that very night, I could feel though, that something had irrevocably changed between us. Before that after our nightly conversations he just silently went out, me never asking questions, him never giving me any details of what he was doing under the cover of darkness. I knew, of course, that he went hunting, but it seemed natural for us both to pretend that he was not out somewhere every other night, drinking some unsuspecting Muggle's blood. After that, he began giving me some small facts on himself, like where he had been the night before, or what he was planning to do later. I got to know that his mother had been Welsh witch, married to an Italian Muggle, but divorced him later, hence Sanguini's current choice of place to live; that he had been bitten about fifteen years before that, so he was really something about forty-five years old; that he had both Muggle and Wizarding education, and so on.
I could not say why my awkward attempts at humour had become so significant, but it was obvious that from that moment he stopped seeing me merely as an acquaintance he was forced to share his lodgings with by some whim of fate, and began to feel more or less comfortable around me. It was only many years later that I truly understood how much his sudden casualness meant then, and how much against his nature and his character it was.
Things were more or less calm and quiet until the end of October. We talked daily; I worked on my novel, which was beginning to take some shape at last; Sanguini hunted and did Circe knows what else in the nights. On the twenty-ninth I went to a village fair and bought a good big pumpkin and several small ones, so the first thing my friend saw that evening in our living room was me, magically carving the scariest face I could make from the largest pumpkin.
"Hope to drive us Dark Creatures off with that?" he asked with sarcasm.
"No, just having fun, that's all," I answered lightly. "You could try that too. Who knows, you may even like it. By the way, in two days we will have all the village kids coming here for their treats. Don't you dare eat them all."
"The treats or the kids?" he smirked.
"Both," I told him firmly. "I would prefer not to be known either as local misers or as local monsters."
"As you wish," he bowed dramatically and sat in his usual chair, then suddenly took one of the smaller pumpkins and began carving it as well. His wand movements were exact and smooth, after each one he gazed on the pumpkin for a long time, as though trying to estimate the results of his efforts, and I remembered a painter I saw once in my childhood working in a nearby park.
"You would make a good artist," I noted some time later.
He gave me a strange look and put the ready pumpkin on the table.
"I had been an artist," he said impassively, appraising his work, "before I was bitten."
"Why have you given it up?" Somehow, I was not really surprised.
"I was busy with other things, I suppose." He shrugged. "Adapting, getting a necessary new knowledge, changing my habits. Do you think it would be worth the efforts to start again?"
"Well, it depends on many things." I pretended to ponder over the question. "At the worst, I would be able to laugh at your work and thus to exact my revenge on you."
"In your dreams," he snorted. "I was considered quite a promising artist in the days of my youth."
"Those days are gone, alas." I countered with a chuckle.
"I will still be in my prime when you become a decrepit half-mad old coot," he retorted immediately, and we both laughed.
Our merriment, however, was interrupted by a loud knock to the front door.
"Who could that be?" I mused. "Are you waiting for anyone?"
Sanguini shook his head and grasped his wand tighter.
"Well, I shall go and see," I said. "You are my rear guard, all right? Just in case. I do not appreciate uninvited guests."
Someone at the door, whoever it was, knocked again.
"Who is out there?" I shouted.
"Magical Law Enforcement! Open the door; we need to talk to you."
I looked at Sanguini. He shrugged and disappeared in the shadows under the stairs, as silently as only a vampire could. I opened the door and saw two Aurors in full uniform, staring at me as though I had suddenly grown myself a second head.
"Good evening, gentlemen. How can I help you?" I asked, not without a certain gibe.
"Are you Sanguini?" blurted the younger one of them, a blue-eyed blond just five or six years older than me.
"No, I am not," I answered calmly.
"Who are you? What are you doing here, lad?" the second one asked brusquely. He was a robust grey-haired man somewhere in his sixties, or maybe even seventies, with a sombre scarred face.
"Why, my name is Eldred Jacob Worple, and I do live here. How can I help you?" I asked again.
"So Sanguini is not here, the bastard," growled the older visitor.
"I am, indeed, right here." Sanguini appeared from the darkness of the hall and leaned lightly onto the doorframe. "What do you need?"
"You told the Ministry that you lived here!" the younger Auror cried indignantly.
"And I do live here, exactly as I told you," Sanguini smirked. They stared at him, then at me. "I simply happen to share lodgings with a friend. Now, I would be immensely grateful if you told me why you felt the need to visit."
"The rules for the registered vampires have been changed," the older Auror began with a smirk.
"Since when you are registered?" I asked suspiciously, turning to my friend.
"Since last month," he answered coldly. "It was either that or the distinct possibility of being killed on sight by the first frightened ministry worker who saw me."
"I see." I turned to the Aurors. "What rules have been changed?"
"What are you, his keeper?" the younger one acidly asked.
"No, merely a friend. Well?"
"His right to hunt has been limited. We don't want to be noticed by Muggles, after all, and every time their kind is on the prowl, they endanger the security of our world. So now they can go hunting once a fortnight."
Sanguini tensed, and I could understand why. One feeding every two weeks would be barely enough to keep a vampire from going into bloodlust, leaving them weak, permanently hungry and miserable. It was not a way to live... or even to exist.
"Here are the copies of the official documents and the complete list of new regulations." The older Auror thrust into my hands a stack of parchments. "Effective immediately."
"Is that all?" Sanguini asked icily.
"You could simply send an owl," I added and frowned.
"We needed to check if the bloodsucker is really here," sneered the younger one. "Well, we're done here, Jones. Let's go."
Fortunately, I managed to grasp Sanguini's arm right in time. However, I had to use all my strength to keep him in place and not let him tear the offenders apart. There was no worse insult for one of his kind than a 'bloodsucker'.
"Don't, Pietro!" I hissed. "This scum is not worth it."
I forcibly pushed him back into the hall and slammed the door behind us, not really interested in those bastards' opinion on me. Right then all I wanted was to calm and comfort my friend.
"Why didn't you tell me of the registration?"
"There was no sense in that whatsoever. There was nothing you could do, so I did not see it necessary to burden you with my troubles. You might want to reconsider our agreement, though. I am afraid I would not be a pleasant companion in the foreseeable future."
Sanguini, looking paler than usual, sat down heavily in his chair and gazed in space in front of him, obviously without seeing anything. I hated to disturb him and felt more than a bit lost, as I did not know how to help him. I sat in my own chair with a sigh; grinning pumpkins and other supposed pieces of future decorations seemed to mock us both. A few moments later, I understood that I was still grasping the damned Ministry papers; angry and upset, I began going through them, trying to estimate just how bad the situation was. To my dismay, the more I read, the more desponded I felt, as the tone of those ridiculous lists were insulting and the intentions of their authors were openly malevolent. Suddenly an idea flashed in my mind, and I hurriedly reread the parchments. To my delight, it had not been a mistake, the obvious loophole was right there, under our noses.
"Pietro," I called him quietly, "they can't prohibit you to feed."
"Well, it seems to me they did just that," he snorted. "And do not think that I had not noticed your sudden likeness to my given name. Do not be afraid, I am not going to crack, there is no need to try to placate me."
Magnanimously, I decided to forgive him his preposterous attempts on humour.
"I apologize if my casualness has offended you somehow. I meant something much more specific, you know. Their stupid regulations do not concern your feeding. They only restrict your hunting."
He raised his head and looked straight at me.
"You can feed off me any time you wish," I told him with a smile. "If I give my blood voluntary, it can't be considered a hunt. And, before you try to find some ridiculous reason not to accept my offer, please listen to me. We have been sharing the house for four months, and I dare hope that I am not just a mere acquaintance for you now. As far as I am concerned, you are my friend, and I would never leave a friend in need. You told those Aurors yourself that I was your friend. Are you game to live to your own words and trust me?"
He stared at me for a long time, for about five minutes or maybe even more.
"I told you once," he said slowly, "that feeding off you regularly would mean even more than that. You would basically become my brother. Are you ready to do that? Are you ready to meet my family? To invite my clan members here? And to suffer the consequences, if the bloody Ministry issues some more of their idiotic decrees? Are you game to make your own plan real?"
"Yes," I answered immediately with a grin. "Yes, I am, Pietro. And you?"
"Yes," he said after a short silence and smiled at last, for the first time since the damned Aurors' visit. "Yes, I think I am ... Eldred. Now, little bro, I think we have some pumpkins to carve."
And that was the beginning of a long, amazing, amusing and sometimes downright crazy journey together, but that is a story for another time.