Rupert Giles looked at the group of young Watchers, many of them still in training. They were hardly the sort of group that he'd prefer to have when looking into possible threats and impending dooms, but they were what he could gather on fairly short notice without causing unwelcome questions and problems. After all, despite his status as Watcher to an active Slayer, there was only so much pull that gave him among the Council.
"Sir? What did you have in mind for us?" the question came from a young man, still carrying the gangly, underfed look of youth.
"A series of news reports have been brought to my attention. At the very least, we have several people killed by vampires, with their bodies left in the open to be found. The articles were insufficient to cover if the victims would rise or not," he paused, curious if these young Watchers would have questions.
"Do we know of an established vampire presence in the area?" asked a young woman garbed in tan.
"I have no current information on the established supernatural community in that area. Second-hand information suggests that there is or used to be several magical families in the area. There was also another issue, with a family dead under unusual circumstances. It does not look like a vampire, or a physical demon attack," he paused to adjust his glasses. "What does this suggest to you?"
"Seven rows of shelves make it clear that there's more than just vampires," offered a darker woman. "We also have stacks of books that mention harmful talismans, dark magic, and a multitude of demosn that can cause harm without leaving physical marks."
"Maybe whatever killed them will run afoul of the vampires. Do we need to worry about them?" asked a young man with the same jaw line as Quentin Travers.
Rupert sighed, resisting the urge to polish his glasses or hit the man for being a fool. "If they do not, then perhaps more people will die. I seem to recall part of the vows of a Watcher mentioning the protection of the unknowing people of the world. And if whatever killed those people runs into the vampire or vampires and they remove each other, then the whole thing becomes a much safer exercise in field investigation. Should any of you desire the chance to mentor a Potential or a Slayer, you must know how to investigate in the field."
"What if the unknown killer and the vampires work together? You said there were no marks, wouldn't that mean the blood was left undamaged? Some vampires would like such an easy way to feed," asked another young man, this one wearing faded jeans and turtle necked shirt in lieu of the more formal apparrel favored by the more conservative factions of the Watchers.
"That possibility only makes learning what is taking place more important," Rupert answered. "The folders on the table contain copies of the news articles, the most recent census reports, and a map of the area as reported by the local taxation authorities. Do familiarize yourself with them before we go."
"I think I'm still going to hope that they killed each other off before we get there."
Rupert Giles didn't bother trying to identify who had said those words. They were, after all, quite sensible, even if they were overly optimistic.
In Hogwarts, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were in the library, looking at the older lists of students. Ron would have been with them, except that he was serving a detention with Professor Sprout after getting into a fight with a sixth year Hufflepuff over something that the twins may or may not have done.
With a sigh, Hermione turned a page, "Honestly, Professor Rosenberg is an American. She won't be in the older Hogwarts books."
"Just because she's American doesn't mean that she might not have British relatives," Harry countered. "She does too many things that we haven't learned in class and knows about too much to have just picked up some things at a school like I have. Doesn't that suggest a magical family?" Harry looked at her, another book open in his lap.
"Why are you looking for information on her anyhow?" Hermione asked.
"She's this year's Defense instructor. I don't trust her," Harry replied, as if that made perfect sense. Sadly, with the events of the last four years, it made an awful amount of sense.
"You can't expect every Defense Professor to try to kill you," his friend huffed.
"No, Lockehart tried to obliviate me. Moody was supposed to be Headmaster Dumbledore's pick to keep an eye on everybody. The past four years make it too likely that someone's planted her here to watch things, or else she's going to try to kill or otherwise ruin my life. I want to be prepared for it this time, Hermione."
"That's... that's rather paranoid sounding," Hermione's denial lacked strength.
"When is being prepared a bad idea?" Harry looked at her, his glasses having slid down his nose. "I'm getting tired of my teachers being the biggest danger at school. Well, the most consistent, the troll, Fluffy, and the basilisk were all much larger than any teacher, even Hagrid."
"But she's American. The Hogwarts books won't have anything about her and what she might have learned," Hermione insisted.
"Then we need to figure out how to get information from the American magical school," Harry insisted, turning the pages of the book in front of him. "She's a lot better than Quirrel or Lockehart, which means I really don't want her to be trying to kill me. But it might be nice to know what she knows."
"She's been a decent Professor so far, if rather unorthodox," Hermione admitted. "Though I can't understand how she gets by keeping her wand in a cup on her desk with pencils and quills..."
"Which is why we need to know more about her," Harry insisted.
"At least you're studying more this year," Hermione sighed.
Rupert Giles looked at the young Watchers, a part of him wondering if he had ever been so young. So earnestly clueless about the real world. Resisting the urge to chuckle, he decided that he probably had been that young and clueless once upon a time. “What have we learned?”
“The group that weren’t killed by vampires? The older couple and the girl were a local family. Henry, Elaine, and their daughter Emily Hatfield. Henry had a job working at the local automobile garage. They had two older children who are out of town attending University. The boy was identified as Mark, and apparently, he and Emily were dating,” offered Martin Travers.
“Most of the village thought that they were a decent, hard working family. Henry was willing to give a listen to their vehicles in his off times, and Elaine gave music lessons to some of the local children. Some of the women thought there was something a bit odd about Emily’s young man, but he seemed to make her happy,” added Michelle Walters.
“Most of the vampire victims were buried in the local cemetery. It’s a bit hard to tell since the graves are fresh, but two appear disturbed, and there should be another two. Unless the bodies were sent elsewhere for burial,” offered Charles Chatworth of the faded jeans.
“Or unless they rose before they could be buried at all,” countered the woman in tan.
Rupert nodded, making a mental note to find out that woman’s name. It was rather rude feeling not to know the names of his temporary students. “We must consider both possibilities. Now, remembering that we are not to draw attention to ourselves, how would you go about learning which has occurred?”
“If we start with the names and last residence of record for each of the victims, then we should have a better idea where they should be buried. But we must learn this without drawing the wrong attention from the constables,” mused Martin Travers.
“If we check the cemetery’s records for what recent burials should have taken place, that might help. And the coroner’s office, just in case there were any less publicized unusual deaths,” Charles Chatworth added. “I can take care of that.”
Rupert Giles nodded, suspecting that Chatworth would be using a computer, and deciding not to ask if such information should be accessible. He remembered a few of those conversations with Willow. “If any of you can discretely learn anything about families named Crabbe or Goyle in the area, it could be useful. My secondhand information suggests that there were magical families by those names here at the turn of the century.”
He sighed as the young Watchers scattered. They had raised good points, but nothing out of the ordinary search patterns. None of them had said anything about the odd stick that had been found with the young man, Mark. With a bit of luck, whatever had been happening would be over and done with.
An owl landed on his windowsill, pecking at the glass with a peculiarly irritated expression. There seemed to be some sort of paper at its foot.
Paper? Wait, Willow had mentioned the wizards that she was studying with using owls to send mail. Opening the window, he looked at the bird. “A letter for me?”
The bird made a sort of huffing noise, looking at him as if he was rather slow, and shuffled on the window sill.
“Right then,” he very carefully removed the letter. That was apparently enough, for the owl flew away as soon as he had done so – thankfully without savaging his fingers.
Willow’s handwriting was easily identifiable. Her letter mentioned that she was enjoying her lessons, and then the words took a more unsettling turn. Reports of people killed by vampires. She wondered if he could have the matter looked into, as vampire-killed bodies were never a good thing.
“But she’s up in Scotland. How did she hear about bodies found… good heavens, the bodies found just outside of this very town?” Rupert paused, considering that question. Perhaps that was a bit of confirmation about the Crabbe or Goyle families still having a presence in the area.
It was obvious to him that they’d have to look very carefully around this place.
End Pale Serpents 19: Seeking Answers.