Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or Anita Blake. They belong to J.K.Rowling and Laurel. K. Hamilton, respectively. All I own is the plot.
A/N: Wow, already updated. Thanks to everyone who reviewed. And yes, there are vampys in this chapter. Or at least one vampy.
“I’d like to bite that one. Tasty little morsel, all fat and plump.”
Harry’s brows shot up and disappeared behind his fringe. The snake-woman — just how was that possible anyway? — had been looking at Neville as she’d hissed. Harry desperately wanted to tell him. Had, in fact, wanted to tell everyone Melanie had aimed her hissing threats towards, but the fear of discovery and the fear that Melanie herself might overhear kept his mouth shut for the moment.
As always when coming face to face with a snake or snake-speaker, Harry had the urge to talk back.
Only when Melanie turned her attention back to slithering about the stage, pretend-fighting with the werewolves, was Harry able to un-tense.
Ron nudged him. “You right, mate?”
Melanie wouldn’t be able to hear if Harry told Ron, would she? “No.” He hesitated for a second, then stood. “I have to get out of here.”
Before McGonagall had a chance to possibly hear him Harry bounded up the stairs, ignoring Ron’s whispered shout. The red-haired vampire stood by the entrance, leaning against the door.
Harry looked up at him, making sure — as McGonagall frequently lectured — to keep from meeting his eyes. Not because the vampire would be able to ensnare Harry, but because he wouldn’t. “Excuse me. I need to use the lavatories.”
Not saying a word the vampire straightened, and moved. Harry blinked, stood for a moment, then shuffled past him. Grasping the big steel handle, he tugged.
He tugged again.
“You must push out.”
Harry *almost* jumped. “Thanks,” he told the vampire. Before he had a chance to push, Ron was there doing it for him.
When they stepped onto the grassy expanse outside the tent, the vampire took hold of the door and closed it gently behind them, hair glowing even more blood red in the yellow bulbs of light that hung off the tent.
Hands in pockets, Harry stared at the grass. “What are you doing here?”
“M’not gonna let you go off alone. Remember what McGonagall said?”
Harry looked up into his friend’s eyes. “Was that the only reason?”
Ron glared at him. “No,” he said. “I want to know why you ran off so suddenly. You looked completely . . .”
Ron shrugged. “I dunno . . . sort of pale and rigid.”
Harry blew breath out and pushed back his fringe. “It was the woman on the stage.”
“What about her?”
“She kept saying how she wanted to eat people. I guess it just got to me.”
A puzzled crease appeared between Ron’s ginger brows. “But —”
“She’s a parselmouth, Ron.”
Harry looked down so he wouldn’t have to see his friend’s reaction. Ronald Weasley was the best friend anyone could ever have, but it took him a while to look past appearances. He could be particularly dense some times, and on others, he could be more insightful than even Hermione.
“You know, I kinda thought she might be.”
Harry glanced up, surprised. Apparently, this was one of those ‘other’ times.
“Don’t look at me like that, Harry.” Ron reprimanded, looking a bit guilty. “I felt you getting tenser and tenser as the show progressed. At first, I thought you needed the loo . . .”
Ron grinned, teeth flashing white in the darkness. “But then I realised that you only got tense when she hissed. D’you know what she is?”
Harry went to lean up against the tent. “What d’you mean?”
“Well I reckon she’s not human,” Ron said, following him. “That whole gigantic tail gave it away . . . I bet Hermione knows what she is.”
“Yeah.” The same thought had occurred to Harry. He licked his lip, and considered if he should tell Ron just how horrible it had felt hearing Melanie talk about people, talk about his friends, even Ron, as if they were food. No, not even that — as if they were meat. He settled with, “I don’t like her. And if you say ‘Who, Hermione?’ I’ll hex your ears off.”
Ron grinned again, but didn’t say anything.
The night was still where they stood, but further away the circus still buzzed with activity. Carnival music and the occasional ping from a game machine signified that the night was far from over. Above the smell of wet earth and animal sweat lingered popcorn and sweets and un-washed tent fabrics.
And, strangely, potato sacks.
Harry glanced at his friend, who still leaned against the tent, though his eyes were now looking up into the sky. A sickle moon shone dully, illuminating his shoulder-length hair. With that bright ginger hair, freckles dark dots on his pale skin, and black Hogwarts blazer, Ron — even though he was looking more and more like his older brother Bill — seemed rather like a vampire himself in the moonlight.
Harry couldn’t imagine how *he* must look like, then. His skin — pale from years of living in a small dark cupboard — his black hair, his eyes, his black blazer . . . he probably looked more of a vampire than Ron did.
The thought irritated him somewhat. He was already jealous of Ron for his considerable height, though he would never tell him that. No matter how much Harry tried, and even though he had grown a lot over the summer holiday, he could never catch up to his best friend. This confused him as Sirius had said that James, Harry’s father, had been quite tall.
But Harry was of average stature.
He was now of an age when girls were starting to matter more than Quidditch. He needed to be taller — in order to cater to the demanding whimsical fantasies of the female population of Hogwarts. If they were anything like the Patil twins and Lavender then he, Harry, was in dire straights.
*Perhaps I could use a stretching charm? If it exists.* He snorted at the sudden image of himself elongated like an elastic band, head touching the Hogwarts’ ceiling, wobbly limbs flailing stupidly — again, quite out of the blue, that feel of wrongness encompassed him. Like there was something great and, and wild, lurking just beneath the surface. As though the circus itself was merely a mild illusion put in place to protect something far more dangerous; that something that lurked underneath.
“Do you notice anything odd here?”
Ron shifted, but didn’t look down from his sky-gazing. “You mean like how the whole place seems a little off? How my skin feels like its crawling with ants?”
Harry didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. Both boys understood.
A click from their left caught their attention. The tent door opened forcefully, closed, and a tall black-haired woman strode out.
“Uh-oh,” they murmured together.
She heard them, whipped around. “Potter! Weasley!”
“Professor McGonagall,” they greeted.
She strode towards them. They straightened. “I’ve told the class a hundred times not to wander off alone, and without informing —”
“It wasn’t our fault, Professor,” Ron interrupted, hands in pockets. “That snake-woman’s a parselmouth!”
McGonagall seemed to unstiffen slightly as she looked at Harry. “Is that true, Potter?”
“I suspect,” McGonagall said, peering at him through her spectacle rims, “she was saying some very nasty things, then?”
Harry looked her in the eye. “Yes, Professor.”
She sniffed, reached into her skirt pocket, and produced: “Have some chocolate, Potter.”
“Er, thanks,” said Harry, wondering why his teacher carried a chocolate bar in her pocket in the first place. “But, you know, she isn’t a Dementor —”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Professor McGonagall sharply. “I know that. You just eat it.”
“Okay.” Harry stared at her.
Harry scowled, but bit into the chocolate. His eyes widened as a comfortable warmth spread through his body. He hadn’t thought it would actually work. Perhaps it was laced with Pepper-up?
McGonagall brushed some non-existent lint from her skirt. “And she isn’t a woman, Mr Weasley.”
Ron blinked, “Eh?”
“Melanie is not a woman. She is a lamia. The reason you don’t know this, is because they were thought to be extinct. I must inform Newton Scamander that there’s one still alive, and living in St Louis of all places.”
“She isn’t a very nice person,” Harry said quietly, still munching on the chocolate.
“She is *not* a person, Mr Potter; she’s a very dangerous creature. Perhaps even more so than a basilisk because of her superior mind.” McGonagall paused, looked him in the eye. “I trust I needn’t mention that you must be careful how you, speak, when around her?”
“I plan on not ever seeing her again Professor, so I don’t think I have to worry about that,” said Harry.
McGonagall straightened, eyes flitting between both of Harry’s. Whatever she saw there must have assured her, because she nodded. “Good. I must get back to your classmates. I trust that the two of you will be fine by yourselves. At least until the show concludes?”
They nodded, hardly believing McGonagall was actually going to leave them alone when they were supposed to be somewhere else, and without any reprimands.
“Remember, if anything untoward occurs, press your badges and the American Ministry representatives will appear. And for Merlin’s sake do NOT attempt to take care of the problem yourselves, unless it is absolutely necessary — and by that I mean unless it is a life or death situation. Only then are you permitted to use your wands.”
Harry and Ron nodded their understanding.
She turned to leave, then seemed to change her mind. “And one more thing: as reluctant as I am do this to my own house . . . twenty points will be taken from Gryffindor, for not bothering to inform me of your leaving.”
“Yes, Professor,” they murmured. It was just like McGonagall to spring that on them. Now they were almost tied with Slytherin, if what Nott had mumbled was true.
Ron kicked at the grass as the tent door closed behind McGonagall. “Five more points and we’re in the negatives.”
“Cheer up, Ron. We’re still above Slytherin.”
“Yeah, by one lousy point.”
What could Harry say to the truth? “Come on. I want to try that ‘Shoot The Zombie’ game again. You might actually beat me this time.”
“I can’t hold that stupid metal wand.”
“What do I do again?”
Harry lifted his rifle and propped it in the hollow under his shoulder, like he’d seen Uncle Vernon do five years ago. “I’m pretty sure this is how it’s supposed to be held.”
“You’re pretty sure?”
“I’ve only ever seen it done once,” Harry defended, and handed the weapon over.
“Well it’s served you good so far,” Ron murmured, propping the gun under his shoulder blade. “What d’you reckon?”
“I guess . . .” Even Harry could tell that he sounded reluctant. “Right, so we have three tries each.”
“And if we win . . .”
“We get a toy of our choosing.”
Ron pointed. “I want that little vampire thing up in the corner over there.”
“Ron,” said Harry slowly, spotting the dangling stuffed toy, “that’s a penguin.”
The man behind the counter sniggered.
They looked at him.
“Sorry,” he shrugged, not sounding it.
Ron leaned towards Harry, murmuring, “Not very professional conduct.”
The man scowled. “Kids.”
“Don’t look us,” Ron returned without pause, “you started it.”
Still scowling, the man hit the button. The little metal zombies started revolving.
“Go on, Ron!”
Startled, confused, and possibly angry, Ron started shooting randomly in every which way direction — and ran out after ten pits. He thrust the rifle over to Harry, who was forced to catch it before it dropped. “That wasn’t fair! You should’ve warned us you were going to press that.”
The man shrugged once more, lifted a comic book that rested on the counter, and flipped nonchalantly.
Ron’s ears turned red.
Harry quickly lifted the weapon before Ron did something stupid — like attempt to go for his wand. “Go on, then,” he told the man.
Without so much as looking up the man pushed the button and the machine started up with a deep hummmm. Harry lifted the rifle, aimed, and squeezed.
A zombie got flattened.
Harry aimed at another. PING.
“Yes,” Ron grinned. “It’s cause you’re a seeker, Harry.”
Ron was undoubtedly right, but that didn’t mean Harry was going to win. At least this round. He lost by two zombies.
Ron clapped him on the shoulder. “You’ve got four more goes, mate. You’ll make it.”
“But what about you? You can’t just give me your goes, Ron.”
“I’ve given up on myself.”
Harry burst out laughing.
The two best friends, still in good spirits, crossed over to the ice-cream stand.
“Yep, that was the best thing I ever did, giving you my turns.” Ron swung around his toy penguin, accidentally (or not) hitting Harry in the face.
“Watch it!” Harry conked his toy werewolf over Ron’s head.
The friends glared at each other for a second, lips twitching, before laughter overcame them.
“I can’t believe I actually won three times,” Harry chuckled, shaking his head.
“I can,” said Ron, ever loyally. “D’you think Hermione’ll like that cat?”
Ron blinked. “Well I do, too.”
Harry lowered his voice. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
“You may kiss the bride, Mr Potter,” Ron simpered girlishly.
Harry choked on his laughter. It felt -good- to loosen up, especially with his best friend. He couldn’t remember the last time they’d had this much fun together. Not since before the Triwizard Tournament. Was that really almost two years ago?
“What do you like?” asked Harry, as they came to a halt in front of the ice-cream stand.
Ron had taken a laminated menu from the counter, fingers trailing almost reverently over the glossy surface. “What’s a Sundae?”
“Dunno.” Harry shrugged and leaned over to look. “Looks good, though.”
“Yeah, I think I might have —” Ron stopped abruptly and cocked his head. “Do you hear . . .?”
Harry and Ron, faces full of bafflement, turned to their left as the commotion became even louder. Crowd members yelled angrily and parted sideways as something large ran through.
“Hey!” someone yelled.
A blur of golden brown was all Harry saw before, “OOF!” something large and painful knocked the breath out of him.
“Harry!” Ron shouted. Then: “YOU BLOODY GIT! COME BACK HERE!”
Without knowing how it had happened Harry found himself lying flat on the ground, Ron’s concerned face — as well as those of half a dozen strangers’ — hovering over him.
“Okay, kid?” said a young and handsome blonde man to Harry’s left. Harry knew he mustn’t have been hurt badly if he could notice details like that. “Yeah . . . what happened?”
Ron looked furious. “Some large man came pelting out of the crowd! Knocked you right over, the git!”
“Some large man?” Harry allowed Ron and the blonde man — who had extended a polite hand — to haul him up. He gazed around, clutching his bruised stomach. The half a dozen strangers, now having been assured that Harry was alright, pretended to wander back into the milling crowd. “What man?”
“Just some angry guy.” When Harry turned his attention to the blonde, he was staring hard at the ground. “Listen, are you hurt at all?” he asked. “There’s a First Aid —”
“I’m fine,” Harry lied.
Blue eyes stared up at him. “Are you sure?” The words were spoken very slowly and intently, as though the man knew Harry hadn’t told the truth.
Harry frowned at that conclusion. “Yes.”
Those eyes continued to stare at him for long seconds. “Okay,” he said, as slowly as before. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Without another word the man whirled and left, ducking around the curious hangers-on. Only then did Harry note that he had been rather short, even shorter than himself. That thought was so random that Harry shook his head and turned to Ron. “What man?” he asked again.
“I dunno.” Ron busied himself with picking up Harry’s dropped toys. “He kept on running. Looked really odd, though.”
Harry stared at his friend. “Like how?”
Ron shrugged, raked his hair. “I could’ve just been imagining it, but his eyes . . . well they looked like Lupin’s did right before he, you know.”
Had Harry just been knocked over by a werewolf? The thought was so incredulous that it, it . . . it must be the truth. After all, didn’t they stand now in what was known as The Circus of the Damned? Hadn’t Harry seen live werewolves on the stage, not twenty minutes ago? Who was to say that they didn’t wander around, pretending at being human? Wasn’t that what Professor Lupin did?
And another thought intruded, about the blonde man. He had seemed almost reluctant to speak of the incident, as if he knew who the other man had been —*what* the other man had been. Had the blonde man been a werewolf too? It wasn’t so farfetched a thought. It explained why he had been so intent on making sure that Harry was all right. He would have known that a knock like that could harm an ordinary human.
“I don’t think you were imagining it, Ron.”
Ron stared at him. “Let’s go, Harry. We have to find McGonagall and tell her.” He paused, looked him over. “Alright?”
Harry nodded, and lied again. “I’ll be fine. Just knocked the wind out of me.”
“Yeah, well you’re lucky he didn’t break a bloody rib.”
The two boys made their way back to the tent, weaving a path around the milling circus-goers. At times they had to stop and leap aside as enthusiastic teenagers bounded past. And each time left Harry gritting his teeth at the sudden flare in his stomach.
“Hang on,” he told Ron, stopping to lean up against a wooden pole that belonged to the zombie raising spectacle. Even as Harry looked in on the show, a hand rose up out of the earth.
The audience gasped.
Harry turned back, bile rising, stomach clenching — met Ron’s eyes, and looked quickly away so he wouldn’t have to see the disproval in them.
“I’ll be fine,” he told his increasingly red-faced friend for what felt the hundredth time. “I told you, I’m just a little out of breath.”
“The bloke was a werewolf, Harry. If he hit you, no way would he have just ‘knocked the wind out of you’.” Ron stood with arms crossed for a moment, then looked down at Harry’s stomach. “Let me see.”
Ron sighed shortly. “I’ve known you for five years, you prat.”
That sounded ominous. “So?” Harry inched away. He couldn’t let Ron see. Couldn’t let Ron cause a fuss. If Ron saw his stomach, then he would know Harry had lied.
His best friend reached forward to lift Harry’s blazer. “Come on.”
Harry grabbed Ron’s hand and tried pushing it away. The effort left his stomach clenching horribly. “Ron, get out of it!”
“You’re injured, aren’t you?”
Harry said nothing.
“Why won’t you just admit it?” Ron’s eyes were blazing. “You always do that. You’d crawl to bed with a broken leg to avoid having to go to the hospital.”
“I’m not bloody injured,” Harry gritted out, throwing Ron’s hand away. It didn’t help his temper any that he had only been able to do so because Ron had let him. “Anyway, we can’t draw attention to ourselves. Have you forgotten McGonagall’s rules?”
“No, which is why I’m gonna tell her as soon as we come back to the tent.”
Harry flushed furiously. “Some friend you are.”
Ron smiled, shark-like. “It’s better than having to watch you hunch around like an old woman.”
Harry’s nose crinkled. He had not been hunching around like an old woman. Had he? Now that he thought on it, the ground *had* seemed a little closer . . . what was he doing? He shook his head. “Come off it.”
“Fine, I won’t tell McGonagall.”
Harry sighed in relief — which instantly turned to dread as Ron added, “But I will tell Hermione.”
Harry groaned, and thumped his head against the pole. The action made his stomach clench once more. He waited for the burning feeling to subside, but this time it didn’t. Instead, his throat turned hot, his stomach churned. Eyes widening, body hunching, he retched.
Right on his best friend’s shoes.
He distinctly heard, “Urgh, Harry!” from somewhere above him.
Gasping, but feeling relieved, Harry straightened painfully, wiping his mouth of any excess . . . stuff. “I think I need to speak to Professor McGonagall.”
Ron glared down in disgust at his shoes. “You think?”
A/N: More familiar faces next chapter.