|Posted On:||2005-02-06 00:00:00|
Title: Cities of the Dead---
Author: Lucia di Medici
Summary: The war between light and dark urges steadily onwards in Britain, the Dark Lord is collecting strange and sinister creatures from around the globe to come to his aid. In an effort to lend relief to the side of the white, Auror-in-Training Hermione Granger has been sent to Louisiana to recruit the most powerful of the solitary creatures that dwell in the heart of New Orleans. Unfortunately, not all goes according to plan when the notorious Brat Prince of the Vampires refuses her and demands ‘a little drink’.
Author’s Notes: If you follow the Vampire Chronicles or the Lives of the Mayfair Witches, you should know that this takes place just after “Blood Canticle”, approximately two years after Hogwarts has let out – I’m presuming both stories are within the same time frame. In any case, I’m picking up where Rice leaves off and trolling on from there. Only one thing left to say then, in the words of the deceased Patsy Blackwood, “Gloria!”
Cities of the Dead
Hermione Granger flew down Dauphine Street, her muggle shoes slapping hard against the cobblestone causing an uneven staccato to echo off the dimly lit shops and cafes. She couldn’t hear him behind her, but nonetheless she knew he was there – watching silently and biding his time.
Whichever official in the Ministry had approved this reconnaissance mission was a bloodthirsty fool. If she survived, she’d hunt him down and slaughter him as soon as she returned to England. Now, however, she was in desperate need of an authorized apparition point.
Skidding wildly, her trainers sliding against the rough stone, she tore around the corner of St. Louis Avenue. A few hundred yards down the narrow road she could make out the glinting lights in the hubbub of Bourbon Street. If she could toss herself into the crowd, perhaps she’d go relatively unnoticed. Her Auror instinct screamed the contrary, however.
Vampires were particularly good at hunting, she knew, even with her lungs screaming for air and her veins thrumming snake venom – that much logic was not lost on the nineteen year old witch. Why on earth Mad-Eye had thought it a brilliant idea to send a Junior Auror out to foreign soil was beyond her. Harry had never had to endure this kind of injustice – he was never threatened with the possibility of becoming an immortal’s breakfast.
No, Harry was landed with the comfortable and advanced warding classes, while her superiors plunked Hermione with the assignment directly. Supposedly, Shaklebolt and Moody had decided between themselves that sending the studious Granger into the field to attempt an alliance with the notorious Dark Prince of New Orleans would be a diplomatic move against Voldemort.
If she succeeded, not only would she survive to tell the tale, but the unquestionable strength of the immortal in question could be used to gain favour amongst the other vampires in North America.
Apparently, there were quite a few – but only three resided in the city built on top of a swamp, and Lioncourt was their sovereign and sire.
The stitch in her side searing and twisting painfully, the former Gryffindor chanced a glance over her shoulder. Sixty yards away, the eerily preternatural skin and lustrous blond hair of a slim man in clothing that was well-dated, was apparent in the dim lighting. He was walking slowly, his hands folded behind his lean frame with the lace ruffs of his collar dancing languidly in the warm October air.
In the flicker of the gas lamps, Hermione could make out the barest hint of a red-mouthed smile. She gasped, and threw herself the last few yards and into the fray of the Quarter at Halloween-time.
Pushing westwards against the crowd, the smells of stale beer, cigarette smoke, incense wafting out of metaphysical stores and the acrid stench of rampant, drunken tourists and Tulane students was overwhelming. Beneath it all, however, Hermione detected the subdued musty scent of the swamp – it hung in the air, romancing the night with its dark allure.
Despite the swarm of costumed people surrounding her, and the unpleasant top layer twanging nastily at her nostrils, Hermione found the musky, raw smell of the city enticing, dangerous almost, and fuelled by adrenaline and the constant flow of spirits from the merchants and bars lining the narrow strip of cement and brightly coloured buildings.
Overhead, figures decorated lavishly in disguises of all styles and eras, draped themselves from the wrought iron balconies; some dancing, others bellowing at their friends and strangers alike on the street below. The blare of jazz music and poorly-sung karaoke choked the night sky, and all around her, the crowd surged.
Several teenagers clad mostly in black vinyl, one wearing a hooded cape and brandishing a bottle of vibrant cinnabar green liquid, were cajoling nearby. Odd behaviour for Goths, but Hermione didn’t think twice about ducking into the alcove just behind them. Jostled by the passing throng as she assessed the area, she noted that the alcove in fact, was an entry into a courtyard where, directly in the middle, a stone fountain stood bubbling blue-green water and was gradually becoming overrun with creeping myrtle.
Sensing the vampire closing the gap, Hermione didn’t waste time extracting her wand from the waistband of her frayed and dirtied jeans, quickly cast an unlocking charm against the thick padlock that held the gate together, and burst through into the courtyard garden.
Exhausted, winded, and filthy, Hermione doubled over with her hands on her knees. The flagstones swam before her eyes, their pale pink and gold flecks blurring together as she wheezed.
She was done for.
Bearing that though in mind, she slumped down onto her haunches, wheezing erratically, and fell back with a dull thump against the cool stone.
“Well, Granger, I would have thought to expect a little better from you. Really, running for your life like a scared muggle child – Some would think this behaviour most unseemly of a Gryffindor.”
Hermione froze, placing the owner of the voice instantly.
“Zabini,” she said as evenly as she could, tracing his low murmur to a shaded corner by the south wall of the garden.
Leaning against the sloping trunk of an old cypress tree, the former Slytherin looked mildly amused as he surveyed her beneath a straw fedora. The seersucker suit he wore was immaculate, free of any wrinkles and complimented by a blood red tie cinched loosely around his neck. He stood out elegantly against the deep sombre hues of the night blooming jasmine, which crawled up the far wall and tangled around the old tree.
Involuntarily, Hermione swallowed hard, causing Blaise to cock his head, veiling half of his face, and smirked at her.
“In the milk and sugar, kitten,” he rumbled.
“I thought you were dispatched to Asia,” she blurted, feeling her face get hot.
Technically, she wasn’t supposed to be privy to that information, being a junior at the Ministry with very few contacts. The fact that she had followed the paper-trail left by many of the Slytherins after school had let out didn’t help the fact – but Zabini in particular…
“Funny you should mention that, Granger,” he said, pushing himself off the tree and strolling towards the fountain. “It appears that you’ve been trailing me much as I have been trailing you. Though doubtless for different reasons.” He grinned, and Hermione felt herself shrink against the flagstone path.
“I was dispatched from Kyoto less than a week ago when an urgent request came in,” he continued. “Apparently, Dumbledore was adamant that you not be left to your own devices in the field – said you were capable of creating more trouble than five Weasleys and Potter put together. I see that he was right.”
Hermione stared at the Italian dumbfounded. Casually, Zabini placed a foot against the broad rim of the fountain and leaned on his knee. The simple gesture caused the light fabric to pull taut against the back of his thighs, as he turned to face the spitting statue in the middle of the water.
Hermione found herself tracing the firm contour of his legs and arse, where the hem of the pale cotton jacket rode up.
Eyes wide, she found herself recalling the first weeks of Auror training where the new prospectives had teamed up for conflict instruction. She’s been paired with Zabini, having switched from the Muggle Liaisons department and into preliminary Auror training when the threat of Voldemort had become too great. Apparently, the former Slytherin had a vendetta or two to settle with the Dark Lord, after his best friend had been murdered shortly after school let out. From what she understood, he and Theodore Nott had known each other since their infancy – and Blaise had taken his death rather badly.
Nonetheless, for Hermione the trouble had started with hand-to-hand combatative techniques. She’d never been particularly invasive as a student, in fact, she quite liked respecting the personal space of other people. That had changed drastically, however, when one day they were practicing manual disarming techniques, and she found herself pinned beneath the Italian and unable to move an inch.
He was surprisingly strong for someone with such a lean frame.
Hermione shivered, it had been quite disarming, that was certain – Though perhaps not in the way her instructors had intended.
“I hate to break your reverie Granger, but I need to debrief you,” Zabini muttered dryly, still following the flowing water with his indigo eyes.
Hermione blinked, stunned at the perversity of her own mind when he rolled the word “de-brief” over his tongue. Mentally, she slapped herself and stood up.
“Right,” she stated, and flicked her wand creating a temporary ward around them in case anyone should overhear. Though with the drifting sounds of the French Quarter floating as heavily in the night air as the scent of jasmine, she doubted it would be possible. In any case, it was protocol. The last thing she needed was to have Zabini reporting to her superiors that not only had she successfully bungled the operation, but she didn’t use proper precaution when it was called for.
She paused to take a breath, and stilling her mind; she reached out with her consciousness. Her instincts, though not fully honed, told her the vampire was at least at a safe distance. In fact, she couldn’t detect him at all. The thought gave her a slight thrill.
“At nineteen hundred hours I made contact with the subject, Lestat de Lioncourt, one of three known immortals residing in the city of New Orleans,” she stated.
“What of the other two?” Blaise asked, not removing his eyes from the fountain.
“Tarquin Blackwood and Mona Mayfair are unaccounted for. It appears they have not been within the city for some time.”
Hermione always found his mannerisms somewhat disconcerting; he just seemed so damned bored all the time. She sighed and ploughed onwards, “I proposed a temporary treatise with Lioncourt, as per the request of the English Ministry of Magic. I presented him with the documentation, and a verbal overview of our plea.” She faltered.
Blaise turned to peer at her with one eye below the brim of his hat, and Hermione felt herself shifting her weight between the balls of her feet against her will, her worn sneakers squelching uncomfortably.
“The subject alleges he has no concerns with mortal fools; wizards, witches or otherwise,” she said in a rush.
“And then?” he prodded, after a pregnant pause.
Hermione fidgeted, losing a battle with her hands as they ensnared the hem of her tee-shirt and began twisting the fabric.
“He made a conciliatory offer.”
Blaise frowned, watching her intently.
Hermione sighed seeing his expression. “A snack,” she concluded dryly.
Blaise’s eyebrows shot up. “Direct, this bloke, isn’t he?”
“Well, not in so many words,” she added. “Lioncourt claims that his only dealings with the living are self-serving and essentially the only reason he’s still waking is for the reason that he can’t seem to escape his romantic infatuation with mortality.”
“Figures, we get a maudlin vampire to work with,” Zabini murmured. “How did you proceed, Granger?”
“I –” she sucked in a breath, automatically reaching for her throat.
Blaise’s blue eyes widened and he removed his foot from the fountain to advance on her.
“Let me see,” he said softly, reaching for her hand and drawing it away. Delicately, he tilted her head to the side, and with his fingers, brushed aside the wild mane of hair that had frizzed doubly in the humidity.
Hermione expelled a breath she didn’t realize she was holding, as the pads of his tanned fingers brushed the sensitive skin over her carotid artery. Gently, he moved his hands around her neck, sliding a hand into her hair and drawing her chin to the right, exposing the other side of her throat.
Hermione found herself shivering despite the fact that is was a warm night.
“Did he bite you?” Blaise asked softly, not releasing her from his tender grasp.
“No, I don’t think so. He’s extremely fast, however. One moment he was yards away, and the next he was directly behind me. It was like apparition, only I’m certain he actually moved –”
The Italian’s brows furrowed pensively, a small frown creasing his features. His fingers rubbed gently at her neck, Hermione made a mental note that they felt quite comfortable right where they were.
“Are you ok, Granger?” he asked quietly.
Watching his impossibly full lips form the words, and sensing the soft expulsion of warm breath against her cheeks, Hermione forgot momentarily that she was supposedly running for her life. Without thinking, she sighed and nuzzled the cupped palm of his hand.
“I’m quite well, thank you,” she murmured, her eyes flickering shut.
The sweet, heavy smell of the night blooming jasmine and bougainvillea, mixed with the denser aroma of the city and mingled delicately with Blaise’s gentlemen’s cologne were near intoxicating. For a moment, Hermione thought herself a southern belle, wooed and swooning before the debonair libertine before her.
The thought, however, was broken with a low chuckle, and Hermione’s eyes snapped open.
“He must have taken a drink, then.” Blaise grinned. “Never thought you were the sentimental type, Granger. You wouldn’t be cooing if it weren’t for severe blood-loss.”
Hermione felt herself flush, and consequently, her temper bubbled. Gaping soundlessly, unable to form a coherent sentence that didn’t sound to her ears more than a stutter, Blaise merely chuckled harder and removed the hat from his head. With a curt bow, he intoned in a horribly garbled Cajun, “Et bien, chere, I had to pirout dat whole place looking for you. Allons dance before dat cooyon comes back wid an ahnvee for English sang, ain?”
Blaise tipped the hat back onto his curly raven hair, and folded his arms across his chest; the smallest of smirks gracing his features and his eyes charmed by the moonlight.
Hermione swallowed hard. In the pale glow of the waxing moon overhead, the contrast between Blaise’s dark skin and the pale cream of the seersucker made him look like a devil in angel’s clothing, like warm honey and café au lait. Shaking herself brusquely, she stepped backwards and folded her arms defiantly.
“How did you find me anyway?” she bit out. “The entire Quarter’s restricted access for apparition. The local mambos would raise a revolt if they knew of English Ministry interference –”
Blaise waved the question away languidly, still sporting that gorgeous half smile.
“Dumbledore contacted the reigning voodooienne, she was sceptical about it – but I managed to floo in through a backroom in Lafitte’s before she ushered me off – there’s a cleared apparition point not too far from here, but unfortunately, we have to reach the checkpoint without drawing too much attention to ourselves.”
“What about Lioncourt?” she said aghast. “We can’t just let him out of it!”
“Bugger him,” he muttered. “The mission has been compromised. We need to get you out of here.” He said brusquely.
“Now, as much as I enjoy our pithy banter, Granger, you really ought to work on your concealment and disguise tactics. Honestly,” he shook his head again, and raked his eyes over her petite form.
Hermione looked down at herself, a lump of bushy hair flopping listlessly into her field of vision. The trainers, jeans and white tee-shirt were badly worn down, a tear or two in the soft fabric bared two large patches of flesh, one on her upper thigh and another around her midsection. Apart from that, she was covered head to toe in smears of dirt from her hasty retreat.
Mortified, she looked away and mumbled feebly, “I had to evade capture as best I could.”
“Indeed,” he murmured, and reached out to tug at the hole in her shirt. “I don’t suppose that entailed jumping a few fences and crawling beneath a parked crawfish delivery truck, did it?” The smile in his voice was apparent.
Hermione’s head snapped around so fast she heard her neck pop audibly. “You were tailing me?” she hissed. “And you didn’t bother to help?”
Blaise shrugged and pulled his wand out from an inside pocket of the coat.
“At the time, it seemed best not to alert Lestat of a second Auror’s presence. Reinforcements, you know. Moreover, I quite like this style of Southern American fashion – it’s a right pain when it wrinkles, however.” He flashed a straight tooth smile and surveyed her thoughtfully. “Speaking of which, stand still would you?”
Hermione balked and took a step backwards; she was nearing the alcove through which she’d entered the courtyard. “Zabini, what are you doing?”
The feral grin he wore as he trained his wand on her was most unsettling. “Don’t move, Granger. I promise you’ll enjoy this. Lesson one in concealment and disguise training, always blend with your environment.” As an afterthought, he added, “And never dress like a tourist. You might as well sport a blinking sign that reads ‘Sucker’.”
Hermione recoiled, bumping against the south wall, she gasped. She was trapped with Zabini was about to curse, hex or jinx her, and there was a vampire after her blood. Feeling her panic beginning to rise, she flinched as Blaise threw his spell.
Surprised by the warm tingling beginning in her feet, Hermione chanced a glance down. She certainly wasn’t in any pain, nor was the charm one she recognized. Rather, to her astonishment, a white shimmering glow was rising from her feet and over her legs, ascending rapidly and swirling around her light frame; covering her stomach, her chest, her shoulders, her neck and over her scalp. Amazed, she stared wide eyed down at herself.
In the place where her sweat-sodden and dirt-streaked clothes had been moments before, she found the garments shrinking, morphing and reforming themselves around her body.
“Nice bit of transfiguration, don’t you think?” Blaise beamed at his work.
As the fabric settled, Hermione gaped at herself. In the place of her well-beaten travel wear, was a light, slinky bronze dress, replete with sequins and tassels. The loose sleeveless top was cinched low on her hips, fluttering lightly in the breeze. With a start, she realized just how much skin she was exposing – from her shoulders and collar bone, where the dress pinched shut precariously over her shoulders. The skirt rode mid-way up her thighs, where a multitude of long, stingy tassels grazed the tops of her calves. The stockings had a seam running along the back, and on her feet, she realized with sudden horror, she wore three-inch Mary Jane wingtip heels, with a pale tan bit of leather attaching them around her ankles.
Blaise chuckled, “Mais, you look lovely poupée!”
Hermione mouthed soundlessly. Her shock was barely beginning to abate when a warm breeze picked up, brushing across the bare skin of her neck and lifting the silken fabric of the top – causing it to flutter daintily. Automatically, she reached for her hair – with a screech, she realized it wasn’t merely pinned up, but cropped short into a wavy bob.
“Zabini what did you do to my hair?” she bellowed, and Blaise merely grinned.
“Come along and look at yourself,” he said, taking her elbow gently and leading her over to a calm patch of water at the foot of the fountain. “Lioncourt will never recognize you, that I promise.”
“Is this reversible?” She teetered in her heels, unaccustomed to wearing shoes that were so impractical. The sudden motion made her realize something very distinct – one precious part of her undergarments was missing. Hermione was suddenly very aware of why fashionable women of the 1920’s w