The heavy flap of wings came first. It was a different noise than the birds that normally frequented this area made. Instead of flitting about from perch to perch, this was a bird with purpose. I peered out the window to see if I could find the owl that was heading this way. Owls might be reliable mail carriers, or so I’d been told, but it still seemed odd to have them show up at one’s house at all hours of the day, regardless of whatever spells had been cast so others wouldn’t notice the arrival of the occasional avian visitor.
At least the owls didn’t see me as a threat — that might make receiving correspondence much more difficult. I liked to think they saw me as a fellow predator, a reluctant nod to our shared prowess. Not that our prey was at all the same. While rats and mice were found nearly everywhere, being in Australia had required some changes in my diet, ones that I was still getting used to. The fact that most animals here preferred to fight, rather than submit, was a bonus, but there was only so much feral pig and kangaroo blood one could drink. Crocodiles were just problematic. Besides, it was easier for me to abstain, particularly if the owl was carrying the news we hoped for.
I heard Hermione coming my way, still oblivious to our impending visitor. She walked up behind me and put her arms around me. I relished our contact — it flowed so much more easily now, even with the house rules she was unwilling to bend on this time.
“When are you eating next?”
I breathed in, feeling the familiar burn that her presence always brought before I shrugged in response. It was a line between pleasure and pain, knowing she held both my salvation and ruin in her hands in the thrum of her heartbeat. Not that I worried about my more primal instincts any longer. Reluctantly, I turned from the window to face her, knowing that distraction was imminent.
Hermione looked up at me and frowned before rubbing her fingertip across the purple crescents that now sat beneath my eyes. “Your eyes are so dark. I don’t understand why you’re doing this. Australia has a large population of invasive animals. I know it might be different, but you have to feed, Edward.”
It wasn’t so simple. The options in Australia didn’t thrill me. While I could feed without harming natural stocks, the choices weren’t inspiring. Besides, I knew my limits. The human who had the most to fear from my fast was also the one person I could never hurt. If it got bad enough, I’d feed. But what interested me more was my ability to go without.
A sharp rap at the window drew her attention away from me, and I bit back a smirk. There were some benefits to being more aware of the world around you. Namely, it gave me time to school my reaction to one of casual interest rather than the open despair I felt was warranted.
I stepped back, and she opened the window so the masked owl could step inside and deliver its quarry. I didn’t recognize the bird, which meant little. Only Harry’s owl — a new bird, to hear Hermione explain — had shown up in person, given the length of the flight. However, that didn’t mean that other emissaries from the Australian Owl Post didn’t arrive from time to time, whether to deliver news or other correspondence. The bird regarded me dolefully as Hermione untied the letter and then it stepped back outside, not bothering to wait for a response.
As Hermione turned over the envelope, her breath caught, and I knew it was the letter we’d been waiting for. She looked up at me, hopeful, whereas I couldn’t be. Too much rode on what this letter said. I wasn’t used to being subject to the whims of others, of having to plead my case. As someone who had the resources to bend the world towards his will, and the time over which to see it happen, this was new to me. But it was what she wanted, so naturally, it was what I wanted. And if I were honest, there was a not small amount of curiosity that lingered on my part.
Cautiously optimistic. That was what Hermione had claimed after she’d sent off the final materials. She’d researched as much as she could, given what she could locate in the library here, complaining all the while about the lack of texts. She’d gone through more pots of coffee, keeping hours that were, in my opinion, decidedly unhealthy. Yet, there was little I could do but stay awake with her and tuck a blanket around her once she finally fell asleep, usually with her head in a book.
While I worried about her, through it all, her eyes remained bright. It seemed in some ways, Hermione was in her element once more, and I found this side of her personality intriguing. In the end, she’d done everything she could, and promised me that whatever the outcome, we would find a way to make things work.
She me offered the envelope, but I shook my head. “It’s addressed to you, not me.”
I tried to remain impassive, watching as she turned the envelope over, slipped a finger under the flap, and pulled out a thin piece of paper. Time stood still as I waited to hear the verdict, hoping to make peace with whatever decision had been reached. It was maddening, not being able to hear her thoughts, to not know what she saw on the page when so much rested on what this letter said.
For a moment, her brow furrowed, and then her eyes went wide. And then she looked up at me.
“Well?” I asked, hoping she would put me out of my misery.
She began to read.
Dear Miss Granger,
While your request was rather unusual, the Hogwarts Board of Governors has agreed…
A grin broke out on her face and I couldn’t help but sweep her into my arms.
“It’s a yes?”
“Well, I didn’t have a chance to give it a careful read, but it seems that way.”
I picked her up and twirled her around. “You are by far the most brilliant…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” After I released her, Hermione waved off my words, though her eyes shone with the praise. While she made a show of ignoring compliments, the words still affected her. And what she’d accomplished here was no small thing. I knew how much of her heart wanted to be back at Hogwarts, even with the anxiety of having not been there for the last two years. Completing her degree. Sitting for her exams — N.E.W.T.s, I now knew — were important to her. In some ways, she still felt she needed to prove herself. Needed to make clear that her worth was more than the word someone had carved into her arm.
And now, I would be able to join her there, and be by her side through this next chapter. While a “non-wizard, part-human,” as vampires were considered, hadn’t enrolled at Hogwarts before, it turned out it wasn’t against the rules, strictly speaking. I could take offense at the classification, but if it helped my case, I wasn’t inclined to argue.
Hermione had waged an entire campaign to pave the way for my admission, explaining my dietary habits in excruciating detail, along with citing a number of arcane laws about mated pairs. “A reason for them to see your case as different,” she explained, given those with magic harbored certain lingering prejudices against vampires. I couldn’t blame them. Most of my kind weren’t known for their diplomacy. There were some vampires, however, who Hermione explained moved in and out of wizarding society, even with their blood-drinking habits. That I would have to wait and see.
I realized how driven she was when she believed in a cause. Although this time, the cause was me. Before she’d been studious, but her focus had seemed nearly manic when focused on trying to secure my admission.
I had a feeling she may have even leaned on her status as a heroine of the war to push my case. She’d been insistent on this course, even though it felt odd to share the specifics of my life and our relationship with others. I had lived in the shadows for so long, carefully guarding my family’s secrets, and now it seemed the fact that I was a vampire wasn’t automatically something to be feared. Instead, it was to be controlled, considered, managed. Particularly in the wake of a war where classifications had been used as weapons, it seemed the magical community in Britain was willing to bend over backwards in their inclusivity — at least in this one case.
Either that or it helped that Hermione Granger was in your corner. After all, I didn’t think the school would have rolled out the welcome mat for someone whose dietary habits included regularly drinking the blood of their students. She’d made it sound as if being a vampire just was, like, having brown hair or freckles. Something other than a cursed, pseudo-life. Her confidence felt unnerving at times — the surety with which she approached her task, because it was the right thing to do. Regardless of whether it was a good idea for me, a non-wizard, to attend a school clearly meant for wizards, quickly got lost in her arguments about fairness and equity, and I allowed myself to be swept up in the tide.
Hermione took a seat on the couch. I followed, but I cared far less about the details now that I knew the conclusion was that we would be together. That I was welcome in her world. If the outcome had been different, of course, I would have done whatever I could to make things work. Now that I had a mate, she was far too important to me. But then again, her happiness was mine, as well, and so I hadn’t shared with her how much it would have affected me to stay behind in Forks. To let her slip through my fingers as if she hadn’t become the very tether for my existence.
That, however, was my problem. She didn’t need to know how singularly focused I was. Unbeknownst to her, I had begun my own inquiries of what it would take to enroll in a Scottish university — anything to be close. However, it appeared none of my parallel preparations would be needed, for a year at Hogwarts awaited. Even though I didn’t have magic, there was plenty that I could still learn, several fields of study that were entirely new to me. The thought, in itself, was exhilarating, and perhaps a bit terrifying.
“Oh!” Hermione’s soft exultation drew my attention once again. I placed a hand on her knee, in an effort to draw her back to me.
“Well, there are a few conditions.”
“Like?” I asked, drawing out the letters in the word. I would have been surprised if there weren’t some qualifications on my offer. The only question was what they might be.
Something flitted across Hermione’s face, then in one swift motion, she stood and tucked the letter back into its envelope.
“Let’s head to the market like we were planning and when we get back, we can give it a more thorough read.”
For all that her mind was quiet, in other ways, Hermione was an open book. Clearly, there was something she didn’t want me to know just yet. I decided to play along. She’d tell me eventually, but I had learned that with some things, she needed to have time to mull over before finding the right words.
The market was relatively quiet, given most people were still at work, including Hermione’s parents, who still went as Monica and Wendell Wilkins outside their home. I could only imagine their confusion, holding two identities in their heads, knowing both their true history and the one that had been created for them. They planned to move back to England eventually, though. I could relate to that, having to leave a community — a life — behind and not look back, but our situations were also rather different. I could only wonder how they might navigate the two, and whether their return might give Hermione a chance to release some of the guilt she still carried for upending her parents’ lives, in an effort to keep them safe.
As Hermione meandered through the aisles, I followed along with the basket. It was our routine, playing at domesticity in an attempt to persuade her parents that while I was a vampire, I wasn’t “that type” of vampire. They hadn’t been impressed with the distinction. While our initial introduction was warm, the conversation that followed had been anything but. I had offered to head to a hotel, so Hermione could have her reunion with her parents without the additional complication, but she insisted I stay, so they could get to know the person who would figure so importantly in her life. But I could see the fear in their eyes, and read the incredulity in their expressions.
All the while, given the proximity, it was difficult to ignore the thoughts that filtered through the minds of both of her parents.
The first night they went to sleep after meeting me: What if she’s wrong? What if he changes his mind?
The set of her father’s jaw: I don’t like this one bit. Why couldn’t he just have had magic, like her?
Hidden behind a sigh from her mother: He’s handsome, all right, but this is unnatural.
What made it worse was that Hermione had insisted we not share my “ability,” which meant I became a silent eavesdropper.
“They’ll already be on edge. Why make it worse when there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it?”
She wasn’t wrong on that point, but it still led to a few uncomfortable situations.
Slowly, her parents came to realize that I didn’t mean them or their daughter any harm. It wasn’t acceptance, but it wasn’t outright rejection, either. I had known before we arrived that it would be a long shot. The human mind was only designed to accept so much, and theirs had already been pushed far past most.
One night, Hermione’s father came across me reading in the living room in the wee hours of the morning, he startled, unused to seeing someone awake at that time of night. Jet lag was one thing, but the physical inability to sleep was different. Most nights, I stayed in a small office that served as my guest room. There was only so much to do, however, and the living room had more life, and far more of Hermione’s scent than the sterile space I’d been given. After all, while vampires didn’t need sleep, they could get bored.
Over time, Hermione’s mother had softened after talking with her daughter and seeing the two of us together. While she still had concerns, she was trying to keep an open mind. Richard Granger’s opinion, if not his attitude, remained unchanged. Around his daughter, he was polite to me, but one on one, he was decidedly not a fan of his daughter being around the undead, much less tied to one.
After his initial reaction, he grunted and walked past me into the kitchen, and I heard the sound of the refrigerator opening, and the rustling of him locating a suitable snack. When he finished, he came and stood in the doorway, contemplating. His thoughts were still sluggish, but I knew he was angling for a chat.
What do I have to lose? After all, it’s not like he can hurt me without hurting Hermione.
He walked across the room and stopped in front of an armchair that was placed near the couch on which I sat. “Mind if I sit here?”
“It’s your home, sir.”
That’s right it is. You’d do well to remember that. At least he’s out here and not…
I watched his eyes narrow.
“Perhaps it’s time you and I had a talk.”
I took a deep breath and marked my place in the book I was reading.
I don’t get it. Helen seems okay with this. But I don’t like it.
“I appreciate everything you’ve done for Hermione. If you and your family hadn’t been there…”
The rest remained unsaid, except in his mind. I shuddered with just the thought that somehow Hermione would have had to face three vampires and a deranged wizard on her own. She had told her parents parts of the story earlier at the behest of her uncle, but it was different for her to recount it in front of them as they listened, horrified, fully understanding the danger she had been in.
At some level, I could appreciate her father’s concern. After all, that day had been one of the worst days of my life. Between my overriding concern for her, my confusion at her disappearance, and having to watch her put herself into danger again and again. It had tested my patience and control at every turn, mostly because of how utterly helpless I had felt.
Her father continued, oblivious to just how parallel our thoughts were on this point. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m perplexed about your expectations. You two are very different, after all.”
The concern for his daughter was plain. I could understand that. And yet, there was more that he hadn’t voiced aloud. He was concerned not just for our relationship, but for his daughter’s continued involvement in a world he wasn’t a part of. His concerns were more fundamental, whether he realized it or not — a loss of control and an inability to protect Hermione from those who might seek to do her harm. I was just the latest, and perhaps most extreme, aberration.
But the question was how to respond to the things he wasn’t saying — or whether to respond to them at all. No matter how proud he was that Hermione was a witch — and a capable one at that, the experiences of the past few years had left him deeply wary of a world that wasn’t his own.
This was the trouble with being able to hear others’ thoughts: not only the difference between what they thought and what they said to you, but also the difference between what they thought and said to others.
I didn’t care to have insight about Hermione’s father that I couldn’t share with her. Yet, it would only upset her to learn how deep the scars from their interactions went.
Good thing I had a lifetime of experience schooling my face against the things I heard. I’d learned early on that it tended to be unsettling if I responded to something one thought, instead of said. Except around my family. Between Alice and me, keeping secrets was near impossible and often we didn’t even bother speaking, knowing I had heard the thought — or Alice had seen the path — the moment it had formed.
“Well?” He wanted my reaction, but I knew nearly anything I could say would upset him.
“I know Hermione means the world to you, and I know this must be surprising. Confusing. Unexpected.”
“Damn straight. She’s my daughter. And I want what’s best for her.”
I knew Hermione’s uncle was her mother’s brother, but her father seemed to have captured some of the same paternalism.
“As do I,” I tried to affirm.
“Then you see how this is a bit of an impasse. My daughter has a future. Plans. Goals. She has her whole life ahead of her.”
He was right. And yet, I wanted all those same things for her. I had no interest in trying to hold Hermione back from whatever she wanted to accomplish.
And selfishly, I also didn’t want to let her go.
“Dr. Granger, your daughter’s happiness is my utmost concern.” I knew I had to tread carefully, so as not to seem as tied to her as I was. “She means everything to me, and I want nothing more than for her to have a full and happy life.”
“So if she decides you’re not for her? If she comes to her senses? What then?”
I ignored the slight at Hermione’s reasoning. She wasn’t under my control. I wasn’t with her due to any compulsion of my own making.
“Then I would step aside, for whatever or whoever made her happy.”
If I had a heart, it would have beat dangerously fast at even the idea of being without Hermione. A bond like ours wasn’t to be taken lightly. I knew he couldn’t fully understand its indelibility. But, if I had to, I’d find a way. If I was not what she wanted, I would let her go, and deal with the consequences, whatever they were.
Richard Granger grunted in reply. “I still don’t like it. At the very least, you’re dooming her to a life without children.”
It was a punch to the gut. He was absolutely right. Hermione and I hadn’t discussed it, but I had plotted out various courses for our future together, and none of those scenarios involved children, at least not biological ones. That was an impossibility for me, someone who was frozen in time. But for Hermione, who was so young and so alive… There were plenty of couples who chose to not have children, but was that her choice? Was that what she wanted?
Besides, if it became an issue, there were other options to explore: found families, adoption, insemination. Ours might not be a conventional relationship, but I had the resources to try to make Hermione’s dreams come true.
Her father’s face was smug, as if he knew he’d made a point I couldn’t refute. And yet, I could still hear his thoughts, wondering if it was better to push me away or keep me close in a world where his daughter seemed to be in danger more often than not. He could only wonder whether it might be better for her to leave the world of magic behind, to attend college, and see what was in store for her in a more conventional life. But he also knew that was impractical. Impossible. Hermione would never consent. Too much of her identity was tied to being a witch. So, he would continue to worry more than not. And feel helpless when she was away.
Though he wouldn’t say it out loud, I knew there was some part of him that was glad I could help protect her, and I hoped that might be an in with him — being Hermione’s indestructible bodyguard — someone who could go places he couldn’t, and didn’t carry the same weaknesses as someone else would.
He stood. “Well, I’m off to bed. Glad we could have this chat.”
I nodded in acknowledgement, letting him think he had won this round, and picked up my book again, waiting for the sun to rise again so I could again immerse myself in her scent, in her being, in the innate magic of my mate.
Whatever had been in the letter didn’t come up on our trip to the market, or as we worked to prepare dinner in the kitchen. Like Esme, I, too, was learning to appreciate the rhythms of cooking. How it could be hypnotic to get lost in chopping or dicing. Plus, my speed meant we could finish the prep work in a fraction of the time — which left time for other things I preferred to do.
I stepped behind Hermione as she stirred the pasta simmering in the pot. She let her head loll backwards, and I kissed her forehead. Being with her like this, spending nearly all her waking time together, was intoxicating. I didn’t think I would ever tire of kissing Hermione or touching her. We hadn’t revisited the events of prom night since we’d been in Australia — at least not together. It wasn’t for lack of interest. I knew she wanted to do more, but was conflicted about her parents being under the same roof.
That suited me, though perhaps having had a taste of her was worse than having none at all. But I could be patient. We’d be leaving Australia soon. And if I understood correctly, we’d have a few weeks on our own before school began, which meant we’d be able to explore and play to our heart’s content. I was in no rush to take things further, however. We had an entire lifetime ahead of us, and while I had bent to her will in some areas, other things I was more hesitant to let go of.
That night, we sat on the couch and watched television with her parents. Wendell and Monica Wilkins had found the television to be a way of immersing themselves in this new place — of learning the cultural lingo and the phrases that still sounded odd to my ears, and they had kept the habit. It was a chance for them to relax, to let their minds drift away from the troubles of the day. The contents of the letter, however, weren’t far from my mind, but that was a conversation that needed to wait until we were alone once more. I wanted to understand the “conditions” were that she hadn’t told me about. Clearly, it was something I wouldn’t like.
If I had Jasper’s talent, I would have subtly sent out waves of peacefulness and relaxation, hoping Hermione's parents would get tired and move towards their bedroom. No such luck. I’d have to wait until it happened naturally. And even if Hermione’s mother drifted off, that was no guarantee her father would follow. He was hesitant to leave us alone. Tonight, however, luck was on my side. Her mother stood and held out a hand to her husband. “Come on, Richard. Let’s head to bed.” There was a moment of hesitation on his face, but he acquiesced and they said good night.
I waited until after I heard the click of the lock on their bedroom door before I reached out and pulled Hermione towards me. She nestled into my arm and took a deep breath, content for the moment, though neither of us had forgotten the conversation that lay ahead.
I waited as long as I could before casually asking, trying my best to sound unaffected. “So what did it say?”
“Hmm?” The sound she made was a little too bright.
I bit back a chuckle. Hermione would win no acting awards. And even if she could school her face, she had other tells. I could hear her heartbeat increase.
“The letter. There were conditions, you said?”
She exhaled heavily, and I felt the pit in my stomach grow. It wasn’t like her to not be forthcoming.
“Maybe I should read it myself?” I asked, giving her an out.
“No, but you’re not going to like it.”
I had already figured out that much. I ran my fingers up and down her arm in an effort to soothe her. “Just tell me. It can’t be that bad.”
“It’s what you’d expect. They’re concerned about your feeding.” She bit her lip, bracing for my response, which meant it wasn’t as simple as she was letting on.
“Okay. And?” We had predicted that, which was why Hermione had included a complete list of fauna found in the school's vicinity that I could hunt. In this regard, its remote location was a plus. There were far fewer people in this area of Scotland than in Washington state, which would cut down the possibility of coming across anyone, even accidentally. Not that there was a concern. Unlike Jasper, I couldn’t be tempted by the smell of a human when feeding. Except for one.
Hermione sighed. “They want me to supervise your feedings.”
My reaction was instantaneous. “No.”
“No. That’s a non-starter.” I stood and started pacing. “Why would they ask that? Why would anyone need to be there? I’ve been doing this for a long time now. It’s not any different.”
“Edward, they’ve made a number of allowances for this. But, it’s something that hasn’t happened before. It isn’t well understood. They have concerns — it’s a logical request.”
Logical perhaps, but impossible nonetheless. “Don’t you understand you are literally the only person who should never be around me when I give myself over to instinct?” I tried to keep my voice down, worried her parents would hear us. “I don’t even want to think about it.” I shook my head. This was not a point on which I’d be willing to give. We’d make other arrangements. I could still pay my way into a Scottish university.
“But you’ve been around my blood before, and you didn’t react!”
I frowned. That was not a memory I wanted to revisit. Time had smoothed things between us, but it was too easy for me to recall the emotions that had cycled through my head that day. My concern for having brought her into a situation where she would be exposed to danger, confusion as I sorted through the thoughts of the others on the field, and then abject terror as I watched her vanish, as if she’d literally blinked out of existence.
It was lucky that Carlisle had been there to steady me. To refocus me on what mattered at that moment. I had been frantic to find her, to understand. And all the while, I could only wonder what was going on and why, when I’d shared my secrets, Hermione had purposefully kept me in the dark.
At least when she’d disappeared — Disapparated, I knew she would correct me — the second time, Alice had been with her. I remembered the moment I lost the thread of Alice’s thoughts and raced inside, knowing something had gone wrong. Esme was beside herself as she relayed what had happened and what she’d heard. Immediately Jasper and I took off, hoping that I wouldn’t get to the field and find that madman standing over her lifeless body.
I would never forget breaking through the trees and seeing her standing with her wand clenched in her hand. It was Alice that lay on the ground, nearly my worst fear realized, though I knew she was all right. Yet I could tell Hermione’s stance was off. She was tired. She’d been able to fend off her foe, but I couldn’t be sure for how much longer.
My path had been clear. I was no longer willing to play by her rules and let her handle it while sacrificing herself in the process. If I needed to take out directly to remove the harm to her, I would, even if it was the last thing I did. I reached for every bit of speed I could muster, but before I could cross the field, she slashed her wand and I watched the other man fall to the ground. He wasn’t dead, only incapacitated. Through his thoughts, I could tell he was livid, incredulous that Hermione had struck him down, that she’d had the gall to do so.
All I could think in that moment was that she was alive. That she was safe. Somehow, I hadn’t even noticed the wound on her leg or the smell of her blood until after her friend arrived. Later, I chalked it up to the emotion of the moment, my singular focus on her well-being. And yet, away from the field once more, the thought of her blood staining my clothes was one of the things that drove me away — the fact that after the excitement died down the monster inside me had roared to life once more, even if the voice in my head and heart had been long settled.
True, I hadn’t reacted that day, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have. And just the idea had made me sick.
“Edward,” Hermione called softly. She turned and framed my face with her hands. “I can do this. There’s plenty we can do to quell your fears. And really, if this is their only concern… Professor McGonagall has really gone to bat for us. Just think of all you’ll be able to learn.”
That last argument might work for her, but-
She leaned in so our faces were nearly touching. “I love you.” A peck against my lips. “I don’t want you to have to settle for university, if what you want is this.” And another. “And I want you-” A third. “With me.”
I sighed. My constitution wasn’t weak, but her happiness was paramount.
“I’ll try,” I admitted, pulling her onto my lap so I could kiss her more deeply. “But at the first sign it doesn’t work, I’m putting my foot down. I’m not willing to put you at risk.” Especially not from me, I kept from saying.
“Of course,” she agreed, knowing she’d won the day, and settling herself so we could engage in other activities.
I was putty in her hands, and I could only hope neither of us would come to regret it.