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Chapter 3: The Prussian Court
The bat aimed at the square of light ahead and flapped zealously against the cool autumn air. The fur on its back flattened as it bent its trajectory and headed downwards. The square began to grow.
As the creature zigzagged into room, its left wing skimmed the window frame. The tiny black body was hurled sideways, where it bounced off a wall, knocked over a statuette of mermaid and collapsed onto the ground with the heavy thump of a scrawny, pale and naked young man.
Jack groaned. Something pointy was digging into his back and a clothing hanger had toppled over onto his leg. He felt like Alice in Wonderland, an awkward giant in the suddenly shrunken space around him.
A pasty hand poked through the doorway and dropped a black cloak onto the floor. The floorboards creaked as the footsteps receded to where they had come from. A far-away sawing sound followed shortly.
Jack scrambled to his feet and pulled the grimy cloak over his head. Careful not to knock over anything from the mountains of objects lining the walls, he limped towards the sound.
“You could have left open a different window!” he called out. “You know how much I hate the coming in through the garden…”
The sawing stopped.
Jack rounded a corner and entered a brightly lit chamber. In the middle was a large table, on which stood something resembling a sewing machine, only instead of a needle it was equipped with a collection of differently sized saws and bores. A figure was perched on a wobbly wooden bench in front of it. The man was wearing something brown and nondescript, his mousy hair sticking out in all directions. With his back to Jack, he remained bent over the table in concentration and ignored the newcomer.
The area surrounding the man could be described as a cross between a bombing site and a flea-market. Books, boxes, statues, jewelry, daggers and objects the name for which does not immediately spring to mind – if they ever had one - were scattered over every visible surface. If a person were to carefully catalogue the place, they would discover an intricate system to the location of every single spec. But no one had ever been down to conduct such geographical research. In fact, the world remained mostly unaware of the existence not only of the place, but also of most of its contents, including the mousey-haired man.
“Uhm, Rorp?” Jack attempted.
The man raised a hand without looking up from his work. “Not now.”
His voice had a pinched yet rusty quality to it, making him sound either androgynous or simply like a hoarse teenage boy, depending on the disposition of those listening to him.
Jack rolled his eyes and clambered over a stack of books. He brushed some amulets off a large velvet armchair and plopped down onto it.
Looking around idly, he picked up a pair of seemingly ordinary rectangle glasses with a thick black rim and put them on. The room became significantly dustier and acquired a deep scratch in its left hemisphere.
“I’m starving,” Jack announced, “How long’re you planning to take?”
The man turned around and squinted at Jack with a pair of cold grey eyes.
“Take them off!” he ordered, spotting the glasses.
Jack shrugged and pushed the glasses up his nose. “But I always wanted to look smart! Why do you need these, anyways?”
Rorp swung a leg over the bench and walked over to Jack. He produced a small, rusty mirror from a pocket inside his jacket and shoved it in front of Jack’s face.
Jack gasped. His hand flew up and he began to pull at his cheek and then at his lips, transfixed.
Rorp grinned, revealing a shiny set of sharp canines intermixed with a couple of metal teeth. His eyes immediately lost the harsh glower of before and lit up with honest mirth. “Disguiso-Specks.” He announced while waving his fingers like spider legs in a mock-dramatic gesture. “Something like that. It’s an antique Weasley product. The clients love this sort of crap.”
He snatched the glasses off Jack’s face and headed back to the table.
“Wha- but how? “Jack stuttered. “I could see myself…I looked – I wasn’t a vam - ”
“Just so you know: your face doesn’t look remotely like that. For example your nose is, in reality, a bit squished-looking and not very symm-”
“Not the point, Rorp! Don’t you get it, I was human!” Jack exclaimed, still in awe and struggling to gather his thoughts into something resembling a coherent argument.
“I haven’t figured out the exact mechanics yet,” Rorp admitted as he stuffed the glasses into a cardboard box. “It’s a pair of actual Muggle glasses and they change your appearance at random. Ample amounts of such gadgets were designed during the war - Apparently they work on vampires too.” He paused, eyes growing vacant. “Do you know an ogre by any chance? Or maybe a centaur? They’d lay down mountains of gold to be human.”
“Can I…Can I try them on again?” Jack pleaded, his hand already stretched towards the other vampire.
“Depends, do you have mountains of gold?” Rorp snapped.
“No, but…come on! A friendly discount?” Jack pleaded.
Rorp dove under the table. “You can have this.”
A large book soared towards Jack’s head. He barely caught it.
“’The History of the Race Vampire: Human or Something Else?’,” Jack read from the cover. “Are you serious?”
“It’s funny, you’ll like it!” Rorp’s face rearranged itself again into a bright, honest smile.
Jack threw his friend an uncertain look and got to his feet, ready to head towards the door.
* * *
The underground car wobbled to a stop and sent Jack sliding along the seat and into Rorp’s cold and tense body next to him. Both vampires were sitting with their knees together and their hands tucked politely at their sides, hardly as accustomed to rubbing against strangers as the other passengers seemed to be.
The doors wheezed open and, with a slight delay, the grim-faced Muggle masses swayed into motion.
Jack made to get up too, but Rorp’s hand held him back. “Four more stops.”
“No, I’m pretty sure this is it,” Jack insisted.
“We’re going somewhere else tonight,” Rorp maintained calmly, “Sit down.”
“What’s wrong with where we went before?” Jack protested. “We never had any trouble and the blood was actually quite good.”
“Word on the street is, there are some new vampires in town. It would be wise to stay out of their way,” Rorp continued, a shadow sweeping over his face briefly.
“Oh?” Jack intoned pointedly, falling back into the seat as the train broke into motion with a deafening screech. “What else are they saying? And, who told you?” He found himself whispering into Rorp’s ear, unsure why he felt the need to be secretive. For some reason, the train car full of Muggles suddenly felt hostile and exciting.
“Not much,” Rorp replied in his normal, disinterested tone. He pulled a rolled up newspaper from an inner pocket of his jacket and handed it to Jack without looking at him. “Read for yourself.”
“Ah, I see…” Jack mumbled, his hopes of finally discovering more about Rorp’s underground contacts swatted before they could take off.
Ancient Vampire Clan Visits London
They are old, they are powerful and they are on the loose in downtown London. According to our sources - who will, of course, remain anonymous for their own safety - one of the allegedly oldest vampire clans has graced London with a visit. Their group is termed the “Prussian Court” and is the most secretive and influential of clans. Its members have popped up throughout history and worked alongside historical figures such as King Arthur, Koshei the Immortal and Grindlewald, among many others. The Daily Prophet’s top reporters are on the story now in the hopes of accomplishing the impossible: catching an exclusive interview with one of the vampires. If you see anything that might hint towards the clan’s whereabouts, send an Alert Charm to the Prophet’s headquarters immediately.
A team of Aurors, accompanied by trained Dementors, are combing the streets in the hopes of finding our new guests and negotiating the terms of their stay. Auror supervision is not out of the question and, should the vampires fail to cooperate, they might need to be detained until all conflicts of interest can be resolved. Expect updates on the issue regularly, right here with me, you faithful Mona Mindott! Until then, keep your children close and your doors locked. And do flip to page 3 for an intimate expose by Judah Lorisse of his experiences with the vampire clans in Kamchatka. Make sure to read through the list of tips on self-protection Mr. Lorisse has kindly provided at the end of his article.
Jack sighed and lowered the paper. “See, now I don’t know if I should feel honored or terrified!” he exclaimed sarcastically. “Even the Prophet sounds completely confused…”
Rorp mumbled something incomprehensible in reply.
“And how do they even know these things? No one knows about vampire clans! I’m a vampire and I don’t know anything about-“ Jack broke himself off. “Wait, it says they’re all downtown. We are heading downtown!”
“The Prussian Court would never stay in the city,” Rorp grumbled, glancing around with distaste. “Grimy, narrow streets full of stinking Muggles is not exactly their style.”
Jack contemplated what the alternative to narrow streets and stinking Muggles could possibly be as the two bobbed up and down and slid back and forth in the speeding metro car. Next, he mused of ways to attach a small parcel with a robe to a bat in order avoid repeating the public transport experience ever again.
* * *
“A home for elderly people? “Jack exclaimed in disbelief. He tried to stretch his face into a smile, hoping it would make it easier for Rorp to come up with something along the lines of “Psych! Just kidding!”
But the short, brown-clad vampire didn’t lessen his pace. “This is not a time to be picky, Jack,” he grumbled without turning around.
Jack followed his friend speechlessly up the road and past the guard. He stood by, smiling politely, as Rorp glamoured the sleepy night-shift nurses. And he trailed passively as the older vampire poked his head into several rooms along a second-floor hallway.
As long as Jack had known Rorp, he had always been on the eccentric side and never one for explanations. But never had he seen the vampire express any sign of even knowing what fear is, let alone experience it.
“Right, then. You take this one,” Rorp announced after the fifth door. “An all-in-all healthy specimen, considering…”
Jack tiptoed into the room and sought out the dark lump that was the bed. Next to it stood a paint-splattered canvass, its sticky surface reflecting the moonlight from the window. On the other side of the bed was a high and dangerously unbalanced pile of thick detective novels.
The predator jumped as the bed emitted a hoarse snore.
He snuck closer and examined the thin-haired head that was pressed deeply into a sweaty pillow. The old woman’s folded skin distorted her face and covered her neck, making it difficult for him to spot the artery. With a shudder, he observed that even her eyelids had wrinkles.
Jack stretched his hand towards the approximate direction of the neck, but pulled it back quickly and remained frozen. His discomfort and insecurity at what he was doing proved to be so strong, he was unable to make any decision at all, even moving a single muscle.
The young vampire could hardly believe that the thing in the bed was human. A stench of death was basically coming off the body in waves. But she was breathing. And dreaming. And she was surrounded by things that made her happy. For several minutes, Jack just stared at the squished face, fighting the conflicting emotions of disgust, fear and admiration that were swelling up inside his little undead heart.
He couldn’t grasp how they could do it, the humans. As he imagined maintaining the will to live while his body was falling apart around him, a sense of utter dread violently took over his entire body. It spread a shiver over the entire surface of his skin, and, for some inexplicable yet poignant reason, caused the gums around his fangs to hurt.
While exiting the room, he admitted, “Look, I just can’t do it…” to Rorp, who was keeping watch outside the door.
His partner in crime widened his eyes and pulled his head back in irritated disappointment.
“The convicts were fair game, you know,” Jack continued dejectedly, “They were strong and energetic. And I suppose they kind of deserved it. But this woman, she – She needs her strength. The life is running out of her with every second, I could smell it.”
“You picked a wonderful time to develop a moral compass,” Rorp scoffed. “Now, don’t be an idiot and go eat your veggies.”
“I’m serious, Rorp,” Jack pressed, feeling increasingly uncomfortable. He was starting to understand why vampires generally disliked discussing their feeding habits. “Can’t we just go to a Goth club or something?”
“Suit yourself, “Rorp shrugged. “I’ll take her. Watch for any disturbance, will you?”
“No!” Jack grabbed the other vampire by the wrist as it aimed towards the door-handle. They stared at each other for several seconds. “Please…”
* * *
The walk towards Chelsea was a very silent one. Jack could feel the judgment hovering over him like a boulder.
They turned a corner and spotted several drunken Muggle men in fluffy, synthetic jackets with stripes and words printed over the chest or the back. Jack never did understand Muggle fashion.
“They seem absolutely scrumptious, what do you say?” he attempted cheerfully.
Rorp paused and squinted at the men. “Not sure. We should trail them to the end of the street, first.”
The two hungly and grumpy vampires made a step forward. And then, out of nowhere, a slender figure in a hooded red-velvet cloak swooped in front of them. What followed could be described as absolute chaos.
Bright lights flashed, causing the Muggle party-boys to unfold from their stumbling positions like puppets and to simultaneously draw wands out of the most unlikely places. The hooded figure twirled around and hissed, her striking blue eyes catching Jack’s.
A disembodied voice was commanding “Stop where you are, Ministry patrol!”
Rorp had grabbed Jack’s arm and was yelling something - most likely a list of profanities he could think of from the top of his head- but Jack was already backing away. And yet, as he morphed into bat-form mid-step, all Jack could think about were the piercing blue eyes. And the long, wavy blond hair encircling them. It was very familiar blond hair.