Chapter 4 : Hugo's Choice
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In the Ministry of Magic, each department is broken down into sub-departments. There are a long chain of subordinates, each superior to the next, and even those on the bottom rung of the career ladder can rest assured that they are vital to the successful operation of the Ministry. Emmanuelle Saunière knows this; is completely aware that the role she plays in the Department of Magical Creatures is vital for her colleagues' safety, but she cannot conceal her feelings of resentment. Her jealousy is always at its highest when she is alone, forced to wait for the news that her fellow vampire slayers are safe. Tonight, their missions are deadlier than ever, and once again the responsibility of staying behind has fallen to her.
She hates nights like this. They are not the kind of nights that she signed up for when she became a vampire slayer; when she must count the hours and minutes until the safe return of her colleagues. Occasionally, she will be required to utilize her Healing skills on her colleagues – the official reason for her entrapment in the Ministry – but more often than not, she does nothing except wait.
Some days, Emmanuelle wishes that she never told her boss the reason she chose vampire slaying as a career. Other days, she is relieved that she did because it is the only reason she is employed by the British Ministry. Regardless, she is sure of the fact that the reason for her sacking from the French Ministry is the very reason she cannot slay as she used to.
The sound of mumbling from the small bed in the corner gains the Frenchwoman's attention, and she gets up and walks over to the bed, where a small boy of three is sleeping. Emmanuelle smiles gently at the innocent face before tugging his duvet higher to keep him warm.
“Bonne nuit, Samuel,” she whispers, running the back of her finger against his soft cheek. Emmanuelle knows that if this little boy was her son, she would happily remain safely at base instead of constantly risking her life out in the field. However, Alexis Longbottom is the only friend that she can trust, and she does not want to jeopardize their friendship by criticizing Ally's parenting choices.
The sound of Apparition distracts Emmanuelle from her thoughts, and she whirls around with her wand outstretched; she knows that all available slayers have been assigned to attack the entire coven when they meet tonight, and that none of them are expected back at base so soon. She is surprised when she sees Alexis – the brunette did not turn up on time for her shift tonight, and her disappearance has not only concerned her parents, who were babysitting Sammy this afternoon, but enraged their boss.
Emmanuelle glances towards the closed office door, their boss currently behind it sifting through paperwork. She does not want to suffer the older woman's wrath, but she has been ordered to explain Alexis' disappearance, and Emmanuelle can tell from her dishevelled state that the news she bears will not be good.
“Are you injured?” she asks.
Alexis nods. “I can heal myself though; you just have to warn the others. I had a run-in with Claudine today; she knocked me unconscious, but left me alive. She's alive, too – out there somewhere. I think she's going to target the others or maybe Sammy; she knows I'm the slayer who took down Sandra Plummer today.”
Emmanuelle sighs. “They've already left. We can't warn them of anything; if we send a Patronus or an owl, the vampires might see it. It's dangerous enough for our colleagues already without us doing things that will risk their lives even more.”
“But they might be in more danger if they don't know what lengths Claudine will go to!” Alexis exclaims.
“Perhaps you were also correct when you considered that she might target Samuel?” Emmanuelle suggests. “If so, perhaps the people you should protect are your family.”
For a moment, Alexis is silent until the sound of a door opening attracts both of their attentions. Standing in the doorway of her office, their boss is glaring at them with vehement fury visible in her eyes.
“Mademoiselle Longbottom,” she hisses, “would you like to give me a perfectly good reason why I should not fire you right now?”
“I killed Sandra Plummer,” Alexis answers, “one of the vampires who can glamour. And I have news for you, Miss Mimieux, if you'd let me explain.”
“I know who Sandra Plummer is,” Valérie says frostily. “I have been working here too, in case you hadn't noticed. I expect you'll be filling out the appropriate paperwork once you've managed to ensure you look presentable.”
“But Miss Mimieux, I fought Claudine! And I found something out too! If a vampire glamours or compels, but they fail because the victim's protected by aconite, their recovery time is much quicker!”
Valérie laughs; a harsh, piercing sound that sends a chill down Emmanuelle's spine. “Is that what she told you, Alexis Longbottom? Are you really going to trust the word of a vampire?” When Alexis does not answer her, she continues. “Have you not considered that perhaps Claudine is stronger than we first thought, and that she was merely taken unawares by whatever weapons you used? That therefore, she concocted that lie to protect her pride?”
“The way she was talking, it felt as if she was telling the truth –“
“Would you trust a witch who turned on her friends and betrayed them in the worst way possible? Would you put your life in the hands of a witch who's killed countless times? Would you believe a witch who you knew to be a compulsive liar? No, you wouldn't. So why trust someone who's done all those things and more, just because she's a vampire?”
Alexis is quiet, silently conceding her argument. Emmanuelle picks up a sheaf of papers, knowing that Valérie will want updated reports.
“I found a handwritten journal belonging to the Chieftain of the Wizards' Council in the mid-seventeenth century. It's extremely difficult to decipher – most of the ink has faded away by now – but it mentions the leader of the London vampire coven.”
Their boss looks intrigued. “Is there anyone we know?”
“Jeremiah,” Emmanuelle explains. “Which is strange. If he was around back then, he's older than Claudine, which means he should be leader again. There's a couple of others I think are older than her too, but I can't prove they're the same people – their names are more common. Jeremiah Daniels isn't a common name, although his surname wasn't mentioned in the journal.”
“I was top in my History of Magic class,” Alexis says, “and I remember our professor saying that hundreds of years ago, only rich Muggles had surnames – working class ones didn't. Maybe Jeremiah didn't need a surname then, and only chose the surname Daniels when the Muggles made having a surname legal. He might have plucked a name out of thin air or chose it because it was meaningful to him – but in Claudine's case, she was born somewhere in the late 1700s, which means she has a surname, she's just refusing to tell anyone what it is. That's why I'm so convinced she's got something to hide.”
“Maybe she just doesn't like her surname?” Emmanuelle asks.
“In that case, why doesn't she just choose a new one, like Jeremiah did?”
“Hush,” Valérie interrupts. “Longbottom, you won't be out in the field tonight. Saunière, I suggest you prepare yourself for slaying vampires tonight. We can warn the other slayers of the danger posed by Claudine by sending you as not only a messenger, but as extra reinforcements. Better you than Longbottom, in case Claudine is on the lookout for her.”
Emmanuelle nods, and Valérie turns on her heel and walks away from her subordinates. As soon as their boss' back is turned, Alexis whispers.
“Do you think she would notice if I slipped out?”
“Yes,” answers Emmanuelle. “We are the only three left; if you leave too, then you will leave Samuel alone.”
Alexis sighs, but says no more. For a moment, the tension between the two girls is so thick it could be cut by a theoretical knife, until Emmanuelle turns and walks away to begin preparations, leaving her friend behind.
Considering that he has spent his entire life being warned against vampires, and instructed to remain far from them, Hugo is not surprised to feel fear and trepidation as he walks through the Marble Arch Underground station. Although he is surrounded by his cousin and a friend that she trusts – which means Hugo must, too – he knows where they are headed and this frightens him.
Suddenly, Jeremiah ducks into a small cupboard, and Hugo is quickly on his heels. He has already pledged to obey Jeremiah without question, seeing as he is leader of the coven in Claudine's absence, and he knows that he is not allowed to hesitate. However, when Hugo collides with Jeremiah's back and feels Lucy bump against him, he becomes confused, having not expected them to come to a sudden halt.
“What's wrong?” he asks, but Jeremiah holds his hand up as a warning for silence.
“Lucy,” he says, choosing to ignore Hugo's query, “deal with our unwanted visitor.”
When Jeremiah stands aside to give Lucy room to squeeze past, Hugo glimpses the unwanted visitor that the older vampire speaks of. He looks at them nervously, a Muggle gun in his hand. Although Hugo knows that the human is of no physical threat to them, he cannot help but wonder how dangerous the human is.
As if he can read the newborn's thoughts, Jeremiah whispers so quietly that the man does not hear him, but the vampires can. “There is a secret panel behind this wall. Behind it is a passageway that will lead us to an abandoned section of the Underground, where the coven is meeting tonight. The location changes every month on a rotational basis, but Claudine always selects places we will not have trouble accessing. This gentleman should not be here.”
“What do you want? What's behind that secret door?” the man asks. “How do you open it?”
Following Jeremiah's orders, Lucy squeezes past the men and extends her hand to the man. “I'm a police officer,” she lies. “We all are. We're investigating a meeting behind that door. It's much safer if you just let me take you to our uniformed colleagues, and they'll take your statement. It might help us with a prosecution.”
At first, the stranger begins to lower his gun and Hugo sighs in relief. However, he quickly raises it once more.
“How do I know you're telling the truth? Show me your ID.”
For a moment, all three vampires freeze. Although the bullets in the gun will not kill any of them, it will injure and therefore be extremely inconvenient and messy.
“We're undercover,” Hugo blurts out before he can stop himself. “We don't carry our IDs when we're pretending not to be officers.”
The man pauses, before deciding that Hugo makes sense. He finally lowers the gun and hands it to Lucy. She nods at Jeremiah, who opens the door effortlessly and indicates for Hugo to enter first. He does so, and before the older vampire has even closed the door fully, there is an ear-splitting scream piercing the air. Jeremiah ignores it and walks ahead, leaving Hugo frozen to the spot in turmoil.
“Is this what it's always like?” he asks.
Jeremiah turns around to face the brunet. “What do you mean?”
“Killing people left, right and center, just so we don't get caught?”
“He needed to die. There was no valid reason for his presence in that storage cupboard – he certainly wasn't wearing the London Underground uniform – and when it comes to coven meetings, security is much tighter. If he had caught us in any other circumstances, we would have taken him to a vampire who could compel or glamour him to be quiet. But that is never an option when the coven meet, because it's a matter of our survival.”
Hugo sighs, staring at the floor. Murder is not something that he has ever approved of – his father's old job as an Auror was enough for Hugo to understand while growing up that taking the life of another causes nothing but devastation.
“That man could have been controlled or was selling information to a slayer. If we had let him go, he might have told them where we went, and two hundred vampires would be dead or tortured to insanity for information. One human life is nothing compared to that, and you need to accept it, Hugo. Now come; we'll be late otherwise.”
At first, the newborn vampire hesitates, but then steps forward. Jeremiah resumes his walking, and Hugo follows once more. It does not take them long before Hugo sees several more vampires standing at the sides of the tunnel, conversing among themselves but falling silent at the sight of the newcomers. He isn't sure if they are silent out of respect for Jeremiah, or if he is the reason - perhaps they are surprised at his presence, since he is the second newcomer in several years.
"Claudine was alerted to the injury of Sandra Plummer this afternoon," Jeremiah announces, his voice echoing throughout the tunnel. "Neither of them returned. We must assume that both are dead until we learn otherwise. In her absence, I will step up as leader of this coven temporarily."
"There will be no need, Jeremiah," a female voice says from the opposite end of the tunnel.
Hugo can hear the footsteps of someone approaching, but the sound seems to be coming from multiple directions, confusing him. Suddenly, Lucy appears behind Hugo, her hands placed on his shoulders so unexpectedly that he jumps in fright.
"Sorry," she whispers. "Look. That's Claudine."
The newborn vampire looks back toward the middle of the crowd to see a woman looking in her late twenties approach Jeremiah. Her brunette hair is styled in a sleek bob, and Hugo realizes that he had heard them both approach at the same time. He watches as Claudine steps onto something - what, it is impossible to tell, as the crowd is getting closer, the vampires surrounding Claudine like moths to a flame.
"We have a situation," Claudine announces, her head above the rest so everyone can see her. "There is a vampire slayer who is killing innocent vampires specifically to gain access to me. This will not be condoned. I want all of you to find your sources and gain as much information as possible from them about this slayer. I want to know everything about her. I want to know her likes, her dislikes, what she eats for breakfast. Everything."
"What happened to Sandra?" a flame-haired vampire asks.
"Dead," the brunette answers frostily. After a cumulative gasp from the crowd, she nods and continues. "This is why this particular slayer must be caught. She is a witch by the name of Alexis Longbottom, and as of this afternoon, she is enemy numero un."
Hugo's hand flies to his mouth in horror, realizing the fate that awaits his girlfriend. He feels Lucy grip his other hand, and knows that it is supposed to be a gesture of comfort but he feels none. In the background, he can hear Claudine asking the vampires of new news in the past month, but doesn't bother to listen. He had planned to use this opportunity to learn more about the world of vampires, but all he can think of is that Alexis is going to die.
Suddenly, Hugo hears his name being spoken and looks up to see Claudine standing right in front of him. Her amber eyes glint in the dim light, and he remains frozen, unsure of what he ought to say or do.
"He's my cousin," Lucy says. "Please. He's family. You made an exception for me, why not him too?"
Claudine continues to stare at Hugo, and it is in that moment that Hugo realizes it is his fate being discussed.
"Lucille," Claudine hisses, "I made an exception for you because you provide some degree of usefulness. What makes your cousin so special that I should risk everything for him?"
Hugo remains silent, completely willing to protect Alexis. He knows that as a vampire, he cannot care for their son any longer, and he does not want little Sammy to be an orphan. However, Lucy does not share his views, and is quick to blurt out his secret.
"His girlfriend is Alexis Longbottom!"
Claudine turns back to look at Hugo with a smirk. "Is this true, Mr Weasley?"
The desire to lie and say no is overwhelming, but Hugo is afraid that if he does, Claudine will believe Lucy is lying and punish her. If he tells the truth, Alexis is at risk, but if he lies, Lucy will be. Nevertheless, the brunette vampire is experienced at detecting liars, and chuckles softly, deducting the truth from his silence.
"So, it is true. You can stay, but only if you agree to two conditions."
Hugo shakes his head. "I know what you're after. You want me to betray Ally, and I'm not going to."
"Don't worry," Claudine chuckles. "I wouldn't trust anything you said; you'd probably lie for her. No, my conditions are very different. I want to know everything that Alexis knows about vampires. What she knows of our weaknesses, what information she has on us."
"Ally didn't tell me much about her work," Hugo answers.
"As long as you tell me everything you know, I'll accept the fact that it's not as good as if we had an actual slayer instead of you."
For a moment, Hugo is afraid. He knows that giving Claudine information would be a betrayal indeed, but he cannot see an alternative way out of this situation. At least this option provides him with the opportunity to know at least some of what she knows, and ensures that both he and Lucy survive this ordeal.
"Okay," he nods. "What's the second condition?"
Claudine smiles, and leans forward to whisper in his ear so that the vampires surrounding them have no idea of what she's saying - especially Lucy, who will probably voice strong objections to her suggestion.
"Tonight, Hugo Weasley, you're going to be bait."
Author's Note: OOOH! So what do you think Claudine has planned? What do you like so far? Is there anything you dislike? How do you find the characterization in this story so far? I'd love to hear your opinions; even a one-line review would make my day ♥
Bonne nuit = good night
Mademoiselle = miss
Numero un = number one