Breakfast was rather quiet next morning. Everyone had plenty to say, but they couldn't in front of the professor.
James was exhausted. He looked terrible—pale with dark circles under his eyes. He was also covered in scratches, though you couldn't see those.
Professor Jones looked at him with concern. "Mr. Potter, you haven't eaten anything. Are you all right?"
James turned red. "I'm not really hungry, sir," he mumbled, pushing his plate away.
Professor Jones cleared his throat. "Right. By any chance, did anyone else hear all that scratching and howling last night? Something had the animals all riled up."
James's eyes met Sirius's, and they looked away nervously.
While Professor Jones was meeting with the guide again, and Madame Varkolahv was clipping the garden, James met Sirius out on the driveway. He walked away immediately.
Sirius ran after him. "Hey, Prongs, wait up!" he protested. "Look, I know it seems bad, but everything's going to turn out okay—"
At this, James couldn't hold it any longer. He whirled around.
"Okay?" he burst out. "No, it's not going to be okay. I am a freak! It will never be okay again, Padfoot! I drained a lynx last night! You know? One of those big cats? They're huge! What if I can't control myself? What if it's you next time, or Lily, or Remus—"
Sirius stopped him. "First of all, you are a freak, but you were a freak before all of this happened and this has nothing to do with it. Second, do you really think we can't handle this? We run around with a werewolf once a month! We'll figure this out. I promise,"
James narrowed his eyes. "How? Locking me in a padded room every night?"
"Research," Sirius said simply. "We found some books. They could tell us how to reverse it, or something. Come on."
James slammed shut the book he was reading. "There is nothing in here."
"Just keep looking,' Remus said. "There's bound to be something."
James shifted restlessly on the couch. Every part of his body ached, and he felt like retching whenever he remembered last night. He hadn't really attacked Sirius, had he?
The thought made his stomach lurch with guilt and fear.
Remus sat up suddenly. "Uh oh. This is bad. Guys, according to this, whatever we need to do to get Prongs back to normal, we need to do it fast. Apparently, a newly activated vampire's gene code is ingrained during his first eclipse."
Sirius blinked. "Gene code? Ingrained? Moony, remember that talk we had about using English?"
Remus gritted his teeth. "It means that after the eclipse tonight, Prongs will be stuck with fangs for the rest of his life. Did you find anything we could do to stop it?"
Sirius looked at the book he was holding. "Um, something about how to keep a vampire properly contained for study, and some rather nasty descriptions of different dissections, but nothing on a cure. Wait—this says that 'once activated, the vampire's body will go through a complex and uncomfortable process that will rearrange and cement the DNA. This process occurs either at the first taste of human blood or a lunar eclipse. There is no known way to stop this change from happening and it is impossible to revert the vampire back to human after the mutation has occurred—"
James had heard enough. Ignoring his friends' protests, he rose shakily from his chair and dashed from the room. Stopping at the staircase, he leaned over the edge and took deep breaths, trying to calm his frantic heart.
The eclipse was tonight. Tonight.
That left only a few hours to somehow miraculously invent a cure that some of the best wizards through the ages had struggled with. Four, five hours before sunset, maybe an extra half hour for the eclipse. There was no way. How was he supposed to explain this to the professor? McGonagall? Dumbledore? Lily? Oh god—his parents?
"Prongs? You okay, mate?"
James looked at Sirius with disbelief. Sirius tuned red. "Sorry, standard question."
James took a deep breath. "Look, Padfoot. I'm not going to dwell on this, because it's against the Marauder code to get all teary and emotional. But we both know what's going to happen, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. This isn't like Moony's furry little problem. I'll handle it myself."
Forgoing the stairs, he flipped over the railing and landed catlike on his feet. "Thanks for helping, though."
Alice walked out of the sitting room just in time to hear James slam the door. She frowned. "What's the matter with James?"
Sirius smiled weakly. "Eclipse?" He offered.
James walked slowly through the village, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, the hood hiding his distinctive raven hair.
What was he going to do?
It didn't help that he knew next to nothing on vampires. They drank blood, avoided sunlight, and feared garlic. But he'd been fine out in the sun yesterday.
And judging by last night, he certainly would need blood.
He wasn't exactly sure where he was going, and was, therefore, surprised when he found himself staring at the iron gate of the town cemetery. Weathered gravestones dotted the sickly grass, odd names of long-dead people peeled out in Russian. James vaulted over the fence and walked slowly down the path, stopping to look at every grave. He'd always enjoyed graveyards…
…just like how he enjoyed anything else strange, dark, or gothic. Looking back, James could have kicked him self, it all seemed so obvious…his penchant for black clothing…red foods…murder mysteries…his unusual reflexes…the love of adrenaline…everything seemed to point to the vampire genes.
Coming to a particular elaborate tomb, James stopped and tried to make out the worn carvings.
Lord Dmitri Alucard
Resciqant in Pace
Alucard…he was the man who had owned the castle. Madame Varkolahv had explained something about him—he had been a brilliant scientist, apparently.
James reflected back on the silver blade that had caused all this. It had been in a secret laboratory…had Alucard been studying a cure? Had he been a vampire in life?
Sirius nervously set the candle he'd been holding on the small table. He was in the secret lab, rummaging through odd specimens and logbooks, trying to find something, anything, that could help his best mate. He didn't care if it came down to chaining James up and force-feeding him poison, he'd do anything any cure described.
He was so involved in his search that he didn't notice the door creak open.
Madam Varkolahv's sharp snap nearly made Sirius fall out of his seat. His heart nearly stopped when he found her glaring at him with a meat cleaver raised above her head.
"You do not belong here!" she snapped.
"I'm sorry!" Sirius cried, ducking past her and to the other side of the room. "I didn't know where else to look! My friend's in trouble!"
She raised her eyebrows. "I am avare."
Sirius blinked. "You-you are?"
She nodded. "I know vampire vhen I see one. You vant help, come vith me. Ve are in grave danger."
"Danger?" Sirius didn't know what she was talking about.
But she was still holding the meat cleaver, so he decided not to ask questions.
James was still staring at Alucard's grave when he heard footsteps. Turning around, he saw Sirius and…Madame Varkolahv?
"It's okay. She's cool," Sirius said, clearly reading James's confused expression.
Madame V studied James out of cool black eyes. She looked sympathetic. "You are vampire kit?"
"Kit?" James asked, puzzled.
"Da, kit. Youngling. Child. Will change tonight?" James nodded, surprised.
Sirius interjected, "Tell him everything you told me. He needs to know."
Madame V looked at the grave. She sighed. "Alucard vas vampire also. I meet him vhen he just kit. Brilliant man. Fought for verevolf rights, you know."
"I didn't know," James said, impressed. Anyone who fought for werewolves wasn't half bad in his opinion.
"Alucard also defended town form vampire hunters. Greedy things, vanting only fame and glory. He vas killed in struggle against one. Now that he is dead, hunters vill take over town. They serve slayer society—vicked cult dedicated to destroying all supernatural creatures. I not know vhat to do to stop them.
"Alucard also develop stabilizer—no, not cure," She added, reading James's hopeful look. "Cure is not possible. Is not disease—is race. But stabilizer end pain of transformation. If stabilizer not injected, pain vill continue for years. Injection vill settle genes."
"Wait," James broke in. "So, I'm going to be a bloodsucker for the rest of my life, but this "stabilizer" will make sure that I'm not trapped as some sort of human-vampire hybrid?"
"Da." Madame V looked at her watch. "Ve don't have much time. Boy, kit, come. Ve need ingredients."
They ran into Lily at the marketplace. She offered to help find the ingredients, although James didn't think she believed their excuses of 'needing potion supplies.' Never less, he was glad for her company.
"Maple leaves…nightshade…ruby dust…ve have," the shopkeeper droned. The store seemed to be a Russian version of the Apothecary, with odd things crammed into barrels everywhere.
"Volf fur…cat's eye…panthera liqidon…"
"What is that?" Lily asked, raising her eyebrows.
The shopkeeper shrugged. "Tiger blood," he answered, uncorking a bottle.
James's stomach growled. "Don't even think about it," Sirius muttered.
"One thing ve do not have," the shopkeeper added. "Says here, 'hair from one afflicted'"
"Got it covered," Madame V reassured. She started discussing the price of everything with the shopkeeper in Russian.
James moved over to Lily, by the window. She smiled at him. "You never told me what happened last night."
James's stomach gave an unpleasant turn. "Oh, you know…" he said nervously. "Just...didn't feel so great…"
Lily nodded sympathetically. James turned to the window. He felt strange, for some reason.
The sun was going down. James looked at his hand. His nails were sharpening, reshaping themselves as diamond-hard claws. Heart pounding, he looked in the mirror. His irises were a glowing gold, his pupils catlike slits. It was starting.
James shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket and slid over to Sirius. "Padfoot," he hissed, "Can you hurry it up?"
Sirius looked at James and tapped Madame V's shoulder. She turned around. Her eyes widened when she saw James.
"Take kit back to castle. Get him out of here," she told Sirius in undertone. "Girl!" she snapped at Lily, who looked up in surprise. "Help me with shopping. Come on!"
Sirius pulled James out the door. "Keep your head down!" he hissed.
Suddenly, the sound of tires squealing filled the air. Sirius yelped as James yanked him back two seconds before he would've been run over.
"Oh my, I'm so sorry!" the driver cried. She was a blond, perky woman dressed in pink. "I didn't see you! Are you both all right? Oh, of course you are. You're standing right there! I'm Paulina, by the way.
Sirius nodded, still stunned. "Yeah. I'm—"
"Oh, I know who you are!" Paulina said, waving away introductions. "You two are part of the student group I've been hired to guide! Well, I bet you're going to the castle, right? I can take you there! As a make up for almost running you over. We can all get to know each other! What do you say?" She was smiling brightly.
Normally, Sirius would have declined ride form this weirdo, but he looked at James, who was pale and breathing strangely. They had to get to the castle fast. "Sure," he muttered.
James was too preoccupied in Paulina's car to listen to any of her chatter. His insides seemed to be twisting themselves together. Changing was bad enough, but resisting it was exhausting.
A sudden pain in his gums almost made him cry out, his hand flying to his mouth. Gently, he scraped his tongue against his canines. Great, long and sharp. This was bad.
His senses were sharpening as well, until he could hear the rustling of a mouse outside and Sirius's heart pounding. The engine noise was nearly deafening.
A loud CRACK made them all jump. The engine sputtered and the car stopped.
"Okay, stay calm, no need to worry, these things happen," Paulina said. "I'll just nip on outside and see if I can get the car rolling again. Okay?"
"Fine," Sirius muttered.
As soon as she was gone, he leaned forward in his seat, "Can you try to hold it in?" he whispered.
"I'm trying!" James snapped. "It's not like going to the bathroom, Padfoot!"
Unable to sit still a moment longer, he wrenched the door open and hopped out of the car. Sirius followed suit.
Paulina smiled nervously. "Well, we could be here awhile. Don't worry, I called a repair truck, we'll be fine in a jiffy!"
James, however, was staring horrorstruck at the three large figures who had appeared behind her holding wooden staked.
"Um, Paulina," Sirius said, clearly freaking out. "Not to worry you or anything, but there are three really big vampire slayers behind you!"
"Oh sweetie, I know," Paulina said, smiling slightly. "I'm the one who invited them here."
In a flash, James and Sirius were grabbed from behind and stuffed into the trunk. Sirius yelped. The car drove off.