Author's Chapter Notes:
Thanks to Ayerf for the beta and to Duniazade for the information about Romania.
Chapter 4. Rumour in Romania

After a last embrace with Hermione, Severus Portkeyed to Bucharest on a Saturday evening at the end of May. Once there, he quickly left the Romanian Ministry, the architecture of which was influenced by the Communist era, to go to his hotel, the Vrajitoarea Cocosata (unpronounceable according to Severus), where he had booked a room for three nights. The place’s warm atmosphere and quaint style reminded him of the Leaky Cauldron. He read a couple of pages of the book he had taken with him before he tried to go to sleep. This activity kept him occupied for a long time, and dawn was already peeking through the night when, at last, he fell asleep. In truth, he had forgotten how to sleep alone.

Severus woke up late on Sunday. Since he did not have anything better to do, he decided to visit the wizarding area after a light and late breakfast of buttered bread and plum jam. A small lapse in his diet could not harm him, could it? He found in a bric--brac shop an update for his CAB with all Apparition points in Romania. The shopkeeper, excited to have an English customer, insisted practicing his skills in Shakespeare’s language with Severus. Luckily, the man spoke decent English.

“What brings you to our beautiful country, Mister Snape?”

All hopes Severus may have had to travel incognito one day vanished with that simple sentence. If even a Romanian individual half his age could recognise him...

“I’m interested in Dark magic, as you probably know.”

“Of course,” the other answered while rocking on his tiptoes. “It’s in your biography.” Rita Skeeter’s unauthorised biography had been a best-seller in the entire wizarding world.

“Academically, of course.”

“Of course.”

Severus put on a conspiratory air. “I’d like to examine the traces of Dark magic Vlad the Impaler is reputed to have left in this country.”

“Oh, yes. I know everything about it!”

“And,” Severus lowered his voice, “I wonder if diurnal vampires wouldn’t live in Romania. You know those creatures are considered as very Dark?” Which is ironical for creatures that sparkle in the sun.

“It’s very much possible,” the shopkeeper said thoughtfully. “We’re so accustomed to the presence of nocturnal vampires that diurnal vampires would be inconspicuous if they hunted only at night.”

“Exactly. Those creatures’ properties are so fascinating ...” Severus deliberately took a dreamy expression.

“You know, now that you’re speaking of it, I wonder if the vampires you’re seeking wouldn’t live in the area of Mercurea-Ciuc. There’s a very old legend in that part of the country about immobile gods sitting on stone thrones. The inhabitants used to offer them Human blood, according to the legend.”

That legend tallied with the information provided by the Cullens about their Romanian acquaintances. “Thank you very much. I think you’ve just given me a place where to start.” While legitimising my trip there, he added inwardly.

Severus left the shop after a promise to the shopkeeper to tell him about his adventures before he returned to London. It was time for him to head for the bookshop where he was planning to meet the Cullens. He found a couple of interesting-looking books on nocturnal vampires, but alas they were all in Romanian. Some illustrations got his attention, though, and he did not need to feign surprise when Edward Cullen spoke to him.

“Mister Snape! What a surprise.”

Severus turned around. In front of him were Edward Cullen, his spouse, Bella, and his father, Carlisle.

“Mister Cullen. Isn’t the world a small place?”

Since such a meeting between celebrities of the wizarding world was sure to draw attention, the following conversation was everything but spontaneous. It had been meticulously prepared when Severus was in Alaska.

“I see that you’re interested in our species,” Carlisle noted.

“Indeed. My speciality is the Dark Arts, as you probably know. I wanted to measure and study the traces of Dark magic Vlad the Impaler is said to have left in this country. No wizard has written a competent book about the matter until now. I’ve also heard about a legend alluding to diurnal vampires in the area of,” Severus checked the name in his Guide of Magical Romania, “Miercurea Ciuc.”

“You’re speaking of Stefan and Vladimir, I guess,” Carlisle said with a big smile. “What a happy coincidence! We have a couple of business appointments here in Bucharest, my son, my daughter and I, and then we’re going to pay a courtesy visit to our two friends, who happen to live in the area you’ve mentioned.”

Hell, those vampires were good actors, although the girl still lacked practice: her smile was a tad too nervous. It was subtle, but Severus’s talents as a spy did not miss that clue.

“Really?” Severus managed to look both suspicious and interested, one of his best fake expressions.

“Yes, really,” Carlisle answered without losing his jovial tone. “I have an idea. Why don’t you come with us? We leave for Miercurea on Wednesday. We could introduce you to our friends.”

“I’d rather go there without waiting for Wednesday,” Severus objected.

“I fear Stefan and Vladimir are not very ... hospitable to the persons they don’t know. Our presence would smooth things.”

“All right,” Severus conceded after a minute of so-called reflection. “But know that I’m going to take some magical precautions to ensure my safety during our trip.”

“Excellent. Here is our hotel.” Carlisle held out a business card praising the merits of a Muggle hotel. “Come and meet us on Wednesday at ten a.m. We’ll use a rental car.”

“Before we forget, think of buying food for two to three days,” Edward said. “Just in case ...”

“Thank you, Edward,” Carlisle retorted. “But I hadn’t forgotten. On the other hand, you forget that as a doctor, it falls to me to remember that kind of detail.”

Edward and Bella both smiled at Carlisle’s teasing. Then the three Cullens took their leave under the pretext of a business lunch with Muggle manufacturers in search of investors.

*

On Wednesday morning, Severus stood in front of the Cullens’ hotel at ten a.m. sharp. At the same time a luxurious BMW with tinted windows parked along the pavement right in front of him. The driver’s door opened. Edward, dressed in a long-sleeved suit, wearing gloves, a hat, dark glasses, and a thick layer of make-up, got out to help him with his luggage and to invite him to climb in the back of the car with Carlisle. Severus noted that the three vampires wore very covering clothes because of the beaming sun.

“Couldn’t our journey wait for some hours? It would have been easier to go unnoticed after the sun sets,” Severus said once he was in the car.

“Alice called us yesterday evening, or rather early this morning. She insisted that we set out as soon as possible. She didn’t understand the meaning of all the visions she’s had lately, but it was clear for her that waiting for more hours could signify the failure of our endeavour,” Carlisle explained.

Severus answered with a nod, before he had to cling to his seat belt with all his might: Edward Cullen drove the BMW as if it were the Knight Bus. The landscape flashed past them so fast he could not appreciate its beauty. The wizard’s stomach threatened to scarper away with each turn of the road. Several times he believed the car and its occupants were going to add to the picturesque quality of the Romanian country. And to top it all, Edward Cullen spent more time holding hands with his wife and making eyes at her rather than watching the road. Carlisle guessed his discomfort. “You’ll note, Mister Snape, that the friends we’re to visit are somewhat different from us. They’re very old, and it shows by the powdery aspect of their skin.”

Severus welcomed the distraction with gratitude. He questioned Carlisle about the diurnal vampires, their traditions, ways of life, etc. until they arrived at the foot of an isolated castle in the Romanian mountains. Severus estimated that the trip should have lasted forty-five minutes more at the least. Better not to think about that. So he carefully looked at the mansion standing in front of him as he got out of the car. A quadrangular building, with whitewashed walls, square towers at each corner and slated roofs, was the dwelling of a duo of diurnal vampires. The overall impression was that the castle was shrunken into itself.

In front of the main door stood two vampires. In the spring sun, the black clothes they wore made a harsh contrast with their sparkling faces and hands. They were rather slender and small, with one being blond and the other brown-haired.

“Carlisle, welcome to our humble residence.” The blond greeted them with accentuated English.

“Stefan, Vladimir, thank you for welcoming us in your home,” Carlisle answered warmly.

“Don’t even think of it.”

His burgundy eyes settled on Severus, who felt ill at ease under the scrutiny. He was clearly appraised like an ox at the cattle market. His right hand tightened around his wand.

"The human is with us," Edward intervened. "He's a wizard who's helping us with ... some things."

"Things we'd better keep to ourselves, I bet?" the brown-haired vampire said mockingly.

"That would be kind of you," Carlisle replied.

Being in the minority, Severus kept himself from interrupting, though he detested being spoken of as if he were not there. Bella Cullen did not seem to appreciate the Romanian vampires much either. It was a good sign in Severus's book. It meant the Cullens would be attentive and that he would be protected from their suave-voiced hosts' appetites. Feeling his wand in his hand reassured him a little too.

"But please, come in. By the way, I'm Stefan ..." the blond said, bowing slightly.

"... and I'm Vladimir." The brown-haired vampire imitated him.

The four visitors preceded the two vampires inside, and the door shut noiselessly behind the group. The castle may have been ancient and rather empty as long as Severus could see, but it was well taken care of nonetheless. The wood gleamed, the hinges were silent, and the walls newly plastered.

They were led to a bare room dominated by two very antique and unadorned stone thrones. Stefan and Vladimir sat down on the thrones, while the three Cullens and Severus remained standing. It was no problem for the vampires, but Severus hoped the discussion would not last. Even the Dark Lord – may he rot in Hell – was not as cruel. Most of the time. To crown it all, he was hungry, thirsty and needed to use the loo. The conversation promised to be very long.

"What news do you bring to us?" Stefan asked. "I suppose you didn't take the pain to meet us only out of courtesy."

"We've simply taken advantage of our being in the country for business to come and greet you. This is also the opportunity to hear about the happenings in the European vampire world. But before we go further," Carlisle added when the blond vampire looked like he wanted to speak, "I suggest we let our human friend take care of the needs particular to his species."

Severus cast him a very grateful look.

"Oh, of course. Pray, forgive us, Mister ..."

"Snape."

"Mister Snape. I'll lead you to a room designated to host humans. It has every commodity your species needs. We even keep a functioning latrine."

Severus’s cheeks took a light shade of red when the vampire alluded to his bodily needs. “Thank you,” he simply answered while praying that the Cullens would not leave him alone with Stefan. He had no trust in the creature.

“I’m coming with you,” Edward announced. Once more Severus was grateful to the Cullens. “I think this castle architecture is worth seeing.”

Edward’s excuse did not fool anyone. He had just proclaimed himself Severus’s bodyguard.

“Follow me.”

As the small group left the room Severus had inwardly baptised ‘throne room’, he heard Vladimir tease Carlisle about his propensity to take humans under his wing. However, behind the jesting, something unidentifiable that made Severus shudder lurked in the brown-haired vampire’s voice. Stefan closed the door, and Severus could not hear Carlisle’s answer. He noticed Edward’s pronounced frown. Obviously, he did not like Vladimir’s thoughts at all.

Severus ceased to speculate on Edward’s dislikes to concentrate on the route leading to the castle ‘human quarters’. He might have to navigate the corridors and stairs alone later, so he memorised them the best he could. The corridors were narrow; not more than two persons could walk abreast, so Edward stayed at Severus’s side while Stefan showed them the way. The latter stopped in front of a door without any other distinctive characteristic than patina of age. Behind it, the room attributed to Severus was as forbidding as the rest of the castle.

A straw mattress and fluffy blankets lay on a wooden bed frame. A wooden, sculpted chest and an Empire chest of drawers, strangely modern in this environment, were the only furniture. A window, too small for the size of the room, let daylight enter on the wall opposite a fireplace that did not seem to have ever been used.

“I hope this complies with your species’ standards, Mister Snape,” Stefan whispered in a falsely considerate tone.

That would do. Let’s hope they would not stay for the night! In the meantime, where were the latrines?

“You’ll find the latrines if you continue along the corridor that led here,” the vampire added. “Young Edward and I will let you have a bit of privacy so that you can tend to your needs.”

The two vampires went out of the room. Severus would never get accustomed to their ability to read his body language with so much accuracy. Their sharpened senses gave them an unfair advantage when confronted with humans, especially Muggles. He stuck his head out of the doorframe, his wand on the ready in case he needed to cast a sudden Sectumsempra. Nobody in sight. He suspected that the two ‘men’ were not far and could hear him walking along the corridor to the latrines. He found them hidden at the far end of a little corridor that ran parallel to the main one. It was nothing more than a small construction propped against the wall of the little fortress. A plank with a round hole in its middle served as toilet. When he looked through the hole, Severus saw that he had to empty his bladder and more into the open space. With an annoyed sigh, he tackled the task at hand.

When he came back into his room, he enlarged the bottomless bag, similar to the one Hermione had the year she hunted Horcruxes, in which he had put away the supplies bought for this trip. He ate some of his supplies. It was not as good as a home-made meal, but he was not going to be fussy. He filled the bowl sitting near a jug on the chest of drawers with an Aguamenti spell so that he could drink and freshen up. Feeling better, he meticulously tidied his things and cleaned the slightest bit of dirt or drop of water he could spot. When he left the room to search for Edward and Stefan, no trace of his spending time in there was visible to the naked eye—unless the eye belonged to a vampire, of course.

“Edward Cullen,” he called aloud.

As if by magic, the two vampires appeared in front of him. Their great speed with short distances was as good as Apparition. The small group returned to the throne room where Carlisle, Bella and Vladimir were making a perfect impression of stone statues. They probably had exhausted all the potentially interesting subjects of conversation.

“The human is ready,” Stefan announced while taking back his seat on his throne.

“Excellent. Now we can get to the point,” Vladimir added.

The two Romanian vampires cast an expectant look at their guests.

“Of course,” Carlisle said in a conciliatory tone. “But before I start, I must insist for this conversation not to reach the Volturi’s ears.”

That remark caught Stefan’s and Vladimir’s attention. Admittedly the Cullens preferred to keep the Volturi out of their business, but that was a common attitude among vampires. Now, the fact that the head of the Cullen family came in person and stressed the point out was most interesting.

“Carlisle, you very well know that our relationship with the Volturi is ... nonexistent,” Vladimir retorted.

“I know, but I’m of the opinion that nothing is obvious if it isn’t said clearly.”

That rejoinder earned him an amused smile, nearly indulgent, from the two elders. Severus thought they were scarier than ever.

Carlisle spoke again. “To involve them could result in giving them a quasi-absolute power not only on our species, but on humans too.” Carlisle held up a hand to prevent Vladimir’s objection. “I know you’re not interested in the humans’ fates, but what would you think if the Volturi entirely controlled your food source?”

“Hmmm,” Stefan and Vladimir made in unison. They were both frowning. They both leaned their heads on the right side in the same gesture.

Severus noticed Carlisle casting a side glance at Edward, who imperceptibly nodded. As for Bella, she exuded absolute mistrust; she was obviously itching to leave the premises. Severus sympathised fully.

“Certain rumours about vampires working for humans reached us,” Carlisle resumed. “Since rumours in our world often cross your path, we wondered if you had heard about it.”

The blond and the brown-haired vampires exchanged a look and shrugged. While they were playing mirror images, Edward nodded again, probably to answer a question Carlisle had asked him in his thoughts. Stefan and Vladimir moved their attention back to their guests.

“There’s no need to beat around the bush, is there?” Stefan asked, pointing his chin at Edward. “He’ll find a way to extract the information from our heads.”

Vladimir sighed noisily and rolled his eyes. “A couple of Albanian vampires may be the ones you’re looking for. Dasar and Jerina are their names.”

“Young and impetuous.”

“They were on their way to Moscow...”

“... to supposedly meet the ‘godfather’. As if vampires needed to be baptised.”

Severus supposed that living together for millennia made it easier for the two vampires to finish each other’s sentences.

“They’re said to have – quite inadvertently – decimated the participants of a meeting of opponents of this ‘godfather’ ...”

“Some greedy pigs, they are,” Stefan interrupted; his disdainful expression let no doubt of what he thought of the young vampires’ lack of restraint.

“... who in turn has invited them to his house in Moscow to reward them.”

Joseph Bouranov was said godfather. Severus knew the name of the ‘brute’ as Bouranov liked to be called thanks to his Knockturn Alley acquaintances. He was a wizard born into a Muggle family of the Russian mafia. He had been educated at Durmstrang and had a reputation to make the late Bellatrix Lestrange green with envy.

“Did they have the Volturi on their heels?” Carlisle inquired. “It’s impossible to keep such a massacre under wraps, and our Italian friends hate publicity.”

“Dasar and Jerina had a companion, Oltan. The poor sod carried the blame,” Stefan sighed. “He’s mere ashes now.”

“Thank you very much for the information,” Carlisle said. “It’ll be very useful.”

“Do you really think that those fools could bring such a chaos in our world?” Vladimir still seemed incredulous.

“Alice is persuaded of it,” Edward declared.

“Well, then, good luck in your chase. Before you go, would you care to join us for a hunting party? It’s always only Stefan and me. To break the monotony would do us a world of good.”

The three Cullens recoiled at the proposition, which brought out a mocking smile on the Romanian vampires’ lips. Really, Severus hated it when vampires smiled.

“Thank you for the invitation,” Carlisle answered with the most extreme politeness. “Alas we can’t linger. Each passing day is crucial.”

“At least let us walk you back to your car. Are those human means of transportation really comfortable?”

Carlisle and Edward maintained a conversation about cars while Bella and Severus followed them. They did not speak, merely shared a look of mutual understanding about their revulsion for Stefan and Vladimir.

The Cullens and Severus climbed back into the car. Just before Edward closed his door, Stefan said to him and Bella, “Will you embrace your daughter on our behalf? She’s such a lovely child.”

Bella barely held back a disgusted shiver whereas the neutral expression on Edward’s face betrayed, in Severus’s opinion, suppressed anger. After all he himself mastered that particular expression.

Edward drove off in a way that reminded Severus of a Firebolt’s take-off. The wizard was grateful to the Muggle who had invented safety belts, even if in theory magic would have saved him in an accident.

“Edward!” Carlisle admonished his son. “Was that necessary?”

The only answer of the younger vampire was a growl. Bella uttered a justification for both of them. “He provoked us by speaking of Nessie! Those carnivores very well know that I won’t ever let them come close to my daughter!”

Edward supported his wife by gripping her hand. Carlisle sighed. “Your reaction will only incite them to provoke you. Don’t you see that they’re terribly bored? Your behaviour amused them.”

It was undeniable that Stefan’s and Vladimir’s dwelling offered little distractions.

“And now, what’s the plan?” Severus asked.

“We go back home,” Edward answered.

Severus choked. “What? Go back home!”

Carlisle sighed again and rolled his eyes. Edward sniggered.

“Edward is joking. He means that we’re going to pretend to go back home, while in reality we’re going directly to Moscow.”

Severus breathed with relief. They had not abandoned him. He had started to realise how precious the vampires’ help in his quest to retrieve his process was. “Do I have to take a Portkey for London so that my return will be duly registered, and then discreetly come back to Moscow?”

A broad grin lightened Carlisle’s pale face. “Your reputation for subterfuge isn’t exaggerated. My family and I can be in Moscow on Friday evening at the latest, even if we take the time to hunt on our way. You’ll be able to spend one or two nights at home.”

Severus nodded. He appreciated having the opportunity to notify Hermione and Harry in person about what he had learned and where else he would go, without the risk for the information to fall in the wrong hands. There was only one drawback in the plan: he had to use several connections to go back to London because there was no direct Portkey for the British capital on Wednesday evenings. It was thus an exhausted Potions master who came back home as the evening started. He told Hermione an outline of his trip, slipped on his pyjamas (nightgowns were very good, but your legs got cold with them) and slept the sleep of the just until the next morning.

On Thursday evening, Harry, who had been alerted of Severus’s return by a Patronus, stopped by after work. Hermione was already home, eager that she was to spend as much time as possible with her husband.

“I think we can affirm the wizarding mafia is involved in the theft of your process,” the Auror acknowledged with a grimace.

“I know. The plan is to get into the place where Bouranov keeps the documents, to take them and to disappear. No one wants nor has interest in setting off an open conflict with the mafia.”

Harry looked dubious. Hermione frowned. “Do you think you could come and go without Bouranov noticing?” she inquired, worried.

“Of course not. What’s important is that the thief’s identity isn’t discovered. I’ll later be able to pretend I had bought my parchments back at an indecent cost on the black market.”

“I’m not sure it’s possible to come up with a better plan with so little time at our disposal,” Harry sighed with regret.

Hermione agreed. Severus was relieved to see that his wife and his friend trusted him enough not to ask more questions. He did not want to tell them that he intended to put the blame on some freshly out of Azkaban bloke. If Severus knew anything about villains, it was that they never believed people at their word. No doubt that Bouranov would want to check Severus’ statement himself and interview whoever the Potions master would claim had sold him the parchments. No, it was better if that part of his plan remained a secret.

While Severus was preparing his secret departure for Moscow, Carlisle, Bella and Edward ostensibly got into the Cullen jet, and discreetly got out of it a bit later. When the plane took off to Budapest and Belgrade to ‘fetch’ the other Cullens, the three vampires were already far North. They stopped long enough to hunt and to be joined by the other family members. The beaming sun of early June forced them to travel by night. So they arrived at the family dacha in Moscow surroundings on Friday late in the evening. Severus joined them not much later thanks to an illegal Portkey. What was one illegal Portkey more on his record?
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