The leaves crunched loudly under Quirrell’s shoes no matter how lightly he tried to step. Every once in a while Arta would look over her shoulder to give him a scathing look. He knew he needed to be quiet, that the vampire they were hunting could hear every broken leaf at a hundred meters. He tried to apologize but that only led to more shushing. He wanted to be like her, each step as soft as a petal, each breath buried in the current of the wind but he was having a hard time.
Quirrell had spent a majority of his time at Hogwarts locked away either in the library or in Ravenclaw Tower with his nose in a book. The other students had mocked his timid nature sometimes teasing him to the point where his stutter would return. In his studies he learned a great deal about the various monsters of the world and the wizarding tribes that hunted them but in practice Quirrell had only ever been moderately proficient at defensive spells and even less proficient at the general practice of stealth. The only spell he had ever truly mastered was the cunfundus charm, which he could use to great effect on trolls and the like but was precious little help against a predator as intelligent as a vampire.
Still, Quirrell was confident. His knowledge had carried him through his exchange with the hag who’d been stealing children from a village north of Camargue. He knew exactly which part of the bog she’d established as her lair and had no trouble tracking her down. He even managed to save some of the children she hadn’t eaten yet. He’d also done rather well disposing of a zombie that had been lurking in the Congo. The prince had been so pleased with him that he’d honored Quirrell with one of his families own turbans which Quirrell kept safely in his pack. He’d had to wear it for his entire stay in the prince’s court and found it horribly itchy.
There was also Arta who, aside from being a rather talented witch herself, was one of the best vampire trackers in the world, and certainly the best in Albania. He found her on accident actually. When he heard about the vampire and was intrigued to find out what such a creature was doing lurking in a forest. Their kind generally prefer large manors in cities for the plentiful supply of food. There’s an entire unit in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to clean up after the ones in Britain. They rounded up six of them in Glasgow just last year. So when the Albanian ministry wanted to investigate, Quirrell found that he wasn’t the first person to inquire about this odd vampire. Arta had an official bounty to bring the vampire in dead or alive. Quirrell had to beg for her to let him come along. She’d only agreed when she learned that he’d been a teacher at Hogwarts. The schools reputation was well known, even all the way out here. He might have neglected to mention however, that his subject was Muggle Studies.
A twig snapped under his foot like the crack of a whip. Arta turned around and shoved Quirrell into a nearby tree. His feet stumbled in his robes and he fell, his lower back struck painfully by a nearby root.
“Even if he’s a kilometer off he will have heard that,” Arta said. “Are you trying to help the vampire get away?”
“No,” Quirrell replied, rubbing the sore spot where he fell. “It’s just, how do you not step on leaves and sticks? The whole forest is coated in them.”
“I should leave you here. It’s the only way I’m ever going to catch him.”
“No wait,” Quirrell pleaded. “I can fix it, watch. Silencio.” He pointed his wand at his feet and two tiny bubbles of shimmering air appeared around them making it look like he was wearing a pair of fishbowls over his shoes.
He got up to test them out, first patting the ground gingerly with one foot then jumping up and down. He didn’t make a sound.
“Clever,” said Arta. “Now maybe if you’ll stop breathing like a winded rhinoceros, we can still catch the vampire by surprise.”
Quirrell nodded solemnly and followed Arta down the trail. Without the sound of his own feet, the forest seemed much louder. The trees scratched and rustled and you could hear small creatures slithering through the leaves. Every once in a while, Arta would stop to look at something in the mud, or prod a bush with her wand. Eventually, their trail led them to a cave.
“Are we g-g-going in there?” Quirrell stammered.
“This is the way the vampire went, so this is the way we’re going. Unless the Hogwarts professor is scared?”
They crept through the wet cave. Streams of water filtered down through the rocky earth above, eroding paths in the walls making them look like the ribs of a great beast. Quirrell thought it must be similar to the experience of being eaten alive by a giant. Every shadow might have contained the vampire. Quirrell nearly jumped out of his skin when an earthworm that burrowed it’s way through the cave’s ceiling landed on his shoulder. A light appeared at the opposite end. Not a cave then, but a tunnel. Quirrell gave an audible sigh of relief, prompting yet another scathing glance from Arta. Both of them got out their wands in preparation for what might be on the other side.
They came out of the tunnel into a grove consisting mostly of black pine. At its center, a small stream trickled around a lone elder tree. There was a figure sitting on the ground, leaning against the tree.
“Incarcerous,” said Arta and thin chords shot out of the end of her wand and bound the man. He slumped over onto the ground.
They approached slowly. Quirrell’s hands were shaking so badly little blue sparks kept sputtering out of his wand.
The man on the ground had a pale, narrow face. His mouth was closed, but his lower lip had a pair of ominous bulges where fangs might be. His glassy black eyes were stuck open.
“Is that him?” Quirrell asked, still not lowering his wand.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Arta sighed.
“And he’s d-d-dead?”
“Well he’s a vampire isn’t he? He was dead before but yes, he’s properly dead now. Good thing the contract didn’t need him alive.”
“What could do that to a vampire?”
“Besides a wizard? I’m wondering that myself.”
“Look what Reynard hasss brought me,” came a third voice. It seemed to be coming from the elder tree. It was a high whisper like the early, hollow whistling of a kettle. Nothing moved but the leaves and patches of berries in the wind. “I wasss disssapointed when I could not use him but perhapssse he may have served me after all.”
“Who is that?” Quirrell shouted, spinning his wand in circles trying to find the owner of the voice. He looked behind the elder tree and then up into the branches. “C-c-come out and f-f-face us.”
“A Ravenclaw, eh? I would have preferred a Ssslytherin. Ssstill, it sseems right. The blood of Ravenclaw has drenched these woodsss.”
“What are you shouting about?” asked Arta. She was looking at him like she was mad.
“Can’t you hear it? That hissing?”
“I don’t hear anything.”
“She’sss lying,” came the whisper. “She hasss her bounty. She thinksss you’re uselesss now. She wantsss to get rid of you. She’sss going to kill you.”
“She wouldn’t. Arta, you w-w-wouldn’t, w-w-would you?”
Arta raised her wand and pointed it at Quirrell. “I need you to calm down professor,” she said. “The vampires dead, there’s nothing to hurt us here.”
“She’sss raised her weapon,” said the whisper. “Kill her now!”
“Incarcerous,” Arta shouted again. The same thin chords shot out at Quirrell but he was ready for her. He deflected the ropes and then raised his wand to return fire. Arta was faster than he was. She stepped back into a defensive position. “Proteg-“ she started to say.
A bolt of green light shot out of the tip of Quirrell’s wand. It shattered Arta’s shield charm and hit her squarely in the chest. She’d had just enough time to look surprised before all the life was drained from her body.
Quirrell dropped his wand and rushed over. “Arta,” he said shaking her body. “Arta no, I didn’t mean-. Art-t-ta Art-t-t- t-t-t-t-” He continued to shake her but Arta’s body just lolled in his arms like a rag doll.
“Clever boy,” said the whisper. “Sssmart boy. You knew she’d shield, so you used the ssspell that breaks them. You’ll ssserve me well I think.”
A pale serpent slithered from the gap between the roots of the elder tree. Its scales were powder white and it had eyes that burned red like coals. The snake curled itself on the chest of the dead woman and raised its head to look at Quirrell.
“You’re a s-snake?” Quirrell asked.
“I am more than that,” answered the serpent. “I am He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Dark Lord, the most powerful wizard ever to walk the earth and now I am your master, your teacher.”
“But what about Arta?”
“What of her? She’s dead.”
“I k-k-killed her, I’m a m-m-murderer.”
“You did,” the snake confirmed nodding its spectral head. “You are. There is no right or wrong, Quirrell, only power and thossse too weak to seek it. I can give you the power you desire. Those that mocked you will bow before you. You have only to bow before me.”
Quirrell sobbed as the snake fed itself into the sleeve of his robes and wrapped itself around his chest.
“I must say Quirrell, that really is a marvelous turban.” The headmaster’s office was warm, lit by a roaring fire.
“Thank you P-p-professor Dumbledore, I g-g-got it on my travels in Africa.” Behind Dumbledore were the dozens of portraits of Hogwarts past headmasters. The last time Quirrell was here most of them were either out of their frames or sleeping. Today everyone was present and listening attentively.
“Yes, you’re year off adventuring! You must tell me all about it,” Professor Dumbledore said smiling good-naturedly. Though the smile didn’t reach his piercing blue eyes which felt as if they were attempting to x-ray Quirrell’s mind. Somewhere in the back of his head Quirrell felt a sharp pain, like two wills greater than his were fighting for control of his thoughts. “You don’t look quite the same.”
“I’ve s-s-seen things professor. Things I’d rather n-not discuss.”
“No doubt with good reason,” Dumbledore replied. “But of course you understand that I can’t just give you back you’re old position. It’s already been filled.”
“There may be an opening in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Some say the position’s cursed but maybe you’d be up for the task now you’ve been out in the world a bit eh?”
“I’d b-b-be honored sir.”