(1939-07-11) A Dead Man's Advice
Details for A Dead Man's Advice
Summary: Rena, worried that she's made a terrible mistake, seeks advice from the oldest person she knows. Shelley comes along to make sure Rena doesn't dig herself even deeper.
Date: 11 July, 1939
Location: The Hoard Pub, Knockturn Alley
Plot: For the Greater Good
Related: Army of Truth: Q & A

Rena is mad. Completely and utterly mad.

It's bad enough that she's determined to make a sojourn to the Hoard Tavern in hopes of looking up a Vampire; but, to make things worse, she is completely unarmed and defenseless. Her wand was lost to her several days prior in Umber Alley during the unfortunate stabbing incident, and now, she is left open to attack with no means of protection. Perhaps that's why Shelley Prewett is following close behind.

Pausing at the door, Rena forces the rising anxiety back down into her throbbing heart. Half of her wants to turn and run away, but she determined to do this, and she's going to go through with it. "I know what I'm doing. I know what I'm doing," she mutters to herself, laying her hand on the latch. "Maybe 'e ain't even 'ere…" Into the Hoard she walks, looking small, insignificant and completely out of place.

The Hoard - certainly it's not the first time Shelley's been here. In fact, there were probably a few present that remembered the auror's melt-down the night she got put on suspension. She's practically at ease in a place like this - or she would be, if her younger friend wasn't here, unarmed, and looking for a /vampire/. "Maybe," she agrees with Rena as she steps in as well, scanning the occupants of the room. This was a disastrously stupid idea. Ugh.

Though the bar may have changed ownership and name, the Hoard can only pretend to be something new. It is still the same location on Knockturn Alley, the same building once known as the Drunken Dragon, and the Cethin Seether Pub before that. It caters to the same clientele — a motley of the dispossessed, the disliked, and the dissident. Thieves, miscreants, Dark wizards, and other denizens of the shadows huddle around dimly lit tables and over strong drinks.

Among this blend of undesirables, one figure is given a wide berth, save by those seeking him directly. Those that do approach the gaunt, pale man often later remark on the chill in the air…and down their spines. Even now, a sickly-looking wizard sits across the table from the vampire. The man trembles like an autumn leaf as he takes a small, folded piece of paper from between the gloved fingers of the Living Dead. As quick as he can, the wizard slithers away from the polite, yet mirthless, fanged smile.

Rena is suddenly stricken by the distinct feeling that one only gets upon knocking on the door of a residence where one desperately hopes the occupant isn't at home. However, she just happened to be lucky enough to have struck upon an evening when Cruentus Vermillion is present.

The primly dressed little redhead is given enough hard stares by the denizens of the Hoard to make her wish to sink below the floorboards; however, she keeps her chin high and her face calm. It isn't the sight of the vampire that brings him to her attention… but rather, the feel. Oh yes, Rena remembers that chill in the air, and the unusual fragrance that accompanies it.

Blanching slightly, she slowly turns her head. Dark eyes fall upon Cruentus, and she can only whisper to Shelley: "He's here…"

Scraping together every ounce of courage left in her body, Rena dares to approach the Vampire's table. "Good evening, Mister Vermilion," she offers lamely, pulling off a pretty good smile to accompany the greeting.

"Yes, I see that," Shelley answers in a quiet voice - that also manages to be as dry as the Sahara. She follows after her fellow auror, stopping a step back from the table, and studying the vampire with a carefully neutral expression.

Cruentus's bloodshot gaze lifts to greet Rena with a curl of his lips that should be a smile, but somehow lacks the human quality to make it so. As the women approach…ah yes, there is that fragrance — the odor of death, insufficiently masked by perfumes. Acting the gentleman that his stately Victorian garb suggests, he rises at the approach of the two Aurors, gesturing politely to seats at his table, showing favour to neither. "Ladies, please join me," he extends the invitation in an accent that carries echoes of the European Old World, without being distinctly from one country or another. "I had hoped I might be seeing you this evening."

"Can't really say the same," Shelley mutters.

Rena tries her best not to show how disconcerting Cruentus can be. She reminds herself forcibly that he can't help what he is… he didn't ask to become a vampire. Nobody does that willingly, surely. However, she stops her mind from drifting into pity. He might sense that and consider it rude.

"You… were hoping to see me?" Rena asks in a small, mousey voice. Realizing that she shouldn't be standing there in the middle of the room after being invited to sit, she carefully slides onto the seat opposite Cruentus and glances at Shelley briefly before saying more: "I - I didn't want to bother you. I would never… I mean, that is to say, I didn't come 'ere to impose on you for information or anything of the sort. This isn't official business."

Realizing that she's babbling, Rena's gaze drops to her lap and she blushes. "Of course, you probably know that already." She murmurs.

Shelley sinks into the offered chair - but she doesn't pull it in towards the table. She's not entirely comfortable here, and she sees little reason to act like she is. Besides - it's easier to get out of your chair in a hurry if it isn't pushed in.

Other than her muttered common, Shelley remains silent, giving Rena a look as she slips into babbling. She wears a guarded expression, and keeps her hand near her wand, as well as a watchful eye on Cruentus and the occupants of the bar. Nothing in this encounter is about her, after all.

Cruentus retakes his seat after the ladies are more or less settled. For a moment he sits stock-still as Rena speaks, his lifeless ashen skin rather giving the impression of a statue carved from stone. But he nods, breaking the illusion, and spreads his hands, "But of course, Miss Lee. Word travels quickly to my ears, as you well know. It seems that you have formed a new alliance. Most intriguing." While sitting at the vampire's table may bring its own sense of trepidation, there is one thing to be said for it — not another soul in the pub dares look askance at the two Aurors once they are welcomed into his presence.

Rena brings herself to look up into Cruentus' frightening eyes. It's difficult to hold back the low level of shivering that continually seems to be upon her now, but she does her best to control it.

"It's presumptuous of me to bother you, I know. I ain't even paid off my debt from the last time you 'elped me." Pausing to flash a small, uncertain smile, she adds with a small nod: "Thanks awfully for that, too. I did find things - just as you said I would - and where. I couldn't 'ave without you."

"A-as to the Army of Truth," Rena begins, trying to explain herself without sounding like a fool, "Shelley 'ere thinks that Mister Moody deliberately planned all this, and that 'e just wants to use me as a token or a gesture to win sympathy from people who'd otherwise never join their cause. And, of course, I'm worried she may be right. I've BEEN worried about that all along… I just… Isn't it better to pull in tight to people who might be the most dangerous enemy instead of pushing them away and laughing at them?"

Does the insane little ginger actually mean that she has a plan?

If you're helping them in doing it…? Shelley doesn't voice her thought - but she does shake her head slightly. Lee has loooost it. She's two asphodel roots shy of a calming potion. … at least.

Unlike her companion, Shelley doesn't spend much time meeting Cruentus' gaze - instead dividing her attention between those at her table, and those not at her table. Even if sitting with the vampire offered them some level of 'protection' - she just doesn't trust this.

"You are asking for my advice, Miss Lee?" For once, Cruentus smile seems to carry a hint of emotion — amusement. "It has been a long time since anyone has sought me out for counsel. You are quite right…this is not business. I would not with to stake my professional reputation on something as unreliable as an opinion. But…that makes this personal. Am I to understand that you trust me, Miss Lee?"

"Don't worry, I'll be bringing her back to St. Mungo's after this, Mr. Vermilion," Shelley deadpans - while her eyes are on a card game several tables over.

Often it is Rena who asks the hard questions of people to answer; but, tonight, it is she who is asked.

Not daring to cast even the slightest glance at Shelley, Rena swallows and remains silent for some little time before answering. "I was raised as a Muggle, sir. And Muggles sort of 'ave a tradition of respecting your elders. When you're in trouble, you go to someone older and wiser than yourself for advice… And, not meaning to sound irreverent, sir - but, you are the oldest person I know. I expect you 'ave more life experience and wisdom than anybody I could ever 'ope to talk to. And besides, like I told Shelley: You don't have a horse in this race."

She's dancing around the issue seemingly, and she knows it. Finally, shifting a little on her seat, Rena gives a more straightforward reply: "Yes, sir, I trust you." Hopefully it isn't misplaced.

Cruentus chuckles dryly at Shelley's comment. "Very amusing." His red-tinged gazes narrows slightly at Rena, as if sizing her up — either to gauge her sincerity, or her nutritious value. "I am flattered, Miss Lee. Only one other Auror has ever had the consideration and audacity to pay me a social visit. I believe these days you call him, 'Chief'. Not that I am saying I am responsible for his current positions, but…well, let us address your issue, shall we?" Cruentus laces his fingers together, leaning his elbows on the table before him. "Clearly Auror Prewett has a point. After all, would Mr. Moody have given you the opportunity to publicly shame him, if he were not already certain of the outcome? So, while you may believe that you are infiltrating this Army of Truth, playing the spy and controlling the situation, you must ask yourself…who is truly being manipulated?"

Being scrutinized by a vampire is a truly uncomfortable thing. However, Rena wins out over her instincts to shrink away and stays steadfastly in place in her seat. She made a commitment to ask Cruentus for his opinion, and she's going to hear it - no matter how it might sting.

Slowly, as the Vampire speaks, Rena's expression falters and her face begins to fall. Her slender shoulders also drop slightly. She can't rally so well from that blow. It takes time for her to find her voice again, and when she does, she can only helplessly ask: "What am I to do, then?" Clearly, she is disappointed with herself… deeply disappointed and discourage, now.

"Oh, Merlin's beard," Shelley mutters under her breath. "He's agreeing with me - I'm not sure if I should be relieved, or worried for my own sanity."

She looks back to Rena as she adds, "Well. You made no attempt to hide that you'd leave if you thought they weren't playing their cards straight. That you won't comprimise your morals. If you can get kicked out of Unity - well. I think you can get out of this."

"That, of course, is the other issue," Cruentus chimes in on the tail of Shelley's words. "Unity. You have already made one alliance, and seen those ties severed. Now the Army of Truth has begun to march to a song very similar to Unity's, and you have planted your flag with them. If this alliance does not last, you risk being seen as unreliable, which could hinder your future efforts. I am afraid that you have found yourself in a very difficult position."

Rena dares to raise her eyes to meet with Cruentus' unsettling gaze once more. With hands folded meekly in her lap, she somberly fixes upon the Vampire with a pleading expression: "That's why I need advice… and you were the first person I thought of, sir. I don't know what to do. I still believe it's better to have a person on the inside to try and manipulate things… And, failing that, if things go to hell, someone on the inside to see what's going on and give warning before it actually comes to be." But is she clever enough to pull this off alone?

"I suppose I rather thought — maybe if I could rely on being able to talk to you as I go along…" Realizing the gravity of the imposition, Rena shakes her head: "I'm sorry, sir."

Talk to the vampire — repeatedly — while she's infiltrating the Army of Truth? Shelley stares at Rena for a moment. "Straight to St. Mungos," she mutters. "Damnit, I need a whiskey." She's too sober for this mess.

Cruentus lifts a gloved hand, wiggling a finger to summon a server to the table. "A whiskey for my companion," he instructs the young woman, "and whatever my friend here would like," he adds, gesturing to Rena. Once the matter of drinks is settled and the server has gone, Cruentus sighs crinkles his brow in apparent concern, deepening the cracks in his dry, veiny skin. "Miss Lee, while I am overwhelmed by the faith you place in me, you forget my position. I maintain a very delicate balance of neutrality. If I were to lend you my aid in your attempt to infiltrate and influence the Army of Truth, and that aid were somehow discovered, I would be seen as favoring one side in a rather volatile conflict. I fear that it would be a grievous violation of my business ethics."

Of course, Rena had rather forgotten that Cruentus' bread and butter depended on his neutral position. Politics can never be neutral, no matter what anyone tries to say to the contrary. The realization sweeps over her causing her cheeks to flush with embarrassment.

The arrival of the server derails Rena's thoughts temporarily, and she rather unwisely says that she will have the same as Shelley. Normally she's a gin and tonic girl (because it's a safer bet) and drinking hard whiskey probably isn't the best choice in her case.

"I appologize, Mister Vermilion. I'd forgotten about that." The young redhead says at length, looking down at the table in a disheartened way. "I suppose I shouldn't 'ave troubled you… But, I appreciate the fact that you listened to me, anyway. It was kind of you." If one thing can be said of Rena, it's that she has a genuinely good (if misguided) heart, and a seemingly empty head at times. "I don't suppose you could at least give me a word of advice about all this — just as… well, myself before I go, then?"

Shelley probably shouldn't be drinking around the vampire. Rena definitely shouldn't be drinking around the vampire. And did she just call it… kind? It's a struggle — a very real struggle — not to hide her face in her hand. Instead she settles for giving Rena an incredulous look.

Still. At least Rena would not be making multiple visits to see Vermilion while she's stuck in this Army of Truth mess. She'll take small victories.

"My advice?" Cruentus purses his lips thoughtfully, pressing his hands together in prayer-like fashion. "My advice is simply this. If you do choose to remain embedded, keep your eyes open, and never doubt for a moment that Mr. Moody is using you. He knows you are not a true believer, and he wants you because you bring him legitimacy among many that would otherwise oppose him. But when you are no longer useful, you might find yourself made into a scapegoat…or worse. In light of that, it might be beneficial for you to arrange a kind of…insurance policy."

Rena casts a look at Shelley that seems to say that she KNOWS the woman is struggling to refrain from expressing disbelief at her actions and words. However, she makes no remark, and simply turns her attention back to Cruentus with a questioning look.

"I know I've got a soft 'eart, and I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But, I know this is serious and I need to keep my eye on everyone once this thing really begins… especially Mister Moody." Pausing to breathe a thoughtful sigh, she bites her lower lip lightly before asking: "What would you suggest as an insurance policy, sir?" It's probably better NOT to ask, but she's done it anyway.

You know Shelley's favorite part - her absolute favorite part of this? That Rena takes the vampire's advice more highly than hers. Well, nothing to it but to let this play out. Shelley's attention turns from Cruentus and Rena, back to the others in the room again, sweeping over them with her gaze. Ah, there's the barmaid coming with the drinks already. Reaching into her pocket, she starts pulling out enough coin to cover the drinks. Even when it comes to a few coins - she does /not/ want to be in Vermilion's debt.

Cruentus gives Rena a broad smile, which shows off his viciously sharp fangs. "I am so glad that you asked. What you need is protection, and an escape route if things go badly. It so happens that I know people who can provide such stewardship. Of course, they have their own price. They would not do this out of the kindness of their hearts. But their price is easy to meet. It is simply a matter of money."

The drinks arrive and Rena takes her whiskey in hand. One sniff and she realizes that the stuff is a good deal stronger than anything she probably ought to be drinking. However, she /did/ order it… and much like the whole situation with the Army of Truth, she's going to have to stick it out. So, with a good deal of trepidation, she raises the glass to her lips and takes the tiniest of drink of the alcohol. It /burns/ - and the burn doesn't subside once she's swallowed it. It just lingers, and she must force herself to keep her expression from showing discomfort.

Struggling for breath for a second, Rena blinks and looks across the table at Cruentus with a weak smile: "Money I can 'andle, probably. I'll save it out of my salary. But… Don't you need something in return for introducing me to these people?" Maybe she has half a brain after all.

Shelley is not sure that suggesting to Cruentus that she owes him something qualifies as half a brain. Besides the fact that she's talking about paying underworld sorts some protection money… from her auror's pay.

She takes a deep drink from her whiskey. Yes, she definitely needed that.

The vampire spreads his hands apologetically. "Business is business, after all, even among friends. Yes, I have my own price, of course. But such matters are best discussed in private. I mean no offense, Ms. Prewett." He nods his head politely to Shelley. "There is also the matter of meeting them. You would not. It will be more secure if you remain unaware of the identities of your protectors. Instead, they will be given a phrase to speak to you, should they need to expose themselves to protect you. But that would only happen in the case of an emergency, if your life was in danger and they needed to spirit you away to safety."

Shelley's attention returns to Cruentus, and she doesn't bother to hide the fact that she's less than thrilled with Rena discussing payment with the vampire, in private. This whole conversation seemed less than wise to her. "And I would say that Miss Lee gets a say in that, Mister Vermilion," the auror counters.

"Miss Lee is welcome to take issue with it, but these are not my rules," Cruentus explains calmly. "The people I speak of value their anonymity. I have no more power to adjust the terms of their services than I do to prevent the sun from rising. I fear that point is not negotiable."

"You misunderstand. I wasn't refering to the 'protectors," Shelley answers, taking another drink of her whiskey.

She's going to help herself to an entire bottle before the night is through - she just knows it. But preferably somewhere a little more secure.

"Ah, then the matter of my own payment being in private? That, too, is not a matter for negotiation, I'm afraid." Cruentus gives a helpless shrug, as if powerless to change the facts. "My price is a matter of my business affairs, and that is something best kept between me and my clients. Unless, of course, you wish to become part of the arrangement, Ms. Prewett."

Shelley narrows her eyes at Cruentus, then turns her attention back to the woman beside her. "Rena, if you ask me, you're only digging yourself in deeper. Things have gotten tangled enough for one evening."

Once upon a time, there was a foolish little Auror who went to ask help from a Vampire. She refused to pay the price that the Vampire asked, and he was about to send her on her way when she promised him anything. Anything, so long as it didn't hurt someone that she loved. She's been living in fear ever since - The End.

How many times can a poor woman be placed on the spot during the course of ONE day? Rena refused Cruentus' price once before. And she knows damn well that she can NEVER play that card again as long as she lives.

Warily looking at Shelley, the younger woman shakes her head and answers at length: "Let me talk to him alone. I got myself into this mess. I've got to be an adult and deal with it myself." She's a big girl, now - it's time she started acting like one.

"This is a mistake," Shelley repeats firmly - but there's little she can do to stop the woman, unless she wants to grab her by the arm and drag her out.

And only have her come back another time, when she's not around. She isn't Lee's keeper, and she doesn't want to be. She drinks again from her glass. Damnit, Lee.

"Ms. Prewett, you worry too much," Cruentus advises. "If you do not trust me because of what I am, then trust me because of what I do. It is not in my best interest to harm those I do business with. Miss Lee has already proven to be a valuable acquaintence, and I should very much like to continue this working relationship with her."

This is very true. Had Cruentus wanted to drain Rena's blood in payment for his services in past, he would have simply taken his price and left her in a dark alley somewhere to die. However, most people would (and should) be disturbed to learn that they were a valuable acquaintence to a Vampire… but, not Rena, seemingly.

Taking another slightly larger sip of her whiskey, Rena cringes as the fire burns all the way down - but she does not choke on it. "I promise," she says with a faint smile directed at Shelley, "It'll be alright."

"Oh, I very much expect you should like to keep her around," Shelley responds in a dry tone. After all, it can be very useful to have someone under your thumb in the auror's office.

Finishing off her glass, Shelley reaches over to relieve Rena of hers. "You don't mind, do you?"

Cruentus remains silent, simply folding his hands before him and waiting patiently. His sanguine eyes shift back and forth between the two ladies, observing them curiously.

Rena shakes her head in reply to Shelley's question: "No, please - you need it more'n I do. And I really shouldn't 'ave any more." She says, accompanied by a light, nervous laugh. Quieting herself, Rena rises to her feet and slips past her fellow Auror to the end of the table.

A furtive glance drifts around the less-than-reputable bar as she takes in the wary patrons once more. "Sh-should we talk of it now, or should I come again another time?" Rena asks cautiously, and a little bit uncertain.

Cruentus rises when Rena does, in gentlemanly fashion. "Whenever you wish, Miss Lee. It is not my intent to part you from your companion this evening." He gives Shelley a polite little bow.

Shelley remains silent for the moment, sipping Rena's whiskey - which she has little intention of finishing, not with Rena wand-less. She lets the two talk for the moment - she's said her piece, and it's in Rena's hands.

"Maybe it'd be best if I came back another time… soon," Rena answers, finally. It isn't fear and the desire to cut and run, it's the nagging feeling that she really ought to go home to her fiance. Even if things aren't great between them right now, she can't keep running away from one problem and into the arms of another.

"Really, Mister Vermilion, I can't thank you enough for everything. Especially for taking the time to talk to me. I know you're terribly busy," Rena says with genuine warmth and feeling. When was the last time anybody treated a Vampire this way? Probably never. But nobody ever accused Rena Lee of being normal.

Cruentus places his hand to his chest and bows to the two of them. "Then we shall speak soon. Should either of you require my assistance, you know where to find me. Be safe on your way home, ladies. At this hour, Knockturn Alley can be…unpredictable."

After a last sip of Rena's whiskey, Shelley rises, nodding her head to Cruentus. She accompanies Rena out of the tavern - and for once (perhaps shockingly) keeps her mouth shut.

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