<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:View>Normal</w:View> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:TrackMoves/> <w:TrackFormatting/> <w:PunctuationKerning/> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas/> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:DoNotPromoteQF/> <w:LidThemeOther>EN-US</w:LidThemeOther> <w:LidThemeAsian>X-NONE</w:LidThemeAsian> <w:LidThemeComplexScript>X-NONE</w:LidThemeComplexScript> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables/> <w:SnapToGridInCell/> <w:WrapTextWithPunct/> <w:UseAsianBreakRules/> <w:DontGrowAutofit/> <w:SplitPgBreakAndParaMark/> <w:DontVertAlignCellWithSp/> <w:DontBreakConstrainedForcedTables/> <w:DontVertAlignInTxbx/> <w:Word11KerningPairs/> <w:CachedColBalance/> </w:Compatibility> <w:BrowserLevel>MicrosoftInternetExplorer4</w:BrowserLevel> <m:mathPr> <m:mathFont m:val="Cambria Math"/> <m:brkBin m:val="before"/> <m:brkBinSub m:val="--"/> <m:smallFrac m:val="off"/> <m:dispDef/> <m:lMargin m:val="0"/> <m:rMargin m:val="0"/> <m:defJc m:val="centerGroup"/> <m:wrapIndent m:val="1440"/> <m:intLim m:val="subSup"/> <m:naryLim m:val="undOvr"/> </m:mathPr></w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--> Darkness blanketed the Hogwarts grounds. Curfew had long since passed, the prefects on hallway patrol duty retired to their beds, and the portraits hanging in the dimly lit corridors even snored in their frames. It seemed there wasn’t a single soul awake in the castle, except for Professor Teagan Donnelly. And his faithful companion Fergus, an old graying but still mighty Irish wolfhound who always appeared to be at his master’s side. Nearly thirty, Teagan was easily the youngest professor teaching at Hogwarts. He was tall and lanky, with curling dark hair, a crooked smile and hazel eyes that made his female (and even some male) students swoon. This was his first year as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. More than a decade passed since he had returned to the school, but Hogwarts felt like coming back home. With his extensive training and knowledge of the dark arts, he could have had any high-ranking position in the Ministry he wanted, but he had no desire to chase dark wizards or make bloodshed his living. He loved to teach, and he loved his students. He wanted to inspire them, instill them with bravery and a thirst for knowledge. He wanted to protect them, which was why he was here, barging out of the castle’s heavy oak doors in the dead of night. Teagan was no stranger to the Forbidden Forest. During his Hogwarts days, he had entered it as a dare in his second year, and returned repeatedly throughout the years with his friends, sometimes alone. He respected the forest and its mysteries, never going deeper than necessary, and had only encountered conflict with a band of centaurs once. Several days ago, he ventured into the forest to collect herbs: the current Potions Mistress was terrified to go herself, but needed ingredients that grew in the forest for her class, and Teagan generously offered to gather them for her. While looking for the magical plants, he noticed something jarring: a centaur’s corpse sprawled amidst a forest clearing. Upon closer inspection, Teagan noted two distinctive bite marks scarring the dead creature’s throat. Teagan’s stomach churned in fear, and his heart raced. He immediately recognized where, or what, the bite marks came from. A vampire. He darted across the Hogwarts grounds, Fergus trailing behind him. Once they neared the foreboding outskirts of the Forbidden Forest, Teagan brandished his wand and lit the tip so a pool of light illuminated his darkened surroundings. Using his wand to guide him, he entered the forest, his footsteps cautious and slow. He walked out in the open, seemingly unafraid, but he knew the bloodsucker could sense his fear.