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Tabitha Helder and the Treacherous Journey by MJ Hourigan

Format: Novella
Chapters: 19
Word Count: 25,801
Status: WIP

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Mild violence, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark, Humor, Action/Adventure, Angst, Young Adult
Characters: Dumbledore, Filch, McGonagall, Sprout, Pomfrey, Bill, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, OC
Pairings:

First Published: 04/21/2020
Last Chapter: 09/29/2020
Last Updated: 09/29/2020

Summary:

ORIGINAL CHARACTER'S STORY - Tabitha Helder doesn't feel like she belongs at Hogwarts. After her mother is killed by a mysterious dark creature, she blames herself for being unable to save her. Ostracised by the other students, Tabitha makes a daring decision to find the answers of her mother's death.



Chapter 1: PROLOGUE - Into the Darkness
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T

abitha Helder’s silver pigtails swung back and forth as the bus rushed through the dark streets of Twickenham. She stared up at the crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling several levels above them, watching how it swayed, always just avoiding smashing into the walls with every sharp turn. Beside Tabitha, sat her mother, Rachael, happily checking items off a slip of parchment. She had a kind, heart-shaped face with freckles scattered across her cheeks. Her dark hair rested in a messy bob above her shoulders.

 

“You don’t mind using my old cauldron, do you?” She patted Tabitha gently on the head, bringing her gaze back down.

 

“No, it’s fine.” She replied, absentmindedly swinging her legs as they dangled above the floor.

 

“Thank you sweetheart.” With a kiss on Tabitha’s forehead, she went back to her list. “And the other kids won’t even notice, I’ve barely used it anyway.”

 

Tabitha turned her head to the window, her mother’s voice slowly fading away as she gazed deeper into the black void of trees whipping passed the bus. Occasionally Tabitha thought she could see things in the trees. Just for a moment, she thought she could see shapes in the night. It was as though something was running alongside the bus. For a second, Tabitha could’ve sworn she saw a glint of red light flickering between the trees.

 

“Tabitha!”  She jumped as her mother’s voice brought her back into the bus.

 

“What?”

 

“Are you okay? You drifted off there for a second.”

 

“Sorry, I’m fine.” Turning her head back to the window, there was nothing to be seen but trees. “I just thought...”

 

Before she could finish her sentence, she was interrupted by the call of the conductor. The bus screamed to a halt, causing the many parcels and packages at the Helder’s feet to slide quickly forward.

 

“Orleans Road, Twickenham!” The conductor shouted down the bus.

 

Tabitha and Rachael hurried to collect their things and make their way to the front.

 

“You ‘ave a lovely night, Mrs Helder,” smiled the conductor as they passed him by the door.

 

For a young man, his smile was full of holes, and what teeth he did have were astonishingly stained and yellow.

 

“Thanks Murray,” Tabitha’s mother gritted back.

 

“See ya, Tabby.” He winked at Tabitha.

 

She gave him a weak grin. She didn’t quite like him, or his holey smile. Tabitha and her mother stepped off the bus onto the quiet street, their arms filled with books and boxes covered in brown parchment. Behind them came the squeak of the closing door, before the purple bus roared away to Murray’s call of,

 

“Take it away, Ernie!”

 

“You know, I don’t quite like that man.” Rachael sighed.

 

Tabitha giggled for the first time that night. “Me neither.”

 

“Well I’m very sorry we had to take the bus again. Your father just got stuck at work. But no matter!” She started to march down the road away from the bus stop. “A bit of fresh air will do us good.”

 

Still giggling, Tabitha hurried after her, clutching to her boxes. “Wait for me!”

 

“Oh yes, you can’t go very fast with those little legs.”

 

“Mum!”

 

“I’m only teasing. I was about your height when I was eleven.”

 

Tabitha looked down at her stumpy legs, “I can’t wait to not be eleven.”

 

“Don’t underestimate eleven, sweetie. You’re going to have so much fun this year. You’ll love Hogwarts. I know I did.”

 

Tabitha was quiet.

 

“And besides, you might even make some short-legged friends.”

 

She nudged Tabitha, who couldn’t help but crack a smile.

 

“Stop it!” She laughed.

 

The pair were laughing when the sound of a branch snapping drew Rachaesl’s attention. She slowly turned her head, staring intently into the thick brush of trees beyond the path. Tabitha paid no mind. Surprised to have the lead for once, she strode up the street, away from her mother. Rachael held her breath, listening. There, underneath the sound of her daughter’s light footsteps, was the subtle sound of breaking twigs. Someone, or something, was making its way through the trees towards them.

 

“Tabitha.” Rachael whispered harshly.

 

Tabitha turned to see her mother standing motionless, eyes fixed to the thick undergrowth, her wand drawn. She felt her muscles tightening as instinctual fear washed over her.

 

“Mum?” Her voice quivered.

 

“Tabitha, get behind me.”

 

Tabitha quickly rushed forward but her mother’s voice stopped her.

 

“Slowly. Don’t run.”

 

With each step Tabitha shuddered, her knees shivering under the stress of moving slowly at a time like this. After what felt like several minutes, she reached her mother’s side and quickly gripped her arm.

 

“Mum?”

 

“Get out your wand.”

 

“My wand?” She fumbled through the packages, until she found the long rectangular box from Olivander’s. “But Mum I don’t know how to...”

 

There was a loud crunch from within the trees. Rachael hurriedly cut her off, “It doesn’t matter. Just get out your wand.”

 

Tabitha pulled it from its box, holding it awkwardly in two hands.

 

“I don’t know how to, Mum.” Tears were threatening to tumble down her cheeks as she looked helplessly up at her mother.

 

“Just hold it out in front of you.”

 

Tabitha weakly followed the instructions. She peeked out from behind her mother to see two red orbs glowing like rubies through the trees.

 

“Mum, what is that?”

 

“You just stay behind me, okay?”

 

Tabitha didn’t reply. The orbs moved closer and Tabitha was able to make them out as eyes. A hand reached out into the light and she could see its white skin was almost luminescent under the street lights. As it stepped out of the trees, Tabitha saw it was not a creature but a man, or at least the shape of a man. Its body was draped in a flowing black cloak, with a large hood covering most of its face. But its red eyes shone from the darkness.

 

“Tabitha. Run.” Rachael whispered.

 

“What?”

 

“Go.” With a shove, Tabitha stumbled out from behind her mother. The movement drew the figure’s eye. Tabitha stood motionless, trapped in the gaze of those red orbs. Slowly, it began advancing towards her.

 

“Impedimenta!” Rachael fired a curse, freezing the figure mid-step.

 

Tabitha turned to look up at her.

 

“Go!” She yelled.

 

With a last look at her mother’s desperate face, Tabitha turned and ran. Behind her she heard blasts as her mother fired more spells at the hooded figure. There was a grunt, a thud, then a scream. Still running, Tabitha tried to look over her shoulder. Before she could see anything, her foot caught on a crack in the pavement and she was sent hurtling to the ground.

 

Groaning in pain, she rolled over, looking back along the street. But there was no sign of her mother. The only thing to be seen was the black outline of the hooded figure doubled over on the ground. It looked to be moving slightly, almost convulsing. As Tabitha squinted her eyes, the figure leaned back toward to the sky gasping for air, red blood glistening around its mouth. On the ground in front of it, lay the motionless body of Rachael Helder, two holes pierced into her neck.

 

Tabitha’s scream echoed through the still night air. The figure whipped to find the source of the noise, its eyes fixing on Tabitha. He rose up and Tabitha could take in its full size. At her small stature, it loomed over like a cat over a mouse. The figure advanced forwards, her mother’s blood still dripping from its teeth. Tabitha looked over to her mother’s corpse, gripping her wand tighter. Her view was suddenly blocked as the black of its cloak surrounded her. Before it could fully envelope her, Tabitha squeezed her eyes shut and determinedly pointed out her wand.

 

The dim street was illuminated as a blinding yellow light exploded from Tabitha’s wand. And just like that, the night was still again.



Chapter 2: CHAPTER ONE: A Wake-Up Call
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CHAPTER ONE

A Wake-Up Call

 

 

Tabitha’s eyes darted around the Great Hall. Hundreds of scowling faces stared back at her. Students muttered in hushed voices,

 

“Is that her?”

“Did you hear?”

“Her mother was killed.”

“I heard she killed her.”

“Might as well have.”

 

Making her way to the front of the hall, she sat on the small stool beside Professor McGonagall, doing her best to avoid anyone’s eyes. Thankfully, her view was quickly replaced by the inside of the Sorting Hat. She held her breath for the Hat’s call.

 

“GRYFFINDOR!” It bellowed after an excruciating pause.

 

But the Gryffindor table was silent. Instead of applause, there were only glares. Mutters grew to shouts as students yelled to the front of the hall.

 

“Surely there’s some kind of mistake!”

“She’s not one of us.”

“Couldn’t even save her own mother!”

“So much for bravery!”

“You’re treacherous Tabitha!”

 

This call became a chant.

 

“Treacherous Tabitha! Treacherous Tabitha! Treacherous Tabitha!”

 

The chant grew until the entire hall had joined in. Tabitha turned to Professor McGonagall, only to hear her hiss “Treacherous Tabitha.”

 

McGonagall’s face contorted, changing shape before Tabitha’s eyes. Her cloak gripped to her arms, forming large draping black wings. McGonagall’s new bat-like form dove towards Tabitha, smothering her in total darkness.

 

Within the darkness, glinted two ruby eyes. From somewhere far away, came the screams of Rachael Helder as the life was drained from her.

 

“Tabitha! Tabitha!”

 

“Tabitha?” Her mother’s cries were replaced by the gentle voice of her father, knocking on her bedroom door.

 

Tabitha wearily opened her eyes and grunted in reply.

 

“Honey, you’ve got to get up. You don’t want to miss the train.”

 

She grunted again. She could hear her father quietly sigh before continuing down the hall. Despite her better wishes, he was right.

 

Yawning still, Tabitha pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweater. Her attempt to force her wild silver hair into a large bun was mostly successful, ignoring the few strands that still flew in various directions.

 

At the foot of her bed laid her truck, which her father had kindly already packed for her. He must have known that if he hadn’t, Tabitha certainly wasn’t going to. Opening her trunk to throw in a copy of The Standard Book of Spells Year 3, Tabitha was met by her Gryffindor robes, neatly pressed and folded on top of her things. The eyes of the roaring red lion bore into her.

 

Even after two years at Hogwarts, Tabitha still shivered at the sight of those robes. Bravery certainly wasn’t something she was experienced in; especially not today.

 

Quickly she threw the textbook on top of the pile, and slammed the lid closed.

 

In the kitchen, her father was finishing a cup of tea while reading a newspaper entitled, Richmond and Twickenham Times. Tabitha trudged into the room, dragging her trunk behind her.

 

“Okay, let’s go.”

 

“You’re don’t want to eat anything first? You know what they say, breakfast is the most...”

 

“Important meal of the day, I know,” she interrupted flatly.

 

She grabbed a banana from the countertop and began shovelling it into her mouth.

 

“Happy?” bits of banana flying from her mouth as she spoke.

 

“Extremely.” Her father said with a twinkling smile. “Okay we’ll go.”

 

He stood up and started patting his pockets. “Just as soon as I remember where I left my keys.”

 

“Dad,” she said swallowing the last piece of banana, “You know I can find those for you in two seconds.”

 

She pulled her wand from her pocket, to which her father wagged his finger disapprovingly.

 

“Hey now, I might not know everything about magic but I do know you’re not allowed to use that outside of school. Wand away missy.”

 

Rolling her eyes, Tabitha shoved her wand back into her jeans.

 

“I’ll find them the old-fashioned way.”

 

After 15 minutes of searching the house, Mr Helder found his keys wedged into the back of the couch, along with 2 pounds, which he happily pocketed. By the time he had found them, it was almost half past ten, and they had to rush to the station. They arrived at Kings Cross with little more than a few minutes to spare.

 

Mr Helder pulled into a parking spot and turned off the engine. The two sat in silence for a second.

 

“Are you right if I just leave you here? You know I don’t like the...I don’t like getting onto the platform.”

 

“That’s okay, Dad” Tabitha said softly.

 

He turned to look at her. “I think you’re going to have a great year this year. I’ve got a feeling.”

 

“I hope so.”

 

He placed his hand on hers. “Whatever you do there, I’m proud of you,” he said with a squeeze.

 

“Thanks Dad.”

 

“I know your Mum would be too.”

 

“I’d better go.”

 

Breaking their hands apart, she hurriedly opened her door, and stepped out. As she hauled her trunk out of the car and towards the station, her father called out.

 

“Hey! I love you!”

 

Blood rushing to her cheeks, Tabitha blushed bright red.

 

“Dad!”

 

“Come on!”

 

“Fine! I love you too!”

 

A small smile on her face, she turned and hurried into Kings Cross.

 



Chapter 3: CHAPTER TWO: Friends and Foes
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The platform was bustling with students and parents as Tabitha stepped through the entrance to Platform 9 ¾. She fixed her eyes to the ground, trying to avoid all the hugging and kissing of parents saying their farewells. Darting quickly between huddles of friends catching up after the holidays, Tabitha managed to make her way onto the train to an empty compartment. With a sigh, she slumped into the seat, closing her eyes in an attempt to block everyone out. She did her best to not hear as people walked passed her compartment, whispering. She tried to look as though she was asleep and should not be disturbed. However, this did nothing to deter Theophilus Ainsley.

 

Theophilus was a rather energetic Hufflepuff boy from Tabitha’s year level. He was quite gangly, with a mass of curly brown hair that his mother could hardly pin him down to cut. Tabitha had known him since she was little, when she would be sent to the Ainsley's house down the road while her parents were at work. Rachael Helder and Claramond Ainsley had worked together at St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Theophilus hadn’t exactly grown up much since they were kids.

 

On this day, he bounced into the compartment, teeming with energy as the train pulled away from the station. Tabitha kept her eyes shut tight, not ready to face his enthusiasm yet.

 

“Tabs!” He called, sitting across from her. “I know you’re not sleeping. You can’t ignore me for the whole trip. Helloooo?” He chimed in a sing song voice.

 

Tabitha snapped open one eye.

 

“Fine, I’m not sleeping.” She quickly closed it again. “But I can ignore you for as long as I like.”

 

“Ah you won’t though. You might act it, but you’re not that sullen.”

 

Tabitha didn’t move.

 

“Alright. I guess I’ll just enjoy these pumpkin pasties all by myself then.” He drawled, pulling out a package of snacks and making a point to waft the smell toward Tabitha. Against her will, her stomach began grumbling.

 

“Okay, Theo!” She sat up, her eyes wide. “Give me one of those.”

 

Theophilus grinned and happily handed one over.

 

“Did you have breakfast?”

 

“Only cause my Dad nagged me.”

 

“Well you should, it’s the most important meal...”

 

“Of the day!” She smirked, “You are so like my father you would hardly know you’re a wizard.”

 

Their laughter was interrupted by a group of girls passing the compartment.

 

“Hey Treacherous, have a nice summer?” Piped a thin girl with rat-like features.

 

“Actually, I did, Cecilia, thanks for asking. Too bad I had to come back and see your ugly mug again.” Tabitha barked back.

 

“Uh oh, girls, I made her angry, I hope she doesn’t kill me.” Cecilia snickered.

 

“Hi Cecilia.” Theo said pleasantly.

 

Taken aback by his gall to actually speak to her, Cecilia stammered “Um hello...um,” the end of her sentence hung with the absence of his name.

 

“Oh, Theophilus.” He filled in.

 

“Right.”

 

“Your hair is looking lovely this year. Did you do anything to it over the summer?”

 

“I don’t know, washed it.”

 

“Well it’s a nice change.”

 

Cecilia stood, perplexed, unsure of what his game was.

 

“Okay well see you around Cecilia.”

 

“Right, uh see you.” With utter confusion on her face, Cecilia shuffled away, mystified.

 

Smiling, Theo moved to close the compartment door behind them. Tabitha shook her head to herself, a slight smirk on her face.

 

“You can’t let them get to you.” Theo said as he sat back down.

 

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re like a ball of sunshine, and I’m the school freak.”

 

“Only because you give them the satisfaction.”

 

“It’s not my choice. What, you think I want to be the weirdo who killed her mum?”

 

“That’s not true.”

 

“It doesn’t matter at this point.”

 

There was a pause. Tabitha stared at the ground, wishing she knew how to Apparate so she could snap away from everyone at Hogwarts.

 

“You didn’t kill her. You know that right?”

 

Tabitha said nothing.

 

“Tabitha, look at me.”

 

Reluctantly, she looked up into his kind blue eyes. He could speak volumes with just those eyes.

 

“You did not kill your mother.”

 

“I know.” Tabitha whispered through the lump in her throat.

 

“Good. Now, eat your pasty.” He said with a smile.



Chapter 4: CHAPTER THREE: Welcome to Gryffindor
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With every minute the train chugged closer to Hogwarts, Tabitha’s heart fell further into her stomach. While Theo was eager to jump into his yellow trimmed Hufflepuff robes, Tabitha could not bear the sight of the scarlet Gryffindor emblem as she pulled her robes from her trunk.

 

“What’s it like being in Hufflepuff?” she asked, trying to sound casual.

 

Theo was delighted by the question. “Oh it’s brilliant! You have to come visit the common room this year. I can show you the Moondew I’ve been growing, I mean, that’s if it’s still alive.”

 

“Right.” Tabitha muttered. She bunched up her robes in her arms and sat back down.

 

“You’re not getting changed?” Theo asked.

 

“Not yet.”

 

She sat, holding her robes, listening to Theo talk about his upcoming Herbology classes, for the rest of the journey. However, as night fell and the train screeched to a stop, she couldn’t put it off any longer.

 

Pulling on her robes, she tried to avoid her reflection in the window.

 

“Hurry up!” Theo rushed her from outside the compartment. “We’re going to miss the carriages. Hey Clarke!”

 

Another Hufflepuff boy appeared in the corridor, greeting Theo with a hearty handshake. Tabitha shrank. She’d never had the ease of making friends that Theo possessed.

 

“Okay let’s go!” Tabitha burst from the compartment. Both boys jumped in surprise.

 

“Uh hiya Tabitha.” Clarke stammered.

 

“Hi!” She said, slightly aggressively.

 

“Um I’ll see you at the feast.” Clarke said to Theo before stepping off the train, throwing confused looks back to Tabitha.

 

“I royally botched that, didn’t I.”

 

“I thought you were quite charming.” Theo chuckled. “Maybe be less enthusiastic next time.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

The pair hopped off the train, following the flow of students towards a long line of ornate carriages, parked amongst the trees, just off the platform. Tentatively, Tabitha approached the last carriage.

 

“Do you still...”

 

“Yes. They’re still there.”

 

Harnessed to the front of the carriage, was a large winged creature. Its body resembled a horse, but its skin was grey and thin to the bone. As Tabitha approached it, the skeletal creature bowed its head, almost in recognition. But Theo saw nothing. He could not see the creature, or the dozens of others attached to the carriages.

 

“They’re called Thestrals. I looked it up over break. I can see them cause I ... cause Mum ... anyway,” she sniffed, “we’d better get in. They’ll still leave without us.”

 

While Theo chatted happily with the other students in their carriage as they made their way towards the school, Tabitha sat silently, watching the Thestral stride gracefully through the night.

 

Hogwarts quickly loomed over them, a towering spectacle that sent a shiver down Tabitha’s spine. A warm orange glow radiated from the castle. Candles bobbed through the air, illuminating their path. Just inside the Entrance Hall, Tabitha could see a small collection of teachers waiting to welcome them back for another year of magic and learning.

 

“Tell your Grandmother all she needs is a touch of Tormentil and it should heal up in no time!” Theo called to a Ravenclaw student Tabitha was fairly sure she’d never even seen before.

 

“Who was that?” She asked as they stepped onto the dewy grass.

 

“Eva.” He stated obviously. Tabitha looked back at him blankly. “Eva Zongsu? She was in our Transfiguration class last year?”

 

Tabitha shrugged. “Nope.”

 

“Wow. No wonder you’ve got no...” He slapped his hand over his mouth before he could finish.

 

“You little ...” she gasped, pretending to be furious.

 

As payback, she quickly jabbed him in the ribs, leaving him slightly winded. He wheezed all the way up to the castle.

 

“Welcome back Miss Helder,” squeaked Professor Flitwick as they walked into the Entrance Hall, “Mr Ainsley, what’s the matter with you?”

 

“Nothing, Professor,” coughed Theo, giving Tabitha a sharp sideward glance. She smiled innocently at Flitwick.

 

The Entrance Hall was somehow grander than Tabitha had remembered. The marble staircase glistened, as though someone, most likely a House Elf, had spent all summer polishing it. More candles lined the walls, illuminated the hall all the way to the very distance ceiling. However spectacular the Entrance Hall was, the Great Hall was still superior. But as Tabitha caught sight of it through the large double doors, her stomach dropped. Theo doubled back to see her, standing between the doors, frozen as students milled in around her.

 

“Tabitha? Come on. You can’t stand in the doorway all night.”

 

He was right of course, but had anyone really tried to test it? Hesitantly, she stepped through, towards the four long tables, already filled with students, eager for the feast and the new school year. Tabitha noticed Theo waving to Clarke and a small group at the Hufflepuff table.

 

“Okay well I’ll see you after.” He smiled. With a wave goodbye, he rushed over to the Hufflepuffs.

 

Tabitha felt the space around her closing in. The Gryffindor table seemed to stretch endlessly in front of her, and all the students seemed to be people that she’d never seen before. Looking up at the teachers table, she noticed Professor McGonagall exiting out a small side door. She was about to bring in the new first years. Tabitha was running out of time. She noticed an empty spot and hurriedly filled it, not looking anyone in the eyes as she did.

 

Her timing was impeccable. Not long after she’d sat down, McGonagall walked through the wooden entrance doors, trailed by a line of nervous looking first years. But not one looked as nervous as a mousy looking girl at the end of the line. Her eyes were darting rapidly around the room and she kept stopping so frequently that eventually she had to run to catch up with the others.

 

McGonagall reached the teacher’s table and procured a tattered hat from her robes. Tabitha fidgeted with her sleeve as one of the Hat’s seams split open and it started to speak.

 

~

 

You may try to keep your secrets

But I fear they won’t get far

Put me on and I will see

Who you truly are

 

I see all of the Slytherins

Hungry for their goals

They’ll use every inch of cunning

If it means they top the polls

 

Perhaps I see a Ravenclaw

With talent, wit, and smarts

These unique folk are known for brains

But I can see their hearts

 

Of course, I see the Hufflepuffs

Their loyalty’s beyond compare

For those who cross a Huffle’s friend

My message is; beware

 

I can’t forget the Gryffindors

The bravest of them all

They look into the face of fear

And dare to still stand tall

 

To me your head’s an open book

Your heart’s as clear as day

There’s nothing that I cannot see

For I was sewn this way

 

So do not fear the road ahead

And do not try to hide

Before you lies adventure grand

And I will be your guide

 

~

 

Then it sat motionless once again as the hall burst into thunderous applause. Tabitha noticed that in her nervous fidgeting, she’d ripped a hole right through the seam of her sleeve. Under the table, she pulled out her wand.

 

“Reparo,” she whispered. The stitches reconnected themselves, pulling the seam back together.

 

Tabitha looked up to see the raised eyebrows of the Gryffindor next to her. She opened her mouth to explain, when she was interrupted by the call of Professor McGonagall.

 

“Anderson, Micheal.”

 

A small boy with a tight bowl cut scurried up the stairs to have the Hat placed on his head. Not long after it bellowed,

 

“RAVENCLAW!”

 

The boy happily hurried off towards the table of cheering blue robed students. Tabitha watched as student after student was called to the Hat and met with cheers and applause from their new house. Students around her chatted happily amongst themselves with each new Gryffindor, but Tabitha continued to stare at her plate.

 

“Willard, Sophie,” called Professor McGonagall.

 

The mousy girl timidly stepped up to the Hat. She looked as though a strong breeze would snap her in two. Even from a distance, Tabitha could tell she was breathing heavily. The Hat took its time with her. It was thinking deeply about where to place her, and Tabitha could see it scrunching up its face.

 

Finally, it exclaimed, “GRYFFINDOR!”

 

There was a slight pause before the Gryffindors gave a polite round of applause. Sophie Willard however stood frozen. Her eyes were bulging, staring down an extensive table of strangers. Tabitha felt her heart beating faster as she was sure Sophie’s was too. As their eyes met, Tabitha raised her hand and gestured to Sophie, beckoning her over.

 

Seeing her hand, Sophie’s face relaxed, relief replacing the sheer terror. She promptly scampered over to the table and sank into the seat next to Tabitha. The two said nothing to each other, but Tabitha could see the grateful ‘thank you’ shining in Sophie’s eyes. She nodded back. Even with no words, they both understood.



Chapter 5: CHAPTER FOUR: Revelio
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Once Dumbledore announced dinner, Sophie became quite chatty. Clearly over her shyness now, she told Tabitha all about her family, all witches and wizards, and how they were sure she was going to end up in Hufflepuff.

 

“Hufflepuff’s not bad,” Tabitha chimed in. “My best friend’s in Hufflepuff.”

 

“Really?” Sophie sputtered through a mouthful of chicken sausages.

 

Tabitha turned, pointing to Theo and his curly mane of hair. Unfortunately, at this time, he happened to be shoving a mountain of mashed potatoes into his mouth. But if anything, this earned him respect from Sophie.

 

“Maybe I should be in Hufflepuff,” she laughed.

 

“Well the Hat put you in Gryffindor for a reason.” Tabitha was surprised that she’d just uttered that sentence, considering how much she questioned her own placement. Maybe she was just trying to make Sophie feel better.

 

Not slowing down in fear of missing any of the food, Sophie plunged into another plate of quiche, along with another story about her Great Aunt Glinelda, who happened to be the first witch to swim the English Channel.

 

She was in the middle of explaining how she’d accidentally set her brother’s birthday cake on fire at age five, when she was interrupted by the arrival of the puddings.

 

“Treacle tart!” She exclaimed, grabbing the nearest plateful.

 

Tabitha chuckled, amused by Sophie’s wide eyed innocence.

 

“So, what do your parents do?”

 

Her heart thumped. Sophie was looking sweetly up at her, treacle tart smattered all over her chin.

 

“Oh um,” Tabitha stammered, searching for the right words, “a bit of this and that,” she finally landed on.

 

Sophie was not sold. “Like what?” She pressed.

 

“Well they work a lot,” Tabitha babbled, “my Dad’s actually a teacher.”

 

“Which one is he?” Sophie asked excitedly, turning to the teacher’s table at the head of the hall.

 

“Um, he’s a Muggle teacher.”

 

“Oh. That’s nice.” With a smile, she turned back to her tart. “What about your mum? Is she a...”

“Yes. A witch. A full witch.” Tabitha interrupted hastily.

 

“Is she a teacher too?” Sophie had moved onto finishing a large platter of ice cream now, but she was not moving on from the topic of Tabitha’s parents.

 

Tabitha could feel herself going red. Her face was boiling up as a hot sweat started to spread across her body. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat.

 

“No, she’s not a teacher.”

 

Sophie opened her mouth to question Tabitha further when, much to Tabitha’s relief, Headmaster Dumbledore cleared his throat, drawing their attention.

 

“Now that your bellies are full, I’d like to fill your heads with a few words of wisdom for the year ahead.” His eyes twinkled as he looked out across the student body. “While it is important to remember where you have come from, it is more valuable to look to where you are headed, lest you wish to fall head first into a nest of Venomous Tentacula.”

 

Tabitha was sure she heard Theo’s laugh from across the room.

 

“In summation, walk forward with both eyes open.” With that Dumbledore clapped his hands once and said, “Now off to bed!”

 

The hall erupted with chatter, first years buzzing excitedly, older students chatting amongst themselves, and above it all the call of “First years this way!” as the Prefects attempted to corral the new students towards their respective common rooms.

 

“What’s the common room like?” Sophie asked, as they rose from the Gryffindor table and began filing out of the hall.

 

Tabitha, happy for the conversation to be off her parents, replied, “You’ll love it.”

 

Waving to Theo on the way out, Tabitha followed Sophie and the other first years up the winding staircases and through hidden passageways until they reached the Fat Lady. William Weasley, the red-haired Gryffindor Prefect, uttered the new password, “Nova Lux!”, and the portrait swung open to reveal the cosy armchairs and crackling fire of the Gryffindor common room.

 

Eager to avoid the many eyes of this space, Tabitha quickly said goodnight to Sophie and hurried up to her, thankfully, empty dormitory. There she sunk into bed, alone again.

 

She didn’t see Sophie for several days. Tabitha mostly hid in her dormitory, not wanting to draw any attention. However, her classes forced her to join the rest of the school. So far, she’d managed to attend her lessons with only a few snickers of “Hey Treacherous,” as she walked down the hallways.

 

She was on her way back to the common room after a particularly challenging Charms lesson, when she ran into Sophie by the portrait of the druidess Cliodna on the fifth floor.

 

“Hi.” Sophie mumbled.

 

She wasn’t looking Tabitha in the eye, instead choosing to stare at her shoes.

 

“How are you enjoying your classes?” Tabitha asked, attempting to make small talk.

 

“They’re fine.”

 

She still didn’t look up. Neither said anything.

 

“Okay, well I guess I’ll see you around maybe...”

 

“I know about your mum.” Sophie blurted out, finally looking up.

 

Tabitha’s heart pounded at the mention of her mother. Sophie’s awkwardness made more sense now, of course she didn’t want to be seen with the school freak who killed her mum.

 

“Oh,” was all she could manage to say. “How did you...?”

 

“Some third years told me after they saw us together at the feast.”

 

“Right.” Tabitha said solemnly. “I’m sorry. I understand, you don’t want to be seen with me.”

 

She moved to walk away, but Sophie lightly grasped her arm, stopping her.

 

“No, that’s not what I meant.” She exclaimed. “I don’t believe what they said.”

 

“It’s true, my mother’s dead.”

 

“But they said you killed her.” She paused, gazing up at Tabitha. “You couldn’t have.”

 

Tabitha drove her thumb into her palm, forcing herself to ignore the dread that was bubbling up from her stomach to her chest.

 

“I might as well have.” She muttered, biting her lip.

 

“That’s not true. I know you’re not like that.” Sophie began to babble, unloading her many thoughts on the situation. “They said it was this big Ministry investigation and you had to go to trial? But they couldn’t figure it out cause there wasn’t anything left, just you and your mum. But you couldn’t have done it. I know you didn’t do it.”

 

“How do you know?” Tabitha burst. “You weren’t there. I was there. I could have saved her but I didn’t. I saved myself but not her. She’s dead and I’m alive and it’s my fault, okay!”

 

Sophie’s mouth hung open, her eyes as wide as the night she was sorted. She took a slight step back from Tabitha. Seeing Sophie’s shock, Tabitha realised what she’d done. All the emotions she’d done so well at repressing had broken free, crashing down onto poor unsuspecting Sophie.

 

“I’m sorry.” Sophie breathed, shakily.

 

Tabitha’s stomach twisted in knots.

 

“No, don’t ... it’s my fault.” She stammered. “It’s my fault. I’m sorry.”

 

She turned and ran, back down the corridor, away from Sophie and away from the Gryffindor common room.



Chapter 6: CHAPTER FIVE: Protection of the Puffs
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She didn’t know where she was going until she spotted them, a small group of Hufflepuffs, laughing as they made their way out of the Great Hall. They couldn’t have been headed to a lesson as classes were finished at this point in the day. She’d never been to the Hufflepuff common room but this was one way to find it. Following them from a distance, Tabitha watched the group make their way into the Entrance Hall, however, to her surprise they didn’t ascend the large marble staircase.

 

Instead they slipped through a door located beside the stairs. Tabitha didn’t think she’d ever been through that door, partly because she’d always assumed it was just a storage cupboard, or Filch’s office; she’d had the fortune of never being sent there. However, through the door, she found a long corridor, where the walls were adorned with large paintings of food.

 

 

Poking her head into the hallway, she noticed the Hufflepuffs crowded around a sizeable collection of wooden barrels to the right of the corridor. The tallest boy of the group took out his wand and began tapping one of the barrels. After a short pattern of taps, the lid swung off the barrel. Tabitha watched as one after the other, the group filed through the barrels and out of sight. As the barrel lid snapped shut behind the last student, Tabitha ran out from behind the door and along the corridor. It was only once she stood in front of the towering rows of barrels, that she realised she had not watched closely enough. She didn’t see which barrel the boy had tapped. Tentatively, she held out her wand, waving it over the selection.

 

“Revelio.”

 

Seeing no signs of movement, Tabitha simply placed her wand onto the barrel in the centre and tapped the rhythm as best she remembered it, two taps – pause – three fast taps.

 

But the barrel lid did not open. Tabitha raised her wand to try another barrel, when several lids swung open. Although instead of revealing a passageway, they revealed several gallons of a deep brown liquid. The substance cascaded down, dousing Tabitha from head to toe. On contact, Tabitha recognised the strong acidic taste and smell of vinegar. It burned down her throat and sent sharp stings shooting up her nostrils. Her hair was matted to her face but she could just make out the shape of someone in yellow crawling towards her.

 

“What do you think you’re doing?” cried an angry voice.

 

Pushing the hair from her face, trying not to get vinegar in her eyes, Tabitha stammered, “I was just, looking for the passageway.”

 

Through the barrel entrance, she could see a dozen eyes staring back at her, a small crowd had formed to investigate the disturbance.

 

“The passageway? This isn’t for just anyone to come snooping at.” The angry voice piped again. The speaker was a boy in Hufflepuff robes with a shiny Prefect badge pinned to his uniform.

 

“Is this the Hufflepuff common room?” Tabitha peered behind him, blinking back at all the curious faces.

 

“Yes. Not that it’s really any of your business.” He gestured at her Gryffindor robes.

 

“Right. I was just looking for Theophilus Ainsley.”

 

A murmuring broke out from the crowd. Tabitha could her the muttering of Theo’s name passed from student to student. Soon after, a head of curly hair appeared, pushing through to the front of the spectators.

 

“Tabitha!” He said happily as he crawled out into the corridor.

 

The whisper of her name rippled through the onlookers.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“You said I could come visit.”

 

The Prefect whipped his head sharply at Theo. “You said what?”

 

“Sorry Ari.” His cheeks flashing a rosy shade of pink. “But Tabs is different. We can trust her.”

 

Ari looked sceptically at Tabitha, who shivered slightly, the vinegar had seeped into her socks, making her feet quite cold.

 

“Plus, I don’t think she’ll try sneaking in again in a hurry.”

 

Pursing his lips, Ari finally said, “Fine,” perhaps satisfied that she had suffered enough for her crimes. He stepped aside, indicating for Tabitha to follow Theo through the barrel entrance towards the common room.

 

The passageway sloped gently upwards as Tabitha crawled behind Theo. At the end of the tunnel, she was surprised to find herself blinking in bright sunlight. The common room was washed in a warm glow from the series of port-hole shaped windows dotting the circular space. Like the Gryffindor common room, there was a crackling fire flickering heat onto a collection of chairs and tables. However, the room was uniquely Hufflepuff in that it was teeming with a menagerie of plant life. Pot plants covered every surface while dangling greenery hung from the ceiling. At once Tabitha could tell why Theo liked it so much.

 

“C’mon!” He said, grabbing Tabitha’s hand and pulling her towards a small plant perched on a nearby windowsill. “Look! It’s still alive.”

 

He proudly presented the plant to Tabitha, which she recognised as Moondew. Its delicate blue flowers glistened in the afternoon light.

 

“How did it survive the summer?”

 

“I think one of the House Elves must have taken care of it. I’ll take you to visit them sometime.”

 

Tabitha only mumbled in reply.

 

“Is everything okay?”

 

The common room was quiet, but a few curious eyes still lingered in Tabitha’s direction.

 

“Not here.”

 

Theo nodded his understanding, and swiftly lead her down one of the mainly circular tunnels branching off from the common room. Through a perfectly round door at the end of the tunnel was Theo’s dormitory. Each bed was decorated with copper detailing and covered with a bright patchwork quilt. Theo snapped on the copper lamp that sat beside his bed. It illuminated the dormitory in an orange light, casting long shadows across the room. Theo patted a spot next to him on the edge of the bed. Tabitha joined him, tucking her knees in towards her chest as she did.

 

“Tell me.” Theo said firmly.

 

“Sophie found out, about Mum.”

 

To her surprise, Theo didn’t reply. His eyes darted away from hers. She noticed his hands were fidgeting intensely.

 

“Theo?”

 

“I may have known Sophie had found out.”

 

“How?”

 

“I may have told her.”

 

Tabitha’s mouth fell open.

 

“Accidentally!” He added hurriedly.

 

Tabitha glared at him, her nostrils flaring. She might as well have eaten an entire bag of Pepper Imps because she felt as though smoke was gushing from her ears.

 

“Theophilus Ainsley, you have 10 seconds to explain yourself before I turn your legs into jelly.” She pulled out her wand, pointing it at him, unblinking.

 

“Well uh, you see”, he stammered, staring down her wand, “I saw you two at the feast and I assumed you’d already told her.”

 

“Theo, it’s not exactly something I advertise!”

 

“I’m sorry!” he flinched as her wand moved closer. “But after I brought it up, I realised she didn’t know and I stopped talking.”

 

“Is that right?” Tabitha said sceptically.

 

“Yes! It was Cecilia who told her the rest. I didn’t even know she’d been listening.”

 

Tabitha lowered her wand to scowl at Cecilia’s name. “That giant piece of Flobberworm dung.”

 

“And she said all these things that weren’t even true.”

 

“That’s the problem.” Tabitha said flopping back onto Theo bed, gazing at the roof of the four-poster. “Everyone thinks they know what happened. But they weren’t there.”

 

Theo laid back to join her. “Tabs?” She turned her head to look at him. His kind eyes glistened in the warm light. “What did happen?”

 

It was the first time in 2 years that he had asked her that question. She’d never fully explain it to him, always avoiding the topic whenever she could. He had been there to comfort her, but respected enough that she didn’t enjoy talking about it. But now Tabitha thought that if anyone should know, it was Theo. She turned her head back to the ceiling, she couldn’t look him in the eyes while she told it.

 

“It attacked her. This thing. It had the palest skin I’d ever seen, like it was made of light. Mum told me to run. I had to, there was nothing I could do. I could hear her fighting it behind me, but then when I turned around she was ... it had her. I screamed and it started coming toward me. Then my wand just ... I don’t know how but I stopped it. I killed it I guess. But Mum ...”

 

She sat up, hiding her eyes as they swelled with the tears of memories she’d tried to forget.

 

“Why couldn’t I save her? If I had just stopped it sooner, she’d still be alive.”

 

Theo rose to join Tabitha. All it took was their eyes to meet for a second, and the dam broke. Tears flooded down Tabitha’s cheeks. Theo took her hand, holding it in both of his, just letting her cry.

 

“They c-couldn’t figure out,” she stammered through sobs, “why I w-was alive, and she was dead. And I ... I don’t know either!”

 

Gripping Tabitha’s shoulders, Theo said firmly, “Because your mother chose you. You’re alive because she wanted you to be. She loved you more than anything, and that meant your life was more important to her.”

 

“To hell with anyone who believes any of those stupid rumours.” He continued, a fire blazing in his eyes. “You know what happened. And you have to keep living, for her.”

 

She nodded lightly, tears still running. They stayed there, hands intertwined, until Tabitha had finally run out of tears.



Chapter 7: CHAPTER SIX: Defence Against the Dark Arts
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Tabitha woke to Theo’s shouts of, “Tabs! We’ll miss breakfast!” as he shook her shoulders aggressively. The previous night she had crumpled into the armchair in the corner of the room to sleep. Now she was regretting it. Her muscles groaned with each movement.

 

“Okay, I’m awake.” She grumbled, rising from the chair, cracking her back.

 

Theo was wide awake and ready in his nicely kept uniform. Tabitha’s uniform however was crinkled from being slept in and now covered in a layer of short orange hair. Plucking one from her sleeve, she inspected it closer.

 

“Does someone in your dormitory own a cat?”

 

“Yeah Clarke, sorry. But I hear Tico wasn’t too happy about you stealing her favourite chair.”

 

“Well tell Tico that I’m certainly paying for it.” She tried to brush the hairs from her uniform but this only seemed to spread them out.

 

Giving up on the hairs, she turned back to Theo. “Did I hear something about breakfast?”

 

His eyes glinted at the mention of food. He was more than happy to lead the way up to the Great Hall.

 

The Hall was scarce when they arrived, most people had already eaten and started making their way to the first classes of the day. While scarfing down toast and eggs, Tabitha scanned the remaining students in the Hall. There was no sign of Sophie. She didn’t think she could handle the embarrassment of seeing her yet. A few Gryffindors shot her questionable looks from across the room. Word of her meltdown had no doubt already been spread around the school. Theo however, was oblivious to any tension. A slice of bacon hanging from his mouth, he checked his watch.

 

Tabitha could just make out through all the food when he said, “Oh rats, we’ve got to go. Defence Against the Dark Arts starts in ten minutes.”

 

Making sure to grab another piece of toast, Theo hurried out of the Hall, with Tabitha close behind him. They reached the classroom just as the other students were taking their seats. Cecilia smirked wickedly at their entrance, her pointed nose held high in the air.

 

“Well Hadria I guess you win.” She sneered loud enough for Tabitha to hear as she and Theo found their seats. “Looks like she didn’t drop out.”

 

Her equally rat faced friend snickered back, “I told you, we’re not that lucky.”

 

“Miss Ingrum, Miss Moloch, do quiet down. Two points from Gryffindor.”

 

Professor Wilmot entered the room with a flourish. His long black cloak rippled with his determined pace towards the front of the classroom. His hair however was unmoving. The glossy maroon curls were locked in place, today adorned with a deep navy fedora, the colour of which matched perfectly to his blue pinstriped suit.

 

“Professor it wasn’t us! It was Treacherous.” Cecilia whined, her face slightly pink.

 

“Again, Miss Ingrum, I would suggest you hold your tongue or I will take more than two points.”

 

Cecilia huffed, pouting her lips as she slumped back, her arms crossed tightly. Her eyes were shooting daggers across the room, but Tabitha fixed her gaze ahead onto the blackboard.

 

Behind his rounded glasses, Wilmot’s eyes twinkled as he addressed the class. “Open up your textbooks to page 353.”

 

A flick of his wand lit up the projector, filling the room with a cool glow. The hair on the back of Tabitha’s neck pricked up. Illuminated on the board in front of her was the gaunt outline of a pale figure, its scarlet eyes glinting brightly.

 

“Can anyone tell me what we’re looking at?”

 

At the table next to them, Clarke raised his hand. “A vampire, sir.”

 

“Correct Mr McCarthy. A point to Hufflepuff.”

 

A vampire. The word echoed through Tabitha’s head. Instead of the blackboard, all she could see was her mother’s face, crying out in pain, the long fangs of that ghostly creature pierced into her neck.

 

Professor Wilmot continued his description, “A vampire is a dark magical creature known for living off the blood of others. They are classified as Beings by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and have been given a five-egg categorization.”

 

Tabitha remembered the blood dripping from its teeth; her mother’s blood.

 

“I want you to read the first paragraph from your textbooks, taking note of the key identifiers for spotting a vampire.”

 

While Theo began to read, Tabitha sat motionless, her textbook still closed on the desk in front of her. Out of the corner of his eye, Theo noticed the closed book.

 

“Tabitha?” He whispered. “Why aren’t you reading?”

 

Her gaze did not change. “That killed my mother.”

 

“What?”

 

“That’s what killed my mother. A vampire.”

 

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” She gulped. “It had eyes just like that, and it ... it drank her blood.”

 

“What was a vampire doing in Twickenham?”

 

Before she could even attempt an answer, their whispering was interrupted by Professor Wilmot.

 

“Miss Helder, Mr Ainsley, I hope you’re discussing your reading. Anything you’d like to share?”

 

“No, sir.” Theo quickly replied, a hint of fear in his voice.

 

Tabitha remained silent. “Miss Helder?” Wilmot pressed.

 

“No, sir.” She echoed.

 

While Wilmot went back to his books, their conversation had recaptured Cecilia’s attention.

 

“Talking about how much you love vampires, Treacherous?” She hissed. “You do have a lot in common. You’re both killers.”

 

“Ignore her.” Theo whispered like Tabitha’s outer conscience.

 

A devilish smile spread across Cecilia’s face. Although Tabitha did her best to block her out, Cecilia’s tormenting was relentless. As she continued to hound her, Tabitha locked her hands around the edge of her desk, gripping it until her knuckles were white.”

 

“You could almost be a vampire, you know? That would explain why you killed your mum.” She leant towards them, a vicious gleam in her eye. “It’s just in your nature, Tabby.”

 

“Cecilia, shut up!” Tabitha shouted, slamming her hands onto the desk as she sprang to her feet. The whole class, including Professor Wilmot, turned to look at her.

 

“Miss Helder, five points from Gryffindor for your continued disruption. Sit down.”

 

“Nice going, Treacherous.” One of Cecilia’s cronies jeered.

 

“Another point for that Miss Moloch.”

 

“What?” She said, feigning ignorance.

 

“See Treacherous, this is why no one in Gryffindor likes you. You’re ruining it for the rest of us.”

 

“Cecilia, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Theo retorted, rising to join Tabitha.

 

Cecilia’s response was cut short with a wave of Professor Wilmot’s wand. Silence fell over the classroom.

 

“Everyone sit down!”

 

Tabitha did not move. Her eyes were fixed on the projector. The vampire’s blazing red eyes shone out from its pale skin, slicing into Tabitha’s soul. She ignored Theo’s gentle tugs on her hand, as she grabbed her textbook and ran out the door.

 

“Miss Helder!” Wilmot called after her.

 

But she was gone.



Chapter 8: CHAPTER SEVEN: Last Chance
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The thudding of Tabitha’s heavy footsteps on the hard stone of the corridors echoed through the castle. Her feet seemed to know where they were going before her head did. She was leaving. She didn’t know where she would go but she knew she couldn’t stay here anymore. Before long, she had reached the Gryffindor common room.

 

 

She panted “Tartuffe” to the Fat Lady and clambered inside.

 

In her dormitory, she grabbed only the essentials. There wouldn’t be long before Professor Wilmot sent someone looking for her. She packed a small knapsack, shoving The Essential Defence Against the Dark Arts on top of her clothes, and collecting her warmest cloak as she headed out the door. Her foot had only just hit the bottom step of the dormitory stairs when she collided with a small figure.

 

“Oh sorry,” a voice squeaked. Tabitha looked up to reply and was met with Sophie’s innocent eyes.

 

“Sophie, what are you doing here?” Tabitha said, abruptly.

 

“I forgot my Charms book, so Professor Flitwick let me come and grab it.” Her eyes flashed to Tabitha’s bag and cloak. “Are you, going somewhere?”

 

“Oh this?” She held up the cloak. “This is ... for potions. It’s a bit chilly in the dungeons today.”

 

Sophie’s brow furrowed in a questioning expression. Tabitha had to leave, soon. Every second longer, she risked being caught.

 

“Well, I should go.” She moved passed Sophie, making her way to the door.

 

“Where are you going?” Sophie’s question stopped her.

 

Tabitha’s head fell. “I can’t tell you.”

 

“Why?” Sophie’s voice was soft.

 

“I don’t want anyone coming after me.”

 

“But why are you going?”

 

Tabitha’s heart thumped. Part of her was asking the same question. “I can’t explain it.” She turned back to face Sophie. “I just can’t stay here anymore.”

 

“But...” Her words trailed off. She ran to Tabitha and wrapped her in a hug, her tiny head barely reaching Tabitha’s chest.

 

“I’d better go.” The two separated and Tabitha hurried out the door, giving Sophie a small smile as she did.

 

Outside the common room, she stopped. What now? How was she going to get anywhere? She didn’t own a broom, and even if she did she was no good at flying anyway. Apparating or using a Portkey were both out of the question, and the train only ran on holidays. She thought of the train and remembered the strange creatures that pulled the carriages from the platform. Thestrals. They could fly anywhere.

 

A plan forming in her head, she hurried down the stairs, ducking through tapestries, avoiding other students or teachers wherever she could. After only one run in with Peeves, where he told her six distasteful knock knock jokes, Tabitha made it through the Entrance Hall and out of the castle. The Threstrals had to be somewhere on the grounds.

 

Standing in the pleasant mid-day breeze, she balanced her wand across her open palm.

 

“Invenies Thestral,” she uttered.

 

The wand spun furiously in her hand. As quickly as it had started, it drew to a halt, the tip pointing to the forest on the distant edge of the lake. Gripping her wand, she took off towards the trees.

 

Her footsteps crunched across the twig and leaf debris of the forest floor. As the trees grew closer together, she stopped to check the direction with her wand. It still pointed forward, into the dark, thick undergrowth. She pushed through, low hanging branches snapping at her from every direction.

 

“Diffindo.” She whispered, clearing a path for herself through the quiet forest.

 

Stepping around a particularly wide oak tree, Tabitha encountered a spacious clearing, twinkling with light as the sun flickered between the trees. Resting in the warm glow of this light, was a small herd of gaunt, black Thestrals.

 

They turned to Tabitha, instantly aware of her presence, only to bow their heads gently in response. Tentatively, she inched forward, navigating around the clearing towards them. They had never shown a penchant for violence, but their eerie appearance suggested a sinister side to these creatures. She chose to approach one on the fringes of the group. It was of medium build compared to the others, she could somehow tell this was not the alpha of the herd.

 

Slowly, Tabitha raised her open palm towards it. It stared back, with its cloudy white eyes, unblinking. With each step closer, she prepared herself for it to pounce, to lash out at her, but it stayed motionless. Squeezing her eyes shut, she placed her hand onto the pointed, beak-like tip of its face. Its skin was cool and leathery. She could feel its steady breath against her hand.

 

Opening her eyes, Tabitha gently moved her hand along the Thestral’s body. She could feel the shape of every bone that protruded from its thin skin. As she reached its back, she placed her other hand onto its spine. Intuitively, the creature bent its back legs into a sitting position, lowering itself for Tabitha to be able to climb on.

 

It was extremely uncomfortable. Bones jabbed into Tabitha, and its skin was slick, causing her to almost slide off immediately. She found that the best position was to lock her legs just behind its wings, and grip her arms around its neck. She held tightly to the Thestral, but it did not move. Tabitha still didn’t know where she was going, or how to make this creature take her there.

 

Doubt flashed across her mind, but she quickly dismissed it. She couldn’t stay there anymore, just to be tormented for the actions of some blood thirsty monster. Those piercing red eyes shone more brightly than ever. Swinging her bag into her lap, she pulled out her textbook. She flicked through the pages until she was greeted by that pale creature.

 

While Vampires are known to live within the Wizarding community in isolated colonies, under the stipulation that they adhere to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, and answer to the Being Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, they are native to the Transylvanian region of Romania.

 

Tabitha read from the chapter’s introduction. She needed an explanation for her mother’s murder, even if that meant going right to the source. The Thestral seemed to sense Tabitha’s new resolve, stretching its wings in preparation.

 

Leaning forward, she whispered to the creature, “Can you take me to Transylvania?”

 

Without hesitation, the Thestral lowered itself towards the ground before shooting upwards, rocketing through the branches of the canopy and into the sky. The speed pressed Tabitha into its bony body, the force keeping her stuck to its back. Wind whipped passed her ears. It grabbed at her shimmering hair, dancing and twirling it through the air. Although the howling wind was nearly deafening, Tabitha almost thought she could hear a noise in the distance, someone calling out to her from far away.

 

“Tabitha! Tabitha!”

 

She tried to turn back to look for the sound, but the wind lashed her hair across her face, despite her best efforts to move it. The Thestral flew at a breakneck pace, and they had already travelled out of sight of the castle. With a tap to the Thestral’s head, it knew what Tabitha wanted. As it steadily tucked in its wings, they glided gently towards the ground, landing with a bump in a grassy field.

 

Tabitha dismounted, scanning the skies for any sign of someone. At first, there was only the grey sky dotted with clouds, until she noticed the tiniest speck in the distance. Slowly it grew larger as it moved closer. Tabitha’s stomach dropped. The speck was someone on a broomstick, flying right toward her. She had been caught.



Chapter 9: CHAPTER EIGHT: Companions in Flight
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Panic and fear gripped Tabitha. They were going to make her go back. Plans raced through her mind; pleas, reasons she had to stay away. The sun peeked through the cloudy sky, casting a light on the glistening sweat now covering Tabitha’s hands and forehead. Almost above her, the broomstick rider started their descent. Seeing the figure closer, Tabitha noticed they were wearing yellow lined robes. She could also see their curly mess of hair waving in the breeze. As their feet hit the ground, Tabitha met the gaze of Theophilus Ainsley.

 

 

His face was contorted with worry.

 

“Tabitha!” He yelled angrily, casting his broom to the side before enveloping Tabitha in a suffocating hug. “What in the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

He pushed Tabitha off him, only to shake her aggressively by the shoulders. Before she could reply, he continued with his indignant rant.

 

“I thought you were just going to your dormitory for a breather! If I hadn’t run into Sophie!” He let out an exasperated huff, as if to only think of what might have happened.

 

“Well, come on.” He grabbed Tabitha’s hand to lead her towards his broom.

 

“No.” Tabitha said softly, pulling her hand away.

 

“What? Why? Tabitha, we have to go.”

 

“I’m not going back.”

 

“Tabs...” He managed to mutter.

 

“Theo, please don’t make me.”

 

He wanted to protest, but her sad eyes melted his anger.

 

“You can’t stay here.” He sighed, gesturing at the field.

 

“I have a plan.”

 

His eyebrow twitched upward. “Let’s hear it.”

 

“I’m going to Transylvania.”

 

“Transylv...?” He trailed off.

 

“I want to meet a vampire.” She nodded, determinedly.

 

Theo’s eyes were wide. He seemed to be having trouble wrapping his head around it.

 

“Look, you don’t have to understand.” She returned to the Thestral, turning her back to Theo. He followed her, narrowly avoiding the, to him, invisible steed.

 

“Well hang on. I might not understand but that doesn’t mean I’m letting you go all the way to Romania by yourself.”

 

“You don’t have to...”

 

He interrupted with a wave of his hand, “Don’t bother. I’m coming.”

 

“But Hogwarts...”

 

Turning sharply towards her, he threw her a harsh glare. A smile spread across Tabitha’s face, fighting him was useless.

 

“The broom will take too long. You can ride the Thestral with me.”

 

“You rode a Thestral?” He asked in disbelief. “Where is it?” He started walking in circles, waving his arms madly. Tabitha thought he looked quite absurd as she let out a laugh.

 

“Here.” Through her giggles, she guided him towards the creature, placing his hand gently on the middle of its back.

 

He recoiled slightly, jerking at the sudden leathery, cold skin beneath his hand.

 

“It’s okay.” Tabitha reassured him. She guided his hand along the Thestral’s spine, giving him a sense of the creature’s size. Even as she moved her hand away, Theo continued the petting motion.

 

“So weird.” He breathed.

 

In response, the creature loudly expelled a puff of air. Not being able to see the Thestral’s face, this took Theo by surprise.

 

“Sorry.” He called into the air.

 

“Okay, time to go.” Tabitha walked towards Theo and grabbed one of his legs.

 

“What?”

 

She hoisted him up onto its back. Theo flopped across it, his arms and legs flailing wildly.

 

“Tabs! Help me!” Trying to balance on something he couldn’t see was proving very difficult.

 

Using Theo’s legs as anchors, Tabitha pulled herself onto the Thestral, before spinning the awkwardly positioned Theo to a place where he could sit up.

 

“Hold on.” She instructed him.

 

“How?!”

 

Before he could get an answer, Tabitha called, “Let’s go!” to the Thestral, and they were rocketing into the sky. Theo quickly clutched his arms around Tabitha. She could feel him wobbling, trying to keep balanced.

 

“I hate this!” He yelled over the roaring wind.

 

“Sorry, I can’t hear you.” Tabitha pretended. “The wind is just too loud!”

 

Theo scowled as they settled in for the long flight ahead.



Chapter 10: CHAPTER NINE: Flora and Fauna
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Without instruction, the Thestral started to descend. Night had fallen some time ago. By now, Tabitha had lost track of how long they had been travelling. She shook Theo awake. The gnawing anxiety in her stomach had prevented her from getting any sleep. Theo mumbled groggily, dragging his head off Tabitha’s shoulder.

 

 

“We must be there.” She gestured to the darkness below them.

 

This woke Theo a little more. He sat up right, squinting in the distance.

 

“There’s no lights.”

 

Tabitha had noticed this too. As they flew closer to the ground, she could see only a thick forest of trees beneath them. Nervously, she petted the Thestral’s head. It gave a low, rumbling whinny in return. Tabitha somehow got the sense that it meant this to reassure her. She needed all the reassurance she could get.

 

The cool air whipped passed them, sending shivers down Tabitha’s spine. Closer to the ground now, the Thestral gracefully dipped and swerved around trees and branches, with only leaves brushing passed their faces. Closing her eyes to avoid any debris, Tabitha soon felt the thud of their landing. She jumped down, her feet crunching on the forest floor. The woods were dark. Light from the moon could hardly break through the thick layer of trees.

 

Tabitha pulled out her wand. “Lumos.”

 

“Where are we?” Theo asked, awkwardly sliding off the Thestral and stumbling to the ground.

 

“I don’t know. But it brought us here for a reason.” She gazed at the Thestral, who bowed its head.

 

“I can only assume this creature has ‘trust me’ written on its forehead.”

 

“Something like that.”

 

Their conversation was the only noise in the forest: no birds, no crickets, no scurry of animals across the leafy ground. Only the occasional rustling of trees broke the deafening silence.

 

“Oh no!” Theo said abruptly.

 

Tabitha was taken aback by this abrupt interjection. “What?”

 

“I left the broom in that field!”

 

With a sigh, Tabitha could feel her heartrate returning to normal.

 

“I was going to return it. Madam Hooch is going to kill me!”

 

“Did you take it without permission? Theo, you rebel.” Tabitha teased.

 

“I was going to return it!” He insisted, turning beet red.

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it now.” She laughed. “I’d say running away from school might be a bit worse than taking one of those old Shooting Stars.”

 

“Guess you’re right.” He chuckled. “They might even thank me for getting rid of it.”

 

Their laughter filled the quiet forest. Tabitha could have forgotten a lot in that moment; she could’ve forgotten that she wasn’t just laughing with her best friend. She could have believed that this was all normal, until she heard the twig snap.

 

Instantly, she was alert. Her wand was drawn in her hand, and she had spun to face the direction of the noise.

 

A hushed “Nox,” extinguished the light her wand was casting.

 

“What is it?” Theo whispered.

 

Tabitha held her finger in the air and cautiously moved toward the sound. She was about to raise her wand, when a boy stepped out from behind a tree. He had dirty blonde hair falling over dark eyes, and looked to be not much older than Tabitha or Theo. Although his face was young, he was quite tall. He ducked as he stepped out, dodging a low hanging branch. At his arrival, Tabitha quickly tucked her wand out of sight.

 

“Hello.” He said with a wave and a smile, flashing a set of brilliantly white teeth.

 

BANG! A red spark of light zipped passed the boy’s head and exploded into the tree beside him, leaving a smouldering hole in the wood. Tabitha turned around to Theo. His hands were raised, his wand clutched in his right fist.

 

“Sorry.” He chuckled. “Guess I panicked.”

 

Tabitha flashed a scowl at Theo. They didn’t know if this stranger was a Muggle. To Tabitha’s surprise, the boy laughed.

 

“That’s alright. I’m sorry I snuck up on you.”

 

“Who are you?” She asked, sceptically.

 

“My name’s Amias.” He held out his pale hand. “Amias Kruven.”

 

Tabitha did not accept it. What was he doing here? In the middle of the woods. In the pause, Theo stepped forward and happily shook Amias’ hand.

 

“Theophilus Ainsley, nice to meet you. And this is Tabitha.” He said, tilting his head towards her.

 

“Glad to meet you. You know, we don’t get a lot of visitors around here.”

 

“You live here?” Tabitha questioned bluntly, her eyebrows raised.

 

“I do.” He pointed back where he had emerged from. “Just down there.”

 

Tabitha said nothing, but continued to squint at him.

 

In an attempt to fill the awkwardness, Theo blurted, “Well we were just passing through. Here to see the ... local flora.” He spun, pretending to stare in wonder at the dark mass of trees around them.

 

Amias chuckled, “I see.”

 

His eyes lit up as he noticed something behind Theo.

 

“Did you fly that here?” Walking passed Theo, he eagerly approached the Thestral.

 

He bowed his head to the creature, and Tabitha watched as it bowed back. Evidently, Amias could see it as clearly as Tabitha.

 

He stroked his hand along its back. “What a gorgeous creature.”

 

“Is it?” Theo asked, surprised. “Huh.”

 

“Are you a wizard?” Tabitha was growing more sceptical of this stranger.

 

Amias froze. He did not turn to face them.

 

“No.”

 

“But you know about magic?” She pressed.

 

“Yes.”

 

“How? Are you a Muggle?”

 

He turned sharply to face them. Changing the subject, he said, “It’s late. Do you two have somewhere to stay?”

 

Tabitha opened her mouth to speak, but Theo quickly jumped in first. “No, we don’t.”

 

“Well that settles it. You can stay with me.”

 

“We would love to. Wouldn’t we, Tabs?” He stared pointedly at her.

 

Reluctantly, she gritted her teeth, “Sure.”

 

“Great.” Amias smiled coolly. “This way.”

 

He walked confidently passed them, and back into the dense trees.

 

“Theo!” Tabitha hissed at him.

 

“What? He seems nice.”

 

“You don’t know anything about him!”

 

“Where else are we going to stay?”

 

Tabitha didn’t have an answer.

 

“Are you guys coming?” Amias called through the trees.

 

“C’mon, we’re going to lose him. On our way!” Theo rushed after him, leaving Tabitha behind.

 

“Theo!”

 

With a sigh of exasperation, she huffed off to follow them



Chapter 11: CHAPTER TEN: Transylvanian Locals
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Like the forest, the path to Amias’ house was dark. While Theo was more than happy to trot along behind this young stranger, Tabitha’s head was pounding into a tension headache. They followed Amias as he ducked under branches and around trees, at a determined pace. At this speed, it wasn’t long before they arrived at the edge of a clearing where a small stone cottage stood. The windows were black, and Tabitha couldn’t see any movement from inside.

 

Amias stepped eagerly out from the tree line, and for the time Tabitha saw the moon shine on him. It danced across his pale white skin, glowing with such brightness that he almost like he himself was radiating light. Oblivious to Tabitha’s staring, Amias and Theo had made their way to the cottage’s front door.

 

“Here we are.” Amias said, pushing the door open. Tabitha noticed that he hadn’t used a key.

 

While Theo led the way into the house, marching forward confidently, Tabitha was hesitant, eyeing Amias before stepping across the threshold. Inside was a small wooden dining table placed in the middle of a modest kitchen. The door slammed shut behind them, making both Tabitha and Theo jump. A light flicked on, illuminating every piece of dust that floated through the air.

 

“Sorry. Wind must have caught it.” Amias added from the doorway. “Anyone for tea?”

 

“Oh yes please!” Theo chimed enthusiastically as Amias walked over to a rusty kitchen cabinet.

 

Before he could open it, Tabitha interrupted. “Actually, we should get some rest.”

 

“But...” Theo whined.

 

More forcefully this time, Tabitha cut him off again. “Shouldn’t we, Theo?”

 

She glared at him, giving him a pointed look to ‘forget about the tea’.

 

“Fine.” He sulked.

 

“I’ll show you to your room then.”

 

Amias walked passed them, along a narrow hallway leading to the rest of the cottage. The light from the kitchen didn’t reach very far, and Tabitha could barely see where she was stepping. She stumbled after Amias, running her hand along the bare walls to keep her balance. Behind her, there was the occasional thud of Theo blinding bumping into the walls. They reached the end of the hallway and Amias pushed open the last door to reveal a dim room.

 

There were no windows. An old lightbulb hung from the roof, which buzzed as Amias switched it on. The room, like the rest of the house, was coated in a thin layer of dust. Only a single bed, a wooden chest of drawers, and a battered couch filled the small space. What little wallpaper remained on the walls was faded, cracked, and peeling.

 

Amias stepped aside to let them in. “Let me know if you need anything. I’m just down the hall.”

 

“Thank you, Amias.” Theo smiled, settling onto the worn couch.

 

“Do you live here alone?” Unlike Theo, Tabitha had not forgotten her reservations about this seemingly kind stranger.

 

“No, I don’t. I live with my family.” Amias answered, levelly.

 

“And where are they?”

 

“They must be out.”

 

Tabitha noticed his eyes flashed to the ground as he said this. Before she could question him further, he started to swing the door closed.

 

“Well goodnight.” The door clicked shut.

 

Theo bounced on the couch, squishing it into a more comfortable shape. Once he was satisfied, he laid back with a content sigh.

 

“Theo!” Tabitha hissed across the room. “How can you be so calm about this?”

 

He shrugged, closing his eyes. Tabitha scoffed. Ignoring Theo’s indifference, she sat down on the edge of the bed. Its springs creaked loudly.

 

“What was he doing in the forest, alone?” She pondered aloud, unlacing her shoes. “And how does he know about magic?”

 

With a sigh, Theo sat up and turned to Tabitha. “I don’t know. Maybe he’s a Squib.”

 

Tabitha’s head twitched. She hadn’t thought of that.

 

“Either way, he’s only tried to help us.” He kicked his feet up and stretched out on the couch. “You can’t always assume the worst of people.”

 

While Theo closed his eyes to sleep, Tabitha sat on the bed, scowling with her arms crossed. In a huff, she stomped across the room and flicked off the light, plunging the room again into darkness. She fumbled her way back to the bed, and sunk into it. A slightly musty scent wafted into the air as she did. Trying to ignore it, she closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep.

 

All night, Tabitha tossed and turned. She couldn’t calm her thoughts enough to sleep. Questions raced through her mind; wondering who Amias was and how he came to be here, and where exactly was here? Mostly she was wondering what on earth she was going to do now.

 

She rolled over, jolting awake from another five second bout of sleep. Her eyes were squeezed tightly closed, but her ears were alert. From across the room, came a faint sound. A muffled noise like someone stabbing a fork into a steak. Squinting in the darkness, Tabitha reached for her wand.

 

The light glinting from its tip shone across the room and onto a dark figure. Hunched over, the figure convulsed, its back lurching steadily. Tabitha had seen this before. She was back on her street in Twickenham, watching the life be drained from her mother. Now this new figure stood over Theo’s bed.

But Tabitha would not let him suffer the same fate.

She thrust her wand forward, breaking the quiet night with her bellowing cry.

 

“STUPEFY!”

 

The creature was thrown spinning backward, catapulting into the hard wall before crumpling to the ground in a motionless heap. Tabitha rushed forward, gripping Theo’s wrist between her fingers. His pulse beat gently in reply. With her breath returning, Tabitha rested her head on Theo’s chest. Sure as his pulse, it rose and fell rhythmically. However, his eyes remained closed.

 

“Theo?” Tabitha whispered, shaking his thin shoulders.

 

Theo’s silence was broken by a low groan from the corner of the room. Tabitha whipped around to see the dark figure slowly shifting, coming to once more. This place wasn’t safe anymore. Hoisting Theo’s arm around her shoulders, Tabitha hauled him out of the room, careful to avoid the slumped figure against the wall.

 

She hurried down the hallway, knocking and rebounding off the walls. Struggling under Theo’s weight, she made it to the doorway, thrusting it open to the cool air of early dusk. As they tumbled outside, Tabitha felt her feet begin to slip on the muddy grass. But she couldn’t stop until she was far away from this house.

 

They had just reached the edge of the forest, when a voice stopped Tabitha in her tracks.

 

“Wait!” Amias called from the cottage door.

 

She turned to face him, quickly drawing her wand as she did.

 

“Stay back.” Despite the slight shake in her raised wand hand, her voice was determined and steady. “You stay back or I will use this.”

 

“Your friend is injured. I can help.”

 

She ignored his offer. “Who are you?”

 

“I’m a friend.” He took a step forward.

 

Instantly, Tabitha sent a bolt of red light crashing into the ground in front of him. Smoke wafted up to his stunned face.

 

“I’ll decide that.” She did not lower her wand. “How do you know about magic?”

 

Amias didn’t answer right away. His eyes flicked to the ground. “My sister was a witch.”

 

“And where is she?”

 

His head stayed down. “She’s dead.”

 

Tabitha’s hand faltered. Shaking this off, she recomposed her.

 

“What about your parents?”

 

Amias looked up finally, staring at Tabitha intently.

 

“I will tell you everything you want to know, but right now you have to let me help your friend.”

 

 Tabitha looked down at Theo’s limp form in her arms. Two lines of blood ran along his neck, down to the white collar of his shirt, staining it a deep red. His face was contorted in a painful unconsciousness. He looked completely helpless.

 

“Fine.” Tabitha lowered her wand, and Amias rushed forward, taking Theo’s weight in his arms. Carrying Theo, he began heading back towards the house.

 

“No.” Tabitha said bluntly, grabbing Theo’s dangling hand. “You’re not taking him back in there.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“That ... thing is still in there.”

 

Something twitched in Amias’ eyes. His expression dropped. Tabitha thought she heard him muttering under his breath.

 

“They swore ...” he started, but he did not finish his thought.

 

Instead he turned and hastily lead them into the forest once more.



Chapter 12: CHAPTER ELEVEN: A Journey in Blood
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Mist hung at the base of the trees, lingering as morning crept closer.  With Theo’s body slung against Amias’ shoulder, he led Tabitha deeper into the forest until any sign of the cottage was lost among the trunks. Around them the forestry became increasingly dense. Tabitha wondered if Amias knew where he was going, or if he was only leading them astray again.

 

A few rays of sunlight had begun to peak through the canopy when Theo let out a small whimper.

 

“Theo?” Tabitha rushed to him, cupping his face in her hands.

 

His brow furrowed and his eyes crinkled and squinted with each attempt to open them.

 

“Tabs?” He croaked breathlessly.

 

Carefully, Amias moved to a large oak tree, resting Theo down at its thick base. Using two fingers, he moved Theo’s chin gently to the side, inspecting his bite. The two marks were no clean, any sign of blood had dried away.

 

“Dammit.” Amias sighed under his breath.

 

“Is he okay?” Tabitha queried from behind him.

 

He turned towards her, the concern apparent on his face. “He’s going to turn.”

 

Tabitha’s heart turned to lead and sunk into her stomach. “What?”

 

Amias was rubbing his forehead, his eyes shut tight with concentration.

 

“What do you mean? He’s going to turn into one of those ... things? A vampire?”

 

Theo groaned from the tree. His eyes were barely open now and he was trying to stand up.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

“Don’t.” Rushing to him, Tabitha guided him back down before planting herself beside him.

 

“We can treat him. It’ll be harder but I can cure him if we move fast.” Amias paced in front of them.

 

“What are you talking about? How can you cure him?” Tabitha cried.

 

Amias snapped toward her, yelling what she had suspected since they met him.

 

“Dammit Tabitha, I’m a vampire!”

 

She gripped Theo’s arm tighter, holding her breath for a moment. The words hung in the air.

 

When she finally spoke, her voice was soft but her words were sharp. “If you can’t cure yourself, why should I believe you can cure him?”

 

The pain was palpable in his eyes. He didn’t look towards either of them as he spoke his quiet confession.

 

“Because I was too late last time.”

 

He centred himself, pulling his mind out the sorrowful depth of his memories. “If we can get him the potion he needs in the next seven hours, he won’t turn.”

 

“Well then lead the way.” Theo shakily rose to stand, still leaning against the tree. As he moved to take a step, his body went limp, falling towards the forest floor again.

 

Tabitha shot to her feet, catching him before he could crash into the dirt. “We can’t go yet. Theo, you’re too weak.”

 

“Speak for yourself.” He joked feebly.

 

“No. We’re not going yet.”

 

“Please, there isn’t time. We have to...”

 

“Save it.” Tabitha barked at him. Staring him down with a cold, steely glare, she added, “Don’t think I trust anything you say.”

 

Amias fell quiet. He turned from them, walking away, letting the silence of the forest creep towards them once again. As he walked, Tabitha noticed he never touched the patches of early sunlight that broke through the fortified treetops. Stopping in the shadow of a large tree, he gazed upwards, peering through the cracks of the canopy to the catch a glimpse of the blue sky.

 

With his back turned, he uttered softly, “Last year there was a blood moon.”

 

He sighed and faced them again, settling himself on the grass. “The blood moon sends vampires crazy, makes them hungrier, makes them stronger. But of course, when I was a Muggle I didn’t know any of this. Neither did my sister.”

 

He paused at the mention of his sister, stopping to compose himself.

 

“Both my parents are Muggles, so my sister was a big surprise. But we were all really happy for her. She used to show me all her books. She had everyone you could think of; wanted to know everything about magic.”

 

Despite his stoic expression, Tabitha noticed a slight quiver in this lip as he pressed on.

 

“One day she wanted to go into the forest to look for Bowtruckles, so I went with her. But we went too far and the blood moon...” He struggled, trying to piece the words together.  His black eyes were glazed over with a watery shine. “Something attacked me, bit me. My sister tried to fight it, but...then it went after her instead. And there wasn’t anything I could do...I just ran.”

 

Although tears were pooling in his eyes, Amias didn’t let them escape onto his pale skin. Instead, he tilted his head to the sky, breathing deeply as he stared upwards. After one last forceful exhalation, he returned his gaze to Tabitha and Theo.

 

“I haven’t seen my parents since that day. I just couldn’t bear to face them. They think they lost both of their children on the same day.”

 

“How did you end up here?” Theo asked from beside Tabitha. His eyes were now wide and he was sitting upright.

 

“I kept running. After I turned all I wanted was to be alone. But it hasn’t always been so simple. I’m not the only one who lives in these woods.” He trailed off, looking away for a moment.

 

Then he added softly. “Not everyone I find in the forest is still alive.” With a serious gaze, he stared down at them, “What are you doing here?”

 

Tabitha and Theo exchanged looks. It was Tabitha’s story to tell, but she didn’t know if she was quite ready to share it. She subtly tried to shake her head at Theo, widening her eyes to convey her distress.

 

Understanding Tabitha’s hints, Theo quickly blurted, “Well I am feeling much better, how about we get started on that cure?” While jumping to his feet.

 

Amias was slightly taken aback. “Uh...okay, sure.” Theo smiled widely at him. “We’ll need to get a few things.” He pointed further into the forest behind him. “You’re lucky, we should be able to find everything in here.”

 

“You know mate,” Theo said, slapping his hand on Amias’ shoulder. “I certainly don’t feel lucky.”



Chapter 13: CHAPTER TWELVE: Ingredient Number One
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A farmhouse stood in the distance, complete with a large rusted weathervane decorating the tin roof of the nearby barn, and spotted cows grazing in the field beyond it. Tabitha, Theo, and Amias crouched behind a small section of shrubbery near the edge of the forest, watching the peaceful scene.

 

“Amias.” Tabitha hissed down the line. “What are we doing here?”

 

“We’re getting ingredient number one.”

 

“Is the first ingredient cows?” Theo asked, tilting his head at the creatures.

 

“No. This farmer has a little vegetable patch around the back of his house. That’s where we’ll find the first ingredient; garlic.”

 

“And how do you know so much about this farm?” Tabitha pressed.

 

“You wouldn’t like it if I told you.” Amias replied, sneaking out from behind the shrubs towards a small shaded hill.

 

Tabitha and Theo exchanged a wide-eyed look.

 

“Um what does that mean?” Theo scurried after him.

 

The pair flopped down beside him, lying flat on their stomachs behind the hill.

 

“Look,” he sighed, “this is where I come sometimes...for food.” He trailed off, his eyebrows raised towards Theo.

 

A light flicked behind Theo’s eyes as Amias’ implication clicked.

 

“Ah, right, okay, lovely.” He babbled.

 

“Yeah.” Amias grimaced.

 

“So, the garlic is in the vegetable patch. How do we get there without being seen?” Tabitha pondered, noticing an elderly man pottering outside the farmhouse.

 

“We need a distraction. Then one of us can sneak in and grab it.” Amias said.

 

Both Amias and Theo slowly turned towards Tabitha. She gazed back at them confused, only to realise what they were suggesting.

 

“Why me?”

 

“Tabs, it’s garlic.”

 

“Garlic and vampires don’t exactly mix well.” Amias added.

 

“Well just don’t eat it then.”

 

“That’s not how it works.” He grinned. “Plus if I go out there, I’ll get fried.”

 

She huffed for a second before letting out an exasperated sigh, “Fine. But you better make it a good distraction.”

 

“I think I have an idea about that.” Theo said, twirling his wand in his hand.

 

~

 

Tabitha peered out from behind her hiding place. She had skirted along the tree line and darted across the smallest stretch of open field to reach the fence line of the cow field from behind. At the forest’s edge, Amias raised his hand, giving her the signal. It was time. She dashed along the cattle pen, toward the barn. The old man still stood in the yard, raking leaves, unaware of any intrusion. Tabitha was drawing closer to him, when a loud animal call drew both their attentions.

 

In the meadow, one of the cows had been hoisted into the air, flipped onto its back, and dropped. Now it lay on the ground, wiggling its legs and mooing loudly in confusion. The farmer watched as more cows were thrust into the sky, inciting a deafening chorus of cow cries.

 

Theo and Amias could not contain their laughter. The pair were doubled over on the ground, giggling like a pair of school girls as Theo waved his wand towards another cow.

 

“Watch this, watch this!” He said to Amias, who was holding his stomach from laughter.

 

With a swish and flick of his wand, Theo sent a cow spinning in a cartwheel like motion out of the pen.

 

“Come back!” They could hear the farmer yelling as he sprinted after the pin-wheeling cow.

 

In the commotion, Tabitha was easily able to slip past the farmer, to the back of the farmhouse. There she found a lively garden, overflowing with a vibrant assortment of vegetables of every kind. Everything from aubergine to zucchini was there in front of her. In the sea of green, Tabitha wasn’t sure where to start. She started to pull random stalks from the ground, only to be met with celery, carrots, and other non-garlic plants, when she remembered something.

 

She was a witch.

 

Pulling her wand from her pocket, she said triumphantly, “Accio garlic.”

 

A leafy stalk ending in a collection of white bulbs came whizzing toward her. She snatched it from the air, and hurried out of the garden.

 

In the field, the scene had calmed down. Not as many cows were on their backs now, but Tabitha was pleased to find, the old man was nowhere to been seen. She started running toward the forest, loot in hand, when the farmer emerged from the side of the barn, towing a rather dazed looking cow behind him.

 

“Oi!” He shouted, pointing a bony finger at Tabitha. “What do you think you’re doing? Those are my crops!”

 

“Uh...sorry!” Tabitha clamoured, before bolting toward the forest, clutching to the vegetables.

 

The farmer tried to make chase, but in his old age, he didn’t stand much of a chance. “Stop! Thief!” He yelled after her, puffing as he hobbled along.

 

“Go, go, go!” Tabitha called out to the others.

 

They frantically stumbled to their feet, and hurried after Tabitha, who had rocketed past them, into the forest. Together, they darted through the trees, dodging and swerving until they could no longer hear the farmer’s angry shouts.

 

Theo collapsed against a thick oak, wheezing as he tried to catch his breath. Amias stood with his hands on his hips, staring up at the sky and breathing deeply. When he looked down, he noticed that Tabitha was carrying more than just garlic in her arms. Instead she also held a bunch of carrots, a few ears of corn, several brown potatoes and a handful of snap peas.

 

“What’s with all the vegetables?” He asked.

 

“Well you might not eat, but some of us do.” She said, a small smile creeping across her face.



Chapter 14: CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Bad Blood
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Corn juice sprayed over the crackling fire like a sprinkler system. Tabitha tore hungrily into her vegetable loot, devouring them in whole bites. She hadn’t eaten anything since they had left Hogwarts and she was starved.

 

Theo glared across their makeshift campsite, eyeing the food angrily. He watched as pieces of potato flew from Tabitha’s mouth with each furious bite.

 

“Amias.” He whined.

 

“No.” Amias replied plainly, not lifting his eyes from the fire.

 

“But I’m hungry!”

 

“It’ll be worse for you if you eat. Trust me.”

 

“Yeah Theo,” Tabitha added through mouthfuls of carrot. “You have to listen to Amias, he’s been through this stuff before.”

 

Amias smiled gratefully at Tabitha. She returned his smile. Slowly, she was growing to trust this vampire. He hadn’t tried to kill them so far.

 

“Aren’t you hungry, Amias?” She asked, breaking their eye contact, to look down at her food.

 

Amias quickly began to fidget awkwardly at the suggestion of his unfortunate diet.

 

“Oh no, I’m okay. I can go longer without ‘eating’. This stuff would just turn to ash in my mouth.” He said, gesturing at the vegetables.

 

“Well I’d prefer ash in my mouth to nothing at all.” Theo pounced forward, grabbing a roasted potato.

 

“Theo, no!” Tabitha and Amias cried.

 

Before they could stop him, Theo shoved the potato into his mouth, swallowing half of it before you could say ‘Quidditch’. There was a moment of silence as Amias and Tabitha watched him, waiting.

 

Then as quickly as he had swallowed it, Theo let out an unholy scream and began spitting and gagging, aggressively trying to rid his mouth of what was now thick grey ash.

 

“Why does it burn!?” He screamed before grabbing his tongue and furiously scraping it with his fingers.

 

While Tabitha rushed over to help, Amias stood perfectly still as a cold wind whistled through the trees. His ears perked up at the sound of leaves rustling.

 

“Quiet!” He hissed at the pair.

They froze, Theo still with his tongue out. The only sound to be heard was the cawing of a crow.

 

However, Amias spoke in a serious tone, “We have to go.”.

 

“What?” Tabitha replied.

 

“Now.”

 

With a swift kick, he collapsed the fire in on itself, extinguishing it. Tabitha grabbed her bag and followed Amias as he hurried into the trees. Theo stumbled behind them, still spitting as he did. It didn’t take long for Tabitha to catch up with Amias.

 

As they ran she called to him between the trees, “Amias! What’s going on?”

 

“I said I’m not the only one that lives in these woods.”

 

“So, are we running away from them or towards them?” Theo panted, struggling to keep up.

 

“Let’s just say they aren’t anyone you want to meet.”

 

A loud crack interrupted their conversation. The distinct sound of wood breaking rang through the forest. Before Tabitha could figure out where it had come from, Theo was flung violently into the air. A rope tightened around his ankle, suspending him upside down from the forest canopy.

 

“Theo!” Tabitha shrieked, reaching towards his flailing arms.

 

“I’m okay, I’m okay.” He breathed, blood already rushing to his head.

 

Despite her best attempts, Tabitha couldn’t jump high enough to grab his hands. He swung back and forth, floundering through the air.

 

“It’s kind of fun.” He stammered. “Except for the height, and the swinging...and the being upside down.”

 

“We have to get him down.” Amias urged.

 

“Yeah, I’m over it.” He agreed.

 

Tabitha reached for her wand, but it was too late. From the darkness of the trees came a group of hooded figures. Before she could see their faces, Tabitha noticed their yellowing nails. They were long and gnarled, with ends that had been sharpened into lethal points. At the head of the group was a wide and muscular figure. He removed his hood and Tabitha had to stop herself from gasping in horror.

 

There was not an inch of his face that was not scarred. His black eyes glared from two small slits that had thinned from the profusion of cuts slashed across them. The skin that stretched across his face looked to be the texture of tore leather, but its colour was a familiar ghostly white. He bared a cruel grin at them and Tabitha could see his unmistakable fangs. But these were not like Amias’ sharpened incisors. These were the grisly teeth of an animal; a shark that needed teeth to tear its food apart piece by piece, limb by limb.

 

“Friends of yours?” Theo muttered down to Amias.

 

“Not exactly,” He said through gritted teeth.

 

“Hey there Kruven. Been a while.” The man sneered at Amias through his jagged fangs.

 

“Not long enough, Stingere.”

 

Tabitha could feel Amias twitch beside her. Glancing over, she noticed his hands were clenched into fists. His whole body shook with a barely contained, bubbling anger.

 

“Now now, is that anyway to greet your family?”

 

“I am not one of you.” Amias breathed, rage dripping from every syllable.

 

“Oh Kruven, but you are.” Stingere grinned wickedly, bearing his razor-edged teeth again.

 

With Amias sufficiently enraged, Stingere turned his attention to Tabitha. She shuddered under his dark-eyed glare. As he advanced towards her, she could see every excruciating detail of his face; the red flecks in his narrow eyes, the dried blood still present in some of his newer gashes.

 

Not taking his eyes off her, Stingere jeered to Amias, “You’ve even brought us some fresh meat.”

 

He raised a worn hand and gripped Tabitha’s face, squeezing it slightly so she could feel the points of his nails dig into her cheeks. In the air, Theo kicked and thrashed, desperately trying to free himself.

 

“Don’t touch her!” He yelled down.

 

Ignoring him, Stingere leered, “And what’s your name?”

 

“Tabitha.”

 

She stared back at him defiantly, determined to hide the fact that she couldn’t stop her knees from shaking.

 

“Leave her alone Stingere.” Amias interjected. “She’s not a part of this.”

 

“I’m sorry Kruven,” he replied, releasing Tabitha’s face to lean forward until he was nose to nose with her, “but she became a part of this the second she stepped foot in my forest.”

 

“She was in my territory, Stingere. We had an agreement.”

 

“You know, I can’t resist when food walks right into my hand.”

With this taunt, Stingere hissed aggressively into Tabitha’s face. As she stumbled backwards in shock, he laughed a cold and cruel laugh, before turning back to Amias.

 

“That was the same mistake your sister made.” He laughed again.

 

Amias’ anger grew to a boil and quickly bubbled over. He pounced on Stingere, bellowing, “DON’T YOU DARE MENTION HER!”

 

In his lunge forward, he reached out his hand, slashing down on Stingere’s face, drawing new blood from his tattered skin. Stingere staggered back, clutching his face. His group of followers hissed and snarled menacingly as they snapped into an attack formation. With a single gesture of his hand, Stingere steadied them, holding them back.

 

Calmly, he raised a finger to his lips, licking a drop of blood from his fingertip. His eyes rolled back into his head with euphoric ecstasy. As they returned forward, Tabitha noticed they were no longer an inky black, but the glowing red that she’d seen in her nightmares for years.

 

Removing his finger from his lips to wag it mockingly at them, he whispered in a hushed but biting tone, “Big mistake.”

 

He flicked his hand and in an instant his followers sprang forward. Amias leapt in front of Tabitha, attempting to shield her from the oncoming attackers.

 

“I think it’s time to go!” He shouted over their attack cries.

 

“Agreed!” Tabitha snatched out her wand, quickly pointing it at the rope around Theo’s ankle.

 

“Diffindo!” She shouted, slicing the rope and sending Theo crashing to the ground. He rolled towards them, with Amias jumping over him to ward off the now swarming vampires.

 

“Get out your wand.” Tabitha said urgently as she helped Theo to his feet. Turning to Amias, where he stood facing half a dozen screeching vampires, she yelled, “Amias, let’s go!”

 

Amias raised his foot, planted it against the chest of the closest vampire, and pushed back hard, kicking it into a nearby tree. With a path cleared, the trio ran, with Tabitha and Theo firing spells over their shoulders at the hooded creatures, sending them flying backwards. Bursts of yellow and red light flashed as they shouted, “Flipendo! Stupefy!”

 

One by one their attackers fell back, but the sound of their pounding footsteps still lingered in the distance.



Chapter 15: CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Hide and Seek
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Tabitha kept her eyes fixed on Amias’ sleek blonde hair bouncing ahead of her as they pelted away through the trees. She could hear the heavy breathing that signalled that Theo wasn’t far behind her. There was no sign of Stingere or his followers but Tabitha was smart enough to know they couldn’t have gone far.

 

The trio were making their way around a clearing, lit by the afternoon sun, when Amias stopped dead in his tracks, just on the edge of the light. Tabitha stopped abruptly behind him, causing Theo to crash directly into her, sending the both of them stumbling to the ground.

 

As the sun hit Theo’s skin, he felt a dull pain shoot across his body, like he was being pricked by hundreds of sewing needles simultaneously. Panicked, he hurriedly crawled backwards, into the shadows, where Tabitha sat, looking on.

 

“It’s happening.” She breathed, staring into Theo’s wide eyes.

 

Quickly, she jumped to her feet, joining Amias, who still stood bolt upright, his head twitching from left to right.

 

“Amias, we have to go.”

 

He did not reply. Instead, he spun to face the opposite side of the clearing, squatting closer to the ground, his eyes narrowed in an intense focus.

 

“Amias?” Tabitha inquired.

 

There was a quiet pause, then his eyes snapped open and he straightened up to stand tall again.

 

“This way.” He said.

 

Before Tabitha could question any further, Amias was off, racing around to the far side of the clearing where he barrelled further into the forest.

 

“Where are we going?” Tabitha shouted after him as she and Theo attempted to keep up.

 

Amias said nothing until they arrived at the foot of a grand old oak tree, with an enormous trunk, too thick to reach around, ascending through the tree tops and out of sight. He scampered towards the base of the oak, rifling through the shrubbery and leaf litter.

 

“Yes!” He said triumphantly.

 

His hand burst from the bushes, clutching a small bunch of dark green leaves. As he brought the leaves closer, Tabitha could not see what was so special about this plant. Theo however, let out a small gasp, stepping forward to take one of the leaves from Amias.

 

“Dittany.” He said softly, turning the leaf over in his hand.

 

“Ingredient number two.” Amias added.

 

“Of course, One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi says a Dittany plant has some of the most powerful healing properties in the wizarding world.” Theo explained, largely for Tabitha’s benefit.

 

Eagerly, she took the leaves from Amias, and placed them into her bag, next to the garlic.

 

“So, what now? What’s next?” She asked.

 

“I need a vial.”

 

Tabitha’s packing had come in handy for one thing. Reaching again into her bag, she procured a small glass bottle and promptly handed it to Amias.

 

“Why did you bring that?” Theo enquired, slightly amused.

 

“I forgot to take it out after Potions.” She whispered to him before turning back to Amias. “Where to?”

 

“Nowhere.” Amias replied. Tabitha noticed a sombreness in his answer. Grimly, he continued, “We have everything we need right here.”

 

While Tabitha’s heart skipped at these words, Amias’ grave tone sent a heavy feeling to the pit of her stomach. She was about to question further, when Amias open his mouth, baring his sharp fangs. Instinctually, Tabitha flinched, one hand rising to block her face, the other reaching towards her wand. But before she could act, Amias bit down forcefully into his own arm.

 

Tabitha stumbled backwards in surprise, gripping Theo’s arm for support as she staggered into him. They watched on as Amias pulled back to reveal his pierced and bloodied arm. Wincing in pain, he swiftly raised the glass vial to his protruding fangs, allowing a shimmering translucent liquid to drip from them into the bottle. He recorked the vial and handed it back to an open-mouthed Tabitha, who took it shakily.

 

“Wha...” was all she could manage to say.

 

“Vampire venom.” He grunted through the pain. “You need a piece of the thing that cursed you.”

 

“Obviously,” a very pale and shaken Theo added meekly. “Anything else we should know?”

 

“We only need one more ingredient.”

 

Tabitha’s heart was beating loudly against her chest now. She almost didn’t want to know the answer when she asked, “What is it?”

 

Amias didn’t speak right away. He couldn’t bring himself to look into Tabitha’s eyes, instead fixing his gaze on the ground. His arms hung limply, a drop of red sliding down his white skin, flowing from his deep bite marks. Clutching his hands together, he tried to stop them from twitching.

 

“Amias?”

 

“It’s blood.”

 

The word that Tabitha had feared drifted through the still air. She didn’t reply. Though she dreaded this outcome, deep down she had known all along. She had brought Theo here, and now she would be the one who had to save him.

 

“Well I can do it, I’ve got ...” Theo spoke up.

 

“Theo, you can’t,” Amias interrupted dejectedly. “Your blood is cursed.”

 

Theo’s face contorted at this reply. He paced back and forward, his mind was racing, trying to think of any other solution. However, he knew the reality, and so did Tabitha.

 

“I’ll do it.” She said resolutely.

 

Theo opened his mouth to protest, when the solemn mood was interrupted by the distinct sound of leaves crunching beneath a boot. Saying nothing, Amias raised his finger to his lips and crouched below the shrubbery line. As they clustered together, the trio could see a pair of scruffy and worn down men, blundering through the distant trees.

 

“Stingere’s men.” Amias whispered.

 

Signalling with his hand, Amias beckoned for the others to follow him behind a nearby tree. Out of sight, they scampered upwards, Theo needing an extra hand from Tabitha and Amias, and huddled together, hiding among the thick branches. Looking down, Tabitha could see the clearing where they had just stood. She watched as the two unruly looking vampires lumbered into the space. They began searching the trees, sniffing and jeering as they did.

 

“Come out, come out wherever you are.” One hissed, peering around a tree not far from where Tabitha, Theo, and Amias hid.

 

The other grinned wickedly, “We just want to play.”

 

While the vampires searched, the trio remained motionless in their treetop, not daring to even make a sound. Silently, Amias moved himself in front of Theo and Tabitha, covering them with his body, smothering the smell of their tempting blood. Once Stingere’s men had checked every bush and every tree hollow, the taller of the pair motioned to the other.

 

“Come on, let’s keep going.”

 

As a final warning, the second vampire yelled into the clearing, “You can’t run forever, Kruven!”

 

Sniggering, they moved into the trees and out of Tabitha’s sight. She breathed deeply, taking in new air for the first time since Stingere’s men appeared. Theo squeezed her hand in a comforting gesture and she felt her heart slow back to its normal pace. Looking to Amias, she saw him motionless, eyes fixed to the trees where the vampires had skulked away.

 

Breaking the silence, he said, “They’re right.” He turned to face Theo and Tabitha. “I can’t keep running.”

 

“But Amias...” Theo started.

 

Amias stopped him, “I can distract them. Give you the time you need to finish the potion.”

 

Tabitha said nothing but stared back as Amias looked intently at her.

 

“I have to do this.”

 

Silently, Tabitha nodded back. A bittersweet smile appeared on Amias’ face. His warm assurance comforted Tabitha without any words. He broke their eye contact to grab Theo’s hand in his.

 

“Powder the garlic, slice the Dittany, add the blood, heat it, then last is the venom.” He spelled out, hurriedly.

 

He stared Theo down, until he nodded his understanding.

 

“Do it, then get out.”

 

With that, he leapt from the tree, landing gracefully in a crouching position. Tabitha watched on as he scampered into the dark of the forest and disappeared. Again, the area was silent. After a moment, Tabitha began to lower herself out of the tree. Hitting the ground, she looked up to a nervous Theo.

 

“Come on.”

 

Awkwardly, he dangled his legs from the tree, waggling them in an attempt to shimmy himself down. It wasn’t long before his shaking, unbalanced him, sending him hurtling down, right on top of Tabitha. They both groaned as they returned to their feet, Theo helping Tabitha up.

 

“Sorry.”

 

“I’m used to it by now.” She said, patting him on the arm.

 

There was a pause between the pair. The task ahead loomed in front of them.

 

Taking a deep breath, Tabitha spoke first. “Okay. We don’t have long.”

 

“Right.” Theo breathed, taking Tabitha’s backpack from her.



Chapter 16: CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Sacrifice
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With a wave of his wand, and a simple incantation, Theo procured a moderately sized bowl from a nearby stone. He placed his new creation on a small pile of sticks that they had collected.

 

“Not exactly a copper cauldron, but it’ll do,” Looking down at his transfiguration.

 

Tabitha’s backpack sat on the forest floor, propped open between the pair. Reaching into it, Tabitha removed the garlic, before passing the handful of Dittany to Theo.

 

“No garlic for you.” She added.

 

“Always looking out for me.” He winked.

 

Tabitha smiled weakly back at him. She placed the head of garlic into the bowl, using another rock to pummel it into a fine powder. At the same time, Theo pointed his wand to the Dittany, muttering “Diffindo” to slice it neatly. Adding it to the bowl, Theo looked up to Tabitha, his eyes full of worry. Tabitha however, kept her eyes down. She was determined to do what needed to be done. As she pointed her wand towards her arm, Theo quickly slapped his hand down on top of hers.

 

“Wait!”

 

Looking up, Tabitha could see the panic spreading across Theo’s face.

 

His eyes were glassy as he said, “I don’t want you to do this.”

 

Tabitha’s heart panged, but she breathed deeply, swallowing her feelings. “I have to, Theo.”

 

“But...” He stammered, floundering for a good reason, “it’s too much. I can’t ask you to do this.” He had started pacing, his fear manifesting itself into a nervous jittering.

 

“Theo.” Tabitha gripped him by the shoulders, steadying him. “There could never be too much for you to ask. You are my best friend, in the whole world. I would do anything for you. And I know, you would do the same for me.”

 

While he opened his mouth to reply, or protest, nothing came out. Instead he dried his eyes, nodding through his tears. Words escaping him, he rushed forward, wrapping Tabitha in a tight hug, his head resting on her shoulder. His body was cold. Tabitha could tell the change was already beginning. She had to do this now.

 

Gently breaking their embrace, Tabitha placed a reassuring hand on Theo’s cheek.

 

“It’s going to be okay.” She assured.

 

He nodded, stepping back to give her space. Again, she pointed her wand at her forearm. She could see every blue vein in her arm leading down to her wrist. Carefully, she positioned herself above the stone bowl. Closing her eyes, she took a steadying breath as she whispered,

 

“Diffindo.”

 

There was an instant and intense pain spreading from her arm. Her eyes snapped open but all she could see was a sea of thick red liquid gushing across her skin. It flowed from her arm and cascaded to the ground, collecting into their makeshift cauldron, while some stained the forest floor scarlet. The pain multiplied as Tabitha lost blood. She could feel herself getting weaker but she kept her eyes wide, watching as the bowl slowly filled. It wasn’t until her blood had reached the top of their cauldron, that Tabitha clasped her hand over the wound and fell to the ground.

 

“Tabitha!” Theo cried, lunging forward to lift her into his arms.

 

“I’m okay... I’m okay.” She said weakly.

 

“Here, eat this.” He tried to feed her one of the Dittany leaves from her bag.

 

Tabitha recognised the leaf and began to protest as much as she could in her weakened state. “No! No, you need those.”

 

“I’ll be fine, you need it more.” He insisted.

 

Giving in, Tabitha took the leaf. A smoky taste filled her mouth as she swallowed the plant. It travelled down her throat, sending a tingling, almost burning sensation across her tongue. A wave of light headedness washed over her and she was very glad Theo was there to hold her up, or she would’ve plummeted to the ground once again. However as quickly as the blood had rushed from her head, it was back, leaving Tabitha feeling awake and alert. She looked to the wound on her arm, only to find it healed over. The only sign that remained was a faint scar, that looked as though it was weeks old.

 

Tabitha and Theo turned to each other with disbelief and an unexpected joy. As she looked to Theo’s bright and innocent smile, Tabitha remembered exactly why she was doing this.

 

“Your turn.” She grabbed his hand, and squeezed it tightly.

 

Not releasing Tabitha’s hand, Theo took his wand in his free hand, and pointed it at the base of their cauldron.

 

“Incendio.”

 

Sparks flew from his wand, igniting a small orange fire beneath the stone bowl. Using a stick, Tabitha stirred the red liquid. Quickly it began to bubble, the Dittany and garlic combining with the blood, creating a thick cloud of purple smoke.

 

“The venom.” Tabitha said, gesturing to her bag.

 

Theo grabbed the small vial, uncorking it to drip the glistening liquid into the potion. As he did, the smoke dissipated. The venom spread across the surface of the potion, turning the once purple liquid, an infinite black. It simmered gently for a second, before settling to become perfectly still. They looked to each other, sharing the assumption that this meant the potion was ready.

 

Theo’s whole body was shaking as he took the bowl in both hands. For a second, he wobbled, the bowl teetering in his hands. Tabitha could hardly imagine the devastation of the potion crashing to the ground. Wanting to avoid disaster, she hastily stepped forward, placing a steady hand over Theo’s.

 

“Hey hey,” she said soothingly. “We’ll do it together.”

 

Theo’s kind eyes crinkled with a small but grateful smile. His breaths were growing shorter and his pupils were wide, but Tabitha moved with a forced calmness, staying strong for Theo’s sake. Together, they lifted the bowl to Theo’s lips. With one final gulp of air, Theo closed his eyes, and began to drink.

 

He winced with each mouthful, his eyes squeezing closed tighter and tighter. Tabitha watched on, helplessly. While she tried to appear calm, unconsciously she started to wring her hands in a nervous panic. The last drop rolled into Theo’s mouth, the now empty bowl dropping from his hands, and smashing onto the ground.

 

He stood motionless. His face was blank. Tabitha surveyed him, looking for any indication of the potion’s effects. Then he wobbled.

 

“Theo?”

 

Suddenly his body started to convulse, sending him jerking to the ground.

 

“Theo!” Tabitha sprang forward.

 

While she tried to catch him, she buckled under his weight, falling onto her knees as Theo’s body dropped to the forest floor. He contorted in violent spasms, his arms and legs thumping against the dirt. While he thrashed, his eyes remained wide and unblinking. Tabitha gripped his shoulders, trying to steady his convulsions. She yelled over the sound of his body hitting the ground, anything to pull him back.

 

With a loud gasp, Theo rose from the ground, his arms and legs lifting upwards, his back disconnecting with the earth. He held this position just for a second, then quickly fell back with a heavy thump.

 

Tabitha grabbed his face in her hands. “Theo! Theo, wake up!” She cried. Despite her shaking, Theo lay unconscious in her arms.

 

“Theo?” She trembled softly.

 

It hadn’t worked. Tabitha breathed shakily, biting her lip in frustration and despair. Gazing up at the looming forest surrounding her, Tabitha had never felt more lost. Her mind raced but came up short for an answer of what to do now. How could she have let this happen? Just as she felt the world crashing in on her, a puff of air escaped from Theo’s lips.

 

He came to, bolting upright, frantically twitching from side to side.

 

“Theo!” Tabitha exclaimed.

 

She leapt forward, wrapping Theo in the tightest hug. She could feel warmth in his arms again. A slightly disorientated Theo gasped, Tabitha’s hug was blocking some of his oxygen flow.

 

“I’m ... I’m happy to see you ... too,” he wheezed.

 

She released him from her grasp, before starting a thorough inspection, from teeth to toe.

 

“How do you feel?”

 

“Apart from the invasion of my personal space,” he said, prying Tabitha’s fingers out of his mouth. “Never better.”

 

He grinned, flashing his very ordinary teeth. Tabitha’s heart swelled. Unable to help herself, she threw her arms around Theo again, squeezing him until he couldn’t move.

 

“I’m fine, really.” He laughed.

 

“I know, I just ...”

 

“Tabitha. Thanks to you, I’m fine.”

 

At these words, Tabitha’s soaring heart fell into the pit of her stomach. Her arms dropped from Theo as she stepped backwards.

 

“What is it?” He asked, concerned.

 

“It wasn’t just me.” She looked up to Theo, “We have to help Amias.”



Chapter 17: CHAPTER SIXTEEN: A Vampire Worth Saving
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"Tabitha, stop!” Theo called through the trees.

 

At the thought of Amias, she began pelting through the forest, disregarding any consequences. In that moment, Tabitha came to a resolution; Amias was her friend.

 

 

“No, Theo. He helped us, now we help him.” She powered forwards.

 

“And how are you going to help him by ploughing headfirst into a nest of vampires? Getting yourself killed isn’t going to help him. He said finish the potion, then get...”

 

“I can’t just go!” Tabitha shouted desperately. She stopped, turning on her heels to face Theo. “We can’t leave him, Theo. I can’t...” She trailed off, choking on her own words.

 

Without realising it, Amias was the reason she made this trip. He was the vampire she needed to find.

 

“Amias is good.” She managed to say through the lump that was building in her throat. “If I leave him... He is fighting against those monsters, the kind that killed my mother. If I let him die, who knows how many more they’ll kill.”

 

“Tabs...”

 

“Can’t you see that I have to do this?”

 

Theo bit his lip, staring at the determination on Tabitha’s face.

 

“I can’t let you just go running in there.” He said, finally. “I’ll have to come with you.”

 

A tear spilled from Tabitha’s eye. Hastily, she wiped it away, smiling gratefully at Theo. He smiled back, taking Tabitha’s hand in his and giving it a familiar squeeze.

 

“We have to hurry.” She said.

 

Together now, they moved quickly and quietly through the forest, running back to the place of their last encounter with Stingere. Crouched behind a nearby tree, Tabitha could see the severed end of rope, swinging from where she’d cut Theo down. The clearing below it was empty.

 

“Okay, so they’re not here.” Theo said obviously.

 

“Yes, I see that, Theophilus.”

 

He smirked at her. Moving out from behind the tree, Tabitha began to spin, looking in every direction for any sign of a struggle.

 

“Alright, well we keep going. We have to...”

 

“Shhh!” Theo interrupted. He was gazing into the distance, his hand held aloft towards Tabitha.

 

“Don’t shush me, we have to find...”

 

“Shh Tabitha!” He scurried forward, cupping his hand over Tabitha’s mouth, muffling her protests. “Do you hear that?”

 

“No.” Tabitha huffed, prying Theo’s hand away.

 

“There was something.”

 

His eyes were fixed on the far trees. To Tabitha, the forest around them was quiet.

 

“This way.” Clearly hearing something Tabitha couldn’t, he bolted deeper into the forest.

 

Tabitha, not missing a beat, followed close behind him. She trailed him in confusion, straining her ears to hear anything other than the sound of their hurried footsteps.

 

“Theo, what is it?” Tabitha whispered as Theo paused, looking from side to side, choosing their next direction.

 

“Do you really not hear it?”

 

“No!” She hissed, getting frustrated. “What is it?”

 

Theo’s brow furrowed in concentration. “Almost like, a whimper.”

 

Then came a sound that Tabitha could hear; an unmistakable cry of someone in agony. It echoed through the still forest, sending shivers down Tabitha’s spine. Theo and Tabitha locked eyes and sprinted off towards scream. In her panic, Tabitha was tumbling over her own feet, tripping on roots and stones. Theo grabbed her arm to keep her balanced, when a figure stumbled from behind a tree, collapsing in front of them.

 

Amias’ pale body lay spread across the forest floor as he crumpled at their feet.

 

“Amias!” Tabitha dropped to her knees, moving the blonde hair from his face.

 

He couldn’t speak, only groaning in reply, pain contorting his face. Looking across his fragile form, blood was oozing from his wounds before Tabitha’s eyes. His shirt was torn with long slash marks and the fabric that was left was stained a dark red.

 

Shaking, Tabitha turned to Theo, who had moved to Amias’ head, resting it in his lap.

 

“I need Dittany.”

 

“Tabs, we don’t have any,” he replied softly.

 

“Well we have to heal him,” her voice was growing louder as her distress bubbled over, “We can’t ... we have to ... something!”

 

She looked down at Amias’, his eyes shut tight, twitching with each jab of pain spreading from his wounds. In that moment, Tabitha thought he looked so helpless, so human.

 

“We have to get him out of here.” She said firmly. “Theo, help me lift him up.”

 

Slinging his arm over her shoulder, Amias let out a small moan.

 

Not even knowing if he could hear her, Tabitha reassured him, “You’re going to be okay.” Quietly, she whispered to herself, “It’s going to be okay.”

 

With Theo supporting Amias’ other side, they rose to their feet, trudging forward under the weight of his body.

 

Suddenly, Tabitha’s heart sank, as the echoing sound of slow, clapping hands rang from behind them. Craning her neck, Tabitha peered over her shoulder to see Stingere, bloodied and scarred, emerging from the trees, a wicked grin spreading across his face.

 

“You came back.” He said slowly.

 

His smile was growing wider, exposing his jagged fangs, that were now discoloured with red blood. Noticing Tabitha’s gaze, he licked a drop from his teeth, taunting her.

 

“You should’ve stayed away, girlie.” He sneered. “You didn’t have to worry about him. We take good care of our own, don’t we boys?”

 

As he raised his voice, his followers appeared one by one, stepping out from behind trees, eyeing Tabitha and Theo hungrily. Tabitha snapped back to Stingere.

 

“He’s not one of you,” she said defiantly.

 

“Is that what you think?” He cackled, “You don’t know a thing about him.”

 

“I know about you.” She spat back at him. “I know what kind of monster you are, and I know that he is nothing like you.”

 

A nerve twitched in Stingere’s face. The sneering smile was gone from his face, replaced by an ice-cold menace as he took a step towards Tabitha.

 

“Did you know, that I could kill you in an instant, without even batting an eye?”

 

Staring, unblinking, into the glowing void of his penetrating scarlet eyes, Tabitha heard herself speak without thinking.

 

“I don’t doubt it.”

 

His ridiculing smile had now turned to an angry snarl, grating his teeth at Tabitha’s defiance. He moved towards her, his clawed hand outstretched when a blast of red light sent him flying backwards. Tabitha turned in surprise to see Theo’s wand aloft, the word stupefy having just escaped his lips.

 

“He said he was going to kill you!” Theo said defensively at her disbelief.

 

Before Tabitha could respond, a nearby vampire lunged forward, grabbing Theo’s arm. Tabitha immediately drew her wand, blasting it away before it could inflict any damage. But more vampires had begun to circle them.

 

These creatures cloaked in black closed in around them, hissing and growling as they prepared to attack. Pressing her back to Amias, Tabitha braced for the oncoming hoard, her wand locked in her steady hand. With her free hand, she reached back until she connected with Theo’s side. Matching her movement, Theo copied with his non-wand hand, protecting Amias between them.

 

Tabitha’s eyes were fixed on Stingere’s crumpled form just beyond the circling vampires. Taking a deep breath, she watched him clamber to his feet, scraping and kicking against the dirt, like a bull preparing to charge. He stamped his foot down, letting out a bloodcurdling roar as he lurched forward. Tabitha lifted her wand to attack, when out of her peripherals, she caught the flash of apparition.



Chapter 18: CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: An Unconscious Choice
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Professor Wilmot’s burgundy locks rippled in the wind as he straightened out of his apparition. Beside him stood two wizards, dressed in deep emerald cloaks, with pointed hats adorning their heads.

 

At their arrival, the crowd of swarming vampires paused, recoiling hesitantly. Distracted by their sudden appearance, Stingere turned his claws away from Tabitha, to assess these new intruders. Before he could make a move, Wilmot brushed off his immaculate eggplant coloured suit, grabbing his wand with a flourish. Alongside the other wizards, he swiftly raised his wand above his head, as they shouted in unison,

 

“Lumos Solem!”

 

Something flashed in Tabitha’s mind; a thought, or a memory. She knew this spell from somewhere she couldn’t place. A blinding yellow light radiated towards them from the Professor’s wand, and she realised what was coming.

 

Crying out to Theo, she spun around, pulling a weary Amias towards her. Theo quickly followed her movement, raising his arms around them. Together they fell to the ground, Amias’ body covered beneath Tabitha and Theo, as a ray of burning sunlight crashed over them.

 

Around them, vampires screamed and sizzled, incinerating in the fiery light. In seconds, many of Stingere’s followers were reduced to nothing but ash. Soon the noise died down, and the forest returned to its natural darkness.

 

Tabitha lifted her head, moving Theo’s arms aside, to see the quiet woods around them. Looking around, she could see small piles of ash to mark the deaths of several vampires, however no remains were left where Stingere had stood. Before she could look much further, a steady hand gripped her shoulder.

 

“Professor Wilmot.” Tabitha said tentatively, turning to look up at the frowning professor.

 

“It’s time to go.” He spoke calmly, helping Tabitha to her feet.

 

“Um, Professor?” Theo piped, as one of the emerald cloaked wizards pulled him up. “Just to be clear, where exactly are we going? We’re not in trouble, are we? Because I’m really sorry...” he began to babble before Wilmot cut him off.

 

“We’re taking you back to Hogwarts.”

 

Theo let out a sigh of relief, grinning to the wizard beside him, who did not return his smile.

 

“The Ministry is allowing a tribunal to be held there.”

 

“A tribunal?” Theo panicked.

 

“You’re lucky we’re giving you that much,” huffed the wizard beside Theo.

 

“Claxton.” Professor Wilmot warned sternly.

 

The wizard, Claxton, rolled his eyes, though his hand remained firmly grasped around Theo’s arm. While Theo squirmed under Claxton’s irritated glare, Wilmot began digging in his robes, before pulling out a squashed cardboard box. He placed it flattened on the ground then stepped back to check the time from a fine golden pocket watch.  

 

“Right, we only have a few minutes, everyone, if you will.” He gestured toward the box, motioning for the group to place their hands on the Portkey.

 

As the Ministry wizards stepped forward, pulling Theo with them, Tabitha looked to Amias’ frail body, still lying on the forest floor, his chest barely moving with each raggedy breath.

 

“Wait!” Tabitha called, “We can’t leave Amias.”

 

“We didn’t come here for him,” Claxton barked.

 

“I’m not leaving without him. Professor?” She implored, moving to Amias’ side.

 

“Tabitha, I’m afraid Claxton’s right, we have no jurisdiction here...”

 

“He’ll die! The things in this forest will kill him.”

 

“The business of these creatures is none of the Ministry’s concern,” said the second Ministry wizard.

 

“But that’s not fair.” Theo spoke up.

 

“It’s not about fair.” Claxton scoffed. “If they want to be treated like Beings, then they have to act like it.” With disdain on his face, he turned to stare down at Amias. “Better they kill each other in here than killing witches and wizards out on our streets.”

 

Claxton’s words sent an ache to Tabitha’s heart. She partly agreed with him. She did wish that vampire in Twickenham had come face to face with Stingere before he sunk his fangs into her mother. But Amias didn’t deserve that.

 

“He isn’t like that,” she said. “Amias saved me.”

 

“Me as well.” Theo added, muttering “get off,” as he pulled away from the Ministry wizards. He moved beside Tabitha, placing his hand on her shoulder. “Amias saved my skin in more ways than you could know.”

 

Hoisting Amias’ arm over her shoulder once again, Tabitha was no longer asking.

 

“He’s coming with us.” She said definitively.

 

She felt Amias’ weight ease on her side as Theo lifted his other arm, adding a supportive nod to her declaration.

 

Seething now, Clatxon grumbled, “Wilmot. Get these kids in order.”

 

Tabitha thought she saw a familiar twinkle behind Professor Wilmot’s circular glasses.

 

“He’s coming with us, Claxton.” He said coolly.

 

Claxton’s mouth fell open, aghast, words finally escaping him. Ignoring his indignation, Wilmot once again pulled out his golden watch.

 

“We’d better hurry. Children, quickly.” He snapped the timepiece closed, returning it to his pocket before helping Tabitha and Theo carry Amias towards the cardboard Portkey.

 

The second Ministry wizard stood awkwardly to Claxton’s side while he continued to fume at this insubordination.

 

Turning red in the face, he managed to collect himself enough to spit, “Wilmot, I will not stand for this blatant disregard for Magical Law.”

 

“Then we will leave you behind.” Wilmot stated, undaunted.

 

Only the Ministry wizards were yet to place their hands on the Portkey, and if Wilmot’s pocket watch was correct, they didn’t have long. Sensing this, the second Ministry wizard stepped passed Claxton to add his hand to the cardboard.

 

“Peddleshire!”

 

“Claxton.” He snapped back. “Are you forgetting what we came here for?”

 

Claxton bit his tongue. With contempt still in his eyes, he trudged forward, stooping in between Wilmot and Peddleshire to press his hand against the Portkey. They waited in silence, with Claxton shooting dirty looks at an unconscious Amias, who was propped up by Theo and Tabitha.

 

Looking down at his watch, Wilmot quietly began counting down from ten.

 

“Nine ... eight ... seven ...”

 

In these last seconds, Tabitha surreptitiously raised her hand from the Portkey. Around the circle, the others paid no mind. Peddleshire was busy staring crossly at Claxton, while Claxton’s eyes were shooting daggers at Amias, and Theo was focused solely on the cardboard below him. He knew that his seasickness did not bode well with Portkey travel.

 

Gently, Tabitha moved her hand to tap Wilmot’s. He moved his eyes to hers but did not stop counting.

 

“Five ... four ...”

 

In a soft voice, so that only he could hear, she whispered, “Thank you.”

 

He nodded and Tabitha returned her hand to the Portkey.

 

“Two ... one ...”

 

Tabitha felt a hook pull her from just behind her navel, as she was sent hurtling through the air away from the dark forest



Chapter 19: CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: The Eyes of Hogwarts
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Thousands of colours and flashing lights whipped by Tabitha. As she tumbled through the never-ending void of locations zooming passed her, Tabitha clung tightly to Amias, whose unconscious body was flopping helplessly in the thrashing turbulence of Portkey travel.

 

The invisible hook jolted Tabitha, and she felt herself being lurched backwards. Trying to remember what her mother had taught her when she was young, she started running through the air. However, even her best efforts could not counter for the added weight of Amias’s limp body.

 

The flashing locations settled, abruptly dropping Tabitha and the others directly above an open grass plain. This unexpected stop was all it took to throw Tabitha off balance. After a short tumbling fall, she landed face first in the grass, losing her grip on Amias as she did.

 

Bruised, but with nothing broken, she lifted her head.

 

They had landed on the Quidditch pitch. The first thing Tabitha noticed was the sky. For the first time since this all began, there weren’t trees above them. Instinctively, she dove for Amias, to protect him from the light, when she realised the Scottish clouds of the late evening were covering the sun enough already.

 

Looking beyond the surrounding grandstands, Tabitha was met with a familiar sight; the mighty Hogwarts Castle looming in the distance. It sent a chill down her spine, but this time, it was different. The nervousness she felt, was almost comforting in a way. She knew what was waiting for her inside, and she was ready to face it.

 

Her attention was shifted off the castle, when she heard Theo making gagging sounds. He was hunched over on all fours, his back arching with each heave.

 

In between retches, Tabitha could hear him muttering, “I hate Portkeys.”

 

Wilmot and the Ministry wizards however, had landed gracefully on the Quidditch pitch, gliding down from the sky. Claxton was still scowling at everyone. He seemed very pleased to see Amias uncomfortably sprawled out on the ground.

 

Wilmot, on the other hand, promptly collected the flattened cardboard, tucked it back into his robes and retrieved his wand.

 

“Wingardium Leviosa.”

 

With a simple swish and flick of Wilmot’s wand, Amias slowly rose from the grass to float a few feet in the air.

 

He then turned to the rest of the group and stated plainly, “I believe we have an appointment to make,” before turning and marching away towards the castle.

 

Before following Wilmot, and Amias who floated behind him, Tabitha threw a glance back to Theo, happy to see that Peddleshire was helping him off the ground, and off the Quidditch pitch with the others.

 

Walking across the grounds, Tabitha saw blurs of yellow, blue, green, and red in every window along the front side of the castle.  As they walked closer, she could make them out more clearly. They were faces, and flashes of robes. Dozens of Hogwarts students had their faces pressed to the windows, scrambling to get a glimpse at this latest school scandal.

 

Tabitha prepared herself for the onslaught of stares and whispers that she was destined to face when she stepped into the Entrance Hall. Students toppled over each other, racing down the stairs to reach the wooden double doors. They gawked open-mouthed at the unusual sight that was an exuberantly dressed Professor Wilmot, floating an unconscious, pale boy behind him, Tabitha, in her grubby and blood spattered Gryffindor robes, and Theo, escorted by two stern looking Ministry wizards.

 

Although Tabitha tensed for an assault, the Hall was silent. It was as though everyone in the room collectively held their breath. Tabitha could feel this silent anticipation pressing in on her from all sides. She was very grateful when Professor Wilmot cleared his throat, catching the room’s attention.

 

“I trust you all have someplace to be.” He said clearly.

 

With the sound of mutters and scuffling shoes now filling the Entrance Hall, the curious students shuffled off to their respective dorms and common rooms. One student remained standing in front of them, gesturing to his fellow Hufflepuffs to leave without him.

 

Tabitha recognised him, but it wasn’t Tabitha he was waiting for.

 

Theo’s voice called passed her. “Clarke!”

 

Clarke’s eyes lit up and he rushed to the back of their small entourage where Theo stood. The pair embraced eagerly, with Clarke wrapping his arm tightly around Theo to grip his shoulders.

 

When he pulled away, Clarke’s hands moved across Theo’s back to still stay on his shoulders.

 

“What happened to you? Everyone was saying all these things, I thought ... something bad might’ve happened.”

 

Theo opened his mouth to reply, when he caught Claxton’s harsh expression out of the corner of his eye. They didn’t have time to stay and chat.

 

“I’ll explain everything, I promise. But right now, we kind of have a hearing to get to.”

 

Clarke’s eyes also drifted over to Claxton, whose hands were now placed on his hips, one finger tapping impatiently on his belt. Getting the idea, Clarke quickly hugged Theo once more, and stepped back, allowing Theo, Tabitha, and their chaperons to head up the large marble staircase.

 

As they ascended, Theo glanced back to Clarke, trying to give him a reassuring smile. He stood at the bottom of the stairs, watching on as they disappeared along the halls. Tabitha’s heart panged, thinking of the normalcy Theo could’ve had if he wasn’t tied to her. He could have stayed with Clarke, innocently exploring the connection between them. Instead, he was being marched off to an unknown punishment, because of her.

 

After a few flights of stairs, Wilmot turned, halting his determined pace through the castle.

 

“Peddleshire,” he said, “would you please accompany this boy to the hospital wing?”

 

Quietly, Claxton scoffed at the description of Amias as a boy. Peddleshire, however, nodded calmly and swished his wand, taking over the task of Amias’ levitation from Professor Wilmot.

 

Tabitha stammered at this abrupt separation. “I want to go with him.” She grabbed his cold hand in instinctual protection.

 

“Tabitha, you know I cannot let your actions go unheeded. You have your meeting with the Headmaster, and you said yourself that this boy needs care.”

 

Claxton’s scoff was slightly louder this time.

 

Wilmot motioned to Peddleshire, and he started down the hall, away from the group, Amias floating in tow. As he drifted away, Tabitha’s hand steadily slipped from his. She held on until her arm could not stretch any further, watching his limp arm dropped by his side as she finally let go.

 

“He will be in good hands.” Wilmot added.

 

Tabitha turned back to the group, her eyes catching Theo’s. He gave her a small smile. She was glad to feel the familiar warmth of Theo’s eyes.

 

Amias had almost been her security blanket. Returning to the castle had been much easier with someone so out of the ordinary. With him, and the escort of Ministry officials in front of her, she could blend into the background, unseen, just how she liked it.

 

But now she could not fade away anymore. When she made the decision to leave Hogwarts, she changed the course of her story. No longer would she be defined by the actions of those she could not control, like the creature that killed her mother, she would be defined by her own choices.

 

But now Tabitha was realising that meant also accepting the consequences of those choices, without hiding behind anyone else.



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