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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
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