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.
“But you know about magic?” She pressed.
“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.
With a sigh of exasperation, she huffed off to follow them
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