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.
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.”
“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.
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