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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.

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