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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.

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