I don't own Harry Potter, in whole or in part. But you probably guessed that already.
As always, any constructive criticism will be gratefully received.
Three's a good number for stories with wizards.
Let there be…
Atop a tower, beneath a ceiling that revealed the cloudless evening beyond, a witch was weaving a mirror. Ice-blue flames in charmed torch brackets lit her work, catching the starlight from the first stars to appear.
Rings adorned her creased and nimble fingers, glinting as they dipped in and out of the wicker strands, tugging and tending them into a ring frame. She hummed tunelessly as she worked, the wandless magic insinuating into the wicker and giving it a subtle sheen.
Two Inferi watched silently from the room's sides, dead flames swimming in their dull eyes. Black-and-white tabards were draped over their thin forms, a red emblem of a circle and line enclosed in a triangle bright on the fronts. Around them, tapestries and paintings adorned the solar's walls, the figures within caught in endless and silent motion.
Finishing the wicker frame, the witch breathed in satisfaction at a job well done, and set it down on a short stone plinth in front of her at the room's centre. Drawing out a blackwood wand from some recess in her robes, she passed it over the frame in a complex, flowing motion, drawing out the words "Fabra Speculaere," like a tune from a harp.
The wand's tip tapped down into the empty frame, and from it silvery metal ran outwards, stopping at the wicker. One more tap against the surface gave the metal a reflection, and the witch took a moment to critically regard her handiwork.
"Artisan's work," she decided, approvingly. She beckoned at one of the Inferi. "Lift this for me, there's a dear. And bring me over a chair."
The Inferius lurched to attention, grey fingers clenching around the arm of a cushioned chair and dragging it across the floor. It stopped before the plinth, sliding the chair around to the witch, and reached for the mirror in turn.
The witch sank down into the chair, and regarded the mirror which the Inferius presented, its hands supporting it at each end.
"Now then," murmured the witch, drawing out her wand once more and tapping it against the reflecting surface. "Animaspeculara."
Her reflected face, showing all its cares and age, melted away into shadows and fog. Amidst the morass, the vague outlines of magical patterns appeared.
"Show me the king."
The shadows and half-glimpsed patterns took substance, solidified, into…
Flames lapped up from the blackened skeleton of a stake-bound pyre, vomiting smoke into the darkening sky.
The body inside the flames had died many merciful minutes ago, and the crowd around it had long since stopped cheering and cursing, and had now shrouded themselves in unease and guilt. They were peeling away gradually in dribs and drabs for their homes in the village. North Berwick had many shadows to offer them succour.
From above, from the tower of the repurposed kirk, the King of Scotland watched, and casually sipped wine from a silver-gilted goblet. The commander of his guard loomed behind him, the man's expression indiscernible behind his helmet.
"God wills it," commented King James, swilling the last dregs of the wine in the goblet, and tipping it out over the tower's sides.
Commander Wilkie shifted and made a vague noise of assent; following any such noise up with "Your Majesty" as was the proper wont.
James took no notice. "He was unrepentant. His sins were unconfessed, despite all measures. The devil had his heart, and where the heart goes, our souls follow."
He turned the goblet in his hands, and murmured under the starlight, "We are but fickle creatures, after all."
The king, still young in his mid-twenties, had large and deep-set eyes that caught the distant flamelight, framed in his pale face by dishevelled brown hair. A wisp of hair clutched at his chin, which he compulsively stroked between his fingers. His clothes were rich and well-tailored, but stained with the remains of food and drink, and marred with the stench of smoke.
Wilkie, a behemoth in piecemeal plate armour, remained silent. It wasn't his job to comment. His job concerned the longsword and crossbow across his back, the man at his front, and the men under his command. Nothing more.
Watching the crowd disperse, James said, "If nothing else, the wretched man's death serves a greater good. Now there are none here who will risk cleaving unto the true heresies. None will chance to channel the devil's own might, for fear of the fire. For fear of us as we work justice."
He set the goblet down on the ledge before him, and turned, cutting a silhouette against the fire rising at his back. "With me, commander. To our other captive. Bring steel and fire." His hand went unconsciously to a recess in his doublet, and he said quietly "God's light blazes with us."
And elsewhere, beyond land and darkening seas, under broiling skies and sleeting drizzle…
The hushed command sent light spilling over the chopping water, turning the tips of the dark waves to gold. The glow was the only light source for miles; the sea turned beneath an expanse of brooding thunderheads.
It came from the wand held by a witch in drenched robes. She took step after careful step through the waves, the ebbing Adhesive Charm on her boots giving her what steadiness it could upon the rocks underfoot.
Judith Fairweather hadn't actually intended to go nuckelavee-hunting in the dark. But the weather for the late afternoon – the only time when nuckelavees would venture out from their seabed lairs - had turned treacherously inclement on her, and though it would have been sensible to withdraw, she had never been a witch for doing the merely sensible.
That, and when rewards from wealthy wizarding families became involved, she'd be the first to concede her better judgement went clean out the window; and good riddance to it, too.
Standing waist-deep in the sea, she tilted her hat's brim back and pressed onwards, raising her wand aloft and muttering "Lumos. Lumos Maxima." Her wand's tip pulsed with renewed light, casting the world around her into something that could have almost been mistaken for daytime.
Before her, the expanse of grey broiled and hissed. Behind her, the black cliffs of Westray rose, the distant screaming of the countless nesting gulls competing with the tide chopping against the rocks for volume.
And beyond, something on the absolute edge of hearing rumbled.
"Out you come, beastie," Judith breathed, satisfaction colouring her words. She took a few more unhurried steps across the line of stones beneath her feet, carefully sounding out the route ahead. One step, then another … the water now lapped above the belt at her waist, and a sharp gust of wind sent a wave's worth splashing against her front. The rumble came again, laced with malevolence. Far out into the waters, a shadow swept underneath the surface.
A black crag that swept out of the water before Judith, the remaining refugee from the incoming tide, offered a vantage spot. Judith took it, reaching out with gloved hands for the barnacle-encrusted stone. Holding her wand between clenched teeth, she clambered awkwardly up, boots almost slipping beneath on the smooth stone, the light from the wand's tip jerking and sending the stone aglimmer with each pull. The sky seemed to broil further as she climbed; the seas became a grey tumult.
Reaching the crag's peak with one more heave, Judith clambered to her feet and shook herself, sending droplets spraying to be lost amidst the drizzle and sodden dark hair strands bouncing. Her grey eyes narrowed as she squinted for any sign of movement beneath the waves, and she sniffed at the air.
There it was. Any nuckelavee worth its salt could be smelt from a half-mile off, much as those in that vicinity may wish otherwise. And this one was close and … a follow-up sniff confirmed, getting closer.
Judith caught a snatch of movement out of the corner of her eye, and spun to face it, trying not to sway right off the rock. There, ahead of her, something at yet indiscernible stirred under the water's surface. It could only be seen by the motion of the currents as of yet. Nuckelavees projected a natural Disillusionment when underwater, which dispelled when they emerged.
It was assuredly piqued by this intruder in its waters by now. The currents swished ever closer to the crag; and the foul smell, that of rot and stale blood, rose in intrusiveness. Judith spat her wand back into her hand and began breathing through her mouth, keeping her gaze fixed on where she best judged the invisible creature to be.
Some would have tried a subtle approach in this sort of hunt, relying on obfuscating Charms to shield their approach. A retained beast-breaker might have gone for a diplomatic approach. A sensible magic-user wouldn't have gone at all.
Judith's approach consisted of her baring her teeth in what amounted to a feral smile, raising her wand directly into the sky, and barking "Incendio!"
The flash of light and peal of thunder that came with the spell enraged the beast below the waters; and it erupted from the waves, seawater cascading down around a solid form that swiftly took substance. Red and bloody-pink swam into existence beneath the water, hooves reared at the sky, and the stench that slammed at Judith's nostrils all but made her stagger back.
The nuckelavee stood twice the height of a human at the withers, and that again at the shoulders. A skinless human torso rose from a skinless horse-form, slick pus and blood pulsing across the beast's hideless body. Massive sickly-yellow eyes dominated the foreheads of both human and horse heads, staring at Judith with an unfettered bale. Long claws hanging down at its sides unfolded, and both its mouths opened to unleash a set of hellish screams.
As Judith took it in, lightning struck and thunder clapped amidst the dark sky, briefly turning the nuckelavee to a rushing silhouette. Waves crashed amidst the thought-destroying screams from the creature, and it ploughed towards Judith's insecure refuge.
Judith reacted as quickly as she could; all but leaping back off the thin top of the crag as the nuckelavee rushed in. Her feet alighted on the sheer serrated slope falling down to the chopping sea, the Adhesive Charm on her boots flickering to life as they touched the stone. She swayed wildly at the impossible angle, hardly having time to pray that the charm held before the nuckelavee came flying in over the crag in one snarling bound. Its claws snared at the point where Judith had been standing, followed by the rot-mottled hooves flying overhead, its bloody hulk briefly becoming the sky.
In Judith's grasp, her wand spun; in less than an instant she spat "Diffindo!" up at the nuckelavee's underbelly, accompanied by a flash of cold white light that slashed free the creature's tail. It fell and flapped on the crag beside her, thrashing and spraying blood like some stricken serpent, while from behind her there came a watery crash and two bellows of pain as the nuckelavee hit the sea.
She threw herself forward and grabbed with some desperation at the top of the crag again, seizing it and heaving herself back up to the top with some difficulty. Energy, the wild sort that came of immediate danger, was flooding through her; and she slid swiftly into a duelist's stance atop the crag, her wand out and angled at the thrashing nuckelavee.
Past the din and motion and blur of thoughts, she was vaguely aware that her hat had fallen off. She paid it little heed.
The nuckelavee rose again from the tumultuous waters, red staining the grey around it. The horse head sighted Judith and loosed a rattling scream; the human head bared its teeth in a vicious smile. It started forward again at a steady march, hooves chopping through the water. Claws stretched, the curving black talons on each finger glistening under the rain.
"Diffindo!" The spell threw itself forward in a spiral of light, aiming for the nuckelavee's human throat.
The teeth of the human head peeled apart, and before the charm had closed half the distance, blackness slashed out of the creature's mouth in a writhing cloud of dark particles. They caught the light of the charm, curdling and tearing it apart into harmless specks that drifted against the fleshy torso as it lurched onwards.
"Oh, come now," muttered Judith, "Fight like a gentleman." The nuckelavee was now too close for comfort, and she tensed herself again.
Her wand shifted through another swift pattern (all the while, Judith tried to ignore the growing ache and fatigue in her fingers), and unleashed another plume of flame with "Incendio!", the tip slashing down through the air and sending fire arcing at the nuckelavee from head to gut.
The nuckelavee spat magic-destroying darkness again, catching the part of the fire that would have hit its body with an eruption of shadow and what sounded like the screaming of tortured flames. Part of the fire hit the water, however, and steam billowed up in a boiling rush. The creature screamed once more from both throats, and Judith exulted with the unintended success. A quick "Protego," brought a shield of shimmering demi-light into the air before her, and she edged backwards, glancing behind herself at the few feet of space she had in which to manoeuvre.
Out of the steam, a skinned horse head dashed forwards, and Judith's sudden flinch backwards saved her life. Great teeth like mildewed tombstones tore open the magical shield, gnashing and tearing the gossamer-thin magic into pulses of lightning and thunder between the beast's teeth. Judith slashed down with a shouted Reductor Curse, sending the head flying backwards with the sound of steaming flesh and an appalling scream.
No sooner had the head vanished, than one of the great claws slashed down out of the steam, trailing white strands of the gas behind it. Judith hurled herself to one side, just as the claw hammered down into the stone and tore through it like tissue paper. Shards and whirling rubble flew in all directions, and Judith fought for her balance on the thin ledge.
The claw withdrew, knocking more rubble clear from the metres-deep gouge it had torn into the crag. The clearing steam revealed the full form of the looming nuckelavee. Both heads had teeth bared, and from the human head, more ghastly laughter slithered clear.
Judith flicked her head to her side, to the crag on her side yet unmarred. An idea occurred, and she jumped briskly into the ruined dip in the stone, perching on a short ledge before the sudden jagged fall and sweeping her wand with another cry of "Reducto!" at the unbroken stone. Rocky shrapnel flew out at the nuckelavee, which shook slightly and hissed with pain at the unexpected attack.
The curse had been placed to leave a sharp jag of stone between the two new dips in the crag. Judith, breathing heavily, placed one foot on either side of the jag, and angled her wand once more up at the nuckelavee.
"Diffindo," she breathed, for form's sake as much as anything else. Darkness ate the spell, and the laughter from the nuckelavee couldn't be described as anything but malevolent.
Judith's real attention was on the distant crop of cliff on Westray, and she forced her mind to be still, to prepare itself, to concentrate-
The nuckelavee, with one more twinned howl, plunged down upon her, both sets of teeth blazing and both claws sweeping around in black arcs. Judith breathed in-
-and breathed out, in no small amount of pain.
The sounds of the sea and battle, which had been so immediate, were now distant and rolling; and with a twist of her head, she could make out the form of the nuckelavee over the ruined crag.
It was in pain, that much was clear. The horse head had slashed itself open on the jag and then been pulverised by the unstoppable slash of its claws and the crush of rubble that had ensued. Its body was reeling, as if drunk and tired, and the human head seemed to be emitting a confused and distressed lowing.
Judith realised that she herself was recumbent on the grass at the cliff's edge, and that she was still drenched with seawater. In addition, two of her fingers were missing.
Every time. Every bloody time she Apparated. Splinching, for her, was as inevitable as death and taxes.
She had a remedy for the first, at least. Right now, she had to take advantage of the chance she'd made for herself. Rising to her knees, she bit down and hissed with pain as she braced her injured hand between her arm and body, and aimed the wand at the nuckelavee and managed "Reducto," once more.
Her aim was good. The nuckelavee was too distant for the messy details of the spell's impact to be made out, but she saw the human head flopping forward and the whole body slumping.
Judith took a few moments to catch her breath and retrieve Essence of Dittany from her belt's pouches. The mixture smarted when she applied to her fingers' stumps, but the pain quickly subsided, and additional charms worked into the substance quietly retrieved the fingers from whatever exciting locale they'd found themselves. In a few moments, she flexed them and tested out a wand grip in the hand; good as new.
Rising to her feet, she looked down at the remains of the battle; at the smashed crag, the uncalm water, the spreading blood, and the dead nuckelavee. The skies were darker than when she'd begun, and the water choppier. Past gaps in the clouds, the first stars were coming out.
"Right," she said to herself and the distant nuckelavee corpse, with a certain amount of weary satisfaction. "Down we go again. There's a pouch of Galleons that one of your heads'll fetch."