"Nice and easy does it," whispered Pandora, her soft hands overlapping her daughter's as they both emptied the contents of a pot into a boiling cauldron. "Very well done, sweetheart," she praised, gently peeling her daughter's fingers off the metal handles.
"Was it really? Or is that something you have to say because you're my mother and you love me so very much?" asked eight-year-old Luna.
"The science and art behind spellmaking are both held in a delicate balance between one another," said Pandora. "This means that even the smallest changes can have enormous consequences. If you hadn't done it correctly, I would have let you know so you'd never make the same mistake again." She'd turned away from the work table to begin scrubbing the pot in the sink. "That being said, I do enjoy pouring praise on those I love very very much."
"Like me," stated Luna, eyes wide and mischievous.
"Like you," smiled Pandora. "Why don't you keep an eye on that while I finish up here and once it's done, we can call your father in from the garden and have some tea."
The legs of a stool screeched across the floor as Luna pulled it around the table. She clambered onto the seat and was content to keep watch over the potion in near silence. Every once in a while, she'd hum disconnected tunes, both from existing songs and imagined ones. When Pandora recognized the song, she'd hum along with her daughter until the girl tired of the same melody and reverted back to her solemn vigil.
"Mm, yes, dear?" hummed Pandora.
"What did you say was supposed to happen after we added the Draught of Wilderness?"
"It's supposed to turn yellow, then solidify until it become gelatinous and produces small pockets of purple and mustard bubbles. Shouldn't be much longer now."
"Oh," said Luna.
Then, "Mum, I think something's wrong."
Pandora didn't question her daughter's statement. She whirled around, dropping the sopping pot in the sink full of water with a splash and rushed to Luna's side.
"What's the matter, swee—"
A great plume of smoke erupted out of the cauldron like the contents of a shaken, fizzy drink. The smoke was the darkest of purple, almost black, and shot up high until it hit the ceiling and began crawling across it, darkening the room until it seemed like night-time.
"Mum, what's going on?" Luna's inscrutable, airy voice trembled as she craned her neck to observe the festering clouds in the room.
"I'm not entirely sure, sweetheart," conversed Pandora, purposefully keeping her own voice unaffected. "It's getting awfully dark in here, though. Why don't you head on out, get some sunshine and fresh air, while I clean up in here?"
Pandora didn't wait for her daughter to respond before she was hauling her out of her chair and pushing her to the door. The smoke was solidifying - beginning to take its form and shape from a hybrid of magical and non-magical animals. The entire ceiling was covered in those dark clouds and as the substance reached the edges dropping into walls, they started to change, grow a likeness to legs, arms, heads, some with horns, others wings and all of them with razor sharp teeth and amber, glowing eyes.
"M-mum, what are those?" whispered Luna. "I don't think they like me."
"It's nothing to worry about, sweetheart, you just head out through the door and—"
Whatever she was about to say was cut short as one of the smoke creatures detached itself from the mesh of clouds on the ceiling and dragged itself down the wall. One of its three-fingered paws touched the top of the door and left behind scratches on the wood.
Pandora's breath caught in her throat. She grasped Luna's shoulders and twirled her around, hugging her close enough to stop her from getting a good look at the creatures twisting and jerking into existence above them. Pandora took out her wand from the pocket on her apron and held up over her head.
The familiar light blue film of the protective charm dropped out of the tip of her wand to form a protective dome around mother and daughter. The smoke creatures had almost completely solidified now, only the thinnest wisps of smoke trailing behind their forms. They were crawling down the walls and over the windows, blocking out the last remnants of light.
One of the creatures - a beast with the body of a snake, the clawed wings of a bat and the head of a boar - dropped down from the ceiling and landed directly in front of them. Pandora held back her terrified scream as half its body rose up off the ground to survey the room and she couldn't control the trembling in her body or the tightening of her arms around her daughter as the creatures locked its gaze on them.
"It's really dark now, mum."
"Y-yes," - Pandora cleared her throat - "yes, I know, darling. Mummy's trying to see how she can go about letting some light back in."
"It's not even night-time yet," Luna mumbled into her mother's stomach. "Where did the sun go?"
The smoke creature which had landed at their feet opened its mouth and hissed, exposing its sharp teeth and two thin tongues which it proceeded to run over its lips.
"It's still there, it's just… playing hide and seek. Like you do with your daddy sometimes, or with that Weasley girl from across the village. Remember her?"
Luna's head burrowed further into her mother's apron as she bobbed it up and down. "She's nice. I like her," she said.
"I know you do, sweetheart," Pandora replied lightly, her mind working a mile a minute trying to figure out a way out of the mess they were in. She dared to glance back at the door and noted that it was now completely obscured from view. The smoke creatures had taken over the entire room, they were clinging to the walls and dangling from the ceiling, taking their time inching closer and closer to the huddled pair in the centre of the room.
Pandora's arm was growing tired from being held aloft for so long and she was developing a piercing headache from holding the magical shield for so long. She was pouring all her strength into it, praying it would be enough to sustain them, to protect them from the creatures mercilessly taking over their home.
Huddled up as close to her as she was, Pandora felt Luna's humming vibrate through her chest before the sweet melody made its way up to her ears and at that moment, Pandora's heart broke a tiny bit. She didn't know what she'd done to deserve such an exceptional daughter, would probably never find out in fact, but she would go to the ends of the Earth and beyond for the little girl in her arms, to see her smile, to make her laugh, to brighten up her day…
"Sweetheart, you know what?"
The humming stopped. "What?"
"I think I just had a stupendous idea," Pandora declared. "Since we can't go out and enjoy the sunshine right this moment, what say you we bring in some of that light in here, hmm?"
Small fingers dug into Pandora's sides as Luna thought the proposal through.
"How? Can I help?" she asked, oblivious to the creatures now circling their protective dome, using their claws, horns, tongues and tails to poke at the magical defences.
"You certainly can," announced Pandora. "I need you to close your eyes - keep them shut as tight as you can - and think about the happiest memory you have."
The dome shook as one of the creatures with a long snout and scales running down its back opened its mouth and breathed toxic green fire.
"My happiest memory?" asked Luna. "Like when you, me and daddy went to that beach for Christmas and spent all that time searching for the sand dollars that Sea Nymphs use?"
Pandora's eyes filled with tears, the same ones that felt like they were choking her with a vice around her throat. Her hand trembled as she brought it up to cradle the back of her daughter's head, fingers running over the silky strands of hair she'd fashioned into a braid that very morning.
"Yes, darling, just like that. Can you do that for me?" Luna nodded her head. "Are you doing it right now?" Another nod. "Perfect."
Pandora had a thought just then, the thought that these were quite possibly her last moments on Earth, on this plane of existence. What she was about to attempt was full of risk and sacrifice. It required more strength than she had and would leech off her magic until she had none left so it would then target her life, the very essence which kept her walking, breathing, eating, talking, thinking, hoping, loving.
If her spell went well, she'd be walking out of her own life so her daughter would have a change at living hers.
Pandora gathered her daughter close and breathed her in, recognizing traces of jasmine from their homemade soap, hints of burned wood and coal from the fire warming their living room and freshly turned soil from a morning spent rolling around in the garden.
"You know what's so amazing about good things like happy memories, sweetheart? We can call on them whenever we need them and they'll come back to us, just like that. Are you at the beach with daddy now?"
"And you," said Luna.
"That's my girl."
The protective dome quaked and shattered. Pandora kept her wand raised over her head as the smoke creatures prowled towards them. She didn't flinch away from their glares as they focused their yellow eyes on her. In fact, she met them head on with an unspoken warning and a promise brimming in her eyes and coursing down her cheeks.
Pandora gripped her daughter tight, closed her eyes and spoke the incantation to the spell she'd been working on for the past decade.
A light flickered to life on the tip of her wand. Though it appeared nothing more than a solitary bubble hovering in the air, radiating a steady glow in the dark of the room, there was something in the depths of the bubble, right at the centre, which danced and gleamed with the essence of life.
Pandora had no way of knowing what she'd summoned to her home to protect her daughter. She couldn't possibly know that it was only through the slightest miscalculation, the smallest amount of give in the tightly wound strands holding the spell together which allowed her to be woken up several minutes later by her panicking husband.
"What happened? Are you all right? Is Luna okay? Is she hurt? Are you hurt? Should I call for a Healer? I should call for a Healer," Xenophilius rambled, dark hair sticking to his pallid face.
Pandora shifted and groaned. She'd fallen on her back with the weight of her daughter pushing her down and causing twice as much damage when she'd hit the floor. She was sure to have bruises all over her back and arms, and even her head going by the warm, pulsing bump sticking out behind her left temple.
"I-I think I'm fine," she mumbled, taking Xenophilius' hand gratefully and pulling herself up. "Check on Luna, please, Xeno. I think she's just unconscious but if there's anything wrong with her, I don't—"
Xenophilius nodded and took their daughter in his arms, carefully resting her on top of the long work table when he took out his wand and ran the few diagnostic spells he knew.
"She's fine," he breathed out, then, louder, "she's going to be just fine, my love. Nothing a hearty bowl of soup and some pumpkin juice won't fix."
"Thank the Gods," sighed Pandora. She stumbled upright on unsteady legs and fell into her husband's arms, whispering what had happened in one steady stream of shaken breaths.
That night, when Luna's bedtime came about, Pandora was quick to snatch her favourite book out of their shelves, one about adventure and daring and love and sacrifice, and read it to her daughter from front to cover. She continued reading aloud long after Luna had nodded off and didn't realize her husband had been listening in until she found him sprawled out outside their daughter's door, head hanging to his chest, legs sprawled out in front of him.
Over the weeks after the incident in the laboratory Pandora found herself spending more and more time with her nose buried in her books, her hair sticking up at all ends from the fumes of boiling cauldrons and the bottom of her pencil worn to the lead from continuous anxious chewing. She didn't know what she was searching for as she explored and took apart the spell which had saved her and her daughter's lives months ago.
She knew she'd never take her family for granted though and that was why she limited daytime experiments in her lab and continued them late at night, when Xenophilius and Luna were asleep. Her project would come along faster if she knew what she was looking for, but she couldn't explain what fuelled her to keep investigating and experimenting any more than she could make sense of her husband's passion for The Quibbler. It was like a singular substance added into the mixture which made her whole and without it, she wouldn't be the person she was, the people they all were.
Luna was happy. She'd suffered nightmares for a few weeks but those seemed to have been left in the past and she now ran around the garden, played with the Weasley girl, continued her search for the creatures she and her father were convinced were hiding in far-off corners of the world and had resumed helping her mother in her lab - though they read their instructions out of a book rather than Pandora's personal notebook.
A year passed in this fashion. By this time Luna had completely forgotten of that one scary incident with the smoke monsters jumping out of the darkness.. She was oblivious to her mother's vigilant eyes as she helped stir a potion, or the twitch to her father's shoulders when she wrapped herself in her child-sized, potion-making apron and trotted out of the room.
Therefore, she thought nothing of it when one night, when she had woken up in the late hours for a cup of water, strange noises started filtering into the kitchen through the cracked door to the laboratory. Luna did find it curious that her mum would be working so late but it wouldn't be the first time Pandora lost track of time fiddling with one thing or another and tuning her experiments to perfection.
Luna was prepared to go straight back upstairs - in the frigid cold of the kitchen at night, her warm bed was calling to her like an irresistible siren - but then the kitchen became. She'd been relying on the moonlight to guide her through the house but now that it was gone, covered up by a black cloud, she was left feeling out of sorts, her childhood fears of monsters under the bed having not quite left her yet.
As suddenly as the darkness descended, a light joined it side by side, its long, spindly fingers reaching for Luna from under the lab's door. Luna walked towards it - to her mum - but came to a brisk stop once she spotted what was going on inside the room.
The smoke creatures were back, circling her mother who stood in the centre of the room, three large circles drawn on the ground in chalk with a different candle placed at each cardinal point. There were symbols etched into the floor in dizzying patterns, ones which Luna had never seen before, and her mother, Pandora, was positioned in the middle of it all, wand in hand.
"I needed to know," Pandora was saying, "I couldn't not know. It was eating away at me, I just… I had to do something. I didn't know this would—I didn't know, please."
"Don't think you can fool us, Mrs Lovegood," purred one of the smoke creatures, its strange features shifting from one form to another in a matter of seconds. "We may not be as powerful in this plane as we are in ours but we are strong enough to spot a lie."
"I am not lying," begged Pandora, "I was just… curious and foolish and I never should have continued that spell—"
"Alas, but you did."
Luna couldn't see the creature from the doorway, but she could tell from the lilt to its voice that it was smiling. She wanted to run to her mother, pull on her hand and rush her as far away from the room as they could get. They'd all run away together - Luna, her dad and her mum - and they'd hide like the Crumple-Horned Snorkack and they'd never have to worry about these creatures finding them ever again.
"Please," sobbed Pandora, head dropping forward in supplication. "My family… They have no idea, they—"
"No harm will come to them if you submit willingly."
Luna was young, almost too young to understand what was happening on the other side of the door, but she wasn't young enough to ignore the way her heart got caught in her throat, how her legs weakened to jelly, as her mother's wand clattered to the ground and she dropped to her knees. She must have made some noise for her mother's spine suddenly became ramrod straight and her eyes snapped to Luna's still form by the door.
A message passed between mother and daughter then. Pandora didn't have to say anything for Luna to understand what her mother was asking of her, the impossibility of it. Her lips parted, ready to argue and beg if she had to, but her mother shook her head almost imperceptibly and mouthed 'Stay. I love you'.
Luna's response to that was to break down in silent tears and noiseless sobs.
"I won't put up a fight," said Pandora, gaze now focused on the creatures in front of her. "Do me a favour and make it quick, please."
The creatures hissed, growled, snickered and chirped all at once.
"As you wish."
In a flash of darkness and power, the creatures lost their form and turned back to shapeless smoke, then began joining together and converging into a thick cloud directly on top of Pandora. They began moving together in spirals, creating a tornado which quickly picked up speed until papers, books, chairs and tools were flying around the room. As the storm finally took its shape, Pandora calmly tipped her head back and stared at the moving masses above her.
The creatures struck. The tip of the vortex caressed Pandora's lips then pushed into her, flooding her body with the creatures' essence until her skin turned blue and dark, raised veins erupted across her face, protruded from her neck and lined her arms. Luna watched in mounting horror and fear the way one would view an accident unfolding from far away, unable to help and frozen with the knowledge that even if she were there with her mother, she wouldn't be able to save her.
Smoke was starting to leak out of Pandora's nose, eyes and ears. The cloud above her was becoming smaller and smaller as the creatures took over her body and once the last of them had filtered through, Pandora slumped to the ground, convulsing. There were cracks and slaps as bones broke and flesh hit the ground and then Pandora's mouth opened once more and white, ephemeral mist drifted out, curling and twisting to the ceiling where it sank through the cement and ambled into the night.
The creatures were gone; only Pandora's lifeless body was left behind along with her daughter, who tripped into the room and stumbled to her mother, dropping down by her side.
That is how Xenophilius Lovegood found his family the very next morning, hours after his wife's death. He let out a senseless cry and cradled the bodies of his wife and daughter in his arms, one cold as ice and the other seemingly on her way there.
Though Luna was woken up by her father's presence, she left herself be hugged, kissed and murmured to, only barely registering what was going on around her. She sensed it when her father picked her up and detached her fingers, one by one, from her mother's shift. She saw through flashes that she was being moved upstairs and felt the soft cotton sheets of her bed against her legs as her father tucked her in. She also heard the mutterings of a sleeping spell, and after that, there was no force strong enough to pull her away from the clutches of sleep to hear what happened next…