Chapter 2 : Rewind
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Unless, of course, you count Dad. But I’ll get to him later.
My mother was a teacher. Not at a wizarding school, though; she taught Muggles. Why, I’ll never know, but she had this odd fixation with them. I recall one-sided conversations in which she would go on and on about photosynthesis and exergonic reactions and laws created by a Muggle man by the name of Newton. I would smile and nod in the right places, when I never really understood what she was saying, nor was I interested. When she was done, she would grin widely, exposing more teeth than was feasible for her mouth to contain, and rumple my hair. She would say my name, “Arachnae,” just once, and in an offhand way, as though it were something she was reminding herself to do later, and then walk away to grade some paper or another.
It didn’t matter, though, that I didn’t follow what she was talking about; it was delightful enough just to hear her, no matter the subject. She had the sort of voice that seemed to hang in the air even after she finished speaking; the kind of voice that seemed to dance like a lively sprite over your ear one minute, and trickle sweetly, like honey, the next. It was a motherly sort of voice that was neither too high nor too low – right where it needed to be. So it never mattered that I didn’t know what a sarcoplasmic reticulum was; just hearing her tongue work itself around such a phrase was all the comprehension I needed.
Like her voice, the rest of my mother was balanced, too. She wasn’t tall, nor was she short. Not slim, but not stout either. Even her hair was a soft, wavy brown that couldn’t be classified as light or dark. The only thing about her that seemed to favor one side of a spectrum was her eyes. They were a bright, knowing blue, woven together with a twinkling, silver glow; a color that’s often described as ‘icy,’ but hers were anything but. The light, grey-flecked aqua was reminiscent of the sky during summer, and brought to mind only warm things, never something like ice. They were the eyes that dazzled me in my dreams, and soothed me through the nightmares. They were the sort of eyes that you would hate to see filled with sadness – or worse – fraught with disappointment. And though they could convey such raw emotion, there was only so much they could hold before all of it burst forth in tears.
It wasn’t often that I’d see her cry, but every once in a while, it did happen, and I’d feel as though my heart would simply stop beating if I watched her long enough. Especially if I knew that I’d been the one who’d brought on the tears.
Dad was different entirely. Unlike the balanced, comforting presence of my mother, he had a way of putting a tension in the air, draping a sense of restlessness over a quiet area, of prickling the hairs on the back of my neck merely by being in the same room. But I suppose that all had its own, odd sort of comfort; an unorthodox reassurance that I’ve never gotten from anyone else but him. It was a nice thing to have, really, and it kept me on my toes.
He was very tall, and had a somewhat skeletal nature about him, most likely due to the ashen, bone-like color to his skin, but it could have been his slender frame. Perhaps both were involved, but it certainly wasn’t in the way he moved. There was a strange, serpentine grace to his motions, something you wouldn’t expect from such a gangly man. He would walk as though he were liquid, effortlessly tumbling over any terrain, sneaking along slowly and soundless as an owl when the situation called, but could stop so suddenly and so smoothly that you’d forget he’d ever been moving at all. His hands, though, were not so much akin to water as to some kind of insect, jittery and terrified, in constant fear of being swatted. His long, pallid fingers would twitch as if of their own accord, jump and dance in midair as though playing the keys rapidly on an invisible piano, and always, always tap. He would drum those spidery fingers against a table, desk, chair, the side of his leg – any surface that was available.
“Icarus, stop that incessant tapping,” mother would say, and he’d curl both hands into tight fists before shoving them, with no small amount of ferocity, into his pockets.
That particular habit was one of the many traits I’d inherited from Dad, though I’ve never had a spouse to bother me about it. I suppose that’s the biggest difference between him and me – he learned from his mistakes; he was able to turn his life back from what it once was…
But again, more of that later.
In almost every other aspect, though, we were alike. His inky black hair, straight as a ruler, hung to his shoulders, the tips just barely dusting his collar. If the occasion was special enough, he’d run a brush through it, and might even tie it back. Most often, though, it was a lank, greasy sheet, parted like a dark curtain to expose his face. And his eyes, though nothing as wonderful as my mother’s, had their own intriguing quality. Their color was that of a deep, rusty brown – not exactly beautiful, but not boring either. At first glance they seemed very two-dimensional, containing simple warmth, kindness, the sort of calming, parental things you’d expect in a father’s eyes. Upon closer inspection, though, they’d begin to draw you in with everything behind the tender exterior. You’d see sadness, regret, guilt, and beyond that, a sort of longing for the events that caused such guilt, and further still would be a self-loathing for wanting to repeat such awful things, and beneath it all, a cold, concentrated madness, fighting just to keep itself under control, the darkness writhing and seething, threatening to break through the thin barrier of kindness. And then you’d have to look away, because the prospect of what else could lurk beneath was too scary to comprehend. All of it hidden in a pair of dark, rusty eyes.
I often wonder if my eyes look the same way.
Like I said, my dad and I are very alike, and in more than just appearance. And just like me, he sank so deeply into the Dark Arts that it threatened to consume him. Only, unlike me, he found a way out, was able to break the surface before being swept away by the current. It started with research. Simply the study of a fascinating subject. But research turns quickly to experimentation when left unchecked, and what was once a small coil of interest grew to be a dangerous obsession.
He was traveling in Europe, just out of school, planning to visit Transylvania, the Dark Arts capital of the world, for more of his so-called ‘research.’ But he never got that far. He was in London when he heard of a Dark wizard called Grindelwald.
I’m sure you can guess what happened after that.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Dad a “pure-blood maniac,” but he wasn’t nearly as fond of Muggles as Mother, and more than once I’ve heard the word “Mudblood” slip past his lips. I’m certain that Grindelwald’s “noble cause” was part of what drew him to that side, but I’m also certain that the bigger thing was the opportunity, the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be able to practice what he loved without hindrance or punishment. And it wasn’t too terrible at first; it never is.
But Dark Magic is, to put it simply, addictive – worse than any Muggle drug. One small taste, that’s all it takes, and soon you’re pining for more. Perhaps you can’t feel it right away, or maybe it’s more compelling to some people than others. I’m not quite sure how it all works – that certainly wasn’t in any of the textbooks I used to pore over as a child – I can only draw on experience. Both mine and my father’s.
He started with a few simple curses, those he’d been able to use on cockroaches and such, and that was fine for a while, but it didn’t keep him satisfied for long. As with any drug, one builds up a tolerance. So it was with Dad. He moved on to Darker, more complicated spells; curses for twisting his victim’s limbs till they broke, for melting the flesh from their bones, draining the blood from their veins, even. From there, it only got worse. In his madness, he couldn’t see what was happening to him. He was blinded by the same darkness that he loved so dearly, and there might’ve been no escape for him if Dumbledore hadn’t stepped in to save the day.
Grindelwald defeated, his followers were scattered. Some went to Azkaban, some were killed trying to escape, and still others were able to lie low and avoid the Aurors. Drawn out of his lunatic daze by his master’s defeat, my father fled the country, returning to America, where he assumed he wouldn’t be bothered by Aurors. Well, if you’ve ever come off using the Dark Arts so suddenly, you’d know how much willpower you need to exude to keep yourself in control. I don’t have that willpower. My father did.
The Ministry left him alone, and eventually he met my mother, got married, et cetera, et cetera… For the most part, he led a normal life after that.
But your past isn’t something you can just shuck off like a second skin. It stays with you, somewhere deep and secret where it’s easy to hide from others, but quite plain to you, haunting, in some cases. Particularly in Dad’s case, his Dark obsession, though it dwindled, never truly dissipated. It lurked within him, never coming to light, only clawing faintly at the back of his mind, hoping to drive him back to what he’d been, and garnering from him only strict defiance.
I wish I had my father’s strength.
Power. That’s what everyone wants, farther down than they dare to look. The Dark Arts give us that. That’s what makes it so intoxicating. The amazing rush of incomparable control… But it’s deceptive in that way. We may think we’re using the magic, bending it to our will, but we’re the ones being used. We’re the ones who’re bent till we break. There’s no escaping that, once we’ve driven ourselves under. We can try, of course, can hold it off, but it’ll reach us in the end. When all is said and one, the blackness is a consumptive force, wrapping its oily hands around our mind. It encroaches, slowly at first, just hovering at the edge of our consciousness. Then it’ll begin to blot at the clarity of our vision, casting a shade over all that we see, throwing everything into a skewed perspective. Before long, it leads us to compulsion, dependence; we feed off of the taste it’s given us. Once it has us trapped, it directs us, easing our hands into a different position, caressing them as it goes. It will whisper soft commands in our ears, and wrap us in its cold, bitter embrace, running its dark fingers through out hair. And though we know it’s wrong, we can’t help but bask in the black, twisted heaven it’s woven for us. Finally, it has us. And we are betrayed. What we thought was a caress was a sharp strike across the face. What was once a sweet, whispering secret has become and endless, inhuman shriek, composed, not only of the harsh tongue of our captor, but of our own newfound agony. What we mistook for a loving embrace, a friend, is now a monstrous shadow, ripping at our eyes with inky knives, thorns made of bat wing and night sky… And we want to run, want to hide away from that to which we so eagerly turned, now that it’s gone and turned back on us. The Darkness takes up residence in our heart, and there it remains, splashed like paint over your soul, like a dark stain.
Exactly like a stain.
Must run in the family.
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