Chapter 3 : Catalyst
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When I poked my head through the trap door, I was, not surprisingly, met with a penetrating darkness. I clambered up onto the creaking wood, feeling something like a buzz in the air, though not really hearing anything. I didn’t move at first, wondering if perhaps I really shouldn’t be up here, whether I should climb back down the ladder and never think about this place again. Oh, if only I had turned back, given in to my childlike timidity; if I had, like so many times after, listened to those subtle warnings from my subconscious…
I steeled myself, holding my hands out in front like a zombie in a Muggle movie, hoping to find some source of light. I didn’t find any immediately, but took quite a nasty tumble over what felt like a tower of cardboard boxes, spilling their contents all over the floor and creating a noticeable thwack as I landed spread-eagled among them.
As though this particular fact wasn’t already obvious enough: I am a very clumsy person. This does, however, have its uses. For example, when I managed to clamber up from that uncomfortable position on the floor, I felt a thin, low-dangling chain come to rest on my head. I promptly reached up and tugged it, bathing the room in a soft, yellowish glow. The light from the single bulb lit up the newly overturned boxes, revealing all that had fallen out, and making visible the dancing dust fairies that I’d shaken from rest.
I knelt, picking through the various things that had tumbled out of their containers. For the most part, heavy, thickly-bound books lay sprawled before me, but tossed among them were odd bits of parchment here and there, a long, rolled-up scroll, and a smaller box with the untidy label, “Junk,” scrawled across one of its sides. Naturally, I went for that first. Prying apart the cardboard flaps that sealed the package, I peered inside.
It was filled to about half-way with disorganized clumps of this and that, most of which was a this or a that that I’d never seen before. Among the familiar items was Dad’s old wand – snapped right in two – that Mom had sat on a few years ago, the training wheels from my bicycle, and a copy of my parents’ wedding photo. The things that I didn’t recognize were far more numerous. There was a hodgepodge of spiny metal objects that were rusted over and stained in several places, and tangled through all the spikes was a long, blue thread that almost looked like it was breathing. Almost. Underneath all that was something that looked like a simple wooden spoon, though there was something about it that kept me from picking it up.
Way at the bottom was a large, steel butterfly that nearly took up the entire base of the box. That I could pick up, and I did. It seemed to be the only thing there that wasn’t caked in dust, and upon raising it up to the light, I could see the tiny dust particles dance away from the butterfly as they got near to it. The wings sparkled and shimmered even in the dull source of light, and were set with bits of glass in all colors. I was almost inordinately fascinated by the tiny jewels, and the longer I looked at them, the more they seemed to form a web of color and light in my mind, something so beautiful that I could just sit there and stare at it forever…
I put down the butterfly very quickly. Setting the “Junk” box aside, I picked up the scroll. It was made of heavy parchment of a very fine quality; something too expensive for everyday writing. I unrolled it against the floor. Though it must have been tightly wound like that for years, it lay flat against the wood, making it easier for me to examine it. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that it was a family tree, but I didn’t realize at first that it was my family tree. That only came when I saw my name written at the bottom in Dad’s untidy scribble.
Okay, now this was interesting. I scanned the names on the tree for anyone familiar. Mom was right next to Dad, but no-one else from her side of the family seemed to be anywhere on the parchment. I did, however, see Aunt Lis, and Grandpa and Grandma Firmin, and then two people who I assumed must be my great-grandparents, one of which was supposed to still be living, according to the dates beneath her name. I wondered briefly why I’d never met her.
I rolled up the family tree, vowing to look at it again the next time I had a chance, but still determined to look at the other stuff that had spilled out around me. I picked up one of the scraps of parchment, and once again recognized Dad’s writing, though I didn’t understand what was written on the paper.
Correct on p. 114 in VH: Wand mvmnt. better as twist, not jab.
Below that were similar notes, and all the other bits of paper were filled in the same manner. Boring. I set those aside in as neat a stack as was possible, then looked to what remained of the clutter.
I picked up a book that had slipped to the edge of the mess and examined the cover. It was completely caked with dust, and took quite of bit of prodding from my hand to get it to leap off and into the air. I sneezed through the thickness of the floating particles, the wind only serving to swirl the specks around even more. The title of the book was stamped in fading gold leaf on the reddish, suede-like material that bound the pages together. A thin ribbon of the same fabric dangled lazily from in between two pages near to the front of the book. I sat, letting it fall open to the marked page, and read a few lines of the small print.
There is a very precise art to spells of contortion, one that takes much power and practice. Unlike many other spells of Dark quality, which produce a consistent effect throughout every casting, curses that twist one’s victim out of his natural shape –
I snapped the book shut as my eyes passed over the last few, disturbing words, choosing instead to read the title.
Disfigurement and Dismemberment: A Guide to Dark Spells of Extreme Focus
I stood up very quickly, sure that I’d stumbled onto something that I wasn’t supposed to see. I made for the ladder, and stopped with my foot on the topmost rung. An odd curiosity had seized me, the kind that takes immense pleasure in accessing the forbidden, and adores the childish thrill it gets from doing something you’re not supposed to do.
I stepped off of the ladder, and strode back to the book, sitting down with it in my lap. I flipped it open to the first page, and began to read.
In the weeks that followed, I returned to the attic quite frequently, but not to read through the family tree, as I’d told myself I would. Instead, I was reading through the books. Dad had quite the collection; whatever their purpose, supporting or refuting, teaching or warning, every one of them had a common topic that was, predictably, Dark Magic. There, in the dimly lit space of the loft, my peculiar – and later, dangerous – interest was created and fostered by the stumbled-upon ‘library.’ Most of the other boxes that I hadn’t tripped over contained more volumes. In this way, I always had something to do when there was nothing else.
Whether or not it was something I should be doing was somewhat ambiguous at the moment.
It was really only a matter of time before Dad discovered that I’d been up in his attic. He found me perusing a lengthy tome entitled Casual Hexes for Unusual Situations, surrounded by the scraps of paper he’d used to take notes and make corrections on that particular book. I looked up as he stepped from the ladder, and then, realizing that I might actually be in some kind of trouble, snapped the book shut and hid it hurriedly behind my back.
He seemed torn between anger and amusement. Eventually, though, he chose to err on the side of amusement. Or at least he didn’t appear to be angry. After a while, he even warmed up to the idea of me reading through his old stuff. I guess it gave him something to share with me, in an odd sort of way. It was better, too, for me, because now I had someone to pry apart with questions when I was confused. He’d answer them to the best of his ability. He would not, however, no matter how I pleaded, demonstrate any of the spells in the books. If I asked him, he would answer with a cryptic, “Don’t tempt me,” before quickly changing the subject.
I don’t blame my father for what I became, but sometimes I wish he’d had more foresight. He’d seen what the Dark Arts had done to him; how could he hope that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes? It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to restrict my access to the attic, or better yet, throw away everything up there, so I wouldn’t have a reason to go back. That brings up an interesting question, though: Why had he kept it? Why, when he was trying to avoid ‘temptation,’ did he have every Dark object he’d ever owned hidden beneath the roof?
I know that rambling about things that could have been won’t change what’s already said and done, but I can’t help wondering how I might have turned out – how everything might have turned out – if certain things hadn’t happened the way they did. If I had written ‘no’ instead of ‘yes,’ if I hadn’t gone to Hogwarts, if my unfailing curiosity hadn’t led me to explore the upper reaches of my house… But all of it comes down to the fact that it’s too late. I can’t change the past. I’m not sure it would’ve mattered anyway. Fate always finds a way to stick you where it wants you.
But Fate won’t take the blame for anything. In the end, it’s always going to be your fault.
a/n: Sorry that one took so long... Reviews are appreciated, and constructive criticism wanted. =)
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