Cat-a-lyst (n): 1. a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible. 2. an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action. - Merriam Webster
The undulating wail of an alarm startled her from her sleep, but she did not cry out as most children would. Blinking curiously toward the tiny window near the top of the door, she watched light and shadow flicker in an uneven pattern, like the flash of far-off lightning. She sat up on her little cot, and swung her socked feet toward the cool concrete floor.
More commotion. Now there was the thunder of running feet, shouts of - confrontation? fear? warning? She could not tell, but perhaps she should put on her shoes. She bent to retrieve the small white trainers, and quietly put them on. The noise outside her door continued on unabated, but nobody stopped and came in.
She was glad of that. Sometimes when they did come in, the needles hurt, as did their magic, even when they spoke in kind voices. And sometimes, when she got the answers wrong, their voices became hard and angry. Maybe they were moving again; it had happened a time or two before, always in the middle of the night, with much bustling and scurrying about.
There was a sharp noise, followed by a low rumble that shook the entire place they were keeping her. The metal frame of her cot rattled loudly against the stone floor and walls. More rapid footfalls, a terrified scream abruptly cut off. And then, a low, but distinct command from a voice she could not place:
"Check the cells."
She tried not to react, but could not help lowering her head toward her chest in disappointment. They were coming after all… but maybe just to move her. She supposed it would be too much to hope that they would forget about her, and accidentally leave her behind. She swung her legs, smacking the heels of her shoes together, rhythmlessly, and twirled one of her chestnut braids around her finger. She waited, as the rattling of door handles and the creaking of unoiled hinges grew louder and closer. Each time, the door to an empty cell slammed shut with an echoing clang. The chaos had ebbed; she could still hear the clash, but it was farther away. She wished the person at the doors would leave so she could find a way out.
Then, a shadow crossed the small, square window, a face, cloaked and indistinguishable. She could see a glint of a gaze; it met hers briefly.
The agent's name is Falworth, she thought matter-of-factly.
There was an inarticulate cry that followed the shaking of the locked door. Falworth must have tried Alohamora, for the door quivered briefly like gelatin, but remained unyielding. The shadowy face peered through the window again. When he turned, his cloak fell back; he was young, with honey-colored hair and a strong profile.
Falworth has been married for six months. His wife's name is Regina. He probably won't get to see her until morning.
Someone else must have joined him. She could hear voices, muffled but audible. They were trying to open her door. They wanted to get her out… to get her away. For the first time, she regarded the little glass square with something like interest sparking in her green eyes.
These weren't any of the needle people, those who poked and prodded, consulting each other in low serious tones behind rolls of parchment, looking at her with dispassionate eyes. Perhaps they were going to let her out of here. Maybe they would take her to the zoo. Cautiously she stood, and trod softly to the door. She folded her hands neatly in front of her, and waited patiently.
The young man attempting to open her door peered in again, and did a double take, when he saw her standing so closely.
"Get back!" he told her, his voice muffled as if heard from a great distance. His hand lifted for the accompanying gesture. "We'll have you out of there in just a moment, little one. Please move away from the door."
Regina had long brown hair that he thought was very pretty. He thought maybe when they had a daughter, she might look like me.
Obediently, she stepped backward, three precise steps, until she could feel the metal rim of the cot pressing into the backs of her legs.
A low rumble began and gradually built into a roar, and the door flew open with so much force that it hit the wall behind it and trembled on its hinges. Now Falworth was accompanied by another cloaked man; they stepped inside, little spirals of smoke still twirling up from the tips of their wands.
His partner's name is Dunwiddie.
"Hi there, darling. I'm Auror Falworth, and this is Auror Dunwiddie. Can you come with us please?" He held out his hand to her.
She turned anxious eyes to the open doorway. She was never supposed to be out in the corridor without one of the needle people, usually the one called Rhu, who braided her hair. They always locked it up tight. To keep her safe, they said, but she didn't believe them. Once, the door had inexplicably come open, after a very long, hard day when she was wishing badly to be free. There was much testing and prodding and consternation after that. Then they had given her the bracelet that she could not take off. It stung the soft skin of her wrist and gave her a headache. (Rhu said she was being silly, for how could a bracelet on one's arm give one a pain in the head?)
She did not even think about trying to open the door again after that.
He knows why I am scared. It makes him angry. But not at me.
"I promise it's all right. The people who did this to you, we're going to find them, and they're going to go to Azkaban. For a very long time. They won't be able to hurt you anymore."
I can see a tall black building on a scary, sad island in the middle of a stormy sea. The sky is always gray. Falworth doesn't like that place.
She took a deep breath, as if steeling herself to jump, and reached up to wrap her small fingers around Falworth's hand, stepping carefully over the threshold into the corridor.
"There's a girl," he said, reassuringly. He smiled down at her.
He would never hurt me. He thinks I'm a poor brave little girl.
"Can you tell us your name, love?"
"My name is Eleanor."
"And your last name? The names of your parents?" She blinked up at him, confused.
He doesn't understand why I don't understand.
"Eleanor is my only name. I don't have any parents."
She felt the two men exchange glances over her head. They asked her more questions, about her birthday, how old she was, the names of any people who were close to her. She didn't know any of the answers. Were they going to punish her?
Falworth saw her fright. His eyes were kind.
"It's okay, Eleanor. You've done well. We're going to take you to some people who will help you. We need to find your family."
Family? There was no family. There were only the needle people, their questions, their spells that poked and peeled and burned, and their bland, expressionless faces behind the medical masks. She looked frantically back toward her cell, although she didn't know why. Hadn't she wanted to leave this dreadful place?
Auror Falworth misunderstood her glance.
"Do you need your things? Any toys… dolls, books? Extra clothes?" He appeared ready to double back toward the door. She tugged on his hand, shaking her head.
"I don't have any things. There isn't anything in there, except my bed and the table, and… the commode." She wondered about the bracelet, its cool metal hidden beneath the rough sleeve of her jumper. They had said she could not take it off. They had said bad things would happen if she took it off. But Auror Falworth had said she did have a family… so perhaps the needle people were wrong about other things too. Perhaps he would help her get the bracelet off. She would ask him later.
He's angry again. But still not at me.
"What are bastards?"
Falworth grew very still. So still that Dunwiddie asked him if he was all right.
Falworth cocked a curious glance at her, but did not speak. Instead, he squeezed her hand, and tried to force his face into a smile.
"Come on, love. We're going to take you to some people who will help you."
"Where are we going?" she asked, but his answer had no meaning for her.
AN: This is something that's been percolating around in the back of my mind for awhile, so I figured I'd throw it out there for consideration. I have not abandoned "Shadow Walker", I'm just trying to figure out exactly where I want it to go. I had the next chapter nearly complete, but scrapped over half of it. It continues to be a work in progress.
Thank you for your patience. You may leave a review on the way out, if you like.