He was not a secret agent, a detective, or even a policeman. At the age of ten he was, in fact, not much of anything at all, other than wet and sore from an afternoon spent hiding behind a thick row of overgrown shrubbery. But as it happened, on this day, neither Lorcan’s age nor lack of status made any difference to the boy. If courage and determination established one’s lot in life, Lorcan Scamander could have been crowned King of England right where he sat.
For Lorcan had a job to do, and he planned to do it well.
For hours now he’d been waiting, sitting crouched beneath the mysterious man’s windowsill, his small hands braced against the house’s stone exterior. He moved only when absolutely necessary, careful not to rustle the leaves on the overhanging branches, the pointy ends of which kept tangling themselves in the untidy wash of blonde hair that fell to his chin.
Finding the place had been easier than he expected. He’d been given the man’s address – which he was happy to find was just a quick walk inland from where he was staying in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye. The house itself was a rather modest-looking cottage – not so different from the home he shared with his mother, father and twin brother Lysander. It was single story structure with a low slanted roof and a wooden front door almost as tall as the house itself. Heavy curtains were drawn across the windows, dashing any hopes Lorcan had of trying to snag a quick peek inside.
Despite the apparent solitude – the house positioned well off the main road and out of the view of passersby – Lorcan remained cautious, remembering his orders to stay well hidden and out of sight. It was why he was hiding now – why the withered old shrub had caught his eye. It was so large it could have passed for a small tree, growing close against the house, the branches so high they nearly touched the window above. It was the perfect spot – a safe place where he could watch from without being seen, just like she had told him to find. All he had to do now was wait.
The day had been gloomy from the outset, the dense morning fog never truly burning away as the sun remained hidden behind a dark line of rumbling clouds. Little more than an hour had passed before the skies opened up and began dumping buckets of cold rain right on top of where Lorcan sat. The slight overhang from the pitched roof provided little in the way of shelter and soon the ground beneath him was slick with mud. The shower was fast-moving, the wind blowing the worst of the storm away and out to the east, but the day remained damp and cold, and as the afternoon wore on, Lorcan’s clothes grew stiff and uncomfortable as they clung to his skin, with only his body heat to dry them. His legs began to cramp. Goose pimples covered his bare arms, prickling his exposed flesh. His feet grew so numb he wasn’t sure he could stand up anymore even if he wanted to.
Hour after hour passed and the boy just sat there shivering. Despite the discomfort and apprehension he felt, watching the sky grow dark with the approaching twilight, Lorcan remained resolute. Thoughts of his mother back at the reserve making supper and the promise of a warm, dry change of clothes might otherwise have been enough to send him on his way. But Lorcan wanted his reward. For all his troubles, he’d been promised five whole Galleons. Never in his life had he seen such a fortune. Not on Christmas, not on his birthday. Not even when he’d knocked out his three front teeth and been given a sack full of coins by the Tooth Fairy. And of course, that was saying nothing of the look he’d see on his brother’s face when Lorcan finally got the chance to tell him what he’d done. That alone would be worth more than any amount of gold and silver.
Lorcan shifted slightly, his foot sinking deeper into the wet earth. For the hundredth time that day he closed his eyes and concentrated on the small scrap of paper tucked away in his back pocket. Along with the address, Lorcan had been given a tiny square of yellowing newspaper, so old and wrinkled the picture on it didn’t even move anymore. The photograph was of a man, his face forever frozen in an awkward half-pose, his mouth open as if to convey a message no one would ever hear.
This was the man Lorcan had been sent to find. And this was the house where he was supposed to live.
Just see his face, she had told him. Just see his face, make sure it’s him, and then run home as fast you can.
Though he’d paid attention as best he could, in all the hours he sat there, Lorcan never saw anyone enter the house or anyone depart it. No movement, no flickering lights, no voices or muffled footsteps. He saw no signs of life at all. Perhaps if Lorcan had in fact been a spy, he might have noticed something wasn’t quite right, for the window he was crouched beneath - the one that was sealed up tight when he arrived - was now unmistakably and undeniably wide open. But Lorcan didn’t notice a thing - not until it was far too late.
Large hands shot suddenly through the open window. In one quick movement they had the boy by the shirt collar and were yanking him upward. Lorcan’s feet cleared the ground before he even had time to react.
Boney fingers dug into his shoulders. He cried out in pain and surprise as his back scraped across the hard window frame. Instinct took over and he began to kick his legs out wildly in all directions, his feet tangling themselves in the heavy window dressings. The effort did nothing to slow his attacker. The large hands just kept pulling. Lorcan was being dragged into the darkened house and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
The hands loosened their grasp and Lorcan fell inward and onto the floor. He landed flat on his back. His head bounced once, making a loud THUNK! as his skull met the ground below. Dizziness overtook him. He tried to cry out again but found the air had been driven from his lungs. Tears of pain and confusion clouded his vision. He coughed once, jerking his lungs back to life, cool air rushing into his mouth and burning the back of his throat.
Through the darkness he heard more than saw a towering figure creeping toward him, each step making a rhythmic clump-clump, clump-clump, as first his cane and then his heavy boots crept closer to where Lorcan lay. At last, the figure stopped, hovering high above the terrified boy.
"Get up,” the stranger commanded. His voice was alarmingly calm, the words quiet and without compassion.
Lorcan couldn’t move. He was frozen in horror and pain.
“I said, get up!” Once again the man reached out with strong hands, grabbing the boy by the shirt and lifting him to his feet. Lorcan swayed, his head still spinning. He reached out to steady himself and his hand bumped a small table and something heavy fell to the floor.
“Who sent you here?”
Lorcan was frantic, turning his head from side to side. Despite the open window, the room was black as night. For a moment he thought he’d gone blind from the blow to his head. But as his eyes adjusted, he began to make out various shapes in the dark. A couch perhaps, and a fireplace. A wooden chest lying open in the center of the room. And there, just in front of him, the hulking shadow man. It was too dark to make out his features, but one thing was unmistakable: the small pin of green light that seemed to be dancing toward him. Lorcan knew instantly what it was – the glowing end of a wand pointing straight at his chest.
"Please!” Lorcan cried. “Don’t –”
“Who sent you here?” the voice repeated. He was closer now, the lighted wand tip filling Lorcan’s field of vision. He tried to back away but bumped into something solid. He felt around blindly behind him. It was a door. He grabbed at the handle. It wouldn’t budge.
“Please, sir,” he pleaded, still pulling at the door, desperate for it to open. “I just want to go home.”
The wand was now only inches from the boy’s face and growing closer. His heart was thudding in his chest, his hands slick with sweat as they continued to claw at the door. He was trapped. There was nothing for it. He turned his face away, squeezing his eyes shut and bracing himself for whatever was about to happen. And then...
Lorcan remained motionless, not even daring to breath. Still pressed against the door, he waited for what felt like an eternity to feel the blow of some terrible curse that would rip him to shreds or leave him writhing on the floor. But nothing came.
Slowly, he opened one eye. The darkness seemed to have faded. Lorcan could now make out the bent frame and sallow face of his attacker. He was older than Lorcan expected, especially considering the strength he had shown, lifting the boy clear off his feet not once, but twice. He was tall and gaunt with long graying hair that grazed his rounded shoulders. His eyes were dark, sunken deep into a heavily lined face. His mouth was thin and twisted into a gruesome sneer. Lorcan expected that at any moment he might curl back his upper lip, revealing pointed fangs dripping with blood like the vampires in the books his mother said he was still too young to read.
With the tiniest sense of relief, Lorcan noticed that the wand that had been pointed straight at his heart now hung limply at the man’s side.
When he spoke, the man’s voice was just as composed as before, but Lorcan was sure he detected the faintest hint of disappointment. “You’re nothing but a stupid child.”
Despite his fear, Lorcan felt a wave of protest rise up in his chest. He was neither stupid nor a child. But he held his tongue, still eyeing the wand with apprehension.
“How old are you?” the man asked.
“Tttt—Ten,” Lorcan managed with a stutter.
“And why were you hiding outside this window, sneaking around like a common Peeping Tom?”
“No!” Lorcan insisted, shaking his head. “I wasn’t peeping, honest.”
“Then what?” When the boy didn’t reply, the man raised his wand just an inch.
“Please, no!” Lorcan cried, flattening himself against the door, the handle pressing painfully into his back. “I swear, it wasn’t anything bad. I promise. I was just doing her a favor. I wasn’t going to hurt anybody, honest I wasn’t.”
“Who?” The man took a step forward. “Who asked you to come here? And don’t lie to me.”
Lorcan hesitated but only for a moment, his sense of loyalty outweighed by the fact that he was sure the man would know if he wasn’t telling the truth. “Llll-Lily, sir. Lily Potter. But she didn’t mean anything by it either. I wouldn’t have even done it, but she promised me five Gall—”
In an instant the man was on him, his slender fingers digging into the soft flesh of boy’s arms as he shook him hard enough to rattle Lorcan's teeth. Bending down so they were nose-to-nose, he could feel the man's warm, stale breath on his cheek, his beetle-black eyes alight with an inner furry, the source of which Lorcan couldn’t even begin to fathom.
“I told you not to lie to me!”
Lorcan was crying now, sobs of despair bubbling up from deep in his gut. He was so very desperate to get away, to be back home and safe in his mother’s arms, furious he had ever been talked into coming here.
“Honest,” he croaked through his tears. “It was Lily’s idea. She just wanted me to take a look. Her dad wouldn’t help, she said, so I had to do it. I didn’t mean anything, please-”
He stopped his babbling though the tears continued to flow, and for a moment there was silence. The man was staring so intently at him, Lorcan was sure he could see right through to his brain, which now felt fuzzy and out of focus.
At last the man stepped back, releasing the sniveling boy, whose cheeks were now streaked with tears, his nose red and running.
“Get. Out.” The hoarse whisper was no longer emotionless. It was low and menacing and Lorcan felt a cold shiver shoot down his spine. “I said, GET OUT!”
Lorcan didn’t need telling a third time. He jumped, turning on the spot. Pulling with all his might, he felt the rusty handle finally give way and the door sprung open. He burst through it at a sprint. He was back outside in seconds, gulping in the fresh air. Faster and faster he ran, pumping his short legs as quick as they would carry him. But no matter how fast he ran – how much distance he put between himself and that place – he couldn’t escape the horrible image of the man now burned into his brain.
He was older now, to be sure, with wrinkles that masked some of his more distinctive features. But Lorcan had no doubt. He knew for sure that the man in that house – the man who had pulled him through the window and shoved a wand in his face – was the same man from the newspaper clipping still tucked in his pocket.
What Lorcan did not know was that the man from the newspaper was Severus Snape.
Write a Review After We Fall: Chapter One: Prologue