He supposes the first sign that something is different is the look his mother gives him as she opens the door: it’s almost as if she doesn’t recognise him, like she’s seeing someone older and stranger in his place. The silence between them lasts a long, tense moment, then she hugs him tightly and wordlessly, as if she’s afraid to let go. For once in his life, he reciprocates it, then he steps inside, half-hesitantly, and looks around.
He hasn’t been here in months, but everything seems the same – the coffee table in the place it’s always been; the phone on its hook; the fruit in the wooden bowl, slightly over-ripe because neither of them have had time to eat it (and never will, no matter what they say). He lets out a breath, the sound loud in the quiet room.
The scrap of paper catches his eye as he’s heading up the stairs, his mother’s eyes following him, and he halts abruptly; the word missing stares back at him, in black, capital type, and he shuts his eyes briefly, suppressing memories. He hears her suck in a breath behind him, waiting for his reaction, but he just walks onwards and up the stairs, the bag heavy on his back.
The door creaks open, a few rays of sunlight penetrating the dark and the dust to reach the oak chest before him. The magician’s box of secrets. He shrugs the rucksack off his back; there’s a loud thud as it lands, a cloud of dust rising, but he ignores it and makes his way to the box, breath slightly ragged.
He takes the cards out of his pocket, runs a thumb over them until he sees the initials printed in his father’s small, slightly spidery script, very like his own: J.M.
He shifts them in his hands until they form a neater pile, then places them gently on top of the chest. He runs his hand over the clasps and the lettering in a way that’s close to reverent, still on one knee, and sighs softly. Then he stands, retracing his steps to the door, and leaves, shutting the door behind him with a soft click.
He doesn’t look back.
She tries to speak, to make the usual observations about the land around them, but something thick clogs her throat, rendering her silent.
She looks up and swallows, tries to force the blockage down, as she looks up at the imposing white-washed towers beyond the gates; she hears Violet and Seth’s hastily hushed exclamations behind her, and, knowing what they must think of such an obvious show of money, looks at the ground, lips twisting. She looks at the intricate Celtic knot on the gate, lips silently moving as she remembers the old ways, and runs a hand over it in the family pattern. A half-whisper of magic, and then there is a loud creak and scrape as the gates reluctantly open.
The white marble of the main hall is uncomfortably bright after so long in the others’ drab universe – there, the architecture is simpler, greyer. The spiral staircases, four curving from doors high in each corner of the room, seem empty, and she breathes a sigh of relief.
She remembers what she told them, the two she would now consider friends: Do not trust them. Allow me to speak for us, and pay no attention to anything they offer. I think they may have had something to do with my mother’s death.
She prays with all her heart that he will not be here, that he won’t have been sent to see the mysterious visitors who have the family crest in their minds…
In vain, she realises, as she sees the welcoming committee striding toward them, takes in the sharply-tailored suits and the welcoming, only slightly steely grins. Sharks, she thinks of suddenly, uncomfortably, or wolves.
She avoids Violet and Seth’s twin startled gazes, knowing that they will recognise the fading auburn in the leader of the magi’s meticulously-trimmed moustache, the shrewd hazel eyes that watch them approach.
“Ah,” the man says, smiling as he walks to them, expensive shoes clip-clop-ing on the shining marble floor. “I see you have met my daughter.”
Just a small piece while I wasn’t working on the second chapter of Something Wicked (that should be up soon).