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Chapter 5: A Matter of Time
A Matter of Time
At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards.
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
There was silence all around, a stillness that made each sob that wracked my body feel more violent than seemed possible. The only sound was that of my cries echoing against the walls of my now-prison. How could I have left him, so heartless, so cold? How could I have turned my back on that face? All that desire that would now remain unfulfilled, left to moulder and turn to dust as age and madness ate him from within. He would become, as I saw him, that shell of a wizard who lived in the shadows, always vigilant.
But was he watchful of his enemies or watching for something else? Someone else?
No, it could not be true. How could it? How could a great war hero like Mad-Eye Moody feel anything for a crippled witch like you? When I left him, he was still near his height, with many, many years remaining to his life. It was not to be a happy life by any means, but it was a life filled with glory, that strange thing that could only be earned, not given.
I thought back to my father’s stories, all the things he used to tell about the war and those who fought with him and died for him. He had to keep the memories of them alive, he always said, had to ensure that their sacrifice was never forgotten. My brothers and I rolled our eyes too often when he began to reminisce. I now wished I had listened more closely and heard every little detail, if only so that I would know, so that I could be certain–
Would there ever be another chance to hear my father’s stories? Would I ever see my family again? When would they realise that I was missing and–?
I was lost in time, decades in the past. Merlin knew how far I’d fallen, how much further I would go until I had discovered... what?
If I opened the cabinet door, where – when – would I be?
My eyes opened to darkness. No light shone around the door. No sound could be heard from the room beyond. He was gone, but I could not, should not, think of him, not in that way. It was an impossibility. I had to remember that. He belonged to another time and no matter what he felt, what I felt, that fact could not be altered.
These thoughts calmed my nerves, though they could not soothe the wounds that stretched across my heart. The pain was inexplicable, indescribable. I had known separation and loss before, seen the backs of too many as they walked away, but it had never wounded me, never made me feel as though I was bleeding inwardly, torn apart from within.
I shifted to prevent stiffness when a clinking sound echoed in the hollow space of the cabinet. I reached out and felt a pile of coins, a strange combination of Muggle and wizarding money, a very small amount of each by the standards I was used to, but they must have been put there for my use, and for a good reason. By whom, I did not know.
It should have bothered me, that question of who.
I reached out again for that inevitable slip of paper. Those before had provided very little clue as to my destination, but perhaps between the note and the money, I could discern my new location in time as well as space. It was beneath the coins, and while I drew out my wand, I tried to remember whether the paper and coins had been there when I’d entered the cabinet. They were so close to the door that I should have knocked them aside when entering, but there had been so much noise, that deafening drumbeat of my heart, his voice shouting my name, my hands and feet thumping across the floor of the cabinet. What else could I have possibly heard?
I squinted down at the shaky lines of ink, muttering the words to myself more than once so that I could find their meaning.
Time will always be your enemy.
What did it even mean? Why should I be sent through time by some unknown entity only to witness the sufferings of another? Where was I now so that I should watch his heart break a third time?
With an uncertain hand I pushed open the door, which gave a loud croak. I paused and waited, but no one came in response to the sound. This was not the attic of Lotus Cottage, hidden away in the Lake District amongst forests and lakes and gardens. It was a very small room filled with all sorts of objects. I stepped onto a floor strewn with used parchments. Perhaps this–
I retrieved one page and placed it on a desk with the note, wiping my bleary eyes with the backs of my hands. Could I dare believe that he had written these notes, leading me further and further back in his life until I discovered that secret at the centre of it all? There had to be a secret, why else–?
They were not the same. The writing on the parchment was too precise, the shape of the letters too old-fashioned.
I slipped the note into my pocket, but left the parchment on the desk. It didn’t seem to matter where I left it because they littered every corner of the room like the wreckage from a hurricane. There was a little light from the window, which faced a brick wall across a narrow alleyway, so I was able to thread through the mess and into the corridor beyond. It was a small flat, cozy, but suited to people who did not typically spend much time at home. Two bedrooms, a sitting room, that small study, a kitchen and smaller lavatory comprised a floor plan that varied greatly from that of the cottage, a hefty stone watchtower left over from darker times.
The view from the window revealed that those times were not as far away as I’d imagined.
The building across the street was an empty shell of blackened stone and broken glass, and it was far from the only ruined building in sight. My heart skipped as I glanced up into the skies, half-expecting to see the German planes still dropping their bombs, but there were only clouds floating past, cast into a fiery glow by the sun’s final rays. It was as though the sun recast the flames that burned as the bombs rained down upon the city.
I turned from the window and stepped around the room’s furniture, lighting my wand only when I drew near a table littered with photographs in plain frames. There was Alastor Moody, recognisable even in his youth with plump cheeks and a dimpled chin, the same intense expression blazing from his eyes, both dark, both the same. It was strange to see him in that way, the symmetry of his features too neat for my taste. Beside it was the photograph of an older man striding down the pavement, annoyed by the presence of the photographer. He was lean of build, but his chin and eyes were unmistakably similar to those of Alastor. He appeared again, more cheerily, in the next frame beside a tall, smiling woman beneath the shadow of Big Ben. They were rather too good-looking for the parents of Alastor Moody, who, even before the scars cut across his face, would never be called handsome, as though his parents’ good looks had cancelled themselves out in him.
I set down the photograph, more than a little surprised at my outburst of superficiality. It’s not as though I could ever be scarcely more than pretty by most standards. James was often kind enough to call me a ripe genetic lemon. Who was I to comment on the appearance of another?
When it came to the younger Moody, what set him apart was that personality, radiating life and action. It spilled from his eyes, from every pour of his face. I could not imagine how any person could be so alive. Then again, I had never known the great witches and wizards of the war. I couldn’t begin to understand what kind of people they would needed to be to fight as they had done, and Moody had survived longer than most.
The clock chimed. Eight. Nine. Ten.
It was late, yet no one was home. They could return at any time, and then what would I say? How would I explain? I shifted uncomfortably. I hadn’t the excuse that it, like the cottage, was my place of residence, if only a temporary one.
I had to know the date. Why was not so important as when.
Mrs. Moody seemed notoriously lacking in any concept of organisation, but I eventually uncovered a day-calendar in the top drawer of her desk. The cabinet loomed over my shoulder as I flipped through the pages of 1944, each day’s work recorded with meticulous effort She was not entirely scatterbrained, after all.
It was late May, 1944. The Second World War was nearly over. Moody would be about the same age as myself, not long out of Hogwarts, and probably already in training as an AUror. Would he even be here in London at this time? What about his parents?
In the kitchen I found a note on the counter. The writing was just short of illegible; I could just discern the words “Leaky Cauldron” and “back late”. Very much the kind of note one would expect from a guilty adolescent, desperate to save his mother from worry. It may not have been in character with the Moody I knew, but was in character with a boy who had, and still was to much of a degree, grown up in the middle of a war.
There again was the ticking of the clock. Late. Late. For what?
I remembered to lock the door of the flat before I took myself down the corridor to where a creaky lift waited. On the street below, I could see a main thoroughfare half a block away where Double-Decker buses whisked people across the quieting city. It was much too quiet for the London I knew; I kept looking back over my shoulder as I went, hoping that the Muggle change left in the cabinet would be enough for bus fare in this time.
It was, but it still took an excruciating amount of time to arrive on that dismal street across from the Leaky Cauldron. The bookshop was there, its mouldering shelves dark, but the record shop was replaced by what appeared to be a rag and bottle shop straight out of the pages of Dickens’s novels. These shops were so shadowy as to subsume the pub’s sign and door completely, leaving no sign that it even existed.
When I entered, would he know me?
That was my greatest fear, something that, until the bus ride had given me time and release from pain to ponder the possibilities.
He would be young, much younger than before. What if it meant that–?
I left the question unasked as I pushed open the shabby wooden door.
The room was much the same as it would always be, though at this time of night, the clientele was limited to those who were avoiding their homes at all costs. Not quite the dregs of wizarding society, but certainly some of its more eccentric characters who happily made their home before the blazing hearth, a stiff glass of Firewhiskey permanently fastened to their hands. I could tell which ones were scarred, even if they showed no sign of wounding, their eyes staring blankly at a wall or down at the table, endlessly tracing the lines and knots of the ancient wood.
In contrast sat, in one corner booth, a group of young wizards, making enough noise to more than make up for the silence of the others. They were doing the male equivalent of chatting, whatever it would be called, and I felt the eyes of more than one look me up and down as I crossed the room to the bar. The sight of my stick and mummy-wrapped leg was enough to deter their gaze.
Balancing awkwardly on a stool, I smiled at the sullen barmaid – a far cry from my now-Aunt Hannah – whose grey hair was tied back in a fierce bun, her equally colourless eyes giving me the once over with a fair degree of suspicion.
“Are you still serving meals?” I asked, as she seemed to be the only employee in sight.
Her lips tightened. “Only if you can pay. There’s been too many a youn’un like you strollin’ in for a free one on me.”
I blinked, struggling to comprehend her manner. Surely I didn’t look like–
But it’s easy to forget that one may not always be well-known, a face that has, albeit unwillingly, appeared in The Daily Prophet`s pages while one`s name is shared with a venerated saint of the wizarding world. In this time, no one knew me; no one knew my family. I was very much alone in a London that mocked my knowledge of its byways and populace. It was as alien to me as another planet.
I took the wizarding change I had and banged it down on the counter with a shaking hand. The coins rang with the unintended violence of my action, and faces turned toward me, some shocked that life continued on around them while others were merely curious.
The barmaid counted the coins with her eyes. “It’ll do.”
She swept into the back room, and the pub went back to its normal state of near-stagnancy, with only one exception. One of the young wizards did not turn away like his companions, his dark eyes assessing, not every curve (or lack thereof), but the details of my appearance, my behaviour, like one well-versed in the art of observation.
He watched me still as the woman returned some minutes later with a plate of meat pie and potatoes, slamming it down in front of me without a word. It was not the kind of meal I was used to, but I was too hungry to care about anything more than filling the empty pit of my stomach. She plunked a dusty bottle of butterbeer down before whisking away to tell off the young wizards, demanding payment in a querulous voice.
I finished by the time that they were beginning of leave, an act that she found more than enough evidence to support her suspicions against me.
“No better than you ought’a be, jus’ like all the others that come ‘ere.” Her lip twisted in disdain, looking me up and down as though my plain robes and bandaged foot were nothing more than a disguise suited to my supposedly nefarious purposes.
Biting my lips shut, I shoved all the coins across the counter.
“I’ve paid for my meal. What else do you have to complain about?”
I failed to see that she had reached for her wand until a black-clad arm reached across my vision to grab the woman’s wrist, its thumb and fingers tightening as she squirmed.
“You’ve no right to abuse respectable witches, Gertie. Tom would be disappointed in his old mum for being so rude to the customers.”
The voice made the blood freeze in my veins even though, if anyone was to inquire as to why, I would fail to find the words to explain. It was something in the tones, the inflections, the way certain syllables fell from his lips. I could not bear to look toward him, afraid of my potential reaction, afraid of the emotions that ebbed and flowed through my every nerve. He was beside me; I could feel his presence, the same as it would always be.
“What’s a girl doin’ round at this time of night if she ain't lookin' for trouble? Tell me that, boy.”
He released her wrist in a sudden movement that sent her wand clattering to the floor.
“She was looking for me.” His hand transferred itself to my arm. “My apologies for the service, Lily. It’s a highly unusual thing.” He must have glared at Gertie because she shrank back, anger flashing from her eyes as well as something else.
I sat, motionless, twitching only at the sound of my name.
So he knew me already. Somehow, it did not surprise me to learn that I would go back at least once more, perhaps to his childhood, to see him at the beginning, to plant the seed of myself into his mind, along with the seed of madness. But would he know how I arrived, here and now? Would it he know that I was from his future, not from his past?
He took my arm and guided me off the stool, maintaining a firm, yet gentle, grasp as he led me from the pub with a curt nod at its various inmates. His companions had already exited, but they were loitering outside in the street, their faces set in flickering shadows from the lights at the end of their cigarettes.
“A girl, Moody? What’s this?”
“Aye, this is a new sight.”
“Piss off,” Moody snarled, dark eyes glaring out from beneath heavy brows. “Gertie was berating her just for existing, the crazy old bat.”
“Always the white knight. Eh, Moody?”
“The perfect gentleman, he is.” This last wizard winked in my direction.
“We’ll be off.” Moody began to draw me away, and I, like a sad, pathetic puppy, let him.
I felt outside of myself, oddly distant from reality, half-afraid, and more than half-ill at ease. He was my only anchor in this world, so different from my own, so different from the sheltered, quiet world of the cottage, where there was only myself and the plants. I had kept away from people for too long, and now I feared their knowledge of the reality, the one thing I no longer possessed.
“See you in the morning, lads,” Moody added, turning back to address the wizards. “Bright and early.”
They grumbled in complaint, two of them throwing down their cigarettes for the sheer pleasure of grinding the butts into the pavement with the heels of their boots. Then we rounded a corner, and they vanished from sight, the only life remaining in the world being the distant sounds of traffic on the main road beyond, but even that was minimal. The night was ours, and ours alone.
Perhaps, at last, it had happened.
I had seen the last time, experienced the worst time, and now it seemed that I had found the right time, the moment in his life when he was as prepared for me as I was for him. It would not last – how could it? – but for this time, however short, I would be that one thing he could never forget.