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Out of Time by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 10: Killing Time
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time.
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
“How could I have forgotten?”
I say the last words aloud and the Healer looks my way. She is not a normal Healer, unless perhaps a Healer of the mind.
They think... I’m not quite sure what it is they think, the people who know me in this time. To say that they believe that I am mad would be an exaggeration. Depressed is one word they use; over-stressed is another, although that is quickly discarded. How could a girl alone in an isolated cottage have become unduly stressed? It must have to do with her injury, then; there can be no other explanation.
When they call me deluded, they do me greater justice. I see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. It is the pity and the pain, the embarrassment and the burden. Time has brought me full-circle: back to the bottom of fortune’s wheel to slump once more in a chair, staring out the window into a world that passed me by with each ticking of the clock. Each second takes me further from him.
My words fall away into silence. The Healer looks up from her parchment. I see it all so clearly in my head, still feel the roughness of his cheek against my hand, the smell of the firewhiskey in his flask, hear him saying my name in all the different voices of time. I tell it as it happened, as my mind remembers, yet I can see fragments of doubt in the lines of her face.
Her doubts have in turn affected me. I must not let them take root.
“Why do you end there, Lily? Can’t you remember the rest?”
They are the questions I cannot answer. They are the questions I have asked myself, again and again. I like that she asks these questions.
I shake my head and look down at my right hand with the strange way that the scarred flesh twists around the base of the two smallest fingers. It is the one thing I do not remember, the pain. That is what I find most worrisome. The pain of my foot is too hard to forget, but the pain of my hand and face has slipped into that blank area of my memory. These past long weeks, I have drilled myself, forced myself into the furthest reaches of my mind using any, every possible means, magic or otherwise.
“Can you help me?” I ask at last.
She stares at me, studying my face, my hands, my manner, until she leans forward, her long black braid falling over her shoulder.
“You know how the others would have replied.” Her eyes were sad.
Yes. They would have told me that I wouldn’t remember something that had never happened, that the fire was the end of the dream, merely the violence of waking. If I could only remember, I could perhaps prove that I am right, that it’s not just the workings of a bored, embittered imagination.
I do have one thing. I reach up to touch my face as she watches, her eyes narrowing.
“There are too many questions, Lily, not to mention inconsistencies.” After a pause, she shakes her head, the braid twisting like a snake. “It makes for a good story, but as for the truth... you know as well as I that no one will believe it.”
There is someone walking down the street, their footsteps beating out an uneven pattern–
I spring forward to the window, bracing my hands against the frame so that I can lean against the glass, warming my face in the sun. There is a figure on the road, passing through Godric’s Hollow like so many do. He is tall, an old coat straining across his broad shoulders, walking with a pronounced limp. I lean closer.
One word, I blink, and the vision fades. It is not him, only a Muggle. I turn back.
“Do you believe me, Healer Patil?”
She takes so long to respond that I feel a coldness creeping up my spine. What if–
“I knew him. Not much, hardly at all, but I did.”
I freeze at her words, not daring to breathe.
“It wasn’t even the real Moody, yet–” She stops and shakes her head once more. “Yet when I hear you speak of him, I see his image, can hear him saying those words in that gruff way he, or rather his imposter, had. You mention details that your father never would have told you, nor anyone else. I doubt that you’ve ever heard so many details about how he looked or acted.”
She takes a moment to swallow, brows furrowed. “I believe you, Lily, but if belief alone was enough, we would live in a very different world.”
She puts away her writing materials and rises, stopping only to squeeze my shoulder.
“You will remember, Lily, but do you want to?”
I glare sharply at her, but she is no longer looking my way. She leaves the room without shutting the door behind her. I sit and listen for her voice below, speaking to whomever happens to be around, then the back door opens, and I hear her apparate in the garden.
Do I want to? What does that mean? I do, I do! I must.
It is a matter of time; more importantly, of sanity. There was the fire, burning around me from the wind, from my own stupidity and fear. Then my eyes opened as I lay in St. Mungo’s, staring up at a white ceiling from a white bed, the haze of smoke and tears long vanished. I had been unconscious for days, they said. They looked down on me with searching, pitying eyes, never with the eyes I wanted to see.
I closed my own.
It has taken me some time to open them again.
For a moment, I am confused by her absence. Memory is so fleeting now. I can remember one day, that day. The rest evades my lazy grasp.
How easily they forget that it is not single day which changed me; I was like this before. I would sit in that chair by the window, watching the sunset, night after the night, the plants creeping about my ankles. I would sit and feel the world pass around me, like a rock implanted in a swift river, eroded, but otherwise unchanging.
Mum insists that I can be made better again, hence the Healers.
Healer Patil is the third. The first, with his wiry hair and bulging eyes that stared upon me as though I was a specimen beneath a microscope, I refused to speak to. He even tried to tell my Dad that he had caused the fantasy with all those stories about the war. The second Healer was little better, saying that dreaded word of “fantasy” once too often; she did not even wait to hear my story. “What point was there in reliving the fantasy?” she would ask. “It is the future you should focus on.”
A fantasy? Could it have been merely a dream? Could dreams seem more real than reality itself? This monochromatic world of the present seems more of a dream. It is a nightmare.
If Alastor wasn’t real–
But that is the doubt again seeping through.
Healer Patil makes me doubt, but at least she does not call it a fantasy. She could not after all the things she has known and seen. She fought in the Battle of Hogwarts alongside my mother and Uncle Neville as they rebelled against the Death Eaters, full-knowing the cost, but equally knowing its worth. Everyone looks to my father as the one who suffered most as though they’ve forgotten what my mother did at Hogwarts in Dad’s absence. Mum never leaves things up to fate, but instead pursues them with all possible energies.
Her current pursuit is my well-being. I have not the heart to tell her that it is a battle she can only lose and lose again. It was a battle nearly won in the past, his past. I felt something there, in all of those places, something that I have been without for all my life. Long I had sought to fill the spaces in between, a mere something to do, to take up time, to kill it until I could find the thing, the place, the time that needed me most.
Is it something I desire so much that I would create an elaborate fantasy to convince myself that I have a place, a purpose, in this world? Have I gone so far as to delude myself that I belong in the past?
I know the answer to these questions. It eats away at my mind, driving me further into myself than I have ever been before.
Rarely do I leave the house, except when someone insists that I go here or see people there. It is hard because I find nothing of interest to occupy my thoughts, nothing outside of memory. It is made worse by the scars.
I have not mentioned them yet. You see, there are more than those on my hands, even more than those which encircle my heart.
The mirror in my room is still covered. They have not removed it because its presence represents a stepping stone in my... I will call it “healing process” though it is far from the correct phrase. I have looked into it since my return, but I must prepare myself to do so: no fleeting glances or images captured in the corner of my eye. To see my reflection then is to see a ghost, the spectre of a nightmare that haunts me still.
My father stands at the door, his face half in shadow. The sun has leaned down to kiss the horizon, swiftly falling into its embrace. Hours have passed for the world; I have felt only minutes.
“Par– The Healer said you had told her... everything.” He speaks with uncertainty, and I wonder at how much she has told him. I cannot remember how much I told, whether everything had spilled from my lips or certain things – obvious things, the most important things – are still mine and mine alone.
I stare up at him with glazed, wandering eyes.
“I told her what I remember.” My brow furrows. “There’s still some things... I wish–”
He shakes his head and enters the room, his gaze naturally taking in the details of the room, its items – all unmoved since he has last been there – and its occupant, equally unchanged. The things I have done today are all in my mind.
“Some things are best left forgotten.” His eyes darken behind his silver-rimmed spectacles. He sits on a distant corner of the bed, looking toward the covered mirror.
“Healer Patil almost said the same.”
He is more than half-absent, but I understand his silence, the way that his memory cannot help but dwell upon the past, the ghosts of dreams that remain once night has drifted into day. For him they are the ghosts of those who died in his name, the ones he could not save.
“Do you think that it was real?” I ask at last, my voice quavering. If there is anyone who can believe in the impossible, it is my father, but now, in this shadow that surrounds me, I doubt even him. “All of the things I saw, what if–”
I break off and sink further into the chair from which I have not moved the whole day.
The road outside is drenched in darkness. Tiny lights sprinkle the countryside, twinkling as the leafy trees sway in the growing wind. I hear the crickets through the window and also catch the scent of a distant summer shower littering its spoils upon the greedy fields. When I blink, I see that field again, the dark gash where he had fallen, the stars glittering above, that wind blowing against my face–
“–that is, I would be telling you, if you were listening.”
He regards me with raised eyebrows, his eyes tainted by concern.
“It’s like this often, isn’t it? You were always quiet, but this...”
I say nothing. Perhaps I would drop my gaze if it was capable of settling in any particular place for long. At this time of day it is the worst. It is at night that I think most of him, of the chestnut tree smouldering in the rain, the silk scarf fluttering at my throat, the warmth of his hand clasped around mine. It is all still so clear that should I close my eyes, even for the briefest moment, I am there again.
Then they open, and I am here.
My father’s hand on my arm wakens me.
“I believe you, Lily. And I’m not just saying that to bring you back. I–” After a pause, he resumes, his voice struggling. “I’ll do what I can to prove it. Will that help?”
For the first time since my return, I feel something inside that is not allied with pain. There is a swelling deep inside that reminds me of flying, fearful and fearless. I cannot even name it, but it is there, a something that I can grasp at with flailing hands, the last hope of the drowning sailor. It is real, even as I am not.
“I don’t know.”
My eyes focus on his face, the details of which I have known all my life, changing so subtly with time that I have never seen him grow old, but signs are there. Time has left its mark alongside the famous scar, webs of wrinkles etched across his face, silver hairs amongst the black. The Boy Who Lived is gone.
What did Alastor Moody die for?
“Find you there.” Those were his words, not the last, but nearly so. I need to think, to understand. The puzzle was vast, a million pieces scattered at my feet that I must assemble in the darkened room of my consciousness, but it is so hard, and I am so tired, more than ever....
“You know that Professor Longbottom inherited the cottage from him..”
My father speaks from miles away and I turn back to find him, rising to the surface to escape the water filling my eyes, my ears, my lungs.
“It was a surprise for everyone, most of all him. Moody knew his parents, of course. It’s the only reason we could think as to why he’d do it.” Dad stands at the window, leaning against the wall so that he can gaze out into the night. “But Neville liked it up there. However gloomy it could be, there’s something about that cottage, if you could even call it that. More like a glorified guard tower.”
He glances down at my still form, and I wonder at what he sees.
“The plants were there already, but they were one of the reasons why he decided to stay. He loves plants that much, even ones like that.” A smile glides across his face to be replaced once more by the frozen stillness of one who has seen too much and no longer knows how to feel. “They tolerate him, I suppose, because he’s good with plants, but the first person they’ve shown a preference for was you.”
It is something I have not remembered, not as well as I should have. I frown, my mind drifting into thought once more, time beginning to slip away.
He kneels beside my chair in a sudden movement that startles me into life, my eyes blinking and my heart pounding out a dreadful rattle.
“It is a clue, but I don’t know to what. Not yet at least.” He takes up my hand and peers into my face, a great tension in the corners of his eyes. “There is something I must check at the Ministry, then I can tell you with greater certainty–”
“That it wasn’t a dream?”
The words fall from my lips like spent matches.
Dream or reality? Back and forth and back again, like the way I have fallen through time. What if it is true? What if it all happened and I can return, but to where? What time? Which Alastor? I must be ready. I must be prepared, and I am anything but. I am only weakness, a spent figure cowering in a chair, more afraid of her own reflection than the nightmares running rampant in her head.
“Is that what you believe?” He squeezes my hand.
Something changes in his face. I do not like it. There is anger there, deep within.
“When there seems the least amount of hope, that’s when you should believe most.”
He knows what it’s like to hang upon the balance of fiction and reality, madness and sanity, life and death. No matter what the others could say, he would believe me because, once, too few had believed him, and too much was lost.
I cannot think of any reply. To tell him that I no longer have hope....
Is that true? Do I not hope? But hope of what? To return to the past and find him once again seems impossible now. They will want to “examine” the cabinet, perhaps destroy it as a dangerous object, or do so accidentally in their hidden laboratories where magical items are spelled and prodded until they spill their secrets. I have spilled, and now I fear that hope is gone.
If I go back....
My eyes flicker toward the mirror and my thoughts fall silent.
Dad is rising to leave, giving my hand a final squeeze before he makes his way to the door.
“Albus is downstairs if you need anything.” He turns to go, then pauses. “Please, Lily, try to hope. Remember that I knew him too. I saw him fall.” His forehead creases and I see the memories pass across his face like films projected onto his glasses.
He stands and watches me for a time.
“I’m glad he wasn’t alone at the end.”
I hear his footsteps on the stairs, his voice below, then he too leaves. How they all come and go, yet I remain here, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable.
His words remain.
Was that what I’d been intended to do? Be there at his side in the end? All of that history between us led to that point, but for what? It seems so pointless to me now to imagine that I had been guided through history for only that. We hardly spoke; he hardly knew I was there, if at all. One cannot comfort the dead, only the living. What I had done, throughout his whole life, could have been no comfort to him, all those years alone, being torn apart from the inside, only to die.
Was it an “at last”? A long-awaited “finally”?
I do not like to think so. He had the Order, battles to win and a war to fight. He was lucky in that way, to have that something he could still do and that he loved. He had strength, at least for others. His eyes had said otherwise about his soul, a hollow and tortured place that I would not want to see again, but I cannot help it because it will always be there behind my eyelids, waiting for the darkness to rise again.
My eyes raise and I see the mirror, or rather the sheet that covers it. There is enough light, that eerie light which has no set origin yet casts a glow upon the night, dulling the shadows.
The sheet mocks me as a coward. Not because I have not looked behind it to see that semblance of myself that still remains, but rather because I choose to keep that image hidden, day after day, hour after hour. I tell myself I cannot face it. No, not it, but its implications, its meaning, its significance. They are what I fear. They are my madness.
His was loneliness, loss, regret. The dull, aching pains of depression. He had the strength to lash out, that burning passion within him consuming all within his path. He burned in life as he did in death.
I do not know how to burn.
Slowly, I stand, taking up my stick from where it leans upon the chair, its metal handle cold against my dry, cracked palms. Three steps later, I am before the vanity, the covered mirror staring blankly back as though reflecting my own unfeeling gaze. I already know what I will see, so I allow time to pass, each second an aching eternity. My brush is upon the table along with potions and cordials intended to improve, but can there be improvement if one has fallen so far as I, any hope of rising once again?
How easily I am distracted. I touch the cool glass of one cordial, running my finger along a decorative ridge that surrounds the label. Behind it rests the old bottle of hair dye which has lain long unused; remnants of the bleach blonde substance are caked around the rim. My hair is nearly red again, chopped short to remove evidence of both its previous shade and the ends charred in the flames. The remaining hair frames my face in uncontrolled ripples, half-covering one eye.
I wish to see it. I will see it.
My hand reaches out for the sheet, its cottony fabric at first smooth beneath the tips of my fingers, but roughening as I pull it from its place. The noise it makes is a pathetic thunder, hollow in my ears. It flutters to the ground behind me, but I am looking forward.
There is not enough light. Only shadows meet my gaze.
A single, trembling spell sheds a ghostly glow upon the table, the objects, the wallpaper behind, but most of all, upon the mirror. My face seems so pale, shadowed only by the strands of hair that are too obvious in their artful arrangement. I shake them back, only to reveal more shadow. Leaning against the table, I trace the outline of the scar with my eyes.
It is my face, and it is not.
There is an echo in my memory, a terrible voice screaming, turning my blood to ice. I feel it once more, the terror, the struggle to repress, to hide from the one truth that I should have known all along. It explained so much, but left so much more unknown. His death, his life, nothing so disturbed me as the moment I had looked into a painting to find it a mirror.
It was all there, all so obvious.
It is still there in that face in my mirror.