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Out of Time by Violet Gryfindor
Chapter 1: Too Much Time
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Since this story began, it has won some awards beyond the 1st place for SamMalfoy93's "Time Travel Challenge". These include "Most Obscure Ship", "Best Plot", "Best Story Within Legendary" and Runner-Up for "Best Setting" and "Best Characterization" at the 2011 Golden Snitch Awards from TGS, as well as the 2012 Dobby for "Best Novella".
Thanks to everyone who nominated or voted for this story! And also thanks to the people at TGS who offered their, especially tydemans.
Too Much Time
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
- T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
There is nothing in the world more boring than doing nothing.
The plant's tendrils crept toward my feet as I stared out the window over the Downs, but I was tired of shying away from those cursed vines as they crept across the sitting room floor. It was the ferocity of the sunset that held me, its reds and oranges burning the trees at the end of the field, bringing the horizon down in flames. After weeks of dreary, rainy skies, I relished the sight of something that was, for once, not green or brown or grey. The phonograph blared the dying notes of a soprano in the throws of agony, the sun and her voice as one as they plunged into the deep.
“Stop it!” I threw a paper-weight at the vine and it slithered back beneath a chair, its end curled like a magical eye.
When I turned back to the window, the sun had set and the song had ended.
I turned back to the darkened room. The plants were at last falling dormant. If I had the power to defy nature, I would have kept them in the dark all the time. Maybe then I would have some peace.
Uncle Neville probably enjoyed the sunset over the Mediterranean with his new wife, arms around one another, faces glowing in the light as it dipped below the velvet depths. My eyes watered, not because I had a romantic soul, but because it would have been an improvement over my current situation. A mere caretaker. A runaway from reality.
I shouldn’t call him Uncle Neville, not when he’s been Professor Longbottom for the last seven years, but I told myself that, as soon as I’d escaped Hogwarts, I would revert to my previous state of happy childhood ignorance. And it had led me here.
James and Albus were looking after the Leaky Cauldron for our now-Aunt Hannah. Having the time of their lives too, from what I’ve heard. There they were, running the busiest wizarding pub in Britain and making the name for themselves that they had failed to do thus far. Not that I could say much in my own defence. After all, I was looking after a houseful of plants who disliked me only somewhat less than other humans. The last caretaker had been sent to St. Mungo’s, half-choked to death after taking a morning nap.
They were a very particular set of plants. And I was a very particular sort of person. Or should I say, peculiar?
They likely preferred me because, in my most recent experiment with hair dye, my hair, instead of the luscious blonde locks promised by the box, had turned a sickly shade of green. Whether I could blame this on my brothers or on my hair’s desire to remain “Weasley Red”, I would never know. Although I had finally managed to get my hair a decent shade of yellow, it now had the texture of straw, and the plants seemed to appreciate it.
One would have believed that Uncle Neville’s personality would have tamed these wild examples of magical flora, but they had minds of their own, minds that constantly turned to sedition and outright revolution, guillotine and all.
I wandered from the room, watching where I stepped, just in case.
I was spending too much time alone. Some would say that I was overcompensating for my brothers, whose overconfident, overwhelming, over-everything natures were so unlike my own. There is something to be said about people who throw themselves into the crowd, just as there is something to be said about those who stare at sunsets without an iota of romantic feeling.
Boredom. That was all I had. The plants were tended every morning. The books were read every afternoon. The window was stared out every evening. The darkness was kept company every night. There was little else to do.
My foot was beginning to hurt. Soon I wouldn't be able to ignore it and I would be trapped once again in a chair, in the dark, staring at the wall, with only my thoughts for company.
Why else would I be trapped here, looking after plants? It wasn’t as though anyone believed I had a knack for Herbology. It was because I was the only one who was suitably passive, meaning that I limped about the world while my cousins charged through it at top speed.
What did it matter that Lily Potter, the once-promising Quidditch player, just like her parents, would now be nobody, hunched in a chair, rubbing uselessly at the injury that had effectively hobbled her life?
To the world, it mattered very little. Not everyone in my family could be famous.
I raised myself from the chair, clenching my teeth at the pain, but heading for the staircase nonetheless. It was a glorious thing, all walnut and reaching high into the attic room, the only place I had not yet explored in this cottage, and, I must add, the only place where plants did not grow.
The stairs were excruciating.
By the end of the first flight, I had forgotten why I was doing this. Every nerve in the damned thing was screaming, sending the other nerves in my body tingling in sympathy. It was a burning pain; the ankle would be swollen to the size of a grapefruit before long, and I would have to remove my stocking. I had lost too many already.
By the end of the second flight, I was numb. All that remained was the drive to continue, just for the sake of continuing. To stop would be worse. It always hurt more when I stopped, the throbbing at its worst when the thing was propped up on a million pillows beneath bags of frozen peas piled like a fortress.
Uncle Neville didn’t like peas. I would instead conjure up some ice.
The telephone rang.
The sound echoed throughout the cottage and I looked down the stairs, wondering if it would wake the plants. They were finicky about their sleep, acting up with the least disturbance, but I saw no vines creeping around the doorways, nor any rumbling from the potted plants in the foyer.
It rang again. I shuffled over to the side table at the end of the hall.
“How are you, Lily?” It was Mum, checking up on me. I was, after all, a cripple in a houseful of diabolical plants, completely incapable of looking after myself, much less them.
“Fine, Mum. It’s very quiet here.”
“Are they behaving?” She was perhaps the only other person who had a bad feeling about those plants.
I caught myself nodding at the ‘phone, no better than Uncle Ron. “Fairly well. They miss Uncle Neville.”
“It’ll only be a couple more days.” She was stalling. She had become too used to my constant presence at home, the girl she’d always wanted finally flown the coop. “Is there anything you’d like to do when you get home?”
What would I be capable of doing, in other words.
“I don’t know, Mum. I’ll have to think about it.”
“Of course.” She very well knew that all I had time to do was think.
This conversation picked at my nerves. She just wanted to hear my voice and be assured of my continued existence. The sound of her voice when she was like this numbed the place my heart used to be.
“Sorry, Mum, but I’m on the ‘phone upstairs, and I’m getting sore.”
“I’m sorry, Lily.” There was a strangled quality to her voice that I did not like.
“Look, Mum, it’s o–”
“It isn’t. It will never be okay again.”
Honest as always. I felt the corners of my eyes become wet with the evening dew and I closed them, unwilling to see my own reflection in the nearby window.
“I’ll get by. I have to.”
Silence. No, wait, there was her breath, once and again. I could imagine her rubbing the bridge of her nose with one hand, sitting at her desk, editing the latest copy of the Quidditch report, waiting for Dad to return from the office so that they could eat dinner together, alone in their minds.
“Good night, Mum. I miss you.”
“I miss you too, Lily. ‘Night.”
She knew better than to wish me sweet dreams.
I put down the instrument, clicking it back into place. For all that my foot throbbed, I did not move. The pain was worse somewhere else.
There was a small flight of stairs at the other end of the hall, hidden behind a thick wooden door to keep out the draught. It was not locked, as such doors usually were in stories, and Uncle Neville had never told me that I could not go in there. That was probably why I had never gone further than the door: there was no draw, no fatal curiosity.
I stood at the door, wondering whether it would be worth the trouble of climbing another set of stairs. Crawling into bed was equally tempting, but I would never sleep in more than fitful bursts, my mind always retreating to that moment of falling, falling, falling, cras–
Thud. Thud. Thud.
It was not someone at the front door.
It was not something downstairs.
It was upstairs.
But what could it be? There was no wind outside, nothing that would have caused something to knock. Unless....
I limped more heavily than I had for many months, dragging myself up the narrow stairway, feeling gritty dust beneath my hands. I wiped my hands on my robes before pulling out my wand with a whispered “Lumos!”
The attic room was largely empty. No one was there. There was no place to hide.
In one corner were some trunks, the labels too yellowed to be read. They were all the same, though, and I wondered which of Uncle Neville’s relatives had left all their belongings here to moulder and disintegrate. One was filled with women’s robes of the last century, perhaps from the war with Grindelwald. The demure collars and neat embroidery were set off by moth holes the size of my fist. Another held books, their pages peppered with mould. The last contained a nest of spiders.
There was also a small jewellery case I initially thought to be empty, its red velvet blackened with age, but still revealing the shapes of each piece of jewellery that had rested on its surface. Bracelets and necklaces and brooches once sparkled in the light of the woman’s dressing table as her hand hesitated above them, deciding which would compliment her new robes.
The lip fell from my hands. The image had come to mind so vividly, so without warning. I did not even know who she was.
A gold ring dropped to the floor with a delicate ting.
I stared at it, counting a minute before I reached down and held it to the light of my wand. There was something inscribed inside the band, something that had nearly worn away.
It was probably meant to be romantic, one of those soppy impersonal quotations provided by jewellers to any young man with an eager wallet and little imagination. I put the ring back into the box and turned away from the trunks, unwilling to venture further into the forgotten life of their owner, long turned to dust.
The other end of the room hold only a cupboard, something akin to a wardrobe. It reminded me of those books Aunt Hermione once leant me, the kind of wardrobe that one could walk through to another world. It was a silly idea, really, probably based on a faulty vanishing cabinet that whisked one off to Merlin-knew-where. The only thing special about wardrobes was that they usually contained boggarts, and this one was much too silent for that.
The wood was lacquered, the once sleek black surface crackled with the passing of time. As I approached, my wandlight illuminated the gold-leaf that ornamented the cupboard’s doors.
I knew what it was. A place to hide.
A vanishing cabinet.
I should have been afraid. I may have been a Potter, but I was – how shall I say? – handicapped. There could have been any sorts of monsters and dark wizards lurking within, though surely they would have attacked by now, devouring me whole.
So I opened the door.
It contained only one thing: a slip of paper, hardly larger than one of those Chinese fortunes. It was not yellowed, not aged, the ink still fresh enough to smudge on my hand.
You will find what you seek inside.
Inside of what? The cupboard? And who was the "you"? Where was the partner to this cupboard?
I leaned forward and my tired foot decided just then to put itself out of its misery and collapse beneath me, sending me tumbling into the cupboard, the door conveniently closing behind me with a sharp snap. My wandlight went out and all went dark.
Chapter 2: The Wrong Time
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The Wrong Time
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
- T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
When I hit the ground, the surface beneath my hands was dusty, but not hollow; hard, but not stone. I had fallen into the cabinet, only to fall out of it again. It was a vanishing cabinet, I was certain of that, but from what I had seen, it was unlike any I had seen before.
There was supposed to be another cabinet somewhere else. But this was the same attic. The dust still rested in a thick layer across the floorboards. The trunks were still piled in the facing corner. The spider webs still hung from the rafters. It was still night, the crickets outside audible through the open window–
It had not been open before.
Struggling to rise, I scrambled for my cane, gasping for air. It took some minutes before I could approach the window, stepping warily past the still-open door of the cabinet. It could have been a disaster, sending me to Merlin-knew-where in the blink of an eye without knowledge of how to return.
My hands firmly on the windowsill, I felt reassured that the cabinet had malfunctioned, sending me right back where I'd come from.
It was still summer, the air humid on my cheeks, the sounds of summer night blaring into my ears. The sky was a starlit blue, no moon in sight, yet I could see the outline of the trees on the horizon, their branches swaying to a melodious breeze. It was a summer like any other, far removed from civilization, in the heart of the Lake District. It was little wonder that poets once flocked here.
Something moved below. One of the statues had shifted position, and I was certain that no statue was capable of moving in quite that way.
As I stared down, it seemed that something, or someone, was staring up at me.
“Excuse me? Hello?” My voice might as well have remained silent against the din from the crickets. They grew louder than ever.
The front door clicked shut.
That door had been locked, but then again, this window had been closed. There was something wrong here, after all. Perhaps–
My eyes were drawn toward the attic door.
There should have been a set of footsteps in the dust leading from the stairs to the trunks, then from the trunks to the cabinet, but the only visible disturbance of the dust marked the place where I had fallen. The only footsteps lead from the cabinet to this window.
A summer like any other....
There was someone on the stairs below.
Another time. That was the only answer. Who had lived here before Uncle Neville? I had never thought to ask and no one had thought to tell. The trunks contained the belongings of a woman, but they were as dusty and forgotten now as they would be in–
Why should I assume that I was in the past, rather than the future? How could I know?
A knocking on the attic door below rattled the floorboards.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
The same knocking I had heard before.
I hobbled over to the top of the stairs, gripping my cane until my knuckles went pale.
“Who is it?” My voice emerged high and weak.
There was movement, a low thumping noise like that of my cane weighted down by my exhausted body. Now that would be a terrifying discovery, finding myself below, demanding who was in the attic. There were rules regarding time travel. Aunt Hermione had explained them to me in great detail, eager to speak of anything as she took her shift at my bedside, a long string of people who talked and talked and never listened.
“Come on down where I can see you.”
The reverberating tone of his voice at least assured me that I wouldn't be violating any laws of time and space.
I stood on the top step. “Who are you?”
A pause. “It’d be better if you came down here.”
I refused to be the fly who naively leapt onto the spider's web. “Why?”
The door flew open.
The man who stood there was large, even looming, for all that his shoulders were slightly stooped, I thought with fatigue rather than age. He did not appear to be the studious type, his face covered as it was in deep scars, one completely overwhelming his left eye and another that left a gash across the bridge of his nose.
The left eye, far too blue to be natural, stared through me. “Hurry up, Potter. There isn’t enough time.”
Not enough time. There wouldn't be enough, not for him. I was in the presence of one who, according to all reports, was long dead. This did not have as much of an effect as did the knowledge that he knew me, that he recognized me when I could never have met him before.
On the second-to-last step, my cane slipped, the damnable ankle collapsing under the sudden shock of weight I set upon it. As he half-caught me, hands steadying me against the wall, I saw his wooden leg,the source of the strange I'd heard from above.
His face level with mine, I searched for a sign of a pain like my own, the understanding of what it meant to lack, to be inhibited, unwhole. What I found there instead was far more terrifying, a degree of suffering that I hoped would forever remain beyond my grasp. I lowered my eyes, unable to imagine what it must have been like to carry that pain and be crippled by it inside as much as out.
“Can you make it downstairs?” There was a curiously softer tone to his words.
I took a deep breath, feeling at odds with everything, especially myself.
“Yes. I mean, I hope so.”
A smile passed across his features, though I could not be sure whether it was a figment of my imagination. It was difficult to tell what went on behind all those scars.
“I’ve put on the coffee.”
He stumped down the first flight of stairs, gripping the walnut banister.
I did not follow directly, watching him slowly make his way from one stair to the next. He never looked back to see whether I followed, assured enough of himself to know that, eventually, I would. The halls were dark, but he knew his way from long practice, just as I did.
He entered a bedroom, in my time an empty, gaping space with boarded windows and scorch marks around the fireplace. These were not there now, the window thrown open to the night, looking down on he same portion of the garden that I had seen from the attic, the place where the statuary loomed over boxwoods and dwarf trees were trained into unrecognizable shapes.
The furniture was made of the same heavy, dark wood as the staircase. A four-poster bed dominated, but I thought it was a preposterous object, too large for a room like this in a cottage of inconsiderable size. There were other, smaller things – a couple of chairs, a dressing table shoved beneath the window – but the bed was a distraction, and not only because I was beyond exhausted.
Meanwhile, Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody poured coffee by the fire before squatting on an ottoman, seemingly unperturbed by this whole impossible situation.
“It’s not as I expected, that’s for sure.”
He had a rough accent, like someone from the North, but there was something else in it, long suppressed.
“What do you mean?” I remained by the door, bracing myself against the frame to collect my breath.
“Time is cruel.” He placed my cup by the other chair.
I had to pass by him to reach it, feeling his eyes on me all the while. It was a searching gaze, nothing more, but it still raised the hairs on the back of my neck. It must have been that magical eye, capable of seeing through all things, including time... but that was an exaggeration. He looked at me in this way because he knew me. I did not know when. I did not know how. Only that he did.
The coffee wasthick and strong. No sugar, a generous serving of milk. My lips twitched in satisfaction at the first sip. His eyes mirrored that smile before I realised what it meant. I put the cup down sharply, the flavour going sour in my mouth, my hands going cold and numb.
“I don’t understand. This isn’t making any sense, Mad– I mean, Mr–”
His gaze dimmed. He took a flask from his pocket, measuring a fair amount into his own cup before returning it to his coat.
“You warned me of this.” At first I could hardly hear him above the crackling of the fire. “You said that time was out of line. Out of joint, you called it.”
It was a quote from Shakespeare. Hamlet, to be exact, though I understood the words too literally. By that stage in my recovery, I had read too much Shakespeare, too much Yeats, too much everything, consuming all, understanding nothing.
“I won’t be born for another nine years,” I said, watching for his reaction. Nothing. “It is 1997?”
It was the only year that made sense. Indeed it was the last possible year. Moody looked old, tired, like someone who had waited a long time, only to find disappointment at the end of his journey.
He took a deep draught of his well-doused coffee. It seemed to take an eternity before he set it down again.
“July, if you were looking for specifics.”
I knew the history of the Second War, probably better than most. The only problem was that he could not have known–
“You were always easy to read.”
He had seen it in my face: he was soon to die. No one knew where. There was only my father's word, his garbled memory of a body falling in a wash of green light as they soared over the countryside at breakneck speed, Voldemort at their heels.
“So are you.” I picked up the coffee cup, if only to hide behind it.
The firelight cast odd shadows across his face, deepening the scars. He remained impenetrable like the statue I'd taken him for. He would not tell me how he had come to foresee his own death, but then again, the world was ripe with Divination experts and not all of them were frauds.
The room had all the atmosphere of a wake. Two people drinking together, their thoughts filled with reminiscence, happy and sad, celebrating life, or at least giving voice to the ghosts of the past. Except that I had only just met him while he acted like he had known me for years.
“I suppose that you can’t explain everything to me now.” I swirled the liquid in the cup, anything to avoid meeting his eyes, or rather the magical one. His normal brown eye was sharp, but it failed to send the same shivers down my spine.
He put down his cup and leaned forward. “I can only tell you what I know, which isn’t much.”
It would at least be something, considerably more than I already knew. The cabinet had sent me nearly thirty years back in time, where my arrival had been expected by a hero of the war, the head of the Auror Department until he had, for some reason, gone mad.
I set my cup aside. “Anything is better than nothing. Please.”
“That cabinet in the attic,” he began, shifting his wooden leg into a more comfortable position. “Was never in correct shape. My mother found it in Cairo at one of those antiquities shops, where they told her that the usual matching cabinets had been merged.”
“Is that even possible?”
He shrugged. “She thought it was a curiosity.”
The real curiosity was how he, a detective, had failed to be curious about one of his own possessions, especially something as extraordinary as this vanishing cabinet. It moved through time instead of space, something that should have been impossible. But the question remained as to how it could be controlled.
I opened my mouth to ask, but he pushed forward in his chair, hands on his knees.
“I only noticed it once you started coming through.”
Those words brought my train of thought to a screeching halt. Had I still been holding my cup, it would have dropped to the floor. I stared at Moody and could only think of the way that the firelight reflected off each eye at different angles, enhancing the oddity of his gaze. He reached for one of my hands. His was warm, roughened by the elements, as scarred as his face.
“After–” He swallowed. “There came a time when I did get curious about it, but I could never get it to work.”
I tried to bring my thoughts into some logical order. “Do you mean that I have some measure of control over its use?”
“I don’t know.”
There was that letter. Where had it gone? I pulled my hands away to search my pockets, unable to remember what had become of the letter, or if I had even been able to secret it away before falling into the cabinet. But if I had dropped it, where was it now? Back in my own time? Moved on to another time?
“So I'll go back into the cabinet, and you'll see me again?” My voice was feeble.
His brow raised an iota, one corner of his mouth twitching upward, but then a clock chimed, and all expression receded from his face. I counted the chimes only to realize that it was morning. Time had passed. Now was the end.
“It won’t be long now,” he said, picking up his cup to drain its contents.
The pink light of dawn was creeping through the darkness, disturbing the silence with the threat of day. Soon the firelight would grow dim against the sun blazing across the horizon. I don’t know why it was so easy to think of fire in this room. Perhaps it was the scorch marks on the mantelpiece that I remembered tracing with my fingers one day, wondering how they had come to be there. There were not there now. I had a feeling that it would not be long before they would appear, but I shoved it aside, another silly dream.
“Must you go?” The question came unbidden, but I did not regret it.
“I’ve got no choice, but you do.”
How could I respond to that? My lack of sleep was hampering my ability to think. I no longer knew what or how to think.
We both rose at the same time, narrowly avoiding one another’s injured legs.
He almost laughed, and I could begin to imagine him without the scars, without the wooden leg or the glass eye, a proud and irascible young man with a dark and ironic sense of humour. He would be striking, but not handsome, his features not well-enough defined, too completely lacking in charm to be anything approaching the ideal. But he would be pleasing to the eye, a living flame.
I blinked and the image was gone.
He was watching me again with that strange, searching gaze.
We stared at one another. I was at a loss of what to say to a man who was going off to die. Nothing seemed appropriate, much less sufficient.
Silence reigned instead.
He reached out his hand, then stumped away before I could register the feeling of his fingers against my cheek.
There was something there, something I had missed all along, his gestures, those things I’d found in the attic, all adding up to some answer that lay just beyond my reach. It was here somewhere. I couldn’t even be certain whether he knew.
The fire gave one final crackle of defeat before dying, but I could see from the growing light of dawn that above the fireplace was an abandoned portrait. It contained the same chair where I had been sitting; the wallpaper in the background was that of this very room. But the sitter was missing.
I shivered and went to close the window, wondering how the dawn could bring such a cool breeze in its wake.
There was no sign of Moody on the lawn.
The rest of his story, I already knew. There was only one direction I could go from here.
Chapter 3: The Worst Time
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The Worst Time
“What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.”
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
Thud. Thud. Thud.
I was alone in the cottage, the only living thing within its walls, and yet still the knocks came from the vanishing cabinet in the attic. There was something inside of it that could control its door through time, opening and closing it at will, but what, who, and most of all, why?
My eyes drifted again to the empty portrait. I had seen others like it before, but there was always that hint of the sitter, perhaps a waft of breath in one corner or some personal article left behind while the sitter had gone to visit another portrait. But there were no other paitings in the cottage. The walls were mostly empty, and Uncle Neville had said that the plants disliked them.
What if there was another reason? What if something in the cottage, a ghost or something of that sort, would not allow it?
Now I was being fanciful, I thought as I made my slow, stumbling way to the attic. It was just an empty portrait in an empty cottage. Some people preferred not to be surrounded by art, and Moody did not strike me as the artistic type. My mind stilled at the thought of him. Much of his life seemed a mystery. History books were fat with tales of Moody’s bravery and madness, but thin on any other details. This place held his secrets. All of these things – the trunks, the cabinet, the bedroom, the portrait – were all clues to a life largely unknown, but they were only small pieces of a much larger, more complex puzzle.
It seemed to take an eternity for me to cross the attic and place my hand upon the tarnished knob of the cabinet door. It opened without a sound. There was the letter on the floor of the cabinet, as though it hadn't moved at all. With a sigh of relief, I reached down to pick it up, more carefully bracing myself against the frame of the door.
You will discover the method to his madness.
My eyes widened. My head felt light and, for a long moment, I could not breathe.
How had it changed? How did it know how I had changed, that I would continue back in time? Moody had alluded to the fact that we had known one another before, in the past. His past. My future.
I had a terrible feeling that everything around me was being controlled by some unknown force. This could not be fate and fate alone. Fate was too slippery, too entirely based on coincidence. Bad luck had made me get hit by that bludger and fall from my broomstick, a fine example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was different.
I stepped into the cabinet and closed the door behind me.
It did not take long to fall.
When the door popped open, the sun was shining in the window onto an empty floor, thick with dust, even thicker than before. The spiders were enjoying themselves, the intricacy of their webs across the rafters akin to council estates, each one overlapping the next.
But there were no trunks.
Did that make it possible that the woman to whom they belonged was still living? Would I then find her things filling the wardrobes of the bedroom below, some robes perhaps strewn across the chairs by the fireplace, her jewellery case safely tucked in the drawer of the dressing table by the window, its velvet restored along with its glimmering contents?
I snatched myself from the dream, having again ventured too far from reality. I was not a Seer. I could not reach into the lives of the dead through their belongings, and yet those trunks, those things, that ring, had some sinister affect on my imagination.
I suppressed a shiver and sought distraction.
It came upon me while I stumbled back down the stairs, grumbling to myself the whole way, wondering why Moody, knowing of my condition, hadn’t thought to keep the cursed thing in a more convenient location.
There were no obvious alterations to the cottage. The second floor was still largely unused. Two of the rooms were filled with various objects, many of which seemed to be confiscated magical items in various stages of deconstruction. There was a desk covered in tools and probes and whatnots, all neatly arranged, almost to the point of obsession. A foe-glass stood by the window, its surface filled with shadowy figures. I couldn’t imagine anyone with so many enemies, except for my father. It must have been at the height of Moody’s career, the 1970s, perhaps even sooner, but I would have to wait and see to know for certain. His appearance, etched by the passing of time, was a far more accurate form of measurement.
Retracing his steps some thirty years from now – the great paradox of time – I went to enter the bedroom below, meaning to look at the portrait, but I stopped in the doorway, struck by an overwhelming scent of lilies. They had been arranged in a vase on the dressing table by the window, the flowers drooping, beginning to fade. Heavy and white, they caught the light like nothing else in the room.
I entered slowly. I could neither see nor hear anyone, and it felt oddly wrong. There was a presence here, like the imprint of a head in a pillow or the scent of perfume hanging in the air, but it, like the lilies, had faded.
The breeze coming through the window was warm, but still I shivered.
Death. That is what it felt like.
Yet I could not leave this place. My feet took me unbidden to the wardrobes. The doors opened at my touch to reveal robes of various degrees of formality and age. I fingered the embroidery along the cuffs of emerald robes and recognized them from the motheaten remnants I’d found... would find in the trunks. It was a shame to think that they'd all go to waste, lying in an attic for decades, as forgotten as the witch who’d once worn them. That was the bitter heart of memory. So quick to forget.
“You should not be here.”
It was hardly more than a whisper, but it was a woman’s voice, coming from somewhere in the room.
No one was there.
“He will soon return, and he will not be happy to see you. Not this time.”
There was something about that voice. I knew it, but I did not know how. I had never heard it before, yet it felt as familiar as my own.
“Who are you?” It was maddening, speaking into the air, but perhaps I could follow the voice to its origin.
“I was his wife. You should have deduced that by now.”
My eyes drifted toward the portrait. She was out of sight, just behind the frame, but there was a scarf hanging over the back of the chair like a silken bloodstain.
I walked toward it, my heart beating loudly in my ears. “Why are you hiding, then? Surely he would want to see you?”
She gave a low laugh. “Aren't you surprised to hear that Alastor Moody had a wife? I was certain you would be.” Her voice was cruel, but it was the cruelty that came with bitterness, something that I could understand.
“It just makes sense.” I placed my hand on the back of the real chair. How long since she had last sat there, sharing coffee with Moody as I would do in the future, his future? “The clothes rather gave it away, but there were other things. I assume that the gold ring was yours?”
“Mine, hers, it makes no difference.” A hand appeared in the left side of the painting, and there was the ring I had held some fifty years in the future. “But you really ought to take heed of my words. Alastor should not find you here.”
“Why not?” Perhaps she would show her face. For all that her words triggered twinges in my nerves, I wanted to see the face of the woman who was his wife just as much as I was curious for a glimpse of his so-called madness.
There was a long pause in which the hand was withdrawn and I could hear her moving about just out of sight.
“You always had poor timing.”
It was not her wvoice. How he had come to the door without making a sound, I could not imagine, not with–
I looked down, expecting to see his wooden leg, but it was a leg like any other ending in a large black boot. He must lose it later, during the first war with Voldemort. Something in his gaze pulled mine to meet it. His face was less scarred and clean-shaven, his nose whole and unexpectedly small, his hair peppered with grey and roughly cropped.
“Hello, Lily.” There was a strange twist to his lips as he leaned against the door frame, hands in the pockets of his long black coat. He must have boiled under the summer sun.
I could not think how to respond. Even a simple “hello” would not do, and he didn't seemed to expect it. There was not a hint of anger in his face, nor tension in his muscles, but he was surrounded by a frisson of electricity that sent Dark Wizards running for cover, throwing down their wands in surrender.
“You’re quiet today.” His eyes flickered up at the portrait. “I take it she’s been telling you to be frightened of me. She’s right, in case you were wondering.” A note of sadness shook his resolve, and when he looked back at me, there was a strange lift to his brow. “It’s the worst possible time for you to be here–”
“Then I’ll go.” I took a step toward the door, but hesitated, refusing to come too near him.
He did not blink. “Must you?”
If this was his madness, it was surprising that the Ministry would force him to retire. He was too careful and measured, all that obsessive paranoia radiating forth, ordering and reordering the world around him, no matter how often and how much it would resist.
“Yes.” I took another step forward, defying the raging butterflies in my stomach. “It's not appropriate for me to be here. You’re in mourning.” It was difficult to speak while his eyes took in every detail of the room, its objects, and me.
His eyebrows lifted. His gaze did not. “Aren’t you the perceptive one. If only you’d thought of becoming an Auror. We could use more sharp ones like you.”
I could not tell whether he was serious or mocking, but there was some measure of both in his tone that lead me to wonder whether it was all an act, a well-wrought mask that disguised what I knew to lie beneath. The old man who had sat with me in this same room had long ago dropped that mask, but the present Moody was different, at the height of his powers, just at the moment before his sanity would collapse.
“Why so silent, Lily? One might think you’re afraid of me.”
His lips turned up into a smile and I could no longer remain befuddled and silent. He was too casual in the face of death, the scent of Easter lilies still pervading while the dust had not yet settled on his dead wife’s clothes, that I was disgusted by him. Either he had not loved her at all or he had loved her too much. I could only guess at a certain feeling he had toward me, as mystifying as it was terrifying.
“I’m afraid of what you’ve become.”
I had no control of the words; they spilled from me as though they came from another time, another version of myself that would come to know this wizard whose fate was oddly intertwined with my own. But I could not know where fate would take me in the end.
His reaction was immediate. He drew himself up to his full height, eyes black coals boring through my skull. His muscles tensed, his eyes widening, the magic one bulging, his nostrils flaring with every ragged breath. The seconds, then minutes ticked past. We waited. Then, without warning, he relaxed, if only a touch, his eyes lowering.
“Yes, perhaps you’re right after all.” His voice rose a pitch higher, softening. He moved into the room, drifting past me to stand at the fireplace, hand negligently resting on the mantle. “Strange that it should come to this, after all this time.”
He looked up at the portrait, but it remained silent, empty.
“It wasn’t meant to be like this.”
Though his voice was low and his eyes were no longer upon me, I still felt overwhelmed by his presence. He had not even approached, yet he seared through my flesh with his gaze. Though burned, I did not stay my hand from reaching toward the flame once more.
“I will see you again–” I did not know what to call him. Moody was too impersonal Alastor was too strange, as though I was taking on a role larger than I could bear.
“Why do you never age, Lily? Why do I change, yet you remain the same?” He braced himself against the mantle with both hands, head turned my way, his magical eye hidden in shadow. Even this way he did not appear normal. He could never be normal.
And there it was, the moment when I would tell him what he would relate to me in his future, my past.
“Time is out of joint. I keep going back in time.”
“Through my life. Yes, I know that.” He tossed aside my words with a wave of his hand and flung himself into the chair. A purple vein in his temple was throbbing. “But the question is why. Why you? Why me? Why now?”
It was a mystery beyond him, as it was beyond me.
“I don’t know.”
There was a sharp intake of breath in one corner of the portrait. One edge of the scarf fluttered in response. She did not speak, only hovered just out of sight, listening, waiting, for what, I could not guess.
Moody glanced at it, his lips curling. “You have the answer, don’t you? That wouldn’t surprise me.” The colour rose in his cheeks.
It was a hatred that I could not longer bear to witness. He hated her, hated the power that she held over him, hated the way that she lived, so different from he. There were no books in this room, only her glorious clothes and jewels, the sickening smell of lilies and lavender hanging in the air. She had been a woman, tall and dark and extraordinary, loved by all. All but him.
How much further would I need to go to discover the rest of the story? How far would I have to venture before I found the beginning?
He was watching me again. Spots of passion flamed his cheeks, but it was the tenderness in his eyes that sent me back a step. I was almost at the door. Even with my leg– No. I could never get away, not up two flights of stairs and through the the door of the cabinet, my only refuge.
“This doesn’t need to be the end.” He rose to his feet, something of the panther in his limbs. Nothing could keep him still for long. “Time will not have you. Not now, not again.”
He came forward, eyes intent on their prey.
“Moody, stop this.” I stepped back, wincing as I came down awkwardly on my ankle. “It’s not the right time.” Or was it? He needed me, needed someone who cared more for him than she ever could. And I, who had only met him once before, cared more than she who had known him, been married to him, for years, decades.
He moved faster than I imagined, feet impossibly light on the old floor boards, making hardly a sound.
“How do you know? Tell me!”
He was upon me now, hand gripping my shoulder, face thrust toward mine. All my nerves shuddered at his ear-shattering tone and the desperation that reverberated in every note. I would show no weakness. I was the daughter of the Boy Who Lived and the first Weasley girl in generations. I could be as strong as this Auror. This madman.
“How can I tell you what I don’t know myself?”
My voice sounded so calm, so collected, everything that I could not feel.
His eyes widened, but his jaw remained set. His grip on my shoulder loosened, but his hand did not fall. His face neared, and I waited for what felt to be inevitable.
“Would you condemn me to madness?” he whispered, his breath wafting against my cheek. “Forever wanting the one thing beyond my reach?”
My own breath was caught in my throat, my lungs set to burst at any moment. I closed my eyes, head spinning.
And then it came, the sound from above.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Author's Note: There are two inspirations for this portion of the story: Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca", particularly the scene in which the narrator explores Rebecca's bedroom, and to a lesser extent (for now) Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre".
Chapter 4: Behind the Times
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Behind the Times
“What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
He glanced upwards, head tilting as his gaze drifted across the ceiling. His magical eye made a sickening three-hundred-and-sixty degree turn before its penetrating gaze returned to me.
“It’s calling for you.” His voice was eerily calm. “I remember hearing it, long ago.”
“How long?” I forced the words through my throat.
His face shrugged, each of his features possessing an extraordinary malleability. The scars would change him so much, permanently freezing those muscles behind a mask of dead flesh. What could have only been a twitch of the lips for the older Moody was now a complete set of movements from the flaring of nostrils to the raising of brows and even, I was amazed to see, the wiggling of an ear. He was all nerves, every second revealing a new facet.
“You don’t remember?” The Auror was there in a widening of his eyes, the magical one bulging to a dangerous size.
I wanted to pull away from him, but his grasp had not loosened, however level his voice had become. For all that I felt the pull of the cabinet, my dread of being left behind in this time was less than my terror of him, this Moody who could not know his own strength. How could any Death Eater have eluded him. What chance did they have against this wild flame in human form?
“How can you not remember?” he persisted, his voice finally breaking as he leaned toward me. “You know me, but you can’t remember any–”
When he stopped, he closed his eyes and, of all things, shuddered, his hands loosening their grip, anything to refrain from touching me. He swept over to the mantle, regarding me through narrowed, smouldering eyes.
“Who are you? A spy, a spell set to entrap me?”
There had been something in his eyes, just for a moment before he had released me, that should have told me everything, but I had not caught it in time. My brain could not move fast enough on merely two cups of coffee. What time was it now? How long had I been whisked through time on an empty stomach and no sleep?
I had to get away, back to the attic, back to the cabinet. How long would it wait for me? Would the next letter sit there forever, or would it vanish into the next time without me, leaving me stranded at the hands of this... this... what?
He was mad. Already. It was not a future state of mind, but a present one. If only I knew the exact date–
I was too slow at thinking, and he was not a patient man.
“Lily Potter.” My voice wavered, but held. “And you’re Mad-Eye Moody. Satisfied?”
He snorted. “No one calls me that.”
So that is how a person can change time, entirely without intention. It was, of course, a mere detail, and I could not even know what effect it would have on history. We were alone here, except for the painting, but she, having carried out her revenge, now remained silent.
“They will now.” I leaned against the doorframe, wincing at the bolt of pain racing up my leg.
He frowned and turned away, feeling at his pockets until he found his flask. I could not see how long a draught he took, his back an impenetrable black wall. It was curious that he should let his guard down in such a way, facing his back to a potential enemy, certainly a suspicious entity, but then I saw the mirror.
It had been a test. I could have drawn my wand during his so-called moment of weakness. When he caught my gaze in the mirror, I detected a hint of satisfied amusement.
“So you’re from the future.” Standing at the dressing table, he plucked a flower from its stem. “I was never certain, you know.” He looked back over his shoulder, the flower caught between his fingers. “All those years. Most of my life. You knew everything.”
When he looked away, his fingers clamped down, crushing the petals against the palm of his hand. “Even as you look at me now, you know how I’m going to die. Maybe you’ve even seen it happen.”
He spun to face me. “No?”
“No one ever found out what happened.” I struggled to breathe, finding no support in the wood behind me, for all its solidity. “I mean, to you.” Looking into his eyes was like floundering in the ocean. I was dragged beneath the surface, the air thrust from my lungs, the pressure crushing my chest.
“So we’re even then.” He gave a sharp bark of a laugh, tossing his head, curls of too-long hair falling back over his forehead in a ghastly reminiscence of long-departed boyhood. It was difficult to imagine that such a man could have ever been a child.
“We can’t tell each other what we want to know, so we’ll just have to find another subject of conversation.” He kept his eyes upon me, a cat stalking his prey.
I could not move beneath that gaze. There was no chance of escape. That must be it. He could not bear to be alone, whereas I could not bear to be anything but. I would sit in my chair in the sitting room to watch the sun set while the plants crept their way toward me in the waning light. That was my life. Not this. Never this.
I limped out of the room, keeping more weight on the stick than on my own feet, they were so weary. All of my body was weary, dragged down by the force of the ticking clock, the constant reminder that the cabinet was waiting. Always waiting.
“Where are you going?” He had come to the door, bracing his hands on either side of the frame, leaning outwards.
Looking back made me stumble, and the stick wobbled in complaint.
“I must go.” It emerged as a groan behind clenched teeth. I gasped and tried again. “I must.”
The throbbing in my leg worsened. I did not know whether I could climb the stairs in this state, but still I pressed forward. I had to get away, get back, get somewhere, anywhere. There was too much of him. His passions, his tensions, they seared the air around me and I could not breathe. I thought of the quiet, boring little cottage of the future, when he was gone, leaving only the remnants of a life. Their life. Her life.
Her trunks, her clothes, her jewels, her ring, her portrait, her everything. All of her but herself, a poor substitute for what he truly wanted.
It was a curious thing that he should keep all her things for so long. No one kept the belongings of someone they did not love. No one could forever pretend as though nothing had happened, as though Death had not intervened.
But why then this care for me? If anything was a poor substitute for the living, breathing flesh of a woman, it was me: bored, broken, pathetic Lily Potter, hardly able to walk, going to mental and physical ruin because she no longer cared what she looked like, what people thought of her.
Until now. Until him.
Did he love her or me?
I grasped at my thoughts as they spiralled into madness, weaving untold stories of passion like those favoured by my old housemates. I remember those yellow-back novels, the contents of which disgusted me with their flashy covers and dogeared pages devoid of reason and reality. There was nothing practical about love.
Why should he care, how could he love me?
I crumbled at last, my hands scraping against the walnut panelling, finding no hold. My stick clattered to the floor, but it felt as though I took forever to fall, time stretching forth its greedy hands to arrest me in a painful grasp. I seemed to hang in the air, something preventing my complete fall.
He righted me just as he would in twenty years, the same solidity to his arms, the same firmness in his grasp. The only difference was that, this time, he was steady, his heavy booted feet rooted to the ground. He could have merely set me straight and on my way as a particular nuisance to his peace, but his hands remained in place. I was trapped between the cat's paws, enraptured.
My eyes rose slowly. I took in the details of his thick overcoat, unbuttoned now, revealing plain Ministry-issue black robes, well-worn at the cuffs and collar, his hair brushing against his shoulders.
“I won’t let you leave again.”
At last, his face. He peered down at me, magic and normal eyes examining me with the same curious intensity. Every muscle in his face seemed to be moving, as though reacting to each passing thought, and I was mesmerised by the sight of so much life within a single human being. An extraordinary one, but still human, still mortal.
It was too late for me now. Too late to return. Too late for everything.
His head lowered as mine rose, and in the middle, at the still point, we met, the seconds fleeting past with Mercury’s wings, all of time threatening to crash down upon us because we’d broken its single, terrible rule without a single thought of regret.
That would come soon enough.
I should have rebelled against him, shoved aside all feeling so that I could free myself from his grasp, from the intensity which held me to him like shrapnel glued to a magnet. He was around me in all his power, all his strength, yet I was not suffocated. He could have consumed me, crushed me in his embrace, but although he could not be gentle, he knew better than to squish a bee in his hands, for it would sting.
My breath was weak, my heart pounding in reaction to the kiss, to the feeling of being not merely desired, but needed, a necessity for his existence. Each movement of his mouth against mine was so seeped in meaning and potency to the extent that I find, even now, myself halting to stare off into a corner, experiencing an great emptiness that drains me of language, but fills me with the memory of feeling, of touch and response that sends me back to experience it to be drowned within it, once again.
How long had I known it would come to this?
Perhaps it was the moment that the old man had regarded me with such knowing eyes. That man, what this one would become. This Moody knew less than the old, and I knew more, but still I was clearly at a disadvantage, my youth and confusion belittling my ability in every way possible. He anticipated my every reaction and I knew that, if I was to stay, I would be forever his. Forever not myself.
I did not belong in this place, this dreadful haunted house with a man who sought only the ghost of something always beyond his reach, something he had lost long ago.
“Tell me that you won’t go,” he whispered in my ear.
I could not. I hung in his arms, his lips once more in possession of mine, my hands betraying me by encircling his head to prevent our parting, my thoughts filled with trouble.
She was on my mind, and she was trouble.
Her portrait was still near. Perhaps it could hear us, the sounds this would make, his whispers of my name when he chanced to take a breath, the shifting of fabric when we fought to hold each other, if not our sanity. I imagined her ghost rising between us, or would she only watch from afar, a malicious glint in her eyes? At last she knew the secret of his distance, his remorse, his guilt. Or was it that she had always known and always mocked him for his weakness, the fantasy girl who came out of the cabinet in the attic?
“There is your wife,” I said at last as his breath faltered.
He nearly dropped me then, his face and hands retracting as though I had transformed into Voldemort before his very eyes.
“What the devil can you–?” He stopped, cutting off the ferocious words to set me on my feet, reaching down to retrieve my stick. He thrust it in my direction and moved away so soon that it nearly clattered to the floor a second time.
I took a few experimental steps to test the strength of my foot. The staircase was not far behind me, but the potential of my reaching them and scaling their heights before he could stop me was extremely low. Although I could not be sure whether he would try to stop me at his present moment, I did not want to take such a risk.
“It’s only right that someone thinks of her.” My voice emerged with a cruel bite I could not repress. “You keep her things, everything about her, just as it always was. Why? If you can make love to me so easily right outside her door–”
His eyes turned wild, the magical one spinning madly into his head while his dark eye flashed a warning. Reddish spots flared upon his cheeks and his hands clenched, but he neither reached for his wand nor moved toward me. Rooted in place, he regarded me, his lips twisting without settling on any particular expression.
“Don’t come to conclusions ‘till you’ve all the evidence,” he growled. “And you’re obviously lacking most of it.”
I yearned to ask what those things were, but if he was to tell me about my future, what would happen? I had already changed history in some way just by being here, just by being part of his life. It was a terrifying thought, a question that I could not answer until I returned to my own time.
If I returned.
“At least you know better than to ask for it.”
As my mind churned and turned in an endless gyre, he took it upon himself to relax, if only a little, retrieving the flask from his pocket and taking another, deeper draught, his magic eye unceasingly focused on my face. When he finished, it spun upwards, staring through the ceiling.
“Still waiting for you, I see.” The flask safely tucked away, his eyes met mine. “It’s too bad, really. Too bad that it can’t forget you.” A hoarse laugh rattled through his lungs. “Just like me. I’ll never forget.”
I could not speak. I could not even think of anything to tell him. No platitude could express the truth. He could not know the truth. He must not know it.
That kiss. The first time that he would kiss me, but, for him, it would also be the last.
My legs moved once, then again, feet shuffling toward the staircase. I clamped my jaw to suppress the pain, but the memory of the older Moody’s eyes made my pain seem insignificant, a temporary suffering. It was not a pain of the heart, buried so deep within the mind that there was no cure. It would cripple him from the inside out.
When, at the bottom of the stairs, I looked back, he was no longer there, the hallway stood empty, as though he had never been there at all.
Only at the top of the stairs did I hear him.
A voice, hardly more than a muttering, perhaps more of a moan, arose from the bedroom, echoing against the hollow stone of the fireplace. I leaned against the balustrade, imagining the way he would stand, his forehead pressed against the cool, motionless stone, the empty portrait gazing down in bitter judgment.
I could save him. There was still that possibility. I still had that choice.
Another spate of muttering, growing louder now, reached my ears. Then a smash, a breaking of glass, a furious cry.
The attic door was there, so close now, its knob within my reach.
My choice was made when the very sound of my name spurred my aching body into movement, pushing my feet across the floor until I could push through the door and climb the dusty attic stair on hands and knees.
He was coming.
The cabinet. I could see it now, sitting in shadow.
He was on the lower stairs, his heavy boots thumping on the carpet as he rounded the corner, neared the attic door, which I had only shut, not closed.
I reached the cabinet door, had pushed it open, stood hovering before it, my head betraying me at the last.
When he burst into the attic, feet clattering on the floorboards, chest heaving with loud, gasping breaths, I could almost hear his heart pumping, could see it throbbing at his temples, on his neck. His face was oddly white for one who had been running up two flights of stairs, and there was something in his eyes that I had never thought to see from the likes of him.
If I was to reach out to him now, there would be no recompense, no one but an empty portrait to complain of an injustice. He needed me, so much so that it drove him mad, and it would only drive him to complete ruin if I left him. He would lose everything, and it would all be because I turned away when he needed me most.
But he was supposed to go mad, supposed to lose his position at the Ministry, supposed to join the Order of the Phoenix, supposed to fight against the Death Eaters, supposed to help my father win the war, and supposed to die doing so.
Would any of that be possible if I remained?
There was too much at stake. Too much of a price to pay.
When I stepped into the cabinet, he lunged forward, calling out my name. I met his eyes just before I shut the door and wished that I hadn’t looked back. He was so close that I could see myself reflected in his eyes, but then the door came between us, sealing history in place.
Chapter 5: A Matter of Time
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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.
Chapter 6: Time After Time
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Time After Time
...at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
He stopped when my steps began to falter and leaned against a lamppost to study me as I sat upon a low stone wall. I could meet his gaze now that we were alone, no longer afraid of what others may see, all the secrets my features could reveal. Even now I wondered how much he knew and how much it would be safe to tell him; I could not say too much, not if it meant that he would think me mad. Now that would be an irony, though hardly a delicious one.
We studied one another for a time. No photograph could capture the life that pulsed beneath the surface of his features or the half-smile that lingered on his lips, but it would not be difficult to believe that this last was due to my presence. His eyes ran up and down until I felt the heat rising on my cheeks.
“Ten years gone and you haven’t changed a bit. A little sad-looking, but that’s no surprise, not in a place like that.” He twitched his head back in the way that we’d come. “She’d no right to treat you like a common tart.”
“That’s only your opinion.” I shifted my position on the wall to avoid the sharper portions of its stones. “Women don’t see one another as men do.”
He opened his mouth to reply, then caught himself and shook his head, that half-smile twitching wider as he did so. “Oh no you don’t. I won’t let you bury me in a philosophical argument. Not tonight.”
With these last words, his eyes locked onto mine, both eerily equal in colour and proportion. He was and was not Alastor Moody. It was amazing how that magical eye had become so ingrained into his identity that to see him without it was to imagine him a completely different person. Not normal, not by any means, but nearly so.
“What should we talk about, then?” I struggled to maintain a light, level voice.
His eyes narrowed as he thought. It did not take him long to wave my question away with an impatient hand, his jaw tightening.
“Or did you have something else in mind?” The words were impulsive, but honest; if he did not want to talk, it was hardly difficult to imagine what he might want instead, not when he kept looking at me in that way.
He turned his face and it fell into shadow. I thought that he must have done it on purpose, but whether it was to disguise shock or embarrassment, or some other emotion that he did not wish me to see. His shadow hung just outside of the light, which still fell upon my face in full as I leaned forward to see his.
“I never imagined it to be this easy.” There was laughter in his voice. “One’d think that you’ve been waiting for me as long as I’ve waited to see you again.”
Ten years, he had said. It was a long time to wait. At most, I’d only known him for twenty-four hours, but it had felt like an eternity, time stretching her bounds for Merlin knew what reason, just so that we could be together, him and I, a broken wizard and witch, only this time, he was not broken. Not yet.
But I couldn’t have him think that all I had in mind was–
“I didn’t mean–”
“Yes you did.” He stepped back into the light, his hand extended, his face expectant. “And I’m glad that you said it. Gets it out of the way.”
I placed my hand into his with some hesitation, but there was no hesitation in his movements as he pulled me toward him, his fingers threading through mine as his other arm encircled my waist.
“I knew you’d come, just like you said. It’d been so long, I’d almost forgotten, but last week, I could feel it–”
“Feel what?” I stared up into his face, struggling to piece together the clues to understand what it was that I would do, what I had done, when he was a child. How was it possible that he could feel my presence?
“The charm, don’t you remember?” His face fell, not into dismay, but into suspicion. “You placed a charm on both of us, swearing on that cabinet that I would always know when you’d appear, and I’ve kept the damned thing nearby just in case, convincing Mum that it was worth dragging up from Egypt.”
My brow creased as I fell into thought, my gaze dropping from his.
“It nearly drove her mad this week,” he continued, still looking down at me, his eyes studying my face, awaiting each reaction, each unconscious twitch. “She left for Oxford to get some peace and quiet. Kept saying that she heard someone crying in the cabinet, of all places.”
I hid my face against his shoulder, closing my eyes against the memory of the tears. His arm tightened around me almost naturally, his hand well-suited to the small of my back as though it had been made to rest there. His broad-brimmed hat, Parisian in style, shaded us both from the light of the street lamp, casting us in a golden circle of light. My cheek rubbed against his robes, and I wondered if they were not the same as those he would still wear when he saw me next in – what would it be? Twenty-five, thirty years?
“We both looked inside, but found nothing, no sign of life.”
Shifting against him, I raised my head. “And you knew...?” I let the question hang.
“You’re the only one who’s come out of it, far as I know.”
A cat gave a yowl from a nearby garden, a reminder that life existed beyond his lamppost on this lifeless street, the silent brick houses watching us through blank windows, but who could be certain what else watched from behind those windows?
His arm released me, but his hand remained clenched over mine.
“I know a place where we can talk.” He began to draw me out of the light.
He shook his head, and before I realised what he was doing, I felt that familiar pull on my navel and wrenching in my stomach. When we landed, I yanked my hand free, clutching my abdomen while the bile rose in my throat, threatening release. Breathing heavily, I could not take notice of our new surroundings for some moments. He stood to one side, better than to offer comfort or apology, my eyes too readily glaring in his direction.
“There’s a bench over here.”
His voice was muffled by a cloud of fog that enveloped the park, for that was where he had brought us, one of the city’s sprawling open spaces, this particular example dotted with chestnuts, their flowers long fallen to the grass, upon which they rotted while immature conkers took their place on the trees’ branches. I eventually joined him, sitting with care on the opposite end of the bench, stretching out my weaker leg with a sigh of relief.
“Never seen anyone react like that to side-along.” He leaned back with crossed arms, staring out in front of him.
I dabbed a handkerchief at the corners of my mouth. “It’s more polite to ask first.”
“You couldn’t have walked it.”
“There are buses.”
“Too late now. Don’t you know what time it is?”
Time. Always passing, ever fleetingly. It was not even possible for me to keep track of the hours. Who knew how much of our time was spent in banalities and meaningless words? There was so much I wanted to know, so much that I wanted to say to him, but there was never enough time. Perhaps there would never be.
“From what you’ve said, I spent a week in that cabinet. How am I supposed to know what time it is?” My accent slipped a dialect lower to match his.
“So it was you?” He turned his stare toward me again.
I nodded before a shiver suddenly took hold of my nerves. I was only dressed for an indoor climate, and it was a particularly damp night in this place of his choosing. It may have been quiet and isolated, but it was as cold as a winter’s night; Father Christmas was as likely to be sitting beside me as this not-yet war hero.
“Here.” He took out a red silk scarf, and I felt the breath catch in my throat. “Mum’s always getting cold up here, though she never remembers to dress for it.”
He held it out, but I could only stare. The colour, the fabric, it was all too similar to that which I’d seen in the portrait, draped over the chair, its edges raised by the breath of Alastor Moody’s wife. It had not been a portrait of his mother; it could not have been. She had said that she was his wife, and somehow, she had been in possession of this scarf.
With a shrug of his shoulders, he slid closer and tied it around my throat, brushing aside my hair. It should have been another excuse for that electric current to flow between us, but his fingers were practical, even impersonal in their actions.
“What colour is it usually?”
His eyebrows rose as one finger strayed lower than the neckline of my robes.
“You don’t like it?”
He was not pronouncing judgement, only simple curiosity. If this was a sign of his future methods of interrogating Dark Wizards, it was perhaps not surprising that he became such a successful Auror. There was no difficulty in responding to any question he asked, and I feared that he would soon ask questions with answers that would suit neither of us.
“It’s too much like my mother’s.”
His finger twisted at the last moment before it was destined to gain the hollow between my breasts, his hand retracting to rest negligently on his lap, but the damage was done. My breath came in short gasps, the fog now as much inside my head as without.
“Now it’s too much like my mother’s.”
I reached up to adjust the folds of the scarf. “Oh. I suppose it’ll grow out.”
His silence gave me time to ponder my answer. I had spoken with too little forethought; it was unlikely that I would remain in this time for much longer. There couldn’t be too long a period before I heard the knoc–
An impossibility from this distance. We could be miles from the cabinet. I had kept too long in the previous time, and for a week Moody had heard me within the cabinet. A full week. I had missed something in that time, missed an opportunity, but for what? If the knocking began now, where I could not hear it, what would happen in the next time?
He touched my hair, and my eyes rose to meet his.
“You look like you’ve lost something, been looking that way all evening.”
“A little sad-looking, you said earlier,” I reminded him, my gaze drifting to the chestnut tree closest to our position, its highest branches lost in the thickening mist.
He waited, again choosing silence as his method, knowing that it would induce me to speak with greater success than any direct question. His eyes examined every visible area of my face, a scope that would be increased when he came into possession of that magical eye. I blushed to think of how much more he had seen of me in those future days.
“My dad was lost in the war, so I can understand, Lily. I’ve seen your look on my mother’s face every day, even more than that.”
His hand was drifting toward mine, he seemingly incapable of avoiding physical contact for very long, but I rose and limped away to catch my breath.
“What was it, then?” he asked, leaning back on the bench. “Or better yet, who?”
How could I tell him that it was he, his future self, whom I had lost? I had to remember that this Moody was not the same as the last I had known, but rather a younger version of the same, without the same collection of experiences and memories
I stared off into the fog. No lights, no sign of life. Only us two and the trees.
A distant rumble echoed through the fog, dulled, but still sounding a threatening note. A storm was coming. I could already feel a wind rising, stirring the clouds that surrounded us, raising the strands of my hair off my shoulders, mimicking his touch. I closed my eyes against it and did not hear him approach from behind. He did not come too near, though the sound of his voice when he finally spoke startled me.
“Forget it. I should learn not to ask so many damned questions.”
I glanced over my shoulder, but only saw his shadow without detail.
“We’ve all lost something.” My voice wavered, yet somehow held. “The problem is trying to find it again.”
He was silent for so long that I thought he might have left. My heart constricted as I listened for any sign of him, a footstep, a breath, anything to know that he was still in the same place as I was, that any moment, he would speak again, mayhap even reach out and offer that which I would give him so many years from now.
So many years....
The sob came with such ferocity that I was nearly felled, doubling over with the pain of it and all the feelings that drove it on and on again. That look on his face as the cabinet door closed upon him, the way he said my name, screaming it into the emptiness of the attic room, the cottage, the world that could not hold us both together for long before sending one into the vortex once more, forever tearing us asunder.
My name echoed with the thunder, the fog clearing away around us with the growing wind that tossed the branches of the chestnut beyond the breaking point.
When he touched me at last, his fingers wrapping around my arms with painful slowness, I felt the moisture of rain mingle with the tears upon my cheeks.
“The storm. It’s come.”
I could not speak, could not think of what I would say if speech were possible. My heart had been torn from my chest and now lay bleeding in his hands. I loved him, that was the only answer, what other could there be? I could not bear to leave him this time, not if he wanted me to remain. There were no impediments, no wife that lingered in the corners of our consciousness – shared as it was, without opposition to jar our common course – only I forgot... no, had shoved to the back of my mind, praying it would be forgotten....
Time. If I were to stay–
“Lily–” His grip tightened as a branch crashed down nearby.
–how much would I sacrifice? My family, all the people I had known. Yes, I had cast them off so easily after my injury–
“Can you run with your leg?”
“My foot,” I whispered, my thoughts coming to life in spoken word. “A bludger hit it. There were too many bone fragments, even for the best Healers. A stupid mistake–”
The wind tore at our robes. One hand relinquished possession of my arm to shove his felt hat lower over his brow. I closed my eyes against the wind, letting the blasts of air cool my fevered cheeks.
“I can’t run,” I said at last. “I can hardly walk. I’m so tired–”
His other hand clenched my arm with such ferocity that I knew each finger would leave a blue smudge on my pale, freckled skin, the only proof I would have that any of this happened, that it wasn’t all just a very bad dream. It was, of course, possible, that I would awake in my chair, the leafy tendrils of the plants encircling my arm in place of his hand, an open window letting in the storm. The tears alone would be real. Everything else....
“Stupid, maybe. Mistaken, never.” He turned me around to face him, my hair streaming across my eyes and into his, but he ignored it, pulling me close, his face thrust forward until our noses nearly touched. “All those years of imagining what it’d be like, seeing you again, but I never expected this.”
Nature crashed down around us, but her relentless fury forced us closer, not apart.
“I never thought you would know me.” My whisper was nearly lost in a gust of wind.
His head pulled back before my lips could touch his.
“Know you?” he thundered, more terrifying than the storm.
His feet were more firmly planted than any of the trees the swayed and bowed in submission to the wind. Dark eyes fixed me in place, rooting me to this spot like Daphne in Pan’s wild embrace, but when I lifted my arms, they did not transfigure into leafy branches that reached for the heavens in thanks. I was only mortal, as was he, and too soon this would all end.
But not yet. I dreamt of a taste of forever.
“You’re the only thing I’ve been sure of knowing.”
He bent his head, mouth seeking mine. After the briefest touch of his lips, persistently curious in their quavering, anxious hunger, my hands clutching the front of his robes, fearing that the maelstrom would tear us apart, I was blinded, not by feeling, but by a strike of lightening so close that the air around us crackled with electricity. In an impossible set of movements, Alastor had us away, a shield spell blockading he worst of the sparks. The scent of wet-burning wood and filled my nostrils, the fog replaced with smoke.
Yes, we were only mortal. That was now too clear.
We stared up at where the chestnut tree had stood. In its place was a burnt wreck of a noble trunk, its branches strewn about, smouldering under the onslaught of rain.
Note: this chapter ends with my recreation of the famous proposal scene from "Jane Eyre".
Chapter 7: Time is Running Out
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Time is Running Out
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened...
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
The seconds ticked past, swiftly turning to minutes before I noticed the force with which I clutched at his robes, my fingers growing numb with the effort. But when I attempted to pull away, I found that I was not the only one under such a strain. His arm was a vice; movement, particularly movement away, was impossible.
The rain trickled down the back of my neck as I buried my face against his shoulder, wet as it was. My heart refused to slow, fear still driving its relentless pace. His was no different, though, and that made me feel less of a fool. Had we been standing any closer to that tree... I did not want to think of it.
But that, of course, meant that it was all my mind could ponder.
To have died now, more than seventy years before I would be born, would it have changed anything? What would people in my own time believe? That I had simply run away? There was that lake across the field, but I would never–
Would they know that? Could I be certain?
I closed my eyes tight at the thought of my mother’s face if she heard of my disappearance.
“Hell, Lily. I can hardly breathe.”
Stepping back, I tottered on my good foot, searching the ground for my stick. He found it first, pausing to examine the metalwork at the handle, his fingers probing the filigree until, with a tiny click, my wand emerged. It was a trick my dad had learned from Hagrid, of all people, whose own wand was not-so-secretly hidden in a shockingly pink umbrella.
“It must have happened a while ago, if you could get this made.”
I took it from his hands with a little less grace than he deserved, carefully slipping the wand back into its secure position
He shoved his hands into his pockets, thinking, before he kicked at a smoking pile of leaves, his voice lowered into a state of brusque petulance.
“I need a drink.”
Without a glance in my direction, he started walking away, leaving me, I supposed, to follow, keeping up with him as best I could. He seemed to be thinking, from the tilt of his head, thrust forward, eyes downcast, but watchful. I could tell.
After a hundred feet or so, he halted, both feet coming together in a soldierly pose. That should have told me everything, but I was too busy attempting to make my way down a small hill without sliding on the slick grass. Perhaps I was haunted by the ghosts of my parents, my family, even the friends I had abandoned those months ago, pretending to sleep each time they came to visit so that I would be spared the sight of pity in their eyes. For some, it only took a week, for others, slightly longer, but eventually, they all understood the truth, or some semblance of it. I had come to believe that I was destined for loneliness, a future that held nothing and led nowhere.
“Just look at us, a regular pair of fools.”
My head snapped up to find him in front of me, and by some miracle, I managed to keep my balance.
“I’m going to tell you straight out what I should have said at the beginning.” His eyes passed across my features, observing, measuring.
His pause was more than pregnant. I could see his chest labouring with every breath.
“In the morning, I’m going to war.”
I did not, at first, understand his meaning. My time was one of peace, not perfect, blissful repose, but rather a carefully maintained truce between all sides of the political and social battles that had rippled beneath the surface for centuries. To imagine a world at war was only to imagine, never to experience, and yet this would be the second time he had left me to fight a battle, to partake in the horrors of war. That other time, he would die. And this time?
Blinking rapidly, I stared at the ground, unwilling to meet his eyes and reveal my foreknowledge of his fate.
“It’s been planned for months. I couldn’t change those plans, even if I wanted to.”
He sounded far away, my thoughts so loud, so demanding.
I should have expected this. Had I caught myself dreaming that I would remain here with him, for– not forever. Never forever. This was our brief moment in time, one that would haunt and plague him until the last of days, my ghost chasing him through the years of his life, never aging, never changing, while he grew to be a crippled old man, ugly with time and scars and pain. The pain of having one’s heart ripped away, again and again, torn clean out of his chest each time he saw–
“Don’t you have anything to say?”
No. I hadn’t.
But I did have something else.
Stepping forward, damning my leg to hell and back, I placed one hand on his shoulder and, with the other, cupped his cheek, rough with pale stubble. I brought my mouth to his and finished what had begun in a distant future, some hours ago, many years ahead. He did not resist, but he was taken unawares, his jaw tense and unmoving until I stepped closer, closing the distance between us. When he did at last respond, it was to grip my waist, tilting me back in so much the same way as the before he did not yet know.
How could this happen? How could it feel as though past was future, that all was present?
I lost myself against him, unwilling to return to his words of earlier, the reminder that time controlling our every moment together, always dividing us, for never the twain shall meet for long, never for long enough.
If he had asked, would I stay? If he was not leaving, if I asked him to stay–
“You’ll go, Lily, and so will I.”
I wished that I could consume those words, suck them from his lips and make him forget that they’d ever been spoken, but I could not stop time. I could not change the time in which he lived. There was no stopping this war, no preventing his participation, however dangerous, however dire the threat it held over his head, now as precious to me as life itself.
“As soon as possible,” came my whisper, barely a breath against his cheek.
He pulled away to regard me with a face too grim for one as young as he, but I knew that my own face carried the same expression. I don’t know for how long we looked at one another. It was as though we sought to make up for all of the lost time between us that was and would be. After a time, he nodded in response to my words, both spoken and unspoken, before holding me close once more. I felt finality in his every nerve, and I could not shut my mind against it.
The rain had come to a slow, dripping halt, leaving only the sounds of night to resound against the shadowed trees. We were now on the edge of the park, within sight of a bordering street, but no person could be seen. I suppressed a shiver as the cool night air penetrated my sodden robes. His scarf was no protection against the damp of a summer night. Even he could not keep me warm for he was equally drenched.
Despite myself, I laughed, a high-pitched, nervous sound, but a laugh nonetheless.
“You know what?” I murmured against him.
His arms tightened, but I knew that he was watching me with a suspicious uncertainty when he responded in the conventional way.
“I think I need a drink too.”
His laughter was low, a rumble of thunder that neither threatened rain nor lightning, only another brush of his lips against mine, so fleeting that it felt as though every nerve in my body was concentrated on that single point of contact.
“I think I can arrange that.”
When he apparated this time, I was prepared, and while my stomach protested mightily, I was able to forestall complete rebellion, gasping for breath against a cool brick wall in an alley not far from his flat. In the dim light I could just discern the lettering of the bright advertisements for Pears soap and a highly suspect romantic melodrama. Perhaps all fictional romance seems suspect once one has experienced it for one’s self.
My hand imprisoned in his, he led me through a hidden door in the wall to a tiny lift that rattled all the way up to his floor. All else was silent. He listened at each corner, half-pausing at every door as though every shadow was an enemy, the slightest of sounds the signal of attack. I did not care. Beyond danger, I had fallen into peril and was falling further still. I would leave and he would leave, but not until the morning.
At the door to his flat, he paused again, hand in his pocket for the latch-key, his ear against the flimsy wood panel. My patience was wearing thin, each passing moment another lost to gluttonous time, and now what had first seemed to be obsessive precaution verged on outright paranoia. What could have been the cause of this, and so soon in his life? He would hardly have completed preliminary Auror training by this time. There must have been something else, something that made him fear... no, distrust, to such a degree.
He turned back to me as though my thoughts had spoken themselves into sound.
“Just checking to see if Mum’s come home. That’d be awkward, don’t you think?”
The door was open and he was ushering me inside before I could bring forth an answer.
The word was lost on his back as he poured an overly generous amount of Firewhiskey into two glasses, their crystal facets gleaming in the electric light glaring out from beneath a garish yellow lampshade. When he placed the glass in my hand, I was longer falling. The crisis has passed, and I was in the realm of practical thought once more.
My fingers tugged at the sodden silk scarf to lay it across the back of my chair. Let it be in trust for his future wife, whoever she may be. Let him tie it around her throat, the yoke, nay, the noose of marriage, the condemnation of a life into a loveless union.
I sipped at the whiskey, glad to have something that finally warmed my bones, even as my soul remained thoroughly chilled.
Perhaps the cabinet would knock again and save me from this silence.
“Do you leave in the morning, then?” My voice was unfamiliar, so changed. The park was far away now.
He drained his glass, standing by the sideboard as though contemplating a refill.
“By the first train. It won’t be long now.”
My heart shrivelled at those words. He would say them again, one day, to the same girl, the girl who never changed, never seemed to age because she was, in fact, growing younger as he grew older. Knowing less as he knew more. Was this all that we would share?
I looked at the clock on the wall. Nearly three. The sound of its ticking filled my ears. I took another sip as he refilled his glass.
Perhaps I felt it already, even before it was about to happen. The air was thin, giving the lungs so little on which to thrive, but it was filled with such electricity that it felt as though that lightning bolt had struck again, this time to stop my heart before it leapt into his hands, sacrificing my soul in the name of love.
And then it came.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
My eyes focussed on his spine as it straightened, stiffened, the glass clunking loudly against the surface of the table before his arms dropped to his sides. I thought – feared – that he would turn toward me, but instead he stepped across to the window, pulling at one corner of the dark curtain so that he could look down upon the empty street.
“Will I see you again?”
His voice was lighter than I had yet heard, raised an octave, the accent mellowed. Had he spoken my name, had he called me to him in this voice, I could not have resisted, it so painfully tore at my resolve.
A resolve already torn. In that one syllable, I gave myself away.
“But not soon.”
I looked down at my hands. “No.”
There was a long silence, broken only by the ticking of the clock. The cabinet had called, but I could not move. The silence was not absent of intention, of those words that remain to be spoken, but have not yet come into being.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “I’ll probably regret this for a very long time, but I get the feeling that you know that already, that you know a lot about me, more than I’d like.” Taking a long draught, draining the glass, he set it on the sill. “It’s easiest to put it down to fate, isn’t it? Safest too, I’ll reckon.”
At last he turned and, as one willed, I slowly rose my eyes to meet his.
“Fate explains a lot of it,” I said quietly.
His eyes narrowed. “But not all?”
“No. Not all.”
Fate alone could not have led me to him, placing all those clues in my way, knowing that I would follow, the mule lusting after the carrot, always just out of its reach, just as he would always be just beyond mine. I could hold onto him, could touch my lips to his, but I could not have him. Fate would not allow it.
But there was something else. Those letters, charting my course, they were more than fate, far more. It was the mystery that lay at the heart of this journey, of that I was certain.
“What do you think it is that makes this so hard?” His voice broke.
I turned my eyes away to struggle to my feet, grasping at my stick.
“Maybe you’re in love with me.”
He stepped forward suddenly, then stopped, one hand clenching with the exertion of will.
Leaning heavily on my stick, I watched him with a tilted head. “Maybe you’ve always been in love with me, but couldn’t be certain until now. I only found out when we were there, in the park.” I took a breath. “Not when you kissed me, but when I walked away, just before the storm came.”
The clocked ticked. I waited for the cabinet to show its first sign of impatience.
“I don’t know how it happened. I don’t even know why or how I came here, to you.” Here I paused to think over what it was I wanted to say. It was dangerous, but not too dangerous. “But I do know that, in the park, had you asked me to stay, I would have without question, without regret.”
“Not now?” He laboured over the words, only to shake them away with a toss of his head. “No, no, of course not. People like us don’t throw everything way.”
One corner of my lip twitched. “Many have.”
“But they’ve hated themselves for it, and the other person too.”
I glanced toward the door. After he failed to continue, I swallowed with difficulty.
“So that’s it, then.”
He nodded, his jaw set like iron. “For the present.”
The present, but not the future, not even the past. We were far from finished.
I passed into the other room, where the papers still littered every surface and the cabinet loomed against the wall, surrounded by photographs of temples, tombs, and treasures, all of the things that the usual occupant wished never to forget. My hand had touched the cool brass knob when I heard the papers rustle as he came up behind me.
My hand retracted in a tight fist. I closed my eyes, unwilling to let him see my face.
“Or are you one of those people who aren’t good at it?” When I didn’t reply, he said my name in that low tone. “Would you like me to show you how?”
A tear found its way out of my eye. The way that we would part in his future–
“I think we still have time for it.” His hand touched mine.
I thought that my heart would stop forever, it was so slow and heavy.
“Let me go.”
“Not until we say goodbye.”
With upraised chin and quavering jaw, I faced him. “Goodbye, Alastor.”
His eyes flickered across every contour of my face, their brown depths betraying only the slightest hints of the passion that would, one day, overwhelm him.
“So cold now? It makes no sense....”
He touched a finger to my cheek, collecting the stray tear upon a fingernail.
“Will you change your mind?” My words sliced through the air between us, air that I preferred did not exist, but I could not think of that. It would do no good now that we were to part, not when I already knew his answer.
And he did not waste his breath in giving it. A slight shaking of his head sufficed. My hand was released, but he refused to relinquish his gaze.
“You’re the only one I’ve ever thought I could look at forever.” He snorted at the ridiculous cliche he was obliged to use, but there was a painful honesty in his eyes as they memorised each facet, every cell. “It was never the same after I saw you.”
My cheeks flushed, and I stepped back against the cabinet, my hand feeling for the knob once more. Compliments did not suit him. I did not want them. What I wanted could not be had. All I could do was satisfy his one request, and then I would be free, for the present..
“I will see you again. I promise..”
The words emerged with too much effort. He stepped forward, his gaze sharpening, but youth made him hesitate, made him think about the time that neither of us could waste. Something changed in his face, and I did not like to see it. No matter what passed between us now, at the end, I would not repeat my previous mistake. I would not hurt him.
My lips clamped down before I made it impossible for me to leave, before I revealed to him his own future, his failures, his trials, his death. He could never know any of it, but I would.
I would always remember.
There he was, coming forward again at the last, when I had looked away, to plant firm hands on my shoulders, pressing me against the cabinet that held my fate, and his, within its worn, lacquered walls. More was spoken with locked eyes than all the power that mere words could offer, and once I was as sure of myself as I was of him, I tilted my chin upward to receive a final parting kiss. Restrained, but only just.
He fell away before the walls of resolve could crumble, his last words emerging with a gruff forbearance.
“Go. I swear that you, you alone–”
I shut the door upon him before he could perjure himself, before he could tell an untruth that was not yet a lie. The other, she would come between us, just as I would always come between them, but that was for another time. It was, for me, in the past, and that is where it was going to remain.
Blackness surrounded me, the light from the room beyond fading as though the cabinet could sense my presence of mind, enhanced rather than inhibited by the emotions raging through my indelicate frame. I had been on time; the cabinet was already on its way.
I spoke to the thing, not out of frustration, but because I knew it could respond.
Crouching as best I could, I fumbled about the floor, splinters cutting into the flesh of my palms, pricking the pads of my fingers. I was no sleeping beauty; I would find what I–
The paper crinkled against one hand.
It felt like an eternity had passed before I, now settled in a corner, wand lit, my eyes squinting down at the tiny slip of paper, could read its contents.
You will go back to the beginning.
Another line, in smaller writing, but still the same hand, was scrawled beneath.
For his sake, be prudent. Time is running out.
The cabinet shuddered once, then again. A small strip of light suddenly shone through the gap left by the joint between the two doors. Alien smells wafted through the gap. For the first time, I had experienced the cabinet’s mysterious actions, witnessed its impossible powers, but still I had not seen the hand that guided it. That had eluded me once again.
The beginning. I had seen the end, of him, of this. I knew where the story had gone, but not where it had begun.
There was a rattling of the handle. My breath caught.
Someone else opened the door.
Chapter 8: In Due Time
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In Due Time
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
There was light, so much light. It turned the world to gold, blinding her in its brilliance, like Midas, simply by breathing, had transformed the very air with his curse.
I covered my eyes, only daring myself to open them when I heard the voice, still high like a child’s, not yet broken into adolescence, querulous in its tone of curiosity and command, refusing to admit the fear that shook in the corners of his throat.
“What are you doing in my cabinet?”
My hands fell away, and I saw him, still so young, dark hair combed flat against his head, wide brown eyes refuting his tightly-clenched jaw. The shape of the face was correct, though his cheeks would lose their baby-fleshiness in a few years. Not too many. He was already sprouting, his movements uncertain of his new-found height.
But it was not the sight of him that struck me hardest. He was a sight to behold at this age, a sort of Puritanical precociousness ingrained into every line of his form from the too-large feet and hands to the twitching muscles of his face. He was unlike anyone I had ever known before, so many contradictions rolled into a single, extraordinary person.
My cabinet, he had said. His, not his mother’s, as he had... would tell me.
The story – his story – had changed.
But had I caused it? Or had he changed it, remembered it incorrectly, perhaps, as many are wont to do. He would be old when he told me of the cabinet, and all the things he had been through from this point until then would be more than enough to alter one’s childhood remembrances.
“Is it yours?” I asked, blinking against the light.
He put his fists on his hips, glaring with impatience at my aversion.
“I asked first!”
“And I’m asking for clarification, that’s all.”
His face screwed up as though remoulded by some modern artist.
“What are you doing in this cabinet?” He pronounced each word with gravity and care, believing he spoke to someone of great stupidity. “Which Mum bought for me?”
I rubbed my eyes, attempting to buy time as I wondered what in Merlin’s name I would tell this child. Nothing regarding his future could pass the confines of my lips; they would have to remain sealed on that subject until I–
Until I what? Returned to my own time? Returned to a later time in his life? What was there left to see, to discover? I had at last reached the beginning. Surely what was the beginning for him would be the end for me; it seemed a logical supposition to make, and yet I still wondered, would likely always wonder about certain things, but this, it bothered me, a nagging reproach in the back of my mind. Why was I here?
I looked into his eyes and saw not a drop of recognition.
I was a stranger to him, a girl who he’d found in his magic cabinet, nothing more than puzzle to be solved by the youthful cogs of his mind.
I never expected it to hurt quite so much. It should have been easier to feel nothing. He looked so different, so young....
Was this what it must have been like for that old man, seeing me for the last time, catching me as I fell, having caught me so many times before? That look in his eyes that haunted my thoughts, all of the pain that would fill his shattered soul, it was here now, within me. I could never say that what I felt was of the same potency. He had waited so much longer for that final meeting, only to learn that I did not yet know him, that all of his waiting was for naught, or nearly so. Time had punished him most of all.
Him. This boy.
“Wait, are you alright?”
He stepped toward me, his head tilted, his firm expression wavering.
I put a hand up to my face, still cold from the London air, still remembering the touch of his cheek against mine.
“You look like a ghost.”
There was the sound of a chair being pushed in my direction.
“Here. Sit down. Are you thirsty?”
I shook my head although it felt as though I’d swallowed a handful of sand since I’d arrived. This place was so dry, so–
My feet took me to the room’s only window, my hands resting against the mud brick sill as I leaned out to see a river, glistening in the sunlight, bordered by palms and reeds and fields of strange crops, all things unlike I had ever seen before. Just beyond, I caught sight of sand, mountains of sand, sand blowing through the air, catching in the throats of unsuspecting tourists.
This was most certainly not the Lake District.
Turning to face him once more, I was struck by the way that the light struck his face, his eyes narrowed with an annoyed curiosity that I refused to explain myself, that I dared refused to satisfy his youthful Auror mind. Perhaps it was even that I refused to leave him to whatever he had been doing prior to my appearance.
“I’ve never been to Egypt before.”
This gave him pause. He scratched his chin and looked toward the cabinet.
“It goes to England?”
When I nodded, he threw open the door to thrust his head inside. I stepped forward, hand reaching out to stop him should he try to close the door behind him. If he should and disappear– I could not think of it. There would be no possible way of finding him once more; he would be lost to time and all of this, it would have been for naught.
My heart felt as though it would burst, each vein in my body constricting as terror made every nerve shriek, voicing what my sandpaper tongue could not.
What would happen Alastor Moody did not exist in his proper time? What would have happened during the wars? To my father? To me? This was a selfish thought, but I did not think of my life, rather for all that had occurred these last twenty-four hours, all the ways in which I had been forever changed. To lose all of that, to lose him, would be an indescribable pain. It was beyond the knowledge that I loved him, or would love the man this boy would one day be; it was the knowledge that none of it could ever be realised.
It would always be the dream of one night. But what to expect once my eyes opened to the dreary light of day?
“I don’t see how.” He re-emerged into the light, shutting the door with a sharp snap. “The man said it was magic, but I don’t.” Pausing, he tilted his head and looked toward me. “Didn’t. It’s different now.”
“It was never the same after I saw you.”
No, that was entirely another thing.
I took a breath. “Because I came out?”
“But how?” His little voice cracked, his fists clenching as his face coloured.
A shrug pulled at my shoulders, and I moved away so that I would not need to see the disappointment in his eyes when I failed to satisfy his curiosity.
“I don’t know.”
The room provided distraction in its motley collection of artifacts from statues large and small, blue, turquoise, or stone, to what appeared to be a mummified cat, its wrappings covered in minuscule spidery strokes of ink. They were not hieroglyphs; I had seen those before thanks to the curse breakers in the family. These were something else entirely.
“It knocks when it wants me to go back in.” I paused, watching his reflection in the small looking glass near the door, its frame Persian in design. He stood with fists on his waist, glaring at my back as though it could reveal to him all the secrets of the world, the secrets that I, as an apparent adult, must have been deliberately holding back.
Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to tell him of the letters, to show him the last.
I removed it from my pocket and, turning, held it out. It was surprising to see how long it took for him to snatch it from my hand and feast his eyes – I still could not help but think it strange that both eyes were the same, both his own, yet less his own than that magical eye which was to become central to his image – upon it.
“What does it mean, though?”
It was a very good question. All I knew was that the beginning was here, the first time he would ever see me, the moment when his world would– No, not his world; it would remain the same. It was he that would change. He that would remember a girl who, one day, stepped out of the cabinet, a girl no one else would see, a girl who could be regarded as little more than an imaginary friend, a girl who would be, to him, that remembrance of lost things.
“Will you help me answer it?”
Something changed in his expression. Although his features were well-fleshed out in that strange childish way, I could see the slight twitches of eye, nostril, and lip that revealed the careful reasoning that went on behind those rounded features. It was, however, marked with hints of suspicion, but he could not be Alastor Moody if he was not constantly vigilant.
“You mean it? You want me to help you?”
He sounded so pleased with the idea that it led me to wonder whether he was here all alone, and if so, what he usually did with himself.
My face must have asked the question in my stead because he gave a little half-sheepish laugh, the slightest hints of colour spreading up his throat. He pulled at the low collar of his dun-coloured robes; they reminded me of an old photograph I’d seen of my mother’s family in Egypt years ago, when Uncle Bill still worked as curse breaker in Cairo. That had been before the war.
“What is the beginning for you?” he asked at last.
For some idiotic reason, I had not thought of the message in that way. The beginning... the beginning... of what? It could not be of my journey because that would leave me back where I started: my own time. That was the true beginning for me.
I looked at him as he mulled over the paper, muttering the words under his breath over and over again like a mantra of the most faithful. Already demonstrating the signs of the obsessions that would, one day, overcome his sanity, he was a miniature detective; I could imagine him running across the desert, between the palms, within the tombs, magnifying glass in hand as he sought the answers to all the secrets of the ages.
This was the beginning for him, and thus it was, for me, the end.
“The beginning was in the attic of a cottage in England.” I gave him time to absorb the words and their meaning. “I found that cabinet there.”
His eyes glanced back and forth from myself to the cabinet.
“But it’s here!”
“And so am I.”
That truly threw him off course. He climbed into the chair I had refused, legs dangling over the edge, brow so creased that I was tempted to warn him, as my mother had when I was small, that it would remain that way if he was to leave it too long.
“Who are you?”
I took a risk. “You haven’t met me yet. I’m Lily Potter.”
His face wrinkled further. “Yet. So you know who I am?”
With a nod, I told him his name.
The reaction was far less than I expected. It was as though my knowledge of his name gave him less cause for surprise than my emergence from his cabinet. Was it mere childish arrogance? If I knew more about children, perhaps I could be certain. All of my cousins were older; I had always been a child to them, and would likely continue to be, the only one who had never quite grown up, the only one who had never gone on to do something great.
It hit me then, that terrible realisation that the future held nothing for me. I only had the past for solace and – dare I say it – for purpose.
“Lily.” He said it slowly, thinking over the syllables. “That’s like the flowers outside.”
Before I could respond, he raced from the room, the paper falling from his hand, forgotten. A door slammed in the distance. His footsteps were lost in the sounds of donkey’s braying and an automobile’s horn protesting an obstruction to its impatient path. The window afforded only a picturesque view, a perfect postcard of rural Egypt.
He did not return quickly. I picked up the paper and thought over that final line, Time is running out. An introduction to Alastor Moody could not have been the only reason I was brought to this time, this place. There had to be more, but what?
I tried to remember all of the things he had told me, would tell me. Oh Merlin... so many things, all in so short a time. It was daylight now. In a day, I had lived a life. His life. Not all of it, of course, but more than enough to know him, to know what I could say or do to this child to make him the wizard he would one day become.
It was in this time that I held the greatest power. I could change him. I could–
“The charm, don’t you remember?”
His voice was as clear as though we still stood in the London park, surrounded by trees and mist and darkness.
“You placed a charm on both of us, swearing on that cabinet that I would always know when you’d appear...”
But how? I could not recall any such charm. It sounded something like a mother would use for her child, binding them together in case one should get lost in the crowds.
Or lost in time.
But who was the one lost? Certainly not him. His life would run a normal course. Linear. Ordered. Time travel would never be possible for him, no matter how many times he put his head, and perhaps all of himself, into that cabinet. It would never reveal its secrets to him; they were not for him to ever know.
I approached the doorway to explore the rest of the house, but something stayed my progress. It was as though a hand shoved me back into the room toward the cabinet. Or was it that the cabinet had reached out to pull me back? Would I ever be free of its power? I did not waste my energy to escape it. If I was not meant to leave this room, so be it. I was too tired to fight anymore. Too tired to think. Too tired to–
“Here it is!”
Alastor leapt into the room, clutching a giant blue flower in his dripping hands.
“For you.” He let out a small laugh. “It is you.”
Wet footprints followed his steps to where I stood by the cabinet. He handed the flower to me and saw the paper in my hand.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I forgot you asked me to help.”
I took the flower, an amazing thing of an impossible shade of blue set in contrast against a centre of bright yellow. It was like the view from the window, the way that the sand and the sky met at the horizon. It was like the colour of his magical eye. Yes, that was it. The blue seemed impossible because it was such an unnatural colour. I remembered the way that it had looked through me, sizing me up and staring me down.
“Do you still want me to?”
Blinking, I tried to see past the memory of that magical blue eye.
“Help you!” Impatience pushed his voice a pitch higher.
Shaking my head, I leaned back against the cabinet to take some weight off my foot, letting the light pouring in the window blind my vision, burning away the memory of when I had stood in that same position not too long before, when he... no, the other Alastor... had–
“Thank you for the flower.” My voice was weak. “I like it very much.”
He sighed and sat himself once more in the chair, chin resting on his fists.
“You’re welcome,” he mumbled, unappeased.
I smiled down at him. “It was very kind of you to go get it for me. Through the marshes, too!” Pausing as a thought came to mind, I felt my smile fade as quickly as it had appeared. “I hope there weren’t any croc–”
“I looked first,” he interrupted with a huff, waving one oversized hand in a mock-adult gesture. “They were too busy watching the tourists.”
My eyes widened at the image this comment produced, but it must have been something that he saw often, if not everyday, crocodiles in the Nile River. Crocodiles! If only I could explore this place! London, even in the midst of the second Great War, was still the same London, the same streets and the same murky pavements, but this, Egypt. Perhaps a more magical place than I would ever see in the rest of my life, but there was no time. Never enough time.
“You look so sad.” All the restlessness had faded from his voice. “I thought the flower would help.” He took a breath. “Girls like those things.”
It took effort to hold back a biting reply. After all, it was... the mid-1930s. He would learn differently, soon enough. Yet there was a sentiment in his gift that struck me. Was he the type to pick a rare flower for just anyone? I could not say that we had gotten on well thus far. He was just so strange, far stranger than my brothers and cousins, and they were known the world over for their eccentricities.
But so was he. Mad-Eye, they would call him, and for good reason.
“So if that’s what your name is, what do you think mine means?”
He had drifted into another topic as easily as a crocodile would drift through the rushes, awaiting the arrival of its next meal.
“Alastor? I don’t know.”
His mouth screwed up in distaste at yet another gaping whole in the my knowledge of the world, but there was glee spilling forth from his eyes as he straightened himself up so as to better impart this great piece of news.
“Mum told me I’m named after a daemon, the av... avinge...” His mind refused to remember the difficult word properly. “A spirit that avinges.”
After a moment, I had it, my stomach crumbling into itself as I spoke the word with hardly more strength than a whisper. “Avenges.”
“Yes!” He sprung from the chair. “Avenging spirit! What do you think of that?” He struck a pose, seemingly in the manner of some storybook hero.
The name was him, what he would become. I could say nothing more. I decided to remain honest. He would appreciate it one day, if not immediately.
“It sounds very serious. You know what ‘avenging’ means, right?”
His face fell. “Well–”
“It means going after someone who has hurt someone else, either you or someone you love.” The words came forth with more violence than I’d intended. “It means seeking justice for things people have done wrong. It means going back to–”
I stopped, my mouth closing upon the remainder of the sentence.
What I had to do. It was there in his name. To go back and make something right. Going back to the beginning... not from where I had started, but where I had gone first. To the old man who had left, knowing that he was going to his death. Perhaps I could–
“Have you a quill?”
He did not bother to gape at my question, as some may have, shocked by my sudden change of tone. The flower fell to the floor at my feet while I once more took up the small scarp of paper with its cryptic, even frantic message.
The quill was in one of his hands, the flower in the other, but only one thing did he extend toward me. A drop of ink landed on the floor between us, but I paid no heed, scribbling words on one side of the paper and using the remainder of the ink to scratch out the words on its opposite side. I prayed that it would be enough.
Alastor said nothing, only watched. He quaked at the sight of me now, so changed in a single moment from the clueless girl who had wandered out of his cabinet not long before.
“Are you going?” He sounded small, far smaller than he was.
I hesitated before elaborating, taking care to remove the wand from my stick, the first time I had done so in what now seemed ages.
“Would you like to see me again, one day?”
Ten years, I could add, but I did not.
People have been known to make up spells before. Dad had told me of one in particular, and he called his person a genius, though a dark one. I was neither genius nor did I have any darker purposes, only the knowledge that, somehow, I had to create the events I had already experienced. I had to make all of the things happen for him that had already happened for me, that terrible paradox of time.
There, it was done. I cannot tell how, nor would I, even if I knew.
“I can only come through the cabinet, though, but you’ll know when it happens.” I turned away, but he stopped me, putting out a tentative hand, the one that held the flower.
The flower was a little dented on one side where I had dropped it, but still it retained its vibrance. Would it survive the journey? I wondered....
“Thank you.” I opened the door. “Goodbye, Alastor.” How many more times would I leave him behind before all this was through? I hoped that this would be the last.
His goodbye was lost in the shutting of the door behind me. I had not even looked back.
He would see me again. Ten years. Twenty. Thirty. Again and again, but only for the briefest moments.
A tear dripped down my cheek as I placed the letter in the centre of the cabinet’s floor, the chink of light coming in from the edge of the door glinting against the fresh ink of my words.
Take me to the end.
Chapter 9: Borrowed Time
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“Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.”
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
I waited, but nothing seemed to happen. No movement. No sound. The same light burning in around the edges of the door.
Something was wrong. Something was missing, but what? He had told me before that he had tried to make use of the cabinet, entering it with curiosity and intention alike, but there had been no response. I thought back to all of the occasions when I had–
No. I had never made use of it either.
It had made use of me.
The knocking. Something within had knocked upon the cabinet’s ancient wood to call me forth, the siren song that controlled my time and thus controlled all of me. For what was a person but their time? The times they failed. The times they succeeded. All action, all feeling, was based on time.
But I would change that, no matter the cost.
My closed fist came down upon the floor of the cabinet in three loud knocks.
Never could I be sure how much time passed in that moment when I closed my eyes and waited for the end to come. There were two options for the end: his or mine. His death or my return to the Longbottoms’ cottage to forever wonder if it all hadn’t been just a dream, a nightmare, a desperate fantasy.
I let my heart decide my destination.
The cabinet made no sound, not the slightest movement. The only change was that the desert light faded to grey. The door opened at the pressure of my hand, and once more, I found myself in the attic, the dust on the floor disturbed by my own footsteps. Night was falling outside the window; we both had left some hours before.
The same attic, the same cabinet, but not the same Lily Potter. No. She was gone forever.
I made my way down the stairs, taking care to miss the slippery spot where I had fallen; he would not be there to catch me this time. He had gone to die, and I had let him. For all the right reasons – that I had to remember – but were they correct now? That question drove me forward.
I hesitated on the first floor. I could still catch the stale scent of roasted coffee in the air; my memory reminded me of how it had tasted, how perfectly he had made it. My feet, ever rebellious, took me to the room where the empty portrait hung above the cold embers in the grate.
I stared up into its painted depths and saw the slightest shadow cast upon the chair.
“So you figured out how to use it.”
She kept her voice low, its huskiness seeped in cynicism.
I leaned on the real chair, looking down at the abandoned cups.
“The cabinet? How to....” What? Control it? But it failed to make any sense. How could one control a vanishing cabinet with written directions? And yet that was what worked, what had worked this entire time, but I had been unable to understand.
“He would have told you if you’d bothered to ask. He always knew.”
I shook my head. “But he said–”
“That he had not been successful at using it himself. That was all.”
When I peered deep enough into its depths, I could discern a figure standing much in the same attitude as I, but hidden in the portrait’s shadows, or was it filth? Decades of smoke and neglect could have decayed the paint, even magical paint, particularly if neither owner nor sitter cared whether the portrait was seen.
Or if neither wanted it to be seen.
“You don’t know yet, do you?” Her voice emerged once more, smugly, mockingly, ever sharp. “You still don’t understand.”
She took a step forward, but the light was still too dim. I could not see more than a shadow, her form strong, yet unbalanced, as though she could not easily move.
A shiver ran down my spine.
Perhaps some things are better left unknown, at least until one is prepared to face them, and I was not yet ready for her, to see those mocking eyes and crooked lips, cruelty written across her brow, disdain in the set of her jaw. Every word that left her painted lips was filled with hatred for the living lover while she, the deceased wife, remained trapped on canvas, forced to witness my return again and again, completely powerless to prevent it. But she was wrong to think that I held victory in my hands. That engraved ring had been on her finger. She had been the one to sleep at his side each night, to greet him each morning. She had won; she would always win, filling that place which forever lay beyond my reach.
I turned on my heel. There was too much to do; time was too precious.
Her voice followed me from the room. “I know what you’re going to do. You won’t be–”
I did not stop. To do so would be to give her satisfaction; she already had too much of that.
Only on the ground floor did I pause. How would I find him? How would I reach him? Even my father’s memory of that night was not clear; or at least he refused to elaborate on that battle in the sky. I knew of Uncle George’s ear and Hedwig the owl and Mundungus Fletcher’s cowardly escape, but not of Alastor Moody. He had simply vanished.
He would be at Privet Drive now, but it would be far from prudent to appear there, even if I could reach him in time. I would have to find him where no one else would see, where I could be hidden from view, and as far as I knew, there was only one location where that would be possible: the place of his death.
There was no way that I could simply apparate there. I didn’t dare apparate in a time not my own, not knowing whether it could go wrong, splinching me across time and space; I may have travelled side-along with Alastor in his youth, but on my own, even at the best of times, my apparition skills were uncertain. I needed another way–
“A broom.” The low voice emerged from a painting of the cottage that was hanging near the door. “You haven’t forgotten how to fly, have you?”
I stared at the face that appeared against the sky, the breath catching in my throat.
“Time,” she whispered. “You mustn’t forget how little of it you have.”
The far side of her face was misshapen like melted wax. The scar shone in the final rays of evening light, her eye glittering amidst that misshapen flesh. Her hair had been arranged to cover much of the damage, but in her flight from the upstairs portrait, it had flown back. It was red, her hair, and her eyes–
“Do you see it?” her voice had dropped even lower.
I did. Oh, I did.
“Do you see why I have hated you?”
I took a step back from that face. Of course it couldn’t be.... No. A trick of the light and nothing more. I shook my head.
She pointed toward the door of a small closet. “Because you are free to go to him. Now!”
The final word became a scream, echoing down the corridors, through the rooms, up into attic, rattling the door of the cabinet that waited there, the sentinel of time. I held my hands over my ears and wished that I could run, run away to escape the madness taking root in my brain, the madness that had long polluted her. Love was the greatest madness of all.
With a wave of my wand, the closet flew open to reveal a single broom. A flying broom, old, but sturdy, well-used, but well-cared for.
There was no time for more questions. This was a world of questions, few of which possessed reasonable answers. All my nerves were shaking as I stood at the door to the outside world, unable to push it open as much as my ears still rang with her cry. I still saw her eyes watching me from the painting, their acid depths filled with envy.
Still, I could not move. Even fear of her could not release me from the paralysing terror that froze my muscles in place.
To fly again. I couldn’t. But to reach him? Would I risk it for him? What was I risking, and for what reason except for... for love? Was it that? I hardly knew. I hardly knew anything, least of all about myself.
I only knew that I would do this for him.
The thought was enough. I lifted off, only just maintaining my balance, straining one leg so that the foot of the other could uselessly dangle. With clenched teeth, I rose higher and higher, my knuckles white in the darkness that surrounded me. Only the stars lit the way, but to where?
“Oh you fool,” I muttered aloud. It was as though Her voice was in my head, goading me on, her scream still resounding in my ears. “The charm! Your wand will remember.”
Soon, I shot forward, awkwardly balanced, holding my wand forth so that its slowly pulsating glow guiding me further into the night, closer to his doom. Would it also be my own? Yet it gave me no pain to imagine that this could be my end as well as his. It was an inheritance from my father that I did not fear death as others did. Perhaps I would quaver if I looked into Death’s cavernous eyes, but now I pushed onward, the wind against my face and rushing through my hair. I had forgotten what it was like to fly.
It once had been the only thing that I loved, to be part of the wind, to be far from the grounding, pounding earth and find at last that freedom which seemed forever out of reach. In the sky, there was only forever, the clouds above and the ground below, leaving all the space in between. There was nothing in the air to obstruct my course, no obligations, no responsibilities, except for the obvious: to remain afloat.
But at that single, simple obligation I had failed. I had fallen.
The wandlight grew, then vanished. I sank toward the ground, peering into what appeared to be field, its crop swaying in the night breeze to an unheard rhythm. At last I saw it, a darker region like a long gash in the side of a sleeping giant.
He had fallen, too.
My landing was anything but light, a far cry from what I had once been capable of, but what did it matter? There were no crowds to witness, no opponents to mock, only him, and he would not see, would not care about my technique, or rather the lack of it. I did not think he would be alive now. I had come too late.
Struggling to stand amidst the sea of grass, I caught sight of his prostrate form. On hands and knees I crawled toward him, the air near the ground feeling impossibly thick as it caught in my throat. The sound of the wind and the crickets was drowned out by the pounding of my heart, and when I finally fell against his side, that pounding disguised the faint beat still echoing in his chest. Taking up his wrist, my thumb detected a light flutter, too light for his size, but there all the same. Yes. Yes, it was true.
He was alive.
But only just. His one good leg was broken, the pegleg still attached, but the wood had split upon impact, or had it been before? One arm was pinned beneath him, but the other seemed whole, the hand stretched flat against the earth, a restless finger twitching an irregular beat, a reflection of his fading heart.
I touched his face. There was blood there, at the mouth, a few sticky droplets that stayed my hand. These gashes were not scars; they were fresh. The curse had hit his face, ripping apart the little flesh that remained. I was glad for the darkness now, glad that I would not have to see and remember his face as the curse had made it.
He made a sound, a half-formed word that only spluttered against his lips. The fingers of his free hand contracted as though to clasp a wand. I leaned over his face, my hair wafting over his cheek, and saw how a quiet gleam of starlight glinted against his magical eye.
“Alastor.” My whisper seemed a cry in the ghastly silence. “I couldn’t let you... go alone.”
I placed my hand over his. What more could I do?
He murmured something more, but it remained unintelligible.
A sour smell tinged the air. Not the smell of death or decay, merely that of firewhiskey. It was there in his front pocket along with other little things, those strange objects that people carry in their overcoats. I transferred them into my own before pulling out his flask. Dented, but nothing more serious.
Yanking out the stopper, I put it to his lips. A few drops found their way between their cracked surfaces before he shook his head and winced. His lips moved again and I leaned closer.
He smelled strange, like the earth and the alcohol with something else that I could not name. His breath came heavy and was loud in my ears, louder even than my heart, which pounded more to be near him; it replaced this dying form with the young wizard from the park, soaring with recognition, unable to understand that this wizard was no longer the same. How age can transform the body and mutilate the soul!
“Not... ‘lone.” He took a deep breath, then another, lungs straining with the effort of speech. “Find. You....”
Or was it? Something off in the distance was approaching. Heavy footsteps in the field. Loud voices carousing, carried closer by the wind. There were many of them combing the land in search of him. Even his body would be a prize, a show of strength for the other side.
His last word emerged, and I nearly missed it.
I stared down at him as the word, and those that came before, sunk into my mind. In the maelstrom of thoughts there, it was at first too hard to comprehend their meaning.
“Of course I’m here. I... I–” A tear fell onto his face; I saw him wince as it hit a wound.
He was dying. This could be the last time I would ever see him alive, the last time we would speak, when I could tell him–
The voices drew closer. On the edge of my vision, I could see the glow of their wands, the only light in this shadowy world of war and death. My father’s world, the one he fought to save, and here was the final resting place of Alastor Moody, Auror, alone in the darkness. Yes, alone, for what was I but another pale shadow of time, taunting, haunting, no different from the portrait.
When the eye looked at me, it was without full recognition. It was like seeing his face as a child once more, the first time he had seen me emerge from the cabinet. It was like I had never existed for him. This borrowed time had been a waste. Those Snatchers would come and take his eye to the Ministry, doing Merlin knew what to his body. I did not think of my own escape; it seemed too late for that. I had been too late each time, never able to keep time in order, to wisely conserve it as the professors always told us. It was gone. He was gone. There was nothing left.
Time had not been kind to him, stealing away his youth, his strength, even his sanity, and all for what?
The word was a mere breath against my forehead where I had laid it against his chest. I rose to see his eye, not trained on me, but watching the Snatcher’s approach, ever vigilant to the end. He was, somehow, coming to the surface of life as one emerges from the water. Perhaps it was the firewhiskey that warmed the flesh beneath my hands.
“I’m here,” I said, brushing a hand along his jaw. “I came back.”
He blinked once, then again, a haze growing across its surface.
“Do... you... know?”
I hesitated before replying. “Yes.”
A smile drifted across his face. “Good.”
The Snatchers drew nearer, but their random pattern of pursuit betrayed their ignorance of our location. Someone may have seen Alastor’s fall, but they did not know exactly where he could be found. I still had time, perhaps not very much. I hoped that it would be enough.
When I looked back at Alastor, the smile had become a grimace, the full-extent of the pain finally setting in. If only I had returned to another date, another time, then he could have known and used the cabinet for himself, but fate had not allowed it. He was always meant to die in this place, just as I was always meant to be here at the end, his imaginary friend, his ghost.
“What did you mean?” I clutched at the collar of his greatcoat, the leather supple between my fingers.
There was a confused silence, the magic eye spinning to light upon me.
“That... you... are...” he began, only to be cut off by a mouthful of blood.
My breath came in gasps more ragged than his own as I waited for that last word, a word that was to never come. He formed it once, then again, but no sound accompanied it, his life at last receding with the last ripple of the wave. I felt his breath slow as I touched my lips to his forehead. A fine rain of tears whetted the ground around his head, glistened against his thin, greyed hair, and dripped onto his face; I could not stay their flow. Sinking down to lay against his heart, I listened for the final contraction of that muscle, the final pound against his hollow chest.
Soon, the only sound was that of the Snatchers making their listless progress across the field like sharks maddening with the scent of blood, their cries growing sharper, more savage. Yet still I felt no fear, nothing more than grief, that wretched state of sadness that consumes, nibbling away at the mind, devouring the soul.
“You sure he’s here? They could’ve had it wrong.”
“They was watchin’ it from afar, but she paid ‘ticular ‘tention to this’un.”
“Revenge it is, then. How typical of her ladyship.”
The others laughed hideously, a sound too grating to be lost in the wind.
Cowering over Moody’s body, my heart beat while his did not. I could not leave him. Whatever my father had told me of the soul, its strength and its potential for renewal, so like the life of the phoenix, I would not allow a lifeless body to be ravaged by wolves in human clothing. If there was one thing I could do to save him now, it was to destroy his body myself.
A single image flared into my mind. I touched his hand and began to crawl away toward a tree in the field, a great tower that loomed above the crop like a dark sentinel. It would offer some shelter from prying eyes.
“You hear that?”
“Something moving down over there.”
They took some hurried steps forward, but stopped short, still some distance away.
“Don’t see nothin'. Must’ve been a rabbit.”
There were mumbled agreements. Little time remained before they would see the gash across the field in which lay their prize.
Curled against the base of the tree where the old shells of chestnuts matted the ground, I looked down the path I had made to the shadow I knew to be him, a mere lump on the face of the earth, but so much more to me, so much more to history. I pictured him as he had been and raised my wand.
Always scarred, but never scared. An imposing presence, some would say intimidating. I wouldn’t, but I was different. I knew his secret.
The flames rose, hungry, blind. I heard the Snatchers’ cries, their footsteps, their spells, but the fire was greater than they. Helped by the wind, sparks and ashes dusted the field, even reaching the tree.
How could I have known? How strong the wind was; how little effort it took for fire to consume, to ravage, to burn; how desperate men will do anything to save themselves; how a broken heart can melt with flame; how bright the flame is; how fast it moves.
How a magic eye does not burn.
How could I have forgotten?
Author's Note: the second-to-last line refers to the fact that Harry sees Moody's eye in Umbridge's office door a few months later (Deathly Hallows, chapter 13).
Chapter 10: Killing Time
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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.
Chapter 11: In Search of Lost Time
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In Search of Lost Time
Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light...
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
My footsteps take me from room to room of the lonely cottage, just as it was before I’d climbed to that attic and entered that cabinet. Was there a way of going back to erase it all from my mind? Would it let me look at the world and once more see its light, its colour? All is dull and dimmed as though my sleep was haunted not by that face, but by the Dementors, drinking in my soul through gaping, hollow mouths.
All is confused. I wish only to sleep without the burning memories and scarring dreams.
I wander through the rooms as I always did when sleep would not come. To think that these rooms had once–
It is still too impossible to comprehend the meaning of my face. The scars that run far deeper than the surface tell their tale too well. I am her, and she is me. Or is it more accurate to say that I will be her, and she was always already me?
One of the rooms is not empty. It is the usual room, the only place I see him now, my dream-ridden brain limiting him to this place. The furniture is gone, the floors are thick with dust, and the mantle is scarred by the flames that had consumed his body, maimed my face. Once, in the time before, I ran my fingers along those marks, wondering when and how they had come to be there, not knowing that–
“I’ve been waiting a long time.”
He stands by the fire, leaning against the mantle with a studied negligence that fails to disguise his discontentment.
I stumble forward, the foot that has not bothered me of late at last showing signs of strain. He does not move, only watching, his eyes dark smudges of shadow smouldering beneath his light brow, yellow hair hanging low over his forehead. Even from the door, I can see the muscles in his face rippling as he struggles to contain his emotion.
They are the only words I have. There are others, but I cannot say them, not to a shadow of my mind. When I say them, it will only be to the real, living flesh.
He catches me before I fall, but I do not know how it is possible. We are so close, so suddenly, my head spinning as I take in his scent, feel the warmth of his body, all the while knowing that this is a dream. This is not real, and yet, as his face leans toward mine, I find him the most real thing of all, more real than I.
But his face, it changes. It leans closer, and grows older, greyer, and older still, deep lines stretching across his brow and around the sides of his mouth, his hair fading to a filthy white, his eyes hollowing into his skull. Arms grip me too close to his cadaverous face, the mouth now a gaping, toothless hole. He smells of death, a cloying scent that sticks to my nostrils and raises the bile in my throat.
I shudder, but cannot close my eyes. My eyelids will not move. I am trapped here against the... the...
Truth. That is it.
He is dead. He has been dead for thirty years. I cannot escape that. I cannot escape time.
Still the face approaches mine, the now-fleshless mouth seeking its goal. Hair still sprouts from the flesh-patched skull, his lidless eyes blankly staring. Will I next see the arms that bind me to him as charred and blackened bones? Will they fall at my feet, shattering as they reach the ground? When will he turn to dust and vanish through the open window?
That is what I have loved. A man long dead. The man that I destroyed.
My eyes open at last to the fading sound of my cry. They will come soon to check on me, perhaps to check that I still live, that I’ve not found a way to make myself as dead as he. They do not trust me. I do not trust myself.
The pillow is wet with the tears that stream down my face. I shudder at the memory of that dream, once, then again, unable to stop. Mum is there with Uncle Neville. In her hand is the potion that will bring sleep without dreams. Why can’t there be one that offers dreams without sleep? To dream and dream and sleep no more. To dream of him, not as monster, not as dead, but living. All of those years in between, the years that I have not yet lived.
The potion is tart and difficult to swallow.
“It will be better once you sleep soundly. You need a good rest. No more dreams.”
She is not smiling, though the hand that pushes back the damp hair from my eyes is gentle. Sadness or anger, perhaps it is both that she feels. She will blame herself for the nightmare.
They have allowed me back into the cottage to scourge the demons and cleanse the spirit. Ever-hopeful, under Healer Patil’s advice, they let me live as I did before. I tend the plants; I watch the sunset over the distant trees; I wander the halls at night, listening for the ghosts that are not there. He is dead. I must remember. He was never a ghost, only a memory.
There is one ghost whom still I seek. The portrait that cannot be found.
We have taken the things down from the attic, spreading them across the floor of the walnut room with its scarred mantelpiece and empty square where the portrait once hung. Robes are piled to one side; the jewellery box, again filled with its treasures, sits in a corner, piles of books and parchments huddling beside it. Too many times I have wandered into the room since to touch the embroidered sleeves and hold the ring in the palm of my hand, unable to make the next move and prove what I already know to be true.
There is a noise by the window, and I see that, while my mother has left, Uncle Neville remains. He turns something over in his fingers, something so small that I cannot see it in the dim light from the candle at my bedside.
“Uncle Neville?” My voice is so small and insignificant that I will be surprised if hears it.
When he turns, his face is in shadow, but there is something about his silence that makes me believe that I have seen such an expression before, a face filled with the distant pain of long buried memories.
He holds out his hand and I see the neatly folded gum wrapper. Drooble’s Best. My brothers’ favourite.
I meet his shadowed eyes, my heart pausing as the light caught on his sandy hair.
“Your mother worries about you, far more than you’d imagine.”
I swallow, looking away. To constantly wish that I could be away from this time is to wish myself away from my family, the people who care, who love me. It's a cold and selfish thing for me to do. And yet is there a future for me here? I stare at the gum wrapper, knowing that it was a gift from his mother, Alice. How many he has, I could never guess, but he has kept every one. She too is dead. She too lived in the world of dreams.
“Why am I like this?” I ask aloud. “Why is it so hard to live?”
He places the gum wrapper on the table beside the bed.
“It depends on what you have to live for.”
After a pause, he begins to leave. My voice arrests him.
When he turns, I see the candlelight on his face. He is the same professor of old who fosters in each student a love for life and all the things within it. Bright memories of the greenhouse at Hogwarts cast a light across the darkness that surrounds me.
“Do you know why he would have left you this cottage?”
He steps back into the room, but even then, he is not able to see my face behind my veil of hair. I'm all in shadow, inside and out. The nightmare still hangs in the back of my eyes, and I pull the blankets close around me for all that it is summer, that summer unlike any other.
“He trained my parents and knew them well, perhaps even like a father.” After some hesitation, he continues, “Moody was among the best of men, no matter what others said of him.” He cannot disguise the awe within his voice, and I love him all the more for it. A longer pause ensues, and then: “You gave him what he deserved, Lily. An honourable end.”
He shuts the door behind him.
Days and nights pass once more. There are no dreams as fraught with horror as that one, and still I do not find the portrait. Uncle Neville explains that the cottage had been somewhat cleaned by the time of his arrival after the war, that the scorch marks in the walnut room seem incomplete. I close my eyes over and over in order to remember what occurred on my return to the cottage. It must have been me, but how? The fire must have caught on my robes and, apparating into that room, the freshest in my mind, it spread to the wood and the... the...
The chairs, the table, the cups with their cold dregs of coffee, and the portrait that hung above the fireplace. She must have burned.
I put my hand to my face and take deep breaths. She is gone. No scathing envy, no screaming defeats, no mirror into which I can see what I will become. So much destroyed in a single night, hardly more than an hour. Him. Her. Me. All our fates entwined in flame.
In the rooms people come and go, their smiles unable to hide their pain and pity. How I embarrass them with my shattered foot and shattered mind. Their eyes lock on my scars and cannot seem to look away, their words growing flustered, their faces pink with shame. I am a real oddity now, not merely the only daughter of the Boy Who Lived, but also a freak, just as the Lily who came before.
I watch the sunset fall behind the trees and climb the stairs while my family exchange uncomfortable glances and whispered anxieties. My eye has caught Uncle Neville’s before I leave. He does not judge; he knows. The gum wrapper has not left my bedside table.
It, like me, waits.
The night falls with silence, the cottage settling to sleep around me. The potion sits by my bed beside the wrapper of gum, unconsumed. I do not close my eyes, but stare at the distant ceiling until I can be sure that no one else is awake. After so long in this place alone, I know every sound the old wood makes as it settles, every cricket’s voice as it releases his harmonies to the heavens, every ghost’s mournful moans as it roams the corridors.
Too often that ghost has been me.
I remember how it was before I breathed in the air of different ages, heard the voices of those long dead, and felt the touch of a man now turned to ash and dust. How well the cottage became my solitude, all its memories, all the lives it has held, yet it remains as the world surges on its relentless course. It remains, but must I?
In the months of healing, it has grown easier to walk. The stick was lost somewhere, and I have taken a lesser one of simple, sturdy oak, perhaps because it reminds me of him. I cannot fall when I have it in hand, but sometimes I feel the ghost of his bracing arms as I pass by that window, and I turn aside to speak of Quidditch and anything that is real to prevent the logical progression of my imagination from racing ahead, leaving me to drown in its wake.
The dreams, the memories, the ghosts, I am immersed in their power.
I enter the walnut room, her trunks and belongings mere clusters of an existence. An odd pale moon floods the room with light, the traces of its autumnal forebodings casting shades of gold onto her things. The ring, so tarnished and worn, glitters on its velvet bed, beckoning.
This is not a dream. My heart beats too hard against my chest. I feel a slight jab of pain in my ankle. The heavy smell of must and moth balls irritates my nostrils, threatening a sneeze. I pinch the bridge of my nose to let the threat pass, my eyes never leaving the ring. There is no sound but that of my breath, silence making the room a hollow cave.
I reach for the ring and slip it onto my finger.
No resistance. No clashing bells and wailing sirens to alert the world to my transgression.
A moment passes before I realize that I am twisting the ring round and round my finger. I tear it off and throw it on the floor, stumbling backwards, just barely able to keep myself from falling. The ring bounces with a high-pitched ting and disappeared between the trunks.
The inscription. I had forgotten the message, but I remember the half-worn letters, as though its wearer had twisted it around her finger, perhaps expecting news of a distant mission or the sound of his key in the door, always wondering when the next absence would be broken by an owl, telling her of the last thing she wishes to hear. Who could blame her for going mad, not if the seed is already there and had always been there, lingering behind the facade of the elegant wife of an Auror.
Staggering under the weight of the vision, I collapse against the window frame, my fingers scrabbling against the latch for air, anything to escape the strength of her presence. How easy it is to see her there by the fireplace, eyes staring into space, ignoring the book in her lap, a pot of coffee at her side. She prefers the chair to the bed, that empty gulf where he would lay a black hole on her consciousness. It is a painfully domestic scene. That cannot be me. I will not let it.
The late-summer air filters through my lungs, but it fails to clear my head.
This is far worse than the dreams. They are mere exaggerations, my imagination playing tricks on me. But this is too real, this image of the woman left behind, alone in the cottage. Even if she fills her days with work, her nights are dark and alone, as they have always been.
Is that all I will have? Is her fate also mine? I know the future; I am the future. Can I alter it, somehow? Is time a thing that is locked in place, a set of threads that stretches across all of history, tangling together at certain moments, casting shadows over certain lives, marking them for sacrifice?
I must not be alone again. I cannot live in this world of dreams, believing in those fleeting moments when he needed me above all else, that I alone could keep him from insanity, that I could save him. I also remember a moment of running through black alleys, his hand crushing mine in passion and excitement, each cell of my body racing with anticipation as I imagined what was to come, all of it lost again, so soon, too soon. These things ought to be mere delusions even though they are more real than anything in this world, here where there is so little to hold on to, so little I can call my own.
So this is the fate of the daughter of the Boy Who Lived and the only Weasley girl in generations. Such greatness must surely skip generations. Where is my happy ending? Where, when will I find it?
I look into the night for comfort, the moon full upon my face, its light casting shadows on the lawn below.
There is a shadow out of place, a dim figure that glides across the meadow and vanishes into the trees.
A single moment of hesitation. My heart wavers, then concedes to the ghost.
I flee from the room at a half-hobbling pace, keeping enough of my wits about me to don a cloak and soft-soled shoes so that I will not take my death in the cool mist that hangs low about the woods. It hides the figure I know to be just ahead, but it does not hide the narrow path of firmly-packed dirt, once traversed by the great poets of two centuries before. I knock my stick against overhanging plants as pain shoots up my leg. Pausing to lean against a tree, I gasp for breath and listen for any sign of movement ahead.
Nothing. There is only silence.
My heart plummets. I shiver, pulling the cloak around me. It was only a dream, another dream. I now live in that world of dreams that some call madness, reality hidden in the mists of a fractured mind. If only they knew how I envied them, my parents, my brothers, my cousins. They drift further and further away until I can no longer see their faces, their pity, their frustration. How can I not understand that I’m only hurting myself, they ask; why can’t I drag myself out of this and find something else, a life of my own?
The moon emerges from behind a cloud, illuminating the glade in which I stand. It is a magical place, moonlight glistening on dewy leaves and spider webs, the forest resting in silent slumber. The moonlight has cast a strange shadow in the centre of the glade, where vines rise in an unnatural mound. Blinking, I see that a hand extends from the ivy, its fingers beckoning.
Somehow, I was always meant to come here.
Time. Time is here. All time converging in a single place.
The only sounds are the beating of my heart and the crunching of my feet against the forest floor as I step forward, tentative, fearing, but unable to resist. Something calls me, something sets my nerves at ease, though my heart still pounds as though to remind me that I still live.
Wand raised, I speak and the vines pull away, retracting along the ground. A serene face meets my gaze, its blank eyes staring into the trees, its wings spread high, as though it had only landed to greet me. At its feet is a polished stone rising from the rotting leaves of years past and, with bated breath, I push them away.
“Lumos,” I whisper, fearful of the sound my voice makes.
A sob spills from my throat, but I cannot turn away. I cannot run, my feet rooted to the place beneath which I lie.
Yes, where my bones were placed so long ago.
d. June 3, 1971,
From the ashes of death I will rise again.
My legs can no longer support my weight; I collapse into the fallen the leaves, the vines cushioning my fall, their snaky tendrils no different from the plants I came to the cottage to tend. Her plants. Mine. This is not madness. This is no dream.
I lie across my own forgotten grave in the shadow of the guarding angel, all the events of the past few months churning over and over in my mind, the puzzle pieces, now in place, producing the image I should have seen from the beginning. There is nothing I ever could have done to prevent my fate.
“Do you now understand what I have done?”
The voice emerges from the mist. I know it, but all familiarity eludes me in the turmoil that rages within my head. I can only see shadows, the moon hidden once more behind a cloud. Then she appears, a black shape, cloaked as I am, red hair falling lankly over her shoulders, a flash of pale flesh where the face would be.
“You are... you...” My voice breaks. I remember the portrait, the taunts, the insults, the hatred shaking in her voice, her screams ringing in my ears. I see the flash of hatred in Moody’s eyes as he looked upon the empty space where his wife should have been. She had retreated to the shadows, and I thought – I had so believed – that he could not have loved her, nor she him, but all along... all this time....
She pushes back the hood of her cloak, and I finally see her face.
No mirror could be like this. The face of pain gazes back, serene in the knowledge that, while she will soon die, the cycle will come again. I will live. All becomes clear. The notes are hers. She has taken me through his life and to his death to do what she could not. She has stolen time, and thus time is taking back what it is owed. Any hatred I have harboured for her, all that jealousy, that flaring, ghastly anger, fades.
“Perhaps you are right. Perhaps you will change what you become. I thought so once....”
The moon reappears, casting a ghostly glow around her so that I see the purple scars, the white strands amongst the red, the tear stains on her face. All that she has done has been for me, for him. All that is lost is hers.
“But why?” My voice is so small, almost lost in the silence. “It’s against all the rules of time for us to meet. You’re here, and I don’t know why, not with the cost.”
She does not stay silent for long. With careful steps, revealing only the slightest limp, she nears the angel to touch to the impassive face.
“I came to see my family again, to find again all that I left behind. To see them at the last... before I–” Her eyes gaze off into the darkness.
She is too much like the statue, her skin like sculpted marble, her eyes dim and blank. She is and is not like my mother, recollections of my grandmothers written across her face. She is myself, and yet she is other. It is difficult to look at her. She is the nightmare from which I have run for so long.
“But to leave him–” My attempts to speak are futile. My voice dies away.
“Whether you choose to remain in this time or return to his, Alastor will go mad. He will lose everything. That can’t be changed.” Her voice is low like rumbling thunder. “You will sacrifice yourself to a cause that will only fail in the end.”
She pauses to gaze at me, her face contorting in another spasm of pain.
“But if you were to ask me again, I would still make the same choice. I would still return.”
At last she falters, her eyes closing fast against the sight of me, bracing herself against the angel that guards her grave and mine. Constant vigilance to the end.
“I would give so much to make your choice again.”
There is nothing that I can offer, no words to console the pain of decades, the pain of knowing, all along, of one’s own death and, much worse, the death of one who is loved above all else. I feel the pull of that love as I watch her. I see his face as he stands across the room, glancing out at a war-torn city. I smell the great blue flower he places in my hand. I hear his voice as he calls out my name. I see his eyes as I shut the door upon him. He is everywhere, everything. For him, I would play the game of time.
A game that I would–
My eyes catch sight of the grave once more.
I will die only to be born again. I will die only to find him again. I will be there at the beginning and at the end. That is not a lost game.
When I raise my eyes, she is gone. A listless breeze brushes against my face as I stare into the woods. There is no choice for me to make. It was made for me the moment I stepped into the cabinet for the first time to enter his world. My world. My future. I am out of time no longer.
A smile pulls at my scar, but my heart is light.
Now for the end.
Author's Note: The title of this chapter is an English translation of Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.
Chapter 12: Finding Time Again
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Finding Time Again
Quick now, here, now, always—
Ridiculous the waste, sad time
Stretching before and after.
– T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
Two sets of damp footprints crossed the attic floor, halting at the cabinet. They dried before the dawning of the sun, and it was as though she had never been. Lily Potter was never seen again.
I: June 1971
Stepping through the cabinet doors one final time, the woman gasped at the sudden pain in her chest. It was like a giant’s hand gripping her heart, slowly squeezing the blood from its throbbing veins. She did not pause to let it pass. It never would. The end had come at last.
Many years had passed since she had last entered the cabinet, long, fleeting years of wasted moments that she would give anything to live again and again. The warmth of the sun, the smell of the air before it rained, the breath of a lover, all would be lost to her in a short time, and she was powerless to prevent it. She had pushed time too far, crossing the timelines of her own life to ensure her past at the cost of her future. Now, back in her own time–
Or was it?
Twenty-seven years in this time – his time – living out her days as though her date of birth was not in some distant future. She had lived a lie. She was outside of time, living before she was meant to be born.
And now that it was the end, the hourglass run down to its final grains, she would die before that future date, some thirty-seven years in the future.
Did that make her age a negative number? Is that what they would put on her grave, if only they knew of her secret? Forty-seven was the number engraved upon it. She remembered it twice-over, from this final journey through time, and also from those years ago. A mere child she had been, still scared and scarred, the light in her eyes dulled by the things she had seen and done and felt. The things she had felt! A mess of emotion that overwhelmed the soul and flooded the mind so that it cracked. Not shattered, not yet.
The pain came again, a crack of lightening split through her nerves, seeming to tear them from her flesh, but no wound was visible; it all came from within. Her heart at last was breaking.
She stumbled down the stairs from the attic room, her hand caressing the wall where she would one day stumble into his arms for the first, last time. Hand clutching her chest, she continued on to the next set of stairs, gasping for every breath. Her ears were deafened by the erratic beating of her heart, her eyes going dim, blinded by shadows and stars.
Still fresh in her memory was the sight of her parents. There they had slept, looking just as they had always been in her mind, frozen in time. She had sacrificed her life for that glimpse, such a selfish thing to do, but then again, everything she had done in her life was selfish, all for her own benefit, not that of others. For Alastor she had done much, she supposed, but even when she had returned to him, it had been for herself, to fill the spaces between, all those empty gaps in her existence. He had loved her. So much.
In return? Had she–?
Could she ever love him enough?
She stopped in the corridor above the final staircase, one hand upon the walnut balustrade. Below there stood a man framed by the open door, the light streaming in around him.
Death had come to call.
She watched as he rushed forward at the sight of her, exclaiming words she could not hear. All she could think was that she did not wish to die here, and so she pushed on toward the bedroom with its worn chairs and heavy bed, the open window staring down into the garden and beyond to the place where she would lie for eternity, where her footsteps would one day tread in the veil of ivy.
A pair of hands guided her on her way, their grip firm, a warm breath against her hair, all so familiar. How kind of Death to take on this shape and bring her comfort at the end.
Limbs tingling and chilled, her lips fading to blue, she shuffled into the room, past the chairs, beneath the watching portrait, to sit on the edge of the bed, blind to the face that looked down into hers, deaf to the voice that said her name once and again, her tongue unwilling to twist itself into speech.
One hand took her pulse while its twin pulled down the lower lids of her eyes so that he could see into their depths, his giant blue eye still and intent, his small dark eye flooded with emotion. His hands were shaking, his jaw could not help but quaver. He, of such ruthless courage, was afraid. What if... She had been pale for many months, her appetite decreasing day by day, her eyes bloodshot from the sleep she never had. And now... now....
He helped her to lie down, cradling her head upon his hand until it could rest on the pillow. She heard the echo of his heart and wondered how Death could be so human. He felt the faint throb of her heart as it wavered on, tremulous and erratic, until it should stop completely.
The drumming in her ears faded, and at last she heard his voice.
“Lily, are you–? Lily!”
Her eyes blinked, her vision cleared.
He loomed overhead, hand gripping hers, still wearing his overcoat, hat discarded somewhere on the floor in his haste, his eyes wild, his breath tinged with peppermint to disguise the Firewhiskey he always carried in his pocket. But he was there now. He had come for the end, driven on by fate to be there as she died, just as she had been there at his own death, those last confused minutes, time continuing on its endless cycle.
How could she have doubted, even for the briefest moment? To him here, now, at the end, it meant so much, far more than she could ever express.
When she did speak at last, the words were not even her own, but his, to be spoken to the youthful shade of herself that would appear in the coming days. They would hang about in his mind and, at last knowing the truth, the intertwining cycles of their lives brought to light before his eyes, he would recite them.
“Strange that it should come to this.”
Yes, so strange. That all things should run in a circle as unending as her love.
His good eye widened as he comprehended the words; he felt the shadow of Death draw over them, dragging her drifting spirit from its reluctant shell. She lifted a wavering arm to caress his face and feel his rough scars – a mirror to her own – against her palm, her thumb just touching the corner of his mouth, his jaw shuddering beneath her fingers.
“Af..ter all... this... time.”
A brief spasm ensued.
No matter how hard he gripped her limp form, no matter how many times he planted kisses on her lips, no matter how many often he spoke her name, she was gone, released by time’s aching grasp neither to sleep nor to dream, but to die.
The hand dropped from his face, an eternity passing before it landed on the rumpled coverlet, the ring on her finger glittering in the last rays of the dying sun.
* * *
II: August 1945
I pushed open the door with a trembling hand and was blinded by the sun. It shone in through the window, but it was not the tiny attic window, nor was this the attic at all. The panelled walls and heavy mantlepiece were walnut, the draperies, roughly shoved back from the window, were a dreadful red velvet. They had been covered in dust, for it still floated in the air, catching the sunlight in a delicate array of beams.
A number of trunks filled the corner beside the cabinet, each battered, but clean, their brass corners and locks gleaming. Stickers from locations across the Mediterranean covered their leather facades in bright colours and garish designs. Some trunks were thrown open, revealing messy piles of clothing, books, and odd items, things he must have collected in exotic bazaars and those shops that lurked in darkened alleyways: a foe glass wrapped in oil cloth, a statue of Anubis, its paint chipped and faded after many centuries of wear, a sneakoscope, a miniature weather vane like those used by long-distance travellers by carpet or broom. I picked up a book on demonology and flipped through its pages, annotated by at least three hands.
The cottage itself was silent. It was outside that I heard the sounds of the passing world, the birds’ gleeful melodies, the wind funnelling down from the hilltops, the distant halloos of the lumbermen at their work, soon followed by the crash of a felled tree. I did not even need to look out the window to imagine the tree-covered hills stretching out on all sides, emerald in the morning light, the fields, thick with maturing crops, dotting the landscape. On the other side of the cottage, the lake would placidly sit, reflecting the impossible blue of the sky, even darkening its shade so that it seemed of endless depth.
I scarcely wondered how such a place as this could exist. I saw each flaw, yet I wished to call it perfect, not in spite of those flaws, but because of them.
A smile drifted over my face. For all the things I had seen and done, the pain and the guilt, the constant knowledge of something always lost, fleetingly retrieved, I looked at this place and felt something I had not in a very long time, so long that it could have never been. The darkness of my past life in a distant future faded. It would always be there, the shadow rising to greet me each twilit eve, but for a time, I could ignore it. I could revel in something more. I could be something more.
My stick tapped upon the floor as I made to descend the stairs. The sitting room was dark, being on the west side, its furniture dull and forlorn, no plant in sight. That would change, soon enough.
Stepping outside, I entered the formal garden where visitors long ago would sit with tea and cakes to speak of the latest fashion and the doings of the poets who still nestled betwixt lake and trees, denying the call of the London bustle. Gravel paths were lined with overgrown hedges that had once traced decorative patterns in green and red, looping around stone flower pots, all chipped and worn with time. The whole garden sloped downward toward the lake and so was terraced with low walls that ran parallel to the length of the cottage, and it was there that I found him, sitting upon the furthest wall, staring across the lower fields.
I paused and the sunlight rose above the old watchtower from which the cottage was made, setting the fields aglow and him into shadow.
He was young, but not too young, his back straight and shoulders squared, a brimmed hat pulled down low over his hair. He could not have missed the crunching of my feet in the gravel, but he did not turn to look. There was a twitch of his arm as though it pained him, but he made no other movement.
It was too easy to question, to doubt, to wonder whether this had been the right choice.
I had acted without thought, charging through the cabinet doors, my heartbeat raging in my ears, not bothering to wonder if I was returning to the proper time or making some gruesome error. I would live with that vision of my own grave and the date carved upon it for the remainder of my life. There was his death too, but that was different. I had been there... would be there beside him as he drifts away. My own death would be the ghost that lurked just past the length of my shadow, never far enough from sight to be out of mind.
I found myself standing before him.
My legs, so often a liability, at last proving an asset, carried me to the place I most wanted to be.
He turned his face, and I knew he had been watching me all along.
A thick scar sliced across the left side of his face from his temple to just past the bridge of his nose, passing right through his one eye. Where it once had been black, it was now brilliant and blue, endlessly twisting and turning, all the world laid bare before its gaze.
We were a mirror image, his left to my right, reflections of experience inscribed upon our faces.
He frowned, expecting me to flinch, to react, perhaps in fear, to the sight of the strange eye and its accompanying scars. He could not know that the reverse was the truth, that his face, when whole, had seemed the more uncanny. Or was it my own change that affected him so? My scars were still tinged with purple, set in stark contrast to my pale skin.
Once he had said that he could look at me forever.
I needed acceptance, but why? I could call myself disfigured and many other things, but it was merely a rearrangement of features, a change in measurements. All the necessary parts were still there, still functioning as they should. The loss was all within, merely within. I could see that now. The scars of old injuries showed that I had lived, that I had accomplished something with my otherwise useless life.
“Won’t you sit? The sun’s just coming over the house now.”
Over the field, the tower cast a shadow that receded like the changing tide.
“I’ve watched it everyday now, since coming here. Gives one something to look forward to, you know.”
It was the sunset I had always watched, never the sunrise. I had thought that there could be nothing for me in the world, thus I saw only endings – the closing of the day, the dying of the light. And here I was – we were – here for the beginning.
I settled onto the wall beside him. “Have you been here long?”
He shrugged. “A few months. They said I needed a quiet place after... well, you saw it.”
“I rather like it.”
It was impossible for him to have missed my words, and when I looked toward him, I saw the slight smile twisting the corners of his lips.
“Do you need me to say it again?”
An arm curled around my waist. The air in my lungs became an impossible weight to bear.
“I wasn’t sure how it’d go over. Even in Diagon Alley I was getting funny looks.”
I nudged him with my elbow, all anxiety ebbing away in another turn of the tide, the need to be wanted swiftly becoming the need to close the distance between us once and for all. The banalities of conversation could hold little charm when we had been parted for so long, the waves of time crashing between us no longer. We would drown together.
“It’s because you look so distinguished.”
The arm tightened as he brought his lips close to my ear. “Maybe now I’ll look my age.”
I looked down at the shrinking shadow and the golden light that was settling upon the far edge of the field.
“As old and hideous as me.” My voice shook.
“Maybe one day you'll be, but not now. Not for a long, long time.”
I could not move. I could not even close my eyes against the light that shone about us while we remained in the shadow of the cottage where the cabinet stood guard over a crossroads of time, a silent sentinel to times past and times to come, all the time that he and I would have together and all the time we would not.
He will grow old alone.
A pair of lips teased the flesh behind my ear, kisses planted down my neck while my eyes filled, blurring gold with blue and green until the world was no more than an impressionist palate, my heart bleeding more than it had those months of shadow and darkness for it was here that the greatest wound was inflicted. It was here that the end began.
The shadow was lapping at our feet, the light blinding, his body warm against mine, his heat firmly beating, confident of long life and all that came before the end, when he would lie in that field and stare up into the empty sky, waiting the final grain of sand to fall.
I tilted my head to see his face and witness the sensitive motion of the numerous muscles and tendons beneath the flesh.
“Do you regret it, the thing you did to get that wound?”
He did not even need to think. “No reason to. A bit of bad luck. Happens to everyone.”
After a pause, he reached up to wipe a tear from my cheek with a calloused thumb. “It’s impossible to forget the feeling of it, the burn of the spell so strong that it makes you faint, but you can’t stop. It’s stop or die, and I couldn’t die, not then. That was the feeling I held on to, the one that told me it wasn’t yet my time.”
I traced the lines of his scars with my eyes. The war. He was describing how it had been in the war: the clash of bodies, the screams of the dying, the flash of curses, too many green, the silence that came after, that hollow absence of noise in which one’s thoughts echoed louder and louder until they drowned out all the world. He had been in the midst of it, his eye as his only sacrifice for he had not lost his strength. He had not lost his mind.
He was not yet Mad-Eye Moody. Many years would need to pass, those years that we would hold close to our hearts.
My chest rose and fell. My heart beat on. I lifted a hand to his face, the tip of an intrepid finger brushing against his cheek. Inside was all confusion, fear mixing with desire, grief subsiding into joy, guilt and sorrow flowing back into the dark corners of my mind with the hope that there they would die, that I need never feel as I have again. Here was purpose. Here was colour. Here was life.
“Will you stay this time?” His voice was little more than a breath against my eyelashes.
The gravestone was far away, locked in a future that should no longer concern me. There was so much else. The lake and the sky, the fields and trees, the world all around and the two of us in this place that was our home.
I leaned closer, and would have leaned closer still were such a thing possible.
“Good.” The word tasted sweet against my lips.
We did not see when the shadow made its final retreat, nor when the sun streamed over us in a dazzling light. We felt its warmth, perhaps, but it was peripheral to a great many thoughts and feelings that swirled about us until we were lost, cast adrift, but no longer alone. Time halted its course for the briefest, most dear of moments, then flowed on, never once daring to turn back and regret its twisting path from future to past and back again.
There are no beginnings and no endings, only time streaming onward. Not forward. Not forever. Just onward.
Author's Note: It's strange to complete any story, always wondering whether things could not have somehow gone better, but even more strange to complete such a story as this. It's the story I've wanted to write for a very long time, and now that I have, I don't know what to do. Lily's story never really ends because, in each case, what is the end for one thing is the beginning for another.
One thing I can do is thank anyone who has made it all the way to the end. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this story, perhaps even as much as I've enjoyed writing it. To those who have been reading along throughout the writing process, thank you for all of your support, suggestions, and for giving me a reason to continue writing on.