Alastor Moody stepped carefully around the open clearing of the cool forest floor. When he got to the rock line, he took off his jacket and tied it around a nearby tree. Using his wand, he blew the excess debris back toward the clearing and continued to follow the trail left by his mentor. The Auror in charge of his training had left early that morning to investigate claims that a giant had been seen in the vicinity—the same giant that was suspected of terrorizing the countryside. Moody had waited impatiently back in the village; it wasn't until teatime that he had decided to set out after him.
It was unnervingly quiet among the trees. The branches that draped over the path swayed noisily as he brushed against them. There were no signs of the usual denizens one would expect to find in a forest, not so much as a bird to caw in the trees, or a squirrel to scurry on the ground, not even a katydid's chirp to keep him company. He pointed his wand in front of him, mentally reciting a dozen curses to have at the ready in case he was attacked. A spark of orange flame shot out of his wand when he stumbled over a pothole—no, not a pothole, but rather, a footprint. He bent down to inspect it. It was large enough for a fully grown man to lie comfortably within its circumference. He took a pinch of the compacted earth therein and rolled it between his thumb and fingers before sniffing it.
He stood up and continued to follow the footprints, which were laid out a good ten feet apart. A sense of foreboding set in the pit of his stomach that continued to worsen the further he ventured along the path. He could feel the residual afterglow of powerful magic in the air. He laid a hand on a nearby tree and winced when a splinter poked his finger. He instinctively put his finger in his mouth before he noticed the strangeness of the tree itself. Half of the trunk was missing, as if the tree had been blasted from the inside. The Exploding Curse, he thought.
The air smelled of death.
His fears were confirmed when he saw splotches of blood hidden in the shadows of the dense brush. He put away his wand and dared to continue. The sounds of his quiet footsteps were soon replaced by the twisted cacophony of wet, twitching flesh with teeth scraping against bone. Moody could feel his heart pounding in his chest, but struggled to keep his breathing quiet and regular as he crouched down and crawled toward the source. With his hand, he brushed back a cluster of branches that blocked his way to the next clearing. His eyes widened in horror at a sight unprecedented in his seventeen years of life.
A giant with pale orange skin squatted atop a large rock in the center of a makeshift camp of newly felled trees. His brown hair, matted and unkempt, covered his entire body. He wore a black bearskin tunic. His back turned to Moody, he breathed loudly between gulps of whatever it was he was eating. Flies and other vermin buzzed angrily over the mound of his feces deposited at the base of the rock.
Moody gulped hard as he stepped into the clearing. He walked around slowly, coming into the giant's view. His spirits fell when he saw his mentor's remains strewn about at the giant's feet. The only identifiable body parts were the head and the right arm, loosely held together by the spine and pieces of the rib cage. He stared into the corpse's lifeless eyes. The look of horror that rigor mortis had frozen on its face was telling of the fact that he had been very much alive when the viscera was sucked out of his abdomen.
Moody's instincts screamed for him to run, but his heart's yearning for vengeance steeled him. The giant eyed him briefly, as if he were barely worthy of notice, and resumed eating. The corpse's head snapped back violently with the popping sound of the gristle as it gave way from the bone.
"Anyone ever told you it's bad manners to stare, boy?" the giant said, wiping his maw with his forearm.
The giant snorted to clear his sinuses. A barrel-sized wad of mucus splattered on the ground next to the young wizard. Moody felt a slight reflux at the sight of the snot imbued with bits of gore.
Moody smiled and approached closer, forcing his voice to remain genteel. "Are you what all the fuss is about?"
In answer, the giant reached over to one of the felled trees. As quick as a blink, he swung the trunk over his head and brought it down on Moody. The makeshift club struck the ground, sending shock waves into the surrounding trees and jostling many leaves from their branches to send them cascading gently to the earth. The beast grunted in satisfaction, content that he had secured another easy meal. However, when the dust settled, there stood Moody atop the log, answering wrath with calm regard.
"Right. Allow me to introduce myself. Alastor Moody," he said with slight bow, all the while remaining perfectly balanced on the log.
The giant was not amused. "Can't you see I'm eating, boy?"
"Terribly sorry. Of course it's rude of me to interrupt your repast." He cartwheeled nimbly off the log. "I came to see you on the matter of a missing Auror. Perhaps you've come across him between your razings?"
For the first time, the giant turned his head to face the young human. The remains of a foot, still clad in its shoe, dangled precariously over his chin, hanging on by a thread of sinew stuck between one of his canines. "Auror? I an't seen no Auror."
"Not to be contrary, but I think you have," Moody replied matter-of-factly. "I believe you're chewing on his leg."
The giant grinned, shuffling the leg between his lips like a macabre toothpick. "So I am. What of it, Alastor Moody?"
"I'm afraid if I go back to the ministry without him, that'll be another strike on my record."
His brow furrowed. "Are you an Auror as well?"
"Yes... well, no... that is... not exactly. You see, I'm in training. I've already been through two mentors—well, three now—so I'm already on shaky ground. I'm afraid that if I go back with the lame excuse that a giant ate me teacher... well, I'm sure you understand."
"Of course." The giant picked the foot out of his teeth and flung it to the ground next to Moody. "I don't care for the feet anyway: too sinewy. If you wait around long enough, I'll return the rest of him," he said, sneering.
"Capital! You're too kind."
The giant looked on, nonplussed, as Moody pointed his wand at the fallen tree trunk, cleaning it using the Scourgify spell. After it was sufficiently scrubbed, he laid a handkerchief across it before sitting down. He then transfigured a nearby rock into a kettle and proceeded to fill it by conjuring a spout of water from the tip of his wand.
"What are you doing, boy?"
"I'm waiting," Moody said politely. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did you want some tea?"
At the end of his patience, the giant stood up from the rock and cracked his knuckles. "On second thought, how about I arrange for you to meet your mentor sooner?"
With a single leap, the giant closed the distance between them. Moody side stepped two fists that came crashing down from above.
Moody pointed his wand. "You'll forgive me if I decline." And he shot a stunning hex into the giant's face. It only served to enrage the monster further, causing him to swing blindly and manage to hit Moody in the chest. The Protego charm protected the young wizard from being sliced in two, but the wind was knocked out of him when he hit the ground. His chest heaved as he struggled to suck the sweet air back into his lungs. By the time Moody made it to his feet, the giant had managed to wipe the sting of the hex out of his eyes.
When the behemoth dove at him again, Moody somersaulted out of his clutches, causing the giant to miscalculate and stumble toward him. Moody ran up the giant's outstretched arm, vaulted over the back of its head and slid down the length of its enormous body to safety. They both scrambled to their feet. The giant snarled in frustration and rushed toward him. Moody stood his ground and let loose a flurry of curses from his wand, none of which had any effect on the fast approaching giant. But he had saved his best defense for last.
The giant stopped. Not because of the spell, but rather to laugh at the youngster's arrogance. "You wizards aren't fast on the uptake, are you? Your magic doesn't affect me."
"Quite right," Moody conceded humbly. "However, I wonder if the same can be said of your clothing? Wingardium Leviosa!"
The spell raised the bearskin loincloth into the air, taking the giant with it. Snarling, the giant ripped the cloth apart in mid-air, which caused him to fall to earth – right into the mound of feces. He stood up slowly and wiped the dung from his face.
"The first thing I'm gonna do when I catch you, Alastor Moody, is feast on your lungs," he said with murder in his eyes.
Moody's muscles tensed. If his plan was to work, he had to make sure that the giant followed him. "I must say, you are incredibly well-spoken for a creature of near-human intelligence," he said in a calm, superior tone.
He ran as fast as he could into the trees. He didn't have to turn to see if he was being followed, since he could hear the creature's roars of bloodlust close behind him. Had this been open ground, he would have been caught by now, but just as he had hoped, the thick vegetation was enough to slow the giant by a few steps. Adrenaline surged through Moody's body when he felt the giant's fingertips rake against his back as a blind swipe narrowly missed him.
Just a little closer.
He caught a break when he heard the giant curse, as if it had slipped. He took out his wand and began to sprint as soon as he hit the clearing.
Where is it, blast it?
Moody's desperation was relieved when his eye caught a glimpse of red. It was the jacket he had left tied to the tree. When he reached the marker he jumped, using a levitation spell to extend his leap to an amazing thirty feet. He rolled with the landing, but ended up cutting his thigh on the edge of a sharp piece of limestone. Keeping his weight off his bleeding leg, he forced himself to his feet just as the giant burst through the tree line. Moody held his ground and pointed his wand as his pursuer approached.
The giant stopped just short of the rocks, wondering why his prey had decided to make a stand here, of all places. He regarded the youngster briefly and smiled wickedly as he raised his foot into the air. He brought it crashing down so hard that it caused Moody nearly to lose his balance. It also served to disrupt the Disillusionment Charm which Moody had placed over a large pit that lay before him. The giant looked into the shallow chasm, and noticed a clutch of trees sanded down to sharp points that had been planted at the bottom.
He snorted. "Was that your clever plan, Alastor Moody? To lure me into your enchanted pit of spikes?"
Moody clasped his hand around his bleeding thigh. He knelt to relieve the pressure before the muscle gave out completely. Exhausted, he raised his wand higher, his hand trembling. "Accio—"
The giant laughed, not even detecting so much as a tug from the spell. "Can't you see that's not gonna work twice?"
Moody smirked. "I wasn't aiming for you, mate."
The sound of cutting wind and rustling branches spurred the giant to look behind him. He caught a glimpse of his tree club hurtling toward him in the instant before it smashed into his face. The bludgeon snapped in twain, causing the giant's head to whiplash from the force. Dazed, the giant fell backward into the pit. Leaves flew into the air as he hit the bottom with a disturbing thud.
Moody brushed the leaves off of his hair and sleeves, keeping his wand at the ready in case the monster was able to climb out of the pit. However, when the debris settled, it was eerily quiet. Moody grabbed onto a vine and used it to support himself as he leaned over the edge of the pit. He would have been disturbed by what he saw had he not been numbed by the experience of seeing his mentor eaten alive. The giant lay at the bottom of the pit, impaled by one of the sharpened spikes. He looked up at Moody, chuckled something in his native tongue, and breathed his last.
The pain in Moody's head had become bad enough to bring him out of his trance. The first thing he noticed was that his magic eye was gone. He looked around, squinting. He was back in the present, sitting in his reading chair. Pettigrew was huddled in a remote corner of the room, nursing his injuries. Once Moody recovered his bearings, he reflected on the ancient memory he had just relived. It being so long ago, he was a different person then. He never dreamt of the past before, so why start now?
Suddenly, he remembered the presence of another intruder. He tried to move, but to no avail – he had been hexed with the Binding Curse. Immobilized, he moved his head in the direction of the voice, craning his neck over his shoulder to compensate for his limited field of vision. His jaw dropped when the wand's light revealed the identity of his captor.
"I know you. You're Crouch's boy—Barty Crouch, Jr."
The Dark wizard walked around to face Moody. He crossed his arms, tapping his wand against his shoulder. The odd shadows cast by the spell's light made his young features appear unnaturally sullen. "I'm flattered that you would remember me, Mad-Eye."
Moody forced himself to sit upright in defiance. "What do you want with me, Crouch?"
Crouch snorted. His empty eyes revealed a darkness rivaling that of any Dementor. "You are just a means to an end."
There was a knock at the door. Before Moody could yell for help, Crouch jinxed his vocal cords. Moody watched Pettigrew transfigure himself back into a rat and scurry off. The voice outside sounded familiar.
"Alastor, it's Arthur Weasley. Open up."
Moody noticed Crouch taking a sip from his hip flask. What the bloody 'ell is he doing with my elixir? He didn't have time to ponder the point, though. The last thing he saw was a red glow from the wand Crouch pointed at him.