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".