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, black 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.
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