Another story for the TGS writeathon, another that I can't yet post at HPFF, this time because it's the ending of one of my WIPs, and so contains.... "spoilers". :P Picture River Song saying that word, and then you'll understand. It's the epilogue to The Sands of Time at HPFF, but since I have no clear idea when I'll finish that story, I'm posting this portion here.
It's part of an as yet imaginary project recording the life of Alastor Moody, Auror, as found in various documents. This portion, from near the beginning, comes from his mother's writings, and none of the actual story would come from Moody himself - it'd all be stories taking place around him or spoken about him.
Title: In the Fleeting Shade
Genre: angst, drama
Characters: OC, Alastor Moody
Summary: Even before the letter came, she knew the truth.
It was the final day. New Year’s Day, actually, but it was a day filled with finality – the last day my son would be home, the last day before I left for Egypt. There was too much to prepare for to think about the holiday and all the things it meant. Or should have meant. A new year could come, but it did not mean the end of the war nor the return of my husband. Although he had been away so many times in the past, these last three months have been the most difficult.
“Mum, where’d you put that new pair of shoes? Can’t find them anywhere about.” Alastor stopped in the doorway, arms filled with freshly cleaned robes, his fair skin flushed.
He looked too much like me. That was the problem.
“They should be by your trunk.”
“I’ve already looked. Must have walked off by themselves.”
He did have his father’s sense of humour, however. Most of the time, I would have regarded that as a problem.
Once he’d marched back to his room, I put down my quill and stared out the window to my left. People passing by, mostly women or cowards, though there weren’t many of those left, the injured and the broken, their eyes glazed and skin pale. They might as well be dead.
I knew that I could rely on Alexei to return unshattered, with too many missions behind him that led him into the face of Death and back again, but like every English wife, I wondered whether he’d return at all. No letter in the past two weeks. He could have been far behind German lines, poking his way into their ranks, unable to write. Or he had just given up on writing, which wouldn’t be a total surprise.
“You’re much better at it than me, Princess,” he’d say with that smile of his.
He must have gotten his hair bleached when he went to Germany. Black hair would not be much appreciated there. I couldn’t imagine him as a blond. Taking up his picture, a little spell did the damage. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, and he wasn’t the same at all. Perfect for a spy. Bad for anything else.
I changed it back as fast as I could and made another go at writing. I could hear Alastor shuffling about, still searching for his shoes. He would check every corner, within every cupboard, and under every piece of furniture, just like he had since a little boy, stomping around the house, magnifying glass in hand. He was already en route to becoming an Auror, even though he didn’t want me to be aware of his future career.
“I still can’t find them!” he roared.
Most mothers dread the thought of their child growing up. I, on the other hand, continue waiting for that day.
“Use a seeking spell, then,” I called back. He tended to forget that he was of age now, always looking for help from his parents. Do this spell, do that one. “It’s unfortunate that you weren’t a Hufflepuff. It’s said that they’re talented at finding things.”
I pretended not to hear the vibrant explicative he gave in reply and looked down at the page, only half-finished. There was still quite a bit of the story to go, and the memory was fresh in my mind, yet it never sounded right. It was never the same as it had been when first experienced, the twenty year-old memories already faded, a mere shade of the truth.
When I could my eyes, I could see Alexei, arms crossed, wearing a ridiculous amount of clothing for life under the desert sun, glaring down into the hole of a cursed tomb, a Muggle in an unlikely situation.
“So no weapons can kill that thing?”
I pulled out my wand, unable to disguise how much my hand shook. “Just this.”
He did not look impressed. Even if he’d seen me apparate, liberally utilise curses, and also jynx him (for good reason, I assure you), the long-standing tradition of playing the hero was too deeply ingrained in his brain.
“I need you to distract him, that’s all.” Tried a smile. Failed. Did not try again.
His eyes passed from myself to the tomb entrance, then back to myself again. I was no longer bothered by his gaze or its depth, his eyes appearing to have the power of Legilimency. In place of that, however, he knew how to read people, their habits, their lies. At that moment, I did not want to know what he was seeing in me.
“And what if I lose a limb, or better yet, my head? Could you put them back on with that thing?”
What I’d said in reply, I no longer could remember. Probably some sort of muttered falsehood that he had easily seen through. After all, I had been young. Not naive, but failing to be assured of my place in the world. Or had I, instead, found some measure of strength to give the truth?
“Not if you’re dead.”
My voice weakened with these words, the first time that the thought of death – his or mine – had entered my consciousness. I could see him lying there, broken and lifeless, but I could not decide what I would think or feel if that did, in fact, happen–
The quill fell from my hand. Did I see him like that back then? I could see it now, his body thrown into a ditch with those of the people he fought for, eyes staring into the sky, so empty, so–
Alastor had that same look of his father’s, effortlessly staring into my soul. I hoped that he liked whatever it was he saw.
“Yes?” I looked toward him, trying to smile, to feel positive.
He took a step into the room, shoes dangling from his hand. “You’re crying.”
I reached up to feel the wetness of my cheeks. He wouldn’t ask why, he didn’t need to, though he would only know half of the reason. I didn’t like to think of the other half, not when so many things were uncertain.
“Where did you find them?”
He failed to understand at first, too busy analysing my behaviour. I gestured toward the shoes, the only new item in his trunk this year.
“In the oven.”
I stared at them before turning back to my writing.
“It has been very cold lately. They must be feeling it too.”
He shook his head and left, giving up on his prematurely-aging mother, already senile, white hairs sprinkled amongst the gold, lines emanating from eyes and mouth, eyes filled with sorrow and remembrance and all sorts of old-people things.
I squinted down at the parchment and decided to leave the streak of ink after that last word. To admit any feeling of worry, much less affection, for Alexei at that time would have been impossible. Such feeling was alien to myself at that point in time. I could not allow any emotion of the present moment cloud my memory.
“Well, thanks for the warning.” He went through the motions of stretching his arms and hands. “There’s just one thing I’d like to do before going to my death.”
I disliked how he had reacted to my comment, whether he was being sarcastic or not. He was certainly not helping to improve the sickening dread that was sprouting from the pit of my stomach, worse than any case of butterflies.
He stepped forward, eyes on my face. “Aren’t you going to ask what that is?”
It seemed like an inappropriate time to be playing twenty questions, and I meant to tell him that. I very much intended to do everything to avoid what he did next, but somehow by the worst – or best? – stroke of fate, there was nothing I could do about it.
I paused, shaking myself out of the story – it was better, safer, to call it that – the desert wind blowing in my ears, the sun warm on my skin, the smell of him as he drew near, his hands tilting my face up to his, the world slowing to a stop as he pulled me toward him. I couldn’t... no... I was reluctant to wrench myself out of the past. It was so overwhelming, flooding my senses with all the world, my world, his and mine together.
What could words do to help me now? I had begun this project after he had gone and it seemed to lead only into the bitter heart of memory. It did not bring him to life before me; it did more than that. No Pensieve could do this, transport me to that exact moment when he had–
It was over before I could fully register the effect of such an action. The problem was not that I had never been kissed, but that I had never been kissed in that way. There were no words to describe the feeling of it, the pressure of his hands on my face, the dryness of his lips, the touch of his fingers drifting along my jaw....
And of all the mad things in the world, I actually wanted him to do it again.
I crumbled, the ink blurring with falling tears.
It was very wrong to be doing this, spending my days writing while he faced doom each day, each minute. I could explore each tomb in Egypt and not find as much peril. There was no demon like that of war, of deep-rooted hatred that blinded all reason. And yet he had still gone, knowing full well that it could mean his death. He never knew what it was like to be afraid.
My hand gripped the quill, still writing as the tears fell in its wake.
There was no time for repetition, for silly yearnings. He rushed into the tomb without looking back and I followed, wand at the ready. There was some distance between us, and it widened as he ran ahead, though he had to know that I could not keep up with his giant’s stride.
He soon vanished into the darkness.
There was a knock at the front door. Official in its confidence, stupid in its volume. I was shaken from that final image of Alexei being swallowed by the earth.
“Could you get that, Alastor?” My voice held steady by some miracle.
I heard him pass by the door without a reply, opening the door to greet the messenger in his own charming way, the Auror’s suspicion of the world already planted in his imagination.
“What do you want?”
There was the sound of a sharp salute. “I’ve a letter for Mrs. Moody, sir.” The messenger sounded younger than Alastor. He probably was.
“Give it here, then.” Alastor would be towering over him, his voice a near snarl.
The boy hesitated. “Well, sir, I’m supposed to put it into her hands... sir.”
The paper crinkled as Alastor snatched it. “I’m her son. I’ll take it now.”
He slammed the door, then stopped in the hall outside the room, pausing to glance over the neat, masculine writing across the envelope – definitely not his father’s – before entering to place in on my desk, just within my range of sight.
Still he said nothing, pausing again at my side before leaving.
I refused to pay attention to the letter. I already knew what it would say.
The chapter was finished before I set down my quill and looked at the letter. It was his employer’s writing, swift and precise, blunt and calculating. My hands picked it up before I told them to and tore at the paper, ripping the envelope to pieces before the letter was free.
I dare not repeat its words here, for they do not deserve any place in my stories, my memories of every moment of my life lit by his presence. The flashing smile appeared in my mind unbidden, the eyes gazing down at me, passing from amusement to annoyance and back again, but they were lonely pools in a featureless face.
What if he had– what if it had happened on the same day we’d met? He would have liked that, the exactness of the timing, the strange twist of fate that would bring us together and undo that same action two decades later.
Twenty years of everything....
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
Alastor was back in the doorway, analysing, deducing.
“How long ago?”
I slowly looked up, hands still clenching the letter, my eyes unable to adjust to the dim light in the room after the bright desert sun. In the corner of my eye, I could see his shadow, his shape. If only the shade would speak, would come alive and be real, be him.
But I turned my head and it was gone.
“A week, maybe more.”
My eyes glanced over the letter once more. I could not let Alastor read it. He could not see those words, those secrets, the last scrawled line of his father’s, written as he lay in hospital somewhere in Holland, so close, but not close enough. It was to me that he had written, without the strength to find a wizard, to find a way to me.
Alastor entered the room, his feet making no sound. He was beside me before I could react. The letter barely touched his fingers before I held it tight against my chest.
“No more. I cannot tell you more.”
There was a flash in his eyes. That anger. That temper. So familiar in smouldering black eyes, the jaw set in the same firm line. But not at all him. Only his son, another shade, another fragment of the original, forever shattered, lost in time.
This shade left the room with footsteps no longer silent.
I stared down at the lines I had written, the letter set aside, to be forgotten. There are no more tears, nor can there ever be more. No longing for his voice or yearning for his touch can be fulfilled, and thus they, too, are to be forgotten. All I have now is memory, the shades of him that remain, ever fleeting, ever false.
He soon vanished into the darkness.
Taking out another sheet, I flattened it with one shuddering hand and dipped the quill into the ink, drowning it in the dark liquid, darker than blood. These would be the words of the end, and they could only be written now that the end had truly come. I placed that shuddering hand on my abdomen and, with the other, steady and unfailing, began.
I was alone, but not for long, never for long. The promise of his return I kept close to my heart, though I would never admit it to him, nor anyone else. My nights were clear of dreams except for one, and I could not even call it a dream as much as a memory of that last walk we took to Deir el-Bahari.
In this dream, I walk down from the temple, lost in thought, to find him where two paths meet. I see his face filled with expectation, and we walk on in the night, the moon high above, our only light.
We walk for so far and feel so much, and yet it is so short a time that passes. So short a time as if never had been.
We come to the village, and still I follow. When I blink at last, he is gone.
It is as though he has never been.