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.