I spent half my life figuring what comes next
I telescoped in
I'll finally win
I'll finally win the prize
that now my eyes see
a comic's perfect timing squeezed
I'm headfirst fighting everything
the crushing force of memory
erasing all I've been
~ R.E.M., Disappear
English weather being what it was, "perfect" was hard to achieve. A passing shower had briefly wet the turf early on, but the sun had put in an appearance round noon and thereafter had peeked through the clouds occasionally. Even a downpour wouldn't have dampened the spirits of the wedding party on that day, however. Just being outside and witness to such an occasion was enough for many of the guests to call it a perfect day.
James Potter and his bride stood underneath an arbor twined with climbing roses, bidding farewell to the guests. James's parents chatted with Lily's parents. Dumbledore was having a last word with Lily while Minerva McGonagall dabbed her eyes with a tartan handkerchief. Other guests stood in little knots, their eyes on the couple.
"James thought we already played a prank on him, you see," Peter whispered to Remus, as he glanced over at the newly married couple. "But the thing with the cake was to throw him off. Where is Sirius? He ought to be here for this. They're about to leave." Peter turned slightly so that his back was to the bride and groom and went on conspiratorially, "I've been practicing doing this spell behind my back, so James won't think it's me. Except Sirius is supposed to provide a diversion, but where is he?"
A ripple passed through the crowd. Conversations ebbed away as all eyes turned to the newlyweds. James and Lily waved as guests threw rice and birdseed, which transformed into butterflies and tiny golden birds that flitted over the couple's heads. They dropped their hands and prepared to Disapparate (and no one, not even Dumbledore, knew where the honeymoon was to be). Peter twitched his wand surreptitiously. The crowd gasped as, for an instant, James's clothes vanished and then reappeared. Peter turned to look over his shoulder as a startled James mouthed the words "I am going to get you" before Disapparating.
"Did you see the look?" Peter choked out the words in between laughter.
"Excellent, Peter, excellent," Remus laughed. "Sirius is going to be sorry he missed it."
"I dare say Professor Flitwick would have given full marks for that charm, Peter." Dumbledore ambled over to the two friends, a twinkle of merriment in his eyes.
"Don't know what you mean," chortled Peter, pleased by the headmaster's praise.
Sirius suddenly appeared, darting through the crowd toward them. He was out of breath when he arrived.
"You just missed--"
"Moody. Needs help," Sirius panted. Dumbledore became grave at this, while Peter blanched, all the happiness draining from his face. Sirius caught his breath and went on, "I went to check on him and he wasn't at his post. I found him outside the security perimeter, wounded. Whoever attacked him retreated into those trees just beyond the circle, I think, but they'll be back."
"Show me," Dumbledore said.
Peter and Remus trailed behind the long strides of Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore away from the village and toward a copse of trees. A lonely stone marked the edge of the circle at that point, standing upright like a warning finger. At its base, Alastor Moody lay slumped, almost unrecognizable. The Auror grinned when he saw Dumbledore, though one side of his face ran with blood and his nose didn't seem to be entirely there. One leg was a bloody mess of blood and bone. Peter winced and clutched Remus's arm.
"Dumbledore," Moody croaked, and then closed his eyes for a moment as if trying to summon the strength to keep speaking. When he continued, his speech was punctuated by rattling breaths. "Scared them off. Into trees. Be back."
Dumbledore didn't ask who "they" were. There was no need to speculate.
"Get the Aurors--the Longbottoms may still be here," Dumbledore commanded in a low voice, not taking his eyes off Moody. "And a Healer--"
"I'll go," Remus said. He turned and loped back toward the knots of wedding guests.
"Bastards." Sirius drew his wand and scanned the darkness under the eaves of the nearby trees.
"No!" called Dumbledore. His eyes flashed. "The Order can't afford to reveal itself. Only those who are Aurors--"
But Sirius paid no attention. Without another word, he sprinted away, sending off a brief shower of sparks as he passed through Moody's magical security perimeter.
Dumbledore took out his wand as well, then glanced back at the wedding party, where Remus had disappeared into the crowd.
"Death Eaters did this," Peter said flatly, all the emotion drained from his voice just as the color had drained from his face. He couldn't take his eyes away from the bloody mess that was Moody.
"Peter." Dumbledore laid a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Stay with him until the others arrive. I need to find that fool Black."
"Wait!" Peter cried, tugging on Dumbledore's sleeve, his eyes fixed on Moody. "I want to join the Order…"
"I am glad for that. We need you on our side." A smile flitted briefly across the old wizard's face. Dumbledore turned and strode away toward the trees, where green sparks had already begun to flash.
Peter stared at the wreckage of Alastor Moody, one hand clenched tightly over his left arm.
"Lily and James, Sirius! How could you?" the short man wailed loud enough that Muggles on the street stopped to take notice of the two men wearing long robes and facing each other, not ten feet apart. The taller of the two men pointed a stick of some sort at the short man, who was sobbing and wringing his hands. Afterward, before their memories were wiped by wizards from the Department of Magical Catastrophes, none of the surviving Muggles could agree on what that stick was, the one that the tall, black-haired man had been pointing, but it seemed like a weapon.
"How could I?" laughed the tall man harshly. He took a step toward the other man, who quivered but didn't move. "How could I have been so stupid, you mean? But you won't get away, Peter."
The short man was shaking violently, his hands now at his sides. His ashen face quivered and his eyes closed for an instant. Then all hell broke loose behind him. An explosion rocked the street. Bodies lay strewn in the rubble. Water gushed from a broken pipe. Flames leapt from the wreckage of a car.
"Look what you did!" gasped the short man.
The tall man appeared not to notice, so intent was he on the quivering man before him. He raised the stick that he carried and pointed it. None of the people panicking in the street noticed that the short man also had a stick, which he now pointed at himself. None of the Muggles remembered that the short man cried out, clutching one of his hands as blood ran down his sleeve. None of the Muggles remembered exactly how the shorter of the two men in the funny dress vanished. But everyone, surviving Muggles and the wizards who'd soon arrive, remembered that the tall man laughed when the short man disappeared--the deranged laugh of a madman, they all said.
Seven Shoe Alley was unusually empty, the main square littered with old newspapers and the colored wrappers left over from fireworks. A cold autumn wind blew trash into the corners. There weren't many people about on this chilly morning: a few people picking up this and that and one or two sleeping on the sidewalks.
"Bless me, but I don't think I've seen a bigger party in S'en Shoe," croaked the old woman who was picking up trash, using her wand to direct the detritus from the street into a small dustbin that a boy of about twelve was holding. "And all because of him." She intercepted a newspaper in mid-air. "'Baby Potter Lives/Parents Perish'," she read to the boy. "That's a headline you want to hold on to. Famous it will be, and worth something one day."
A man stumbled into the square, another drunk by the look of him. He had a lean, starved look to his thin frame. His robes were torn and soiled; his brown hair had dirt and leaves in it, as if he'd been sleeping out of doors. He clutched a newspaper in his hand, but he let it fall carelessly as he collapsed on the ground next to the central fountain, its usual display muted in the weak autumn sunlight.
"Do you mind?" snapped the old witch. She looked down at him severely after picking up the newspaper he'd dropped. "There's enough mess here already without making more. Here now, don't you have someplace to go?"
The man looked up at her with wild eyes, not the bloodshot eyes of a drunk or the sleepy eyes of the last one to leave the party, but the dark-circled, empty eyes of a madman.
Shaken, the woman turned away and mumbled to the boy, "Another drunk, maybe, but there's some at the Ministry that'll want to hear about customers like that." She dismissed him after that and went on in a louder voice, "Here's another headline what'll be famous one day: 'Black Kills Thirteen/Wizard Dies Defending', though I'll never understand it, not if I live to be a thousand."
He struggled to his feet after a few minutes because he knew the old witch would be back, perhaps even with someone from the Ministry. He knew he'd scared her and, for once, he didn't care. There was nothing left inside him to care. Heart, lungs, liver… ripped out of him. A hollow shell was all that remained.
The confusion, the pain, the lurid headlines were pieces of a puzzle that had no solution--not one that made any sense. It would be twelve years until he found the missing pieces to the puzzle, until he found the solace and the friendship that he thought he'd lost forever.
~ ~ ~
Stag Night: July 2001 - July 2003
Thank you, Matt