The feeling of decompression one normally got from Apparating was nothing compared to the sensation that met the travellers. It was like being shot out of a cannon – that was aimed at the ground. There was even the accompanying bam, instead of the usual pop of apparation. But whatever noise was made upon hitting the ground, Hermione was unaware – in the midst of everything else, it failed to register, especially as there were several noises that sounded sickeningly like the crack and crunch of bones, and, even worse, she found herself unable to breathe right. Besides which, all the young Witch was willing to focus on was the feeling of her best friend beside her, the rough shape of Harry Potter, that most definitely was still breathing. Whatever they'd done, and wherever they were, it hadn't been suicide. And, so long as he didn't die from his injuries, and the spell hadn't gone horribly wrong, she could be at peace with her own death.
Except that, the moment she started to relax, her breathing began to return to her. Her body felt almost to be buzzing, and her chest ached oddly – it took only a moment to recognize the all-too-familiar effects of having the breath knocked out of her. Hermione forced herself to breathe deeply, the blackness at the edges of her vision fading, and, with it, the disorientation. Slowly, not daring to move before she'd taken account of herself, Hermione checked her body. Nothing felt off, and nothing hurt – not really hurt, anyhow, though there did seem to be a general ache across her right side. She waited only a few moments more before beginning to shift. The moment she rolled off her side and onto her back, however, pain shot up her right arm, blindingly.
Annoyed, more than anything (she had, after all, suffered more than enough injuries in the war to not be completely incapacitated by what was likely to be a broken arm) Hermione stared up at the sky as she allowed the pain to fade to a more manageable level. True, they could be in any situation at all, but if they'd been taken to "a place where they could find peace", there couldn't be much immediate threat. Especially in a place so obviously beautiful. There were trees, overhead, painting her in dappled sunlight shining down from a clear, blue sky. It was Autumn, obviously, the leaves as often golden or red as green, and there was a slightly crisp feeling to the air, but it was far from uncomfortably cool. She turned her head, checking Harry – and found him looking back at her. The trees behind him suggested a forest, though it was impossible to tell how far they went. Then she realized that, more accurately, he was looking past her, his eyes fixed on something. She panicked, for a moment – but there was no fear in his gaze. A sense of… awe, perhaps, though - even as he noticed her change of position, and focused instead on her.
"Hermione." He said, and there was a true smile on his face, for the first time since he'd lost his godfather to the veil four years before. "Look."
She turned, then, careful not to actually move, and to only shift her head – and then gasped. It was all she could do, really, for Harry and herself were atop a hill, at the edge of a wood – and the view now before her was amazing. The hill rolled down, green grass rippling in a slight breeze, into a sweeping valley that went, off to her right, as far as she could see. To the left, a mountain range rose up, gradually, a smallish patch of trees and a rather large structure of some kind – though it didn't really resemble a house so much as a rather humble temple for a group that loved or worshipped nature (and not gold) and a set of gardens - being nestled in the rolling foothills. Directly before her, the hill simply sloped downwards, going on for perhaps a mile, before ending in a river. A slight rumbling noise, that she hadn't even realized she was hearing, came from an incredible waterfall, which was crashing from a crack in the otherwise nearly vertical rock face that formed the rivers' opposite "bank", its water joining in what was obviously already a significant flow.
In all, it was a scene that drew her to feel at peace, even if she had only been here a handful of minutes. No matter what else they encountered, the spell was worth it for this.
Harry made an odd, half-hiss-half-groan noise behind her, one that Hermione immediately recognized as his sound of pain. She spun around, sitting up in the process – and then had to fight down a wave of nausea, eyes clamped shut, as the pain from her arm hit. Very, very carefully, she adjusted her arm to rest on the relatively even surface of her thigh; the break was, obviously, in the lower part of her arm, though she'd broken both the radius and ulna. Fortunately, it wasn't a compound fracture, but it would be trouble enough until it healed, or she could find another healer – Harry couldn't mend bones, and Healing magic can't be worked on oneself.
Oddly, Harry started laughing, each sound oddly muffled and half-made.
Disgruntled, she opened her eyes – to discover Harry sitting oddly, leaning against a tree, but hunched over. His arms were clenched about himself, regarding her with an expression of both pain and amusement. "Nice fix we're in." He said, his voice, again, odd, and quiet.
Immediately falling into the long habits of a field medic, Hermione demanded "What hurts?"
"Ribs, I'm pretty sure."
Muttering, Hermione reached for her wand with her left hand. Except that, what she came away with was about half a wand: it had been in a wrist holster, and, obviously, snapped with her arm. Trying not to shift too much, and jostle her arm, she tried for the spare she'd brought, in the ankle holster – except that it was missing. "Damn."
"What?" Harry asked.
"My wand is broken… and my spare's gone. Check yours."
"Mine are fine, Hermione. Both are, actually. What do you need?"
Sighing, she contemplated. While she could work some magic with Harry's wand, there wasn't a great deal she could do – they weren't terribly compatible. "Toss me your spare?" She questioned.
The Ebony and Basilisk Fang – an odd combination, to be certain, and worth an almost unimaginable amount of money, just for the core – wand was flipped lightly in her direction. Hermione, nervous about losing another wand in an unknown place, deftly caught it with her left hand, even though she had to disturb her injured arm a bit to do so. Not allowing herself the time to think about it, she bound and set the arm (because the magic was done by outside influence, and not internally, it was magic that used a wand, and that the caster could perform on themselves), a choked hiss the only evidence of the pain involved. That settled, she shuffled awkwardly in Harry's direction. Placing both palms on his chest was still an awkward venture, considering her casted arm, and he winced at her much-less-gentle-than-normal touch. Closing her eyes, Hermione lost herself from the world, sending her thoughts out through her fingertips with her magic, as she had been trained. She examined the damage, and then slowly began to heal her companion, shifting bone back into place, holding it there with Harry's own magic, as she healed the bruised tissues in his body. His pain became her own, as she worked, but in this place it simply was, one didn't cry out, or flinch away.
By the time she had returned to the broken ribs, Harry's magic, far more used to such things than anyone's had right to be, had already begun to speed the mend. Hermione added just enough to ensure it would remain stable, and then gently withdrew. After the incredible amount of magic she had used already in the day, the healing had very nearly been too much. As careful as she could be, Hermione settled back to the ground, this time propping herself against Harry.
"Thanks." He said.
"No problem." Hermione replied, closing her eyes. " 'm tired, though."
Harry laughed – and this time, it was the deep, gentle sound she was used to. "Sleep, then, Hermione. I think we're safe enough here."
Colors flashed, and she could tell, even with her eyes closed, that Harry had put up noise-muffling (it would only keep soft sounds on their part muffled, but had an advantage over a silencing charm in that it didn't at all muffle the sounds outside it) and notice-me-not charms, and summoned their gear from wherever it had landed. She heard the unmistakable sound of the zippers on the packs, and could tell Harry was rifling through them. Hermione was entirely too sleepy to protest the disorganization he was inflicting upon her packing, and, frankly, glad that he was checking to see if anything else was damaged. She fell asleep to the sound of him sorting through their possessions.
It was night when she woke again, startled into awareness when someone tripped over her, landing sprawled in her lap, and jostling her arm in the process – and she couldn't bite back the startled yelp of pain and surprise.
The man scrambled up, and called out something she couldn't quite make out. Immediately, though, the "safe" feeling that had surrounded her that afternoon – and that had, quite frankly, still been present when she'd first awoken – disappeared. In the darkness, she could make out several shadowed forms, now forming a circle around where the two travelers sat. The nearest ones were wielding weapons, though she wasn't absolutely sure what they were – her guess, though, from the way they were holding them, was bows.
A deep, demanding voice, called out in the night – but Hermione didn't have any idea what the man had said.
Speaking soft enough for the spell to muffle, she called out "Harry?"
"I'm awake, Hermione." He returned, equally quietly. "What should we do?"
The voice called out a second time, the sentence longer, and with an edge of challenge in it.
"I don't know, really, but I rather think we should talk to them."
"And if they shoot us?" Harry asked, incredulity showing through, even in a whisper.
"Well, then they shoot us, I'd guess." Hermione replied. Harry snorted – softly, of course.
The voice called out again, except that, from the change in accent, it appeared to be in a different language, one that was far harsher than the first.
"Harry, really – he's giving us a chance to answer. If they all shot now, they'd hit us anyhow – I have a feeling they can see past the notice-me-not, now that they know something's here. If he's willing to try different languages, then I don't think he's likely to shoot us on sight. Please, let me try."
Harry didn't respond, but he let up the notice-me-not spells, and the silencing spell. Hermione stood, and, immediately, her guess of weapon was confirmed, as a hissing noise accompanied the drawing of bows.
As gently and non-threateningly as possible Hermione said, "I can't understand you. Do you speak my language?"
The figure before her shifted, and huffed a sigh. Another string of something unintelligible passed his lips. The surrounding archers shifted, replacing their arrows, but not fully relaxing.
Then, he tried again, in another language.
And so it went. Hermione tried Latin, French, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin; as well as Japanese, Greek, and Russian, of which she only knew the briefest phrases. For every one she tried, though, the figure before her attempted one as well (or, at least, it seemed that way). Coming to the end of her capabilities, she fell silent. The man before her attempted at least five more languages, before, obviously, giving up as well. He could, obviously, see much better in the dark than she could, for he motioned Harry to stand, and then for both of them to take their packs (which it took he and Hermione a moment to figure out), and then to come with them. The group organized itself into a sort of a line, with Harry and Hermione at the center, and they proceeded across the field in the direction of the temple-like structure.
Though she saw no source of illumination, the grounds surrounding the temple seemed to become increasingly light, and the building itself seemed lit as though by a floodlight – or perhaps a hundred. Except that the light was not nearly so harsh – it had an odd cast to it – a cool cast, that reminded her most of the occasion upon which she'd actually worn rose-colored glasses for a few days, giving the world a look that was, oddly, not red at all, but… simply different. As they came closer, she realized that the building, though large by itself, was but one member of a whole community, the rest perched in the greener parts of the opposing cliff faces. Several people could be seen moving about those buildings – if "building" was truly the right word, for all but the "temple"-and she was becoming less sure of that designation the nearer they approached- were of a flowing structure that seemed almost entirely natural. In all, Hermione could easily see how they could find peace in a place such as this – if, of course, they could get past the language barrier, and manage not to be killed for trespassing, or whatever it was they had done that had this group upset to begin with.
As they came upon a large room, in the building, with a large, ornate chair at the far end, Hermione revised her estimation of the building to Palace. This seemed to suit it better all around – though it seemed very much too simple, and too… humble, for such a term, as though this fellow, though having a great appreciation for beauty, felt no real need to impress his greatness upon anyone. And it was with this thought in mind that she approached, feeling very much encouraged.
Which was why, even as she met his gaze, she was completely unprepared for the man to use Legillimency upon her. It was only half a second before she could mentally block him, but it startled her into a dueling stance, wand in hand, before she could even take the time to contemplate the ramifications. Harry, sensing her move, had copied her stance in the blink of an eye – but so had every other person in the room – swords were unsheathed, bows drawn, and everything was quite tense.
"He's a Legillimens" Hermione said, answering the unspoken question in Harry's gaze. His countenance became grimmer, then, and the look in his eyes changed, to one she recognized as that of a person Occluding.
Neither of them moved, though, even as their captors did not, each waiting for the next move on the other's part. They stood, tense and ready, eyes taking in everything but focusing upon nothing.
Moving slowly, the man at the head of the room gave a signal. Hermione and Harry both tensed, but nothing happened. Then, one of the individuals behind them, most likely the fellow they had tried to speak with earlier, walked past them and approached the "king" – also, very slowly. He bowed, then began speaking rapidly. After a moment, the "king" spoke again, in obvious command, and all the weapons about the room were stowed. He then turned his eyes on the two in the middle of the room, waiting, but not demanding. In silent agreement, both put away their wands, and stood normally once again. The king approached them – very slowly, hands open, palms up.
Surprisingly, he bowed. A phrase left his lips that could only have been an apology – it seemed to paint the feeling in Hermione's mind, if there was any such way to describe it. Then, just as slowly, he raised a hand – and simply tapped his head with one finger, asking what was, just as obviously, a question.
"I think he's asking permission to read my mind. I'm guessing he thinks it's the only way we can communicate." Hermione said, quietly, not moving much.
"I'm pretty sure you're right. And that he's right, come to that."
"Should I?" Hermione asked.
"Better you than me. My recent thoughts are a bit… scary, Hermione."
Taking a deep breath, Hermione nodded, slowly, and then relaxed the control of her own thoughts.
Much more slowly, this time, the presence entered her mind. It very slowly examined the last few minutes, obviously sorting out exactly what she'd been thinking, moment by moment. He stopped, and Hermione could feel his surprise, when he came to the moments where they drew their wands. And then he proceeded, through their day – almost as slowly as if it had been in real time – which was possible, as she hadn't been awake for most of it, up until he got to the moment where they arrived. He went a little further, until he followed her back through the apparation – where he gave off a feeling of so much shock, that she didn't know what to do with it. And then he replayed it, several times.
And then, at least an hour after beginning – though time is impossible to measure inside of one's own thoughts - in an utter shock to Hermione, a soft voice spoke, sounding out the words carefully in her head. "You have… found… what you… seeke-sought. You are… safe. Peaceful. Here. Wizard-woman."
Amazed, Hermione found herself speaking out loud in response. "How did you do that?"
Oddly, Hermione found herself in the memory of herself asking the question – which only confused her more. The man was very… surprised. "How many… years …mark … your life?"
"Twenty-One." Hermione responded, thinking the question odd. True, she was young, especially for a witch, and, yes, she knew rather a lot for her age – and lets not forget that the War must have aged her some, in face and in action - but, still, she had to look something like the age that she was.
The King was even more surprised – astonished might have been more like it. But he smiled in her mind, then, and she could feel it. "A child. Do you… want… to … learn? We will … teach – teach mind, and … language, and many… other."
It was likely she didn't need to say anything, as, being in her mind and all, he could likely feel her joy at such a suggestion – to learn again, and simply for the sake of learning! No war, no pressures, just learning for the sheer joy of it. Still, she answered resoundingly "Yes! Very much!"
"Good." He said, and withdrew from her mind. He was smiling at her, then, on the outside.
Hermione turned to her companion, who was studying her intently. "Harry! Oh, Harry, he says we can stay! And that we'll find peace, here, and rest!"
This time, Harry's smile sparkled in his eyes. "I was hoping you would say that."
She turned back to the King, grinning, and he, taking this for affirmation, turned his head slightly, and began speaking to one of those that waited at the edges of the room.
And it was then that Hermione realized that his ears, well – they were pointed. And, looking around the room, everyone else's ears were pointed, too.
The King must have heard her sharp intake of breath, for he looked back to her. At her expression, he tapped at his head again, the question clear in his eyes.
Nodding, though concerned, she saw again the previous few moments, and was broken from her worry by a feeling that was, undeniably, you only just now noticed? Amusement colored her own thoughts for a moment – his amusement, intentionally projected, though it was very obviously… un-condescending.
A sharp bark of laughter echoed, as her vision refocused upon the world, and the… not-man… shouted something to all his companions, who joined in the laughter. Fortunately, though, it seemed to have broken the ice entirely – Hermione and Harry were ushered off after a servant, the atmosphere around them once more radiating the peace they had felt when they'd first seen the place they had found. Hermione couldn't be upset with her mistake, or worried what it meant – they had found peace, they had found… home. It was enough.