It was quiet on the lakefront. The water breathed cool air, which sent silent goosebumps running up and down my spine. Grass rustles restlessly against my feet, their wet stalks pressing uncomfortably against the exposed muscle of my calf. But it didn't matter. What did, really? It was a night like any other.
A night breathing into dusk and ending with the dawn.
Just a night.
I wasn't wearing the correct amount of clothing for such a cool evening, the logical side of my brain informed me. It complained about the chill racing through my body, the heavy sweat on my brow and the dancing pain of the paper cut on my hand, which had distractedly so momentarily as I laughed at my own mistake, before turning my attention to the letter.
So few words were used, but my brain couldn't catch up. I always did read fast but this time, my eyes saw first what my body and my mind could not handle. They tightened around the paper, pain lancing thorough my palm. The paper cut was larger than I thought, I told my company dulling, listlessly, before getting up and moving off into the night as behind me, doors echoed loudly, penetrating even the bubble which seemed so determined to cast every noise, every emotion, every moment away from me, as my feet travelled here, to the Great Lake.
Again, the logical side of my brain piped up, lakes, water, seas, they seemed to gather the cool air in around you, they attracted higher winds and greater chills. That made sense I guess. A Great Lake with great chills. I might have laughed, just a few hours ago at the nonsense my brain was calling sense. But I couldn't now. My mind informing me of my body's failures. No tears leaked through my eyes, like they were squeezed from the clouds above into the oceans below.
My body was frozen, yet the paper felt so real in my fist. The cut throbbed silently as my hand moved, without my permission, until I stared at the white pulsing blood decorating my hand and my wrist. Not much of it, really. Just a few small drops seeping through the paper, not even proper parchment really, just ordinary paper, properly recycled in some extraordinary Muggle factory.
And that did it.
The use of the term, the word, just a word really, a silly little word, used by all of Wizarding kind to describe their less able and less magically endowed counterparts.
For a moment my reflection on that word turned into a struggle, as I struggled to find meaning, and history for a term used so frequently here and yet known so little throughout most of the civilised world.
Nobles called peasants serfs long before the word peasant was invented. Serf was just another name for slave really. And in England, Great Britain, whatever they used to call it, the Normans called their fallen predecessors Saxons and on went the naming and the judging…
All because of silly little names, labels, left to rot for hundreds of years on the most controlled, cowed component of the population. And I wondered… would Muggle, ever become synonymous with slave? And if it did, would my stupid trusting mind let me think that anything we did, was for the Muggles' own good because we were more advanced? Better? Were we better?
And if we were better? Then why did I feel like I was dying inside? Bit by bit I felt like my heart was burning up, like my arms were made of lead. Like my body would cease to exist and all this pain, this gut-wrenching, incredible pain, like nothing I'd ever tasted, felt or heard of, would just melt away into that same little space which covered all of space and time, that which I'd seen Sirius fall through but a few years ago. A shining Veil which was a wound throughout my body and soul. Once seen, never forgotten, it hurt so much and yet it was all I wanted.
I stopped thinking, letting my body fall sideways, my hand tightening around the paper. From the new angle my body seemed curled up, twisted and contorted without the sustainable effort of holding my spine strictly upright. I gazed out into the waters of the Great Lake and let it carry my mind down, down into that empty space where a giant squid roared, it's sound muffled through the waves, and where my heart felt subtracted from my body, my soul felt lighter and my feet, less cold.
But it wouldn't go away. Every barrier my mind threw up to protect the wasting away of my soul seemed to shatter, going to waste, into a billion pieces, as the pain grew nearer and my limbs seemed to detract from my body and just float away, leaving me without refuge and meaning.
And then, in the darkness, a shining glimpse of a lock of silver hair. I could not speak, could barely breath through the heaviness besetting my chest and collar. A face grew out of the darkness and my throat instinctually swallowed, clammy with a dry tongue. A left over emotion in a body which could not entirely forget the natural defences always raised against pale, silver hair, shining always, and a face carved from marble, so often contorted in hatred and fear.
"You're on the ground, Granger." He spoke, as though there was nothing different, an acid twist to the honeyed tones of his voice.
I felt myself raise my head, so slightly, my hand loosening until the paper rolled out, and lay there on the grass.
"You're not drunk?" the voice was foggy.
"No." how dull I sounded, memories of acidic wit-fired battles raised ever so slightly, bringing me back to the present moment, where the grass scratched my chest and the wind scorched my heated forehead.
"You're bleeding." A statement this time, so exact, so precise, uttered with a cool calculation in contrast with the wild eyed look in his eyes.
I don't reply. A statement requires no reply does it? There are no rules about responding to a statement of the obvious, not said in jest or irony.
And you drift away again as he says no more. Your mind is ten thousand fathoms below when he abruptly settles beside you, his wild eyes mirroring your own nothingness in their depths. His hand finds the paper and he reads, but his eyes don't lose yours.
"I'm sorry." Again, a statement, but your mind is elsewhere, too caught up in grief, in pain, in a silent anguish which seems to upset him more than it does you, you who are already so far gone. A cloak settles around you, the heavy folds of woollen thread caressing your thighs as he tucked it behind and beneath your limp form. Hours pass and you barely notice his warm breath on your face, as he watches you, waiting. Waiting for some glimpse of the old Hermione Granger who had parents and a home to escape to at the end of the year just yesterday.
When dawn's fog shrouds them in mist, she moves closer to him, her head tucking under his chin as she peers upward, forlornly at the golden rays drifting upwards, and chasing away the cool dark of night from behind her raw eyes.
"I'm sorry." He says it again, simply, and she moves her head, her eyes meeting him solemnly for the first time all night, but still without comprehension or conscious thought.
Then she blinks without emotion and he knows… she'll stay here, with him, live with him, stay with him, he doesn't care. But she might just need him, the only one to understand as they fight through the mist, ignore the sounds of a castle waking behind them, and seek to stop from drifting down inconsolably into the rift in their hearts and souls.