The winter air is crisp and cold; each breath of wind sharpening the world until every tree, every leaf of grass and every shard of ice stands stark and taut in the frozen light. The earth is all angles and lines, severe contrasts and pointed precision. Very little moves, a bird here, flitting between the frozen minutes, a trickle of water there, sluggish and slow, and it's as if time itself has congealed, allowing only the most laboured of movements or the most rapid.
There is no in between in this landscape, no half measures, only harsh extremes delineated by biting air.
It whistles, sharp and shrill, as a tendril of wind slices through the tall dark trees, forbidding skeletons waiting for the world to wake, and winds on down, twisting sharply around corners of austere stone, through the labyrinthine maze of arches and angles and out, over the bleak surface of the frozen lake. The weak winter light skims its fingers across the water, almost sinister in the way it flickers faintly in between patches of icy gloom and fails to penetrate the cold dark depths. Beneath the surface, shadows dance in slow abandon, lingering echoes of the life that sleeps and waits, hidden under the thin sharp ice.
On the edge of the water, his features cast into stark relief, a man stands silently staring at something only he can see. His hands are thrust deep within the folds of his dark grey coat, his posture tall and straight and there is no indication that he notices the sting of the wintry wind on his skin or the faint traces of ice gleaming in his dark hair. Were it not for the ever so slight tinge of red in the pale skin of his cheeks or the faint wisps of breath that escape into the frozen air, he could be a statue, an effigy carved in black and white and stationed, immutable and unchanging, before the shifting of the seasons. His eyes, quick cut gems of emerald green, are fixed on a point in the distance, far across the water. He does not blink, but simply gazes, unseeing, into the depths of the winter.
He is young, barely an adult, yet his face wears the expression of one who has long ceased to see the world through the eyes of a child. There is an inscrutability to his features, an air of remoteness about his figure that speaks of a life, of an existence, that has forced him into a solitary mould, set him apart from others and carved him to bear burdens they could not shoulder. He fits within the tight, bleak landscape as if he were born to it, another life trapped within the still, hard casement of a frozen world.
His thoughts are filled with loss, tainted with the keen edges of grief. They twist and coil like the tendril of wind that whips around him, thin cords of pain that cut through his every comfort, honing the corners of his mind to stand stark and bare before the onslaught of his sorrow. He sees the faces of those he's lost staring back at him in glaring relief, their features sharpened by the ever bitter winds of memory. There is no accusation in their gaze, no sorrow, no pain, no life. They are merely masks, hollow and frozen and forever carved in the walls of his mind.
He feels the presence of so many more, nameless but not forgotten, the cold dead souls of those who died because he could not save them, could not carry all the weight he had been carved to bear. The weight that now, still, lies heavy on his shoulders. The blame he feels for their deaths, the fault he finds in himself, is palpable within the hidden corners of his mind. It constricts his soul, tightening and tensing until he is nothing more than lines and angles, hard edges and exposed ridges, bleak and vulnerable and raw.
Here, in the depths of his being, he does not hide from it,he cannot hide from it. He loses himself, instead, amongst the jagged contours of his pain, immerses himself in the desolation, revels in the barren harshness of the cold still air. Here, in the bitter emptiness of the winter, he does not have to feel alive, does not have to smile and laugh and celebrate and be anything other than what he is: grief and loss and pain. A man carved to stand alone before the world.
No, not alone.
He carries the dead with him always. Through every season, every frozen moment; in sunlight, in rain, through the howling wind and the gentle breeze, the clear fresh morning and the hazy afternoon, he carries them. Always. It's just that here, in the stark lines of winter, there is nothing to wrap them in, no warmth, no light, no life to filter their faces through and shield himself from the rough edges of his grief.
Unthinking, lost within himself, he speaks their names. One by one, he releases them into the quiet of the winter and they linger, these softly spoken beads of sound, hanging unheard on cold breaths of air until the world around him is filled with the names of the dead.
"Fred Weasley. Colin Creevey. Severus Snape. Albus Dumbledore. Remus Lupin. Nymphadora Tonks. Alastor Moody. Dobby. Sirius Black."
Lost, but not forgotten.
Dead, but never gone.
Far behind him, within the tangled maze of austere stone, a door opens, flung outward into the winter air, spilling pools of golden light onto the frosted ground. Pools that dance and shift around the quick steps of those inside, molten metal burning with the heat of laughter and love, conversation and companionship as it seeps across the brittle earth. A woman's silhouette emerges from the warmth, walking with quick interrupted movements to stand on the edge of that frozen world and call across the taut, frigid air. Her voice shoots through the stillness, a loud rich thread of sound which carries with it all the life the landscape lacks. Full and strong, it cuts through the ghosts still hanging on the wind, until the names that lingered there are nothing more than scattered syllables, mere shadows of sound that dissolve into the air.
It is the voice of one who will never fit seamlessly within a frozen landscape, one who will always be the touch of colour in a bleak world, the thread of warmth in the depths of winter, and it is calling his name.
The sound jerks him from his reverie, sinks into his soul and pulls him back. He blinks for the first time, lashes closing over sharp distant green and resting there, as he gathers the tendrils of his grief and ties them off, dulling the edges and smudging the lines until he knows that he will not break. He gazes once more across the frozen water, seeing the faces of the dead fade into a comfortable blur before he turns, shivering at the sting of the wind on his cheek and begins to make his way back to the people who will not let the winter have him.
Reaching the light and the woman who waits for him, all fire and passion and warmth, it is as if time is released, the frozen minutes melting into an unending stream of moments and hours. The air relaxes, filling with movement and sound, becoming rich and soft and heavy, catching the deeper, golden light in a loose embrace and gently caressing the softened corners of his face as he wraps his arms around his love and leaves his grief behind him, exposed in the winter cold.
As the door swings inward, ushering them back inside, there, in the distance, the bitter wind keens high and shrill, crying the names of the dead in a sharp and empty world.
A/N 15/04/10: This has been edited and slightly rewritten, thanks to some feedback I got, both on this site and outside of it. I doubt that anyone will notice, but I wanted to say thank you.
It is entirely likely that this might happen again. I'm still not happy with it, and I have a habit of reading things I've written and finding things I dislike, every single time. Just so you know.