The Bell Chimes
The sound chimes again, and the small space is occupied with a flurry of movement. Small, crisp sheets of manipulated paper flutter overhead. They are the bringers of news and communication in the vast underground institution. The gilt-framed doors clang shut and the coolly arresting voice announces departure. Again.
There is the rustling of fabric, the rise and fall of meaningless chatter, which hums in her ears. Hello. Goodbye. Isn't the weather lovely?
It's the same as ever.
Ever and always.
She is jostled to the side as the elevator glides along its smooth track before opening to allow departure. It's not her floor though. It's not his either.
People leave and more arrive, adding to the chorus of scrapes and stomps and hellos, which make up the melodious mundanity of her surroundings. She doesn't realise at first, because of her distraction, that her friend has joined the throng.
He says her name, Hermione, and grins his irrepressible grin. He didn't always smile like that, laugh like that. But he does now, and she is glad for it. She watches him, as he talks about one thing or another, and thinks how very much he looks the same. The same shock of dark and restless hair, the same probing and incisive gaze, mottled green in hue.
He looks the same. But he's different. They all are.
They stop again and the cage-like doors unclench from their fierce embrace. This is Harry's floor, and he moves with the flood of people. It's his floor too and he's one of the last to leave.
She catches his eye as he glides by her, straight and tall and proud. And she thinks, beneath it all, just a little bit broken. Her nod is almost imperceptible; she's never really sure whether she should nod, or smile, or say something.
He nods back though, and the pale crown of his head catches the weak light from the centre of the elevator ceiling. The result is blinding. It's always blinding.
And he is gone. Again.
She still remembers that day, and the look in his eyes. It showed the depth of his fear, his longing and his regret. It was a look which pierced her soul and told her that, in spite of their history and the childish tormenting, he was human and he didn't wish her dead. It was the day he lied to save them, herself and her friends – people on the other side of a line drawn firmly in the sand. It was a line which had existed before any of them had taken that first breath as a baby, innocent of the knowledge they have now.
The crazed black eyes of a woman far gone would haunt her too. Ironically, the eyes belonged to someone so closely related to him, and yet in nature so blessedly different. His Aunt Bellatrix enjoyed the pain she caused others, and particularly the pain she had caused Hermione. That unforgotten word, which rolled off her tongue with a triumphant hiss, still chases away the good things at night when she closes her eyes.
It burned then, like the fires of a pit that was endless. Scratching and clawing and soul-tearing. It cut into her skin, like a thousand knives: carving her up inside, yet leaving her intact.
It burned still.
She could still hear the broken screams from all around. Some were her own, and others came from the depths of the house but had seared her very soul.
When the burning had stopped, the laughing stilled. She saw nought but eyes like winter chill, widened in horror and recognition. She recalled his sweet denial.
I don't know. It might be them.
He hadn't been the one to save her then. Yet, strangely, he had tried.
The early morning goings on in the Ministry of Magic elevator are predictable. They ring in order, an inexorable chain of events that sounds with the bell for each new floor. She knows that she should be grateful for the steadfast and reliable way of life that they enjoy, but sometimes it's a struggle.
She never was much of a dreamer. She was the practical one in a small group of comrades who relied on natural ability, luck and intuition. But, she supposes, she had to be, back then when things were unpredictable and lives were at stake.
Now she does dream. She uses the quiet hum of moments to imagine scenarios in which her life is different. Voldemort is always dead, her friends always alive, but in these illusory worlds she is a different shade of herself. She is someone who lives in the moment, is intoxicated by opportunity and by risk.
She is someone who says hello to the person she wants to look at and speak with and touch. She doesn't stand mute and simply think about it.
There are times when she is almost certain there is a part of that dreamed vision of Hermione that resides within her. It's in the moment when she glances at the tall, remote man standing so near to her and opens her mouth to speak.
She realises she is wrong when nothing comes out. It seems that though he may have changed; there are parts of her which haven't.
And when she hears that delicate chime of sound curling in her ears, nods her head politely at him and watches his departure, the dreams fade and she is herself once more.
She thinks more often than she should about their history: it is a capsule of minor incidents and fragmented moments which seem to come together and shape something bigger. At least, they do for her. She is acutely aware of how those moments have shaped her and she revisits them often.
She wonders whether he does too. She wonders what thoughts and images skitter behind his fair-lashed gaze when he looks at her. Mostly she thinks about that final day, the pinnacle of a war which simmered out of sight for decades. It was the day when many died, but not her. He saved her then.
Battled waged around her and she, ducking from hexes and weaving from curses, could not find her friends. She can still recall the acrid taste of fear upon her tongue.
She saw one friend, a girl not so much older than herself, sprawled in death across the stone floor. Recognition of the face and of the name, Tonks, hung like a weight around her neck. She never saw the real danger coming. A nameless man, his face twisted in ugly revelry. His wand was held aloft and words tittered on the edge, ready to fall from his graceless lips.
The words uttered were not from him. They came from another's mouth, and caused that unknown villain to fall in a crumple of black robes and dust.
She would forever recall the stunned and broken look in his eyes when she stared back. He was a hero that day, ghostly white and seraphic amid the darkness and the death. He was her hero.
She would forever wonder at the cost. He had risked his own life and that of his parents, only a year before, due to his inability and refusal to take that thing, a life. And yet before her he stood, blood an invisible stain upon his hands. For her.
She thinks that, even still, he too must wonder why.
This is indicative of life, she thinks. This up and down motion, the ebb and the flow. It is the swelling of sounds and movement, which can overwhelm the soul. It is the quiet and lost moments which follow.
This is one such moment. The cool voice which fills the small gilt cage of the elevator wishes her companions good evening. And it is only them now: him and her and the silence which surrounds. This is a silence which is thicker than most. It swallows up the sounds of air whooshing past as they drop level by level, and the small bell that chimes every ten feet.
She turns to look at him, and soak in his bright glory. His eyes are on her, fierce in their intent. And she cannot breathe for wondering quite what that might be. She has only been this close to him, without a soul around, on one other occasion. She was younger then, though no less intrigued.
Eyes hold and she marvels at the way he can turn such intensity on. Every day when she sees him, he seems an empty shell, bereft of the vigour in his youth. He doesn't look like that now.
Now he looks aglow, and she wants to touch the hollow of his cheek as he moves closer. His lips form a word and she revels in the texture of her name upon his tongue. It is the strangest of sounds.
This doesn't feel like her: staid and true and sensible. This feels like a vision, a phantom caught in the luscious quality of a dream. A dream too visceral to take place in this small square-shaped box called life.
The voice is back, it welcomes them to the atrium: departure to reality. They ignore it and they ride the motions again. And the bell that chimes every ten feet no longer has her attention, because he does. His hand rests upon her wrist, his mouth sewn to hers.
She wants somehow to tell him that he's saved her once again.
That final night, when the war truly ended, was a long one. The memories would never leave her: the first rays of light that pierced the darkness, the cries of elation and sadness that ripped through them all.
She could recall, with searing clarity, the confusion of it all. She felt relief and excitement at kissing her friend for the first time. It had tickled her senses down to her toes, a stark contrast to the bleakness of fear and endless worry. There was triumph at evil's fall; the room shook with the cacophony of clanging and stomping and talking. The noise rose up around her as had the vision of all the faces alive, and all that were not.
She had seen him then. He stood tall against the frail form of his mother; relief and resignation were clear on the father's face.
The family became reclusive after that, and it was an endless wait before the son emerged from the fold. It was a less fractured version of the young man than she had seen last, more stoic and composed. She would always question what it cost him to retain that cool exterior.
The noise that rose up around her caused her attention to shift, and when she looked back he was gone.
That was the moment to be with friends, to embrace and absorb that giddy thing called triumph. Her friends could wait, for something less definable called her to search him out.
It was always a strange quality of hers, this need to fix people. She really should not have extended it to him, she wanted to though.
She found him sitting on a bench, which in spite of the chaos of debris surrounding it, had somehow managed to stay unturned. The bite of chill in the early morning air snapped at her cheeks when she walked toward him. He was pale as ever, the fair strands of his hair mussed and blowing against his cheek. He didn't look up when she sat next to him and she realised he knew it was her.
It was silent as she reached for something to say, something that might reach him.
His voice was low and wrung out as he said the word. Relief.
And when she asked him what he meant by that, he replied in a way that seemed to show he knew what she was thinking. How I feel? Relieved. Isn't that what you wanted to know? She heard the tone of defensiveness ringing in his voice, as though daring her to suggest otherwise.
She paused then, and looked at him straight on. Regardless of how he undoubtedly felt about her showing any form of gratitude, she was compelled.
No, I... I assumed as much. I just wanted to say thank you.
Her voice was a barest whisper in the cold morning light. His head whipped around to face her front on, the hollows of his cheeks threw the pale light into sharp contrast against the deep and probing gaze.
She is still searching for the answer.
The air is light as she pulls it to her lungs. It is relief, a giddy and welcome delight. The bell chimes, a tinkling affair, and the rush of people on and off jostle her once more. The movement causes her hand to brush against his, for he stands right beside her.
They each gaze forward, and the faces that swim before them are unfocused and irrelevant. He's not. He's in sharp relief. And she no longer has to gaze at him from the other side of the carriage, watching the tilt of his head and wondering what to say.
The gilt frame closes before her and the movement of the floor beneath her goes unnoticed because his hand brushes hers again. Fingers trace small shapes on her wrist, concealed by the secrecy of their cloaks. A promise written on her skin.
She thinks about black and white and the shadows in between. He is still in there somewhere, but he moves closer to that ephemeral light each day. She can see now, where others cannot, that redemption can be found in the hum-drum of daily life, to the chorus of talking voices and shuffling paper. She knows now, that it does not matter what other people think or feel or say. It can be found in the quiet and the dark.
The bell chimes overhead; the coolly inviting voice fills the space with sound. And when the gate slides open, they take the step beyond together.