The usual disclaimers apply.


Prologue (in hell)


At around midnight every day, when the rat was asleep – or pretended to be – and the rows of houses stood mostly silent, he took a brisk walk. Every night at around midnight. Outside, even in the dirty, black air, polluted by years of robbing the earth, he could breath freely and the oxygen reached all the parts of his body, his arms and legs, his stomach and chest and his head. He strode along, his steps long and carefully measured, always with grace and the sort of elegance that one can only achieve through not trying to achieve it. He would always be absolutely unconscious of his self and as it was dark, he would not have to worry about others seeing, watching him. That was why he only went out to take a stroll at around midnight every day.

Just down the street, towards the old mill, to the muddy riverbank and across the little bridge to the other side of the river, across the old playground and over the next street, between two rows of houses and over the town square, past the old Norman church and through some more streets, back over another bridge, avoiding both the river and the playground and back to his house again. It wouldn't take long. About thirty minutes, maybe forty if he was walking slowly, which he never did.

Nothing special, just a night time stroll to get some fresh air. It wasn't more, it wasn't less. Just a night time stroll to catch a breath of fresh air and get out of the house. It was nice during cloudless nights when he could without the dimly illuminating street lamps and it was nicer when all the street lamps were out and he had to find his own way.

That night, on the Fourteenth of August in the year Nineteen-Ninety-Seven, he was walking through a rather foggy night, left his house, as he always did and immediately turned to the left towards the old mill, the chimneys looking dead and only eerily visibly in the cold fog.

A scream tore through the silent night, female and scared and panicked and terrified and he stopped immediately in his tracks. He knew those screams and they never bore any good fate. They were never the sign for good news or even good sex. Those screams meant business for men and bruises, black eyes and possibly even limps and broken bones. He had known those screams since his youth and since before he had been able to understand what they truly meant. They were nothing new and nothing surprising in this area and usually, he would hear about three or four on his quiet night time strolls and never truly cared. He would usually think that it was the women's – or girls's – own fault for not leaving. Too terrified to leave and too stupid to know that they could live on their own and it wasn't any different that night.

After only a moment's hesitation, he continued his walk but instead of quieter, the noise, the screams, grew louder and louder and if he wouldn't change his route, he would possibly move straight past the woman and her fear and her abuser. He knew all about it and he didn't honestly care. Too weak, those women, just plain too weak.

He didn't want to change his route. He wanted to walk where he always walked and he continued on his way. Towards the old mill. Even if the screams got louder, he just walked on.

He knew the houses. Every brick stone could tell a story about his mouth and he had possibly ran his fingers through most of those in reach in his life. Most of the windows were not illuminated. All the people, the workers, the ones whose lives had been made liveable by the mill had left and only the absolute dregs stayed. The lowest of the lowest, like him. But h wouldn't know since he only ever left his house at around midnight every day and even most of the lowest of the lowest were inside their houses – beating their wives, being beaten by their husband.

"Help!" the voice screamed, terrified, panicked, afraid and for a moment, his eyes wandered to the house where he thought the commotion was coming from but then he saw that it wasn't a house. It was rather in front of a house and that was, he realised, why he could hear the voice so clearly and could pick up every nuance of panic, terror, dread and fear.

She wasn't a girl anymore by any means, that much he could tell even from her back and that man seemed to be roughly about the same age, standing on the lowest step in front of a house, his fist landing in the woman's face. Her head turned and was revealed to him. A bruise already forming around her eye and her body spun around lazily.

If he hadn't known better, he would have admitted that his eyes had widened in shock but he wouldn't and it was true. That woman wasn't just a woman but her stomach was protruding so heavily that she couldn't possibly be far from giving birth. She was carrying a child under her heart and that man was still hitting her.

He would have loved to say that it was cold rage that overtook him but it wasn't. It wasn't even a feeling but more of a hunch that what he saw happening in front of him was the wrongest thing he would ever see and he didn't have to lift his wand, he didn't have to speak. He only had to focus on the man who had raised his fist once more and the next thing he knew, there was a loud, resounding crack from the steps and the woman was shivering and screaming and holding her face and her stomach. He stepped closer and saw the man lying on the steps, bloody oozing from his head, his eyes widen open and the woman staring at him with wild eyes, her bleached hair glowing in the fog and the light from the front door.

"What did you do, you prick?" she shouted and knelt on the steps besides the man. "Did you fucking kill him? They'll get me for it. They'll so get me for it."

He didn't reply and with a last glance at the lifeless body of the man he hadn't wanted to kill, he turned away and walked his usual route.


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