I don't... even... know.
It just happened. And I was like... ehh put it up anyway.
Seriously... I don't even...
The last thing she remembered… was falling. Not falling in the sense of stumbling over a loose flagstone or slipping on the wet grass on your way to Care of Magical Creatures, not even falling in the way she assumed it would feel to fall down a set of stairs without actually touching any of the steps. No, this was very different.
If one could fall from the top of a mountain on the moon, and somehow survive to remember how it felt, it would be much like that. The feel of weightless flight in suffocating silence, knowing that you’re falling but not acknowledging the fact that at some point you will be stopped by something solid and final.
The solid and final something that brought Hermione Granger to her sudden halt was a dark stone floor, damp and foul-smelling and nastily reminiscent of the Hogwarts dungeons. She raised her aching neck and peered into the darkness. The corridor in which she had woken stretched for what appeared to be an eternity in both directions; continuing into shadow until all she could see was black space. She blinked, very confused.
Am I dreaming?
The lone thought drifted into her mind and she dashed it away immediately. The cold stones beneath her fingers, seeping the heat out of her body, was all far too real for this to be a dream.
Where am I? she wondered, watching her breath come out opaque, although the air around her was anything but cold.
“You are in the labyrinth.” a voice echoed through the corridor, seeming to come from all directions. Hermione breathed in sharply and looked around. She was alone in the flickering light of one flaming torch, balanced above her in a torch bracket on the wall.
“Where are you?” she managed, touching her throat as she spoke. It felt sore and unused, although she felt sure that she had been in perfect health a few moments ago. “Hello?”
The silence drew on. Hermione let out a shuddering, dense breath and pushed herself up with her arms, gritting her teeth. Something was so very wrong… her whole body ached and throbbed and the gravity of wherever she was seemed to have increased ten fold.
“That is your illusion. You should be weightless.” the voice returned, again from no discernible source. Hermione froze, resting on her knees, and carefully looked around the corridor again.
“Um… I’m sorry?” she managed, voice breaking mid-sentence. “I don’t… could you please tell me where I am?”
“You are in the labyrinth.” her invisible tormenter repeated, it’s monotonous voice bordering on patient. “Move to the wall.”
Hermione struggled with this for a moment, before doing as she was told and dragging her aching limbs across the flagstones to sit against the wall, directly beneath the burning torch. “Could you at least tell me who you are?” she asked the darkness. “I don’t know of any labyrinth, but this almost looks like the school dungeons…”
“Stick to the wall.” the voice continued, ignoring her comments. “Tuck your legs in.”
Hermione had opened her mouth to question it, when a low humming began to vibrate the air. She looked around, confused. “What’s that?” she asked, folding her legs beneath her. The humming grew steadily louder, sounding like a colossal swarm of bees flying through the darkness.
“Not bees.” the voice offered. “Moths.”
She didn’t get the word out. Halfway through the syllable a cream-coloured cloud swept past her fast enough to knock the air out of her lungs; the roar of thousands of tiny wings deafening in such a small space. The wind the moths kicked up blew her hair across her face and her skirt across her legs - all Hermione could do was clamp her hands over her ears. As she watched, thousands and thousands of cream-and-brown-winged moths sped past her and vanished into the dark depths of the corridor, leaving her ears ringing.
“Wha… what… what…” she stammered, pressing her back against the cold wall and panting. “I…”
The voice returned, calm as ever, with a hint of disinterest where the patience had been. “Moths. Emperor Gum Moths, if you care to be specific. You can move away from the wall now, they won’t be back for a few hours. Their cycle takes them all the way through the Eastern wall of the labyrinth, so you don’t need to worry about them for a while.”
“What labyrinth?! Where am I?!” Hermione exclaimed, stumbling to her feet and looking in both directions. “Where are you?”
“The labyrinth. Someone will be along shortly to inform you of the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of the labyrinth, but I’m fairly sure you can guess why you are here. If you can see past the mist.”
On cue, a thick white mist appeared from the darkness on either side of her and rolled around her ankles, reaching no higher than her calves. Hermione stared down at it. “The mist? I don’t remember anything… I was… I was in…” she sighed and stomped a foot in uncharacteristic frustration that was better suited to Ronald. “Why am I here?”
“Think about it.”
Realising that this was all the assistance she was getting, Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. She remembered falling. Falling… what seemed like a great distance… but not hitting anything until she found herself on the floor of this unfeasible corridor. “Am I…” she paused and opened her eyes again. No, surely not… “Dead?”
Hermione stared into the darkness, feeling as though she had been slapped in the face. “But… how?” she managed, numbly. “I don’t understand…”
“Cardiovascular failure.” came the reply. “Three fourteen pm, Friday.”
This was impossible. Cardiovascular failure? “I had a heart attack?” she breathed, one hand subconsciously touching the skin on her left shoulder, beneath which her heart lay cold and still. No… It couldn’t be true… “But… there’s no history of heart problems in my family… how could this be possible?”
“It was induced.”
Hermione stared into the darkness, eyes wide and unblinking. For a long while she remained that way, frozen as a lifeless, ivory statue, her chest rising and falling with harsh breaths while the red muscle stood still. “In… induced?”
“Someone killed me?” It sounded ludicrous coming from her lips; but she had said it herself, there was no history of heart problems in her family. She had been a perfectly healthy witch ten minutes ago, and now she was… well, wherever she was, she wasn’t in the realm of the living. “I was killed… and now I’m in a labyrinth?”
There was silence for a moment, before; “Technically you are in a wall.” the voice explained. “The labyrinth is a deceptive title; there’s no way you could find your way around it. Even if you had an eternity, which you don’t, it’s just too big.”
“So this corridor… is a wall? The inside of a wall?” Hermione repeated, trying to follow all of this while taking in the enormity of the corridor she was stood in. “Okay. Alright. Tell me what I need to do. How do I get out?”
The practical part of her mind was taking over. Hermione was momentarily relieved to find that she still had the ability to think straight; now all she had to do was let the rest of her mind catch up.
“You don’t skip steps.” the voice said, agonisingly calm.
Hermione raised her eyebrows. “I’m sorry? What steps?” she asked.
“You will have no chance of working the equation if you don’t know all the elements. Shortly, someone will appear to help you. The first of several. But before that, you are missing something.”
Hermione blinked and bit her lip. “What am I missing?”
“Look over your shoulder.”
She did as she was told, but all that met her eyes was the never-ending stretch of corridor to match the one she was facing. “What am I looking at?”
“You are allowing your eyes to lie to you. What you see is not what is there.”
“I’m dreaming.” Hermione sighed decisively. “So if you don’t mind, I’m going to patiently wait for Ronald or Harry to wake me up. There is no way I was killed, and there is no way I’m in some giant labyrinth with swarms of Emperor Gum Moths having a conversation with a bodiless voice.”
She stopped speaking and her voice ricocheted off the damp stone walls around her. Silence followed. Hermione, feeling that this could either be a very good thing or a very, very bad thing, peered into the darkness on either side of her. She was still alone.
“What, are you ignoring me now?” she asked bitterly, crossing her arms over her chest. “That’s a little childish, don’t you think?”
“If you have decided that this is a product of your subconscious, there is little I can do to help you. I will just be forced to wait until something comes along to change your mind.”
Hermione didn’t like the way he said that. There was a warning edge to the voice, as though whatever it was that he intended to change her mind was going to be either extremely dangerous or extremely unpleasant for her. She swallowed nervously and attempted a compromise. “Okay… say I believe you. Why am I here? If I’m dead… why aren’t I… somewhere else?”
“What makes you think there is somewhere else? How can you know that this isn’t what lies on the other side of life?”
That threw her. “My head hurts. Could you please… just clarify this for me?” she pleaded.
“I can. You have died. You are inside the inner wall of the labyrinth, consider that a good thing, and you are currently in the Eastern side. You died of induced cardiovascular failure which, as you so pointed out, means that someone killed you.”
“Do you know who killed me?” she tried.
“I know everything you will know if you make it to the centre of the labyrinth.”
Hermione sat down against the wall, opposite the light of the torch, ignoring the faint mist that drifted around her legs. “What are you?”
“A disembodied voice.”
Hermione directed her glare toward the torch bracket. “Why are you here?”
“Anyone who enters the labyrinth will hear me. Consider yourself lucky, Hermione Granger, because not all of us are as helpful as I am. I am an extension of you, so if you come to find that you don’t like me very much then do not wonder why people you knew when you were alive found you irritating at times. I know everything you know and everything you will come to know, and no more.”
It fell silent and Hermione took all of this in with a slow nod. So she was dead and in some formation of an afterlife… and she had to make it to the centre of a labyrinth aided only by an infuriatingly unhelpful voice.
For some bizarre reason she got the feeling that this would all be so much easier to take in if she had never been introduced to the world of magic.
Sighing and hoping that things would become miraculously clear at some point in the near future, Hermione struggled to her feet. “Okay. Tell me what to do.”