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Chapter 1 : In The Lull
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When she looks down at the pages in front of her, feeling oddly guilty, the printed words rise up towards her and make no sense. She closes the book with a soft sigh and gets to her feet, the blanket clutched closely to her chest. Her bones still ache from the torture, but she ignores the pain. Having paused to regain her breath, she walks towards the water’s edge, feeling the sand give slightly beneath her shoes. It is gritty rather than fine, but the grey April sunlight makes it look like dark crushed diamonds as the water washes over it. He is diving into the waves now, his big feet oddly graceful in water as his toes point, lift into the air and disappear into the surf. He and Bill are seeing who can swim the furthest with one breath, and there are shouts of laughter as they catch each other cheating.
She smiles at the easy friendship between the two, and wonders, not for the first time, what it would be like to have a sibling. Then she thinks again, of her brother whom she loves so dearly and is desperate to protect. She turns to look towards the cottage, and her eye is caught by a figure moving along the cliff top behind it. There he is. His posture has changed; his shoulders have drooped in the last few weeks, exhausted under the weight of his task. His glasses flash as he turns slowly to walk away, and she wishes he would join her on the beach, or meet the others in the water.
She turns towards the sea, to the sound of her name, smiling. She does not want Ron to see her worry, not in this rare moment of enjoyment he has found and shared with his brother.
‘I’m watching!’ she calls back, waving enthusiastically.
Next to her, the sea is building a wall of white foam. Every now and then, a piece of it breaks away and tumbles recklessly across the sand, splintering and shrinking with every contact. There was a time when she felt that way whenever she imagined him holding her, as if she were falling apart and whisping away to a beautiful nothingness. But now, watching him play like the innocent boy he should rightfully be, she feels more whole than ever. His happiness has somehow become hers, and in the warmth of her blanket she feels, for a moment, utterly comfortable.
Silently, two women join her. They are sea foam themselves, pale hair and pale eyes, their voices dance in the wind and are carried away to nowhere. One calls to her husband, and he turns, beckons to her. Tying her silvery hair atop her head, Fleur runs into the water fully-clothed, and wraps her arms around him. They laugh, splashing each other. Ron looks away, half-smiling; his eyes meet Hermione’s and she feels her heart beat a little faster. An arm entwines gently with hers, and she rests her head on Luna’s thin shoulder. She is real. They are both - all - real, and solid, and alive.
She watches Ron struggle out of the water, shivering and smiling broadly, his arms shaking against his pale chest. In this moment, she knows that whatever has been happening between them is the beginning of a forever. It is a wonder to find something of which she is completely certain nowadays, outside of her books.
She pulls the blanket from her shoulders and holds it out to him. On the way back to the cottage, he talks through chattering teeth of the warmth of the sea, and tries to persuade her to join him next time. Luna tells them about the ocean, of the way it gives and takes in equal measure. At some point, Ron’s cold fingers intertwine with Hermione’s, and she is grateful for this moment, even if that is all it can be for now.
They reach the cottage, and Harry appears from the steps cut into the cliff. His eyes go to their hands, tangled like seaweed, joined like starfish. Wordlessly, he looks away again, following Luna into the house, and she and Ron instinctively move apart. She reaches up and pulls the blanket from his shoulders, and her wrist brushes the back of his neck. His hair drips a stream onto her arm, and without thinking she brings it to her mouth, tasting the salt. He smiles at her, unaware of how much she wants to touch him again, and calls after Harry. The boys will gather driftwood this afternoon, to light a fire in the wandmaker’s room. The old man is recovering, but his progress is slow.
After Ron has gone, she holds the blanket for a moment and lets his scent come to her on the breeze. As she hangs it over the carved driftwood log leaning against the shell-encrusted walls, she wonders how he always smells so warm, even when he’s soaking wet. Fleur and Bill are a blur in the water now, seeking the vastness of the ocean for the privacy that has become so elusive in their home. Hermione whispers across the sand, thanking them silently for giving them this safe place to stay. For now, this is a place where Harry walks alone without fear, where Ron plays in the waves, and where Hermione can allow herself to fall in love.
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