The cool breeze served as a benefactor to the musical lilt of the clattering shells, the sound a gentle lullaby to the current residents of Shell Cottage, tucked away in the middle of Merlin-knew-where in a desperate attempt to rekindle what passion both knew had faded away with their stolen youth.
Twenty-two and falling apart at the seams.
Twenty-two and the forgotten frivolities of childhood already seemed an ancient memory, like trying to recall a dream from a lifetime past.
Twenty-two, and they were already dying from the inside out.
As her fiancée slept, Hermione sat crossed-legged on an armchair facing the window, a mug of neglected tea clutched between her hands as she watched the rays of sunlight dance across the surface of the sea, reflecting in the window like diamonds falling atop the crystalline waters.
At the thought her left hand grew increasingly heavy, the weight threatening to pull her down into the earth entirely, and the witch thinks she would not mind so much if that were the case.
What if she were to leave? Ronald slept like the dead - surely he wouldn't notice for hours, maybe even a day, thinking she had gone to the store, or out for a walk.
He rarely noticed her these days anyways, in a perpetual cycle of eat-work-sleep, repeat. The war had driven the spark out of Ronald Weasley, the loss of his brother and some of his closest friends scarring him in a way that none of them would have dreamed possible, not for Ron, not for the boy who was so happy it almost seemed like a permanent affliction.
And she had loved him so dearly, and she had wanted to save him with all of her being, but Hermione was smart enough to know that there was no saving the dead.
He would be worried at first, of course, but he could recover, survive without her. Hermione liked to think that she was rather good at disappearing, fading into the background; a woman of average stature and unremarkable appearance, she could move somewhere - maybe Canada, she had always wanted to visit Montreal - and blend in entirely, and he would never have to see her again.
She would be Hermione Granger, the girl who vanished, but she would not be Hermione Weasley, the girl who settled, and that would be something she could live with.
But no. She was Hermione Granger, the girl who helped defeat Voldemort, and she was a Gryffindor, and she did not run.
Not from something as inconsequential as a diamond ring.
Removing the offending object from her hand, she twirled it within her fingers and wondered how something so small could hold such devastating weight. Ron loved to remind her that the diamond, about half the size of her pinky nail, had cost him five pay checks, as if something so frivolous as how much he spent on a ring proved how much he loved her.
Hermione had never liked diamonds anyways.
What was it about them that women found so appealing? They were frigid and impersonal, so lacking of colour and depth that they evoked no emotion in the witch's heart, only a strange sense of loneliness. There was no life to a diamond, nothing but vapid emptiness that almost made her laugh, thinking that the stone, cold as ice and as equally as lifeless, was an accurate representation of her own relationship, the one which it was intended to solidify but only served to mock.
No, Hermione had never liked diamonds. Rather, she detested them, and she wasn't all that surprised to find that Ronald was completely ignorant of the fact.
But Hermione liked emeralds. She liked the way you could look at a single stone at countless different angles and always see something different, or the way that they seemed to possess a life of their own, as if you could live a thousand lifetimes just by staring into their depths.
She liked the way they reminded her of him, especially on the days when she found she couldn't even remember the sound of his voice.
He had given her an emerald once, although it was not a ring because she had mentioned in passing that rings interfered when she was trying to write, and he had listened, and he had remembered. He had placed it around her neck and it sat perfectly against her breastbone, contrasting off her tanned skin and caramel hair as if it was branding her as his own.
"You never have to tell anybody it was from me," he had whispered against her ear, breath warm and sweet and now such a vibrant memory that she can almost feel it against her flesh. "But whenever you wear it you will know, and you'll know that I belong to you as much as it does."
She had told him she loved him for the first time that night, and in the morning she had awoken with the knowledge that she would never see him again.
He had done what Hermione could never do; he had run. He had given up being brave, given up putting on appearances and smiling for the camera - bravery had never been his strong point, in any case - and he had run. Away from her, away from every promise they had made and every secret they had shared and every vow that they had spoken, and she found that she couldn't even be angry with him for it.
Because he had done what she had longed to for so long, but foolish pride and an inability to disappoint had made impossible.
Not only had he run, he had escaped.
And now the diamond rested upon the palm of her hand, reflecting the sunlight as another stone was tucked under the collar of her shirt, rare to see the light of day, and she felt sickened by it, sickened by the stone that seemed to mock her fragile will with it's every facet, simply with it's existence.
"You can go." She hears his whisper before she even senses his presence - they used to be so in tune with each other that she could feel his energy from a mile away, but now he is no more than a shadow, his effect on her so minimal that it is not even tangible, not anymore, not as it once was, not as it would ever be again. "I won't tell anyone. I'll say you got called away for work, and then you'll write and say that you won't be able to come back, and you can go find him. I'll be okay - mum'll look after me."
Ron means to reassure her with this, but the thought of leaving a twenty-two year old man, a man so horrendously broken and scarred and torn apart, left under the care of his well-meaning but overbearing mum is so depressing it almost makes her laugh.
No, she resents the mockery that her life has become, but there is a tiny part of her that still feels for him and the boy he once was, and that is enough.
Slipping the ring back on her finger, she does not shy away when he places his hand atop her shoulder, gaze impassive as she stares out the window.
"'S beautiful," he mutters, almost to himself, before remembering that she's there too and adding, "The water. Looks like diamonds. Kinda like yours. Beautiful, isn't it?"
And he's trying, trying so pathetically hard to converse, to make her happy, but she finds she cannot return the sentiment. Rather, she reaches up to where her hands still rests upon her shoulder and gives it a squeeze before rising, turning her back to the view before her, the view which is making her sick to her stomach.
"I don't know," Hermione says vaguely as she brushes past him to the kitchen, keeping her eyes trained ahead as she runs through the list of reasons why she has to stay - only you can help Ronald and he doesn't want you to follow him and you don't run you fight and you would die if you found him with someone else and you can't leave you missed your chance there's nothing out there for you you're trapped here forever - and she pours her mug of tea down the drain before giving him a weak smile. "I've always thought that diamonds were rather cold."
But he doesn't understand her meaning and she doesn't try to explain, and her smile isn't genuine and his smile is simply sad, but she will have to make it enough.
This is not the day she escapes. This is not the day she gives up.
This is another day in the in-between, another day she runs without moving at all.
A/N: Written for the diamond challenge by Niclovegood on the forums.