There is nothing in the world quite so lonely as preparing one cup of tea.
Nothing quite so forlorn as putting half a kettle of water to boil and pinching out just enough leaves for one.
She likes her tea strong. It helps her to not feel so weak.
They all talked about surviving the war with a kind of hushed reverence, like to be granted such a gift was all they could hope for. Everything was going to be different, after the war. They were going to settle down, after the war. They would get married, after the war; have kids, after the war; be happy, after the war.
Now the war is over and Mary’s left standing in the center of the blast zone, nothing around for miles and no one to hear her scream.
She sometimes thinks surviving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Steeping’s an odd word. She thinks this as she pours the water into the teapot.
The loose leaves flow in circles as the water mixes with them; upending them, agitating them, separating them.
She puts on the top and lets it steep.
Her flat used to be full of people. They’d come and go constantly, in between missions or just for some of her tea. They said they grew tired of bags, and nobody could handle leaves like her. It was how she contributed, by offering them a break from reality.
That’s what her place used to be, a break. It was where you went when you wanted to smile without feeling guilty about it. It was a haven where you forgot the war.
Now it’s filled with ghosts, and all it does is remind her of it.
She grabs her strainer from the cupboard. She used to think she felt strained, when she was studying for her NEWTS, or was falling behind in potions.
She was wrong. She was more carefree than she realized. Real strain came from watching your world being taken away from you, death by death.
Strain is being the tea while your entire life is the leaves.
After the first death, she thought she felt broken. She spent days in bed, not knowing what to do with herself. She’d venture as far as the kitchen, but couldn’t find it in herself to do anything. For the first time, she felt lost.
The next two deaths came at the same time, and maybe it was the shock, but suddenly she managed her grief with routine - going through the motions.
It was how she coped, but now it’s how she lives.
She pours the tea into that single cup; it’s part of a set but she only ever uses one.
She drinks it before it’s cooled and it scalds her throat. That’s how she always drinks it. It helps her to feel substantial. It helps her to feel real.
Sometimes she wonders if she could drink enough to turn to tea herself; if she could drip down her chair and out the door, never stopping until she evaporates. Instead, she washes that single cup and moves on.