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Chapter 1: Silver
It is dark. That much he is certain of, that much he knows. No light shines through the windows in the room, high up, far out of his reach. Every now and then a thin sliver of silver, pale and wan, sneaks through, slipping through the white frames before swerving, flickering and failing, fading away.
A bird shrieks, loudly - a blackbird, he thinks, although he has no idea why he thinks that. There’s no reason for it, no logic, no deductive reasoning - just the knowledge, the sudden thought of ‘blackbird’ after the cry hits his ears. It’s sudden and abrupt, but he’s learned to accept it. What else really can he do?
Opening his eyes, he stares up at the dark sky above. An inky black - not perfect jet black, not quite clear enough to see the stars - it looks almost liquid, like he could reach up one hand and brush the surface of it, pull his fingers away, stained with the proof that he’d done the impossible and touched the sky, touched the unreachable, gone where no man had ever gone before.
To go where no man had ever gone before… it sounds appealing, he muses to himself, very appealing. He would be a hero, hailed from the rooftops, his name headlining every paper in the country, his face emblazoned across book covers and posters and people everywhere would know him, would love him and adore him.
The sound of the sea laps at his ears, the gentle swoosh of the tide flowing in and out soothing him, calming him, slowing his breathing until his chest rises and falls with the waves. In and out, in and out, in and out. All else is silent, still - night is waiting patiently, resting, content to doze peacefully on his sofa, one skeletal hand lying on the plush black leather.
Three beds away, a man snores, turning onto his side, the blankets around him hiking up, clutched between two thin, wasted hands as he curls up. The movement of the body underneath the covers, the rustle of cotton on cotton catches his attention and he looks over. Even in the dim light he can see that the man’s eyes are screwed tight shut, closed firmly against whatever demons are coming for him in the night, whatever horrors await him in the dark.
Two nights ago, two darknesses previously, the man had been screaming.
Lights had been turned on - blinding, harsh and unbearably yellow, a cold yellow - and that had been almost worse than the screaming. He remembers screaming. Flashes of it, short and sharp, float into and out of his mind every now and then. He remembers the screams, but only on occasion. Only on occasion.
Around him, he feels the blankets push him down into the bed, keeping him there, making sure he can’t wander off in the night. The girl tucks them in every evening before she leaves, he recalls, although he can’t remember anything else about her, or, really, anything else about the day. There’s light and noise and people bring food…
He gives up, shifting his head on the pillow. It’s getting hot, sticky and uncomfortable. The darkness appears to be closing in, a faint blue light shimmering somewhere in the distance and there’s a word, a shout, a rush and the thrill of… something, he can’t remember what it is but it seems familiar… and then the blankets are falling away, dropping down to around his waist and he feels free, like he can breathe again.
A cold, soothing breeze washes over him, draping delicately over his skin. He can smell the sea, that mixture of salt and water, the scent one long embedded in his memory. On his tongue, he can taste it; it tickles his taste buds, going right to the back of his throat. It fills his mouth and nose. Even his skin and clothes smell of it.
Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t feel cold. The air around him is warm and still, comforting enough even if it’s hardly perfect.
There’s a companionship, though, a sense that he’s not alone, that someone else is with him. Here. Now. In this very moment. He wants to turn his head, wants to see who’s there, wants to look around and see, but he doesn’t dare. The idea that it’s not real stops him, that there isn’t anyone there, that he’s really alone - it holds him back, preventing him from moving. This feeling is nice, strange but nice, and he doesn’t want to lose it. Doesn’t want to risk it. He’s always been a coward that way, he supposes.
It’s a feeling that’s dogged him for as long as he can remember: cowardice. Fear. The idea that he’s running from something. From someone. From merely the idea of something. Of someone. He doesn’t really know, and he knows, beyond a doubt, that he doesn’t want to know. Is that cowardice? He can’t remember.
Releasing a sigh, he closes his eyes again, a heavy darkness falling, his eyelids blocking out the little light that bounces around him, passing in and out, darting like a deer. When his eyes are closed, it’s just him. There’s no world around him, nothing at all. He can forget about feeling things, about worries and hopes and fears, about these strange thoughts that pass through his head every now and then, and just be him and think about nothing, absolutely nothing.
Out of the darkness, out of the simplicity, out of the void, he feels something. A brush, feather-light, caressing. Someone is reaching out to him, skin tenderly passing over his, fingertips whispering over his cheek, down his the line of his jaw. Soft, it sets his spine tingling, his body waking up even as his mind focuses only on the touch. Only on those fingers.
“Gilderoy?” the whisper comes, sliding through the night, and he recognises it immediately. He remembers the voice, he remembers the face and the fingers and the name. “Gilderoy, wake up.”
His eyes don’t open yet, his head leaning into the touch, the hand now cupping his face, thumb trailing teasingly over his mouth, making his lips part, although no air escapes through the gap.
The feeling vanishes as suddenly as it came. The fingers retreat, the hand cupping his face withdrawing and his eyes fly open.
Gilderoy, wake up.
Words. Words. That’s all he can think about - those three words, ringing in his mind, repeated again and again by the same voice, the same throat, the same person. Always in that sequence, though, never any other. Never any different arrangement, never missing any or including any more. Just those three words. It’s like a kind of mantra - whatever one of those is - a constant theme in his head, a constant reminder of… something. Something.
“Gilderoy, wake up.”
This time, the words are clear. Pristine intonation, pristine delivery. The voice washes over him like the tide on the beach not so far away, encouraging him, guiding him, leading him. It calls and he can only obey.
Beside him, in the gloom, he can see the other figure. He can see the dark hair falling so elegantly, the black shirt darker than the night around him, darker than everything else. More than that, he can sense the other person, he can smell them, his body already beginning to smoulder at the mere thought of touching them. He can feel his companion, feel the warmth seeping from him, feel the brush of his soul as it approaches, feel the expectation and the slight worry and the intoxicating thrill of breaking the rules.
It is what this is: breaking the rules. His companion has never explained it, has never explained why this is what it is, what about this is so wrong - but there’s an unspoken agreement between the two of them. This is a secret. It will always be a secret. It has to be.
He watches as his companion moves closer, stepping lightly across the sand, the sound of his feet sinking into the grains buried by the whoosh of the sea.
“I’m awake,” he murmurs.
As his companion sits down beside him, he doesn’t move. He’s not sure he can move; it seems as if he’s held in place by some unknown force, some mysterious power insisting that he stays exactly where he is, exactly as he is. Trying to fight it would be useless - he tried to fight it once, tried to escape it, tried to beat it back and hold it back… the next week he found himself back in the same place, at the same time, doing the same thing. Waiting. Always waiting. Waiting for him to come, waiting for his companion to arrive and sit down beside him, gazing out at the sea solemnly, unblinking.
Like always, he sits up, the blankets sliding down his waist, only just covering his knees now but he ignores them. No one else stirs, everything is frozen, slumbering. And when the world slumbers, his companion arrives, meeting him by the seashore. When the world slumbers, they can pretend together that it doesn’t exist, ignore the labels of right and wrong. When the world slumbers, their world wakes up.
His companion doesn’t move, staying perfectly still, a statue. It’s as if Gilderoy never moved, as if the other doesn’t notice his movements, doesn’t notice the sound of sand shifting, doesn’t notice that he’s the centre of attention.
Truthfully, he has no idea if his companion ever noticed. There are times when he thinks perhaps yes, other times when he thinks perhaps no. His companion would be the only one to know for certain, and to ask them is impossible. If he’d ever thought about it, if he’d remembered, he could have asked at the time, broken the continual cycle - but he never did. He never had the strength or the guts or the courage, and now there is no going back, now there is no chance to ask.
“You were late,” he comments softly, watching his companion closely, intently. He’s searching for a sign, a signal that all is not well, that something’s happened, that this will be the last of their meetings. “Did anyone - your father -”
“No,” his companion cuts him off firmly, the word little more than a breath gushing out of his mouth. “He didn’t. No one did. I was just late.”
“Right,” he nods, the single movement slightly jerky, sharp. Underneath his palms, the sand feels oddly smooth, like cotton, as though the grains have all melded together to form a blanket, protecting the two of them from the usual coarse texture.
He wants to reach out, extend an arm, and touch his companion, run his fingers down the other’s arm, lace their fingers together, lean close and just stay there, but he doesn’t know how the other would react. Even after a year of this - a year of secrets and lies and lust - he simply doesn’t know. His companion is hard to read, hard even for him to read and he’s always prided himself on being good at reading people, at knowing what they want to hear you say, what they want to see you do, what they expect and hope and fear. His companion, it seems, is the only exception. The one person he can’t read, and the one person he so desperately wants to be able to. Funny how things work out like that, sometimes.
Without warning, his companion turns to face him. The faint moonlight shimmers on the surface of his silver eyes, lighting them up, making them glitter and gleam and shine. Metallic, they entrance him. He can’t look away, he’s captured - as if he wasn’t aware of that already - what little resistance he had at one point, what little strength he’d gathered prior to this meeting has fled. Perfection is, he knows, unachievable but as he stares into twin mercury pools, twin circles of molten metal, flecked with occasional strains of soft baby blue, it seems real enough.
He leans into the kiss, knowing it’s coming, expecting it, waiting for it. His fingers clutch at air, trying to latch on to something which isn’t there, isn’t real, isn’t present. Eventually, though, they find his companion’s waist, sliding around the smooth skin, feeling the material of his shirt only just covering his body, silk rippling underneath his palms. At times, the silk feels rougher, more common, less smooth and flawless and, for a moment, he wonders why.
The wonder doesn’t last very long, though, as he’s preoccupied, his mind lingering on that kiss, body shifting on the sand, ears picking up a slight creak as the hinges on the bed underneath him pick up on the movement, protesting against it.
His companion is demanding, the kiss fierce and strong and hot. Breath dances across his mouth, fingers gripping at his shirt, at his hair. He wants this, wants it so badly, that every time the other’s lips pull away, even if just for a second, a whimper escapes him, his eyes opening briefly, locking onto the other, begging for him to continue.
If this is all they can have, these secret rendezvous in the middle of the night on a lonely beach, then he has no intention of letting even a second go by without touching his companion, without feeling those fingertips, those lips set his senses on fire.
When they break apart, his companion’s arms slacking slightly around him, he closes his eyes and just breathes. Breathes in the scent of the other - that odd smell he can never quite place but loves nonetheless, a combination of mint and fresh cream and spice - and the sea and tries to do something other than feel. All he’s done for the last while is feel, and feel so strongly he wasn’t really aware of anything else. For all he had known, the sea could have stopped flowing, the stars stopped shining, the wind stopped blowing. He wouldn’t have noticed a thing.
His fingers hold onto his companion: holding tight, holding fast. His palms roll into fists, the other’s shirt clutched between them, creasing under the force, imprinting lines into his skin.
“Gilderoy,” the voice starts up again, soft, deeper than usual, and he feels the other’s lips against the skin just underneath his ear, at the top of his neck. “What did my brother want with you? On the last day of term, at the station - he and his friends. What did they want?”
“Nothing,” he mumbles, wishing Regulus wouldn’t bring this up. It’s not important, it’s nothing he needs to worry about. He knows the relationship between the two brothers is already damaged beyond repair, but there’s no need to throw fuel onto the fire. “It was nothing.”
“You’re lying,” Regulus pulls back, eliciting a brief frown from Gilderoy as those lips leave his neck, to look him in the eyes. He’s not surprised to see that Regulus appears serious - Regulus always looks serious. Serious or pensive. Thoughtful. He prefers it when Regulus, on the rare occasion, smiles - always softly, always subtly, always almost shyly. It’s not like the goofy grin his brother wears: big and bold and brash, full of laughter and life and sheer joy. It’s quieter, more reserved and so, in a way, more special. When Regulus smiles, you know that he’s happy, that you’ve made him happy. It means something.
He can’t meet Regulus’ eyes, knowing that he’s lying. It’s one thing to lie to the professors - make them believe that he did hand his work in with the rest of the class and that they simply lost it, make them believe that he really is just on his way back from the Library as he wanders around the castle at night - and his peers and even his parents; it’s entirely another to lie to Regulus. For one thing, he always seems to know - he won’t say how - and it just feels like something he shouldn’t do. Like something that’s forbidden, like something that would destroy his very soul.
“Gilderoy, tell me,” Regulus repeats, brushing his mouth across Gilderoy’s, forcing him to lift his head up, forcing him - when Regulus pulls away - to look into his eyes. “Tell me.”
It’s not a question - it’s a command. Blacks are princes, that much he knows - that much he’s heard and witnessed and read. Blacks don’t ask for things, they demand - that he knows very well, from Sirius Black demanding that he move out of the compartment he’s chosen on the train because he and his three mates want to sit there, to Regulus demanding kisses, demanding attention, demanding everything he can possibly give him. And all in the dead of the night.
“They wanted to sit in my compartment,” he shrugs, fingers idly stroking the sand beneath them both, watching as it glitters faintly in the dim light. “It’s usual - don’t worry about it. I’m used to it. It’s not a problem.”
The last thing he wants is for Regulus to attack his brother - jinx him, hex him, curse him behind his back - on his behalf. Both Blacks have been in trouble before for fighting in the hallways, openly and discreetly, and he doesn’t want to be the cause of any more fighting or Regulus getting into trouble with the professors. Everyone knows that when Sirius Black walks into the Great Hall sporting a gash on his arm or his face or his leg, it’s not because he’s walked into a tree or fallen into the lake (although both are entirely possible given that the elder Black often shows the sensibility and attitude of a four month old Labrador, running into everything and everywhere because it looks interesting and shiny and new and exciting), rather it’s because his brother has directed one or two well-placed curses at him in the corridor, his wand hidden beneath his robe to hide the movement.
Regulus is frowning, that much he can see. In the darkness, he looks pale, almost translucent, his skin a smooth, perfect alabaster. Behind his face, looking through him, Gilderoy can see the faint outline of a door, illuminated by a brief ray of moonlight, the glow bouncing off the white paint of the doorframe.
“If he does anything again,” Regulus says slowly, every word precise, delivered with cold finality. It’s a tone he would never want to hear directed against himself, a tone which suggests something a little more than curses would be the result if ‘if’ happened. Something a little more daring, something a little more cruel, something a little more suave and sleek and oh-so-dangerous. Gilderoy has to admit to himself that it’s a tone he loves hearing - only because it suits Regulus so well. “Tell me. I’ll deal with him.”
“Regulus, it’s not a problem - I can handle Black and Potter,” he tries to reassure his companion, his grip on his shirt loosening, fingers feeling stiff despite the warmth. “They don’t do anything to me - it’s just a compartment. It doesn’t matter. There’s always another compartment, after all.”
When Regulus glances at him, his silver eyes are calm again, still and untouched. His shoulders have sagged, tension released from his form and Gilderoy can only smile in response. He much prefers it when Regulus is relaxed, happy and seemingly almost human, rather than when he’s possessed by that indomitable Black anger his family is known for. He can’t handle anger - it’s the one thing which makes him flinch, makes him doubt himself, makes all his plans and manipulations unravel at the speed of lightning.
Shifting on the sand, Regulus slips an arm around his waist, pulling him close, burying his face into the younger boy’s shoulder, his head nestling comfortably in the crook of Gilderoy’s neck. These moments - these tender, affectionate moments - are becoming more and more common with Regulus, and Gilderoy suspects it has something to do with his brother. With the complete separation of the two. He doesn’t know, though, and would never dare ask, never dare approach the subject with him.
As he glances out over the sea in front of the two of them, he threads his fingers through Regulus’ hair, the strands slipping through easily, almost as though they’re not there at all.
Overhead, the sky looks puffy, sore and bloated. It’s going to rain, he thinks. They won’t move, no matter what the weather does, though. Where would they go, after all? Regulus’ parents could never find out - they wouldn’t approve, since he’s ‘just a half-blood’ - and his mother doesn’t like talking about anything to do with magic. He couldn’t imagine what she would say if he brought a wizard into her house at two o’clock in the morning, silk shirt covered in sand and salt-ridden rain.
They stay like that for a while. He keeps stroking Regulus’ hair, feeling the older boy’s breath against his neck, warm and soft, his chest rising and falling against his side. Regulus doesn’t move, doesn’t even twitch or wriggle or adjust his arm. He just stays there, content.
He’s startled when Regulus pulls away. His shoulder feels a lot colder as the night air rushes in to replace the now-empty space. As he looks up at the other questioningly, wondering why he pulled away, Regulus just smirks and kisses him briefly, lightly.
“You’re coming to the Quidditch match, aren’t you?” Regulus asks. His voice is almost buried by the sea as it creeps ever further up the shore; Gilderoy has to strain to catch the words.
“Of course,” he nods, slipping an arm around Regulus’ neck, his hand absently running down the material of his shirt - it’s so easy, so smooth, sliding out from underneath his fingers - a gesture which makes the older boy tighten his grip on him. “You are going to win, aren’t you? Potter’s head will explode if he wins again.”
Regulus gives a quiet laugh, a genuinely amused smile hovering around his mouth. The expression isn’t huge, isn’t jumping about demanding attention, but it’s there all the same and, as far as Gilderoy is concerned, it’s mere presence is enough.
“Certainly,” Regulus responds confidently. Even in the darkness, he can see his silver eyes are beginning to sparkle in anticipation of the aerial contest, the thrill and rush of the match and the inexorable battle to come. “I’ll win. Potter won’t know what hit him.”
There’s a pause, the wind roaring over both of them. He shivers and so does Regulus. They move instinctively closer for comfort, pressing their bodies together, Gilderoy’s head ending up lying an inch or so away from Regulus’ heart. Softly, like a drum in the background, he can hear his companion’s heart beat: a slow one, two and then a quicker third beat, less than a second after the previous one. It’s an odd rhythm, but oddly soothing all the same, resonating in his ears, in his head.
“You like winning,” he comments idly, just to pass the time. He had thought of something far wittier to say - something about Potter which was flattering, semi-flirtatious and clever all at the same time - but the idea had fled, replaced by the nothing induced by that feeling of absolute peace.
In the following silence, he entertains the idea that Regulus is bored. It’s happened before - the other boy had got fed up of chatting, of making small-talk and ended up leaving an hour earlier than normal, claiming to be tired and in need of sleep.
Lifting his head off his chest, Gilderoy moves to kiss him, to stop that murdering boredom from increasing, but his lips barely graze his companion’s cheek as Regulus once again turns his gaze to the sea, apparently oblivious.
“Life isn’t about competing,” he says, a moment later, watching the waves progress in and out and in again. His hand is resting on Gilderoy’s leg, tapping out a steady beat - one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. “It’s about winning. Life is nothing if you don’t win.”
“But how do you win life? Surely it’s impossible,” he frowns, thinking it over. “Is it about fame? Money? Glory?”
Regulus turns and smiles at him and it’s a breathtaking, excited smile full of energy and a hint of fervour. If he knew what it looked like to him, Gilderoy is sure he’d use it to his advantage, but, as it is, he knows Regulus has no idea at all.
“Whatever you want,” he murmurs, his voice deepening a few notes, skittering down the scale just as his eyes flitter down to Gilderoy’s mouth, caressing them with a gaze which grows more and more demanding with each second that passes.
He closes his eyes as Regulus leans in, the heavens opening down on top of them. It’s a fairly light rain, a rain designed to soak straight through clothes, drenching skin and hair and working its way right through to the bones underneath. The kind which leaves you freezing and wet and in desperate need of a towel before you even think about dry clothes. Already he can sense it trickling down the back of his neck, down the space between his collar and his skin, trailing down his spine with the light, teasing touch of a lover.
In his hands he grips the blankets tightly, the bed underneath him rocking slightly from side to side as his whole body shivers. Shoulders hunching, he keeps his eyes scrunched shut, not daring to open them. If he does, Regulus might leave, might vanish off into the night, taking with him every sensation, every emotion, everything - all contained in those glorious mercury eyes.
As he stays still, waiting patiently for the inevitable, Regulus pushes him down towards the sand, laying him down, hand running lightly up his side, making him shiver, every nerve in his body screaming to feel more, feel more, feel more. It’s all he wants at this moment in time - nothing else will do. Underneath the gentle pressure, he relaxes, a smile crossing his face as his body sinks into the mattress gratefully, lost in the sensation, in the moment, in time.
A ray of moonlight, twirling about the room, glances slowly over the figures in the beds along the wall. None of them move, remaining still under their blankets. If he didn’t know any better - and, in truth, he doesn’t really know anything at all - he would think they were dead, that they’d passed away in the night.
Eyes fluttering shut, he can feel Regulus’ insistent, hot kisses branding themselves onto his skin, down his neck and along his collarbone, the top of his shirt forced open. Winding his fingers through the older boy’s hair, an arm around his waist, he revels in the feeling of being loved. Isn’t that the greatest triumph of all - to be loved?