Chapter 1 : Let Not the Silence Break
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This is also probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written. It wasn’t the lack of dialogue that was difficult, it was the way I chose to write it. I’ve never worked so hard on a story in my life, fixing things, moving things around, trying it different ways… I’m still not sure I’ve got it right, but as this story has consumed my life for the last two weeks, I have to move on. I hope it was worth it.
Written in response to blueirony’s “Silence is Golden” challenge.
Let Not the Silence Break
“Row, brothers, row, the stream runs fast,
The rapids are near, and the daylight's past.”
- Thomas Moore
Light from a barred window set too high to reach lies in stripes across the rock floor, taunting with whispers of warmth and freedom, but harsh stone sucks in any heat and expels only cold and hopelessness in its stead.
He draws his legs closer, wrapping arms tightly around them and drops his head to his knees, unwilling to look at the mocking lines of brightness any longer. They remind him of family and laughing and home – things that hurt too much to think of now.
He doesn’t know where he is, but that’s of little importance. He knows why he’s there – a tool, a threat, a message to his family and Harry, especially Harry. We’ve got something you care about, give up.
He hopes they’re strong enough not to listen.
Time has ceased to have all sense of normal meaning. It’s measured now in how long he’s been alone.
Alone – a dreaded word in his world, and a word that has become his world as he hasn’t seen his twin since they were brought here.
George is here, somewhere. He knows it, can feel it in that unexplainable way he’s always had. They’re being kept apart – purposefully, because their captors know that will hurt the most – but that doesn’t stop him from sensing his brother. He can feel him, his worry and his loneliness.
And lately, his fear.
Something is wrong with George, something serious and fearful, and not even cold, stone walls between them can stop him from knowing it.
The door to his cell opens and masked Death Eaters appear, pulling him to his feet. He obeys without resistance, a far cry from his natural reaction before…well, before here. Jokes, gaiety, laughter have a place, but this is not it. Masked in haughty anonymity, one figure steps forward and fastens a thin band of metal around his neck. It’s chilled and restrictive and he fights the urge to pull at it with dirty fingers, fights the need to gag. Suddenly, he feels magic seeping from it, dark and evil, wrapping, twisting, binding him. He opens his mouth to cry out in protest but the sense of anticipated pleasure that act seems to bring his captors stops him, tells him to use caution.
Something has just changed and he refuses to play into their hands by acting without knowing. Instead, he lets them prod him through a tomb-like hall to another door just like his. George’s door, he knows instinctively.
Yes, something has certainly changed, and not necessarily for the better.
He’s shoved inside, his jailors gone before he even picks himself up off the rough floor. His eyes adjust and he sees sameness – same window, same mocking square of barred light, same frigid, uncaring stone, with one difference. There, on a pile of moldy straw in the corner, is George, watching him with eyes that are wells of sorrow.
The sound of the door groaning open on long-rusted hinges is no surprise. Even without the added clue of the thin, metal strip they placed around his neck earlier, he would have known they were coming, known they were bringing Fred. His time is creeping closer and as they’ve made no move to stop the inevitable, it’s pitifully easy to predict their next act. The torture of keeping them apart pales in comparison to the torture of forcing them together for what will happen. What honest Death Eater would pass up a chance to watch?
And how many hostages are really needed? Surely one is enough and having a body to present makes threats so meaningful.
Wearily, he forces his eyes open and watches as they throw his brother callously into the filthy cell and then bar the door, gleefully stealing that hint of freedom once more. It’s the same as always, and although he knows he should be acclimated by now, it still stings of lost dreams and wishes every time it closes.
Fred blinks, his brown eyes darting around the dim shadows of the room until they lock with his own and understanding, blunt and raw, passes instantly between them. His brother sinks to his knees, eyes pleading, begging, but he just shakes his head, knowing it’s far too late for false assurances.
Without warning, ragged coughs seize his chest, stealing his breath and squeezing like unseen hands. He fights to hold them in but they escape his lips in harsh, gasping bursts. The moment the sound tears the air of their little cell Fred doubles over, face twisted in silent agony, and suddenly the purpose of those metal bands is perfectly clear to both of them. They might be allowed this time together, but it’s a double-edged sword. Not only will one be forced to watch the other slip away, but they will do it in silence or come to terms with causing each other extreme pain.
Panting silently, he lies there recovering as his twin does the same. His eyes slide closed once more as bitter, burning emotions consume him. With all his heart, he wishes he could somehow stop what’s going to happen, alter this course they’ve been set upon.
He wants to live, but more importantly, he doesn’t want Fred to watch him die.
When the pain is dimmed enough he can again breath, he crawls shakily to the wall and sinks down it to sit beside George, heart torn and bleeding in a way that has nothing to do with the agony he just felt.
No words. There will be no words between them; he understands that now with crystal clarity. His inner self gives a silent, mocking laugh. As if there were any words fit for this!
And when have they ever needed words?
Their captors will be watching them he knows, laughing, taunting, mocking their forced silence, but he will ignore them all, unwilling to give them the satisfaction. He will not break his silence, add to his brother’s pain. Besides, words are not needed for speaking. They have eyes, after all, and hands and expressions, and something else their masked jailors will never understand.
Yes, there are much more fearful words than silence. Words like alone.
In abject terror, he gazes at his brother again and sees the sickness that’s consuming him, burning through him, stealing George away to leave him alone forever, cutting him in half.
Two bodies, one soul. Two brothers, one heart. Death is coming to rend them apart and he’s quite certain neither one of them will live through it. He might survive, but he won’t live.
The thoughtless patch of light has marched across the room and disappeared. Darkness swells and covers as George sleeps fitfully beside him, breath wet and labored. Cold, indifferent walls of stone stretch taller in the shadows, menacing, towering, closing in. You are so very small and insignificant they seem to whisper, and he can’t stop the shivers no matter how he tries.
But he doesn’t even attempt to stop the tears. They flow in frigid rivers down his cheeks as he grasps his brother’s hand like an anchor in the dark.
His eyes are fuzzy today - dim, shadowed, as if someone has drawn a thin shroud of gauze across them that he must now look through. It blunts the edges of the tepid light, rubs out the corners of their cell, blurs his twin into a haze of tattered clothes and smears of dirt. He knows what it means, but he tries not to let Fred see.
He sits for a time, propped in the corner, his brother perched protectively before him, years of memories passing between them. Their eyes speak of good times, brilliant pranks, thrilling games… Family, love…home. A heartfelt conversation held in pure silence.
He doubts he’ll sit tomorrow. His limbs are heavy, weighted, almost detached, and his coughs come swifter, last longer. He can’t contain them no matter how he tries. It rips his heart each time he sees Fred freeze, silently riding through the agony he causes. His brother’s eyes hold no condemnation, but he feels it anyway.
Forced into stillness and introspection, he watches Fred, knows the emotions raging through him. Sometimes his brother is calm, reflective. At others he still plays the clown, working to pull a smile from chapped and bleeding lips as he reenacts some exploit from their past. Mostly, though, he’s sad, weary, heartbroken. Sorrow emanates from his twin like an odor. It fills his eyes and colors his face. It leaks into the stone around them. It pleads with the universe to stop this madness.
A scanty meal is brought and their captors linger, mocking, taunting them to speak, laughing at their silence. His brother meets their stares, fierce determination mixed with abject hatred radiating from his eyes, but his lips remain a thinly-pressed, unmoving line, emotions and words bottled inside. Fred endures their torment, stony-faced while he sits helpless in his corner, too weak to even move, heart shredding more with each passing moment.
Eventually, they leave, hunters bored with their pitiful prey.
Rancid, grey gruel is brought to his lips and he tries to eat, orders his raw throat to swallow, but he can’t. He drinks the murky water instead and silently begs his twin to understand – forgive him. Fred sets the bowl aside, prepared to join him in hunger, but he firmly shakes his head. One must survive, live, bear witness. They must not allow these walls of stone to silence both of them.
Fred paces after that, bare feet wearing bloody paths across rough rock, and the constant motion blurs dizzily before his fading sight. It slants the world alarmingly, so he closes his eyes. He doesn’t need them anyway. He can feel it in the icy air, sense it in his core. His brother is changing, anger growing and growing, dispelling the sadness, morphing the sorrow into something else. Fred’s fury crescendos to a silent roar, charging the air until it cracks and sizzles, anguished rage with no release, like the static that builds before an approaching thunder-burst.
Grimly, he wonders who will survive the storm.
Time passes, both terribly swift and agonizingly slow, and he can’t help marking it by watching George, gazing fearfully at changes he can’t stop. Coughs – desperately smothered to prevent his own pain – increase. Fever builds, food remains untouched. Eyes dim and skin pales to translucence.
With each life-sucking change he witnesses, his own screams echo louder and louder inside his head, ricocheting around – trapped – smothering judgment and reason, stinging with both love and hate. Anger builds.
A trembling hand clasps his wrist and he looks down, pulled from his thoughts to his brother lying weakly on the straw.
Instantly, he knows.
Yes, time passes, like the grains of an hourglass, trickling down until they both know it has almost run out.
George’s eyes say he’s sorry. Sorry they were two cocky kids who thought the rules didn’t apply to them. Sorry they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sorry he can’t stop the sickness ravishing through him. Sorry he will have to leave.
He closes his own eyes, not wanting to answer back, love, rage and grief warring inside him – for everything and more. Love he can’t express, even if he had a voice, agony beyond compare. It builds and stretches, taunt and fierce, trembling.
The door opens and some of their jailors return, drawn by the need to watch this final moment play out. He hears them, black robes swishing haughtily, sees in his mind their faces hidden by their impassive masks. They wish him to beg, wait with baited breath to hear his pleading.
And suddenly, he knows something else, with dawning, perfect clarity. There is magic older than time, stronger than steel bars and frozen stone. It exists beyond spells and wands, without potions and charms. It’s found in everything and nothing, buried, hidden, swallowed… It comes forth in times of greatest passion – the giving and taking of life, the joining and rending of souls.
He opens his eyes and locks gazes with George, a silent apology and plea for forgiveness for sins he's about to commit all in one. Then he stands.
Vision tunnels, rage and love draw out that ancient power. Stone and wood explode.
He plucks a wand from lifeless fingers, its wood smooth and heavy in his hand, then turns with hard, dead eyes to a door that bars no more, a cold and silent avenging angel ready to loose fire.
Yes, time has finally run out.
Wind whipped towers of fire reach through the inky sky, a raging inferno. Smoke blots out stars and singes lungs. Stone and mortar crumble, bone cracks, timbers snap and burn.
A figure emerges, another cradled in his arms, backlit as if by the flames of Hell itself, staggering on torn feet into the night. Death nips at his heels, reaches for the limp form he carries, but he holds tightly, refusing to let go, and presses on, one weary step after another, away from the carnage and on toward home.
He understands things now. Love, hate… They are two sides of the same powerful coin.
He understands how a tiny baby could stare down pure, green evil and survive. How love can turn your hand to things that you despise. That there are bonds of unity that defy description, forged between two people who have shared all - even a soul - since before birth.
And that no matter the justification, there is always a reckoning to be made.
He knows they wonder why he doesn’t speak. Why he spends the days in silence. Where the jokes and laughter went. You’re home their worried eyes scream the unspoken words. You’re safe. He’s safe. All should be right again.
He can’t tell them why it’s not. He can’t tell them that he left the jokes behind somewhere in the depths of grief and pain, ripped and chipped away by cold and anger. Lost. He wrapped them in his voice and buried them in blood and stone and ash.
George knows. As he lies in his bed, slowly recovering, his eyes are pools of understanding and though the metal bands have been removed – the magic nullified – his brother shares his silence in an act of utmost love.
Perhaps he’ll find his tongue again someday, but he thinks not. He bargained with the universe, stirred forces best left still, snatched back his brother’s life. Payment must be made, the cosmic balance set aright.
It’s a price he’d pay again because there are much more fearful words than silence.
Words like alone.