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Chapter 1 : Silence
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The annals of history log phrases and quotes, speeches and declarations – cries and slogans and witty, scathing replies; everything and anything, from the most ardent of soft, delicate confessions, and the last, breathless epitaph a man gives himself, to the harsh, echoing roar of fears and jealousies, shouted in anger and haste, and even the things everyone waited to hear, wanted to hear, but did not.
Written down, they are immortalised, engraved into the fabric of time forever, to be read over and over again by scores of students who read them blankly, black-and-white and little more, seeing how they ended lives, started others, made marriages and alliances and houses blossom and grow, broke hearts and chains, rewrote laws and destinies; began and ended wars.
It is fitting, in its way, do you not think, my darling, that this is how we should be remembered, measured by those who looks back at us: our actions, yes, but also by the individual words and the phrases and the flourishes, inflections, tone we use to deliver them in.
Words are, after all, the most powerful tool in the world, more so than any wand or any weapon man could ever create.
Everyone knows about words, about the trouble and devastation and heartbreak they can bring, in equal measures. We are warned against it, wary of their power since young, advised to be careful with what we say, with what we lead others to believe, not to convince others of half-truths and lies. At times, we ourselves are brought low by things others hiss at us, shout at us during arguments, or the truths whispered in the dead of night, when such things are confessed. In others, we are the oppressors, spitting hatred, a kind of verbal violence. It is in moments like that we feel at our most powerful, when we do not need to raise a hand to make people kneel and crawl and weep.
No one talks about silence.
The lost child of conversation, it wanders down lonely roads at nightfall, swinging its legs out over the wide, empty valleys, bathed in green and grey and a thousand different colours: a kaleidoscope of feeling, shifting and ever-changing and defining everything. Somehow, though, he remains lost: no one thinks to note those moments when a man draws breath, the hesitation of a general before ordering troops to the slaughter, the pause of a wrist as it signs away a man’s life; the quiet in a room when everything is stilled and the world entire holds its breath.
There is, I suspect, very little as terrifying as a pause – only a second’s worth of silence, perhaps, but a myriad of possibilities, each one anxious, stinging in turn, one after another after another.
Your heart quickens, your mouth dries and your palms sweat; you wait, anxious, suddenly second-guessing yourself about everything you thought you knew, wondering if, maybe, you were wrong. In the hands of a master, it is an intense, deadly weapon, choking you without requiring any force, any malice, anything other than itself.
A simple pause can mean anything: happiness, hesitation, nervousness, lying and deceit, disgust. It can be heavy and pregnant with meaning, emotion, or light and comfortable – the silence shared between friends and lovers. Versatility renders it impossible to pin down, impossible to deduce or define; it simply exists as it is, and it is from it that we take our own impressions, however right or wrong they may be.
By doing nothing, it causes everything.
In conversations, then, the silences mean just as much as the words themselves, as dynamics and tempo markings to the notes on a music score, flesh and blood to an ivory-thin skeleton.
For you and I, life was a single, long conversation from the moment we met, your fingers locked around my knuckles and your lips curved in that slight, carefully polite smile. Did we ever stop – ever even pause in all those years? Have we even stopped now, or is this simply a new stage – quieter and far more tempestuous – born out of so many years and so much shared; an understanding which perhaps runs too deep to need us to speak to wound and to soothe, to cajole and caress.
Sitting here now, it seems like we rarely ever spoke – as though words were rationed, carefully stored away until absolutely necessary, carved up into smaller and smaller slices to savour them on and on – as though we spent most of our lives caught in this wretched, endless cycle of silence and silence, stretching out over months and years, voices and words bursting like a fanfare in between.
When I think of you – without thought or effort at all; I close my eyes and you are simply there, my darling – you are always silent; wordless and voiceless, and I cannot decipher anything of you at all.
I cannot help but wonder how much we lost by wasting so much time in prideful, petty quiet; whether if we had been just a little braver, wiser, more hopeful and breached that barricade we built between us, things would have been different.
Perhaps, perhaps – but who can say?
Ah, darling, not you or I, and so we remain, as always, mute, our perpetual argument winding out across the sea in a mist of white-crested foam and salt-soaked diamonds.
29th August 1899, Godric’s Hollow
I do not believe I ever told you, through that long, glorious summer which went both too slowly and too fast, quite how beautiful you were in the mornings. For that, I must beg your pardon – you may consider it the first of many things I should have told you but never did; though whether out of fear or nervousness or the sheer confidence that there would always be a next time to do so, I cannot say.
You were, though, beautiful, even then.
A glint of gold and rich, Prussian blue at the beginning of that dreary, sunny summer, you were always handsome, in whatever light and whatever weather – in rain you were Narcissus, the water lapping at your hair, down your skin in languid, slow rivulets; in heat you were Alexander, bright and merry and vibrant, bustling and rushing with an energy which seemed to come from nowhere. It was endearing and captivating by itself; if there had been nothing more than that, it would have been quite enough to ensnare me.
Wild and untameable and fiercely unrepentant: in those moments you were addictive and I followed along, stumbling, blinded by you; but it was other times, clutches of minutes where you would lie, lazy and tranquil, the ferocity of you washed away, leaving you strange and fragile, vulnerable and unsure in ways which were so unlike you and yet… and yet.
They were always the same, those mornings.
I would wake first, my arm around your waist, your head pillowed on my shoulder or tucked into my neck. If I tried to pull away, or even simply to move, you would dig your fingers into my skin and refuse to let me go, finding some new way to nestle ever closer – though I suspect that if I told you this now, you would deny that you had ever wanted me close, had ever allowed yourself to be held like a child in such a way. You did both, though, once upon a time; I remember it all quite clearly.
We would be in my room more often than yours, secluded in our own private haven away from the accidentally prying eyes of siblings and aunts. It was easier to stay in my house (my house – how strange it feels, even now, to weigh those words in my tongue when imagining the house in Godric’s Hollow) than in your Aunt’s – Aberforth ignored us whenever possible and Ariana slept in the basement, where it was cold and solid and safe.
(Of course, it was helped by the fact that Bathilda was very much a lark, rather than a night owl, knocking on your bedroom door every day at seven sharp with an offer of tea and honeyed bread, and the one time I lingered longer in the windowsill to kiss you goodbye while you hurried to dress for breakfast, I left my cravat on the floor and my dignity on the fence when I tried to jump it, my shirt untucked, hair mussed, and my socks stuffed into one hand.
I am quite certain that the scandalous nature of my dress had little to do with my failure to hurdle a five foot fence, but alas, everything to do with the fact that I almost succeeded in impaling myself rather painfully on a particularly spiny branch.
Would you laugh if I recounted the tale again now?)
In my room our only enemies skulking around were the heaps of books on the floor, the pointed tips of quills lying on sheets of parchment half-full of scribbles and illegible thoughts in a mess of languages; there, privacy, that thing we cherished so greatly, was plentiful, even with the curtains open and the window ajar during those hot, sticky August weeks.
You used to joke that you had brought the continental summer with you, do you remember?
Outside the window, the blackbirds nesting in the tree which tickled over onto the windowsill would sing, and I would lay there, my eyes closed, listening them warble, light and fluted. In those moments, I was always blissfully content, happy to remain there as long as you wanted to, your breath ghosting over my collarbone, a soft harmony to the birdsong.
After a while, usually around eight o’clock (you were wonderfully predictable in the mornings, my darling), you would stir and press a kiss to the base of my neck. Your little way of telling me you had awoken – though I never needed it, feeling the shift and change in your breathing beforehand, so I came to predict it, to wait for it, that one little kiss, tremulous and gently bold. In return, I kissed the top of your head, murmuring ‘good morning’ into your hair as it tickled across my bare shoulders.
You would turn, slowly, so slowly I became convinced over the weeks that you did it only to tease me, onto your back, a strip of cold settling across my chest as you pulled your arm away to clutch at the tops of the sheets, your curls splayed across the pillow, gold on white cotton, and smile at me, smile for me: sweet and warm, a faint, shimmering thing which lingered in the corners of your mouth and the glitter in your eyes, caught by the sunshine filtering through the window.
No matter what the papers screamed over the years about other lovers, other, younger, better-looking men, I cannot believe that you ever smiled at them the way you smiled at me then. Perhaps it is selfish, a fool-hardy determination insisting that I was special in your eyes, as you were in mine, but alas, it is something I have never been able to rid myself of.
I can almost hear you laughing at me; I almost wish I could.
“Perhaps,” you would whisper to me every morning, your voice sly, a coy smile curling your mouth. I wanted to kiss you every time, to press that smile into the folds of your skin to stay there forever; I never did. “I should leave. Your brother will be awake soon, and I must get back before my aunt notices I am gone.”
Even then, I did not think you actually worried about your aunt making such a discovery. She trusted us both enough to believe any stories, any lies we told her to explain our disappearances, our mussed hair and clothes; she would have had to catch us in flagrante before accepting such a thing as real.
Did you know, a muggle friend once took me to watch a wrestling match? I confess I struggled not to find it either too sad or too amusing. It meant something quite different to us, then; we thought ourselves so clever to come up with such an excuse.
I digress; I apologise.
They were the same words every day – the same unspoken question of whether or not I wanted you to leave, perhaps, really, of whether or not you wanted to leave buried underneath them – and every day I would answer you the same.
Instead of asking you to stay, begging you not to leave, reminding you that Aberforth would be out all morning to tend to the goats so there was no danger of discovery, I would kiss you, hard and slow and fierce, my arm sliding around your back to keep you close. Some days, you would run your hands through my hair and sigh into my mouth, lazy and sweet and wonderfully suppliant. Other days, you tangled our legs together, gripped at the back of my head and my shoulders and pressed yourself as close to me as was possible, aligning our bodies so they were bone-to-bone and flesh-to-flesh.
I loved both equally.
Eventually, of course, you would have to leave, and I would let you go, watching you dress from the bed, hunting your clothing down piece by piece by piece. There would be one, final kiss and then you would jump from the window, never looking back.
We never talked much in the mornings; the silence was lovely then, but now I cannot help but wonder if there was only silence because neither of us knew what to say, or if it was because we knew everything there was to be said.
Out of all of the mornings we shared that summer, I think I love most the first and the last. The first because it was full of the sparking wonder and terror of new experiences, and that blushing, shy smile you gave me when you woke. I remember the last because, well, it was the last, and perhaps in a way the best: I woke to find you cocooned in the blanket, curled up in my arms, delicate and heartbreakingly familiar.
It was, I think, the first time that I knew for certain that I wanted to spend every day with you.
Now, it is a bittersweet memory – still so beautiful and tender, but marred by the knowledge of what was to come.
That day is the only complete day I keep in my Pensieve – preserved perfectly, so that the clarity and the truth of it all will not vanish as age creeps up on me. I keep it there to remind myself of the strength and the depth of love, of how much I felt for you and everything you meant to me, the scope of the future we were planning together, and then, in the end, how much I lost, how much love and foolishness cost me, how dangerous love is when it blinds us.
You should know now that I do not blame you. I did once – I will admit that to you, for I know you will refuse to believe me otherwise – but I have grown wiser, I think, and I know that this burden is mine to bear.
Of everything that occurred then, in those five minutes late in the afternoon, though they felt much longer at the time, I remember most the noisy, almost musical growth of sound, and then the silence.
It all started with a crescendo. Frustrated and angry, you stood in one corner of the room, Aberforth opposite you, telling us, telling both of us, that we were wrong and ignorant and that we could not do what we wanted to: we would kill her, that going abroad would kill her if the neglect we would surely inflict upon her did not. His voice rose and rose, sinking into the rafters of the house, filling the rooms; fortissimo, fortissimo, all of it.
In all these years, I have always wondered at how neither of us ever thought to simply ask her what she thought was best. Perhaps… but it is not the time for suppositions.
When I did not rise to his bait, to his insistences that I could not manage Ariana, to calm her and soothe her, to comb her hair and help to feed her, he switched to you. He did not know you as I did, he did not know quite what you were capable of as I did, but somehow he knew what would provoke you the most.
I will not repeat what he said, not even in writing; this is not the time to hammer old nails deeper.
It proved cataclysmic. The sound of magic, crackling and snapping and thudding into walls and tables, shattering windows and china, burst into the room in a sweeping flash of red, static and electric.
In seconds, all three of us had our wands out, incantations springing to lips without thought, and I confess now, terrified still, that my first thought, my first instant was to turn my wand on my own brother – my own flesh and blood – rather than you, in a vain hope that if I could succeed in stunning him, I could calm you down and our plans could settle back down into shape.
I was vain and proud and far, far too conceited to think I could fail.
My spell missed Aberforth’s chest by mere inches, and he stared at me for a moment, furious and stunned, and then attacked me in return, believing me to be against him. Perhaps I was; I have never known one way or another.
No one was talking any more, not even to hurl insults or barbs, and gradually, incrementally, it began to become serious. Light blue jets of light became deep, midnight blue and sickly periwinkle; delicate rose turned to vibrant crimson; the duel sank darker and darker – though none quite as dark as your opening salvo – and fledgling anger and confusion hardened into stubborn, childish fury.
As I tell it now, as I remember it now, it seems that it passed very slowly, that we duelled for hours, the sun rising and setting in state behind us, but in truth it all happened very quickly; no more than a few minutes, at most.
There was a flash of blonde on the stairs, then in front of me, and then, suddenly, there was a final blare of trumpets and violins and drums in a last, distorted chord, a last barrage of spells in a rainbow of colours, and it all ended, pressure passing through the room like a hurricane, forcing me to the floor.
After it was all over, the light fading and the dust beginning to settle on the broken china and smoking furniture, it was silent. Never in my life before had I heard such a complete silence. Heavy and immovable, it settled over the room like a shroud, clogging my lungs and pressing me down into the floor. Nothing could break it, not even grief.
Miraculously, I was still holding my wand, and even as I raised my head and my hand, I knew something was wrong – hanging in the air, it was tangible, solemn and stiff, embedded into the silence, and as soon as I saw her, the colours of the room seemed too bright, false and rude in their cheerfulness. I could not look away: my eyes were glued to her, hoping beyond everything for a jump in her chest, a twitch of her fingers, a flutter of her eyelashes – something, anything to say that the worst had not already happened.
Soon enough, I turned away. The answer was clear.
Over the years, I have thought much on the fact that then, in the moments after my sister’s death, I did not cry. My eyes were not even wet: dry and prickling, like sand, any liquid leeched from them by the wind and the heat of the duel. I cannot explain it, not even to myself, however I try.
On the other side of the room, you were leaning against the wall, one hand on the windowsill. There was blood on your cheek, on your collar, and a wild terror in your eyes I have never seen before or since. For the first time since we had met, I could not quite recognise you.
We stared at each other, both equally in shock, both holding our wands. Neither of us moved; the blood on your cheek was still dripping onto your collar, slowly, leaving a gleaming red track down your jawline, but you did not move even to wipe it away.
All I could wonder was how you had been hurt, how Ariana had been killed, and whether I should move, go to you, trace the line of blood with my thumb to wipe it away, anchor us together somehow, a combined front against the quiet.
I think that in my grief, in my horror that my sister was dead, murdered by one of us three, I forgot that you were just a boy. Perhaps you were responsible – I do not want you to have been, though I spent a long time alternately convincing myself I was certain it had been you and being certain it had not been you – but whether you were or not, you were still only sixteen. To see death at that age… I cannot imagine how it haunted you.
Did it haunt you, in the end? Did you lie awake as I did, restless and anxious, taunted by memories and wondering, speculating over whether or not it had been you to cast the last, final spell?
I want to think you did; I like to think you did, that if you were sorry for anything in your life, you were sorry for that, but I cannot be sure. You will never tell me, and I have long since lost faith in my knowledge of you to be able to come to a conclusion.
The silence did not end even when you ran, flinging the door open and racing out of the room, vanishing out of sight within seconds. I watched you go; I did not look at the door again.
You left, but the silence stayed, holding the three of us – the ragged remains of my family – together, until my brother awoke and saw her, still and waxy, framed by splinters of wood and fine grains of glass. He sat there, Ariana’s head in his lap and cried, the tears falling onto her hair and dress, a stream of round, blue dots.
I could not move. Numb and in shock, I was too afraid to face reality – I longed then for someone to tell me what to do, to tell me that it would get better, that it was not me, not my fault; for someone to tell me all those things I had scoffed at, been so certain I did not need. I wanted, in truth, to be a child again, with no responsibility save to mourn, weightless and ignorant.
I did not hate you then. That came later.
It is remarkable to think that one day can shake a person to their very core, destroying them completely, laying every fault they have bare, so that it is all they can do not to simply collapse and never rise.
That day – that one, humid summer’s day, when my entire life changed, my adulthood and my vast majority of my life starting with a jerk and a shock – the two most memorable silences of my life were born, one after another, moving seamlessly from one into the next, and our constant, breathless argument started, spun from the last swirls of dust still settling on Ariana’s fading, cold cheeks.
I suspect I am being melodramatic. In fact, I do not merely suspect; I know. I apologise; it is in bad taste to be so emotional about something so long ago.
For all the melodrama it carries, it suffices to say simply this: since that day, there has been nothing which can shake me, nothing which can affect me more powerfully than silence. I learned that day that silence is far more deadly than any word could ever possibly be or hope to be, no matter whose voice speaks them or in what combination they are written.
The truth is that you are a master of exquisite skill, my darling, at anything you choose to be or do, and so I am very much afraid of what will happen when you discover this Achilles’ heel of mine, as no doubt you will do in time, having applied yourself to the task. All I can do is kneel at your feet pre-emptively – metaphorically only, I regret to say – and hope you will remember mercy.
A/N: beautiful, beautiful CI by azimuth @TDA
I do not own any references to Narcissus or Alexander the Great.
A huge, huge thank you to Sian, nott theodore, for helping me edit this - putting up with me endlessly commenting 'I DON'T LIKE THIS' at parts on the previous edition of this chapter and helping to make this so much better than it would have been otherwise :)
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