It’s dark. The somewhat muted darkness of an inclement night, when not even the moon was able to escape the compact wall of clouds shielding it from view. Through the square frame of the lone window, the sky is almost black. A striking contrast to the white glow of distant lighting, violent interruptions to the otherwise stillness of the night. Flashes of light, illuminating the room in long shadows and hard outlines before succumbing into nothing again. In black and white, the world feels old.
The lightning is getting closer, more frequent. Soon, the pitter-pattering of raindrops against glass will disturb the quiet.
It’s only during these ungodly hours of the night, when Earth itself seems to stop to allow its inhabitants a respite, that the silence is almost perfect. He wishes for a little more time.
Another flash. His eyes, fixed on his lap, catch a glimpse of pale fingers gripping onto the soft fabric of his pyjama shorts. He hasn’t noticed before, but now he is aware of his nails scratching the skin of his thighs, the cotton pulling against his legs.
Just a heartbeat and the light is gone. Then he hears it, the faint sound of thunder, and he knows the storm is still far.
His eyes, momentarily blinded by the sudden brightness, slowly adjust again. It’s still too dark. Tonight not even the artificial illumination, ever present in a city like London, dares to break the spell of nature.
He is sitting on the rigid floor. Old floors always seem to retain the cold and, despite what was once luxurious and expensive wood, this is no exception.
It’s mid-July and normally, by now, the room in the attic would be filled with sultry air, almost suffocating. But this summer has been uncommonly mild so far.
Even with the residues of magic he can feel seeping through the wooden boards, he is shivering. Magic can do little against ageing, less against years of neglect.
He is not sure how long he has been sitting still on the cold hard floor, looking down into his lap. Into nothing. Somewhere in the room a clock strikes 4 times, but he is not really paying attention. He can feel his body fighting the unnatural position it has been forced into for so long. The punishing aches, spreading across his lower back and the muscles of his hunched shoulders, are telling signs of his payback to come. He knows to expect an uncomfortable stiffness in his joints for the next few days. Not now, though. And, now, he doesn’t really care.
He doesn’t remember ever sitting still for so long. His mother always says he was born with more energy than it was fair to someone with already enough children to look after. And he doesn’t really want to. Sit still, that is. What he wants is to walk. Walk backwards. One step at a time, picking up the pace. Running, soon. Almost flying. The air gushing around him, refreshing, soothing the aches in his body and his heart. Walking backwards, running backwards. Into last year and a bit before. And more, because there is no sense in stopping now, not when he could just push a little further. He could run into his childhood, when everything was easy, and happy, and safe. All the while looking at the present coming out of focus with every step, every leap into the past. Just a blur, then nothing at all. Gone. And with it, reality. Oh, if only one could walk backwards through their ife. Maybe stop at seven. When the dark was welcoming because it meant they were finally alone, but together.
Little voices plotting, whispering in each other’s ears. The echoes of laughs muffled behind small palms, as not to alarm the rest of the household. The best ideas always come at night, when mum and dad are sleeping and you can freely discuss pranks and adventures, feeling giddy, powerful and a little naughty. A seven year old knows it well. Two seven year olds, in the secrecy of darkness, know it even better. And together, they are unstoppable.
If your legs get tired of running backwards, and seven it’s a little too far away, any number below 20 would do. Because at 20, life stops making sense. At 20 the unstoppable comes to a halt. And it’s a bit ridiculous, and a little against nature. Something unstoppable is not supposed to stop.
And one, alone, can’t find the right rhythm to reclaim his status. One, alone, is more broken than powerful.
A little voice inside his head tells him that he is being dramatic. That he needs to find his sense of self worth as a single as much as he had as a pair. The voice sounds a lot like his own, but no one better than him knows that it is not. Few have ever been able to tell their voices apart, but he can. He has known since he learned how to talk. “Which, if you remember, happened a whole two months after I did,” the little voice in his head supplies, exaggeratedly condescending. A voice that, as long as his own and two months more, has always spoken in tune, complementing his words in a perfectly timed duet. A voice that, now, only exists in his head.
At the next lightning strike he finally looks up, and he is greeted by the reflection of brown eyes on the surface of the cheval mirror in front of him. His own eyes. In the brief moment, in the violent light, he can almost pretend not to see the small details, the insignificant differences that, like the voice, he has known since he was a child. He can tell himself there is no scar marring the spot where his left ear should be. For just a quick flash of light in the darkness of the night, he can pretend he’s not alone. That the one in front of him is not just the cruel fate of looking exactly the same as the one person he cares about the most.
Then a blanket falls upon his back, wrapping him in warmth. A head, gently, silently, comes to rest on his shoulder. And together, they wait till morning.
As dawn slowly makes its way into the room, the reflection in the mirror start to look less and less like Fred. The clouds have dissipated, some time during the night he can’t exactly pinpoint, and outside the window the sky is tinting blue. When the day finally blooms, all he can see is George. Next to him, Harry smiles softly at their mirror-selves. As he watches those pink lips upturning, his heart feels a little bit lighter, his own lips relax.
If Harry, after everything, can learn to be just Harry, if he can shake away a life of being treated like nothing to then be handed over the reins of the entire world, so can he. George can learn to be just George. Because losing Fred hurts like hell, but there is a little insistent voice in his head that tells him he will be happy again. So he takes Harry’s hand in his own, securing their fingers firmly, and smiles back. George will learn to live as one. And maybe, one day, to be part of a new, different, pair.