Disclaimer and author's note: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling. Title from Eisley's 'Taking Control'. This was written for My Dear Professor McGonagall's Sibling Rivalry Competition (Round Two).
The Burrow, as a rule, was never quiet. Wasn't in the nature of the place. Seven kids kept a place loud, and now that it was frequently a meeting place for the Order of the Phoenix, there was nearly always a constant stream of witches and wizards coming and going.
On this particular night, the Burrow made a stark contrast to its normal, bustling self. Silence lay over the house like a pall. A solitary light burnt in one window, but no voices came from Mr and Mrs Weasley's bedroom. There was a stillness like a held breath in the house, like the Burrow was waiting to exhale with relief that never quite came.
Fred picked his way through the dark house, out of his bedroom and down the stairs to the front door. It had been four hours since he'd stopped being an identical twin – four hours since he'd seen his brother covered in blood and looking like there wasn't much of it left in his veins. George's colour had come back but Fred's heart hadn't really stopped pounding, and he felt as though he was going slowly mad lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to his brother's slow breathing as George slept.
Something told Fred he'd find someone else sitting on the step outside the front door. He didn't know who it would be until he pushed the door open, slowly to muffle its protesting squeak, but then, when he saw who was sitting there, he wasn't surprised.
Bill turned his head and then slid over to make room. "I'm surprised you're still awake," he said as Fred settled himself down on the step.
"What's so surprising about it? So are you."
Bill shrugged. "I used to work through the night back in Egypt all the time."
Fred nodded, as though this made any kind of sense. "S'pose you miss the excitement of Egypt sometimes, yeah?"
With a dry chuckle, Bill remarked, "Oh, I don't know. England's almost more excitement than I can handle, these days."
Up till four hours ago, Fred had thought the opposite. He shook the image of George, bleeding and unconscious, from his mind.
As if hearing his thoughts, Bill asked, "How's George, anyway? Figured you'd stay with him."
"He's asleep. I reckon he doesn't need me keeping a vigil over him."
Grinning in recognition of this mild rebuke, Bill replied, "No, probably not."
The conversation died out there, fading into the night, and the two of them were silent for a long time. Fred hadn't had a moment like this – just him and Bill – for ages. Years, maybe. Clouds scudded across the moon as the two of them stared skywards. "What was it like?" Fred finally said. "The first War?"
Bill kept quiet for so long that Fred thought maybe he hadn't heard him, or that he didn't want to answer the question. Finally, though, he said slowly, "Confusing. And scary. It was easy to forget about it sometimes. And then, I dunno, sometimes you couldn't."
"Like when Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian died?"
The two brothers lapsed into silence again. A breeze stirred across the hillside, rustling through the leaves and branches of the gnarled apple trees in the orchard. Bill's hair blew into his face and he brushed it aside. Suddenly Fred wondered what it would be like, getting married while people were dying and no one knew who was going to be next. Were Bill and Fleur going to have kids? He was tempted to ask but at the last minute didn't.
Instead, he remarked, "George says he remembers them – Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian – but I don't believe him."
"And I might pop over to Little Whinging and find George's ear in some Muggle's bird bath, but as far as the likelihood of the thing goes…"
At the look on Bill's face, Fred trailed off. His eldest brother looked torn between amusement and something dark, but at least he didn't admonish Fred for the joke like Mum would've. "We were awfully young," Fred finished lamely.
The darkness on his face eased, and Bill gave Fred a thoughtful look, this time tinged with trepidation. "I was pretty young too, but I think if things keep going the way they are now…well, you and George will start reminding people an awful lot of them."
"We'll start reminding people? So they weren't as side-splittingly funny as we are."
Again, that look of trepidation on Bill's face. "Not as the War went on."
Fred watched a bat flit over the trees, turning Bill's words over in his mind. "I don't plan on letting this war change me."
"I don't think it's something most people plan on."
He could tell that Bill was striving not to use the same voice that he'd used when the twins were children on the rare occasions that something had scared them. "I guess not," Fred said, tempering the sarcasm in his voice at the last second. It was no one's fault that George had got his ear sliced off – no one's fault except the bloody Death Eaters and You-Know-Who. That image of his twin, his blood bright as it coated his too-pale face and neck, wormed its way into his head again.
The war had changed George now, and Fred as well, much as he didn't want to admit it. Everything had flashed before his eyes in that moment, four hours ago, that he'd walked into the Burrow. The fragility of his family's safety. His and George's mortality. Life after your twin gets taken from you. He opened his mouth, about to say If George and I go I want it to be like Uncle Gideon and Uncle Fabian, but then he stopped himself, realising with a jolt that Bill was out here, sitting in the dark, because he couldn't get the image of George out of his mind either; because he was thinking about how the war was changing him, and changing their family, in ways that no one could predict.
A breath of wind rustled through the trees again. Bill leant back on his hands and glanced at Fred. "George'll be okay, you know."
As if, like that, he was. Fred was nineteen; long past the time when a simple word from his oldest brother could reassure him. Still, something about the way Bill said it made Fred's heart hammer a little less and the blood-soaked image of George fade slightly. "Right," he said. "I s'pose he probably will be."
Bill smiled and put a hand on Fred's shoulder. "Get some sleep, Fred."
Fred turned and looked at him. "Think I'll stay out here a bit longer, actually."
For a second, his eldest brother looked surprised, but then he smiled. As they sat there, the wind came up again, the sky cleared of clouds, and a clear, bright moon shined down on the Burrow. And Fred believed that not only George, but that all of them, would be all right.