Disclaimer: I do not own any of the canonical aspects or characters in the Harry Potter franchise.
Warnings: Female/male and male/male relationships (het and slash). Strong language. Sexual situations and content, both het and slash. Violence. Sexual assault.
A/N – A bit more rewriting in this one, as well as a bit added in to explain George's feelings about Peter, something I got questions about both in the original story and from the last chapter. Remember, it's best to ask me on tumblr (sableunstable) if you need a question answered. I will answer there, whereas it's likely you won't get a response from me via review reply. I suck, lol. And speaking of reviews, thanks everyone so much for the wonderful support! May it long continue! ;)
George closed his eyes. "He killed Fred." And with that, he curled up into a ball and wept.
Hermione wasn't sure how long she sat on the cold concrete of the courtyard, rocking George while he grieved. Her focus was entirely on him and the sound of his distress, loud in the cool evening air, but she did eventually notice that the crowd around them had swelled, more and more people coming out of the school to gawk and whisper to each other. She was glaring at them all, angry at them for turning a person's pain into entertainment, when Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey pushed through the crowd.
The matron crouched down beside the devastated wizard, silently looking him over. She looked up and smiled gently at the girl holding him, reaching out to pat her on the shoulder.
"This is a good thing," she murmured. Hermione bit her lip and shook her head in despair.
"But his grief… it's so heavy. How can it be good?" she whispered.
"It's good because he's letting it out. He never stood a chance of moving on while he kept all this inside. He might find himself feeling less burdened in the morning."
"So we just let him cry?" Hermione asked, astounded. The mediwitch nodded.
"Yes. It's the best thing for him. If it gets any stronger than this I'll give him a sedative potion, but for now the best thing would be for him to head to bed and try to get some sleep."
"He won't… he won't lose himself again?" the younger witch asked hesitantly. Madam Pomfrey looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook her head.
"I can't give you a definite answer, but no, I don't think he will. Releasing bottled emotions is healing most of the time, not detrimental. We just need to get him inside and away from this crowd. A warm bed and some privacy will do him the world of good."
Hermione sighed softly in relief and slowly drew her arms back. Laying down on her stomach, she crawled up next to George, so that only he and the matron would be able to hear her.
"George? We need to get you up so we can head inside okay?"
By now, his sobs had tapered off until all he was doing was shuddering, his eyes squeezed shut tight. He didn't give any indication of hearing her. Either that or he was ignoring her, which was actually more likely.
"George? Please, you'll get sick if you stay out here," she whispered, brushing his hair back. He tensed at her touch before curling up tighter.
"Do you need another stretcher?" a quiet voice asked and Hermione looked up. Remus was standing a couple of feet away, the rest of the Marauders and the Head Girl not far behind him. They were watching George with various expressions of sympathy and shock – all but James that is. He was staring at the ground, his hands fisted at his sides.
"No," she answered, absently noting the way Lily was inching closer to James and hovered behind him, her expression twisted, as if she was arguing with herself. "If we can just get him up, he'll walk. It's the getting up that's the hard part."
"No it's not. That's easy," Sirius said with a shake of his head. He squeezed James's shoulder and then strode over to the couple on the ground, hustling Hermione out of the way with the toe of his shoe. She glared up at him and got to her knees, blinking when he pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and handed it to her.
"You're crying," he said before turning to George.
Hermione blinked again, for the first time realizing that her lashes were freshly wet. She hadn't even noticed the tears still blurring her eyes. She wiped her cheeks quickly, annoyed at herself, and both annoyed and surprised that this younger version of Sirius Black would be so thoughtful. She'd expect it a little from the adult him, but not from this… this flirt. She glared again and her hackles went up when he moved in close to George.
"What do you think you're-"
She stopped abruptly and her mouth fell open as Sirius bent over, grabbed George round the middle and hauled him to his feet. It didn't even look like he'd put any effort in. He just tugged up and George was off the ground.
Merlin, he's strong, her mind whispered, unable to keep herself from admiring the way the muscles in his arms rippled as he lifted, noticeable due to his rolled up sleeves. The thought startled her, then lead to her scoffing silently at the silliness of it. The man wasn't strong! George was thin and carried hardly any mass at all – she'd held him down herself, for goodness sake!
Scowling to herself, she watched Sirius shift George – who wasn't protesting being lugged around at all – and wrap the wizard's arm around his neck. Remus stepped forward and positioned himself on his other side.
"All set, Poppy," Sirius said with a grin. The matron rolled her eyes and turned to look at McGonagall, who so far had been silent. The deputy headmistress nodded and turned to the assembled crowd.
"I trust you all know the curfew is in an hour, and I know that most of you have will still have homework to complete – Mr Barnes, you've finished your essay, I take it?"
The boy whom the formidable woman had singled out, jumped and flushed, looking down quickly. "Umm, not yet, Professor."
"Then you shouldn't be standing around, should you? That goes for you too, Mr Lewis!" she rebuked, shutting up Barnes's snickering friend instantly. "The lot of you, inside now! If I find anyone still roaming the halls in forty minutes' time, they'll get a week's worth of detention!"
The crowd grumbled but slowly began to move, most people trying to crane their necks to keep George and his helpers in sight. Hermione stood up and sent the professor a grateful glance. The older witch replied with a single nod.
"You know where he's going, boys?" McGonagall asked.
"Yeah, a bed appeared this morning, so it safe to assume he's in our room," Remus answered.
"Good," the professor said. "Straight there then, no stopping along the way."
"Where would we stop?" Sirius asked innocently. McGonagall narrowed her eyes at him.
"I know you haven't forgotten that you're supposed be in detention right now, Mr Black," she said. The handsome wizard smirked at her.
"Hey, I'm being a good samaritan, which is a strong enough reason to skip your lovely presence this one time, don't you think, Professor?"
Hermione frowned in irritation and got to her feet. She was tired and emotionally wrought, and could he not be serious even once? Every situation didn't call for a bloody joke!
He's always Sirius, love.
And now her exhausted brain was coming up with stupid, overly-used jokes of its own!
Oh, come on, lighten up a little, Hermione! He's helping George, isn't he? You could at least be grateful for that.
The witch's frown grew, begrudgingly acknowledging the point. She sighed and turned back to the Head of Gryffindor as the older witch snorted rather inelegantly. "That gilded tongue of yours is going to get you into trouble one day, Black."
Sirius's smirk widened. "It already has gotten me into a lot of trouble, Professor, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."
McGonagall opened her mouth to reply as James chuckled weakly, only to be interrupted by Remus.
"As much fun as this bantering is, don't you think we should get moving? It's getting colder out here by the second."
Hermione readily agreed, shivering as a strong gust of wind suddenly blew out of nowhere, a physical echo of his words. She followed the three boys as they began to move, walking next to Madam Pomfrey. McGonagall, James, Lily and Peter brought up the rear.
"If he does go under again?" she asked the mediwitch softly as they headed for Gryffindor tower. Madam Pomfrey's smile was kind.
"Trust me, Miss Brown; I'd be quite surprised if he did. But you can keep an eye on him during the night if it makes you feel better."
Hermione's spirits lifted a little before quickly falling again. That would be a lot easier said than done. George was bunking in the seventh-year boys' dormitory, while she was on the other side of the tower, in the girls' dormitory. While she didn't mind invading their space – she had done it already after all, even if it was without their knowledge – she thought the Marauders might have something to say about it.
Her mouth pulled, lips pressing together firmly. Well, they'd just have to get over it. She was not leaving George alone. They were in this unfortunate situation together, and they would face the ups and downs together. Whether he liked it or not, the redhead was stuck with her.
Hurrying to catch up with the boys, the unusual group stopped at the common room entrance, the Fat Lady looking on curiously as she swung open. Hermione smiled at the mediwitch and her Head of House, thanking them softly.
"Just make sure he eats and he should be fine," Madam Pomfrey said with a pat on the arm, before telling the younger witch to call her if George needed anything, then turning and heading back to the Hospital Wing. McGonagall stopped Hermione as she began to follow the others through the portrait hole.
"We still need to sort you and your brother some mufti clothing and other possessions," the Scottish woman said. Hermione's eyes went wide as she remembered that they were supposed to meet the Transfiguration teacher that evening.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Professor!"
"It's quite all right, Miss Brown, you've had other things on your mind," McGonagall said with a glance at the still open entrance. "Come see me tomorrow, and we'll organize a trip to Hogsmeade. If Mr Brown is up to it, that is."
"He will be," Hermione answered, a determined slant to her mouth. The professor's brows rose.
"Yes, I'm sure he will. My office tomorrow after dinner, and we'll-"
"Are you two going in, or am I just hanging here open for no reason?"
"I better go," the young witch muttered with a glare at the back of the portrait. The professor mirrored her, sending the portrait a miffed look before nodding.
"Tomorrow after dinner," she said before turning and headed back down the corridor. Hermione quickly stepped through the entrance, ignoring the "finally," from behind her. She veered off to the right and, not paying attention to the eyes she felt on her as she crossed the common room, headed up the stairs to the boys' dormitory.
No one answered the door when she knocked, but an airy voice called out, "Come in if your gorgeous!" Sirius looked up and smirked when, after rolling her eyes, Hermione opened the door and walked in.
"And modest too, I see, Miss Brown," he observed. Hermione did her best to pretend he didn't exist and walked over to the bed that hadn't been there the day before. George was sitting on it with his fists resting on his knees, staring at the floor. Sirius was leaning against his bed by the door, James was over by the window, half turned away from the room, Remus was hovering beside George's bed, and Peter… well going by the pulled curtains around the furthest away bed, he'd already retired.
Hermione sneered silently. Good riddance. She didn't want his input anyway, and George definitely wouldn't.
She sat down on the bed without saying a word and took her brother's hand.
"I'm fine, Hermione, you don't have to stay," George muttered, without looking at her. She pursed her lips and squeezed his hand, and the redhead sighed and looked up. His eyes were red-rimmed and hollow.
"My bed's warm and comfy, and available to spend the night in if you do," Sirius offered, standing up straight and losing his smirk when both Remus and Hermione sent him black looks. "Okay, okay, I was only joking. Blimey."
"I know I don't. I'm going to anyway," the girl answered, turning back to George. The redhead's smile was brief, but at least it was there.
"In a room with four other boys? Think of your reputation, sister dear."
Hermione snorted. "Since when have I ever worried about a trivial thing like my reputation?" she asked with a raised brow and a smirk. Sirius let out a slight choking sound and Hermione looked over to see him grinning broadly. She frowned, then turned away in dismissal.
"Never," George murmured.
"Exactly. So I'm staying."
"Hermione, you really don't have to," Remus said softly. "He has four of us here to look out for him." He glanced over at the closed curtains and frowned. "Well, three anyway."
Hermione hesitated, looking from face to face. Remus's was kind, his eyes moving from her to focus back on George. She smiled to herself and looked over at James, who was still half turned away, almost distancing himself from the conversation. Her head cocked and she studied the boy curiously.
James's face was blank but for his eyes. It seemed painful memories haunted the Head Boy, an expression she'd seen in his future son's eyes more times than she liked to count. But if he was anything like Harry, and she thought maybe he might be despite not knowing him terribly well, then we wouldn't let a little reluctance stop him from doing what was right. Harry had to get that trait from somewhere after all.
Her eyes fell on the last person, and Sirius's brows rose when he met her gaze head on, a lazy grin making his grey eyes dance. She didn't know how she felt about him; wasn't sure if she could trust him as far as she could throw him. But one thing she did know was that he was loyal to his friends. Remus had said he would help, so he would, not wanting to let one of his best mates down.
Finally, she glanced back at George. The redhead was swaying slightly, his eyes barely open. One look told her he wouldn't be awake for much longer. His outburst had drained him and sleep was calling. With the others in the room, he'd have people there for him if he needed it. She really didn't need to stay.
Reaching out, she brushed back the hair that was falling in his face, startling him into awareness. She grinned at his indignant look.
"You need a haircut, brother," she said and George huffed.
"I do not. It's fine the way it is," he said in a voice that was very close to whining. Hermione's grin widened when his protest showed that he was back on an as even kilter as he could be at the moment.
"Whatever you say, George," she placated, indulgence coating her tone, before standing up and putting her hands on her hips.
"Come get me if he needs anything, and I do mean anything," she said, addressing the other boys. George opened his mouth to protest, but Hermione held up her hand, and surprising, he closed it again.
"You have our word," Remus said, James flicking a look over and briefly nodding in agreement. The witch looked at Sirius, who threw her a languid grin.
"Oh, I'm always willing to visit a girls' dormitory, love," he drawled, winking at her. Hermione shook her head, doing her best to ignore the automatic twist in her belly. The way he used those smoky eyes of his should have been illegal.
"Right, I'll leave you lot alone then," she said, heading for the door.
Hermione stopped and looked back at George, brows winging at the intensity in his eyes. He certainly looked wide-awake now.
"I'm holding you to your promise."
Confusion ran through her, and she cocked her head, wondering what he was on about. Her eyes went very wide and she blanched when it hit her. In her desperation to stop George from attacking Peter, the future traitor who'll more or less set everything on a course that'll eventually lead to Fred's death, she'd promised him that they'd make sure he got what he deserved. It didn't matter to George that he wasn't a traitor yet. All he could see was someone who he could lay all the blame on. Someone physically in front of him that he can make hurt, just like he was hurting.
Granted, Hermione couldn't help seeing it that way as well. But she'd never act on the anger and disgust that burnt through her every time she looked at the boy!
See? Just because your book smart, doesn't make you street smart.
Scowling at her mocking thoughts, she pushed them away and hurriedly tried to think of a way out of the predicament. George must have realized what she was doing, because he scowled as well.
"You can either sit back and watch me or help me, sister. Either way, it's happening."
"What are they on about?" Sirius asked James in a loud stage-whisper, who was looking a lot more interested.
"Don't know, but whatever it is, I want in."
"I second that," Sirius agreed and both boys turned to look at Hermione expectantly. George sent her a tired, somewhat triumphant grin. She sighed.
"We'll talk about that when the time comes," she said, scooting around making any sort of commitment. George sent her a pointed look that told her he knew exactly what she was doing, earning a grimace.
"Goodnight," Hermione called over her shoulder as she rushed from the room and down the stairs, shaking her head at her own brainlessness. Sweet Morgana. Now what was she going to do now?
Back in the Marauders' room, a short, chubby, rat-like boy was listening avidly from behind his closed bed-curtains. When the plain, bossy witch left – and she was plain, no amount of spinning on Sirius's part could change that – he brought his knees up to his chest and rested his chin on them thoughtfully, ignoring the sounds of his dorm mates as they reluctantly pulled out their homework or got ready for bed.
Hmmm. Now this was interesting. The new students – which was suspicious enough anyway, since when did Hogwarts ever let in new students? – were clearly up to something. Something they didn't want the others to know about.
He sighed and stretched, idly scratching his arse, before laying back on the bed, a slow, almost malicious smile spreading across his face. Well, he'd just have to see about that, wouldn't he? Being the smallest, least interesting person in a well-known group came in handy at times. It was surprising what you could pick up when people were used to ignoring you.
His new friends – important people, they were, which finally meant he was getting the recognition he deserved – would be very pleased with him if he was able to sniff out any information that might stop an unexpected bludger from coming out of the blue and wrecking their plans.
Grinning in anticipation, he closed his eyes and fell asleep imaging the well-earned awe and gratitude that was bound to be coming his way very soon. His dreams were good that night.