Author's Note: The song for the chapter is "Cold" by Aqualung. It's a haunting song. Thanks for all of you who read and review. MNF

Chapter 16:


February 4, 1978

Seph POV:

Sirius and I had finally returned to the castle today. January was longer than I ever imagined it could be; February already seemed to be digging her heels in and refusing to pick up the pace. I sighed as I closed the door to the bedroom and planned to return to the sitting room. Due to Sirius' continued medical needs and our "almost married" status, Professor McGonagall opened up an empty professor's apartment for our use. It didn't go unnoticed that we were mere steps from the hospital wing and Madame Pomfrey's quarters were across the hall.

Our friends had come to welcome us back, and bring another batch of beer for us to sample. James had said he'd charmed it, but I wasn't feeling "giddy and light" as he'd promised; I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Nursing Sirius back to health, dealing with my own lingering medical issues and keeping us up to date on our school work was so much more work than even settling my father's estate. I stopped my internal whining and reminded myself that Sirius could have died and losing him was the stuff of my nightmares.

I leaned back against the wall and sighed, attempting to gather myself before returning to 'the group'. I wasn't at all surprised to hear footsteps approaching, or upon opening my eyes to see Jamie there. He pulled me to him and wrapped me in his arms. He was most likely the one only who knew everything about Sirius' injuries and the struggle the last month had been. My fiancé's stubbornness had caused us to keep all but Jamie and his parents away. The Death Eaters weren't privy to the message and their unannounced visit while he was still in St. Mungo's was quite disturbing. At least the Lestrange's weren't there, as they remained in Azkaban.

"How are you doing?" he asked and very much against my will, tears overtook my ability to speak. "Hush, George, it'll be okay. He's on the mend now." I shrugged a response, hoping he'd understand it without having to say anything. He already knew I wasn't taking anything for granted anymore. The damned war had come closer than I had dreamt it would, and now everything was nightmarish. Thankfully my mother was safe, deciding to visit Portugal for an indeterminate length holiday. The farm was being managed by the foremen and Mr Potter was taking care of the business needs.

"Come on, come talk with everyone, we've missed you," he coaxed and I relented. I wanted something normal, like an evening drinking beer with my friends. I hadn't drunk much yet, and I probably wouldn't drink much more. There had been some unforeseen nerve damage to my back, and I was now plied with daily potions. James went back to curling up with Lily by the fire, while I sat down between Sibby and Eliza on the lounger. They both scooted closer and wrapped an arm each around me. It felt good to be near them again. I'd missed the strength I got from them, especially these two girls. We'd been mates since we were little children. Their friendship meant everything to me, and they were more supportive than many of my siblings.

I looked at each of my friends, realising we all looked far older and certainly more sombre than we had before we'd left for holiday. Across the room was Peter, far separated from the rest of us, sitting in an ugly and uncomfortable high-back wood chair. I thought it odd that Peter was staring at the three of us girls, his anger barely masked as he stared. I nudged Sibby and discretely used the forefinger on my left hand, which laid in my lap, to point his look out. She wiggled her fingers when she saw him, our childhood signal if something was 'yuckie'.

"So, these are some pretty sweet digs," Peter spoke up, eyeing the apartment. "You two in here for the rest of the year?"

"I don't know," I replied honestly. "I think once Sirius is on the mend we'll move back into the tower."

"Darn, we'll lose the wing-backed chairs in our room," Lily groaned.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, suspiciously.

"Well, when you didn't come back, we transfigured your mattress and bed into some lovely seating," Sibby explained.

"Yes, and your bed-curtains have made a lovely carpet," Eliza told me. "We've moved the room around too."

"I'm gone for a few days and I'm completely pushed aside," I mock complained. "What horrid friends I have."

"A few days?" Remus remarked with a quirked brow.

"Fine, it was more than a few," I acquiesced. "Impossible to avoid, however."

"They've got to let you stay here," Peter piped up. "You're sort of married and all. Hey, Eliza, how about you and me getting married? We could have space like this. The whole school would be talking about it. Think of how popular we'd become!"

I turned to my right and looked at Eliza. She was drained of what little colour her face usually held and her mouth hung open like a fish on a hook. Lily was looking at her too, but the guys were staring at their mate. Sibby withdrew her arm and stood.

"Are you fucking daft?" she yelled at Peter. "Firstly, you don't get married so you can have better accommodations. Secondly, a proposal should be loving and romantic, not a spur of the moment thing."

"Sirius proposed on the quick. Do you think he was daft?" Peter threw back, standing as he did. There was a horrid look in his eyes, although I couldn't name it.

"No," she answered without hesitation. "Sirius and Seph had been in love for years and had just found out they had permission to marry. It was something they never expected. His was a loving and delighted response to their remarkable news."

"Oh, so Sirius can be impulsive and the rest of us can't?" Peter yelled, causing Remus to stand between Sibby and Peter.

"Peter, Sirius is always impulsive, it's part of his personality. Always has been," I quietly reminded.

"Why is it that the rest of you get away with anything and everything, and you're the most popular blokes in the school? They didn't even marry and he's getting special treatment. Perhaps I want to shag my girlfriend every night. Yeah, a good strong fuck is just what I need." He was talking stranger than usual, and making Eliza quite uncomfortable. I knew their relationship wasn't that intimate; hell I wasn't sure they'd done more than kiss. Instead of her arm around me in comfort, we'd switched to where I had both mine around her protectively.

"Don't talk about her like that," Jamie said, standing.

"Who are you to tell me how to treat my girlfriend?" Peter sneered.

"I'm her friend," Jamie spoke calmly. "I think its time for you to leave."

"It's not your rooms, you can't throw me out. Only perfect princess Persephone can do that." I hated the nickname, and everyone in this room knew it. My sisters used it to taunt me when I was growing up. A tinkling bell from the bedroom alerted me to Sirius rousing. He needed his sleep if he were to make it through his classes tomorrow.

"Fine, I'm asking you to leave," I said harshly. "You've gone and awoken Sirius. Some friend you are."

"I'm his mate, what are you other than his slag?" His words stung and I wondered if he'd drunk too much. If that was it, I vowed to never be in his presence when he was drinking again.

"I am his ... everything, just as he is mine. Get out of here now!" my jaw was clenched as I spoke, and Remus 'walked' Peter to the door. I stood and went to check on Sirius, who thankfully had just rolled over and was snoring loudly. I reset the alarm and again went to our friends. "What the hell was that?"

Eliza was curled up with Sibby, tears falling fast. I sat back down on the lounger with the girls and ran my hands through my hair. This was simply too much to deal with. I didn't need Peter being an arse.

"He's been acting stranger than usual," Remus said as he returned to the sitting area. I withdrew my wand and waved it at the door, giving it a 'Peter specific' locking charm. If he never came back in here, it would be just fine with me. "Ever since the attack at your wedding."

"Where did he go during the attack?" I asked. "I knew where everyone else was, but I can't remember where Peter was, or what he was doing." I had thought long and hard about this, even discussing it at length with Mr Potter. It bothered me immensely.

"None of us know," Jamie told me, his tone matching my mood.

"He was with us at first, helping both of your mums out of harms way," Sibby explained. "Reg came back for Mrs Black and I decided to take your mother back to the farm. Eliza came with me and Alicia decided to go home. We thought Peter went out to the fight."

"Neither James, Lily nor I could remember seeing him there," Remus stated. "He just disappeared." I looked over to Jamie and I could swear he read my mind. Something was very wrong with Peter. For Eliza's sake, I hoped it wasn't that Peter was more like his father than we thought.

"I need to get out of this relationship," Eliza said. "What he said earlier ... how ... demanding he's been. He isn't the sweet boy we used to know. He frightens me."

"Please, sweetie, break up with him. We're all scared for you," I told her quietly, the others nodding along with me.

"Eliza, honey, we will never leave you alone with him, ever," Sibby promised. "One of us is in almost all your classes, and for the ones we aren't, we will make sure someone walks you to and from."

"What about viewing nights for Astronomy? None of you are going to want to stay up late with me. And then I've got Magical Creatures. It's still winter; nobody wants to be out in the snow if they don't have to be. Even History is an issue, since Arithmancy is the same time and he's my partner," she said with trepidation. "Maybe I should go home, like my parents are begging me to."

Jamie stood and walked over to her, kneeling on the carpet so he could look at her eye to eye. "Little 'Liza," he started, using her parents pet name for her when she was small. "we have been friends for a very, very long time. Yes, Peter is a Marauder, but he's also acting like an arse. I can't speak for anyone else, but you come first, even over my friendships with a roommate. You won't be left unprotected."

"Thank you, James," Eliza said, throwing herself off the seat and hugging him. Breaking it off with Peter would be hard, but she would have all of us.

"Sweetie, James wasn't speaking just for himself," Lily piped up. "I'll be there for you."

"Me too," Remus added.

"Hey, I never liked Peter in the first place," Sibby reminded everyone. "You want to stay away from him, I'll be thrilled." There were a few snorts of laughter at how blunt Sibby could be.

"You know Sirius and I are there for you," I reminded. "Just like when you got stuck on the barn roof and we had to fly up to get you." Four of us laughed, which caused us to remember neither Remus nor Lily had been there for the fun. James went on to explain how our first flying lesson with Mr Potter had gone, ending with Eliza petrified and clinging to the weather vane at the peak.

Lily and Remus went out to do late rounds and Sibby escorted Eliza back to Gryffindor tower. I grabbed Sirius' charmed mirror, giving it to her so she could talk with James should they have problems. James remained behind to help me clean up.

"He's recovering, George, he'll be back to normal soon."

"That's not what's on my mind, Jamie," I confessed. "The experiments Peter's father did on those girls … I asked your father for the entire public record on them and the trial. Something has been off about Peter for a while now, but he came to visit Sirius in hospital and he asked some very inappropriate questions. Coupled with no one knowing where he was when we were attacked by the Lestranges at your house, I just needed to know everything."

"George, tell me everything," Jamie pleaded and we walked back to the lounge and sat down.

"The experiments were bizarre," I started. "He'd injure the girls and then use magic to cure them, sometimes attempting to make them 'better' than they were to start with. At least three of the girls died because he was experimenting on their hearts."

"Dad said it was depraved, but that's just ..."

"I know. It's not even the worst of it though. The rest who died had been 'enhanced' in the area of their genitalia. There were diagrams from their autopsies, and descriptions," I eked even as my stomach rolled.

"I don't think Pete would do something like that," James defended him. "Remember how scarred he was when all of this came to light?"

"I know, and I want to believe that he's still as disgusted as we all were. We've all seen so much in the last few years. What if he was somehow affected by what his Dad did, and it's only coming out now?"

"We've all been touched by the violence in the last year, George," Jamie said as he took my hands. "Just because Pete's a bit of an odd duck doesn't mean he's depraved."

"I know, and I want to chock it all up to my overactive imagination and way too much time on my hands in the last month. Just, after watching him tonight," I stopped to sigh, "something is really off with him."

"The full moon is soon. Maybe I can chat with him once Moony falls asleep. Speaking of the full moon, how the hell are we going to keep Padfoot in that night?"

I smiled, having already thought this through. "I have a plan for that night. Trust me, he'll be well distracted. I've invited your Dad up to finish our wedding and have a proper wedding night."

Jamie laughed heartily. "That would be quite a distraction. I shouldn't ever underestimate your ability to make plans."

"Even my best made plans seem to be falling apart lately. Since New Year's Eve, we've tried seven times to get your Dad, me and an awake Sirius in a room together to finish the damned rite, and it hasn't worked out. Someone is working some nasty spell work to keep us apart."

"No one is plotting against you two," Jamie said seriously. "You've just fallen prey to some strange situations."

"Oh, I know, it just feels like the universe is against us somehow," I replied.

"It isn't," he said with confidence. "You will get your happy ending, sooner than later."

"I don't know. I somehow think it's going to be worse before it is better."