Part One

Cedric Diggory first approaches George when he is five-years-old.

Their fathers, good friends from work, had deemed it necessary to throw the twins in with someone close to their age, but not related, in order to "expose them to other children." Though this was not the phrase that their mother had shrieked when she had demanded that Arthur take the boys away from her kitchen, away from the fire, and away from the curtains.

Arthur had obliged, willingly and quickly, and in the process had used the outing as an excuse to spend time tinkering in the shed with Amos.

The meeting occurred in January, and the tiny Cedric proudly informed George that he was 6 and one quarter old. George had promptly pushed Cedric off the stump he was sitting on in response.

A moment later a clod of dirt and wet leaves thumped into the side of George's head with alarming force and accuracy.

The two boys had returned to their parents damp, covered in mud and grinning ear to ear - with Fred, pristine and dry, smugly leading them. This smugness lasted only a few moments before both George and Cedric dropped an impressive handful of dirt, worms and other small insects down the back of Fred's jumper.

The yell that the boy had emitted rivalled only that of the twins' mother when she saw what state Arthur had allowed her boys to get into.

There is a long held tradition in the Weasley family. Every young Weasley was, at the age of 8 years old, told about the Birds and the Bees and, of course, Others. For the twins this talk necessitates both Weasley Parents, and so Molly and Arthur sit the boys down on the squishy chairs in the front room with the fire roaring one evening in October.

Fred remembers the initial awkwardness, and looking about desperately to find a route out. Out of the corner of his eye he can see George making the same analysis of the room. Their eyes meet and a moment of understanding passes between them.

"Oh no. No you don't boys. This is important. " This gives the boys moment to pause; they had never heard that tone from their father before.

When Fred looks to his parent he sees his mother looking at his father with the mushy- gooey eyes that Fred sees sometimes, but that he can't look at for too long.

The two boys silently agree to sit tight and listen, allowing their parents to continue awkwardly stumbling through the facts of life. Once they had quite finished, Fred and George both contemplated what they had been told about for a long moment.

Fred was the first one who spoke. "So, is Cedric George's Other?"

This appears to be the wrong thing to say. Or at least it was an unexpected comment judging by their parents' reactions.

Fred, having just turned 8 years old, thought it was a perfectly reasonable question. He worries for just a moment and then looks to his twin for support. George nods along in agreement to the question, his attention entirely focused on his mother and father and the response he awaited from them. Fred, pleased that he had not wildly misjudged the situation, nods in affirmation of his own observation and turns to wait for an answer.

There is an amount of hesitancy on his parents' faces, the likes of which Fred had never witnessed before. Worried that he may have finally broken his mother he presses on, eager to keep the awkwardness from stagnating too sourly in the air, and keen to ensure that George was not required to answer any uncomfortable questions,

"Because if he is - and I do really think he is - I think he should be able to come round to play more. Or dinner!" the exclamation seems to make even Fred startle a little. "He should come to dinner. Yes. It would be fair-" The Weasley parents once again wince at the memory of their militant enforcing of fairness, "-that George spends more time with Cedric. And he is also really good at seeking when we play hide and seek - and it would be nice to have another person to play with. And then he can stay over later and maybe he could even bring his broom that we could go on and-"

"Fred, that is quite enough." He father interrupts gently but firmly. "We have said that your Other marks won't show up on your skin until your seventeenth Birthday, that is almost 10 years away now. There will be plenty of time to meet people and play hide and seek in that time. We shouldn't go jumping to conclusions, especially about Others; that's how people get hurt."

"Oh." Fred says limply.

"It's a very special subject that you have to be careful with boys. No matter what you are careless with, you have to be mindful of Others. You don't know who around you might be hurting because they can't find their Other, maybe they don't like their Other, or maybe they can't be with their Other. And then there is what might happen when someone might want to hurt you, if they know who your Other might be." Arthur Weasley finishes.

"Oh." this time it is George who speaks.

Neither boy had ever heard their father be so sincere before. It was a far cry from the jolly, smiling man who tried to contain his giggles when one of their pranks seriously backfired and he was attempting to scold them.

"It is very important that you understand this, boys. Do you understand what I am saying?" their father presses them for an answer.

Fred nods enthusiastically, and he feels George do the same at his side.

"But" Fred starts, "Can Cedric still come round to play more?" He was thinking of his twin now. Even if Others had to be things they were careful about, something for when they were grown, he wasn't about to let some silly rules mean that his twin would have to go without his Other. He was going to try his best to make sure George and Cedric could spend all the time they wanted to, either playing hide and seek, or flying on the broom, or having dinner with the Weasleys.

No one spoke, but in the dim light of the fire and with the buzz of the wireless sounding somewhere in the kitchen, he saw his mum nod.

The day before Fred and George and Cedric were bound for their first day at Hogwarts - and it was 'Fred and George and Cedric' now and none of the three would hear it any other way - they spent the morning de-gnoming the garden.

In the late August sun a newly-turned-eight-years-old Ginny sat watching the three boys launch gnomes beyond the walls of the Weasley's vegetable garden. She had wanted to help her older brothers, but her mother had made it abundantly clear that she was not to go near a gnome until she turned 10 at the very least.

So, instead of helping, she hurls abuse at the boys in retaliation. Their pleasant August morning is accompanied by the voice of an unhappy eight year old shrieking names from her seat underneath the apple tree.

All three of the boys find this hilarious, and when Bill and Charlie emerge to check on the progress of their little brothers, they too join in the raucous laughter that is punctuated with words and phrases that an eight year old really should not have known.

Cedric, pulling at a gnome that was clinging to a shrub in the hope that it would not be noticed, asks how Ginny knew such foul language.

With some glee George replies. The twins had given her a word of the day memo calendar for her seventh birthday that had started with simple and innocuous - educational even - words, and had progressively grown cruder as it worked through the year, so that by the time her eighth birthday had rolled around the girl was well versed in the worst and most vulgar slang.

"It was brilliant - Charlie helped us change the words, originally it was completely boring and normal words. Ginny loved it, though when she opened it in front of mum and dad she thought it was the crappiest gift ever." George boasts.

"To be fair George, if we had received a word of the day calendar for our birthday from us I think I would have been as put out about it as she was." Fred calls across the flowerbed.

George nods in agreement "We had to show her the actual use of it much later, when mum and dad and Percy weren't around. And then she loved it. She promised us she wouldn't flick ahead, so she's just been enjoying the words each day. And mum and dad have been enjoying the words as well..."

As George finishes his story, Cedric is laughing so hard that he loses his grip on the gnome he had been grappling with and, with a triumphant yowl, the creature leapt free but not before sinking his teeth into Cedric's hand, hard.

The howl that Cedric lets out rivals even the gleeful yell that the gnome had crows.

Charlie comes running at the sound, wand out and ready for anything. Only to find Cedric sat in the dirt with George knelt next to him, holding out the injured hand, and protectively rubbing Cedric's back.

Charlie smiles fondly at the sight. He like all other older members of the family had been alerted by Molly of the bond that was growing between the two boys, but they needn't have worried with telling the older siblings. Anyone with eyes could see what was in the boys' future.

Seeing an opportunity - with Molly busy, and Arthur tinkering - Charlie waved a silent charm to disinfect and clean the wound of any nasty saliva that might cause some permanent damage, before instructing George to take Cedric inside to wash out his hand and bandage it properly.

George, as nervous as the boy was for Cedric's injury, beamed at his older brother on hearing this.

Charlie watches the two boys stumble to the kitchen door and as he does, he hears another set of feet approach him. Carefully he turns to see Fred looking at him with a curious expression.

"Why didn't you just clean and heal it here? Then we could carry on de-gnoming!" He asks.

Charlie smiles and wrinkles his nose at his little brother. "I thought it best that they have a few minutes to themselves."

"Oh. Ohh. Is this the Other thing?" Fred asks.

"Yes Fred, the Other thing."

"So you think they are as well? No one ever answers when I ask grown ups."

"It's because it's considered rude to speculate about other people's Others. And adults are much more bound to the rules that you are." Charlie tries to explain.

There is a long silence as Fred digests this news, it makes a lot of things suddenly make sense.

"But I am right, aren't I?" Fred presses his older brother. He is looking towards the kitchen door now, rather than at Charlie.

"I dare say you are little brother."

On the train, George is happy that they manage to get a compartment so that all three of them could sit together.

Another boy by the name of Lee Jordan enters the compartment shortly after them and plonks himself down on the side that Fred was sat without ceremony or introduction, and certainly without asking. Fred likes him immediately. Fred wondered if Lee might be his Other, George found his so easily, it was only a matter of time before Fred's Other would materialize.

George had other thoughts. A girl their age came bouncing in too - pausing to ask if she could sit with them - and takes a place on the same side that Fred and Lee are sat, squishing in between the two boys. George rather hopes that this ball of energy might be his brother's Other.

They talk about everything and nothing on the long train journey, but the leading topic of discussion is the opening feast. The Weasley Family had another favourite tradition of keeping quiet about the opening feast in the presence of the younger siblings, so despite their vast family the Twins had no idea what to expect.

Lee and Cedric had no older siblings, and their parents had remained silent on the topic, but it would seem that Angelina - the girl - had some answers, even half baked.

"Apparently they Sort you. I'm not sure how, or if there is a test, but you get put into different houses based on the sorting. Ian wouldn't let me know what the houses were, just that there were four of them and they become your classmates and dorm-mates. " She says this with an air of finality. George and Fred had heard of the houses before too, but lacked any conclusive knowledge of how sorting was undertaken.

George feels his brow furrow and a moment of discomfort come over him. It takes a moment to understand what causes the feeling.

It was unfathomable that they might be put in different houses, but the worry was there nonetheless. Fred, across from them, looked worried briefly also. George, without hesitation or thought, reaches out his hand and presses it over Cedric's hand which sits on the seat between them.

No one notices, or at least, no one makes a comment about it.

The train comes to a shuddering halt hours later and all five of the new friends stand to retrieve the wrappers that litter the seats, and the jumpers and scarves that they had shed through the journey. George's hand leaves Cedric's and, for a moment, George wishes that the journey could stretch on for many more hours so that he wouldn't have to let go.

Lee, Angelina and Fred all file out of the compartment, amongst some chaos. Fred pauses momentarily, looking back over his shoulder. He smiles at his brother and at Cedric, before disappearing with the others.

George casts about to check that he has all his belongings with him, before looking at Cedric, who he can feel by his side.

Eventually he meets Cedric's eyes and they glisten grey-and-stormy with something that George would like to think is a little bit of mischief. George grins in response and they leave the compartment together. In the massive streams of people ahead of them George can make out Fred's hair in the distance.

"He's never left me behind before." George says. "We're always together." It feels as if there should be some sadness attached to the statement, but it echoes hollow, with no real emotion. He looks to Cedric, who shrugs.

"He's never had other people before" Cedric offers by way of explanation. "We've both always had other people to disappear with." It goes unspoken who, even when George's hand brushes against the bandage that he had clumsily tied around Cedric's wound just the day before - both alone, talking and laughing in the kitchen, Cedric sat on the table and George frantically pulling through his mother's emergency supplies drawer.

It had gone unspoken for six years now. They don't bring it up with each other or with anyone else. George had had a stern but loving word with his brother about bringing it up, which had resulted more or less in the conclusion that they all think it, but none of them mention it for fear of making the other uncomfortable, or in case they might be wrong.

(Fred knows that he isn't wrong, but he humours them anyway)

George and Cedric certainly don't bring it up to each other, ever since they had been old enough to suspect it, (age eight for George, nine-and-a-half for Cedric.) Instead they walk side by side, not touching, just talking and admiring what they can make out of the view in the inky darkness.

When, nearly an hour later, the dusty frayed hat hovers above Cedric's head and proclaims "Hufflepuff!" loudly and firmly, George feels something horrible twist in his gut.

Fred waits until all the lights had gone out, and all the excited chatter has died down, before he sneaks out of his own bed and climbs into George's, both beds are bedecked in bold Gryffindor colours. The two boys say nothing to each other, they just lie squashed in the single bed staring up at the canopy. Fred feels George let out a long sigh and his shoulders relax. Two hours later, George is asleep.

In his first three weeks at Hogwarts, George walks around as if in a daze. He speaks to his brother only and, because of classes and their different houses, he doesn't see Cedric at all.

For the past six years the three boys had rarely been apart as much as they were now. If they were apart for such a time, they normally knew exactly when they would see each other again, down to the time of day and the room in which they would be reunited. Fred finds that he is acutely aware of the separation. He watches his brother trip around the school with no sense of purpose for almost a month before deciding that something really ought to be done.

He tries a number of courses of treatment including insisting on midnight excursions to explore the castle, and more than one mid-classroom stink bomb but, despite the temporary smile that occasionally lifted George's face, nothing appears to provide a permanent fix.

It is late October that the twins find themselves in a seemingly long forgotten part of the castle. Upon further investigation they discover numerous unused classrooms, a few dusty storage cupboards, and a locked door - practically an invitation. The door, solid oak and sturdy, looks almost weighed down with the number of padlocks that adorn the latches that had been hand bolted higgledy-piggledy top to bottom. The boys grin at the challenge and the hoard of secrets that no doubt lay beyond the locks.

Alohomora proves surprisingly effective on a number of the locks, but there are five or six that remain unmoved by the boys' efforts. With the clock chimes nearing on 1am the twins decide to return the next night - and earlier - and make a real attempt at the door.

When eventually they managed, with not a little help from their new found ally Peeves the Poltergeist their new, they discover a treasure trove of items. Artefacts and pranks and records beyond their wildest imaginings lay before them, but aware of their limited time they picked through the items carefully. Fred started in one cupboard sifting through odd looking objects, whilst George rifled through a filing cabinet in search of something inspiring.

He finds what he looking for almost immediately as one entry catches his eye, especially with the thickly folded wedge of blank parchment that was attached to it.


Finally confiscated the blasted thing from Black and his lackeys. Seems to activate only via wand and the words "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" judging by the excessive use of this phrase. This should slow the buggers down.

As he finishes reading there is a sound in the corridor - their signal to get out of the office with whatever bounty they might have laid their hands upon. George takes the parchment and the file in its entirety.

Much later tucked into a private corner of the common room George presents his bounty to Fred who gleefully removes his wand to try out the helpful instructions Filch had left them.

They hold their breath as lines and lines of ink draw themselves across the parchment.

"It's a map." George states to the quiet of the room whilst the lines were still forming towers and turrets and names and there a title.

"Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs present the Marauders Map." Fred reads aloud as he reaches out and lifts one of the flaps to see what secrets it contains. "George, this is a map of Hogwarts."

George doesn't really see the appeal, though he can make out movement and is curious about that. He moves his face closer so that he could examine the parchment and he can see names moving along with small footprints that were at first striking and quickly faded when left behind by the name banners. "Snape?" George asks, reading the name upside down.

"George it's a map of Hogwarts including the location of everyone in Hogwarts."

The grins across both of their faces would be described by Ginny as shit-eating. "The fun we could have with this, Fred…"

"I know! The possibilities!"

"Can I?" George reaches for the parchment and Fred pushes the map across the floor. George starts lifting sections and flaps, folding out whole sheets and then refolding them. He is looking for something specific Fred shrewdly assesses.

Or someone, he realises when George's face lights up at something. When he leans over his brother's shoulder he discovers the large structure labelled the Hufflepuff common room .

He smiles at his brothers joy. This is only the surface of his happiness. He thinks gently.

Fred and George, with hard work and determination, prove themselves to be louder, more carefree, and more trouble than even their parents has anticipated.

The presence of Cedric means that their first-year pranks and shenanigans, the ones that the teachers of Hogwarts had thought themselves ready to deal with in the assumption that they would be brash and poorly thought out escapades, actually hold an edge of nuance to them. Cedric's careful intelligence means that Fred and George achieve more carnage in their first year than they had ever dreamed of. All whilst Cedric insists he has no part in their games, claiming innocence at best and willful ignorance in any thoroughly tight spots they get themselves into.

In the Twins' second year they join the Quidditch team. They make a formidable team of Beaters together, and the Gryffindor Quidditch team swiftly becomes the envy of the other houses. A pair of eager second-year Gryffindors proves enough to see off the other teams almost for good.

The Quidditch cup would have been theirs quite easily had Cedric not decided he wanted to rise the challenge that the Twins had placed before him.

The moment it happened it was plain to see that Gryffindor was in trouble, Cedric was fast, and even against a pair of beaters with a near telepathic connection, the speed of a truly talented seeker was enough to see the Gryffindor team cleared off the pitch in a Quidditch cup final that became something of a legend throughout Hogwarts.

Everything was well and normal until their third year.

Fred and George don't know whether to be pleased or offended when news of the troll in the castle breaks and the eyes of teachers and students alike snap to their direction.

Cedric doesn't deal with the attention particularly well and blushes a beet red - lending to the suspicion of guilt of the Weasley Twins.

It takes until much later in the year, with the announcement of Harry's trials and tribulations at the closing feast, for the Twin's names to be cleared of that particular infraction entirely.

Things change in the summer before their fourth year. That much was clear.

Cedric would later, internally and silently, send thanks to Fred Weasley for making the comment that makes everything change.

On the first of September 1994 George sits at the welcome feast and listens to Dumbledore's announcement like everyone else. It is pleasant to be back within the castle walls and - for now - without the stress that accompanied NEWTS

Dumbledore is enlightening the hall to this year's "Fresh Hell" as George expects Hermione would put it. He is sat next to Fred, with Angelina and Lee sitting across from them, all four of them surreptitiously picked at their meals despite the unwritten rule that when the headmaster spoke, the eating ceased.

Beyond Lee and Angelina, George can see Cedric. They both consciously make an effort at meals to sit facing each other if they couldn't sit together. George finds himself actually paying close attention as Dumbledore reaches the crux of his speech. Hogwarts was to play host to international schools, and the greatest competition of the wizarding community, the Triwizard tournament.

Something bright glints in Cedric's eye, and a smile tugs at his lips, and for George the rest of Dumbledore's speech is tuned out as he mutters under his breath.

"That Smug Bastard knew".

"What?" Fred asks.

George's commentary had been too low for anyone else at the table to hear. But he and Fred had long learned to be able to tune into what each other was saying.

"He knew." George repeats.

Fred doesn't need to ask who the He in question is. In fact Fred doesn't need any clarification at all. He looks up to George and a moment of wordless communication passes between the two of them.

George can feel Cedric's gaze from across the room, it prickles on the side of his neck for a moment before moving up to his face.

George, under his breath, and without moving his mouth counts down from three just loud enough that Fred can hear it. They turn in unison, with a steely, half-threatening glare towards Cedric. They remain unblinking and cold as they stare at the Hufflepuff across the room.

Cedric stares back unphased for half a second, then two, five, twelve seconds elapse before he breaks. He throws his head back and laughs loudly, the people seated near him startled for a moment before turning their gaze towards the Gryffindor Table where they knew that they would be able to locate the cause of this outburst.

When they have caught the attention of those in Cedric's immediate vicinity the twins, steely expression still in place, arch their left eyebrows in unison in demonstration of their outrage at Cedric's secret keeping. Cedric who has managed to calm himself suitably by this point, find himself shaken by a new wave of humour that washes over him.

The twins give it another minute enjoying the laughter of Cedric even from across the hall, before they crack their own smile and return to the meal at chatter in the hall is excited and loud, and George can barely hear himself think in the noise.

Over the summer Cedric had hinted to something large happening that school year, but George had found himself writing it off as reference to their upcoming trip to the Quidditch World Cup. Apparently he had been wrong.

After the feast, in the thick exodus of people leaving the hall, a hand grabs George suddenly, and with a quick tug he is freed from the crush. Not away from it completely, but pulled to one side as Hogwarts students great and small march on past through the entrance hall. Cedric does not let go of George's hand despite the release from the bustling crowd, George leans across and places a small kiss on the cheek his boyfriend.

Cedric looks surprised, shocked, even scandalized for a whole second.

Some of the first years who had witnessed the exchange as they walked past look scandalized on Cedric's behalf as well.

"Oh, stop it! you're worrying the firsties." George quips, barging his shoulder gently into Cedric's.

"Don't be silly, I couldn't worry the firsties." Cedric replies "They're first years, it's in their nature to worry about everything. What I do or say will have no impact."

"You make a good point," George concedes quickly, and the grin that Cedric flashes him is entirely worth it. Without thinking George ducks in and plants another quick kiss on his lips.

Pulling back, and ignoring the new stream of shocked firsties who were not yet used to seeing students kissing in the hallways, George narrows his eyes, refocusing on the important revelations of the evening.

"You knew" he accuses gently. Cedric looks sheepish and nods. "You knew and you didn't tell me."

"Only because of dad, and he made me swear not to tell anyone, and especially not 'those bloody Weasley boys'" Cedric admits.

George nods thoughtfully. It was no secret that Amos was not the Twins' biggest fan. It was unclear whether this was down to their antics, or whether it was because - as Fred had once so eloquently put it 'George was banging his son.'

Such a comment had elicited a response from Cedric not unlike the reaction of the first years that had walked past them in the Entrance Hall, whilst George had opted for scoffing loudly at Fred's crude comment. They had been 14 at the time, enjoying the summer before they entered their fourth year together, and whilst Cedric and George's infatuation with each other was clear for most to see, their experience up to that point had been nothing more than the occasional snog and any physical closeness that came from casual, everyday situations.

Fred's offhand comment that summer had awoken something. Not in George, but in Cedric. And whilst it had been Cedric who had gone beet red, and spluttered, and looked shocked at the insinuation, it was also Cedric who had dragged George with him when they went foraging for blackberries a few hours later and pushed the boy up against a tree in a hormone driven frenzy.

It was not something that they had ever discussed, but rather something that had simply happened, and what had followed had been a hazy summer of tongues and teeth and secret fumbles.

Something had shifted suddenly in both of their spheres and Fred had looked particularly smug come the end of summer when he had been the one to provide them with the book that contained the Charm to glamour hickeys more thoroughly, amongst other more practical magic.

"It's exciting though, isn't it?" Cedric remarks.

When George zones back in to Cedric, tearing his thoughts away from that summer that he held so fondly, he notices with glee that his boyfriend's cheeks have gone slightly pink and that he he refused to meet George's eyes. George would bet a Galleon that Cedric was thinking of the same summer.

"Hmmmm" George nods absent mindedly and says very little else, and Cedric knows , he knows when George doesn't say much, it means that he is thinking about doing anything but talking.

"Stop it." Cedric says sharply."You're a menace." And then, contradicting his words entirely, he takes George's hand and all but drags him out of the Entrance Hall and into the unseasonably warm September night air. He makes a beeline towards the greenhouses and beyond, to a small cluster of silver birch trees that stood undisturbed and unknown to most at the school.

Later both of them lay in their bubble of bliss, staring up at the few stars peeking through the web of branches above them.

"I'm going to put my name in" Cedric says quietly.

George smiles to himself. He knew the moment it was announced that Cedric would. As loyal and kind and so caring as his boyfriend was, he was also viciously competitive which George loved.

Cedric mistakes George's silence for anger or sadness in the dark.

"Sorry, I know it's frustrating. I'm annoyed you can't enter too, I didn't know they were putting this age thing on it, and it's just luck that my birthday is when it is-" Cedric continues in a hurry.

"Cedric, Cedric" George squeezes Cedric's hand where their fingers lay intertwined in the grass. "I'm not frustrated, or sad or whatever. I was just thinking that I expected nothing less. In fact, it'll be good to have a Hogwarts champion I can get behind -ow!"

Cedric lightly hits the side of George's leg with their intertwined hands in admonishment of George's innuendo. They fall quiet for a moment.

"Your birthday-" George starts.

"My birthday." Cedric says in a non-answer to George's non-question.

Cedric would turn 17 on the 12th September. Now under a fortnight away. They had talked the topic to death. The possibility that Cedric might wake on the 12th September without George's odd patch of freckles on his left shoulder, or the tiny collection of criss crossed scars on the back of George's right hand from his many de-gnoming scraps. Even the thought of it makes Cedric feel a bit queasy.

Fred - though well meaning - had been insistent from their very first meeting with Cedric that he and George were Others. Up to the age of fifteen this had been something endearing, delightful to hear, and encouraging. And then on George's sixteenth birthday, with very little prodding, the reality had hit. The possibility that they might wake on their seventeenth birthdays respectively and have the physical proof written across their skin that they weren't mean to be together was suddenly real and monumental.

Fred hadn't cottoned on to this grim realisation as quickly as George and Cedric - although separately - had. Eventually George had had to pull Fred aside one day and gently but firmly insist that Fred start to be more careful with his mentions of Other and Other marks. Fred, kind and fiercely protective of his brother, hadn't questioned, he hadn't even blinked, but had simply heeded his brother's request and carried on without another word.

But this was different now. Even Fred's evasion of the topic seemed heavier than it once was.

George takes a deep breath and starts again. "Your birthday is soon - so soon, and I'm worried."

He can't quite bring himself to say scared, terrified even. The thought of losing Cedric hurt. The knowledge that he would let Cedric go if faced with the idea that someone else was waiting to love Cedric better than he could, hurt more.

Cedric's voice is small when he responds in the darkness.

"Me too, George, me too."

On the night of the 11th September Cedric and George, by unspoken agreement, kiss each other goodnight in the entrance hall and part ways without a word.

Fred knowing exactly the date and its significance appears as if from thin air and with a cheerful nod and greeting to Cedric, extricates George smoothly and quickly from a situation that George felt certain might have sunk into a sad, potentially bitter parting based purely on speculation of what the morning could bring.

He steers his brother towards the kitchens where he places his unspeaking and glassy eyed twin in a comfy chair that the elves provide and hands him a large glass of dark chocolate mousse and spoon. George devours the contents of the glass without even noticing what he is doing.

Fred, whilst quiet for the most part about George and Cedric's relationship, has thought long and hard about this day and this night, and how best he could approach it. He had gone back and forth for the longest time on how to act, how to deal with his brother, what he could say that might provide some comfort. Despite his unwavering belief that the morning light would bring the two closer together, he knows that he cannot make promises to his brother that had even the slightest possibility of proving hollow.

Instead he continues to execute the carefully crafted steps of his evening plan – cooked up alongside and with the advice of Angelina, who was somewhere in the castle providing a parallel support system for Cedric. Designed to provide comfort and a friend, and to keep Cedric and George completely out of each other's ways.

Fred had spent the day watching his brother carefully. Observing his brother's mood and sensing the nuances of his hopefulness, had led Fred to decide as night fell that Plan A would be the best course of action. His original idea seemed the most true to what he thought George would need.

With the scraping sound of a spoon on glass, Fred focuses his gaze on George who was polishing off the last of the mousse laced with the mildest of Pepper up potion. There was a warmth to George's cheeks and a spark in his eye. Fred smiles at his brother who smiles back but didn't say a word.

"C'mon" Fred pulls him out of the chair.

They are dashing through the halls in a heartbeat sticking to the shadows – George following Fred to an unknown destination. Eventually they reach the Entrance hall and Fred doesn't hesitate before pushing the door open and dashing down to the Quidditch pitch at a full sprint. His brother follows him without question.

Out in the frost-tinged air the silences is more fluid and it feels safe to let out loud laughs, whoops and the occasional curse word when one of the twins over took the other in their impromptu foot race. In the distance the lake glistened and the large dark shape of the Durmstrang ship could be seen.

When they finally arrive at the Quidditch pitch they both leap, launching their gangly limbs into a mad scramble up the side of one of the stands, despite the fact that the stairs are just a few yards to their left. This was a maneuver they had been doing since their second year and it seemed rude to break with tradition now.

Fred feels the wards twitch slightly on their entrance to the pitch but nothing else happens other than that twitch. He lets up a silent thanks to Professor McGonagall who he had approached in May before they had boarded the train home for the summer, in preparation for this very night.

The rest of the night is spent in the cool September air, letting out loud whoops and cheers as they race each other around the pitch whilst hitting a bludger between them.

The moon rises high and full casting a blue glow down on the boys, and then eventually the sky starts to gradually lighten. The sky peels back from inky black, to navy, into royal blue, before the horizon starts to glow paler blue-orange.

In the stands Fred spies the outline a tabby cat sat watching the two boys fly high above and smiles to himself.

Eventually they land, unspoken tiredness weighing down their joints. They stash the brooms and return to the castle making their way to Gryffindor tower, George immediately heads towards the dormitory, most likely to collapse and pass out from exhaustion. Fred lets him go and instead sits on the sofa where Angelina is curled up sleeping. The movement when he sits is enough to rouse her.

"Fred?" she asks in a sleepy murmur. She reaches out a hand to him. He takes it and laces their fingers together, sleep fogging his brain. Her hand is warm and dry. "Fred, they have to be together. I won't be able to – hope for people anymore if they're not, y'know?"

She doesn't make any sense, but he does know.

The promises that had been lodged in his throat all evening, all week, spill forth without hesitation now that it is safer to do so.

"They will be together. They will. " Fred says.

She hums and drifts back to sleep. Fred casts a quick Tempus 4:57am – before he sets a silent alarm for 6:30 passing out next to Angelina.

Fred wakes him up at 7:00am telling him to get dressed so they can head down for breakfast.

For one sleep-foggy moment everything is good and normal, and then he remembers what day it is. He doesn't feel particularly inclined to go to breakfast and face whatever fate waited for him there. He feels certain that his fate is not one that he will particularly enjoy. A long time ago he had imagined this day playing out a bit like Christmas – he would be excited at the prospect of heading to breakfast buoyed by the certainty that the best gift in existence awaited him. Now though, it feels more like he is heading towards his own execution.

Fred does not let him skip out, and much like the night before George thanks his lucky stars that he has the best brother in the world, though of course he can never say that to his brother's face. But, by the smug look on Fred's face, he already knew that he was the best.

He feels distinctly exposed as he walks into the Great Hall. Those in the know – those closest to him and Cedric give him nods of encouragement and gentle smiles – but don't say anything. The rest of those in the hall continue about their usual breakfast routine oblivious to the earth-shattering potential of this particular day for George. It seems almost rude.

They reach their usual place at the Gryffindor table and Fred claps him hard on the back before they both sit down. Across the hall, the space where Cedric usually sits is empty and this sight makes George's stomach fall to the floor. Marty, one of Cedric's close friends, catches George's gaze and shrugs with an expression that says ' I'm not sure where he is.'

George refocuses on his breakfast piling his plate high, before picking up a fork and proceeding to push the food around the plate, picking the occasional bite. Angelina sits opposite him and fills the quiet with happy mindless chatter, which isn't exactly in character, but George is happy for the distraction.

She chatters on, making her way through a biting commentary on the Daily Prophet's last in depth Quidditch exposé though George is not listening fully, he's contemplating the mountain of hash browns in front of him, and wondering how Fred can have the energy, let alone the appetite, to shuffle up the bench to reach for the pancakes for a helping of seconds.

Cedric sits down on the bench in the gap that Fred had provided.

Cedric reaches over and starts filling a plate that has appeared in front of him, mainly with hashbrowns.

Cedric doesn't say anything but starts eating.

His hair is damp - he must have woken late and rushed a shower without leaving time to dry his hair. It's tousled and pushed back from his face in darker brown than usual strands and hasn't yet acquired its trademark fluffiness.

Cedric turns to ask Fred to pass the pancakes and there –

George is worried that maybe he is imagining things. His gut flip-flops dangerously with a bristle of hope.

He doesn't think, he just does.

He lifts his hand and pushes away the damp strands of hair there with his fingertips to get a better view.

Cedric has frozen at the touch.

But George doesn't say anything, he can't, he's too fixated on the silvery replica of his own small pale brown-splodged birthmark that now sits behind Cedric's right earlobe.

He touches the skin there, worried that if he doesn't the silver might prove to be a mirage and disappear when he blinks, but the texture of the skin is slightly different there.

Cedric – having waited long enough – turns.

He's smiling but stops when he sees George's face.

"Are you ok?" Cedric asks, worried. He casts about frantically for a moment before locating napkin and surging forwards to wipe tears from George's face.

"Yes" he croaks through tears. "I'm Ok now."

Cedric's smile lights up the room.

The classes at NEWT level are much smaller, so they contain students from across all four of the houses.

So Cedric, Fred and George file in together for their first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson of the year. Mad Eye Moody stands at the head of the classroom, looking even more menacing than he had when he had entered the Great Hall.

Angelina is running late to the class, and runs into the classroom citing a trip to the Hospital Wing and an apology from Madam Pomfrey between deep breaths, even as a piece of chalk flies at her head. All three of the boys wince even as she ducks the projectile. They can see her temper rise in a moment, and all three have to fight the urge to grin when she picks up the piece of chalk at her feet and with the speed and power of a Quidditch chaser launches it back at Mad Eye Moody.

They expect fireworks and anger. Instead they get :

"Good!" Mad Eye barks out with some laughter. "What's your name girl?"

"Angelina Johnson, sir." she replies.

"You've got good reflexes, girl. That's a gift."

Angelina smiles and sits down with the boys. Fred and George spend the rest of the class grumbling.

As they leave the room an hour and a half later Fred asks the question that had bothered the twins for the duration of the class.

"How come we never get called 'gifted' when we throw things at teachers?"

Angelina and Cedric break into laughter at this.

Cedric's name flies out of the Goblet of Fire in a flourish of blue fire. Dumbledore's deft hand plucks the paper out of the air and reads the name aloud with a calm air of finality.

The response in the hall is rapturous applause and cheering. George grins with the applause, feelings of pride and love welling up inside him. His Other the Hogwarts Champion. His Other, the Triwizard Champion,

He knew already that Cedric would win this competition - he could feel it.

Dumbledore plucks another name out of air and the Hall falls quiet. Harry Potter's name echoes about to a cold reception.

"Harry, - that's you. Harry! Get up." Fred and George can hear Hermione's whispered instructions.

Hostility radiates from every corner of the Hall as Harry stands to follow the same Path that Cedric had just walked.

Harry takes one step and the Weasley Twins rise as one.

In the quiet Hall filled with students, so anonymity seems to grant some the courage to shout derogatory things at Harry. Harry keeps his head bent low to avoid the stares of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students alike, so he doesn't immediately notice when Fred and George fall into step alongside him.

"Hey Harry." They say in unison. Harry startles a moment.

"Hey Fred, Hey George." He greets. "What are you doing?"

"Well, Harry, we have a feeling that whatever is happening here is really not your fault." George starts.

"We tried to enter with an ageing potion, which - let us tell you - was not an easy thing to brew, so whatever magic has got your name entered into the Goblet, well , we're thinking it's not so good."

Harry smiles weakly at them. They near the door that the other Champions had filed through.

"Good luck Harry." George offers as a quiet parting word.

"And ignore what this lot is saying" Fred tacks on the end.

Cedric is not prepared for Rita Skeeter's probing questions and frankly rude demeanour. In fact he is hopping mad when he eventually emerges from the tiny room that she had insisted on for her exclusive interviews.

He find himself replaying the exchange even on his way out of the room and up to the Hufflepuff Common Room.

"So, Cedric, enough about the tournament." Rita declares, somewhat surprisingly as she had only to that point asked two questions that were even remotely linked to the competition. Cedric steels himself for whatever garbage was about to emerge from her mouth.

"A little bird has told me that you recently turned seventeen."

Cedric nods, giving only the facts - he had found it easier that way. "That's right. On 12th September."

" Right, right." Cedric examines Rita's expression as she looks like the cat who caught the canary. "So that means-" Cedric feels something heavy in his stomach. "-that you must have your Other marks now."

Cedric doesn't say anything, but nods again.

"Now, you can tell me - we're good friends aren't we?" Rita leans forward to entice Cedric into divulging a secret. It has the opposite effect and Cedric leans back in an attempt to get further away from her. "You're a handsome boy, you must be frantic to find your Other! As much as they are to find you, I'd imagine."

Cedric is gritting his teeth at this point in order to refrain from saying something truly hideous.

"Not really, Ms. Skeeter."

"Come now, we can give the readers a little taste. If you can tell me something, perhaps the luck girl will be reading this and discover that she has a handsome Triwizard champion waiting for her at Hogwarts."

"I seriously doubt that." Cedric grinds out.

"Oh don't be so down on yourself!" Rita exclaims.

Cedric finds himself offended at Rita's words, the comments hadn't been in respect of his worthiness or deserving for a pretty girl like she had assumed.

He starts to stand up to leave, pushing a hand through his hair with stress. Rita stands up as well.

"Aha, " she crows, as he turns to leave, and she starts dictating to her quill. " Cedric Diggory, Hogwarts Champion, surprisingly tight lipped about the competition, prefers to turn his attention to the other things his life. Having recently turned seventeen and in receipt of his Other Marks, he told this Daily Prophet reporter that he wants really to focus on trying to find his Other Half. With a glint in his eye he is able to tell us about the small scar behind his ear-"

Cedric doesn't give the reported the satisfaction of argument. He does though, slam the door on his way out.

It doesn't feel too dramatic to say that the first task of the Triwizard Tournament is utterly destructive to George's emotional and mental well being.

George doesn't expect it to be so much. Fred, on the other hand, had had some inkling of the danger that might lie ahead. Fred, amongst the thousands of students in the stands, had held onto George's hand and not let go until Cedric was safe but for a few bruises and a golden egg clasped under his arm.

Fred conjures a handkerchief from somewhere and thrusts it at his brother to wipe up the blood he had drawn from chewing on his bottom lip so hard.

Later that evening the three of them sit in the kitchen of Hogwarts listening to Dobby's happy chatter and gorging on the danishes that the elves provide for them.

They eat and laugh and enjoy each other's company together. Angelina and Lee join them a bit later into the evening. Cedric mentions that he had extended an invite to Fleur as well, but she had declined the invite in favour of some much needed and much earned rest. All of the amassed company are careful to not mention the tournament so that the evening remains light in tone.

As the evening wears on, Angelina and Lee excuse themselves, and then Fred too. He breaks off from George and Cedric and wishes them a pleasant evening as he ambles from the kitchen with an armful of shortbread that Dobby wouldn't let him leave without.

George waits only moments after Fred has departed before launching himself into his Other's arms. They weren't a particularly physically affectionate pair in public, and something about today made George abide to this even more than usual in the company of others. But now he needed to feel the safe and solid warmth of his Other who was still alive after facing down a bloody dragon.

They half sit-stand awkwardly, Cedric still perched on a tall stool at the counter holding on to George with everything in his being. George can feel warm hands through his jumper that slide down and then up underneath the fabric, skimming skin on skin.

He pulls back and just stares for the longest time, holding Cedric's face in his hands and rubbing his thumbs under his eyes and across his cheekbones and then back again.

"I'm not so fond of this tournament" George mumbles to his boyfriend, his Other. It's inadequate, but it is all he can really think to say.

"Mmm, me neither really." Cedric replies ducking forward to plant a kiss on George's lips.

When Cedric tells him that the next task is not until the 24th February George cracks a giant grin. It is a stretch of time that yawns massively between the present and February, enough time to relax, enjoy the year a bit more, not think of the tournament.

The Yule Ball is a blessing and a curse all in one. Neither of them are particularly adept at dancing, and neither really like the idea of being on display - Champion and Champion's date and all.

But it grants them the chance to spend the winter holidays together as well as Christmas Day, a luxury that had never been able to indulge in before. Amos Diggory was a stickler for a Family Christmas and wanted nothing to do with George on this most sacred of occasions, a stance that Cedric had fought and pushed against for years, though George had pleaded him not to simply for his sake.

They wake slowly and lazily and together on Christmas day, both tucked in George's bed. It was warm in the dormitory, and quiet. A quick peek beyond the curtains revealed that the other boys had left for breakfast already.

They kiss for a long time, with no urgency for anything else in the calm of the christmas morning. Eventually though the kisses turn into somethingmore and more, and in the quiet of the dormitory they frantically bring each other off using hands and mouths and tongues.

"Merry Christmas" Cedric murmurs against George's cheek where he had collapsed. George laughs at this late seasons greetings. "I have something for you."

"Something better than what you just gave me?" George teases.

Cedric thinks for the longest time, considering the question. "Hmm. Not better per se, but certainly something that you could put on the mantelpiece without giving Aunt Muriel a heart attack. Which is more than can be said for what I just gave you."

"Ahh, you are a thoughtful one. And brining Aunt Muriel up when we are in bed, a sure fire way to make sure I don't get distracted by other things." George replies, he shudders at the thought, though he shakes it off quite quickly and returns to nibbling at Cedric's neck.

"Oi" Cedric exclaims "Focus for a moment, you menace." Cedric gently pushes George away to sit up and reach down into his bag, retrieving a few neatly wrapped packages. By the time he has righted himself on the bed with the presents, he notices a few scruffily wrapped parcels sat on George's lap. "Oh where did those come from." Cedric asks somewhat dumbly.

"That's a secret." George replies with a wink.

"Right," Cedric says slightly flustered, and still not wearing anything other than a bed sheet. His hair is delightfully ruffled. "Here, you first."

George opens the first of the three parcels to find a small packet of Dr Filibuster's Fabulous Wet-Start, No-Heat Fireworks. He looks quizzically from his boyfriend to the sorely outdated prank fireworks he holds in his hands.

"Urm. Call it a hunch about the next task. Please keep these with you?" he all but begs. And George nods, terrified for his boyfriend once again, even though he had managed to push the tournament far from his mind over the past month.

Cedric thrusts the next gift towards George trying, he assumes, to push thoughts of the tournament from both of their minds. It works.

The title of the book he unwraps is enough to make him blush and start shifting slightly. He opened to a random page a felt the blush rise to the tips of his ears when he looks to Cedric, he gulps at his playful expression, eyebrow arched in challenge.

George closes the book carefully and places it by his side with reverence. He reaches over just wanting to touch Cedric. His skin felt hot under his touch, and this triggers something. He all but launches off the bed at his Other.

"But breakfast,-ah -and we haven't even showered." Cedric protests.

Which is how Cedric ends up in the Gryffindor showers eyes closed tightly, with George on his knees in front of him.

Once they are both satisfied and showered, they dress together with small touches, kisses on shoulders and not-so accidental brushes of hands.

They wander together down to the Common room to open George's gifts with the intention of leaving for breakfast soon after.

"Oh, there was this one too." Cedric adds, passing the final parcel that got neglected after the second present was opened. It's a gorgeous monogrammed leather bound journal. George is speechless.

He presses a deep kiss against Cedric's lips and pulls back enough to mumble "Thanks" against him.

George thrusts his presents at Cedric, suddenly quite unsure of the things he has chosen. He needn't have worried.

Cedric opens the first of his presents and examines the tin with a glint in his eye. "Is this?"

George nods, smiling at his boyfriend who reverently holds the Never-Ending-Tin of dark chocolate covered honeycomb from Honeydukes.

"It's only got one year subscription on it at the moment, but we can see what you get for Christmas next year to remedy that…" George explains.

Cedric barks out a laugh at that, even as he starts to pick at the spellotape on the other present. It's a much smaller box, but the contents render Cedric speechless for a moment. Cedric gets all misty eyed at the beautifully engraved silver cufflinks with a tiny single line drawing of a badger occasionally trotting, then stopping and nosing at the non-existent ground with his snout, before looking up his attention caught by something he had heard.

"I thought you could wear them with your dress robes." George starts to break the silence.

"Of course, of course" Cedric almost whispers the words to himself. "George they're beautiful. Thank you." He breathes.

"There's something else as well!" George remembers. He throws himself back up the stairs and comes down with a larger neatly wrapped parcel. It's already been opened on one side.

"It's not from me, but I wrote to mum a few weeks ago to tell her - well you know -" he brushes the skin behind Cedric's ear, "and well-"

"-George, she didn't…" Cedric interrupts, he thinks he knows what is in the parcel. He stops speaking, because she did .

"I wrote to her in September to urm, well to tell her we had a new member of the family."

Cedric holds up the mustard yellow jumper with a large 'C' knitted in dark charcoal on the front. When he lowers it he is grinning.

He wears it to breakfast and for the rest of the day, immensely proud of walking around with what was tantamount to having Weasley Insignia Tattooed across his forehead. George finds it greatly amusing, as does Fred judging by his smile as they walk through the Great Hall to sit at breakfast.

Christmas Breakfast is a lavish affair, even for Hogwarts, and the entire school sit across the two long tables that are set up in the hall. With almost half of Hogwarts missing - firsties through to third years all gone home for the holidays, along with a smattering of those who were older and still wished to return home for Christmas - those who remained fit comfortably across two tables with Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students scattered between them.

Cedric digs into eggy bread and bacon with gusto, after pecking his Other on the cheek. They sit together opposite Angelina and Fred who seemed to be deep in conversation in the here and now, and pursuing some sort of fledgeling romance in the bigger picture. Fleur joins them a bit later, thankful for the varied company of Hogwarts students that she was confident wouldn't impolitely oggle her too much.

"Hey Fleur," Cedric greets as she sits primly next to him.

" Bonjour to you too," she smiles "Eez zat a - 'ow you say in eenglish- 'ickey?" she asks pointing at Cedric's neck.

"Yup" George answers happily.

Cedric looks embarrassed and the exchange causes Fred to snigger with delight.

Cedric elbows his Other, "You could have told me!"

"And miss this delightful exchange? I think not." George replies.

Fred and Angelina laugh louder.

The six of them - after Lee joins - spend the day taking a stroll around the lake and passing the time in the Hufflepuff common room, even more abandoned than the Gryffindor tower.

At 5pm the girls excuse themselves to go and get ready. The boys spend a little more time playing exploding snap and enjoying the peace and quiet before departing at 6pm to get dressed.

Washed, shaved, and dressed in their dress robes the Weasley twins wander down to the east corner of the Quad where they had all agreed to meet.

Angelina joins them first and Fred presses a chaste kiss to her cheek, and then a less chaste one to her lips. George smiles fondly as he turns away to give them a little privacy. Which is when he sees Seamus Finnigan and Lavender Brown walking in their direction and grins a wicked grin.

"Oi Lavender! Can I borrow you for five minutes?" He calls. She looks over to George with some wariness, she then looks towards Seamus and they seem to communicate through a single shrug before they walk over together. "You look lovely by the way" he charms, leaning forward and pressing a polite kiss to her cheek when she comes within arms length.

"Thank you!" She beams at the compliment. The girl, who had been just shy of shrill in her first three years, had seemed to calm down and mature slightly this year.

"Could you be a doll and play along for a few moments?" George asks with a twinkle in his eye. He can see Cedric approaching. She nods, and he offers his arm to her, she tentatively takes it.

"Ah Cedric!" George whips them both around and greets his Other, Lavender totters around with the movement precariously having not expected the sudden movement. "Perfect timing, my date has just arrived!" He gestures to Lavender. "Are you going stag?" he looks around Cedric for sign of a date.

Fred and Angelina (and Seamus too) watch on with carefully composed faces.

Cedric seems to stumble for a moment "But I thought you and I-"

"Well, you see Lavender here had the good manners to formally ask me. Good job she did it was getting down to the wire. I was really thinking I might have to go alone."

"But - I -I I, wait I did ask? Did I ask?" he looks to Fred, who just unhelpfully raises his eyebrows. "Oh my god I didn't ask. "

"Nope." George replies.

"Well that is greatly remiss of me, apologies Lavender this is quite rude, but needs must. George would you do me the honour of accompanying me to the Yule Ball?"

George shrugs, suddenly disinterested, "eh, sure. Why not?"

Seamus, Angelina, Fred and even Lavender are starting to snigger at the exchange.

"Oh you" Cedric threatens "You are going to pay."

He stalks forward and George has to release Lavender as he is driven out of the shelter of the quad and into the cool of the courtyard. Cedric dives for George's legs hoping to knock him off balance and deck his Other in the grass.

They dart around for a few minutes both trying to swipe in for the kill before Angelina's voice rings out "Boys! You'll get grass on your Dress robes, c'mon now."

They heed her advice, quietly bickering as they right themselves. They follow on at the rear of the little entourage they had acquired, clasping hands together and sharing a quick kiss before approaching their fate at the Yule Ball.

Christmas passes too quickly as does January, and before they knew it it was February with the second task looming before them.

Cedric spends more and more time in the library so George, when he is done with books, spends more time with Fred and Angelina. It doesn't feel like third wheeling, much like it never feels like third wheeling when it was Fred and George and Cedric. Both twins were adept at figuring out the moment that they had outstayed their welcome.

On a trip to Hogsmeade that they passed with good chatter and a few butterbeers at the Hogs Head, Angelina asks George:

"Does he know what the next task is?"

"Yes, but he is keeping quiet." George takes a swig of the Butterbeer "I think he doesn't want to scare me. Which doesn't help because my head starts running around coming up with the worst possible scenarios."

She nods and that seems to be the end of that conversation.

24th February dawns cold and crisp.

Fred notices that George is not in the Dormitory or common room and assumes that he has spent the night helping Cedric with last minute preparations.

He looks for him at breakfast with no further illumination.

He and Angelina are herded down to the lake with the rest of the student body. They clasp gloved hands together, Fred looking for his twin every step of the way.

"I am sure he is fine, Fred. He's probably just helping Ced." Angelina attempts to soothe her boyfriend.

"Yeah, yeah just helping Ced." Fred echoes in order to convince himself.

He spies Ron walking alone up ahead of him. This confuses him somewhat. He had thought that the rift between the golden trio had been fixed, so why was Ron not walking with Hermione at the very least. He watches his younger brother take a place in the stand some rows back from them, neither Harry nor Hermione materialise during this time.

Fred and Angelina look down to see the Champions lined up on a deck in swimming gear that did not appear to be designed with its thermal properties in mind.

Even this far away Cedric manages to catch his eye and Fred can make out Cedric's question as he mouths up at him "George?"

Fred catches the last words of Dumbledore's announcement. A treasure has been taken from each of the Champions.

Fred feels the world drop through his stomach. Cedric must read it on his face because the remaining colour drains from his cheeks as he looks at the inky water just a few steps in front of him. Fred sees Cedric swallow, his twin's Other looks back at him and nods with steely resolve painted across his features.

Fred breathes deeply - he knows he can trust Cedric above all others.

"What?" Angelina asks, having caught the exchange between the two of them. "What's happening?"

"George is- George is what Cedric has to retrieve."

"Retrieve? You mean he's-" She looks down at the water.

"Yeah" Fred says, his voice cracking slightly.

"That's barbaric. That should be illegal. "

"It will be fine," He soothes, though he feels like it will be anything but fine. "It will be fine."

Cedric breaks the surface of the water with as much composure as he can, pulling with him the dead weight of his Other. Treading water he pulls George to the surface and thank merlin George wakes the second his head breaks into the icy air.

George chokes and sputters and kicks, trying to get his bearings. He catches Cedric in the shin, but Cedric doesn't notice, he is pulling and pushing at the same time, hoisting George onto the platform and onto dry land.

People are gathered there and they pull George up and then Fred is there with a towel having pushed through people with not a care for anyone else gathered there. He wraps George up and has him sitting and sipping a cup of water by the time Cedric has the strength to pull himself out of the water.

Cedric lies there for a moment. The wet, wooden decking feels almost warm in comparison to the cold lake, the icy breeze is less welcome as it whips and stings against his skin.

A sudden presence alarms Cedric, but after seconds he is suddenly wrapped in a thick warm towel. He is still sitting on the deck, and there is someone sat behind him, holding the towel against him and imbuing it with a bit more warmth.

He turns and finds Fred there, Cedric tries to smile but just ends up chattering his teeth at Fred in thanks. He can't help the worry that if Fred is holding a towel around him that George has been left alone. His worry was unfounded, Cedric looks up and a few metres away George sits across from him, Angelina is holding George.

George meets Cedric's gaze, both remembering the words they had shared in the evening after the first task.

"Fucking tournament," Cedric mutters under his breath, even as they announce his spot of first place. "Stupid fucking tournament". Fred hears him and nods, echoing the sentiment.

Across from them George has closed his eyes and is breathing deeply, he still looks slightly blue.

After the second task an unspoken rule comes into being. They - 'they' being Fred, George, Cedric, Angelina, Lee, and Fleur when she joins them - do not speak about the tournament.

Instead they simply enjoy each others company and spend the spring months watching the grounds bloom with colour. They laugh and study together, and sometimes Cedric splinters off to study alone, all of them know he is preparing for the final task, and none of them ask what it might be.

It's one of these evenings with Cedric in the library that Fred and George find themselves together and alone in the Gryffindor Common room. They had spent the day brainstorming ideas for pranks that they could cobble together with limited resources, but that could also be carried around with ease.

After a day of hear work they are relaxing, spending a warm evening in the low buzz of the common room playing Wizards Chess.

"You do know that Cedric hates the tournament as much as you do at this point?" Fred says. His twin has been unusually quiet over the past week and a half, and Fred suspects that thoughts of the Tournament were again starting to take root.

George grunts in response, unwilling to get involved in this conversation.

"He's waiting for it to end and for real life to start again" Fred pushes.

"Doesn't seem like it" George engages "not the amount of time he spends preparing. Does he even know what the next task is?" he wonders out loud.

Fred thinks for the longest time - he thinks about the question Cedric had asked him a few weeks ago on a stroll around the lake the small but cheerful company had embarked on together, he thought about the bashful grin of Ced's face as he asked permission, and the letter that Fred had helped him pen to the Weasley Patriarch.

"No, I don't think that Ced does know what it is yet, but it can't hurt to be the most prepared. He doesn't bug you about it because he doesn't want to think about it with you shouldn't be so hard on him." Fred offers.

George looks up at his brother oddly. Fred sighs, knowing exactly what is coming.

"You broke up with Angelina?" he asks gently.

Fred nods not wanting to speak. Truth be told, it had hurt a damn sight more than he had expected it to when yesterday, they had taken a walk around parts of the castle unknown. He's not afraid to admit that they both cried a little bit.

"Our birthday is in less than a week, I didn't want to wake up and be forced into a difficult position - and, and well we've never said, but if I were her's she would have mentioned by now. We both knew that on some level."

"Fred, I'm sorry. Really, here I am complaining about my petty troubles. And I" his voice goes thick, "I didn't know. I'm sorry"

Fred scrunches his nose up in an approximation of someone trying not to cry. "It's difficult - I've never hated this thing before" he says gesturing up and around - but George knows that he means Others.

"It's okay to hate it Freddy. It is. One day you might hate it less and if that's the case, wonderful. If it isn't and you hate it until you are old and grey that's allowed, too" George reassures his twin.

Fred offers a watery smile and instructs a piece to move across the board. "Checkmate" he hiccup, laughs - tears rolling.

"Oh you utter bastard."

"What does it feel like?" George finds himself whispering into the dark. It was almost midnight on the 31st March. He and Cedric are lying together, curled together face to face. George is mesmerized by every line and freckle on his Other's face. He gets distracted briefly watching some wisps of fine dark hair tickle Cedric's forehead.

"It feels exactly like this - the peace and contentment." Cedric answers, though George had almost forgotten that he had asked a question. "I - I think for people who haven't, well haven't had this before, it must feel glorious. For me it didn't feel much different from any other night I spent lying with you. Except I wasn't with you at the time."

"Oh." George replies. Earlier, he had found himself briefly re-conjuring the moments of irrational irritation he had felt at Cedric's absence over the past few weeks, but now they disappeared in a moment - he saw through a clearer lens than before that he had been unfair. "If it feels like that, how will I know?" George finds himself asking another question that makes him feel like a child.

"You'll know" Cedric answers, voice low. He leans forward and presses soft warm lips against George's. There is no rush and no pressure, just enjoyment of each other in the moment.

In the warmth and stillness of the four poster bed, with the canopy drawn tightly around, George imagines that he can feel his hair moving slightly in an invisible breeze. He exhales lightly with it, mouth and tongue still moving in tandem with Cedric's.

Cedric pulls back and runs his hands down George's bare torso - warm fingers skimming lightly. And then he pauses and George knows why.

There, level with Georges belly-button and three inches to the left, was a small raised bump. In the darkness it was hard to see properly, but it hadn't been there moments earlier, and George knew that Cedric had a mole in exactly the same spot. He didn't need the light that came with the muttered Lumos to tell him that it would be a mark in silver imitation of skin.

Cedric was entranced. His wand, emitting a soft glow, lay forgotten at George's side. Cedric's broad hands gripped George's hips, thumbs splayed over his hip-bones, and Cedric had shuffled himself down the bed to examine the mark there.

Looking down George could see that it was an exact replica. He spotted another, slightly larger birthmark on Cedric's shoulder from his vantage point and lifted his own hand across his body to feel for it's silvery twin on his own shoulder - there.

He felt Cedric press a kiss to the mole on his stomach. "Marry me?"

The moment of contentment is popped with these two assuming words.

"What?" George thinks that maybe he had misheard.

He can hear the smile in Cedric's voice, "You heard me." Cedric is resting his head against George's stomach, his hair tickles a little, and his voice vibrates a gentle thrum onto George's skin.

"You're joking." George deadpans, certain that Cedric is playing some joke.

"I am most certainly not joking" Cedric hoists himself up to look his Other in his eyes. George looks wary and guarded. "Marry me, or Handfast, or whatever you want. We are each other's family, we have been really since we were 5. Let's make it official. It's you and me forever, any which way, so why wait?"

"You and me forever." George echoes, at a loss to do anything else.

"You and me." Cedric confirms. "I wanted to wait until now."

This stings more than George thinks it would, an odd pang of realisation. "You wanted to be sure." He states with a cold voice. "You wanted to see the marks on me first." Words come from his mouth without thought.

Cedric struggles, not anticipating the change in tone. "No!" he casts about for words, searching and searching for the right phrases to use, this he didn't want to get wrong. "I have always been sure. I wanted to be equal. I wanted to go into this partners."

And George can't find fault with this, because he imagined that he would have felt much the same way had their positions been reversed. "You'll have to deal with telling my mother." George says.

"Is that a yes?"

"And Percy is not invited."

"That's a yes, then?"

"It's a yes, Cedric." He murmurs carefully and quietly into the night. It's their night and n o one else's he thinks, Triumphant.

They stumble into the Gryffindor common room the next morning to little notice or commotion. The sight of Cedric emerging hand in hand with George was of little note amongst these parts.

Fred is sat on the big sofa in front of the fire in the common room, not moving and alone. George notices and walks Cedric to the portrait hole, kissing him goodbye - deeper and more passionately than expected - and sends him off to his own common room with the promise that they would meet for lunch. Cedric nods understandingly, looking towards the lone figure of Fred.

"Wotcher Fred." George calls, as he plonks himself down on the sofa next to his twin.

"Hey." It's a soft voice that greets him. George is not sure how to go about this, but he doesn't have to because his twin beats him to it. "Those freckles look good on you" he remarks.

George laughs, harder than the comment warrants, but it feels easier than making any conversation. Fred chuckles with him.

"Well, I would say the same to you but - here. Nothing I can see there." He declares lifting his brothers face by the chin, examining his forehead, cheeks, jawline and lifting his head up to look at his neck and shoulders. "Nope nothing there." Doing his best impression of a judge at a livestock fair.

Fred's right fist clenches closed tighter, balled up and resting on his leg in an unnatural position.

"Ah," George starts gently, worried that he might frighten off his brother "And what have we here?"

He lifts Fred's hand carefully and holds it clasped between his two hands, gently pulling so that Fred's arm is outstretched over his own lap. He carefully pulls at each of Fred's fingers until they slowly relax, coming away from his palm. There is nothing marking the back of his hand or any of his fingers.

Enveloping Fred's hand between his own he slowly - carefully - turns his brothers hand so it faces palm upwards. He doesn't look down, but instead watches his brother's face carefully for the longest time. There is something akin to pain there, just a little.

In deep silver a thick scar runs from the tip of his thumb down to the centre of his palm. George smiles gently, he's seen this scar before, he is sure of it. But Fred isn't smiling when he looks again. "I-" he swallows "I really thought it would be Angelina. I really wanted it to be her," he admits with some difficulty.

George knew that his twin loved with everything, and Fred had really loved Angelina. He doesnt say anything but he pulls Fred into his side and holds him in the quiet.

They walk down to the kitchen for breakfast, spending time with Dobby and the elves always prove to be a balm to battered souls, and it worked just as well now.

At one point George asks Dobby whether he might be able to fetch them four clean bandages, the elf looks slightly confused but nods enthusiastically and disappears with a pop and no other questions. He reappears with the bandages and George takes two for himself and hands two to his brother, who looks even more confused than Dobby had.

George smiles and starts to wrap his own right hand in the bandage, tying it securely. He leaves his fingers free but covers his palm and high up his thumb. He repeats again on his other hand and when that is done his turns to his brother.

He wraps Fred's Left hand first, haphazardly but securely, and then he tentatively gestures to Fred's right hand, wanting permission before he starts to bandage. Fred nods an agreement, and George begins to wrap covering the Other mark almost completely.

"If anyone asks" George says "Our fainting fudge is not ready yet." He smirks.

"Thank you" Fred says quietly, almost to himself.

They walk to lunch together, meeting Cedric in the Entrance hall before going to sit at the Gryffindor table.

At the sight of Cedric, Fred almost jolts. A grin works across his face, his anguish over Angelina and his Other all but forgotten. "Aren't you just dreading that mum is going to have to buy a new hat for the wedding?" he asks. "I bet it'll be an ugly thing, she'll probably get one with a whole peacock tail on it just because she thinks it's the fashion - or worse Aunt Muriel will lend her one of her monstrosities. Oh Aunt Muriel will be there too! And-"

He has to stop when George drives an elbow into his ribs.

"Less of that please" George asks faux sweetly

"And you just know that Percy is going to be insufferable about the whole thing because he isn't going to be the first to get married" Fred wheezes, plowing through even winded.

Cedric is smirking at Fred's words. He looks to George and there is a glint of mischief in his eye.

"Fred?" Cedric asks dragging the name out "Would you-"

"-don't you dare-" George cuts in, but its too late.

"-be my best man?" Cedric asks, all smiles and innocence.

"It would be an honour, Cedric. I thought you'd never ask."

"Bastards, the both of you. I have no clue why I tolerate this kind of abuse." George mutters to himself, but loud enough that they can hear.

Despite that, the smile on his brother's face is worth it. That is, until the smile falls.

Fred's eye has been caught by something further down the table. Angelina is sat with a gaggle of Gryffindor girls. Their sister is there, as well as Katie Bell, Parvati Patil, Hermione is sat at the fringes and in the middle, there, is Lavender Brown.

The scar on Fred's hand had been clear enough. They had seen it for weeks when she had first acquired the injury. Lavender had moped and wailed for weeks at the unsightly scar after she had inflicted it on herself during a particularly ill advised bout of slicing dandelion roots in a Potions detention. Most of Gryffindor House were familiar with the injury and it's cause, having had it thrust dramatically in their faces with the foul tale behind it on more than one occasion.

That had been a couple of years ago now, when Lavender was a second year, and melodrama had been the order of the day what with a giant snake roaming the school trying to kill muggleborns.

The group of girls laughed at whatever Angelina had just said and then continued to talk. Fred didn't take his eyes off them.

George saw Cedric mouth something at him across the table. "Angelina?" he asked silently and hopefully.

George shook his head. "Lavender." He mouths back, and Cedric's eyes go wide.

In the weeks before the final task a few things happen.

Fred, resolved, happy and getting happier by the day, approaches Lavender and asks whether she would like to perhaps, maybe, accompany him on the upcoming Hogsmeade trip. She agrees tentatively, with the unfortunate feeling that most people are subject to when talking to a Weasley Twin that they might be becoming the unwitting participant or test subject of a prank.

They return from Hogsmeade in high spirits and an agreement that perhaps-maybe-they could do that again sometime. Fred kisses her on the cheek by way of a goodbye, and she blushes.

And then they have to awkwardly walk back to the Gryffindor common room together making small talk because both of them forgot to factor in the fact that they both lived in the same place .

It works out for the best though, at the bottom of the dormitory stairs they bid farewell (again) and this time Fred kisses her gently on the lips. She smiles softly and real, says goodnight (even though it is only 5pm) and dashes up to the dormitory.

George and Cedric witness this exchange as does Angelina, who is sitting with them in the common room, but when Fred joins them, there is no awkwardness or hostility, simply pure happiness for each other. George send up a silent thanks again for his little Hogwarts family.

The other thing that happens is something that George wouldn't have expected to happen in a million years. A pervading sense of dread starts to seep into his bones at odd hours of the day and night, and then it becomes all hours of the day and night.

He enlists Fred's help first, and then Angelina's. This is something he needs everything to be set up before even approaching Cedric.

He even approaches McGonagall as much as it makes for odd conversation. Though as odd an encounter as it was, he thinks he won't soon forget the look of surprise on her face when he asks for the favour. He imagines that nothing a Weasley twin ever did again would elicit a look that would top the expression on her face that he caused simply with a conversation.

And so it comes to be through odd planning and a ragtag group of people, he finds himself approaching Cedric quietly and tentatively one afternoon in early June.

He had considered wearing his dress robes again, but had thought better of it. It was a Saturday and both he and Cedric were sporting comfortable muggle clothes - jeans and jumpers in the unseasonably chilly scottish evening. This was about celebration, not ceremony.

"Ced?" he asks. His Other looks up from the book his head is buried in. The library is quiet and cosy at this time on a Saturday. The clock had just chimed four in the afternoon this far north in the height of summer that was a time that heralded many more hours of sunlight.

"Come walk with me? Just for a bit. Then you can go back to your books if you want."

Cedric rubs his eyes and nods, "I need the break."

George reaches out a hand and Cedric takes it. He leads him down, down, down staircases and out into the fresh air.

He can see their destination, there is a small gathering of shadowy shapes in the distance. He wonders what Cedric makes of the small group of people there were bound for.

"George, what's happening?"

George stops and takes a breath.

"Ok." he starts, sounding so unsure of himself. "As a first point, if you say no right now, everything will go back to usual. Only five of us will ever know. But I wanted the option to do this now."

"This is getting weird now George. What's going on?"

"A few months ago you asked me to marry you 'or Handfast or whatever' you said."

"George -"

"And I still want to celebrate with all our family and friends, but right now I want to do this. " George nods his head towards the edge of the forest where those figures still wait quietly and with no urgency. "Marriage requires registering with the Ministry and an official and a lot of other stuff that's far too complicated right now. Handfasting - I've checked - just needs a witness and a caster who knows the rites well enough. And it's still recognised by everyone and the Ministry. And for some reason I find more than anything this is something I want above all else right now, each day that passes I find more reasons to do this, and less thoughts that I am just crazy now. And If you don't that's not a problem and we can wait for a day with everyone and-"

"George, stop talking." George clamps his mouth shut. Cedric leans forward and kisses him. "Now. Start walking." Cedric is the one leading them now tugging George along with him towards those people in the distance.

The three figures are Angelina, Fred and rather surprisingly Cedric finds Professor McGonagall. She smiles warmly at the pair.

"Professor? What?" His confusion is tangible. "Is this not against the rules or something?" Cedric finds himself asking lightly.

"Are you looking for a way out Mr. Diggory?" she asks sternly. He looks uncomfortable.

"No- ah I. I thought. I just was, It's odd that a teacher would be up for illicit handfasting of students."

"Ah I see Mr. Diggory. Well, when everyone is of age, and consenting, I have no trouble bending the occasional rule to celebrate the union of two students in love. Believe it or not, you are not the first handfasting ceremony I have performed for students." She smiles fondly at the memories that she has obviously conjured in her own mind "and when Mr. Weasley here came to me to ask I could hardly pass up the opportunity to inflict a possible calming influence on him." she draws out her wand with intent.

It's a short rite, and sweet to share with the people they cared so much about. After McGonagall pronounced the Handfasting complete she ushered the four of them off with a basket and told them to enjoy the rest of the day.

The basket contains some sandwiches, some grapes and a tin of shortbread, a few bottles of butterbeer and a flask of Firewhiskey that McGonagall had hidden amongst the picnic items. The party of four, later five when Lavender joined their celebration, spend a glorious afternoon in the June sun.

The morning of the third task is a very normal morning. All in all the entire thing seems to be quite a normal day. Cedric is not required to report for the third task until the sun is well on its way to setting.

Hand in hand they approach the Quidditch stands as the clock chimes 5pm, basking in the glow their day together has provided. A lazy lie in spent together had led to a lazy breakfast, and zero studying, as they decided to allow one full day of rest from the books even as summer exams loomed.

The fine weather saw them drawn to the grounds and once there George had the grand idea to leave the grounds through the passage behind the one eyed witch and venture to Hogsmede.

A quick stop at the Three Broomsticks was made to procure some sandwiches as sustenance - cheddar and homemade chutney on thick homemade bread, wrapped haphazardly in brown paper - and they had been on their way. They spent the rest of the day simply rambling aimlessly, seeing sights and parts of the world they haven't seen before, and doing it together.

It was blissful and much needed with this third task looming. They talk a little about the tournament, hands intertwined, and what this last task might bring but their words are tinged with the relief that they wouldn't have to deal with it anymore after the day was over. It was the last time Cedric would have to face anything like this alone again, George is certain.

Their hands remained clasped even in the presence of Amos as they stood chatting politely outside the stadium. There were greater things to deal with than Cedric's father's disapproval.

Molly and Arthur Weasley are beaming and sunshine when they arrive. George is surprised by but not unhappy with their presence, apparently the Weasley's had been invited to support Harry and the family had answered the call admirably.

Harry was there too, looking nervous but happy and proud of his new found fan club. Ron, Fred and Ginny were all assembled sporting fetching stripes of warpaint in different colours.

Fred offers the Palette to his twin and George smiles at his twins mismatched cheeks - One side Gryffindor and one side Hufflepuff. George looks at the paint.

"No offence Harry" he smiles as he reaches for the Hufflepuff colours and Hufflepuff only.

Harry grins. "Offence extremely taken" he replies.

"Ah well, you'll get over it." George deadpans back. "Look after him for me, won't you?" He asks of Harry. Harry nods solemnly, understanding the weight behind the words.

"Of course I will."

"Arthur." Amos Diggory booms towards the crowd, emphasis on the 'Arrr', in that friendly scolding way that says 'it's been far too long'.

"Amos!" Arthur Weasley turns to his good friend.

"And look here we have the entire Clan! Molly, lovely to see you again. Ginny, Ron, Fred, Weasley" Amos offers George a short nod and a hand is stuck forward, George shakes it. "And of course! The man of the hour! Cedric, m'boy."

Amos crowds in on Cedric giving him a rough side hug that Cedric begrudgingly accepts, whilst being pulled away from George. George smiles fondly, letting go of Cedric's hand. Amos hadn't seen his son in months and George got to keep Cedric to himself all the time. There would be time enough later.

Dumbledore's voice booms out loud across the stadium where they are gathered, announcing the objective and the imminent start of the third and final task of the tournament.

Amos clasps his son on the shoulder and hugs him briefly. George thinks for one terrifying moment that Cedric would enter the maze without bidding him even a quick goodbye. He is wrong.

Cedric turns and the light hits his eyes just right for the grey to gleam almost charcoal silver. He holds a hand out to George, now a foot or two above him having climbed to the front row of the Stands. George bends and grasps his hand underneath the railing - holding it tight.

"See you soon" Cedric smiles.

"See you, go bring back that Cup." George replied.

"Aye aye, Captain." Cedric salutes, and turns to walk towards his starting podium.

George watches Cedric and Harry nod at each other as Dumbledore explains the rules, restrictions and starting times. The cannon fires and the maze opens in front of Harry and Cedric both. They both jog forward into the dark, a part of George wants Cedric to turn back and just wave once more, but the yellow and black jersey just keeps moving forward, and the hedge seals itself behind him.

The deafening cheering continues a long time, even after Fleur and Krum both enter the maze, but eventually the amassed crowd tire of cheering at a dense, dark hedge that yields nothing.

The waiting itself becomes deafening; an irritating roar in George's ears. Something feels not quite right but George can't articulate the feeling.

His hand finds its way to his brother, gripping hard at Fred's wrist. Fred who had been chatting quietly to Lavender excuses himself from the conversation. He doesn't say or even do anything - but wordlessly surrenders his wrist and hand to his brother for something to hold on to. Lavender is kind and sympathetic and doesn't try to intrude.

Amos is closer to the centre of the stadium. Perhaps 10 or more seats along from the twins' position. He seems unconcerned even as the minutes tick by. An hour passes and Arthur and Amos have been chatting almost the entire time.

There's a jolt, someone kicking the back of George's seat on the stands, but he doesn't turn to look or chastise. He is too preoccupied feeding the festering feeling of dread.

He knows what has happened before it happens. A few seconds of pain - blinding pain - rip through him. He sinks to his knees on the stands and Fred lowers with him, trying to understand what in the world is happening to his brother.

No one else notices.

Two figures drop out of the sky - one in red and black, the other yellow and black. They land roughly and heavily on the ground at the centre of the stadium. Cheers erupt around them but the figures don't move - probably winded from the landing.

Dumbledore's voice booms out once more, instructing all to remain in their seats.

Harry moves, pulling himself so that he is half lying on Cedric who is flat on his back. George - part of George knew this, had seen this, before now - ducks under the barrier and jumps down to get closer, but he already knows what lies in wait for him there.

Arms come around him - Fred's he thinks - and they hold him. George doesn't make it to Cedric's cold body straight away because his knees buckle. There's warm breath in his ear and it's tell him to "Shhh" in soothing tones, which he doesn't understand because he hasn't said a word. But still the instructions come to soothe him, to quiet him some.

George is close enough he can hear Harry. "He wanted me to bring him back." Harry called through thick tears to Dumbledore who crouches over the two figures "He wanted me to bring him back to-" Harry looks up and around, and finds George.

George breaks free of Fred's arms finally - finally- and run-flails towards Cedric. It must be a trick of the light or something. Harry is gone, ushered off to the hospital wing by someone or other, Amos is there but George ignores that. Cedric's face is cold and still when George lays his hands on his cheeks to try to wake him gently. He leans over his Other - thankfully whoever had been wailing loudly and brokenly had had the good decency to stop - and tries to wake him.

"Ced." he calls. He tries again and again but it's no use.

Perhaps he is too cold to wake up, George reasons, and so with a great amount of effort - dragging limbs through a brain fog that feels like syrup, he curls up to Cedric's side. Slinging his am across Cedric's chest to try to imbue some warmth. Cedric has always had cold feet in bed.

"George. Georgie, you need to move away. Just for a moment, can you let go?"

Hands come around his, strong and certain they pull at his fingers, trying to get him to release Cedric. He must let go because no one tries to move him again.

[ "Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory." ]

When George wakes he is not sure where he is, or what has happened. His brother dozes in a chair next to the bed and as the hazy details come into focus he realises that he is in the hospital wing. For a moment - a blissful one - he doesn't remember why.

It knocks the breath from him when he remembers. His gasping breaths must wake Fred. Fred whose eyes are red rimmed from tears and who looks like he hasn't slept in days. Fred talks to him in a thick voice full of tears, in low tones Fred talks about everything and nothing and waits for George to regain the ability to breathe normally again. Fred climbs into bed and wrap his arms around his brother, still chatting quietly, and waits for George to drift off again, knowing he would have to do this all again in a few hours.

Part Two

It's a quiet sort of summer. The sort that is almost unremarkable if it weren't for the events that overshadow it.

Fred spends the summer in two ways: contemplating writing to Lavender and holding his brother together.

There are a few distinctly ugly moments: George, on more than one occasion, becomes so incensed at the injustice of the universe that Fred fears that he might hurt himself. George also chafed at Fred's presence more than once - they had all had enough of screaming and crying - so instead he George would spit hate and venom towards his brother in an attempt to rile Fred. It never works.

Then there was Amos - Amos who had, for some reason, taken it upon himself to blame George for the entire affair. Amos who had decided that his perfect son would never have entered the competition had it not been for George's wayward influence. It had caused a rift of unfathomable dimensions between Arthur and Amos.

It was a rift that had not been helped when the Ministry formally recognised George as Cedric's next of Kin following the registering of their Handfasting. And although Cedric had little by way of valuable possessions - and even if he had George doubts that he would have marched into the Diggory residence demanding it all be boxed and delivered to the Burrow - this paradigm shift that allowed George to ask ' please might he be able to keep a few of his jumpers - especially the Weasley one with the big 'C' on it' without consequence or fear of rejection was quite a lot for Amos to digest.

But the Weasley family for the most part are left in a quiet sort of limbo. Every single one of them walking on eggshells around George.

The news of relocation to Grimmauld Place is at once welcomed and reviled. Whilst the warmth of the Burrow could not be competed with, the prospect of change seemed to be what was needed - a balm for the frayed nerves of the whole Weasley family.

George heals in increments, on his own schedule, Fred finds. One day George is simply Ok to leave his room and see people, but any amount of coercion before that point had yielded no results.

The first time George speaks to someone other than his brother Molly almost drops her knitting needles. But after that point some light conversation at George's instigation is not entirely unheard of. He starts eating his meals with them again. At first it was just lunch before he would beat a quick retreat to avoid dinner. Breakfast requires too much energy to face, with too many people being too loud as they greet the day together.

He still finds it difficult to sleep. There is nothing for him in sleep, just as there is nothing for him in life. Although the thoughts of Cedric pervade his every waking moment, he wants nothing more than to sleep - he would welcome thoughts of Cedric there too.

More than anything, though, he wants the comfort of being able to say that he knew this story. He knew it's end and it's beginning and the precise moment of its midpoint. He yearns for the knowledge that he might be able to wrap around him like a safety blanket. But he doesn't know this story, not at all.

In the dark of the night he would talk to Fred and tell him such things, and other stuff too.

"I wrote to Harry," he starts once, something that jolts Fred back into being wide awake, "I wanted to make sure he was alright. I can't imagine what it must have been like to see that" George says in a voice that sounds very much to say that he can't imagine, despite his subconscious' best efforts at creating images in an approximation of the event "I should have written to him much earlier, he's alone with this, Fred. At least I have you."

If Fred was honest, he would have said that these were the last words he expected to come from his brother's mouth, and as such he found it difficult to summon and appropriate response immediately.

"You're an incredible person, you know that?" Fred asks into the dark room.

"Not really." George replies. "Just don't want Harry to feel alone." There's a long pause, and a deep breath. "How is Lavender?"

"I don't know"

"You don't know?"

"I haven't spoken to her since-"

"You haven't written to her at least?"

"I couldn't George. I couldn't. I was too busy, and then I was hurting too. And then I was too guilty." Fred admits.

"That's silly." George's voice is low and soft, "And now? What's the excuse now?"

"Still the guilt." Fred replies. Feeling foolish even as he did.

"There should be no guilt. You can't live your life without your Other, what? Just because that's what I will do? No, pish posh, there is no use in that."

"I'm not sure George."

"A good excuse would be being too scared of her, or not being able to think of the words. Guilt is pointless ."

A very long pause. George can sense the centre of the conversation shifting.

"Do ever you forget? Do you still expect to see him?" Fred asks quietly.

"I did once." George replies, remarkably easily. "It hurt so much that I don't let myself forget again."


"Yeah - thinking of it constantly hurts less than forgetting and looking for him in a crowd."

"I suppose so." Fred doesn't sound entirely convinced.

"Right. Get up." George suddenly declares.

"Wait what?"

Light blooms sudden and warm from George's wand. There is redness around his eyes,whether from tears or lack of sleep is unclear, but Fred has learned that it was best not to ask.

"Grab that" George instructs, and when Fred looks to where he is pointing he sees that George means for him to take a spare bit of parchment from the top of their dresser. "Here." George passes him a self-inking quill. "Now write." George speaks forcefully.

"What?" Fred asks, confused.

"To Lavender. Write." George tries again. There's a glint of something warm in his eyes, something that Fred hadn't seen for a while. "Tell her you will see her at school, that we are going away for the rest of the summer and you won't be able to contact her for a bit. Tell her you are sorry that you haven't talked to her since, that you have been having to look after your idiot brother-"

"-Stop that." Fred interjects. "You are not an idiot. And more importantly I won't apologise for this summer."

"Oh ok. Whatever you need to say, make sure you say it."

They send the letter off in the early hours of the morning, watching it fly out of sight against a steadily brightening sky.

It is some time past 5am, but both of them have a bit too much energy, so George suggests that they dress for the day and go to help with the last parts of packing and cleaning before they relocate to Grimmauld that afternoon. They spend the rest of the morning in an easy back and forth as they finish cleaning their room and move onto packing up the living room.

When the rest of the Weasleys rise they find the twins laughing heartily at an anecdote George had told.

George joins them for breakfast that day.

Grimmauld place is dank and dark and their days are quickly swallowed up by helping their mother make the place remotely livable.

The twins become fast friends with Sirius Black, not-mass-murderer and prankster-extraordinaire. Though George occasionally finds it difficult when both Sirius and Remus were around each other. There was something like a spark of what his future with Cedric should have looked like Fred thought.

"Sirius" Fred asks one day, having become comfortable enough with the man to approach the topic, "Can I ask what it was like to be apart from your Other for so long?" Fred feels like he is eleven all over again and asking questions that he shouldn't be asking in the Burrow's garden so long ago.

There's a look on his face, something that teeters on the edge of sympathy and hurt, and Fred thinks he should try to explain himself better.

"I want to be able to help George more, and I know it is not remotely the same. Or perhaps it is. But I thought if I could understand, then I might be able to help." Fred rushes to elaborate.

"You are helping just perfectly now, I think Fred." Sirius says kindly "It would not do to dwell on what he feels even more - it wouldn't serve either of you well." Sirius with a tone of finality about the topic.

Fred heeds the warning in Sirius' voice and returns to the research he was pursuing - occasionally running something by Sirius.

Later George and Ginny join them him in the library for the quiet time in each other's company.

Fred watches as Ginny catches George's hand as he reaches to turn a page. She lifts it up to her face to examine the scar there - it was an Other mark, a replica of the scar Cedric had had from a gnome bite that Fred well remembers. Acquired whilst helping the twins de-gnome the Burrow's garden.

It isn't silver anymore - it looks just like a regular scar, something George might have acquired all by himself.

Ginny tilts his hand and examines the mark in the light. She looks between it and her brother's face for a few beats, and George watches her do this. Then she plants a butterfly kiss on it, like they had done to her before when she had bumped her head or grazed her knee.

George smiles, and blinks slowly in thanks, before pulling his hand back.

Harry arrives at Grimmauld in a whirlwind of temper and anger.

George encounters him first on the second floor landing. It is deserted but for them, and they size each other up for the longest time.

He's not sure which one of them gives way first - but he remembers being pulled in for a rough hug. Both him and Harry cling to each other slightly in remembrance of Cedric.

They don't say a word to each other about it, not then and not later.

Harry offers Fred and George his Tournament Winnings to start their business. They take a day to consider his offer and then agree to the offer.

For George at the very least this is the beginning of the end of his interest in education.

Hogwarts holds none of the appeal it once did George finds as they board the train bound for the castle. It was not a feeling that he had expected to feel.

Nor had he expected the journey to evoke such a strong nostalgia. He finds himself struggling to breathe in a compartment when he realises that this would be his first journey to school without Cedric by his side.

It's very hard to know what to do with himself. He doesn't look Fred in the eye, instead he gets up and murmurs something about needing to take a walk for fresh air.

By chance he finds Angelina sitting alone in a compartment with her head stuck in a book.

He feels guilty that he hadn't even thought of her over the summer, hadn't thought of how close she was to Cedric too. Hadn't thought of how she had lost Fred and then Cedric in quick succession.

He sits himself down next to her, and waits for her to notice him. Which she does immediately, but decides to ignore him in favour of finishing the chapter she is still engrossed in.

George sits silently waiting for her to finish. He stares out of the window, and the passing blur of the trees starts to lull him into a peaceful state. After a few minutes of this his eyelids become heavy. He shuffles on the seat, nudging Angelina up the bench, and curling up on his side. Not once does Angelina look away from her book even as she lifts her arm slightly so George can duck beneath it, settling his head in her lap.

With the rise and fall of her breathing, punctuated by the occasional turn of a page he drifts off seamlessly.

After an hour or so Fred sets out to find his brother. It was unlike him to wander off for so long without telling Fred what he was up to. Though, Fred supposes, all normal behaviour had been thrown out the moment that Cedric's body had landed on the hard ground in front of them.

He runs into Lavender first, by sheer coincidence. He almost turns and flees when he sees her, frankly terrified at the prospect of facing her at this moment, but she spots him before he can make an escape.

She approaches slowly and carefully, as if she is worried that she might scare him away. She stands in front of him directly and waits until he looks down to meet her eyes.

"Thank you for your letter" she says quietly. "It meant a lot. I hope your summer…" she trails off. The end of that sentence is 'good' or 'nice', and both of them know that. Both of them can also sense the wrongness of those words to describe the events of the year before and the inevitable impact they had on the summer "...was summer?"

It becomes a question and she smiles weakly.

"'You hope my summer was summer'?" Fred quotes back at her trying not to let out a laugh.

She shrugs now refusing to meet his eyes. Fred finds it adorable and on instinct sweeps down to press a kiss to her cheek. She blushes prettily.

"I'm trying to find George," he says, "come with me?"

"Uhh.. I don't think that is the best idea." she says, suddenly unsure of herself. Not like when she had marched up to him only moments before.

"Come with me, it's all okay." He murmurs to her, and something certain in his tone obviously provides enough reassurance. She nods and he takes her hand as they weave around students peering into each compartment.

George wakes bleary eyed, thick mouthed and only half aware of his surrounds.

Angelina was talking in a low voice to someone else in the compartment. It takes a moment for George to realise that it is his brother. A few more moments of listening allow him to know that Lavender is also there in the compartment with them. It makes him smile internally, giving him hope that his brother will worry less about spending time with his Other around him.

They are talking about him, of course. There seemed to be little else by way of conversation topics these days.

"The first few weeks are going to be hardest," Angelina is telling Fred, which seems odd, like it should be the other way round.

"Nothing could be worse than-" Fred tries to say.

"Just think about it, Fred. Hogwarts has always been the place that they could be together, spend every moment with each other. I'm sure Cedric and George had many memories they made at the Burrow or at the Diggory's place, but not half as many as those they made at Hogwarts, I guarantee you." Angelina says.

The air kicks out of George - not at the realisation that Angelina was - of course - correct. But at the sound of Cedric's name said out loud by someone who was not himself or Fred. He hadn't realised that he had yet to hear anyone else say it in such casual conversation.

It had been screamed at him through floors and walls by Amos, and whispered to him by Fred, and he had said it so many times in his own mind. He had given no thought to the fact that no one seemed confident enough yet to mention him in the twin's presence.

"-I hadn't thought of that." Fred says quietly.

"Of course, you've had so much going on already." Angelina says gently, "No wonder you look like you haven't slept in weeks."

The comment confuses George. Fred had looked fine to him over the past few weeks.

"Both of you look a mess." Lavender agrees. George is both offended and approving at the same time. It was a good sign that Lavender was the sort not to sugar coat things even early in their relationship.

"You can sleep now though Fred. You have us, you both have us. And the rest of Hogwarts. We are all behind you both,for as long as you need us."

The ministry witch is a hag. She would be gone sooner rather than later, thought Lavender, as she sits opposite the twins at the feast. She would be surprised if the woman lasted to Christmas even.

George is surprised that the thing that breaks him the most is Umbridge's punishment. As words are etched into his hand he can't help the anger and frustration that rise up in him. He had been - all things considered - quite good, quite restrained up until this point.

It isn't the pain that causes the outburst but the thoughts that swirl trapped in his head. The thoughts that Umbridge had the audacity to claim that Voldemort hadn't returned, ignoring Cedric's death so easily. All of this was topped of with the frankly ridiculous realisation that, as the words started etching across George's hand, that they should somewhere be etching onto Cedric's hand as he sat completing potions homework or something else as equally mundane. But they weren't and they never would.

Lavender is armed with Essence of Dittany that she had begged off of Hermione when the Twins stumble into the common room. She sets up a bowl for each of them to submerge their hands in the soothing liquid.

George catches a glimpse at the silver writing etched on her own hand as she lifts up on tiptoes to kiss Fred and it makes him hiccup oddly but the tears do not come, thankfully.

When summer comes, the Weasleys find themselves back in Grimmauld Place. This time Lavender and her parents have joined them, and it makes George smile to see Fred and Lavender at the big table in the kitchen, happy and spending time together.

Their time at Grimmauld Place is also marked by the presence of Remus Lupin. The summer before it had been difficult to watch Remus and Sirius, so happy after being miserable for twelve long years. Now, George thought idly, they ought to form a club of some sorts.

He makes a habit of keeping Remus company when he can. He sits with him the library, not talking, just reading. He would do a sweep of the house and offer to make tea for those he found, but he did it with the intention of checking in on the man. It was not something that he could keep up, but it was something he could do for someone else.

George brings two mugs of tea into the library late one wednesday. He sets one down by Remus and goes back to his notes.

"I won't break you know." Remus starts by way of conversation. It is perhaps the first moment that he has acknowledged George's actions.

"I know you won't." George replies simply.

Whatever Remus had expected George to say in response, that wasn't it.

"You know?" he asks, surprised.

"You'll carry on as you did. Some days you'll feel more inclined to join in and talk, and some days you will want your own company. You won't break in front of other people, or even by yourself. Little parts of yourself with shatter and break away from you everytime someone says his name, or mentions him in general. But you will stay standing. We're made of strong stuff."

Remus smiles grimly at George's analysis.

"How much did I get right?" George asks with the light of grief tinged mischief in his eyes.

"Enough." Remus says by way of reply. "Enough. I thought - foolishly - when you lost Cedric, I thought to myself that you were too young to lose someone, but also too young to feel the full extent of it. I am sorry I made that assumption now."

George looks long and hard at Remus, at the way he has aged just in the weeks since Sirius had passed. He nods briefly "Apology accepted."

They return to their own pursuits for a while, before George asks.

"Here Remus, can you help me with this?"

George bulls out the marauders map, swearing that he is up to no good as he does so, and folds it out on the table.

"Oh, Harry's map." Remus says with some surprise that George has it.

"Yeah, I borrowed it for a few moments. Do you think you would be able work out what kind of magic the Marauders have used on this section of the map, me and Fred want to see if we can replicate it and apply it to a micro-version so that you can detect whoever is actually in the room with you, whether they are polyjuiced or in animagus form or - what?"

Remus is grinning from ear to ear. "George, I can tell you exactly what magic was used."

The new business soars with success. More than even George and Fred had expected. Their mother is suitably incensed at their business and the attention they were drawing to themselves.

Despite their mother's worry and her belief that the boys didn't care about their own safety, the brothers had had many a conversation about the danger that they might be placing themselves in. Each talk had ended with the same decision - a resolve to continue until they couldn't anymore. Every conversation had the same tangent though.

"What about Lavender?" George would ask of Fred.

"What about her?" Fred would say. "She is safe at Hogwarts, and she is more than capable of taking care of herself as well."

Despite the reassurance, George did worry. It had been nearly two years - two difficult years and still the grief had not eased. It still hurt everyday that Cedric was not there by his side.

Sometimes he needed to distract himself from it, he would emerge himself in developing new products.

Sometimes he needed to distance himself. On those days he would contact Angelina and go for lunch with her, somewhere in Diagon Alley where they hadn't been before. Angelina could find the oddest cafes and restaurants off the main thoroughfare of Diagon. Occasionally they venture out into Muggle London to enjoy the peace and calm. She takes George for Moroccan food once and Italian too many times to count, and one memorable time they go out for Sushi.

Other times George needs to press down on the Grief to make sure that it still hurt - like prodding a newly developed bruise.

On one of these days he starts designing a product to pay homage to the Triwizard tournament and the prosperity that it had brought their business. When he tells Fred his brother looks uneasy, but George moves forward with the product. Fred checks time and time again to make sure that George is ok with creating something so closely linked to Cedric's death. George never answers, simply presses on, prodding and scratching at his own grief.

The final product proves more popular than any of their other non-prank items: Small, fire-breathing dragon miniatures that protect their golden eggs at all costs whilst going head to head with other dragons from the line. The outcome of each scrap a reflection of how well the owner of the dragon had tended to their miniature.

Angelina takes him out to Muggle London to celebrate the success.

It's nearing summer so Lavender, with directions lifted from the Marauders Map (Remus and Sirius' map, George corrects), occasionally visits to spend time with Fred. George smiles at her and lets her up to the Flat - as he is heading down to meet Angelina.

George and Angelina go to the theatre and watch something called Les Mis. They go for drinks afterwards, it's too late for anywhere to serve food, and they pass the evening in laughter and easy conversation.

George kisses Angelina goodnight at her door and walks the fifteen minutes down Diagon Alley back to their flat. With the amount of alcohol coursing through his system he doesn't trust himself to not splinch if he tried to apparate home.

A warm glow from their living room window beckons him home.

Lavender and Fred are awake still and reading on the sofa in the soft quiet of the early morning when George stumbles in. Both of them look up with faint amusement, they aren't startled at all, and George realises that they must have heard him coming up the stairs.

"Good evening?" Fred asks. Lavender, lying across the sofa, with her head in Fred's lap turns the page of her book.

"Indeed!" George hiccups. "Angelina, she's a" he waves his hand in the air trying to conjure a word. "She's a good one."

"That she is," Fred says. "Anything you want to share?"

"Yeah, but shhh. You can't tell anyone." George declares in a stage whisper. Lavender is trying to concentrate on her book and not dissolve into giggles. "She kissed me- Or. Or did I kiss her? Well, kissing happened."

"Ah." Fred says. "Are you ok?"

"Of course!" George says. "It was quite nice. Different to Cedric." Hiccup. "But nice. She's nice"

"She is," Lavender says, now giving up on the pretense of reading.

"She's very nice."

"Glad you're happy, George." Fred says "C'mon off to bed with you."

George nods sleepily and follows after Fred who hands him a glass of water and a Sober Up potion before tucking him in to sleep.

News reaches the twins of Dumbledore's death and the battle that followed at an Order meeting the day after it happens. George watches his twin carefully, seeing the worry etched across his face.

After the meeting Fred pulls George aside to ask him a favour. George agrees quickly. If Fred hadn't asked George was almost certain that he was going to suggest it himself.

Lavender moves into the flat with them that Summer.

George is still pretty annoyed with himself that he can't think of anything better than "Holey" when Snape takes his ear off. Fred and Angelina seem to be more upset by the injury than he is.

He finds himself thinking briefly about whether Cedric's Other mark would have manifested as a lost ear to reflect George's injury. The idea of ever-so-handsome Cedric wondering about less and ear is quite amusing. The picture of Cedric and him on the nightstand in his room seems to smile at the idea too.

The call from the Order comes in on a Saturday midmorning. Fred, Lavender, George and Angelina all assemble quickly. The shop is closed swiftly but quietly by the four of them, with careful thought they pull anything and everything from the shelves that might be able to help them in a battle situation.

George keeps half an eye on Lavender and Fred at all times. He watches how they naturally gravitated towards each other, orbiting like moons to the other's planet. He thinks that he and Cedric used to move like that.

They apparate directly into the passage between The Hogs Head and Hogwarts. George averts his gaze as Fred and Lavender pull at each other for a tender kiss-and-goodbye before they walk through the portrait to the Room of Requirement beyond, and the battle beyond that.

Lavender goes first, and then Angelina - after their own hand squeeze and goodbye, leaving Fred and George alone in the dark passage.

Fred looks terrible and terrified all at once. George grabs his brother in a rib-cracking hug.

"It will all be fine Freddy." George promises. "We, all of us, will walk away from this after today. We will go back to the shop and carry on, just as we had. Just with increased sales of U-No-Poo for 3 to 6 months."

Fred snorts a wet chuckle at that.

They had had a rule that they had abided to since they were young - perhaps seven or eight - neither of them could really remember the when and the why, but it had always seemed important to stick to.

No lies and no promises that weren't a sure thing.

Fred doesn't call George out on this now. They walk through the portrait together.

George watches an explosion of rubble and ducks slightly to avoid the larger pieces of flying shrapnel. The cackles of Yaxley and a Carrow twin echoes in the aftermath of the blast though George finds he cannot hear it.

It isn't true. It can't be. It's false, whatever enchantment is causing it, it's false. A boggart perhaps.

It's the smile on his face that causes the moment of realisation. A boggart or enchantment would show him Fred's broken body, but not - not in a million years would the boggart have the imagination to plaster that last grin on Fred's face.

Only the grotesque horror of the war would do something as cruel as that, George thinks.

He goes for the Carrow twin without a thought, Percy is at his side. He thinks for a moment that his brother means to stop him, but on a second look he sees the same furious grief on Percy's face too.

It is too much. Far far too much. George thinks.

His twin is cold and still in front of him. This time they are lying together in the Great Hall.

He can hear the voices and feel the hands of the rest of his family around him, tugging at him or Fred.

It's too similar. Moment after moment -again and again- he is in the same position, he's there again; lying on grass outside a great maze that has claimed Cedric.

From grass to hard stone and back again. He finds himself unable to make sense of the cold body he feels beneath him. The tears have dried up long ago, three years ago to be precise, but it doesn't stop the dry heaving that wracks his body.

He clings harder this time. He hadn't fought long enough to hold onto Cedric, he wouldn't make that mistake again. He wouldn't

A shriek comes from the other end of the hall. George doesn't recognise the voice immediately, but he does recognise the pain. He has lived it before.

He doesn't relinquish his grip for a second, but he does shift slightly, he wants to make sure that Lavender has the space she needs to hold on too.

Perhaps with two of them holding on tightly, they can convince whatever deities existed to let Fred stay, George thinks in a state of sort of idle delirium.

With Voldemort gone, the last image of his frail corpse falling to the ground, George finds he can breathe easy for a moment. Perhaps better than he has in the longest time.

The ghosts of Cedric, and now Fred - oh Fred - seem to take this as their cue to disperse from George's fogged mind. In a moment of clarity and peace they take their leave and George's soul bids the previously unacknowledged weight a bitter farewell.

He is picking his way back to the Great Hall where he knows his family will be when he notices something across the courtyard.

There is slight movement so he walks towards it with the intent of helping whoever might be trapped or injured under the rubble. A few moments longer before he rejoined his family would not be noticed amid the chaos of the aftermath.

He climbs over fallen arches and parts of castle he never thought he would see so close up.

He is not prepared for the sight that greets him.

The left side of Lavender's face and throat is shredded. A few metres away from her a hulking mass lies still and George finds himself muttering "Good girl" to the witch who took down Fenrir Greyback.

She's gurgling, struggling for breath, and because George approached from her left side she doesn't know that he has approached. He doesn't hesitate, he lies down on her right side, face drawing parallel to hers, he bends his arm to pillow his head.

"Hey Lav." He says, using the nickname he had heard Fred use more than once.

She makes a startled noise. Her right eye cracks open a mite more, and he can see her pupil fix on George.

"Fred?" she asks.

George's heart stops, but his brain and mouth does not.


"Is it really you?" She asks, struggling with each word for more breath.

"I'm here, Lav," George replies, not answering her question.

"But, I thought I saw you in the Great Hall." she manages to squeeze out. "Dead" she grinds out. George is not sure whether it is the physical pain of her injuries or the emotional pain of the memory.

"That-" Forgive me, Fred. "That was George."

"Oh." She replies. He knows that she was in no state to remember anything clearly at this point. "Oh," she repeats. "Stay with me?"

"Of course" He whispers to her. He reaches a hand up to smooth across the cheek that hadn't been shredded by Greyback, brushing away some of the rubble dust as he did so.

"'M scared" she manages and he can't look away as he watches tears trickle down through the dirt on her skin and drop onto the stone below them. Her breathing is becoming lighter more shallow.

"That's okay. It's okay to be scared" George finds himself reassuring her, and the words go some way to helping him too.

"Will - you. " she struggles for every word "be here w-when I wake - up?" She asks of her Fred.

George thinks of his brother's cold body laid to rest currently in the Great hall.

"When you open your eyes, Lav, I'll be waiting for you there."

George carries her body to the Great Hall. He lies her down next to Fred, where she belongs.

Ginny is missing from the family gathering, and for a horrible moment, he thinks he may have lost his little sister too. But Charlie shakes his head at George's alarmed face and points to a few yards away. Tonks lay silent and unmoving, her turquoise hair matted and her eyes unseeing, and Ginny was there too - lying next to her. Ginny is breathing and talking to her. She doesn't scream or shriek or hold on as he had done with Cedric, and later Lavender had with Fred. She simply holds Tonk's hand and talks to her.

He sits at the feet of Fred and Lavender and keeps watch as friends, family, teachers, acquaintances, come to say a farewell to the pair of them.

Harry finds him much later in the day.

"George, can I talk a moment?" Harry asks. It's odd to hear someone talk so matter of factly, so normally, when it feels like the whole world has fallen through the floor.

Harry looks wrecked but also remarkably unruffled for all he had been through. Peering closely George sees the seams where he will crack later. He pays attentions to Harry's hand - held firmly by Hermione - and sees how those cracks might wax and creek but would not fully fall apart as long as Hermione held on.

George nods and stands, following Harry - and Hermione as well by default.

Harry leads them to an empty classroom not far from the Hall. He tries to let go of Hermione at the door, but she refuses, a whispered conversation follows, and in the end Hermione reluctantly let's go. Harry nods at George and both enter the room. Harry locks the door behind him.

Harry speaks "I can - I can only-" Harry seems to think twice about what he is about to say or do, and then shakes his head to clear the confusion. He speaks fast after that. "What I am about to do, I can only do once. This once. It cannot be done again, there- there- is not enough magic for it again," Harry is lying George can tell, but he lets him continue. "And you can never ask me for it again. You aren't to speak of it. Do you understand?"

George says nothing.

"You have to say you understand - Otherwise. Otherwise - I can't give you the one thing I so want to." The cracks of Harry widen and gape for a moment. George thinks he might shatter completely. A part of him wants Harry to shatter so that he might be able to join George in the Million pieces that he lies in cast in the wind. Set a flutter and directionless.

"I understand." George concedes.

"Ok." Harry sighs, "Good. Close your eyes."

George doesn't.

"George, please. "

So George closes his eyes. He can hear the clatter and voices outside the door, in the hall, the courtyard, the Great Hall. George's focus goes elsewhere - there's a tree somewhere on the grounds - a pear tree planted as a memorial to Cedric, and George finds himself wondering if he might find sanctuary there.

There's a breeze in the room, and it almost causes George to open his eyes but he remembers the steel in Harry's voice and scrunches them tighter closed.

"You have-" Harry's voice is thick with something. "You have quarter of an hour. No more. I'm leaving now. When you hear the door shut you can open your eyes. I'll keep watch outside and make sure no one comes in."

The door clicks open, he can hear footsteps and then the door clicks closed.

George opens his eyes carefully, worried about what might greet him in the room, what might cause Harry to act so strangely.

He couldn't predict this.

"Hey, George." The spectral version of his own brother greets him.

"Fred?" The word comes out strangled as a million different things all compete at once to clamber from George's mouth.

"I'm here, Georgie." He soothes, smiling. He turns to the presence at his side as if to alert George of her presence.

"Lavender" George sighs. "Lavender I'm sorry I told you that I was Fr-" He finds he can't finish the words.

"Shhh. Don't be silly. You were right, Fred was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. So you didn't lie. Thank you for staying with me George."

"Of course. I wouldn't leave you." George finds the voice to say. "I never wanted either of you to leave."

"And what am I?" a voice comes from behind him, tinged with laughter "Chopped liver?"

If George was being honest - which he felt inclined to do in the presence of three ghosts - he had felt him in the room before he had even opened his eyes. He daren't look at him for fear of what affect Cedric might have on him.

He doesn't turn immediately but finds himself watching the smirk on his brother's spectral face.

"You will have to look at me eventually," Cedric says softly, by way of a gentle prod.

"I'm scared." George finds himself saying, though he didn't realise it is true until the words emerge.

"Don't be," Cedric reassures. "You have faced the worse, it's all behind you now. I both promise and apologise for that. All there is now is me."

George hadn't seen his Other's face in Three years. Photos didn't do Cedric's beauty justice. He finds himself stepping forward, hand outstretched desperate to feel his skin, or breath, or some sign of warmth and light. But of course, he never would. There's something off, and it takes George a moment to notice that a silver Other line runs up, bisecting Cedric's ear from him.

"You're here." George breathes.

"I'm here. For the next twelve minutes or so." Cedric breathes.

And it's so easy to fall back into their old ways "Oh what we could do with twelve minutes"

Cedric tips his head back and laughs at this. On his periphery George sees Lavender giggle and press her face into Fred's neck to stifle the laughter, Fred clears his throat to announce his presence to the assembled couple drawing attention back to himself.

"You are a menace" Cedric teases. "And sadly, even if we were somewhere more comfortable and more alone, that's not possible in this form."

"Drat," George says with faux upset.

"Enough of that you two," Fred says. "Come sit awhile George." He gestures to a table still standing. "Tell us what happened at the end."

So George sits and tells them - he fills them in the last acts of the Battle of Hogwarts and of Harry's journey. He tells them who else was lost in the battle, and for Cedric he tells in broad brushstrokes the shape of the war as it had arched over the past three years since the Triwizard tournament.

When he is done with that - there is not time enough left, there never is - they speak of Hogwarts and its people and life, for lack of something to talk about that was not their deaths.

Lavender tugs on Fred's insubstantial sleeve and makes some sort of gesture.

"She's right, time is running out." Fred starts, and the thickness comes back to George's throat too quickly. "We need to go."

George's face is wet before he even has time to realise why or how.

"So soon?" He croaks. None of the ghosts rush to answer the unasked question.

"You are so kind and good, George Weasley," Lavender says by way of a farewell "Never lose that, no matter how dark things become." She smiles a soft, warm smile - fading into nothingness even as she did.

George lets out a bark of laughter even as the tears run when he sees that his brother is staring dreamily at the spot she has just vacated. "Go" George urges, "She's waiting for you wherever you are"

Fred grins ear to ear at his Twin. "I'm going. I'm so lucky to have her." He seems to realise what he has said: "I'm so sorry that you two never got all the time you could have had together." He says looking from Cedric to George and back again "George - she's right, it's going to be dark for a while, but I'll always be around and listening when you need me. Stay bright and good, know that I love you" Fred starts to dim and fade slightly "and Mum and dad, and Ginny, and Ron, Charlie and Bill, and Aunt Muriel, but not Percy he's a prat-"

Fred fades to nothing, just as Lavender had.

George turns to Cedric and - and he doesn't know what to say. He tells him as much.

"I never got to say goodbye. I've imagined how I would say it so many times. I've replayed it too many times, and acted it out and everything."

Cedric smiles fondly "I know, I saw."

"You did?" Something about that knowledge is comforting, more comforting than anything else over the past three years has been.

"Yes. You're a terrible actor." Cedric says with glee.

And for some reason that is what brings George to his knees.

"I- I can't do it." He says.

"You can." Cedric has sunk his spectral form down to George's own level. They are so close their faces could be touching. "You can do it because I have been waiting to hear your voice for long enough."

"Three years."

"Three years. And now I need something else to get me through until I see you next. It's still a long way off, but I will be there, waiting to hear about everything you have been up to."

"Everything that I've done - or will do - that you already know about because you've been watching." George corrects.

"Yep," Cedric says.

"Creepy" George says, trying desperately to lighten the tone.

Cedric ignores the attempt at Levity. "George Weasley, I cannot imagine life without you. I was fortunate enough to never have to realise that reality. I am sorry that I left you behind. So. Farewell until I see you next. It will feel like an eternity, and then you will be with me and we will look back on it like the blink of an eye. So I won't say goodbye, I will say I love you. I'll say see you soon, see you on the other side of the Maze."

George can't breathe, he had forgotten how much he had relied on Cedric's very existence to breathe and to function.

"I'll see you on the other side of the Maze." George echoed. "I love-"

Cedric doesn't fade as Fred and Lavender had - he flickers out like a light. George is suddenly transported three years earlier and watching the Maze shut suddenly around his Cedric, his boyfriend, Partner, Other, without even one last look.

"-you" he finishes to a cold, empty room.

He leaves the room quickly. There is nothing left for him there. On the way out he squeezes Harry's shoulder roughly and manages to choke out a rough "thank you." He doesn't ask how or why, or whether it could be done again, he knows better than that.

Harry reaches out and takes George's hand and holds it for a second, before dropping it and walking away with Hermione.

He goes back to the Great Hall to stand in the debris. He can't imagine what he must look like to the people there, like a wreck, but he is proud that he is still standing. His mum holds him, she squeezes tightly, far too tightly as they sit and watch over Fred and Lavender, waiting for something and nothing all at once. He doesn't complain, he feels as if she is holding him together with her iron grip.

Angelina, of course, too good and too understanding, doesn't bat an eyelid when he asks to name their firstborn after his brother and Cedric, as well.

She does point out though that the child will probably be bullied mercilessly with a name that was essential "Fredrick Cedric".

When George is old and grey, with creaking joints and enough grandchildren and great-grandchildren to keep his mischief running for another hundred years at least, he decides that he has had quite enough. It's time to go.

He tells Angelina the same thing, and she nods with grace and not a little sadness.

George slips away in his sleep. He does it quietly and carefully - much in the same way he had slipped out of his dormitory to cause mischief for many years at Hogwarts.

He expects it, so he isn't surprised when he opens his eyes to see Cedric facing him. He had imagined this moment a few times, though not too often for fear of becoming too enamoured with the idea and doing something drastic.

Cedric looks exactly as he did when George saw him last, after the battle of Hogwarts. A little older than when he had entered the Maze, but not the old man that George had come to expect might greet him.

"What will people think?" George asks. They're the first words he has said to his Other in over 70 years.

"Think about what?" Cedric asks.

"Me, old and withered, running around with a young thing like you." Cedric laughs at George's words.

Cedric props himself up and leans forward to kiss George - they are lying on something, somewhere, everything is soft and hazy. In simple movements he reaches and catches George's hands, bringing it up to his face to kiss his hand. And George sees what Cedric sees, his hand is not old or wrinkled, his hand is smooth and free from blemish, apart from the faint mark of Umbridge's ugly words etched there.

"Come on," Cedric tugs on George to lift him up. For the first time in many years, nothing aches, nothing protests when he stands. Cedric intertwines his fingers with George's and starts to lead him.

"Where are we going?" George finds himself asking.

"Come on," Cedric repeats, not answering George's question. "Fred is waiting to see you, " he says with a smile. The haze in front of them seems to form somewhat, and if pressed George might hazard a guess that in soft peaks and pillows he could see the outline of Hogwarts in the distance.