George had stopped rocking, but the coughing and wheezing wracking his entire body didn’t cease. He shook his head and tried to stifle the hacking coughs that seemed to strain his throat, his lungs—everything inside of him. His eyes were shut as if everything inside and outside of him was too painful to contemplate and process. And maybe it was.
“It’s not your job— to watch me, Lee.”
Yes, yes, it is. Who else will? But nothing was working right. His brain wasn’t sending the signals to his mouth to speak. It was too overwhelmed by all of it: The horrific merged images of George running and Lee’s hands curled around the beater’s bat and half of George’s body marked with bruises. And Lee wasn’t even sure how long he had sat here, frozen, unable to move from where he sat,his head was screaming for him to do something, anything. Help him.
“You’re— not responsible for my— bullshit. I can handle— myself…”
George wasn’t even making sense. He hadn’t handled anything. None of it made sense. This shouldn’t be happening. And George clutched at his chest and bent over again. Lee couldn’t think. George wouldn’t even look at him and he didn’t know what that meant either. And then George reached out and grabbed Lee by the shirt. The physical contact triggered something in Lee’s head and a proper thought finally formed. Infirmary. Now.
And Lee tried to stand and shoulder George’s weight and tried shuffling them towards the door, but George was too tall and even in his weakened state too much weight for Lee to shift alone. Lee stopped half-way to the door. George was still coughing and shaking and Lee could barely hold him up. The fact that neither of them had slept properly in ages didn’t help either.
Lee conjured a stretcher in the air. It hovered a few feet off the ground and Lee carefully shifted George onto to it. Still panting, Lee flicked his wand at the dorm door, it flew open. Lee gulped a few swallows of air, gripped his hands around the handles of the stretcher near George’s head, and pushed.
Lee rounded around the corner and skidded to a halt in front of the stairs. It was late, but he could see a few night owls down in the common room. This whole situation was reminding Lee far too much of the Christmas Ball. He hadn’t wanted people staring then… And he didn’t want to waste time answering stupid questions. And what would he say? He hadn’t noticed? He disillusioned George and stretcher and was about to tap the wand to his own head, but was startled by another round of George’s coughing. Someone would hear that. Lee remembered how he had felt, the memory of acrid antidote, the burn of firewhiskey tearing down his already cratchy, raw throat. And that awful sound that was so much like the ones ringing in his head now.
He waved his wand to zoom George down ahead of him, keeping him parallel to the ground as it descended into the common room. Lee trotted down the stairs, pretending to cough, figuring his worry and concern would help sell it even if the sounds didn’t line up and dashed towards the portrait hole.
He paid no attention to the questions and the stares—none of them mattered. Nothing mattered more than getting George Weasley to someone who could actually help. He was still choking on air and coughing and each rattling draw of breath made Lee wince. His focus was on George and getting him to Pomfrey. It didn’t matter he wasn’t completely in his own head, he knew every secret passage and the timing of the staircases and knew which doors were doors. Years of dodging Filch and prefects had ingrained these essential facts into his muscle memory.
“Don’t you dare leave me, George Weasley… I’m not brave or strong enough… I can’t… I can’t… I-I-I won’t be able to follow…I’ll want to…god… I… But then I’ll come to my senses and yeah…I’ll live a long life. I’ll do good things. Hell, I might get married, but I won’t have a best man—‘cause the two I would’ve considered wouldn’t be there to bicker over who got the honor… I don’t want to be Lupin. I… I…” Lee didn’t stop running to wipe the tears off his face. “…don’t make me live the rest of my cursed life wondering if there was something I could’ve done for my best mates…. I—”
He looked up. Pompfrey was running over and the witch from St. Mungo’s who was suppose to be there for people to talk to was there, too. Lee lifted the charm of near invisibility off George. He knew they’d be able to help and allowed himself to sink to the floor and lean against the back of a hospital bed, exhausted, and breathing hard from his own efforts. He wanted to stay awake this time. He wanted to make sure George was okay.
Even without opening his eyes again, everything felt like it was spinning. Like the..what was it, the Gravy Train? Gravel Tram? Oh! Gravitron… At the one muggle carnival his father had brought them to when they were younger… He and Fred had been about seven, Ron was still too young to go, Mum had said, and Percy didn’t even want to. It had been the twins, Charlie and Bill, and they’d had a grand time. Granted, they didn’t know what half these ridiculous muggle machines did, and why people looked so green walking off, but they tried it anyway. And there was this one that they’d stood along the edge of, and pulled the bar down over their heads, and it spun until the speed the thing was moving made the boards they were pressed against go straight up the wall, until the track ended and the headboard hit the ceiling. Everything would compress so hard against their chests that it was hard to breathe, the music was so loud it almost hurt, but it was a good sort of feeling, and they laughed—
This wasn’t a good sort of feeling. He wasn’t laughing.
But for some reason, he felt a headboard moving, shifting around with the gravity and a compression on his chest that was vaguely like the kind that came with the Gravitron. There was no music, though, and for a moment he was confused, wondering who’d turned it off and why, why he felt like he was moving feet first rather than the other way around, why he seemed to be horizontal… why it had felt like someone had broken a raw egg on top of his head and it felt like something was trickling down his body that he couldn’t swipe off if he tried…
No. No, no, no, no, NO, LEE! COME ON! WHAT THE HELL—!?
He would have spoken if he could. He would have yelled, and protested, and fought, but he couldn’t. The compression was far too great and the gravity was far too heavy, and then… and then, he didn’t even know how he’d gotten to this carnival. He didn’t have any muggle money on him… how did he even get a ticket? It didn’t seem to make any sense, but yet he was on this ride— and it had to be a ride, what else could it be?— and he couldn’t get off. Prying his eyes open, he squinted at whatever was above him, almost expecting to see near-psychedelic strobe lights against the blackness of the muggle machine, but he was met with a shadow over his head and sounds he couldn’t make out. They were coming from the shape above him, he could tell that much, but not what it was, or what it meant. It didn’t belong on this ride.
His coughing had taken a pause and all he was left with were crippling gasps, and the knowledge that he was shaking, that his shoulders were bucking in intervals a few centimeters over whatever it was he was lying on, because he came to realize he wasn’t on the Gravitron. He wasn’t wearing the harness, and it was far too bright around him from what he’d seen when he opened his eyes for that split second, and even though the crushing gravity was there, there was no booming music, he was still moving forward…
“…honor… I don’t… be Lupin… make me live… cursed life wonder… something I… for…best mates…. I—”
Lee… the initial thought finally came back, no, no, NO, LEE, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME— STOP, GOOD GOD, YOU’RE OVERREACTING— but it would do no good. He could try to roll away, he could start flailing or sitting up but none of it would get rid of the fact that he didn’t think he could. Things were still spinning, he could feel his pulse just racing, a prickly sort of sensation in his hands, at each fingertip like pins and needles. There was only the echoing sound of horrifying gasps that he could only assume were coming from himself, out of time with every stuttering lift of his chest, which was starting to hurt again in an aching sort of way to boot.
And then he was walking off the ride and set on the bench to refrain from laughing himself sick on Dad’s shoes. Fred was just as wobby and Bill and Charlie were on either side of them, all giggling and looking around at the lights of the place set against a black sky, watching how there seemed to suddenly be three sets of each and two of them were doing circles around the one.
“—don’t know…just couldn’t—”
“—can’t stay here…to your dorm—”
“—no, I’m staying—”
For a moment he thought he was going to just pitch back in a dead faint, but he couldn’t pitch back because he was laying down again. On something softer this time, and he didn’t feel like thinking about the Gravitron anymore. He felt like sitting up and stopping this complete nonsense, and walking out of wherever he was to go back to his own bed. Not the one he’d been pretending was his own, but the one that actually belonged to him, in London, on Diagon Alley, in the beautiful shop he’d built from the ground up with his best friend. He felt like he should be able to sit up, he should be able to say no to whatever whoever-this-was was shoving down his throat. He should have been able to control his own breathing in the first place.
What kind of a man can’t even control his own body? Despicable. Absolutely just, shameful. Just plain sad.
He didn’t say anything, not that he would have if he could. He was just listening for more voices, more people talking that might give him a clue as to crap, no, I know where I am, DAMMIT LEE, YOU STUPID— I’LL KILL YOU FOR THIS— how could he do this?! How could he publicize this… make a spectacle, a display, out of… what was this, a heart attack? Something had gone off in his chest that could not be considered normal, safe, good, nothing… He wanted to ignore it. He wanted to let whatever was happening, happen, and if that meant crumbling on the floor and turning into a puddle, then so be it. He would be a puddle of that pooling blood in his chest and the melted thoughts in a broken skull that had been smashed by falling bits of wall and had no way of healing. Fine. He’d let it happen.
It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes since that first dangerous gasp, and he felt it slowing down. Whether it be because of whatever was in his system now or because this had all just been some terrifying panic attack, he didn’t care. He was tired, and he wanted to get off the bloody Gravitron and stay off. He wanted to crawl in a hole, stay there and never leave and simply waste away all by himself. He’d pick a rock so far away that Lee would never find it and he’d simply just… be alone, and die. That was what he wanted at this point, because facing him, facing anyone… Looking into whoever-was-here’s faces was going to be so sickeningly humiliating, he didn’t know if he could take it. He had said flat out before; he’d given up. He was done with the looks, and the embarrassment and the pain, and he just wanted it all to be over.
“—just some anxiety…just needed…minute to breathe—”
“—Poppy, look… his shirt is thin… on the right side, look—”
A small gasp, and the feeling of his shirt being slowly tugged up over his weakly heaving chest, exposing ribs that poked out a little too far and mottled skin that could apparently show through clothing. The strength to reach up and grab her wrist and push her away was nonexistent, and he was about as useful as a floppy rag doll made of socks stuffed in a makeshift fabric cover, and he simply wheezed and listened as the speech around him became clearer. He opened his eyes to look around, rolling over on his side and tugging his shirt back down, out of Madam Pomfrey’s grip.
“S’nothin’… M’fine. Can I jus’…go? Please…? Dun’ needa be here… stupid infirm’ry…”