Chapter 1 : Not-So-Happily-Ever-After
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Everyone was wrong.
By all natural appearances, Harry was living happily ever after. Evil was defeated. He was living without threat on his life. He, Ron, and Hermione were heroes the world over, along with Neville, the rest of Dumbledore’s Army, and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry’s longtime hatred for Severus Snape had been faced and forgiven. His archenemy was finally truly and fully vanquished. He had repaired the old damaged relationships among wizards, house elves, goblins, centaurs, and giants. Prejudices were dying and a new time was beginning. On top of all that, Harry was finally free to pursue a relationship with Ginny, unfettered by a deathly quest hanging over him.
He was free.
But he didn’t feel it.
“Harry! You can help us!” Tonks screamed, reaching out for help as spells erupted around her. Other shouts echoed and someone was crying far in the smoky distance.
Something like an explosion shook the ground and a fire began to spread.
“I’m trying!” Harry bellowed back, pushing through the heavy haze around him, arm outstretched in an attempt to grab her as soon as he could touch her.
But she was disappearing. Something was pulling her farther and farther away.
“I’m ashamed of you, Harry,” Lupin shouted sternly, gripping a charred tree for support. And the shame echoed all over Harry’s being, and he wondered not for the first time if he ever should have told Lupin he was ashamed of him for turning on his family. Lupin had eventually returned to them, but his life had been cut short.
And it was all Harry’s fault.
“I tried, I tried!” Harry yelled, fighting off the pricking in his eyes.
“We fought for you!” Lupin said gravely, cold eyes boring into Harry’s.
“I didn’t mean for you to die! I thought… I thought…” And Harry remembered seeing some unexplainable, unquantifiable echo of Lupin’s being present with him as he walked to his death – what Harry thought was his death. What he sometimes still wished had been his death.
Lupin hadn’t been angry then. He hadn’t been accusatory. But he was now.
“I’ll find a way!” Harry insisted. Hogwarts was ablaze behind them.
“You can’t turn back death,” Fred laughed menacingly. Harry hadn’t noticed his arrival.
“It should have been me, and none of you!” Harry screamed, tears leaking from his eyes as he watched the dead close in upon him. There was no where to turn. No relief. No help.
“You don’t really believe that,” Mad-Eye Moody growled. Harry cowered slightly. Lupin, Tonks, Fred, Mad-Eye Moody, and a dozen other nameless faces of D.A. and Order members crowded around Harry on all sides. And over their shoulders, in the distance, he saw the weeping families.
Among them were his mother and father. James was shaking his head sadly, and Lily had turned her back on him.
“But it’s over! I ended it!’ Harry bellowed, fraught with rage, frustration, and sadness.
“Wrong! It’ll never be over, Harry!” Sirius’s voice rang out, low and maniacal.
“Despicable,” Severus Snape echoed. And Harry felt his insides tearing apart.
The darkness was heavy and thick, full of blurred faces, shouts, and evil laughs. And through the blackness he saw a hand reaching for him. A lock of hair fell across soft grey eyes, and the lips moved in unheard words…
Shaking. Grey. Hands on his shoulders.
“Harry! Wake up!” Ginny’s voice.
Harry felt his body still. His mind was racing and the room was warm.
“Come on! Get up! I thought we were going out for dinner!” Ginny continued, gently stroking her hand along his arm. Harry cracked an eye open.
His sitting room. He was on the sofa. He must have fallen asleep. He wiped his arm across his forehead and felt sweat come off with it. Ginny was staring at him, her expression moving from flustered to concerned.
“Are you okay?” she asked, softening.
“Y-yeah,” Harry stammered. Her hand brushed along his face and she stared into his eyes, looking as though she doubted him. Slowly he pushed himself up until he was arranged upright, sitting rather than lying.
“Sorry,” he yawned, rubbing at his face as Ginny pulled away, straightening her sleeves.
“Did you still want to go to dinner together?” she asked, looking at her knees, then up at his eyes, then back at her knees. He hated making her feel like that. He was closed off when she so desperately wanted him to open up. He was still struggling and incomplete when she wanted him to be content and at peace.
Everything was supposed to be perfect and still he felt so wrong.
“Yeah, let me get cleaned up and we can go out. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” Harry offered her his most winning and convincing smile. She seemed to accept it and smiled back.
“I’m telling you, you work entirely too hard, Harry. Didn’t you get the memo? You saved the world already,” she laughed and Harry echoed with his own uneasy chuckle.
They went to dinner that night and enjoyed their usual pace of conversation, choosing entrees neither had ever tasted before and indulging in two desserts because, after all, what was the point of saving the world if they refused to enjoy it?
After dinner they dropped by the Burrow and took part in an evening of games. George was designing Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes for the whole family to enjoy, which consisted of new and magical family board games. He wanted everyone to try them out before the games went on the market. Hours of laughs, snorts, puffs of coloured smoke, and bewitched dice followed. It was late when Harry finally said goodbye. Ginny was still staying at the Burrow as she continued her education, while Ron had moved in with George and it wouldn’t be too long, Harry supposed, before Ron and Hermione were engaged, married, living in their own home and having children.
Then it occurred to him that that was supposed to be his life soon too. With Ginny. She was probably planning all the details already.
Harry sighed and buttoned up his coat as he walked up the street. There was a safe place to Apparate to just down the block from his home, so he need only walk a little while in the harsh winds.
So many expectations.
Harry lie in bed still contemplating expectations, the future dream-life, Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and the dreams and nightmares that wouldn’t go away. He had thought the nightmares would disappear with Voldemort, but he had been wrong. They merely changed so that that which he feared no longer took shape in his enemy, but in those he loved, those he missed, those he wished he could turn back time to save.
“Harry Potter sir! Why didn’t you save us sir?” Dobby was weeping, wiping his eyes with a dirty rag, looking just as he had so long ago when he had saved them all from Malfoy Manner. The darkness around him was thick and heavy. Harry could feel it, pitch black, empty and yet crushing.
Fred, Lupin, and James were all approaching. Fear and hopelessness came with them.
Voldemort was laughing in the background, high, cold, and victorious. He was another one that had died at Harry’s hand, yet it seemed the snake-like face still held the winning cards.
Harry grabbed at his hair, looking for an escape, any escape.
A hand materialised in the midst of his bleary gaze. His eyes turned up. The lock of hair and those grey irises were present again – present and demanding, yet soft and agreeable.
Harry took the hand before him and found himself standing, turning his back on the scene unfolding. Then everything was shifting, disappearing as though they were Disapparating.
But they weren’t really Disapparating. Everything was just vanishing as they turned, as though some giant eraser was wiping the atmosphere clean of everything but Harry – Harry and the companion by his side.
Grey eyes were taking in Harry’s expression, tenderly strolling over his features. With a shake of the other boy’s head, his fallen locks flopped back out of his eyes. Harry was only vaguely aware of the fingers clutching his wrist. Fingers that weren’t his. Fingers than felt soft and kind.
The boy was taller than he was, but that wasn’t abnormal. Harry wasn’t tall, after all. And the look of fear and panic Harry imagined on his own face was absent from the other’s. The nondescript robes waved carelessly in the soft breeze that Harry was only now noticing. The silence around them seemed anything but awkward.
Fingers along Harry’s wrist rubbed gently.
Green eyes gazed upon grey ones.
And by that, Harry certainly meant, ‘What are you doing here and what is going on?!’
“It’s been a long time,” Cedric answered, smiling an easy smile. Harry noticed that Cedric’s teeth had nice straight lines. Then he noticed the quietness around them, louder than before.
“Why aren’t you shouting at me for killing you?” Harry asked bluntly. Cedric chuckled and his eyes lit up. Harry felt the corners of his mouth pulling upward in response, but he couldn’t explain why.
“I’m here for you.” He stressed the word ‘you’, and he smiled again, shaking the hair off his face for a second time. Slowly Harry felt the fingers on his wrist release their hold and he felt slightly more alone and colder than he had only a moment before.
“For me?” Harry asked back, his brow furrowing and his gaze shifting off of Cedric as he tried to make sense of the world.
“What’s everything like now? I heard Tom Riddle is gone.” Cedric asked this as though asking about the weather.
“The dead talk.” Why was he always grinning?
“They shout and scream and hurl insults, too,” Harry echoed bitterly. The smile fell from Cedric’s face. A firm hand grasped Harry’s shoulder, turning him slightly to face his companion.
Whatever words he may or may not have intended to say refused to surface and instead the two boys stood watching each other.
The breeze grew slightly to a soft wind and Harry felt his hair ruffled. Cedric’s waved delicately, and he tugged at his robes. Harry glanced at the jeans underneath Cedric’s robes and never recalled seeing him in jeans during all those times he had seen him at Hogwarts.
Grey eyes danced along his face, not unusually at first, but slowly, increasingly, becoming unnerving.
“Let me show you something,” Cedric said softly, breaking the wavering stillness. Harry delayed only a moment, a moment’s worth full of sparking grey eyes, and then nodded.
When, exactly, the hills and grass had appeared around them, Harry wasn’t sure. Their walk slowly turned into a hike as they approached the mountains in the distance. More steps, more hiking, and more walking.
When Cedric stopped, they were three quarters of the way up the mountain, and a small cave barely the width of a man’s shoulders rested in the mountainside behind Cedric.
“Come on, then,” he smiled, motioning toward the hole. Harry gave a start.
“We’re going in.” He was obviously pleased about this.
“In? Where is this place?”
“Look, follow me.” And Cedric was lowering his feet though the hole, wriggling his waist and torso, and shoulders into the darkness below.
Taking a deep breath, Harry followed, not understanding why he was doing so, nor why he wasn’t requesting a full explanation before lowering himself into the mysterious darkness.
“I found this place awhile ago, and I’ve been dying to show it to someone!” The light from the hole now above them was gleaming in grey eyes, the rest of his face left in shadowy relief.
“Further in,” Cedric motioned, and Harry followed into the depths of the cave. It wasn’t long before the inside path became smaller and smaller, no longer allowing room for a man to remain standing. They were hunched, clambering over boulders and pointing out the small markings found on the cave walls. If it occurred to Harry to wonder where the light was coming from, he never lingered on the thought for long.
The air was cool and refreshing, and it smelt like dirt and earth.
“All right, down lower,” Cedric instructed, and the two of them lowered themselves onto hands and knees. The ground felt just like hard, packed dirt and occasionally Harry’s hand accidentally brushed Cedric’s ankle. Harry remembered his experiences at Gringotts, riding down through the caverns and acquiring his gold. He wondered what lie at the end of this tunnel.
At one point, the path became much too narrow and Harry was sure they’d never make it through. He was wrong. Sure enough, by contorting their bodies very thoroughly, he found it possible to squeeze past.
“Where are we going?” Harry asked at last, brushing dirt out of his fringe.
“We’re almost there,” Cedric grinned.
And when they finally reached their destination, Harry had to admit that it was well worth the work and exertion it took to crawl through the caves, caverns, dirt, and filth.
A mysterious light lit the chamber, casing shadows and vague glows. The air was moving and cool, but what struck Harry the most was the loud rushing sound. He wiped his sweaty forehead on his forearm and gazed around for its source.
The largest waterfall Harry had ever seen seemed to be cascading from the heavens. Where all the water came from as it poured out of the hole so far up in the chamber, Harry didn’t know. It was gushing and pure white, spilling forth into a pool down below. How many metres high it was, Harry couldn’t accurately guess but it was enough to take his breath away.
He pushed himself up into a standing position, eyes locked on the falling water until he felt an arm with a person attached stirring beside him.
“It’s brilliant,” Harry breathed.
“Have you ever seen anything like it? An underground waterfall.”
“Never.” Harry stood gazing, and then closed his eyes to feel the cool sweeping of a breeze, to feel the mist falling off of the pulsing water, to smell the sweet earthiness.
When he opened his eyes again, Cedric was shaking the hair off of his forehead, watching Harry with bemused scrutiny. There was dirt smudged on Cedric’s cheek and dust falling from his hair, lingering on his forehead. Harry knew they were both plastered with sweat and grime after their long burrowing. But Cedric looked just as Harry remembered him when he had last glimpsed him in the maze, and in the graveyard.
“At first, I thought you were a genius for getting into the Triwizard Tournament,” Cedric said, speaking as though a conversation had always existed between them, rather than the silence. “Then I thought you had to be an idiot, because you knew maybe only half the spells me and Fleur and Krum knew. Still, I had to give it to you – you had guts to put your name in the goblet, and you must have been smart because even Fred and George, the sneakiest blokes I ever met, couldn’t manage it.”
“Then I realised… while you may have been clever, brave, and for all I knew, mental, the truth was you were destined-”
“Yeah, destined to defeat Voldemort, ever since the cradle.” Harry interrupted him, suddenly irritated by any mention of destiny, fate, or, should it come up, prophecies.
“No, destined to live.”
Harry halted. Of all the answers he expected, that wasn’t one of them. Nor did it make any sense.
“What, and you weren’t? Other’s aren’t?” His response was, perhaps, condescending. At times people wanted to glorify Harry’s living while others died, making it into some special power he had or turning him into a fantastic wizard. But he wasn’t those things, and there was no special reason why others died rather than him.
“I lived. I died.” Cedric shrugged and Harry tried to keep from gawking.
“So, what, I live and I’ll die?”
“That’s it? What’s the ‘destined to live’ part mean?” Harry thought for a moment that Cedric just might have gone mental.
“You’re destined to live,” Cedric repeated without explanation.
“I am living!”
“You haven’t even started yet.”
“And what does that mean for you?!” Harry quipped. Cedric wasn’t making much sense.
“Just what I said. I lived and I died, but you’ve yet to start.”
“Cedric-” Harry shook his head, voice full of confusion.
“Hey, did I ever tell you how I defeated my dragon?” Cedric asked, the spark gleaming in his eye again. It occurred to Harry again to question where the warm light in the chamber was coming from. It wasn’t direct light, just a soft haze hanging in the air.
“No, my friends mentioned it but I don’t think you and I ever talked about it. What’d you do?”
Harry listened with rapt attention as Cedric recounted his daring tactics and the moment at which he was truly terrified for his life. They laughed at the dragon’s mistakes and stupidity. Harry told Cedric about meeting the blind dragon in Gringotts and Cedric confessed to having never known such a creature lived there.
“Any more mazes since I’ve been gone?” Cedric tossed out light-heartedly, but it fell heavily in Harry’s stomach.
“No.” Harry grew silent, thinking about the maze, the Portkey cup, and a flash of green light. When he lifted his gaze, Cedric was peering at him full in the face, watching him with an indiscernible expression.
“Listen, Cedric,” Harry began, his voice solemn, hands thrusting into his pockets and shoulders hunching.
“No, Harry,” Cedric replied simply, taking a step closer to him.
“I didn’t mean-”
“Hey, hold out your hand,” Cedric said brightly, and the whole room seemed to shift with the change in subject. Harry’s stomach flipped over and struggled within him.
He gave Cedric a very confused and unpleasant look.
“Come on!” Cedric urged, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder and shaking him gently, the smile encouraging Harry to ease up.
Harry sighed and lifted an opened palm in an effort to receive something.
The ‘something’, smooth and round, dropped into Harry’s palm. He shifted his gaze from Cedric to the token in his hand. It was just a stone, grey and soft, barely the size of a coin, though oblong rather than circular.
“I got it from under the waterfall. All the water beats down upon the rock until it’s smooth and soft. Weird how that can happen, huh?” Green eyes raised from the stone to the expectant look. Harry realised Cedric’s fingers still rested along his right shoulder. Cedric saw him looking at his hand and slowly the contact disappeared, the other boy’s arm falling to his side.
“So what… what is this exactly? The place, this…?” Harry asked, his mouth slightly dry.
Cedric shrugged, grinned and slowly everything faded into darkness.