“Have you ever seen something so bright?!” Cedric asked, bumping his shoulder against Harry’s in that lazy, amiable way he had.
“No.” Harry shook his head slowly, dazed by the blinding light.
They were standing atop a large hill, looking down upon a scene blanketed in the purest, bright white snow Harry had ever seen. No footprint blemished the surface in any direction he could see, save for the tracks he and Cedric had made behind them, ascending the hill.
A set of tracks, footsteps next to one another, parallel and complimentary. One set had larger shoe markings than the other, but the strides seem to match each other.
“I love the winter, and I love snow,” Cedric confessed, grinning to Harry.
“What do you do here?” Harry asked, careful to control his tone so as to sound interested and not sceptical.
“Are you kidding? You can’t think of anything to do?” Cedric seemed amazed. Harry faltered, watching the boy’s face for a clue.
“Come on, first we need equipment.” Cedric waved his hand and turned to walk along the ridge of the hill.
“Equipment?” Harry echoed, hastening to catch up. Cedric was walking quickly towards a shack and a small, covered area that Harry hadn’t noticed before. As they reached their destination, he noticed a pit surrounded by benches. He supposed those who loved the winter season would light a fire and sit around the flames together to keep warm amidst the snow. When he looked up, he saw Cedric emerging from the shack with objects under his arms.
“What are those?” Harry asked.
“Sleds. You’ve never seen sleds? You grew up Muggle and you don’t know about sleds?” Cedric’s voice was as far as it was possible to be from sounding superior or arrogant. He was genuinely surprised, if not perhaps a little bothered by such a confession.
“Er, my family didn’t really… I never…” Harry stammered, not wanting to give his life history at just that moment.
“No matter, I’ll show you!” Cedric’s excitement and enthusiasm was almost palpable. Harry vaguely remembered such tenacity in him during the Triwizard Tournament. He even recognised it in himself, though it usually cropped up during a sudden fight, duel, or unexpected quest.
“All right, it’s fairly simple,” Cedric was already explaining. The boy was crouched down with two of the sleds setting on the snow near him. “You just ride these like you would a broom. You slide down the hill and probably crash, but for Muggles, you know, it feels like flying, and anyway it’s one of the best things to do when it snows!”
Harry mimicked Cedric as they both sat down on their respective sleds. Harry’s was a faded red, slightly bent on one place from usage. Cedric’s was grey but otherwise identical to Harry’s.
“So on the count of three, shove off and we go racing down the hill,” Cedric instructed, his eyes lighting up as they met Harry’s. Harry grinned and nodded.
“One… two… three!”
The two boys flew down the hillside, gaining speed as the sleds descended farther and farther. Harry, who was terribly inexperienced, felt his sled turning sideways and had no clue how to correct it. Cedric merely laughed and zoomed past Harry. Flying, though slightly sideways, Harry felt the cold air rushing past his cheeks, burning them in a pleasant whipping way. His hair was flying in all directions and the wind beat against his sweatshirt.
At last the hill evened out and Harry’s sled slowed until it stopped not far from Cedric, who had already risen from his sled to brush a bit of snow off.
“What’d you think?” Cedric asked excitedly. Even if Harry had hated it, he could never tell Cedric otherwise, not when he looked so pleased.
“Just like a broom! Like flying!” Harry grinned. Cedric offered his hand down to Harry to help him up. Their hands clasped firmly, both cold from the air, though strangely warm as they met palm-to-palm. Then Cedric hoisted Harry to his feet.
“Race you to the top!” he challenged.
“What? We have to climb back up there?” Harry asked back, gazing up the hill with the two tracks they had just made.
“Yep, come on,” Cedric nodded and then punched lightly at Harry’s arm before taking off up the slope. Determined not to be beat so easily, Harry grabbed up his sled and threw his legs into high gear, panting slightly as the slant of the slope stole the breath from him
“Come on, old man,” he jeered in a pant as he met up with Cedric, half way to the top.
“Old… man?” Cedric panted back in a wounded voice. Harry smirked. The two pushed harder to stay neck and neck as they topped the hill together.
Then Harry leaned over his legs, resting his hands on his knees as he panted and tried to catch his breath. Cedric, meanwhile, flopped straight down on his back, into the snow, breathing laboured breaths.
“I… won,” Harry stated through his deep pants.
“You?! Did… not,” Cedric panted back, lifting his head to look at Harry. They both grinned and returned to catching their breath.
“Come on, let’s go again,” Harry finally suggested. Cedric was more than happy to oblige and they climbed onto their sleds for round two.
This time, halfway down the hill both of their sleds were curving inward and in a huge crash the two of them collided, sleds flying and bodies rolling down the remainder of the slope.
Harry held on to Cedric’s jacket as they tumbled over and over and over. Legs bumped together, an elbow flew against Harry’s head and he felt his hand accidentally grab hold of hair instead of clothing. Down and down they tumbled and Harry wondered if the hill had grown in size since their last descent. Finally their motion slowed and the hill grew even.
Harry caught a deep breath as they finally stopped, lying on the hillside, wet with snow and heated from the exertion of the continuous motion.
Then Harry realised he was lying on top of Cedric. He glanced down and saw his companion looking up at him. Cedric’s cheeks were flushed and his breath was puffing out in soft clouds against Harry’s face.
Harry put his hands out into the snow, instantly feeling colder, and he pushed up from Cedric. The other boy made no move, nor did he even seem to be in discomfort. Harry set his knees into the snow and found himself on all fours, still hanging over Cedric but wondering at the expression on his face.
Harry’s breathing caught in his throat as Cedric grinned and then chuckled.
“You crashed into me and that’s cheating!” he accused, peering up at Harry and locking eyes with him.
“Me?! You crashed into me!” Harry insisted, feeling the tension fall away as he pushed himself back from Cedric to sit in the snow next to him instead.
“Hardly. I’m the more experienced one. It’s obvious you crashed,” Cedric insisted, now sitting up too. Snow speckled his hair and the flush in his cheeks was still present. Harry felt certain it was from the cold wind but he wondered at the heat in his own face.
“No, it means you purposely crashed into me!” Harry shot back.
“Oh yeah?” Cedric taunted, standing up.
“Yeah!” Harry fought back, also standing.
“Well, if you think so….” Cedric paused and Harry considered him curiously. “Then take that!” And with a triumphant yell Cedric was hurling a snowball at Harry. It collided with his shoulder and showered him in packed snow.
Harry gaped in surprise and mock horror before ducking down to gather his own snowball. Cedric made to run, searching for cover amongst a tree not too far away. Harry spotted him forming a snowball as he launched his own at the older boy.
The snow smacked him in the back and Cedric yelled out.
More snowballs flew back and forth as Harry sought protection behind a snow-covered bush. When the sailing snowballs no longer seemed to be as effective, Harry crept out from his bush and worked his way toward Cedric’s tree.
“Oi!’ Go back!” Cedric warned then threw a snowball that pelted Harry in the hip.
“Watch it!” Harry growled, throwing his own that thudded and flew apart against Cedric’s chest. Harry was close enough for a full on attack now and Cedric saw the threat. He jumped up and began running while Harry launched the snowballs in his arms, one after another.
Finally, out of snowballs, Harry pumped his legs as fast as they could go and he overtook Cedric at last, colliding with his middle and successfully hauling him off his feet. Cedric yelped in surprised and they both crashed into the snow, panting and laughing.
Harry lay next to Cedric in the snow, not minding that he was soaking wet and shivering, and not caring how mental they must be. The air above them was filled with the soft puffs of air released from their panting.
Then Harry felt his cold hand warm slightly as fingers brushed against his own. A pinky and ring finger fell against his thumb and first two fingers. Harry turned his head and peered over at Cedric who he found had been watching him. His expression was still happy yet also calculating as though Cedric were trying to read Harry’s mind.
Two fingers became five, sliding between Harry’s, sending strange tingles dancing along his palm, wrist, and arm straight to his stomach were they turned into a flutters. Harry swallowed and continued gazing at Cedric, now wishing he could read his mind.
Cedric was holding his hand. Harry was holding a boy’s hand.
Grey eyes scrutinised green ones, while green eyes questioned grey ones.
Cedric turned slowly and rested on his side, still deep in the snow. Harry watched his movements as he scooted closer and peered down at Harry’s face, eyes dancing along his features. Then slowly Cedric’s face grew nearer to Harry’s and Harry couldn’t help the racing of his breath or the renewed fluttering in his stomach. Cedric’s cheeks were still flushed but he was sure now that it wasn’t from the cold wind – at least not entirely so.
Then Cedric’s lips were against Harry’s face, landing somewhere on the corner of his mouth. Harry waited for more, but Cedric pulled back.
The two boys watched each other, neither speaking, explaining, nor asking. Harry’s expression was drawn and closed while Cedric’s appeared pleased and hopeful.
“Come on, let’s go,” Cedric broke the silence. He moved to stand up, still clasping Harry’s hand and pulled him up too.
“I want you to see my house. And I have a fire there so we can get warm,” he informed Harry. The wet clothing no longer even registered in Harry’s mind.
Cedric moved to begin the walk back to his house, pulling Harry behind him. On a whim, on the spur of the moment, Harry halted his forward movement and felt the tug of Cedric’s motion pull against his hand, abruptly stopping Cedric and reeling his momentum back, so he was suddenly facing Harry.
They stood close together, face to face, Harry neither speaking nor moving as he peered up into Cedric’s eyes. Their faces were so close – close enough. Cedric tilted his head, as though intending to meet Harry. Their cold noses brushed and their lips were near enough to brush together. A lock of Cedric’s fringe fell against Harry’s forehead. Then Cedric’s hand was at the back of Harry’s neck, eager but halting.
They stared at one another, breathing out warm puffs of breath into the winter chill. Cedric’s face nudged against Harry’s and he felt something coming.
But it didn’t.
Cedric pulled away, grinning, and tugged on Harry’s hand to force him into motion again. Harry felt lost in a stupor as he blindly followed Cedric to where ever it was they were going. When Cedric dropped his hand Harry felt the rushing wind sweep over him and he wondered what had happened.
“This is my place!” Cedric said brightly.
In front of them was a small but nice looking cottage, not shabby but not upscale. It seemed suited for only one or two people, at most. A garden grew in the front yard and a small porch with steps up to it led the way to the front door, which was bright blue.
The two boys clambered inside, escaping the biting cold and shivering as they shut the door.
“We should change out of our wet clothes. I have some you can borrow,” Cedric mentioned, disappearing down the hallway. Harry stood by the door, hugging himself and trembling as he gazed around the room. It was simple and earthy. A sofa faced the fireplace, accompanied by a table, some lamps, and several bookcases.
“Here, these should do,” Cedric smiled, handing dry clothes into Harry’s hands. “Just use the bathroom down on the right and leave your wet clothes in there.” Harry nodded and made his way to the loo.
Harry felt colder before he felt warmer, as the wet clothes peeled off of him and he hung them along the shower. He unfolded the sweatpants and sweatshirt Cedric had provided and pulled them on over his shivers. The sweatpants were baggy and a bit too long, but at lest they were dry.
“I’ve got the fire started. And I’ve got hot cocoa and, of course, loads of books. What’s better than sitting around by the fire on a cold day, drinking cocoa and reading a good book?” Cedric asked as Harry padded back into the sitting room.
Harry couldn’t think of much else being better, other than playing in the snow, which they had already done.
Harry sat on the sofa, waiting as Cedric finished preparing their cocoa. The fire felt warm and was certainly efficiently soporific. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the smell and feel of the fire crackling nearby. Cedric took a seat on the sofa, surprising Harry when he realised the boy was immediately next to him. A warm cup greeted Harry’s hands and Cedric flopped open a book, looking the perfect picture of lazy contentment.
“I’ve been reading a story about this magical place,” Cedric said before taking a sip of his cocoa.
“Magic, like witches and wizards?” Harry asked, raising his head and turning to Cedric.
“No, it’s different. Like another country, or another place, with magical creatures and magic that doesn’t come from wands or spells. I can read some of it to you,” Cedric offered brightly, and Harry could never have said ‘no’.
So it was, Harry found his eyes closing and his mind slipping into unthought as his body relaxed against Cedric’s, his shoulder against the other boy’s chest. He felt the rhythmic rising and falling of his breathing and the world seemed adamant on lulling him to sleep.
The soft timbre of Cedric’s voice as he read and caressed each word of the magical story only doubled the efforts against Harry. He couldn’t fight off the drowsiness, not with the warm body next to him, the gentle words washing over him, the warmth of the fire and the richness of the cocoa sending him over the edge of consciousness…
The cottage sitting room faded away, covered by blackness, thick and dark.
“Harry!” Wind was rushing by, and light was growing. It felt like dawn. Trees materialised out of nowhere.
“You betrayed us!” Lupin accused.
“You taught me how to fight, but all it did was get me killed!” Colin Creevy cried, and tears poured over his young cheeks.
“My husband, my child!” Tonks wailed. Lupin moved to comfort her and glared harshly at Harry.
“No, no, I tried! I tried to protect you all! I never meant for you to die!” Harry shouted.
“I was just a boy! I had a whole life ahead of me!” Colin growled, fiercer than Harry had ever seen him.
“But you couldn’t do it, you failed!” Tonks screamed.
“No, no I didn’t. I didn’t fail!” Harry protested. The sky quickly grew overcast as an ugly storm approached. The wind picked up, violently whipping around the terrifying figures.
“I thought no one else would have to die after me. If you couldn’t at least save me, you should have been able to save the others. I guess I was wrong.” Sirus’s words cut him. The disappointment mauled his insides.
Not Sirius. Sirius couldn’t be against him too. Not Sirius!
“No! NO! Don’t say it!” Harry begged, tears prickling his eyes. He couldn’t breathe. The wind was oppressive and the dawn had disappeared. Only darkness grew ever thicker and meaner.
“I didn’t, I didn’t…!” Harry stammered passionately, closing his eyes and fighting to shut out the world.
“Harry, look at me.” It was Cedric’s voice, firm and rich. Harry obeyed, raising his head so his eyes met Cedric’s. The voices behind him wailed and shouted, and Harry glanced away from the face before him, pained by the yells of his loved ones, by their anger and accusations.
“No, no, look right at me,” Cedric implored, his hands grabbing both of Harry’s shoulders. The younger boy obeyed again, searching for some answer or reason or cure. But his eyes tore away again to stare at his godfather’s figure.
“Hey,” Cedric said softly, his hand rising to Harry’s chin, guiding him to look straight, and only, at Cedric. “They’re not there. Just me. Look at me. It’s just us. They’re not there. They’ve gone on.”
Harry stared into grey eyes, wanting to believe it, never wanting to hear the tormenting words again.
“It’s just us. They’re gone,” Cedric reiterated gently. Harry gave an almost imperceptible nod and then Cedric’s arms were wrapped around him, holding Harry’s body against his. Harry shook slightly under the pressure but immediately realised that he liked the feeling, the comfort, the warmth. Cedric’s cheek was against Harry’s temple and he seemed unconcerned and unrushed beyond merely holding him.
Harry breathed, and then concentrated on breathing. His chest rose against Cedric’s and he nuzzled against the warmth.
Cedric pulled back slightly, and his hands took a soft hold along Harry’s neck and jaw, holding either side of his face so he was forced to look at him. His thumb slid along Harry’s lips and left a tingle in its wake. Cedric’s eyes were both sympathetic and thirsty. Then he pulled himself against Harry again, his hands sliding into the messy black hair, and they stood together, breathing, thinking, and feeling.