“What’re you doing here?” Cedric called out light-heartedly.
Harry gave a start and turned to peer at the approaching boy. He had been alone, up until that moment, and certainly hadn’t expected a voice to break the silent solitude. Harry sat on the ground with his arms curled around his knees. The scene before him was still and serene.
A lake lie smooth as glass and dark, almost midnight blue with a white gleam reflecting along the top. In the far distance the mountain shadowed over the lake. Not a soul lingered there besides Harry, and now the approaching Cedric.
The older boy was carrying a box with a handle in one hand, and in the other, a strange looking pole. It was thin and bounced with each step Cedric took. Vaguely Harry thought he had an idea what the objects were, but they were still surprising to see in the wizard’s possession.
“Hey, wake up Harry! What’s up?” Cedric grinned down upon Harry, who was looking up with a hand shielding his face from the evening sun. There was something strange about looking up into Cedric’s face that way, strange that it took Harry’s breath away. That slightly disturbed him.
Cedric’s foot nudged Harry, prodding him for a response, and then he sat down on the ground next to the raven-haired boy. The pole and box were set down next to them, and Cedric copied Harry’s posture, turning a pleasant and expectant expression upon him.
“I… I don’t know. I guess I was… waiting for you?” Harry didn’t know what he was doing there, but since that was the only thought to spring to his mind, he thought it was correct, and as it left his mouth, he knew the words were true.
“Of course you were,” Cedric beamed, bumping his shoulder against Harry’s.
“What are you doing here?” Harry inquired.
“Came to fish, of course. Evening is always the best time to catch a good fish. We could even cook fish for dinner!” Cedric was happy like a child on holiday.
“Are you serious?” Harry asked. He had never been camping or fishing.
“Of course. I’ll teach you. But first, I have to catch one,” he grinned winningly.
Harry’s gaze returned to the lake before him. The boy next to him seemed surreal, as though only a side note to whatever his mind had been dwelling on before.
He wasn’t quite sure where he was, but he was okay with that. It was somewhere good, somewhere beautiful, peaceful, and slow. It was somewhere that had Cedric. That thought was only partially alarming. Alarming because Cedric was supposed to be dead, so of course Harry wondered if he was dead, too.
But he felt alive, so if this was being dead, what exactly was living? He didn’t think he was dead. But something about this place was both very real and unreal. Cedric beside him was quite real, real enough to make Harry feel strange things he had never before associated with Cedric, nor with any boy. And something about the unreality of this place gave Harry a, perhaps, foolish sense of freedom, as though it wouldn’t matter if he were to pursue whatever he felt, whenever he felt it.
A plop only distracted Harry for a moment as he noticed the ball on the fishing line floating now in the previously still water.
So what was living? That seemed to be the question plaguing him. That was at the heart of the questions Cedric had posed when they first met – again. He accused Harry of not actually starting to live yet. But in his memories, Harry could recall his whole lifetime and all the tales from his adventures.
His life. His living.
But sometimes it didn’t feel like his life. There were moments, the dark moments he didn’t share with anyone, when he felt as though he had merely been a pawn for all of his previous existence, shuffled around the chessboard of life until he could encounter each challenge at the right time.
He was born during the time period in which he was needed to defeat a dark wizard, and a prophecy was made about him, forever linking him to that wizard, like it or not.
He was hidden until the right time, when it proved the moment to begin the training.
He was told only enough about his life and the questions he had, to light the way only a step before him. He was never allowed to see the whole picture, not once. He was trained until it was time, time, and time again to face the dark wizard.
He was sent on a mission to destroy Horcruxes but never told that he was only allowed to live as long as they did.
He was prepared and protected all his life until the right moment – the right moment to die. And even in that ‘death,’ or whatever it would be properly labelled, he was told only enough to bring him to that brink. Then, more information moved the pawn along.
He would return to the world and finish the job.
His whole life was just a chess game, and someone else was always moving the pieces. Maybe Cedric had been right. He hadn’t even started to live yet. Now, for the first time in his life, his life was really his own. No more prophecies, hidden information, tricks, or back-up plans.
He had checkmated the king, won the game, and moved off the chessboard into the great unknown.
How did one live when there wasn’t a dark wizard to chase and defeat? What did one do for excitement when it no longer came to them, but they had to go and find it, to have it in their life? How did one act with their friends and loved ones when Death no longer lingered nearby, reminding them to cherish the moments?
What was his life now? And what did he want from life?
What was living?
And what was this place, this little haven with Cedric?
“Hey,” Cedric’s voice said softly, and Harry felt the boy’s shoulder rest against his. Harry turned to look into his face, and smiled warmly. Did Cedric know so much about him? Did he really know him, or had it been some special information given to him to help fix Project Harry Potter?
“Hey,” Harry responded, still watching Cedric’s face.
“What are you thinking about?” Cedric asked, peering at him carefully. Harry hesitated for a moment, then answered.
“Nothing. Everything. I don’t know.” He shrugged and watched to see if Cedric accepted his answer. He seemed to, but then he was jumping up and running toward the fishing pole he had situated near the water with some rocks to hold it in place. The pole was bouncing and Cedric grabbed it up and started twirling the knobs, pulling the line in.
Harry watched with wide eyes, glad for the distraction, and anticipating seeing a fish caught for the first time in his life. Cedric was beaming as he reeled on the pole, fighting with the fish in the water who didn’t want to be brought to land. Finally Cedric won the battle and a fish rose out of the lake, hanging by his mouth on the hook at the end of the line.
Cedric turned to Harry to show off his prize and Harry jumped up to get a better look.
“You caught one!” he stated excitedly.
“Yeah, it’s small though. Not enough to eat.” Cedric was fiddling with the line, trying to get the fish off of the hook.
“Do you think that hurts?” Harry asked as he watched. Cedric glanced at him, then returned to the hook in the fish’s lip.
“A little, probably. It’ll be okay though. I can release it and try for a bigger one for dinner.” Cedric grinned, finally setting his pole down and holding the fish by its lip. Harry stared curiously.
“Have you ever held a fish?” Cedric asked. Harry shook his head.
“All right, then, give me your hand,” Cedric demanded.
“What?” Harry hesitated.
“Come on, it’s just a fish. Give me your hand.” Harry obeyed slowly and Cedric pulled his hand over to the fish, making his fingers mimic Cedric’s and hold onto the fish’s lip. Cedric let go of the fish and Harry stood there awkwardly with a fish dangling from his fingers. It was slimy and kind of weird.
“Now, you should put it back in the water before it dries out and dies,” Cedric chuckled. Harry nodded and raised the fish to toss it back into the lake.
“Wait! Don’t just throw it! How would you like to be tossed back into a lake by a huge giant?” Cedric asked in amusement.
“How would you like to be snagged on a hook in your lip while you’re eating dinner?” Harry countered.
“Good point. But you still shouldn’t throw it.”
“So how should I put the fish back in?” Harry asked, edging toward the lake’s border.
“I’ll show you.”
The two boys stood together by the water, and Cedric showed Harry how to handle the fish in his palm.
“Be careful about the fin on the top. It can cut you, so you should put your palm on top to hold it down. Now, come down, near the water.” Cedric motioned Harry and they moved together to crouch on the bank, lowering their hands into the water. Cedric’s hands were covering Harry’s but he slowly pulled his hands away so Harry, alone, was holding the fish under the lake’s surface.
“It’s moving and squirming,” Harry stated.
“It’s okay, it just wants to get away,” Cedric laughed. “Just let go.”
Harry nodded and let go of the fish, but it immediately started jumping and wriggling and as he pulled his hand away the fin caught his finger and he reeled back, muttering ‘ouch’ and standing, staring at the blood oozing from his fingertip.
“What?” Cedric asked, alarmed.
“The fin got me when I pulled away,” Harry frowned at his finger.
Then Cedric was standing nearer to him, and his hand closed around Harry’s wrist, turning it so he could look at the offending wound. He pulled a rag from his pocket and wiped off Harry’s slimy hand, also removing the fresh blood, but more leaked out in its place. Cedric furrowed his eyebrows at the sight, stepping close to Harry again. In the next moment, Cedric had slipped Harry’s wounded finger into his mouth, sucking gently at the cut and strangely taking the sting away.
Harry instantly forgot his finger, as the sting left, and was instead inundated with a dozen other odd feelings. A mouth on his finger. It made his breath quicken but he thought it really shouldn’t do that. Cedric’s fingers on his wrist were warm and tingly. The tongue and teeth brushing his finger were soft and… and…
Cedric pulled Harry’s finger away, examining the cut that was finally clotting. He was no Healer, but he had effectively made Harry forget about the wound. Then he grinned his characteristic grin, tilting his head to one side as his fringe fell in his eyes.
Harry stared at Cedric, eyes darting between both of his, feeling altogether warmer and closer than he thought they had been before. He swallowed, and tore his eyes away from the grey ones watching him, and instead sat down on the grass.
Then, as though nothing at all had just happened, Cedric turned and went about fiddling with his fishing pole again. Harry watched him as he pulled out more bait for his hook and worked it onto the silvery metal. He closed the box and containers next to him and reeled up the slack line.
Harry sat in an odd anxiousness, his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms resting on his knees, fingers drumming together. Cedric cast his line out into the water and Harry heard the plop as a distant noise. He watched the back of Cedric as he stood readjusting things on his fishing pole.
Harry felt so…. so… What did he feel? He felt tense. And he felt as though he didn’t really want to be so far away from Cedric just then. He was frowning as he searched his feelings when Cedric’s voice pierced through his inner reflection.
Harry stood up, one eye one Cedric as he mindlessly began to pace in front of the lake. Cedric had reeled in his fishing line, unhappy with its location, and was casting it out into the water again. Harry paced and watched his companion with scrutiny.
“Come on, tell me already, what’s wrong?” Cedric implored, setting his pole in the rocks to keep it anchored and to free his hands.
“I just…” Harry stammered. He glanced up at Cedric and their eyes locked. There was no longer a grin on the other boy’s face, just a curious, concerned expression. Harry paced away, then back again and stopped near Cedric.
“What?” Cedric asked gently. Harry stepped close to him.
In the space of a heartbeat, Harry was latched on to Cedric, pressing his lips against the other wizard’s with a hand curled around his neck. He wanted the kiss for what it was – just a kiss with someone he felt like kissing, but Cedric felt shocked and slow in responding. Harry pressed his lips more firmly against Cedric’s. He didn’t want to think or make sense of it all but the attempt to do so was overwhelming.
Harry pulled back suddenly, putting a respectable distance between them, and staring into Cedric’s eyes for a brief moment before tearing his gaze away.
“I… I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know what’s wrong with me-”
But interrupting his babbling, he felt a firm grip on his upper arm, whipping him around forcefully. He was immediately met with Cedric’s hungry lips crushing against his, aggressive and demanding. Both of his hands were on Harry’s face, holding him locked in the kiss, pressing against him and kissing much more passionately than Harry had before.
Harry responded with vigour, agreeable letting Cedric snog him earnestly. Lips, tongues, and teeth crashed together, sometimes pleasant, sometimes slightly unpleasant, but the overall feeling was enveloping and intoxicating. Kissing Cedric shouldn’t feel so thrilling, and so right… but it did.
Cedric’s hands were still holding Harry’s face close, and the two boys were taking steps backward as the snogging continued. They were lost in the momentum as Harry moved back and Cedric continued to move forward, closer to Harry, as close as he could be.
Then suddenly a tree Harry hadn’t remembered existing before materialised into existence behind him so he was abruptly stuck between the tree’s large trunk and Cedric’s urgent body. The tree was broad and had low over-hanging branches so the two boys were nearly rendered invisible in its protection. But invisibility didn’t matter, because they were the only two in existence there.
Cedric’s teeth pulled for a moment at Harry’s lip, and then his tongue was working its magic again inside Harry’s mouth. Cedric’s hands were now against Harry’s waist, and his legs were parted so his feet were planted on either side of Harry’s. His body was warm and relentless, pressed against Harry’s and it was becoming difficult to breathe.
Finally they managed to pull away, both gasping for breath but neither moving away from the other. As he sought out the fresh air, Harry quickly registered the flush in Cedric’s cheeks, and realised that he liked it when Cedric looked that way.
Whatever this was…. Whatever was happening…
“What is this place?” Harry whispered to Cedric, who immediately let his grey eyes meet the green ones before him. A moment of silence lingered in the air between them, marked only by the breeze tugging at Cedric’s fringe. Harry watched the older wizard’s face for a clue, for any kind of answer to the question that felt so enormous to him/
“Whatever you make of it,” Cedric answered quietly, brushing his thumb slowly on Harry’s hip. It was distracting, but not distracting enough.
“And you?” Harry asked. He didn’t want to ask it, but he had to. He needed that question, and he needed the answer to it.
“I’m just me,” Cedric answered, staring full into his eyes. His gaze didn’t shift and Harry felt certain that had he not broken the eye contact, they would have remained locked in that time forever.
The two boys stood together silently in the protection of the tree. Harry’s hand absentmindedly moved to brush along Cedric’s arm. Cedric moved his hand from Harry’s waist to his face. Harry looked up at Cedric and smiled a half smile.
“Come on, we’ve got fish to catch,” Cedric urged. With that, he turned and Harry followed. He could think about his questions. He could think about what had just happened. Or he could let it be, and simply follow Cedric for no other reason but that the boy had instructed him to.
When Cedric reeled in his line, the bait was gone. He re-baited his hook and cast the line out again while Harry lay down on the grass, staring up at the slowly darkening sky. Cedric was lying beside him in moments, both boys with their hands clasped behind their heads, stretched out to enjoy the nature embracing them.
“I… uh… Cedric,” Harry began, clearing his throat.
“Yeah?” the other boy responded.
“I never meant…. You weren’t supposed to die,” Harry said quietly. He was abrupt; he knew it immediately. And he refused to look over at Cedric. He thought it would make it much harder to speak what he was thinking. Cedric only chuckled lightly.
“I died when I was supposed to,” he answered.
“But you weren’t supposed to! It was my fault. We had to grab the cup together and it got you killed,” Harry insisted.
“It wasn’t your fault. Bad things happen, and just because you can’t stop them, it doesn’t make it your fault. If you would have let me grab the cup, instead of us doing it together, I still would have been killed.”
That was true.
“But I should have just taken the cup. I shouldn’t have been so stupid and helped you and… I could have just taken the cup and it would have just been me there. You would still be alive.” Harry’s voice was both soft and hard. It was a delicate subject, and it required equal amounts of tenderness and harshness from him.
“But that’s not you, Harry. You couldn’t just take a cup to win a silly game when people are hurt or struggling around you. There’s nothing wrong with helping people and there’s nothing noble about selfishness and winning.” Cedric’s words were gentle but strong, mirroring Harry’s care for the handling of this topic.
“It was still my fault,” Harry insisted stubbornly between gritted teeth. Cedric sighed, and turned onto his side, facing Harry and grabbing onto his arm lightly.
“It was my time. Stop blaming yourself, because I don’t blame you.”
“I should have protected you. I should have made you hide or… or told you what was coming… I knew it, I mean, I felt it…” Harry still refused to look at Cedric as he spoke. Cedric laugh darkly.
“I would hardly have done so. I was the older wizard. I was supposed to know how to duel, how to defend myself, and others. I would never have let you protect me or hide me. Never. I should have been looking out for you…”
“But there was nothing you could do,” Harry replied earnestly.
“Nor was there anything you could do.”
Silence washed over them, but Harry still refused to accept the argument. There was always something he could do. He should have been able to save him.
“You… you told me to take your body back… And I did… We appeared in the middle of everyone watching, and you were dead and… I couldn’t think about it in the graveyard because everything was happening so fast with Voldemort, and the Death Eaters, but then… there we were, in the grass at Hogwarts, and you were dead and your body was there and…. I couldn’t let go… I couldn’t…”
Harry’s eyes were misty and leaking tears beyond his control. He rarely spoke of Cedric to anyone. Now that he was speaking of Cedric to Cedric, it seemed surreal.
“I know… It’s okay,” Cedric whispered. His hand on Harry’s arm moved to wipe at a tear on his face.
“No, it’s not okay!” Harry argued adamantly and more tears fell from his eyes. “You should have lived. You should have won the tournament. And you should have gone on to finish Hogwarts, marry Cho, and live a full life and instead… instead…” Harry was sniffling and he realised how much he hated crying, and how weak it made him feel.
“Shh… It’s okay,” Cedric whispered.
“No, it’s n-not… Instead you’re here, where ever here is, and you’re dead and… it shouldn’t have been this way….” Both boys moved together on instinct as Harry sought to hide his tears and curled against Cedric, who wrapped an arm around the raven-haired boy, holding him against his chest. Harry cried softly into Cedric’s shirt, while Cedric merely let him, running a soothing hand along his back.
“Harry, I’m not unhappy here… And I’m here with you,” Cedric whispered.
Harry sniffed, trying to stop the tears. Cedric was here with him.