As Harry walked along the winding dirt path that led to Cedric’s cottage, he couldn’t help but recall that night, lying in the field, next to Cedric, under the stars.
He remembered waking up sometime in the dark of night, needing to change positions. He realised belatedly that he was practically wrapped around Cedric. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience, except, had Cedric been awake it might have been mortifying. Harry neatly unravelled himself from the other boy’s sleeping form. Then he watched the older wizard as he slept, unmolested by any ill thoughts or troublesome worries.
He looked so happy and so at peace in his sleep. Harry didn’t fully understand the odd feelings swelling in his heart, especially when they were directed at another boy. The only thing he understood for certain was that he liked the feelings, and wanted them to say, wanted Cedric to stay.
Harry was grinning as he pulled out of his thoughts and focused on opening the front gate of the short fence that ran around Cedric’s cottage. He closed it behind him and continued the short path to the front porch.
It took him a moment to register the abnormal state of affairs on the porch, exiting the front door. The smile slid off his face and he felt his breath catch before he could stop it. Harry swallowed, attempted to analyse the scene and continued on in his halted steps.
There had to be an explanation for the packed bags sitting on the front porch. Perhaps they were going on a trip and Cedric had forgotten to tell Harry. Better yet, maybe it was a surprise. A smile toyed at Harry’s mouth again, but the knot in his stomach refused to release. In the back of his mind, a voice argued that it was no surprise, but Harry wrestled with it to silence it.
Then Cedric emerged from the door carrying yet another small bag that he stacked with the others. Harry stared at him, dumbfounded and speechless, as he watched the grey eyes slowly rise and catch sight of him.
“H-Harry,” Cedric greeted, faltering slightly and trying to smile. Harry decidedly did not like the expression on his companion’s face. It was most definitely ominous in his veiled sadness.
“What’s going on?” Harry asked as he climbed the steps to stand on the porch with the other wizard. He watched Cedric’s face, waiting for his eyes to meet Harry’s.
“I, uh…” Cedric swallowed, scratched at the back of his neck, and continued to avoid Harry’s gaze.
“You’re what? Are we going somewhere?” Harry tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. It could be a surprise. It could be a trip somewhere…
“Where are we going?” He tried to lighten his tone.
The wind rustled through the trees, blowing the leaves by. A bird far above them called out its song. Harry stared at the boy in front of him and shifted his feet.
“You’re going away? What do you mean you’re going away? Where are you going? What are you on about?” Harry asked, hearing the anger rising in his voice.
“Harry, try to understand,” Cedric said softly, taking a step toward Harry and reaching a hand out to his shoulder. Harry shifted away from him.
“Try to understand what?” Harry spit out. “You’re leaving me? This was all a game? You don’t care about me? Your don’t even exist? Or am I dead now? What am I supposed to be understanding?!” He was yelling as the questions left his mouth, assaulting their attack on his companion. Cedric, however, was remaining absurdly calm.
“You don’t need me any more,” he said quietly but as a matter of fact. The look that met Harry’s gaze instantly melted his anger into a kind of desperation. Cedric couldn’t look at him like that and not care about him. There was sadness and desperation in the grey eyes, as though pleading with Harry not to make this harder than it already was, whatever this was that was happening.
“What? No, I do! I do need you!” Harry declared adamantly, taking a step toward Cedric and meeting his eyes with a hard gaze.
“You need to start living,” the other wizard answered calmly, as though they were talking about homework or the weather.
“I am living!” Harry argued.
“Yes, here. I… I have this life, with you… What are you telling me? I… can’t I even choose?” Harry felt a desperation he had never planned on and he tried to swallow it down.
“Well, yes, you can choose,” Cedric shifted his weight, and attempted to draw closer to Harry. His eyes looked so conflicted, it was difficult for Harry to hold his gaze.
“So I can stay here with you,” Harry said, as though he had already decided it.
“No, you can’t. I’m leaving.”
“You’re leaving me?” Harry felt the knot in his stomach tightened and the sadness tugging at his heart. This couldn’t be happening, not after all this time they’d spent together.
“Don’t say it like that…” Cedric pleaded, taking a step closer to Harry.
“But you are. You’re not choosing me, and I…” Harry gulped, “I would choose you!”
“No, you wouldn’t,” Cedric answered calmly, and his inappropriate calmness was starting to make Harry angry.
“Don’t assume you know what I would do!” the younger wizard shouted.
Cedric set down the bag he’d been holding onto and grabbed Harry firmly by the shoulders.
“You have to go back to her, back to them, and live your life. You’ve received all you can from this place, from being here, from this,” Cedric motioned his hand between the two of them, “from us, from me.”
“No, I haven’t!” Harry yelled, now angry at the wetness pricking in the corners of his eyes.
“Harry!” Cedric raised his voice, in a forceful command. “This time, it was never intended to last forever. Believe me. They’ve all gone away – all the shadows and memories haunting you. It was never them in the first place, because we’ve died, and we’ve gone on.”
“Then what are you doing here?” Harry pleaded.
“I… I am different.” Grey eyes refused to look away from green.
“Then you can stay different, and we can stay here!” Harry demanded.
“No, it can’t work that way,” Cedric shook his head and answered quietly.
Silence staked its claim on this time. Harry studied Cedric’s face, his expression, the look in his eyes, the kindness knitted in his eyebrows, the softness of his cheek, the curve of his lips… This couldn’t be ending. There had to be a way. Harry always found a way around the impossible. He had to figure this out. He wanted to stay with Cedric; he didn’t want their time to end, and he didn’t want to believe that Cedric wanted it to end either.
“Look, you have a life to live and mine is finished. This was all just stolen time, but I have to give you back.” With those words, Cedric appeared to grow sadder than ever. His eyes, his face, his shoulders all fell. There was pain layered in his words and demeanour.
“Give me back?” Harry asked quietly. “Cedric, please. You said I could choose.”
“You can’t choose this; I know you, Harry. You can’t.” Defeat layered the voice speaking the words.
“You don’t know me!” Harry shouted.
But he knew that what Cedric was saying was true. He had known it all along. And now he knew there were only a few moments left. A few moments to enjoy, a few moments to take advantage of, and then a lifetime of living, and a lifetime of waiting for the stolen time to be bought.
Harry was breathing hard. His hands moved around Cedric’s shoulders and neck all of their own accord. The other boy stepped closer, skin trembling underneath Harry’s touch.
Then Harry’s lips met Cedric’s, neither soft nor loving. It was hard, crushing, passionate and demanding.
Cedric’s hands were on Harry’s waist, jolts of electricity rushing through his body. Harry’s hand lowered to Cedric’s shoulder, and he stood as tall as he could on his toes, aching to be nearer and closer.
Cedric’s head tilted and the kiss deepened. Lips and tongues and mouths moved together. The space separating them was too much, and bodies pressed against one another.
“I don’t want to go. I don’t want you to go,” Harry whispered against Cedric’s ear.
“I know,” he whispered back against lips he eagerly met with his own.
Harry’s hand slid through the soft, shaggy hair, and he felt a tremor race through him as Cedric’s hand roved up along his stomach and chest. Then the fire blazed within him he ached with the approaching goodbye.
He pressed Cedric up against the locked door. His hands grabbed possessively at Cedric’s waist while his mouth received sparks from the other boy’s. Cedric tugged lightly at Harry’s messy hair and Harry couldn’t help grunting against his lips.
Goodbye. This was it. He’d never had a proper goodbye with Cedric, but he’d never had much of a proper hello.
This would all be gone. Then again, was it ever real?
Of course. As much as anything could be real, Cedric was real to Harry. Their time had been real, and this parting was real.
Unexpected wetness bathed Harry’s cheeks and Cedric stilled against him. Grey eyes fluttered open to peer down at him. A thumb wiped away the shed tears. Then lips met his, tasting and spreading the flavour of the salty liquid as he kissed away the sadness and calmed the heated fire into a sparking bed of loving embers.
Soft and slow lips pushed against his, and he received them again and again.
Cedric’s strong arms wrapped around him, pulling their bodies against one another as their lips parted and rested separately. Harry could feel Cedric’s consistent breathing, his chest rising and falling beneath him. It was just as real as anything else.
“It’s time.” And their motions were slow as they moved apart. Harry wanted more, but to attempt it would provoke an endless cycle of partings and joinings.
Harry wiped at his face and gathered up a bag to set into Cedric’s hand.
Green eyes met grey.
“Just for a little while. Live, Harry.”
A response never came to him. Cedric descended the front steps and followed the dirt path leading away from the house. His form disappeared long before it should have, overtaken by a white haziness Harry didn’t recognise.
A voice echoed hollowly in his ear. Harry struggled to move, feeling constricted and lethargic.
“Harry!” The voice called again, then slightly muffled, “He’s awake!”
A hand rested against his, pleading against his skin for a response. He brushed his fingers against the hand, then struggled to open his eyes.
A blur of something flesh-coloured entered his vision, surrounded by bright red and a hazy opaque background.
“It’s me, Harry,” Ginny’s voice softened. He trained his eyes on her, trying to make the image fit the voice.
“Where am I?” he heard his own voice croak.
“St Mungo’s,” she answered. His vision filled with other blurs, red and brown and indistinct colours.
“What…? Why?” He felt completely disoriented.
“Here, his glasses.” Hermione’s voice was firm yet concerned. He felt the spectacles slide onto his face and he moved his hands to arrange them properly. His limbs didn’t seem inclined to obey him but he forced them to do so. The room came into focus, and Ron and Hermione were standing just behind Ginny, all three of them looking relieved, concerned, and a bit soppy.
“You were out of it, mate,” Ron said.
“What happened to me?” Harry asked, glancing between their faces.
“Well, you… you were sick. Something was wrong. I just thought you were having bad dreams, but…” Ginny was slightly distraught and having trouble putting her ideas together.
“You were sleeping poorly, Harry. Ginny thought you were fine, just a little stressed, working too hard, and having nightmares-” Hermione explained more clearly.
“Which we thought would have stopped happening with V-Voldemort,” Ron interrupted, then Hermione continued on.
“But they seemed to keep getting worse, and we were all a little concerned that some dark magic was on you. Then one day it was impossible to wake you up. No matter what we tried, it never worked. You were growing feverish and we all were all worried. So we brought you here and the Healers checked you over for curses and dark magic-”
“And they found none, but they couldn’t wake you up either-” Ron supplied.
“Then the head Healer suggested that it was a malady that could only be cured with the passage of time. They were giving you potions and Strengtheners, but told us we just had to wait for you to snap out of it… Like… like a Muggle coma or something.” Hermione faltered a bit and Harry instantly registered the seriousness of a coma that perhaps he and Hermione alone in that room understood.
“A what?” Ron asked, peering at Hermione.
“How are you feeling? Are you okay?” Ginny questioned Harry, ignoring the other two.
“I’m fine,” Harry nodded.
“We can call for dinner if you’d like,” Hermione suggested.
“Sure… How long have I been out?” Harry asked.
“A week,” Ginny answered in a low voice. Her eyes seemed to be searching his for something.
“A week?!” He was startled. “I’m… I’m sorry. You must have been worried….” Ginny nodded, and then pet a hand gently along his face.
“Just glad to have you back. Try not to do it again,” Ron laughed.
Dinner came and his friends insisted on staying with him. The Healers wanted to keep him for one more night, and then they promised to release him in the morning, instructing him to take several of their best Health potions. Ginny still seemed upset that there wasn’t more of an explanation for what had happened.
Harry didn’t expect an explanation.
That night, he had finally convinced his friends that he was perfectly able to sleep on his own and even wake up in the morning, too. The Healers had shooed them out as the visiting hours ended, insisting that only family were permitted to stay the night, and certainly only in more dire occasions.
He lay in his bed, anxious, excited, and afraid all at once. Sleep had brought him pain before. And sleep had brought him Cedric. He now wondered if it would bring him either.
The noises along the corridors faded as Harry felt himself slipping into sleepiness, away from his conscious world and into the depths of that magical place. Everything was dark but slowly growing lighter in soft gradients. In the distance he saw several silhouettes.
They approached. Fred, Mad-Eye Moody, Lupin, Tonks, Dobby, Colin Creevy, and several others he knew either by name or by face. James, Lily, and Sirius. Even a subdued, silent though still evil looking, Tom Riddle stood among the crowd.
There was no Cedric.
Then, out from the many came one. Tall and majestic looking, he strode forward confidently, approaching Harry and leaving the others behind. Over the figure’s shoulder he noticed each member of the crowd waving to him, then slowly fading as through the reverse of a Polaroid photograph.
“Let us walk,” the half-moon-spectacled, old wizard said gently, taking Harry’s shoulder and steering him away from the fading background.
“Professor Dumbledore… What is this?” Harry inquired.
“This is the release, dear boy.” His eyes sparkled and his face was tender.
“Release? Of what?” Harry always felt like it took ages longer than it ought to for him to understand these things.
“It’s time to let them all go. I think you have known that. Hanging onto them, giving them power over you – this is not the way to live.” His voice was gentle and sympathetic.
“What do you mean? They… they come to me in my dreams, whether I want them there or not.”
“I’m afraid that’s not entirely true. They have all gone on, truly gone on. It is only you who refuse to let them do so, only you who allow them into your dreams.”
“You. They can not harm you, only you can harm yourself, speaking through them to hear what you think should be said. I think someone has gone to great lengths to show you what living should be like, to help you forget the dead, to help you move past them and what you think you owe them.” Dumbledore’s gaze bore right through Harry’s eyes, as through peering into his soul.
“Cedric?” Harry asked quietly.
Dumbledore smiled with that old familiar twinkle in his bright blue eyes.
“Harry, I shall not expect to see you again, not for a very long time. Try to remember what you have been told and what you have learned. You only get to live your life once, and your life is now entirely more so yours than perhaps it ever has been.”
“But Professor… I don’t understand why all this has happened. Where is this place? Is it part of death? Or am I dreaming everything? Is it all in my head and none of it ever happened? None of it?” Perhaps the last part was what worried Harry most, as he emphasised the thought with repetition and inflection.
“You forget so easily, Harry. It has not been so long ago since the last time I met with you.”
Harry looked down at his shoes, fidgeting and ashamed for forgetting.
“As I said before… of course, all of this has been happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”*
Harry swallowed, but pushed on with another question this time.
“But is it real to you? Will you remember this? Will… will he?” Harry hoped Dumbledore knew what he was talking about because he didn’t much feel like explaining.
“Real comes in so many shades, Harry. There will come a time when this place, when King’s Cross, when all of it becomes so much more real to you than anything you have lived before. Your time living in what you call reality now will seem nothing more than a shadow, a mere image of a truer reality. But as for memory, it is a funny thing. You need not worry. I shall never forget a single moment we have spent together, no matter in what place, time, nonplace, or nontime it has happened or not happened.”
Harry nodded in vague understanding.
“And he will remember too,” Dumbledore continued softly, a smile pulling at his aged mouth.
Harry smiled too, took a deep breath, and looked at his shoes again. He hands found their way into his pockets, and his feet shifted on the floor. One hand left his pocket and tugged at his shirt collar. He looked up at Dumbledore again.
“Now, it is my turn to join the others. Live, Harry.”
Without a real and proper goodbye, Dumbledore smiled, nodded, then turned. Harry watched his figure fading into the distance, becoming smaller and smaller, increasingly transparent until at last Harry was alone in a void of nothingness.
He expected to feel lonely. He merely felt existence.
“Good morning, Harry!” Ginny called out brightly, pulling the curtains to his window back to allow the streaming sun inside.
“Time to get out of here!” Ron echoed, tossing some Muggle clothes and a set of robes onto Harry’s lap. Harry grinned, inspected the clothes, and began to climb out from under the sheets.
“We can check you out and take you home to rest, if you’d like,” Hermione offered.
“Rest? He’s been resting! I bet you’re starving. Let’s go eat first!” Ron insisted.
“Ron! You’re the only one who wants to eat every moment of the day!” Ginny argued.
“Food sounds great,” Harry answered, chortling.
He was back among his friends. Back in his real life that would one day yield to something more real, at least that’s how he understood it. It was time to be free, to live his own life and enjoy the pleasures that came with freedom, forgiveness, and peace.
And somehow he had to give up on what had been, or perhaps had never really been, or what had really been in a more real way that anything else had been…. He had to give up and let it be – what couldn’t really be.
A curtain was pulled around his bed and Harry slipped out of the St Mungo’s clothing. He stepped into his jeans, pulling them up and working at the button and zip. As he leaned over to grab his shirt from the bed, his side rested against the mattress and he felt something pressing into his hip. Curious, he dug a hand into the jeans pocket to empty it and examine the contents.
There in his palm was a small smooth stone, rounded, softened, and grey.
Grey like the grey eyes that flashed in his mind’s eye.
Harry let out a bemused breath, complimented by the faraway smile, then he carefully tucked the stone back into his pocket. It had all been stolen time, and now he had to live this life. He could be content, happy, and at peace. He could have a full and wonderful and complete life.
He could live without him…
At least, for a little awhile.
In a little while,
Surely you’ll be mine.
In a little while, I’ll be there…**
* J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, page 723.
** “In a Little While” covered by Hanson