Completed: (2/4/06) 11:12 PM
Posted: (2/5/06) 12:40 PM

Title: Parallels
Author: KissThis
Rating: R/M for adult situations

Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns all, including Cedric's most atrocious death. Any alternate realities and situations that deviate from the Potterverse plotline are the creations of my own conniving mind.

Pairing: Harry x Cedric – it's so canon.

A/N: Omg. This beast took me forever to write. I love Cedric x Harry so much, so it kinda kills me to write this, but at least this way I've got fluffy, happy living!Cedric, and angsty non at the same time! I'm really excited about this one, so PLEASE send me loads of feedback. And tell your friends!

P.S. All tense changes are intentional.

---

(1) - 2002

Several miles north of Ottery St. Catchpole, on a stretch of land the locals refer to as Stoatshead Hill, an average white house sits, newly built a few months past but naturally, magically blending into the land as if it has always been there. There are violets planted out front, in perfect bloom under the rising sun of a late spring day, and propped beside the porch swing are two well-loved, well-kept broomsticks. A jar of steeping ice tea sits condensing on the white-washed railing. The only things missing are a yipping terrier and a picket fence.

Inside this picturesque house a simple spread of cheese and crackers alongside a pitcher of pumpkin juice is laid out on a half-varnished dining table, virtually untouched save for the half nibbled cracker hanging off the plate. The house is empty of its would-be diners. Out the back way the screen door is hanging wide open; pointing towards a beaten path with its sparse grass trampled down by a hundred passings.

There's a special tree there – a place of first meetings and first discoveries – and within its strong branches, cool with morning chill and its leaves still dampened by dew, two lovers watch the sun rise over the hills.

Harry grinned lethargically and huffed at his bangs, an odd habit he'd picked up after no longer having his glasses to keep the wild hair from his eyes, and rolled a small golden sphere about in his hands – fidgeting with it, testing its weight in both hands before the tree's other occupant elbowed him good-naturedly. Harry made a childish face with his tongue sticking out, but conceded and let the snitch settle long enough in his palm to unfurl its silver wings and lift itself up into the air.

He let it flit around a bit before snatching the moving blur right out of the air without so much as batting an eye. He grinned lopsidedly to himself at his accomplishment before uncurling his fingers and letting the snitch free again for a few moments more, only to grab it again when it tried to dart over his head. After a stretch of minutes passed in this fashion another arm stretched across him for the zinging Quidditch ball, but Harry plucked it out of the air before his companion could with a laugh.

"Can't you ever sit still?"

Harry looked over at Cedric who, bemused, had graciously accepted his loss of the snitch and turned his hand towards the productive, but still utterly hopeless, task of combing through Harry's tangled hair. His even breathing, from down where he was stretched over Harry's stomach, fluttered his lover's bangs, making the unplanned act look infinitely more sensual than anything Harry had done himself to keep his hair out of sight.

"I am sitting still," Harry insisted stoutly just as Cedric's fingers found a place they liked at the base of Harry's neck and the tickling caresses there made him squirm. Cedric smirked.

When Cedric shifted upwards in the tree and unexpectedly pressed his face into Harry's neck, the younger man nearly dropped the snitch he was holding. Harry could feel Cedric's lips drawing back into a grin against his skin. The hand at his neck slipped casually under the collar of his t-shirt and he shivered.

"You need to relax..." Cedric murmured, his amusement obvious. His other hand had settled on Harry's wrist, a steady and warm weight save for the band of cool metal around his middle finger.

Harry traced the pattern on Cedric's t-shirt with his free hand, making a total tangle of their arms; a match to their twined legs. "I plan to do nothing but for the rest of my life."

Cedric lifted his head. "With me?"

Harry burst out laughing and pushed Cedric out of the tree, the fair-haired man trying to grab the snitch from his lover before his arse hit the ground. "Don't be cheesy!" Harry called down to him, laughing and tossing the snitch up in the air.

Cedric growled and caught the younger man by the ankle. With one sure yank – and a yelp from Harry – the lovers were reunited in an awkward and momentarily painful heap at the base of the tree. Harry groaned and shifted so Cedric's knee was no longer jutting into his back, but ended up with most of his weight on the brunet's stomach.

"Sod it all," Cedric grunted. "I'd forgotten how heavy you are."

"You clumsy git," Harry groaned back. He elbowed Cedric in the ribs for his comment.

"Berk."

Harry rolled off of him and the two lay sprawled out beside one another catching their breath and rubbing at soon-to-be bruises. The grass was damp under their backs, soaking into their shirts and chilling their skin. They'd probably catch a cold like that, but neither really cared and, finally, while Harry was rubbing at his chest, Cedric succeeded in taking the snitch from his partner's unsuspecting hand.

"Ha!" He proclaimed, still a bit breathy.

Harry rolled his eyes. "You're an idiot."

"Hey!" Cedric pretended to look affronted, but his secret pleasure was visible in his eyes when he released the golden ball only to cage it within his fingers seconds later.

Chuckling, Harry stretched his arms over his head, fingertips grazing bark. "I can't believe you can catch something that's nearly impossible to see, but you trip on the way to the Triwizard Cup."

Cedric smirked and let the snitch flit about a while longer. "Good thing too, eh?"

Harry snorted, but his hand found Cedric's in the grass. "I thank your clumsiness every day," he teased.

Cedric rolled onto his side and Harry used their twisted legs to pull the taller man closer. The brunet complied willingly, scooting down along Harry's body so that he could rest his chin on the other's chest and still be able to meet his gaze if he rolled his eyes upward. He laid the snitch beneath Harry's collar bone, rolling it idly beneath his palm.

"And everything turned out alright for me in the end," Cedric mused, rather matter-of-factly. "Started shagging you...got to spend the tournament winnings anyway."

"How romantic," Harry snorted and swatted at the silver wings brushing his neck.

Cedric grinned; all perfect, white teeth. "I'm a romantic kind of guy."

Harry nudged him with his foot; Cedric nudged back. Harry shoved his shoulder; he pushed at his stomach. Looking sly, Harry attempted to pin the older man to the ground, but Cedric was not to be caught so easily unawares and, with his hands on Harry's forearms, the two tussled across the grass. They rolled each other again and again, laughing at the sheer idiocy of their wrestling bout, but continuing it for much the same reason. For too many years their lives had been filled with depression and a somber attitude toward life, that in the last few months – when the last little document had been signed away, when the final bit of everything had ended – both men had almost burst with joy and light-heartedness; their new-found zeal for life echoing in everything they did, no matter how ridiculous it seemed. Freshly into their twenties and they both still acted like adolescent boys; maybe they were trying to relive a childhood they'd never had.

A quarter of an hour later, with arms tiring and laughter cutting off his breathing, Harry's back hit the ground and stuck – Cedric kneeling over him, equally out of breath, his hands pinning Harry at the wrists. Leaves and bits of branch were stuck in their hair and grass-stains marred the backs of t-shirts and the knees of trousers. They both laughed.

"I can't believe you bit me," Cedric snickered, twisting his arm slightly to try and see if an impression of Harry's teeth had been made in his forearm.

Harry grinned, almost deviously. "Well, your massive weight was nearly crushing a kidney. Had to do something."

Cedric pouted. "I thought Gryffindors were supposed to play fair" – and at this Harry burst out laughing.

"Are you kidding me!" He exploded hysterically. "Who was the hair-puller? Do all Hufflepuffs fight like girls?"

He rolled his eyes, but Cedric's cheeks were looking a little pink. "Shut up, Potter," he muttered hotly, then bent down and kissed him.

I wasn't heated or rushed like their tussling match, but turned the atmosphere between them on a dime; a slow progression of lips and mouths, so achingly gentle that jaws throbbed with it and hearts swelled from the same. It might even been described as beautiful, should anyone, save these two lovers, have borne witness. Cedric's grip softened into something more intimate – a knowing dance of fingers across wrists; Harry shifted automatically bringing his leg up alongside them, crossing his ankle over Cedric's, holding him close in the only way he could. Lips coasted across one another like a skater's dance; exhilarating and stunning, but to go too fast risks a nasty fall and Cedric wasn't planning on getting any points taken off for bad form. Harry was the ice, pressed against the damp ground, and Cedric the flame, and, when Harry sighed at the parting of their mouths, a plume of fogged breath caressed his lover's red lips in a cool kiss of another kind. The tongue that darted out to taste the beads of moisture did not go unnoticed by the man lying beneath.

Cedric smirked down at him, all suavity and confidence reasserted – as all hot-blooded men and women are – from knowing the effect a single kiss has on those to whom such a gift is given. It's egotistical to be sure, despite being so obviously unintentional, and in the middle of Cedric's surety and contrasting, latent modesty, Harry finds what it is to truly love someone.

"Romantic enough for you, Potter?"

Harry wants to reply with something witty, something sarcastic – something to make him laugh. In the end, all he manages to whisper is "Shut up, Cedric"; though, it comes out in an embarrassingly damsel-like sigh.

And then Cedric is grinning – all teeth again – and Harry's gotten what he'd wanted without trying. All it took was that dazed and wanton sigh of his name – for reducing the great Harry Potter to such a state was apparently what made Cedric Diggory happiest.

He rolled off, stretching out on his stomach beside Harry, and looked sidelong at his lover, face pillowed on folded arms. Harry – refusing to look at the cheeky man until he stopped grinning – crossed his arms behind his head and his feet at the ankles, completely comfortable in the cool grass but pointedly avoiding Cedric's gaze. He looked up at the tree's leafy branches canopying out above their heads, the red-tiled roofs of the village spread out below the hill, and listened to the hidden wood thrushes trilling to one another while he scanned the cloud strewn sky.

It was a brilliant blue, the sky – a rich, springtime shade; the kind skies were named for. 'Sky blue' it was with sunlit clouds stretching across it like pulled cotton and a horizon still fading from the grey of the dawn. He tried to pick shapes out of the clouds, but there were none to see in the cheery stripes of white drifting over head. It disappointed him a little. Here he was, finally free to do whatever he wanted – laze about, eat chocolate for every meal, wear his pajamas all day – and the sky was not cooperating. A new day was waking from its slumber, there was nothing at all to do today except be with Cedric, and he'd just been well and properly kissed; shouldn't there be rainbows, or angels singing, or clouds shaped like hearts and fuzzy bunny rabbits? He felt cheated.

Something tickled his elbow and he relented in finally turning towards Cedric. The older man, his head still down, was tearing up the grass between them and dropping it in a mounting pile on Harry's arm. He was intently focused on the task, his brows furrowed lightly and a thin line creasing his forehead as he concentrated.

"Cedric?" Harry said softly.

"Hmm?" Cedric was still playing with the grass. His legs were bent up at the knee and they swung back and forth with crossed ankles. It was distracting.

Harry rolled onto his side, ending Cedric's game and surprising the fairer-haired man with its suddenness. Harry propped his head in his hand and stared at Cedric, now sitting up slightly, before courage leaked away again and he averted his jade eyes to the ground where his hand was anxiously pulling at a patch of clover.

"Is...is everything finally over?" He asked. His voice was a mumble against his chest. "Can I...just be Harry now?"

Strong fingers lifted his chin and he was met halfway by soft lips. It was a short kiss, but the effect of it was lasting when the two men separated only far enough so that their eyes wouldn't cross when they looked at one another. Cedric's thumb slid over Harry's bottom lip, collecting a bead of moisture there.

"Yeah," he said. "It's over."

Harry smiled and pressed his forehead to the brunet's, pushing up their bangs and touching flesh to flesh. He sighed, finding a relief he hadn't known he'd needed, and Cedric – who always knew what to do – wrapped his strong arms around Harry's back, fingers splaying across thin cotton, and pulled the younger man closer. Harry dropped his face to the crook of Cedric's neck, an arm around his lover's neck anchoring him there while his other hand was trapped between their chests.

They laid back upon the grass with bodies intertwined and an aura of peace cloaking them. Cedric nuzzled wild, black hair and Harry kissed smooth, soft skin. Here, in this place, together, loving words were exchanged between mingled breaths and comforting touches.

"Let's not do anything ever again," whispered Harry. "Let's just stay here forever."

"I wouldn't want anything else," Cedric answered.

As Harry's eyes grew heavy and the sun rose to blanket him in its warmth, he was quite sure that this was a perfect moment; here in his lover's arms. He feel asleep with the smell of Cedric all around him, the taste of their kiss on his lips, and the calming beat of the brunet's heart beneath his palm.

---

(2) – 2002

It was dark when Harry awoke and the hard ground had been replaced by a lumpy mattress and tangled sheets. He blinked blearily in the dark, but there was no light at all and he realized that Cedric must have shuttered the window. Sleep was still fuzzing his mind a little but he worked out what must have happened. He'd fallen asleep and Cedric had carried him back to the house and the more comfortable den of their bed, thoughtfully blocking any light that would have woken Harry or ruined their mid-day nap.

Cedric.

Grinning to himself, Harry rolled over and reached for his companion. When his hand hit nothing but sheets he frowned. Sitting up, he ran his hands all across the bed in the dark, but Cedric wasn't there; the bed wasn't even warm. The darkness was no longer thoughtful, but uncomfortable and oppressive. Harry had a sudden urge to see, but his wand wasn't on his bedside table and for a long heartbeat the Boy-Who-Lived was afraid to get out of bed and turn on the light.

"Cedric?" There was no answer. The house was so small that if you were loud enough you could be heard in any room; at least, Cedric claimed he could always hear him. He tried again.

"CEDRIC?"

Footsteps resounded in the hallway and Harry clutched the sheets to his chest where his heart was wildly palpitating. The door swung open without preamble, but instead of Cedric's tall frame it was Hermione's diminutive form framed in the doorway, a half-melted candle in her hands.

"Hermione? What are you—"

She hurried into the room and closed the door behind her, the candle's flame flickering wildly from her jerky movements. Making her way to the bed, she held the brass candle plate close to her body; so, where aloft it would have brought even the smallest shadowy light to the room it was only a bright orange ball across her abdomen. She sat heavily on the bed's edge and the springs underneath squeaked loudly.

"Did you have that dream again?" She asked in a hushed voice. "The one about Cedric?"

Harry flushed all the way to his ears. He was glad and all that Hermione approved of his and Cedric's relationship, but did she really have to pry so much? Her know-it-all reputation couldn't extend that far. He was about to tell her off for it, when she lifted the candle and her face was caught in the light.

An ugly scar stretched from her right eyebrow and across the bridge of her nose, curling to a stop at the leftmost corner of her lips. It was a vivid white line across her rounded features, a defect that turned her plainness into something sharper, more angular.

"Hermione! Wha?" What happened was what he'd wanted to say, but he couldn't force the words past the blockage in his throat. It had completely closed. He tried reaching for her then, in the absence of words, but his hand failed him, falling back into his lap.

For her part, Hermione summoned up a smile, but it was sad and her own eyes were heavy and red-rimmed. She looked dead tired. "It wasn't your fault, Harry—" she touched his shoulder; lightly, hesitantly, her fingers feeling brittle almost. "—what happened to Cedric was not your fault. Voldemort would have killed him no matter what you did."

Something snapped inside of him.

It felt like someone had hit a Bludger into his stomach. Cedric? Dead! It had to be some sick joke; it wasn't possible. Cedric was courageous and strong and brave and...and it just wasn't possible. His eyes burned and he swore his heart had cracked; it was crumbling like so many pieces of plaster and lost love. A piece of himself was gone, torn out by Hermione's words and he was falling in on himself without it. This piece, this one single thing, this love, this small bit of what was purely Cedric – it was what had held him together, held him up, held him in his darkest moments, and without it, his very existence was meaningless; a wraithlike shadow, a parody of what it truly meant to be alive.

It was his heartstrings that were snapping inside.

Hermione's hand tightened on his shoulder, but it was a thin comfort, her hands now turned to the decaying paper of the books to which she so desperately clung, insubstantial and weathered, skin stretched too tightly over her knuckles and bones. It made her hands look pinched – a book bound too tightly.

"Harry?" Her voice was the reedy whisper of aged pages turning, ominously blanketing him like a layer of settling dust so thick he choked on it. No, he was choking on his sobs. They echoed around in the shell of his body, a hollow puppet with its strings cut; a pitiful marionette.

"When?" His own voice strangled him. His sobs caught against it like razor blades across flesh; he gagged on blood that wasn't there and his burning tears tried to wash it away, drowning him instead. "When did this happen!"

Hermione leaned over him uncertainly; her whole posture was awkward, like they'd been nothing but strangers these past ten years. She smells of musk and mildew; as unfamiliar as her movements. She's confused and Harry's all the more confused for it, but it doesn't register yet – not when tears have blinded him and a wailing, icy wind is blowing through his chest, through the gaping hole there; it twists around like a flailing serpent inside of his body, a freezing, venomous wind sinking into his bones, making them ache with the cold.

"He's been dead since fourth year, Harry."

"No! That's impossible!" He's practically screaming now and his throat is tearing itself apart, soaked in blood and tears. "I was just with him! W-We were in the grass – on Stoatshead!"

Hermione pulls back, as if uncertain of such raw emotion. Her fingers flit to her scar and her eyes show up dark as coal in the weak light; she has enough rawness of her own and Harry is left to bury his face in grimy sheets, seeking a comfort she is unable to give. "I'm sorry, Harry," she says; a bitter hand against an aching scar. "But it's been seven years...you saw him die."

"No!" It's muffled by hacking coughs and a mouthful of sheets. "I didn't—!"

"The Triwizard cup – it was a portkey! Don't you remember?" She sounds angry now; frustrated by his ability to forget what she cannot.

Harry jerks upright again, a flopping puppet; disjointed. "Of course, I—b-but Cedric h-he, he tripped! He didn't grab the cup!" His hands are tangled in the covers and he's slamming his fists on the bed, demanding and desperate, but it's so hard to think with all his pieces scattered across the bed, the room; he has to make Hermione see, has to remind her what really happened.

"Yes...he did." She doesn't sound like she's joking. Harry gags and chokes, feeling the need to vomit; the wind's venom is eating away at his insides. Fearing he actually would, Hermione sits back, lifting the candle up out of the way. Her fingers are touching her scar reflexively, but her nails are bitten down to the quick and the rough and peeling pads tremble across the raised line. The candlelight catches this image – a haunting, haunted shadow of Hermione Granger. And he sees that she's in pieces too.

"He's dead," she says and Harry is suddenly overwhelmed – those coal eyes, that awful scar, and her voice is burying him under those words, heavy with dust, and bitterness, and truth. He's screaming at her, but it's not her fault and he has to get away.

Harry throws off the sheets and runs for the door. The door jam splinters under his fervor and the broken door, its decaying wood groaning in pain, falls awkwardly open on its hinges. This isn't his house and for a moment he's left spinning frantically around in the cramped hallway feeling claustrophobic and crying all the harder, lost and confused. He all but falls down the stairs. Doors are opening all over the house – there are no heavy sleepers anymore.

Ginny stops Hermione outside her doorway. She's wearing Fred's old pajamas, pinstriped and worn, and her bare toes stick out beneath the pooling hems. The sight is inappropriate somehow; the skin there is dry and cracked and a splotchy purple-white from the cold. Her carrot hair is thin and cut up to her chin; it makes her face looks sallow, her eyes sunken. The light from Hermione's waning candle illuminated the gaunt pair in wavering ocher and they look half-devoured by shadow.

"Is it Sirius again?" Ginny asks.

Hermione shook her head. "No. Cedric."

"Cedric?" The younger woman drifts backwards unconsciously, half hiding her face behind the door. She'd loved Harry. Once. But time and war had changed her; just as Hermione recoiled from physical comfort, Ginny simply, automatically, stepped away from any involvement at all. "But it's been ages..."

Hermione lowers the candle, and her scarred face is no longer visible by the time her fingers raise to touch it again. Ginny's toes have disappeared again. "He thinks Cedric is still alive," Hermione's voice is as withdrawn as Ginny's posture.

But the redhead pulls herself together; it's an effort she knows she must make. "Let me grab my jumper," she says, because she loved him once.

And Harry's already outside, the front door banging against the house. He's calf-deep in snow and the streets are completely erased within the blustering storm. Gone are the blue skies and soft, green grass of his memory – this must be the dream, this frozen winter without love. Somehow – he doesn't know how, or why – but he is back at Grimmauld Place.

All he knows is that he has to get back to Devon, back to Ottery St. Catchpole, back to Stoatshead Hill and the climbing tree where Cedric is laying beneath a spring sun, waiting.

He starts off in one direction; though, he can't be sure if it's leading towards or away, as long as it's away from Grimmauld and Hermione's musky smell. Once or twice he swears to feeling her brittle fingers across his shoulder, but it's only the wind joining in on the sick joke of this twisted nightmare. After a while his bare feet are numb and he can't even be sure he's moving at all – the buildings are all obscured and the snowfall too thick to even look down and watch his tracks.

But he has to believe that he'll make it back, that this is just a dream. Because when he finally collapses and his breath is hindered by snow, he has to believe that he'll wake up from all of this and be with Cedric – both of them alive and well and together and kissing and loving and happy. Laying face-down in the bank, Harry's last thought is that he doesn't want to wake up again without Cedric.

---

(3) – 1998

"Harry! Come inside Harry – it's time for tea!"

Harry groaned and his forehead ached from the fall. It felt like he'd only just closed his eyes, but there he lay, dry and warm and lazily stretched out as if for a nap on a bed of soft, lush grass.

Grass?

Harry jumped up and spun around. The world blurred around him and it made his head pound trying to focus. He was home – he knew it – but he couldn't see anything. It was as if the world has lost all its definition, the lines of all things breaking and dissolving and leaving nothing to contain the pools of color that made things what they were. A child had come through his world and painted over everything with a hundred watercolors, spilling over the lines and blending everything into a jumbled mass that he could neither sort through nor look at for very long.

The sight was so overwhelming that he had to sit down for fear of becoming nauseous, and he was understandably confused when the distance to the ground seemed shorter than he remembered it being. Harry soon realized that this was because he was shorter than he remembered being, just as he realized that the grass was still perfectly clear and bladed underneath him and it was merely the sky that was smeared and blurred like a tempest in a watery dawn. What strange place had he imagined this time?

He'd fancied himself back at Stoatshead when he'd awoken in the grass, but now he could see that he wasn't close in the slightest. He picked despondently at the grass which, as if to taunt him, was slightly off from his desired location; a smoother texture, a duller scent, a hint of quicksilver upon every one in a thousand blades. The grass glinted in the shining, sunless sky and Harry saw Cedric's eyes a hundred times over, winking in and out of sight all across the sloping hill that stretched downwards until the earth touched the sky. Ten million grey eyes taunting him, constricting his heart. Somehow, he knew Cedric wasn't going to be here; just like before.

"Didn't you hear me? Har...ry?"

He turned his head – the voice now being close enough that its owner could reach out and touch him if she wished – and he was a little surprised at how unsurprising it was to see Hermione standing beside the large apple tree at his back, one hand braced against the rough bark. Both she and the tree were startlingly defined against the backdrop of the sky's abyss and when she moved it was disconcerting to watch the world shift inversely and it made his eyes water.

"Wotcher, Harry. You alright?"

Her voice was so different that it almost made his own catch in his throat. He managed a "fine" with only a minor crack in his pitch.

Her chocolate hair was as bushy as ever, but it seemed to border on wild now; the more he looked at it the more he would swear that bits of it slunk off in twisting spirals of their own; Medusa's hair of serpents, or was it the wind tricking his eyes? One of those querulous locks flowed in front of her eyes, but the girl seemed to hardly take notice; and indeed she was a girl, for her knees were still knobby beneath her cotton stockings, her cheeks still baby-rounded, and a certain cavalier element in the way she held herself – shoulders looking too often shrugged and elbows always akimbo. The blouse and plaid, pleated skirt she wore wouldn't have been out of place on a long ago Hogsmeade visit.

"You coming?" she asked, and jerked her head backwards, indicating a distant point. Her frizzy curls bounced across her shoulders and the faint freckles that dotted her nose gleamed in the light. Her youthful face bore no scars or disfigurements of any kind. She looked happy.

"Yeah, yeah."

Picking himself up off the ground, he followed her down an undecipherable path. Their feet were soft in the lush grass and the feeling caused Harry to take one last look back at the tree he so wished was his own, sitting atop Stoatshead. The tree was gone.

Trailing behind her, neither of them wearing shoes, Harry kept his head down, not wanting to see any more of this world than he had to. It wasn't real; there was no point. While it was a far stretch better so far than his previous delusion, and though, despite his confusion, he was truly glad to see his old friend happy and unmarred, the absence of the man he loved was a gaping, acidic hole in the fabric of this fantasy. Nothing was real without Cedric there to make it so.

"It'll be your head if the tea's gone cold."

Hermione's teasing voice floated back to him as she crossed a trickling brook with a hop skip onto a large rock. She'd been spewing a large number of cheery ramblings before this, but he hadn't answered then and he didn't answer now. He crossed the trickle silently and without dawdle, because Hermione wasn't waiting for him. He kept trying to wish himself back into Cedric's arms, and she kept babbling.

Their journey ended at a small little cottage; Harry looked up when Hermione's bare feet finally stopped rustling through the grass, and he hesitated – took a step back, even. This wasn't his house. He didn't want to go inside.

The house was too brown, too tan, too earthy. There were hydrangea bushes where the walkway ought to be, and a porch swing blocked out any room for propped up brooms. A bird had nested in the drain spout and he hated the small creature even as it twittered whimsically in greeting. He didn't want to go inside.

Hermione had her fingers on the handle; teasing him, taunting him with the surety that she was about to open that door and usher him inside no matter how much he objected. It was an impish, though decidedly Hermione, gesture – forever pushing, tugging, pulling forward, upwards, into something through which only she could guide you. She never urged you into something she wasn't already made expert on, she wanted to be the one to go to, to help, guide, steer. She was the rudder of their ship.

This beaming girl before him was everything Hermione was, and yet, she was aesthetically the opposite. His eyes followed the jagged, curling path across her cheek, but the scar he'd seen before could not have been hidden by any magical or muggle means and there was not a single freckle out of place on her babied face. In fact, no lines marred her face whatsoever. Neither dark circles of exhaustion nor faint crow's feet from laughter were imprinted there. The deep creases that had seemed permanently etched into her thoughtful brow were non-existent. She was shiny and clean and amazingly awkward; the grass-stained toes of her stockings curling into the dirt.

It was as though some great mold had replicated his best friend, from her bushiest curl to her tiny, pink toes, and then had forgotten to impress upon her the traits and experiences of life that had shaped and altered her from that molded doll. Her voice came out too brightly, and her smile was carved from plasticine. It was in her most innocent form that Hermione stood before him, but it was not her purest. This fakeness was not truly her, never could be her.

It should never be construed that innocence and purity are anything but opposites.

"Daydreaming again?" She smiled and he looked back into the eyes that had never beheld a basilisk, had never seen Hogwarts from the back of a hippogriff. The absence there prickled the back of his neck and he looked away. Hermione didn't notice. Her hand was already turning the latch. "Come on. Your mum's been calling you for ages."

Every thought froze.

"My mum?"

Hermione's brow pinched slightly; the smooth flesh rippling then pouring back out to perfection. She smiled at him as though some good joke had passed between them; the confusion explained away by some moment of clarity, some connected remembrance. Then the door was swung open and she stepped inside, taking with her the water-colored skies and the cool, green grass beneath his toes. She took it inside with her like a vernal mantle draped across her shoulders, the train of birds and flowers and all that was vestal and joyous sweeping in behind her like a rippling cascade that he could scarcely discern before it was filling up the small cottage, pouring into every crack, crevice, crease and he was left standing in black.

It wasn't darkness. It was the oppressive, suffocating blackness. It could have stretched on across every sea and hill, or trapped him into a box no larger than a shipping crate, he was not about to test its boundaries. He knew, instinctively so, that if he turned away, the door – its dark, cherry wood door holding the thinnest boundary against the black – would disappear; attach itself to Hermione's spring cloak and be pulled away and inwards until it was so tangled within itself that it would fade to the smallest pinprick of light and then disappear entirely.

The door's light cut off abruptly at his toes, waiting for him to take that last step. It smelled of bread and it was the only direction he was able to go. He didn't want to go inside, but he stepped forward anyway.

They all looked at him with those absent eyes; Sirius, James, Lily, Remus, Dumbledore, Hermione. His own parents' eyes held nothing of him – no memories, no love – yet they smiled at him as if they'd known him all his life.

"Where am I?" He asked because it's the only question he could vocalize. The robin from the drain spout was chittering outside the kitchen window, and they'd all just sat down to tea.

Hermione laughed at him, her front teeth still overly large and catching on her bottom lip. She's still fixated on that same joke, and Harry feels he ought to be in on it somehow. "I'm not going to play that game with you again," she said, and when she reached for a teacup her hands were free from the scars of her hex-laced hate mail, her fingers no longer bearing the shiny burns of Hagrid's skrewts.

"We all know how happy you are," she said in that same half-laugh. Harry didn't feel that happy.

And it was when his former professor – his hair young and brown, the scars from a lifetime of pain and self-destruction all smoothed away and forgotten as if they meant nothing – smiled too widely, too unguardedly and asked "Biscuit?" that Harry Potter fell apart.

"This is all wrong!" he shouted. "You're all wrong!"

"Harry, dear," Lily soothes. "Please..."

But he ignored her. He'd gone a lifetime without a mother and he wasn't about to start now. "I can't be dead!" He yelled, an accusation almost filling his words. He knew now the only place it was that he could be.

It was his godfather that pushed back from the table and gave him a hard look. That grave look so much like the one he remembered, so much more familiar than everything else, than Hermione even, that for the merest of instances, for one infinitesimal second, he believed it was real.

"An Avada Kedavra's a one way ticket, Harry." His look seemed almost to say 'I would know', and he shouldn't have. He shouldn't have even been dead. "Your dad told you that when you first got here, remember?"

"What!" They weren't making sense. They talked as if all this was real, that this was where all of them belonged, but that wasn't right. Wherever here was, it wasn't heaven and it wasn't natural. What god would strip away all that a person was? Would turn them into some sick puppet show that parodied true happiness? Was it all for his benefit?

James tried to look concerned. His face went through all the right motions, but there was no feeling behind it. It was as though he'd held a mask up to his face and called it his own. "You alright, son?"

"No! I don't belong here!"

Hermione stepped closer; her hands were clasped before her as if in prayer. She beseeched him with her godly folded hands. "Harry..."

"And I don't belong there either!" Hermione's clasped hands dried away in front of his eyes, bones glowed beneath the brittle skin and the acrid scent of decaying books cloyed the air in the back of his throat. No. Not there. "I belong with Cedric! Where's Cedric!"

It was Dumbledore who answered, age-spotted hands tucked into the sleeves of his lavender robes. "Alive..." he said and it was the happiest word he'd heard in a lifetime. "Thanks to you."

Harry shook his head. "I don't understand."

Dumbledore's mouth frowned while the rest of his face stayed the same. He adjusted his glasses. There were no lenses in them. "You saved his life fourth year. You took the curse meant for him thus preventing Voldemort from being reborn. Don't you remember, Harry? That's why you're here..."

The story kept changing – that one pivotal moment in history was changing everything. For the span of a breath he wondered if his own story was any more true. "And Cedric?"

Hermione brightened instantly, her fingers flying apart. A subject she knew had come around. "He married Cho after graduation," she said, and each brightly uttered word was a knife through his heart. "Course, that was before I took my little tumble down the stairs." Her hand went reflexively to her neck, and Harry remembered the same gesture from a different Hermione, a different scar. "They had a child not too long after, I think – named him after you."

Cho, Cho, Cho...it rewound and repeated itself a thousand times over in the cramped refuge of his mind. Their secret trysts, the furtive glances, whispered promises – all of it had been for her? Anyone but her. He could be left behind, but not for her. Her name was a poison on his lips. He vomited it up. "Cho!"

Hermione was no longer smiling.

"He married her?" No one answered him because he already knew the answer. It was a lead weight sunken into his stomach, poisoning him with each labored, tear-stained breath.

Had these memories of his been nothing more than a fantasy? The white cottage a vain hope in the delirium of the tournament? Had he only imagined Cedric catching his eyes as he danced with Cho? Fabricated the whispered words in passing; I wanted it to be you. They screamed 'fake'. Only you, Harry.

Kisses and scenes of intimacy shuttered through his mind in a fractured reel; click, click, a hidden caress. Moans and screams shook him, heated lips split him open, and, in the vast chasm that was opened there, all the memories and dreams and hopes and promises and wants that grounded, centered, were him poured inside and filled him up again. They stacked, collided, overlapped, until they'd blended into a single image of Cedric's smiling face – jerking, twitching, slightly moving as if it were a flipbook raining through a thousand pictures all nearly the same.

Then Cho was there beside him, infiltrating every picture, replacing Harry with insipid smiles and wanton eyes; only for Cedric. He cried out, but it never made it past his lips.

He tried to block it out, grinding the heels of his palms against his closed eyes, but the spotted vision was powerless to stop the cinematography playing behind his eyelids. He fell against the counter, smells of lemon and sage choking him, and buried his head in his hands.

"This isn't real," he whispered into the safety of those weathered palms. It was there he spoke his prayers. "We just built a house...Neville planted a garden for us..."

This couldn't be his fate. He wouldn't believe it.

"We...we were thinking about making a Quidditch pitch...there, on the side of the hill..." He'd begun crying; he didn't know when. He only knew that he couldn't stop believing – he had to believe that Cedric was there still, waiting for him beneath the tree. Waiting for him to wake up.

He cried those desperate wishes into hands so used to receiving prayers, wept those saline prayers until his hands were covered in them and his pleas would surely be heard. He screwed his eyes up shut, warping the torturing image of Cedric and Cho, and put every ounce of his being into a prayer like none he'd ever uttered before.

He had to believe that if he wished it hard enough, he'd find the way back home.

"This isn't real, this cannot be real, it's not!" He prayed and he wept. "Please, take me back...this isn't real..."

---

(4) – 1995

"Harry?"

"This isn't r—"

"You awake?"

Harry's eyes snapped open as the voice registered over his own, and he looked frantically about before he saw him. It was dark and shadowed, the only light coming from a barred window too high above to be of much use with seeing, and his face was smeared with dirt and grime, but there was absolutely no doubt that he was looking up into the bruised face of Cedric Diggory.

A Cedric from several years in the past.

"You're alive!" Harry exclaimed, so stunned by the sight of the teenager that his voice cracked a little.

"Yeah," Cedric's smile was unusually haggard. "But we won't be for long if we don't get out of here."

Harry finally had enough sense to look around. There wasn't much to see apart from stones and bars, everything slicked with filth and fungal growth. It all looked slimy and particularly unsanitary, which confirmed Harry's fears. They'd been taken prisoner.

"Where are we?" he asked, both anticipating and dreading the answer.

"Dunno," the brunet whispered truthfully. "Voldemort stunned the both of us and I woke up in this cell..."

Suspicion gnawed at him. "What year is it?" he asked, mimicking Cedric's hushed tones.

The brunet's face appeared closer than before, the dark lines of his eyes deepening in true concern. It was something in the light of his eyes, in the way his lips parted ever so slightly that had been missing from Hermione, standing outside that cottage. It was that spark of human compassion.

"You didn't hit your head, did you Harry?" he asked, and then he was reaching for Harry's face and no amount of shadow could hide the pink staining his cheeks. He'd longed for Cedric's touch since he'd been separated from him and their home, but when those slender fingers brushed his bangs aside, looking for injuries, it wasn't with the lingering caress of a lover's touch. Harry knew in that exact instant. In this reality, this dream, whatever it was – he and Cedric meant nothing to one another.

"I'm fine," he insisted and, though it pained him unimaginably to do so, pulled himself from under the older boy's ministrations. "I was just, just checking your brain didn't get scrambled either."

Cedric laughed softly, as though they weren't in a dark cell someplace unknown. And Harry closed his eyes, to better savor the sound that had, in a different world, been all his own. Cedric sat back on the cold floor and turned his face towards the inadequate window. His knees were pulled to his chest and his eyes were so fixated on that singular beam of moonlight, that sorry ray of hope, that Harry wondered if he'd turn to stone.

He was silent for so long, Harry didn't think he'd answer, but he did. "1995."

Harry slumped against the wall, his clothes bunching behind his back, and put his head down on his knees. He was wearing his dirty champion uniform and his trousers had a hole in one of the knees where his forehead rested. Defeat lined his slumped shoulders. This is not happening...

Cedric's voice came softly from ahead of him. "I don't think one stunning spell is enough to make me forget this year."

"Tell me about it," Harry muttered miserably. Once again that same, singular point in his past had altered everything that had come before and everything yet to occur. This existence was just as plausible as the rest – a hardly reassuring thought as he sat thinking in the cramped cell.

He ran a hand haphazardly through his hair and it was then that he felt the tears still damp against his cheeks. He wondered if Cedric had felt them too, seen them shining dully in the shadowlight as he ran his fingers through his hair. Harry shook the longing from his head and roughly wiped his face dry.

He refused to believe in this loveless world either, and with an angry sort of stubbornness, wedged himself tighter against the wall and sat with his arms crossed over his chest. He waited for this warped dream of his to progress, to pull him into the next reality – maybe even back home. There was nothing else to do.

"We need to think of a way out of here..."

Harry wouldn't have answered, but it was Cedric – Cedric, who was looking at him through the dark, and he couldn't not. "Any ideas?"

"None." His voice was positively gloomy.

"Well, they can't leave us in here forever," he offered, trying (albeit pathetically) to cheer him up.

"They could, actually," said Cedric. "They might try and starve us to death."

"Charming."

Cedric looked away. "Sorry."

Neither of them said anything for a long time. At least, in the unlit gloom of their cell where no time could be told whatsoever, it seemed to them both to be a very long time indeed. There was a leak in the far corner – a repetitive drip! drip! capable of driving the most stalwart men mad if they let it consume the silence.

Mostly, Harry watched Cedric. The older boy wasn't doing anything much, save for slowly breathing and staring up at the tiny window, but it was enough. He could make out the outline of his hunched form, still hugging his knees, and so enamored did he become with watching him breathe that his own rapid breaths tapered out and slowed to match his rhythm. Harry wondered if this Cedric would make it through the war.

"They won't let us die." He'd whispered it out loud before he could think of a reason not to. Cedric's head went up.

"What?"

Harry picked at the torn seam of his shirt. "What you said earlier – about them starving us to death? That sort of thing only happens on the telly."

Cedric slid closer, the heat of his body suddenly penetrating the frigid circle of air around him. He listened to him clear his throat without ever looking up. "What's going to happen then?"

"The real bad guys, and I mean the really bad guys...they want you to suffer."

"Torture?" It was so soft it could have been a thought. The temerity of it was heart-breaking.

Harry swallowed. It was painful to get past the dryness there. "That comes later." His fists convulsed as he dredged up his own memories, memories this fourteen year old body shouldn't have possessed. "They want you to beg first. They'll feed us just enough to keep us barely alive, and when you finally give up all hope of rescue and stop fighting for life, they'll fight for you. They won't let you starve yourself. You'll just keep on living a horrible, festering existence until every last bit of resolve in you is gone and you beg for them to kill you."

Another hand grabbed his in the darkness and their grimy fingers slipped between and intertwined with one another's. A last anchor in the fear and despair that threatened to sweep them away. All of Cedric's fear was channeled into that one hand so desperately squeezing his. He was trying to be brave, to put on a positive face for the younger boy, to act as a prefect ought to act, but when their fingers twisted together Harry knew. Cedric was just a seventeen year old boy, defenseless and confused, and utterly terrified.

Harry's voice caught in his throat, and he realized that no matter how much he tried to convince himself this wasn't real, he was just as frightened. No dream had ever instilled such true terror in him, and the painful desperation in Cedric's grip was something so strong it had to have been real.

Harry bit his lip and closed his eyes. Taking a shallow breath he squeezed back. Just as hard.

They were just two kids, frightened and alone, in a rotting cell where it was likely they would spend the last few weeks of their life, and when Harry finally met Cedric's eyes – for the first time since they'd woken up in this prison – he wished he could have kissed him.

He squeezed his hand all the harder to make up for it, and when his nails dug into the soft back of Cedric's hand and he knew he had the other boy's whole and total attention, he looked straight into those mercurial eyes and made him swear. "Don't ever beg..." It was fiercely whispered and tears burned the edges of his eyes.

Those eyes searched his for the faintest of seconds before determination lit them and the strong jaw set itself. There was still fear there – in the lines around his eyes, and in the way his lips slightly trembled – but he stared back at Harry, meeting his eyes with strengthened resolve. Then he did something braver than any Hufflepuff had ever done – he squeezed his hand just as hard, nails cutting into skin, and swore it in a voice that never once wavered.

"I won't."

Neither of them said anything when a few cold drops hit their hands from either side before they could compose themselves and neither made any move to raise conversation again or voice a protest when their hands remained linked. It wasn't romantic or even remotely sensual. It was desperate and needy – something tangible to remind themselves when their thoughts grew dark that they weren't truly alone.

Fear is an impossible thing to persevere against, but every frightened grip was returned with equal intensity, and it reminded them that this fear, this huddling in corners, wasn't the only thing they had, that there was more to them than their fears. It gave them hope when they thought it lost, and comforted them when they truly despaired, and it was enough. It had to be.

Hours later, when exhaustion finally forced them into sleep, their palms still lightly touched, their fingers loosely intertwined.

---

(5) – 1999

"Wake up you lazy sod!"

Harry blearily opened his eyes and focused in on Ron's grinning face. The gangly boy had more freckles than ever and the sunlight streaming down from above set his red hair aflame.

"Eghn?" Was all Harry managed, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes.

"Come on," the redhead cajoled. "We promised Luna we'd help her clean up before Hermione got home."

"Wha? Luna?" He struggled to his feet. He was on porch steps, the sunlight hitting him perfectly as he stood. The steps led to a slender wraparound porch attached to a three story house that jutted up into the horizon conspicuously. All around them was wide open field and pleasantly shaded forests. It was a far cry from a Death Eater's prison.

"Cedric!" He exclaimed suddenly. He looked frantically around the porch, searching for him.

"Relax," Ron chuckled. He slapped him heartily on the back. "He's upstairs. Taking a nap."

"A nap?" Harry dumbly repeated.

"Yeah. Neville wore him out looking for herbs in the back woods," he guided Harry into the house with a hand on his shoulder. Harry let him, not trusting himself to follow his friend and not go sprinting for the staircase and the grey-eyed boy waiting beyond. "Good news is: they found some sage. You never know how important one little herb is 'til it's run out, eh?"

"Right," agreed Harry awkwardly. He looked around the rooms as they passed through them – a living room, a sitting room; all of them rather drab and uninteresting until they passed the study. There, something had caught his eye and he stopped.

It was a map of England.

In the middle of it a small yellow counter was denoted as 'Safe House'. Scattered around it were a myriad of thumb tacks in varying colors, but the ever organized Hermione had been thoughtful enough to include a key and he quickly scanned her precise writing. White was good guys, black was bad guys, and red was attack locations.

There were over a hundred tacks on the board.

To the north and slightly eastward, the black tacks dominated; the far south was a sea of white. And all along the sides, circling around the yellow Safe House was tack after tack of red. He stepped closer to see the dated flags hanging off them. The attacks were getting closer and closer to the Safe House; to where they were standing.

"Hermione said the outlook wasn't very good," said Ron solemnly over his shoulder. "I hope she was able to convince the governors into dropping the wards, we're sitting ducks as it is."

Harry's fingers drifted over the black bumps, trailing down to white. "We're right in the middle of it all," he murmured. "And the attacks keep getting closer."

Ron snorted and stuffed his fists into his jean pockets. They were worn and a bit long in the leg, which, considering how tall Ron had gotten, meant they'd once been Bill's. "Well, we all know how dumb the school governors are. Rounding up all the best of our age and sticking us in this stupid house to keep us 'safe'..."

Harry exhaled slowly. He knew what was going on now.

This "conspicuous" house was completely invisible to anyone who didn't know it was there. You could walk right up to it, maybe even through it if the wards were powerful enough, and never notice. The entirety of the DA and the majority of the prefects from the last few years had probably merited a space in the Safe House – which ironically turned out to be more like the jail cell he'd just left. The greatest and most powerful witches and wizards of their time had been gathered together in some remote house in the middle of England to "keep Voldemort from killing them before the opportune time".

Ron was right. "We ought to be out on the front line," Harry said.

"Well, duh!" The redhead gave him a good-natured shove. "Come on, we'd better get a move on. Luna might set her Snorkracks on us."

Harry chuckled. "Yeah, yeah."

Apparently, the work they'd promised to do for the blonde former Ravenclaw included cleaning up the massive mess she, Ginny, and Justin had made of the kitchen. They hadn't sacrificed a single dish in that entire kitchen while on the quest to create lunch. Ron swore he hadn't seen half of them since they moved in sixth months ago. One of the dishes, a suspiciously pink thing, was of unknown origins.

So they donned their flowered aprons – pilfered from Hannah's stock – just like good little heroes in hiding, and started collecting kitchen appliances from miscellaneous nooks and crannies around the room. It took several trips, and more than once a passerby would point out a glass behind the fichus, or the salad fork actually propping open the fridge door, but the pair eventually got everything into the sinks. There they filled it up with scalding soapy water and buried their arms up to their elbows in fluffy iridescent foam.

Half an hour later, when their hands were permanently pruny and lunch had finally been condensed into something casserole-shaped and safely stored in the oven, Harry left Ron in charge of the kitchen and excused himself upstairs.

He skipped the entire second floor entirely, a deep sense of knowing leading him up to the very top. When he turned around the stairwell's banister, he was looking down a short hallway from which only two doorways branched off. The rightmost door had once had Harry's name carved into the very wood, but that had been stricken out. Beneath it, Hermione's name was etched in perfectly flowing cursive.

He passed by, moving on to the door at his left, and when he saw it he could have lay down and cried. Cedric's name was carved across the center and underlined once. Slanted across the wood directly above it, was Harry's own freshly added name. His hand splayed across the splintered wood and he reached for the knob.

It was the promise of his lover's arms that spurred him forward and he flung open the door, stumbling into the darkened room.

"Harry? That you?" His voice called from the dark.

"Cedric?" Harry's voice cracked with relief, and he collapsed onto the end of the bed.

Cedric laughed. The shadowy comforter pooled as he sat up beneath it. "You smell like lemons. Were you doing dishes?"

"Only a few," he replied hastily. He crawled through the tangled sheets as if he were a dying man searching for one drink to wet his lips.

"You liar," Cedric teased. But Harry had found him at last and his hands were all over the brunet's face, down his arms, through his hair, around his neck. "Harry, what's—"

"Please, Cedric." He kissed him; desperately, mournfully. He wrapped himself around him so tightly that their hearts could have broken free from their bodies and passed into one another. "Just hold me." It's whispered hot and frantically against his ear. "Just love me..."

Cedric doesn't question it, merely cups his face in his hands and guides him back to his mouth. Harry's legs go around Cedric's waist and his hands at the other boy's neck crushes their mouths together. It isn't particularly pretty or romantic, but it's true and passionate and it's what Harry needs to remind him that what they have is real. It's tangible; elbows knocking, hair pulling, teeth scraping. It's always been ungainly and angular between them, but never awkward. There's no hesitation when Cedric pulls Harry's t-shirt over his head, no fumbling, unsure hands when the brunet's trousers are unzipped.

Cedric bites down on Harry's ear and then he's arching backward, crying out and Cedric's holding them together with his hands down the back of the other's trousers. Nails dig into soft flesh and Harry's legs squeeze tighter around his waist, moans drowning in the hot cavern of their joined mouths. Cedric's tongue swipes at Harry's lips and then it's along his jaw, down his neck; full, wet lips pressed to the hollow of his throat, sucking until Harry cries out.

Then they're being pulled back together, wrapped around each other and hands slip and slide over slick skin. And they kiss as only they know how. It's strong and melty and it's home. Their mouths meet again, all slick tongues and teeth catching lips; tugging, sucking, caressing. Harry moans and Cedric's breath is in hot, heavy pants across his throat.

"I wish that I could see you..." the whisper ghosted around the shell of his ear, and everything abruptly screeched to a halt.

Harry wrenched away and fumbled for the bedside lamp. Half the table's contents had hit the floor by the time he flipped the switch. Shoving his sweaty bangs out of his eyes he turned back to Cedric, kneeling beneath him and looking hurt.

"Harry?" His voice, which had once been strong and certain, was soft and cautious. "Harry, what's wrong?"

But Harry couldn't answer him any more than he could stop the tears burning their way down his cheeks. His mouth opened but not a sound came out; nothing but dry, silent heaves of anguish. He wept openly and Cedric's empty eyes moved sightlessly around the bed.

He was blind.

His beautiful face crumpled slightly, and he looked so childishly uncertain, cracking Harry's heart in two. He watched every single movement, softly illuminated by the small lamp, and couldn't look away. When Cedric's hand rose cautiously into the air and began searching out Harry's face, the younger boy sobbed outwardly and pulled the hand to his cheek, crying into the soft palm.

"Why are you crying?" Cedric whispered.

"Because I love you," Harry choked out, laying a teary kiss on the underside of Cedric's wrist. The brunet smiled and his eyes settled on a point just above Harry's shoulder. Harry thought he'd never looked more beautiful.

His tears refusing to abate, Harry's thin frame was gathered up in Cedric's strong arms and the heavy covers pulled over them both. Harry clung to his neck, drowning his t-shirt in heavy sobs, and Cedric rubbed his back, tucking the smaller boy's head beneath his chin.

"Hush now. I know..." he murmured, long fingers running through Harry's hair. He smiled again, against his skin, and placed a small kiss there. "I may be blind," he whispered. "But there are some things I can still see..."

---

(1)

"CEDRIC!" Harry woke up. Hands sought to pin him down, but he resisted; flailing, kicking, screaming, frantically needing to be free. "CEDRIC!"

"Harry! It's me! Jesus, Harry, open your eyes!"

Cedric was kneeling over him as whole and handsome as he'd ever been; sharp gray eyes fixed avidly on Harry's shocked face. He could still feel the sticky tracks of tears on his face and his t-shirt was twisted all around, but when he looked about it was at the softly rolling hills of Stoatshead, the climbing tree a solid weight at his back.

"You were having a nightmare," the brunet told him, a strong hand touching his cheek. His smile was warm.

Harry stared up at him wanting nothing more than to forget all of this and jump into his arms, but there was a tiny voice in his head that made him hesitate and he hated it.

"Harry?"

It whispered to him; made him doubt.

Is this real?

---

To be continued…