Author's notes: On to the next chapter.

Chapter 18

Winter Stew and a Visitor

Several days went by without incident but Harry's nerves were feeling frayed. Dumbledore had sent a letter saying that he had been delayed by bureaucracy at the Ministry who were inquiring about what was going at Hogwarts but hoped to return by Friday. It was Tuesday. Professor Snape had told Harry in the presence of Professor McGonagall in the Headmaster's office so he would know what was going on and having Professor McGonagall there would surely make Harry less tense than if it had just been Harry and Severus.

Later that afternoon, when classes were over for the day, Harry had gone down to Hagrid's hut with Ron and Hermione to get away from Hogwarts castle for a while. It was very quiet between the three as they walked down the trail, which was unusual, since normally all three would be chatting it up, but not now, not since this whole mess started. Harry simply didn't want to talk about it, and Ron and his girlfriend, Hermione were a bit scared to ask for any details.

"Bloody cold day." Ron said as he held Hermione's hand.

"Supposed to be like this all week, I read." Hermione added.

Harry heard what was said but his thoughts were on the events that were happening. The snow crunched underneath their feet and Harry thought of Cameron. He felt bad for the boy, he wanted to help him in some way, but how could he help a ghost? Those warm blue eyes were still filled with life and innocence even after death. Harry knew Cameron was alone, and suddenly Harry felt the same way. He thought about Cameron's words, was this all real? Was he dreaming it, was it a nightmare playing itself out, where was he really? Dead? Alive? Somewhere in between?

"I hope Hagrid is cooking." Ron blurted out.

Ron's words aroused Harry back to his friends. Somehow that statement made Harry feel like he was really here, outside of Hogwarts, walking to Hagrid's in the snow, this was what was real, not all that craziness with the lake and his attempted suicide.

"That's all you think about isn't it, Ron? Your stomach and then Hermione and then back to your stomach." Harry hid behind a smile, but inside he was freaking out, confused, and drained.

"What else is there to think of?" Ron asked smiling widely.

"Well magic for one." Hermione answered almost serious.

"Bloody hell, Hermione, is that all you ever think about? Magic books, magic wands, magic spells, magic potions, magic, magic MAGIC!" Ron spoke with a dramatic tone.

Hermione let go of Ron's hand and pushed him playfully. "Well at least I know how to do magic!" She retorted.

Harry and Ron laughed.

A strong smell of something cooking danced through the air as the three got closer to Hagrid's. Ron stopped and took several inhales through his nose.

He looked at the other two and then darted off. Harry and Hermione took off after the red haired boy. All of them stopped at Hagrid's door step.

"Well, go on, then, knock, Ron." Harry reached past Ron and knocked loudly. Ron fluttered Harry's arm away.

"Bloody hell Harry, don't provoke him!" Ron said.

"Your the one who knocked, Weasley!" Harry told with a short laugh.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "You two are such boy's, really."

"Who's out there? I'm warnin' you, I got three dragons just waiting to breath fire on your face!" Hagrid yelled through the door.

"Its us, Hagrid, Ron, Hermione, and Harry." Ron yelled back.

Several iron bolts were heard being moved and the door swung open with a creak. There Hagrid stood in full view of the young ones.

"Well bless my hearth, come in, come in!" Hagrid bade and he stepped aside with a smile as the three of them came into Hagrid's dwelling.

The smell of cooking food rushed into Ron's nostrils and his stomach let him know he was very hungry now. "It sure smells good in hear, Hagrid." Ron said hoping to get a taste of whatever it was he was cooking up.

"Oh right, that's me winter stew!" Hagrid said walking over to his hearth where a pot hanged inside it boiling the stew slowly. He took a large brown wooden spoon and stirred the contents. "Its got beef, carrots, potatoes, celery, and seasoning I made just for this stew, should be ready in a bit, so what ye all doin' up 'ere?" Hagrid asked sitting down.

Ron's mouth was watering profusely.

"Just needed to get away for a while." Harry answered as he sat down.

"Yeah, we were getting bored with all that 'magic'." Ron giggled.

"Speak for yourself, Ron, I was just tagging along Hagrid, its got nothing to do with being bored, especially of magic." Hermione stated looking proper like as she sat up straight and crossing her legs.

Hagrid nodded. "Right," and then he stood up and got some old wooden chipped plates out of a small shelf. The plates had intricate carvings of interweaving circles on the outer edges.

"That fire feels nice." Ron moved closer.

"Got to stay warm this time o' year, otherwise a giant might freeze, though not likely, but a half-giant might!" Hagrid smiled. The others laughed.

"C'mon you all, gather 'round the table, the winter stew is ready."

The three got up and sat around the table. Harry sat by a window. Hermione and Ron sat next to each other on the other side, of course. Ron's stomach growled loudly as Hagrid brought the pot over and Harry and Hermione laughed.

"Interesting plates, Hagrid, I love the carving." Hermione said leaning over to get a better look at it.

"Those belonged to my father's mother, her husband made those 'round about a hundred years ago I reckon its been now."

"Its beautiful." Hermione said.

"Why thank you, Miss Granger." Hagrid said as he moved over to her.

"First, for the lady." Hagrid scooped out a healthy portion for Hermione.

"Thank you, kind sir." Hermione lowered her head in respect.

Hagrid lowered his head back and then moved over to Harry and scooped out a good chunk and put it on his plate.

"Thank you, Hagrid." Harry smiled at his friend.

"A full stomach eases the troubles of a man's heart." Hagrid said with a kind wink.

Hagrid intentionally skipped Ron and moved over to his plate and scooped the rest of the winter stew onto his plate. He sat the pot to the side and sat down inhaling deeply.

"Just smell that stew, makes your mouth just water doesn't it!" Hagrid said like everything was normal.

Ron sat there with his mouth open. "What, don't I get any? I'm the one who was hungry here..."

"What? Didn't you get some, Ron?" Hagrid said moving his head to the side as if trying to see Ron's plate.

"No, you skipped me!" Ron said crossing his arms.

"Ah well, I'll make some more for ye next time ye comes over." Hagrid dove in with his spoon and started eating. Harry and Hermione followed suite like everything was perfectly normal.

"Bloody hell..." Ron protested.

Harry and Hermione laughed as they ate.

Hagrid laughed heartedly and reached over the table to get Ron's plate. "Ere ye go, can't have you hungry while the rest of us have full bellies." Hagrid pushed off half of his portion onto Ron's plate and handed it back to him.

Ron dug in with a smile and then had a full mouth.

After they were through eating they sat there and talked with Hagrid for an hour about all of the different things that were going on in their lives, except for Harry who was mostly quiet. His thoughts were more focused with what was going on with him, though he did feel better after eating.

Guess Hagrid was right.

Harry stood up and walked over to a an old wooden chair by the fireplace and sat there staring at it until his eyes became heavy. He could here Hagrid, Ron, and Hermione talking in hushed tones. Harry heard his name a time or two and then all seemed quiet after while.

There was a knocking on the door and Harry sat up. He glanced around a bit dazed. Hagrid, Ron, and Hermione were gone. The fire place was still burning. Harry cautiously went up to the door and rested his right hand on the door knob.

Knock, knock, knock.

"W-who's their?" Harry asked as his heart raced.

No response came.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Who's there?" Harry yelled.

Harry gripped the doorknob tightly ready to throw it open, his nerves were on edge and it was all he could do not to scream.

Bullocks to this!

Harry turned the handle and yanked open the door expecting all the horrors of the world to be waiting for him on the doorstep but there was none, only a young boy with pale skin and frozen hair.

"Ello, Harry." Cameron greeted with his soft voice.

"Cameron...hi...I didn't expect to see you..." Harry's nerves subsided.

"Your the only one who ever could, Harry." Cameron smiled.

Cameron's words made Harry feel more sorry for the boy.

He must be so utterly alone.

"Well, come in." Harry said shaking his head. He moved aside and Cameron walked in.

Cameron turned around as Harry shut the door. He looked Harry over and frowned. He could see Harry's sadness, his fragile heart. He hated what he was about to tell Harry but he had to.

"I have to go soon, Harry." Cameron said.

"Wh-what you mean you have to go soon?" Harry took a step forward.

"Just that mate, I have to be going soon...but, before I leave I must talk with you about a few things." Cameron's voice sounded concerning.

"Alright then."

"Albus Dumbledore won't be back in time to help you or Hogwarts, Harry." Cameron began.

"Oh..." Harry looked startled.

"Draco has unleashed a creature of darkness and it is extremely powerful. It has taken the form of a student with black eyes. If you see him, then run to a safe place. If you have to do battle with him then beware his dark blade for it will slice your delicate body with great ease. He has secured himself to this world through Draco's own blood, which gave him more solidity. He searches for you Harry, and he won't stop until he has taken you away.

"Bloody Malfoy." Harry moved over to the fireplace and leaned against the mantle with both arms. "He's always caused me trouble since day one..."

"So he has, but don't let him stop you from being what you are meant to be, Harry."

Harry stared at the stone mantle and took a deep breath. "And what was I meant to be?" Harry asked in almost a whisper.

"A friend to few, a leader of many, a lover to one..." Cameron let that hang in the air for a moment.

Cameron's words echoed true in Harry's heart and he knew arguing with Cameron would be stupid.

"So where does this shadow want to take me?" Harry finally asked.

"Back down to the lake..."

"Oh-not that again..." Harry blurted out with frustration.

"Yes, Harry, that's the key to this whole situation...but if you do go down there by yourself...before it gets you, then you have a chance of returning back to your life." Cameron explained.

"What's the difference if I go or if he takes me?" Harry turned to face Cameron.

"Like I've said before, Harry, you've opened up a doorway between worlds. The shadows are trying to take you back to where they think you should be, except now, a more powerful shadow has come for you and it is possible for it to kill you here, and you will be dead in both worlds...and you will be chained to their realm for eternity without any hope for escape." Cameron's words sounded absolute.

Harry searched Cameron's ocean blue eyes and he saw that they shined with truth. Harry moved to sit down at the chair he was at before. The fire in the fireplace was still burning, though it had dwindled some. Cameron walked over to Harry and stood before him.

"And now that the shadow has taken form it can harm anyone, not just you."

Neville...Harry thought to himself.

"Anyone trying to protect you might fall under the creatures blade as well, and there are several who would fight for you, Harry." Cameron paused briefly and then spoke again. "And they would share the same fate as you if they were struck down."

"I really have no choice then...I must go back..." Harry realized.

"Yes."

"What's going to happen to you Cameron?" Harry asked with a heavy heart.

"I must go back to my resting place."

"You mean where I first saw you?"

"Yes, that is where I rest." Cameron said with a small frown.

"Cameron?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"Will you go down to the lake with me?"

"You must go alone, Harry. Its the only way."

"I think I might miss you, Cameron." Harry said with misty eyes.

Cameron put his right hand on Harry's shoulder. A small chill ran through Harry's body but he refused to shiver for he did not want to offend Cameron.

"Your the only one I've talked to in years, Harry. You'll never know how much this has meant to me." Cameron said with a smile.

Harry smiled back and put his hand on top of Cameron's. A warmth filled Cameron's hand and forearm and he wondered how it must feel to lay with someone. So much warmth, one would never be cold again.

"Goodbye, Harry." Cameron gave Harry's shoulder a gentle squeeze and then slid his hand off. Harry brought his hand down to his lap.

"So long, Cameron. Rest well."

Cameron gave Harry another smile and then walked over to the door.

"Cameron-" Harry started as he turned in the chair to see Cameron.

Cameron stopped as he took the handle into his hand and looked over at Harry.

"What should I do about Severus?" Harry asked genuinely.

"Do what your heart tells you to do, Harry. Just remember, though, Severus loves you dearly," and with that Cameron opened the door and a gush of cold air filled the room. He stepped outside and shut the door behind him.