To all the readers who have patiently stuck by me and this story, thank you-Jack

Chapter 21: The Souls, the Secret, and the Surprise

As much as the dark was oppressive, Harry took comfort in the warmth he could feel to his immediate left. His ears could pick up on the subtle breaths issuing from Cedric's lips and the slight crunch of foliage as they shifted low in the brush. Both boys were squinting furiously out at Hogwarts Grounds, attempting to map out precisely where everything was. The clouds above graciously thinned and the land lit up slightly, if only to reveal lumpy, shadowy objects.

"Ok so those several large lumpies way over there, those are the greenhouses," said Cedric under his breath.
"Yeah, and the smaller lump far to our right, that's Hagrid's place," added Harry, twisting on his spot. His ankles were hurting from squatting.
"Then the only lumpy thing left is that medium sized one in the north west direction…which we can safely assume is the Whomping Willow," concluded Cedric and Harry could practically feel the playful smile that must have been on the Hufflepuff's face.

"You find this funny, don't you?" asked Harry, frowning a bit.
"What's funny? The fact we are on the lookout for people we can't see…? Ok maybe I find it just a little amusing…in an ironic sort of way," he confessed with a chuckle before adding, "Besides, if you remember, the clouds break way causing the transformation. We'll see them eventually, so don't worry."
"I can't help it! I keep thinking we're going to mess up and ruin this chance. I
don't know what I'd do if—"

Harry was cut off as a large hand suddenly was pressing over one of his eyes (and glasses) as well as a part of his nose. He squawked in surprise.
"Alright, I was aiming for your mouth but…oh well…now that I have your eye, shut up. I
think I hear something," Cedric whispered, scooting a little closer to him.

Harry strained his ears to pick up on what Cedric heard and after several long moments, he could hear it. Several pairs of feet were shuffling their way along the grounds towards the castle. How on earth had Cedric heard that? Silently, Cedric's hands ran down Harry's arms, gripping them at the elbow and hauling him up. Harry's joints screamed at the change in posture and his legs wobbled against his will. Cedric was more than happy to oblige in holding him up, strong arms wrapping around his torso to pull him close. The Griffindor's breath hitched in his throat.
"Stay focused Harry," he mumbled to himself, swallowing hard.
"What'd you say?" asked Cedric.
"Nothing, c'mon let's go."

They eased their way through the trees, inching forward towards the open grounds. It wasn't an easy process since their robes kept getting snagged on branches and large roots made them stumble more often than not. They had just breached the perimeter of the forest when the sky above cracked open and silver light exploded
forth in a flood. The grounds were suddenly bright and gave them clear sight of a figure stumbling away from the group in their direction. It was Lupin.

The man was hunched far over, as a long, shrieking wail ripped from his throat and he clutched himself in apparent
agony. His form began to mutate, growing and bubbling, shredding the already ragged clothes he wore. Fur began to pierce through his skin, his nails elongated, and there was a distinct, disturbing sound of each of his vertebras
popping as his spine extended. Harry's throat went dry.
The older boy clamped his hand over Harry's mouth (it was quickly becoming a habit of his, it seemed), cutting off
his own name slipping out. He pulled them both low to the ground and shushed,
"Be still!"

A few hundred feet away the group had scattered and there was some frantic shouting. For a moment, Harry's will
wavered, as he thought about the fact Peter Pettigrew was making his escape right now. He wanted that man jailed and punished; Sirius would be a free then. is eyes shifted over to group, searching for the rat's escape path. A low
growl crawled across the grass and met Harry's ear. His skin prickled and Cedric made a strangled noise in the back of his throat. Slowly, Harry turned his head back to face the source of the noise. Yellow eyes glowed ominously in the dark and the fur on the back of the werewolf's neck bristled at the sight of the two boys. Another growl slipped past two rows of sharp teeth, displayed in the moonlight by black lips curled back, saliva moistening them enough to give them an eerie shine in the moonlight. Harry's blood went cold.

Something suddenly rammed into his right side and he jumped in shock, hand automatically flying down. In a split second the Gryffindor flung whatever had touched him as far away from their bodies as possible. It was only after an awkward squeak met his ears that Harry realized he had flung Scabbers—Pettigrew—like a baseball, away from him. Before he could say or do anything about the matter, rapid footfall could be heard and a
mass of fur struck the werewolf in the side, drawing Harry's attention immediately to the scene in front of him. A scuffle started up; whines and snaps filled the air along side of the sound of grass being torn up by claws; it was a symphony of madness. In the bedlam, the dark haired dog was tossed to the side and after he had clambered up again, he took off into the forest. The werewolf gave chase after a long, curdling howl.
"Sihhhmmiiuhh!" Harry screamed from behind Cedric's hand.
"Quiet Harry!" hissed Cedric sharply. "Don't call for him. We must be careful when we follow them. We're
done for if that werewolf turns his attention to us."
Harry ripped Cedric's hand away.
"Right now his attention is on Sirius! We need to save him! He's going to get killed!"
Harry pulled out from Cedric's hold and took off full speed after where the canines had disappeared.
"Shit," spat Cedric, tearing after Harry.

Branches were more like fingers that dug their nails into Harry's skin as he ran. However, the majority of branches
had already been cleared away and broken down by the large beast plowing some ways ahead of him. He was half-blind in the dark and fell several times while in pursuit. Luckily though, the creature's path seemed to be along the forest's edge, so he wasn't lost—yet. How his glasses managed to stay on his nose was beyond him. Perhaps Hermione had placed a sticking jinx on them at some point. She was a clever witch who possessed that sense of foresight and like the good friend she was, always seemed to be looking out for Harry.

A crash of brush and breaking wood startled Harry and he glanced to his side to see Cedric cutting into the forest
from the grounds. Brilliant, thought Harry bitterly. It would have been so much easier to trace the path like Cedric had. And less painful, for that matter.
"Wa…Was…'fraid…I'd…lost you," panted the Hufflepuff, jogging along side him.
"Did I trip so much…that you actually caught up…to me?" heaved Harry in a rush, while managing to avoid a
particularly large root.
"Must have," replied Cedric shortly, making a graceful leap over a patch of slithering Ivy. The plant reminded Harry
creepily of the Devil's Snare he encountered first year. Good thing Cedric had long legs.
"Harry…up ahead!" said Cedric, grabbing the back of the boy's robes to slow him down.
Just in front of them the forest edge ended and turned south. They were coming up on the opposing side of the
lake. The werewolf was gone, but Sirius remained. His body lay there in human form, still and unmoving. Harry couldn't stop the shrill whimper that rose up out of him.

They were too late.

He ran forward and dropped down next to his godfather. He didn't understand. They had chased him immediately.
When did he fight the werewolf? Where was the blood such a battle would have created?

"Harry…" Cedric croaked.
Green eyes couldn't tear themselves away from Sirius' face.

They were too late…

"H-Harry…" Cedric spoke, but it sounded more like an odd sob.

Lifting his eyes to look at Cedric, Harry absorbed the expression of terror on the older boy's face. He in turn wasn't
looking at Harry at all, but over him, out towards the edges of the forest and lake. A part of third year boy told him not to look, as a terribly familiar ice was crawling up his skin. Despite this, he cranked his head about. Dementors were sweeping in from the forest, dropping down from the sky, coming up through the lake water, and skirting
in from the shoreline. They swirled about the three humans, rotten cloaks billowing, twisting into a demented gray cloud—and Harry, Cedric, and Sirius were in the eye of the storm. A heavy thump forced Harry to whip around and he saw his boyfriend unconscious on the ground, very pale. He himself could feel his consciousness slipping; that certain fuzziness that Dementors seem to inflict on the edges of one's brain. He blinked hard and quickly, forcing the feeling back. Now the air was chilled and he could see his panicked pants forming in front of his face. The creatures moved abruptly, making antsy darts a few feet forward before retreating back, like they were testing the
situation. Harry feebly held his wand at the ready, and the despair he already felt consumed by, simply increased seeing the tip of it shake so unsteadily. He tried clenching his fist to stop the shivering—from fear, from cold—but the muscle stubbornly refused to respond.

"I'm scared," he thought, his wand lowering slightly.

The cold was burning him and then began to stab him like knives. He could hardly remain sitting up. The world turned to doubles in front of his eyes and started to spin. "Don't faint!" he thought desperately.

A Dementor swooped forward and dipped down towards him and Sirius.
"E-Expecto Patronum!" he said, conjuring a small, misty cloud of white. It only hovered there for a few moments but it gave Harry a chance to get to Cedric. With all his might, Harry tugged the other boy closer and turned back to the Dementors in time to cast another pathetic Patronus. A few gave shrieks and pulled away. Harry felt his willpower fading fast and he peered down at Cedric first, his gaze unfocused and dim, taking in his handsome face. Then he turned them to look at his godfather. That's when he saw the minute little puffs of condensation forming past Sirius' lips. Breath…


Harry shouted another Patronus that was successfully able to repel several more Dementors that were approaching.
The brightness of it inspired Harry. He couldn't give up. That wasn't him. He had so much to fight for! He had a whole new life in the magical world since his 11th birthday: his friends, Hedwig, Hogwarts, and Quidditch. Now
his godfather and Cedric Diggory too. And he knew there was more to be had. He came here to save Sirius. And that was just what he was going to do.

Just then, a hoard Dementors swept forward and charged, shattering his Patronus cloud that had been shimmering
between them. One fell upon Cedric immediately, it's crusty fingers pulling the robe around its face back a bit. It leaned far over him and a deep, echoing rattle sounded as air was being sucked by a gaping hole of a mouth. Harry
couldn't help it, he screamed. Anyone would have, seeing that thing exposing itself and bending down close to their loved one's mouth. The hollow, scraping noise of gulping air increased and Harry saw a small area of Cedric's throat beginning to emit a glow. The light traveled slowly up his throat. Harry realized it was Cedric's….soul….


A flurry of cloth brushed past Harry and the young teen twisted to see the same process being done to Sirius.
This wasn't going to happen. There were going to be more happy times. Harry swayed and fell, only
managing to catch himself on his elbows barely. His eyes were now level with Cedric's face, specifically his lips. A beautiful, tiny delicate orb lifted out of them, mere inches from Harry, giving off the most sweet, soft white light.
Something inside Harry snapped at the sight. Those foul wraiths were about to rob Cedric and give him a fate worse than death.
"EXPECTO PATRONUM!" he shouted, jabbing his wand right into the chest of the ghoul, visions of his laughter and good memories of him and Cedric together cascading through his mind.

The Dementor was forced back as a burst of white light exploded from Harry's wand, sending it reeling into the
trees. There was a chorus of screeches as many Dementors took flight, trying to escape the light that charged at them. The Patronus made a U-turn and hurdled back towards Harry, galloping only a foot above his head and driving the Dementor on Sirius away. The Gryffindor watched in awe as the twinkling light sunk back down into Cedric's mouth and disappeared into his throat. He peeked over his shoulder and saw the same happening with his godfather. With the Dementors gone, the cold dissipated and warmth flooded Harry's body once again. He sagged in relief. Next to him, Sirius gave an almost inaudible wheeze. His face was lit up by the light of Harry's Patronus and the boy could see his godfather's eyes just barely open. A thick tear slipped out of the corner of
one of Sirius' dark eyes and his hoarse voice whispered, "James", before he lost consciousness once more. Harry wondered if Sirius had mistaken him for his fatherwhile he idly watched his Patronus kneel low, its nose almost touching Sirius'cheek.

While his Patronus was still present, Harry pointed his wand at Cedric's chest and uttered the spell to
revive him. He had learned it reading the encyclopedia section on Dementors months earlier, which stated that the common revival charm 'Enervate' would typically awake those who faint under the Dementor's influence. The book proved right as Cedric groaned and his eyes fluttered open. The Patronus still shone behind Harry, giving him a 'touched by an angel' look. He must have looked surreal to Cedric, because the Hufflepuff mumbled,
"Dead huh? Least I got to Heaven." Harry frowned and opened his mouth to protest. He wanted let Cedric know that they were very much alive but got cut off. "So long as we're dead Harry…gotta get something off my chest……a secret I kept…" he began, his glassy eyes gazing up at the night sky. "I lied to you about something. I never slept with any girls. Actually the farthest I ever have gone was with you. Phew…glad that's over with."

The fifth year sat up shakily as the glowing stag dissolved away, and Cedric squinted, eyes trying to readjust
to the darkness. "What happened to the light?"
"Cedric, we aren't dead," said Harry, bemused. He wasn't sure if he should be worried about his boyfriend's
loopiness, pissed about the lie, happy about the truth, or amused by the entire situation. Yes, his nerves were most definitely fried.
"We aren't dead?"
"No we aren't."
"We're running out of time. We only have 12 minutes to get back to the spot in front of the Hospital Wing," Harry
said methodically, glancing down at his watch under the light of a Lumos he'd cast. "Get up Cedric. Help me levitate Sirius. We're going to have to run."

He carefully got to his feet. Unfortunately, he was still shaking from the earlier attacks. Cedric gave him a look that would have been more appropriate on Ronald Weasely's face. His whole expression openly showed his 'have you lost your mind?' opinion of Harry at the moment.

"Run? After all that? And while levitating the body of a full grown man?" Cedric asked, voice cracking. "That's
impossible Harry."
"We have to try!" Harry shouted. "I'm not about to give up now!"
"Don't get hysterical. I'll think of something…" Cedric soothed, unsteadily standing up. His hand came to rest on Harry's shoulder for balance.

There was a crunch behind them and the two Hogwart's students whirled with their wands out. Harry's Lumos fell upon Buckbeak who strutted out from the forest, a collar of shredded rope around his neck. He clicked sharply, rearing up and flapping his wings at the aggressive stances of both boys. Hastily, the Gryffindor extinguished his light and bowed respectively to Buckbeak who eyed him uneasily, talons strumming the dirt in an irritable fashion. When Harry was feeling nervous and about to give up, the beast returned the bow, allowing Harry to come forward. Hands grabbed at the frayed remains of rope and tugged the Hippogriff over towards Cedric.
"Why'd you follow us all the way out here?" wondered Harry out loud, running a grimy hand down the feathers of Buckbeak's chest. He got his answer when the bird creature began pecking at his robe, tearing a large section from it.
"Harry, I think there's blood on the cloth he's eating. Probably ferret's blood that leaked out of the bag
when we stole him."
The Gryffindor's lip curled in disgust as Buckbeak ate his bloody piece of robe. Yeah, that made enough sense.

"Get on Cedric, I'll pass Sirius along to you," ordered Harry gently, patting Buckbeak's back.

"Ride a Hippogriff? You're mad," was the Hufflepuff's reply.

Harry glared briefly over at Cedric who cautiously approached the bird-beast his boyfriend was stroking. Buckbeak reared and squawked angrily, his powerful wing flinging Harry over into a nearby bush.

"Bow Cedric! You must bow first!" Harry exclaimed, scrambling out from the brush. Leaves and small twigs were entangled in his black hair.

It took a few moments before Buckbeak accepted Cedric and Harry helped hoist him onto the beast's back. The Hippogriff shifted back and forth anxiously, obviously ready for the flight to come. Leaning low, Harry enervated Sirius, who then peered blearily up at him.

"No time to explain. Just get up in front of Cedric and when I climb on after, hold onto me as tightly as possible," said Harry quickly, yanking his godfather to his feet. He pushed Sirius unceremoniously into a bow which Buckbeak returned after a stiff, regarding pause. Then Harry helped him mount in front of Cedric before finally swinging up himself.

"Hold on tight!" he reminded everyone, and then Buckbeak was off.

They were hyperventilating together in the shadowy hallway outside of the Hospital Wing. Tears burned in Harry's eyes from the strain for air, but mostly for the fact he had let his only family member go. Watching Buckbeak fly away with Sirius, heading for some unknown location, was difficult for Harry. Sirius was innocent. He wanted to offer up his home to Harry and had wanted to give him a family again. The Gryffindor's chest ached strongly but if he closed his eyes, he could still felt the press of Sirius' lips on his forehead and hear the course, "I'll be in touch", goodbye.
"You did exceptionally well," a voice greeted, making both boys move their gazes towards the Hospital Wing entrance. Dumbledore stood there just as he had when they'd left him a few hours before. "Two lives saved, hm?" he smiled, that mysterious twinkle blossoming in his azure eyes.

Harry conjured up a weak smile and nod.

A sudden, ear-piercing scream ripped through the walls of Hogwarts, forcing a jump out of Harry's already exhausted body. It sounded distinctly familiar….almost like…

"Hermione!" he gasped.

The three of them ran down the corridors, Dumbledore keeping pace with them, surprisingly agile for his age. They found Hermione at the Entrance to the Great Hall, clutching her white face in shaking, pale hands. They looked for the cause of her anguish and found Crookshanks sitting smugly several feet from her. His fluffy mouth was stained red. From it hung the limp corpse of a rat. He dropped the rodent dully on the floor, hopped over it, and made his way over to his trembling master, purring and twining himself about her legs lovingly. There was no mistaking the pattern of fur but any doubts they may have possessed were erased as the rat transfigured into a human body.

Peter Pettigrew's neck was unmistakably broken, though only tiny prick marks were visible on either side of his neck, Crookshanks had killed him.

Despite the disturbing sight of a dead, disfigured bloody body unmoving on the floor in front of him, Harry felt this creeping joy coming into his system. They had the evidence now. Pettigrew was caught. Sirius would be free. He turned to Cedric to see if he had come to this conclusion as well, but all the Hufflepuff could offer was a tight smile. He looked a little ill.

"The three of you students should clean up and get to bed. Leave the rest of this business to me. Get plenty of sleep for we'll have a lot to talk about in the very near future," Dumbledore spoke softly, his eyes resting on Harry on his last statement.

Sleep, yes that did sound quite nice.

Harry looked to Cedric who nodded. Hermione seemed to have calmed down partially and was picking up Crookshanks at arms length, tears running down her cheeks. She obviously wasn't sure how to feel about the situation but she pulled out her wand, cleaned Crookshanks up, and made her way over to the boys. The three of them were silent as the drifted towards the main staircase. No one was around so the castle was probably under lockdown because of Sirius Black and the werewolf.

At the landing where they had to part ways, Harry and Cedric made eye contact. Hazel eyes briefly shifted over to Hermione, their gaze hesitant, before returning to the raven haired boy. Then firm lips caught Harry's own in sweet kiss.

"G'nite Harry. Night Granger," Cedric said lightly, turning in the direction of the Hufflepuff dormitory.

Even after the days events, Harry's nerves still managed to be shocked by the gesture. His grubby fingers reached up and touched his lips in disbelief.

"Quit ogling his backside and let's get back to Gryffindor Tower," said Hermione crisply. Harry was sure she meant it as a joke but the night had taken a toll on her as well. All the same, Harry smiled.

"I wasn't looking at his backside 'Mione," he grinned. "But that does sound like a nice idea."

Hermione weakly but playfully bumped into him as they climbed the next staircase, managing to smile back at him. For Harry, the future held a bright picture for him. Tomorrow was just one more step in that direction. A fresh start for him and Cedric, and a life with Sirius. What could possibly be better?

Yes this is ridiculously overdue but I did promise to finish the story. Life likes to get in the way, you know? And NO it's not over. From this point on Decoding You will focus almost solely on the development of Cedric and Harry's relationship, continuing on into the summer and the start of Harry's life with Sirius. For all you patient readers that have stuck with me, you have all my thanks and gratitude. I'm excited to start writing about their steamy activities again, as well as their budding romance. See you again,