"Harry, dear?" Poppy called from the kitchen, "dinner's ready."
Harry gently placed the picture back in his knapsack and closed it up – it wouldn't do for Poppy to discover his wand by accident – before heading towards the dinner table. He stood rather awkwardly at the door until Poppy bustled in and shooed him towards a seat.
"Go on," she said as she placed a plate of chicken and vegetables on the table, "better eat up quickly or it's fair game to Gerald."
Harry watched as the aforementioned cat slunk into the room, eyeing the chicken, eerily reminiscent of a large cat stalking its prey.
"Thank you," Harry said earnestly, "for everything."
"You are most welcome young man," Poppy smiled softly; "it's our pleasure really. We do have so few visitors."
"Well thank you anyway," Harry reiterated, "You've no idea how long it's been since…" he trailed off and made a show of being engrossed with his food. Damn, he thought, why did I go and say that?
Poppy did her best to pretend she hadn't heard his last remark and instead asked him whether he thought the chicken was tender enough.
"It's perfect," Harry smiled, "really, it's even better than Mo…an old friend's mother's cooking, and her cooking was good."
Poppy blushed slightly, "it's just a little homemade recipe of mine, nothing special."
They continued to eat in silence until Poppy, unable to restrain her curiosity, asked "so what exactly are you doing in Forks anyhow?"
Harry deliberately put a very large piece of chicken in his mouth and chewed slowly. Do I tell the truth? Why not? Where's the harm?
"I was actually thinking of staying here for awhile." He studied her reaction carefully but she gave nothing away.
"I see," she chewed thoughtfully, "and you don't have any family here?"
"And you're sixteen."
"Well, yes," Harry began, "but I'm going to be seventeen soon."
"Oh really?" Poppy raised an eyebrow, "how soon?"
"Er," he checked his watch, "five hours."
"Oh," she looked surprised, "well regardless, you're still a minor, yes?"
"I, uh, well yes," he conceded.
"And so," she declared, "I think you should stay with me, that is with us."
At Harry's shocked look she hurried to clarify, "at least until I can find you somewhere else to go because honestly, no one's going to rent or sell anything to a seventeen year old."
Harry, being stunned, said nothing however his thoughts were tumultuous. I'll have to accept, he thought, I can't tell her I'm a wizard and can therefore disguise my appearance to seem older…come to think of it, why haven't I affected a semi-permanent glamour? It would make life so much easier. Okay note to self: use glamour as soon as you leave Forks.
He realized that Poppy was still staring worriedly at him, waiting for an answer when she said "well?"
"Yes," he said and smiled, "I would love too."
"Oh wonderful," she grinned; "now I don't have to worry about you all alone on the streets."
Harry's thoughts drifted off as she chattered and he found himself thinking that this really wouldn't be that bad. Perhaps, he thought, this will be kind-of like having a mother.
It was dark. Cold. The air was deathly still with an edge of malice that pervaded his senses. He felt the hair on his arms stand on end and realized something that chilled him to the bone – he knew this place. He had been here before. But when…? There was a slight fog hanging in the air, shrouding his surroundings in decidedly sinister mystery. The fog parted slightly and Harry could just see the outline of a gate in the distance. Against his commonsense (which was currently screaming "don't follow the suspiciously clear path through the creepy fog") Harry walked towards the gate feeling a sense of dread overtake him as he neared it. As he reached it, it swung open to reveal a small graveyard. Somewhat morbidly Harry moved closer to see the inscription upon the first.
'James Potter – a brave man who gave his life for his wife and child'
He gulped and moved to the second.
'Lily Potter – a courageous woman who sacrificed herself for her child'
'Remus Lupin – died in Harry Potter's place'
"No," he whispered, "Remus didn't die, he didn't…"
'Ronald Weasly – died defending Harry Potter'
'Hermione Granger – died defending Harry Potter'
"No!" Harry yelled, "I left to protect them…to protect them."
He fell to his knees and buried his head in his hands. Almost against his will his gaze lifted to fix upon the last inscription.
'Cedric Diggory – murdered by Voldemort because of Harry Potter'
There was a flash of green light and he fell to the ground, his head spinning as Cedric's blank face filled his vision, lips moving slightly to mumble "why me Harry? Why me…?"
Harry awoke to the all-too-familiar, albeit muffled, sounds of terror and anguish. Reaching for his glasses on the bedside table, it took him a moment to realise that the sound had been coming from him.
Just breathe deeply he thought, calming himself, just breathe.
He caught a movement by the door out of the corner of his eye and snatched the lamp of the bedside table, practically hurled himself off the bed and whirled around to face… a very curious Gerald. To Harry it seemed as if the cat was raising his eyebrow reproachfully as he sauntered in. Sighing at his paranoia, he replaced the bedside lamp and got back on the bed, resting his head against the wall. Gerald followed him, leaping gracefully onto the bed. He spent a few minutes sniffing around before settling himself on Harry's lap. Stroking the cat's velvety head, Harry's gaze fell on the clock hanging on the wall. 12:05 July 31st.
"You know I'm seventeen now," he said morosely, "and the only people who know probably don't give a damn."
The cat turned his head slightly and fixed one gold eye on Harry's face.
"I know I'm self-pitying," Harry sighed, "but I can't help but feel so…alone." He scratched Gerald's ears, "and I know it's my fault. I mean, I'm the one who left and all. But maybe they could have tried harder…" he trailed off and then shook his head, "no. It had to be done. After Cedric I, I just couldn't bear the thought of causing anyone else's death."
Gerald yawned and tucked his head in his front paws.
"Am I boring you?" Harry smiled and turned to gaze out the window as his thoughts turned to his recent nightmares. It was always the same graveyard, but the inscriptions on the tombstones changed. His parents and Cedric were always there – their deaths had been his fault. But the others were always different. People he feared losing and even people he'd never met. There never seemed to be a pattern to it but Cedric's was always the last. Always. It was the death he felt most guilty about.
I could have prevented it. I should have. It should have been me that died that night, not Cedric.