Chesty la Rue (hogwartshoney) wrote in triwizard_slash,
Chesty la Rue
hogwartshoney
triwizard_slash

FIC: Wizards and Champions - Final Chapter

Title: Wizards and Champions
Pairing: Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory - obviously!!
Story Rating: NC-17. This chapter PG-13
Story warnings: Slash, romance, angst, boy!touching, sexual situations, Harry's underage, character death.
Disclaimer: Jo Rowling owns the Potterverse, and I just lurk and play with her toys.
A/N: Thanks as always to this chapter's betas,
charmed310 and janeaverage. Any mistakes are mine. Also posted at twoseekers and my journal. Previous chapters are HERE


Chapter 21 – The Graveyard

Harry cried out in pain as they landed hard on uneven ground in what appeared to be a graveyard, and Cedric helped him to his feet before they looked around. They were both sweating, and he noticed a change in the air around them; it was rather muggy, even at night. He looked around, feeling as though the entire graveyard was holding its breath, and as he glanced around the perimeter of where they stood, he could just see the outline of nearby buildings. He barely had time to properly register their new location when he was distracted as Harry took a few steps, shuffling around painfully, and he seemed to be in considerable distress. The Cup still glowed balefully, barely ten feet from where they stood, and Cedric silently berated himself that he didn't recognise the telltale magical vibrations of a Portkey while they were in the maze. He fought against the urge to grab it, for although he theorized that it should return them directly to the maze, he also knew that a Portkey could be used to transport wizards over a great distance, and after this unexpected turn of events, he didn't want to risk it just yet. Still, he felt the unmistakable vibrations of danger, and he glanced at Harry. 'Wands out, d'you reckon?' He thought that they should at least be on the defensive in their current situation, and gave silent thanks to Markus' war tactics.

Harry was trembling beside him and Cedric felt a powerful wave of protectiveness, moving closer to the injured boy as they focused their attention on a hooded figure that walked towards them with what appeared to be a bundle of cloth in their hands. The figure stopped next to a headstone a short distance away, and suddenly Cedric felt a surge of bone-chilling dread as a powerful dark aura spread across the area.

'Cedric, you have to get back to the Cup!' Harry's face was twisted in an expression of pain and Cedric's stomach lurched in fear.

'No! Let me help you and we'll go together!' he hissed and reached out for Harry's arm, shivering as a vortex of hate pulled at him, horribly evil and corrupt, threatening to extinguish all light and life. Beside him, Harry suddenly screamed and doubled over in obvious pain, and Cedric's stomach twisted horribly as the dark aura intensified around them, but when Harry collapsed to the ground and writhed in agony, he was galvanised into action.

Cedric feared that he wouldn't be able to protect Harry from this level of Dark Magic and his stomach wrenched again as he placed his feet on either side of Harry's body and stood over him with his wand raised and pointed directly at the dark figure. Sweat ran down his forehead and into his eyes, and his heart pounded, the rush of adrenaline heating his body and heightening his senses even as fear licked at his mind, and for a moment his thoughts flickered to the Cup. If he could just keep Harry safe and stave off the attack long enough to get to it…

‘Kill the spare.’

A high, emotionless voice seemed to hiss the words, and Cedric barely had time to process them, let alone their meaning, before he was blinded by a brilliant green light. There was a sound like rushing wind and he felt an enormous force push against his chest – hard. He stumbled backwards, his arms flailing as he tried to break his fall and…

Nothing.

For once in his life he couldn't feel. He'd gone from a terrifying and tumultuous mix of colour and images and impressions and feelings into this… void. There was nothing here. No more pain, fear, concern, happiness, there was very little of anything more than a cooling, lingering impression of mild confusion. He felt oddly disconnected yet at the same time unconcerned as he realized that there was nothing around him either. Strange. Where was Harry? What had happened?

Suddenly, he felt something like a pull and found himself moving towards a pulsing golden light. Without warning, he was back in the graveyard and witness to an intense battle between Harry and Voldemort. He saw his own body lying off to the side of Harry, and wondered why it was on the ground. He no longer felt the force of his blood pumping through him nor the heat and weight of being alive, but instead there was a softly serene sense of coolness and peacefulness. Slowly, the realization came to him that his body wasn't moving and that the enormous freeness and lightness of being that was now his existence could only have come about with his death. In a rush of understanding he saw the depth of Harry’s true feelings for him as they blinded him with their crystal clarity in a way that he'd never been able to feel before, from anyone. Complete understanding suffused him now, and he realized that every time Harry had looked at Cedric and Cho as a couple, it was Cedric he had looked at, not the girl. Every time he and Harry had paused in awkward conversations or silences, Harry had been as profoundly affected as he'd been, had yearned for the comfort of Cedric's touch, and the Gryffindor's heart had beaten as powerfully as his own. Cedric finally realized that what he’d hoped for all along could have become a reality if they had just been able to break through to one another earlier.

He could almost feel regret.

There was something vaguely similar to sorrow at the realization that he would never again see his parents, never talk with Jamie and Markus again or any of his other friends and loved ones. He realized that his relationship with Harry, still in its infancy, must also end, but oddly, most of what he remembered as emotions faded away. The only thing he still felt was love, but it was a love far more powerful and all-encompassing than anything he had ever experienced during his short life. The emotion seemed to catch him up and embrace him, warming him and welcoming him as it became him, and he became it, bright and clear, radiant and untainted by extraneous thoughts or feelings. It was a pure light and an unfathomable power, and he focused all of it on his young Gryffindor who radiated a heady mix of fear and force.

‘Hold on, Harry,’ he whispered as he moved closer.

Cedric was dimly aware of others like him emerging from the tip of Voldemort’s wand, but his sole focus was on Harry. He stood beside the boy and willed him to repel the evil that he was battling, realizing that, once again, everything came down to Harry Potter. Harry’s body almost glowed with a white light which seemed to radiate from him, and it bathed everything around him in its luminescence. Standing as he was, so close to Harry, the very air seemed to vibrate with intensity and it pulsed in waves like a heart beat, the sheer power of it like a life force that entwined with Cedric's spectral being and bringing with it a sense of warmth. He reached out to it with everything he had and at the very fringes of what he understood as his consciousness, he felt it. He felt Harry's power and its magnitude rocked him.

Eventually, Cedric was joined by many others, including a woman with eyes like Harry's and a man who looked so much like him that they could only be his parents. As they stood behind the boy and softly outlined their plan to help him, Cedric knew that this would be his last time with Harry. He glanced at his lifeless body on the ground, limbs flung outwards in death, eyes open but unseeing, lips slightly parted – almost in surprise – and he tried to remember what had happened. His memories were vague and as insubstantial as smoke; he couldn't remember any details, only that he had been afraid and desperate and that there had been no pain. He knew that his parents would be devastated. His father’s hopes of excellence for his now-dead son would be crushed, but he hoped that his mother would handle it better than Amos. Perhaps he should feel something other than this vague understanding of sorrow, but he didn't. It was as though all his worries vanished into the space between his life and whatever existence this was. Still, he knew that he must connect with them once more, if not his soul – then at least his body.

‘Harry, take my body back, will you? Take my body back to my parents.’ Cedric wanted to be sure that Harry would be the one to save him; that he would take hold of his body and transport him, just as the Gryffindor had possessed his heart and soul.

‘I will,’ replied Harry, and Cedric could see his face contorted with the effort of holding Voldemort at bay. His eyes also betrayed his sorrow and, yes, his fear.

Cedric moved closer to Harry and whispered in his ear, feeling his incredible love for the boy flow out of his very being. 'You can do this, Harry.' The wide green eyes flickered briefly in his direction and Cedric felt it almost as a physical connection, a surge of tangibility that he'd not felt since… well, since he'd been killed. Somehow, when Harry looked at him, he felt alive, not metaphorically, but literally, physically alive as a rush of warmth suffused his body, but the moment was fleeting and he was once again little more than a whisper.

Nevertheless, he edged even closer to Harry, standing behind him and trying to focus everything that he had into the words he must say. 'I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you earlier, Harry; I was stupid, or afraid, or… something. I don’t know whether it would have changed much, or mattered anyway…’ Cedric reached out his hand to caress Harry's hair, but his hand passed over the unruly mess without feeling anything. He faltered at that, mildly surprised that he should already be nothing more than an image, an echo of his former self, but he pressed on. ‘You must realize that you are a very powerful wizard, and one day you will conquer darkness for all of us. You are our Champion, Harry, remember that, and remember that we love you. That I love you.’

He could see Harry’s eyelids flicker in final acknowledgment of his words even as the boy fought to maintain control of his wand, and he pushed his love as forcefully as he could into Harry’s soul. You are forever mine, Harry. , Cedric looked at James and Lily who smiled at him, and as Harry prepared for his final push, they combined their powers with the other victims and surrounded Harry with their love while James Potter whispered, ‘Be ready to run… do it now…’

Harry shouted and broke the connection with Voldemort’s wand. As Cedric and the other ghostly figures surged forward to thwart the Dark Lord, broadcasting their love before them like a shield, Harry ran, and Cedric turned to follow Harry's progress across the uneven ground. The boy ran, dodging the curses of the Death Eaters as he threaded through the tombstones, the enemy firing volley after volley of spells at him as he leapt over the Cup and dived towards Cedric’s body. Cedric watched as Voldemort screamed in fury and aimed his wand at Harry, even as he felt himself sinking backwards into a warmly comforting grey mist. Although he fought to hold on to the scene before him, he was only dimly aware of Harry grabbing his body’s wrist and could almost feel the warmth of Harry’s hand on his skin.

Almost.

As the scene before him faded to black amidst the enraged shouts of the Death Eaters, Cedric heard Harry 'Accio' the Triwizard Cup and they both disappeared. Goodbye, my Harry. he thought, and as sight and sound faded away, he finally let go.


And I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories. - Sarah McLachlan


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Epilogue

The dark-haired boy sits alone in the office after the Leaving Feast, and Fawkes keeps a close eye on him as requested. He senses Harry's utter despair and disbelief, sorrow and regret; the boy blames himself for the death of the other. Cedric. Fawkes remembers the young man and has heard his owner speak warmly of him, and the bird knows that a great deal of good has been lost to the wizarding world. He also knows that the boy who now sits in solitude is the answer to their darkest problems and that his powers will be more than equal to the task set out for him by the Great Evil.

Fawkes cocks his head at the sound of the staircase moving and cranes his neck as another student walks hesitantly through the open heavy oak door. He knows this young man also. Markus, a Hufflepuff, one of the Headmaster's more frequent visitors as a first- and second-year. The young boy has grown into a fine young man, tall and strong, yet he walks with a slightly stooped posture as though the weight of the world is upon his shoulders. Fawkes understands why – Cedric was his friend, and the depth of his anguish pervades the room. He stops just inside the door as he swings it fully open, and Fawkes hears the nervousness in his voice.

'Headmaster? Professor Dumbledore, sir?'

There is only silence, and he hesitates, but Fawkes croons gently, encouraging him further into the room. He walks forward slowly, and his bloodshot and puffy eyes scan the room, coming to rest on Fawkes. An uncertain smile flashes across his handsome face, and the phoenix nods his head in greeting. He knows that Harry has still not moved; from his perch he can only see the very top of the boy's untidy black hair, so he shifts slightly to look beyond Markus at the chair in which Harry sits, and Markus follows his line of sight, turning until his gaze rests on the young Gryffindor.

'Harry?' His voice is thick and heavy with emotion, but the green eyes barely flicker in recognition. Markus walks over to the chair and stands in front of it.

'Where's Professor Dumbledore?'

'I don't know.' Harry's voice is dull and emotionless. 'He called me to his office but he wasn't here when I arrived, so I thought I'd wait.'

'How long have you been here?'

'Dunno.' Fawkes can see that he doesn't care, either. The once brave Gryffindor now slumps as though defeated in the high-backed chair in front of the Headmaster's desk, looking as though he is trying to hide within its armour.

Markus leans against the highly polished surface of the large desk and surveys the boy before him. Fawkes sees that the Hufflepuff is struggling with his own emotions, his face still showing evidence of deep grief, and he croons gently, softly, concentrating the sound towards the young man who takes a deep, shuddering breath and begins speaking.

'When I was Sorted, Jamie and Cedric were the only other new blokes in Hufflepuff – all the rest were girls. We ended up as roommates, and then as classmates, and we spent most of that first week trying to find our way around and fit in, you know?'

Harry hasn't moved, but Fawkes sees the barest nod of acknowledgement and knows that Markus sees it too.

'Our first weekend at Hogwarts, we were too tired and, frankly, too nervous, to go outside. Jamie's mum had sent him an enormous box of treats and biscuits and chocolates – it was like a miniature Honeydukes, I swear. We sat on the carpet in our dorm and ate almost the entire box as we talked about all manner of things. We must've been up the whole night, just talking and laughing. I didn't know either of them really, but Cedric and Jamie seemed to be very much alike. They thought the same way about many things, and they just understood each other without really trying to. I wondered whether I would be the odd man out; whether they would be best buddies and I'd be the third one, you know, the one left over, but just then, Cedric and Jamie looked at me strangely. For a moment I thought that they had actually read my mind, and Cedric held out his hand to me and said, "Markus Hughes, you're part of my band of brothers." Just like that, he'd done the very thing that I'd wanted him to; he'd adopted me as one of his own, and that unconditional acceptance was so important to me. I'd never had a brother, so I didn't know what it really meant, but I knew that I wanted them as my friends.'

A long silence stretches between the two boys as they are lost in their memories, then Markus clears his throat.

'Well, we were really sick that night and ended up in the hospital wing for two days, but still, it brought us together, and we haven't really been apart since.' Markus' voice quavers towards the end and he is silent for a moment as he gathers his emotions, but he continues. 'Jamie can handle this sort of thing much better than I can; he can just feel things easier, but me… well,' he rubs his hands nervously along his thighs, 'I just needed to see Dumbledore for a bit.'

'You can wait here if you want. I'll go; it's okay.' Harry's voice is still dead-sounding, and Markus raises his hand quickly.

'No, don't leave, really. Look, I can't imagine what I can say to you, Harry. We all feel a huge emptiness inside without Cedric,' and his voice falters slightly, 'but it wasn't your fault that he… died.'

Harry looks up into Markus' face, and a flash of fire ignites in his eyes. 'You weren't there. You don't know what happened. It was my fault. I told him that we should both take the Cup for a Hogwarts victory. In the graveyard, I told him to get back to the Cup; I felt the danger, but he didn't listen to me, and I was in so much pain that I couldn't make him leave. He could have done it; he could have taken the Portkey back and been saved. He would still be alive if he'd done that, instead of staying...' and Harry's voice breaks.

Markus is silent, and the very instruments in the office seem to cease their whirring. There is no sound save Harry's hitching breaths as he struggles to control the emotions that threaten to burst forth and devour him. Fawkes feels both Harry's hopelessness and his guilt – he understands it.

Slowly, Markus kneels down until his eyes are level with Harry's, and for a moment he merely regards the younger boy, although it is obvious that he is collecting his thoughts.

'Harry, listen to me,' he says gently. 'Cedric would never have left you; do you understand? You were… well, you were very important to him, and he'd pretty much pledged his life to you.'

'What?'

'Cedric is… was… very loyal and fiercely protective of those he regarded as friends and family. I think you were a bit of both to him. He-… he l-loved you, Harry, very much, even more so than I think Jamie or I realized until the day before the final task.'

Fawkes can see the silvery moonlight glinting off the tears that run down Harry's cheeks as the boy stares at Markus and can sense the waves of sorrow that buffet him and threaten to submerge him.

'What do you mean?' His voice is little more than a whisper.

Markus pulls up another chair and sits beside Harry, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, obviously striving to make the young boy understand.

'That night, we didn't really talk much about the task, or the maze, or spells and hexes. We talked about life after the Tournament, about exams and our upcoming seventh year, about summer vacation, and what we wanted to do with our lives after school. He didn't seem to care about winning any more, not that he ever did, really, but he… he said that you were everything to him. I think he was afraid that I was still a bit sceptical, but earlier that day, he'd explained it to me, or tried to at least. He said that he could feel your magic and sense your aura, that's what he called it, and that somehow you were both connected to each other, but he was afraid that he might lose you. Jamie seemed to understand him better, but I got it anyway. You are the best thing to happen to him in a long time, Harry, and he wasn't about to let that go, regardless of who you were or what your destiny was supposed to be. That's just Cedric, through and through. He said he'd love you all his life.'

The tears fall freely now, sliding down the cheeks of both boys as they sit with their knees almost touching, sharing their sorrow.

Fawkes shifts quietly on his perch as Markus reaches into his robes and produces a book – a leather-bound journal in black leather, soft but obviously worn, and embossed with the letters C.D. in fancy script. He runs his palm over the cover slowly, his fingers slowly tracing the letters for a moment, and then he hands it to Harry who wipes the tears from his eyes roughly with his sleeve before taking the offering with a questioning look. Markus clears his throat, but when he speaks, his voice is husky with emotion.

'That's Cedric's journal. Jamie and I were helping his mother clear out – you know, his stuff – and we came across this in the bottom of his trunk. His mom just… stared at it for a moment… and she looked like she couldn't bring herself to touch it, or didn't want to, so Jamie picked it up. All at once, his face… he looked as though he wanted to cry, and he held it to his chest so tightly for a moment. He was shaking when he handed it to me, and he said that he could still feel Cedric there, and then he left the room.'

For a moment, Markus is quiet, seemingly lost in the memories, then he wipes his own tears and continues. 'I looked through it a bit, you know, but I began to feel as though I was spying because I shouldn't have been reading his private thoughts. Then, I came across an entry about you, then another and another, and I eventually realized that you should be the one to have it. Diggs couldn't seem to tell you how he felt when… when he was alive, but I think you need to know.' Markus gestures at the book. 'It's all there.'

Another long silence ensues, and there is only the sound of their breathing. Fawkes watches the scene carefully – he knows that this is a turning point and that Harry's reaction to the death and now this diary will be vital to the future of all Wizardkind.

'I have to kill him,' Harry says abruptly.

'What? Who?' Markus' tone and expression are confused.

'Voldemort.' The word is little more than an angry hiss.

Fawkes croons gently to himself as he senses that the fight is returning to the young boy. 'There's no way that bastard can live, Markus. He's responsible for so many deaths, my parents, Cedric…' The last word is a whisper, and yet it sounds clearly in the quiet of the room.

'Perhaps you will have to kill him,' Markus agrees, and Harry looks at him sharply, obviously not expecting an agreement, 'but don't presume to think that you can defeat him yourself.'

They exchange a long look, and Harry nods slowly as the unspoken promise of alliance hanging significantly between them for a long moment. Fawkes is pleased to see that Harry appears more resolute, and he trills approvingly as Markus grabs Harry in a warm embrace before he stands. He walks towards the door, and the phoenix can just see Markus turn and catch Harry's eye with his firm gaze.

'Fear not, young champion. You're probably strong enough,' he whispers, and then he turns and is gone.

Harry sits for a moment, barely moving, barely breathing as he runs his hand across the leather cover of the journal. With a shaking hand he opens it.
The parchment inside is wrinkled by the ink and the pages turn easily. Harry reads, head bent, pausing occasionally to read various passages and wiping away tears. Fawkes feels the need to be closer to him – to lend him support in a more tangible way – and he spreads his mighty wings and descends to alight on Harry's shoulder. The tear-stained face looks up and Fawkes croons encouragingly, ruffling his feathers in an impressive show of protectiveness.

Harry gives a half-smile and nods, resuming his reading of the diary and Fawkes is able to catch glimpses of words and phrases as the pages turn. Occasionally, Harry will pause and read something at length, and Fawkes is able to re-live Cedric's experiences, of flight, classroom events, the tasks, all his significant moments, liberally sprinkled with details of his feelings after meeting Harry.

The young Gryffindor's hands falter as he turns the page to the last entry, dated 23 June 1995 – the night before the task. Harry takes a deep breath and closes his eyes briefly before bending his head to read. Fawkes reads over his shoulder.

Had a horrific dream, and I must have made noise because Markus woke up! Horrible, horrible dream, of being chased, and Harry in danger, and I just couldn't find him to protect him; to save him.

This boy, how can I tell him that he's my everything? I'm afraid that I've lost him this time; that my attempt at honesty blew up in my face, and now he resents me. Truthfully, can I blame him? I want so much for him to see me, to know me for me, not as the Champion, or the Seeker, or the prefect, but me. Cedric. Someone who loves him desperately. But will that ever come to pass? The Tournament that once brought us together has also torn us apart. I can't wait until the final task is over, because then,
then, I'll finally pluck up the courage and tell him, hold him, kiss him, and make him understand. Will he understand me? And does he love me enough to forgive?

Fawkes croons again, more to himself than anything, and he is once more reassured that although many have given their lives in the fight against the Great Evil, they have done it with the purest of love for this young Gryffindor, and that love transcends time and even life itself. He looks at Harry with a knowing eye as the boy rises unsteadily to his feet and clutches the diary tightly against his chest. Their eyes meet and Fawkes is both inspired and awed by the sheer power and determination that he sees beneath the tears and sorrow. Grief and pain will pass, but the Light will prevail.


When destiny calls you
You must be strong
I may not be with you
But you've got to hold on – Phil Collins


~ fin ~

A/N: I know, and I'm sorry.  This story has captured so much of my heart that I've been loathe to actually end it, but all things must end.  However, as a birthday present, snapeophile, one of my betas, wrote me an epilogue to the epilogue.  She deserves 100% of the credit for it, and I'm posting it here because it reduced me to tears - huge, fat tears that went on and on and ON!

So, may I present....

Talisman

By Snapeophile

A story written in homage to Wizards and Champions by Hogwarts Honey, given this XXth day of April, for her birthday!

 
 ~~

“Boys. Come in.”

 “Mr. Digg—Amos, so good to see you.”  The two young men swallowed hard, blinking furiously, trying to equate the aged, stooped shell of a man standing before them with their dead friend’s formerly vigorous, outgoing father.

 “Amos, how are you doing?” Markus asked, as Jamie’s gentle blue eyes clouded with worry. 

 But the elderly man declined to answer, waving his hand majestically, as if to clear their concern from the room.

 “Sit.  Please.  Sheila’s out, or she would have loved to see you two.”  A sad smile flickered over the old man’s colorless face, and he paused, as if to collect his thoughts, or gain control over an inner struggle.

 “I’m in the midst of a dilemma concerning my dear boy and yourselves.  I’ve puzzled over it, goodness knows, but one would need the wisdom of Solomon to solve it.  So, knowing how close you two are, I’ve decided to leave the decision with you.”

 Markus shifted uncomfortably in his seat and Jamie reached over and grabbed Amos’ hand.  The grieving man startled at the contact, but recovered and squeezed Jamie’s hand, mumbling, “There’s a boy, there’s a boy.” 

 He reached into the watch pocket of his brown corduroy vest, pulling out a smallish object.  Markus caught a fleeting glimpse of gold before Amos cradled the item gently in his hand, caressing it like a worry stone with his thumb.

 “This was to be Cedric’s, as it was mine and my father’s before me, and his father’s before him.  As Sheila and I have no other children, I want this to go to someone who will cherish it as a reminder of Cedric.”   He opened his palm slowly, much like a bud unfurls its flower and presents a golden, gleaming center.  The object was a signet ring.  Markus could see the Hufflepuff crest incised in the metal with the house motto, Justicia quod fidelitas in amicitia quod laboro, “justice and loyalty in friendship and toil,” engraved beneath the shield.

 “So now you see my dilemma, boys.  One ring and two best friends.   I haven’t the foggiest idea who should have it, so I’m letting you decide.”

The two best friends glanced at each other and smiled.  They did not need to verbalize their feelings.  They knew exactly to whom the ring belonged.

 

 Chapter 2

 "So, it’s Slytherin tomorrow.  You lot up for them?”

 Anger flashed in Harry’s eyes before he realized Jamie Bryers was teasing him.  He relaxed just a bit and replied in the affirmative, though he was clearly unsettled about this visit from Cedric’s two best friends.  He hadn’t seen Markus since they had talked in Dumbledore’s office on the night that Cedric died.

“You know, mate, we didn’t seek you out to chat Quidditch,” Markus added.  “We need to have a private moment, if you please.”

“Let’s head to the Library.  No one’ll be there now.  Everyone’s sleeping off Halloween,” Harry suggested.

Markus laughed.  “We know what you mean.  If this wasn’t so important, we’d still be back at our flat, flat on our backs!”  Jamie guffawed at Markus’ pun and rolled his eyes dramatically.

“Ah, it’s nice to be back at Hoggy, Warty Hogwarts, even if it is much too early,” Jamie chimed in.  “We’re staying for the match.  Can’t wait to see you obliterate Slytherin! Is the rumor true that Draco Malfoy’s their Seeker this year?

“Yeah,” Harry responded dully.  “Word is he’s actually decent at it. And his Dad’s bought the team Nimbus 2001’s.”

“Gah! The whole bloody team?” Marcus howled.  “You realize how many Galleons that cost?” 

They had arrived at the Library, which was, as Harry suspected, deserted but for Madame Pince, who glared suspiciously at the early-morning scholars.

The three boys found a secluded table at the back of the cavernous room.  Despite being hemmed in by book stacks, Markus kept his voice low as he began to talk. 

“Harry, mate, how’re you doing?”

Harry understood that Markus wasn’t inquiring about his coursework this term, or even the upcoming Quidditch match.   He sighed deeply.   “I’m—I’m okay, I guess.  I still miss him—think of him—so often.  In a way, he’s helped me through some tough times.  Like last summer, when I had to face that Ministry Tribunal.  I was so angry and scared to death I’d be chucked out of Hogwarts.  The night before the Inquiry, he came to me, I swear, in a dream.  I could feel his calming aura, you know?  It was like he was comforting me and shoring me up.  It’s been that way through lots of bad situations, like with Umbridge, and at the Ministry battle.”  Harry paused, his green eyes bright with unshed tears.  “And then, when I got to live with Sirius, it felt like he was overjoyed for me!  And when Sirius was—well—died, Cedric was there for me again, he felt almost real.”  Harry was now staring trance-like at a group of books on the shelves before him.  Words were rushing out in a maelstrom of emotion. “I—I didn’t feel alone, anymore.  It was like he was with me, though he can’t be a ghost…” 

“We know, Harry.  We understand.  Cedders has been there for us, too, in his own way.  He’s not a ghost, and he’s not stuck between two worlds, so it’s got to be his aura,” Jamie explained.

“Well, more’s the point, we’ve got something for you,” Markus said, never one to belabor a sensitive moment of soul-bearing.

“Here. It was Cedders' by birth, and his Da gave it to us, as his best friends, to give to the—person—who’d treasure it most.”  The larger boy cleared his throat nervously and grabbed Harry’s right hand, opening the palm and placing the signet ring into his grip.

 Harry gasped as the warm golden metal hit his palm, and colors began swirling around him, colors only he could see and feel:  red, blue, green, gold, just like the first time he and Cedric had been close to each other, in the Room of Requirement, so long ago.  He could feel the pulsations in the air, the feeling of connectedness to the boy he had begun to love; his mind flashed back to their encounter in the Maze, and unashamedly, he felt his body respond.  His hand closed tightly around the signet ring as he reveled in these feelings, let them wash over him, comfort him, enter his very soul.  He could feel, and comprehend fully, Cedric’s love for him and the great attraction they had shared.  Soon, far too soon, the sensations became weaker, the colors dimmed.  Harry slowly became aware of his presence in the Library, and of the two witnesses gaping at him. 

 “Oh, yeah, Markus.  We were right.  He’s the only one who could have this ring,” Jamie whispered.  The two young men were aware that something momentous, something otherworldly, had happened before them, though they weren’t exactly sure what it was.  It was clear from the rapturous look on Harry’s face, that he and Cedric had found each other again tonight. 

 “He’ll take care of you, mate.  He’ll be your family now,” Markus said perceptively, as he stood and squeezed Harry’s shoulder.  The two best friends rose and departed, leaving a dazed, but happy, Harry behind. 

~ fin ~

A/N2:  So everyone, do you SEE why I wept?  Repeatedly?

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