Actions

Work Header

In a Country Churchyard

Chapter Text

Cedric wandered in the mist, knowing he was lost and in danger, but couldn't remember how he had gotten there. His heart pounded as he gripped his wand with a slick hand. The tip was lit but only revealed more formless nothing, eddying around him. He stumbled blindly, tripping over stones, grave markers, his mind supplied.

“Kill the spare.”

Cedric felt himself hit the ground, hard, and all he could see was the brilliant green of the grass. His ears filled with the sound of a cold laugh as Harry screamed.

Cedric woke to a hand lightly squeezing his upper arm. He was not, as it turned out, lost in some nameless graveyard. Instead he was on the Hogwarts Express, nestled in a compartment he shared with three fourteen year olds, all of whom were peering at him with looks varying from concern to curiosity.

“Sorry, I didn't bother you did I? I think I was dreaming of falling off my broom.” He grinned, even carelessly tousling his dark hair. Harry Potter, sitting on his right, abruptly removed his hand from Cedric's arm and glanced away, staring out the window.

“We’re getting close to the station.” Hermione Granger said, her usually bossy voice subdued. Cedric nodded, rubbing his face as if he could rub away the remains of the dream just as easily. He had the worst suspicion that he might have been drooling.

“Here.” Ron Weasley said suddenly and reached over, passing him a pumpkin pasty and a chocolate frog.

Before Cedric could even open his mouth to say thanks or question Weasley's unprompted generosity, Weasley explained in a rush: “The trolley witch came by and Harry got those for you.”

“Well, thank you.” Cedric said, who would have been more touched by the gesture if Harry could be bothered to look at him.

“Cedric!” Came a cry, accompanied by a knocking on the compartment window. It was Ernie, one of Cedric's fellow Hufflepuffs, who gave him a grin, opening the door.

“You're not at the front?” He asked, making a slight glance at his company.

“Not this trip, we decided I was best here.” Cedric said.

Ernie gave a sly look at his explanation. “Right, say no more. Dumbledore’s orders.” He whispered, with a conspiratorial wink. “Don't have to explain a thing, I'll leave you to it.” He closed the door.

Cedric’s smile left his face as he stared down at the food on his lap. Any other journey on the Hogwarts Express and he would be up in the prefect compartments with a whole host of older students horsing around and making fools of themselves, relieved by the end of the exams and classes. This trip though, with You-Know-Who back... there seemed less to celebrate.

He unwrapped a corner of the pumpkin pasty and took a bite. Then another, and before he knew what happened, all that was left of it was a pile of crumbs that Cedric tried discreetly brushing off his lap. He hadn't even realized he was hungry.

He glanced around the compartment, but Harry was still looking out the window, Granger was reading, was she already doing her holiday assignments? Cedric hadn’t even glanced at his. Weasley was staring at something that looked like Viktor Krum’s signature.

No one then had noticed that Cedric had bolted down his food. Furtively, he tucked the chocolate frog into his bag. Cedric had never felt much interest in divination, but he had a strange feeling that a store of chocolate would serve him well in the coming weeks.

Hermione Granger as usual had been right, the train was definitely slowing down. The window that Harry was still stubbornly looking out of no longer depicted green hills, cows and sheep but telephone poles, buildings and people who carried on blissfully unaware of the bright red train making its way to its own platform. He was glad he had already changed out of his school robes.

Cedric followed Harry and his gang off the train, keeping to the back as he watched Mrs Weasley embrace both Weasley and Harry tightly. Granger waved at them with promises to see them soon, as she reunited with her own parents.

Cedric's parents weren't on the platform for the first time in all the years he had returned.

They had listened quiet and grave as Cedric explained that Harry needed to be watched after and that he would draw less attention in the muggle world posing as one of Harry's school friends visiting over summer holidays. It hadn't taken much to convince them. Cedric still blushed to think of how earnestly they had told him they were proud of him.

He hadn’t mentioned to them the part where he had insisted to Dumbledore that he stay by Harry's side until the headmaster finally relented.

It might have been Cedric's choice, and he didn’t regret it, but it was a touch lonely watching the whole Weasley clan reunite, not knowing when his next chance to see his own parents would come.

Cedric's attention was grabbed by two familiar faces. “Falsy! Richard! Have a good break!” Cedric called as two of his mates, Falstaff Pall and Richard Bones, made their way down the platform. Richard slightly raised his hand in an aborted wave. Falsy didn't even turn his head, though there was no way he couldn't have heard Cedric.

Cedric watched them walk away with a pang, but no real surprise. Falsy’s mother worked directly under Fudge and Richard also had many family members in the ministry. Their disbelief wasn't surprising, especially with the Daily Prophet insisting that Harry had dragged Cedric into his unstable delusions. Still, Cedric couldn’t help remembering the three of them huddling together, shivering with cold and anticipation as they waited to be sorted.

Even worse was the thought that Cedric didn’t even know if he would have believed Harry if he hadn't seen You-Know-Who's return with his own eyes. After all, it wasn't like Cedric had believed Harry when he’d said he hadn't put his name in the Goblet of Fire.

“Cedric.” Harry was standing next to him, and the Weasley family was walking towards the exit, but Cedric didn't miss the concerned glances being sent Harry's way when they thought he wasn't looking.

“Are you ready?” Cedric asked, hoping he didn't sound as caught off guard as he felt.

Harry nodded and turned towards the barrier. The sudden movement upset the balance of his trunk, his owl gave a concerned hoot from her cage. Harry stopped immediately, nudging it back in proper position before he began moving again at a more even pace.

They passed through the barrier and found themselves in Kings Crossing proper, everywhere thronged by muggle children who were also back for the summer holiday. Any one of the smiling adults could be Harry's muggle relations, so Cedric kept his eyes sharp for lanky builds or unruly dark hair or bright green eyes, amid all the joyful reunions going on around them. It was hard not to be infected by the celebratory mood.

Maybe a summer holiday in the peaceful, uncomplicated muggle world was exactly what Cedric needed. Harry stopped abruptly, and Cedric nearly ran into his trunk.

“Is everything alright?” Cedric asked, scanning the bustling station, senses heightened to pick up the least sign of danger.

“There's my uncle.” Harry said and Cedric followed Harry's line of sight to a stocky man who was entirely engrossed in something on his wrist, his expression cross. He didn't resemble Harry in anyway from his bristling black mustache to his well shined black shoes. Harry approached him as eagerly as one might approach a wild rhinoceros.

“Uncle Vernon.” Harry said and the man glanced up narrowing his eyes in a look Cedric might have almost called dislike.

“You’ve kept me waiting, boy.” Vernon Dursley grunted in place of a greeting, before turning and walking away. Harry followed his uncle at a distance, and didn't return Cedric's glances, who was hoping for some kind of explanation. Instead they weaved through crowds of happily reunited families in complete silence.

They walked until reaching an area of King's Crossing that Cedric had never seen before. It was dark, low ceilinged, and absolutely brimming with the strange metal beetle machines that Cedric knew muggles used for transportation. He knew little else about them because everyone knew muggles studies was a soft course. Therefore he never knew the sheer variety of color and shape they came in.

Mr. Dursley stopped at a particularly shiny specimen and called out “My boy!” Breaking the silence.

Immediately a door in the machine popped open as a large blond boy about Harry's age rolled out, rushing eagerly towards Mr. Dursley, but rather than an affectionate embrace the boy stopped in front of Mr. Dursley holding out his well-proportioned hands and in return Mr Dursley placed a small package into them.

At once the boy, who must have been Harry's cousin, began unwrapping the present while Mr Dursley chuckled at him like this was the antics of a beloved pet.

“Sorry I couldn't meet you at the platform, Dudley. But you know, I needed to pick this one up, or who knows what mischief he would have gotten into.” Mr. Dursley said, sticking a thumb back towards Harry.

“Another watch?” Dudley groaned, when he finally navigated through the wrapping.

“Don't you remember Dudders, you said you broke your last one in a boxing accident.” Mr. Vernon said “and this one is twice as expensive as your last one.” He thumped his son soundly on the back. “Nothing less for my little champion.”

Cedric glanced over at Harry who was watching the entire scene impassively.

“Vernon? Who's that?” Cedric turned back to see that a slim woman with a uniquely equine face had also climbed out of the machine and that she was pointing at him!

Finally, Cedric thought, as he stepped forward towards the woman who could only be Harry’s aunt. Here was the opening to make up for his confused introduction to Mr Dursley. Women relatives, without exception, always loved him.

“Hello,” he stuck out his hand with grin. “I'm Cedric Diggory. It's so nice to meet you all, Harry has told me so much about you.” This was, of course, technically a lie, but Cedric figured he could be forgiven for trying to make the best impression possible.

All three of the Dursleys stared at him with large eyes as if he was a particularly large coat rack that had learned to speak.

“You're not, not like him? Are you?” Mrs Dursley asked just a touch braver than her husband and offspring, who remained staring at him dumbly.

Cedric glanced about, verifying that the only other living thing in the place was a man on the far side of the lot.

“Yes, I'm a wizard too.” Cedric said.

The entire family flinched as one. Cedric lowered his offered hand.

“Don't say that word!” Mr Dursley whispered, his mustache bristling in outrage.

“I'm sorry.” Cedric said on instinct, not quite certain what exactly he was apologizing for.

There was another long, awkward pause where everyone stared at each other.

“Well, so, what do you want?” Mr Dursley finally asked. “Are you taking the boy for the summer? You could have spared us the bother of picking him up.”

“Well, you see, actually,” Cedric couldn't help glancing back at Harry who was doing his best to disappear entirely. “As it so happens, I think, I’m supposed to be staying. With you.”

“What?” Mr. Dursley cried out.

“It’s only until we’ve reached some resolution about the situation… It should have been explained, in a letter.”

“Do you think we read all the mad mail the school send us… And what do you mean by the situation? The boy hasn’t done anything, has he?”

Cedric couldn’t keep from staring at Harry out of the corner of his eye, hoping the whole time that he’d offer some sort of assurance like “they’re not usually like this,” or “this is just a strange muggle ritual of showing hospitality.” Anything to keep Cedric’s mind from coming to its own conclusions about the type of people he would be spending the rest of his summer holiday with. No such assurance was forthcoming, Harry’s mouth remaining a firm, thin line as he stared at his shoes with unmerited fascination.

“You know of course, that, that, You-Know-Who is back.” Cedric said.

All of them sent Cedric uniformly confused looks. “Who?” Mr. Dursley asked.

“Well, Voldemort.” Cedric said, just barely suppressing a wince.

The Dursleys were far less impressed by the name of the man who had been the bogeyman of Cedric's entire upbringing. Annoyance crept into Mr. Dursley's face. “Voldy-who?” He asked.

“He’s the one who killed my parents.” Harry said, taking a step forward.

“What? He’s that murderer? But isn't he dead?” Mr. Dursley said, his voice squeaking suddenly as if his tie was too tight.

“Not as much as we hoped, and now he wants me dead.” Harry said.

Mrs. Dursley gave a little shriek and Mr. Dursley's face turned a truly worrying shade of purple.

Cedric sent a brief glare towards Harry who was about as tactful as a blast ended skrewt.

“Please, there's really no need to worry.” Cedric said, raising up his hands as though he was dealing with spooked animals. He saw Harry roll his eyes at him. Cedric buried a flash of frustration.

“Nothing should happen, everyone is looking for him.” Another lie. “but I'm here as just an extra bit of security.”

“What, are you some kind of police officer, then?” Mr Dursley asked.

Cedric smiled not knowing what in the world a Polish offiseer was, but it apparently made the Dursleys look a little less nervous.

“Dumbledore himself assigned me to stay with you.” Cedric said.

“That old vulture did, did he? And I suppose he expects me to feed and house you out of my own pocket, huh? As if that boy hasn't already been bleeding me dry for the past fourteen years.” Mr. Dursley said his nerve restored now that they had moved to the subject of money.

“Of course you’ll be compensated.” Dumbledore had at least made that clear before he had rushed off.

“I won't be accepting any of your mad money, mind you.” Mr Dursley said.

“Of course, I believe you should receive a sum of...” Cedric repeated a nonsensical amount that Dumbledore had said he would send on ahead to the Dursleys. Cedric didn't have the foggiest idea what the amount meant in wizarding money terms, but it made Mr Dursley’s small eyes shine.

“Practically charity.” Mr Dursley huffed, but he wasn't looking at Harry like he was going to send him away, so Cedric considered it a victory.

“Looks like I have no choice but letting you stay, but mark my words… I won't have any of it in my house.” Mr Dursley snarled.

“Excuse me, what won't you have in your house?” Cedric asked, and Mr Dursley sent him a withering look of contempt, the likes of which Cedric, in seventeen years never before faced.

“I’ll suffer none of your funny business under my roof, you understand.” Mr Dursley said and looked intently at a baffled Cedric for a reply.

“He means magic.” Harry said.

“Don't say that word!” Mr Dursley roared, and Cedric found himself taking a step to put himself directly in front of Mr Dursley's field of vision.

“Of course I will do absolutely nothing, odd, unless the situation is dire.” Cedric promised.

Mr Dursley stared hard at him for a moment before huffing, turning, and clambering into his machine. The other Dursleys followed suit, but not before shooting Cedric looks somewhere between fear and annoyance, like he was a wasp that had found its way inside their nice safe lives.

“Well, get in! The traffic will be bad enough as it is.” Mr Dursley bellowed from inside the car.

Cedric followed Harry who walked towards the machine which was already thrumming as if it contained a whole colony of bees. Harry paused at the back of it, pulling some lever that opened a compartment. He scrambled with his trunk, shoving it in to the best of his ability before Cedric could even offer to help.

He turned to Cedric and looked at him truly for what seemed like the first time since Cedric had woken up. Hedwig made a soft noise as Harry held out her cage, “Can you hold her, please?” He asked putting the cage in Cedric's hands and clamoring into the metal beetle as well.

Cedric followed after and found the machine contained a single bench made up of leather situated behind two chairs where Mr and Mrs Dursley were sitting.

There was just enough room on the bench for Cedric to take a seat.

“Shut the door!” Mr Dursley barked, and Cedric, awkwardly balancing the cage on his lap, did his best to follow the instructions, nearly spilling out of the bench in doing so.

“It's not shut properly.” Mr Dursley growled, and Harry quickly leaned over, pulling a lever, opening the bizarre door a few inches before slamming it shut in a loud bang, prompting Hedwig to give a loud hoot of unease. Cedric felt bad for her and wished he too could loudly cry out in dismay, but he doubted it would prompt Harry to put out a hand to soothe ruffled feathers with a few gentle words.

With a few stomach dropping lurches Mr Dursley, by some non magical means, coordinated the machine out of its spot and drove down the road. If Cedric hadn't been holding the cage steady he would have been gripping the seat beneath him. Muggle studies no longer seemed so quaint.

The drive to the Dursleys home was an awkward experience in every way. The machine's movements itself was ungainly and nothing at all like a broomstick. Dudley in all his bulk took up so much of the bench that, especially on turns, Harry was just as much perched on Cedric's lap as the cage was.

Somehow, even worse, than all this were the Dursleys themselves, who were the only ones to speak the entire journey. For the great majority of it they asked about their son’s school and gushed over him in equal measure. They never addressed Harry or acknowledged him in any way, except the occasional complaint about the smell coming from Hedwig’s cage. This was a stench that Cedric had to bear the brunt of, but couldn't find it in himself to blame her for in the least.

It seemed a small eternity before they arrived, at last, at four Privet Drive.

“Here we are!” Mr Dursley said, the machine came to a sickening stop, and Cedric looked out the window. At first Cedric wondered how Mr. Dursley could tell this squarish house with four front windows and an impeccable lawn apart from any of the other similarly squarish houses that stood by it in a tidy row like a rank of soldiers. It was no wonder muggles were so particular about numbering.

The Dursleys all heaved themselves out of the machine. Cedric heard a loud click in the back, a few thumps, and they were all inside before Cedric could gather his wits about him to push open the terrible door and detach himself from the leather bench, made sticky and treacherous by the warm weather.

Harry crawled out after him and took his trunk that was left strewn on the lawn. “Come on then.” He said, taking the trunk in tow.

They entered through the front door, but Cedric was hardly able to take in the front hallway, the kitchen with Mrs Dursley staring intently out the window, the parlor where Mr Dursley sat ensorcelled before a glowing device, before he passed them all to keep up with Harry.

Cedric followed Harry up the stairs and took a sharp right, and Harry opened the door into a bedroom. More specifically, Harry's bedroom, because Cedric couldn't imagine any of the Dursleys having a respectable collection of books about quidditch on their shelves.

It was a nice enough room, with a bookcase, dresser, and a window overlooking the lawn, but it would be a bit cramped for two people. Harry laid out his trunk, and looked about the room a little helplessly as if he could hear Cedric's thoughts.

“You can set your bag wherever, oh, and thanks.” He took Hedwig's cage and put it on a side table. “I'll see if we have a cot somewhere.” He said and darted out of the room.

“Great, thanks Harry!” Cedric called after him. There was, of course, no reply and Cedric was left entirely to himself.

A little at a loss, he unslung the backpack from his shoulder, grateful his parents had taken his trunk with them after the end of the tournament. Cedric wasn't sure two trunks would have fit.

His books at least were easy enough to place alongside Harry's book on the shelf. He refolded each of his muggle outfits, placing them on top of the dresser. After a few minutes spent trying to smooth out a stubborn wrinkle on his nicest shirt, he internally struggled with whether the Dursleys could possibly know if he fixed it just a little by unnatural means...

Cedric stepped away and turned back to his bag. He took out his broom, a meticulously cared for Nimbus 1700. Thanks to the charmed nature of the bag it hadn't been any trouble for him to fit it in with his belongings, but now it seemed impossible that he’d ever find a moment to use it. With a pang Cedric remembered past summers where he was hardly ever off his broom if he could help it. There wasn't even any place in the room for it.

A series of shrill hoots drew Cedric's attention, and he realized that poor Hedwig was still stuck in her cage. He opened it, giving the bird a chance to spread her wings.

While Hedwig made her rounds in the room, Cedric moved to the window. It wasn't anything like Cedric's home, the only place for miles around, generations of Diggorys jealously guarding their secrecy. It also wasn't anything like London with it's busy streets and dense skyline. The tidiness of the pruned hydrangeas bushes seemed a firm bulwark against the very idea of any lurking danger.

Cedric scrambled with the edge of sill, the window didn't budge. He examined the frame, and saw it had somehow warped. In a house as young as this that was odd, Cedric couldn't guess how it had happened. Helpless, he left the mystery, sending Hedwig a silent apology.

With nothing else to be done, Cedric slumped against Harry's bed.

Just a few days ago he had pleaded with Dumbledore to let him follow Harry here. It had seemed at the time that even at Hogwarts every beloved corridor hid some dark secret or menacing figure. It had felt like at the turn any bend he would find himself transported back to the graveyard.

But now in a square, well-ordered home where even the very word magic was forbidden, Cedric felt faintly ridiculous.

A crash came from somewhere in the house, followed by a shrill cry. Cedric bolted out of the room, wand at the ready.

The hallway was free of any troll or Death Eater. Another shriek came from downstairs and Cedric darted down them at once, taking two steps at a time, his heart pounded as he threw himself towards danger.

Once at the bottom of the stairs instead of an army of goblins or a coven of vampires, Cedric found a flustered Harry picking himself off the floor. Next to him was the folded up frame of something that had to be the cot, the likely perpetrator of the crash.

“What are you doing?” A voice cried. Cedric turned his head towards the kitchen doorway where Mrs Dursley stood. She must have been the one who screamed. Cedric quickly slipped his wand into his back pocket with a touch of embarrassment.

“Are you alright, Harry?” Cedric asked, coming to his side.

Harry took his hand, scrambling upright muttering, “I guess if Voldemort couldn't get me, the cot would be the one to finish the job.”

Cedric smothered a laugh, and turned to Mrs Dursley who was still hovering in the door, looking as if she expected the whole living room to burst into flames. A bit of Cedric's heart softened at this, it appeared she did care for her nephew after all.

“Harry’s fine Mrs Dursley, he’s certainly seen worse on the quidditch mount. I'll help him take this up.” She gave him an odd look before she slipped back into the kitchen.

Turning back to the cot, Cedric stood it up. It came to about half his height and lacked any good places to hold, Cedric could understand Harry's difficulty with the stairs.

“Here, I'll take the head if you bring up the rear.” Cedric said, coming to the front step. Harry nodded and lifted the other end, signaling for them to begin their awkward ascent. Cedric could think of no less than twenty possible spells that would have made the task much easier, as Cedric's wand digging into his lower back at every step reminded him. It was hardly an emergency though and Cedric didn't want to renege on his promise to the Dursleys, odd muggles though they were. Besides, it was sort of nice to feel like he and Harry were working together, and no spider or skrewt in sight.

Cedric then jammed his back against the doorknob, forgetting that in muggle houses the doors don't already know when you're carrying something heavy.

“You alright?”

“Fine, fine. There we go.” They managed to maneuver the bulky frame past the door and into Harry's room.

“Sorry, it's a bit old.” Harry explained as the cot’s hinges creaked a bit ominously while he set it up. “Dudley never really liked camping… Camping for muggles is really different than camping for wizards, you see.”

Cedric nodded not really understanding what Harry was babbling as he spread out the bedroll, which did smell like it needed airing. Once Harry finished setting up the cot, he sat on his own bed, posture stiff and wary.

“Thanks Harry.” Cedric said brightly even as he tucked in the corners of the sheets.

“Don't mention it.” Harry's eyes were trained on his pillow. “Sorry, I just— I’ve never really had company over before.”

Hedwig took Harry's distraction to sidle up to him and peck at his shoulder. Harry laughed and the reserve in his face fell away. He ran a gentle hand over her back.

“You must be tired of being all cooped up.” Harry said and turned to the window. He dug his thin fingers into the sill and heaved until it opened a crack. An elbow was promptly jammed into the opening and he forced it the rest of the way up.

Hedwig hopped on the sill with a grateful hoot and spread her great snowy wings, disappearing into the night. Harry watched with a half-smile, until a shadow passed over his face.

“Once she comes back, I'll have to send some letters out, see what's going on.” He said, leaning away from the window.

“Aren't you getting a copy of the Daily Prophet tomorrow? And Dumbledore should let us know if anything has changed.”

“Didn't you hear a word Fudge said? He refused to accept Crouch’s testimony and insists that I somehow made you mad too. The Daily Prophet believes the ministry and Dumbledore…” he trailed off. “It's best not to depend on Dumbledore for straight answers.” Harry lay down on his bed, eyes distant and apparently done with conversation.

Cedric took this as a sign and started getting ready for bed. The reality of having spent all day traveling and the constant surprises of the day leaving him drained and listless now that he had the time to reflect on it.

He pulled out his nightclothes from the bag, and tugged his shirt over his head.

“What's that?” Harry asked alarmed.

“What?” Cedric twisted a bit towards him. “Did the doorknob leave a mark?”

“I don't think so, the sort of stripy marks.” Harry said.

“Oh, those are from the ropes. Don't you have them too?”

“I did, but they healed in a few days. They don't... they don't hurt do they?” Harry asked.

“They must be staying around since I was tied up longer. They don't really hurt at all, a little achy but that's probably from napping on the train… does the,” Cedric paused, he tapped his forehead and nodded at Harry. “Hurt at all?”

Harry's mouth twisted a bit to the side. “No, it's so old I barely remember it's there. Goodnight Cedric.” He fell back against the bed and turned so his back faced Cedric.

Cedric tried not to feel a pang of rejection as he finished changing. He fell back against the cot, only to find it an inch too short. His heels dangled awkwardly off the end.

Cedric opened his mouth, then decided to shut it. Hufflepuffs weren’t afraid of any toil, he fiercely reminded himself. He turned on his side and bent his knees a bit. Things would be better in the morning.

Chapter Text

Cedric woke up to the realization that he had been very uncharitable towards the Dursleys the day before. After all, no one is at their best when they have an unexpected house guest thrust upon them.

As for their antipathy towards magic, that was entirely understandable when one considers that Mrs Dursley's sister had been murdered by Lord Voldemort. That could warp anyone's perspective towards anything.

No, they weren't the warm and virtuous muggle family that Cedric, in his own ignorance of the muggle world, had imagined them to be, but they weren't monsters. Cedric found himself eager to make a favorable second impression as he dressed for breakfast

“Does this shirt look nice? You know, from a muggle perspective.” Cedric asked.

A half-asleep Harry raised his head, “fine.” His head fell back against the pillow with a soft thud.

Cedric fiddled with the collar. Of course, most young witches and wizards would wear muggle clothing for casual occasions, but he had not forgotten some of the truly strange outfits he’d seen at the Quidditch World Cup. He was determined not to make the slightest error.

“Should I leave the top button buttoned or unbuttoned?”

“It doesn't matter.” Harry groused, finally sitting up, grabbing his glasses from his side table.

Cedric frowned at him. Harry sighed and drew a hand through his hair, rumpling it worse. “Button the top button.”

“Duddykins! Breakfast is ready!” Mrs Dursley called up the stairs.

Harry rose from his bed, changing out of his sleeping clothes into a pair of pants with both of the knees torn and a t-shirt with a stretched out collar. He didn't even bother with his hair before walking out of his bedroom door.

Cedric quickly fastened his collar before following after Harry. As he walked down the hall he recited in his head how he would compliment Mrs Dursley on a delicious breakfast, as he came down the stairs he went over how to politely enquire about Mr Dursley's work and by the time he reached the kitchen he had even refreshed on how he planned to ask Dudley about his interest in boxing.

There were only four chairs around the kitchen table. One was already occupied by Mr Dursley, whose face was entirely hidden behind a newspaper. Mrs Dursley had her back turned to them, facing the kitchen counter, and took no notice of the problem. Only Harry seemed to realize, and he stood there as if paralyzed.

Dudley lumbered in, glaring at Harry for blocking the entrance before nesting himself in what appeared to be his customary seat, based on the flatness of the cushion.

Mrs Dursley finally turned around and sent Harry an annoyed glance, “Well, late again. Sit down.”

“Aunt Petunia…” Harry began.

“There's no seat for his freaky friend.” Dudley brayed as if he had just figured out a great joke.

Harry glared at his cousin, but said nothing.

Mrs Dursley made a disapproving clucking sound with her tongue. “Well boy, go get an extra chair, he is your guest.” Harry was gone in an instant, leaving Cedric to stand there as Mr Dursley continued to read the paper untroubled and Dudley grumbled about his breakfast being stalled.

A minute later, Harry came in with another chair and after a moment of consideration placed it between his own seat and Mrs Dursley's.

“Thanks Harry.” Cedric said, painfully conscious of the fact that he had pushed for this scheme in order to help Harry, but so far seemed only to accomplish the opposite.

Harry gave a short nod before taking his own seat, giving the place in front of him his full attention.

Managing a fixed smile, Cedric thanked Mrs Dursley when she laid down a plate in front of him.

He looked down to see half a grapefruit, glancing around the table Cedric saw that everyone also had received half a grapefruit on their plate. Dudley was already devouring his with gusto, Mr Dursley seemed more occupied with his paper than the breakfast and Harry was picking up his spoon, giving it a look of a well-known foe.

Cedric wondered if muggles simply had multiple course breakfasts. Not wanting to offend his hosts, Cedric also picked up his spoon and began eating what had been laid out in front of him.

The fruit, to it's credit, was ripe and tasty, but Cedric was aware that this could hardly be credited to the genius of Mrs Dursley's cookery. Still, he could try.

“This grapefruit is very good, Mrs Dursley,” he said.

She gave a sniff and went back to her eating. Cedric turned his face towards Mr Dursley, whose face was still obscured by the newspaper and it's strange, unmoving pictures. He had just opened his mouth in order to ask about Mr Dursley’s occupation when Harry must have caught onto his intentions and quickly grabbed the fabric of his sleeve, shaking his head.

Cedric closed his mouth, trusting that Harry was an expert in this. He glanced at Dudley who was desperately scraping out the last bits of pulp from the fruit, he seemed disinclined to discuss sports. Cedric was a man who could admit when he was defeated.

“Mummy, I've been asked over for tea by Piers. Can I go? Can I go?” Dudley asked, his voice higher and more wheedling than an older teenager’s should be.

“Of course Duddykins! Not even a day from school and you're already being invited out.” She cooed.

Mr Dursley was torn away long enough from his paper to chuckle and ruffle Dudley’s hair “Of course he is, my popular boy.”

“May I please leave the table?” Harry asked. Mrs Dursley gave another one of her sniffs. Harry took this as affirmative and took care of his grapefruit skin and plate before escaping. Cedric quickly followed suit.

They returned back to Harry's room where he stuck his head out into the hall, glancing quickly from side to side before shutting the door behind them.

“I thought Dudley might still be on the diet plan. Luckily, the house elves back at Hogwarts were really kind.”

Harry crouched down on his floor and pulled back a loose floorboard. Inside Cedric saw a small treasure trove of foodstuffs, both savory and sweet, had been hidden.

Harry tore off a chunk of bread and handed it to Cedric before getting his own piece.

“We should eat this first, before it gets too stale. A lot of this should hold out until my birthday, at least.” Harry said as he chewed, looking upon the cache like a general regarding his rations.

Cedric bit into his slice, flavor bursting on his tongue reminding him of numberless satisfying meals in Hogwarts' grandhall.

A scraping sound came at the window and Cedric scrambled up immediately to let the delivery owl in and relieve its burden.

The owl released the paper on Harry's bed, taking Cedric's change and a gulp of Hedwig's water before flying off. Harry glanced at the front cover of the Daily Prophet, made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat and tossed it onto his bedside table. On the front page Cedric could see a large picture of a smiling witch, waving.

Cedric picked up the paper even as Harry rustled around in his trunk, muttering about his quills falling to the bottom.

The witch on the front turned out to be a Fiona Botch who had created a potion that could completely remove freckles. Unfortunately for some sensitive skin types it could cause a thick black slime to start oozing out of their pores. Botch argued it was a small price for clear skin. Cedric flipped to the next page.

There were reports on the latest quidditch matches of course, which Cedric found himself skimming with hardly any real enthusiasm. The rest of the paper contained household tips for busy witches and wizards, an expose on the wedding of a rich wizard who bred racing owls, and a particularly saccharine story about a young witch rescuing her pet newt. Cedric read it all twice over, searching for some secret written between the lines. Nothing.

Cedric set the paper aside with a sigh, at least it hadn't contained anything about Harry being unstable. What a thing to be grateful for.

The rest of the late morning, followed by the early afternoon was largely unremarkable. In fact the less said about what Mrs Dursley made for dinner, the better.

Harry left his room, mentioning something about looking at muggle news while Cedric had pulled out some parchment and a quill to compose a letter to his parents.

By the time the first suggestions of evening was making itself known in the sky, Cedric had barely written three lines and Harry still hadn't returned.

Putting his letter away, Cedric stood up, and quickly had to clutch his side which painfully complained at the sudden motion. Cedric tugged his shirt up, but the angry red marks marks were exactly the same, no worse but no better than when Madam Pomfrey had removed the bandages. With a sigh he tugged his shirt back down.

Harry had been gone a while. Cedric opened the door, glancing outside, but Harry wasn't in the hallway so Cedric set off down the stairs to the living room.

Harry wasn’t to be found here either, but Cedric found himself staring at perfectly still photographs that were arranged with evident care along the wall and mantle. At first it was eerie, the utter stillness, the unseeing eyes, the frozen smiles, but after a few moments Cedric felt himself adjust and even appreciate the idea of a single moment captured in time.

However, he might have admired the artform just a bit more if the subject were better.

The entire display showed the slow progression of Dudley Dursley from a round baby to the stout young man he currently was. Notably there was no sign whatsoever that another little boy had lived his entire life within these walls. Perhaps there was another group of photographs featuring Harry in another part of the house, Cedric thought. Even in Cedric's own head the thought sounded a little vain and tired,.

“What are you doing?” Cedric turned and saw the formidable Mr. Dursley glowering at him.

“Oh, I was just admiring these photographs. Dudley looked very… energetic as a young boy.” Cedric said, gesturing to a picture of a young Dudley who was tearing the stuffing out of a teddy bear.

“You stay away from my boy!” Mr. Dursley snapped before moving on, glaring at Cedric with his beady eyes as if waiting for Cedric to do something. Cedric just smiled at him a little uneasily, and quickly left the room.

Mrs Dursley stood alone in the kitchen by the sink cleaning a single dish as she craned her neck, giraffe-like, to peer out the window. Cedric could hear two raised voices coming from the neighbor’s yard.

Cedric stood there a little embarrassed until he heard a final exchange of severe curses (the muggle sort) and a door slam. Mrs Dursley returned her attention to the sink and the single dish in her hand. The dish was quite clean by this time.

“Excuse me.” Cedric said.

Mrs Dursley's head swiveled on her elongated neck to stare at him, her cheeks faintly pink. “Yes?” She snapped.

“I was wondering if you'd seen where Harry had gone.”

“He hardly tells me about his comings and goings.” She clutched the dish so tightly as she dried it, that Cedric feared it might break. “...I think I heard him slamming the front door about ten minutes ago.”

“Thank you.” Cedric said and stepped outside, turning his head back and forth, but there was no sight of Harry either way. Cedric bit the inside of his cheek, he should have told Harry not to go wandering off. Though it probably wasn't much use when even Professor McGonagall couldn't keep him in line.

Now it was a matter of which way Cedric should go. Scuffing the toe of his shoe against the concrete, Cedric evaluated his two options which looked identical.

With a furious screech the argument Cedric had overheard from the kitchen flared up again from the neighboring house. The sound of a great crash made Cedric’s decision for him as he turned decidedly to the opposite end of the street from five Privet Drive.

He spent the next twenty minutes wandering the blocks of square, stolid houses, feeling a little foolish. As the shadows grew longer the neighbors shot Cedric increasingly hostile looks for being a stranger and the chances of finding Harry seemed faint. More embarrassingly still Cedric was becoming concerned that he probably wouldn't be able to find his way back without magical help.

“Have you seen my cat?” Cedric turned to see an older woman. Her lips were pursed in something like disapproval and she smelled a lot like Cedric's cousin Felix, who worked in the Diagon Alley pet store.

He shook his head. “No, I'm sorry, I haven’t.”

She harrumphed, but didn't move away at once, giving Cedric a chance to ask back, “Actually, have you seen a boy, about fifteen, dark hair?”

“The Potter boy?” She asked, Cedric nodded. “I think I saw him up by the playground, about up half a block.” She pointed over her shoulder.

“Oh, thank you.” Cedric said, almost giddy with relief.

Uncomfortably, she remained where she stood and watched him as he started off in the direction she had pointed. He was rather happy when her sour face disappeared around the bend.

In fact he had been so anxious to get out of her sight he must have taken a wrong turn for he found himself walking through an abandoned lot.

It was the untidiest thing he’d seen in all his time walking around, the tall grass tickling his shins. Garbage was occasionally strewn about, the broken bottles and cigarette stubs that spoke of a race of degenerate muggles that Cedric had never considered to exist before but must.

Nevertheless, Cedric found himself charmed by the place, the odd patches of wild flowers gave it a picturesque untamed quality. He was almost sad when he reached sidewalk again and saw around the bend what must be the park that the woman had described.

The playground was overrun with young children, obscuring the landscape with brightly colored clothes, but Cedric caught sight of a baggy shirt leaning against the metal fence. Harry didn't notice as Cedric approached, too caught up in the contents of the muggle newspaper he must have found somewhere.

“You shouldn't wander off without telling me.” Cedric said.

Harry didn't even glance up from the paper when he replied, “sorry”, not sounding very sorry at all.

“Well, have you found anything in there?” Cedric asked.

Harry scowled, folding the paper before tossing it in a nearby bin. “Unless you’re interested by a new bridge opening in Essex.”

Harry's face was so genuinely frustrated and miserable that Cedric felt his own irritation ebb.

“Let's head back to the house.” Cedric said. The park felt too open. Harry didn't argue, or even say a word as he walked back towards Privet Drive, Cedric followed after.

When they must have been close, Harry tensed suddenly, and grabbed Cedric's shirt sleeve, pulling him around the corner of a side street.

Before Cedric could ask him what was going on, a ferocious whirring filled the air, followed by a chorus of shrieking laughter. From their hiding spot Cedric saw a group of boys all somewhere between his and Harry's age on bikes racing down the street. They made a game of knocking their hands or legs against any metal machines that were parked in their path.

“Knock it off Big D!” One high voice cried out and Cedric watched as one of the larger bike riders, which he recognized suddenly was Dudley, rode towards one of the parked machines. Dudley held some kind rod that he smashed against one of the mirrors that stuck out. He didn't manage quite to sever it, but it did bend at a sharp angle causing the rest of the swarm to whoop with glee, even as they quickly fled.

“That was Dudley’s tea party.” Harry said as they crept out of cover, the street once again quiet and still.

“Does your aunt and uncle know?” Cedric asked.

“I don't think they care.” Harry said. There was nothing Cedric could think to say to the unfairness of that.

The rest of their way back was uneventful, until they reach four Privet Drive and it became apparent that the fight over at five Privet Drive must have continued. The screaming, profanity and the occasional crash could be plainly heard from the sidewalk.

“Aunt Petunia must be thrilled. She'll have something to talk about for weeks,” Harry said as they entered the house.

At Hogwarts, Cedric had always had the impression of Harry Potter as a boy of action. If he wasn’t off on a broom winning quidditch matches then he was off getting into trouble with whatever strangest thing was going on. He seemed a bit inhuman honestly, from day to day losing his house fifty points then winning the house trophy the next with his sheer heroics. At school Harry Potter was a bit like lighting, his unruly hair and lanky frame always thrumming with energy.

Cedric was meeting a new sort of Harry Potter at four Privet Drive. He seemed to pass through each day like a phantom, never speaking to the Dursleys who absolutely never spoke to him or acknowledged his existence if it could be helped. The Dursleys at least sort of trembled whenever Cedric was in the room.

Harry Potter sulked, Cedric learned, and stared listlessly at the the paper he’d tacked to his wall counting down the days until the school year began again. Otherwise he was going through every muggle paper he could get his hands on with manic persistence reading them through for any hint of what was truly happening in the wizarding world.

The frustration of Cedric's less than hospitable hosts were compounded by how each day the contents of the Daily Prophet felt more and more inane. Each headline brought the salacious private lives of wizard rockstars or the ministry's latest efforts in standardizing cauldron bottoms or something equally inconsequential. Even articles hinting at the latest makes and models of broomsticks only caught Cedric's interest in the weariest sort of way, like someone who digs into a treat they loved as a child only to find it sickeningly sweet.

What was worse was when Cedric turned his hand to the quill, only to find he had absolutely nothing to say. He couldn't speak about the Dursleys whose unpleasantness remained constant as the summer continued. He couldn't really write about what Harry and he did, when it often felt like a great deal of nothing day after day, except sweating as the temperature rose. He most certainly couldn't make any mention of his nightmares, of the graveyard, or of the flat evil face, that was more terrible than any childhood terror because this monster dwelled in the waking world. So, instead Cedric found himself penning short insipid letters about the heat and Hedwig's latest nightly catch and the latest strange muggle device he encountered.

Every time his family owl returned to tap at the window, Cedric found himself cringing and then feeling bad for cringing as he opened lengthy letters and care packages, and between every line were his parents desperate concern. But there was nothing he could say that could ease his minds.

Even worse, Cedric had no idea who among his friends really believed him or would just humor him because they pitied his delusions. The very idea of having to craft letters to figure this out was exhausting.

Harry on the other hand seemed to wear out the nib of his quill every night writing polemics to his friends and acquaintances. In return he’d get nothing but paltry, vague responses.

Cedric found himself giving Harry a lot of space, as both their frustrations mounted.

One morning Cedric paid for his copy of the Daily Prophet dully with no expectation. Harry was gone from the room, having left all bothering with wizarding news to Cedric by this time. Which was probably for the best considering that when Harry or anyone he knew did come up, it was hardly in a flattering way.

Cedric glanced down at the front page only to discover with some shock that his own face was staring back at him. It was not however any picture he recognized. His face was in some sort of concentrated grimace, it must have been a candid taken at some time during the Triwizard tournament. It was the sort of poorly framed shot that Cedric had theoretically known must exist because of the sheer number of pictures that were taken of the champions, but Cedric had never imagined any photographer going through the effort to develop them.

This did not fill him with confidence as he turned to the article. “THE REAL CEDRIC DIGGORY” the headline read and in a mesmerized state Cedric took in the story about a boy who was to all appearances an exemplar student but only to hide his own selfish and insecure tendencies.

Most of it was exaggerated, but they made enough references to true events true enough that Cedric felt his hands tremble as he read: “Falstaff Pall, once a close friend of Diggory had this to say: He’s really good at putting on a show, he’s handsome and a lot of teachers let him get away with it. Diggory's an old name and no one could ever stand up to him. He said something you had to do it, or you risked him turning the whole house on you. I mean, look what happened when Potter dared to be a Triwizard champion and stole some of the spotlight, he had us make these terrible pins that say “Potter Stinks” and harassed him wherever he went. I mean he was just a fourteen-year-old kid.”

Cedric's nails cut into his palms. According to the newspaper widely read across the wizarding world, he was a narcissistic bully who went along with poor Harry's delusions because he couldn't bear not to be important. His parents were going to read this, Cedric realized in a sickening moment. All their neighbors and all their coworkers were reading this. The very thought choked him.

With a lurch Cedric rushed out of the bedroom. At this time of day he knew Harry was in the backyard so Mr Dursley wouldn't notice that Harry had taken his paper. He threw the front door open and found the shady corner in the lawn where Harry sat stern faced at another useless muggle paper.

“Harry!” Cedric gasped, before shoving the paper in Harry's face.

“Cedric? What? Is it Voldemort?” He took the paper and read the front page with his particular intensity. His eyes were bright as he scanned each line before reaching the end of the page.

He glanced back at Cedric, with an air of confusion. “Is that it?”

Cedric felt his brain boil over. “Is that it? My parents are going to read that! Everyone is going to read that!”

“It's just more of their lies. Anyone who knows you knows this is total rubbish.” Harry said and even tossed the paper aside like it was nothing.

“Falstaff Pall knew me, he was my friend.”

“You need better friends than.” Harry said.

At that Cedric felt all his self control erupt.

“Or maybe if you weren’t always getting in trouble and breaking everything maybe they would have believed you about, about, You-Know-Who!”

Harry rose to feet, his face flushed. “It's Voldemort! He nearly killed us, you can say his damn name! Why do even care what that stupid paper says?”

“I'm not like you! My name isn't always in the papers! I'm a prefect! I can't just brush this off as just another adventure!”

“You're just mad not everyone is calling you perfect all the time.”

“My parents are going to have to live with this!” Cedric was shouting, he realized in a strange distant way.

Harry stared silently for a moment with a very cold expression on his face. “I guess I'm lucky I don't have any parents to embarrass then.” He shoved the issue of the Daily Prophet back into Cedric's hands. “If you want you can run to the Daily Prophet and tell them about how crazy I am.”

He stalked away, going who knows where and for a moment Cedric was glad. For a moment Cedric wished he’d never even heard about the boy who lived.

Then that moment passed.

When Justin Flinch-Fletchly had been healed, he had regaled the entire Hufflepuff common room for weeks with how it felt to be petrified. Apparently it had been like someone pouring ice water straight into your head, turning your whole body numb from the feet up.

Cedric wished he could have the mercy of being truly petrified right now. Instead he felt every inch the self-interested, blathering fool the article had painted him as. Running after Harry now would be useless he knew.

“Diggory, you’ve made a real mess of things.” He muttered to himself. Harry was out of sight, but to Cedric’s dismay the unsettling woman, a Mrs. Figgs if recalled correctly from Harry pointing her out, was there, and frowning at him as if she somehow knew just how badly he had messed everything up.

His cheeks burning, Cedric returned to Harry’s room, crumpling the latest issue of the Daily Prophet up and stuffing it in the wastebasket. It really was just a pack of lies.

Chapter Text

“What were you doing out so late, boy? The neighbors have been complaining about riff-raff hanging around!”

Cedric lay on his cot, listening to Mr Dursley downstairs, scolding Harry. He glanced at the clock. Dudley had been out much later many times, but he had just so happened to have come in early that night.

The unfairness of it all roiled sickeningly in Cedric's gut. Any attempt at intervention would only make things worse. So Cedric told himself, pulling his blanket up to his chin as Mr Dursley’s booming voice finally trailed off, perhaps he had finally tired himself out yelling.

A few moments later, Cedric heard soft footfalls coming up the stairs. He quickly closed his eyes and slowed his breathing as the bedroom door opened.

The dresser creaked as it opened and closed, then the footsteps made their way to the bed by the window. Peeking through his lashes, Cedric could just make out Harry staring at the paper he’d tacked on the wall, counting down the days until he returned to Hogwarts.

Cedric knew that Harry stayed out as much as he did to avoid Cedric. Every attempt at apology had been a miserable failure of avoided eye contact and mumbled “whatever's".

Cedric's torso complained as his scars throbbed in pain, but he forced himself to remain perfectly still until Harry finally laid down and by all appearances fallen asleep.

The next evening Cedric made a point of heading out into the sticky open air. The Dursleys were far too terrified of Cedric's ability to do magic unrestrained to give him more than a displeased grunt whenever he did something they disliked.

Of course this had to be balanced by the fact that they would then take out their displeasure on Harry, and Cedric couldn't push them too far or risk possible expulsion from the house. Not that Cedric was really doing any good for Harry by being there.

The complicated, tangled net of action and reaction made Professor Snape's potion lessons seem simple in comparison. Cedric kicked some gravel in the street out of frustration. A woman pushing a pram scowled at him, before crossing the street and hurrying away.

Cedric watched her escape, a flush having nothing to do with the weather creeping to his face.

According to Harry, the Dursleys had explained Cedric's presence as one of Harry's school friends to all the neighbors. Unfortunately this meant that every muggle Cedric came across thought him a hardened criminal of the worst order. Even as he tried his best to dress neatly and smile at people passing by, all this accomplished was encouraging whispers of: “Well, goes to show you never can tell. He looks almost normal, but that mad gleam in his eyes gives it away.”

Cedric looked for that mad gleam in the mirror, but all he ever found was the slight bags under his eyes. The bad dreams hadn't stopped anymore than the occasional pain from his scars. Harry had nightmares too, often calling out in his sleep. Cedric was too much of a coward to ever wake him, so many nights he’d lie awake wondering if he called out in his sleep too, but Harry was too polite to say.

It was enough to make anyone go mad, Cedric thought.

His collar stuck uncomfortably to the back of his neck. He tugged at it, his hand coming away tacky with sweat.

At least one benefit of his self-imposed exile was that he could head to the park and if he stayed off the main track no one would give him much notice.

That was when he heard it. A cacophony of laughs and jeers broke the air. Dread settled firm in the pit of his stomach. It wasn't trolls or vampires, but Cedric was quickly learning that the muggle world had its own share of monsters.

Dudley’s gang was on the street corner, surrounding some poor kid that would serve as their entertainment tonight.

“Leave me alone!” A young voice cried.

“Leave me alone!” One of the group mimicked in a high pitch as the rest of them laughed and slapped each other with glee.

Turn around, turn around, turn around, Cedric thought. The last thing he needed was a ministry investigation for revealing magic to muggles. This wasn't his fight. Turn around, turn around, turn around…

A pained cry broke the air as the rest of the boys broke out in cheers. “You show him, Big D!”

One on seven just wasn't fair. Cedric's feet took him straight to where the group was still hollering.

“Stop.” Cedric heard the word come out of his mouth. The entire gang turned at this unexpected interloper. This was when Cedric realized he hadn't really planned anything.

In Hogwarts he had broken up his own share of scuffles that sometimes broke out between younger students, but here he wasn't a prefect. Cedric was not scared, not by these overgrown boys who wore ill-fitting clothing in bright colors like they were playing dress up. They were too ludicrous to fear. But neither did Cedric have a means of stopping them by himself, not without bringing the ministry into things.

Silence stretched as they stared at each other. Cedric resisted the impulse to fiddle with his hair.

“Who the fuck are you?” One of the boys asked.

“Cedric. Cedric Diggory.” He said, at least he restrained the impulse to stick out his hand and ask them how they were.

They all stared at one another for a long pause, all except the boy on the ground who was occupied with clutching his arm and whimpering.

“Big D! Kick the shit out him!” One of the gang finally said.

Cedric turned to Dudley's massive figure only to find that Dudley’s face, normally red and smug, was white and frozen in terror.

This change in their leader was not lost on the rest of the gang. It was as if they had never before witnessed Dudley Dursley showing the least bit of hesitation about hitting someone. True his victims were typically younger and a great deal smaller, but still Cedric was by himself.

“What's going on, Dudley. Show this pretty boy he doesn't mess with us.” The boy closest to Dudley hissed furiously.

Dudley’s face twisted in something close to agony as he was wracked with two impulses at once, which must be one more impulse than he was used to handling.

“I can't!” He finally howled between his teeth.

“Why not?” One his cronies asked.

“He-- he’s from that school. The school my cousin goes. He’s probably murdered someone already!” Dudley said.

The rest of the gang turned back to Cedric with something approaching wonder as they took in his meticulously parted hair, his buttoned shirt, and his well-maintained shoelaces. A real-life murderer, who stood there looked vaguely embarrassed by their blatant staring.

“Yes, well then, clear off.” Cedric said finally.

The rest of the gang turned back to Dudley who to their shock turned around and began to walk away. If Dudley had a tail it would have been drooping low between his legs as he made his escape.

The rest of the boys followed his retreat, but not before snarling threats at Cedric that this indignity would be revenged, if not quite in those words.

“Are you alright?” Cedric asked once the entire gang had cleared away. The unfortunate boy came to his feet, his arm still clutched awkwardly to his side. He couldn't have been more than twelve and didn't even quite reach Cedric's chin.

“Do you need help getting home?” Cedric asked gently.

“Don't kill me!” The young boy squealed and fled. Cedric watched him run with wonder. Resentment at his lack of gratefulness struck before quickly morphing into something closer to befuddlement. Cedric stuck his hands in his pockets and shook his head. Muggles grew stranger everyday it seemed.

Well, at least he had stopped Dudley’s gang’s entertainment for the evening. Whether anyone had appreciated it was not really the point. Hufflepuffs were not prone to great glory.

Cedric looked up at the evening sky. He would have given anything for a good cloud cover, giving him a chance to mount his broom and clear his mind, but every night was as hot and clear as the next.

The was no way for Cedric to continue his walk, if he went on there was a chance he'd run into Dudley and his friends again. Cedric didn't have enough faith in his luck to risk it. Instead he turned around and walked back towards the Dursley house, wishing for some break in the overbearing heat.

Cedric later would worry about Dudley mentioning something of their run-in to his parents. A worry that faded as the Dursleys remained wary of him, but no more hostile than usual. Harry also remained distant, and so it seemed Cedric's moment of rash heroics had no real consequences to speak of.

The only change of note was the ever increasing rise of the thermostat, trapping everyone in an unpleasant mood. Even Hedwig who relished exercise would spend a great deal of her time resting morosely in her cage. She even gave Harry a hard nip on the hand when he came over to her, intent on sending out more letters.

One day in trying to escape the heat Cedric found a shady area by the side of the house. The heavy air seemed to weigh on everyone, and the grass was hard and prickly under his hand. Mr Dursley now spent every morning despairing over it, even as he made pointed comments towards any neighbor’s lawn that remained lush and green. This spot though had the benefit of not being visible from the street or the house.

Spread across his lap was that day’s edition of the Daily Prophet. Cedric couldn't say exactly why he continued to read it day after day, but there was little else he could do with his time.

The same day that article had come out, Cedric's parents had sent him a letter informing him how they and everyone they could gather had sent a hurricane of howlers on the Daily Prophet offices. Whether because of this or not, the Daily Prophet hadn't referred to him directly again, at least not by name.

There were a couple more articles brought up how Dumbledore and those who believed him were loonies. A term Cedric, having grown up near the Lovegoods, had never really imagined being applied to him. Maybe he should start a subscription to the Quibbler…

Cedric felt something touch his foot and glanced down. It was a little garter snake, it's bright green skin standing out against the dry, brown grass. It seemed content resting on his shoe.

Cedric did not have a real fear of snakes, if he were to face a boggart it wouldn't turn into one or anything like that. However, the events of the Chamber of Secrets and the revelations from the incident had given Cedric a healthy respect for them. He couldn't think of any way to dislodge it without potentially startling it. Instead he stared at it, imploring it to move.

A soft hissing sound came from Cedric's right. The snake immediately crawled away. For one second Cedric sat there convinced that a basilisk had somehow found its way to four Privet drive. Turning his head he saw it was actually just Harry standing there. Harry who was, of course, a parselmouth.

“It was just trying to get out of the heat and thought you were a rock.” Harry said.

“I can't blame it for trying to get cool.” Cedric replied, and Harry smiled back at him.

This was probably the longest conversation they'd had since the fight, Cedric realized. Harry's eyes flickered down to Cedric's lap and his mouth twisted a bit to the side.

“Finding anything in the Daily Prophet?” Even if Cedric wondered the same thing every day, the question asked aloud rankled.

“Found anything in the muggle news?” Just last night Mr Dursley had thrown Harry quite firmly out of the living room for wanting to watch the evening news on the glowing box.

Harry's face closed off, and for a moment Cedric thought he had wandered into another fight.

“I heard about you chasing off Dudley’s gang.” Cedric stared, of all things for Harry to say he hadn't expected that.

“I didn't really chase them off, Dudley was just too scared to take a swing at me.”

“I can’t blame him, I mean you killed five people and blew up a bridge.” Harry was beaming.

“What! Where? How?” He spluttered, but was cut off by Harry nearly doubling over in laughter.

“You're enjoying this aren't you? Someone else being the butt of a rumour mill gone mad.” Cedric said, but found a smile creeping up his own face. It felt foreign, but good.

“It's different anyway, having someone around even worse than 'that unkempt Potter boy’.”

“They have a point you know, those look like they’d fit Dudley.” Cedric gestured to Harry's ratty attire.

Harry’s expression shuttered as he tugged on neck of his t-shirt, which was frayed and puckered. “This is Dudley's.”

“Oh.” The comradery of the moment dissipated.

“It doesn't matter what they think anyway. In a few years I won't ever have to come here again.” Harry announced.

“Harry, I'm sorry--”

“It's fine.”

“No, it's not!” Cedric rose to his feet, the Daily Prophet flopped to the ground. Harry gave Cedric a startled glance.

“The Ministry and the Daily Prophet are calling us crazy! No one is telling us anything about what they’re doing or what we should be doing! And your muggles! I’m sorry Harry, but they’re just awful, not to mention Voldemort is still at large! And-- and I keep having nightmares every night.” He admitted lowering his voice. “But none of that is your fault and I’m sorry for snapping at you the other day over the article. You were right, it really is just rubbish.” Cedric waved at the paper splayed on the ground.

They stared at each other, Harry's mouth falling open a few times, but he seemed unable to produce a sound. A roll of thunder broke the silence and they both looked up at the skies a moment before torrents of rain began to fall, soaking them both.

They both ran from the side of the house to the sidewalk where puddles were already forming in the streets.

“Do you think V-Voldemort can control the weather?” Cedric asked.

“I guess he probably got too hot wearing all that black. And he probably burns easily.”

“The real reason he’s only active at night is that his skin is too sensitive.”

“Yeah, I don't imagine he uses sunblock.”

“Sun what?”

“It's a muggle thing that helps prevent burns.” At this Harry finally lapsed into snickers and Cedric found himself also laughing. It felt like laughing at a boggart. Voldemort was still out there, still dangerous, but he didn’t seem like the all powerful, menacing shadow lurking outside the bedroom door like he had been.

“Thanks… for what you said. I know I haven't been the easiest person to be with.” Harry said, his dark hair falling over his face and covering his eyes.

Cedric got the uncomfortable feeling that not many people had ever apologized to Harry.

“I was just telling the truth.” Cedric said.

Harry laughed a little, “Guess I'm not used to that. I think I've been reading too much news... And it probably doesn’t mean much, but I’m sorry, about your friend. Him betraying your trust like that, I know I would have handled it a lot worse.” He took his glasses off and tried rubbing them on his t-shirt.

“Here, let me.” Cedric held out his hand, and Harry handed over his glasses. After a quick glance to make sure no one else was foolish enough to be out in the storm Cedric took out his wand and whispered a spell to repel water.

Harry took the glasses back with a smile. “At least there aren't any dementors this time.”

It took Cedric a moment to remember what he was referring to before he got it. “And no whomping willow.”

“I'd take on the willow by myself if it meant we were back at Hogwarts.”

“Harry… I don't think I can last much more of this.” It felt as if he were breathing for the first time in two weeks.

“...you're leaving then?”

“No! I mean doing what we're doing, trying to find hints and clues out of the ministry's drivel and the muggle press, it's only going to drive us mad. Which is exactly what the ministry and Voldemort want isn't it? To make things easier for them?”

“What can we do? We're stuck here in the middle of nowhere, I can't do magic or go anywhere.”

“We can study.”

“What?”

“Think of it like another Triwizard task, the more we study, the better prepared we’ll feel and the better we can face whatever's coming, even if we don't know exactly what it is.”

Harry gave him a considering look. “You’re sounding like Hermione. What exactly are we going to study from? I have school books, but the sort of things we need to know like what exactly he did last time or the weak points of his allies…”

“You could ask Granger to send you books. You’re friends with Hagrid aren't you? If we're looking for information on magical creatures he’ll probably have something. I could get my parents to send me some things… and I'm sure if I wrote to Madam Pince she’d be happy to make suggestions of where we should be looking.”

“Madam Pince? You think she would be willing to help us?”

“Definitely. She loves a good challenge, and I am charming.” Cedric flashed Harry a purposely bright smile and he immediately glanced away towards the sidewalk.

“...Alright. It's better than anything we’ve been doing. Let's try it.” The was something determined and reckless in his voice that reminded Cedric of the Harry Potter from Hogwarts.

Now Cedric found himself focusing on the sidewalk suddenly shy as he said “If we stay out here much longer, we’re probably going to catch cold.”

Harry raked hair back from his face, his eyes gleaming and his smile broad. “Aunt Petunia is going to be furious.”

And she was. She shrieked and scolded every moment that Harry and Cedric stood on her carpets in dripping wet clothes. Harry and Cedric only shared a look as they went rushing to Harry's bedroom to change, barely suppressing their laughter.

Chapter Text

If Harry thought Hogwarts’s librarian might have any reservation about giving guidance to students looking for information on the dark arts and those that practiced them, he was soon proved mistaken. Within a day, an elegant barn owl arrived at their window carrying an envelope so thick the wax seal seemed liable to break at any moment.

“I didn't think she would help us. What did you tell her?” Harry asked with wonder as he spread each of the parchment sheets out. Each was covered in a cramped but legible hand suggesting such titles as The Dark Arts and Practice: a treatise examining the nature of dark arts and corruption or The Dark Road: a memoir of terror, torture and redemption the latter had a note under it in even smaller letters noting that the writer claimed to have been under the influence of Voldemort, but that there was little collaborating evidence supporting the claim. Under that annotation, in even smaller hand was a note explaining that the style of footnotes used were terribly distracting and unhelpful.

“I told her the truth, more or less. She doesn't really care what you’re studying as long as you aren't messing with the shelves.” Cedric remembered coming up to her desk, in his fifth year, red to the tips of his ears to ask her about a particularly sensitive type of spell, a thousand credible excuses on his lips as to why he needed the information. Instead she had only raised a single brow before giving him exactly the book he needed.

“I never got that impression from her.” Harry said.

“Well, she was in Hufflepuff, so she probably favors us.” Cedric admitted.

“Really? I would have thought Ravenclaw, all those books.”

“You would think, but apparently a lot of wizarding librarians were in Hufflepuff. Something about having a knack for finding things…”

Harry seemed to have stopped listening by this point, already intently going through the massive list of suggestions. He made sloppy stars by texts that looked likely, occasionally muttering something like “I remember Hermione mentioning this one forever ago.”

Cedric compiled his own list of books he was reasonably sure were in his family's private library.

They worked long into the night, setting every page they had both gone through neatly on the floor, lacking room to put them anywhere else. This was until a drowsy Harry returning from a trip to the bathroom accidentally tripped on one pile, sending him sprawling onto Cedric, nearly capsizing the cot.

It took an awkward rearrangement of limbs before Harry was righted, his face red.

“Accidents happen.” Cedric laughed and patted his shoulder.

This didn't seem to soothe Harry who stood up and carefully went about collecting the pieces of parchment that had gone flying. “I think we need a better place to do our studying.”

Cedric glanced around the room which was already festooned with parchment and ink. Where would they even put the books once they came in? “I don't think Mrs Dursley would appreciate us placing books of you-know-what all over her table.”

Harry adjusted his glasses thoughtfully. “I think I have a place.”

Muggle libraries were not so terribly different from libraries in the wizarding world as it turned out. True, it was certainly smaller than Hogwarts’s and there were more glowing boxes. Harry explained that these were somewhat different than the glowing box that Mr Dursley watched at four Privet Drive. But more importantly there was silence and no one questioned when they surrounded themselves with piles of books.

Many of the volumes came from Granger's not inconsiderable collection, accompanied with a note that applauded Harry for focusing on next year's classes.

Cedric’s letter to his parents had contained his first actual request, and they responded to it with a blatant eagerness and filled their reply with fervent offers to pick up whatever they didn’t have on hand. It made him ache with guilt. He threw himself into research. It felt good to be active, even if only mentally, after weeks of forced stupor.

Cedric found himself surprised in finding an equally eager partner in Harry. By his own admission, Harry wasn't much of a scholar. While Cedric would comb through every book’s index and table of contents when available, taking note of what looked useful and to come back to, Harry rushed straight into checking every entry that looked likely.

Inefficient perhaps, but it did occasionally produce lucky results.

“Dementors propagate like spores in the dark and damp… so they're sort of like mushrooms?” Harry said looking up from from a study on the life cycles of dementors by an Egret Alfonse Poe.

“I suppose they seem a little less terrifying if you think of them that way.”

“I don't think there's anyway to make them less awful.” Harry read on, “Chocolate can help mitigate some of the side effects of a dementor encounter, but the only known method of banishing one is a patronus charm. I already knew all of this.”

“I didn’t.” Cedric said, the dementors had been a distinctly unpleasant presence around at Hogwarts, but he hadn't been as affected by them as other classmates, certainly nothing like how Harry had reacted during their quidditch match. Now Cedric probably had a lot more for them to feed on. He shivered, closing his book and turned to Harry.

“You can cast a patronus, can't you? That's what you did when Malfoy made such an ass of himself, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I can.” Harry didn’t look up from the book.

“That's impressive, you were just a third year, weren’t you? I only really managed an incorporeal one last year, didn't know what we were going to run into for the last task. It was exhausting, I can’t imagine what casting a full one would require.”

“Professor Lupin helped me learn.” Harry said.

“Did he? He really was the best Dark Arts teacher we had in ages, it was a shame he had to go…”

“He didn't have to go!” Harry said, raising his voice. One of the librarian workers shelving nearby turned and cast him a sharp glance.

Cedric grinned and waved, causing the librarian to smile back before returning to her work. The staff were generally happy to ignore the two of them as they occupied a table in the back and surrounded themselves with their own books day after day, but Cedric was conscious of the looks they send Harry everytime he walked by the main desk and what a pair they made to an outside observer.

Harry was not unaware of the looks he drew, slouching in his chair as if to hide his ratty t-shirt. His second-hand clothes were even more ill-fitted with Harry's recent growth spurt. They made him look more like a hungry scarecrow than one of the wizarding world’s greatest celebrities.

“Professor Lupin shouldn't have had to leave. He didn't ask to be a werewolf, and he was a far better teacher than Snape.” Harry grumbled.

Cedric felt self-aware of the many times his father had railed against Dumbledore's foolishness in bringing a werewolf near children. Never once had Cedric mentioned what a talented teacher he had been.

Cedric opened up his book again and they both read on in silence.

Later that night found them sitting on Harry's bed playing a game of chess where the pieces did not move on their own.

“I think I prefer it like this, I feel less bad for the pieces.” Cedric said as Harry's queen took his bishop.

“It's certainly better than playing it life-sized.” Harry said, giving the bishop a thoughtful look, rubbing it's crown with his forefinger.

“I still can't believe Professor McGonagall managed a transfiguration on that scale—” Cedric was cut off as an owl flew through the window and flopped unceremoniously on the board.

“Errol!” Harry said and immediately detached the letter and package attached. His burden taken, Errol lifted his grey, ragged body off the chessboard and glided to Hedwig's cage to more completely collapse.

Cedric stood up and offered the exhausted owl a dish of water before sitting back on his cot, allowing Harry some modicum of privacy as he opened the letter and its contents.

It was only a few minutes before Cedric heard a great sigh and the blocky package Harry had received was tossed onto his lap. From the shape he had assumed it would be another book, in actuality it was two boxes of Honeydukes Chocolates.

Cedric sent Harry a questioning glance, but he was too busy scowling at the letter he had received. “They’re somewhere together.But they're not telling me where or when I'm joining them.” He grumbled at the parchment before letting it fall to the ground.

“But they sent you this?” Cedric asked, raising the box and giving it a delectable shake.

“You can keep it.” Harry said, throwing himself down on his mattress. “Why won't they tell me anything?”

Cedric didn't know, and had nothing better to offer than empty platitudes. Instead he opened the box and nibbled on a few of the choicest chocolates. He had been subject to a few too many Dursley meals to turn his nose up at sweets. The food stores were getting low as they were.

Getting up and lifting the floorboard, Cedric stored the rest of the chocolates for when Harry’s resentment subsided and he got hungry again. Cedric reached out to pick up the piece of parchment Harry had dropped on the ground. He had only meant to store it under the floorboard with the rest of their letters when the word 'birthday’ caught his eye.

Before he could stop himself, Cedric skimmed the contents of the letter, and quickly found out that today was none other than Harry's fifteenth birthday.

Cedric cast a guilty look over his shoulder where Harry was still lying prone and staring despondently at the wall. No one had said anything, not the Dursleys at breakfast nor Harry when they had headed to the library like it was any other day.

Cedric's own fifteenth birthday had been a giddily happy affair with his favorite meal for supper and his mother had enchanted his cake so that the frosting flashed colors and sang a little song. His parents had gotten him his treasured Nimbus 1700, because he had been made prefect and he had spent the rest of the day and a better part of the night trying it out.

It wasn't like Cedric could say anything now, it would just reveal he was a snoop. He would have to think of something…

The next few days Cedric spent in a cloud trying to figure out some kind of gift he could get for Harry that might lift his spirits. It was in this distracted state that Cedric stumbled into the Dursley's display cabinet, knocking off a china dish.

It fell to the ground with an ugly crash as it broke into pieces. Cedric stared at it in numb dismay, and turned as he heard rapid motion from the kitchen.

“What have you done?” Mrs Dursley cried, stalking forward, eyes wide and teeth bared as she took in the scene before her.

Cedric's mind, which had saved him from far deadlier problems, began working fast. “Don't worry, Mrs Dursley, I can fix this!” He said, taking his wand out from a discreet pocket.

In a matter of seconds he uttered the right words and the dish’s pieces knit themselves back together. He bent over and picked it up, there was no evidence it had never so much as chipped. “Good as new.” Cedric said, offering the plate over to Mrs Dursley with a triumphant smile.

Mrs Dursley was not smiling. In fact, she was not even frowning. Instead the expression on her face suggested that she had just witnessed Cedric club and dismember some innocent creature and was now offering out to her its still beating heart.

A great, terrible wail erupted from her mouth as she scrambled away from Cedric.

“But I— I fixed it.” Cedric said stupidly as Mrs Dursley continued to scream her head off. Her distress quickly summoned Mr Dursley to the scene of the crime.

Her husband’s attempts at calming her hysterics failed, but he was able to interpret from the few words that passed her horsey teeth and the fact that Cedric's wand was still in his hand, that illicit magic had occurred.

“Get away from my wife!” Mr Dursley howled, but not wanting to be any closer to Cedric he achieved his protective aim by yanking his wife back, causing her to tumble into the sofa. Mr Dursley was unconcerned by this and did not take his dark intent eyes off Cedric for a moment.

“What were you going to do to her? I let you in under my roof and eat my food and you repay us by trying to turn us into cockroaches the moment our backs are turned!”

Cedric found himself biting back a reply (from a place inside of himself that he had never before known about) that cockroaches would be an improvement. He waved the china dish and tried to explain what happened.

He was interrupted by Dudley wandering by, looking in at what was causing all the commotion. Mr Dursley lunged towards his offspring, imploring him to flee to safety. Instead Dudley waddled further in, “Is it a robber with a gun, Dad? Like in my video games?” He asked eagerly, twisting his fat little head about.

Once his eyes caught on Cedric, and more importantly his wand, he began to blubber loudly, screaming “He’s going to kill us! He’s going to kill us! Just like Voldy-whose-his-name!”

By this time Cedric had realized there was no hope for the situation. Lacking a convenient portkey, Cedric made his way towards the staircase. The Dursleys made no move towards him, instead they sought to console Dudley in the face of their inevitable demise.

Harry looked up from a book on quidditch, blinking rather adorably behind his glasses when Cedric came in.

“I think your aunt and uncle are upset.” Cedric said and shut the door behind him.

Despite Cedric's own expectations, the Dursleys did not come marching up the stairs at any point the rest of the afternoon and demand Cedric leave. Whether this was because they calmed down and reevaluated what happened or they were simply too frightened of Cedric to address him directly, Cedric had no way to know. Regardless, Cedric stayed in Harry's room instead of going down for dinner.

Afterward Harry came up with part of a supper he managed to sneak back. Cedric was touched by the action if not the actual contents of the gift, and ate it while Harry watched, his head quirked to the side.

“I didn't think it was possible for them to be more upset than that time I blew up Aunt Marge.” He said.

“You blew up your aunt?” Cedric asked.

“Not like that, like a balloon.” Harry made circles with his hands, then gave up and shrugged his shoulders. “It was an accident. Anyways, they seemed almost happy to see it was just me coming down the stairs. It took some getting used to.”

“Happy to help, Harry.” Cedric said, spearing a limp stalk of asparagus.

“I'm not sure they would have even given you anything through the cat door.” Harry said.

“The what?” Cedric asked.

“Oh, a cat door.” He stood up, and toed a rubbery flap in his bedroom door connecting it to the outside. “It's for letting cats in and out. Is it different in our kinds of houses?”

“Most people just enchant their doors to let them come and go. I didn't think the Dursleys would be the type to have cats.” Mrs Dursley should have been more used to broken dishes is that were the case.

“We’ve never had cats, Aunt Petunia hates them.” Harry said, sitting back on the bed.

A thousand small pieces came together in Cedric's mind forming the most unpleasant picture. The worst part was the pieces hadn't even been hidden, Cedric had simply refused to accept the possibility.

He had thought Harry's store of food was just protection against a bad cook. He had thought the bolt on the outside of the door some whimsy of muggle architecture. He had thought the Dursleys were just boorish and stupid, but now Cedric was realizing he was the stupid one.

“Harry—” Cedric started then stopped. What did someone even say in a situation like this? At least there was one clear answer: There was no way they were staying.

Cedric grabbed his bag and opened the bedroom door, then marched down the stairs as his mind worked furiously on the logistics of getting Harry and his things to Cedric's home.

Of course they had their broomsticks so they would just need to carry Harry’s trunk between them. Cedric found himself on the Dursley's front lawn considering whether he should send a letter ahead via Hedwig.

“Boy!” An angry voice called, but it wasn't Mr Dursley, instead on the sidewalk stood Mrs Figgs.

“Yes, ma’am?” Cedric said, not sure why a neighbor would be cross with him.

She marched right up to him and stuck an accusatory finger at his chest. “What were you thinking, performing magic in front of these muggles!”

Cedric rocked back in surprise. “Muggles?”

“Yes! The most muggle muggles to have ever lived! Professor Dumbledore assured me you were a boy of good sense, but now I'm—” She paused her scolding to glance about, realizing the openness of their location.

“Come with me.” She pinched his sleeve and tugged.

Cedric found himself taken across the street to a house on the corner of Wisteria Walk and Privet Drive. Mrs Figgs set him on a sofa and set about fetching him a cup of tea despite the fact she had been scolding him not a few minutes ago.

Cedric was left to himself as a cat rubbed itself against his pant leg. Mrs Figgs’ windows looked directly into the Dursley's, Cedric realized.

“Do you take cream or sugar?” Mrs Figgs asked, bringing out a full tray of tea things.

“Just a little sugar, please.” Cedric said.

She nodded, adding a spoonful before handing him the cup. She filled a dish with cream and set it down on the floor for the cat that had been keeping Cedric company. Finally she picked up her own cup, and took a great gulp from it.

“Thank you for the tea, it's very good.” Cedric said.

Mrs Figgs narrowed her eyes, regarding him silently for a moment. “Well, you are a polite boy, if nothing else.”

“So, you're a witch, then?”

“A squib, actually.” Mrs Figgs said. “I've been watching over Harry since he was first brought here.”

“You know about the Dursleys, then.” Cedric put down his cup. “He can't stay there.”

“And he won't. The Order is setting up somewhere for him to go, but we can't rush. In the meantime this is the safest place for him. He’s protected.”

“What do you mean protected? So, it's better that they starve him to death before Voldemort can get him hands on him!” Cedric yelled. Growing up Cedric's mother had always bragged what a sweet-tempered boy Cedric was to all her friends. Cedric had always preened under that praise, always done his best to stay level- headed and reasonable.

Reason was failing Cedric. It had been failing him almost a month. Mrs Figgs put her cup down, and even the cat paused in licking its cream to stare reproachfully at Cedric for his outburst.

“You may not like it, but these are Dumbledore's orders.” She said.

Cedric felt the weight of his anger and frustration collapse on itself. “Can I at least tell Harry he’ll be leaving soon?”

“I suppose it can't hurt, but you two should stay closer to the house. We don't know when the Dark Lord might plan to make his move.” She said.

Cedric thanked her for the tea and made his way out, stopping to pick up the bag he had left on the lawn.

When he came into Harry’s bedroom he was sitting on his bed, feeding something to Hedwig.

“You're back?” Harry asked, looking up.

“You thought I was going to leave? Just like that?”

Harry averted Cedric's gaze, sinking into his shoulders. “I wouldn't have blamed you.”

Cedric sat heavily on the cot. He should have said something before storming off.

Harry looked and with his attention gained, Cedric filled him in on his exchange with Mrs Figgs and the fact that he would be leaving four Privet Drive… eventually.

Harry seemed mildly amazed by the revelation about Mrs Figgs, “I suppose that explains her thing with cats… but why didn't she tell me earlier? Why didn't she tell me I was a wizard? Or with Dobby—” Harry raked a hand through his hair, but Cedric had no answers, Dumbledore’s orders seemed a cold comfort.

Finally he seemed to run out of what-ifs and turned to Cedric. “Thank you. For coming back.”

“Harry, your uncle is bad, but he's no Swedish Short Snout. You’re not getting rid of me so easily.”

Harry snorted, but there was something of a smile in the corner of his mouth. This wasn’t a china dish that Cedric could fix with a wave of his wand, but at least they had this.

Chapter Text

If you were to ask a Hogwarts student what they thought Cedric Diggory’s specialty was, you could expect a few different answers: Those who only knew him by reputation might recount his transfigurations that even Professor McGonagall could find no fault in.

Those who worked with him in class might whisper in awe on his uncanny ability to find solutions to even the thorniest problems through an unfathomable amount of patience and good temper.

Those who called themselves friends would say with complete confidence that they never saw Ced more perfectly at ease than when on a broomstick.

If you were to ask Cedric what his specialty was, he would probably say transfiguration, and flash a smile meant to incapacitate the interrogator from asking any more questions.

But if you were to ask immediately after the last exam of the year and after Cedric had ingested three butterbeers and twelve chocolate frogs on a dare, he might just lean in and whisper: herbology.

It was because of this secret passion that Cedric could tell at a glance that the bushes underneath the ground floor windows of four Privet Drive were hydrangeas, a plant best suited for a tropical or semi-tropical climate, and whose juice could be added to a potion for easing headaches. Cedric also knew that hydrangeas seldom grew lanky fifteen year old wizards at the base of their stems.

“This isn't the most comfortable spot I've found you in.” Cedric said, crawling in alongside Harry, the ground hard and dry. A branch jabbed Cedric in the middle of the back, as if to emphasize the point.

Harry glanced over at him, lips thin and brows downturned, before motioning Cedric to be quiet. Nodding, Cedric laid on his back, folding his hands over his stomach, watching the low-lying clouds hover, trying not to think of the shape his trousers would be in by the time he crawled out. His side ached a little at all the maneuvering, but that wasn’t unusual.

Music, recognizably muggle in origin, tinkled out of the window which was open above their heads. It ended and was replaced by a low, pleasant voice that certainly didn't belong to any of the Dursleys, and by elimination Cedric reasoned that it must have been emanating from the box Mr Dursley habitually spent his evenings in front of.

Most of what the voice recounted, made little sense to Cedric, and it wasn't until the voice said, “Here's Arnold Winkle with the weather...”

That Cedric realized this was some kind of news program. “The summer heat wave will have a break tonight as a fog bank comes in, ensuring low visibility, please drive with caution.”

Cedric glanced at Harry who looked away, apparently he had not completely given up on following the news.

Mrs Dursley’s voice broke the evening air. “I haven't seen anything of those two, today.” Loathing dripped from every word, leaving no question as to who she was referring to.

Mr Dursley made a loud grunt of approval. “If they know what's good for them they should make themselves scarce. Having one of their kind under my roof wasn't bad enough—”

“Vernon, the window is open!” Mrs Dursley hissed.

“As if the first one wasn't enough of a charity.” Mr Dursley ended in a chastened mutter.

Cedric’s nails scratched furrows in the dirt as his hands balled into fists. Harry laid perfectly still next to Cedric, his expression neutral, as if the Dursleys were discussing breakfast.

“But what about Dudders? He said he hurt his hand boxing, but who knows what they're doing to him when no one is around!”

At this anguished outburst Harry and Cedric shared a look. They, and the whole neighborhood, knew that Dudley's sprained wrist was the consequence of him taking a swipe at a twelve-year-old who had ducked. While Dudley and a brick wall could have a fairly equal battle of wits, in terms of sheer thickness, the wall had won handily.

“When he comes back from tea tonight, we'll sit him down and ask if they’ve been doing anything… unusual.”

The worst Cedric and Harry could be accused of was spoiling the hopes of a few sleepy librarians wanting to close up early. Still this did not bode well. Dudley had as much imagination as a tea kettle, but when it came to the sport of making Harry's life unpleasant, it rivalled his prowess in boxing.

Cedric nudged Harry, and together they began to crawl out of the bushes. They took their time, taking care not to snap any twigs, knock into branches, or anything that might alert the Dursleys’s notice.

What Cedric hadn't noticed was a cat settled in the bush, whose tail his forearm accidentally squashed.

A number of things happened at once: The cat yowled and set it's claws upon the perpetrator. Cedric fell back under the onslaught. Harry stood up in surprise, trying his best to remove the enraged feline, but only accomplished striking his head on the open window.

By the time Cedric had detached the cat and set it on its way, the Dursleys were standing at the window. Mrs Dursley was pale, while her husband was practically purple in rage. It was only the fact that many of the neighbors were also peering out their windows at the noise that prevented Mr Dursley from clutching his meaty, red fists around Harry's neck.

“What were you two doing?” Mr Dursley ground out.

“We were… looking for something.” Harry explained.

“What were you possibly looking for in the begonias?” Mr Dursley asked, his hands doing their best to redesign the window frame.

Hydrangeas, Cedric mentally corrected before he grabbed at Harry's hand, preventing him from lying poorly a second time.

“Actually, I think I remember where it is. Come on, Harry!” Cedric said and without giving the Dursleys another glance, he tugged Harry off the lawn and down the street.

They paused after half a block to regain their breath. “They’re not going to be happy when we get back.” Harry panted.

“All the more reason to give them time to cool off.” Cedric said, the evening fog was already creeping into the streets as promised. Even the end of the sidewalk was indistinct, and the mist only seemed to be growing thicker. Harry took the moment to clean the condensation off his glasses with the edge of his grubby t-shirt.

“Besides, I really do have something to show you.” Harry looked up from his cleaning, his eyes wide.

“What?” He asked.

“Come on.” Cedric said and started walking again. It had taken a week, but finally the weather was cooperating. The sun sunk obscured by clouds, the tendrils of fine mist hid their movements like an invisibility cloak.

By the time they reached the abandoned lot by the park, Cedric could sense Harry was thrumming with the effort of not asking questions.

“We're here.” Cedric said and gave Harry a moment to take in the uncut grass and the garbage.

“What's here?” Harry asked, nudging an empty can with the toe of a shoe. Cedric grinned, striding forward, pulling from a thick clump of tall grass two broomsticks.

“How do you feel about a ride?”

Harry gave him a considering look. “Are you really Cedric?” He took his Firebolt from Cedric regardless, cradling it to his chest for a moment.

“Well, I never gave you anything for your birthday.” Cedric said.

Harry stared at the broom, his expression flat, and Cedric felt his confidence falter. Even with the fog, this certainly wasn't the safest plan. “Maybe I didn't think this through, if you don't want to—”

Before Cedric could finish Harry had already mounted his broom and kicked off. It took Cedric a stunned moment to scramble onto his own Nimbus and follow after.

Harry flew straight up, fast and sure, and only Cedric's experience with catching snitches in the worst conditions kept him from losing Harry entirely. By the time Harry paused to hover, the houses below them were nothing more than indistinct blobs and Cedric was shivering, his shirt completely drenched.

Harry's shirt didn't look like it was in much better shape and his hair stuck up in wild angles, but Cedric was sure he had ever seen Harry look happier, certainly not in the last four weeks.

“This is brilliant.” Harry said, circling the clouds.

“More fun than the library.” Cedric agreed. “We probably shouldn't fly too far though…”

Harry was already racing away, using every bit of the Firebolt’s power to race towards the rising moon. Cedric followed after.

Harry had the better broom and was a lighter flier, but Cedric had the benefit of a lifetime of experience. He tilted upward, patiently gaining on Harry until he was nearly on top of him.

Drawing in a short breath and holding it, Cedric allowed his broom to drop straight down, sticking his hand out to tug at the bristles of Harry’s broom, stopping him short.

Cedric quickly let go as he continued to drop before pulling himself out of it and rose in a gentle arc to where Harry was now waiting.

“How did you do that? Sneak up on me like that? I didn't even know you were there.” Harry asked, eyes bright and intent. There was nothing of the embarrassed silence he'd occasionally lapse into when faced with some unknown fact.

“Oh, I don't know if I should. It's my seventh year you know, I'm planning on winning the Cup for Hufflepuff this time.” Cedric grinned. Harry shrunk into his shoulders.

Cedric quickly added. “Though you did do that amazing feint when you out flew that Horntail. Maybe you can show me that in exchange?” Harry enthusiastically nodded, nearly unbalancing his broom.

Once Harry regained his hold, they were off diving and chasing each other, leaving trails of clouds in their wake. Cedric gave pointers on some of the more subtle points of broom control, and how best to fly soundlessly. Harry was an eager student, and picked up on everything Cedric taught with such speed it might have been annoying if Harry wasn’t laughing and giving Cedric a slightly awed expression whenever Cedric praised him. Occasionally, they’d have to remind each other to keep their voices low.

When they arrived at an empty field, far from muggle habitation, Harry took his role of teacher very seriously. He sat up very straight on his broom, and walked through step by step of the Wronski feint, miming in the open air.

“The trick is not leaning back until the very last moment.” Harry said, demonstrating the lean on his own broom.

“Seems simple enough… we’ll see how well I do when the ground is a foot away from my nose.”

“You'll be brilliant.” Harry said, and gave an abortive motion with one arm that might have been an attempted pat on the back, if they hadn’t been on separate brooms floating high above the earth.

Cedric smiled at the encouragement even as he shifted in place and adjusted his hands for the dive. A breath in and he tilted his broom downward.

His stomach plummeted and the wind roared in his ears as the ground grew closer and closer. Cedric's knuckles whitened as he gripped his broom impossibly tighter. Not yet, not yet, and now!

He leaned back just as collision seemed inevitable, but as he tilted sharply up, something was off in his balance because he quickly found himself dangling several meters from the ground before he was able to right himself.

“Cedric, are you alright?” Harry was down at his level almost immediately.

“If the nearly falling off was on purpose, it could be a new variation of the feint.” Cedric said, his pride hurting more than his hands.

“Maybe they'll call it the Diggory.” Harry agreed. “You would have had it perfectly, but you got pulled a little too forward.”

“I'm too tall.” Cedric sighed. “I only play seeker because we didn't have anyone else.”

“I think you’re a pretty good seeker.” Harry said quietly, avoiding Cedric’s eyes, then something sly came into his expression. “I mean you beat Harry Potter, that’ll be something to tell your grandchildren about, that will!”

“Harry!” Cedric rewarded the impression of his father by knocking into Harry.

Harry not expecting the shove, capsized, but not before grabbing Cedric’s shirt and bringing him down as well. Luckily, they had only been hovering a little distance from the grass, and collapsed in a heap.

Cedric quickly rolled off of Harry, who he was crushing. This gave him the perfect view of the night sky, the stars were completely invisible, but the barest hint of the moon peeked through the mist. It was high and the hour was late.

“We need to get back.” Cedric said and it was as if a spell had been broken. Harry sat up with a sigh.

The way back they flew much slower, more carefully avoiding areas of dense habitation. Harry didn't say a word as they returned, finally landing neatly on the field they had started from. Cedric by now an expert in Harry's silences could tell it wasn't sulky, but comfortable as they secured the brooms in Cedric's bag and began to make their way back to four Privet Drive.

“Thank you, Cedric.” Harry said softly.

“Happy birthday, Harry.” Harry ducked his head, and took a right at the park. It was the longer way to get back to Privet Drive, but Cedric said nothing. It was peaceful walking together, hands loosely at their sides, the backs occasionally brushing against each other. The mist enveloped them in their own small world.

“Hey! You two!” They both turned sharply at the cry. Cedric's hand went to his wand tucked into the inside pocket of his jacket.

Dudley emerged from the fog, a gang of boys at his back. He walked with a waddling sort of swagger, but his face was deathly pale. Sweat was already making itself known around the armpits of his t-shirt, despite the relative coolness of the night. His jaw was stubbornly set.

In contrast, the boys surrounding him looked almost ecstatic in sighting their prey. Their eyes rolled in giddiness and their mouths hung half-open, tongues lolling, as if they were tasting the air. Their teeth, many of them encased in some kind of metal, glittered in the weak street light.

Cedric did not take out his wand, but neither did he take his hand out of his jacket pocket.

“We're sick of you two creeps wandering around, so we're going to teach you to mess with us!” Dudley strangled out.

Harry opened his mouth, but Cedric caught his eye and shook his head. The last thing they wanted to do was bait Dudley, especially he had a small army of snickering boys egging him on.

“You're angry at me, not Harry. He’s not involved, let him go.” Cedric said, taking a step forward.

Harry really looked like he wanted to say something but Dudley beat him it.

“Oh, you wanna look all tough in front of your boyfriend, huh?” Dudley darted forward and yanked on Harry's arm. The other boys howled, and began yelling out names that Cedric did not understand, but guessed were not flattering.

Cedric pushed Dudley back, surprising him into releasing Harry. “Dudley, this won't end well for you.” Cedric said quietly.

“What are you going to do about it? You even touch your you-know-what and my Dad will throw you right out.” Dudley sneered.

Cedric was almost impressed with Dudley's new found nerve, but given the fact that his cronies were whipping themselves into a frenzy behind him, Cedric supposed Dudley realized he couldn't afford to lose face this time. He was at least smart enough to realize he could be the next one on the menu.

“Dudley—” Cedric began with some faint hope of trying to negotiate his way out of this. Dudley’s fist connected with the side of Cedric's face.

Everything seemed to go very quiet and distant. Pain came second as Cedric realized he was bent over.

“Oh, look! He has a little stick! What are you going to do with that, Potter?” One of the boys cried out over the hollering and applause that had broken out over the strike.

Cedric straightened, one hand still clutching a throbbing cheek bone, and turned to see that Harry had drawn his wand and was pointing it at Dudley, whose huge fists were still raised, but his little eyes focused on what Harry held out.

“You'll be expelled!” Dudley squealed.

“Harry, put it away.” Cedric said.

“Yeah, put your stick away, you homos!” One of the gang cried out going by the cackles of the rest of the boys. Harry raised his wand, pointing right between Dudley’s eyes.

“It's what he deserves, Cedric.” Harry said.

Cedric stepped forward and put his hand on Harry's right arm, putting the lightest bit of pressure. “We can't always be giving people what they deserve. Harry.”

To his relief, Harry’s arm lowered.

It was quieter, Cedric realized. In his complete focus on Harry, he hadn’t realized that the jeers and shouts had grown muffled and faded as the fog continued to thicken around them. It was almost opaque, capturing the tableau of Cedric, Harry, and Dudley in their own cloud. It was cold.

The noise emitting from the onlookers was now more nervous whimpers than cries of approval.

“Hey, Big D, it's awfully late. I've got to run.” One boy squeaked and scampered away, disappearing in a moment. The rest likewise made rapid excuses before leaving only the three of them, now without an audience.

“What the f—” Dudley stared at the space where his friends had abandoned him, and scrubbed his hair in befuddlement. Suddenly a terrible transformation came over Dudley, his spine stiffened, his face turned lost all color and he generally more resembled an over-starched white shirt than a boy.

Cedric felt it too, a feeling as if all the happiness in the world had been sucked out forever. Cedric glanced at Harry's whose horrified expression reflected back at him.

Dudley whimpered like a wounded animal. “Whatever you're doing, stop. You better stop it! I'll tell on you!” He flailed his fists towards Harry, but Cedric was able to push him back before he connected. Dudley gave a little scream of frustration and terror.

“Shut up! I need to hear.” Harry snapped.

Hear what? Cedric wanted to ask, but remained silent, holding onto a squirming Dudley as Harry seemed to be listening very hard for something. Then Cedric heard it, less of a sound and more like a stutter of the heart. A soft rustle of a robe against concrete.

All the while, the fog had only grown thicker and thicker and Cedric realized at some point he'd let go of Dudley and could no longer make out him or Harry. There was grass beneath his feet. Cedric was alone, and he wasn't in Little Whining anymore

He took a staggered step forward, and stumbled over a something jutting from the ground. Grave marker his mind supplied. Cedric shuddered and wrapped his arms around himself. It was so cold.

Cedric knew where he was and what was waiting for him. The scars left from the ropes burned as if he was already imprisoned. A dark figure was making its way towards him. Soon, it would draw its wand on Cedric under the orders of a ghost long thought dead. There was nowhere to run, and Cedric was dreadfully alone.

“Cedric!”

Cedric turned around, but couldn't see where the cry had come from. He had been here before, but he hadn't been alone then, had he?

Cedric shivered again, the grass was wet and green and had soaked through his trainers. Maybe he wasn't alone, but it wasn't like Harry needed him. He'd only made things worse from the day summer holiday had begun.

Not just Harry, but his parents too. They were so worried about him. Dad was always going on about how proud he was of Cedric, but would he proud of the absolute ass Cedric made of himself? And what about his friends who he hadn't bothered writing to? He hadn't even glanced at any of his summer assignments.

No, it’d be better for all involved if he just laid down in the grass and never got back up again.

“Cedric! Please!” Harry's voice cut through the fog that seemed to exist as much in Cedric's mind as it did outside.

Cedric watched as the dark figure approached, but realized it wasn't Peter Pettigrew. He remembered those dark cloaks, those shuddering breathes, the stench of decay. Dementor.

Cedric took his wand from his jacket pocket. Maybe he hadn't been wrong about disappointing everyone, but he wasn't going to let Harry take on these overgrown mushrooms by himself.

“Expecto patronum!” He cried.

A veil of white uncoiled sluggishly from the tip of his wand. It made the dementor shrink back, but it didn't flee.

Taking a deep breath Cedric thought of the moment when he and Harry had escaped from the death eaters, transported back to the Hogwarts grounds and he’d seen his parents again when he had thought he never would.

“Expecto patronum!” He called out again and this time the white veil shot out of his wand enveloping the space in brilliant light.

The hooded figure fled with a harrowing shriek. Cedric bent over, panting. The graveyard dissolved and left him standing on the sidewalk.

His feeling of elation was short lived as he realized that Harry was still out there in the mist. Pulling himself upright, Cedric ran head first in the direction he had thought he heard Harry coming from.

“Expecto patronum!” The cry stopped Cedric short and he turned to see light breaking through the disorienting mist. There was Harry, standing tall as a stag emerged from his wand. It charged towards a dementor that Cedric now saw had been lurking close by.

Harry had a graze on his cheek, but he looked otherwise unharmed. He cast Cedric a relieved smile.

“You're alright.” He said.

Cedric nodded, his face still throbbed from Dudley’s blow, but otherwise he was unharmed. “What happened?”

“I think you fainted or something when the dementors got too close, and then Dudley knocked me over when he made a dash for— Dudley!” He said and rushed down the road, Cedric followed after.

They found Dudley curled up on the ground, a dementor leaned over him, prying Dudley’s hands from his face.

“Expecto patronum.” Harry's stag followed his call and caught the monster on its antlers, causing it to fade away in the darkness..

Harry rushed over to his cousin who was still flailing on the ground in terror. Cedric kept watch, his wand at the ready. The fog was still dense, but it somehow lacked the menace it had only a moment ago. Still, Cedric wouldn’t let his guard down.

He remembered the number of dementors that had been present during the search for Sirius Black, and shivered. Just facing one made Cedric feel hallowed out and clammy skinned.

A movement came from the shadows and Cedric immediately pointed his wand at it, ‘expecto patronum’ on his lips when he heard a familiar voice shriek “Don't aim that thing at me! Of all foolish things, staying out so late! Now look what's happened!”

Mrs Figg looked particularly sour and careworn as she scolded Cedric, even as she peered down at Dudley's prone form.

“Can the big lug move?” She asked. Dudley struck out one of his arms in alarm at the sudden new voice. Mrs Figg took a step back. “Well get him up, we can't stay here.”

Both Harry and Cedric moved to hide their wands.

“Don't put down your wands! Who cares what the muggles see, everything has gone mad already! If Mr Tibbies hadn’t told me about you pair, running off on a midnight ride! Like you’re a regular Merlin and Nimue, I swear! Well! Hurry up! We can’t stay here!” Mrs Figg snapped, but Cedric couldn't find himself angry at her when he saw how her nails dug into the sleeves of her robe.

With a grunt, Dudley lurched to his feet at their insistence, but to even take a step required both Cedric and Harry to take hold of his arms and guide him forward. Cedric could feel the fluttering of his muscles underneath the skin.

The walk to Privet Drive was infinitely longer than when they had left it. The whole time was spent half listening to Mrs Figgs panic, even as they jumped at each shadow, Dudley’s dreadful weight seesawing between them.

By the time they reached the tidy door of four Privet Drive, Cedric had found he had developed a fondness towards it that he couldn't have possibly imagined previously.

Mrs Figg left them on the front door step firmly impressing that the house was not to be left and she would contact Dumbledore right away.

The Dursleys, however, took one look at their beloved issue, slung limp between Cedric and Harry like a dirty, wet bed sheet and quickly came to a different conclusion on where the two other boys should stay.

A complex delivery of letters however mitigated the Dursleys’s punishment if not their displeasure, and Harry and Cedric found themselves banished to Harry's room. A half-written letter lay on the desk where Cedric had left it this morning.

Cedric traced over the words with his eyes, “Dear Mum and Dad, not much to report. The days have been hot here as I'm sure it is back home...” After that was a little ink trail to show where Cedric had been at a loss as to what else to add.

“Here.” Cedric glanced up to see Harry offering him a piece of chocolate. “You'll feel better.” He said, leaving the piece in Cedric's palm before attending to his own, on his bed was the half eaten box from Honeydukes.

Harry wasn't wrong, a few bites of chocolate helped relieve the shocky sensation left by the dementors.

Harry sat on his bed working on his own piece as he scrawled on a couple pieces of parchment. In a few scant minutes he sealed them and attached them to Hedwig's leg. They both silently watched her fly out of sight.

After the dementors and the confrontation with the Dursleys, Cedric had expected furious pacing and throwing things around, but instead there seemed something almost thoughtful in Harry's expression. It was as if the worst happening had finally cut the strings of terrible tension that had trapped him in it's claws all this time.

Cedric, on the other hand, couldn't sit down. The walls were closing in on him.

“I'm sorry.” Cedric said.

Harry blinked at him. “For what?”

Once he began Cedric found it hard to stop, “Mrs Figg was right, I shouldn't have taken you so far away so late, and Dudley’s gang only stopped us because of me and if I hadn't fainted, you wouldn't have had to use magic and wouldn't be facing the Wizengamot...” He barely controlled himself from pointing out that the whole past four weeks had been something of an unquestionable disaster.

Harry frowned at Cedric's confession. “I was there too you know, I agreed to go out with you.” There was a definite bite of annoyance in his voice.

Cedric wanted to point out that he was older and was supposed to be looking out for Harry, not collapsing at the first hint of true danger but something stubborn in Harry's face made the words stop in his throat.

Instead they stared at each other until Cedric felt compelled to look away.

“Do you know the memory I used to summon my patronus?” Harry asked. Cedric shook his head.

“I thought about you nearly falling off your broom when trying the Wronski Feint.” That startled Cedric into a laugh. He glanced back at Harry who wasn't quite smiling but his eyes were warm.

“If you hadn't been here, I think I would have gone absolutely mad weeks ago.” Harry confessed, and Cedric found his eyes dropping to the ground once again, his face heating up entirely again his will.

Cedric wasn't sure he hadn't gone completely mad before they even left Hogwarts.

“Thanks, Harry.” Cedric said, and sat on his cot. One way or another everything was going to change, and there didn't seem to be anything to say.

The next few days were both easy and hard. Neither were allowed to leave Harry's room, except to use the restroom and Cedric learned quickly that Mrs Dursley's cooking was hardly improved by being shoved through a flap at the bottom of a door.

Yet they were both sustained by the idea that there was no way this could go on. Hedwig never returned, but that only really confirmed for Cedric that they likewise would be leaving four Privet Drive.

When the Dursleys entered one day wearing uniform nasty grins informing them that they were leaving the next day to accept a lawn award, it had felt like a mere formality.

Harry and Cedric glanced out the window onto the lawn which was still brown and brittle from the hot summer days.

“It’ll be tomorrow then.” Harry said.

“It must.” Cedric said.

“I'll start packing.”

That night the room seemed stuffy with expectation. Everything seemed to holding its breath, the open window brought little relief from the heat.

Cedric gave up the idea of sleep very quickly. Instead he lay there, his heels hanging over the edge of the cot’s frame, and realized that no matter what tomorrow braught, he would never sleep here again.

It should have been a happy thought, but it brought with it all the questions of where he would be sleeping in future.

Cedric turned his head and observed Harry on his bed, still and silent in a way that betrayed he was just as awake as Cedric was.

It was hot and airless in the room, and Cedric, suddenly unable to breath, sat up and shucked off his shirt, tossing it carelessly where his bag lay already filled with the clothes, books, and broom that Cedric had brought with him.

“Can I use the window?” Cedric asked, not even going through the pleasantries of asking whether Harry was awake.

Harry sat up, drawing his legs to his chest, his eyes wide in surprise even as he motioned for Cedric to take a seat.

Cedric shoved both his bare arms out the window, revelling in something almost like a breeze.

Harry goggled at him as if Cedric had finally cracked. Maybe he had in a way.

“Don't worry, I won't fall out.” Cedric said, but this assurance didn't put any ease on Harry's face, if anything it grew more flushed.

“I'm tired, but I can't sleep.” Cedric said. This wasn't placating but it had the benefit of being the truth.

Harry tilted his head a bit as if turning the thought over like a coin between his fingers. “I can't either.” This was whispered like a confession.

Harry lifted a hand and reached out towards Cedric, hesitating for a moment as if to give Cedric time to move away. Cedric stayed where he was. Harry pressed his hand lightly against Cedric’s side.

“They still haven't gone away.” Harry murmured. He traced the scars left from the rope they had bound them with after Pettigrew’s killing curse had gone awry and missed Cedric, and You-Know— Voldemort reasoned they might find some use for him.

He had watched helplessly bound as Harry fought for his life. In a way, Cedric still felt like that. Harry flattened his palm against Cedric's ribs, forcing him out of his thoughts.

“Do they hurt?” Harry asked.

It was quiet in that room. There was a strange comradery in being the only two awake, Hedwig’s cage was still empty, and Dudley’s squeaky snores could be heard quite clearly from the room over. It could only be assumed that Mr and Mrs Dursley were enjoying the unbothered rest of those who never thought too deeply about anything.

It was into this space that included only the two of them in the whole world that Cedric answered back, “Sometimes… and yours?”

Harry did not move away. “Sometimes. It's not that strange, Voldemort has returned.”

Emboldened by something nameless, Cedric reached out a hand towards Harry. His hand came to Harry's forehead and he pushed the dark, unruly hair back.

Without giving himself time to think Cedric leaned forward and felt against his lips the raised skin of the scar. Then he leant back. If Harry demanded some sort of explanation, he would have none to give.

They stared at each other through the dark in silence, even as the moon ascended and descended, bringing with it a new day filled with greater uncertainty.

As promised, the Dursleys left after a late lunch. As suspected, the wizards and witches charged with escorting them came not long after.

By unspoken agreement, Cedric and Harry crept downstairs when they heard the first crash. They kept their wands at the ready even as they expected friendly faces. The last few days had emphasized the need for caution.

Spread out in the hallway and the living room was not the Weasleys or a few Hogwarts professors, but a good number of ministry wizards and witches. Cedric almost had to contain himself as he saw Kingsley Shacklebolt. Kingsley Shacklebolt! Standing there in the Dursleys living room, discreetly prodding Mr Dursley's black box with a foot.

They introduced themselves and their mission before a youthful witch that Cedric did not recognize went up with Harry to grab his trunk. The rest milled about like incongruous lawn ornaments.

Stranger still was being pulled aside by Moody, his face as ruined and fierce as ever and realizing that this was his first time talking to the man, despite an entire year of lessons spent staring at this face.

“We’ve made arrangements for you to be brought home.” He said.

“I'm not going with Harry?” Cedric asked.

“No need.” Moody must have seen the effect his choice of words had on Cedric and perhaps a year trapped in a trunk with forced reflection had gentled his manner by the slightest amount because he raised a paw to Cedric's shoulder, “You’ve done enough lad. You deserve time to rest before what comes.”

Moody nodded to himself pleased with his own ominous turn of phrase before going back to manage the last details of the escort party.

Harry returned, trunk in tow and flanked by the witch and Professor Lupin. Cedric quickly approached.

There must have been something off in Cedric's expression because Harry gave him an odd look before he asked, “Cedric?”

“I won't be joining you.” Cedric said baldly.

Harry stopped short. “What?” He glanced up at Professor Lupin, who shook his head.

“Dumbledore thought it best, he’s too young…”

“He helped me fight off a group of dementors! We can't just… leave him behind.”

“There will be no leaving behind, he will just be finishing out the rest of the summer at his own home.”

Cedric put a hand on Harry's shoulder turning him away from Professor Lupin. “I'll go with you, if you want.” Cedric said very aware of the many eyes upon him. It was a bold and foolish thing to say when everyone else could contradict him, but Cedric wouldn't be cowed by what they thought of him.

The panic in Harry's eyes subsided and turned thoughtful. Cedric had the uncomfortable feeling he was being looked through. Harry reached out his hand, grasping Cedric's arm very lightly. “Cedric, go home.”

Hurt must have flickered across Cedric's face because he was suddenly enveloped in Harry's arms. “Get some sleep, we'll meet again soon.” Just as suddenly the embrace ended, Harry backing away with a self conscious air.

Professor Lupin cleared his throat. “Are we ready to go?” They both nodded, not quite looking at each other and Professor Lupin placed a hand on Harry's shoulder, leading him towards the door where the other members of the entourage were waiting.

“I'll write.” Cedric said. Harry turned back.

“Will you?”

“Yes.”

“Alright then.” Harry said and gave a sort of nod in Cedric's direction even as Professor Lupin seemed eager to pull him away to start the business of getting Harry to safety.

Cedric watched as they mounted their brooms. They vanished in moments, and if Harry looked back at all, there was no way to know.

“Bit of tough luck, that.” Cedric turned to a squat, unshaven wizard. The sudden stench of drink and tobacco caused Cedric to take a step back, obviously this was meant to be his escort. The wizard sighed and shook his straggled gingery head. “Just the way with summer romance. You ready to go?”

It was a little past four weeks into his stay at Privet Drive, and Cedric's feelings towards the street: its square houses, its square lawns, its square, sour faces peeking out of curtains, had scarcely changed at all.

He would not miss it. He would not miss the crushing helplessness. He would not miss feeling as if a curse of silence had been cast on him everytime he so much as thought of lifting his quill.

However, there were things he would miss.

He cast a glance to four Privet Drive, to a window that sat uneasily in its frame, as if it realized it didn't belong there. But it didn't really matter, filled with relief or regret, he was leaving.

Cedric nodded at his guide. “I'm ready to go home.”

Together they kicked at the ground and were airborne, Cedric did his best to discreetly position himself to not be directly downwind from the other wizard.

With everything that happened since leaving the Hogwarts Express from living with the Dursleys to the terrible night with the dementors and the aftermath, simply flying home seemed anticlimactic. The most interesting thing to happen is that Cedric nearly flew himself into a flock of bats, distracted by thoughts of everything that had come before and what could be coming now.

By the time dawn was peeking over the horizon, Cedric and his escort were landing on the little walkway that lead up to the Diggory homestead.

“We couldn't let them know when you were coming ahead of time, so you should head in and give them a pleasant surprise. Now, I’ve got some cauldrons to see too.” Cedric's escort said, before abruptly kicking off and making his own way back to wherever he belonged.

Cedric hitched his bag up on his shoulder and walked forward, pulling the door open. It recognized his touch and flung itself eagerly wide to grant him entrance, nearly causing Cedric to fall face first on the mudroom floor.

Righting himself, Cedric took care to remove his shoes, and flatten his hair, hoping he looked somewhat presentable before glancing up and finding of all people, Dumbledore standing there watching him.

“Headmaster.” Cedric said, stepping back before straightening himself up. “I didn't know you would be here.”

Dumbledore smiled, staring down his crooked nose at Cedric. “There will be many more surprises before all this over.”

A knot of anger made its way known in Cedric's stomach. That was something he couldn't have ever imagined feeling towards the Headmaster, who he’s held in awe ever since he toddled into the Great Hall and stared up with wonder at the head table.

“Why didn't you tell us anything.” If Cedric thought he observed a flicker of regret, it was gone by the time Dumbledore opened his mouth.

“Changes are coming to Hogwarts, Cedric.” Dumbledore pinned him with a leveling stare over his half-moon spectacles. “Traits like honesty are soon going to be in short supply.”

Cedric grit his teeth, his question had been entirely ignored, but if the Minister of Magic couldn't get anything out of Albus Dumbledore really what chance did Cedric have. He nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

Dumbledore gave a curious half smile before he disapparated. It was as if he had never been there.

“Ced?” Cedric looked towards the main staircase and saw his father and mother.

“Sorry, for not giving any notice.” Cedric began, but was cut off by his parents rushing forward and gathering him up in their arms like he was a little boy and not a young man nearly eighteen.

His throat closed up with a strange unspeakable happiness that seemed liable to ruin him if he were to say anything. Perhaps his parents could see something of this in his face and lead him away to breakfast.

It was some hours before Cedric found himself alone in his childhood bedroom. His parents had barely restrained themselves from tucking him in. Cedric sat at his desk. His quills and parchment were arranged exactly as he had left them before he had left for Hogwarts nearly a year ago. Before he was Tri-Wizard Champion, before Voldemort, before Harry.

Cedric pulled out a sheet of parchment, dipped his quill in ink and began to write a letter.