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The Boy Who Died

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The first time Hermione had spoken to Cedric Diggory had been the day of the Quidditch World Cup.

On that day, Hermione, Harry and the Weasleys set out very early on a cold and dark morning. Like thousands of wizards across the world, they were making their way toward the Quidditch World Cup. As always, it was a slightly strange feeling for Hermione, this new world of which she was a part - a world her parents could never understand but seemed happy for her to join. Oddly enough, she felt more at home in her strange new world than she had ever felt in her own Muggle world.

She listened with interest as Mr Weasley explained to Harry the organisational and logistical nightmare in arranging such a massive event as the World Cup with arrivals to a deserted moor staggered, 200 Portkeys placed at strategic points around Britain. The Portkey to which they were walking was located at Stoatshead Hill.

It was a long walk and they walked silently down the dark lane toward the village. As the day lightened, it was not sufficient to warm them and Hermione's hands and feet were freezing. She noted that Mr Weasley continually checked his watch but didn't think to ask: "Are we there yet?"

No one spoke on that long walk, there was no time and no breath to spare. The climb to climb Stoatshead Hill in particular was very arduous and there was stumbling in hidden rabbit holes, slipping and the occasional clutching at the grass to retain their balance. Each breath Hermione took was sharp in her chest and her legs had started to seize up on her when, at last, to her relief, her feet found level ground.

She had clutched the stitch in her side as she was the last to come over the crest of the hill, arriving just in time to hear Mr Weasley tell them that they had made good time and that they had 10 minutes remaining. To her chagrin, Mr Weasley announced that they would then have to look for the Portkey, an object which naturally could not be very large and would no doubt require a great deal of effort to find. To her intense relief, their search was interrupted within minutes by a shout.

"Over here, Arthur! Over here, son, we've got it."

As she glanced up, she saw two tall figures standing on the other side of the hilltop.

Mr Weasley shook hands with a man he introduced as Amos Diggory, a ruddy-faced wizard with a scrubby brown beard, who was holding a mouldy-looking old boot in his other hand.

Hermione definitely recognised his son Cedric, a tall, extremely handsome boy of around seventeen. He was Captain and Seeker of the Hufflepuff House Quidditch team at Hogwarts and extremely well-liked and respected by his peers.

"Hi," Cedric said in a friendly fashion, looking around at them all with a smile on his face and excitement in his grey eyes.

Everybody said hi back except Fred and George, who merely nodded brusquely. They had never quite forgiven Cedric for beating Gryffindor in the first Quidditch match of the previous year. Their response was extremely typical of them and Hermione simply rolled her eyes in disbelief. Boys. She caught Cedric glancing at her questioningly, an amused grin on his mouth as he had noticed her eye-roll of exasperation. He shrugged insouciantly as if to say it didn't bother him and she was rather embarrassed to have been caught.

The two fathers exchanged pleasantries and Hermione learnt that the Diggorys had also been forced to wake up very early.

"Had to get up at two, didn't we, Ced?" Cedric gave his father a laughing nod but there was no look of complaint in his eyes.

"I tell you, I'll be glad when he's got his Apparition test. Still ... not complaining ... Quidditch World Cup, wouldn't miss it for a sackful of Galleons - and the tickets cost about that. Mind you, looks like I got off easy. . . ." Amos Diggory peered good-naturedly around at the three Weasley boys, Harry, Hermione, and Ginny. "All these yours, Arthur?"

Hermione was intrigued to note that although he also worked for the Ministry of Magic, the two families clearly were not close as Mr Diggory did not recognise the Weasley children.

"Oh no, only the redheads," Mr Weasley said pointing out his children. "This is Hermione, friend of Ron's - and Harry, another friend...."

"Merlin's beard," Amos Diggory exclaimed, his eyes widening as he stared at Harry. "Harry? Harry Potter?"

"Er - yeah," said Harry said awkwardly with that look Hermione knew well as being Harry wishing he could be a thousand leagues away.

"Ced's talked about you, of course," Amos Diggory said. "Told us all about playing against you last year... I said to him, I said - Ced, that'll be something to tell your grandchildren, that will.... You beat Harry Potter!"

Harry was clearly unable to think of any reply to this remark and remained silent. Fred and George started scowling again. Hermione might have interjected at this point but fell silent when she saw that Cedric looked slightly embarrassed.

"Harry fell off his broom, Dad," he said quietly. "I told you ... it was an accident...." his explanation lifted him several notches in Hermione's esteem as it was clear that he hadn't merely talked himself up to impress his father.

"Yes, but you didn't fall off, did you?" Amos roared jovially, slapping his son on his back with gusto and lashings of fatherly pride. "Always modest, our Ced, always the gentleman ... but the best man won, I'm sure Harry'd say the same, wouldn't you, eh? One falls off his broom, one stays on, you don't need to be a genius to tell which one's the better flier!" The expression on Cedric's face mirrored Harry's and it was very clear that both of them would have Apparated far away if, in Harry's case he had only known how and in Cedric's case if he had been allowed ....

Fortunately Mr Weasley interrupted at that point, telling them that it was time to leave. The nine of them stood around a mangy looking old boot, each touching the same boot in the semi-darkness, waiting.

"Three. . ." Mr Weasley muttered , one eye still on his watch, two. . . one. . ."

It happened immediately: Hermione felt a violently jerking sensation. Her feet left the ground; she could feel the others around her, their shoulders banging against hers and they were all speeding forward in a howl of wind and swirling colours. Her forefinger was stuck to the boot as though it was pulling her magnetically onward and then her feet slammed heavily into the ground. Someone staggered into her and she toppled over awkwardly, the Portkey hitting the ground near her head with a heavy thud.

Hermione looked up questioningly. Only Mr Weasley, Mr Diggory and Cedric were still standing after all that although they looked somewhat windswept. Everyone else was on the ground in various ungraceful-looking positions.

"Seven past five from Stoatshead Hill," said a voice.

Hermione lay on the ground, still slightly breathless from the force of her landing and Cedric stepped forward with a smile. He didn't even bother to tame his dishevelled hair but stretched out a hand.

"All right?" He asked her cheerfully.

"Yeah," she said, realising that her hair was even more wild than his. Her hair, already unmanageable at the best of times was now almost tangled after that adventure. His hand clasp was firm, cool and assured and he released her hand as soon as she was on her feet and had regained her balance again.

"Be great when we can apparate, yeah?" he asked her and she nodded. We. It was nice of him to put it that way. He could no doubt apparate already, it was simply that he hadn't passed his test yet. Hermione on the other hand hadn't even started learning yet but she appreciated the way he didn't try to patronise her.

The Weasleys and Diggorys had been allocated separate sleeping quarters so parted. Hermione had not seen Cedric again that night.

After that, the two had of course seen each other in the Great Hall, in the corridors of the school. When Dumbledore had made the announcement that the Hogwarts' champion for the Triwizard Tournament was to be Cedric Diggory, Ron had exclaimed "No!" in a rather loud voice but no one except Harry - and Hermione had heard.

The jubilation at the Hufflepuff table had been almost deafening. Every single Hufflepuff had jumped to his or her feet and was screaming and stamping with pride and happiness. It had been a long time since Hufflepuff had had a 'hero' like Cedric to inspire them. For far too long, Hufflepuff had been mocked by the other Houses.

The Gryffindor table was much quieter in its support with quiet and somewhat half-hearted applause. Hermione was smiling. As Cedric made his way past them, he was grinning broadly and his eye fell on Hermione who gave him a nod of encouragement.

Cedric grinned back before heading off towards the chamber behind the teachers' table. The applause for Cedric went on for so long that it was some time before Dumbledore could make himself heard again. After that, thoughts of Cedric were forgotten as the announcement of Harry as the fourth champion for the Tournament caused shock and fear to go through Hermione. Her priority at that point was to keep Harry safe, to make sure he wrote to Sirius to let him know of what had happened. Unlike Ron, she had known from the start that Harry couldn't possibly have been idiotic enough to enter into himself into the Tournament. Remarkably talented he might be, but he was still only a fourth year and there were spells and magics that were yet to be studied and mastered. There were very sound reasons why the age limit had been imposed.

Harry's selection had created unforeseen difficulties in inter-House relations. Hufflepuff students were usually on very good terms with Gryffindor students despite the fact that the Gryffindor students tended to look down a little on the Hufflepuffs. Since Harry's selection, they turned very cold toward the Gryffindor students. It was clear to all that the Hufflepuff students felt that Harry had behaved in an underhanded fashion by entering in contravention of the rules and drawing attention away from Cedric. To a certain extent, such feelings were quite understandable. Hufflepuff House very rarely received any glory. Cedric was a rarity and quite unusual in the fact that he had once beaten Gryffindor at Quidditch.

Hermione was to discover that Cedric at least wasn't going to take matters personally. One day Hermione was hurrying along the corridor. As usual, her arms full of books, her hair was dishevelled and falling into her eyes and her face was a little flustered. As she dropped a book, she muttered to herself in frustration as she tried to pick it up again without dropping her other books.

"Here let me help you with that," she heard a familiar voice saying.

"Thank you," Hermione said with relief, looking into Cedric's kind eyes as he leaned over to pick up the book and took some of the books from her arms. Here was one Hufflepuff who apparently didn't feel the need to treat a Gryffindor with disdain despite that stupid Tournament.

"No problem. Granger isn't it? I remember you - Quidditch World Cup". She nodded. "Didn't see you after that though. What a night that was," Cedric said with a grimace.

"You were helping your father?" Hermione asked him.

Cedric nodded. "Dad and I didn't sleep at all that night - we were helping Wizards and Muggles - it was a nightmare. It didn't help having that Dark Mark hanging over our heads. Not really my idea of a good time".

He walked with her towards her classroom carrying the majority of her books easily. He was much taller than she was, tall and straight and his robes suited him in a way that they suited very few of the other students.

"Isn't there an undeclared war between Hufflepuff and Gryffindor?" she asked him curiously and Cedric shook his head.

"Don't worry about it - they're just letting all the craziness of the Tournament go to their heads. They'll realise in the end that it doesn't matter. Inter-House relations can't be destroyed by something like this. Here you go, have fun in class," he told her with a grin before walking off to his own class.

Despite Cedric's words and conduct, Malfoy and his gang were positively delighting in their ability to stir up ill-feelings among the students. Hermione as Harry's friend had been particularly infuriated by the badges that Malfoy and his goons had created.

SUPPORT CEDRIC DIGGORY - THE REAL HOGWARTS CHAMPION!

Upon being pressed, the message upon it vanished, to be replaced by another one, which glowed green: POTTER STINKS!

In confronting and standing up for Harry, she had been subject to another one of Malfoy's offensive slights. Harry had leapt to her defence with the result that poor Hermione's front teeth had grown so long that she resembled a beaver.

Just another day at Hogwarts.

Hermione couldn't wait for the Tournament to be over so that life could return to normal again.

***

In the weeks that followed, Hermione and Harry spent a great deal of time poring over books during their lunchtimes, looking for anything which might help Harry in overcoming his first challenge. Not for the first time she wished that Harry and Ron hadn't had a row over the Tournament. Having Ron around would have helped to deflect some of the frustration and irritation that Harry was clearly feeling. Adding to Hermione's own exasperation was the fact that Viktor Krum had been spending a great deal of time in the library - along with hordes of giggling girls who turned up to spy on him from behind bookshelves.

"He's not even good-looking!" she muttered angrily, glaring ferociously at Krum. "They only like him because he's famous! They wouldn't look twice at him if he couldn't do that WonkyFaint thing -"

"Wronski Feint," Harry told her, through gritted teeth, clearly displeased with her ignorance. She glared back at him, not caring that she had got one of his precious Quidditch terms incorrect. These days she found she had little patience for competitive sports which brought out the worst in her male peers.

The bad state of affairs existing between Ron and Harry caused Hermione a great deal of trouble and heart-ache but there was absolutely nothing to be done about it. Both boys were as stubborn as they were stupid. When Hermione had originally discovered from Harry that his first challenge was to be dragons, the issue of Ron and Harry's cold war was put aside while she threw all of her efforts into trying to keep him alive. She thoroughly approved of his decision to tell Cedric about the nature of the challenge.

"That was fair of you Harry - I've read up on the history of the tournament - it's full of cheating and all sorts of of horrid and dastardly behaviour. It's very noble of you to be fair - especially given that all the other champions already know! Enough of that - the most important thing is that we need to concentrate on keeping you alive".

They walked three times around the lake trying to come up with a simple spell that could subdue an angry, fire-breathing dragon. When absolutely nothing occurred to them, they headed to the library in search of a possible solution. Harry grabbed every single book he could find on dragons and the two of them began to work their way through a pile which was not inconsiderable in size. Not unexpectedly, given the tension of the situation, combined with the pile of books that looked massive and didn't seem to diminish no matter how many books they read, the two of them began to squabble.

Hermione's irritation was then further exacerbated by the reappearance once more of Krum and his fan club of adoring girls. "Oh no, he's back again, why can't he read on his stupid ship?" Hermione demanded in irritation as Viktor Krum slouched in, looking over at them in a surly fashion as he sat down in a distant corner with a pile of books. The adoring girls appeared as predicted and Harry wondered if this was to be his doom until he was combusted by dragon fire during the first task.

Fortunately for Harry, their rather wild and random research was given more of a focus after a somewhat unsubtle suggestion by Professor Moody. Hermione and Harry then spent all of their spare time trying to teach Harry how to perform a summoning spell. As a devoted friend, Hermione gave up her lunch and helped Harry as he tried hard to make objects fly across the room towards him. They practised well past midnight until they were interrupted by Peeves. On the day before the task, Harry appeared to have finally mastered the Summoning Charm - much to the delight and relief of an exhausted Hermione who had begun to harbour doubts.

On the day of the challenge, Hermione had been almost beside herself with anxiety as she had watched. Cedric had Transfigured a rock on the ground into a dog to distract the dragon. He managed to get the egg but had been burnt in the process. To Hermione's delight and relief, Harry successfully used his summoning spell - although he also had not escaped unscathed and his shoulder had been injured.

Staring at Ron's shocked face, Hermione said with raised eyebrows: "Now do you get it?"

When Ron and Hermione entered the tent, Harry's shoulder was being treated Madam Pomfrey. A short distance away, Cedric was sitting up, apparently not seriously injured.

"Harry, you were brilliant!" Hermione said squeakily. There were fingernail marks on her face where she had been clutching it in fear. "You were amazing! You really were!"

Of further happiness to her was the fact that Ron and Harry finally made up albeit settling their differences in a very awkward, roundabout and 'boy' like fashion.

Hermione was unable to stop herself from bursting into tears of sheer relief. "You two are so stupid!" she shouted, stamping her foot on the ground, tears pouring down her cheeks. Before either of them could stop her or even say anything, she had given them both a hug and rushed away positively howling with emotion.

She would have barrelled outside the tent to continue her relieved sobbing but found her way blocked by a tall figure. As she had stared through her tears, she saw Cedric staring down at her in not inconsiderable concern. "Are you all right, Granger?" One side of his face was covered in a thick orange paste - presumably for his burn.

"Here," he said handing her a handkerchief. She looked at it warily. "It's clean," he told her with a grin. "Do I look like I'm the sort of person to give you a snotty hanky?"

She mopped her eyes with it and moved away from the range of vision of Ron and Harry who were deep in conversation. "Fine .... just relieved that ..... they've sorted out their differences".

Cedric looked at her steadily for a moment. "You're a good friend - loyal".

"I'm just glad Ron believes Harry didn't enter his name for the Tournament now".

"I believe him, too now," Cedric said with a rueful smile, indicating the orange paste on his face. Hermione felt guilty.

"I'm sorry - how are you feeling?"

Cedric grinned as if aware of the fact that he was just an afterthought. "I can't feel a thing - I think Madam Pomfrey must have put a Numbing Charm on it but now my whole mouth and jaw are numb."

"Just like you feel after a visit to the dentist," Hermione told him. At Cedric's look of confusion, Hermione said. "Never mind". He looked very curious but she merely shook her head, feeling much better and calmer now.

"Congratulations on passing," she told him. "Hope you feel better soon.... I'll give this back after I wash it," she told him, holding up his handkerchief and ran out of the tent without another word, her hair streaming behind her.

***

After the first challenge, both Harry and Krum were tied for first place. Ron appeared to be filled with confidence for Harry's prospects and Harry himself was particularly relaxed about the opening of the golden egg.

"Come on, Hermione, I've got till February the twenty-fourth," Harry said. Although he was unfussed given that he still had another two and a half months to go before he had to solve the clue, Hermione was outraged. It was exactly the same attitude the two of them always had towards exams and then without fail there would be a mad, panicked scramble towards the end which inevitably resulted in: "Hermione .......?"

Her outrage only increased at receiving Ron's appallingly tactless and thoughtless invitation to the Yule Ball. Although his words had bruised her heart, fortunately Victor Krum of all people had already asked her to attend the dance with him. She had been shocked beyond belief but the Durmstrang student had confessed shyly that he had been going to the library every day to try and talk to her but that he hadn't been able to pluck up the courage. He wasn't Ron but he was very kind and attentive and it was very flattering to have Viktor Krum display interest in her.

***

On the night of the ball, Cedric smiled down at Cho who returned his smile. She had never looked more beautiful. He knew that Harry Potter couldn't take off his eyes off the girl at his side - something Cho had also clearly noticed.

Cedric glanced around and noticed the girl standing next to Krum. A smile curved his mouth and warmth crept into his eyes.

It was Hermione Granger.

Her hair was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny. She had twisted it up into an elegant knot at the back of her head. Her robes were made of a floating, blue fabric. Her manner was slightly different, a little more confident, elegant and sleek. She was smiling and Cedric noted something different about her smile although he couldn't quite figure out exactly what it was. Granger had always had a wide, whole-hearted and enthusiastic smile but something was even more brilliant about it tonight.

Unlike other people, he had recognised her immediately. She looked lovely but to be honest, Granger had always been very lovely to him in her own way - just so very young and innocent.

Now, looking at her with her elegant gown and her sleek, sophisticated hairstyle, he realised that the child had grown up and fast.

Once everyone was settled in the Hall, Professor McGonagall advised the champions and their partners that they were to follow her. As they did so, everyone in the Great Hall applauded as they entered and started walking up toward a large round table at the top of the Hall, where the judges were sitting.

Hermione noticed to her amusement that Harry was stuck sitting next to Percy who had been invited for some reason. She wondered whether Harry would resist the urge to call Percy "Weatherby". Judging by the expression on Harry's face, he was not pleased at the thought of being seated beside Percy. She couldn't blame him. She still found it hard to believe that such a pompous and self-important man was a Weasley.

Hermione did not lack for conversation for Victor Krum had proved to be an extremely animated and a surprisingly entertaining companion.

"Veil, ve have a castle also, not as big as this, nor as comfortable, I am thinking. Ve have just four floors, and the fires are lit only for magical purposes. But ve have grounds larger even than these - though in vinter, ve have very little daylight, so ve are not enjoying them. But in summer ve are flying every day, over the lakes and the mountains -"

Hermione noticed with interest that Karkaroff interrupted his pupil, not wanting him to tell the 'enemy' too much information. She listened to the slightly biting exchange between Dumbledore and Karkaroff.

After that, the more important issue was the fact that Victor simply could not say her name. He kept calling her "Hermy-own."

"Her-my-oh-nee," she enunciated slowly and clearly.

"Herm-own-ninny," he mimicked, laughing slightly when he still didn't quite get it right.

Cedric watched on, smiling slightly. Granger didn't realise that Ron Weasley had been glaring at her all evening, his own date abandoned and disgruntled.

"You know - you haven't been able to take your eyes off Hermione Granger all night," Cho said softly and Cedric looked down at his lovely date. Her gentle Scottish accent was always soothing, even now when it contained a faint hint of accusation.

Her dark eyes were staring into his, slightly troubled but still gentle and affectionate.

"I notice Harry Potter hasn't been able to take his eyes off you either, Cho," Cedric said and Cho flushed slightly. She had noticed, had been fully aware of the young man's gaze.

"Did he ask you to the ball?" Cedric asked her.

"Yes," Cho replied. She'd never been able to lie to Cedric.

"And?"

"I said you'd already asked me," Cho told him.

He raised Cho's hand to his lips, smiling whimsically and she shook her head, sighing softly. "I do love you I think, Cedric ..."

"But we're not in love with each other are we ......?" He questioned and she laughed and shrugged helplessly.

"My heart used to beat madly whenever you were near," she told him.

"Let's not break up yet," he said, his turn to shake his head. "Not now, not when the music's playing, you look so lovely and ..."

"I'm not breaking up with you," she said putting her fingers on his lips and he took her back into his arms and they danced. He couldn't help noticing that Hermione was dancing with Krum again. Ron Weasley and Harry Potter were sitting just glaring. Ron was watching Granger, Harry was watching the girl in his arms.

Hermione herself was oblivious to all the goings on around her. When she went over to sit with Ron and Harry, although Harry greeted her, Ron didn't say a word. When she mentioned Viktor, Ron had been beyond offensive, accusing her of all number of unpardonable things. In the end she had stormed off tearfully. She returned a little later, composed again to continue dancing with Viktor while Harry and Ron had sat down at a table far removed from the dance floor discussing giants and other topics that had nothing to do with the dance.

At midnight when the ball ended, there was a loud round of applause and people headed towards the entrance hall. Out in the entrance hall, Hermione was saying good night to Viktor before he went back to the Durmstrang ship. When she saw Harry and Ron, she gave Ron a very cold look which rivalled the snow outside and swept past them up the marble staircase without speaking.

Harry and Ron followed her, but halfway up the staircase, Cedric called out Harry's name, aware that Cho was waiting in the entrance hall below, aware that Harry's eyes flicked over to Cho before they returned to his face.

"Yeah?" Harry asked coldly as Cedric ran up the stairs toward him.

Cedric hesitated slightly, not wanting to speak before Ron Weasley and Ron, shrugged, looked bad-tempered, and continued to climb the stairs.

"Listen ..." Cedric said lowering his voice as Ron disappeared. "I owe you one for telling me about the dragons. You know that golden egg? Does yours wail when you open it?"

"Yeah".

"Well... take a bath, okay?" Cedric said, realising that he sounded like a complete and utter nutter.

"What?"

"Take a bath, and - er - take the egg with you, and - er - just mull things over in the hot water. It'll help you think. . . . Trust me."

Cedric couldn't help smiling when he saw Harry staring at him.

"Tell you what," Cedric said, "use the prefects' bathroom. Fourth door to the left of that statue of Boris the Bewildered on the fifth floor. Password's 'pine fresh.' Gotta go ... want to say good night -"

He grinned at Harry again and hurried back down the stairs to Cho.

"That was good of you," Cho said quietly as he walked her back to the Ravenclaw dormitory.

"It seemed the right thing to do," Cedric said, looking self-conscious.

"Good night, Cedric," she told him with a faint smile.

"Night.... thanks for coming".

"You're welcome," she told him and kissed him lightly on the cheek. He wondered why he didn't feel more than he did. He ran lightly down the stairs, wanting to get some fresh air to clear his head when he saw a figure in blue walking back down the stairs on her own and out the main door.

His brows drew together and he wondered if he had found the answer to his own question.

"Granger - all students were supposed to head straight back to their dormitory after the Ball. No wandering about late at night .... you of all people know the rules ...," he called out - quietly so as not to alert anyone She was standing outside in the cold winter night in nothing more than her light robes and she didn't seem to notice that she was shivering uncontrollably.

"Accio coat," Cedric said softly and Hermione glanced up to find that Cedric was placing a thick, heavy coat around her shoulders and that she was being drawn back inside.

"No, I'm not ready to go back inside yet," she told him protestingly, pulling back from him.

"Your lips are turning blue," he told her reprovingly, shivering slightly.

"So are yours," she told him with a faint smile. "Accio my coat," she said, summoning her own coat and giving him back his which he pulled around himself with a sigh of relief. "Thanks," she told him.

"Are you some kind of nutter coming out here in the cold in your dress robes?" he asked her, reaching down to fasten up the buttons of her coat and pull the hood over her hair, not caring that he was tousling her elegant hairstyle. What touched him was that she didn't appear to give a toss either, merely stared up at him wide-eyed and thoughtful.

"Nice mastery of the Summoning Charm. Did you teach Potter or vice versa?"

"We both learnt at the same time," she said distantly.

"What's on your mind, Granger?" he asked her.

She didn't reply.

"I take it you didn't have the best time tonight? Krum's an all right guy though, I would have thought that ...."

"It wasn't his fault," Hermione said softly. A bitter look crossed her face. "Do you know what Ron said to me tonight? He emphasised the fact that Victor's from Durmstrang! He told me that he's competing against Harry and Hogwarts. He accused me of fraternising with the enemy....."

Cedric laughed. "You're upset about a daft thing like that? Come on, Granger."

Hermione looked mutinous. "He's a bloody idiot. Honestly - he was the one who was all excited he saw Viktor arrive, he's the one who wanted Viktor's autograph, he's the one with a model of him up in his dormitory!"

"Don't let yourself get so angry about a little thing like that."

"It's not just that," Hermione said, looking away, hands clenched into fists. "He said Viktor's just trying to get close to me to get close to Harry - to get inside information on him - or get near enough to jinx him. That's right, a nice guy that other girls like would only ever be interested in someone like me to get information. To get close to Harry Potter. That's right, he couldn't possibly be interested in a nothing like me!" Hermione's voice trembled. The raw hurt in her voice made Cedric flinch.

"Granger ..."

"Viktor hasn't asked me one single thing about Harry, not one -" she told him, tears of fury and hurt in her eyes

"You don't have to tell me that," he told her gently.

"Ron says he's hoping I'll help him find out what his egg means! Harry himself said he didn't have a problem with me coming to the dance with Viktor and if ...."

"Granger!" Cedric said firmly, gripping Hermione's shoulders and giving her a very gentle shake. His action made Hermione stare up at him in shock. "Weasley doesn't mean any of that. He's jealous .... he's saying that idiotic stuff because he's jealous ...."

"Jealous? If he's so jealous why didn't he ask me himself instead of ......."

"Because sometimes people are fools," Cedric said, his jaw tightening as he dropped his hands away from her slim shoulders and looked away, staring at the snowflakes falling onto the ground. She was staring at him, her eyes very dark and hard to read. "Sometimes it takes people a long time to figure out how they feel about things and in the meanwhile, they bumble around like bloody great idiots ....I ...." he cut himself off abruptly. "Look, Granger - you'd better get back inside, it's cold, I don't want to have to put on my prefect's hat and put you on detention for wandering around at this hour. Besides, we wouldn't want Weasley saying that you're fraternising with the enemy now, would we?"

That made Hermione laugh and she smiled up at him, a faintly arrested expression in her dark brown eyes.

"Thanks Cedric."

"For not giving you a detention? Get a move on if you don't want me to change my mind," he told her.

She laughed again, the sound making his heart ache and she ran to the archway and turned. "Good night."

"Good night." He watched her run lightly up the stairs and he cursed himself for not having the courage to say anything. The Sorting Hat had the right of it when it hadn't put him in Gryffindor. With a sigh he shoved his hands into his pockets and returned to his own dormitory.

***

"Oh don't be such an idiot, Harry. Use the information Cedric gave you," Hermione told Harry as he said he didn't need that sort of rubbishy help from Cedric. He cast a dark look at Cedric who was walking down the corridor hand in hand with Cho. Neither looked particularly enraptured and Cho noticed Cedric glancing over at Hermione standing by Harry's side even if Hermione herself didn't notice.

In the end, to Hermione's intense relief, Harry had finally solved the mystery of the egg. When Bagman had tried to offer 'help' to Harry and Harry had turned it down, asking if Bagman had offered similar help to Cedric, Hermione realised that Cedric had been right when he had said that Ron would have accused her of fraternising with the enemy by talking to Cedric.

"Well, I don't think Dumbledore would like it if he knew Bagman was trying to persuade you to cheat!" Hermione had announced, looking deeply disapproving. "I hope he's trying to help Cedric as much!"

"He's not, I asked," said Harry.

"Who cares if Diggory's getting help?" Ron had demanded, looking irritable and Hermione had kept her thoughts to herself. Maybe Cedric has the right of it, maybe Ron was jealous ..... While such a thought would have caused her great joy in times gone by, for some reason all she could think about was the expression in Cedric's eyes as he had pulled her coat around her, as he had buttoned up her coat as if she was a little child. For some reason, she could still visualise the smile on his face, the smile that persisted even though he was shivering in the snow, his firm mouth curved as he looked down into her face.

She ruthlessly banished thoughts of Cedric Diggory from her thoughts. Barking mad, she was barking mad to still be reminiscing about Cedric's eyes and his smile. Was the next step to trail around him like one of his brainless fans, asking for his autograph?

After the second challenge in February, both Harry and Cedric were tied for first place, something which filled Hermione with delight. To be honest, Hermione knew that she should have shown more sympathy for Viktor but all of her concern and attention these days were focussed on the two champions from Hogwarts. One was a dear friend and the other was ..... well she wasn't quite sure what he was ......

Mad. Barking mad she was.

Fortunately the next challenge wasn't to be until the twenty-fourth of June and Bagman informed them that the champions were to be notified of what was to come precisely one month beforehand. All of the champions felt relief at the announcement. They had a few months in which to relax, in which to forget that they were engaged in a dangerous Tournament in which one mistake could mean death.

Several days after the second challenge, Cedric sensed Cho's preoccupation.

"What's wrong?" Cedric asked as the two of them walked across the courtyard together. Their hands were linked but these days it felt as though it was the only part of them that was connected. Their thoughts had drifted far away from one another.

"I wonder if I was the right person at the bottom of the lake," Cho said finally.

"Cho ..."

"Cedric, I know. Things are different .... you think I don't know my dear friend's heart has changed?" She asked him, touching his cheek lightly. She put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. He hugged her back, knowing that Cho as always going to be one of his dearest friends but she was right, somewhere along the way, their relationship had changed and there was nothing he could do about it.

***

Cedric sat in the library as the sun set outside. There was a pile of books in front of him but he didn’t look through any of them. His friends had been curious when he had announced his intention to spend his next few months concentrating on his studies. They were even more perplexed about his sudden fascination with the library.

He had his reasons. Well. Reason.

His reason walked in at that moment, a pile of books in her arms and placed them on the table in front of her. She saw him and nodded at him politely. It wasn't uncommon to see Cedric Diggory in the library. He was after all a hard-working student with excellent grades. Like Krum he frequently had a crowd of adoring fans trailing around after him but unlike Krum he appeared to have mastered the trick of losing them somewhere along the way before he got to the library.

Hermione found that she was reading the same line of her an Annotated History of the Goblin Wars over and over and over again without any real comprehension. Glancing up, she saw that Cedric Diggory was looking up from his book and watching her. She didn't say a word but looked down and tried to concentrate again. Her gaze lifted again and she saw that Cedric was reading intently but when he felt her gaze on him, he stopped and was staring at her. Again. Both hastily continued reading.

By eight o'clock. Madam Pince extinguished all the lamps and came to shoo them both out of the library.

The second day was much the same. Hermione took the opportunity to study him without his knowledge. Cedric Diggory was extremely good-looking with his straight nose, dark hair, and gray eyes. More importantly to Hermione, he had demonstrated that he was also smart, kind and fair. He had been reading intently and making notes, clearly much better at concentrating than she was. Nonetheless, the intensity of her stare made him look up and he met her gaze squarely.

Brilliant grey eyes met dark brown eyes. Hermione counted four heartbeats before she found herself flushing slightly and breaking contact first, staring down at her book. She picked up her quill and tried yet again to continue.

Cedric loved watching the way her hair started out all neat and tidy at the beginning of a study session, but several hours later, as if along with her levels of concentration, it would get somewhat wild and dishevelled, sometimes almost defying gravity with its wildness. It gave her an endearingly tousled look, that cloud of thick brown hair around her small sensitive face.

He glanced down at his potions text, trying to will himself to be interested in the words. Sure enough, his gaze flickered up again and she was looking back at him, this time staring at him with a shy wariness that was rather encouraging. He sat some distance from her but his seat gave them both a clear view of the other. Hermione liked the way he ran his strong, slender hand through his hair every now and then, rumpling his dark hair. It made him look more approachable.

At 8 pm, Madam Pince came to throw them out of the library again. Both gathered up their books, glancing up shyly at the other but not saying a word.

"Get a lot of study done?" Cedric asked finally.

"Quite a bit," Hermione lied. "You?"

"Not bad," Cedric said, also lying.

"Well ..uh g'night," he said smiling at her.

"You, too," she said walking in the opposite direction, arms full of books. She couldn't help glancing over her shoulder and saw that he was glancing back at her, too.

"Need a hand?" he asked hopefully.

"No I'm fine thank you," she said politely although part of her kept hoping he'd insist anyway.

"Well ... bye then," he said and continued to walk, as did she.

Another glance over the shoulder and they were looking at each other again.

"I'll see you tomorrow!" he called out boldly and Hermione flushed happily.

That night, a certain tall, dark-haired grey-eyed Hufflepuff prefect lay in his bed smiling up into the darkness. His heart felt light and happy, certainly more carefree and positive than he had felt since the start of the Tournament. He couldn't help conjuring up an image of Hermione before his eyes and he smiled as he drifted into sleep.

That night, a certain tousle-haired, brown eyed girl from Gryffindor sat at her window staring out into the darkness at the star-filled sky. She hugged her little secret to herself. Maybe it was nothing but there was nothing so wonderful in the world as liking a boy and finding to your shock that he appeared to like you back ..... When she lay in bed, she pulled her covers up to cover her chin and gave a small shiver of happiness.

On the third day when she arrived, he was already sitting in his customary seat at the end of the table.

"Granger," he said politely, glancing up when she arrived.

"Cedric," she replied, pulling her books out of her satchel. Half an hour later it was happening again, both not able to read a word but sneaking sly, smiling glances at one another. Finally Hermione could restrain herself no longer.

"Why are you extra studious all of a sudden?"

"I just felt I should improve my mind," he told her teasingly, his grey eyes alight with laughter. "I've certainly heard your friends the Weasleys calling me an idiot - they didn't know I heard," he said with a wry smile.

Hermione stared at him. "You're not an idiot. They just say that because you beat Gryffindor at Quidditch. You're a really good student - top of your year and you're a prefect!"

Cedric laughed. "You think I don't know what everyone thinks of Hufflepuff. They think we're stupid. Idiots. Besides Granger, you should know that there's so much more to being smart than school work. Look at Percy Weasley," he said with a grin.

His words reminded her of something she had herself said once to Harry when he had claimed that he wasn't as good a wizard as she was. About herself, she had said: "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things -- friendship and bravery and . . ." She meant it then and she still meant it but there was much more to Cedric than met the eye.

"Percy? Yes, I've never seen anyone get quite so excited about writing a report for the Department of International Magical Cooperation". Hermione said with feeling.

"Was that the whole thing about trying to standardise cauldron thickness?" Cedric asked her with a pained look on his face. "I got trapped next to him at the Yule Ball and most people would ask you how you've been, what's been happening but not Percy. All he could talk about was the dangerous thinness of foreign imports and the leakage rate". An appalled expression crossed Cedric's face as he remembered being cornered by Weasley that night.

"Well you know," Hermione said,"unless some sort of international law is imposed we might well find the market flooded with flimsy, shallow-bottomed products that seriously endanger the safety of the wizarding world," Hermione said ironically and Cedric laughed and stared at her again, his gentle smile becoming a different kind of smile.

"You're a funny girl, Granger."

"Yeah funny odd, don't get me started," she said morosely.

Because they were sitting so far away from one another, their voices carried and Madam Pince came to shush them. Cedric used this as the opportunity to pick up his books and come and sit across from Hermione at her table so that they could speak with less difficulty.

"Want a sweet?" he offered her a toffee and she looked at it warily.

"You wouldn't by any chance have bought this from a Weasley, would you?" she asked him severely and he laughed.

"Do I look mad to you?"

Cedric was fully aware that the entrepreneurial Weasley twins had invented fake wands and trick sweets and were planning to unleash them on hordes of unwary Hogwarts students. Hermione herself had been present as a furious Mrs Weasley had pointed her wand at the twins exclaiming 'Accio!' to retrieve numerous Tonne-Tongue Toffees - brightly coloured objects guaranteed to cause the eater's tongue to swell up to mammoth proportions.

"But you're.... you're a prefect," Hermione gasped. "You should be outraged!"

Cedric laughed. "Yeah I know. I confiscate the stuff when I see it but honestly those two are a hoot. Come on Granger, you have to admit that. It's even more hilarious to think that they're related to that stick in the mud Percy."

"I don't find anything the slightest bit amusing about benefiting off the misery of others! Poor Neville was turned into a huge canary after eating a custard cream that Fred and George had hexed with the Canary Hex!" Hermione said hotly.

"Right. I heard that you prepared a passionate defense for that hippogriff last year that was sentenced to be executed .... and you're the girl they say knits socks for House Elves, leaving them lying around in the hope that you can liberate them ..." he said with a disconcertingly tender smile on his mouth. "Is compassion one of the traits of Gryffindor House?"

"Elf enslavement goes back centuries. I can't believe no one's done anything about it before now," Hermione said angrily.

"Look I'll buy one of your badges if you like but I'm not going to hold office - I've got more than enough on my plate right now," he teased her. She glared at him. "Also, if I buy it, I don't have to wear it do I?" he asked her and laughed when he could almost see the steam coming out of her ears. "You are far too easy to provoke, Granger".

"And as a prefect you should know better than to provoke other students!" she said irritably.

"And you know exactly what I should and should not be doing I see," he said looking amused rather than annoyed at being told how he should behave by a fourth year.

Hermione cooled down and allowed herself a tiny grin. "I'm actually much better than I was you know ...." she said, laughing at herself. "In my first year .... I was .... a little bit of a bossy know-it-all who told everyone else off for not doing everything according to the rules, but now ....".

"But now you've mellowed?" Cedric asked her sceptically, still not done teasing her. "Now you're a rebel?"

"I will never lose my disapproval of rule-breaking," she told him firmly and then laughed despite herself at the amusement in his eyes.

She glanced at the pile of books he had but noticed that there was a magazine stuffed among them.

"What are you reading?" Hermione asked curiously. Her heart sank and her brows drew together in a frown as she saw that it was a copy of Witch Weekly.

Witch Weekly.
Harry Potter's Secret Heartache

A boy like no other, perhaps - yet a boy suffering all the usual pangs of adolescence, writes Rita Skeeter. Deprived of love since the tragic demise of his parents, fourteen-year-old Harry Potter thought he had found solace in his steady girlfriend at Hogwarts, Muggle-born Hermione Granger. Little did he know that he would shortly be suffering yet another emotional blow in a life already littered with personal loss.

Miss Granger, a plain but ambitious girl, seems to have a taste for famous wizards that Harry alone cannot satisfy. Since the arrival at Hogwarts of Viktor Krum, Bulgarian Seeker and hero of the last World Quidditch Cup, Miss Granger has been toying with both boys' affections. Krum, who is openly smitten with the devious Miss Granger, has already invited her to visit him in Bulgaria over the summer holidays, and insists that he has "never felt this way about any other girl."

However, it might not be Miss Granger's doubtful natural charms that have captured these unfortunate boys' interest.

"She's really ugly," says Pansy Parkinson, a pretty and vivacious fourth-year student, "but she'd be well up to making a Love Potion, she's quite brainy. I think that's how she's doing it."

Love Potions are, of course, banned at Hogwarts, and no doubt Albus Dumbledore will want to investigate these claims. In the meantime, Harry Potters well-wishers must hope that, next time, he bestows his heart on a worthier candidate.


"It's all lies," Hermione said flatly, trying not to let her anger and hurt show.

"I heard you're not very good at potions anyway," Cedric said with a hint of a laugh in his voice.

"That's because it's Snape! I'm top of my class in most of my subjects!" she protested.

Cedric laughed. "Yes, I know you've a brilliant mind, Granger. You've memorised many, many spells and can reason your way through difficult situations that stump everyone else. I know you excel at most subjects and I've heard that you often help Neville Longbottom through his classes - most teachers consider you a star pupil"

Hermione looked slightly mollified at his implied praise.

"But Snape thinks you're a show off," Cedric couldn't help adding which made her laugh.

He looked at her. "Surely you're not letting this rubbish get to you?" he asked her, indicating Witch Weekly.

Hermione scowled. "It's just my luck - it's windier than I've ever seen it, there have been delays in the post because owls keep getting blown off course but somehow, Witch Weekly manages to get through on time and cause me a world of trouble".

"Chin up Granger," he told her reassuringly and she gave him a dark look before continuing her studies.

***

She soon grew accustomed to seeing him in the library in the afternoons. She would generally pal around with Ron and Harry earlier in the day but head to the library in the afternoons. Ron and Harry never joined her.

"I've spent more time in the library going through books for the first two challenges than I've spent outside," Harry said with feeling. "Let me enjoy some freedom while I can!"

Oddly enough, Cedric didn't appear to have the same aversion towards the library. "Well I can hardly just ditch my studies because of the Tournament," he told her. "I've still got NEWTs ahead of me after all. The world doesn't end because of this Tournament ..." he told her when she once again mentioned that he seemed awfully conscientious.

She looked at the book he was reading. A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration Spells and Charms. A wistful expression crossed her face.

"It's got to beat Bubotubers," Hermione said mournfully.

Cedric laughed. "Ah, Professor Sprout's had you collecting pus by squeezing bubotubers?"

"Disgusting," Hermione said with feeling. "Although to be preferred to the fact that Hagrid wants us to raise Blast-Ended Skrewts".

"What else are you studying?" He asked, looking genuinely interested.

"Well ... Professor Binns for History of Magic is making us write weekly essays on the goblin rebellions of the eighteenth century".

Cedric groaned. "Guaranteed to put you to sleep". Hermione nodded balefully.

"Professor Snape is making us research antidotes. He keeps hinting that he might poison one of us to see if the antidote works".

"Believe it," Cedric told her with feeling. "He did it to our class and I was the lucky sod who got to be the guineapig".

"Did your antidote work?" Hermione asked him.

"Yeah but I was hiccoughing green bubbles for a week".

Hermione choked back a laugh.

"I'm so glad I'm out of fourth year," Cedric said with feeling. "I heard you ditched Divination. I would have, too but every year Trelawny predicted my sudden and gruesome death so I thought it best to stick around just in case."

"She's just an old fraud." Hermione said scornfully.

"So are you liking Defence Against the Dark Arts?" Cedric asked her.

"Constant Vigilance!" they both whispered intensely at one another and then dissolved into uncontrollable giggles. When Madam Pince hurried past to see who was causing the disturbance she found the two of them deeply engrossed in their reading, Cedric with A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration Spells and Charms and Hermione with The Standard Book of Spells.

When Madam Pince had passed by after giving them a suspicious look, Cedric whispered,"I hear that Professor Moody demonstrated the Unforgivable Curses in one of your classes,"

"Yes it was vile. Avada Kedavra, Imperius, and Cruciatus," Hermione said in outrage, almost quivering with disapproval.

Fortunately Cedric seemed to have a sixth sense for whenever Madam Pince did one of her patrols so the two of them were able to talk to one another and then feign deep interest in their textbooks as required.

Once their nervousness had worn off, they were actually able to get a great deal of study done. Hermione found it refreshing and oddly exciting to have someone of whom she could ask questions and who didn't laugh at her for being so conscientious. She could see that Cedric was on his way to becoming a powerful wizard. Although he was as conscientious in his own way as she was, he was far more relaxed and certainly not as competitive as she was, taking a more humorous approach to his studies.

She was also struck by the fact that he had no hesitation about seeking her opinion on things when he was puzzled about things. "I'm only a fourth year ..." she would protest.

"You've read far more additional materials than most of my classmates," he told her with amusement. "Good to have someone to bounce ideas off".

The study sessions were productive but also entertaining as the sly glances and shy smiles still continued. Cedric also had a playful streak and liked to turn her school things into various objects.

"Cedric, I need my quill back".

"You don't think the flower's pretty?" he asked her.

"Yes but I can't write with it," she told she told him waving the rose around at him.

"You're so ungrateful," he told her, changing it back into a quill.

"Oh you mean I should be chasing you around asking you for your autograph?"

Cedric glanced around, looking hunted. "Please no, one of the second years has started making badges that have my face on them".

"The one that talks and says "I'm the best?"

Cedric nodded, looking as though he wanted to die of embrrassment and Hermione laughed. "I meant to ask you - how on earth do you manage to shake of your hordes of adoring fans when you come to the library?"

"I have a variety of methods and all involve the use of different aspects of my education. Transfiguration in particular has been very useful. I have also become adept at wall-climbing". His expression was very sour and he glared when Hermione looked amused.

****

The consequences of the article in Witch Weekly were swift to haunt to Hermione. Letters like: "YOU ARE A WICKED GIRL. HARRY POTTER DESERVES BETTER. GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM MUGGLE" and "Harry Potter can do much better than the likes of you. . . .' 'You deserve to be boiled in frog spawn. . . ." poured in.

The worst of all was when she opened a letter and yellowish-green liquid smelling strongly of petrol gushed over her hands, which began to erupt in large yellow boils.

"Undiluted bubotuber pus!" Ron exclaimed when he picked up the envelope and sniffed it gingerly.

"Ow!" Hermione exclaimed, tears stinging her eyes as she tried to rub the pus off her hands with a napkin. Unfortunately her fingers were now so thickly covered in painful sores that it looked as though she were wearing a pair of thick, knobbly gloves. She immediately dashed up to the hospital wing to have her hands tended to by a sympathetic Madam Pomfrey.

A few charms and ointments later, a frustrated Hermione lay in a bed in the hospital wing scowling at the air. Passing the time by watching the yellow boils decrease in size was not the most entertaining of things to do. Suddenly she heard Madam Pomfrey speaking.

"Miss Granger has already said that she doesn't want any guests, Mr Diggory. I'm sorry, I can't let you in," Hermione heard Madam Pomfrey say severely. She heard the deeper sound of Cedric's voice but couldn't hear what he said.

"No, don't come in!" Hermione said sharply as she lay in bed with the curtains drawn around her.

"Oh come on Granger .... we've all been in here more times than we can count. I've had toadstools growing out of my face after a duelling session went badly," Cedric said with a sympathetic laugh in his voice.

Hermione sighed. "Please go away," she told him. When he didn't move she asked.

"How on earth did you manage to persuade Madam Pomfrey to let you through in the first place?" Hermione asked curiously.

"I gave her a look of pained anguish which in my experience has always been 100% effective. If you'll let me through these curtains, I'll show you. It doesn't work through curtains unfortunately".

"I'm fine," she told him.

"I'm sure you are. Be a sport and let me through, Granger? It's getting heavy?"

"What's getting heavy?" she asked curiously and he took that as an invitation to enter and proceeded to part the curtains and step through.

"No!" she protested furiously but it was too late, he was already inside, drawing the curtains closed and setting down a fairly large basket of sweets on the table next to her bed.

"I ducked out to Honeydukes after class. I wasn't sure what you wanted so got you a bit of everything," he said sorting through Chocoballs, Fizzing Whizbees, acid pops, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Licorice Wands , Pepper Imps, exploding bon-bons, Ice Mice, Peppermint Toads, sugar quills.

She stared at him in shock. He wasn't finished.

"And well, these are Muggle sweets but Dumbledore seems to like them so I bought you some as well," he said, drawing out a bag of Sherbet Lemons and placing them on the table by her bed.

"You do know my parents are dentists, don't you?" Hermione asked him, smiling despite herself. This time, Cedric didn't ask her what a dentist was. Instead he just grinned mischievously.

"Bugger! I knew I forgot something," he said as he put a box of Toothflossing Stringmints down on the table. Hermione stared down at the Stringmints and then stared back up at him in disbelief.

"How did you know I was here?" she asked him when she recovered the power of speech. His hair was tousled as if he had been running and his skin was faintly flushed. The concern in his brilliant grey eyes as he studied her face and her hands made her feel very self-conscious and .... strange.

He drew up a chair and sat beside her bed and looked down at her in concern. "You didn't show up to the library today, I asked around. They said that you didn't turn up for Herbology or Care of Magical Creatures class. Then I heard what happened". His eyes darkened in anger.

He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

"'I read In Witch Weekly about how you are playing Harry Potter false and that boy has had enough hardship and I will be sending you a curse by next post as soon as I can find a big enough envelope.' Granger - you have got to be careful when opening your mail, this is serious".

Hermione sighed but said nothing. She flinched when he picked up her hands to examine them. She tried to pull them away.

"Hush," Cedric said, examining the boils which had shrunk in size but were still incredibly painful not to mention extremely hideous in appearance. There was no revulsion in Cedric's eyes, just concern.

"Madam Pomfrey says my hands will be back to normal in a few hours," Hermione told him. Cedric nodded, his grey eyes darkening with emotion but he said nothing. A muscle in his jaw moved and he looked as though he wanted to say something else. Instead he simply exhaled sharply and then reached into his bag and pulled out some books.

"Here, I brought some of your most favourite textbooks". He gestured with his wand but whatever the incantation was he used, it was unspoken and suddenly the book levitated in front of Hermione and began to automatically turn its own pages. "You'll have to tell it how quickly or slowly you want the pages to turn," he told her.

He looked a bit hesitant and then took Hermione's hands in his very gently.

"Do you trust me, Granger?" he asked her.

"Trust you?" she asked him in confusion.

"Yeah, trust me...."

His eyes were looking straight into hers and she could see herself reflected in his eyes, see his pupils dilating, see the thick fringe of his dark lashes, see the firmness of his mouth that for once wasn't curved into a smile. Today it was tight with concern and worry. She wanted to tell him not to worry.

She nodded. "Of course I trust you".

He lowered his wand and breathed a soft charm over Hermione's hands and she felt the pain drain away. He touched the skin gently and she stared at him, slightly aghast.

"Don't Cedric ... it's horrible ..." she said looking at her skin.

"Remember - I had toadstools on my face," he told her with a crooked grin.

"I'm sure the girls were still all swooning", she said sarcastically.

"In horror," he told her and leaned over and dropped a soft kiss on her forehead. "Get better soon - and be careful next time you open the mail. It could have been worse".

She stared at him in stupefication. "You'd better get back to your reading or you'll lose the reputation for being the biggest swot in fourth year," he told her teasingly.

"Cedric .. I ...."

He placed a fingertip to her lips, silencing her, then to her complete and utter shock, he leaned over and brushed his mouth against hers gently. He drew back reluctantly.

"I have to go but I expect to see you back in the library tomorrow - no more slacking off. A real swot wouldn't let a bit of bubotuber pus put her off her studies".

The curtains twitched and he was gone, Hermione staring after him blankly, her face was flushed with heat and emotion even though her hands were now cool and without pain.

Her Arithmancy textbook gave a little shake as if to protest her inattention and so she immediately turned her attention back to it. "Back to the beginning please", she instructed.

As the days passed, Hermione still spent time with Harry and Ron during the day but her time in the library with Cedric in the afternoon was hers alone.

"What's wrong with you?" Cedric asked once when Hermione came limping into the library.

"Professor Moody gave us a hex-deflection test today. We're all a bit injured. Harry's got a pretty bad case of Twitchy Ears, I escaped lightly all things considered," and Cedric grimaced and would have helped her sit down but she waved him away.

"He's a strange one," Cedric said, referring to Moody. "I hear you were there when Moody turned Draco Malfoy into an amazing bouncing ferret," Cedric said with a grin.

"He could have really hurt Malfoy, though. It was good, really, that Professor McGonagall stopped it ..." Hermione began but at the amused expression in Cedric's eyes she said.

"It was fabulous - one of the best moments of my life," she confessed and Cedric laughed.

"Malfoy really is a little git - I've had to haul him up over and over for harassing Muggle-Born students".

"Yeah he's not big on us Mudbloods," Hermione said and Cedric flinched at the ugliness of the word.

He shook his head. "Don't take Malfoy's ugly words and apply them to yourself, Granger. It's bad enough that he uses them".

"Muggleborn, Mudblood - I don't care anymore. His words have no power over me," Hermione said with a shrug and Cedric smiled.

"You really are a strange one."

"So it's been said. Many times. By you," she said with asperity.

"I hear that you’re the only person in your Transfiguration class who can turn a hedgehog into a satisfactory pincushion".

Hermione blushed. "You hear a lot".

"I keep my ears open," Cedric said with a smile. "As I've said before, I hear Longbottom has a lot to thank you for. You're a good friend Granger. 'These belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal'. You would have been all right in Hufflepuff ..... Ravenclaw, too since you're so clever".

"If you say I could have been all right in Slytherin I swear I'll make you sorry," she warned him with a threatening tone in her voice.

"I rest my case," he said with a flourish. He tilted his head and looked at her. "I'm joking, Granger - why the long face?" he asked her curiously.

"Sometimes I wonder why I was put in Gryffindor instead of Ravenclaw," Hermione said hesitantly. "I'm not .... well I don't think I possess the quintessential features a Gryffindor person should have."

Cedric looked at her narrowly. "The Hat sorts us by our strongest trait.... it doesn't mean we don't have other characteristics as well.

"Now who's the one who should be in Ravenclaw?" Hermione asked.

Cedric laughed. "Get back to studying, I'm sick of you interrupting me, at this rate I'm never going to pass my exams," he told her jokingly.

Another thing that struck her about Cedric was that he was very much interested in her Muggle background. "Is this research for Muggle Studies?" she asked him suspiciously and he laughed, making Madam Pince glare at them.

"Of course not," he told her.

With the exception of Mr Weasley who always asked a huge number of questions about her life in the Muggle World, no one else ever asked her anything. Even Mr Weasley's questions were of a curious nature, as if she was a strange creature or specimen. Cedric on the other hand displayed a flattering interest in her, in her parents, in how she had felt when she first discovered she was to come to Hogwarts. He found the fact that Muggles lived without magic quite fascinating.

"I'm not a pureblood ... barely any of those left ... but my family's one of the old Wizarding families," he told her seriously,"So our contact with Muggles is very limited. As I grew up, I had glimpses but ..... it was all very mysterious and strange to me," he told her with a smile.

"There's nothing strange and mysterious about the Muggle World," Hermione said with a wry smile.

She told him about her parents, about growing up, about how it was to live without using magic. It surprised her that he wanted to know. Like the other Muggles at Hogwarts, it wasn't so much that they tried to hide their Muggle heritage, it was simply that no one was really interested and most Muggles in trying to fit in rarely mentioned the non-Magical aspects of their lives.

She told him about how in first year, Dean Thomas who was Muggle born had a poster of the West Ham football team posted to the wall and Ron just couldn’t see what was exciting about a game with only one ball where no one was allowed to fly. "Harry told me that he caught Ron prodding Dean’s poster, trying to make the players move!" Cedric laughed. He had been taking Muggle studies long enough not to find the concept of football strange.

"During his first Quidditch match, Dean kept yelling for the Slytherin players to be given a red card!" Hermione said with a giggle.

"Oh I know, I know," Cedric said excitedly. "In many Muggle sports, a red card is shown by a referee to signify that a player has been sent off following a serious offence".

"Right," she told him with a grin.

He spoke to her of computers, television, telephones and automobiles.

"You know, you seem to know even more about Muggle things than Ron's father and he worked for the Ministry of Magic in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office!" Hermione said wonderingly.

"Well ... I do have a personal interest in such things after all," Cedric told her lightly and smiled when Hermione found that she was blushing. She stared down at the table.

When she looked up again, Cedric was still watching her. "How does Cho feel about the fact that you spend so much time in the library these days?" she asked him suddenly.

Cedric's smile faded slightly.

"Cho and I aren't together like that anymore. I would have thought you'd have known that .... otherwise I wouldn't be here all the time," he told her bluntly. He was silent for a few moments and then asked her: "How about you and Weasley?"

"Ron and I were never like that anyway," Hermione protested, looking flustered.

"I don't care about that. I want to know how you feel about him now," Cedric said flatly, his eyes not moving from hers.

She wanted to look away, she wanted to look down at the table again but his gaze was intent, his words completely serious and he wouldn't look away until he had his answer.

"He's not the person I think about ...." she said finally, looking a little defiant and Cedric gave a strained smile.

"I guess that's the best answer I can hope for," he said to himself. Hermione's heart was pounding so hard that she could feel it thudding in her chest. She wondered if Cedric could hear it across the table.

Cedric smiled again, hesitantly. "Muggle Studies taught us about Muggle history, politics, implements ..... of course there's nothing about relationships and feelings so I guess I'm not sure if ..."

"It's the same, Cedric," she told him, knowing what he was asking her.

He gave a shaky laugh. "That's a good thing to know," he told her. "Because I have to say ... I feel something and part of me worried that perhaps it was a different something to the something you might or might not be feeling ...."

Now it was Cedric who looked away, looking extremely fascinated by the cover of Asiatic Anti-Venoms.

"There is definitely something," Hermione said shyly and Cedric's eyes snapped up immediately, meeting Hermione's intensely.

"And?" Cedric asked her, his grey eyes full of questions. Hermione's dark eyes met his, giving him all the answers to the questions he sought even as she said:

"And I feel something, too".

Relief and joy bubbled up inside Cedric and a huge grin broke over his face. The joy and delight in his face overwhelmed Hermione who found that she was grinning back at him, too.

Cedric wasn't quite sure what to say after all that. "Well that's ...."

"Something?" Hermione suggested and they both gave foolish laughs, looking down at the table and then looking up again.

Cedric's hand reached across the table and took Hermione's in his. "Are you going to read my palm? You know how I feel about Divination," she teased him even as her fingers linked with his.

"No ... I just felt like holding your hand," he told her and a huge grin broke over her face the same grin that always made him want to grin back at her.

"This can't be real," she told him. "I'm going to wake up and it's going to be an illusion".

"It's real," he assured her. "What's so unreal about it?"

"Cedric! Look at me! Look at my hair!" She told him, frowning up at the hair which was falling over her face again. He took one hand away from their clasped hands and brushed the thick tangle from her eyes, his fingers lingering, brushing against her hair, against the soft, smooth skin of her forehead, tracing the dark line of her strongly marked eyebrows.

"I do. All the time. I like your hair," he said, looking at her quizzically. "I love its gravity defying nature - it's stubborn and unmanageable. Just like you". She gave him a look. "I even liked your teeth before you had them shrunk ...." he confessed and she stared at him.

"Are you barking mad?" she demanded. He laughed.

"Thanks. I'm just saying ... I found them endearing .... of course your teeth are lovely now," he assured her hastily and she laughed and bit his fingertip lightly.

"You're mad," she told again and he nodded, smiling at her.

"Yeah I am, no denying that," he told her seriously.

****

"Good afternoon, Miss Granger" Cedric said, glancing up from where he was making notes from Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts in his notebook.

Hermione walked in and before she could walk to her side of the table, Cedric pulled her against him, glanced around quickly to make sure no one was looking and kissed her. Hermione closed her eyes, slid her arms around his neck and kissed him back, losing herself in the pleasure of his touch for just a moment before she pulled back reluctantly and walked to her side of the table.

Cedric knew something was wrong immediately and slouched back in his seat, watching her sharply. She said nothing, pulling her books out of her satchel.

"What?" she demanded, looking at him accusingly when he didn't return to his own studying but kept looking at her.

"Are you intending to tell me or do I have to go and get Veritaserum from Snape's storeroom?" Cedric asked, putting his quill down and looking at her. He reached across the table and took her hand. She didn't draw her hand away but merely reached into her satchel and pulled out a small easter egg, a little smaller than a chicken egg.

"For me? Why you shouldn't have," Cedric said, looking down at the rather tiny egg with amusement..

"Mrs Weasley sent it to me," Hermione said balefully. "She reads Witch Weekly".

Comprehension dawned on Cedric's face immediately. "How large were Weasley and Potter's eggs?" he asked.

"Dragon eggs," Hermione said miserably. "Full of homemade toffee!!" she told him tragically. "It's not funny," she said crossly when his lips twitched and he looked as though he wanted to laugh.

"Chin up, Granger - it will pass, he told her taking both her hands in his and she was ridiculously comforted by his gesture and his words. Large dark eyes met droll light grey eyes and he drew her hands up to his mouth and kissed them one by one.

"That's so old-fashioned of you," she said, laughing at him and he held one hand to his cheek.

"I don't care, laugh away. I'm kissing them because I'm so grateful that they're no longer covered in hideously yellow bubotuber pus induced blisters even if you've forgotten. Thank you Madam Pomfrey," he said casting his eyes to the Heavens as if in prayer.

"Are you never serious?" she demanded, smiling at him.

"I'm very serious. So are you going to give me this little egg in exchange?" he asked her, looking down at the little easter egg sittting on the table quietly.

"In exchange for what?" she demanded in confusion.

"Accio absolutely massive Easter egg," Cedric said idly and to Hermione's shock an Easter egg the size of a dinosaur egg materialised on the table tied with a merry bow. "Apparently it's filled with fudge pieces but I wouldn't know," he said, examining it with interest.

"Cedric, how on earth am I supposed to take it back to my dormitory?" she demanded and he laughed and waved his wand, muttering something and the egg shrank to a size not much larger than the egg from Mrs Weasley.

"So how do I know that this wasn't just a little egg which you charmed with the Engorgio spell?" she asked him teasingly.

Cedric pretended to look grossly offended. "I'll have you know I had to specially order this egg for you, Granger".

"I got you an egg too but it's not as large as that one ...." Hermione said shyly and handed him an Easter egg the size of a moderately large ostrich egg.

Cedric flushed with pleasure, smiling as he examined his Easter egg, his gaze flickering up at Hermione as if to say: "For me?"

A sound nearby alerted them that Madam Pince was patrolling again. Hermione was first with her wand and in a second, Cedric saw that the eggs had vanished and both of them were now holding books in their hands.

"Prefects Who Gained Power?" Cedric hissed in outrage, staring down at the book that Hermione had caused to materialise in his hands.

"A nice touch, I thought," Hermione said with a wicked smile.

Cedric smiled and flicked his wand at her. Hermione stared down in shock at the book she was holding. Sonnets of a Sorcerer - everyone who read this cursed book was doomed to speak in limericks for the rest of their lives. She dropped the book immediately in horror and Cedric laughed at her.

"Don't be such an idiot, of course it's not the real book," he told her and she found that she was merely holding a copy of the Daily Prophet in her hands.

"You!" she said in mock outrage and he laughed at her over the top of Prefects Who Gained Power, pretending to be deeply absorbed in its contents.

"Where on earth did you find out about the existence of such an appalling book?" he demanded, flicking the pages, his face showing his revulsion.

"I saw Percy was reading it once," she told him and Cedric groaned and put the book down.

"I'll go and put it back," she said picking up the book. Cedric rose to follow her.

"Should I be scared that you know exactly where Prefects Who Gained Power goes, Granger?" he asked her quizzically as he followed her into the stacks, passing many, many shelves, turning many times.

"I'm very familiar with this library, Cedric," she told him archly, putting the book in the gap from where she had summoned it. She turned around to leave and discovered that he was standing in her way, blocking her exit.

She looked up at him quizzically. He was considerably taller than her and she usually had to tilt her head up to look at him

"Why are you looming over me?"

"I was just thinking, no one in their right mind would ever come to the All About Prefects corner of the library .... " he told her, his hand touching her neck lightly.

"Which is why we should leave immediately in case someone thinks we're reading these books," she told him even as she tilted her head to allow him to slid his hand around the back of her neck. She rose onto her toes, arms sliding around his neck and their lips met in a long, long kiss.

"I must say I'm getting very fond of this library," he whispered thickly against her lips.

"Well the pursuit of knowledge is always very admirable," she whispered back. Her fingers tangled in his thick, dark hair. His lips were against her throat and she could breathe his clean scent. He was clean-shaven but she could feel the rasp of his stubble against her sensitive skin.

"Cripes, sorry," he said as he realised that he had made her skin pinken.

"No need to be sorry," she said, her hands reaching up to stroke his jaw, fingertips tracing the stubble. "Never grow a beard," she told him fiercely. "It's such a Wizard thing to do."

His mouth returned to hers again, demanding a response which she willingly gave. "How about a moustache?" She shuddered, possibly with pleasure, possibly at the thought of a moustache.

"No," she told him flatly and he laughed against her mouth.

"Thank you for my Easter egg," he told her, stroking her hair back from her face, his face tender.

"No, thank you," she told him, with a grin on her face.

He kissed her temple tenderly. "Promise me you won't fret about the egg Mrs Weasley gave you? It will all be all right in the end you know, she'll forget ..."

Held against Cedric's tall, straight body she couldn't feel any worry or fretfulness anymore and she smiled. "I'm not fretting...."

"Promise?" he asked her, kissing her lips lightly.

"Promise," she told him, pulling him closer for a longer kiss.

****

Harry was finally told of the third and final task in the Triwizard Tournament for which he needed to prepare. To the outrage of both he and Cedric, the Quidditch field had been converted into a large maze. The Triwizard Cup was to be placed in the center of the maze, the first champion to touch it would receive full marks.

Hagrid would be providing creatures to be placed in the maze and there would be spells that would need to be broken . The champions who were leading on points would get a head start into the maze."

Bagman grinned at Harry and Cedric. "Then Mr. Krum will enter . . . then Miss Delacour. But you'll all be in with a fighting chance, depending how well you get past the obstacles. Should be fun, eh?"

Harry and Cedric who knew only too well the kind of creatures that Hagrid was likely to provide for an event like this, thought it was unlikely to be any fun at all.

"Very well. . . if you haven't got any questions, we'll go back up to the castle, shall we, it's a bit chilly. ..."

"Good luck Harry," Cedric.

"You, too".

****

"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" Cedric laughed, catching Hermione's hand as she gathered her things to leave. "It's still early!"

He rose to his feet and pulled her against him, his mouth seeking hers.

"Ron and I.... ... are helping Harry learn hexes for the last challenge," she told him hesitantly. She looked slightly anxious as if she was worried about his reaction.

To her surprise, a slow smile curved Cedric's mouth and he trailed a fingertip down her nose. He leaned down and kissed her jaw before kissing her mouth.

"Good, he's going to need all the help he can get. He's good but he's still only a fourth year after all".

"Cedric I .... it's not that I ... " Hermione looked quite agonised. "If you like I can help you with hexes, too .... if you'd like ...."

There was a genuine look of amusement on Cedric's face and a gentle laugh escaped him, his grey eyes very warm and alight with an emotion that made Hermione feel very odd.

"Granger that's sweet of you, but it's really all right - I've already learned those hexes in class. You go and help Potter, he needs you. Hold on a tic," he disappeared for a moment and then returned a little later holding a heavy, dusty-looking book.

"This is a book I used last year when preparing for exams - I spent hours in the library reading it because only prefects can borrow it. This year though, I can help you - I've borrowed it for you in my name. It's got some awesome tips for the Reductor Curse and Four-Point Spell. The diagrams for the Shield Charm are really helpful and the Jelly-Legs Jinx on page 6973 is a treat. Oh look, here's a good Banishing Spell which I found really handy last year. The great thing is that the author used animated fix ink so unlike other books, the pictures won't go walking off on you while you're in the middle of reading them," he told her enthusiastically and as she stared at him he helpfully tabbed the pages to which he referred so that she could find them with ease.

Hermione didn't say a word but just continued to stare at him.

"What?" Cedric asked, looking very self-conscious. "Yeah so I'm a bit of a swot, what of it? Ever hear about the people in glass houses bit, Granger?" he demanded and she reached out, took the book from him and pulled him into her arms and gave him her answer.

When they finally broke apart, Hermione was blushing furiously and very flustered. Cedric smoothed his tousled hair and said unsteadily. "Well if that's what confessing to being a swot gets me, I'll make sure I do it again soon".

"Oh I'm beyond late," Hermione said, looking hunted and Cedric caught her hand and kissed her.

"Tell Potter to hurry up and master those spells. The longer he takes, the more of your time he takes up," Cedric teased her and she laughed and ran away, waving at him as she ran.

****

In the days leading up to the third challenge, Harry spent all of his free time either in the library with Hermione and Ron, looking up hexes, or else in empty classrooms, which they sneaked into to practice. During the times when they were in the library, Cedric made himself scarce although he did make himself useful by leaving books lying around for Hermione to find - helpful little notes stuck to the front.

You might find this description of the Impediment Curse in this book useful.

Later in an empty classroom, she picked up one of the books Cedric had left for her. "I like the look of this one," she said, "this Impediment Curse. Should slow down anything that's trying to attack you. Harry. We'll start with that one."

Sometimes in the library, notes of other types appeared.

There's a very useful book on the Furnunculus Curse that someone has left behind in corner of the library where you can find books dealing with the lifespan of flobberworms.

She looked down at the note stuck to the latest book helpfully left for her by Cedric. A smile curved her mouth.

"Here you two, keep looking through this one - I need to go and find a book on the Furnunculus Curse," she said handing them the heavy tome Cedric had left for her and left Ron and Harry behind, ignoring their sounds of shock when the book started snarling at them.

She checked the catalogue and walked down the aisles of the library, glancing at the reference numbers until a hand reached out and pulled her into a corner into a laughing embrace.

"Lifespan of Flobberworms? How do you even know that this section exists?"

"I topped Care of Magical Creatures class you know," he said loftily.

"And that will be so useful to you after you graduate," she told him and he laughed.

"You mock me now, but one day you'll be begging for me to impart all my knowledge on the strange habits of the flobberworm".

"Not likely. I'd rather ask Percy about cauldron thicknesses," she told him laughing as he kissed her neck, her arms sliding around his as she kissed him back.

"I've missed you," he told her in a low voice.

"You saw me yesterday".

"Yes for five minutes in the Endangered Mythical Animals section of the library," he told her. "Also - what's this about Potter trying out his hexes and curses on the two of you".

"You've been eavesdropping".

"Well Weasley's been complaining about it long and hard - I'd have to be deaf not to hear.... given where I'm sitting and all".

"It's fine," Hermione assured him.

"I know he's your friend but I don't want you hurt..... Some of these curses are quite serious you know".

"I know," Hermione told him. "But unfortunately they have to be practised on a live subject ..."

"Yeah fine as long as it's not you," Cedric said, still looking unhappy."

"Professor McGonagall has given us permission to use the empty Transfiguration classroom at lunchtimes so we're making the most of it," she told him.

"How's he going?" Cedric asked.

"Good ... but I think he needs work on his Shield Charm. Problem is I don't think my Shield Charm is very good either so ...."

Cedric frowned. "All right, we can fix that".

****

"You're right .... your Shield Charm is a big shaky," Cedric said critically as the two of them stood in a deserted classroom together.

Hermione sighed. Cedric had turned her hair purple the first time despite the fact that she was supposed to have cast a temporary, invisible wall around herself that deflected minor curses.

"You look cute with purple hair though," Cedric said with a grin as he changed her hair back.

"All right try again," Hermione said determinedly.

"Ready when you are," he told her, waiting for her.

"Ready!" she told him firmly, muttering the words for a Shield Charm.

Cedric managed to shatter it with a well-placed Rictusempra charm and Hermione dissolved into uncontrollable giggles.

"Oh no," Cedric said, laughing despite himself and crossed to Hermione's side where she seized his arm and laughed uproariously.

"Did you see that?" she demanded, positively roaring with laughter.

"I saw that," he said with feeling. Guilt coloured his voice as he quickly uttered the counter-jinx as she was trembling with hearty laughter in his arms. As the counter-jinx took effect she slumped into his arms limply, exhausted with the effort of her laughter.

"I'm so sorry," he said, wiping away her tears of laughter and she grimaced. "It's ok, I used Jelly Legs on Harry and it took me 10 minutes to find the counter-jinx," she told him and he Cedric laughed despite himself.

"Are you all right?" he asked her, sinking to the floor, Hermione still in his arms.

"What did you use on me?"

"Rictusempra charm".

"No wonder I feel like I've been trampled by a herd of elephants."

"Your laughter was ... vigorous ..." he agreed and she laughed and then grimaced.

"I think I broke something... not my funny bone," she told him with a stern look, warning him not to make any bad jokes.

"The final task is in a week," he said abruptly, stroking her cheek with his fingers.

"I know." she said. "Are you ready?" she asked him softly.

"Yeah .... I've been practising, too. Who knows what for, but I've been practising for whatever I could think of ...." He gave a forced smile. "Well I had to do something with my time when you were off playing with Weasley and Potter. No, don't say a thing, I'm not complaining," he told her. "These past few months have been more than I could have hoped for," he said with a smile.

"Me, too," she said drawing his head down to hers and kissing him.

"I'm never going to think of the library without thinking of you," he teased her. "But Granger - one day I want to go with you to Hogsmeade .... enjoy a tankard of Butterbeer with you at the Three Broomsticks, gorge ourselves sick on sweets at Honeydukes ....."

"And we will," Hermione said, staring at him. There was something strange about Cedric today. A slight uneasiness to him that he rarely had.

"Yeah," he said with a forced smile and kissed her.

****

On the day, Cedric's tension wasn't helped by the fact that his father was positively hostile to Harry.

"There you are, are you?" he said, looking Harry up and down. "Bet you're not feeling quite as full of yourself now Cedric's caught you up on points, are you?"

"What?" said Harry.

"Ignore him," said Cedric in a low voice to Harry, frowning after his father. "He's been angry ever since Rita Skeeter's article about the Triwizard Tournament - you know, when she made out you were the only Hogwarts champion."

"Didn't bother to correct her, though, did he?" said Amos Diggory, loudly enough for Harry to hear as he started to walk out of the door with Mrs. Weasley and Bill. "Still, . . you'll show him, Ced. Beaten him once before, haven't you?"

"Rita Skeeter goes out of her way to cause trouble, Amos!" Mrs. Weasley said angrily. "I would have thought you'd know that, working at the Ministry!"

Mr. Diggory looked as though he was going to say something angry, but his wife laid a hand on his arm, and he merely shrugged and turned away.

"Sorry Harry, I've told him that Rita just writes lies but ...."

Harry smiled wryly. "I don't blame him - look at all the people who believed the codswallup she wrote about Hermione. She was in the hospital wing for a day over that".

Cedric didn't let his face betray anything and he just nodded. "The Tournament means more to dad than it does to me these days," he said with a tinge of regret in his voice.

"Anyway, it's all fine," Harry told his opponent. Cedric wasn't a bad sort at all. It helped that he hadn't seen Cedric walking around hand in hand with Cho anymore although the two certainly still seemed to be very good friends, frequently talking in the halls together and walking together.

****

There were ony a few spare moments in the afternoon and Cedric stood in the library. He didn't have any books with him and made no pretence at reading. He paced restlessly.

"Cedric," a voice whispered and he turned, relief flooded his face and he reached out and caught Hermione's hand in his, pulling her along with him to a deserted corner of the library and into his arms.

"Cedric why here?" she demanded, looking around at the row upon row of books by Gilderoy Lockhart. They were all there, Break with a Banshee, Gadding with Ghouls, Holidays with Hags, Magical Me, Travels with Trolls, Voyages with Vampires, Wanderings with Werewolves and Year with the Yeti, all with Gilderoy's image on the spine grinning and winking at them playfully.

"Come on Granger, no one will find us here ....It's the perfect place, no one reads that old fraud's books anymore".

"But Gilderoy Lockhart's looking at us!" she hissed.

Cedric waved his wand, muttered something and a curtain fell over the books. Gilderoy's muffled voice sounded in protest.

"I wasn't sure you'd come today," Cedric whispered against her cheek.

"Of course I'd be here .... you're going into the maze tonight ....."

"How did your History of Magic exam go?" he asked her, stroking her hair back from her face.

"I don't know, fine .... terrible I guess. It doesn't matter," she said uncharacteristically for her. His heart leapt as she clung to him, her arms sliding around him as she hugged him tight as if she didn't want to let go. Her hair was prickling his chin and he didn't care. It gave him courage to speak. In a move which made her gasp a little, he lifted her up so that she sat on top of a low bookshelf, her legs swinging beneath her as she was eye to eye with him.

"Granger ...I was never going to ask you, you know ... it's not fair ... but well sod it, I might as well. You going for Harry or for me today?" Before she could reply he said quickly,"I don't mind if you go for Harry .... I mean he's your friend, I know that and I know there's nothing like that between you .... I don't know why I'm babbling now. I signed up for the Tournament - thought it'd be a bit of a lark you know? Now.... gotta say I'm a bit scared. People die out there...."

"Yeah but you won't," Hermione said encouragingly, stroking his face, memorising each feature in his face and leaning forward to kiss his cheek, his jaw and his mouth.

Cedric was looking very pale. "I'm not feeling very brave at all, Granger," he said with a faintly shaky smile. "Guess the old Hat knew what it was doing when it put me in Hufflepuff and not Gryffindor".

Hermione was moved. "You're brave Cedric .... you could have fit into Gryffindor or Ravenclaw just as easily as Hufflepuff," she told him sternly.

"You tell me I could have fit into Slytherin and I'll make you sorry," he joked shakily.

"It doesn't matter to me whether you win the bloody cup or not ... the cup doesn't matter to me at all. I don't give a toss. I just want both my friends to live, to get through this insanity unscathed..... that's all that matters to me." She jumped down from the bookshelf, shaking off his attempts to assist her.

"Unhurt!" she emphasised. There was a faint smile on his lips and he leaned into her and reached out and drew her into his arms in a familiar move, holding her close as his heart beat against hers. His mouth sought hers momentarily in a tantalising kiss which was too brief.

"And never, ever do anything so stupid as to sign up for an idiotic Tournament like this again," she told him fiercely. His mouth found hers again.

"Sir Cedric will do as his lady bids," he teased her and she raised her eyebrows.

"You knighted yourself? On the basis of what?"

"You forget, I've faced a dragon," Cedric teased her. "And tonight .... whatever the new challenge it's got to be worse than even dragons ........ I think I need a token ... a favour from my lady of the needle wit to face the dangers that may lie ahead of me tonight. A lock of your hair, a ribbon perhaps ..... an image of yourself?" he teased her playfully, running his fingers through her hair and tuggling at it lightly.

A look of pure mischief crossed her face. "I do have something for you," she told him. "Something for you to wear near your heart, something it would do me great honour if you would wear".

She reached into her pocket and handed him her token.

Cedric stared down at the S-P-E-W badge she had placed in his hand and his lips twitched uncontrollably.

Without a moment's hesitation he pressed it to his chest. "Thank you my lady, I will wear it close to my heart tonight," then he said in an exaggerated whisper. "Do I have to wear it where it where people can see it?" he demanded.

Hermione laughed and shook her head.

"I'm joking," he said with a smile, stroking his knuckles down her smooth cheek. "Of course I'll wear it where everyone can see it, I'll be the highest profile SPEW member in history," he told her.

"You'd be the only member who wears the badge except me," she said mournfully.

"There are actually other members?" he asked in disbelief.

"Well Ron, Harry and Neville bought badges .. but probably only to keep me quiet," Hermione conceded reluctantly and Cedric bit back a smile. Hermione's sense of social justice didn't make her completely blind to her peers. "They said they didn't want to walk around wearing badges saying 'spew'...... " A choking sound came from Cedric which Hermione blithely ignored. "Anyway it's two Sickles to join, that buys a badge..... but you don't have to buy this badge ...." she told him. "I'm giving it to you because of your special relationship to the founder".

"Thank you," he said, very much moved. "I will display it with pride," he told her, only half-jokingly. However eccentric she was, her zeal was adorable, as was the intensity in her small face as she agonised about the fate of the house elves whom he knew for a fact really didn't want to change their situation.

"No ..." she told him. "Keep it hidden .... I don't want anyone to know about ... us ... " she told him hesitantly. "Not yet," she told him.

He nodded. He understood. "Yours to command remember," he teased her. "If I get through this last challenge, I'm your humble servant - just ask and I'll do it .... " he promised her.

"So you'll help me liberate the house elves?" she asked him eagerly and Cedric laughed despite himself. He took her into his arms and pressed a kiss to her brow, kissed her cheek, her cheekbone.....

"I will become the president of the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare if you jolly well want me to do so ...." he told her.

"You can't, I'm the president," she pointed out and he laughed.

"Secretary then," he suggested.

"Well technically Ron's treasurer and Harry's secretary but neither of them have done a thing to help me so yes, secretary it is. Do you really mean it?" she asked him, eyes wide and sceptical.

He kissed her nose, holding her close against him, feeling his fear and tension drain out of him as he held her. "I promise to help you liberate the blasted house elves and anything else you bloody well want me to do Hermione Jane Granger ...."

"How do you know my full name?" she demanded. "I didn't even know you knew how to say my first name let alone know my middle name," she told him.

"I know everything about you, Hermione .... I even did my Muggle Studies essay on Dentists and their Ways so that I know what to talk about when I meet your parents ...." Cedric told her.

"You didn't?"

"I did!"

He held her close. "Thank you Hermione .... I don't feel frightened anymore," he told her frankly. "And when I come out of that maze, whether I win or not - we're going public. No more hiding out in the Ancient Dangerous Beast section of the library anymore .... although the place will always hold fond memories for me now," he said with a crooked grin.

"Ummm, what do you mean exactly by public?" she asked him nervously.

He grinned. "Oh an interview with Rita Skeeter in how I skite about how I stole you out of the arms of Viktor Krum and Harry Potter ......"

Hermione looked grim. "I don't think we'll be having trouble from her anymore. Cedric looked intrigued but didn't ask.

"I'm joking .... I just want to be able to hold your hand when other people can see. I want you to take me around and show me that strange and mystical Muggle World in which you live ...... watch a movie .... And I want to be allowed to do this ...." he kissed her tenderly, lingeringly and they were both shaking, trembling and clinging to one another tightly and now it was Hermione who was feeling scared, scared and terrified of what the evening was to bring.

"Yes," she told him.

"Promise?" he asked her, crouching down so that he could stare into her eyes. His eyes were a very dark grey, intense and searching.

"Promise," she said and her kiss echoed her promise.

****

On the evening of the final challenge, the students at Gryffindor and Hupplepuff tables were were loudly applauding the two Hogwarts champions. Ravenclaw were also lending their support albeit in a somewhat subdued fashion.

The Weasleys and Hermione all wished Harry good luck. Cedric turned slightly and Hermione's mouth curved slightly in a faint smile but he didn't say anything. He smiled back and the four champions headed off out of the Great Hall.

The walked out onto the Quidditch field where a twenty-foot-high hedge ran all the way around the edge of. There was a gap right in front of them which was the entrance to the vast maze. The passage beyond was dark and extremely ominous.

Within minutes the stands had begun to fill, the air was a blur of excited voices and rumbling of feet as hundreds of students filed into their seats. All of the teachers were wearing large, red, luminous stars on their hats, with the exception of Hagrid, who had his on the back of his moleskin vest.

"We are going to be patrolling the outside of the maze," said Professor McGonagall to the champions. "If you get into difficulty, and wish to be rescued, send red sparks into the air, and one of us will come and get you, do you understand?"

The champions all nodded.

"Off you go, then!" said Bagman brightly to the four patrollers.

The four of them walked away in different directions, to station themselves around the maze. Bagman now pointed his wand at his throat, muttered, "Sonorus," and his magically magnified voice echoed into the stands.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the third and final task of the Triwizard Tournament is about to begin! Let me remind you how the points currently stand! Tied in first place, with eighty-five points each - Mr. Cedric Diggory and Mr. Harry Potter, both of Hogwarts School!"

There was a loud cheer. "In second place, with eighty points - Mr. Viktor Krum, of Durmstrang Institute!" There was more applause.

And in third place - Miss Fleur Delacour, of Beauxbatons Academy!"

Cedric turned slightly, moving his robe so that Hermione could catch a glimpse of the SPEW badge that he had pinned on the inside flap near his heart. Despite his nervousness, he found himself smiling at the grin that broke across her face. She lifted her hand to touch her own SPEW badge as a mark of support and he grinned back, very much encouraged.

"So ... on my whistle, Harry and Cedric!" said Bagman. "Three - two - one -"

He gave a short blast on his whistle, and Cedric hurried forward into the maze at the same time as Harry.

****

Hermione waited in an agony of anticipation. She had absolutely no idea of how much time had passed or how long it was supposed to take in total. There were no updates on what was happening, just the occasional shouts, strange noises emerging from the maze. Her fingernails were pressing into her flesh and and she had bitten her lip in nervousness. Her hand crept to her SPEW badge a little pitifully as if that gave her some kind of connection with Cedric however tenuous. It was true, she didn't care if Harry or Cedric won. Competition didn't matter anymore, the competitive Hermione Granger just wanted both of her friends back with her, safe and sound.

Hermione stared in shock, feeling intense relief as she saw Harry suddenly materialise out of the air, slumped onto the ground but clearly alive. To her surprise he was holding onto the Triwizard Cup and Cedric was beside him. There was a torrent of sound around her, shouts of delight and excitement as they realised that both champions had returned unscathed.

Hermione found that her breath caught in her throat in a scream. Cedric was lying on the ground unmoving. His arms were flung out defencelessly and his eyes were open and staring blankly up at the sky. A scream of horror was coming out of someone's mouth. Even when she realised that it was she who was screaming, she couldn't stop herself. Fortunately, others were screaming, too and no one noticed the young fourth year screaming.

A pair of hands seized Harry roughly and turned him over.

"Harry! Harry!"

Hermione saw Harry open his eyes as Dumbledore was crouched over him. Tears were pouring down Hermione's face as Harry let go of the cup, but continued to clutch Cedric to him even more tightly. She didn't hear what he said but he saw Dumbledore flinch, saw Dumbledore look down in horror at Cedric.

Cornelius Fudge also stared down at Cedric.

"My God - Diggory! Dumbledore - he's dead!" These chilling words were repeated and everyone around Fudge gasped. It became a hysterical cry. "He's dead!" "He's dead!" "Cedric Diggory! Dead!"

"Harry, let go of him," she heard Fudge telling Harry, saw him trying to pry Harry from Cedric's limp body, but Harry wouldn't let him go and a sob escaped Hermione's throat. She wasn't sure if she was crying for Cedric or for Harry's obvious agony.

"Harry, you can't help him now. It's over. Let go."

"He wanted me to bring him back - he wanted me to bring him back to his parents. ..." Harry said piteously, tears choking his voice.

"That's right. Harry . . . just let go now. . . ." Dumbledore told him, agony in his voice.

Dumbledore bent down and raised Harry from the ground and set him on his feet. Harry swayed.

"What's happened?"

"What's wrong with him?" "Diggorys dead!"

"He'll need to go to the hospital wing!" Fudge was saying loudly. "He's ill, he's injured - Dumbledore, Diggory's parents, they're here, they're in the stands. ..."

"I'll take Harry, Dumbledore, I'll take him -"

"No, I would prefer-"

"Dumbledore, Amos Diggorys running . . . he's coming over. . . . Don't you think you should tell him - before he sees - ?"

"Harry, stay here -"

Girls were screaming, sobbing hysterically....

"My son ... my son!" Amo Diggory was howling and his raw display of uncontrolled grief and sorrow filled the air and Hermione could not take her eyes off Cedric's face. His eyes were staring far away at a place beyond her, to a place where she could not go......

I'm your humble servant ..."

I promise to help you liberate the blasted house elves and anything else you bloody well want me to do Hermione Jane Granger ....

She watched Cedric's parents grieving over his body, shaking him as if somehow their fierce love could pull his spirit back into that empty shell of a body.

It was a blur, the agony of Cedric's parents, Harry being led away by Professor Moody. Hermione sank to the ground and no one noticed.

It was much, much later that she learned of what had happened. Harry had told her of what had happened to the real Professor Moody, of his rescue at the hands of Dumbledore. Most tragically, he had told Ron and Hermione of everything that had happened with Cedric .... As he told the story, his eyes were haunted and although the tears had stopped, his eyes shone with unshed tears.

"I kept telling him to take the cup but he wouldn't, he was too noble," Harry whispered.

Hermione kept her face expressionless and Harry continued. "He was serious - I knew he wanted the cup but he walked away from it ...."

"Why would he do that?" Ron asked. "Why would he walk away from the kind of glory Hufflepuff House hasn't had in centuries..... " Ron demanded, not able to understand.

"Because he's fair, Harry knows that, too," Hermione said in an expressionless voice. "Harry helped him with the dragon, he helped you with the egg. ...

"Hermione's right. Cedric was fair to the end .... he woudn't take the cup". Harry's voice shook uncontrollably. "...and then I ..... I convinced him that we should tie for it that we should take it at the same time .... It was my decision that took us to the graveyard ...."

"No Harry! It was Voldemort, it was Professor Moody .... or Barty or whoever he was .." Hermione said desperately, gripping Harry's hands with hers. "They would have found a way to get to you no matter what!"

"Listen to her," Ron said emphatically, every freckle standing out on his pale white face, his red hair like a shock against his pallor.

"Yes but the other way might not have resulted in the waste of a good life ...." Harry said, closing his eyes. "Even after we got to the graveyard - I .... I fell over and it was Cedric who pulled me up to my feet again ...." Harry had no tears left.

Hermione closed her eyes. It was an image that was to haunt her until the day she died. She could see it even though she hadn't been there. A figure in a hooded cloak, walking between the tombtones, drawing towards the two frightened young boys, carrying something that looked like a baby .... Her heart ached because although she hadn't been there, she could see the look of fear and apprehension on Cedric's pale young face, the determination with which he would have gripped his wand ......

Harry reached up to grab his face in remembered pain. "It hurt so much .... my scar .... I thought my face was going to split open and ...."

"Kill the spare."

"Avada Kedavra!"

Hermione knew that the telling of the story eased Harry's pain so she listened even though she was screaming inside. His retelling was too vivid, the blast of green light, the sound of something heavy falling to the ground beside him, the pain in his scar .... seeing Cedric was lying dead on the ground beside him.

Hermione had seen that face for herself. Cedric's pale dead face, his open gray eyes, blank and expressionless, his half-open mouth, which looked slightly surprised. Grey eyes which would never smile and laugh at her again, a mouth which would never say 'Granger' in that teasing way, a mouth which would never kiss her again......

And then to hear Harry speak of Priori Incantatem. "Hold on. Harry". How like Cedric to be offering his schoolmate comfort and encouragement even in death. "Harry. Take my body back, will you? Take my body back to my parents, ..." How like Cedric to worry about his parents.

****

The worst for everyone was meeting with the Diggorys the morning after the challenge. Ron and Hermione had accompanied Harry. They did not want him to be alone, he needed them for there was a certain fragile, shocked quality to him. They had never seen him like this. The death of Cedric had affected and damaged him in a way it had affected no one else.

Cedric's parents did not blame Harry for what had happened, on the contrary, both thanked him for returning Cedric's body to them. Hermione's pale lips smiled in realisation. Cedric had known what he was doing when he asked Harry to bring his body back. It wasn't for himself, it was for his parents and in a way it was for Harry. She could have imagined grief would have easily turned to anger without a body over which to grieve, without a body they could touch and farewell. Mr. Diggory sobbed through most of the interview but Mrs. Diggory's grief appeared to be in a place fary away beyond tears although her pain was no less real.

"He suffered very little then," she said, when Harry had told her how Cedric had died. "And after all, Amos ... he died just when he'd won the tournament. He must have been happy."

When they got to their feet, she looked down at Harry and said, "You look after yourself, now."

Hermione watched as Harry seized the sack of gold on the bedside table. "You take this," he muttered to her. "It should've been Cedric's, he got there first, you take it -"

Mrs Diggory backed away from him, horror in her reddened eyes. "Oh no, it's yours, dear, I couldn't. . . you keep it." Harry stared at her helplessly. Mrs Diggory flinched as she saw Hermione standing pale and silent by the door. She left the weeping Amos with Harry and the Weasleys and crossed to Hermione's side.

"What is that?" she asked, pointing at the S-P-E-W badge pinned to Hermione's robes. Hermione's hand went up to touch the badge and she said hesitantly.

"Just a badge I made for ...."

"Cedric had one. I found it when I was preparing his body for ...." her voice broke. "He had it carefully pinned inside his robes...." Hermione flinched.

"The badge. Where is it now?" Hermione whispered.

Mrs Diggory smiled at her sadly. "I had it buried it with him ... it seemed to be precious to him ... such a silly little thing but Cedric was always ..."

"It was for luck," Hermione said with a very sad smile,"But it did make him laugh a few hours before he ... "

"He had a wonderful laugh, didn't he?" Mrs Diggory asked her and Hermione nodded.

"Yes - it lit up his eyes and made everyone around him want to laugh, too."

"My boy was a good boy ... good heart....."

"And brave, so very, very brave," Hermione said unflinchingly, her eyes starting to sting. "I'm very sorry for your loss, Mrs Diggory" she said softly, touching Mrs Diggory's hand and wishing that there was something to do alleviate the raw grief she saw in the woman's eyes. Her grief despite being so much more quiet than her husband's screamed out at her in a way which which made her want to weep.

Hermione found herself walking automatically to the only place she knew could bring her comfort.

The corridor was pitch back. "Lumus," she whispered into the blackness and her wand lit the way as she walked towards the library.

****

There was a pile of tumbled books on the ground in the shadows. Hermione sat slumped like a broken doll in the dark corner of the library, the light from her candle flickering although there was no breeze and it looked as if it could have been extinguished at any moment.

Blastend Screwts: A psychological analysis she could hear Cedric saying teasingly.

Meet you in the Flobberworm Anatomy section.

"Why would anyone want to learn a spell to disembowel him or herself?"

"Exactly - why do you think this section of the library is always deserted and therefore private?" Cedric demanded laughingly.

Dumbledore's heart ached to see her. He knew what magic she sought. All who lost someone to death sought such spells. He had already spoken with Harry about the fact that no magic could bring back the dead and he knew that someone such as Hermione would always assume that the spellbooks would provide an answer, that there must be a way. It was only when she was as old as he was that she would understand that there were some things that could never be solved.

"Child, matters to do with death are dark and dangerous - they are areas that you would do well to stay away from. I know you grieve for your friend Cedric but there is no magic powerful enough enough to bring him back from the dead. No spell can reawaken the dead. Those that have tried have brought back creatures dark and unnatural. Even in seeking to speak with the dead, you would be straying into dangerous areas. What Harry told you .... that was a reverse echo, a mere shadow of the living Cedric ... it was not Cedric himself ..."

Dumbledore's words trailed off and he looked at the book which lay open on Hermione's lap. She leaned back, being surrounded by the books was bringing her no comfort whatsoever and her face was streaked with tears. Very dark shadows were around her eyes and her breathing was sharp and ragged, slightly laboured from all the crying. Hermione didn't even think to question how it was that Professor Dumbledore knew. No one else knew ... but somehow - he knew.

Dumbledore slowly lowered himself to the ground beside her, grimacing as he heard the audible creaks of his bones. He studied the book.

He had misjudged her. She was not looking for a necromantic spell to bring the dead back, nor even to commune with the dead.

A Spell For the Stopping of Teares.

"But sir, I need the last drop of blood of a phoenix slain with my own hands," she whispered despairingly,"And I could never do that," she told him, the tears sliding down her cheeks, her hair tangled and bedraggled around her face as she looked at him pleadingly.

"Please Professor Dumbledore, I don't want to feel this pain anymore. I don't want to cry like this anymore - surely you can do something to stop the tears."

Dumbledore felt tears sting his own eyes as he realised that he had wronged Hermione. "Hermione ... there is a reason why what is required for this spell is so hideous. To take the life of a beautiful and innocent creature is a crime. There is no crime in grieving Hermione. It is natural and it's what makes you Cedric's friend".

"Professor, you don't understand. I can't allow myself to grieve now ....." she told him. "Harry needs me - he is completely ripped up over this. I can't even let the others know that Cedric and I were friends, it's ... complicated. I have to be ... as if Cedric was just like any other student .... is there nothing you can do for me? At least to allow me to be what Harry needs me to be until I can get home ...."

Dumbledore sighed and shook his head. "Hermione, everything you need to be a good friend to Harry is right there in your heart. There is no magic on earth that can match that and I have no power that matches your own love and loyalty".

Hermione shook her head. "Professor, you once told Harry that to the well-organised mind, death was but the next great adventure .... but sir .... Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle were 665 and 658 when they died .... You said it was like going to bed after a very, very long day for them ... but ...."

"I know Hermione. At the age of 18, Cedric still had the world ahead of him ......" He realised that he was not going to be able to offer her any comfort and he slowly drew himself to his feet again, groaning at the awkwardness of the movement.

"Hermione - you know that you can do this. You have always been equal to every single challenge life has thrown at you".

"Thank you, sir," Hermione whispered.

Dumbledore wanted to say something further but his throat tightened. "I'll ask Madam Pince to make sure no one comes to this section of the library," he told her and then he was gone.

****

When Hermione, Harry and Ron, and Hermione entered the Hall, they saw at once that the usual decorations were missing. The Great Hall was normally decorated with the winning House's colors for the Leaving Feast. Tonight, however, there were black drapes on the wall behind the teachers' table - a mark of respect to Cedric.

Professor Dumbledore stood up at the staff table. The Great Hall, which in any case had been less noisy than it usually was at the Leaving Feast, became very quiet.

"The end," said Dumbledore, looking around at them all, "of another year."

He paused, and his eyes fell upon the Hufflepuff table. Theirs had been the most subdued table before he had gotten to his feet, and theirs were still the saddest and palest faces in the Hall.

"There is much that I would like to say to you all tonight," said Dumbledore, "but I must first acknowledge the loss of a very fine person, who should be sitting here," he gestured toward the Hufflepuffs, "enjoying our feast with us. I would like you all, please, to stand, and raise your glasses, to Cedric Diggory."

They did it, all of them; the benches scraped as everyone in the Hall stood, and raised their goblets, and echoed, in one loud, low, rumbling voice, "Cedric Diggory."

Hermione stood as still as a statue. She saw Cho Chang with tears pouring silently down her face. She was not the only one who wept for Cedric and Hermione allowed herself to let tears fall. When she saw Harry swallow hard and look down, she reached out and touched his hand lightly in comfort. He gave her a half smile that didn't reach his eyes. They all sat down again.

"Cedric was a person who exemplified many of the qualities that distinguish Hufflepuff house," Dumbledore continued. "He was a good and loyal friend, a hard worker, he valued fair play. His death has affected you all, whether you knew him well or not. I think that you have the right, therefore, to know exactly how it came about." Dumbledore paused and uttered the words that filled the room with shock. "Cedric Diggory was murdered by Lord Voldemort."

Panic, disbelief and horror filled the Great Hall as Dumbledore waited at the front until an uneasy, anxious silence returned.

"The Ministry of Magic does not wish me to tell you this. It is possible that some of your parents will be horrified that I have done so - either because they will not believe that Lord Voldemort has returned, or because they think I should not tell you so, young as you are. It is my belief, however, that the truth is generally preferable to lies, and that any attempt to pretend that Cedric died as the result of an accident, or some sort of blunder of his own, is an insult to his memory."

Hermione ignored the fact that there were mutterings from the Slytherin table. She didn't care what Draco Malfoy and his cronies were saying. Nothing they said mattered to her at this moment. "There is somebody else who must be mentioned in connection with Cedric's death. I am talking, of course, about Harry Potter."

Hermione's heart ached for Harry who flinched but remained still as Dumbledore continued.

"Harry Potter managed to escape Lord Voldemort. He risked his own life to return Cedric's body to Hogwarts. He showed, in every respect, the sort of bravery that few wizards have ever shown in facing Lord Voldemort, and for this, I honor him."

When Dumbledore turned towards Harry, his face grave and filled with sorrow, he raised his goblet once more. With the exception of many of the Slytherins, most people in the Great Hall also did so, drinking to him as they murmured his name.

Everyone resumed their seats and Dumbledore continued but Hermione's thoughts were drfiting far away from the Triwizard Tournament. It was unfair of her to blame the Tournament. Voldemort would have found a way no matter what, but perhaps if it had not been for the tournament, then perhaps Cedric might not have lost his life so senselessly and in such a meaningless fashion.

Kill the spare. The words echoed endlessly in Hermione's head. She wondered if she was ever going to be able to forget those words.

"A week ago, a student was taken from our midst," Dumbledore said and Hermione's thoughts were dragged back to the present.

"Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory."

Chin up Granger ....

****

They stood waiting in the crowded entrance hall with the rest of the fourth years for the carriages that would take them back to Hogsmeade station. Hermione scowled as she was supposed to when Fleur came to flirt with Ron and Harry.

She said her goodbyes to Viktor, slightly flustered at the thought of what he might say. Fortunately for her recent events had made sure that he was somewhat subdued in his declarations of affection and Ron summoned them back loudly, it was not difficult for her to maintain the masklike impassivity that she had successfully kept on her face throughout the day.

She watched on as Victor and Harry spoke, as Ron made his own peace with Viktor. She was surprised to find that her mouth was able to smile when Ron asked for Viktor's autograph. She was relieved that they were able to get a compartment to themselves. They spoke of many things. Mostly it was Harry speaking as if the speaking of all healed him and Ron and Hermione also spoke a great deal, discussing the way ahead, wondering about the future.

There was even a moment of lightness as she shared the news of Rita Skeeter's predicament with them both and further excitement when Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle finally got their just deserts when they were the unfortunate recipients of a variety of hexes and jinxes from Harry, Ron, Hermione, George and Fred.

Not much longer, Hermione told herself.

At the station, Hermione watched as Harry headed towards his auntie and uncle.

"'Bye, Harry!" said Hermione, and she did something she had never done before, and kissed him on the cheek.

She watched him leave and went towards her own parents who were smiling at her fondly. She embraced them and the fierceness of her hug made them exclaim.

"Hello, what's this?" her mother asked with a smile, hugging her daughter back. "You've grown again, she'll be taller than the both of us soon," Dr Granger said to her husband who merely smiled and kissed his daughter as he hugged her.

"There's something different about you," her father said, frowning slightly when they got home, assessing her with a faint frown of concern in his eyes. He touched her cheek lightly.

Hermione pretended to look guilty. "Ah you found me out dad. There was a spot of trouble which ended up in my teeth growing long .... when Madam Pomfrey shrank my teeth back ..... I kind of let her shrink them back just a little bit more ....."

Her father smiled and shook his head. "Now Hermione, you know what we've told you about using magic as a quick fix...."

"She does look lovely though," Mrs Granger had to admit as she kissed her daughter before bustling off to the kitchen to prepare tea. "Did you get all the healthy snacks we sent by owl this term?" She called.

"Yes, sorry I didn't always reply. It's been a bit mad."

"It's more than the teeth," her father said, still frowning as he stared into his daughter's dark brown eyes.

"Just a bit tired, dad. I'm going to go and put my stuff in my room and have a bit of a rest....."

Hermione made her way up the stairs. She closed her door and locked it. With a relief she let her fixed smile fade from her face.

She drew the curtains in her room, sat on her bed, put her face in her hands and at last was able to find comfort. After today, she would never mention him, never weep for him again. What was past was past and no one would ever know what had taken place.

Hermione wept long and hard, weeping for the boy who had been and the young man who would never be.

Chapter Text

The room was large, dimly lit and rectangular, and the centre of it was sunken, forming a great stone pit some twenty feet deep. They were standing on the topmost tier of what seemed to be stone benches running all around the room and descending in steep steps like an amphitheater.

There was a raised stone dais in the center of the pit, on which stood a stone archway that looked ancient, cracked and crumbling.

Unsupported by any surrounding wall, the archway was hung with a tattered black curtain or veil which, despite the complete stillness of the cold surrounding air, was fluttering very slightly as though it had just been touched.

“Who's there?” said Harry, jumping down on to the bench below. There was no answering voice, but the veil continued to flutter and sway.

“Careful!” whispered Hermione.

Harry scrambled down the benches one by one until he reached the stone bottom of the sunken pit. His footsteps echoed loudly as he walked slowly towards the dais. The pointed archway looked much taller from where he now stood than it had when he'd been looking down on it from above. Still the veil swayed gently, as though somebody had just passed through it.

“Sirius?” Harry spoke again, but more quietly now that he was nearer. “Sirius isn’t here …” he said shaking his head and then stared as Hermione stepped forward as if in a daze.

Hermione had the strangest feeling that there was someone standing right behind the veil on the other side of the archway. Someone she knew very well. Coldness whispered at her cheek but she tilted her head, staring in disbelieving wonder as she recognised the voice.

Gripping her wand very tightly, she edged around the dais, but there was nobody there; all that could be seen was the other side of the tattered black veil.

“Let's go,” called Harry from halfway up the stone steps. “This isn't right, Hermione, come on, let's go.”

He sounded very worried. Hermione stared at the archway in fascination. It had a a kind of beauty about it, old though it was. The gently rippling veil intrigued her. She felt a very strong inclination to climb up on the dais and walk through it.

“Hermione – let’s go, ok?” Harry said more forcefully.

“In a moment,” she answered, but did not move. She had just heard something. There were faint whispering, murmuring noises coming from the other side of the veil.

“What are you saying?” she asked and her words echoed all around the stone benches.

“Nobody's talking, Hermione!” said Harry, now moving over to her, staring at her with a strange look in his face. Suddenly, he heard voices, too but he felt very uneasy. There was something dark and wrong about that archway and he wanted to get away as soon as possible.

“Someone's whispering behind there,” she said, moving out of his reach and continuing to frown at the veil. “Is that you, Ron?”

“I'm here, Hermione,” said Ron, appearing around the side of the archway.

“Can't anyone else hear it?” Hermione demanded, for the whispering and murmuring was becoming louder; without really meaning to put it there, she found his foot was on the dais.

“I can hear them too,” breathed Luna, joining them around the side of the archway and gazing at the swaying veil. There are people in there!”

“What do you mean, in there"?' demanded Ron, jumping down from the bottom step and sounding much angrier than the occasion warranted, “there isn't any ‘in there’ , it's just an archway, there's no room for anybody to be there. Hermione, Harry, stop it, let’s go –“

Ron grabbed Hermione’s arm and pulled, but she resisted.

“Hermione, we are supposed to be here for Sirius!” he told her in a very anxious voice.

“Sirius,” Hermione repeated, still gazing, mesmerized, at the continuously swaying veil. “Yes … quite right …”

Something finally slid back into place in her brain.

She took several paces back from the dais and wrenched her eyes from the veil.

Hermione ....

The sound was cold and unsettling. She flinched.

“Let's go,” Harry said firmly, resisting the lure of the archway and giving her arm a tug.

“All right,” Hermione said, finally snapping herself out of the reverie. She walked back around the dais. On the other side, Ginny and Neville were staring, apparently entranced, at the veil too. Without speaking, Hermione took hold of Ginny's arm, Ron grabbed Neville's, and they marched them firmly back to the lowest stone bench and clambered all the way back up to the door.

“What d'you reckon that arch was?” Harry asked Hermione as they regained the dark circular room.

“I don't know, but whatever it was, it was dangerous,” she said firmly, again inscribing a fiery cross on the door.

Only a short time later though, Hermione found herself back in the room with the mysterious archway, Death Eaters in pursuit.

As she saw a Death Eater seizing Harry, she shouted,”Stupefy!!” and Harry was released.

Through the open door two more Death Eaters came running towards them. As soon as Harry ran through the door, he slammed the door shut behind him.

"Collo—" began Hermione, but before she could complete the spell the door had burst open and the two Death Eaters had come hurtling inside.

With a cry of triumph, both yelled: "IMPEDIMENTA!"

Harry, Hermione and Neville were all knocked backwards off their feet; Neville was thrown over the desk and disappeared from view. Hermione smashed into a bookcase and was promptly deluged in a cascade of heavy books. Her vision swam and pain shot through her entire body.

"WE'VE GOT HIM!" yelled the Death Eater nearest Harry and began to attempt to relay their location.

"Silencio!" cried Hermione and the man's voice was extinguished. He continued to mouth through the hole in his mask, but no sound came out. He was thrust aside by his fellow Death Eater.

"Petrificus Totalus!" shouted Harry, as the second Death Eater raised his wand. His arms and legs snapped together and he fell forwards, face down on to the rug at Harry's feet, stiff as a board and unable to move.

"Well done, Ha—"

But the Death Eater Hermione had just struck dumb made a sudden slashing movement with his wand; a streak of what looked like purple flame passed right across Hermione's chest. She gave a tiny 'Oh!' and crumpled on to the floor like a broken doll, where she lay motionless.

"HERMIONE!"

Harry fell to his knees beside her as Neville crawled rapidly towards her from under the desk, his wand held up in front of him. The Death Eater kicked out hard at Neville's head as he emerged - his foot broke Neville's wand in two and connected with his face.

Neville gave a howl of pain and recoiled, clutching his mouth and nose. Harry twisted around, his own wand held high, and saw that the Death Eater had ripped off his mask and was pointing his wand directly at Harry, who recognised the long, pale, twisted face from the Daily Prophet : Antonin Dolohov, the wizard who had murdered the Prewetts.

Dolohov grinned.

With his free hand, he pointed from the prophecy still clutched in Harrys hand, to himself, then at Hermione. Though he could no longer speak, his meaning could not have been clearer. Give me the prophecy, or you get the same as her…

"Like you won't kill us all anyway, the moment I hand it over!" said Harry.

Harry placed his hand on Hermione's shoulder.

"Whaddever you do, Harry," said Neville fiercely from under the desk, lowering his hands to show a clearly broken nose and blood pouring down his mouth and chin, 'don'd gib it to him!'

Then there was a crash outside the door and Dolohov looked over his shoulder - the baby-headed Death Eater had appeared in the doorway, his head bawling, his great fists still flailing uncontrollably at everything around him. Harry seized his chance:

"PETRIFICUS TOTALUS!"

The spell hit Dolohov before he could block it and he toppled forwards across his comrade, both of them rigid as boards and unable to move an inch.

"Hermione," Harry said at once, shaking her as the baby-headed Death Eater blundered out of sight again. "Hermione, wake up…"

"Whaddid he do to her?" said Neville, crawling out from under the desk to kneel at her other side, blood streaming from his rapidly swelling nose.

"I dunno…"

Neville groped for Hermione's wrist.

"Dat's a pulse, Harry, I'b sure id is."

"She's alive?"

"Yeah, I dink so."

There was a pause but all they could hear were the whimpers and blunderings of the baby-headed Death Eater in the next room.

"Neville, stay with Hermione …. keep her safe .."

"And whad are you going do do?" said Neville, mopping his bleeding nose with his sleeve and frowning at Harry.

"I've got to find the others," said Harry. In an instant he was gone, the door slamming shut behind him and Neville was left in the room alone with an unconscious Hermione who lay slumped on the ground. There was a chill in the air, the tattered black veil billowing and a coldness filled the room, a slow hissing sound and Neville shivered, holding his wand in his hand, glancing around.

"Petrificus Totalus!" an voice shouted and Neville found himself frozen in place staring in horror as Antonin Dolohov crawled back to his feet from where he had been jinxed.

"As if a child could keep me stunned for long," he sneered, advancing on Neville. He glanced down at Hermione.

"I’ll kill her first, that will be nice won’t it? While you watch …. slowly, and then it will be your turn, Longbottom. That’ll teach you to meddle in matters that are not your business …".

Dolohov had almost reached Hermione before Neville’s horrified gaze when a voice said coldly.

"You will move away from her now!"

Dolohov turned, and raised his wand but a Stunning Spell was sent right at him and he staggered back.

Neville stared in shock as a tall figure stepped out from behind the cold curtain, wand in hand, dark hair falling over his pale face.

There was a flash of light and Cedric Diggory moved out of the way of the jet of red light that flew from Dolohov’s wand.

The stone floor at Cedric’s feet exploded as a spell hit it, leaving a crater.

Another Death Eater came bursting into the room, stared in shocked amazement at Cedric who stood there calmly.

Before Neville’s horrified eyes, Cedric began fighting them both at once, his wand hand flashing as he articulated spells. Dueling so fiercely with both Death Eaters that their wands were blurs.

Dolohov, his long pale face twisted with glee made the same slashing movement with his wand that he had used on Hermione just as Cedric shouted, "Protege!"

Cedric and Dolohov were dueling, their wands flashing like swords, sparks flying from their wand-tips –

As Dolohov drew back his wand to try to make the same slashing movement again, Cedric said coldly. "Petrificus Totalus!"

Once again, Dolohov's arms and legs snapped together and he keeled over backwards, landing with a crash on his back. With a dismissive movement, Cedric threw Dolhov through the open doorway and turned on the remaining Death Eater who hurled a jet of green light at him.

There was another flash which caught him in the arm, hurtling him heavily down the stone steps, his body toppling from stone seat to stone seat.

Scrambling to his feet, he ran back up the stairs as the masked Death Eater began to approach Neville’s petrified form.

"Impedimenta!" he yelled hoarsely and the Death Eater was blasted onto his back, smashing against the stone dais and crumpling into an unconscious heap. Cedric calmly threw him through the door as well, closing the door and sealing it shut.

"Are you OK?" he asked Neville.

"Yes," said Neville. "I think so ….". Neville found that movement was slowly returning to his body. "How …?"

"I don’t have time to answer your questions, Neville," Cedric said briefly.

Dropping to the ground beside Hermione’s body he tenderly pulled her up into his arms, his face gentle and his eyes haunted. His fingertips traced her pale cheek, touching the wound on her head lightly, staring when it came away stained with blood. "Granger," he whispered urgently. "It's not at all like you to be so quiet ..." he said with a laugh that broke.

"She hit her head against the bookshelf," Neville said anxiously.

Cedric muttered a charm, his voice gentle and his hands even gentler. He looked exactly the same as the day he had died and Neville stared at him with wide-eyed shock.

"Is she going to be all right?" Neville asked, staring at the cuts and bruises on Hermione’s face.

"Yes," Cedric said, a tender smile curving his mouth as he stared down at her. “She’s thinner,” he said sadly, touching her jaw and lowering his lips to her temple.

"It’s been a hard year for all of us .. and she's missed you ..."

Cedric’s eyes met Neville’s sharply. "You knew?"

Neville nodded, his teeth chattering.

"Does anyone else know?"

Neville shook his head. The room seemed to have grown colder all of a sudden. Cedric’s eyes darkened and he turned towards the veil which fluttered to the side.

A dark shadowy figure stepped down from the dais and the air felt like ice.

"Now Cedric ...... how very unwise of you to intervene. What have we told you before about contravening the rules?" The voice of the shadow was very menacing and Neville would have sunk to his knees in fear if he had been able to move. As it was, he watched fearfully as the figure approached.

"You can give it a rest, I’m coming back," Cedric said defiantly.

"Of course you are, Cedric," the shadow said with what might have been a laugh.

Hermione’s eyes fluttered open for a moment and she stared up at Cedric in shocked recognition. Neville watched in horror as Cedric, with a look of anguish muttered a spell that made her slump limply into his arms again.

“How very selfless of you,” the shadow said silkily. “Let me offer you a choice, Cedric. A life for a life. Wouldn’t you like that? A chance to return to the living? To have your old life back?”

Cedric’s head snapped up suddenly and he stared at the shadow warily.

The shadow laughed. “I saw the way you wept when you saw your parents crying pathetically over your casket. I know how much you crave life …. Your life for hers, let me have her and you can return. A small exchange. The Dark Lord has long promised me a consort in exchange for my stewardship of the world beyond the veil,” he said.

Cedric said nothing, merely pressed his lips against Hermione’s tangled hair, holding her close for one final time, murmuring incoherent endearments.

“Your decision, Cedric?” the shadow asked, reaching down to touch Hermione’s face.

“Stay away from her,” Cedric said in a low furious voice.

“You’re not in a position to give orders. In any case – it is time to leave. Shall I take you? Or shall I take the little witch in your place?”

Cedric’s eyes were suspiciously damp and he lowered his head, his dark hair falling over his face. He brushed his lips across Hermione’s, putting her back down on the ground, gently adjusting her robes. His hand reached out to touch her cheek once more. His hand was shaking.

He looked up at Neville. “Don’t let her come back ….” he told Neville. “The archway is …. dark …” he said, swallowing hard. “It’s dangerous …. you have to look after her”.

Neville struggled and after a second found that he was able to nod. “I’ll try,” he said finally.

“That's not enough. Neville. You have to stop her. You promise me – it’s more important than you can imagine”.

“But Hermione’s ….”

Cedric smiled wryly, his brilliant grey eyes staring at Neville. “I know. She’s stubborn – but I’m counting on you to look after my girl”.

“Very touching, I take it you’ve made your decision,” the shadow hissed.

Neville stared as Cedric rose to his feet, unfolding his tall, lanky figure from beside Hermione’s.

“You’re real?”

Cedric’s eyes were filled with sorrow, his dark hair falling down across his brow.

“Yes”.

"But you're dead... Dumbledore said ..."

Cedric smiled slightly. "Dumbledore's very wise, but even he doesn't know everything".

“Fool,” the shadow said with contempt as he looked at Cedric.

Neville watched mutely as the shadow walked behind the flickering veil followed by Cedric who paused for a moment, turning his head to look at him.

“I promise,” Neville told him and Cedric smiled and then he was gone.

***

Hermione knelt on the dais before the tattered, flickering veil. She was very pale and still, staring intently at movement. The whispering voices were growing louder. They were cold and eerie but almost siren-like and Hermione's gaze was very fixed.

Luna Lovegood had told her that it was the dead who were behind the veil, lurking out of sight, brushing the consciousness of the living and only a whisper away from this world.

Hermione had spent some time in the hospital recovering from the injuries that she had sustained during the battle. She had grieved with Harry who had been inconsolable in his sorrow over the death of Sirius. Her nightmares were unbearable and grief that she had attempted to bury during the course of the last year had reawoken. Cedric’s face haunted her.

She was convinced that she had seen him in this very room and she was even further convinced that behind the black veil was the answer to all her questions. Although very flustered by the interrogation Hermione gave him, Neville staunchly denied everything. He swore that she was imagining things, that she had struck her head and that she should put everything behind her.

Hermione studied the jagged black veil narrowly. The cold air was still but the veil fluttered and shifted.

“Hermione!” Neville exclaimed from the doorway. Hermione’s head snapped around angrily.

“Leave me be, Neville,” she told him. "I'm getting rather tired of you pestering me all the time".

"No," Neville said stubbornly. "This room is dangerous .... that archway is dangerous and you know it," he told her.

"Cedric’s there," Hermione told him coldly. "I can feel it …. he’s waiting for me …." she gave a very strange smile and Neville shivered, running up the stairs to stand beside her.

Hermione ...what are you waiting for? the voice whispered beguilingly and Hermione turned her head back towards the veil and smiled.

"Cedric!" She put her hand behind the veil. It was like putting her hand through icy water and she stiffened, a gasp escaping her lips. A cold hand had seized her hand on the other side and a low chuckle could be heard. She could hear the whisper of voices. A murmur, indistinct..

"Let her go!" Cedric hissed from the other side of the veil. The shadow looked at him coldly.

"She wants to join us …"

"I came back, you have no claim over her," Cedric said, his face very pale and accusing.

"She has returned willingly, Cedric ... you have no say in this," the shadow told him, and the smile turned Cedric’s blood cold. The mottled, clawlike hand caressed the smoothness of the girl’s arm. "She’s warm and vibrant, Cedric. No wonder you love her …. alive and passionate .. but not for long," he purred.

"Hermione!" Neville hissed in panic.

Hermione, still on her knees was almost rigid, her face colourless as her breathing became very shallow. Life was leaving her.

Neville seized her arm to try to pull her back. "Oh …no…. Hermione! Listen to me … this is .. oh no... Hermione!"

"Cedric .. he’s there …" she whispered.

"No, Cedric doesn’t want you to go there….. it’s death and coldness there … he wants you to live … he wants you to be happy …" Neville said desperately.

"Let her go," Cedric said furious, his face panicked.

"Only the little witch can decide that," the shadow said, continuing to stroke his clawed hand along the smooth skin of Hermione's arm.

Get it together, Granger!

The voice rang loudly in Hermione's head and her eyes rolled back in her head as she gasped, pulled away from the cold hand that gripped her and fell back heavily against Neville.

Neville's eyes bulged but he didn't waste a second, hastily seizing Hermione and dragging her far away from the veil, panting in fear.

The shadow hissed furiously and turned upon Cedric. "You try my patience boy. Do not dare to interfere again. The next time she returns, I will kill her on sight," he said and disappeared into the shadows.

Neville was trembling violently but he pulled Hermione to her feet. "Come on, we have to go," he said and Hermione nodded, looking very shaken. There were livid, black bruises on her arm where she had been seized. She looked up to the flickering veil as if to try to catch a glimpse of someone she dearly wished to see. The veil billowed in the stillness but she saw nothing and her eyes stung.

"Hermione".

A tear slid down Hermione's cheek. "Cedric's dead," she said. Her voice was bewildered and child-like, almost as though she had just realised this fact.

Neville nodded miserably. He patted her shoulder awkwardly.

"I'm never going to see him again ... am I?" she asked him and Neville stared back at her in silent sympathy. He had no words for her and all he could do was lead her from the cold room. He glanced back at the archway and stopped himself from flinching when he saw a figure standing very still behind the veil.

Cedric was very pale, but he was smiling and his eyes were grateful as he watched them leave. The door closed and he was alone again. He glanced back through the blackness of the lonely nothingness behind the veil and shivered.

He looked down at his hand, clenching and unclenching it. Since holding Hermione in his arms again, he had been aware of something impossible taking place.

Power ... life was returning to his body .....

For the first time since his death, he felt a blaze of something resembling hope.


The End