Chapter Two: For Now
Cedric awoke without being aware he had even fallen asleep. As his eyes fluttered and his right foot twitched, the vestiges of a nightmare retreated, beaten back as dawn’s light filtered through the cracks of the red and gold curtain. He frowned as a flash of green and a scream echoed in his mind, but when his eyes opened, he recalled nothing.
He laid there, content to breathe. His breaths were slow, his mind curiously blank, and when he stretched, he heard the clinking of silverware. He twisted and his right leg curled behind his left as he used his big toe to scratch his ankle. When did he take off his shoes? The last thing he remembered was reclining back onto the bed, his droopy eyes focusing on Hermione as she wrote, hunched over the desk in a position he knew would have her neck aching for hours. He was only going to rest his eyes for a minute, he told himself. One minute wouldn’t hurt, right?
Right, Cedric snorted to himself. The clinking of silverware caught his attention again and he turned his head to see a serving tray filled with two slices of toast, two eggs over easy, and a glass of orange juice.
“Eat up, I know you’re hungry.”
Cedric jerked into a sitting position. Hermione was no longer at the desk but was pacing the cluttered area between the two beds, a book in one hand as the other idly twirled a stray lock from her ponytail. She no longer wore an overly large cannons shirt, but had donned a pair of jeans and a Gryffindor Quidditch jersey. When she whirled away from him, he saw the name POTTER in bold letters running across her back, her hair brushing against it as she paced.
“Why are you wearing that?” he asked. First Ron’s shirt, now Harry’s. He’d always been slightly jealous about her closeness with the two boys, regardless of their plutonic relationship and she seemed to have an affinity with wearing their clothes.
“I had to change, I was starting to smell,” she said, her eyes never ceasing their race across her current page. She stopped, turned the page, and then continued pacing.
Cedric dropped it. There was no point in pursuing the matter now, and there was no sense in being jealous. Not anymore.
His eyes went back to the breakfast sitting beside him. “Did you make this?”
Her eyes cut to him and he was rewarded with a slight twitching of her lips. Hope fluttered in his chest, but soon died when she failed to smile. “No,” she said, “I didn’t so it’s safe to eat.”
She was a terrible cook. He’d been over for supper one Saturday when it was Hermione’s turn to cook and hadn’t been able to recover his taste buds since.
“Why do you let her cook at all?” he’d whispered to Harry, his nose wrinkling as he used his fork to poke his burnt- was it lasagna? He couldn’t even tell.
Harry shook his head sadly. “Look at her,” he merely said.
Cedric cocked his head and looked at her. She was staring at them expectantly, her eyes anxious and a large, uncertain smile across her face. There was a smear of red sauce on her right cheek and her clothes were wrinkled. She bit her lower lip. “Well?” she asked.
Ron tucked in. “Is good, Mione. Best dish yet,” he grumbled between mouthfuls.
She didn’t seem to notice that Ron’s smile was more of a grimace and he was swallowing quickly enough to not taste anything. Hermione wrinkled her nose. “Ronald, don’t speak with your mouth full,” she said. Her eyes shifted back to him and Harry. “Well?” she asked again, eyes wide and nervous.
Harry smiled. “It’s perfect. Diggory’s already talking about seconds.”
Cedric shot him a glare, but when Hermione beamed at him, he decided he could stomach the imitation of lasagna- or was it enchiladas?- if she continued to look at him like she was about two seconds from jumping him.
“Best I’ve ever tasted,” he said numbly. His eyes couldn’t help but focus on her lips as her smile grew even larger.
Harry stifled a laugh and Ron almost choked in his race to finish dinner as quickly as possible.
“I’m glad you think so,” she said. “I made plenty for you to take home. I’ll make you a box. You eat far too much takeout, Diggory, and it’ll be good for you to have a home cooked meal for a couple nights.”
Cedric smiled. “Brilliant,” he said. His eyes followed her as she got up from the table and began filling bowls of food. He’d take the leftovers home with him; in fact, he may even eat them if it gave him a chance with her.
He cleared his throat as Harry and Ron’s muted laughter died in his head. He took a sip of his orange juice. “You’re a good cook,” he said unconvincingly.
She snorted, but did not reply.
He ate a few bites, the silence stretching between them until he felt choked by it and had to break it. “Did you eat?”
She shook her head.
“Do you want some?”
Another negative shake.
Cedric narrowed his eyes on her. “When was the last time you ate?”
“Before,” she murmured.
Cedric’s eyes bugged out. “Before, Hermione? Before what?” he asked, hoping he misunderstood her and she was not telling him she’d been starving herself since Harry and Ron’s deaths.
“An hour or so before we left for the orphanage,” she told him.
Cedric clenched his teeth and slowly counted to ten. “Sit down, Mine. Sit and eat,” his voice was tight and filled with steel.
Her pacing stopped and she looked up from her book, recognizing the signs of his growing temper. She frowned at his plate of food. “I’m not hungry,” she said quietly. “It all tastes like ash now anyway.”
His anger fled. She always could rile him up quicker than anyone else, but she was also quickest to deflate his rage. “Don’t worry about how it tastes,” he told her gently. “Just eat it. Please Mine. Do it for me?”
Her eyes thinned as she looked at him and he knew that she was aware he’d phrased it like that on purpose. Hermione Ganger would rarely do things for herself, but she would do anything for a friend.
She grabbed a slice of toast, her hand striking out like a snake attacking a mouse. “I don’t like eggs,” she reminded him before taking a bite of the toast, chewing twenty times and then swallowing.
He smiled. “I know.”
She grunted, but much to his relief, she continued to eat.
“What are you reading?” he asked as he stuck his fork into his eggs.
She lifted the book in answer so he could read the title. Shedding Light onto the Dark Arts: a history of dark artifacts. “You shouldn’t be reading that, Hermione. That’s dark, real dark.”
She quirked a brow. “You don’t say?” she mocked loftily.
“I’m being serious, Hermione. Where did you get that anyway? I thought Harry got rid of all the dark arts books from Grimmauld Place.”
“Knockturn Alley, of course.”
He choked on a yolk. “W-what?”
“Knockturn Alley,” she repeated.
He felt his anger returning. “You have no business going there, Hermione. It’s dangerous, don’t you understand that?”
“You’re just like them,” she said softly like she was talking more to herself than him.
He snapped. “Stop, just stop, Hermione. Stop acting as if nothing happened. Stop being so cavalier with your own safety and pulling stunts like this. Going to Knockturn Alley! You won’t live forever, don’t you understand that? No one lives forever!”
She froze. “Of course I know that, Cedric. I’d have to be a fool not to, all things considered recently.”
He was such an ass. She had to be painfully aware of people’s mortality right now seeing as how Harry and Ron were dead. Despite that, he was still angry. She was always taking unnecessary risks with her own life. Going to Knockturn Alley, becoming an Auror, hunting horcruxes instead of returning to school for her seventh year, and fighting Death Eaters every step of the way.
“Did you learn nothing then?” he hissed, a pang of guilt twisting in his chest. Cedric was so angry that he didn’t even feel it and he didn’t care if that made him an ass.
“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand, Diggory,” she said, her eyes focused back onto her book. But they weren’t moving any longer. She was merely staring at her page blankly, lost within her own mind.
And that angered him even more. She was retreating within herself and even though she was standing right before him, he knew she might as well have been in Australia at the moment. She was leaving him as she found solace in her own mind, and he stewed at the unfairness of it all. He was hurting too, didn’t she see that? Why wouldn’t she come down from her pedestal and hug him, comfort him? He was bleeding inside, bleeding for Ron and Harry, and bleeding for her. Couldn’t she see that his heart was bleeding for her?
“You’re not the only one who loved them,” he said. “You’re not the only one suffering.”
She swallowed thickly. “I think you should leave.”
“And I think I should stay.”
“I don’t care what you think,” she shouted. “Get out! Get out!”
“No!” he screamed back, standing from the bed and crossing his arms stubbornly.
She was cracking right before his eyes. Thick, swollen tears rolled down her cheeks and her knuckles were white as she clutched her book to her chest. She clung to the leather bound pages like a drowning man clung to a preserver. “I have work to do,” she heaved, her words wobbling as she struggled for control. “You’re in my way.”
“I don’t care about your work. I’m not leaving.” He’d show her. He could be just as stubborn as she.
“Then I will,” she nearly snarled. She twirled on her foot, strode to the door, and flung it open, stomping out of the room. He followed her into the living room where Neville flew up and off the couch at Hermione’s stormy entrance.
“Hermione!” he gasped.
She ignored him. Her fingers curled around the knob of the front door, but Cedric, hot on her heels, murmured a quick word and flicked his wand and it sealed shut.
Hermione struggled with the handle for nearly a minute before she spun around and fixed him with a glare full of red anger. Her brown eyes burned him, but he met her glare with a steely one of his own. Better she show anger than indifference.
“Let me out,” she said.
“No,” he said. “You can’t leave.”
“You are not my keeper.”
“I’ve sworn to keep you safe, Mine. Even from yourself,” he said.
She leaned against the door, pressing back into it like she couldn’t get far enough away from him. When she spoke again, her voice was no longer angry, but quiet and sad. “I’m suffocating, Ced. Can’t you see that I’m drowning?”
“Let me save you,” his tone matched hers. “Let me take care of you, Mine.”
She looked like she was on the verge of letting him. He could see her eyes soften noticeably as they bored into his, and for a moment, he thought he wasn’t alone in his feelings. For a moment, he thought he could see love staring back at him.
She flinched at the name, and just as quickly as he’d seen it, it was gone. It was Ginny who had spoken. Her eyes were puffy and swollen and she stood barefoot in front of the kitchen, staring at Hermione as if she were looking at a ghost.
“Did you come out to talk?”
Hermione shook her head, refusing to meet the redhead’s eyes.
Ginny’s eyes watered as she sniffled. “W-will you talk anyway?”
Hermione closed her eyes and her lips thinned. She shook her head again, more forcibly.
But Ginny ignored her. She padded across the room and she stared unblinkingly at Hermione, tears dropping from her eyes in a constant stream. “H-how did it happen? You have to tell me. I c-can’t stop thinking about the ways it may have happened, each one more painful than the last. You have to tell me, Hermione! You have to!”
He could see Hermione’s throat working painfully. She shook her head again.
“You can’t keep silent. I deserve to know. My brother, Hermione! My brother and my boyfriend. Who was it? Who killed them? Was it the Dark Lord? Who?”
“Calm down, Ginny. You’re frightening the nargles,” Luna said as she glided into the room.
The crack widened. Hermione was shaking terribly, her lips trembling, her fingers twitching, and her eyelids blinking rapidly in an attempt to block her tears.
“Leave her alone,” Cedric said. He moved to Hermione’s side and glared at Ginny. Grieving or no, she had no right to talk to Hermione in such a way.
“No,” Ginny cried. “We’ve left her alone long enough. We deserve an answer.”
“This isn’t the way to get it,” Cedric growled. “Don’t you see what you’re doing to her?”
“Let’s all calm down,” Neville spoke timidly.
Hermione pushed off from the door and made to retreat back into the room, but in giving her back to them all, ‘POTTER’ written on the jersey stared at them like a slap in the face.
“Wh-what are you wearing?” Ginny spoke lowly.
“What are you wearing?” Ginny asked again.
Hermione’s shoulders shook.
“You’ve no right, Hermione Granger. Take it off,” Ginny’s voice lost its sorrow and was now filled with a kindling fire that Cedric imagined would burn brighter than her hair.
“I said take it off!”
Hermione turned her head, but did not turn around. Cedric’s eyes burned into her and he wondered what she could possibly be thinking about. He followed where her eyes were focused and his heart lurched when he saw a picture of her, Harry, and Ron hanging against the wall.
“Come on Diggory! Take the picture already!” Ron had moaned.
Cedric laughed. They were at the Three Broomsticks after visiting Fred and George’s new Hogsmeade location for Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. Harry’s hair was bright, neon green, Ron’s a flashy purple, and Hermione’s hair was a surprisingly becoming maroon. Weasley’s Hair Turners, the twins had called the sweets. Cedric’s own locks had turned electric blue after swallowing the candy.
They posed before him, their hair clashing terribly. Hermione was in the middle, each arm looped into one of theirs and her head leaning against Harry’s shoulder. She smiled wide.
She had a gorgeous smile. Hermione was always warm and genuine in her pictures, even when she was posing. She was open and friendly. There was nothing fake about her smile even as she turned to a camera and said cheese. He had a picture of her and him from the same outing sitting on his nightstand next to his bed. Each morning he woke up to see him twirling her around as she laughed, her maroon hair swinging out and slapping his face.
But there was no smile for him today. Her eyes were sad, but guarded. She was no longer the bright and open girl in that photograph. He saw the truth in her eyes as she stared at the photo, the truth she’d been trying so hard to hide from him because she knew he was hurting enough as it was. She may have survived, but for all intents and purposes, she was dead too. Hermione Granger had died along with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.
Maybe that was why she wore their shirts. Maybe they brought her closer to her fallen brothers and brought her the comfort everyone had been trying to give her. The comfort only Harry and Ron could give her, but they were gone, and she had to rely on what they left behind. That was why she holed up in their room, surrounding herself with them, wearing their shirts, gazing at their pictures, and writing, always writing.
“I don’t answer to you, Ginerva Weasley,” Hermione turned from the photo and looked at Ginny.
“You have to answer to someone,” the other girl cried.
Her voice lacked Hermione’s hardness and Cedric knew then that Ginny would give up. She was giving up on Hermione. She looked at the older girl with pity, and maybe a little bit of hatred.
“It’s your fault,” she said. “You were the smart one; the brains. You had to have known it was a trap. Why didn’t you save them?”
Ginny had always been piss and vinegar, but Cedric had never seen her be cruel before. Not until then.
“We have to save ourselves, Ginny,” Hermione said cryptically.
“That’s enough,” Neville’s voice was firm and brooked no refusal. “We have to stick together, now more than ever.”
Hermione did not say anything. Instead, she turned back around and went into the room. Cedric made to follow her. He wouldn’t stay out here with them. He would never look at Ginny Weasley the same way again, not after the pain Hermione had expertly hidden from them as Ginny’s words sliced through her. But Cedric knew her better than that. He saw each wound Ginny tore open and rubbed salt in.
But when he tried to open the door, he found that she’d locked him out. He tried to spell it unlock, but there was no charm in his arsenal that would move the door. She’d probably used a spell of her own creation. Clever little witch.
He banged on the door, but she ignored him. He tried another spell. Nothing.
“You can shut them all out, Hermione Granger, but you will not shut me out! Do you hear me? You can’t shut me out!”
He banged on the door until his fists were raw.
“It’s no use,” Neville came to him. “Leave it be.”
He would do no such thing. He’d wait for now, but she’d let her guard down eventually and he would take his moment. He’d find a way to reach her even if it killed him.
“Be patient, Ced,” Harry had always told him. “She’s already in love with you so half the battle’s done.”
He’d shake his head. “That’s half the battle?”
“Sure is, mate. Other half is waiting for her to figure it out,” Ron would grin. “For such a smart bird, she can be slow on the uptake.”
Harry would always smile when Ron ragged on Hermione, but he never joined in. Harry smiled and laughed at Ron’s good-natured ribbing, but he was quick to stop his friend from crossing the line, not that Ron ever meant any real harm. Harry had always been rather protective of her, Cedric remembered. Ron had, too, but Harry more so.
“I can take care of myself!” was a popular phrase he would hear her say at least three times a week.
“Sure you can, Mione,” Harry was always quick to agree.
But sure enough, the next time some young fool tried to pinch her arse Harry’s fist was flying and Ron was holding the idiot down.
He’d never quite understood their bond, but he’d known enough to envy it. Not that they were romantically linked, no. In fact, the very notion was laughable. He knew she and Ron had tried their hand at dating, but they’d only lasted a mere week before calling it quits for their safety and the safety of others. Ron moved on to Luna three months later and they’d been together up until the day it happened.
No, they were like family. Brothers and sister, but also something more. They didn’t need blood to bind them together, although Cedric knew they’d done a blood ritual once, slicing their palms open and holding hands as their blood mixed and they chanted in Latin. Such spells were borderline dark arts, but that hadn’t stopped them. They each had a diagonal scar across both palms, and sometimes when they were lost in thought, they’d be rubbing at it as they looked at each other, talking with their eyes. And he never knew what they’d be saying.
He didn’t envy the fact that they were close, only the fact that he knew he’d never be as close to her as they were. Sometimes it felt like she was racing far in front of him, but he couldn’t keep up. He’d pitch himself forward, his fingertips just grazing her, but she’d pull out of his grasp. So close, yet so far away.
“For now,” he murmured to the door although she could not hear him. “I’ll leave it be, Hermione, but only for now.”