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Leaping Obstacles by TenthWeasley
Chapter 2: Herbology
The hall was already packed and noisy when Rachel entered for the start of term feast and took her place between Fred and Katie at the Gryffindor table. Katie turned to her, one eyebrow raised, but before she could ask questions about what had kept Rachel, the first-years began to file in for the Sorting Ceremony. In a way, she was glad of the diversion; she didn't know what exactly had happened, herself. That would have been a pleasant conversation. Pleasantly awkward.
Oh, yeah - remember how I asked about Cedric Diggory? Well, I fell flat on my face and he magically appeared and helped me up. And my face felt like it was on fire and I've decided this year's the perfect time to turn into a giggling pile of goo.
"Wilson, Brian" became a Hufflepuff at that moment, and Dumbledore arose from his throne-like chair in the middle of the staff table at the head of the hall - she'd missed the whole ceremony while rattling off nonsense inside her head. A kind of serene, peaceful silence fell over the students as they gazed up at him. Dumbledore had that kind of power over people, but he was both wise and good enough not to abuse it, apparently.
"Welcome, welcome to another year at Hogwarts!" Dumbledore said, beaming down at them all. "And what a year it's going to be - but before I bore you silly with talk, let us get your bellies filled. Everyone, enjoy!" With a slight movement from his right hand, the golden platters and flagons before them filled with food, and at once a familiar hum and buzz of chatter filled the Great Hall as everyone began to enjoy the feast. Thankfully, Katie seemed to have forgotten any questions she might have had, and began to talk with Angelina and Alicia about (what else?) the Quidditch World Cup. On her left, Fred, George, and Lee were scanning the house tables.
"I don't know," George was saying, his head craned in the direction of the Ravenclaw table. "Ann Marsh filled out pretty nicely over the summer, think she'd be interested in me?"
"Get real," Lee snorted into his pumpkin juice. "Besides, I heard she's going out with Terry Boot's older brother - you know the one, Edward or Edwin or something. And all the Ravenclaw girls are snobs, think they're better because they're supposed to be smarter." His point made, Lee promptly dug into a mound of mashed potatoes.
"What are you guys doing?" Rachel grinned, cutting a bite of steak and kidney pie. Fred waggled his eyebrows. "Checking out the crowd, of course," he laughed, then glanced sideways at Angelina. "Although I've got my sights set same as always, you know..."
Rachel rolled her eyes, and suddenly George plopped down on her other side, leaning in so their conversation wouldn't be overheard. "Why? You got your eye on someone?" Rachel tried to glare at him, but his wicked expression only made her giggle.
"It's none of your business," she said with as much dignity as she could muster, but before she could resume eating her fork was yanked out of her left hand by Fred.
"C'mon, I bet it's Wood," said Fred eagerly. "Never met a girl who didn't fancy him at one point. Care to be introduced?"
"He's graduated, Weasley," she said with the tone of talking to a particularly dumb troll. "As in, he's no longer here. So, no."
"You're going to let that stop you?" Fred asked, waggling his eyebrows yet again, but George interrupted at that point. "I bet it's Diggory, girls are nuts over him," he said, and both turned to gauge Rachel's reaction to this. She gaped at one, and then the other, before she could stop herself; by the time she'd managed to rearrange her face into a more neutral expression, it was too late. Identical, scheming smiles spread across the twins' faces.
"'Pretty Boy' Diggory? Well, if you ask me, you could do a bit better than him, but no point sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong," said Fred languidly, returning to his own now-cold chicken. "I mean, I'll give him the handsome thing, but he's a bit of a -"
"Prat," George finished, nodding through a mouthful of peas. Rachel wrinkled her nose and passed him a napkin wordlessly.
"Clean. Now. I cannot talk to you with food all over your face," she said with mock severity. George made to stick out his tongue, but the peas prohibited him. He took the napkin ungraciously and quickly swiped it across his mouth.
"Think Percy in more handsome, Hufflepuff form," he finally added as though he'd never stopped talking.
"It doesn't matter, anyway, because he doesn't know who I am," she said simply, assuming an air of nonchalance as the dinner plates were wiped clean, to be immediately replaced by the pudding. For the rest of the meal, nothing more was said about Cedric, although a slightly awkward and uncomfortable air remained over the heads of the three, knowing what was going undiscussed. Rachel was almost relieved when Dumbledore stood up from his chair once more.
"Now that we are all fed and watered, I'd beg just a few more minutes of your time," he said grandly, smiling genially down at them once more. "As many of you may have speculated, something different and exciting will be happening at Hogwarts this year. I am very pleased to announce that our school will be hosting the Triwizard Tournament once more, for the first time in many years."
Gasps and whispers rippled through the waiting students, most of whom looked puzzled. Rachel was glad that she wasn't the only one who had no idea what a Triwizard Tournament was. She glanced sideways at Fred, who was wearing a rather smug and knowing expression, as though it had all been his idea.
"This tournament," said Dumbledore loudly, and everyone fell silent again at once, "will involve three students - one from our own school, and two from foreign schools who will be staying here for the duration of the competition. The champion who succeeds in collecting the Triwizard Cup after three dangerous tasks will be awarded not only wealth, but fame and notoriety as well.
"However, the Ministry of Magic, who have been working with us for many long months, have agreed that no one under the age of seventeen by the end of the month of October will be allowed to submit their name for entry into the tournament -"
This last statement was met with boos and hisses from many, largely from the Slytherin table at the opposite end of the hall. Dumbledore waited patiently, beaming rather neutrally out at all assembled as if he had not been interrupted at all.
"You will recieve more information about this tournament as the time approaches, but for now, I think, we have sufficiently covered the most broad span of information. And now, for the standard start of term announcements-'
As the headmaster began to recite the ever-growing list of banned objects and forbidden places in the school, Rachel glanced over at Fred again. He was now scowling heavily in Dumbledore's direction. "That's rubbish!" he muttered to Rachel out of the corner of his mouth. "I turn seventeen in April, why shouldn't I have the choice to enter if I want to? The Ministry's off their rocker, honestly."
"It's for safety's sake," Rachel hissed back, rolling her eyes at her friend. "Come off it, Fred, only anyone seriously out of their mind would enter the tournament anyway."
"Oh yeah?" he said, his scowl turning instantly into a smirk. He jerked his head in the direction of the Hufflepuff table, and Rachel followed the gesture. Her eyes immediately landed on Cedric, who was listening as his friends whispered eagerly to him and began prodding him with their elbows. "Looks like Diggory might be out of his mind, then," Fred grinned, and Rachel shot him a withering look.
A giant scraping of benches and chairs told her the feast had ended, and she gladly rose with the others. She, Fred, and George walked a little way ahead of Lee and the girls, who were now arguing over whether England had a chance of making it into the World Cup the next time around. "You'd think you lot would find something else to talk about other than bloody Quidditch all the time -" Rachel said, laughing as she looked over her shoulder at the group.
As she turned her head around to face front again, she walked right into someone, hurting her nose and causing her to trip over her shoelace. Looking up and rubbing the sore spot, she felt the color drain from her face as she realized she'd walked into none other than Cedric. How was it that she kept making a fool of herself in front of him? How was that fair?
"Seems like we keep running into each other," Cedric grinned, falling into step beside her; Rachel noticed that Fred and George had mysteriously vanished. "Your name's Rachel, right?"
"Um, yeah," Rachel said, cursing herself for blushing a little bit. " And sorry," she added, hastily removing her hand from her face. "I'm dead clumsy - you can ask anyone. Well, I guess you kind of know that already, what with the falling and the walking into you and everything. I've always been clumsy. Once -" She realized she was rambling and she hastily stopped talking, wishing fervently for an opportunity to blend into the crowd and not single herself out as an embarrassment.
To her surprise, Cedric laughed. "Clumsy isn't always a bad thing," he said. "Shows a little personality, I guess." He suddenly stopped, and Rachel unconsciously stopped next to him. He motioned a little with his right hand and said, "Well, this is me."
He was gesturing at a door under the staircase, and she realized that it was the entrance of the Hufflepuff common room. "Oh... right," she said, flustered. "Well, I - I guess I'll see you around. Again." She could have kicked herself, she sounded so stupid.
Cedric smiled down at her. "Yeah. Tomorrow, I think, Professor Sprout said something about having Herbology N.E.W.T. classes on Mondays... Are you taking Herbology this year?" She nodded, and then a slightly awkward silence followed. "Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then," Cedric said, and turned to follow a group of Hufflepuffs back to their common room. Rachel gritted her teeth and wheeled around to go to Gryffindor Tower.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, she chanted internally, catching up with a line of straggling Gryffindor second years. She followed them through the portrait hole and saw Fred, George, and Lee on one of the squashy couches before the fireplace, each looking mischievous.
"So," said George, drawing out the word much longer than necessary. "How was the walk up here?" She glared at him; all three of them laughed heartily. "How's your nose?" Lee choked out, and that set the group of them going again.
"I'm going to bed," Rachel said, her face flushed. She stalked past them without another word and up the stairs to the girls' dormitories. Alicia, Angelina, and Katie were already getting ready for bed, and thankfully it didn't seem like Fred had told them about her literally running into Cedric. She dressed quietly in her pajamas and climbed beneath the covers, her eyes on the star-strewn sky outside. Even with all the teasing, her stomach warmed pleasantly as she thought of the possibility of seeing Cedric tomorrow.
Morning came much sooner than Rachel expected, and she climbed sleepily out of bed and dressed in her robes. Fred and George were in the common room by the time she descended the dormitory steps. They grinned when they saw her, identical smiles lighting up their freckled faces.
"Sorry about last night, Rach," George said, trying hard to fight the smile on his face. "We didn't mean to make you mad."
Rachel looked at them levelly, and as always couldn't help but smile at their eager expressions. "No harm done," she admitted grudgingly. "But did you have to tell Lee?" Their grins remained fixed in place, affirming her question. She rolled her eyes and started out of the portrait hole, the twins following behind her.
Rachel sat down at the Gryffindor table between Alicia and Katie, who were giggling about something. "Marcus Flint was just turned down for a date by one of the Slytherin girls," Alicia choked out as Rachel looked inquiringly at her. She looked over at the green-and-silver table; sure enough, Marcus was sitting by himself at one end, looking mutinous and stabbing kippers with intense ferocity. Rachel laughed and shook her head amusedly. That had been fast.
"Schedules!" barked Professor McGonagall suddenly from the end of the table nearest the raised platform. She handed schedules to the seventh years and then turned to the sixth year Gryffindor girls. "Your schedules are a bit trickier this year," she said crisply. "I need to approve all of your choices and see whether you are able to continue at N.E.W.T. level." She crossed to Rachel, brow furrowed.
"All of your choices look fine, dear," she said, tapping a blank piece of parchment with her wand and handing it to her. "You may head upstairs for Charms now." Rachel thanked her, gathered her bag, and turned to leave the Great Hall. She glanced at the Hufflepuff table automatically as she passed by it; Cedric was studying his schedule intently, forehead slightly wrinkled.
Rachel examined her schedule more thoroughly as she climbed the stairs to the second floor. Her stomach did a happy back flip as she gazed at the next class slot: double Herbology. What luck! Not only would she be able to see Cedric, but the class time was extended.
And why the heck was she thinking this way?
The rest of the Gryffindor sixth years had also passed their Charms O.W.L.s and they took seats together on the topmost row of Professor Flitwick's class. Charms was usually one of Rachel's best subjects, but she had a bit of trouble focusing today on their lesson.
"Miss Alexander!" Professor Flitwick sputtered as, for the third time, Rachel had accidentally hit him full in the face with a stream of water. "Dear, dear girl... Please remember to concentrate!" Rachel grimaced apologetically as he tottered away, and caught Fred's eye.
"What do you have next?" he grinned, snatching Rachel's schedule from her bag. "Ah... Herbology! Pity I didn't pass that one, I'd give a few Galleons to see that class..." He smirked, and Rachel grabbed the schedule back from him, scowling.
Finally, the bell rang, signaling the end of class. Rachel waited for the girls outside the doors of the class. "Heading to Herbology?" she asked, but to her surprise all three of them shook their heads. "None of you?" she asked again, and Angelina smiled. "Yeah... Herbology was never my thing, I barely failed. I've already got the Egyptian Quidditch team interested in me though, so no loss."
So it was alone that Rachel descended the stone steps of the castle and crossed the vegetable patch to the Herbology greenhouses. Cedric was already waiting out there, surrounded as usual by a couple of his Hufflepuff friends. He turned as she approached though, and smiled.
"Thought I'd see you here," he said, then looked over her shoulder. "No one else came with you?" She shook her head. "Apparently, Gryffindors aren't the best at Herbology," she said wryly.
Cedric smiled. "Well, you're here, anyway." He turned to his friends, who were watching him. "Rachel, this is Anders" - a tall, skinny boy with white-blond hair waved - "and Matt." A stocky, brown-haired boy nodded.
"So, this it?" Rachel asked, looking at the three of them. "Four N.E.W.T. students?" Cedric grinned. "Apparently Gryffindors weren't the only ones who stunk at Herbology," he teased, and she giggled, and then promptly felt stupid for doing so. She'd never been much of a giggler before.
Professor Sprout emerged from the greenhouse just then, gray hair springing wildly from under her patched hat. "Come in, come in!" she said cheerily, bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Got a special welcome-back lesson for you, so don't dawdle!"
Rachel filed in behind the Hufflepuffs. It was cool and dark in the greenhouses, which smelled damply of earth and rain. They were grouped around a long rectangular table, upon which was grouped a number of evil-looking plants.
"Thought we'd start out with a little bit of a contest," said Professor Sprout happily, pulling on her dragon skin gloves; the four students did the same. "You'll pair up and have a little competition to see which of you can tackle these plants the fastest. We've got Snargaluffs, Venomous Tentaculas, and Mandrakes. Now, what you'll have to do - you'll gather five Snargaluff pods, re-pot two Mandrakes, and completely sever each of the ten arms of the matured Tentaculas. Ready? Well, off you go!"
Anders and Matt immediately grouped together, faces set and goggles on, and Cedric glanced at Rachel, looking not a little unnerved at their task. "Shall we?" he asked, motioning to the Snargaluff that stood expectantly in its little pot. Rachel grimaced slightly but grabbed a pair of the protective goggles and reached for the plant.
An hour and a half later, the four emerged from the greenhouses, sweaty and covered in dirt but laughing hysterically. Rachel had a large cut under her eye from one of the Snargaluffs and a large welt on her arm from a Tentacula vine which Cedric had had to sever using hedge trimmers. Cedric himself had a large bruise on his cheek from one of the Tentacula's heavy flowers, which had swung around and bashed into his face. Anders and Matt looked in similar states of injury.
"This is gonna be one crazy year," Matt said, sobering suddenly and shaking his head. "I about lost both of my eyes in there, and we still have that essay to write about how to properly care for Fanged Geraniums. It's mad, is what it is!" He and Anders walked away up toward the castle for lunch, but Cedric slowed just a bit, and Rachel followed.
"Listen," he muttered, not quite meeting her eyes, "I don't know if you're busy with other stuff, or whatever, or if you just don't want to... but I was thinking that if you did want to, we could meet at the library tonight and start on that essay... but if you're busy..."
Rachel's heart fairly leaped from her chest with excitement. "I'd love to!" she said hastily, and blushed, feeling the blood pulse through her cuts. "I mean, you know, that'd be great." Would her face ever not feel like it was on fire this year? It was getting rather obnoxious.
Cedric grinned. "I'll meet you at eight o'clock in the library, then," he said. "Is that all right?"
"Fine with me," she said, a little more happily than she meant him to know. They walked through the large double doors and into the entrance hall, Rachel fighting the urge to jump up and down, although she couldn't keep a grin from spreading on her face.
"See you," Cedric said, heading in the direction of the Hufflepuff common room. Rachel, not bothering to wash up before lunch, fairly flew into the hall and sat down across from Fred and George, who seemed to have been waiting for her.
"Merlin's pants," George said appreciatively as she pulled a platter of roast beef toward her. "Are you all right? You look like you wrestled with a hippogriff."
Rachel grinned at him, forking a baked potato. "I'm fabulous! Thanks for asking." Fred and George's face immediately split into smiles as well, and Rachel laughed, knowing that whatever they told Lee tonight wouldn't bother her one bit.