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Chapter 8: Waiting In The Library
The Gryffindor common room was in an uproar that evening, celebrating Harry Potter’s triumph in the first task against his Hungarian Horntail dragon. Rachel had missed seeing him compete – all anyone could talk about was how brilliant it was that he’d managed to snag the egg on his Firebolt - but in all honesty she couldn’t have cared less about how Harry had performed. Although he hadn’t placed first, Cedric had made it through, and that was all that mattered to her. Her anxiety had slowly begun to ebb away, to be replaced by a growing excitement to see the rest of his performances in the coming tasks.
Unfortunately, Fred and George weren’t about to let things slide that easily. She’d managed to elude their inevitable cornering for most of the day, not really wanting to go into details about where she’d run off to after Cedric was escorted out of the stands by the mediwizards, but she figured they had a very good idea exactly where she had been going, anyway.
And, sure enough, she was sitting on one of the squishy sofas in the common room during the celebration party, writing the conclusion to an essay for Professor McGonagall, when two thumps on either side of her told her that her best friends had caught up with her at last. She refused to give them the satisfaction of meeting their eyes and continued scratching her quill across the parchment.
“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be celebrating with the other Hufflepuffs?” George asked, and she finally looked up long enough to shoot daggers at him before returning to the essay. Fred swiped a sausage roll from Ron’s hand as he was passing and bit into it; Ron, who had been in a foul mood since Halloween, looked as though he’d like to punch his brother but thought better of it.
“Aren’t you even happy our champion is winning?” George persisted, not even trying to hide the odd tone in his voice; they obviously weren’t going to let the subject drop. Rachel looked up in disbelief, but the twins’ faces were both, for once, the epitome of seriousness. She rolled her eyes.
“Of course I’m glad for him!” she said, slightly exasperated. “I just think we should be happy for Cedric too. After all, he’s a Hogwarts champion just as much as Harry is.” But Fred and George exchanged knowing glances across her head, and she felt annoyed; it was evident they didn’t believe her.
“Look, we’re happy for you two,” said Fred, wiping his mouth with his sleeve and brushing the last of the pastry crumbs from his hands. “But you’ve got to be loyal to Gryffindor House, you know – it is your house. Or have you forgotten where the Sorting Hat placed you?"
“I am so sick of trying to be forced into choosing sides!” she burst out in frustration, not quite meaning to lose her cool but unable to stop it now. "And you can just stuff it if you've got anything more to say, because I am not in the mood." Fred, who had at that point opened his mouth to try and slip in another comment, wisely shut it, looking wary.
It was driving her nuts, this civil war the students had become engaged in, endlessly debating over whether Cedric or Harry was the real Hogwarts champion. And Cedric and Harry didn’t like it, either, so what was the point? It only drew deeper divisions between everyone.
“I’m going to bed,” she said shortly, rolling her parchment up with a snap and jamming it and her quill back into her bag fiercely. Fred and George just looked at her blithely. She’d never lost her temper with them before now, and it seemed to have shocked them rather speechless. “Talk to me again when you’ve gotten over this ‘real Hogwarts champion’ nonsense,” she added tersely, and despite the early hour of the party climbed the steps to her dormitory and rolled into bed.
But she lay awake for a time after this, not being able to sleep for the thoughts buzzing like bees in her brain. Cedric was safe, and she was happy, but it depressed her that she couldn’t let her feelings show around her friends. Everyone in Gryffindor had put such an effort into backing “their” champion that they were getting swept away in the madness without quite realizing where it was going. What kinds of foreign friendships could they hope to bolster if they were at war with their own classmates? Could it come to a good end if no one was willing to support one another?
She was sorry she’d snapped at her friends, though, because they certainly weren’t the ones who’d deserved it. She made a mental note to make them a sincere apology in the morning, and then turned over, closing her eyes and punching her pillow into a more comfortable shape. And then her thoughts wandered back to being with Cedric in the medical tent, and a smile crossed her face as she finally drifted into dreams.
November faded slowly into early December with no real changes, other than the bitingly cold weather. Snow fell almost every night on the castle, powdering the tops of the trees in the forest and covering anew each evening the footsteps that dotted the grounds. Rachel came to value Herbology class with Cedric, Matt, and Anders more than ever, for they seemed to be the only people not at odds with each other in the corridors. They, at least, were gracious enough to acknowledge the skills of both Hogwarts champions.
Cedric and Rachel didn’t speak about whatever had passed between them in the infirmary tent. Although something had clearly been felt by both parties, it was also clear that neither knew exactly what it was. They were more polite to each other than they had been previously. Their study nights in the library continued as always, but they were actually studying and doing homework now, rather than sharing stories and talking about nothing in particular, as they had done before.
Rachel worried tirelessly that she might have messed things up for her and Cedric before they even really began. She couldn’t explain why he might suddenly become slightly more distant from her, and she fretted again that it might be yet another result of the rift the tournament seemed to have cause. Surely he couldn’t think that she was of the same narrow mindset the other Gryffindors had displayed of late – but that was the only plausible scenario she could think of.
Worse, the Slytherins seemed to be doing an awful lot more whispering when she was around lately. As if she needed another burden to worry about, Rachel suspected more than ever that someone had blabbed to one of them about her crush on Cedric, and wondered if this could be the reason for his distance. Never before in her life had she stressed so much, and over a boy! It was ridiculous, but she couldn’t help it, and the worry remained ever present.
In mid-December, an announcement was made to all students fourth year and above that (if possible) increased her nerves tenfold. It was announced throughout the school that, to celebrate the holidays with their foreign guests, Hogwarts would be hosting a Yule Ball on Christmas night.
Rachel, who was sitting in Charms between Alicia and Angelina one day about a week after the announcement and trying not to listen to all the chatter about the ball that was drifting across the classroom, was already heartily sick of everyone’s obsession with the upcoming dance. The girls seemed to all have been hit with the Rictusempra hex, so frequent were their giggles, and boys suddenly became much more withdrawn than normal – all except Fred and George. They were making a big joke of it, as always.
Sitting three rows in front of the girls now were the twins themselves, heads together, whispering eagerly about something, and, Rachel thought wryly, it probably wouldn’t have taken a genius to figure out what. Angelina suddenly began to giggle as Fred turned around and gave her a broad wink, and Alicia joined in. Rachel scoffed and began gathering up her things and stuffing them into her bag as the bell pealed. As if the whole school needed another excuse to get competitive. This dance certainly was a brilliant idea.
The other sixth-year Charms students pushed toward the door in a wave. Rachel tried to join the queue out the door, but felt a hand yank her upper arm. She turned angrily, and wasn’t much placated to see Fred and George standing there, grinning like idiots.
“Shut up. Now,” she said immediately, giving them a half amused, half exasperated look. “I really don’t want to hear your guys’ little jokes about Cedric right now, got it?” As if broadly hinting about the ball to every female on two legs wasn’t enough, they had been relentlessly teasing Rachel about Cedric because of it as well – even more so than normal. Judging by her mixed emotions regarding that particular boy at the moment, the jokes were most ill-timed. But, of course, they couldn’t know that.
“Us? Joke?” George said, faking being appalled at her words. He glanced at Fred, and they cracked identical grins before leaving the classroom. She rolled her eyes and headed toward the library, intending to knock some of her homework out of the way during her break before she had to head to Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Suddenly, as she turned a corner, she saw a group of Slytherin sixth-years walking in her direction. She sucked in a breath and tried to pretend they weren’t there; maybe if they didn’t notice her, they wouldn’t make snide comments about Cedric.
Unfortunately, no one else was in the corridor to shield her from view.
“Look! It’s Alexander!” laughed one particularly nasty girl Rachel knew only by sight from spending so much time in Potions with the Slytherins. “Or should we call you Diggory now? Haven’t you set a date for the wedding yet?”
Rachel felt her face grow hot, which was unfortunately exactly the response they had been hoping for. A tall, skinny boy made kissing noises between pursed lips, and that set them howling again.
“Your boyfriend’s in the library, bet he’s waiting for you!” called the first girl over her shoulder, and they walked away laughing nastily. Rachel’s heart gave a little somersault, and she walked a little more quickly than normal into the library.
Sure enough, she recognized Cedric’s profile as he bent over a table, studying a thick book intently. He looked up as she slid into the chair across from him and, smiling slightly, opened his mouth to say something, but Madam Pince swooped down upon them in an instant.
“No talking in the library!” she hissed, looking as though she’d like to drop a couple of the books she was carrying on their heads. Rachel frowned.
“We weren’t-“ she began, but the woman’s nostrils flared dangerously, and Rachel quickly dug her Charms book out of her bag and flipped through it. Madam Pince stalked away back to her desk, and Rachel looked back at Cedric; he was shaking with silent laughter.
“Shut up,” she whispered, grinning but not daring to raise her head more than a few centimeters from the book in case the librarian happened to still be looking in their direction. Cedric grinned back but said nothing more. Instead he motioned toward the corridor outside. Rachel nodded, and they both stood up and put their books in their bags. Rachel glanced over her shoulder; the librarian looked as if she was about to get up and say something to them again. They quickly left the library.
“What an old hag,” Cedric said promptly once they were out of her earshot, and Rachel burst out laughing. He grinned down at her, and suddenly looked a little embarrassed.“So, um… I kind of heard what those Slytherins said to you… before you came in.” He looked down at his feet.
Rachel wanted to sink right through the floor and never set eyes on him again. “Oh, yeah?” she stammered, her voice squeaking. Her face flamed red and her throat seemed to be closing in on her windpipe.
“Yeah… so, before you get the wrong idea, I just wanted to say that I am totally cool with us being friends,” he said quickly. She felt like someone had just punched her in the stomach.
“Oh…” she said quietly. Her eyes burned but she forced the tears to go back down. You always knew this was going to happen, she tried to tell herself, but she knew it was a lie. The past few months she’d let herself get her hopes up, much further than she should have. She only felt stupid for not seeing it sooner.
“Yeah,” Cedric said now, still looking uncomfortable. “This is weird… I don’t know how they found out, but I was going to tell you soon. Honest.” He looked like he wanted to sink into the floor too, and Rachel frowned; his sentence didn’t fit in with the rest of her train of thought.
“Wait, what?” she blurted, halting dead in her tracks.
“I don’t know how they found out I liked you,” he continued, going pink in the cheeks. “But I was going to tell you, only… they got there first. I think it was that stupid Ben Drewart, he’s been a little sore at me since I turned down all his Quidditch tactics for next year’s cup.” He scowled slightly at the floor.
For a minute she said nothing, only stared at him in disbelief, her mouth open. She didn’t believe what she was hearing; this never happened, not to her… All those times she’d been teased by the Slytherins, they hadn’t been talking about her… they’d been talking about Cedric?
Cedric looked like he wanted to kick himself. “I’m sorry,” he said hastily, running a hand over his face. “I should have told you. Look, I’ll just-“
“No!” Rachel blurted, and laughed out loud. She felt almost giddy with relief. “It’s just… I thought someone had told them that… well, that I liked you…” Cedric looked up hastily, and she laughed again at the new look on his face.
“So… you thought… they were teasing you?” he said slowly, and she nodded, although she knew she was still as red as a beet. He laughed and ran a hand through his hair.
“Well! This certainly wasn’t how I thought my day was going to go,” he said with incredulity. They started down the corridor again, and this time Rachel was convinced than someone had charmed the carpet under her feet into clouds.
“So, um… would you like to go to the Yule Ball with me?” he asked, and she looked at him and beamed.
“I’d love to,” she said, and he grinned, relief washing over his face.
“Great!” he said enthusiastically, and as if it was planned, the bell rang just then. Students began pouring out of classes, and the corridors turned into the normal battle for survival.
“So, I guess… I’ll see you later,” Cedric said, and Rachel nodded. They said their good-byes and he headed down the staircase for Potions while she turned in the direction of Defense Against the Dark Arts.
She had a date to the Yule Ball. With Cedric Diggory, of all people! Even her wildest dreams had never extended this far.
The same group of Slytherins from in front of the library was queuing outside the Charms classroom, waiting to go in. The sixth-year girl who’d taunted her earlier grinned as she entered their line of vision. “Hey, Alexander! How’d it go with your boyfriend?” she asked, drawing out the word.
To their immense surprise, Rachel beamed at them. “Great! Thanks for helping out!” she called, and, laughing at the extremely stupid looks on their faces, went off to her class, certain her heart could be seen beating madly from underneath her robes, and not really caring either way.
A/N: So, thanks to the absolutely brilliant work of the validators, this chapter's popping up here rather quickly! So, maybe Cedric and Rachel are finally getting together? What do you think? It sure seems that way, but then again, what a good story without a few twists, yeah? I hope you're enjoying this story, because I sure do enjoy your reviews!