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Chapter 11: The Yule Ball
Cedric was waiting at the foot of the stairs, and when Rachel came into view a smile lit up his face. Her breath caught yet again in her throat – he looked so handsome - and she had to remind herself to keep on inhaling and exhaling as she walked the last few steps to stand beside him. He held out his arm as Fred had done only minutes earlier in the common room, and she took it, trying not to stare at him too much and failing entirely.
“You look really nice,” he said, and she blushed slightly, opening her mouth to tell him how nice he looked, too. But at that precise moment Professor McGonagall stepped out of the closed doors leading into the Great Hall, wearing a tartan dress of her own; it was odd not to see her in her usual emerald green robes.
“Champions and their partners, if you could step over here, please!” she called crisply over the heads of the students milling around the entrance hall. Cedric and Rachel stepped over to the area under the stairs where she was motioning. Glancing over her shoulder, Rachel caught Lee’s eye; he gave her a thumbs-up and a broad grin before walking with Alicia into the Great Hall.
“Right, then,” said Professor McGonagall, once the four champions and their partners had assembled around her. “Once everyone has gone into the hall, you will take your places at the table set up there for the feast. However, once the feast has ended, you must take your spots on the floor. Remember, you will be opening the dancing. Do you all understand?” She eyed them all beadily, and six heads nodded in unison; only Rachel and Harry Potter seemed to take this as news.
“Open the dance?” Rachel whispered at Cedric, feeling as though her throat had suddenly gone very dry. Harry had now taken Professor McGonagall aside; the Ravenclaw girl she’d seen in the Three Broomsticks a few months ago was hanging off his arm. Cedric looked concerned at Rachel’s question.
“Yeah, I – didn’t I tell you?” he said, sounding confused. Rachel shook her head, now feeling a lot more nervous than she already had. Dancing with Cedric while being surrounded by other people was bad enough, but now she’d be dancing in front of other people?
“I can’t dance, Cedric,” she whispered urgently, and he smiled. Well, apparently he hadn’t forgotten her clumsiness.
“Trust me, just follow what I do,” he said. She opened her mouth to protest, to insist that no matter what he did, it wouldn’t help her two left feet at all, but at that moment Professor McGonagall arched an eyebrow in their direction; the other pairs were lined up already. Cedric and Rachel scurried to the back of the line.
They waited in a few minutes’ tense silence, Rachel wondering how on earth she was going to manage this without making herself look stupider in front of Cedric. He looked fairly calm – once you’d tackled a dragon, Rachel supposed, nothing else was really going to be hard anymore. Still, her stomach was fluttering nervously, and she instinctively drew closer to Cedric. Even through her jitters, her brain still registered that he didn’t move away from her.
The minutes before the doors to the Great Hall swung open seemed to drag on forever – Rachel had time to take in every minute detail of the embroidery on Fleur’s dress, and the stitching on Krum’s dress robes, and most especially the warmth of Cedric’s body near hers. She was in a slight state of panic, worrying about tripping over her dress or walking right into Hermione Granger, who was standing in front of her, next to Viktor Krum.
Finally, the doors creaked open, and the voices of the students and staff already inside died down to a low murmur. The normally bright candles that hung over the hall were dimmed, and instead of four long House tables, smaller purple tables were grouped around a large cleared space Rachel guessed must have been left especially for the dancing. Cedric and Rachel followed the other champions toward still-vacant places at the top table, where the faculty and judges were sitting.
All throughout dinner she tried to make easy conversation with Cedric and Hermione Granger, who was seated on her right, but it was hard to concentrate when she was worrying about what was to come. Cedric seemed to notice her nerves, and leaned over during one part of the dinner, looking worried.
“Are you okay?” he asked in a low voice so as to not attract attention, raising his eyebrows in a show of concern for her.
“I’m fine,” she smiled, trying to look reassuring and stop her hand from its slight shaking at the same time. She was almost as nervous now as she had been before walking down to meet Cedric – and that certainly was saying something!
Before she was quite ready, the feast had ended, and Professor McGonagall had leaned down the table to look pointedly at the four champions and their dates. They got up, and all eyes seemed to follow the pairs as they made their way once more through the tables and chairs, this time spacing themselves around the open floor.
The sound of a baton tapping a music stand faintly registered in her ears, and she placed a hand on Cedric’s shoulder, taking his other in her hand. Violins and cellos began to play, and Cedric started leading her around the dance floor.
It was all going wonderfully, much better than she’d expected beforehand – her eyes were locked with Cedric’s, and she quite nearly lost herself in their beautiful gray color. She didn’t much care right now if she was acting like a character in a romance novel, because this was almost like a fairy tale in itself, with the sparkling icicles and Christmas decorations that had been constructed around the hall. She felt herself beginning to relax, Cedric leading her smoothly through the dance steps.
And then, of course, her heel caught on a rough flagstone in the floor.
Off-balance, she stumbled backward, and before Cedric knew what was happening, she found herself sitting hard on the stone floor, legs sprawled awkwardly in front of her. Laughter rippled through the onlookers, mostly from a section near the back that Rachel strongly suspected to be made up of mostly Slytherins. She felt her face flame up, hotter than ever before. She wanted to sink right through the floor and never come back up.
Cedric had stuck out both of his hands, and she took them and climbed to her feet shakily. He was smiling as well, but there was concern behind his gray eyes; she felt infinitely grateful to him for that. “Don’t worry about it,” he said under his breath, replacing his hand to her waist. “I’ll catch you next time.”
Rachel felt her heart begin doing cartwheels in her chest. She smiled through her embarrassment and tuned out the lingering chuckles from some of the onlookers. But she kept glancing at the floor, wary of any more trips like the first one she’d had. Embarrassing herself in front of the whole school once was enough, thank you very much.
“Didn’t I just tell you I’d catch you?” Cedric said, and she looked up quickly, grinning; a wide smile was on his face as well. “Don’t look down,” he added, and pulled her slightly closer. Her legs turned to jelly and she was terrified that she really would fall again, but was determined not to look down. At this point, if Cedric had asked her to throw Dungbombs at Filch she would have done it.
This, Rachel thought, had to be one of the happiest moments in her life – just being with Cedric, dancing with him, feeling his arms around her and the fabric of his dress robes under her own fingers. It seemed like the moment was hanging in time, as though it was entirely plausible that it might go on forever that way. She half-wished that it would.
Rachel and Cedric had stopped when the first song ended, although she couldn’t have rightly said when exactly that had been. He was now looking down at her with an expression she couldn’t ever remember seeing on his face before, watching her while her own rambling thoughts flitted across her brain. She waited, tense with anticipation at his expression, her hand still on his shoulder.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” he said abruptly as the band raised their instruments for the next song.
“Is my dancing that awful?” she teased, and Cedric laughed and shook his head emphatically.
“Not at all, but we wouldn’t want you spraining your ankle next,” he teased back, and held out his arm for her once more. They slipped between the dancing couples – she passed by Fred and Angelina, and Angelina raised her eyebrows suggestively – and emerged into the nearly deserted entrance hall. The doors to the grounds were flung wide, leading out into a makeshift garden arranged specifically for the ball’s purposes.
A little path of crushed white rocks wove among newly-planted bushes, each of which sparkled with tiny lights that Rachel was surprised to see were actually real fairies. Statues had also mysteriously sprung up around the little garden, and from the trickling of water that reached her ears, Rachel assumed there were fountains there as well. She had to hand it to whoever had thought this up.
Cedric seemed to have no destination in mind, and that was absolutely fine with her. They walked side by side in a comfortable and amicable silence, listening to the fountains playing somewhere beyond their range of vision. They reached the center of the little path, a circular fountain of children playing with fairies, and Cedric sat down on the rim of the basin; Rachel did the same.
Her heart seemed to have once more lodged itself in the vicinity of her throat – it seemed to happen with increasing frequency whenever she was around Cedric. She never thought she’d be the kind of person to experience all of these romance-novel feelings, but now she had turned into the giggling, blushing girl she’d always thought so silly. She couldn’t entirely say she disliked the change - or rather, the reason for it.
Cedric turned to face her suddenly, and she shook her head slightly, cutting off her second internal monologue of the evening (that was definitely a habit she didn’t want to start developing). He was smiling slightly, and she couldn’t help but smile back, feeling warmth begin to blossom in the pit of her stomach. She desperately searched her mind for something to say, hoping she didn’t look like a total idiot right now, sitting there with nothing to say.
And then, without warning, Cedric leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.
They lingered there for moments – or perhaps it was much longer than moments, Rachel never really knew - before they finally broke away. Cedric was looking at her, his eyes slightly wide as though he didn’t really know what he’d just done. She looked back at him breathlessly, still feeling the pressure of his lips on hers, not quite knowing what to do next.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a long time,” he said softly, his face flushed. Rachel just continued to look evenly at him, not allowing her face to give away the fact that he had just set her heart racing at a million miles an hour. She did the only thing that she could think of doing, and it was both wonderfully brilliant and wonderfully stupid. She leaned forward and kissed him back.
Of one thing she remained certain – this second kiss definitely lasted more than moments, and more than minutes besides. It was almost surreal, sitting on a fountain and kissing Cedric Diggory, and she half-wondered if she might even be dreaming. Maybe she’d knocked her head during the fall in the Great Hall, and was currently knocked out cold on a bed in the hospital wing.
Dear Merlin, if this is a dream, let me never wake up.
Cedric’s hands found hers, and he wrapped his fingers around her own, just tight enough to make her stomach clench pleasantly. It was all she could think about – the warmth of his hands, the smell of his cologne, the feeling of his lips on hers…
A loud crashing sound from their right cut through what had until now been silence, and Rachel and Cedric jumped apart, his hands still wrapped snugly around hers. Peeves, the resident poltergeist of the castle, had burst through a carefully manicured rosebush upside-down, bits of leaves and twigs sticking to his garish bowtie. His eyes lighted on the pair by the fountain, and a wicked grin cracked his wide face.
“Why, what is this?” he said in mock puzzlement, flipping right side up and bobbing like a cork in the air. Rachel glanced sideways at Cedric and caught his eye; he grinned sheepishly, and she mirrored it. Peeves swooped over to bob between them, darting his beady little eyes between them.
“Do I spy two ickle students romping about in the garden?” he said, revolving slowly. Cedric rolled his eyes, a slight blush tingeing his cheeks again.
“Get out of here, Peeves,” he muttered, another grin creeping across his face. Rachel laughed and watched as the little man blew a very large, wet raspberry, flipped upside down once more, and went zooming off in the other direction, humming something that sounded suspiciously like a wedding march.
From somewhere inside the castle, a bell tolled quarter to twelve. Rachel couldn’t believe it was already that late; the time had just flown by and had caught her totally unawares. She returned her gaze to Cedric, who also seemed surprised by the lateness of the hour.
“I guess… we should go back inside,” she said regretfully, and instantly wanting to take the words back – what if Cedric thought he’d only made things awkward for her? If she’d had things her way, she could have sat by Cedric here and kissed him until the end of the world.
“I guess so,” he echoed, and her heart jumped selfishly at the note of disappointment in his voice. They stood in unison from the rim of the fountain, and Rachel sought his hand again. He squeezed it and smiled down at her gently, and, leaning forward, tucked a strand of hair that had fallen from her bun back behind her ear. The gesture sent a cold shiver down her spine.
Other students, having noted the lateness of the hour, were milling around the entrance hall when they stepped back inside, saying good-bye to their dates. Some of the girls were sprawled on the floor together, rubbing their feet from the marks their heels had left there.
Cedric and Rachel stopped at the foot of the stairs, near the doorway that led to the painting concealing the Hufflepuff common room. He still clutched her hand tightly in his; she could feel his pulse beating in his wrist. It was thrilling to be able to take in small details such as that.
“I had a great time,” she smiled, speaking softly, and he nodded in agreement. Rachel suddenly found herself inexplicably at a loss for words. She became aware of more than a few pairs of eyes that had turned in their direction, and squirmed inwardly at the scrutiny.
“I really had fun, Rach,” Cedric broke into her thoughts. She looked up into his gray eyes, her heart beating uncomfortably fast as she recalled their kisses in the garden.
She raised herself up and kissed him for the second time that evening, thrilled that he didn’t pull away but instead placed his hands firmly on her waist. Goosebumps blossomed up and down her arms, her body reacting once again to the touch of his lips on hers. They finally broke away, identical grins cracking their faces.
“Good night,” she laughed, turning pink, and began to climb the stairs, not even registering the chuckles and whistles that were coming from the onlookers still lingering about the entrance hall.
If someone had asked her all those months ago on the Hogwarts Express whether she thought that, a mere three and a half months later, she would have kissed Cedric Diggory three times in the same night, she would have laughed outright.
Wasn’t life just a little bit funny sometimes?
A/N: Hmm... this was a rather boring little chapter, wasn't it? Rather humdrum, all around. Nothing of note. Nothing... at all. And certainly nothing that's been building up for eleven chapters. Well, what do you think? I'd love to know - as always!