Cedric fell to his knees and was instantaneously blinded by a flash of green light. Something scorching whizzed overhead, just skimming his hair.
“Kill him, you fool!”
Crack. The noise rang in Cedric’s ears as he violently twisted and Apparated away. The suffocation of Apparating was even worse than usual. He screamed, but no sound came out.
And then it was over.
He was lying on the ground, gulping in precious, cool air, chest rising and falling rapidly. Cold sweat ran down his forehead and stung his eyes.
“Cedric? Cedric, speak to me! Where’s Dumbledore? Somebody get him! Get Dumbledore! Cedric’s back! Something’s wrong!”
Cedric sat up and found his legs tangled in his sheets and his shirt damp with sweat. Looming over him was his best friend and roommate, Jason Bell, with a worried expression on his face. To be fair, Jason’s face was always serious. But he looked especially concerned this morning.
“Were you dreaming about the graveyard again?” He asked, as Cedric fell back down onto his pillow and rubbed his temples.
“Yes,” groaned Cedric, “What time is it?”
“Nearly seven. Even Marty’s ready before you today, mate.”
“That’s because Marty needs a job so that he can impress his dates with mildly expensive restaurants and gifts. I already have a job.” Cedric said.
“Ced, you work at—”
“Honeydukes, I know!” Cedric sighed, “Ok, I’m coming.” He swung his legs out of his rickety bed and began fishing around in the battered dresser for a respectable pair of pants. Jason watched him silently. In the next room, they could hear the muffled sound of the wireless.
Each morning for the past week, Cedric and his three best friends from Hogwarts had gathered and gone job hunting for the better part of morning, mostly at the Ministry. They were interviewed for a variety of jobs, mostly as assistants or secretaries, nothing large. Unsurprisingly, nobody wanted an inexperienced eighteen-year-old.
For the hundredth time, Cedric asked himself why he still went to the pointless interviews. He hadn’t taken his N.E.W.T.s yet, as he’d been too busy with the godforsaken Tournament last year. Flitwick and Dumbledore had arranged for him to go to Hogwarts late August and take them the week before school started again. If nobody wanted sturdy, reliable, Outstanding Jason, they wouldn’t even spare a glance for the unqualified kid.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Jason, who was leaning on the doorway, still watching, probably to make sure Cedric didn’t go back to sleep as he often did. “And you’ve got to make yourself known at the Ministry. Show them you’re determined. Live up to your dad’s name.”
“You’re scary, you know that?” said Cedric, zipping his pants and pulling a newly-washed shirt on. “I was just debating whether or not to tag along today. Maybe I’ll just go to Honeydukes early.”
“Yeah, right.” scoffed Jason, “You’d choose Cozy Cassie over an interview?”
“Ok, you’re right. I give up,” grinned Cedric, “Let’s grab Marty and Adam and get out of here.”
Cedric walked out into the kitchen area of his and Jason’s shabby flat and Apparated to the Ministry entrance with his friends. Adam, the joker of the group, and Marty, the ladies man, had heard the Cozy Cassie comment and were discussing her, for possibly the thousandth time. This time it was her hair.
“I wish she’d grow it out longer,” said Adam, “Then, you know, when she’s sitting behind the counter talking and a customer walks in, and she turns around quickly, it would fly everywhere.”
“It’s fine the way it is,” argued Marty, “It’s already pretty long. Any longer, and it would get too messy when you ran your hands through it…”
“Shut it, you two,” laughed Cedric, shoving Adam with his shoulder as they got into a lift. “I forbid either of you to get together with Cozy Cassie. Ever.”
Cassie Douglas, dubbed Cozy Cassie by Adam, was the drop-dead gorgeous about-to-be-sixth year who worked the shift before Cedric at Honeydukes. She’d been heavily hinting to Cedric all summer that she wanted to go out with him, despite his obvious disinterest.
“Don’t worry, Ced, she’s all yours!” Adam said with a straight face, earning himself another shove.
“I still think you should get back together with Cho,” said Jason.
“There’s nothing between me and Cho,” said Cedric, “Will you let it go? School’s over, she’s back home, and last I heard she hooked up with someone else.”
“Really? Who?” asked Marty.
“How should I know? We stopped writing weeks ago.”
“All right, all right, calm down,” said Jason, as they stepped out of the lift. “Look smart. We’ve got to go find… Arthur Weasley.”
“What’s he do?” asked Adam, “Doesn’t he have kids at Hogwarts? Fred and George?”
“He works in Misuse of Muggle Artifacts,” replied Jason, leading the way down the hall, “And I believe he has four children at Hogwarts, actually.”
“One of them was friends with Potter,” said Cedric, thinking back to the catastrophic Tournament. Jason glanced at him sympathetically.
“Only Cedric took Muggle Studies,” said Marty, “Why in the name of Merlin did you apply for an interview here?”
“Here we are,” Jason announced, choosing to ignore Marty, as they arrived at a door with a blotted sign that announced ‘Misuse of Muggle Artifacts.’ He raised a steady hand and rapped on it.
“Hello? Oh, goodness, I completely forgot, you must be the boys looking for a job…” A tall, balding man opened the door. He looked completely harried. “Come in, we’ll squeeze you somewhere, you’ll have to sit tight for a minute, I’m afraid I have to bring Harry somewhere… Oh, I’m Arthur Weasley. Good to see you again, Cedric.”
Weasley awkwardly shook hands with them all as they filed into an impossibly tiny room stuffed with two desks and several filing cabinets. Sitting behind one of the desks was none other than Harry Potter. He looked just as startled to see Cedric as Cedric felt.
“Po— Harry,” Cedric said, tilting his head.
“Oh, you remember each other, good,” said Arthur who was ruffling through the other desk. “Harry, this is…”
“Jason Bell,” Jason supplied.
Harry nodded and reached up to shake hands with them all.
Just then the door was flung open and a considerably old man entered, looked even more agitated than Weasley. His presence made the room officially suffocating. It seemed the maximum capacity should’ve been three, and then only during emergencies.
“Thank Merlin I’ve found you Arthur! I’ve been looking all over, but you’d already left home— Potter’s hearing started early, it’s downstairs in Courtroom Ten…” The man said, gasping as though he’d run miles.
Weasley leapt up and glanced at his watch. “Harry, we’ve got to run, we’re late! Goodness, I’m sorry gentlemen, I’ll be right back, the hearing…” And he and Potter dashed out of the room.
The man who’d brought the news wandered out after them, and the four friends were back to being alone.
“Well, then,” said Adam, perching himself on Weasley’s desk.
“I’m sure nothing’s wrong,” said Jason, though he didn’t sound as if he believed himself.
“Potter’s got a hearing?” Cedric said, leaning against Weasley’s desk. “Wonder what he did wrong?”
“Must be pretty bad, to get tried at the Ministry,” said Marty.
“Probably went mental on someone,” chuckled Adam. He jumped as Cedric glared at him. “Sorry, sorry,” Adam said, raising his hands in defense, “I know you believe all that crap…”
“I was there, Adam.” Cedric said shortly. His friends had managed to avoid speaking about Potter in his presence all summer, once they learned that he was touchy on the subject of You-Know-Who’s return. But apparently, walking in on Potter about to go to a hearing was a little too much.
“I know, I know, you just have to understand, it’s a little far-fetched…” Adam said, glancing at Marty for support. But Marty had clamped his mouth shut. “I mean, I know you were there and all, but it’s just sort of impossible that he’s back, Ced. You don’t know what Potter did in the graveyard.”
“How the hell do you think we got there, then? You-Know-Who arranged for it! You think Potter set it up himself, for a laugh?” Cedric raised his voice. He was on his feet.
“Hey!” Jason raised his voice, “Quit it! Both you!”
“It’s more likely than You-Know-Who sending for him!” Adam shouted.
“I almost DIED!” Cedric yelled back, “YOU-KNOW-WHO ordered it!”
“Be quiet!” Jason hissed, “I can’t believe you’re fighting now of all—!”
Apparently Weasley was back. He stood in the doorway, and suddenly he seemed more than a rushed, middle-aged man. His jaw was set, arms crossed, and he positively bristling with power. “I think you gentlemen had better leave now.”
Jason lowered his head. “Yes sir.” He shuffled out past Weasley. Marty, Adam and Cedric, the latter two still fuming, followed.
The doorway was extremely small. Cedric had to squeeze past Weasley, and as he passed, something small and rough was pressed into his hand so quickly he couldn’t be sure it was real. Without thinking, Cedric stuffed the object in his pocket and silently followed his friends out of the Ministry.
Cedric opened his eyes and tried to wake up. Jason was shaking his shoulder. “Ced, you’re due at Honeydukes in five minutes.”
“Merlin, what an awful morning,” Cedric groaned.
“You’ve been asleep nearly four hours,” said Jason.
“Fighting with one of your best mates can wear you out,” sighed Cedric, running a hand through his hair.
“I’m sorry, Ced. I know the Daily Prophet is rubbish, but…”
Cedric waved it off. “I know, Jason. I don’t expect anyone to back me up. I’d be surprised if you did.”
“I feel bad, though.”
“Forget about it.” Cedric said firmly. “We all knew it would come up at some point. Adam’s always been stubborn.”
Cedric stood up, stretched, and exchanged his nice robes for a t-shirt. He let his eyes slide over the piece of parchment Weasley had given him, where it was hidden in his drawer. Whatever it was, he had to look at it alone. Adam had set up Jason with a blind date tonight; he’d do it then. Speaking of Adam… “Where are Adam and Marty?”
“At their flat. Apparently a Muggle family moved into the building across from them, and through the kitchen window you can see into the teenage girls’ bedroom.”
“So we won’t be seeing them for awhile.”
Cedric smiled at Jason. Of the four friends, Marty and Adam had always been one pair and Cedric and Jason had been the other. While Marty and Adam were off gaping at girls and cracking bad jokes, Cedric and Jason had concentrated on schoolwork and more serious topics. Yet somehow, as years passed, the four stayed friends. Maybe it was because Cedric was always up for an Adam-sized food fight. Or how Marty’s History of Magic notes ended up being better than Jason’s and they became inseparable while studying for O.W.L.s.
“I was supposed to study before work,” Cedric said, as he caught sight of his overflowing desk. The poor thing was positively bending under the weight of his friends’ N.E.W.T.s notes and old schoolbooks.
“Oh, just forget about it today,” said Jason. Cedric looked up with a smile.
“Is Jason Bell telling me to forget about exams?”
“Oh, shut up. Just go to work so that I don’t have to loan you money for the rent again.”
“Jason, I’d like to remind you that not everybody tutors fifth years with loaded parents…”
Jason just grinned his toothy grin. Cedric clapped him on the shoulder before Apparating to the front entrance of Honeydukes.
“Ced!” Cedric opened the door to the shop slowly, so as not to set the little bells attached to it chiming. But Cozy Cassie had a radar of her own.
“It’s just Cedric, Cassie. Not Ced.” Cedric forced a grin as he was embraced by the energetic, curvy form of Cassie Douglas.
“Cedric!” Cassie stepped back to look Cedric up and down. “You’re three minutes late. You had me worried.”
“I haven’t missed a day of work yet, Cassie, and you know it.” Cedric began making his way to the back of the shop, weaving through the jammed shop.
“Is Casper here, Cassie?” Cedric asked, avoiding a towering display of singing lollipops and nearly knocking over a pyramid of exploding gum.
“He got here just before you did. He’s covering the counter now.” Cassie followed Cedric so closely that she bumped into the gum Cedric had dodged and several boxes fell on the floor. She ignored the mess. “What are you doing tonight?”
“Studying,” Cedric said vaguely. He didn’t have to look behind him to see Cassie’s frown.
“You study every night.”
“Yes, well,” Cedric said as the counter finally came into view, “That’s what happens when you take N.E.W.T.s. You’ll be doing the same thing in a year.”
“Yes, but I won’t be taking it in the summer,” Cassie sighed dreamily, “You’re only taking it now because you were the Hogwarts champion in the Triwizard Tournament.” Her voice dripped with admiration.
“One of the champions, Cassie, Harry Potter competed too.” Cedric said. He ducked behind the counter and greeted his friend Casper Bernt, who worked the same shift as him.
“Hey, Cedric.” Casper said. He was sitting on the counter, his long legs stretching down towards the floor. The beard he’d been proudly growing for awhile was finally showing properly. Cedric once again found it surprising that Casper was only eighteen. He could’ve been in his mid twenties.
“Bernt! Off the counter, it’s unsanitary!” The grumbling voice of Stuart Brady emerged from the back room. The man had eyes in the back of his head. Casper and Cedric shared a smirk and Casper jumped down as Stuart appeared in the entrance to the back room.
Stuart was only in his thirties, but had the temper of a hardened old codger. Casper reckoned it was because he was a pureblood wizard, but had married a Muggle and spent the majority of the year teaching in a Muggle school. His time spent earning extra money in Honeydukes during the summer was his only real exposure to the wizarding world. His controlling wife kept him on a tight leash.
“Afternoon, Stu.” Cedric said, putting on his sickly yellow apron that was the Honeydukes uniform.
“It’s Stuart to you, Diggory!” Stuart snapped, “Did the shipment of Droobles come yet?”
“It wasn’t outside when I arrived,” Cedric replied.
“Damn those delivery owls, you can never trust them to carry anything more than their weight,” muttered Stuart darkly, “You keep an eye out for them, you hear? We’ve only got one box left of Droobles…”
“We’ve got it under control, Stu,” Casper assured him. “You go home and relax. Me and Cedric know how to replenish stores.”
“All right,” said Stuart grudgingly, meticulously dusting off his apron and hanging it up on his hook. “And the name’s Stuart. And if you see Ernie, remind him he owes us nearly thirty galleons for that stag party…”
“Don’t worry, Stu,” said Casper, beginning to usher the grump towards the front of the shop.
“You should go too, Cassie,” said Cedric, as the brunette opened her bright lipstick-y mouth. “You don’t get paid extra for hanging around.”
“Are you sure, Cedric? I don’t mind, really…”
“I’m sure,” said Cedric firmly. “Go enjoy your summer.”
And then, finally, Cedric and Casper had the shop to themselves.
“Phew,” said Casper, jumping up and sitting on the counter again, “Am I glad I don’t work the morning shift!”
“It almost makes me feel bad for Cassie.” said Cedric, “Almost.”
The bells attached to the door began ringing wildly then, and Casper hopped off the counter. Both young men tried to put on convincing smiles for the potential customer.
Two young children entered the shop at full speed and began grabbing things off the shelves. An extravagantly dressed lady followed them. She had the look of someone who put on far too much make-up to make themselves look younger.
“How may I help you, Miss?” said Cedric.
“I’m fine, thank you, my sons are just picking out their sweets.”
“Mum! Davie took my Chocolate Frog!” the younger of the two boys appeared, his arms already full of candy. Tears streamed down his rosy face.
“Tommy, there are plenty of Frogs to go around. Go fetch another for yourself.” said the woman.
For the next five minutes the boys ran around the shop, knocking so many things over that Casper started swearing under his breath. Finally, the boys dumped their choices on the counter and Cedric rang it all up. The total came to over ten Galleons. More than Cedric made in a week’s worth of work.
But he only smiled, commented on the weather, and wrapped up the sweets for the spoiled boys. As the family turned and walked to the door, Casper stuck out his tongue at their retreating backs, causing Cedric to laugh.
“Merlin, those kids are going to be bastards in a few years.” Casper said once the family was well out the door.
“They already are bastards.”
“I wonder if the father knows how his money’s being spent?”
“I’m sure he does. Kids so thoroughly spoiled at age six or seven have to have two parents up to supplying them.”
“So,” Casper said, once again perching on the counter, “Any luck at the Ministry today?”
“Nope,” Cedric said, “In fact, we got thrown out for fighting.”
“You? Fighting? Never.”
“Adam started going off about You-Know-Who’s return.”
Casper sighed and ran a hand nervously through his hair. “I’m sorry, Cedric. You know I’m trying to stay out of this.”
“So… you hear about the Tornadoes match last night? They crushed the Wasps.”
The tension of the moment temporarily bypassed, Cedric and Casper settled on a subject they both knew well; Quidditch. And so when the bells attached to the front door jingled once more, announcing the arrival of a customer, they didn’t notice until she was standing at the counter, looking expectantly up at them. Cedric turned and had to remember not to let his jaw drop.