Steam billowed across the train platform as Rachel Alexander skidded to a halt, hauling back on the trolley's handles and digging the heels of her well-worn sneakers into the pavement. She breathed in the soot and grime of the station with a certain relish, her heart thudding excitedly as she imagined herself back at Hogwarts for a brand-new school year. Hogwarts had become almost like her home in Liverpool, and the students and faculty were some of her favorite people in the world. It was hard to imagine how she'd lived a completely different life five years previous, knowing nothing about the magical world. Now she couldn't imgaine being anything other than a Gryffindor student, about to enter her sixth year of schooling. The thought was almost unreal, truly, but it was really a dream come true.
Rachel was the oldest child in a large Liverpudlian family, with a machinist for a father and five little brothers and sisters who always seemed to be underfoot, breaking one thing or another. It had shocked everyone when Rachel had received a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on her eleventh birthday, even when research had proved that Rachel’s great-great-uncle had in fact been a wizard. After all, it was unheard of to have a slightly eccentric-looking man show up on one's doorstep to invite an eleven-year-old to an unknown boarding school. Looking back, it was surprising that Rachel’s parents hadn’t dismissed the entire notion and forbidden her to attend, or worse, had Professor Dumbledore arrested for attempted kidnapping. She was extremely glad that fortune had worked in her favor on that one; the results could have otherwise been potentially embarrassing.
Brushing her thick blonde fringe out of her eyes, Rachel craned her neck around for some sign of her three best friends, Fred and George Weasley and Lee Jordan. Like herself, they were in their sixth year at Hogwarts, and had also been sorted into Gryffindor. Oddly enough, the four had met when Fred and George had tried to pelt Rachel with Dungbombs after a potions lesson in their first year - she'd been too shy to speak to them before. When she'd caught them at it, and hadn't gone squealing to Professor McGonagall, they'd figured having her around wouldn't be such a bad idea. It was a rather strange way of meeting, but she didn't know what she'd do without them now.
As though thinking about them caused them to appear in front of her, three figures emerged from the haze, running pell-mell in her direction. She grinned at their obvious blatant disregard for the others around them, noticing Lee narrowly avoid slamming into the back of an elderly witch, apparently seeing her grandson off to school. Rachel hadn't seen any of them all summer, and watching two thatches of red hair and one of black dreadlocks zooming toward her made her feel at home like nothing else yet had, in an odd way.
“Rachel! We’ve done it, we’ve done it!” shouted Fred triumphantly over the din of the station, causing many people to turn curiously in their direction. Another rather old wizard, standing close to the boy's grandmother, had to step back quickly so as not to be flattened by George's sneakers. He scowled at his back and muttered something about "hooligans". As he reached her side, Fred lowered his voice as he dug deep in a pocket of his jeans. He withdrew several small, bright candies wrapped in multicolored foil. Rachel stared at them for a few seconds, and then laughed.
“You didn’t, Fred! I was only joking!” she said, beginning to push her trolley toward the back of the train. Fred grinned wildly.
“It was a good idea, though, those tongue-swelling toffees!” he said, only slightly defensively. “And we tried it out over the summer on Harry Potter’s cousin-“
Rachel’s jaw dropped, and she stifled a giggle. “What’d it do?” she asked conspiratorially, but at that moment Fred and George’s mother bustled up to them.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you two!” she said sternly, hands on her hips. “I want all your little toffee whatsits – now.” George started to protest, but Mrs. Weasley glared at them so ferociously that they hastily emptied their pockets, giving their mother their own glares in return.
“Nice,” Rachel teased as Fred aimed a kick at her trunk, scowling. “Come on, let’s get a compartment before they all fill up.” Still looking murderous, the boys followed her lead.
The four continued to the very end of the train, and Fred and George hoisted Rachel’s trunk into an empty compartment. Lee Jordan collapsed on one of the faded, worn seats, instantly burying his nose in the morning’s Daily Prophet. George pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, and the twins began to whisper about whatever was on it; Rachel suspected they were discussing more joke products for the joke shop they dreamed of opening one day.
Sighing, Rachel sat by the window and leaned her head against the cooling glass. She watched mothers saying tearful goodbyes to their children and giving them stern reminders about vegetables and underwear, friends calling out to other friends and showing off their new robes and trinkets. She caught a glimpse of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger climbing aboard the train a little further down, and suddenly her eyes lighted on an unfamiliar boy standing with his mother and father.
He was tall, with light brown hair and strong, chiseled features. His father (a good head shorter than the boy) was talking animatedly to his son, who seemed to be listening intently. Finally, the father smiled, and they hugged briefly.
“Lee,” said Rachel, “who’s that standing there on the platform? I don't think I've ever seen him before. Is he new?"
Lee looked up from his paper and scanned for the person Rachel mentioned. “The tall one? He’s Cedric Diggory. In our year, but he’s a Hufflepuff. Plays Seeker on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team.” At the mention of Cedric Diggory’s name, Fred and George looked up from the parchment and out the window as well. George scoffed.
“Yeah, ‘Pretty Boy’ Diggory’s got about a million girls waiting in line for him. He’s top of the year, he’s a wicked fast Seeker, and quite a looker – if you believe the females who trail him around the school.”
Rachel, who had been watching George talk, looked back out the window, but it seemed Cedric had climbed aboard the train; in any case, he’d disappeared from view. “I wonder why I've never seen him before,” Rachel mused, and Lee grinned.
“You have, he's been in our Herbology lessons since first year. Well," he added, speaking as he thought, apparently, "seeing as you don’t really take much fancy to Quidditch, I don’t know why you would have paid special attention."
Rachel frowned. "Why's that?"
"That's mostly where he hangs out - he's Seeker for the Hufflepuff team," Lee explained. "And he's their captain to boot." He paused, and then added with an air of forced indifference, "You really should follow Quidditch more, you know, pretty much all the Gryffindor sixth-years are involved in one way or another-”
“I’ve told you,” Rachel laughed, “it’s not much of a sport! I’m not a fan of sports anyway.” Fred and George, Beaters for the Gryffindor team, and Lee, who commentated at the matches, were always trying to get her to get more excited about Quidditch. She'd always denied them, though - she really had never seen a point in watching sports. But I may have to watch them this year, she told herself, looking out the window again. But even thinking things like that made her blush. She wasn’t the kind of girl to go about getting random crushes on boys – she’d never even been on a real date before. And yes, Cedric Diggory certainly was handsome, but she wasn’t the kind of girl he’d choose, so why bother dwelling on it? Puppy love never amounted to anything.
With a loud whistle and a fresh burst of steam, the train jolted to life and began to slowly inch out of the station. Dawdling students hastened to jump aboard the train, and families waved goodbye to their students. Rachel caught sight of Mrs. Weasley standing next to her husband and waving before the train gathered speed and turned a corner, and the platform was whisked out of sight.
Soon the four Gryffindors were joined by the three other Gryffindor sixth-year girls: Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson, and Alicia Spinnet. The rest of the trip was a rather cacophonous mess of laughter, Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans, and ideas of pranks to play on the incoming first years (with most of the contributions coming from Fred and George). Before any of them could really bother to keep track of the hours, night had fallen outside the fogged windows, and lights had come on all along the train’s corridors.
With a squeal, the train slowed to a halt and finally came to rest at Hogsmeade Station. Laughter carried loudly through the clear but cold night as trunks were heaved onto the platform and the voice of Hagrid, the gamekeeper, called, “Firs’ years! Firs’ years, over here, don’ be shy!”
Rachel, Fred, George, Lee, Alicia, Angelia, and Katie found an empty horseless carriage in the middle of the line that waited to take the remaining students up to the castle. They squeezed inside and shut the door, when Fred suddenly said, “George! We didn’t tell them, did we?”
George let out a little noise, apparently angry with himself, and Lee leaned forward excitedly across from Rachel. “What?” he asked eagerly.
“Dad and Percy told us before we left that something big was going to be happening at Hogwarts this year,” said Fred in a low voice, leaning forward too, so that everyone strained to hear him. “They wouldn’t say what - I don't think they was supposed to say anything, actually, Percy acted all snippy about it - but they did say that they wished they were still at Hogwarts to see it.”
“Maybe it’s some kind of inter-school World Cup!” said Katie excitedly. Katie, Angelina, and Alicia were also on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, as Chasers. They were as mad about Quidditch as the rest of the school, which Rachel simply couldn’t understand.
“Maybe,” said Fred importantly, leaning back against the seat once more and obviously loving being the one to let the rest in on this secret. “I just hope Dumbledore tells us tonight, so I won’t have to wait any longer to hear what it is!”
The carriages gave a sudden lurch, and began moving slowly up toward the stone steps leading into the castle. Rachel fell silent as the others began discussing the highlights of the Quidditch World Cup, which had been held that summer, along with brief mentions of the Dark Mark seen in the sky that night. Scores and plays blended into background noise, and unconsciously Rachel’s thoughts strayed back to Cedric Diggory. How had she never seen him before? Was she really that wrapped up in her life as a Gryffindor that she barely paid any attention to the other houses? Racking her brain, she tried to come up with names of other sixth-year students in different houses, but none came to her. She vowed silently to start paying more attention to her fellow classmates this year.
But Cedric – well, Fred hadn’t been lying; he certainly was handsome. Why should she care, though? She didn’t even know him, and he certainly didn’t know her. Crushing on him was only going to make her more miserable in the end, and it simply wasn’t worth it. She hated being such a defeatist, but her realism always won out in her internal battles.
The carriages creaked to a stop, but Rachel remained seated until the rest of her friends had left the carriage before climbing out. She suddenly felt inexplicably distant from all of them, and didn’t like the feeling, nor whatever part of her it had come from.
As Rachel climbed out of the carriage, her sneaker caught on the hem of her robes and she tumbled out of the door. Passersby laughed as she squirmed, trying to get her foot untangled. Her face grew very warm and she wanted to disappear.
Suddenly, strong hands lifted her to her feet and began brushing away the dirt on the front of her robes. With a jolt of shock and another wave of embarrassment, she realized that it was none other than Cedric Diggory himself.
“Are you all right?” he asked kindly, looking down at her concernedly from his height. Rachel nodded and blushed again, tucking a strand of hair that had become loose back into her ponytail. Cedric gave her a half smile and stuck out a hand. “Cedric Diggory.”
“Rachel Alexander,” she said, not at all surprised at the warmth and firmness of his handshake, despite never having spoken to him until this moment. Cedric nodded. “I’ve seen you around. You hang out with the Weasley twins, right? What a mess they are.”
“Yeah, they are,” Rachel grinned, feeling some of the blood that had rushed to her face leave it once more. “I… well, it was nice meeting you, but I should-“
“Yeah, me too,” he said hastily, as they realized that almost everyone had gone inside the castle. “Well, I - see you around.”
“See you,” said Rachel, and Cedric turned and began climbing the stone steps into the castle. Rachel remained rooted to the spot, her heart racing, wondering if she’d just imagined what had just happened. That was just a bit too coincidental for her liking.
It means nothing, she told herself firmly. He’s just a nice guy, that’s all. But she didn’t believe the words even as she thought them. She knew she’d only be frustrated in the end. She knew it wasn’t worth crushing on Cedric. It was a continuing thought chugging through her brain. But knowing what to do was different than actually doing it, and she knew just as well that - as much as she didn’t want it to happen – Cedric would be occupying more than a few of her thoughts this year.
A/N: Thanks for reading my first story! This summer I've been re-reading the Harry Potter books and came to realize how much I disliked Cho... and came to the conclusion that Cedric needed a better girl in his life. And the outcome of that thought was this! Don't forget to rate and review, because I'm not afraid of a little constructive criticism.
Edit 9-14-2011: I've made some changes and lengthened the chapter a bit -- it's funny to go back and read through this, seeing ways I've improved and how the story was formulated in my mind over a year ago. This story will always have a fond place in my heart.
Edit 9-18-2012: Thought I should put this in here, just to be safe! As a small disclaimer, nearly all of the events in this story are inspired from the plot of J.K. Rowling's fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Any plot events you recognize, such as the Triwizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, are entirely credited to her; anything original remains my own. Thank you!