The first few weeks of term passed by blurrily, a mess of homework, meals, and quiet time at night doing homework in front of the Gryffindor common room’s roaring fire. As October drew nearer, the topic on everyone’s tongues was the Triwizard Tournament and the foreign students who would be coming to stay with them the following week and would also be competing against whichever student from Hogwarts was chosen. Rachel was interested in these things as much as the next person, but Cedric was the primary focus of her mind these days, as selfish and slightly embarrassing it was to admit it.
After their homework session in the library (in which they had admittedly talked more than worked on the Fanged Geranium essay), they had agreed to meet twice a week for the foreseeable future to continue to tackle the large pile of N.E.W.T. homework that the teachers seemed to be giving the sixth years. Rachel looked forward to these sessions more than she’d ever looked forward to anything in her life, and because Quidditch was not to be played this year due to the Tournament - much to the rest of the school’s chagrin - she and Cedric found more and more time to spend together. It amazed her that the best-looking boy she’d ever seen actually wanted to be her friend, but she didn’t want to jinx her luck by questioning the fact.
A week before the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students were due to arrive at Hogwarts was a Saturday, which meant no classes for any of the Hogwarts students. Rachel awoke in a great mood - it was the weekend, she and Cedric had actually managed to complete all of their homework in the library the previous evening, and tomorrow was the first scheduled Hogsmeade visit of the year. Even the steady drumming rain the tickled the windows and flattened the trees couldn’t dampen her own high spirits.
Rachel hurriedly tied her curly hair back into a ponytail, eager to begin what she could already feel was going to be a great day, and trotted down the dormitory steps. But then, as she reached the common room, she stopped, hands still poised to fix her hair. Fred and George had apparently waiting for her at the bottom of the upon seeing her, and she was instantly wary of what kind of information they wanted out of her so early in the morning.
“So,” said George, drawing the word out. “Lee just happened to be cruising by the library last night and he noticed a certain Gryffindor looking quite cozy with a certain Hufflepuff.” He raised his eyebrows mysteriously, but the effect was lost on his friend. Rachel smiled enigmatically back.
“We were not ‘cozy’,” she said, gliding smoothly past them and heading for the portrait hole. “We were doing homework, and if Lee says anything to the contrary then he’s a lying git.” To her slight dismay, they refused to let the subject drop after that, merely following her out of the portrait and down the corridor in the direction of the grand staircase. She tried her hardest to pretend they weren’t there.
“We’ve seen the way he looks at you,” said Fred, acting stern now but failing miserably; it couldn’t have been more obvious how gleeful the two were to have something to tease her about. Secretly, Rachel didn’t mind, for it gave her more chances to think about Cedric. Who was just a friend. Right?
And what way did he look at her, anyway?
“Cool it, you two,” she said as they followed her doggedly down the marble stairs. “I mean it.” They said nothing more, but a slightly whimsical air hung about their heads, and Rachel knew that Fred and George couldn’t leave something alone for the life of them. They might stop teasing for the time being, but it was almost a sure thing it would start up again.
Cedric was absent from the Hufflepuff table, but she caught Anders and Matt’s eyes and waved at them a little. They were quickly becoming her friends as well; the N.E.W.T. Herbology students were so few and shared so many close calls with plants intent on killing them that friendships were inevitable.
Rachel sat down across from Katie and Angelina and next to Alicia. All three of them were watching her intently as she ladled porridge into a bowl and poured herself a goblet of pumpkin juice. She glanced up briefly, and then did a double take when she realized that they were still gawking at her. “What?” she demanded impatiently, self-consciously fiddling with the hem of her dark gray jumper as though that might be what was causing the stares.
“What’s this about you and Cedric?” said Angelina in a low voice, and Rachel almost laughed out loud. The gossip mills were certainly functioning in full force.
“This is what you get from listening to Lee, you know,” she said, looking down at her breakfast and subtly avoiding the question.
“We didn’t hear anything from Lee,” said Katie, the excitement in her tone matching the expression on her face. “Someone in Hufflepuff told a fourth-year Hufflepuff, who said something about it to Harry Potter in their Herbology class, and he told us because we knew you.” The three girls leaned unconsciously forward. “Are you dating him?”
“I am not dating him,” said Rachel carefully but emphatically, calmly reaching forward for the marmalade pitcher and spreading it thickly on the porridge. “We meet a few nights a week for homework, if that’s what you’re so excited about.” But apparently this was exactly what they were excited about.
“Oh, you’re so lucky!” sighed Alicia, glancing toward the Hufflepuff table, although Cedric was still absent from it. “He’s absolutely the most gorgeous boy in our year, all the girls agree.” Rachel looked up at them, but said nothing, smiling blandly at their obvious overexcitement. It was just a few study meetings, nothing more, she convinced herself. Really.
After breakfast, Rachel denied the invitation to an Exploding Snap championship tournament in the common room and instead headed for the front doors of the castle, despite the fact that the rain was still falling steadily. Walking in the rain calmed her down, and made her happy. It was weird, in a sense, but there was something satisfying about not fighting the rain, just letting it wash over you.
Her feet took her automatically to the trunk of a large willow tree that stood very near the edge of the lake’s shore. This was her favorite spot in all of Hogwarts; a hollow just big enough for two people to sit in lay between two of the large and wizened roots. She often came down here to do her homework or read – before she did both of those things with Cedric, anyway. When had she last been able to sneak away here?
She sat down on the earth, slightly damp from the rain that had dripped down the long branches, and crossed her legs, leaning back against the comfortable bark of the tree.
Suddenly, as though the brief thought of him had conjured him to her, Cedric appeared across the lawns, walking purposefully in her direction. Her heart gave a small leap as she watched him walk toward her, and it was leaping because he was coming in her direction.
That is – it would have been, had she had any notion of becoming more than friends. Which she did not.
He drew nearer, and finally he was right in front of her, and then, quite suddenly, he was sitting next to her in the hollow that the tree made. Rachel instantly decided that her favorite spot was all the better because of the space it allowed for him to sit next to her, although the accompanying chest-tightening from nerves was a bit uncomfortable. They didn’t speak for a minute, but sat side by side looking out at the rain making small ripples on the lake’s normally glassy surface.
“Hi,” said Cedric finally, and Rachel laughed. He grinned down at her and said, “What are you doing here?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. I like the rain, though. Sitting here, looking out at it and just listening to it. It’s kind of nice, getting away from the rush of life in there.” She jerked her head in the direction of the castle, and Cedric nodded, seeming to understand what she was describing to him.
“You know,” he said after a moment, “I think this is the first time we’ve been together that hasn’t been about homework or school.” Rachel grinned, her stomach squeezing pleasantly at the mention of being together.
“It’s kind of nice,” she supplied, and Cedric made a noise of agreement in his throat. The air between them suddenly grew tense and expectant; Rachel wondered what made the change.
The rain began to fall harder, pummeling the earth, and even the branches of the willow weren’t enough to completely separate them from the downpour. Rachel raised a hand to her eyes, shielding them from the rain that ran in tiny rivulets down her forehead and the back of her neck, soaking her shirt collar.
“I think I should go in now,” she said hesitantly, breaking the thick silence. “It’s – um – a bit wet out here.” She wanted to smack herself in the forehead for sounding so unintelligent at that moment. Cedric shook his head slightly as if he’d been lost in his thoughts, and he looked at her, meeting her gray eyes with his deep brown ones. A thrill ran through Rachel as they just looked at each other for a long moment.
“I’m just going to sit here for a little bit,” he said quietly, so that she almost missed it beneath the torrential rain. “I’ll catch up in a bit.” Her brow creased slightly, but she said nothing, only climbed to her feet and brushed the dirt off her dark skirt. Cedric was looking out again at the lake’s choppy surface, pocked with rain drops.
She was halfway back up the steep path to the castle when she heard him call her name from behind. Turning, she saw him standing just outside the willow tree’s branches, rain dripping off his flattened hair and the hem of his robes. Their eyes met, even at a distance, and her heart leaped again, bobbing somewhere around her Adam’s apple.
Cedric began making his way toward her once more, and she stopped breathing for a brief moment. They were a yard apart when he stopped and looked at her, searching for something.
“Listen,” he said quickly. “This is incredibly late notice and you probably don’t even want to, but I just – well, I’ve been wondering if you – do you want to go into Hogsmeade? With – well, with me?”
Rachel said nothing, her heart beating so fast it echoed loudly in her ears, and she was sure Cedric could hear it too. He looked embarrassed now, his chest rising and falling as if he’d just run a marathon. Rachel smiled up at him, and she felt herself turn slightly pink despite the chilly rain soaking her.
“I’d love to,” she said, and Cedric grinned. She noticed just how gorgeous he looked, even with rain dripping in his eyes. She smiled up at him, wishing she could reach out her hand and brush back the wet lock of hair that had fallen on his forehead…
“Great,” he said, and his smile lit up his eyes. “Can I meet you in the Entrance Hall at eleven?” She nodded, and they stayed like that for just a moment, only looking at each other. Then, with a last look and a small wave, Cedric turned and headed back for the lake, this time walking along the shore. Rachel watched him until he disappeared from view, fighting the urge to jump in the air and scream with delight.
She had never attracted anyone’s attention before. She’d never had a date. There were certainly many girls at school much prettier than she. But somehow, without quite knowing how she’d done it, she’d attracted the attention of Cedric Diggory.
She turned suddenly and flew up the steps into the warm, dry castle, scaling the stairs two at a time and hurtling down corridors, heading for the common room. The Fat Lady looked shocked to see the dripping figure standing before her.
“Balderdash,” Rachel panted, grinning like a lunatic and not wanting to hear whatever criticisms the portrait wanted to offer her. With a little sniff, the Fat Lady swung forward and Rachel dived through the portrait hole.
Fred, George, Lee, and Angelina were clustered beneath one of the rain-strewn windows, concentrating intently on a pack of cards in Lee’s hand – the Exploding Snap championship was obviously still in full swing. They all looked up as she crossed the room toward them, ignoring the looks that the others in the common room gave her. The grin on her face told them all they needed to know.
Lee whooped and gave out a mad cackle; Fred wolf-whistled. Rachel stuck out her tongue at them and sat on the floor by Angelina, who grinned knowingly at her friend. Rachel settled into the soft carpet, her mind already off the game of Exploding Snap that was continuing, thoughts wandering to the next day and to Cedric.
A/N: I hope you're all enjoying this story so far -- it's a bit slow, but I promise that it does eventually pick up pace, and there's plenty more Cedric/Rachel tension and fluff to come. And we all want to see that, don't we? Thought so! So hurry on to the next chapter, and please don't forget to leave a review. Reviews are an author's bread and butter, and would you want to see me starve? (I hope not!)
Thanks so much for the reads!