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Leaping Obstacles by TenthWeasley
Chapter 5 : Beginning the Tournament
 
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October blew in even colder than the preceding month, and students were not to be seen on the grounds without coats or capes to shelter them from the harsh, northern Scottish wind that constantly buffeted them to and from classes, turning every cheek pink and raw with cold. The castle, drafty as ever, was mercifully kept warm by roaring fires in the common rooms, and it was to these that the students retired after dinner each night to do homework or talk with each other.  

Although they saw each other every Monday in Herbology and studied together several nights a week, Rachel and Cedric couldn’t ever find time to spend together alone as they had that day in Hogsmeade, and although she hated to admit it to herself, Rachel was suffering from it. She didn't know if he felt the same, and so obviously wasn't going to broach the subject, but her mind was in a state of perpetual turmoil. Ignorance as far as flighty feelings, she was sure, was bliss.

 She wasn’t sure what to consider herself now, as far as he was concerned. Was she Cedric's friend? His more-than-friend, if there was such a title? Or was it perhaps possible he considered her to be neither, but just another Herbology study partner? She had endured much teasing on the subject, primarily from the Weasley twins, but that didn’t make a relationship; two people made a relationship, and as far as she was concerned neither of them had made a definitive step in that direction.

The thirtieth day of October was the day the delegates from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang were scheduled to arrive at Hogwarts and excitement was almost tangible among the chattering groups of students clustered in the hallways. The fact that it was Friday didn’t help, of course, and the teachers found themselves hard put to teach any of their students more than a single date or incantation before more excited whispers broke out behind hands and books. Six o’ clock couldn’t come soon enough for most of the students, and even Rachel, who had a free period the last class on Friday, couldn’t help her mounting excitement as she read before the Gryffindor common room fire, legs tucked up beneath her. Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland was laid face-down on the cushion beside her – if Madam Pince saw the way the binding was cracking, she would have had a fit – and Katie Bell’s quill was scratching furiously behind her.

The twins themselves blew into the common room at the moment, Lee with them. They had been on the grounds, trying to tickle the giant squid – a favorite pastime of the three, although Rachel often failed to see the point, especially on the occasion when one of them (or all of them) were squirted in the face by a spray of purple-black ink. They looked ink-free now, however, and George grinned upon seeing Rachel and the book next to her.

“Here’s our little Hufflepuff supporter,” he said in a sing-song voice, nudging the book aside and flopping down on the lumpy sofa beside her. “Reading up on teams for Cedric?” Rachel blushed furiously and cursed herself for doing so, saying nothing but slipping the book underneath her in a vain attempt to prevent further teasing.

“By the end of this little phase, you’ll know so much you could out-Chase Angelina,” said Fred, wearing a grin identical to his brother’s. Rachel turned up her nose slightly and said nothing again, determined to put the subject at rest.

“All right, guys, come off it,” said Angelina, descending the staircase with Alicia behind her. She sprawled herself in front of the fire with a little groan, looking utterly tired, and Rachel understood; all the sixth- and seventh-years were feeling the strain of the N.E.W.T. coursework.

“About time for the delegates to arrive,” Alicia said, sitting down by her friend in front of the fire. “It’ll be weird, won’t it? Having them here?” George shrugged and stretched his arms, yawning, clearly unconcerned with what was still, to him, the distant future.

“I’m going to go put my stuff away,” Rachel said suddenly upon seeing Fred eyeing her library book wickedly once more, knowing he was about to make some comment about her and Cedric again. She hurried off the couch and up the dormitory steps, quietly shutting the door behind her and carefully setting the library book on her bedside table. Despite herself, Rachel was becoming increasingly interested in Quidditch, although the chances to talk about it with Cedric had been few and far between. But really – was it necessary for her best friends to bring it up every other minute? They were boys, true, but a little slack needed to be cut…

By the time she returned to the common room, a lot of other Gryffindors were milling around the circular room, bags slung on chairs and tables in the excitement of going down to greet the foreign students. Rachel joined Fred and George near the portrait hole.

“Let’s go, I want to get a good spot,” said Fred, and he led the way into the packed corridor. The castle’s portraits and armor had been scrubbed so thoroughly that sun actually shone off them; it was a little sad, Rachel thought, remembering the familiar worn landmarks she’d all but memorized in her five years here. It made the castle feel a little less like home.

The heads of houses were in a flurry as Fred, George, and Rachel reached the entrance hall, running about trying to put the students in some semblance of order. The younger students’ faces radiated nervous excitement, standing smartly in lines, still fresh enough to follow every rule tossed at them. The older students were calling to friends across the hall, laughing and joking and speculating about the delegates who would be shortly arriving. The three Gryffindors joined the end of their line, where Professor McGonagall was running up and down, barking flustered instructions to some of their wards.

Idly, Rachel looked about her, tuning out the twins’ conversation on some subject they’d been discussing often, something about money and Quidditch. She caught sight of Cedric in the line across the hall, standing with Anders and Matt, all three looking excited. He was scanning the room too; he caught her eye and gave her an infectious grin that she couldn’t help returning.

“Right, then!” shouted Professor McGonagall just then; it was amazing that her voice could retain its crispness even when she was screaming at them. “Follow me, Gryffindors! No pushing, now, let the first years through!” Slowly the line snaked onto the grounds and assembled onto the front steps of the castle.

It was unnaturally quiet once the student body had gathered there; everyone was tense, alert for any signs of the incoming schools. “Wonder how they’re getting here?” Angelina whispered to Rachel; she had joined the group soon after they themselves had begun waiting. Rachel shrugged and turned her attention back to the skies, the lake, and the grounds; anywhere but the group of Hufflepuffs standing further to her left, although her eyes yearned to catch another glimpse of Cedric.

Suddenly, Dumbledore shouted something Rachel couldn’t understand, and a great commotion and stir went up from the students. Rachel looked around for the source but couldn’t find it; someone screamed “It’s a dragon!” and she looked up instinctively. A great dark shape seemed to be hurtling toward them in the dim light, and now several people were pointing at it; there could be no doubt that this was what Dumbledore had announced, although a dragon might be getting a bit carried away.

With a crash and a bang, a powder-blue carriage halted into the smoothly manicured lawns of Hogwarts, and from it emerged a boy in silky pale blue robes; he was followed by a giant of a woman, who almost equaled Hagrid in size. Fred was on his tiptoes, craning eagerly for a better look as a dozen students in the same pale blue robes emerged from the carriage. Dumbledore stepped forward to great them, but the students were now scanning the skies for the second school’s arrival, the first already having lost interest.

The students (were they speaking French?) had filed through the mass of Hogwarts black, clutching their robes around them and shivering pitifully, and the crowd was silent once more. No one said anything for at least ten minutes; then, a shout from Rachel’s left caused her to jump. “The lake!” cried the voice of Lee Jordan, as he pointed over the heads of the people in front. As one, everyone swiveled to look in the direction he was pointing. A whirlpool had appeared in the middle of the usually calm lake, and slowly from it a long wooden pole was rising. Rachel frowned, watching it.

“It’s a mast!” she finally heard Harry Potter say, and then she understood; the other foreign delegates had appeared, quite suddenly, in a massive and old-fashioned wooden ship. A gangplank was lowered and another dozen students, all surly-looking boys, filed down in immaculate neatness. The rear was brought up by a tall, broad boy and an older man in thick furs and a curling goatee. Rachel narrowed her eyes as the pair approached.

Whispers were flitting from one person to another as the students filed up the path recently created by the French students, confirming Rachel’s suspicion. “Fred,” she hissed, “is that the Bulgarian Seeker? Viktor – Viktor Krum, or whatever?”

His attention was drawn from the world-famous Quidditch player to the bigger shock standing next to him. “You recognize him?” he asked incredulously, and she flushed, although pleased. “Well,” he said proudly, drawing out the word, “maybe this boy will be good for you after all, if it’s causing you to learn Quidditch.” She grinned mischievously and said nothing.

The rest of the school was now filing back into the castle for the welcoming feast. As she reentered the Entrance Hall, Rachel noticed most of the foreign students standing against the walls, looking apprehensive. She entered the Great Hall and took a seat at the Gryffindor table, not without noticing the additions to the top table. Several official-looking wizards were seated there, and where Dumbledore’s golden podium usually stood, a large wooden casket had taken its place.

The French students seated themselves at the Ravenclaw table, the northern students at the Slytherin table. Rachel watched them observing the golden plates and goblets with interest. Finally Dumbledore rose from his throne-like chair and held up a patient hand for silence, which came almost at once.

“To our foreign delegates, welcome, welcome most graciously to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!” he cried happily, beaming down at them all genially. “I am positive this will be the beginning of wonderful friendships between students of different nations, of witches and wizards between countries. And, of course, I know you are all anxious to let the tournament commence. But it would be prudent, I think, to be well-fed before such an event occurs. And so, I say to you – tuck in!” He clapped his thin hands three times, and food appeared on the tables instantly, more food than Rachel had seen at a school feast before.

The feast was eaten courteously, but no one’s mind was really on the food, Rachel could tell. She watched the French and Bulgarian students eating hesitantly, clearly unused to the English food that was now served, although she noticed many foreign foods among the familiar ones. Finally (it felt like many, many hours later) the pudding had been cleared away and the plates shone newly clean once more. Dumbledore again rose from his seat, and this time silence did not need to be called for; the tension was tangible.

“Let the tournament commence,” he said softly, catching the attention of every person, young and old, in the room. He waved his hand gracefully and the lights dimmed to almost blackness; no one moved a muscle, but continued to gaze at the front of the room. Almost in slow motion, Dumbledore tapped the wooden casket lightly with his wand; it melted away as though ice, and in its place stood a wooden cup holding bright blue flames. George and Lee leaned forward automatically, eyes concentrated on the blue fire.

“The Goblet of Fire,” said Dumbledore quietly. “Each witch or wizard wishing to submit their name must only write it on a slip of paper and throw it into the cup, which will be placed in the Entrance Hall following the feast. An age line will be drawn around it to prevent merrymakers” – his blue eyes twinkled in the twins’ direction – “from fooling it.”

Rachel involuntarily glanced towards the Hufflepuff table, where Cedric sat with his friends. His face was upturned toward the wooden cup, the shimmering electric blue light shimmering eerily off his features, throwing some into darkness and illuminating others brightly. A curious expression had crossed these features, one of intense longing and passionate desire.

 A shiver suddenly ran up Rachel’s spine as she looked at him, and a sense of foreboding. She quickly looked away, back to the front of the room where Dumbledore was still speaking, but couldn’t remove the image of Cedric’s rapt face from her mind. For some reason, it scared her.


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