Chapter 6 : The Choosing of the Champions
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She had stayed up late in the common room with the other sixth-years, listening to Fred and George’s various schemes as to how to trick Dumbledore’s age line, which grew wilder and more obtuse as the night wore on amid taunts and laughter. But Rachel could only participate half-heartedly; the expression on Cedric’s face at the welcoming feast still alarmed something deep within her.
You’re being stupid, she told herself firmly as she awoke on Halloween morning, dressing quietly in the nearly empty dormitory; Angelina was just stirring awake. Rachel looked at her friend prostrate on her bed and wondered why she didn’t feel as scared that Angelina had decided to enter the tournament, too. It wasn’t that she thought Angelina was more capable than Cedric – both of them were incredibly intelligent – but something about Cedric’s entry made her almost numb with fear. Stupid.
Angelina sat up sleepily in bed, stifling a yawn, and blinked blearily at her friend. “Wait for me,” she mumbled, slowly swinging her legs out of bed. “I’ll go down with you, I need to put my name in the cup…” Still half-asleep, she began rummaging in her trunk for a pair of jeans.
Soon both girls were dressed and they descended the stairs into the deserted common room; it seemed everyone had made sure to dart down to breakfast in a hurry, more than likely to watch the foreign students and to watch who put their name in the goblet. Rachel smirked as she thought of where Fred and George were instead: in the dungeons, with Lee, brewing up an Aging Potion, despite Rachel’s protests that Dumbledore wasn’t dumb enough to overlook a little potion.
The entrance hall, predictably, was packed with students clustering around the spot where the goblet had been placed after the feast. Angelina now looked bright-eyed and wide awake, and she slowly fished a piece of parchment out of her pocket, her name written upon it in a decisive and confident hand. People turned as she cut through them, excitement all over their curious faces, and they watched hungrily as she crossed the age line purposefully and dropped the paper into the high blue flames. They sparked for a moment, and then swallowed the paper. Several people applauded and clapped Angelina on the back as she made her way back to her friend.
“It’s done, then,” she said, grinning sheepishly at Rachel, who smiled back and squeezed her arm encouragingly.
“I really hope you get it,” she said, knowing that the sentiment came from more than just wanting to see Angelina succeed in the tournament.
Angelina went into the Great Hall for breakfast, but Rachel lingered, knowing instinctively that Cedric hadn’t yet put his name into the cup. Word had spread that he was thinking of entering and, due to his popularity, he was already a favorite contender for the title. She hung near a large torch, half-hidden in the shadows, and soon her instinct was realized as a great roar went up from the crowd standing near the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room. A shifting of people revealed Cedric, grinning broadly, wading his way through them, parchment clutched tightly in his right fist. At the sight of the paper peeking from between his fingers, Rachel’s heart turned over; she seemed to stop breathing for a moment.
There’s nothing that says he’ll get it above anyone else. You’re being thick, you know; you don’t own him. If you really want the best for him, let him make his own decisions. Unbeknownst to her, she had thrust her fists into her pockets, clenching them so tightly she could feel the skin stretch over her knuckles. She watched as he turned to the goblet, suddenly serious, and let the paper flutter into it. It sparked again and then resumed flickering. Another cheer erupted from the circle of onlookers.
As though he could feel her watching him, Cedric looked around at her suddenly. She met his gaze, loving the intensity of his eyes and feeling foolish for reveling in such trivialities in the first place. He seemed to see something in her expression; across his face flicked a curious emotion, a mixture of pain and something like duty. He muttered something to his friends and made his way across the hall to her unnoticed; his admirers, obviously having seen what they came to see, making their way into the Great Hall or onto the grounds.
“Hey,” he said gently when he got close enough. “Are you all right?” He took a firm hold of one of her upper arms, and a small shiver ran up her spine at his nearness. She nodded, but from his expression she could tell he didn’t believe it. He gave her a small smile and squeezed her arm.
“I know you’re worried,” he said, speaking even more quietly. “But it’ll be okay, whatever happens. I probably won’t even get it. And if I do… I’ll be careful, just for you. How’s that?” He grinned roguishly, that infectious grin that she could never help returning. He paused, as though about to say something, and then closed his mouth again.
“Well, I… I’ll see you, then,” she finished awkwardly, and he nodded, releasing her arm. He moved back in the direction of the Hufflepuff common room, shoulders squared and walking purposefully. She watched him go and then quietly slipped into the hall and into a seat between Lee and Alicia, thoughts still with Cedric’s retreating figure.
The day was one of the slowest Rachel could ever remember spending at Hogwarts; all her thoughts were concentrated on the feast that night, as were everyone else’s. Even Fred and George’s wonderful beards (a result from their unsuccessful attempt to hoodwink the Goblet of Fire) failed to distract her thoughts much. She tried not to show her irrational fear by losing herself in countless games of wizard’s chess with Ron Weasley, Fred and George’s brother, and Katie, until they both begged for a rest from it. Even when they had left to go tackle homework (a far thought from Rachel’s own mind), she remained where she was, staring into the fire in the hearth and remembering the way Cedric had looked at her: it was so intense she thought she might melt just from the memory of it…
Finally the sun had disappeared beyond the distant mountains visible from the leaded windows of Gryffindor Tower; people had moved in and out of the tower all night, talking animatedly, speculating who would be chosen Hogwarts champion that night. Although many Gryffindors were hoping for Angelina, Rachel still heard quite a few people pinning their hopes on Cedric, and the thought made her fearful again for him. Maybe she was just worrying too much – it was an annoying little habit of hers.
Fred caught Rachel’s elbow as they headed down the grand staircase to the feast, his brow creased, and he pulled her onto an empty armor plinth. “Rach, what’s up with you lately?” he said bluntly, not ever one to beat around the proverbial bush. “You’ve been acting a little distant and moody, and we’re all a little worried about you.” His eyes flicked to the other sixth years, clustered in a slow-moving group a little ways down the hall, trying in vain not to look like they were eavesdropping. Rachel was about to say that she was fine, but something stopped her.
“I’m really confused,” she began slowly, wanting to be able to confess the weight on her heart to her best friend without having to fear being teased for doing so. But it seemed that Fred was in one of his rare solemn moods, and she knew instinctively that he would listen. “It’s just that I’m a little worried about Cedric.”
Fred paused for a moment, seeming to mull this over before he responded. “Because of the tournament?” Her silence was confirmation. “Well, that’s pretty natural, I guess. We always worry about the ones closest to us.”
Rachel raised her eyes to his quickly, face reddening in a heartbeat, waiting for the witty sarcasm that would inevitably follow that remark. But it didn’t come; Fred’s face remained sincere. “I… no, Fred, that’s twisting things…” She stammered, then grew defensive. “I don’t love him, for Merlin’s sake.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could have thought them through a step further. Do I?
Fred raised his eyebrows slightly, obviously as skeptical about this remark as she herself was. “He’ll be fine,” he said, giving her a quick hug and starting to steer her in the direction of the straggling students going to dinner. “He promised you, didn’t he?”
She whipped around to look at him; there it was, that mischievous grin she knew too well. “Fred Weasley!” she laughed, pushing him. “I don’t remember giving you permission to eavesdrop on my conversations!” He laughed and pushed her back.
“Trust me, everyone sees. You’ve got nothing to worry about, he’ll keep any promise he makes if it’s to you.” Smirking, allowing her to puzzle over this last, he stepped ahead of her into the Great Hall. She followed him quickly.
The customary Halloween decorations were in place; jack o’ lanterns flickered eerily above the four tables laden with food that would have made a dentist’s hair curl. Live bats swooped from corner to corner, hissing occasionally and causing the first years to shriek with mock horror. There was considerably less noise, however, because every eye was subconsciously trained onto the Goblet of Fire, which had resumed its placed in front of the top table, flickering calmly. The teachers and tournament officials ate with seeming indifference to the eyes trained toward their end of the hall; only Karkaroff, the headmaster of the northern school Durmstrang, seemed disturbed by the pairs of eyes.
Finally, after what seemed like much longer than an hour, Dumbledore rose from his chair; an instant and almost tangible silence fell across those seated before him.
“Normally I would take this moment to give a few words,” said Dumbledore, adjusting the bridge of his glasses and smiling slightly, “but I can see none of you are patient enough to withstand them this evening. Therefore I simply say… it is time.”
As though in response to his words, the candles in the pumpkins flickered once, twice, and then went out entirely, bathing the Great Hall in the blue light from the goblet yet again. Dumbledore turned slowly toward it and held out a patient hand, as though waiting for someone to hand him a train ticket. Finally, after what may have been minutes, or quite possibly hours, a lick of flame shot up from the rough wooden cup, bearing upon it a slightly charred piece of paper. Dumbledore caught it neatly and turned it over delicately in his thin fingers.
“The champion from Beauxbatons is Fleur Delacour,” he said calmly after only a brief pause. Hard applause and cheers erupted from the Ravenclaw table; Rachel saw a girl with long, silver-blonde hair rise gracefully from her place next to a goggling seventh year and glide up to the top table effortlessly. Professor McGonagall motioned her to a room behind the table, and as soon as she disappeared from view, the hall was silent again; two more champions to go.
Another flame shot up from the goblet; Dumbledore caught the paper and squinted at the words printed on it. No one dared move. “The champion from Durmstrang is Viktor Krum!”
Rachel’s attention was momentarily caught, as was everyone else’s, as the surly Quidditch player rose from his seat at the Slytherin table and followed Fleur through the door behind the staff table. And, for a final time, silence fell; not a person spoke, but everyone was concentrated on the cup. For now, the Hogwarts champion would be revealed…
A flash of blue; a flutter of paper, and Dumbledore caught the final piece of parchment in his outstretched hand. He beamed at the students, some leaning forward as though they could hear the news first if they did so. He opened his mouth and spoke.
“The Hogwarts champion is… Cedric Diggory.”
An explosion of noise, like a backfire from a Blast-Ended Skrewt, rose up from the House tables. The Hufflepuff table had disappeared amid a storm of people all desperate to get close to Cedric, to touch him, to speak to their new champion. And all the while, Rachel remained at her seat at the Gryffindor table, feeling as though she’d just swallowed a chunk of ice and the Goblet of Fire itself all at once. It had happened, as part of her always knew it would; Cedric had done it. She fought hard between intense joy and overwhelming worry.
She turned her stunned gaze to the Hufflepuff table, watching as Cedric fought to rise from his place against the wave of people surging to congratulate him. She looked as he turned, found her, and the smile momentarily faded from his face; he looked vulnerable, and tender, and it was all she could do not to run to him and throw her arms around his neck. But no, that wouldn’t be proper… She wanted to celebrate with him, but quite honestly, wasn’t sure how.
She broke contact and looked down at her cutlery, the centerpieces, anywhere but the sheer wall of people behind her. Finally, the noise died down; Cedric had gone with the other champions. It was official now.
“Well done, well done, all of you!” Dumbledore cried, turning to face the students and clapping his hands together, looking positively joyful at the prospect of the coming tournament. “Congratulations to all of our champions, and I’m sure you all follow me in wishing them the best of luck in the coming months. Now, for a bit of business -"
But at that moment, a fourth flame erupted from the goblet. One of the teachers gave a gasp as the parchment rose high into the air and fell to the floor, skidding a little out of Dumbledore’s reach. He bent, frowning heavily, and picked it up, examining it shrewdly, before looking back at the students assembled before him, shock on all their faces.
Every head swiveled to look at Harry Potter, seated only a few seats away from Rachel. But (and if it was self-centered, then so be it) she really had no concern for him right now; her thoughts were still with Cedric, somewhere behind that door, happily celebrating his achievement at being made Hogwarts champion - now, co-champion. She barely listened as the hall began to buzz, and Harry slowly made his way up between the tables to Dumbledore, who pointed him into the back room without a word.
All the teachers hurried to confer with one another and the students clustered together to talk about this latest shocking development. George hurried away to talk to Hermione Granger and Ron, both of whom looked as shocked as the rest of the student body, but Fred leaned forward to Rachel.
“Rach, you look pale. Are you okay?” He looked genuinely concerned, and put a hand forward to cover hers. “It’s just a tournament,” he said awkwardly. “He’ll be fine. Honest to Merlin.”
“Honest to Merlin?” she asked skeptically, and he laughed. “You know what I mean,” Fred joked. She smiled and rose, wondering why she was making such a big deal out of this, anyway. “You’re right,” she said in a small voice. “Well, I’m going to go up to bed. Coming?” He shook his head, bewildered, and she all but fled the hall, having no earthly idea why she was so scared.
It’s just a tournament. It’s just a tournament. She repeated the words over and over to herself, willing them to stick in her brain. It was just some games. Dangerous or no, he certainly wouldn’t get injured. The school wouldn’t allow it, anyway. Then why was she so worried? It made no sense!
The common room and dormitories were expectedly empty. She burst into the sixth-year girls’ room and shut the door behind her, flopping onto the bed fully clothed for the second time in a row. She clutched the neck of her robes like a drowning person, willing herself to breathe, hating herself for acting like such an idiot about nothing at all.
He’ll be fine, he’ll be fine, he’ll be fine. But nothing would make her believe it unless he was near her, grinning infectiously, the only person able to clear her mind of fear now. She closed her eyes and sent up a silent prayer for the boy she was coming to find she just might possibly care about more than she wanted to.
A/N: Finally, the plot bunnies have returned to me! I have missed them. So, what do you think of this chapter? I'm not too sure on it... Hopefully, this story is still interesting to some of you out there! I'd really like to know what you think and how I could improve, so that little review box down there's about to become your best friend. Seriously, though - thanks to everyone who's made it this far, and everyone who's left a review as well. I couldn't keep writing without you!
Some lines in Dumbledore's speech have been borrowed or altered from J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire". I do not own anything written by that wonderful woman. =)
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