If someone had been looking for any sign of either Rachel or Cedric in the weeks leading up to the second task, they would have been hard pressed to find them anywhere other than classes, the Great Hall, or the library. Nearly every free moment was spent together, desperately looking for some way that Cedric could spend an hour underwater, but so far their venture had been unsuccessful. Part of the problem was that they really didn’t know where to begin looking, and so had been forced to pull books off the shelf at random.
Harry Potter and his best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, were also soon spotted more frequently in the library, and Rachel surmised that they, too, were looking for a way to keep Harry alive under the water. Cedric had confessed to Rachel about Harry’s warning him of the dragon in the first task, and so had returned the favor by telling Harry about the egg clue, although this didn’t seem to have helped the fourth-year much; at any rate, he was stuck at the same point as Cedric.
After breakfast one Saturday morning in early February, they were once again in the library, poring over books and searching for any mention of something that might be of use. Madam Pince had taken to stalking rather frequently by their table that day, looking down her beaky nose at them more often than Rachel was comfortable with. It was an unusually warm day for midwinter – bright sunshine was streaming in through the leaded glass panes of the windows in the library – and so the librarian was no doubt curious as to why two healthy students would choose to stay indoors on such a day.
Cedric sat at a table near the back of the library, flicking idly through the pages of a particularly large and dusty book he had pulled at random, a tome entitled Spells and Charms to Thwart Your Enemies. He had been working through this book for a few days now, but the book was mostly filled with nasty things to do to people – make tentacles sprout from their eyes, for example, or fill their shoes with biting red ants. Rachel was browsing the shelves near him, trying to find something useful among books on magical seaweed and coming up short. She could hear Hermione Granger’s bossy voice whispering from several rows away, and Harry Potter retorting something angrily in return.
Suddenly, she heard Cedric’s chair creak behind her, and she turned. He had become suddenly hunched over the book, his fingers flying rapidly across a stained entry in his book. She crossed to him quickly, her heart beating. “Did you find something?” she whispered, standing over his shoulder. Madam Pince, who was passing by at that moment, gave her a frown, but she didn’t really care.
Cedric didn’t respond, but she looked to where his fingers were still moving across the text. “Bubble-Head Charm,” she read aloud, but before she could get any further Cedric snapped the book closed, his forefinger marking the page with the charm. Excitement danced in his gray eyes; her stomach gave a pleasant swoop, and she cursed herself for focusing on them at the most inopportune times.
“This could work,” he said urgently, and grabbed her hand quickly. “Come on.” He all but pulled her to the circulation desk, where Madam Pince had resumed her usual place, looking at a pile of returned books as though she was a vulture. She looked up when they stepped up.
“Could I check this book out?” Cedric said with an air of forced calm, although Rachel could detect a quiver of something else beneath his voice. The librarian held out a claw-like hand and stamped something on the inside front cover.
“Two weeks,” she said crisply, and Cedric thanked her and half-ran out of the library, still clutching Rachel’s hand tightly in his. She followed unquestioningly, although still didn’t know exactly what the Bubble-Head Charm was. It was like the night he had taken her to the prefects’ bathroom; they hurried up a couple of staircases and down hallways, finally stopping somewhere on the seventh floor, in a completely deserted corridor. He stopped abruptly and sank cross-legged onto the dusty green carpet runner, and Rachel knelt beside him. He flipped open the book to the page he still had marked.
“’The Bubble-Head Charm allows breathing in places you would not otherwise be able to breathe,’” Cedric read aloud, sounding rather breathless himself. He looked up quickly at Rachel. “D’you think it could work underwater?”
Rachel felt her own excitement growing as she registered the charm’s description. “I don’t know,” she said, but for some reason was sure it would. “We need to try it. Oh, Cedric, this could work!”
He laughed aloud, a weight seemingly gone from his shoulders. “I know!” he grinned, and looked back down at the page. “Ebulla Spiratus,” he murmured aloud, and Rachel guessed this must be the incantation. He shut the book with a snap and offered it to her. Rachel looked at him quizzically.
“Take this and hide it in your dormitory,” he said. “I’m going to run down to the prefect’s bathroom and try this out. Meet me back here in half an hour.” He stood up quickly and helped Rachel regain her feet beneath her; she was still trying to take in his instructions when he planted a quick kiss on her lips and all but ran off down the corridor.
Slightly dazed, she clutched the book to her chest and sped off in the other direction, toward the portrait of the Fat Lady and Gryffindor Tower. The common room was almost deserted – everyone was outside enjoying the rare February warmth – and she reached the sixth-year girls’ dormitory without incident. However, when she pushed open the door, she realized that it was not as empty as she had suspected. Angelina was lying on her bed, a thick book open on her lap. She looked up as Rachel entered.
“Don’t you look excited,” she said with a grin, closing her book and setting it on the bedside table. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” said Rachel, a little more harshly than she meant to, and instinctively clutched the book a little more tightly to her. Angelina’s eyebrows rose at her friend’s abrasive tone, and Rachel crossed to her own bed as casually as she could, already knowing she’d given away more than she meant to. As though it was the most normal thing in the world, she slipped the book under her pillow and smoothed the bed covers back over it. But, of course, Angelina was still watching.
“What’s in that book?” she asked, sitting up a little straighter and crossing her legs beneath her. Rachel pretended as though the question had never been asked, although her cheeks were blooming red. She made to cross to the door again, although the half hour was in no way almost up.
“It’s something to help Cedric in the tournament, isn’t it,” said Angelina from behind her. It was a statement – not a question. Rachel turned back to see what kind of expression had crossed her friend’s face, and was shocked to find not the expected anger, but only a slightly hurt confusion there.
“We’re not stupid, you know,” she continued. “We know you’re helping him – no one cares. Why do you have to hide it? What, are we going to run and tell Harry, or something?” There were definitely undercurrents of anger in her voice now, and Rachel suddenly felt awful.
“I – no, that’s not what I’m doing,” she said defensively. But something within her squirmed uncomfortably – had she, even without meaning to?
“We’re still your friends, Rach,” Angelina said. “He’s not the only one.” A wave of guilt and remorse swept over her, and she bit her lip as tears suddenly stung her eyes. She swallowed against the hard lump that had risen in her throat. It was evident that Angelina had talked about this with the others – Fred and George, and Lee, and Katie and Alicia. They’d all had this discussion without her.
“I know,” she choked, and felt anger at how thick her voice now sounded. “I – yes, I know that. I’m sorry.” Angelina gave her a sad smile, and Rachel returned it, although the horrible guilt that had invaded her stomach did not abate at the gesture. At a loss for words, she pushed open the door of the dormitory and hurried down the spiral steps, her heart beating uncomfortably quickly. She knew that Angelina had meant nothing nasty by the confrontation, but there was an unnerving truth in her words. Rachel knew her top priority was still helping Cedric stay safe, but she needed to remember to balance out her older friendships, as well. It wasn’t fair to them.
She reached the stretch of wall where she and Cedric had stopped to look at the charm; as expected, he was still nowhere in sight. She took his absence as a good indication of the spell’s ability, however - if it hadn’t worked Cedric would no doubt have returned to the corridor by now.
She slumped down against the wall again, her thoughts swimmingly maddeningly about. She tried to push the more unpleasant ones away, the ones about what Angelina had said to her in the dormitory. Those could be dealt with in a few hours, once Cedric had returned from the bathroom. Without warning, her mind jumped suddenly to the afternoon on the Quidditch Pitch a few weeks ago. Why that suddenly entered her mind, she didn’t know, but it calmed her down a bit to think of it. She allowed the memories to envelop her mind, leaning her head against the wall and smiling slightly. They hadn’t had time to return to the Quidditch Pitch since that day in early January.
“What are you thinking about?” Cedric’s voice interrupted her brief reverie, and her eyes flew open. He was smiling down at her, seemingly even taller than he was from her position on the ground. He reached down and pulled her to her feet again.
“I was thinking about the day you taught me to fly,” she grinned, and suddenly her eyes took in his appearance. His sweater was damp again, as it had been when he had come to collect her when he brought her to the prefect’s bathroom. But his hair, and his face – they were completely dry. From the neck up, it looked as though he hadn’t gone swimming at all.
“It worked?” she breathed incredulously, still unsure as to whether it had been a success. One of Cedric’s grins cracked his face.
“It worked,” he confirmed, and she let out a huge sigh of relief, closing the small gap between them and hugging him tightly. She hadn’t realized until that moment how tense she had been, but all of that tension ebbed away. It had worked, and that meant that their biggest concern of the second task was resolved! She felt Cedric’s arms enclose her and they stood there for a few moments, basking in their reprieve from their biggest worry.
Just for the moment, all her other concerns could wait. She was absolutely convinced that Cedric would make it through this task unscathed, and allowed herself brief moments to think about the possibility that he could win the whole tournament. But it would be a victory no matter what, as long as he was safe.
* * * * * *
The night before the second task, the entire school seemed once more to be buzzing about what might occur the next day. What Rachel and Cedric, and presumably the other champions, knew was obviously not common knowledge, and she had to pretend as though she was just as clueless to the task’s nature as the rest of the student body.
She was sitting at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall at dinner between Fred and Alicia, absentmindedly shredding her roast beef with the tines of her fork. After the confrontation in the dormitory with Alicia, she had made a more formal sort of apology to her friends that night in the common room, and had genuinely made a larger effort to spend more time with them than she had been doing. She realized that she had sort of been putting them off, but things between the other six and her had been mended tenfold since she’d come to that revelation.
However, with the task so close at hand, the familiar nervous butterflies had once more blossomed in her stomach, and it certainly wasn’t hard to guess where her thoughts were lying that evening as she toyed with her dinner – eating was out of the question for now. People were gathered around the House tables, anxious to wish the champions luck in the upcoming task. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were mysteriously absent from the well-wishing, and Rachel assumed that they were still in the library. That was a bit nerve-wracking, to think that Harry might not have found a solution to the underwater problem yet. Even the foreign champions, Fleur Delacour and Viktor Krum, were receiving their due share of the admiration.
As she minced her dinner, however, staring at her plate in anxious silence, she became aware of someone walking quickly in her direction between the tables. She looked up, and so did her friends, as Professor McGonagall came into view, her mouth set into a very thin, grim line. Behind her was a small girl with vivid white-blond hair, a girl who looked remarkably like a small carbon copy of the Beauxbatons champion, Fleur Delacour. Rachel surmised that the girl must be some sort of relation. And behind this girl towered the figure of Madame Maxime, the headmistress of Beauxbatons.
“Miss Alexander, I need to see you in my office,” said the woman sharply, looking not all pleased with the task she had been given. Rachel frowned slightly but got up from the bench without question. “You will need to bring your things with you,” Professor McGonagall added, seeing her school bag, still beneath her seat. “You will not be returning to dinner.”
“Professor, she hasn’t eaten anything,” piped up George from across the table. “Let her finish-“
“Then she can eat something on the way, Mr. Weasley,” said the woman sternly, and George closed his mouth at once. Rachel reluctantly grabbed an apple from the bowl on the table, shooting George a look for blabbing. She still didn’t feel like eating, but Professor McGonagall seemed to be waiting, so she took a bite from the fruit and forced her teeth to chew it.
“In the meantime, Mr. Weasley, would you and your brother kindly see to recovering your brother and Miss Granger from the library? I shall need to talk to them, as well.” Fred and George looked at each other, baffled, but rose obediently from their seats. Seemingly satisfied, the professor swept toward the door leading into the entrance hall, her other two companions following in her wake. Hitching her bag over her shoulder and glancing back at her friends, who were still watching with interest, she followed with Fred and George, not really knowing what else to do.
They walked for a few minutes in a stony kind of silence, no one uttering a word, and Rachel found herself filled with a growing dread that this had something to do with the Tournament. Perhaps Professor McGonagall had found out that she had helped Cedric with figuring out what to do about the second task? She knew that, technically, the champions weren’t supposed to accept help, but no one had stopped Ron and Hermione from helping Harry. Then again, if Fred and George were being sent to collect them, then that very well might be what all of this was about.
Professor McGonagall led the way into her study on the castle’s first floor, a room Rachel only knew by sight but had never actually been in, and she entered after the little French girl while Fred and George continued on in the direction of the library. Igor Karkaroff, the headmaster from Durmstrang, and Professor Dumbledore were already inside Professor McGonagall’s study, as though waiting for the arrival of the four.
“I’ve sent Fred and George Weasley to collect the others,” Professor McGonagall said to Professor Dumbledore, as though the others weren’t there. The old man beamed and nodded his understanding, and then started to hum a little tune while absently staring out the window. The little girl whom Rachel had assumed to be related to Fleur Delacour had taken a seat in one of the four hard chairs that had been placed before the professor’s desk. Rachel did the same, gingerly setting her bag beneath the seat, trying to come up with a plausible way to plead her case to the faculty.
After ten minutes of rather awkward silence, Fred and George reappeared at the study door, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in tow. Professor McGonagall thanked them brusquely and then shooed them away, and the two took the remaining chairs, looking as nervous as Rachel herself felt. Only then did Professor Dumbledore stop humming; standing up, he smiled fondly down at all of them.
“Professor, if this is about helping Harry-“ Hermione began quickly, twisting her hands nervously in her lap, but the headmaster cut her off with a slight chuckle.
“I assure you, neither you nor Mr. Weasley is in trouble for – ah – aiding Mr. Potter with the tournament,” he said, his blue eyes twinkling, and Hermione breathed a very loud sigh of relief. Rachel felt like doing the same, but then her attention focused once more; if not that, what were they here for?
“For this task,” Dumbledore continued, suddenly more grave than he had been, “each champion will have to find something that has been taken from them. Something they hold very dear, and would miss most, should they fail to retrieve them.” He fixed each individual sitting before him with a piercing gaze. “It has therefore been noted that each of you will serve as that thing for one champion.”
He left time for his words to register in the brains of the four, but Rachel already felt her cheeks growing red with embarrassment; glancing sideways, she saw a similar reaction occurring in Hermione. She tried to drown out the rapid translation being given the French girl by Madame Maxime, attempting to control her suddenly reeling thoughts. She was the thing that Cedric would miss most?
Igor Karkaroff was giving Hermione a disgusted look, as though she was something he might have found on the bottom of his shoe. Madame Maxime had one of her large hands clamped firmly on the back of the little girl’s chair.
“But eef zee champion does not collect zee person in time,” she rumbled, “will zey still be safe? Zee ‘ostage, I mean to say, will be unharmed?”
“I assure you, my lady, that each of these four will be in good hands whilst they are waiting to be found,” said Professor Dumbledore in a reassuring voice. Karkaroff looked as though he wished this could be otherwise; Rachel found herself with an inexplicable but instant aversion to the man.
“Professor Snape has brewed a very powerful and complicated sleeping draft that we will administer to the four of you presently,” Dumbledore continued. “This will place you in a very deep sleep, from which you will not wake until your champion brings you to the surface of the lake you will be placed at the bottom of for your champion to find.” Rachel shot furtive glances at her companions, but only the little French girl seemed to take this latest as news; her already-pale face turned an even whiter color.
“If there are no questions, then,” said Professor Dumbledore pleasantly, “I think it is time for the potions.” Four glasses, each half-full of a viscous, vibrantly green liquid, were brought from behind the professor’s desk and placed in the hands of the four hostages. They all hesitated, looking at one another, and Dumbledore gave a little chuckle.
“I assure you, each of you will be perfectly safe,” he said, and that seemed to stiffen Ron’s resolve. He bravely looked down into the glass and quickly downed the potion. Rachel looked down at her own mixture, took a deep breath, and swallowed it in two gulps; it tasted very strange, but was not entirely unpleasant.
The effect was nearly immediate; almost at once, she felt a great drowsiness overcome her, and knew that fighting it even for a few moments would be a wasted effort. The last thing she remembered was the night sky beyond the windows in Professor McGonagall’s study before she fell into the deepest sleep she had ever experienced.
* * * * * *
Rachel did not know what occurred while she was sleeping – how she had gotten to the lake, how she had been submerged, or how Cedric had rescued her from there. She could remember absolutely nothing at all from the night before, after looking at the sky from the window. It seemed only a few seconds between that moment, and when her head cleared the surface of the lake, a bitter wind stinging her wet cheeks.
She became suddenly aware that Cedric was carrying her through the water, swimming for the shore where a huge crowd of people were screaming for him. Any traces of the Bubble-Head Charm had vanished, and he looked positively normal, although soaked to the skin, as she was. He did not look at her but was intent on his goal.
Hands dragged them to land, thumping their backs, wrapping blankets around their shoulders. Through a gap in the mass of people, she saw Fleur Delacour sitting next to Madame Maxime, biting her nails anxiously. Rachel sat close to Cedric, shivering in the icy air, and became aware of his hand and how it was intertwined tightly with hers. He was looking at her intensely, as though afraid she would disappear if he broke contact for even a moment. She grinned through her chattering teeth.
“W- what?” she stammered, unable to control her shaking voice. Cedric gave an equally tremulous laugh and, leaning forward through his blankets, placed a warm kiss on her cold forehead.
“Don’t ever s-scare me like that a-again,” he said, returning her grin. “You’ve g-got no idea how terrified I w-was that I was t-too late.” Her heart suddenly ached in sympathy, and, not caring who might see, she placed her hands on the back of his head and pulled him close for a kiss. He returned it hungrily.
“I’m n-not going anywhere,” she smiled, pressing her forehead to his. He reached around and pulled her to him, enveloping her in his own blankets so they looked like one form huddled there together. They continued to sit like that as Viktor Krum reappeared with Hermione, and then as Harry appeared with both Ron and the little French girl, much to Fleur’s intense relief. The judges gathered off to the side to confer about the marks to be awarded to each champion for their performance in the lake.
The results were given – Cedric and Harry were tied for first place. Glancing up at his face, she could see the delight emanating from every part of him. She kissed him quickly, so happy as to be almost delirious. Not only was Cedric safe – he was winning!
The third task was set to take place on the twenty-fourth of June, and the champions were told they would be given more information as the time for the task drew nearer. The crowd began to make their way back up to the castle, chattering excitedly about the spectacle they had just witnessed, but Cedric and Rachel lingered a little longer on the rocky lake shore.
“Congratulations,” Rachel said, and Cedric laughed softly, looking down at her.
“If they ask you to do anything like this in the next task,” he teased, “say no. I can’t do this again. Promise?”
“I don’t know,” she hedged, pretending to think about it for a moment. “It was rather exciting, being the thing you’d miss the most.” She snuck a glance at Cedric sitting beside her. She was delighted to see that, despite the chill air mixing with his damp skin, a pleased flush had crept up into his pale cheeks.
“I promise,” she laughed, nudging him playfully with her shoulder, wrapped up as she was in the thick blanket. Cedric nudged her back and rolled his eyes at her.
“You’d better,” he said, only half-teasing. “I wouldn’t want to risk running out of time the next go-round.” She looked steadily at him, and then it was her turn to flush with pleasure, turning away to intently study the rocks on the shore as though they were the most interesting things she’d seen in her whole life.
He climbed to his feet and, as always, pulled her up with him. Holding tightly to each other’s hands, they followed the straggling crowd back up to Hogwarts, where celebrations for the victors awaited in the common rooms. Rachel would go to the Gryffindor common room and congratulate Harry, she knew, but she also knew that her mind would still be occupied further away, with the fact that it had been she whom Cedric would have missed most of all.
A/N: This chapter came SUPER fast while writing it, and for some reason it just ended up being my favorite one yet. Perhaps because of all that sappy, mushy fluff at the end, yeah? I just love writing about the tasks, although it's still a little hard for me to believe just how far I've come in this story. (I know - you're getting tired of me saying it!) Well, as always, I'd love to know your thoughts. Please leave a review, it'll only take a minute!
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