Chapter 15 : The Edge of the Forest
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It seemed like things had returned to being more or less ordinary after the task in the lake. One could almost act as though nothing out of the commonplace was happening, as though the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had always been there, and the Triwizard Tournament was merely a pleasant diversion from the regular normalcy. Cedric didn’t even have another clue to work on for the next task, and so it was just possible to forget that he would have to risk his life a final time for the school’s entertainment.
The months slipped slowly past in a blur of classes, homework, and lazy afternoons spent on the shore of the lake, avoiding said homework. It was almost as if they didn’t exist at all, those months, and instead were rather pleasant dreamy interludes, or figments of a very relaxed imagination. Fred and George, still hell-bent on developing their Skiving Snackboxes to perfection, caused several diversions in the common room that spring and one or two rather magnificent explosions. Rachel helped them as best she could, although there were some things even she wouldn’t do – she had staunchly refused to sign up as a test subject for the products, and all the various and rather painful-looking side effects she saw throughout the weeks only reinforced her decision.
It seemed that she had finally found a way to maintain an acceptable balance between spending time with her friends and spending time with Cedric, as well. He’d even helped with the Snackboxes on one occasion, suggesting looking into doxy venom, a notion Fred and George hadn’t thought of on their own. They were much keener on “Pretty Boy” Diggory after this.
But Rachel and Cedric found plenty of time to spend alone, too – walking around the grounds and the perimeter of the lake, studying as always in the quiet library, and attending the spring trip to Hogsmeade and stopping into Quality Quidditch Supplies for a less hands-on flying lesson. Whenever she was with Cedric, time seemed to absolutely melt away. And so when, on one bright and hot afternoon as Rachel met up with Cedric in the library for their still-ongoing weekly library dates, she discovered it was already the end of May, she could barely believe it.
“I don’t actually remember too much of what’s happened since the second task. Everything’s sort of run together,” she admitted sheepishly, keeping her voice down in case the librarian should be stalking nearby – ever since February, Madam Pince had seemed to do everything but sit at Cedric and Rachel’s table with them, so omnipresent was her beaklike nose hovering over everything. Cedric leaned his chin on his hand and idly doodled away on the corner of his Charms essay, a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth.
“Your brain’s still a bit waterlogged, I expect,” he teased, and she laughed and flicked his hand playfully, causing the ink to blot over the little hippogriff he’d been drawing. He stared at it in mock dismay.
“You’ve ruined it,” he said, pretending to pout, although unable to conceal a grin. He took out his wand and tried to siphon away the excess ink, but instead accidentally removed half of the creature’s head. He eyed his paper critically, turning it this way and that, and Rachel laughed outright at the decidedly perplexed expression on his face.
“By the way,” she said, as Cedric bent once more over his sketch and began redrawing the hippogriff’s head, “we need to get out on the Quidditch Pitch again. I’m afraid I’ve lost whatever you taught me back in January.” For no reason other than pure laziness, Cedric and Rachel hadn’t flown since that first lesson, even after the Hogsmeade visit, and she could tell he was itching to get back out there again by now.
Sure enough, his face lit up at the mention of flying. “Yes,” he said excitedly. “Tonight? We’ve about got all our homework knocked out.” He gestured vaguely to the Charms essay he was doodling on. She nodded happily, and bent back over the Potions questions she was proofreading for mistakes.
At that moment, a bell sounded in the corridors outside of the library, signaling the end of classes and the end of break for Rachel and Cedric. As they got up and began to gather the books, parchment, and quills they had scattered about in the course of their studying, preparing to head down to the Great Hall for dinner, they were joined almost out of nowhere by Professor Moody, who was leaning heavily on his cane. Rachel was a bit apprehensive at his presence, remembering how the last time he had interrupted a meeting of theirs, he had taken Cedric away to talk about the second task.
“Evening Miss Alexander. Mr. Diggory,” the old man growled, both of his eyes fixed unnervingly on them, his magical blue one trembling slightly in its socket. She clutched her books to her chest, waiting for whatever news the professor was going to bring this time.
“Mr. Diggory, you’re needed down at the Quidditch Pitch at nine o’ clock this evening,” he finally said, apparently finished surveying them. “Third task instructions.” Cedric nodded once to show that he had understood, and without further ado Moody stalked away from them, taking a deep swig from his hip flask before he went, which earned him a disapproving glare from Madam Pince.
“Not much for words, is he?” Rachel said wryly, and then the meaning of his message caused her stomach to squirm in disappointment. “Guess that means no flying for us tonight.”
Cedric’s face fell; he obviously hadn’t connected the two. “Well, I’ll see if I can grab a couple of the brooms, at any rate,” he said optimistically, looking down at her. “I can stash them in the common room, and we can go flying around the lake later, or something.” He raised his eyebrows and she nodded enthusiastically. At the top of the stairs, they parted to deposit their books in their respective common rooms, Rachel promising to meet Cedric in the entrance hall after he was finished with whatever the champions were doing that evening.
At dinner, she was surprised to see that the twins were sitting slightly apart from everyone else, heads bent together over a rather long piece of parchment. Angelina looked mildly put out at their secrecy, and kept glancing over at them with a slightly hurt expression on her face. Rachel slid next to George, who looked up hastily and put an arm over the parchment with obviously forced nonchalance.
“What are you doing?” Rachel asked, raising an eyebrow and glancing at the scroll, not fooled for even an instant. She tugged the parchment from under her friend’s elbow and held it up, but Fred crunched a hand down upon it. “Are you trying to let everyone see?” he hissed, and she stuck her tongue out at him, but lowered the parchment.
Written upon it in a cramped yet neat hand were Fred and George’s current products – line after line of joke wands, trick sweets, and other products even Rachel hadn’t heard of. She glanced up at Fred and George, who seemed to be waiting for her to say something.
“Is this like some sort of catalogue?” she asked, giving the paper a little shake. Fred nodded. “And all these things… they’re stuff you’ve invented?” she continued, and again received a nod of affirmation. Her eyes dropped back to the list of merchandise list. They really were serious about opening up their own joke shop, then.
“But why are you hiding it?” she asked suddenly, looking up from the parchment a second time. George glanced over at Lee and Alicia, sitting the closest to them, and shrugged a bit.
“We’re kind of concerned this might get out,” he said at last, clearly not wanting to talk much longer about the subject. But both he and his brother looked pleased by Rachel’s response to the list, and as she handed it back to Fred and began forking sausages onto her plate, they looked loads more confident about the venture, as well.
After dinner, most of the Gryffindors retired back up to the common room to work on their homework. Rachel did the same, but sitting in front of the fire and trying to prevent Lee from copying her Potions questions, her eyes kept flicking to the watch on Katie’s wrist. As the hands ticked closer to nine o’ clock, her mind became more and more occupied with the flying she would be doing that evening. Her stomach began to skip excitedly, as it was wont to do when she knew she would be spending time with Cedric.
She saw Harry leave for the pitch, trying to skirt unobserved through the common room and out the portrait hole, and the small butterflies in her stomach seemed to double. She tried to imagine what the champions might be doing on the Quidditch Pitch – some kind of strange training for the third task? She found herself hoping it would be something tame, although if the past two tasks had been any indication, that was wishful thinking.
When Katie’s watch clicked over to nine o’ clock, Rachel closed her Potions book, stuffing it firmly in her bag out of Lee’s reach. She knew studying any more after this point would be a pointless effort.
“And where are you going?” Alicia asked as Rachel rose from the armchair, scribbling out a sentence in her own Potions questions and looking up curiously.
“I’m meeting Cedric later,” Rachel said, not being able to help the pinkness on her cheeks – even after all this time, talking about Cedric with her friends embarrassed her somewhat. Of course, their reactions didn’t help; Alicia caught Angelina’s eye, and both of them grinned, turning back to their homework and pretending as though nothing had just happened. Rachel rolled her eyes and ran to the dormitory. She flung her bag carelessly on her four-poster, brushed quickly through her hair with her fingers, and tied her red and gold scarf around her neck before descending back to the common room in a span of five minutes.
“Have fun!” Lee called after her retreating back, and she waved sarcastically over her shoulder, enjoying the reaction that seemed to cause. She couldn’t stop a smirk from twisting her lips as she half-jogged down the moving staircases in the direction of the entrance hall, however – no matter how much her friends goaded her, she knew it was all in jest at the end of the day.
The entrance hall was, as expected, deserted. The torches lining the walls in their brackets had already started to burn low in preparation for the evening, and so it was in shadows Rachel took her place along the wall, wrapping her arms around herself and sliding down to a sitting position. All was quiet and still; not even ghosts were passing this way tonight. She couldn’t hear any noises from outside, but that was to be expected – the pitch was quite a ways from the doors to the castle.
It was rather funny how, when you were waiting for something, the minutes seemed to drag by. Rachel was convinced that she’d been sitting there for at least an hour when the clock chimed fifteen after nine. She gave a little puff of breath at a piece of hair that lay across her forehead and leaned back against the cold stone castle wall.
Suddenly, the castle door creaked open. She frowned – the champions hadn’t even been out twenty minutes – and clambered to her feet, losing her balance slightly and steadying herself on the wall. Cedric walked into the entrance hall, Ludo Bagman behind him, looking positively excited about whatever was in store in the third task.
“Ah! Miss Alexander!” he beamed upon spotting her; Cedric grinned as she approached the little group. “Doing well, I hope? Recovered from the lake?” Rachel glanced at Cedric, who coughed politely to hide a grin, before turning back to Bagman.
“I’m doing just fine, sir, thank you,” she said, and he clapped a hand on her shoulder, giving her a broad wink.
“Good to hear it!” he fairly roared, his voice louder than was strictly necessary. Smiling a final time at the pair of them, he strode away up the main staircase, whistling something.
“No brooms to be seen, I’m afraid,” Cedric said apologetically, stuffing his hands in his pockets and leaning one shoulder against the wall. Rachel mimicked him, smiling unconsciously. His presence seemed to keep a smile fixed on her face, no matter what they talked about.
“We’ll get out there eventually,” she promised, and then glanced over her shoulder to make sure Bagman had disappeared from view. He was, but her voice dropped to a whisper anyway. “Any word on the last task?”
“A hedge maze on the pitch,” Cedric said, his face suddenly unreadable; she didn’t know what that meant to him, whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. “We’ve got to find the Triwizard Cup in the maze. Whoever finds it wins.”
Rachel frowned slightly; that seemed a bit too simple, even with her assumptions that there would be obstacles placed within the maze. “Are you worried about it?” she asked, searching his face, which still remained oddly removed from any emotion towards the subject.
Cedric shrugged. “I just… really want it to be over,” he said sincerely. Her heart gave a slight twinge, and she instinctively reached forward and touched his arm lightly in reassurance. He looked at it, and then back at her, smiling slightly. He removed one of his hands from his pockets and took hers in his, rubbing his thumb slowly over the back of it. For a few moments they said nothing but stood like this in their usual companionable silence.
The door to the entrance hall all of a sudden flew open with a tremendous BANG. Cedric and Rachel whipped around, staring at Harry Potter, who was hurtling through it as though someone were chasing him. He skidded to a halt at the sight of them, turning beet red despite his obvious hurry.
“Are you okay?” Cedric asked, taking a few steps in Harry’s direction. Harry was clutching a stitch in his side, but he was already walking quickly towards the marble staircase.
“Got to go… to Dumbledore,” he gasped, and Cedric started off after him. Rachel started off in the direction of the staircase as well, not knowing what else to do; she couldn’t help thinking that this probably looked sort of like a kind of confusing and odd parade.
As they fairly sprinted through the corridors, one right after the other, Harry explained in small bursts about why he needed Dumbledore so desperately. Apparently, Krum and Harry had gone off to talk when they had found Barty Crouch, who had recently been missing from the tournament events, in a state of delirium. He hadn’t quite known what was going on, and for the most part had been babbling incoherently. So, leaving Krum with Crouch, Harry had run off to find Dumbledore.
The three reached the stone gargoyle that Rachel supposed was the entrance to the headmaster’s office – having never been there herself, she couldn’t be too sure. But Harry looked at a loss as to what to do now. He shouted at it to move, but the gargoyle remained quite still. She found herself half-wondering why on earth she was there in the first place. Not only did she really not have much of a clue as to what was going on, but she couldn’t help but thinking that should anyone find three students trying to all but break into Dumbledore’s office, they’d be in for it.
And, of course, at that moment, Professor Snape chose to appear behind them.
It was easy to see, even from an objective viewpoint, how much Professor Snape seemed to hate Harry in particular. Harry tried furiously to explain what he was doing there, but Snape seemed to have none of it, deflecting any excuses or pleas the fourth-year made with his characteristic smirks and sneers. He insisted that Dumbledore was busy, and that Harry could not see him under any circumstances.
“Please, sir,” Cedric burst in, and both Snape and Harry turned to him with surprised looks on their faces. “It’s very important,” he continued, sounding a little apologetic now.
“I would keep your tongue in your head, Mr. Diggory, if you do not desire to anger me as Mr. Potter has done,” said Snape coolly, throwing Harry a nasty glance; the latter scowled and looked as though he should like to strangle the Potions professor, or at the least give him a good kick.
“Is something the matter here?” said a pleasant voice from behind them; Snape, Harry, Cedric, and Rachel turned as one to see Dumbledore gliding smoothly toward them from behind the wall concealed by the gargoyle, his lined face pleasantly inquisitive. In the heat of the argument, no one had noticed it opening.
Harry immediately launched into his story again while Snape fumed and Dumbledore’s face became more and more grave. At the conclusion, he promptly left with the fourth-year to seek out Crouch. Snape remained behind, appearing to be chewing on the inside of his cheek in his anger. It took a few minutes of Rachel and Cedric looking awkwardly from him to each other to remind the professor that he was not alone in the corridor.
“And you two,” he said with malevolence, “should run along before I change my mind about your disregard for authority.” Cedric opened his mouth to protest the unfairness of this, but appeared to think better of it. Snape swept away quickly, muttering furiously under his breath, black robes billowing out behind him like smoke.
Cedric immediately sank to the floor in front of the leaded windows lining the corridor, raising a hand to his mouth and staring at the floor unseeingly. The expression on his face frightened Rachel; for the first time, he almost looked scared. She gently knelt beside him. “Are you okay?”
He said nothing for a moment, absentmindedly rubbing his jaw with his long, thin fingers. Finally he turned his head and looked at her. The worry in his eyes was even more pronounced when he looked at her straight on.
“I’m starting to think I had no idea what I was signing up for, entering my name in that goblet,” he said at last, and Rachel’s throat seemed to close up. He was voicing the worries that had plagued her since the beginning, and that terrified her even more than the expression on his face. “This is something far bigger than anything we’ve imagined so far,” he continued. His eyes returned to the spot on the carpet he’d previously been staring at.
Rachel laid her head on his shoulder and took his free hand in both of hers. She didn’t know what else to do, or even if something else could be done. She had a growing, dreadful suspicion that Cedric was exactly right.
A/N: I really have nothing much to say in this particular author's note - shocker - except for the fact that I am so glad to be posting chapter fifteen! It took me over two weeks to write, for no reason other than that my muse simply decided to take a long holiday when I needed him most. But I can't stay mad at him forever, and in fact he has been better lately, so no harm done.
Many thanks to Callie for her support and for helping me out in planning this chapter - even if she doesn't remember it! This one's for her!
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