A funny thing began to happen to Rachel in the days following Cedric's death - it was as though whatever part of her brain that had controlled emotion had simply died right along with him. Where she had once laughed, or cried, or felt pain, or sickness, or hunger, was now nothing more or less than a pure white fog that dominated all other senses. Words that Fred or Katie or Lee tried to say to her went in one ear and out the other, most often without even a noncommittal shrug or response from her. It was as though her body was simply shutting down, unwilling to cope with the harsh blow that it had been dealt.
Why couldn't she cry for the boy she had loved so much? She had not shed a single tear since that night on the pitch, doubled over as she had been with grief at the sight of Cedric's still body lying prone on the soft ground. It didn't feel right that she wasn't able to mourn him as others expected her to - it felt as though she were letting him down, somehow. But she had failed him before his death; should it change afterward?
Nearly worse than Rachel's inability to function were the reactions of those around her - her friends, Cedric's friends, even the Ministry officials who were merely attending the third task as a social event. All seemed to be watching her, gauging her responses and wondering when she might finally crack under the immense amounts of pressure she was being placed under. During her nearly endless roaming around the castle and grounds, she was never free from whispers, stares, and blatantly pointing fingers. Once, as she was climbing the stairs to the Divination tower simply for something to do, she heard a boy say to his friend, "That was his girlfriend. Supposed to be barking mad since the maze, y'know. Not been the same since she saw him dead."
Maybe the boy was right, though. Perhaps she was going mad.
The morning before the last day of term found Rachel lying in bed long after the other girls had awoken and dressed for the day. She was still curled into a tight ball under her wrinkled sheets and bedcovers, eyes trained on the small leaded window, one of many that dotted the walls of Gryffindor Tower. The day was sunny, as all the days had been since the night of the maze. Summer had burst forth upon the castle in all its full glory, and most people had been outside around the clock, taking in the warmth before they were shipped back home for a few months.
Rachel didn't want to return home - that was the only thing she was certain of. Home meant people who loved her, yes, but it also meant people who couldn't possibly fathom what had gone on in the last few weeks of term. She had written to her parents steadily throughout the year, and had described as simply as she could the tournament and its tasks. But she could not bring herself to write them a letter about the maze, because cementing with quill and ink what had happened that night was almost more than she could bear. She could not bear to recreate Cedric in her mind to be only the boy who could exist now as nothing but memories. It would make the events more permanent, the reality more blindingly real, and less shrouded in the white haze that continually clouded her mind. It was, she selfishly imagined, more comfortable in that haze.
A sudden sharp knock on the dormitory door startled her slightly, but she made no move to get up and answer it. The door creaked open by itself, however, and someone let themselves inside, shutting the door quietly behind them. Rachel didn't roll over to see who it was, not even when she sat down at the foot of the four-poster. And then, to her immense surprise, it was Hermione Granger who spoke.
"Our exam results came in." Rachel didn't react to this, unexpected as the voice was, as she was hit with a sudden blinding memory of Cedric's doodled hippogriff in the library while studying for those exams. She pushed it away further, drawing her blankness around her firmly. Thinking was too painful.
Hermione waited, perhaps wondering if she would recieve a response, and then tried again with cheeriness that was blatantly faked. "Come on down to the grounds with everyone," she chirped. "All the Gryffindors are out there, it's really nice weather."
Finally, Rachel rolled over slightly to look at the fourth-year girl in the face. "Are you really talking about the weather?" she said, her voice slightly hoarse from a combination of disuse and suppressed emotions. Hermione shrugged, although looking mildly pleased that she had at least elicited a response. But that was all that Rachel felt like giving her. She turned back over and resumed staring out the window, sheet tucked up to her chin.
“Look,” Hermione said finally, in a very brisk and no-nonsense sort of voice, “you can’t hide from people forever. Shutting yourself away from the world isn’t going to do any good, and you’re hurting yourself in the process.” When Rachel didn’t answer, the fourth year continued on heatedly.
“I know what you’ve been through – watching Viktor compete in the tournament wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, was it?” Rachel turned back around. She hadn’t thought before about what Hermione must have felt, having the same Triwizard Tournament worries as Rachel herself had had. Hermione’s cheeks were slightly pink, but she looked defiantly at Rachel, daring her to contradict her.
“Hermione, I’m just not ready,” said Rachel brokenly, not crying but overcome with a sudden bone-deep weariness that seemed to possess all of her. “I know it seems stupid, and foolish, and even conceited. But I just can’t.”
Hermione pursed her lips, and finally rose from the bed, sighing slightly. She left the dormitory as quietly as she had entered it, and Rachel turned her attention back to the real world beyond the slightly rippled panes of glass in her window. It looked so easy to be carefree; she very well might not know that simplicity again. Not anymore.
The end of term feast was rather a more somber affair than it had been in previous years; an attitude of relaxed and easy gaiety was somewhat missing from the festivities. The Great Hall, which usually would have been decorated in the colors of whichever House had won that year’s House Cup, was swathed instead in black to show respect for the loss of Cedric. Rachel couldn’t look anywhere, at any of the mournful decorations; it was much too excruciating to have to see constant reminders. The ache in her heart hadn’t dulled in the slightest since the night of the maze.
She knew that, though her friends loved her, they were unaware of exactly what to say to her to draw her out of the funk she’d been thrust in, and so they said nothing. This was both a blessing and a curse, for she had to answer no odd questions or talk about anything she didn’t want to. But being the girl everyone avoided was a bit lonesome, to be sure. She didn’t blame them – she wouldn’t have known what to say, either, had the situation been flipped. But that didn’t make her feel any better.
Fred and George were talking in conspiratorial tones, as usual, yet another long sheet of parchment on the table between them. Their heads were nearly touching in their desperate effort to avoid being overheard – she knew they were conjecturing plans for their joke shop yet again. Her eyes drifted away from them over to the Hufflepuff table, where they instantly found Matt and Anders. They were sitting with a group of their friends than included Ben Drewart, the Hufflepuff Chaser. Although unceasing, even from this distance their conversation looked strained and forced. But at least they, unlike her, were talking.
Why could they act so normally, when she couldn’t?
At that moment, Dumbledore rose from where he had been sitting in the middle of the long staff table at the front of the Great Hall. The noise level from the chattering students, which had already been a bit more subdued than normal, died away almost at once. A funny sensation crept suddenly into Rachel’s stomach as she looked blankly at the determined expression on the headmaster’s face. Whatever he was about to say – and it more than likely had to do with the one subject she could stand never to talk about again – it was extremely important to him.
He began with a toast, as one might have expected he would – a toast to the loss of the innocent, to Cedric Diggory, who had died before his time. The lump that had been sitting at the base of Rachel’s throat suddenly doubled in size, pressing her windpipe and making it painful to swallow. She stood numbly with the rest, goblet forgotten on the table in front of her, as she watched everyone raise their own glasses and murmur. It was as though she wasn’t present, and was watching the events from somewhere very far away – a mere spectator.
The air in the room suddenly became very thin and hard to breathe in. She sat down quickly, breath coming fast and shallow, and from the corner of her eye saw that Fred was giving her a concerned look.
Why was this so hard, even after time had passed? One would think that Rachel might at least have accepted it by now. But some part of her, a very small and foolish part, expected someone to tell her it was a joke at any moment. That Cedric would walk through the door, his infectious grin asking forgiveness, and she would give it and tell him exactly what she had been unable to tell him before.
Her mind jolted suddenly back to the present, the words entering her brain quite suddenly, in time to hear something entirely unexpected. Her eyes swung almost of their own accord back to the headmaster as, with a sense of gravity unlike any tone he had used before, he informed them exactly how Cedric had died in the maze. Cedric had been murdered, and what was more, he had been murdered by Lord Voldemort.
Rachel had heard of vertigo brought on by sudden shocking news – where floors spin under peoples’ feet, and the walls blur in motion purely imagined from some part of the brain. But this wasn’t like that. It was as though the entire room literally jolted sharply beneath her, so real that she gripped the table in the slightly confused fear of being thrown from the bench. Fred shot her another worried look and reached out his arm as though to steady her; for a wild moment, she wondered if maybe the earth had jarred for a second.
Dumbledore was still speaking, pushing on through the unnerving effect that his words had had on the student body. Rachel cast glazed-over eyes about her; students were whispering to their neighbors, mixed looks of shock and doubt and suspicion cast over their previously-mournful expressions. She felt her stomach give an uncomfortable lurch, and it became even harder to breathe.
Murdered. His death was no accident – he has been killed intentionally. Having grown up in the Muggle world as opposed to the wizarding one, she wasn’t quite as well-versed on You-Know-Who as most of her schoolmates, but she knew enough about him to be scared at even the thought of his returning. The notion that Cedric had died at his hands was simply unthinkable.
“Rachel?” Fred’s low whisper reached her brain as though from across a long distance. She looked at him, aware that her breathing was coming more quickly and loudly now, but not quite sure how she could control that. More people were turning wary eyes on her now as she began attracting the attention of Gryffindors up and down the table.
“Rachel, look at me,” said Fred again, sounding slightly panicked. He was trying hard not to speak too loudly. “Are you all right?”
She pressed her lips together, vaguely aware that Dumbledore was still speaking from the front of the hall. An overwhelming and inexplicable sense of panic gripped her heart, and quickened it. She rose on shaking knees from the bench, and heads turned in her direction. Uncaring, she fumbled over the seat, nearly falling flat on her face, and started making her way to the exit.
Eyes bored into the back of her skull, curious and watchful, knowing exactly why she was fleeing the scene. She couldn’t handle it, any of it – she felt like a shard of glass only moments from shattering, and would do anything possible to stop the inevitable from happening. She walked, but the panic increased with each step. And so she ran, trying to outrun whatever it was that chased her.
She burst through the doors into the entrance hall and turned left immediately, her feet knowing where they wanted to go without her telling them. They pounded through the great oak doors onto the sweeping expanse of lawn, turned and hurtled toward the Black Lake with its smooth expanse of dark, mirror-like water. Rachel gasped in great breaths of air, nearly flying, robes billowing behind her, and finally came to the twisted tree by the lake.
It was the tree where Cedric had asked her to Hogsmeade – the tree where, really, this had all began in its definitive direction. It looked solid and unchanging, as though not even a leaf had fallen from it since that rainy day in late October; the only difference was that the soggy fire-colored leaves were now green and bright. She sank beneath it, limbs trembling, clutching her head in her hands and squeezing her eyes shut tightly.
The grounds were peaceful in the evening twilight; the sun had dipped below the horizon, and it wouldn’t be long before total darkness spread itself across the grass and walls of the castle. It was an ironic contradiction to the tempest inside of her. And yet Rachel still couldn’t cry. What the hell was wrong with her? She could cry at the drop of a hat before. This was all wrong; it wasn’t fair to Cedric that she couldn’t even mourn him properly.
She hadn’t been watching the castle, and so was taken aback at the sound of footsteps moving across the ground in her direction. She kept her head resting on her tightly furled knees, knowing that if she didn’t concentrate solely on taking deep, slow breaths, she might very well lose it entirely. Hopefully whomever had been sent to check on her would take the hint and leave her alone.
But no such luck – he or she dropped down to sit beside her, drawing their legs up and settling in for the long term. She raised her head slightly and was mildly surprised to see the shock of flaming Weasley hair next to her. “What do you want, Fred?” she said hoarsely.
“To listen,” he said simply, not looking at her but at the water in front of them. He said nothing else, and they listened as the lake lapped gently at its rocky shore. She had a sudden flash of memory of sitting on those rocks, wrapped in a blanket, Cedric by her side and both of them flushed with his victory. The soreness in her throat returned.
“What is wrong with me?” she asked finally, hating the pathetic tone in her voice but unable to remove it. Just asking the question in the first place was a stretch for her, at any rate. She looked at Fred from the corner of her eye, not entirely sure she wanted to know the answer. He said nothing for a long moment, and then shook his head with startling vehemence.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said firmly.
“I can’t even mourn for him, Fred –“
“You are. In your own way.” He finally turned to look at her, and she found herself gulping. “So you haven’t cried – that’s okay. Everyone’s got to deal with this in their own way, and this is yours. You’ll come around in time.”
She continued staring at the water, mulling his words over in her head. A sense of relative calm descended on her for the first time in days, perhaps even since before Cedric had been killed. Being able to think about it at all was evidence enough. She smiled slightly (how long had it been since that had happened?) and turned her head to look at him, laying it sideways on her knees, still drawn up to her chest.
“Who would have thought that you, of all people, could have been so smart about all this,” she said softly. Fred reflected her small smile and stood up, brushing off the dirt from the backs of his trousers.
“It’s what I’m here for,” he said, with a wink that was only slightly less cocky than normal. “I’ll head back in – give you some time alone. You probably need it.” In fact, she’d been alone more in the last few days than she had in her entire life, but she understood what he meant – now that she was finally thinking with a clear head, she needed to say her goodbyes.
The sound of his trainers faded on the soft dirt underneath, and finally she was once more alone, the sounds of nature the only company she had on these solitary grounds. The rustle of leaves and the small splashes from the giant squid’s long tentacles seemed oddly heightened in the stillness. Rachel half-wondered exactly where she was expected to go from here.
Perhaps she should begin where she had left off before.
It was quiet; there was no one else around, of that she was certain. She drew in a breath, suddenly worried that it might do more harm than good, but she had already resolved her mind to at least attempt it. The words seemed to burst forth before she could really think about them, slipping away into the fast-approaching darkness.
“I love you, Cedric.”
And at that exact moment, the tiny Golden Snitch – the necklace she still wore around her neck, for she hadn’t had the courage to remove it – beats its silver wings once against her collarbone.
Her heart jumped into her mouth, and she nearly ripped the pendant from the chain in her haste to examine it further. It lay quite still and cold in her palm, but she knew what she had felt. This necklace knew Cedric. It was imprinted with him, his first and last gift to her. It was the only explanation she had, and why shouldn’t it be true?
Rachel became aware of a sudden wetness on her cheek, as though the lump of tears in her throat had only been waiting for this moment. She was crying.
A/N: So, hopefully you will feel that this gave Rachel and Cedric some of the closure they weren't able to get while Cedric was still alive - I want to thank everyone for all the incredible feedback on chapter eighteen. You guys are truly amazing, and without you I wouldn't still be here today, so thanks to each and every one of you. How was this chapter? There's only one more left, and it's still hard for me to believe it's over. A little review is always appreciated!