Chapter 20 : In The End
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Packing was, as always, hectic as anything – belongings became so strewn about the dormitory in the course of a school year that it took nearly the entire morning just to sort out which things belonged in whose trunk, and which belonged in others. Angelina, Alicia, and Katie were still treating Rachel with a sort of wary distance, although they had been visibly relieved when she had spoken to them briefly the evening before after returning from the lake.
It had felt, in a perverse sort of way, good to cry. She didn’t know exactly how long she had sat by the lake after talking to Fred - only that the moon was high in the sky when she finally returned to the entrance hall, and that all remnants of the feast had long since disappeared from the cold and silent dining hall. She had passed several ghosts on her way up to the tower, but none of them had disturbed her, and she suspected that they had witnessed her flight from the Great Hall at the feast just as the students and faculty had. Notoriety for certifiably losing it on the last night of term was sure to follow her into next year.
Packing and making preparations to leave Hogwarts was only more hectic this year due to the presence of the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students, who were also preparing to leave for their own schools. Addresses were being exchanged, and slightly morose good-byes expressed as new friends departed, perhaps forever.
Everyone was a little confused, too, due to events that had quickly culminated since the third task, events Rachel and most of the other students were only just learning about. Mad-Eye Moody had been impersonated the entire year by a Death Eater, for starters - that thought alone was enough to send powerful shivers up her spine, remembering Moody attempting to get Cedric alone on several occasions.
Barty Crouch had been pronounced unmistakably dead, murdered by his own son, who was in fact the Death Eater who had adopted Moody’s persona. Harry Potter had seen You-Know-Who return, that night right after Cedric had been murdered. The events all sort of blurred together for her, and she might never uncover the truth behind them, tangled as it was. For now, she was content to let her mind go as blank as she dared, pressed shoulder to shoulder in the entrance hall with the other sixth years to await the carriages that would take them back to the platform at Hogsmeade Station.
As Rachel stood, trunk by her feet, watching Alicia chew out George for something he had done to her quills (apparently having turned one or two of them into frogs), she was suddenly aware of two people weaving their way towards her through the throng of people and luggage. Matt and Anders both caught her eye at the same time, and she smiled and gave a little wave.
“Been meaning to talk to you for a bit,” Anders said once he and his friend finally found themselves by her side. He looked a little embarrassed, scratching the back of his neck uncomfortably. Rachel suddenly became startlingly aware of the fact that this was the first time that the three of them had talked without Cedric factoring in some way.
“Just wanted to make sure… you know, that you’re okay,” Anders continued. Rachel took a deep breath, and tried to fix her face into a complacent smile. Throughout the year, she’d always thought of them as Cedric’s friends, not even realizing that along the way they had become hers, too.
“I’m fine,” she said, and then impulsively reached forward and hugged first him, then Matt. If they were surprised, they didn’t show it. She smiled again, willing them to believe her, although she didn’t believe it totally herself. But no matter – she had begun the healing last night, by the lake, and it was a step forward.
“If you ever need anything, you know,” said Matt, turning to leave and stopping himself suddenly, “you can always write. ‘Kay?” He smiled shyly, and then said quickly, as though needing to get the words out before he backed down, “He really cared about you, you know. I’d never seen him so happy.”
She waited for the unbearable pain that mention of Cedric had so recently brought, but for some reason, it had dulled since her night under the tree by the lake. Matt’s words inevitably hurt, but they also served to comfort, and that made all the difference. Rachel nodded mutely, and Matt looked at her for a moment before following Anders across the hall. She watched them go, and turned to see Fred looking at her with concern. He had been a sort of surrogate older brother since their talk at the lake, protective and concerned. He raised his eyebrows in a silent question, and she nodded. It’s okay, she mouthed.
“Sixth years!” called the trembling growl of the caretaker, Argus Filch, over the heads of those assembled in the entrance hall. “Mind your luggage, there, and step this way.” He cast a bloodshot and sour eye over the students queuing up to board the carriages to the platform, watching each and every one of them as they exited with their bulk and baggage, and Rachel passed quickly through the oak doors onto the grounds to avoid its wrath, dragging her trunk awkwardly behind her. Some things would never change.
But she could not have been expected to suppress memories of Cedric forever – such thoughts simply weren’t rational – and the sight of the carriages made her mind jump quickly to their first encounter. She recalled with a slight twinge of embarrassment how she had fallen right out of one, and he’d had to help her up. At least I never had to hide my clumsiness, she thought wryly, and a sardonic smile twisted her lips.
Would she have done anything differently? Separated herself from him, to save herself the pain that had come with the end of the tournament? She considered this question seriously as she loaded her trunk into the carriage with Lee’s help.
She remembered the miscommunications, the low points in their rather tumultuous relationship – Rita Skeeter’s article, and the interfering group of Slytherins, and the temporary separation from her friends that it had caused. And then Rachel remembered the Yule Ball, and the Hogsmeade visit, and the necklace, and flying around the pitch. It had been no picnic, leaping obstacles to stay together as they had. But nothing in life was ever simple, and the good had always outweighed the bad, in the end. His death would not kill her, for it was only the bad thing that must inevitably prelude the good. That was how things had always worked out in their relationship, and for the first time, she was convinced that this time would be no different. It might take more time, but everything would be all right in the end.
This just meant it wasn’t the end yet.
The door to the carriage closed with a sharp snap, jerking her out of her reverie. She saw Fred watching her concernedly again, and shook her head gently. “Some year,” she said sadly, although not without a note of wonder in her voice. He evaluated her expression carefully, wondering exactly how he was supposed to approach responding to that statement, taking in her eyes and her mouth and her voice before sitting back cautiously.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “It won’t be the same again, that’s for sure.” The carriage jolted forward, pulled as always by the invisible horses, and Hogwarts appeared in the tiny window in the door, more like a portrait than a solid and living building.
“No,” she agreed, voice trailing slightly. “It certainly won’t.”
The carriage rounded a bend in the path, and the last glimpse of the towers and turrets of Hogwarts castle faded from view. The sky above was a cloudless turquoise; it was beautiful. She twisted in her seat to watch the rest scenery before it, too, faded from view.
Everything would be all right in the end. A brief, flickering smile crossed Rachel's face, and she turned her back on all of it with a sense of resignation and finality. She faced forward.
A/N: So much is owed in the writing of this novel that I can't possibly hope to tell everyone how much support and encouragement they have given to me in nearly a year of writing this. It is no small thing to say that, without each and every one of you, this novel would not exist. So this is for Sarah, who has supported me without abandon since we first met. To Callie, my most loyal reader. To Annie, whose valuable ideas made this story what it is. To Shelby and Jess, my Golden Trio. And to you, because you have followed Cedric and Rachel until their story met its natural and ultimate end, and have been there for me at each and every bump in the road.
Thank you to everyone for reading, and reviewing, and recommending. Thank you for holding my hand and walking with me as I wrote "Leaping Obstacles". Thank you for believing in me. I love you all!
And so, I shall now write those two most blessed of all three-letter words:
EDIT: If you would like to read a bit more about Cedric and Rachel at a point in their respective futures, please, please head over to Toujours Padfoot's author page and read her one-shot called Summoned! It's an absolutely brilliant rendering of some of Leaping Obstacles's characters three years after this one, in 1998. Seriously. You need to do that right now.