Pairing: Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory - obviously!!
Story Rating: NC-17. This chapter - PG-13
Story warnings: Slash, romance, angst, boy!touching, sexual situations, Harry's underage.
Disclaimer: Jo Rowling owns the Potterverse, and I just lurk and play with her toys.
A/N: Thanks as always to my betas, charmed310 and janeaverage. Any mistakes are mine. Also posted at my journal and twoseekers. Previous chapters are HERE
(**Disclaimer:- Several lines of dialogue have been taken directly from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, while others have been modified slightly to fit this story. No copyright infringement is intended.**)
Breakfast that morning was the same as most mornings, but Cedric found even the toast virtually inedible. He freely admitted to himself that he was a bit nervous, but knew that he should at least try to eat something, so he picked half-heartedly at a piece of toast and sipped his cup of tea. The warm, sweet liquid helped somewhat, but the fluttering in his stomach only increased when, against his better judgement, he glanced at the Gryffindor table and caught a glimpse of tousled dark hair.
The post owls arrived in a flurry of wings and a large, brightly-coloured envelope arrived for him via an unfamiliar owl. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion, and he ripped open the seal to reveal a card.
Good luck, favourite cousin. Win well, and we're looking forward to seeing you this summer. Can't wait!
Much love, AM & J
Jamie and Markus had read the missive over his shoulder, and he laughed as they said 'Aww' in unison.
'Diggs, are you sure they're related to you?'
'Yeah, Cedders, they sound too good to be true,' Jamie teased as he jabbed him in the ribs. Cedric was about to reply with a jab of his own when he heard Malfoy shout to Harry and saw the ensuing struggle between Harry and Ron over a newspaper. He shoved the card from his cousins into his pocket as he glanced around the Hufflepuff table and noticed that one of the fifth-years had a copy of the Prophet. Trying not to be too obvious, he craned his neck to read the headline.
"HARRY POTTER 'DISTURBED AND DANGEROUS'"
His stomach churned at the thought of what that particular reporter could have dug up about the young Gryffindor, especially since she hadn't attempted to contact either him or his friends since that day in Hogsmeade. He had to read that article and he caught the owner's eye. 'Hi, can I have a look at that when you're finished?'
The girl – Charisse, he thought her name was – blushed deeply and promptly handed the paper over. Cedric flashed her his best 'thank you' smile and turned to the front page, reading the article so quickly that only scraps of information made their way into his brain " the scar is still hurting… collapses at school… Potter can speak Parseltongue… set a snake on another boy… might resort to the Dark Arts… desperation to win the Tournament…"
Cedric felt as though he would be physically sick. How dare that venomous excuse for a reporter have the effrontery to print such blatant lies about Harry on the cusp of the final task? He looked over at the Gryffindor table where Harry, Ron and Hermione's heads were bowed together in hushed and urgent conversation, even as Malfoy and his ubiquitous henchmen continued to poke fun at them. Cedric was about to walk over to the table – convention be damned – when he spied Professor Sprout walking down the Hufflepuff table, her hands wringing together in that nervous way she had and nodding offhandedly to the greetings from her House.
'Cedric, please stay behind after breakfast. The champions will meet in the chamber just off the Hall as soon as the rest of the school has gone to classes.'
'But, Professor…' Markus protested, but his outburst was halted by a small hand.
'Mister Diggory's parents have arrived, as well as the families of the other champions. This is simply an opportunity for a little relaxation before the task.'
Cedric remembered his father's last letter and groaned. Relaxation? As if that were possible.
Jamie patted Cedric encouragingly on the shoulder and Markus quirked his mouth sympathetically. 'Yeah, Diggs, good luck with that. We'll see you later, maybe for lunch.'
Cedric nodded and looked around while the Hall emptied as the students made their way to classes. Professor Sprout nodded to him once more from her position at the Head Table
Fleur joined Cedric and they crossed the hall into the side chamber. At first, Cedric was completely occupied with his mother who hugged him tightly and lavished praise on him. His father's face was wreathed in smiles and he shook Cedric's hand enthusiastically. He was marginally aware of Krum entering the room, but there was still no sign of Harry. There were two people standing in the corner, and although the woman’s back was to him, the young man she was with had red hair, instantly reminding him of the Weasleys. Upon further scrutiny Cedric thought he recognised him. Bill Weasley – quite grown up now - had been Head Boy during Cedric's first year at Hogwarts. His hair was much longer than Cedric remembered, and was that a fang earring? He smiled and nodded to them, noticing that Mrs Weasley appeared to be searching for Harry, and snippets of the conversation he'd shared with the Gryffindor that night at the lake came back to him. He was happy that Harry had someone here to cheer him on, and he should have known they'd come, since the Weasleys were the only 'real' family Harry ever had.
Cedric stuck his head outside the door and easily spied Harry who was still sitting at the Gryffindor table looking a bit forlorn. He wanted to go over to him and apologise properly; maybe take a walk with him down by the lake, like he'd done with Markus yesterday. Somewhere relaxing, quiet, and private, but that certainly wasn't in the cards today.
'Harry, come on, they're waiting for you!'
The utterly puzzled look on Harry's face was so endearing that Cedric's breath caught in his throat, and he hoped that the heat in his face didn't show a few moments later when the young boy appeared in the doorway. Cedric didn't miss the way his father's face fell at the sight of Harry, but his mother laid a soothing hand on Amos' shoulder and the moment passed. Still perfectly poised, his mother changed the topic of conversation slightly. 'We're both so proud of you, son. The Ministry is a perfect place to work – and you will certainly bring extra prestige to the post – whatever post you take on.'
His father looked at him intently. 'Yes, and the sooner the better'
'Now, now, Amos, let him get through the task and the future will take care of itself.' His mother looked up at him imploringly. 'You will be careful, won't you Cedric?'
'Yes, of course I will, Mum.' What kind of question is that?
'Still, it is better that the boy have a good idea of what to do with his influence. Winning the Triwizard Tournament is no mean feat, and the fact that the tournament hasn't even been played in so long adds extra clout to the title.'
'Yes, Amos, all that is fine and good, but now isn't the time for that.'
Amos Diggory turned to his wife. 'And just when IS the time, Sheila? He blows off my ideas in his letters and he's unfocused generally.' He then turned to Cedric, who strove to remain calm in the face of his father's outburst. 'I don't know what's gotten into you, Cedric, but your future is important, and you need to start thinking about it now and making plans and getting things in train so that when you leave Hogwarts you'll be able to walk into the position of your choosing.'
'I understand that, Dad, but I'm not unfocused, and I don't think that my wanting to wait until after the summer will be a huge problem in those plans.'
Cedric was exasperated with his father's single-mindedness, and his stress level rose even higher when it was obvious that the man wasn't listening to a single thing that he had to say. In fact, Amos Diggory kept right on talking. 'Why wait? Why not intern with the Ministry over the summer? You're Hogwarts champion, after all, and I'm sure if I had a word with the head of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, I could get you a summer job with the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad. That way, you'd have first-hand knowledge of the workings of the place. I'll set that up as soon as I get home.'
Cedric's head began to feel as though his brains were being squeezed, and he rubbed his forehead roughly. 'I'm not the only champion, Dad.'
'Don't try to tell me that Potter is still considered a champion, Cedric,' Amos hissed. 'I don't know what Dumbledore was thinking to allow such a thing to happen, but rest assured, that boy is in no way equal to the likes of you!'
'Amos,' his mother said warningly, but his father rounded on her. 'No, Sheila, it's a farce, an absolute joke. To think that they'd actually allow that boy to compete…'
Cedric had been keeping an eye on Harry and the Weasleys in the corner even as he tried to tune his father out, and his stomach jumped when they began walking towards him. Belatedly, he remembered that the door was behind him, and he tried to move aside without being too obvious, but as Harry passed them, Amos turned towards the young Gryffindor.
'There you are, are you?' he said, looking Harry up and down. 'Bet you're not feeling quite as full of yourself now Cedric's caught you up on points, are you?'
'Oh, Merlin, please not now. Cedric desperately wanted the ground to open up and swallow him, but Harry only looked up in confusion. 'What?'
'Ignore him,' Cedric said, trying to keep his voice low while glaring at his father. 'He's been angry ever since Rita Skeeter's article about the Triwizard Tournament – you know, when she made out you were the only Hogwarts champion.'
His entire body vibrated just from being in close proximity to Harry, but he could see Harry's face cloud over and felt the dangerous shift in his aura that signalled his growing annoyance. Cedric wanted to de-fuse the situation, but just then his father spoke up again, loudly enough for Harry and the Weasleys to hear. 'Didn't bother to correct her, though, did he? Still… you'll show him, Ced. Beaten him once before, haven't you?' His father clapped him on the back emphatically, and it stung, as did the words.
That was a bloody Quidditch match, for love's sake! Cedric groaned as he felt Harry's annoyance morph into anger, but it was Mrs Weasley who took up the charge and stepped up to Amos.
'Rita Skeeter goes out of her way to cause trouble, Amos! I would have thought you'd know that, working at the Ministry!' The woman was impressive when angry, Cedric thought, and he took advantage of the momentary confusion to glance at Harry, whose face was flushed, his green eyes startlingly brilliant as he looked up. Cedric felt his father spool up for another go, but just then, Sheila Diggory laid her hand firmly on her husband again and forestalled any future argument.
Harry's gaze barely meet his eyes as Cedric looked at him, desperately hoping that the young boy understood that he didn’t think that way, but the Gryffindor just muttered, 'Forget about it,' as he turned and walked through the door, followed by a still-scowling Mrs Weasley and a bemused-looking Bill.
Cedric sighed, his stomach in knots. If his father was behaving this way over a simple article in the newspaper and an imagined affront to the Diggory name, he didn't want to consider the man's reaction to the news that Harry and Cedric were… well, involved. The threatening headache bloomed brightly between his eyes and he was just able to hear his father's continuing rant. 'The nerve of some people…' Amos was saying as he dragged himself back to their company.
Cedric allowed himself to feel the anger that had been bubbling up inside him. He'd tried to prevent it from surfacing, hoping that his parents were there out of their desire to see him, to wish him well, and to encourage him in the task rather than prepare the rest of his life. Instead, they had only helped to increase his nervousness, and he was very annoyed by his father's remarks about Harry. 'You know, that was rather unnecessary.'
'Unnecessary? It's an outrage!' Amos spat.
Cedric gritted his teeth for a moment before he tried to explain. 'Look, Harry's a part of the competition, so just cut him some slack and let him get through it the same as the rest of us.'
Amos huffed, and the look on his face could only be described as condescending. 'He's nowhere near your league, Cedric; surely you can see that? Besides, you need to concentrate on winning the Cup. That's what's important here.'
Cedric was suddenly and completely angry. The emotion barrelled through him with enough force to cause him to take a step backwards, and he concentrated with everything he had to remain rational. 'You might want to think that life isn't always about winning, Dad. Sometimes it's about living.'
To the casual observer, the look on his father's face must have been frightening. Normally a florid man, Amos' face was almost puce in colour, and Cedric feared that his father was having an apoplectic fit.
'And just what life lessons have you learned this year that qualify you to make a statement like that to me? You have no idea what life is, my boy, nor what it's all about, but mark my words, nobody ever got anywhere by just "living." You've got to work at it, fight for what you want, grab it with both hands and not let go. And believe me, no paper-pushing clerical position in the Department of International Magical Cooperation is the type of job that will take you places. You've got fame, Cedric, and you have to use it.'
His mother's brows furrowed. 'International Magical Cooperation? What's wrong with working in your father's Department?'
Cedric's headache had firmly established itself between his eyes, and he rubbed the back of his hand along his forehead distractedly. 'It's not that I don't want to work there, but I'd like to explore my options a little further before I decide.'
'What's there to decide? You'll need a job and it's a fine place to work.'
'Don't be ridiculous, Sheila,' Amos said dismissively. 'Anyone can work there, but not my boy – he's too good for that place. After he wins the Tournament, he'll be rubbing shoulders with the true movers in our society, not slumming about with beasts and beings.' He turned all his attention to Cedric now. 'Perhaps you'll even become Minister for Magic in the near future. You can do anything, Cedric, be anyone.'
Cedric opened his mouth to say… he didn’t know what, but just then the Headmaster entered and suggested that the champions show their families around the castle. Smiling as best he could, he crooked his elbow gallantly towards his mother. She placed her hand on his arm, and together they walked through the door into the Entrance Hall, Cedric pointedly leading them in the opposite direction from where Harry had disappeared with the Weasleys.
He took great pleasure in showing his mother their common room and dorms, and she was positively enthralled with the Prefect's bathroom, which she hadn't had access to in her years at Hogwarts; they even managed to get a glance at Moaning Myrtle, just seconds before she disappeared into the sink. They visited for a while with the ghosts, and then went into the kitchens for a quick snack. Later, he steered them carefully around the Whomping Willow, which was planted the summer after his mother graduated, and then they proceeded down to the greenhouses where they examined his and Markus' Mandrake project for Herbology. The plants were proudly displayed in a corner of the greenhouse, and Professor Sprout had allowed them to complete their presentation by attaching their project notes to the adjacent walls. Amos appeared reasonably pleased with the high marks that Cedric had received, but undercurrents of disquiet and annoyance still swirled around the three of them.
Sheila Diggory was an astute woman, and Cedric noticed that she occasionally gave his father long looks. He didn't need his empathic abilities to know that there was quite a lot of tension between his parents, and he was amazed by just how different people could be and how strongly their differences could run, despite his being bonded to them by blood. Although he wanted to talk to his mother privately, there never seemed to be a moment with just the two of them. Shaking his head, Cedric resolved to put all negative thoughts behind him as much as possible and just concentrate on getting through the day.
Cedric and his parents returned to the Great Hall to have lunch with Markus and Jamie. His mother doted on both boys while Cedric smiled as he enjoyed a brief, happy moment, turning his thoughts to the upcoming summer when they would all be together, relaxed and free. Their lunch was interrupted by a house-elf that appeared beside their table and informed his father that his presence was required in the Headmaster's office for a Floo call. Amos left the table quickly, and Cedric was almost ashamed to be relieved.
Despite his earlier resolution to relax, he still wasn't able to do much more than nod in response to the questions that Jamie and Markus asked him, for he found himself still preoccupied with the upcoming task and the feeling that he needed to iron things out with Harry.
'Cedric, love, are you all right? Not too nervous about tonight, are you?'
'No, Mum, I'm fine. A bit nervous, yeah, but that's normal.'
His mother reached over and brushed his hair back from his forehead, smoothing his windswept locks, and for a moment, the chatter of the Great Hall diminished and the two of them were inside a private cocoon. The moment stretched, and he looked around curiously, but everyone else was carrying on as normal, and he realized that his mother had cast a non-verbal and very discreet Notice-Me-Not Spell.
Her kind eyes crinkled at the corners as she bestowed one of her famous smiles on him. 'Cedric, a mother knows when something is amiss, and I don't mean the task. What is it, love?'
Of all the unexpected things in life, this was certainly something Cedric hadn't seen coming, and he shifted nervously. Here was the chance he'd waited for all morning: finally, he and his mother were alone, as alone as two people could be in the Great Hall during lunch, but she had given him this, their own bubble of protection, and he knew that he couldn't let it pass. He just didn't know how to begin. 'It's… well, it's the task actually. I have a feeling that something is going to happen, but I don't know what it is or who it will happen to.'
Sheila narrowed her eyes. 'Is it something happening to the others, or to you?'
'I don't know, but I feel that the danger is centred on Harry.'
His mother seemed to consider that for a moment. 'Yes, well, he certainly has had his fair share of danger, the poor dear. Still, if he's in this Tournament he must have something that makes him worth it, Cedric, despite what your father thinks.'
Cedric breathed out, and the sound quavered in his own ears. His mother believed him and didn't think badly of Harry! He had known that his parents didn't always see eye to eye on things, but with the added pressure of his argument with Harry and the upcoming task, he'd begun to feel a little as if the world was against him. Paranoia wasn't something he was familiar with, but at least he was now able to get some perspective and see it for what it was.
His mother must have seen the relief on his face because she embraced him in a quick hug. 'I'm sure that the Headmaster wouldn't allow anything to happen to Harry.'
'But something already has, Mum,' he said urgently. 'He's in this Tournament, underage and at quite a disadvantage. They're not for the faint-hearted, these tasks, let me tell you.'
'He seems to have handled them very well so far, Cedric. What are you really concerned about?' As usual, his mother cut directly to the core of the matter, and Cedric's stomach jolted. For a moment he wondered just how transparent he was. Could he be so obviously worrying about Harry that he didn't realize? No, he couldn't be, but she was his mother, and she knew enough about him to understand when he was troubled. He knew that he would be relieved if he told her, and he knew that she loved him unconditionally, but could he really, truly, tell her this?
'I-I'm just apprehensive about the task, Mum, really, and I can't help but feel that Harry's in more danger than the rest of us are. I just don't like it that the odds are stacked so significantly against him.' Well, at least that's a version of the truth.
His mother nodded, and her grey eyes were pensive as she gave him one of those looks, the ones that usually came immediately before she reminded him that his feelings were usually signs of the discord and disquiet around him, but that even though he believed them, he should always temper his reactions with some degree of rationality. She couldn't know that when it came to him and Harry, rationality played a VERY small part, and although he knew that his mother made sense, the nagging feeling that something was awry persisted.
During lunch, Jamie and Markus must have realized that Cedric was wound tighter than a Time Turner before a three-decade leap, because they accosted him in the Entrance Hall and took him for a long walk around the grounds. How they managed to get him away from his parents, Cedric didn't know, but he would be eternally grateful to his friends for their efforts to help him retain his sanity. They stood on the cliffs overlooking the Black Lake and Cedric shuddered involuntarily at the memory of his time beneath the murky waters.
'Seems like so long ago, doesn't it?' Jamie mused wistfully.
Cedric roused himself from his reverie and focused on Jamie's caring eyes. His friend's empathetic abilities had always been quite a bond between them, and he suspected that Markus had occasionally felt left out because he couldn't relate to the way the two of them communicated. Cedric had often felt that he needed to try harder with Markus, not because he had to, but because he wanted his dark-haired friend to be as equal as Jamie was. What Markus lacked in intuitive and emotional ties, he more than made up for in fierce loyalty and outright determination.
Cedric sighed. 'It certainly does.'
'You know, Diggs, we thought that after you'd won the second task it would be a simple case of maintaining that lead to eventual victory, but it's more than that, isn't it?' Markus' voice was soft, but his eyes burned with an intensity that made Cedric shiver, and he nodded as his friend continued. 'Look, mate, I know that I told you to keep emotions out of it, but I was wrong. You can't separate your emotions from yourself because they're a huge part of who you are, so just be careful tonight.'
Jamie nodded his agreement. 'Yeah, Cedders, and after the task, win or lose, whatever happens, it's a celebration, all right?'
Cedric looked at his friends, really looked at them, and understood at a deeper level that, although they didn't always agree, the bond that tied them together was as powerful as a blood bond, and perhaps even more so because it had been entered into willingly and had been perpetuated by the combined efforts of all three of them.
Later that evening, as they all sat around the table for the feast, his father returned and was speaking in hushed but rapid tones with his mother, who cast anxious glances in Cedric's direction. Cedric's stomach clenched as he wondered just what his father was up to and it wasn't long before he found out. Amos Diggory strutted across to their table, his face flushed and shining with pride and importance. 'Well, my boy, I've been on the Floo with some very important people. It would seem that merely being an entrant in this Tournament is more than enough to open the right kinds of doors.'
Oh, sweet Circe, must we do this now? Cedric was beginning to feel nervous about the impending task, and he resented the fact that his father simply didn't appreciate the pressure that he was under, but Sheila Diggory's calm voice interrupted his father's speech. 'Amos, why don't we just let Cedric concentrate on this task and then we can discuss his future when it's all over? What he needs from us is our support.' His father huffed indignantly but mercifully remained silent, and Cedric looked over at his mother gratefully, not caring whether or not it was weak, but he really felt as though he needed someone on his side. Despite Jamie and Markus' unwavering support, the constant tension between Cedric and his father was wearing him down. Additionally, the happiness that he usually felt whenever he thought of Harry was conspicuously absent tonight, and the worry that the younger boy was still angry with him weighed heavily on his mind.
All too soon, Professor Dumbledore announced that the task would begin shortly, and the Great Hall erupted with thunderous applause. Cedric stood, relieved to finally do something. His father smiled beatifically as his Mother hugged her son tightly. 'Best of luck, sweetheart,' she whispered against his neck.
'Thanks, Mum,' he murmured, feeling conspicuously like his eleven-year-old self when he had left his parents at the train station for his first year at Hogwarts. He turned and shook his father's offered hand, trying to get past the resentment that still flowed through him.
'Good luck, my boy,' Amos said briskly. 'We'll talk again afterwards.'
Cedric no longer had the energy or the will to argue with his father, so he nodded mutely as he kissed his mother on the cheek and proceeded to the Entrance Hall where Viktor and Fleur were already waiting. The Bulgarian appeared carefully neutral and nodded to Cedric as he approached, and then to Harry, who was a few steps behind him. As the four champions followed Mr Bagman down the steps and in the direction of the Quidditch pitch, Cedric hung back while Harry spoke briefly with the Ministry official. His nerves were strung fairly tight and only unwound a fraction after Mr Bagman finished his conversation. Mercifully, it had been short, and as the older man moved away from Harry to lead them all down to the field, followed closely by Fleur and Krum, Cedric walked nearer to Harry and fell in step with him. Harry glanced up briefly, and Cedric felt the usual confusion of Harry's aura whirl that much quicker, but neither of them spoke. The Gryffindor didn't seem overly angry or anti-social, just pensive, and Cedric was so caught up in his own array of nerves and doubt that he almost jumped when Harry cleared his throat.
'I got your note.'
Cedric merely nodded, hoping that it would be enough, not wanting to betray his own emotions.
'Thanks, you know, for the "not-colluding" suggestions.' Harry's voice was strained, and Cedric felt the tension coming off him in waves. There was enough tension among them all to drive everyone mental.
'Any time, Harry,' Cedric said softly as he breathed out some of his tension, but that didn't prevent it from returning with full force.
'I had been practicing,' Harry said, somewhat petulantly, and for an instant, his eyes flashed with something, but it was gone too quickly for Cedric to discern.
'Good.' And it was good that Harry had taken his note to heart, but he could only hope that the Gryffindor had paid as much attention to everything that he had written.
'Yeah,' Harry deadpanned.
Or, perhaps not. Their stilted conversation clawed at Cedric's heart, and although they were walking towards the Quidditch pitch, he still felt the need to pace back and forth in the soothing repetition that always helped him to think. Nothing that he'd done so far had been able to make up for their argument, but oddly, he didn't feel anger from the boy beside him, just anxiety.
Despite everything they'd been through, Cedric felt that all the closeness that he and Harry had shared had somehow disappeared with the setting sun. His hands shook slightly from nervousness tinged with a bit of despair and frustration, as well as an urgency that he couldn't explain or rationalize. He opened his mouth in an attempt to explain things to Harry, or even only one thing, but they had arrived at the Quidditch pitch. The enormous hedges surrounding the entire playing field gave Cedric the impression of a fortress, and a small gap in the side closest to where they stood appeared to be the only entrance.
Harry was scanning the rapidly-filling stands and Cedric moved closer to him as he tried to catch his eye, but to no avail. He wanted only a second, just one moment in which to connect with the Gryffindor and be able to feel him. Instead, he was only able to look on as Harry smiled and waved to the Weasleys. He appeared quite calm, Harry did, and Cedric was thankful for that. Finally the waiting is over. I'll just try to get to the Cup as quickly as possible, and that'll be the end of this bloody Tournament. He, in turn smiled and waved at Markus and Hannah who, together with Jamie and Katie, were sitting directly behind his parents.
'…Mr Cedric Diggory and Mr Harry Potter, both of Hogwarts school!'
Despite his nervousness, a small ripple of pleasure shot through Cedric at hearing his name and Harry's in the same sentence, and he tried once more to make eye contact with the shorter boy, but the crowd erupted so loudly that he barely heard the rest of Mr Bagman's speech.
'… on my whistle, Harry and Cedric! Three – two – one –'
There was a short, sharp blast of a whistle, and Cedric realized that he'd run out of time.
I’m so tired but I can’t sleep
Standin’ on the edge of something much too deep
It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
We are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard. - Sarah McLachlan