Chapter One: One False Step
Hermione trudged alongside Ginny as the group continued their trek up to Stoatshead Hill in near-darkness, arms crossed tightly across her chest to ward off the cold. They had set off hours earlier and by now her hands were freezing, and she wasn't altogether sure her feet were still attached to the ends of her legs. The gray cotton motorcycle jacket she had thought sufficient for the journey in the toasty confines of the Burrow was now presenting itself as the mistake it was. She zipped the jacket up a bit more, struggling momentarily with the strap of her messenger bag and unsurprisingly, felt little relief.
At the head of their group, Mr. Weasley was still explaining the finer points of what went into organizing an event as large as the World Cup, blissfully unaware that she and Harry alone were listening. Meanwhile, a little ways ahead, Fred and George were walking side-by-side, deep in conversation, no doubt planning the resurrection of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
Hermione quietly smiled to herself. As much as she disapproved of the twins' disruptive inventions at times, she had to admit that someof them were rather ingenious. She knew they were brilliant no matter what their grades said. They obviously understood the theories behind spells and potions backwards and forwards judging by their products. She supposed the twins simply had no patience for the mundane coursework she herself thrived on.
Personally, Hermione disagreed with Mrs. Weasley. Opening a joke shop of their own, spending their days doing what they love, inventing and pranking, Hermione couldn't imagine a more perfect career for them. Though she wasn't about to let Mrs. Weasley know that.
Her train of thought was swept away by a particularly strong gust of wind that blew through her. She blinked rapidly as she swiped the wayward wisps of hair out of her eyes as they came loose from her ponytail. Her hair, once a frizzy and often tangled mess, had softened slightly into loose curls that cascaded past her shoulders. It was as untamable and voluminous as ever, but she considered it an improvement all the same.
"How much farther is the bloody site?" Ginny suddenly wheezed beside her.
She had officially resigned herself to the crass language Ginny and the boys' language so often employed, no longer bothering to chastise them for it. Instead, she shrugged idly, "No idea. I'll go ask your father."
She sped up, smirking as she approached Fred and George from behind, and draped an arm around each twin, "Now, you boys wouldn't be plotting the resurrection of a certain joke shop, would you?"
Fred and George smiled mischievously at each other and then down at Hermione, "Us?" exclaimed Fred.
"Never." George finished.
"Well you know, three years of being best friends with Ron and Harry has taught me a few tricks, and I do have quite the reputation of being a goody two shoes. So, if you ever need a place to stash anything...you know who to ask," she winked at them slyly, clicking her tongue before she continued on ahead of them. The twins stared after her in open shock. Had Hermione just offered to help them defy Molly Weasley?
Mr. Weasley was still explaining Portkeys and apparition points to Harry when Hermione reached their side.
When Mr. Weasley noticed she had joined them he stopped mid-sentence, "Ah! Hermione, my dear! I expect Ginny sent you up here for an estimate. Yes, she's never had much room for patience I'm afraid. Or physical exertion. The last time we did something like this she spent half the journey asking if we were there yet! Mind you, we were traveling by broom then." Hermione and Harry exchanged smiles of amusement, Mr. Weasley's tangents were nothing if not entertaining. "Ah, nearly there! Our Portkey site's at the top of the hill."
Hermione remained at the head of the group with Harry and Ron for a while, listening to Mr. Weasley recount some of the odder, not to mention hilarious incidents he'd witnessed at large Wizarding events such as the World Cup, mostly involving Wizards' disastrous attempts to pass as Muggles. Their laughter carried through the wooded hillside and and when Hermione's legs suddenly felt twenty times lighter, she realized they must be nearing the top. She hung back to wait for Ginny, receiving a rather powerful sort-of-hug from the twins as they sandwiched her between them when they passed. She laughed out loud at their antics, shoving them away playfully.
Hermione waited patiently until Ginny's red hair popped into view a few seconds later as she trudged through the trees and foliage looking fractious. She grimaced in sympathy and held out a bottle of water in offering to the young girl when she was a few paces away.
Ginny accepted it gratefully, though still grumbling irritably, before gulping down half of it in one go.
"Arthur, there you are!" a voice echoed through the woods.
When Hermione and Ginny had caught up the rest of the group, they found Mr. Weasley speaking to a tall, be-speckled wizard.
"This your lot, Arthur?" the wizard asked, taking in their motley group with a measure of amusement.
"Just the redheads. These are Ron's best friends, Hermione and Harry. They're staying with us until term starts. This is Amos Diggory, everybody," said Mr. Weasley, and everyone said a short 'hello'. "He works for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. You lot probably know his son, Cedric," both Mr. Weasley and Mr. Diggory looked around.
"Now where's he got to?" said Mr. Diggory, "Ced!"
Hermione held back a sigh as she readjusted her bag uncomfortably. She shifted her weight as she swung it over to her other shoulder, losing her balance slightly before taking a step to her left to regain it. Before she could fully process what was happening she saw a flash of blue in her peripheral vision as an oddly solid rush of wind delivered a glancing blow to her left side. A shout of surprise escaped her as her precarious balance on the grassy mound was lost and she fell backwards. Hermione only registered the sound of another above her and the feel of a hand gripping her arm and another digging into her waist as she fell. Her hands instinctively found purchase on Cedric Diggory's shoulder's as his lanky 6'1'' frame crashed into her and the entangled pair tumbled along the dewy grass and roots of the forest ground.
They skid to a halt a few meters in a particularly mossy patch of the forest, a tangle of limbs that released matching curses and groans of pain. For a few seconds everything seemed to be spinning before Hermione's eyes. She heard Cedric's pained cough from somewhere above her and felt the sudden urge to punch him. Honestly, of all the ridiculous things to do!
She reigned in the urge however, and settled for trying to get out from under him. One of Cedric's arms was still wound tightly about her waist and the other had migrated around her shoulders, his hand hopelessly tangled in her now loose hair. Both were breathing heavily and Cedric bit back a groan against the sensation of Hermione's lithe body grinding against his as she attempted to get up.
He rolled off her quickly, trying not to pull her long hair as he attempted to extricate his hand from it and groaning as he landed on another great, dirty root.
Hermione released a sigh of relief and lay eagle spread on the hard ground, trying to slow her racing heart. She glared half-heartedly over at the boy lying beside her.
"What in hell made you think that would be a good idea?" she puffed out.
She watched him shrug sheepishly and then wince a sharp root dug into his back at the movement.
"I was bored, got tired of waiting," he said as though it explained everything.
"So you thought you'd climb a tree?" he shrugged again. "And how's that working out for you?" Hermione asked sardonically.
"Well, things are infinitely more interesting," he mused, wincing slightly as he smiled over at her, "And I'm definitely not bored."
Hermione stared at him incredulously for a second, stubbornly fighting a smile before failing miserably and dissolving into laughter followed shortly by Cedric.
That was the scene the others stumbled onto: Cedric rolling to his feet and offering Hermione a hand up, both still laughing breathlessly. Hermione was almost immediately swarmed by a sea of redheads, while Cedric's father worriedly clambered over to him. Ron and the twins were looking over at Cedric with murder written in their eyes, while Ginny, Harry and Mr. Weasley fussed over Hermione, Mr. Weasley quickly casting a diagnostic spell to check for injuries as well as a cleaning charm on her clothes.
"I'm alright, really," Hermione reassured them, chuckling, "Ron's smashed his toe on the nightstand and Harry nearly fell down a rabbit hole already this morning, I suppose it was my turn."
Mr. Weasley laughed jovially, squeezing her shoulder affectionately. She caught Cedric's eye while his father admonished him lightly about jumping out of trees and landing on pretty girls, 'They don't much appreciate that, my boy. Nobody does.' he said jokingly, though his tone was a mixture of worry and censure.
"I am sorry, my dear. Ced doesn't always think before he acts." He directed at Hermione, his smile widened slightly when he saw her properly and added, "Especially when it comes to beautiful young women."
He gave Cedric a not so subtle nudge who then flushed red and dropped his head in obvious embarrassment, muttering a furious, 'Dad!'
Hermione had to bite back a laugh at the ridiculousness of the entire situation and smiled kindly, shooting Cedric a sympathetic look, "Not to worry, I've been put through worse by these two over the years." She gestured at her two best friends, nudging Harry, who was nearest, with her hip. Harry smiled sheepishly, while Ron positively beamed, unashamed of their penchant for danger. Mr. Diggory laughed merrily.
"We'd best get a move on, or we'll miss the portkey!" Mr. Weasley exclaimed, looking at his watch worriedly.
"Off we go then, you lot. Keep up," Mr. Diggory agreed, both of them leading the large group back up the hillside.
Ron and the twins followed on with grumbled protests, Harry trailing behind them silently. Hermione and Cedric heaved their bags off the ground with groans of pain and trudged up the hill alongside Ginny.
"I really am sorry. I didn't see you until it was too late," Cedric said earnestly as they started the final leg of their journey.
"Oh, don't worry about it, honestly. It makes for a good story if nothing else," Hermione laughingly reassured him.
"I'm Cedric Diggory by the way."
Hermione shook his extended hand with an amused smile.
"I know. Our Quidditch team captain was about ready to drown himself last year when you got one over on Gryffindor." Cedric seemed to wince slightly at the reminder. "All in the past now, of course. I'm-"
"Hermione Granger, the wits of the Golden Trio." Cedric interjected with a smirk.
She looked up at him in amused curiosity, "The who of the what?"
"Don't tell me you three don't know about that," he said incredulously.
"No!" She chuckled incredulously, "How did that happen? When did that happen?"
Cedric smiled and shrugged unconcernedly, "Not sure. Sometime after the troll incident that one Halloween I think. That's when I first heard it anyhow."
"Oh," she murmured, suddenly looking pensive.
"I didn't mean anything by it. I was just teasing," Cedric offered after she was silent for a few minutes.
"No, it's not that," she smiled, "I just wondered if I've heard anyone use the phrase before and just didn't understand it."
"I think the twins were behind come to the think of it."
"They would be, wouldn't they?" Hermione said with a rueful shake of her head.
They walked in silence for the most part, the steepness of the terrain abruptly increasing once more and their brisk pace making it difficult to do much else. Cedric had remained close to Hermione's side since they set off, joining in on the sporadic bursts of conversation between her and the others, but mainly observing her curiously.
She laughed a little breathlessly at something Harry said, simultaneously steadying Ginny as a chunk of earth had the discourtesy to give way beneath her foot. His initial assessment of her had come up short, he realized, his lips quirking up into an involuntary smile.
He'd seen her from his, admittedly ill advised, perch in the tree over viewing the hillside, and had quickly recognized her as the brilliant part of what the school referred to as the Golden Trio. But what had really caught his attention was the ease with which she interacted with the lot of them, no trace of guile or discomfort, not even a speck of the prim and proper attitude he had so often heard her accused of possessing. Quite the opposite in fact. He'd watched her joke with the twins, even leaving them speechless at one point (an impressive feat if he'd ever witnessed one), seen her share secret smiles with Potter and the youngest Weasley boy, laughing freely as they listened to Mr. Weasley. She had even taken the ribbing from the twins in good stride, more than just good actually, she had laughed merrily at their antics not seeming the least bit put out.
Cedric didn't think he had ever been so intrigued by any woman in his life. Even taking into account his ardent admirer, the lovely Cho Chang. Though, he had to admit, Cho, while beautiful, didn't exactly have many other favorable adjectives to add to her character. Her loyalty was questionable at best, sometimes changing allegiances to secure the better outcome for herself, she was petty, jealous and often conceited, though she worked hard to conceal any trace of those qualities. No, Hermione Granger, he decided, seemed to be in a category all her own.
They reached the top of Stoatshead Hil minutes later, only to fine Mr. Weasley holding a manky looking old boot in his hand. He heaved a great sigh of relief and exhaustion and checked his watch, "We've made good time. Eleven minutes to spare and we've already found the Portkey. I reckon we have time to take a breather."
Everyone exclaimed in relief, dropping to the ground on the spot, only taking care to avoid any rocks and each other. Hermione plopped herself down on a particularly soft patch of grass with a quiet sigh of relief.
"Oi, Hermione, where's that water?" Ron's voice echoed suddenly from somewhere to her left.
"Do you mean, 'Please, Hermione, may I have some of the water you had the good sense to bring?' Why of course, Ron, since you asked so nicely," Hermione shot back, only half-joking.
"Yeah, alright, whatever. Just pass me the water already?' he groused.
Hermione threw the bottle in the direction of his voice, smiling slightly when she heard it hit its mark.
"Oops, catch!" She warned sarcastically. The twins and Cedric snickered as Ron glared over at her.
"He always like that?"
Hermione looked over at Cedric on her right, and smirked, "This is quite pleasant for him, actually."
"Two minutes!" exclaimed Mr. Weasley.
The wind carried their various sounds of discomfort carried as they stretched out their stiff joints and made their way to Mr. Weasley, the natural order of things seemingly restored as Harry and Ron each took a place beside Hermione, much to Cedric's dismay. Lucky for him, however, Ginny Weasley was a keen observer of human behavior and she certainly hadn't missed the fact that Cedric had yet to remove his gaze from her best friend for more than a few seconds at a time.
And so, the youngest Weasley gave her older brother a swift kick in the ankle, craftily making it seem like an accident by pretending to stumble as well. Ron, meanwhile, went flying to the ground, landing face first in the grass. Ginny's face rivaled her hair as she shot Cedric a pointed look and he quickly maneuvered himself beside Hermione, who looked torn between amusement and concern as she watched Ron scramble off the ground. He rushed over to the rest of them, glaring balefully at Ginny and Cedric in turn. It didn't help that he ended up sandwiched between the twins.
"Now, all you have to do is touch the portkey." Mr. Weasley instructed, though it was mainly directed at Hermione and Harry, neither of whom had experience with portkey travel.
Mr. Weasley counted down the last five seconds, and they suddenly felt as though they were being squeezed through a tube, the scenery around them in constant flux. And then, quickly as it began, they were unceremoniously spit out at their destination.
As their feet hit the ground, Cedric distinctly heard Hermione's voice as she spoke urgently, "Harry, let - OUCH!" Hermione knocked into Cedric's left side and they went toppling to the ground once more, "-go." She finished dryly.
Cedric was abruptly aware of an extra weight apart from Hermione, but couldn't see what it was from his vantage point. After knocking into Hermione, Harry proceeded to land rather roughly on her, accidentally digging an elbow into her back in the process. She hissed in pain.
"Er, having a bit of trouble breathing here, love." Cedric said in a slightly strained voice.
She shot him a look that clearly said, 'How do you think I'm feeling?' before arching her back and twisting in a way that had Cedric seeing spots. His grip on her waist tightened in response and he grit his teeth, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn't notice the effect she was currently having on him, "Harry, get off. You're killing us here." She said, her voice tinged with pain.
"Sorry - dizzy," came the dazed response from somewhere further down the way.
Harry clumsily tried to roll off Hermione, still more than just a little dizzy apparently. He managed to roll further up her body and she found herself pressed against Cedric even more intimately than before, painfully aware of Cedric's labored breath tickling her ear. Any current flew out of her mind when another elbow found it's way into her back. She yelped in pain this time, prompting Cedric to flinch, and tighten his hold on her as they both yelled out in warning, 'Harry, elbows!' 'Watch it, Potter!'
They were met with a sympathetic hiss, "Sorry. Really, really sorry, 'Mione."
A second later they could both breath again as Harry finally managed to roll off them. Hermione sighed in relief and rolled off Cedric, landing to the left of him on the grass, gingerly massaging the spot on her back where Harry had elbowed her last.
Cedric breathed deep, giving his oxygen-deprived system some much-needed relief.
"You alright?" He asked, getting up.
She exhaled slowly, "Fine. I'm sure the twins have brought some Bruise-Removal Paste."
He offered her an amused smile and his hand, both of which she accepted gratefully as she nursed her back. He miscalculated the force necessary however, and pulled her up a bit too roughly, sending her crashing against his chest. He smiled sheepishly down at her, his naturally rosy cheeks burning a tad brighter than normal. "Sorry," he mumbled.
She shook her head as she righted herself, smiling at him, "It's alright, no further damage done."
"We've got all the combined grace of a bloody wounded bumblebee today. Hope it's not an omen." Cedric quipped wryly.
Hermione laughed lightly as she straightened her top and jacket, "Oh, I don't believe a word of that."
"Never much believed in omens myself, either," he smiled.
"No, I mean, I think a herd of rampaging hippogriffs would be more accurate." She shot back, casually readjusting her bag.
Cedric stared at her for a full two seconds before he burst out laughing and Hermione dissolved into laughter as well.
The two groups walked to their campsites companionably. Cedric prodigiously stuck to Hermione's side and the pair chatted animatedly the entire trek across the campgrounds. Ron had tried to muscle his way between them a few times but mysteriously disappeared within seconds every time. Ginny's doing, Cedric assumed. Harry was subtler in his pseudo-sentry duty, keeping enough distance between them to give the illusion of privacy, but still close enough to join in their conversation on occasion.
Their conversation came to a sudden halt when the twins began teasing Ginny about her many suitors of late. They watched in amusement as Ginny turned an impressive shade of red, but refused to back down from their challenge. When George mentioned Michael Corner however, all hell broke lose, and Ginny lunged at George, wand bared.
They ran around Harry and Ron, past Hermione and Cedric, Ginny shouting in embarrassed outrage, "We were not snogging under the Quidditch stands, George, and you know it!"
Everyone laughed aloud at the siblings' behavior and Cedric stared after them wistfully.
"I've always wanted siblings," he said regretfully, "but mum died when I was pretty young so - do you have siblings?" he asked suddenly.
Hermione felt a familiar grief well up in her chest at his quiet confession, and she shook her head, "No, I'm an only child as well. I absolutely hated it growing up."
"And now?" he asked, curious.
"Now, I've learned that you make your own family," she said, smiling slightly at his perceptiveness, "Harry, the Weasleys...they're my family. Maybe more than my parents have ever been."
"You're lucky. I don't think I've ever met anyone I felt that sort of connection with. Guess I'm not much of a people person," Hermione looked at him questioningly, silently prodding him to continue, "I know I'm popular at school and people like me and all, but I don't actually have any close friends, just acquaintances really. I've never been too good at letting people in, I guess. I only let them get so close and know so much about me, can't help it."
"Well, you don't have to let them in completely. There are a lot of things - big things - that I haven't told Harry or Ginny about myself, my life," she confided, "It's more a matter of loyalty, knowing without a doubt that they'll be there for me if I need them, and vice-versa. That's half the battle, really," she shrugged one shoulder.
"Well, when you put it that way..." Cedric said thoughtfully.
"It seems less daunting?" she finished wryly.
"To say the least," Cedric chuckled, and Hermione couldn't help but smile.
"Harry! Hermione!" Someone shouted in a thick Irish accent.
They all turned to find Oliver Wood, Gryffindor's former Quidditch Captain, bounding towards them.
"Oliver!" Hermione smiled as Oliver wrapped her in a hug. The water-repellant charm she had used to help them win their last game clearly still fresh in his memory.
Harry and the twins greeted their former captain with slaps on the back and exuberant smiles as he stopped in front of him. He greeted Cedric politely enough and told them excitedly that he had just been signed to the Puddlemere United reserve team. He then grabbed Harry and Hermione's arms, excusing them from the rest of the group, and dragged them over to meet his parents' tent a little ways away. Everyone watched Oliver gesticulate wildly as he introduced the pair of them, at one point wrapping his arm around Hermione and pulling her close while Harry looked on in amusement. Until he found himself in the same position, of course.
They chatted with the Woods for a few minutes before returning to their group, who started walking once more when they saw them coming. Hermione smiled sympathetically at Harry's discomfiture at being placed in the spotlight. Cedric hung back to wait for Hermione and watched her say something to Harry, throwing an arm around his shoulders. He smiled at whatever she said, and the tension left his expression. Cedric wondered what she possibly could've said to affect such an immediate change.
When it came time to part ways a few minutes later, Cedric found himself reluctant to leave Hermione's company. He even resorted to slowing his pace in an effort to postpone the inevitable, if only by a few seconds.
"Well, this is us! Amos, Cedric we'll see you two at the game," Mr. Weasley clapped Amos on the back.
"Aye, see you tonight, Arthur! Come on, Ced! Don't worry, you'll see Miss Granger tonight as well!" Amos called.
Cedric flushed again and Hermione strived to keep a straight face for his sake. He grinned at Hermione nonetheless, his gray eyes sparkling warmly as he walked backwards towards his father, "I'll see you later, Hermione."
Hermione returned the grin and gave him a small wave, "Yeah, see you, Cedric."
Almost as soon as she turned back to her group Ginny seized her arm.
"Oh - My - Bloody hell, Hermione!" Ginny fairly shrieked.
This elicited a shriek of surprise from Hermione, a hand flying to her chest.
"Are you trying to give me a heart attack! What!" She shouted back.
"What? What, she says! She's just managed to reduce the most handsome and popular boy in the entire school to a puddle of goo with one look, and a few words, and she asks 'What!"
"What are you talking about? I haven't reduced anyone to anything, gooey or otherwise, thank you very much," Hermione said, highly amused by the younger girl's antics.
Ginny only huffed incredulously as Hermione promptly walked off with Harry to help Mr. Weasley with the Muggle money.