Chapter Five: Something To Talk About
There had indeed been extra pillows and blankets in the cupboard. An abundance, in fact. Ginny and Hermione had piled the sofas with four blankets and two pillows each, succeeding in making them more comfortable than the cots would've been. And yet, Hermione lied awake in her makeshift bed at two in the morning, thinking. Ginny had fallen asleep within moments of her head hitting her pillow and was now snoring quite loudly, leaving Hermione to stare up at the tent's canvas roof.
Her mind was unsettled by the day's events, she couldn't stop analyzing all that had happened. She couldn't shake the feeling that they were currently camped out in the middle of an abandoned battlefield. She scoffed sarcastically at her own dramatization.
What really bothered her was that she had let Malfoy's words affect her more than they should've. 'They're hunting Muggles…'
Hermione knew full-well that she was a witch. But to have that fact so forcefully challenged at every turn… It didn't matter to Malfoy or the rest of the Slytherins that she could perform any spell she came across, or that she was at the top of her class at Hogwarts. All they saw was her "dirty" blood and their own overblown superiority. What good were reality and evidence if people willfully ignored them?
Hermione shivered uncomfortably. That's what terrified her most. The fact that she might be killed or tortured based on someone's self-important perception that she was nothing because of what amounted to an accident of birth… Though that wasn't entirely true in her case, she supposed. She sighed quietly into the dark.
Her darkening thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a floorboard creaking in the pitch dark of the tent. Suddenly, her comparison of the campsite to a battlefield didn't seem so ridiculous, and she sat up instantly, wand in hand.
"Lumos," she whispered.
She shone the light around the room, paying particular attention to the tent's entrance, before settling it on the doorframe leading into the hallway. She sighed in relief as her hand went to her chest and she dropped back onto the sofa, hissing quietly at the intruder, "For Merlin's sake, you nearly gave me a heart attack!"
Cedric smiled apologetically and dropped down onto the floor beside the blue sofa she had claimed for the night.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. I couldn't sleep," he whispered.
Hermione turned onto her side, propping her head up on her hand to look at him properly.
"It's alright, you didn't. I haven't been to sleep yet either. My mind just won't turn off," she admitted quietly, meeting his gray eyes with a half smile.
Ginny suddenly emitted a particularly loud snore causing them flinch and look over at her.
"Bloody hell, it must be genetic. Ron snores like a lion as well," Cedric said in quiet awe.
Hermione muffled a laugh behind her hand and Cedric looked suddenly shamefaced and ducked his head, "Sorry, I don't know why I said that," he looked up slightly and caught her eye, his gaze turned contemplative, "I don't know why I said a lot of things I did today. Why do I feel like I could say anything to you?"
Hermione held his gaze, her brown eyes looking just as curious.
"I don't know," she said quietly.
"It feels like we've known each other for years actually," he said, sounding almost nostalgic.
"Is that a good thing, do you think?" she said with a quiet smile.
Cedric sighed tiredly, but smiled.
"I think today's been the first time I've been really happy since mum died and dad started burying himself in his work," he confided quietly, resting his head on the edge of the sofa.
"How long ago was that?" Hermione asked quietly, surprised by his confession.
"Ten, almost eleven years. She worked for the Department of Experimental Magic, researching a new potion. Volatile apparently. Something went wrong and there was an explosion. She and her research partner were both killed, but —"
Cedric's gaze has distant, his eyes clouded with the pain of whatever he was remembering. Hermione's stomach lurched uncomfortably with dread and she laid a hand on his arm in a silent offer of comfort. Her touch seemed to bring him back to the present, though his gaze was still pained and voice strained when he spoke again.
"I-it wasn't instant," he said haltingly, "She was in St. Mungo's for days before she - passed. Dad refused to let me see her while she was there, I guess he thought he was protecting me. But I snuck into her room one of the times he let me come along."
Hermione's chest tight with emotion and her eyes clouded with tears at the obvious pain in his voice. She heard him sniff quietly, "She was — I didn't even recognize her, there was so much — damage — she never woke up. I can never decide whether I'm thankful for that or not. But dad — he was never the same after that."
"What was her name?" Hermione asked quietly, her voice thick with emotion.
"And after — your father..."
"Couldn't cope," he said simply. "He was around at first, but eventually, he started staying late at the office, even before I started school. Left me with my grandmother mostly, sometimes the Weasleys."
Hermione sniffed quietly, trying to compose herself, "Are things the same now?"
"Mostly. Still works late most days, but he's been cutting back a bit lately," he said with a small shrug, "I don't know. At least he's trying, I suppose."
Hermione felt a grief she thought she had long buried resurface, raw and exposed.
"I can't imagine — I mean, I never knew my biological parents, so — I can't imagine losing either of them like that," she breathed, troubled, and Cedric's head shot up in surprise.
Cedric stared at her through wide eyes, "But I thought—"
Hermione realized her mistake at once and instinctively froze in place, disbelieving. But as her mind accepted the hornet's nest she had just disturbed, she was surprised to find she didn't regret it.
"The Grangers adopted me when I was about two. Nobody knows, not even Harry and Ron," she explained quietly.
"Harry got such a raw deal having to live with the Dursleys, they're so bloody horrible to him. I just - I can't bring myself to tell him I got the better end of that particular spectrum," Hermione said with a shake of her head and Cedric felt his throat tighten with emotion at her quiet confession.
"Have you ever tried to find your real parents?" Cedric asked quietly.
"No. I've thought about it, but really, the chances of finding them after all these years...they could be dead for all I know, and if they're not… I don't think I want to know why…" she shook her head again, "Besides, my parents — the Grangers, that is — they aren't horrible people or anything."
"How did you know they weren't your parents?"
"Well, when I got my Hogwarts letter I asked them if anybody else in our family was a witch and they said that they had no idea because they weren't my biological parents."
"Bit blunt wasn't it," Cedric said, sounding slightly outraged on her behalf.
Hermione shrugged lightly, "Maybe, but they had just learned that their adopted daughter was a witch. Tensions were running a bit high, I suppose," she replied, her expression only betraying a hint of regret.
"What do you mean? Were they angry that you were a witch?" he asked, concerned.
"No," Hermione sighed quietly, "no, they weren't angry, I even think they might've been a bit relieved actually. At least it explained all the accidental magic over the years. But I could just see it in their faces. Like they were thinking, 'this is not what we signed up for.' Things haven't been the same since."
A ghost of a smile crossed her face, so sad it broke his heart. He reached for her hand and twined their fingers together.
"So…what kind of accidental magic are we talking about?" he said, smiling softly.
Hermione chuckled lightly, "Well, there was the time I turned my father's hair blue, and the incident with a neighbor's Rottweiler which ended with my Apparating rather unexpectedly into my mother's kitchen. Nearly gave her a coronary," she said the last with a grimace.
Cedric raised an eyebrow, "Blimey. The worst I ever did was make a few tea cups explode," he considered her a moment, absently playing with her slim fingers, "Was it hard to transition into the Wizarding world?"
"Yes and no," she said slowly, "I'll always consider the Muggle world my home to some degree, but I never quite fit there. So in that respect, it was easy to leave and start over in the Wizarding world. I think the biggest adjustment was realizing that magic had its own set of laws and limitations."
"What do you mean?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"Well, in the Muggle world when somebody says something is magic they mean it doesn't make sense. It doesn't obey the laws of physics or have a scientific explanation. Basically, it shouldn't work. It was bizarre to realize that just because there's no scientific explanation, it doesn't mean there's no explanation at all. You see?"
"A change in perspective," he offered.
"Exactly," she said with a smile, "I had to reevaluate my definition and perception of magic as I was brought up to think of it."
"And now?" he asked seriously, "After everything you've seen and know about the Wizarding world, warts and all, have you ever considered leaving?"
"No," she replied easily, meeting his gaze unfalteringly, smiling slightly, "Especially not after a night like tonight."
"Because it reminds you that you have something to fight for?" Cedric asked.
"Partly…I mean, you'll find cruelty and ignorance everywhere you go. If I was just looking for a good cause to fight for I could easily find one in the Muggle world. No, it's more about who I'd be leaving behind," she returned quietly, meeting his eye. "I don't think I could ever leave Harry and the Weasleys behind. It's like I said, they've become my family."
Cedric couldn't help but smile, giving her hand a light squeeze. Another inhuman snore rattled through the room and they started again.
"Ron's twice as loud. How can Harry sleep through that?" Cedric said, shaking his head.
"Adaptation. Survival of the fittest, it has to be. It's the only way he could've survived the last three years sleeping in the same room as Ron and Neville," Hermione said wryly.
Cedric laughed softly and rested his head against the sofa once more.
"Well, Darwin would be proud," he said sleepily.
"Cedric?" she questioned quietly.
The boy in question hummed sleepily in answer.
"What will happen to Winky?" The question had been niggling at her since the scene Crouch had made in the wood.
"You heard Crouch, she'll be sacked," Cedric replied, sounding more awake.
"I did hear Crouch," she said, sounding bitter as she recalled Crouch's coldness, "I meant what will happen to her after that? Where will she go? What happens to house elves after they're sacked?"
"Oh, well, it depends. Sometimes they can find a new family, and the ones that don't, end up at Hogwarts, but they're usually not too happy about it."
"I don't understand. Why wouldn't they be happy?"
"I suppose you could say it's a cultural thing. In their society, serving a family gives them a higher social rank than working somewhere for wages. Working somewhere like Hogwarts is considered low-class — undesirable." Cedric explained.
"Oh." Hermione bit her lip worriedly, recalling the little house elf's frightened, tearstained face. "I don't suppose that Winky is likely to find a family willing to take her on after tonight, will she?"
"No. No, probably not. Too much scandal." Cedric lamented, "It's all complete bollocks if you ask me, the lot of it, but it's just how their society functions."
Hermione sighed sadly and glanced at the clock. 3 'o clock. She'd been up almost 24 hours straight. She could hear Cedric's breathing even out as he dozed off on the floor beside her and found herself struggling to keep her eyes open. She shifted slightly, tucking her right arm under her pillow and drifted to sleep moments later, her left arm draped over Cedric's shoulder as he held her hand against his chest.
Mr. Diggory entered the tent only an hour later, and upon entering stood stalk still at the sight that greeted him. Ginny Weasley was sprawled on the larger sofa, buried under a mountain of blankets and snoring loudly, and on the second, smaller sofa lay the young woman that had apparently captured his son's heart so entirely. And she wasn't alone. Cedric was sitting on the floor with his back against the sofa, head resting on one the edge of the cushion with the young brunette's hand clasped tightly in his own.
Amos Diggory shook his head in wistful wonderment at the young couple. It was as though they were attached by a string.
He still vividly remembered a time when he himself found himself so spellbound by a woman. He had met Clara while both were working at the Ministry. An internal auditor at the time, the Department of Experimental Magic had been his first assignment, where he would meet his future wife. He would've said it was love at first sight, but Amos far too rational for those sort of romantic notions then. All the same, there had been a spark from the beginning, one that had only grown in magnitude as time passed them by. They were married within a year.
Amos felt a familiar tightness in his chest, as he thought of his late wife. The day she died he felt a part of him had died with her; he was forever changed and it showed. It was a gradual change, but soon after Clara's death, he began distancing himself from everybody, even his own son. He knew he had let Cedric down growing up, and continued to even now. His rather pitiful upbringing had affected him more deeply than perhaps even he realized. Amos didn't deny that he had grown into a good man, friendly, kind and honest, but he also knew him to be conversely solitary and guarded with his thoughts and feelings. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Amos couldn't help but feel relieved and delighted that his son had found what he himself had lost so long ago: a soul mate.
He had watched the pair interact with each other through the day and seen the ease of their countenance and manners as they spoke and laughed together mere minutes after meeting. Gone was the strained, polite smile that had become the norm in their household for so long, replaced by a wide, genuine grin that exuded happiness whenever Miss Granger so much as glanced at him. It had been years since he had seen his son so happy or at ease, and it was all because of the young witch in front of him. What's more was that she seemed to return his feelings. Well, any young woman who could bring about such a profound transformation in his son with just one look had his whole-hearted approval.
Mr. Diggory smiled wistfully into the dark and quietly tip-toed his way to the large armchair between the two sofas, leaning back comfortably and sinking into oblivion almost immediately.
They all woke up to the sound of Mr. Weasley waking the boys after only a couple hours sleep. Ginny gave Hermione and Cedric a sleepy, but knowing look that clearly held the promise of a very long conversation in the near future. Mr. Diggory, however, looked entirely unfazed by the couple's presence and merely offered all of them a pleasant good morning as he stood, working the kinks out of his neck and back.
They all offered mumbled greetings in return as they got to their feet. Hermione and Cedric shared sleepy smiles as they disentangled and slowly stood, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Mr. Weasley and the boys came in shortly thereafter, looking disgruntled and exhausted.
They didn't even have time to properly wake up, let alone for breakfast before Mr. Weasley packed up the lone tent with a flick of his wand and they hurriedly made their way across the campsite.
They heard urgent voices as they approached the Portkey rendezvous site, and when they reached it, they found a group of witches and wizards gathered around the Ministry official in charge, all desperate to get away from the campsite as soon as possible. Mr. Weasley had a hurried discussion with the official; they joined the queue, and were able to take an old rubber tire back to Stoatshead Hill before the sun had fully risen.
Having only slept a handful of hours, everybody was feeling more than a little off-kilter as it was, making their second Portkey trip even more disastrous than the first. Everyone but Mr. Weasley and Mr. Diggory landed in the dog pile on the dewy ground. There was an odd pop! and someone cried out in pain.
"Harry, that's my hand!" she heard Ginny exclaim indignantly.
"Yeah? At least he's not sitting on you!" Ron shouted back.
Hermione reflexively made to get up but found herself pinned underneath George who was being sat on by Fred, both of whom were squashing somebody's foot, which was digging rather painfully into her ribs.
"OW! Fred, your foot's in my diaphragm!" Hermione cried out, slightly muffled by George's chest.
"Not me, love," Fred choked out.
"No, that's me, sorry!" Cedric's voice came from somewhere to her left, "ARGH! George, stop moving! You're gonna break my bloody foot!"
"And my ribs," Hermione rejoined, her voiced strained.
"Well, excuse me, but I'm having a bit of trouble breathing here," George wheezed, still squirming to lift himself and Fred off, "Oi, Fred! Get off us!"
George tried to buck him off and was met with three shouts of pain, but none so loud as Fred's, "Stop! Stop! I can't move, I think my bloody leg's broken!" he ground out.
Fred, in his attempt to land on his feet, had apparently stuck his leg straight out, before realizing the ground was suddenly much closer than he thought. He felt his leg give out at the harsh impact as a mind-numbing pain radiated from somewhere just below his knee, and he landed squarely on his brother's back.
George, Hermione, and Cedric ceased their desperate movements, afraid they'd aggravate Fred's injury. Hermione exhaled through her nose slowly and tried to ignore the pain radiating through her ribs.
"Oh, dear," Mr. Weasley intoned worriedly.
"It's alright, Arthur, we'll move him on three, shall we?" Amos suggested.
"One - two - three."
They heard Fred moan painfully as his added weight was lifted off them and then shout, presumably as he was lowered to the ground once more.
George was off Hermione and by Fred's side in a flash, leaving her and Cedric to sigh in relief. Hermione felt Cedric remove his foot almost immediately and she pushed herself up a bit painfully.
"Are you alright?" Cedric was at her side in an instant, offering her a hand up and peering at her with concern.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said as he helped her up.
The rest of their group was huddled around Fred as Mr. Weasley examined his leg, and Cedric and Hermione stood a little behind them all.
"Well, it looks like a clean break. I should be able to mend it myself," Mr. Weasley finally said.
At the looks of horror that passed between all the Weasley siblings, Hermione concluded that Mr. Weasley's skills as a healer had previously been proven to be somewhat lacking. Mr. Diggory, too, must have known this because at Mr. Weasley's pronouncement he leapt forth.
"Er, why don't you let me do it, Arthur? You remember what happened the last time you tried this spell," he said carefully.
Mr. Weasley obviously did remember, for he winced and quickly stood, "Probably a good idea actually."
"What happened the last time he tried it?" Hermione whispered curiously to Cedric, who was also wincing.
"The spell was a bit too strong. The bones came tearing out of the poor bloke's arm in the opposite direction," Cedric whispered back, looking positively ill at the memory.
And Hermione didn't blame him. She felt a bit ill herself and she hadn't even witnessed it!
"And suddenly I'm grateful we didn't have breakfast," she muttered and Cedric laughed weakly.
Mr. Diggory pointed his wand at Fred's leg, "Ferula," he intoned.
There was a loud popping sound and Fred screamed. Everybody jumped at both sounds, looking extremely worried until Fred exclaimed, "Oh, thank Merlin! Mr. Diggory, you're a lifesaver! Dad would probably've amputated the bloody thing!"
They all laughed at that pronouncement, Mr. Weasley heartily of all. Fred jumped to his feet easily, moving his newly healed leg as if to test it out, and everybody spread out to gather their forgotten packs and bags.
"Arthur, I'll see you at work on Monday," Amos said, clapping Mr. Weasley on the back.
Cedric turned to Hermione as she swung her bag over her shoulder.
"Think you can manage to stay out of harm's way for the next week or so," he said jokingly, "I'd like it if you were in one piece the next time I see you."
"This coming from the source of most of my present injuries," she shot back dryly, but smiling nonetheless.
"Are you staying with the Weasleys until term starts?"
"Yeah, my parents are in Hamburg until mid-September," she explained.
"Come on, Ced!" Mr. Diggory called.
They both laughed at his poor timing and Cedric pulled Hermione into a hug. Hermione wrapped her arms around Cedric's back, her head coming to rest on his shoulder.
"See you in a week," Hermione whispered as they pulled away.
"Promise?" he asked quietly.
"I promise," she said laughingly, rolling her eyes at his childish behavior.
The pair moved apart, each joining their respective groups, albeit reluctantly.
As the two groups parted ways, Cedric couldn't help looking over his shoulder, staring longingly after Hermione. He saw her make her way to Ginny's side, only to grab her side when the young girl grabbed her arm a little too enthusiastically before she and the rest of the group disappeared beyond the other side of the hill.
Cedric sighed heavily as he turned away, attracting his father's attention.
"You quite like Miss Granger, don't you?" he said, looking over at the young man.
Cedric looked over at his father in surprise, suddenly feeling unbelievably awkward. It wasn't like them to talk about this sort of thing. Ever. The extent of their personal conversations extended as far as asking after his friends. And even that felt at bit too personal. Cedric shook himself mentally. This was a good thing, it was progress. He was trying. It's what he's always wanted, right? Cedric exhaled quietly, forcing himself to relax.
"Yeah, I really do," his eyes flit over to his father but quickly returned to the horizon, "I've never met anyone like her. She's brilliant, funny, beautiful - I feel like can talk to her about anything," he looked down at his shoes, feeling horribly exposed. "Bloody rare combination."
"Aye, that it is, my boy," Amos sighed sadly.
Cedric looked over at his father in surprise at the, admittedly roundabout, reference to his mother and put an arm around his shoulders in comfort. The older man was surprised by the action, Cedric noticed, but said nothing.
Ginny saw Cedric pull Hermione into a hug and nearly squealed in excitement. She contained her enthusiasm, however, ensuring the others remained oblivious of the couple for both hers and Hermione's sakes.
As Hermione made her way towards her, Ginny watched Cedric Diggory's retreating back, unsurprised to find he was looking back, his eyes locked on Hermione longingly. She wasted no time. As soon as she was within her reach, Ginny grabbed Hermione's arm in excitement, only to regret it when Hermione clutched her side with a soft moan of pain.
"Are you alright?" Ginny asked fretfully. "Did you break something, too?"
"No," Hermione laughed shakily, "no, nothing's broken, just bruised."
"Are you sure?" she said her eyes wide.
"Yes, I'm sure. Now stop looking as though I'm dying," she said not unkindly, "You're almost as bad as Cedric."
Ginny's eyes lit up again at the reminder of her goal, "Oh, am I now? He does seem very protective of you, looked ready to kill Malfoy last night, and he's absolutely gorgeous to boot. I approve!" Ginny said energetically.
"Well if you approve he must be alright!" Hermione joked, "And, you know, looks aren't everything."
Ginny rolled her eyes, "I know, I know," she sighed, "There's also intelligence and personality and integrity and all that other rubbish. Blah, blah, blah."
Hermione smiled wryly, shaking her head at Ginny's single-mindedness.
"Are you two dating then?" she suddenly asked.
"No, of course not." Ginny stared at her as though she was crazy, "Well I'm not saying there isn't potential, but we hardly know each other, Ginny."
"I know, but it's just so romantic!" She said, sounding utterly fanciful by now, "The way he looks at you, Hermione! Like you're the most amazing person in the world! Like its just the two of you and he can't imagine being without you!"
Hermione smiled at her wildly romantic notions, "You're reading so much into everything, Ginny. Too much."
"Maybe," Ginny conceded, "but you do admit there's something between you?"
"Yes, Ginny," she said drolly, "I admit, there is a certain something between us. A spark, if you will."
Ginny sighed dreamily, a silly smile on her face, and Hermione sighed. It was going to be a long walk back.