Harry wondered, as he wandered dolefully down a corridor, whether he was going to pass his Charms exam on the strength of Summoning Charms alone. He hadn't been able to answer one single other question. That wasn't what made his feet as heavy as if they'd been soaked in concrete, however. Nor was the fact that no one at the Gryffindor table had spoken to him when he'd sat between Ron and Hermione, trying to eat. It was that Cedric hadn't come to meet him beneath the Witch's Hump. It was someone else.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she'd said, and given him a slim letter sealed with yellow wax.
"Where's Cedric?" Harry had asked.
"Couldn't come. Send a reply by owl, he said. I'm sure it explains in there."
Harry had nodded, gripping the letter tight enough to warp the crisp edges.
The girl had clapped him on the shoulder. "It'll be all right. Honest it will," she'd said, and left him standing there.
"Honestly, I don't know how you forgot Wingardium Leviosa, everyone knows you can do that one," Hermione said, when he met her as promised in the library.
"I'm not in the mood for this," Harry said, as she pushed a textbook from their second year in front of him.
Her face softened a little. "What did Cedric say then?"
"Nothing. He got someone to give me this." He showed her the letter.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said softly.
For an uncomfortable moment, Harry thought she was going to hug him. Then she said, "haven't you opened it yet?"
"No." Harry laid it gently on top of his textbook.
"Do you want me to open it?" Hermione asked.
"No!" Harry said, and quickly removed the parchment from sight.
"I was only asking," Hermione said. "You ought to open it, you know. It might just say, 'I've thought of a better place to meet…'"
"I doubt that," Harry said.
Hermione turned away, and began writing an essay for Transfiguration. Harry was two essays behind her, and was sure he'd spend their Transfiguration double tomorrow trying to hide from the wrath of McGonagall. He thought momentarily about doing some work, but instead looked at the letter again.
He tore it open so quickly he ripped through the words.
Harry, it said. Not tonight. I can't. Lunchtime tomorrow, behind the greenhouses?
Cedric hadn't even signed his name Harry noticed, feeling anti-climaxed.
"Well?" Hermione asked, looking up.
Harry showed her. There was no reason not too.
"Well, that's all right then, isn't it?" she said.
Harry shrugged, not knowing how to explain.
Hermione thrust a roll of parchment in front of him. "If you're not going to read your Charms, then you may as well write one of those essays for McGonagall."
"I think I'll go and owl Cedric," Harry said.
"You can do it in the morning," Hermione said, handing him a quill and a pile of her notes.
Harry couldn't work up the energy to argue, and began scratching away gloomily.
"Cedric, I'm not going to talk to him for you again," Flo said. "It's unkind. He looked so despondent yesterday."
"I don't know what I'm going to say to him," Cedric said.
"I'm sure something will come to you," said Flo. "Don't ask me again."
Cedric watched her walk away. With fingers that shook slightly, he took his father's letter from his pocket. He laid it on top of his blotting paper, and read it again. It looked grimy on the fresher sheet of paper, the creases were torn because it had been opened so many times.
"I'm still looking for those three essays, Potter," McGonagall said after class.
"Well, what are you staring at?" she added to Ron, who left.
"I've got one of them here," Harry said, and dug in his bag. The amount of writing on his parchment looked even smaller than the night before.
"I asked for twelve inches, Potter," she said. "This is barely four. And even if I accepted this, you would still be two essays overdue. Three by Wednesday if you don't have the one from today's class done."
"I'm sorry, Professor," Harry said.
"Sit down, Potter," she said, looking at him from over her glasses.
"You have performed so well in the tasks that we did not think they were putting too much strain on you. However, we all know they weren't intended for a boy your age. Is it too much work?"
Harry shook his head. "It's all right, Professor."
"Then it's that Hufflepuff lad."
Harry didn't say anything.
"You prowess doesn't always lie within the classroom, we both know that," McGonagall said. "However, as you generally pass muster, it's rather a shock to see you doing so abysmally."
"Sorry," Harry said again, in an undertone.
McGonagall clicked her tongue. "You usually do quite acceptably in Charms. How did you manage to receive five percent in your last exam?"
"Five percent?" Harry repeated, staring at her.
"Professor Flitwick just told me. He has said that since this is so far below your usual standard, he will let you repeat the exam. Next Wednesday, Potter. You'd better start studying."
"I allow my students no such liberties. You will bring those four essays, properly written, to my office, on Friday morning, or there will be hell to pay."
"Yes, Professor," Harry agreed gloomily.
"I'm sorry your, er, romantic life has become so public lately. If you have any problems you feel you need to discuss, please bring it up with a member of staff. And if you continue to slip so badly academically, then we'll be forced to take more extreme measures."
"Go on then, Potter," McGonagall said, and Harry got to his feet.
Late, now, to meet Cedric, he abandoned all thought of food, and put on an impressive turn of speed as he ran to the greenhouses.
Dear Dad, Cedric tried, I'm sorry. He looked at the letter again, and the way his father had signed himself off as Amos.
Dear Sir, he wrote, but that sounded all wrong.
Dad, Cedric wrote. I miss you. I always do, during school. He thought how his father would sneer at that too, and tore the sheet in half.
You're never going to forgive me, are you? He wrote. Even though I don't think I did anything wrong. You were so happy when you though I liked Cho. You'd like Harry too. You could talk about Quidditch.
He ripped this page too, this time by striking out the words so vehemently that his quill went through the parchment.
Harry was walking up and down nervously behind the greenhouses. Cedric watched him, not quite moving, willing his body to walk forward, to go to him. He imagined Harry's body in his arms, Harry's head leaning in the crook of his neck.
He turned and fled back to the castle. He thought he heard Harry calling, but he couldn't bring himself to look around.
"Come on Harry, you know this charm!" Hermione was saying. "We did this in first year."
Harry's head ached. Under Hermione's instruction, he'd managed to scratch out his first essay. It only made him realise how far behind he was, he didn't even know what half the words he'd used meant.
Harry was fairly sure that he knew how to do this charm, too. He'd been unlocking locks so long he barely remember a time when he couldn't do it. But now the lock reminded stoutly fastened, ignoring him as he barked the spell.
All he could think about was Cedric, and the way he'd looked, running.
"I'm going to bed," he said to Hermione.
"It's only eight," she said.
"I can't do this tonight," Harry said.
He hadn't told her about Cedric's disappearance. It still didn't feel quite real.
He sat down heavily in an armchair fairly near the fire.
"Escaped her clutches then?" Ron said. Harry could hear a buzz of whispers get louder as the Gryffindors spotted him and then quieten.
"Couldn't do anything today," he said.
"I wish Flitwick would let me repeat," Ron said. "I only got 45 percent in that exam."
"But at least you don't have to study," Harry said.
"True," Ron grinned and stretched.
"How's Pretty Boy?" he asked quietly.
"Evasive," Harry replied.
"Is that bad?"
"'Course it is," Harry said.
Ron nodded, staring at the fire. "You wouldn't catch me in one of those relationship things," he said.
By Thursday, Cedric had stopped trying to write to his father. Words just wouldn't come any more. Only verbs slid around inside his head and when he tried to put them on paper they just made an unappealing mess of meaningless syllables.
Flo told him off for picking at the scabs on his palms. But he didn't listen to her. He sat in a window seat, looking over the grounds. There were faint daubs of colour where crocuses and narcissi were beginning to bud. He wiped the blood off on his robes and laid his throbbing palms on his knees.
At first, people had stared at him and whispered to each other. Now they pretty much left him alone.
"Shouldn't you do your homework?" Flo asked. She kept appearing. "I mean, it's not like I do it myself, but you always have, so you think you'd keep it up."
Cedric didn't say anything. He could see, if he tilted his head sideways so trees didn't obscure the view, the edge of the Great Lake. There was never anyone there.
"Be like that then," Flo said, and stalked off.
Dear Dad, Cedric thought, look what you've done to me. There really isn't anything to be proud of, now.
Professor McGonagall gave Harry a rare smile when he arrived at her office, armed with four essays.
"It's just Charms left," Hermione said, squeezing his arm. Harry, who'd understood everything that went on in his Transfiguration class for the first time in weeks, grinned at her.
"I don't know why you're making me help," Ron complained again. "I practically failed that test too."
"It'll help you learn," Hermione reminded him.
Harry saw Cedric in the Great Hall for the first time since Monday. He looked grey, completely washed-out. Harry watched him, distractedly, as he tried to eat. He no longer noticed what Ron and Hermione were saying.
He ran after Cedric as he left the hall.
"Are you alright?" he asked at the door.
Cedric walked away from him, and Harry, heart pounding, followed. Cedric stopped beneath one of the staircases, which cast a grey shadow over both of them.
"I'm alright," he said slowly.
"Yes, I'm fine," Cedric said.
Harry impulsively grabbed his hands, and saw the sores on the underside of them.
"Oh Cedric," Harry said.
Cedric jerked his hands free, and walked quickly away. Harry slid to the floor, watching the retreating robe, his eyes smarting.
What did I do? He kept thinking. What did I do? Although he didn't think he'd done anything.
Dear Harry, Cedric composed in his head that night. I'm so sorry.
He wanted to write letters of apology to both of them, to his father and to Harry. He wanted to tell them both he loved them and he was sorry and that he didn't know what else to say.
He lay in bed, his hangings open enough to allow the moonlight to fall on his face, wondering hopelessly.
He wanted to explain to his father, but there was only one reply his father could ever give, for the first time, I'm really ashamed of you.
That was the brick wall he banged his head against every night. He wondered once, when the moon had gone down, if Cho would take him back. If he could convince his father that he hadn't really liked Harry. But he didn't want to do that.
He tried to imagine holding someone who wasn't Harry and it made him ache.
I miss you.
"I can't do it, I just can't," Harry said, as he failed for the third time to send a pillow floating anywhere.
"Summoning charms are much more difficult and you have no trouble with them," Hermione said.
Harry shouted at the pillow. Nothing happened.
"Well, it's obviously not working, is it?"
Sunday had turned out to be the first day of the year warm enough to sit outside with any kind of comfort. There had been frost that morning, but it hadn't lingered all day as the previous frosts had been wont to do, and in their sheltered spot close to a tree with a thick canopy, there hadn't been any all year, and the ground was soft, the earth loose.
"Why don't you make the crocus open?" Hermione said, pointing at a large purple bud.
"What's the spell for that?" Harry asked.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said in a bossy voice, and told him.
He tried it six times, his voice getting louder and angrier at every attempt. By the last, faint billows of steam were issuing from between the petals.
"At least I'm doing something," Harry said, but Hermione, for the sake of the plant, begged him to desist.
They tried four other spells with similar results.
"I feel like I'm turning into Neville," Harry said. "And all I can think about is Cedric."
"Well Neville certainly passed that Charms test, so turning into him mightn't be such a bad thing," Hermione said. "He doesn't sit around moping over Cedric either."
"Well, maybe you should spend some time with him if he's so much better company."
"Honestly, Harry, do you have to take everything so personally?" Hermione snapped.
"I do if it is personal!" Harry said.
They both stared at each other, eyes narrowed. Hermione's will broke first, and she stood up and stamped away.
"Keep practising!" she shouted behind her.
Harry leant back against the tree, drawing his legs up to his chest.
He shouted the growth spell at the crocus, over and over, until the petals just melted away. He got up and stamped on the wrinkled plant.
"Bastard, bastard, bastard!" he shouted at it, and felt tears of rage springing to his eyes.
After almost twenty minuets, the sight of Harry, face contorted, became too much for Cedric. He stood up, his legs cramping a little from sitting still for so long, and folded his father's letter so violently the creases broke and it came away in three pieces. He let them flutter to the floor.
He took one more look at Harry, and ran to the stairs, enjoying the clatter his feet made on the wooden steps.
He found Harry sitting under the same tree, his face twisted from trying to hold back sobs.
"Harry," he said, and knelt beside him.
Harry blinked at him. "Hullo," he said in a choked voice.
"You alright?" Cedric asked, softly.
"No," Harry said. "You?"
Cedric brushed Harry's hair back from his sweaty forehead.
"Anything particular the matter?" he asked.
"I can't do Charms and I have an exam on Wednesday," Harry said.
"I can help you," Cedric said.
He sat down, leaning against the same part of the tree as Harry was.
"What's wrong with you?" Harry asked.
"Your hands are a state. And you ought to eat," Harry said.
"Yes. Probably," Cedric agreed.
"Help me open this crocus," Harry said. "And then we'll get lunch."
Author's note: So many apologies for the delay. This is unbeta'd. Apologies for that, too. Thanks so much for all the wonderful feedbacks.