Story: The Road Less Traveled

Chapter Title: Mistress Aberbane's All-Soothe Burn Treatment

Summary: The greatest couple Hogwarts ever saw - intelligent, witty, attractive, and unwaveringly loyal. The only problem is that they never existed at all . . . Five ways Cedric Diggory and Hermione Granger never met.

Notes: All five are roughly in chronological order throughout Hermione's fourth year/Cedric's fifth year. This takes place directly after the First Task.

Disclaimer: I do not own.


There they were, doing the awkward not-quite-making-eye-contact thing that boys did when they wanted to show affection but couldn't risk being observed by a girl. It made her very glad she was not a member of the male species, while at the same time she could feel her throat clog.

"You two are idiots," she mumbled under her breath, and backed away to leave them alone.

"Miss Granger!" Hermione turned to see Madame Pomfrey, hair frazzled to the point where it almost resembled Hermione's own, appear in the doorway of a similar curtained-off room on the other side of the tent. "Kindly hand me that ointment, right over there." As Hermione reached for the specified tube, there came a warbled gurgle from behind the Bulgarian curtain.

Madame Pomfrey shot the curtain a murderous look. "Miss Granger, please assist Mr. Diggory with his burns," she said, angrily twitching the curtain shut behind her.

And thus Hermione found herself, ointment bottle in hand, looking at Cedric Diggory's naked chest.

He was framed by the curtains around his own room, and she could feel a blush spreading. She silently thanked Merlin that it was windy enough that her red cheeks could be attributed to the day's windy conditions.

It was then she realized that most of Diggory's very pretty upper torso was covered in scattered burns. "Oh, those look awful."

"Thanks, Granger." At the wry tone, she met Diggory's eyes, and saw the burns extended up his neck and brushed lightly across the right side of his face. The left side of his mouth had tipped up in the corner.

"Sorry," she replied automatically, although her comment had been true enough. "Did Madame Pomfrey say what she wanted me to do?" She shuffled forward, and Diggory stepped aside to let her in before releasing the curtain. She shed her outer coat so as to have easier movement; the burns looked terribly painful, and she had no idea why Pomfrey had thought her capable of handling them.

"Something about an ointment," replied Diggory, who didn't look terribly convinced of her medical skill either. Hermione looked at the tube in her hand, and read the caption aloud.

"Mistress Aberbane's All-Soothe Burn Treatment: Using Distilled Murtlap Essence to Reduce Redness, Blistering, and Pain for Five Hundred Years." She shrugged, tore off her knit gloves, and dropped them on top of the chair she had draped her coat over. She had already removed the top of the ointment bottle and was depositing a dollop on the palm of her hand when she realized that she was going to have to apply it herself.

Oh Merlin's socks, she thought with uncharacteristic fervor, and the blush swept up her cheeks to cover her forehead. Muttering about wind wasn't going to save her this time, and from under the cover of her fringe, Hermione looked up at Diggory.

He was smirking.

If there was one thing that Hermione despised in boys, it was arrogance. With an almost growl, she slapped her ointment-covered hand onto his shoulder and shoved him backwards onto the 

small white infirmary bed. She had the momentary pleasure of seeing his smirk melt away into a wince. Feeling a blend of mollification and guilt, Hermione slathered a thick layer of ointment across his shoulder. Her fingers were always cold, and his skin, even through a half-inch of milky ointment, singed her fingertips.

Oh, for goodness sake. He may have been Cedric Diggory, Hogwart's Heartthrob-slash- True Triwizard Champion-slash- Golden Boy, but this was hardly a scene from a two-penny romance novel. For one thing, Hermione wasn't buxom and small-waisted and in her dressing gown, treating him after a dawn duel of honor.

The thought, though, made her grin.

"Something funny, Granger?"

She dropped the smile. "Nothing," she replied curtly, and spread ointment down his bicep.

If this were a two-penny romance novel, right now they'd be sitting in front of a crackling fire in a library and Hermione would have to be fiery and spirited, a Modern Woman, who nevertheless had time to run about in nearly transparent nightgowns with her hair down in wild curls and Diggory would have to be her titled and tempered secret admirer who had just dueled a duke for her honor and while she was berating him for putting himself in danger, all the while managing to be deviously flattered, he would put his hand over her wrist and say irritably, "What are you doing?"

Dragged from her mental mocking of cheap novels, Hermione realized that she was grinning widely and her imagination had bled into reality.

"Granger, you're doing it again."

"Doing what?" she asked.

"Looking like you're trying not to laugh. Something funny about me having almost been roasted alive by a dragon?"

"No," replied Hermione, and she tugged at her wrist. "Not at all. May I have my hand?"

"Tell me what's funny and I will."

"Really," she huffed, and yanked experimentally on her hand. He was holding it securely, his thumb pressed over the pulse in her wrist, and he was starting to make her nervous. Her pulse skipped. He smirked.

"Either give me my hand or consign yourself to scars for the rest of your life," snapped Hermione, and pulled harder. Diggory surveyed her for a moment, apparently judging whether or not she would go through with such a threat, before loosening his grip. She slipped free, and smeared more ointment on her hand.

Oh dear. Hesitantly, Hermione brushed her fingertips across the upper right corner of his chest. The skin was pink from the burns and hot enough that even when her hand hovered without touching, she could feel the heat. Despite the fact that he was burned, his skin was deceptively soft. Hermione's inner eye recalled the scene of Two-Penny Hermione and Diggory, and unfortunately her imagination had chosen then to enact a searing kiss with much flailing of lace sleeves and maidenly protestations of Two-Penny Hermione, who nevertheless managed to kiss Two-Penny Diggory of his mind.

Hermione couldn't help smiling, and through her blushing she was laughing aloud at the rather ridiculous thought that Cedric Diggory, even in his two-penny romance form, could possibly ever want to kiss Hermione Granger, and she was laughing hard enough that her whole body was shaking with uncontrollable, rather hysterical laughter. As if any of them – Harry or Diggory or Krum, who sat there sometimes in the library, trying to look Scholarly and Studious but failing miserably when his fangirls erupted out of the stacks – would want to kiss her.

They had the whole school at their feet, what with this stupid tournament business. And – here the tears were beginning to fall out of the corners of her eyes – there was the possibility that none of them would every live to enjoy their female spoils because they couldn't died, any one of them, all of them, and they were so stupid about trying to be heroic when there were loose dragons and spurts of fire and what did they think they were doing? Did they think it would secure them some sort of fame or eternal glory if they were roasted alive by an overly large reptile?

And she must have garbled at least a portion of this aloud because a second later Diggory's thumb was brushing across her cheek and he was murmuring something that Hermione couldn't hear over the pounding of her heart in her ears and then he said, right into her ear, "We're not going to die."

Hermione hiccupped.

"I am, however, going to scar horribly if you don't help me with this Mistress Aberwaffle rot."

"Aberbane," corrected Hermione in a watery voice, and she could feel herself blushing. She blubbered all over Cedric Diggory. Even if she wasn't so impressed by his status as resident Hogwarts Pretty Boy, he was still quite intelligent. And she was a fifteen-year-old girl all but groping a very attractive seventeen-year-old boy.

"Right," he said. "That's what I meant."

She smiled, and this time he didn't demand to know why. (Well, of course he didn't. He was the reason, after all.)