Disclaimer: I assure you that if I had any rights to anything Harry Potter, Cedric would not be dead.
Had her stomach not been burning with embarrassment, the whole ordeal probably would not have been so unbearably awkward. The boy was certainly handsome enough, if not overly so to the point of dreamy. If not for his flaws (if you could call them that) - the slight lopsided grin, uneven spots of natural blush on his cheeks, hair tousled in a way that is obviously unintentional - she probably would not have noticed him at all. She never was one for dreams and fantasy, which was surprisingly curious for a witch who spent most, if not all, of her childhood in a Muggle world. Childhood seemed to have come to an abrupt stop for her when, at the age of eleven, she faced the possibility of ingesting deadly poison in order to stop a maniacal wizard's attempt at eternal life.
Beneath all the heroics, however, the girl still had to suppress that horrible pull at her abdomen and the cold sweat that broke over her hairline as her Potions professor read off that disgusting piece of libel in that rag they call a newspaper. It was one thing for Ron to question her on the truth of the god forsaken article, but it was quite another to have it announced as a public service announcement with hyena laughter as background noise.
She burst out of class the minute they were dismissed even as her friends called for her to wait. Yes, perhaps the next time she became the lightning rod for derogatory remarks about her intelligence or hair or teeth or lineage, she would stick around for more. Wait, indeed.
It was on this blinding anger that Hermione blamed her inattentiveness. When that had blown over, she looked up and had to ask herself - where in the world was she? The thing that she probably hated the most about Hogwarts was the maze-like quality of the stone building. She generally had a good sense of direction, but even she could not distinguish one plain, stone hallway from the next. The place was eerily quiet without students, ghosts, suits of armor or even a portrait to speak to. Ask and you shall receive. When she wished to be left alone, she never thought she would be taken quite so seriously.
"Hello?" Her voice sounded small and timid when it bounced back to her. 'Perfect,' she thought, the voice in her head remaining sarcastic and bitter, 'Not only am I gossip fodder, now I'm the Cowardly Lion. What a cliche.' "Hello?"
"Granger? What are you doing here?" It was only her luck, after all, to be caught by none other than the Triwizard Champion. She took comfort in the fact that at least he was not the type who would buy into Skeeter's nonsense. At the thought of that article, she relived the incident in Potions class in her mind and she felt the corners of her mouth pull slightly
downwards on their own accord. "What's wrong? Harry's not taking that article seriously, is he?"
"Y-You read it? It's not t-" She paused and he opened his mouth to speak, but she had no intention of listening to what he had to say. It seemed as though he was gullible enough to believe all that after all (but honestly, did the whole school know? Even the boys?). Just like everyone else then, he probably thought the worst of her now. "Oh bother. Why should I explain anything to you? You're just being nosy."
Now it was his turn to look irritated. He had barely managed to get a word in. "I was merely going to say that I don't believe you're that kind of girl." Her mind hollowed out for an echoed 'Oh' that bounced around endlessly. "I saw you sneak into the tent before the First Task and I've seen you fret over Harry this whole year. More to the point, Krum had seen you worry over him even after the ball. You sure know how to make a bloke jealous."
"I wasn't trying to-"
"Did I say you were?" She had to bite back a hissed "Yes" that was on the tip of her tongue. She settled for a scowl instead. "Anyway, this is certainly getting us nowhere. What are you doing here anyway?" If there was one thing about Hufflepuff that was always overlooked, it was their diplomatic nature. During the whole competition, Hermione noticed that Diggory seemed to avoid nearly all of the mudslinging and scheming since the beginning of the tournament. She recognized his change of subject as another tactic to avoid an unnecessary argument and gladly accepted.
"Where is here exactly?" she asked, trying to sound more suspicious of him than unsure of herself. Something told her she failed miserably, especially as she looked around the seemingly endless hallway as though she was expecting something to jump straight out of a horror novel.
He, apparently, was taken by surprise himself. He blinked slowly once to clear his mind and make sure that his sense of hearing had not been muddled by his suitemates' insistence on mussing up his hair every time they walked by. It was to deflate his ego, they said. Once he was certain that he was of sound mind and body, he repressed a laugh that came out as a cough. "Are-are you telling me that you're lost, Granger?"
She glared up at him. Fantastic, more things for him to laugh about. "No..." She tried her best to harden her eyes in a determined fashion at a specific direction of the hallway to give the illusion of knowing exactly where she was going. Then, she realized that knowing Hogwarts, she could be stuck here for a very long time. To be honest, she was lucky that it was Cedric she ran into and not, say, Peeves. With an exasperated sigh, she looked down out of the left corner of her eyes and added quietly, "Yes..."
"You've been at this school how long now?"
'Is this the reason why men never ask for directions?' Hermione thought to himself. "Oh, forget it." She picked a side without thinking and began walking, no, marching to the right. She didn't get very far before a large hand shackled her wrist and yanked her back against a flat, warm chest. "What the he- damn it, Diggory! I am a lady!" she protested, quickly untangling herself from him, brushing off invisible dust.
Now he didn't even bother trying to conceal his amusement. "Does that lady want to get even more lost?" She could do nothing but bite her lip and glare at him. "Then allow me to escort you to Gryffindor Tower before you wander deeper into the Hufflepuff den. You'll never be able to get out then. We're big on tunnels." He held out the crook of his arm. "If you're ready, my lady."
She looked suspiciously at the proffered arm and then back up to his boyishly handsome face that was currently lit up with a grin that had slain a good percentage of the female student body. How awkward that he was offering her his arm. Was she not embarrassed enough for one day? Again, a flash of Slytherin laughter echoed in her ears and the blush rose to her cheeks. The only thing that quite registered in her mind was one syllable: bah!. With that ringing through her head, she held up both of her hands and gave the hardest push she could muster against the boy's chest.
He didn't even budge an inch.
How infuriating! She had thought herself to be pretty strong after she slapped Malfoy silly last year. Fortunately, Diggory did look positively bewildered. He threw her a questioning squint to which she replied, "that was for the jerking around earlier. Now lead the way please."
He let out a bark of laughter. "Yes, ma'am!"
As they walked down another hallway, he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. The frown had returned. "Would it make you feel better if I told you that your push did smart a bit?"
"I thought Hufflepuffs aren't supposed to lie."
"Who told you that?" She glared up at him again. He stopped and as she followed suit, he turned to face her. "All right, all right. I'll give you another try then. Go ahead, give me your best shot." He held his arms out as an indication of complete surrender to her mercy. She looked at him dubiously. "No, honestly. Go ahead."
She bit her lip. It's easier when she wasn't looking at his face and she wouldn't be nearly as hesitant if he hadn't been so nice about her temper tantrums. She gave an experimental punch to his abdomen and felt that slim as he was, he was built with muscle. It had definitely
hurt her hand more than it hurt him. She gave up her frown and right out pouted at her powerlessness. "Come on, Granger. Practice makes perfect."
It should have been harder to make him her punching bag with his handsome face, lopsided grin and fit form. It seemed like, however, once she started, she had a hard time stopping. Very soon, she was pounding fist after fist with both hands at him, putting all the frustration and stress of life into the way she flexed her elbows to deliver the small, ineffective blows.
And then she was exhausted. She rested her forehead where she had previously been banging her fist and when he took a breath, she felt his chest rise and remembered that she had, in fact, been hitting a real person.'Oh God.' Her mouth opened in horror.
Before she could pull away, she felt a hand on the back of her head, fingers running through her curls as he pet her. What a strange, soothing feeling. "Better now, Granger?" She nodded quietly and complacently like a child. After all, she had just assaulted him. There was also the fact that he was quite effectively turning her into a pile of relaxed pudding. She actually had to resist snuggling into his warm chest and rubbing her head against his hand.
Again sensing the bizarre nature of the situation, she pulled away. "Did I hurt you?" she asked softly, placing a gentle palm on the chest that she had just tried to pulverize a moment ago.
"I'm not sure what the correct answer is. No I don't want you to worry and yes, I want to boost your ego." She giggled and he smiled divinely. He placed a hand on top of hers. Suddenly, things weren't so funny anymore as her entire body burned from his touch. "I think it helped that you weren't actually angry with me. Now tell me, who has got you so upset?" He began to walk toward the direction of the tower again. By that time, Hermione could easily find her way back, but she felt so much lighter with this guy around. This guy who stood there and let her hit him and yell and...
"Professor Snape read the article to the whole class," she said softly. It wasn't as though she was ready to cry - it took a lot more than that to get a tear out of the Gryffindor. "I know I shouldn't take it to heart but what gives Rita Skeeter the right to fabricate details about my personal life and then have it affect how everyone sees me? I know it's only because I snapped at her and she's getting back to me but she's being a real - ...It's just not fair."
A silence fell between the two of them and after turning another corner, Cedric broke it. "The price of being famous, huh?" She nodded again, having run out of words and steam. "Don't let the witch bother you that much, all right? Things will blow over and the Tournament itself is ending soon. Don't worry about it."
She cringed at the mention of the tournament. Now she felt awfully selfish. Cedric was competing in a game that, for Merlin's sake, has a death rate. Here she was, complaining about
her personal problems when he could have already been dead. Well, perhaps, she shouldn't put it quite that way. "You're right, Diggory. Well, not really. Harry and I really are just friends, as are Viktor and I. Anyway, I'm sure things will be all right. I feel much better now. Thank you."
They stopped in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady and when she saw the two students standing at the door, she gave a knowing smile and turned away, giving the two a bit of privacy. "Well, this is me. Thank you. And sorry if I hurt you," she apologized with a grimace. "Next time I see you, I'll try not to go mental."
"Any time, my lady. And perhaps I can show you the Hufflepuff tunnels next time. I'm sure my housemates won't mind. They all really like you." Another sort of awkwardness filled the air as the two stood facing each other, both unsure of what to say.
"Well I've got to stu-"
"I'm just going to-" A quick glance brought their thoughts together for a moment but as soon as it happened, they both looked away again. "Well, tell Harry I said hi." He turned and walked down the hall. "But don't tell him I got beaten up by a girl!"
Hermione shook her head with a grin and coughed loudly for the Fat Lady's attention. The portrait looked scandalized. "My dear girl, you're in our noble house of Gryffindor! Pluck up some courage or a catch like that will be taken from right under your nose!"
"That was just Cedric Diggory, what are you talking about? And I thought you weren't looking!"
The woman scoffed. "I'm not deaf you know. And what is this about you getting violent? I know you're like that with those scraggly boys you hang around with but that is not how you treat a man who looks like that. Really, you ought to think about - "
"Triwizard Champion," she said with a smile as the portrait creaked open to the password. "Good night, my lady." Without waiting for a reply, she let the portrait door close and effectively ending the rant that was sure to come. Hermione was sure that she had her points and they would probably be very helpful. After that awkward, awkward encounter, however, she wanted nothing more than to take a bath and think about it some more.