AN: I just wanted to take a moment out to thank my amazing beta Kaityb for not letting me get away with stupid mistakes and inconsistencies. Thank you! :D
"We all agree that your theory is crazy, but is it crazy enough?" – Niels Bohr
Platform Nine and Three-Quarters was a hectic sight the first day of September upon my return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry aboard the Hogwarts Express. The steam from the magical engine closed in on all sides making it quite difficult to see very far ahead of one's face while saying goodbye to loved ones. I stood on the platform with my two best friends, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, along with Ron's sister and mother, attempting to finish the process before time ran out.
There were only seven minutes remaining to board the scarlet-colored train and locate an empty compartment. Molly Weasley, however, did not seem to be looking forward to releasing her youngest son from a bone-crushing embrace anytime soon. Harry and I eyed Ron with obvious amusement as he struggled against her grip with little-to-no prevail. We had already had to endure the show with Ginny just a minute before and if she hadn't been able to break Mrs. Weasley's hold on her then there was no hope for Ron. The only positive part of the situation was that we had already piled our trunks safely away and no longer had to worry about lugging them around.
I glanced at the big, round clock that was situated right below a large sign reading the platform number. Five minutes to eleven and we stillweren't even close to making our way towards to the train. For heaven's sake, the woman had gone through this process for over a decade and she still didn't have a handle on it? I loved her to death, but sometimes I figured Mrs. Weasley needed to get a firmer grasp on her emotions. Then again, a lot had happened during the last few years.
"We've got to go," I whispered to Harry impatiently as I cocked my head towards the clock. "We'll miss the train if she keeps at it."
"It would be nice to arrive at Hogwarts with everyone else for our last year," Harry said with a soft concurring smile.
"Heavens," Molly exclaimed all of a sudden, "What are you all sticking around for? The train will be leaving without you in just a few minutes."
All four of us rolled our eyes at her antics before we smiled affectionately and waved her off at last. Harry led the way towards a car at the back of the train, pushing his way through a crowd of families while looking over his shoulder every once in a while to make certain that we were keeping up. The door to the car was thrown open by Dean Thomas just as Harry reached for the handle.
"You really know how to cut things close don't you, Harry?" the boy smiled, shaking his head before taking a step back to allow us entrance.
Harry returned the smile with a shrug. "Old habits die hard, I guess."
Dean was just one of many returning students in our seventh year at Hogwarts. Ron, Harry and I had not finished our schooling because of our hunt for Lord Voldemort's horcruxes. Dean, on the other hand, had not finished because he had been on the run due to his blood status as a Muggle-born. Many others had actually attended the school last year while it was under the Death Eaters' control. Scores of those kids had decided to return again this year, however, and finish their schooling the proper way with their friends and an assured sense of security.
"This way," I said, pointing down the aisle towards an empty compartment. "Seems there's only one left."
The rest of the group followed after me, piling into the compartment and settling back in their seats for the long ride. Seamus Finnigan and Neville Longbottom entered and took seats on either side of Dean just as the Hogwarts Express stirred to life and chugged away from the platform. A moment later, I felt a hand slide into my own and looked up to smile at Ron -my boyfriend of roughly five months.
"Did you lot hear?" Seamus asked once everyone had gotten reacquainted.
"Hear about what?" Ron asked in return, looking up from an enthusiastic conversation with Harry and Ginny about Gryffindor's chances of winning the Quidditch Cup this year.
"About Diggory, of course!" Seamus exclaimed, as if the very fact that we didn't know was simply outrageous.
"Last I heard he was taking some time off before looking for a steady job with the Ministry," Harry said. "His mother was killed during one of Voldemort's raids in his hometown. Both Amos and Cedric were supposedly torn to shreds about it."
"For good reason, I'd wager," Ron said, shaking his head as he tightened his hold on my hand. "I heard it wasn't a pretty sight at all. She must have been tortured for hours."
"Ronald," I chided as I shot a quick glance at Neville. Though the boy had aged wonderfully and wisely, he still wasn't quite settled about the current state of his parents. Both Frank and Alice Longbottom had been tortured by Death Eaters until they were in a state of mind worse than death. Ron's complete ignorance of the fact astounded me.
"What?" he asked, a ridiculous scowl turning down the corners of his lips.
"Never mind," I replied shortly. I pulled my hand away from his and placed it on my lap. Why did I put myself through this? Was it so crazy of me to believe that I deserved to be with someone with at least a little maturity?
"Anyway," Seamus interrupted, clearly sensing the rising tension, "That's not what I meant. Haven't you heard about Diggory's new position at the school?"
"He's teaching?" Harry asked, a look of pleasant surprise lighting up his face. He had always been good friends with the kind, humble Hufflepuff who was two years older than us. The long-standing grudge that most Gryffindors held over the boy for beating our team at Quidditch in my third year was completely forgotten in Harry's eyes. Cedric would always be the one person that was there with him the night that Voldemort returned, back during the Triwizard Tournament. It was a bond that neither Ron nor I would ever be able to compete with.
"Not really teaching," Seamus said, shaking his head. "He's studying under Flitwick in Charms for the year as some sort of assistant. He'll be staying at Hogwarts with us."
"That sounds fantastic," I exclaimed with a smile, internally pondering a similar course of action at the end of my schooling this year. "He'll be able to learn so much."
"Yeah, it must be wonderful to spend your free time back at school when you don't really have to be there," Ron bit out sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
I sighed, turning my shoulder away from my boyfriend and looking out of the window at the rolling hills of the countryside as the train made its way closer and closer to Hogwarts. It felt good to be returning to the school after a year of absence. Sure it wouldn't be the same without our late headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, but the castle was repaired and its walls felt like home. Home was exactly what I needed right now.
The last few months had been hard on me. I didn't -and still don't- understand what is wrong. I can't seem to relax and be a kid again after having to be an adult since I was eleven. For the most part, it had been nice having my parents back again ever since I had found them in Australia and reversed the memory charm that I had placed on them. However, even they couldn't seem to make my life feel less chaotic. Everything was just so crazy, and I was beginning to think that I wouldn't be able to take it anymore.
"Are you ready to head up front?" Ron asked, his voice breaking through my thoughts as I jerked out of a haze. Absently, I wondered how long I had been dozing off.
Realizing that he meant our Prefect and Head duties, I nodded. I placed a small smile on my lips and rose from my seat, pretending I didn't see Ron's hand reach out to take mine in the process. Together, we waved goodbye to our fellow Gryffindors and exited the compartment. The journey to the front car was a long, quiet walk. Ron seemed to want to say something to me, but the way I refused to catch his eye must have been somewhat discouraging. Oops.
"After you," he said as he surprisingly pulled open the door to the designated car for me when we reached it. I raised my eyes to meet his blazing blue ones and felt a pull in my gut. He really was sweet sometimes. Usually when it was just us, but that was all that mattered…Right?
"Thank you," I said quietly, managing a timid grin before grasping his hand hesitantly and pulling him inside after me.
The car was filled with Prefects from other houses when we arrived. The Prefects sat together while the two Heads spoke at the front. Since I had been given the Head Girl position for the year, I gave a brief wave to Ron before moving ahead to sit next to the Head Boy.
Surprisingly, that honor had not fallen to Draco Malfoy like I had first suspected. Actually, the position was to be held by his fellow housemate, Theodore Nott. Nott was exactly the type of boy that I would imagine Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil describing as tall, dark and handsome. He rivaled even Ron and Dean in height, had brilliant sea-green eyes, black hair and golden-tanned skin. All I knew about him was that he was considerably clever and had never seemed to fit into the Slytherin mold. His father was a Death Eater and was currently spending a life-sentence in Azkaban, yet Nott had never once called me a "Mudblood" or expressed the same beliefs as some of his friends about blood purity.
"Hello," I greeted him, my voice sounding more nervous than I had originally intended for it to while I glanced at the person whom I would have to work nonstop with over the course of the year. We would also be living together in the Heads' Common Room.
Nott looked up from where he had inattentively been staring at the floor and gazed at me square in the eyes. He seemed vaguely surprised that I had spoken to him directly.
"Hi," he muttered, his face giving off no emotion as his eyes narrowed and he seemed to scrutinize me.
This was going to be a long meeting.
Entering the Great Hall of the Hogwarts castle was like stepping into a realm different from anything you could have ever dreamed of. The experience was never anything short of bewitching and I had always felt that no matter how magical the Wizarding World was, Hogwart's Great Hall took the cake.
As I strode across the back of the large room next to Ron -Harry and Ginny in tow- I glanced up past the floating candles and observed the ceiling with a flutter in my stomach. The sky could be seen across the spans of the miraculous ceiling, clear with a large half-moon. Turning my gaze to my fellow classmates, I glanced over the Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables as we made our way over to the table furthest to the right.
Everyone had just settled in when my sleeve was tugged by Ginny, who sat to my left. Turning away from my previous observations, I glanced at the redhead with a raised brow. "Yes?"
"Look," Ginny said, stretching her back in an attempt to see over the people around us. "It's Cedric."
Interested, I copied Ginny's demeanor and struggled with my slight frame to catch a glimpse of the boy. He was standing with his old housemates over by the Hufflepuff table just to the left of Gryffindor's, but he was all the way at the back of the room whereas my friends and I had situated ourselves closer to the front.
"Cedric!" Harry called out causing both Ginny and myself to jump unexpectedly and rather clumsily knock into the people sitting next to us.
The boy in question immediately looked up from his location and smiled. Ginny and I exchanged a meaningful glance before erupting into silent laughter. He had not changed at all since his years at Hogwarts. He towered over Harry as he made his way down the aisle between the two tables and clasped hands with the younger boy in greeting. I felt my stomach flutter for the second time that evening as I awkwardly stared at him.
Cedric Diggory was extremely handsome. His sandy brown hair fell into his gray eyes as he smiled roguishly. His lips turned up making the action seem impossibly sexier. The really appealing aspect of Cedric, however, was his humility. He honestly didn't realize that a mere glance into his beautiful eyes could have a girl swooning for days to come.
"All right, Harry?" Cedric asked as he looked Harry up and down in appraisal.
"All right," Harry said jovially. "I've got Sirius' old place now that I'm of age. Ron and Hermione are going to be living with me after we finish our last year here; though, I hope I'm not making a mistake by allowing them to share a room."
Right on cue I flushed scarlet at the insinuation, wishing Harry's sense of humor was slightly more downplayed. Every eye seemed to turn to me and Ron, who was sitting to my right; laughing.
"We know the proper charms, don't you worry," Ron said, smiling teasingly and wrapping an arm around my back.
I knew that he was joking and yet the fact that Harry even uttered a word about us having a sexual relationship seemed to make the truth seem scandalous. Sure, we'd had sex. That didn't mean, however, that I was ready for the world to know it. I had made Ron swear that Harry, or anyone else for that matter, would not hear a word about it.
"You okay?" Ron asked suddenly, looking down at me and gently squeezing me closer to him.
"Fine," I replied with a smile in an attempt to prove that I understood the joke and found it just as funny as anyone else.
"Okay," he said, kissing my temple before leaning across the table to continue the conversation that Cedric's arrival had interrupted between him and Dean about the differences between Muggle football and Wizarding quidditch. It was the same argument that I had been listening to since first year.
Just when I had released a long sigh and was resting my face on my palm while waiting for Professor McGonagall to make the start of term announcements, a chill ran up my spine. A slight shiver escaped me as I spun around in my seat only to find myself looking directly into the gray pools of Cedric Diggory's eyes.
I froze in shock at finding him staring at me so intently with a look of impatient calculation evident on his face. Unsure of what to make of the situation, I spun back around and tried desperately to get the enrapturing image of his eyes and the pleasant feel of his gaze out of my mind.
When Professor McGonagall finally began her speech, every student in the Great Hall turned to watch. The old woman was certainly no Albus Dumbledore, but the respect each of us held for her was immense. I had almost completely pushed a particular ex-Hufflepuff from my thoughts when I felt the same shiver once more. I didn't even have look to know that the gaze was coming from a few chairs down from McGonagall at the Head Table. From the chair where Cedric sat, situated right between Professor Flitwick and Hagrid.
The start of term feast had just come to an end when I dismissed myself from Ron and the others claiming that the Heads' Common Room wasn't even close to Gryffindor Tower…Which was partially true. Too sleepy from the immense amount of food they had consumed, the boys all slugged their way up the Marble Staircase with Ginny waving merrily to me as she brought up the rear.
As soon as I saw the edge of Ginny's robes disappear from sight altogether, I steered myself down the staircase to my right and towards the Kitchens. As I had suspected, many Hufflepuffs were taking the same route. I had known that the Hufflepuff Common Room was near the Kitchens ever since Harry had first come into possession of the Marauder's Map.
It had occurred to me -multiple times since I had grown tired of Cedric's stares during the feast and had made my split-second decision to find him after dinner- that I was most likely losing my mind. Whatever feeling I had gotten from him those few moments back in the Great Hall had to have been all in my head. I guess one could say that the know-it-all in me needed answers…Not that I really knew what I was answering by tracking the boy down. Was he considered a boy still? And he wasn't even a Hufflepuff anymore. What were the chances of him wandering off towards his old common room?
"Can we help you find something?"
My head snapped quickly to the left in reaction to the sudden intrusion into my thoughts. Had my first impulse been anything else but to look toward the owner of the voice I would have run. As it were, I found myself glued to the spot and staring at my fellow seventh year, Ernie Macmillan, and the very person whom I was both interested and frightened to see.
"What?" I sputtered idiotically, cursing myself at how small my voice sounded. I'm not really used to feeling so pathetic…Well, at least not when I wasn't thinking about my relationship with Ron and its inevitable doom.
Ernie smiled slightly and eyed me curiously. "Are you looking for something, Hermione?"
My face seemed to heat up as I desperately tried to seem calm and collected all while looking everywhere but at Cedric. "Well, actually I-"
"Excuse me," Cedric interrupted suddenly. "But, it's a good thing we stumbled across you, Hermione. Professor McGonagall mentioned needing to speak with you before you tucked in for the night. I only just remembered. Anyone ever tell you that your timing is impeccable?"
My mouth opened for a second as if I was actually going to answer him, before closing quickly when no witty response came to mind. All I could do was nod wordlessly while internally praying that tonight would only turn out to be a nightmare. As if Cedric Diggory could actually cause shivers to run up my spine. I wasn't some giggling dunderhead like some of the other girls in my year. I actually like to think I have somewhat of a brain.
"I'll escort you to her office, if you don't mind," he continued when I remained silent. "I'll see you tomorrow, Ernie?"
"Sure thing, mate," Ernie murmured, patting Cedric once on the back and waving to me before he turned to walk down the corridor and out of sight.
For a second I was happy that the only witness to this encounter was now gone. Then I remembered how stupid this whole situation really was. I was now alone, with no one around, talking to a person of the opposite sex who was not my boyfriend. And who had an increasingly annoying tendency to make me nervous, even though we barely knew each other and hadn't been in the same vicinity for more than a couple of minutes for years.
"Granger?" Cedric said with a questioning lilt to his voice.
"You were staring at me," I accused out of nowhere, causing my eyes to widen in shock. Now that the statement was out, however, I was on a roll. "It's just plain rude, to be frank, and I don't appreciate it at all. How would you like it if you were trying to pay respect to someone of high standing and listen to what they had to say and all of a sudden your attention was tossed aside because of this creepy feeling that you were being watched? Let me tell you, it's highly uncomfortable. I couldn't remember a word of Professor McGonagall's speech after it and-"
"Granger," Cedric said; effectively cutting off the rest of my rant.
"You're turning bright red and I really feel that you're in need of some oxygen. Was that all in one breath? Congratulations, I think you've just made history."
He was smiling at me. I had been telling him to get lost and either stare at some other half-wit or keep his eyes to himself. Yet here he was smiling an unbelievably dazzling smile as if someone had just announced that the world would from here-on-out live in peace with a blissful amount of rainbows and butterflies.
"And she is silent. Ladies and gentlemen, miracles do happen," he laughed, leaning his head down to look me directly in the eyes. He really was quite tall; at least in contrast my own dismal height. For a second I wondered who was taller. Cedric or Ron.
"Are you mocking me?" I asked, fuming with rage at the very thought.
"You're very angry with me," he observed. His gray eyes sparkled in amusement at my expense. "You came down here to find me and give me a firm talking to, but you're upset that I'm teasing you a bit?"
"I don't have time for this. I'm tired, my life's a wreck, and I just want to eat without feeling chills."
"I'm sorry, I'll be sure to watch where my eyes land tomorrow. I promise."
"That's all I ask," I responded, half in relief and half in frustration, before spinning away in order to make a hasty retreat. I didn't get very far.
"Can I ask you something, Granger?"
I spun around again, having barely gotten a meter away. "No."
"Why aren't you happy anymore?"
I paused, surprised.
"You…You don't have that light about you that you used to have."
Cedric scratched his head before shaking it. "Never mind. Forget I said anything. Sweet dreams, Granger."
He didn't even give me a second to respond before he spun around and quickly disappeared down the corridor toward the kitchens. I bit my lower lip as I tried to forget that last expression on his face. It held that same air of calculation in his brow that he had in the Great Hall when I had caught him staring.
My body seemed to droop with the weight of my exhaustion as I frowned and turned towards the stairs to head up to my new common room. I didn't need Cedric Diggory to add to my increasing list of problems. Ron was providing more than his fair share. Him and our annoying "destiny" together. Was it crazy to actually think there was more to my life than being a Weasley's wife -barefoot and pregnant? Or was I destined be loved, secured…And unhappy?
AN: Read and review! Tell me how you feel about the way the story seems to be going or tell me what you would eventually like to see happen. I'd love to hear your feedback!