"Happiness comes only when we push our brains and hearts to the farthest reaches of which we are capable."
My heart was pounding heavily against my ribcage and my throat had gone dry moments before when I had given Cedric's hand one final squeeze before heading toward the portrait hole. It made me so frustrated with myself to think of the mess I had somehow gotten into of my own accord. There was no running from anything now, though, and despite my anxiety about telling Ron everything, I still felt overwhelmingly relieved. It really was about time that I stopped being someone that I didn't want to be.
"Here she is," I heard Theo say, his eyes communicating something else entirely than his smile. "I told you she was just overworking herself and took an impromptu break."
"Bloody hell, Hermione," Ron said, smiling genuinely as I took a step towards him without another glance at Theo. I really hated that I had ruined our friendship and was about ruin me and Ron's as well. "You sure know how to scare a bloke."
"I'm sorry," I murmured while trying to hide my nerves, "It won't happen again."
"Promises, promises," Theo chuckled, Ron's nod of agreement telling me the he hadn't heard the hidden contempt at all. "I'll leave you two alone, though. Bye."
Why did that simple word sound so finalizing?
"Nice guy, that one," Ron said, motioning with his thumb in the direction Theo had just gone off in. "Sorry I was such an arse about your relationship with him. I get it now."
I bit my lower lip as a wave of misery coursed through me. It figured that the moment before I ended our friendship and romantic involvement Ron would finally become the understanding boy I had always wanted him to be. I loathed him for being so . . . him.
"We should be getting back to the library," he interrupted, picking up my hand before gently tugging me in the direction which he wanted to go, "Harry will be waiting."
"No, I've got-"
"What's the matter?" he asked, reaching a hand out to cup my cheek in his palm as he once again didn't let me finish.
"Stop it," I whispered harshly, shaking my head in frustration against his soft gestures. "Let me speak."
Ron instantly dropped his hold on me, his arms resting at his sides. Worry entered his eyes as he simply stared. His eyebrows furrowed as his lips turned down in a frown. I guess I deserved this confrontation after what I'd done, but it still didn't make it any easier to accept.
"I've got something to tell you," I said after taking a long, shaky breath in. It was about time that I gathered up some courage in honor of my house. "And you're not going to like it."
"Are you alright?" he asked, the concern etched in his tone making me cringe to myself.
"No, I'm not," I sighed, running a quivering hand over my forehead to push back my hair. "Not at all. I'm so sorry."
"Hermione, whatever it is-"
"It won't be okay, Ron," I interrupted, fixing him with a stare full with sorrow and regret. The words were harder to say aloud than they had been to even admit to myself. "I cheated on you."
The silence that fell then was enough to make anyone feel awkward. I wanted to get the inevitable over with as soon as possible; yet, he seemed to be at a loss for words. Understandably so judging by the absolute pain which flickered disbelievingly across his face. It was enough to have me swiping at my own eyes. I wished I had done what Cedric had said and gotten Ron away from the common room before this talk. Now, however, I had to break one boy's heart while the other one listened on from just beyond a portrait. If only I hadn't let my emotions get the best of me.
"You'd better be joking," Ron muttered darkly at last while his eyes flashed in anger.
"I'm so sorry," I blurted out in desperation, taking a step toward him in my need to provide some form of comfort.
He jerked his arm roughly out of my grasp the moment my hand had made contact with his skin. "Who?"
The difference between him just a minute ago and him now was horrifying. He looked as if he wasn't a far distance away from murder and his body was trembling as his mixed emotions took over. Ron's simple question had me stumbling in an effort to reply. I actually felt frightened of him for the first time in my life despite my attempt to seem strong.
He almost seemed to growl in response to my weak mumblings. "Who is he?" His voice was deep and at one point seemed to get caught in the back of his throat. My body seemed too heavy beneath the weight of his fury and pain.
"I can't," I tried to get out, tried to tell him I didn't think it wise that he know and find out while in this state of mind. My head started to pound achingly as he took a menacing step toward me causing a gasp of fright to escape my lips. I'd been in tons of fights with him before, but never had he seemed so very livid. Right now I was breaking his heart.
Ron continued toward me, making me take a step back in my heart wrenching fear. He seemed blinded by his rage, so blinded that I didn't think I'd be surprised by any irrational actions on his part. I would deserve the worst after how I'd completely betrayed his trust in me. I still trembled when he reached out to grab me by my shoulders and give me a shake, despite my reluctant acceptance.
"Tell me!" he exclaimed, his voice echoing off of the walls around us as he breathed ruggedly into my face.
My eyes shut as if falling into the pain that he dealt out. His fingers dug into my skin, without a doubt leaving a few bruises. My entire body ached as if I'd been hit with a Bludger, before Ron suddenly released his rash hold on me. I opened my eyes to watch as he righted himself against the wall to our left, making it obvious that he hadn't released me of his own accord.
I was just about to look over my shoulder in surprise when I felt a strong, familiar arm wrap around my waist. It drew me backwards just as Cedric placed himself between me and Ron. His hand on my hip calmed me despite my anxiety over Ron's inevitable reaction.
"Diggory?" Ron asked, a humorless laugh escaping him as he took in the scene. It definitely hadn't taken very long for his face to darken in realization. "You've got to be bloody kidding me."
"You need to go back to your common room and cool down," Cedric said, his eyes glinting angrily even while his voice was gently rationalizing. "You're not thinking straight and it's scaring her."
Ron clenched his jaw, narrowing his eyes. "I don't need to do a bloody thing except kill you."
"Ron, please," I begged, my heart tearing at the tone of his voice. I hadn't wanted this to happen this way. How did this happen this way? "I'm sorry. Don't take it out on him."
Cedric's hand tightened its hold on me when Ron snorted in disgust. "Yes, because your pointless apologies mean a fuck right now."
I flinched at the curse.
"C'mon, Weasley, we'll discuss this when you've calmed down a bit," Cedric said, his voice sending a tangible warning.
"I can't believe you're the one she's been screwing behind my back," Ron spat, too far gone to listen now. "You, the faithful Hufflepuff bastard."
"No, it wasn't like that," I said, taking a step forward as I shook my head, only to be stopped by Cedric's arm.
"Pathetic," Ron growled, eyeing me with a sneer. "Was the shag worth her inability to shut the hell up?"
"Watch it," Cedric threatened, his body becoming rigid and I knew it was taking all of his restraint to not act on his anger at Ron's words.
"Follow your own advice with her," Ron continued, "She's a good lay, but not worth another thought otherwise. Heartless bitch can't even manage to pull the stick out of her arse, never mind care for someone other than herself."
At first I was too absorbed in the cruelty of his words to realize what had happened. My eyes came back into focus on the scene in front of me, however, when the sound of flesh hitting flesh resounded through the corridor. I couldn't even think of what to do as I watched feebly as Cedric's fist connected with Ron's face once again.
"Stop it, please!" I cried out, my voice cracking in misery and panic over their safety. Cedric froze for a brief second, long enough to meet my eyes which were filled with tears. Ron, though, used Cedric's diverted attention to punch him in the jaw. My words were hopeless as they continued to fight.
I had just remembered the wand residing in the inside pocket of my robe when two figures came running from the end of the corridor. My throat stung due to the tears that had made their way down my cheeks. I felt completely pathetic and insignificant as Theo and Harry paused for a moment to take in the scene before each darted forward and grabbed one of the beaten men and tore them away from each other.
"Let go of me," Ron gritted out, jerking in Harry's hold as he lunged forward toward Cedric once again.
Cedric pushed against Theo one last time before looking over at me then relenting and allowing himself to be dragged further backwards. Theo seemed to recognize that Cedric wasn't about to act again, as he gave him a final push before placing his hand on his chest with a warning glance.
Harry, on the other hand, continued to struggle with Ron. "Calm down, mate," he attempted to soothe, in the dark as to the reasoning behind the fight judging by his bewildered expression.
"They've been fucking each other behind my back," Ron moaned, his body suddenly sagging against Harry and his voice filled to the brim with nothing but despair. "She cheated on me."
Harry's innocent green eyes widened behind the round rims of his glasses. He turned his gaze onto me as if begging me to deny it. I knew he would believe me if I did. His trust was unbelievable. One glance at my expression, though, had him shutting his eyes in incredulity. He was just one of many who had always thought Ron and I would be together forever.
"We haven't," I said, urging Harry and Ron to understand if only a tiny bit. "We've kissed, but nothing more."
"I should get him to the Hospital Wing," Harry sighed, ignoring me completely while drawing my eyes to the black eye that was rapidly darkening on Ron's face along with his bloody nose and split lip. I winced at Harry's scowl and watched powerlessly as he slung Ron's arm over his shoulders before dragging him down the corridor.
"I'm off as well," Theo said without meeting my eyes. He slid his hands into the front pockets of his robes before taking off slowly in the direction Harry and Ron had gone. I whispered a quiet thank you, which he didn't even spare me a glance for. I was hoping he'd at least look and see how grateful I was for him. It was so amazing that he had obviously went to go fetch Harry to help when he'd figured out that my argument with Ron may get out of hand. And he did it just after I had obviously really hurt him. The moment he disappeared down the corner I felt a sob catch in my throat.
It felt strange for it all to be over. Well, the initial blow at least. The silence seemed so loud, like the quiet following a huge rainstorm. No more screaming, cries, moans, fists flying. All that was left was shock at the events that had come to pass. I felt exhausted and completely confused at what was to happen now.
"Granger?" Cedric whispered all of a sudden, reminding me of his presence only a small distance behind me. He hadn't moved since Theo had deposited him there.
I quickly spun around to meet his concerned gray eyes with my own, which I knew reflected my sadness. His face didn't look much better off than Ron's had and I immediately moved toward him to run a finger gently over his bruised lower lip as he winced and reached up to swipe a drop of blood from his nose.
"I shouldn't have lost it like that," he said on a sigh, lifting a hand up to caress the side of my face as if I was a fragile piece of glass. Unlike when Ron had done the same thing, I leaned into the touch. I wanted his comfort more than anything. "I knew it was nothing but words. It was understandable since he was so furious and hurt."
I blinked up at him, wiping one last tear from my eyes while willing myself to just put the fight behind me for the day. I just wanted to calm down and deal with it tomorrow.
"I couldn't listen to him go on about you like that any longer," he finished, shrugging as he dropped his hand from my cheek only to run both hands up my arms and skim over my shoulders. When I winced, he grabbed me by my hand and carefully ushered me over to the common room. As soon as I had said the password he was leading me inside and to the nearest couch.
"Let me see your shoulders," Cedric whispered, kneeling down in front of me as I sat up straight on the comfortable pillows. His expression was so filled with worry that I felt an overwhelming desire to assure him that I was alright. The fact that he cared so deeply made my cheeks heat up.
Glancing away from him, I slowly reached up to slip my robe off of my shoulders. My hands were trembling slightly as I placed my fingers on the neck of my jumper and yanked gently on it sideways while shrugging my right shoulder upwards so that it could be exposed. I chanced a peek at Cedric when I heard a soft curse escape him. His eyes seemed to have darkened in anger as he took in the irritated flesh there.
I dropped my gaze to the shoulder and winced as I took in the harsh bruises that marred my pale skin. The shape of the dark bluish-purple area was easily a handprint. The mark where Ron's fingers had dug into me looked the worst. If I hadn't had my attention elsewhere just as I had gotten them I knew I would have been in much more pain.
"I'm going to kill him," Cedric said, his voice rough as he met my eyes.
I shook my head with a reassuring smile. "I think enough damage has been done already."
Cedric sighed before surrendering. He leaned forward, though; enough to softly kiss my shoulder. The warmth of his lips made me shiver. His lips parted just the slightest of bits as he released a breath; the air tickling my skin pleasurably and causing gooseflesh to erupt all up my arms. My eyes shut as I took in the sensations that he so easily stirred up inside of me. When he took a breath in, my eyes opened again as I tried not to show how much he was able to effect me. Cedric looked up to meet my gaze without removing his lips from my skin. A subtle, knowing gleam entered his eyes as his lips quirked upwards in a smirk.
"You're dangerous," I muttered, raising my eyebrows at him as a chuckle reverberated from his chest.
He sat up straight again after one last caress with his mouth. "You shouldn't be talking. If I'm dangerous than you're positively deadly," he grinned. My mind seemed to sharpen once more as he pulled away, drawing my attention to his bruised lower lip and the few cuts that he had on his eyebrows and nose. I couldn't stand the fact that he had gotten hurt because of me. Even his knuckles were cut.
"Sit here for a second," I explained, carefully maneuvering around him before pushing him into the place I had previously occupied when he turned around to look at me in confusion. "I'm going to get something to clean your cuts with."
"There is this thing called magic that I hear works decently well, Granger," Cedric joked, causing me to roll my eyes despite the fact that he couldn't see it while I was digging under my sink in the bathroom off of my bedroom.
"I'm not all that remarkable at cleaning charms," I admitted reluctantly, grabbing a disinfectant and some cotton balls before going back into the main room where he had laid himself out and was now staring up at the ceiling. "And you can't perform anything on yourself. That's dangerous."
"I'm a big boy now," Cedric said, looking up at me with a grin while gesturing to himself with his hands.
I chose to ignore that so my mind wouldn't wander to just how much he had grown over the years.
"I really should go get you a balm to put on your shoulders," he continued, moving to get up just as I kneeled down on the floor next to him. I instantly placed a hand on his chest and pushed him back down. I needed to assure myself that he was perfectly fine before I did anything about my stupid bruises. They hurt, but at least they weren't slightly bleeding like a few of his cuts were.
"After this," I stated simply.
"You're a tough woman to ignore," Cedric said teasingly as I placed some of the disinfectant on a cotton ball before gently dabbing the cut across his eyebrow with it. He immediately grimaced and jerked backwards, all signs of laughter gone as he blinked painfully and looked up at me as if I had wronged him somehow.
"Are you trying to kill me?" he exclaimed, moving a hand up to cover the cut. I immediately reached forward to stop him from touching his face.
"You're being silly," I said, pushing on the hand until he gave up and let it fall back onto the couch. "I'm sorry that it stings a bit, but it cleans, in my opinion, even better than magic."
He didn't respond, shifting on the couch a bit while probably trying to get his body to settle down. It was funny how he had gone through so much in the war like everyone else had, yet he still cringed away from a tiny sting. Despite myself I laughed, earning a brief glare as I leaned forward and once again applied the cotton ball to his cuts. He loosened up after a few minutes, the pain obviously dulling once he got used to it. My body warmed at how innocent he looked as he shut his eyes and let me work. I wasn't used to seeing him with his guard down. He was so passionate about everything around him that seeing him relaxed was new to me. I liked it, though. A lot.
"Finished?" he asked, his eyes still shut while I turned around and set the disinfectant and used cotton balls on the coffee table behind me after cleaning his knuckles. He had one leg resting on the couch while his other one hung off the side of it with his foot laying flat on the floor. He was really much too tall for the position to be all that comfortable.
"You're cured," I answered, glancing him over and watching as he tipped his head towards the sound of my voice without looking. I bent down to dig through my robes, which I'd let fall to the floor earlier, in search of my wand. He didn't move as I performed the proper charms to close all of his cuts, and I knew that he was most likely relieved now that he knew for a fact that I wasn't about to pull out a Muggle needle and just dig in. I would need a potion or balm to heal his bruises, but we could do that when he got it for my shoulders. If only we could both just have gone to the Hospital Wing without dealing with the repercussions with Ron there.
"Thank you," Cedric murmured, sighing softly as he shifted on the couch a bit more. He looked a second away from sleep.
I gave in to my sudden desire to touch him again and reached a tentative finger out to trace the shape of his jaw, watching all signs of movement in fascination as he swallowed. "You're welcome," I whispered, internally scolded myself at how breathless I sounded. For a moment, while I observed him, I felt terrified at how easy he made it to fall for him. I was right when I'd said he was dangerous. He was rapidly consuming me, and as someone who just minutes before had lost her boyfriend, I felt guilty for feeling this way about him. Though, in my defense, he'd been taking over my thoughts gradually since the start of term. It was just a matter of finally admitting it to myself.
"What are you thinking?" he asked, making me jump as I realized I had leaned in closer to him as I stroked the side of his face. The intensity of his eyes now that they were open made my heart stop for a second before picking up in overdrive. He would be the death of me.
"Nothing of importance," I smiled, attempting to shrug off the lie.
He raised his eyebrows at me. "There you go again."
"What?" I laughed in surprise, tilting my head at him as I rested the side of my face in my hand after propping my elbow up on his leg.
"You can be completely honest with me, you know," Cedric said, pushing himself up onto his elbows so that he could look at me directly. "I'm not about to go lying to you after all of this. I want this to work out and I'm willing to fight to keep you now that I have you, even if the biggest obstacle ends up being your own morals."
"I was thinking," I began, biting my lip nervously before continuing, "Of how much you scare me."
"I scare you?" he asked with a frown.
"Not you, actually, so much as my feelings for you," I corrected. "We barely know each other."
"I want to know you, though," Cedric said, reaching out to tug on my wrist before pulling me towards him. It felt natural as I moved into his arms, laying down across his body and resting my chin against his shoulder as he twirled one of my curls around his finger.
"I want to know you, too," I sighed, kissing his jaw before smiling tenderly as he turned his head and caught my lips in a kiss that, unlike our first, was slow and savoring. One of his hands slid into my hair, holding me against him, as the other slid across my stomach and then beneath the back of my jumper to splay across the small of my back. His touch made me shudder as I opened my mouth to breathe him in. I knew it was wrong after everything that had happened with Ron, and I knew it wouldn't take long before I'd pull away due to my desire to take things slowly. Either way, though, I planned on learning a lot more about the man that had my heart in his hands. And I was willing to do anything to keep his in mine, as well. Even if we had to go through the fires of hell together for me to do it.
AN: The inevitable confrontation at last! What did you think? I was out of my comfort zone with this one, what with there turning out to be so much dialogue. I hope you liked it, though. Be sure to review!