Notes: As always, a bevy of thanks to ubiquirk and DeeMichelle for corrections and concrit and saracen77 for making the story less American.
Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, mistaken as J. K. Rowling. These are her characters entirely. I make no money from their usage, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Unlike her stunned counterpart, Hermione's brain jolted her into action. Right away, she went on the offensive, giving the Diggory look-alike no time to react. She all but ripped her wand from its sheath and bridged the distance between them in three lightning-quick strides.
Hermione shoved the would-be impostor against the door, causing it to slam shut, her knee strategically pressed hard up against his bollocks, and her wand digging into the flesh of his throat.
"Who are you?" she hissed, tiny bits of spittle flying from her mouth and spraying the man's cheek, eyes forming narrow slits.
He tried to swallow, but the pressure from her wand restricted the movement of his Adam's apple. His voice was nothing but a hoarse whisper when he spoke. "Please, it's not what you—"
"Not what I think?" Hermione's laugh was frigid and hollow as she cut across him and finished his sentence, a thin sheen of sweat forming on her skin from the adrenaline coursing through her veins. "You haven't a bloody clue what I think."
The Diggory look-alike's face was ghostly pale, his grey eyes wild with haunted shadows as he seemed to search for the right words.
Hermione continued her verbal assault. "How dare you! Only a complete arsehole would Glamour or Polyjuice himself as a dead war hero. Oh, yes, I knew Cedric Diggory, and he is most certainly deceased."
"Granger … it's still Granger, right? Just let me explain," he pleaded. "It will all make sense when I'm done, I promise."
Her internal battle between instinct and common sense was fierce. She couldn't very well kill or maim the would-be impostor right here without some semblance of the hows and whys, even if this man-woman-person-thing was most likely sick and twisted.
No, she would give the Diggory look-alike the opportunity to speak. If he failed to provide what she considered the correct answers, then she would decide his destiny. "You have less than five seconds to convince me why I shouldn't alert the Council and have you dragged from here kicking and screaming or just take care of matters myself."
The would-be impostor flinched at the latter implication. "You would use an Unforgivable? Here in a public place?"
"I'm a Muggle-born witch. Who said anything about using magic?"
The Diggory look-alike appeared to understand the severity of that statement and nodded. "Any chance we could do this more civilised like? Your wand, amongst other things, is really hurting me."
Hermione took a moment to consider his request. True, their current positions weren't exactly ideal for the inquisition she was about to conduct, but she would need to be careful however she chose to proceed. "You so much as breathe wrong …"
"Noted and understood."
Hermione stepped back from the Diggory look-alike, but the tension in her body didn't lessen in the slightest. The close proximity to him had made her uncomfortable—the skin crawling, hackles-up kind of uncomfortable. Something about this whatever definitely wasn't quite right.
Keeping her eyes trained on him, Hermione began to wave her wand whilst murmuring a series of incantations. After casting the necessary enchantments to ensure their privacy and her safety, Hermione steered her captive to the nearest chair and motioned for him to make with the explanations.
"First and foremost, I am the real Cedric Diggory."
"But he's—you're dead!" Hermione began to gesticulate wildly at the absurdity of his statement, her voice rising to a near-shriek with each word she spoke. "I saw Harry return with your lifeless body with my own eyes. I had to relive that horrible night in the graveyard whenever Harry had a nightmare and needed to talk through it. I even attended your memorial service."
"I heard you were there. My father told me everything when he brought me back."
Hermione gasped at his revelation. "Your father did this?" She shook her head in disbelief, unable to rationalise Cedric's statement against what she thought she knew of Amos Diggory. "He's known for being a straight arrow, a Ministry man through and through. I never would've imagined he'd go that far. Necromancy is an extremely powerful and difficult Dark Art to master."
"No, Granger. My father wasn't that kind of man. He was good and decent, though my death and the war reshaped his priorities and perspective. But I can assure you, he would have never resorted to Necromancy magic under any circumstances."
Hermione raised her eyebrows, sceptical of Cedric's statement considering the elder Diggory had violated the laws of nature to return his son to the land of the living. "You said wasn't, as in past tense."
Sadness flooded Cedric's face, his eyes fluttered closed, his voice strained. "He died not long after."
Hermione felt her heart twinge with sympathy for him. Death was never easy, even for the dead. "I'm sorry to hear that. There's been no word about him back home, just that he'd resigned from the Ministry and gone on indefinite holiday. What of your mother?"
"Father said she wasn't the same after the Third Task and died within a year of moving here."
Though Hermione was no stranger to sacrifice and loss, all this talk of finality made her uneasy. She felt a shift in the conversation's direction was in order. "How did he do it, Cedric? How did he manage to penetrate the fabric of the veil if he didn't employ Necromancy? The most famed witches and wizards have being trying for ages, and every attempt has been unsuccessful."
"The Resurrection Stone," he stated matter-of-factly.
Hermione spluttered and gaped at him, distressed that he knew about the stone. "Impossible! Not only has Harry never spoken of it to anyone other than Ron and me, and we'd never reveal Harry's secrets to anyone, but no one knows where it is or how to wield its power."
"Not at all up to your reputation, Granger; you're nil for three. You, Potter and Weasley each gave full accounts of your time at Hogwarts, the war, your search for the Horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows to someone: my father."
Hermione shook her head vehemently and began to pace the length of the room, though her eyes and wand were fixed on Cedric the entire time. "No … no way would we do that and not remember. Cedric, I've never even had a full conversation with your father. The most words we've exchanged were a few at your service and the occasional pleasantry whenever we passed one another at work."
Cedric reached out to stop her as she passed him but appeared to think better of it, opting instead to drag his hand through his already ruffled hair. "Hermione, none of you are going to remember discussing any of it because my father was an Unspeakable for the Department of Mysteries. The entire account is buried deep, locked away in the recesses of your mind."
Hermione stopped dead in front of him, owl-eyed. For a famed know-it-all, the last few days seemed to be overflowing with things about which she didn't know.
Cedric seemed to take pity on her and provided more details. "His position within the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures was simply a cover. All the Unspeakables have had them for security purposes since Karkaroff named Rookwood as a spy. Now, only the Head Unspeakable and the Minister know all the inner workings of that particular branch."
Hermione's face bloomed into a violent rage, inundated by flashes of hate-filled crimson as she started to visibly shake at the realisation she and her friends had been violated in such a manner. She had a bevy of expletives ready to spew from her mouth when her anger suddenly deflated, leaving her feeling strung out, confused, guilty and with one question at the edge of her conscience.
Was what the Ministry did to her ultimately any different than what she did to her parents?
If Hermione was honest with herself and searched deep enough, the answer was clear: no.
Cedric took advantage of Hermione's internalising and lowered defences and stood before her, reaching to touch her arm as if to offer comfort. "Hermione, they didn't do it to hurt you all. They simply needed to understand the entire chain of events, to make sure it was all truly over and learn from past their mistakes."
"But what if someone uses our testimony to seek out the Hallows for themselves, to exploit them?"
"They won't," he assured her. "No one can access those records except you three, the Minister and my father. And he told me he reported that all the Hallows were destroyed except for Potter's Invisibility Cloak."
Hermione searched Cedric's eyes to gauge his truthfulness. The openness, desperation, humanity—and something slightly indefinable—reflected in his grey orbs seemed to satisfy her momentarily. "I still have so many questions, one of which is still how he did it."
Cedric shrugged his shoulders. "I wish I knew. He would never tell me how he found the stone and unlocked its secrets, no matter how relentlessly I pursued the matter. And I have no memories, no cognitive feelings from the moment I died to when I woke in my father's arms, covered in clumps of dirt and dressed in funeral robes as I drew my first breath."
"It's all black? No life-after-death experience?"
"All black and nothingness, a vast sea of empty."
"Where's the stone now, Cedric?" Hermione took a step back from him, a little unnerved that this living, breathing magical anomaly was touching her.
"Just before my father died, he told me he destroyed it so it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands."
Hermione's voice was shaky as she tried to control her quickly changing range of emotions, unable to continue to meet Cedric's eyes for fear she would break down or lash out. "What gives him the right to decide who is worthy to live again and who isn't, to pick and choose? Many people, including friends and loved ones I considered family, died needlessly because of Voldemort and his followers, cut down before they had the chance to achieve their hopes and dreams. It's not fair! He could have shared that knowledge with Harry, with the world."
He closed the space between them and cautiously cupped the sides of her face, turning her to him. "You're right, it isn't remotely fair, but I can't speak for my father or his motives, save he wanted one last taste of happiness in his life, and I can't change what is done. I wish I had more answers for you, Hermione, but I don't. All I know is that I'm alive, he spent every ounce of gold he had and called in every favour owed to him before he died and that the Resurrection Stone is completely destroyed."
Hermione's entire body sagged, overwhelmed by the unbelievably complex events of the day. She vaguely felt Cedric's hands leave her face in lieu of gripping her shoulders to steer her toward the chair he'd vacated.
"What happens now? Tell me what you're thinking, Hermione."
The silence settled over the room, cold and accusing, broken only by the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance.
Hermione leaned back in the chair and wrapped her arms around her body to anchor herself and stave off the chill that was seeping into her bones. She wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and practice her breathing exercises, wish everything she'd seen and heard all away, but she knew Cedric was waiting for her ruling concerning his fate. "I—we need to tell Harry and contact the Ministry."
"No!" he protested hotly. "Hermione, I don't think you realise what you're saying. No one from my old life can know I exist, else all my father's sacrifices, everything he's done to protect me, will be for naught."
"Cedric, you can't hide away in this village forever. What's happened to you should be researched, studied and shouted from the hilltops. People need to know."
It was Cedric's turn to laugh bitterly. "You don't get it, do you? If the Ministry finds out I'm alive, one of two things will happen. They will perform countless experiments on me until either their curiosity is satisfied or my existence is no longer useful to them and they order me killed, or they will consider me a Dark creature the likes of Inferi and order me killed. See a pattern developing here?"
Hermione found the sudden edge in the normally easygoing man's voice unsettling and shivered. "They wouldn't, would they? The Ministry's a lot different since Fudge and Scrimgeour."
"So naive. You, of all people, should know that most seek to destroy what they fear or don't understand. Even I don't know what I am, if I'm normal and safe for the good of society."
Hermione's initial response died on her lips as a sharp knock on the office door interrupted them. She quickly flicked her wand to cancel all the charms from earlier. An unknown passer-by poked his head in to remind the two of them of the meeting after lunch and then pulled the door closed once more.
Cedric knelt down in front of her and rested his hands on her knees. "Please, Hermione. Please tell me you'll keep my secret. I'm not ready to die again."
The warmth of his large hands spread over her skin, making it prickle with a mixture of fear and excitement. Hermione had had many secrets in her life, but this was by far one of the biggest and most dangerous.
Deciding that her chance encounter with Cedric Diggory must be a part of her great, new adventure, Hermione made up her mind. "Yes, Cedric Diggory, I will keep your secret."