Introductory Author's Note: Finding Himself will be uploaded regularly across the next few weeks. It's a bit of an experiment to see how a story like this does here. It's a full-scale novel, an AU rewrite of Book 5 (Order of the Phoenix), and was completed about 2 years ago -- so it's not a new story. It's been posted on my website, to several Live Journal communities, and appears on a couple archives. It's won a total of 7 awards. I've been asked to post it more widely, however (outside LJ), so I'm looking for venues
That is NOT 'blackmail' for reviews, as I don't approve of such things. But I am looking closely at how it's received, whether it's read and reviewed, etc. As I said, it's an experiment. Formatting stories -- especially these long, multi-chapter novels -- for fanfic-net is actually difficult for me, so if there aren't many readers, I'd direct them to my website, where they can find it in full (with images even). :-) If there are a lot of readers here, I'd be happy to format it. So tell me what you think!
To say he was terrified as hedge roots wrapped him up and tried to drag him under would have been a vast understatement. He could feel hard plant-fingers clutching at him, twining around his arms and legs as he fought. "Harry!"
Panting now and trying not to whimper, he shouted again, "Harry!" It came out increasingly desperate with each cry. He sounded more like seven than seventeen, and was humiliated.
He'd been scared before during the tournament -- piss-his-underpants scared -- but able to think still. He was a good planner, and could keep his head under pressure, or at least, under certain kinds of pressure. In a real crisis, it all went south, and he should never have entered this tournament. It wasn't a chess match or a debate. He might have liked to say that he'd bowed to the wishes of his father and housemates, but was too honest. It hadn't even been the lure of eternal glory. In truth, the attention embarrassed him a bit.
He'd entered to prove something to himself -- to defeat his own fear, overcome his tendency to fly apart when it mattered. He'd entered because he'd had an easy life -- and felt guilty for it. He'd entered because he was tired of the sidelong glances when he said his house was Hufflepuff. He'd entered because he'd been called "Pretty boy Diggory" once too often. He wanted to earn something for himself, not have it handed to him because of his parents' love (much as he realized his good fortune to have it), or because of his pretty face, or even because he was clever. He wanted to earn something by sheer guts. That was why he'd become a Quidditch Seeker, although really too tall for the position. And it was why he'd let the rest of his House talk him into putting his name in that blasted cup.
Now the hedges were pulling him under and he couldn't think, he was so scared. Only plead. Plead with the boy he'd just been shoving around while trying to get to the cup first. "Harry!"
At the other boy's voice -- higher but firm -- the roots suddenly relaxed, but he couldn't make himself stop fighting them. He kicked and pushed and bit his tongue to keep from screaming, even though he knew he was actually making it harder to clear them off, and could feel Harry's hands helping to untangle him. Once free, he stood on shaky legs and tried to keep from vomiting from sheer delayed disgust at the memory of all those roots pulling him down. "Thanks."
Cedric almost smiled at the banality of the exchange, and tried to make a joke to conceal the fact he was still trembling, "You know, for a moment there, I thought you were going to let it get me."
"For a moment there, so did I." Harry seemed startled by his own admission.
Yet Cedric would always be grateful to the boy for answering so, almost as grateful as for saving him in the first place. It had been an honest answer, acknowledging but not commenting on the fact that Cedric had been tripped in the first place while trying to keep Harry behind him as they both ran for the cup. He'd been pumped so full of anger and driving ambition, all he'd wanted was to keep the little Gryffindor glory-hound from taking this prize, too. It had stripped him raw, down to the unpleasant, ugly underbelly. The fact the Bulgarian had tried to hex him was only what had set the testosterone to pumping; the underlying anger it had dislodged had been far deeper, the result of time after time of swallowing his irritation and putting a good face on something. One of Cedric's other hidden faults was a terrible temper when poked hard enough through the bars of his tightly controlled exterior.
Dumbledore had warned them that the maze changed people. Cedric didn't think it had changed him, only shown him for who he really was.
He didn't like that person.
So the roots had pulled down the right boy -- he didn't deserve the cup. And now, shamed, he avoided Harry's eyes, still breathing hard. "Some game, huh?" It was all he could think to say.
"Some game," Harry agreed, but with something in his voice that spoke of anger, perhaps with Cedric, perhaps with the larger situation -- or both. Cedric wouldn't blame the kid if it were both.
Then the creaking started up again, and the wind, and their narrow aisle was closing. Gripping Harry by the arm, Cedric shoved him forward. "Go!"
They ran -- together, this time, not against each other, exploding out at the end of the leafy corridor into the little clearing where the cup glowed blue on its pedestal. Cedric skidded to a stop. So did Harry.
And in that moment, Cedric knew what he had to do. He didn't deserve the cup. When push had come to shove, he'd literally shoved a kid three years younger than he was behind him in a race for a trinket of silver and crystal, yet when he'd fallen, that same kid had come back for him.
"Go on, take it!" he shouted to Harry over the sound of the wind behind them. "You saved me -- take it!" He wasn't being noble. He was being honest, or trying, even if it killed him inside.
But Harry was looking behind them, back into the maze, and didn't respond for an instant. Then -- to Cedric's astonishment -- he said, "Together." And didn't give Cedric time to protest before counting off, "One, two --"
Astonishment faded quickly. "Three!" Cedric finished together with Harry even as they rushed forward. As one, their fingers closed over the cup's two handles.
Cedric expected it all to end -- a sudden, bewitched calm as soon as one of the champions had touched the cup. It would be over. They'd have a party -- Hufflepuff and Gryffindor together, maybe. A big celebration. A Hogwarts victory.
So Cedric was thinking about food, of all things, when he felt something -- some power -- yank him off his feet and he was falling, falling through space -- too startled and unprepared to land gracefully. He came down hard on his back, the wind knocked out of him and the cup tossed free of his hand. Still glowing, it rolled down a little incline.
For just a moment, Cedric did nothing but breathe, cough, and stare up at the night sky. Harry, who'd landed on his knees, recovered faster, pushing himself up. "You okay?" Cedric asked him.
Cedric didn't answer, just climbed to his feet as well, and looked around at ancient, tilted tombstones. There was a crypt nearby, and just behind them, a large statue of the Grim Reaper. A bit disturbing, that. As he and Harry both seemed unharmed, Cedric's natural curiosity replaced immediate alarm. They were both alive and out of that damn maze -- no rising hedges around him, no creeping sense of claustrophobia. "Where are we?" Was this still part of the Third Task?
He and Harry began pacing off in different directions to explore. Cedric could hear Harry mutter, "I've been here before."
Walking over to the cup, Cedric knelt to look at it -- careful not to touch it. "It's a Portkey," he said, comprehension dawning. Maybe he should have realized as much sooner, but he'd had his wits addled by the completely unexpected result of touching the cup. Then he grinned. This was still part of the Third Task; it must be. "Harry," he called, "the cup is a Portkey."
"I've been here before -- in a dream," the boy replied, almost interrupting him. He sounded scared.
Rising, Cedric went to rejoin Harry near the Reaper statue, alarmed himself by the fear in the kid's voice. Harry didn't shake easily -- less easily than Cedric -- but he sounded utterly terrified right now, and Cedric's momentary relief and euphoria disappeared like smoke. "Cedric," Harry called, "we have to get back to the cup. Now!"
"What are you talking about?" But he was distracted by two things -- a large cauldron that he hadn't noticed until just that moment, sitting incongruously in the middle of the graveyard, and a sudden creaking, like a door opening. Yellow lamplight spilled out into the darkness, and Cedric glanced towards the old crypt. Someone had emerged from it.
Next to Cedric, Harry cried out even as a fire ignited beneath the mystery-cauldron. "Harry!" Cedric called, turning back to the boy, who was bent double, one hand gripping his forehead. Cedric leaned down. "What is it?"
"Get back to the cup!" Harry yelled, looking up at him -- face full of a terror.
And in that instant, Cedric knew this was not a game. Not part of the Task at all. Someone had made that cup into a Portkey to bring the tournament champion here.
To bring Harry Potter here.
Pieces snapped together in Cedric's brain in rapid progression. (No one had ever called him slow.) While still in the maze, he'd heard Fleur scream, and had seen red sparks go up; he'd known she was out. Then he'd been attacked himself by Krum -- who Harry had said was bewitched -- and Cedric would have bet money that Krum had taken out Fleur, earlier. That was three champions of four who, by hook or crook, hadn't been meant to reach the cup.
Leaving only Harry.
Yet Harry should never have been in the tournament in the first place -- had claimed all along that he hadn't entered. Cedric hadn't believed him at first, and later, had only half believed.
Now, he believed. Harry Potter wasn't a Triwizard Champion. He was a somebody's target.
Jumping to his feet, Cedric spun, planting himself squarely in front of Harry, wand out and leveled at the approaching man in the dark cloak. "Who are you? What do you want?" They'd have to go through him to get to the kid, and he finally, truly felt like the Hogwart's Champion.
He heard, "Kill the spare," in the same instant Harry screamed from behind him, "Cedric, run!"
Instinct saved him. He reacted to Harry's warning, leaping sideways even as the man shouted, "Avada Kedavra," and green light shot out of the other wand.
Cedric landed hard on already bruised ribs, reaching for Harry to shove him ahead -- back to the cup. The Portkey. Safety.
He got a handful of Harry's tunic, but his inconvenient terror took over again, snatching away thought. He'd put his back to the attacking wizard, too, and his own wand was under him. Stupid. Harry was in so much pain he was useless, and Cedric scrambled, scratching at the dirt with his wand hand to get himself up, other hand still holding onto Harry's tunic.
"Avada Kedavra!" he heard behind him again, and crying out, he rolled left -- yanking Harry after. The two of them tumbled down the grassy embankment to land behind a cockeyed tombstone.
"It's Voldemort," Harry hissed as they came to a stop, his hand still pressed to his forehead. Cedric didn't ask the boy how he knew that. This wasn't the time for analysis, but dear God, if it was You-Know-Who . . .
How could a pair of schoolboys stand against the greatest wizard and necromancer in recent history?
"Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit," he muttered as he heard the steady crunch of their attacker's approaching feet, and he gripped his wand so tightly, it cut into his palm. But he didn't know if he could manage to raise it when the moment came.
"I'll distract him -- you get back to the cup!" Harry said.
"I can't leave you --"
"Get back to the cup! Bring Dumbledore!" And Harry was moving before Cedric could protest again, leaping over Cedric's hunched form, wand out as he came around the tombstone to catch their attacker by surprise. "Expelliarmus!" he shouted.
Still, Cedric hesitated. Run or stay, run or stay?
You think too much, said a little voice inside his head. Harry didn't think. He acted. That's why he was in Gryffindor. And Cedric wasn't.
Leaping to his feet, Cedric spun and ran.
For the Portkey.
Behind him, he could hear the sounds of battle, but didn't look back. He just ran flat out, using every inch of his long legs to reach that key. He had to reach the key.
You're leaving a little boy behind you to fight Voldemort, he thought to himself.
He didn't stop. He could see the cup's blue glow even as he heard a man's voice shout behind, "Crucio!" -- and Harry's scream.
Cedric leapt, dived, and landed beside the cup -- grabbing it.
The force of the magic sucked him away from the battle even as he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the sound of Harry's agony.
The key spit him out on the grass in front of the stands full of people. He sobbed in relief -- and horror. Horror at what he'd just done. Abandoned a boy to Voldemort.
He flung the cup away from him, back into the maze. It rolled under a hedge where no one would accidentally touch it.
Out-of-breath and sobbing in self-hatred, he dragged himself up on his knees, even as the stands erupted all around him, the applause deafening.
"Dumbledore!" he gasped -- but he had no wind, and no voice, certainly not to shout over the swelling ruckus and terrible stitch in his side. He could feel every rib he'd bruised -- and maybe a few he'd broken.
Then he felt hands on him -- rough, yanking him up. Turning his head, he looked into an angry, blue glass eye. Could glass eyes be angry? Certainly, the other eye was, the lips pulled back from stained teeth in a near growl. Moody, of course. The man gave Cedric the creeps, and he yanked away instinctively. "Dumbledore," he said again, still with no wind.
And now there were others all around him, his father pounding his back (and driving half the breath out that he'd just regained), his mother hugging him, then Cho. He tried shoving them away, frantic. "Don't, don't! Dumbledore! I need --"
Moody had him by the elbow and yanked him sideways, hissing in his ear, "Where's Potter?"
"Graveyard," Cedric replied. "Get me Dumbledore. Now. It's Voldemort!"
Had he really just said that name aloud?
But he didn't have time for games. Or for people trying to congratulate him for nothing he'd earned -- grinning people, laughing people. But a boy was being tortured somewhere miles away and he, Cedric, had left him there in order to get help. "Get off!" he shouted, striking out around himself in a rage . . . for his failure. He'd run, not stood his ground.
What were you supposed to do? the cold logic in his mind asked. Stay put and die?
Yes! he retorted.
So he'd have killed you and then tortured Harry.
Shut up, he told the voice, still pushing blindly at the people all around him -- who seemed to have realized finally that he was honestly angry, not just excited. They drew back, muttering in confusion. "What is it, son?" his father asked, even as Fudge pushed through as well. The Minister of Magic was trying to lift Cedric's arm over his head in victory, but Cedric yanked it down and barely restrained himself from belting Fudge.
"Stop it!" he yelled, voice finally returned enough to get sound out.
"Where's the cup?" Fudge asked him, confused by his obvious anger.
"Don't touch the cup! Don't anybody touch that cup!" He looked around for Moody. "Where's Dumbledore?" Hadn't Moody gone to get Dumbledore?
"What happened?" people were asking him. "What's wrong with the cup?"
"Where's DUMBLEDORE!" he roared, voice catching on the name so that he choked and coughed, bent over. He was trying to pull away from their grasping hands again. They were holding him back. How much time had passed? A minute? Two? More like three or four, and he was surrounded by idiots. How long could a person survive the torture curse without losing his mind? "Dumbledore," he coughed out again, like a skipping record, but dammit, no one was listening to him.
He felt a small hand grip his bicep and he tried to shake it off, but a pale, serious face got down right in front of him, a girl with bushy hair. Granger -- Potter's friend. The bright one. "Where's Harry?" she asked. She didn't look confused. She looked scared.
Thank heaven somebody had finally caught on. "Graveyard," he said. "Cup was a Portkey. They wanted Harry. Where's Dumbledore? I came back to get Dumbledore. It's Voldemort."
She ducked away, quick as a cat. The noise was dying down, too -- or really, changing in timber as those nearest him began to realize this wasn't a victory or celebration. Fudge was calling out to the other teachers to keep the people away, send them back to the castle. And Cedric still hadn't seen Dumbledore, but he'd relaxed a little now that he'd gotten his message across. Moody and the Granger girl would get Dumbledore for him, then they'd go back for Harry.
Both his parents were gripping him, as if afraid to let go. They'd picked up -- as parents' did -- that he was terrified, and upset, and that something had gone terribly wrong. "Sit down, Ced," his father was saying. "You're about to faint."
He started to sit as instructed, but found himself face-to-face with Potter's other friend, Ron Weasley, along with the twins and the little Weasley girl behind. Ron's face was thunderous. "Where's Harry?"
"He's in the graveyard," Cedric said, suddenly exhausted as the adrenaline began to drain out of him. "I came back for Dumbledore. He sent me back for Dumbledore."
"You left him?" Ron bellowed.
Cedric winced, guilty all over again in the face of Ron's rage. And then, before he could even think to duck, Weasley hit him -- hard -- in the jaw, knocking him backwards onto his arse as onlookers gasped.
"You bloody bastard!"
"Ronald!" someone yelled -- a girl's voice. Maybe the sister, or -- no -- it was Granger back. She was holding off Ron -- and the twins, too. Cedric's own mother was restraining his father.
"Stop it!" McGonagall shouted, striding into the midst of them. She knelt in front of Cedric. "What happened?"
"The cup was a Portkey," Cedric said. "I came back to get Dumbledore." He glanced up at Granger. "Where is he?"
"Not anywhere in the crowd," Granger replied.
"Dammit!" Cedric shoved himself to his feet to lunge away -- back towards the hedge where he'd thrown the cup. If he couldn't find Dumbledore, he'd go back himself.
Arms gripped and restrained him, though he tried to shake them off. "Let me go!"
"Cedric! Cedric!" his father was shouting to calm him down, and McGonagall, too, along with Professor Sprout, who'd come over. "It's all right, Diggory!" McGonagall shouted right in his face. "Professor Dumbledore went with Professor Moody."
Cedric let out his breath and stopped struggling.
"Both of them went into the maze to find Harry," McGonagall continued. "I'm sure he's still lost. They'll be back in a --"
"NO!" Cedric bellowed and tore free of the hands on him, which had relaxed when he had. He was sprinting back for the hedge before they could grab him again, knocking people aside as he ran for the maze. Just as in the graveyard, everything was coming together in his head, creating a horrible picture of what must have happened. "Professor Dumbledore!" he shouted. "Professor! It's Moody! Don't trust Moody!"
He had no idea if Dumbledore could hear him, knowing how the maze killed sound once one was inside. And had it really been bright to call out to Dumbledore that Moody couldn't be trusted?
Dumbledore had told them that Moody had put the cup in the maze, and it must have been Moody who'd turned it into a Portkey. That's why he'd been angry when he'd seen Cedric come back with the cup -- alone. Cedric hadn't been meant to reach it; Harry had. Yet Cedric had told Moody exactly what he'd wanted to hear. Harry was still in the graveyard. So Moody had lured off Dumbledore into the maze to keep him from talking to Cedric.
Tearing down a corridor between bushes, Cedric found that -- just as he remembered -- sound faded behind him, cut off. The leaves began to whisper again. They must be keyed to human presence, not the Third Task specifically, but he didn't have time for ornery hedges. Pointing his wand at first one, then the other, he called, "Stupefy!" It wasn't the most elegant choice, but the bushes turned silent and still, like a normal hedge. He ran on, trying now to be silent himself. Every few feet, he paused to listen, occasionally stunning the plants again when they seemed to be regaining life.
Finally, he heard voices in the distance. He couldn't be sure if it were Moody and Dumbledore; it might be the other teachers come after him. He made his way carefully down the corridor towards the sound until he could make out Dumbledore's high, old-man's voice saying, "I should think we'd have found him by now, Alastor." A pause, then, "Harry! Harry! The task is over! Follow my voice."
But it was Cedric, not Harry, who followed the voice. Sneaking down to a T in the maze, hand still on his wand (he hadn't let it go), he peered around the edge.
Dumbledore and Moody were standing there -- thankfully looking in the opposite direction.
Cedric had his wand out and pointed at Moody before either were aware of him. "Expelliarmus!" he shouted, and bright white light exploded from his wandtip, catching Moody square in the back and sending the man's wand flying from his hand as his body was lifted a foot in the air and thrown forward onto his face.
That took care of Moody, at least momentarily. But Cedric hadn't prepared for what happened next. Dumbledore spun around, arm snapping out with his own wand, aimed right at Cedric, who felt himself frozen right where he stood. Dumbledore glanced down at Moody, then hurried over to Cedric, peering carefully into Cedric's eyes as if searching for something, then -- wand still held out carefully -- he stepped back and released Cedric from the freezing charm.
"Moody tricked you!" Cedric shouted as soon as his tongue was his own again. "Tricked us! Harry's not in the maze!" Words came tumbling out of him in a rush, no pause for breath. "The cup was a Portkey; it took us to a graveyard -- we both grabbed the cup together and it took us to a graveyard. Harry said Voldemort was there and sent me back to get you, but Moody was the one who spelled the cup, and I told him first when I got back and he tricked you and --"
"Where's the cup now?" Dumbledore asked, interrupting Cedric's babbling, one hand gripping Cedric's shoulders, his blue eyes intense. Dumbledore believed him.
"I threw it under a bush when I got back," Cedric said, "So no one would grab it accidentally. It's under one of the hedges right where we first went into the maze -- Harry and I."
"Let's go," Dumbledore said, and turning, he pointed his wand at Moody's unconscious form, which was immediately wrapped up in roots -- Cedric knew firsthand how tightly those held -- then Dumbledore turned the wand on the hedges themselves, parting them like the Red Sea. A wide aisle opened, leading right back towards the stands.
Dumbledore had known where he was in the maze the whole time, and despite everything, Cedric retained wit enough to be impressed.
Then they were running again, or jogging really; Dumbledore wasn't young. And everything was going to be okay now that he'd found Dumbledore. It had to be okay.
If anything happened to Harry, Cedric would never forgive himself.
They'd reached the maze edge, and the cup -- bared now. Dumbledore threw out his hands. "Nobody touch it!" There was still a small crowd there, gathered where Cedric had left them, including his parents, Cho, Fudge, McGonagall and the Weasleys. Dumbledore turned to Cedric. "What else can you tell me? You're certain it was Voldemort?"
And suddenly Cedric wasn't so sure. "I don't know. Harry said it was. He was gripping his scar and he said it was Voldemort. I didn't exactly argue. The bloke was trying to kill me."
"And you left him there!" Ron Weasley bellowed again from the sidelines, ready to rush Cedric once more.
"Peace, Ron," Dumbledore said, almost mildly, raising a hand in Ron's direction. "Cedric did exactly what he should have done. He came for help." He turned back to Cedric. "Anything else? Was there anyone else that you saw? Quickly!"
"No." Cedric shook his head. "Just the man. He was carrying something, I think. I didn't get a good look at it; I was trying to drag Harry away. Then we were behind a tombstone. Wait! There was one other strange thing -- a cauldron. There was a big cauldron. The man -- Voldemort, I guess -- started a fire under it just before he tried cursing me."
Dumbledore turned from Cedric and motioned to Professor McGonagall. "We must hurry. Minerva, I hate to ask --"
Arthur Weasley had pushed forward as well, "And me."
Dumbledore just nodded at them as they joined him near the cup. "Wands at the ready -- on the count of three," he said. "One, two, --"
And without stopping to think for once -- just acting -- Cedric bent forward with the others, his fingers gripping the edge of the cup, too, his other hand tight on his own wand.
He was going back there.
Later, Cedric would wonder what -- exactly -- he'd thought he might accomplish, going back with the adults. It had been guilt-motivated, not logic-motivated, and he became a liability, not a help --
-- something Dumbledore let him know the moment they released the Portkey (all on their feet, as they'd been prepared). "What on earth possessed you, Mr. Diggory?" Dumbledore snapped, even as he and the other two turned, wands at the ready. "Get behind a tombstone and stay out of the way!"
Guilty at distracting Dumbledore for even a few precious seconds, Cedric ducked behind the great monument of the reaper where he and Harry had first come out. With three trained, adult wizards, Voldemort clearly wasn't worrying over a student. Cedric was forgotten.
But he had a good view of what was happening.
Harry -- looking battered and bloody -- had squared off against a white-faced man bearing slits for a nose and red eyes. And that, Cedric knew, was Voldemort. Whoever the other man had been earlier, it hadn't been Voldemort himself. Yet Harry hadn't been wrong, either. Impossibly, Voldemort was here.
And he was playing cat-and-mouse with Harry Potter. They'd been engaged in a duel -- utterly absurd, on the face of it. 'The Boy Who Lived' or not, how could Harry hope to stand against Voldemort? Yet there he was -- back straight, wand out, defiant to the end. Harry deserved his reputation, Cedric thought. He'd never underestimate the kid again.
Surrounding the two duelers were figures in robes and masks who Cedric recognized from the Quidditch World Cup -- Death Eaters. They weren't interfering. No doubt, they didn't think they'd need to. Cedric counted their number, but couldn't be sure of the identity of any except . . .
Long, blond hair. Arched nose.
Not that Cedric was surprised in the least. He knew the Malfoys rather better than he'd have liked, and would've been more surprised had Lucius not been a Death Eater.
Dumbledore's appearance upset the proceedings, shattering the bright arc of light that seemed to be connecting Harry's wand to Voldemort's (and what kind of spell was that?), throwing Harry backwards. Voldemort spun from his torture of Harry to face the one wizard in all the world of whom he was actually afraid. "Dumbledore!" he cried, as if delighted by this unexpected turn of events. "Welcome to my rebirth party!"
"Let Harry go, Tom," Dumbledore said in a quiet tone that raised the hairs on the back of Cedric's neck. "You've got what you wanted."
Voldemort didn't reply, just aimed his wand at Dumbledore and a curse flashed green from it.
But Dumbledore wasn't there. Neither were Professor McGonagall nor Mr. Weasley. They'd all leapt aside for cover, and suddenly the air was awash with the bright light of curses and hexes, and Cedric -- who'd never seen a real wizard's battle -- hunkered down with hands over his head, certain he was about to die. But after three breaths, he regained his courage and peeked around the side of the reaper.
The Death Eaters may have been unwilling to interfere in a duel between their master and a boy, but this was a different matter. They'd moved in to protect the Dark Lord and Cedric saw one go down, hit accidentally by friendly fire. The figure's half-mask slipped off, leaving the dead man's face staring up at the sky.
Cedric had never seen anybody killed before. Neither, he thought, had Harry -- who'd fallen on his arse in shock -- and to stay out of the way of the curses. Lucius Malfoy was advancing on him, seizing the opportunity while Dumbledore had Voldemort engaged -- and Harry didn't see him coming. Malfoy had his wand out, face twisted with a sneering hatred.
Once again, Cedric didn't think. He acted. So Dumbledore had told him to stay hidden, but if he didn't do something right now, Harry would be dead.
Leaping out from behind the reaper, he ran low to the ground. Thank God for long legs. In eight steps he had a completely startled Harry by the waist and was pulling him back, out of Malfoy's way. Dumbledore must have had eyes in the back of his head because -- despite the furious contest of hexes with Voldemort -- he shouted, "Use the Portkey, Cedric!"
Cedric didn't have to be told twice. Nor did he think about the fact he was leaving Dumbledore and the other two behind. They were adults; they could Apparate. So could he, for that matter -- but Harry couldn't. Still clutching Harry to him, the fingers of his free hand closed over the cup handle and he felt two things simultaneously.
First was the (now almost familiar) tickle-yank of dislocation.
The second was a searing agony in his lower back and legs the like of which he'd never experienced in his life. His lower body was on fire, or so it felt.
Then he and Harry landed together smack in the middle of the Task arena, Cedric on his back and Harry on his knees again. Cedric wasn't thinking about the irony of their postures, however. He couldn't think at all. Body-wracking agony arched his entire frame rigid and he screamed, his hands tearing mindlessly at the base of his spine.
Fortunately, he blacked out only a moment later.
Cedric woke to weeping: his mother's, soft and painful in its hopelessness -- all the more so in that she so rarely wept. He'd have liked to sit up and tell her not to cry, that he was all right . . . but couldn't. His body simply wouldn't obey him. He should have been alarmed by that, but seemed incapable of any intense feeling, and they must have given him a serious pain potion that numbed everything, not just his body.
So he went back to sleep.
In fact, he drifted in and out of consciousness for a while. Sometimes there were people around him, sometimes not. He was aware of conversations held over his prone form, but couldn't summon the energy to be interested. When he finally found himself able to open his eyes and keep them open more than a moment, it was dark outside, but this time, there was no weeping at his bedside. Turning his head, he could see his mother's tall form in a chair beside him. It had been spelled to produce arms and a foot rest, and even reclined so she could sleep while staying nearby. He smiled fondly at that. Every memory he had of childhood illness, she'd been there, a constant in his life. His father doted on him, sometimes unduly, but his mother was the one he turned to for both comfort and genuine support -- in large part because she didn't necessarily shield him. He loved his father, but he trusted his mother.
He hated to disturb her now, but suspected she'd want to be disturbed. Besides, he had to know what had happened after he and Harry had come home by Portkey. "Mum?" he whispered.
She was instantly awake and right there at his side, the leather chair squeaking as she leaned in. "Cedric?" She smoothed his hair off his forehead.
"And Dumbledore? McGonagall --"
"Fine. All fine. Arthur Weasley, too."
"What happened to Vol- . . . You-Know Who?" He used the euphemism for her sake, not his. Saying Voldemort's name, or thinking it, no longer scared him.
"He Disapparated," she told him, "as soon as you and Harry 'ported away."
Cedric nodded just slightly; he wasn't surprised by that. Without Harry there, Voldemort wouldn't have wanted to stick around to tangle with Dumbledore. "Somebody hit me with something, didn't they?" he asked now. "On the way out, somebody hit me with a hex?"
"You're alive," his mother said, stroking his hair and cheek. "You're alive, and everything will be all right."
But she hadn't, Cedric noticed, said that he was 'all right.'
"Go back to sleep. Right now, what you need most is rest."
Cedric woke again when it was morning -- late morning, judging by the angle of the sun through the windows. His mother was still there, and his father now, too, and --
A familiar whiskery face was peering into his, and despite everything, Cedric laughed as Esiban climbed his chest to his shoulder, and thence to his characteristic perch squarely on Cedric's head. "They said he was crying incessantly," his father explained. "Your girlfriend Cho tried to take him, but he wasn't happy with her, either. Madam Pomfrey didn't want him in hospital, but Dumbledore overruled her. He thought you both might benefit."
"Madam Pomfrey doesn't want him here because she's afraid he'll get into all her medicines." Cedric glanced around. "Did you bring his cage? I'll have to lock him up at night, for his own good, or he will get into something."
"It's there," his father said, pointing, even as Cedric spotted the cage on a table pulled up to the left of his bed's head. They'd had to drag in something large enough to accommodate the size, but Cedric could reach it just by turning a little and leaning over. The bed itself was surrounded by cards and flowers. And sweets. Laughing a bit, he reached out to grab a bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans -- but he fed them to Esiban, who wouldn't care if he got a snot- or spinach-flavored one. Food was food, to him, and he nibbled the jellybeans daintily, holding each one in little brown paws.
"So -- do I want to know what day it is? And when can I get out of here?"
His parents exchanged a 'serious' look -- which alarmed him a bit, but he tried to pretend he hadn't noticed. His father scooted forward in his chair, hands clasped between his knees. "You've been in here four days, unconscious for most of it."
Four days? But that meant, "Tonight's the End-of-Term Feast. Is Madam Pomfrey going to let me go? I feel fine."
That look again. "Cedric --"
But before his father could continue, Madam Pomfrey bustled in. "I heard your voice." She handed him a cup. "Drink. It saves me pouring it down your throat and wasting half."
"Yes, Madam Pomfrey." He drank, and tried not to make a face. Then he handed it back and asked, "Can I go now?"
Her mouth opened slightly and she, too, turned to exchange a significant glance with his parents. This was getting worse and worse. "Cedric -- you're not ready to be released quite yet."
Snatching Esiban off his head because little claws digging into his scalp were starting to grow quite annoying, he asked, "What's wrong?" He turned to his parents -- his mother. "What's wrong, Mother?" She'd tell him, even if everybody else avoided it. It had always been so. His father would praise him to the stars. His mother told him if he had bad breath, or his shirt was untucked -- or he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket (which was unfortunately true). She didn't do it to criticize, but because she loved him enough to be honest.
Both Madam Pomfrey and Cedric's father were looking at her, too, though her eyes were lowered to the long, pale hands she'd turned palm up in her lap. "Lucy --" Amos began.
"He needs to know," she snapped, then raised her head and met his eyes. "The spell was a degenerative curse of some kind. It's affecting your nervous system from where it struck your spine on down your legs."
Throat dry and belly sick, he asked, "What does that mean? Degenerative?"
His mother started to answer, then shut her mouth and looked up at Madam Pomfrey. Her pale blue eyes were wet -- his strong, proud mother couldn't go on. And that scared him most of all.
Madam Pomfrey spoke softly. "Essentially, it's begun to kill the nerves in your legs and pelvic region. That's why you were in such terrible pain."
What? "But I feel all right, now." It was an expression of denial as much as of confusion.
"You feel all right," Madam Pomfrey told him, "because I've put a paralyzing charm on your lower body. Otherwise, you'd be in excruciating pain."
He remembered what he'd felt when he and Harry had returned, and he never wanted to feel anything like that again. "The . . . nerves are dying? It's going to paralyze me?"
"Perhaps eventually, but not tomorrow, or next week, either. It may -- probably will -- take years. It's simply such a rare type of curse, very little is known about it. I don't think it's been cast in over fifty years." Pomfrey looked across his bed to his parents. "We're sending you to St. Mungo's. We were just waiting for you to wake up; Professor Dumbledore thought you might be more comfortable hearing the news in a familiar place."
Comfortable hearing the news? He was losing his legs and that was going to be comfortable news anywhere? His face must have relayed his devastation, as she went on, "Healing has progressed a lot since the last time this curse was employed, Cedric. A reversal may still be possible -- quite possible, these days -- and the healers at St. Mungo's are far better equipped than I to find a cure. I've just kept it from progressing more rapidly. That's the other reason for the paralyzing spell."
"Fantastic," he muttered, "I'm a test case." But this was mostly to cover the plain shock. "Can I walk at all? I mean, if the paralyzing spell weren't there?"
"I'm not sure," Madam Pomfrey said, fidgeting needlessly with the blanket covering his lower body -- which, he realized now, he didn't feel. He hadn't noticed before simply because he hadn't thought to pay attention. Reaching down, he poked at his torso and legs to see how far feeling went. It stopped just at his hips -- about where he remembered the curse striking his back.
He didn't want to think about what they were doing to keep him from wetting his bed.
"You'd still have feeling in your lower body," Madam Pomfrey was saying. "And some range of motion; it's hard to say how much. Probably a decent amount at this point in time."
"So I could still walk."
"Quite possibly, and almost certainly with assistance."
"You mean crutches."
Merlin's beard. Neither his parents nor Madam Pomfrey said anything else, as if waiting for what he'd do next, say next -- but he didn't want to say anything. His parents must have had several days to get used to the news. He'd had a handful of minutes. "Could I -- could I be alone for a bit?"
Madam Pomfrey nodded once and departed. His parents were slower to leave, though when he just looked at them, his father nodded and walked away, went over to stare out a window, hands in pockets. His mother bent to kiss his cheek; her face wet. Then she, too, walked away, pulling the screen around his bed to give him some privacy.
Rolling on his side, he gripped Esiban in his arms and buried his face in bristly fur. At first, he felt mostly sick from fear of what might happen to him now -- unable to summon up a proper sorrow. But gradually, the sobs came, tearing hard out of his gut. He wanted to cry quietly, privately, and bit the back of his hand, but his weeping was too rough. After a minute, he heard the ward door close and he knew, in that way people do, that he was truly alone. He let the grief take him then, Esiban curled up in the hollow at his side, head on Cedric's heaving ribs.
Endnotes: The book mentions that Cedric is a pretty smart cookie, and even if the film never said as much directly, I've kept that assumption. Yes, the 'curse' cast on Cedric has certain similarities to Multiple Sclerosis and Guillain-Barre Syndrome in that it deals with a damaged central nervous system and is degenerative. But it separates from them in that it does not affect his entire body, and progresses more quickly. Not to mention it's not a disease. Please presume events in the short story found here on -- "The Way I See It" -- for a bit of history on Cedric.