A/N: so, after reading HP fanfics for years, I finally knuckled down and finished one. This is actually in response to a request from a friend whose OTP is Harry/Cedric and who STILL hasn't forgiven JKR for killing off our favorite sex-on-legs Hufflepuff. Of course, if I owned the HP franchise (and had anything to be sued for, which I don't, lawyers take note) I wouldn't have killed him off, either. So, this is my tribute (Attention Lawyers: it's a TRIBUTE, which garners me NO profit whatsoever) to the magical world JKR has given us--with my own little twist.

You've probably seen a few of the cliches in this fic before, but after 8 million-odd fics, they all blur together (duh). So, if you see something you created, feel special...I obviously liked it enought to steal it, which is really the most sincere form of flattery.

Yes, this is a SLASH story--don't like, don't read--but no gratuitous aardvarking will be graphically described (shucks!). The main pairing is Harry/Cedric (light snogging only, Harry's still underage and Cedric is the perfect gentleman), with a dash of het Draco Malfoy/Other Character (a MUGGLE! Oh, the shame!), implied Hermione/Ron and Susan Bones/Justin Finch-Fletchley.

One last thing...I'm not English, so please excuse any flaws in the titles. Or, if any of you from across the pond want to help out, I'd be glad to have your input. Now, I hope that you enjoy my little story!

Once Upon a Cedric: Prologue

"Sir, I think we've isolated the crux point."

"Confidence level?" The officer in command of the installation barked a question at the speaker, breaking off his previous conversation instantly.

"Point niner six four and rising, sir."

"Very good. Let's see it." The officer turned to face the enormous central view screen.

Most of the eyes in the room turned with him, Muggle and Wizard alike straining to make out the vague images which flickered and danced there.

"Oh, for the love of Merlin! Can't we do better than this? Is there any way to clean up that picture?" the commanding officer asked irritably.

Several technicians bent over their consoles, hurriedly adjusting the controls in an attempt to satisfy their commander. Three others took out their wands, nodded to each other, and focused their energies on the screen. Within moments, their combined efforts bore fruit.

They were looking at a graveyard. A large cauldron sat just off center of the screen, with two young men standing on one side and a shabbily-dressed man on the other. None of the figures were moving.

The commander looked at the screen thoughtfully. "Coordinates?" he asked.

The first technician answered immediately. "Crux point minus five seconds and holding, sir. Confidence level now point niner eight niner and climbing. The computers estimate confidence approximating unity within the next six to nine minutes, General.

Major (the Honorable) Sir Neville Longbottom, Lord Longbottom, OBE, turned to the woman who stood beside him. "Well, Hermione, it looks like you were right after all. Diggory's death was the crucial turning point."

Professor Dame Hermione Granger-Weasley pursed her lips but remained silent as she continued to study the view screen. After a moment, she turned and addressed one of several persons standing around the periphery of a large, open area just behind the command level.

"Draco, are your people ready?" she asked.

Lord Sir Draco Malfoy, Earl Malfoy, nodded his affirmation and then raised his single arm, wand held high. His eyes twinkled in his horribly burned and scarred face as he turned to the young Muggle seated just to his right. While his wounds prohibited him giving her anything remotely resembling a smile, his ruined voice was light when he addressed her.

"Lieutenant, I think you can begin the power ramp-up cycle now."

The young woman smiled up at the scarred man. If she noticed his wounds, she gave no sign when she answered. "Of course, me lord. Power-up protocols initiated." Her hands played across her station with easy confidence, not stopping even as she quietly asked the Earl a question over the thrum of generators spooling up.

"Draco, do you really think we can pull this off?"

Malfoy turned from his inspection of the magical symbols which had begun to glow softly on the floor. "Sally, if I didn't think we could do this, I wouldn't be here."

Sally snorted, even as Malfoy went back to his inspection of the glowing symbols. "And where else would you be, Lord Malfoy? Certainly not at that pile of rubble you call Malfoy Manor."

Without looking at her, he answered. "I'd probably be somewhere in deepest, darkest Canada, or perhaps America; hiding as deeply and completely as I possibly could. Hopefully, with you there with me." He didn't have to look at her to feel her smile.

Suddenly, red lights began flashing and a wailing alarm sounded.

"Intruder Alert! We have unidentified personnel appariting in just outside the perimeter. Multiple contacts, I repeat multiple contacts appariting in!" A tall man in robes touched his ear bug as he gave the report.

"They're on to us!" A single voice cut through the immediate rumble, impossible to locate but filled with terror.

Major Longbottom was snapping orders even before the young wizard completed his announcement. "Initiate complete base lock-down, now! Even number security teams to secure the portal room, odd numbers to the perimeter. Deploy automated defenses, lethal force is authorized. I repeat: lethal force is authorized." He turned to Hermione.

"How long before we can pull him out?" His voice was quiet, measured…anxious.

Before she answered, she glanced down at the PDA she held, then over at the young lieutenant next to Draco. When the lieutenant shook her head slightly, Hermione sighed and turned back.

"At least another four minutes, Neville. We have to have that long just to get Cedric. Then, we have to move him to safety before they…before he gets here." Her voice was low, insistent.

Major Longbottom looked thoughtful, considering his options. Looking around, he let the data on the progress of the battle for the complex flow over him. Monitor screens showed frantic efforts to repel wand-wielding figures, while several servicemen were reporting portals opened at various points with heavy armor coming through. He might have enough strength to hold…or he might not. It was going to be a close call either way.

Suddenly Neville's attention was pulled to one particular screen that showed an imposing figure in black surrounded by a circle of blood-red robes. The shock of hair on the black-garbed figure was white-shot black, and the scar on his forehead glowed a sickly crimson. Brilliant green eyes flashed hotly in the screen before it went abruptly, irrevocably dark.

"Harry," he breathed, and then reached a decision. He reached into his jacket, pulled out a small key that had hung around his neck. Wordlessly, he walked to a nearby control station, flipped back a yellow striped cover, inserted the key and turned it one quarter turn clockwise. He studiously ignored the shocked looks from those personnel around him as touched a control.

"Attention, all personnel. This is Major Longbottom. The use of tactical nuclear weapons is now authorized. I repeat, the use of tactical nuclear weapons is now authorized. Rules of Engagement Case Omega are now in effect, repeat Case Omega. I say again, Case Omega Rules are now active. I know you will all do your best. Godspeed and God bless.

For the briefest of moments, silence fell in the control room; then, the frantic rush of sound returned. Neville turned to Hermione, who was standing silently, watching him with her head cocked to one side.

"I can buy you five minutes, Hermione, but they won't come cheaply. More than that, I can't guarantee." Grimly, he turned back to monitor the battle raging outside.

Dame Weasley nodded, then turned to Draco and Sally. "All right, let's make sure everything's in order. We should have a high enough confidence level to begin the initial spell work now. Draco, if you would…?" she indicated for the scarred man to begin.

Malfoy nodded, and his wand began to move as he started to chant under his breath. Around the now brightly glowing circle of runes and symbols, other wizards also raised their wands and began their own chants. Meanwhile, almost as many Muggles under Sally's direction monitored their instruments, guiding an ever-increasing flow of power into the circle. The hum of the generators and other equipment rose steadily, as did the voices of the chanting witches and wizards.

The command area's screens, those that were still working, showed scenes from an antechamber of Hell. Men, women, machines, giants, dragons and other beasts; all fought and died along a steadily-shrinking perimeter. Once, twice, a third time all of the screens flashed a brilliant white; each time, fewer and fewer came back on line. Each time the screens flashed, the power in the room flickered for an instant, then steadied. There might have been a shudder in the ground with each flash, but everyone in the portal room was too busy with their own tasks to notice.

"Perimeter collapse is imminent! Prepare to resist base incursion!"

Neville Longbottom watched with growing dismay as the men and women under his command sold themselves dear. The enemy was having to fight for every inch, and his troops were literally stepping forward over the bodies of their fallen comrades. Still, they were stepping forward, albeit slowly. He guessed that enemy troops would be at the portal room blast doors within two, perhaps three minutes.

He turned to find Hermione looking back and forth between the monitors, the main viewer, and the now blindingly glowing circle behind him. The whine of the generators was almost unbearable, and he could barely hear the chanting over the generators and the other noises in the room.

"Hermione, if you and Draco are going to do anything, it had better be soon," he almost-yelled over the tumult. He saw her nod, then turned away once more.

"Draco!" Hermione yelled. "Start the final spells now!" Her eyes flicked to a screen that showed a huge form lumbering up to the blast door that opened onto the far end of the room. The screen blanked before she could identify what it was, but then she heard the meter-thick door ring like a bell as something struck it.

Malfoy must have heard her, for abruptly his wand motions dramatically changed. Orange, yellow and red bursts of energy leapt from his wand, racing around and dueling with the luminous blue glow of the floor symbols. Faster and faster the different colors traced out the intricate patterns, creating an almost hypnotic effect. The regular pounding on the blast door became a rhythmic counterpoint to the chanting and now-screaming generators. Just as the pitch of the generators was about to climb out of the range of human hearing, Draco jerked his arm straight up with a final shout….


Meanwhile, in the cemetery, at a confidence interval of greater than point niner niner six:

"Kill the spare."

"Avada Kedavra!"

A brilliant flash of light blinded Harry Potter for a fraction of a second as Wormtail cast the Killing Curse at Cedric Diggory. When Harry's vision cleared, he saw…

Next Chapter: The End of the Tail? OR Cedric Falls and Busts His Bum (oh Merlin, that was awful, wasn't it?)

Another A/N: Review if you like, or don't, as you will. Yes, I'm my own beta (as if you couldn't tell!). No, I don't particularily want to be flamed. No, your comments probably won't change me, my writing style, the story, or my underwear. Yes, I want to hear how marvelous you think I am. No, I am NOT allergic to chocolate in any way/shape/form/fashion. Yes, I can be bribed...cheaply. Yes, the bulk of this story is already finished with fifteen chapters, but may drag on for another few more. Yes, I'll be posting a chapter every day or so, depending on computer and chocolate status (the computer is dying, btw...). Yes, I love you all. Yes, I'd like to thank the Academy, and all of the little people who made this award possible....