I want to thank everyone who waited patiently (even those of you who waited impatiently) for an update to this story. It's been a long time coming and I hope you all enjoy it.
I want to give credit to several people for the amazing covers to my fics and they go to: Ginger001, Dhfreak and Hazycrazy.
I also want to thank those of you who let me know that in one of my other fics (Something About Hermione) I spelled Blaise Zabini's name incorrectly.
I own nothing and make no money
Cedric found himself staring intently at anything other than the Headmaster. The high- domed ceiling held his interest for a while, but it wasn't long before the wall beyond Dumbledore's shoulders attracted his attention. On it, hung several portraits of Headmasters of old, and many were openly curious, their eyes flickering back and forth between the two students. A few even openly snickered and Cedric glared defiantly back at the nasty buggers; damn portraits! When defiantly trying to out-stare those framed buzzards became pointlessly passé, he began a studious examination of the Sorting Hat whose brim was slightly cock-eyed instead of lying flat on the shelf. It took several seconds of serious scrutiny on the object for him to realize that the reason it was cock-eyed had nothing to do with it being slightly set eschew when put down, but because it had been giving him a prolonged, audacious wink! Cedric found this highly disturbing and switched his gaze abruptly to something less unnerving or less animate for that matter. He discovered that the ancient carpet really was quite lovely – from India if he wasn't very much mistaken – as he marveled at the unparalleled craftsmanship thinking how much his mum would have loved it.
Thinking on his mum brought a terrible tightness to his chest. From the time he'd been a young lad, his mum had been his salvation for a vast array of reasons, and being the cause of any type of pain or unhappiness to her was just about going to tear out his guts. She didn't see him as the 'incredibly prestigious Head Boy' or 'Hogwarts rightful champion'. Both useless titles his father had been using often of late while introducing him to whoever happened to be in their vicinity. It seemed like he never wearied of waxing lyrical when it came to his only child. His mum, on the other hand, allowed him to be exactly what he was: her son – nothing more and nothing less.
His father's reaction upon hearing this news didn't even bear thinking on. While it wasn't in Amos Diggory's nature to lose his temper, Cedric was still pretty certain that in his own way his father was going to experience a serious conniption. The inevitable fall-out would come in the form of a dragon-load of disillusioned looks and disgruntled sighs of disappointment. It was completely unacceptable for the son of Amos Diggory to let him down in any way, shape, or form. Perfection was expected – demanded almost – and while it was something Cedric had learned how to deal with long ago it sure did get tiresome.
The clearing of a throat made Cedric's eyes snap up to the Headmaster's face. The older wizard was sitting motionless behind his desk. Gone was the laughing twinkle in those ancient steel-blue eyes and an unfamiliar frown could be seen peeking out beyond the depths of his long, fluffy white beard. This did not look good.
"This is most unexpected." Cedric winced slightly when the wizard he admired so greatly continued gravely, "And, most unacceptable."
Nope, not good at all. Cedric shuffled uncomfortably from side to side and braced himself for some really bad news. A reminder that he was not alone in this predicament came in the form of a quiet, anguished sob drawing his attention to the girl standing next to him. He didn't need to look at Hermione to see how distressed the Headmaster's statements had been to her and she was trying so valiantly to be brave too; he could tell.
It must be as novel an experience for her as it was for him to be summoned into this chamber for a good dressing down. Like him, she could probably count on her one hand – and not use all of the fingers – the number of times she'd been called here. And, more than likely, none of them had been for disciplinary reasons either.
Cedric clenched his hands tightly where they rested at the base of his spine when another muffled cry reached his ears. His heart went out to her, it really did, and he was desperately wracking his brain trying to come up with the right words to free Hermione of the majority of the punishment that was sure to be coming their way. Cedric had read Hogwarts: A History enough times to know that, although they were infrequent occurrences, and heavily frowned upon, physical confrontations had occurred in the past.
If he was remembering rightly, back in 1864 Charis Hemmelfeth had been stripped of her title of Prefect due to a similar incident. It was of small comfort to him that it had been a Professor who had been on the receiving end of Miss Hemmelfeth's ire instead of another classmate. Charis had been severely punished for her unseemly – and supposedly unwarranted –attack on said Professor, but she hadn't been expelled. And, right now, Cedric was clinging onto that fact like a life-line.
Biting his lip in consternation, Cedric risked a glance at Hermione, and then inwardly heaved a gigantic groan of despair. Could she look any worse? They might have been able to get away with a 'there had been an argument' or a 'slight disagreement.' as explanation of this horrendous debacle. A bit of prevarication wouldn't have been amiss in this situation. But there was no way that was going to pan out. There could be no doubt whatsoever that she had been indulging in some serious brawling. Cedric grimaced when he recognized that the dried patch at the corner of her mouth was blood, his blood. Little minx had bit him but good; his arm was still stinging.
It didn't help their case any that Hermione'd had her eyes guiltily glued to the floor since they'd stationed themselves in front of Dumbledore's massive desk. And it certainly didn't look good for either of them that the hem of his less-than pristine shirt fell an inch or two from the tops of her knees looking more like an ill-fitting, mangy dress than part of a school uniform. But, at least now it was buttoned up, effectively covering her disturbing nakedness. While the length made it seem as if she wore nothing underneath, his rational mind was well aware that her skirt was there, but the baser part of him couldn't help but ruminate on the delightful possibilities if that were not the case. Cedric choked back a stupefied cough.
What the hell was wrong with him? Was he really standing here having lascivious thoughts about Granger? It wasn't even as if she looked all that attractive right now anyway. She was a right mess! Still, there was nothing wrong with her legs; they'd at least escaped somewhat unscathed. Sure there were a few patches of brush burned skin on her knees but nothing that detracted from their shapeliness. Her calves weren't too shabby either. He just wished he'd had an opportunity to catch a glimpse of her thighs before they'd been concealed by the tails of his oxford, but he'd bet his last sickle that they were as amazing as the rest of her.
Good Godric's ghost! This was positively ridiculous! It was apparent that even while in the presence of the Headmaster, and just moments away from being raked over the coals, that he was still a disgusting pig. And, what about Cho? Cho, who did have plenty going for her in the looks department hadn't been this much of a distraction and that right there was saying something. But, more importantly, Cho was his girlfriend. His sexy sexy and beautiful girlfriend and he damn well shouldn't have to continually remind himself of that fact.
Yes sir, he'd better start thinking long and hard about his sexy and beautiful girlfriend Cho who was lying in the Hospital Wing, and not so much on Granger who wasn't beautiful – at least not by the established definition of beauty. Not to mention the fact that –and here was the important part – Granger wasn't his girlfriend. So, sexual thoughts about her were inappropriate and degraded his relationship with Cho, who was his girlfriend and beautiful ta-boot. Booting himself in the arse: hard, seemed like as good an option as any at this point in time.
Hermione really wanted to wipe her nose, but she was still wearing Cedric's shirt, and though it was worse for wear, she was loath to ruin it any further. If she'd had her wand she would have mended it. She wasn't one to go around looking mussed and rumpled. It didn't even dawn on her that mussed and rumpled were mild words compared to the actual picture she presented.
She chanced a glance at Cedric from the corner of her lowered eyes. His own were traveling all over the place settling briefly here and then briefly there as if frantically searching for an exit; fat chance on that happening. Hermione had been in this particular room enough times to know that there was only one way out and she doubted very much they'd get the opportunity to use it until the Headmaster deemed it time.
After closer inspection, she found herself having to bite back a string of hysterical giggles at just how ridiculous Mr. Always-Beautifully-Put-Together-And-Perfectly-Coiffed was looking. Professor McGonagall's feminine-cut robes barely managed to traverse the distance across the expanse of his well-defined chest, and they bunched up tightly around his shoulders giving him a slight hunchback that Hermione found incredibly funny. The billowy sleeves managed to cling at his elbows leaving his tanned, muscular forearms bare. Nasty, wicked looking red marks marred their once pristine appearance, and Hermione felt no remorse at all at having put them there. Fact was she was hoping she'd dug deep enough to scar so that he'd have visual evidence for the rest of his life of just what an awful arse he really was!
Cedric's incomparably beautiful nose would not be suffering the same fate. Madame Pomfrey had pleaded with the Headmaster on Cedric's behalf fearing that if it wasn't taken care of immediately that it might retain its crooked semblance. Personally, Hermione wouldn't have been at all sorry if Cedric Diggory – Hufflepuff's Hot Head Boy – would have had to have walked the halls of Hogwarts sporting a crooked snout.
Everything that had happened was all of his doing, the lousy git! So, in her opinion, it would have been poetic justice if his nose had ended up as messed up as his brain. Although she doubted that the rest of the female population of the school would have agreed with her, even if he did deserve it.
If he'd just shown up for his tutoring session as planned, she never would have gone looking for him and that nasty bint Cho wouldn't have had the chance to goad her into – of all things – attacking her. Sure, she'd given Malfoy a good one Third year, but he'd deserved it. Come to think of it, so had Cho. Not that she was making excuses for herself. She was quite aware that what she'd done was inexcusable, but it was still all Cedric's fault! It all boiled down to him.
Hermione's mind frantically raced through similar incidents that might have occurred in Hogwarts past. There was that incident with Charis Hemmelfeth. She'dattacked an actual Professor back in the day and received, in her opinion, a light sentence. Thankfully, she hadn't been expelled. Hermione could deal with detention for three months straight and she could even handle a massive loss of House points although her House would be seeing red on that. She didn't play Quidditch, so being kicked from the team wouldn't go against her. Charis Hemmelfeth had lost all of that plus her Prefect status. That was a concern of Hermione's. She knew she'd make a fine Prefect and eventually, if she worked hard enough, Head Girl as well. It had been her dream since First year. The possibility that she'd be able to reach those goals now was depressingly slim.
Finally, the wizard seated across from them spoke again, "Mr. Diggory, your record here with us has, thus far, has been exemplary."
Oh, boy, here we go, Cedric thought with dread.
"You have been a model student and a testament to all those who esteem and look to you as a leader and follow your example."
Oh, Merlin… this was going to be worse than bad.
"This is not the first time this term that there has been trouble, if I am not mistaken, Mister Diggory?"
The Headmaster had formulated it as a question, but they both knew it was a rhetorical one at best.
Gulping, Cedric answered quietly, "No, sir."
"I believe the previous situation in which involved you and a fellow Hufflepuff had been easily dispatched by Professor Sprout. Correct?"
"Uh, yes sir," Cedric agreed, with a brief but respectful nod.
"Angry words are often spoken between classmates and friends, are they not," Dumbledore pointed out in a reasonable manner. "Other than words, nothing else had been exchanged between you?"
What exactly did Dumbledore expect him to say? Of course people argued, even friends. Cedric sighed quietly. It was also true that he and Scott hadn't come to blows, but it had been a very near thing. If several of their team-mates hadn't stepped in, well … Cedric didn't even really want to contemplate on what might have happened. As it was, with no modesty whatsoever, Scott had stripped himself of his Quidditch uniform in front of the entire team.
Cedric pulled ineffectually at the teams' arms and hands who were keeping him from his objective: Scott Summers. He pulled and pushed intent on getting through so he could whip the berks arse, but they all held firm.
"Let up, Ced" Zach beseeched his furious captain. "It isn't worth it! Come on; let's focus on the team." Zach continued to plead his case, "That's what's important here… the team!" "Please!"
Susan held her breath. Would he listen? Would he? She really hoped so. He was the best captain this team had ever had – if one didn't count today's mess – and losing him would be a terrible blow. She darted a swift glance at Scott. Justin had a restraining hand on his shoulder, although it looked as if it wasn't needed.
Other than breathing really hard, and carrying a fierce expression on his face, Susan was relieved to see that their star Chaser seemed to have gotten it together. No small feat considering how volatile Scott was known to be when vexed. They'd all been witness to it, but he'd never taken his ire out on an actual person, let alone, a team mate and friend.
Generally, he'd punch a wall or barrel into a locker until his frustration was spent. Ced didn't exactly approve of Scott's form of venting, but as long as he paid for any damages he'd let it slide. Being a close mate, he knew Scott well enough to know that he needed some sort of outlet for his over the top disappointment whenever they'd lose.
Cedric drew in a deep breath and then ceased all of his combative struggles. Once they were certain that the worst of the storm was over, all hands fell away. Zach, however, retained a watchful eye and stuck close to Ced's side in case a buffer would be needed again. But, thankfully, it seemed as if the fight had gone out of both boys.
They all watched in stunned silence as Scott toed off his boots and then stripped off his jersey and then his trousers. The last of which landed in Susan's line of vision where she had been fervently examining the floorboards and no doubt hoping that he was wearing undergarments.
Out of the corner of his eye Cedric had seen Justin reaching for an unused bath sheet guessing correctly that he was going to offer it the now former Chaser.
"I don't want the damn thing!" Scott had exclaimed shortly. "I want nothing, nothing from the likes of him."
Susan had almost lifted her head at that point and then seemed to catch herself. Things were awkward enough as it was without her catching an unintentional sneak peek at Scott's masculine bits.
"In case you're wondering, we're no longer mates. You and me… we're through."
It was a cringe-worthy statement and Cedric did his best to keep from showing everyone in the room just how much Scott's statement had affected him.
"Fine by me," was Cedric's laconic response. "It isn't as though you've been much of a friend lately anyway."
Scott ducked his head refusing to meet anyone's quizzical gaze and muttered with great reluctance, "Can't fault you on that one."
Then, he turned his back on Cedric and headed toward the locker room door naked as the day he was born.
An ear-splitting 'SNAP' had his team-mate's heads whipping back in his direction faster than a Nimbus 2000. Everyone went completely motionless, and their eyes widened in disbelieving shock at what they saw. Cedric Diggory had taken his beloved broom and with his bare hands had broken it in half as if it had been nothing more than an ancient, brittle piece of driftwood.
End of Flashback
Yeah, that right there had been quite the scene. It had irked him mightily that Scott had driven him to the point that he'd actually destroyed his broom. Still, Cedric could concede that his former friend –even naked – had managed to make a dignified exit. Which, was more than could have been said for his own. He'd stalked off to the captains' office, muttering and grumbling the entire length of the room, slamming the door with such force that it had rattled the glass, coming alarmingly close to shattering it. Yeah, real mature there, Diggory.
Cedric's thoughts were interrupted when Dumbledore, questioned with a slightly raised eyebrow, "Everyone came out unscathed, did they not?" Without pausing to wait for an answer, he continued, sounding exceedingly disappointed, "A pity the same cannot be said for this situation." In what seemed to Cedric like a complete turnabout, he then remarked, "None of us is, after all, perfect. Is that not so Mister Diggory?"
"I suppose not." Cedric muttered, confused as hell with this conversation.
The Headmaster clasped his hands together and pressed his forefingers lightly to his lips while gracing Cedric with a contemplative stare before saying gravely, "In truth, Mister Diggory you ought to be dismissed as Hogwarts' Tri-Wizard champion." Cedric cringed. "However, seeing as the Cup chose you to represent the school in the Tournament, and the rules are absolute, you will not be required to do so. To your credit, up until this point, you have managed to exemplify all the fine qualities attributed to Hogwarts. Based upon that fact; had it been within my power to disqualify you, I would not have."
Cedric was astonished at his good fortune and would have jumped for joy if he hadn't thought it would have gotten him into more trouble. Then Dumbledore said, sounding much more severe.
"It does grieve me to inform you that this fortuitous state of affairs will not, however, follow you into your Seventh year."
What did the Headmaster mean? Cedric needn't have worried because he wasn't left to wonder for long. At Dumbledore's next words, Cedric's head whipped back as if he'd been struck.
"You will be stripped of all the titles you now hold upon the beginning of your Seventh year here at Hogwarts. You will relinquish not only your Head Boy status but that of Captain of Hufflepuffs' Quidditch team as well."
Cedric's eyes filled with unabashed tears. Losing the team captaincy hurt more than anything else. His team meant more to him than any Head Boy duties and certainly more than being Hogwarts champion.
With something akin to sympathy in his faded blue eyes, Dumbledore continued, "Due to the severity of the situation House points will also be taken."
Oh no! Cedric was past utter dejection. Bad enough to lose the captaincy – that was killing blow all on its' own – but House points too in conjunction with all those other things? His fellow Badgers were going to murder him. They'd been ahead of all the other Houses by a good 170 points; up until now that is.
"Yes," Dumbledore reiterated with a solemn nod of his head at Cedric's stricken expression. "For Gryffindor as well." Cocking his head to side in contemplation, he laid it out for them. "I believe 100 points should suffice. Each."
Cedric's jaw dropped about the same time that Hermione let out a startled squeak causing Dumbledore's gaze to abruptly swivel toward her.
"Ah, Miss Granger," he began, as if he'd forgotten her existence. "Lemon drop," Dumbledore offered the bewildered witch, pushing an odd-shaped dish across the desktop.
Hermione blinked. Candy? He was asking her if she wanted candy? And, was that a… gas cap?
"No, thank-you sir," she whispered shakily, her voice reed thin.
"As you wish," he demurred, while popping one into his mouth. After he rolled it around a time or two, he said, "Your discipline, Miss Granger will be of quite a different nature not withstanding the House points."
Hermione shivered, her bottom lip trembling uncontrollably. She had no way of knowing what was coming next, but she was fearful that the thing she wanted most was going to be denied her.
The sharp urgency in Cedric's voice captured both their attention, and though the Headmaster inclined his head slightly in query, he did not look in the least perturbed at being so rudely interrupted.
"I… uh… umm… er…"
"Yes, Mister Diggory? You have something you would like to say?"
Flustered, Cedric answered probably more aggressively than he should have given the circumstances. "Yes, sir… I do!"
"Very well then," Dumbledore conceded, "continue."
Swallowing hard, Cedric exclaimed in a great rush of words, "It was all my fault, Headmaster! I take complete and full responsibility! Hermione is blameless!"
"Is she," Dumbledore questioned, setting his gaze on the stunned young woman. Then with a slight twitch to his lips, he remarked casually, "She looks far from blameless from where I sit, Mr. Diggory."
Hermione blushed to the roots of her tangled, matted-with-blood mass of hair. Unsteady hands attempted to straighten out the wrinkled and soiled shirt, alternately pulling and smoothing at the material in an attempt to look more presentable. All she managed to really do was make Cedric clear his throat uneasily and frantically search for anything to look at other than how that damnable tugging was molding his shirt tightly over her chest.
"Miss Granger," Hermione ceased her futile attempts at grooming herself, "is what Mr. Diggory says accurate? Are you blameless?"
Hermione would really have liked to have given her whole-hearted assurance, but she just couldn't out-an-out lie to the wizard staring so seriously and expectantly back at her. His good opinion was one of the few that meant a great deal to her. So, either way she answered his question she was screwed.
"Not exactly, sir," she mumbled through stiff lips. Perhaps if she left it at that she wouldn't look so bad.
"I see," Dumbledore sighed, sounding tired. "I think you should both know that when Miss Chang was Rennervated by Madame Pomfrey she absolved Mister Diggory of all wrong-doing."
A slight smile graced the Headmaster's lips at the simultaneous exclamation of the two students before him; both sounding unbelievably incredulous.
Nodding his head, Dumbledore continued, "Indeed. By Miss Chang's account, the only thing you are guilty of, Mr. Diggory is of dallying with Miss Chang in the Head Boys' quarters." Cedric wished the floor would open up and swallow him. That's how bloody embarrassed he was. Why in the world would she tell them about their heated snogging session? "Whereas, by Miss Chang's reckoning, the entire incident was precipitated by Miss Granger who attacked her without provocation."
"That's a lie," the students exclaimed passionately, both leaning forward in their urgency.
At hearing themselves once again speak in sync, they turned toward each other; Cedric's eyes were apologetic at Cho's blatant lie, while Hermione glared at him with outraged anger, clearly blaming him for his girlfriend's falsehood.
"I see," was all the Headmaster said, with a slight twinkle in his eyes that neither teen saw. "Mister Diggory, you are dismissed."
Cedric's head swiveled back to the older wizard. Huh? What? He could leave? What about Hermione? Cho had been far from the innocent, blameless victim she'd presented herself as. He really needed to clear up this misconception and fast!
As if reading his thoughts – and for all Cedric knew, he was – Dumbledore said, "Have no fear, Mr. Diggory I am acquainted with the truth of the matter."
"Oh," was Cedric's monosyllabic reply. Still not wanting to leave Dumbledore in any doubt on the true nature of events, he asked, "Then you know that the only reason Hermione got into a fight was because Cho goaded her into it?"
"I am aware," the Headmaster agreed, once more appearing quite grave which left Cedric with the impression that in, whatever way possible, Dumbledore knew of the terrible names that Cho had called Hermione. "You can safely leave Miss Granger in my hands."
What else was there for him to do? He'd been given his punishment and been dismissed. Yet, for some reason, he really didn't want to go; he didn't want to leave Hermione alone even with Dumbledore's guarantee still ringing in his ears. What to do?
"Mr. Diggory, please see yourself to the door."
The finality and firmness of that one sentence was the deciding factor for Cedric. Did he really want to go? Hell, no! Did he have a choice? Another resounding… hell no! But what could he do? The Headmaster couldn't have made his wishes much more plain. Should he pretend to be oblivious to Dumbledore's cues?
Guess not, Cedric thought, noting the severe warning gleam in the older wizards' eyes which matched the somber timber of his voice.
"Yes, sir," Cedric grunted, reluctantly. As he turned to leave, he whispered out of the corner of his mouth, "Good luck, Granger."
Hermione, didn't even deign to look his way, just gave a disdainful sniff. Even though he was awfully certain she wouldn't welcome it, he briefly brushed her hand in passing as a gesture of support and comfort. At that, she gave him a quick side-long peek, and was that a smidge of gratitude he saw in those mournful brown eyes?
Cedric wasn't able to thoroughly decipher it because Dumbledore cleared his throat meaningful and said just before Cedric reached the gleaming wooden chamber door.
"Mr. Diggory… although you may be tempted to visit, Miss Chang in the infirmary I strongly suggest that you do not. According to Madame Pomfrey, she is sleeping soundly after having been giving a calming draught."
Cedric gave a momentary nod of his head as acknowledgment of Dumbledore's suggestion.
During the short ride down the winding staircase, Cedric's thoughts were all for Hermione and her distressing circumstances. He hoped that he'd done enough to persuade the Headmaster of her relative guiltlessness. As he made his exit through the guardian gargoyle, the last thing on his mind was Cho Chang.
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