I hope no one keels over from shock at the fact that I have finally updated a story.

I just want to say thank-you for being patient and sticking with me and my fics! I also want to say thanks for all the reviews and to let you know I haven't answered because I couldn't, but now that I have a comp up and running I will remedy that situation. I could have used my cell but it's hell trying to write anything of length on it.

Here are my excuses for lack of updates (lol):

1) I had a computer that worked, and then I didn't, and then I did, and then I didn't again and now I do. Hopefully it stays that way.

2) My personal life was all-consuming, and I needed to take care of lots of issues with lots of people, and when things are rough in RL the last thing that's on my mind is fanfic, and the creative juices take a holiday.

I suppose that's it, so here we go and I hope you like it! I own nothing and make no money.

Chapter 6 (I think)

"How could he," Hermione demanded angrily, lowering her wand in a dejected manner. "Saying such horrid things, and… and making all those nasty insinuations!" Hermione spun around to face him and Cedric was totally taken off guard by the trail of tears slipping down her miserable face. "How could he," she asked again, and the stark pain he heard motivated him to take her trembling form into his arms.

Gathering her close, Cedric cupped the back of her head pressing her face more firmly into his chest. "It's all right, Hermione." He placed a small kiss on her temple before saying gently, "I'm sure he didn't mean it."

Twisting the fabric of his shirt in her small hand, Hermione murmured, "Out of Harry and Ron, I've always felt closest to Harry and to hear those awful accusations coming from him was completely revolting and so hurtful!" Tilting her head, she gazed at him with bewildered, tear-drenched eyes, and asked, "Where in the world did all of that come from?"

She was breathtakingly beautiful, even like this with her sweet little face all splotchy and mournful. Using his thumb, Cedric gently wiped away her tears while reveling in the smooth warmth of her skin. Soft, she was so soft, and it wasn't just her skin either. Everything about this marvelous woman was soft; from her out of control mass of glory to the luscious body he still held, and while those things about her were monumentally enticing it didn't compare by a long shot with how enamored he was by the softness of this special witch's heart.

"He's frightened," Cedric casually informed her while pushing back a damp strand of hair that had come loose from its tight coil.

"Frightened," Hermione echoed incredulously. "I don't understand.

A small smile settled briefly on Cedric's lips. "Come," he commanded with quiet determination, drawing her back to the sitting area and settling her on the couch before saying, "You and Potter have been in each others confidence for years, yeah?" Hermione nodded. "You've stood steadfastly by his side all of that time even when others didn't and you believed in him implicitly; that sort of unconditional devotion leaves an indelible mark and is rarer than hens' teeth." Hermione let out short giggle. Turning serious once more, Cedric stated with grim assurance, "That's why I don't think Potter really meant what he said. You've probably been the mainstay of his life up to this point. He's just afraid he'll lose that, afraid he'll lose you; that's all."

"That's crazy," Hermione exclaimed. "How could he even entertain such a daft notion? After all this time he should know… know without question that that is an absolutely ridiculous idea!"

"Fear tends to make us do and say crazy, inexplicably ridiculous things," he continued with a tender grin while grazing his knuckles along the length of her face. "And, is it? Is it really so ridiculous, Hermione? His fear of losing you?"

Hermione blinked in astonishment. A knot began to form at the base of her throat choking her with its intensity. Swallowing hard, she rapped out her answer clearly and concisely. "Yes."

There, she'd said it even though it might be the end of her burgeoning relationship with the wizard sitting next to her with his head now lowered so that she couldn't see his expression. Hermione felt a sudden deep, sharp pang of regret.

"Cedric," Hermione began hesitantly, afraid but determined, "I'll never, never turn my back on Harry. He might be a massive git every once in awhile, like just now, and I might give him the most almighty hex of his life the next time I see him, but that doesn't change the fact that he's an integral part of my life." She paused briefly and then finished her explanation sounding slightly tortured, "He's my best friend even when he's being a louse. More importantly, he's my family and I love him."

Cedric's head whipped up and Hermione was held spell-bound by the fierce light in his steel grey eyes and the determined set of his beautifully molded mouth, and not for the first time she wondered if it would feel as satiny as it looked.

Cedric was tempted to give into her silent invitation; sorely tempted indeed, but he held himself in check because this needed to be said first. Clearly, Hermione was in a vulnerable state and he most definitely didn't want their first kiss to be marred by anything whatsoever. He wanted it to be perfection; the perfection he knew that it could and would be.

So, instead of following the primal instincts that were urging him forward, he forcefully shut them down and said, "I don't know Potter all that well and I can't lay claim to being able to discern what goes on behind those spectacles of his, but I do know what it's like to have someone believe in you totally. Believe in you to the extent that all else falls by the wayside; it can be intoxicating to the extreme, but it can also be a harrowing experience for both parties involved because it's very easy to take for granted and very hard to live up to all the expectations that go along with it."

Biting her lip, Hermione asked in a small voice, "You think I let Harry take me for granted? That I expect too much of him?"

Cedric's pristine brow scrunched up into a frown as he contemplated her questions. After a moment or two of trying to decide how best to answer without giving offence, he finally replied, "No, but I do believe that Potter takes for granted that he will always be the center of your world and that you haven't done anything to disabuse him of that belief. Because of this, I feel as if he expects your unwavering allegiance in all things to the point of not allowing others to be just as much of an integral part your life as he is which can lead to a very empty existence for you both, Hermione."

Now it was Hermione who lowered her eyes, confused by Cedric's summation of her relationship with the one person she knew she could trust and rely on without reservation. Were she and Harry really so co-dependent that it had turned into an exclusive and unhealthy bond? Did others see it the same way as Cedric? Hermione thought that Ginny might. She'd made mention of it more than once, but Hermione had just sloughed it off as silly, baseless jealousy. Come to think of it, the Weasley's in general seemed uncomfortable with their closeness and hadn't Mrs. Weasley expressed concern when she discovered that Hermione would be staying at Grimmauld over the Holidays.

At the time, Hermione put it down to Mrs. Weasley's qualms about her residing in the same place as Sirius who had gone back to his tomcatting ways. He no longer had to hide himself away now that his status as fugitive had been over-turned. But, maybe, just maybe there had been more to it than that.

Hermione was brought out of her silent reverie when Cedric took her hand and laced his fingers through her own and gave them a gentle squeeze. "Look at me, Hermione," Cedric softly commanded. When she did, he grinned that adorable lop-sided grin of his and said, "I'm not asking you to kick Potter to the curb." Hermione's entire body relaxed in relief. "I am, however, asking if you can make room for me; if I can become an 'integral part of your life' too? Is that possible?" Hermione's mouth fell open in surprise, and Cedric chuckled slightly at the confused excitement which settled on her sweet, piquant features.

To say that Hermione was stunned would be a bit of an understatement. Sure, she'd been wondering if this thing with Cedric could ever be something other than friendship, but in her heart of hearts she'd truly thought it only a remote possibility. He was just too gorgeous, too talented, too sought after, too everything, and up until now she'd thought far too unavailable to the likes of her. But, she'd been wrong on that score, and it showed in his eyes, in his face, in his very body language that he was, in fact, 100% interested.

Licking her lips, and attempting to speak over a heart that was pounding so loud that it was all she could hear in her ears, Hermione answered with a simplicity that was second nature. "Yes."

"Fabulous!" Was his equally simplistic reply, then all exuberance was wiped clean as his handsome face set with a look of staggering intensity. "I'm going to kiss you now," he proclaimed tightly, and Hermione's already rapidly speeding heart skipped a beat. "Ready?"

Hermione was so ready that it was acutely painful; she was that pitifully hungry for the touch and taste of his mouth. And, when it was only inches away from her own – he seemed to be taking so dreadfully long about it – she grabbed his collar and yanked him the rest of the way. Cedric was taken off guard, yes but pleasantly so and he didn't hesitate on setting about proving to her that he was just as eager as she.

Cedric's mouth was everything… everything she'd dreamed it would be, and so much more; Merlin… so much more! The taste, the texture and his technique were stunning and she moaned in rapture when he deepened the kiss. Maybe she should have been more circumspect, but she was feeling far from lady-like at the moment. Instead, she was feeling exquisitely alive and just his kiss was enough to make her aware of her own starved sexuality; she'd never given it much thought before. But, then again, Cedric Diggory had never snogged the daylights out of her like he was now.

She was outstandingly responsive, and Cedric almost lost it completely when she straddled his lap and fervently returned deep kiss for deep kiss. His senses were beguiled by the soft glide of her tongue moving sinuously against his own. He could taste the faintest hint of peppermint toothpaste and it made him want to gobble her up. His nose picked up the fragrance of her skin and hair; a heady combination of strawberry, vanilla and something that could only be the essence of Hermione, something warm and wanton. He wanted to touch her, badly. But, he didn't want to rush her or do something that might scare her off or offend her. But, by the Gods, he really wanted to touch her!

She settled his dilemma for him by slipping her hot hands through the opening of his shirt; he groaned deep in his throat as she began a tentative exploration of the strong column of his neck and shoulders. Without further ado or hesitation on his part, he settled one hand on the curve of her knee, his thumb idly stroking the silken flesh of her inner thigh. The other slid from the nape of her neck to her collar bone where the tips of his fingers brushed back and forth discovering by touch their delicate structure.

After a few moments of desperate snogging, Hermione pulled back reluctantly; her breathing harsh and her lips tingling and tender. Cedric was equally as winded and settled his forehead against Hermione's so as to catch his own breath all the while thinking he could cheerfully snog Miss Hermione Granger until the dragons came home!

"Well," Cedric chuckled, grazing the tip of his fine nose over Hermione's, "this isn't getting a bloody thing done in regard to Prefect meetings and such, now is it?"

Hermione nervously fingered a button of Cedric's shirt a second or so before mustering the courage to actually look him full in the face. His luminous eyes were dancing with amusement and barely repressed passion, and to Hermione he'd never looked more beautiful. While she, in comparison, must look an absolute fright with bits and pieces of frizzy hair hanging untidily about her over-heated face.

She hurriedly scrambled off his lap – when on earth had she done that? – and began trying to put her clothes to right. "What a mess I must look," Hermione exclaimed in embarrassed consternation. What must he think of her? Climbing all over him in such a fashion and… and attacking him like… like some common slag!

Cedric was extremely puzzled by Hermione's swift change of attitude and demeanor. One second they'd been locked in a magnificently heated embrace and the next she was beating a hasty retreat and moving as far from him as the couch would allow. Why?

"I'm sorry," she mumbled to the floor, confusing Cedric even more. "I don't usually… I'm not generally… I mean normally I'm not like that."

Like what, Cedric couldn't help but wonder. Then, realization struck and his heart swelled with compassion for this little witch who was so worried about being perceived as easy or loose. The very idea was downright absurd, and how in Merlin's beard didn't she know that? Hermione Granger was as principled as they came with nary a mark on her stellar reputation in regard to the male persuasion.

There'd been a time or two when her name had been bandied about the school. Namely in connection with Viktor Krum, but the fellow in question hadn't been the one casting it about. No, it had been jealous witches who had planted rumors and lies, but Cedric hadn't believed them. Anyone with half a brain could tell that the young witch hadn't been sleeping her way into the Bulgarian Seeker's affections.

Moving closer to where Hermione sat huddled up in a corner; Cedric sank to his knees in an effort to see her better which was a tough task because she was currently boring a hole in the carpet beneath her feet. Was she really that ashamed, that worried that he thought her behavior was too brazen? The silly chit, he mused with affection. Cedric grabbed her hand and was astonished to find the palm damp and her fingers cold as ice. The poor dear really was a wreck, and for no go reason at all!

"You know," he began reflectively, "there were two of us on this couch going crazy mad a few minutes ago. I don't generally go at it like that with someone, and I hope you don't think any less of me because of my lack of control."

The gratitude in Hermione's face made his little white lie worth while. In point of fact, he wasn't feeling in the least bit uncomfortable with their frenzied romp. It was true, in the past, that he didn't normally lose it like that at the beginnings of a relationship, but with her he just couldn't help himself.

"Not all," she assured him, her golden brown eyes wide with grave sincerity. "I was worried that you might think badly of me."

"Not at all," Cedric repeated her words back with equal gravity. "I think you're enchanting and sinfully sweet."

Hermione blushed, feeling both free from her anxious ruminations and overt elation at his forthright praise.

"Shall we begin work on those notes," he suggested, and Hermione let out a faint breath, grateful that they were once again getting back to a more innocuous task.

"Yes, lets," she agreed with a smile that lit up her face with a radiance that threw him off balance and made him want snog her until neither one of them could move.

Of course, he didn't follow up on those disturbing dictates of his mind and body; they'd indulged in enough of that for one day. Instead, he lent her a helping hand in rising from her seat – just as any gentleman would do – casually placing his arm around her slender waist as they made their way to the work table.

"Do you play," Cedric asked, after noticing the chess set still adorning the center of their destination.

Flushing, Hermione sheepishly admitted that she did not. "Harry and Ron play often, but I'm a mere bystander to the game. I had intended on removing it. That way there'd be more room for all the Prefects and plenty of space to spread out parchments and lists."

"Sound reasoning for when there are meetings," Cedric allowed before adding, "but, maybe when you aren't using it for those purposes I could teach you."

"I don't know," was Hermione's hesitant reply. "I'm not sure that I have the head for it. Ron's the clever one when it comes to chess."

"You don't say," Cedric shot back, totally astonished that Ronald Weasley had the ability to master the complex art of strategy required, and that Hermione doubted that she was clever enough to do the same.

Hermione slid a piece of parchment across the table – sitting across was much safer than side-by-side – then handed Cedric an extra quill from her bag. Not quite ready to give up on the chess issue, Cedric slyly suggested, "If you were to learn, and learn it well, imagine the expression on Weasley's face when you beat the school trousers off of him."

Biting the tip of her quill, Hermione tried pull up a picture in her minds eye of defeating Ron and what his reaction to that would be, and what she saw made her eyes snap with the gleam of justified retribution. Why not, she wondered. It would serve the git right. He'd been giving her the silent treatment since she'd informed that he'd have to depend on his own brain this year and not sponge off of hers.

"Let's do it," she exclaimed, the light of battle firmly set.

"Great," Cedric replied, mighty pleased that his suggestion was bearing fruit. "After we've finished here I'll give you you're first tutorial."

With that, they bent their heads to their respective parchments and while Hermione read over her prepared remarks –adding fresh notes here or there in the margin – Cedric wrote down his own ideas and suggestions from his days of having been Head Boy.

At one point, Cedric glanced over at Hermione who was so absorbed in her task that she'd forgotten about his very presence. He smiled when a tiny crease appeared between her fine eyebrows. She was such as odd mixture; on one hand a serious and dedicated swotty student, on the other, a naturally sensuous woman carrying in her a multitude of untapped womanly wiles. And, damn, if he wasn't utterly enthralled by them both!

Please excuse any mistakes, this was not beta'd. Reviews would be nice. ;o)