Dulce et decorum est - the sequel to Finding Himself - was never fully finished, although the bulk of the story IS complete, and there's a final "chapter" detailing how it was meant to end. Only a couple chapters were left.
Please don't write to ask if I'm going to finish it. The answer is "no," which is why I gave the ending. As noted, the bulk of the story (and anything significantly different from the way Book 6 ran) IS complete, and part of why it was never finished is that it would have differed very little from the book, and I was running out of steam due to time constraints, et al.
I have retired from writing fanfiction (at least for the foreseeable future). That said, I'm finally getting a copy of the sequel up on FF-net. Please note the original dates back to 2009/10. Because I'm retired, I don't necessarily respond to reviews, but I do still receive and read them, even if it's some weeks (or even months) after they've been left. Feel free to leave comments, and please accept my thanks in advance as I am unable to reply. There are eBook versions not only of this and Finding Himself, but a variety of other novels, including the other "Cedric Lives" series, Aorist Subjunctive, available online, and all my X-Men novels. FF-net won't permit URLs to be included, but a link is available on my profile page to the eBook library where they can be found.
Additionally, this novel is rated "adult," same as Finding Himself. Action takes up immediately where Finding Himself ended ...
No sooner had Cedric turned from bidding Harry goodbye for the summer at King's Cross Station than he was handed a very official-looking parchment by a young man dressed (badly) in Muggle clothes trying to make his way through the crowd to catch departing students and their families. The young man thrust a second parchment at Hermione. "Be sure your mum and dad see them, kids." And he hurried off. Cedric glanced down curiously.
Issued on Behalf of
THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC
PROTECTING YOUR HOME AND FAMILY
AGAINST DARK FORCES
The Wizarding community is currently under threat from an organization calling itself the Death Eaters. Observing the following simple ...
But Hermione was shoving the parchment into her pocket, muttering, "Put that away before mum and dad see it."
Cedric looked up. "Hermione, don't you think it's time to -"
"No. I don't."
They had no opportunity to discuss it because both sets of parents had spotted them and were making their way over - and seeing his mother, Cedric forgot about the leaflet. An accusation had been burning in his mind ever since Hermione had told him on the Hogwarts Express that she'd lost the baby even before Dolohov's curse had struck her during the fight.
"You knew she was pregnant. And you knew that destroying that painting would make her lose the baby."
Unfortunately he wasn't able to confront his mother immediately as the evening was already mapped out, the Grangers having invited the Diggorys back to their house for dinner and drinks. By the time Cedric and his parents returned to Ottery-St.-Catchpole, it was nearing midnight. Yet Cedric still couldn't speak with his mother alone because both parents wanted to discuss the Grangers and Voldemort. "Hermione can't keep them in the dark forever; I'm not comfortable lying to Helen," his mother said as they entered the house and headed for the dining room.
"It's not my decision to make," Cedric replied, defensive because he didn't agree with Hermione's choices either but was worried that if she did tell her parents, they'd pull her out of the Magical world altogether.
"You need to discuss it with Hermione," his mother said, sitting down at the table and calling for Berry to put the kettle on. "I know your worries, but Charles and Helen have a right to the truth."
"She's not of age, mum," he pointed out as he rolled up beside her in the empty spot left for his chair. "If her parents wanted to take off with her to . . . Australia or something . . . they could."
"Given the risk to her, can you blame them?" Amos asked, settling down on Cedric's other side.
"What - you'd agree with them?" Cedric asked.
"I agree that she's in danger. Think, Cedric - sending her out of Britain might be safest for her."
Irritated because his father was right, he snapped, "Isn't that letting Voldemort win by default? Exiling our Muggle-borns 'for their own safety'? The end result's the same, isn't it?"
"So you'd rather be justified than have Hermione be safe?" his mother asked, pale brows raised. "And I thought you said you loved her."
"I do love her!" Cedric snapped. "It's the principle of the thing!"
She snorted. "The 'principle of the thing' is the reply one gives when pride overrules common sense."
Pricked and spoiling for a fight, Cedric narrowed his eyes. "You want to separate us, don't you? A Muggle-born isn't good enough for me, after all."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, yes, I can't abide Muggles so of course I've been exchanging owls with Helen Granger since April."
That stopped him cold. "You have?"
"You assumed the Grangers just happened to have dinner ready for six and invited us over on the spur of the moment? Don't be silly. Helen invited us a week ago. I'm quite fond of her, which is why I dislikelying to her. Nor will I continue to do so. Now that Hermione is home, I expect her to tell her parents, Cedric. Or Amos and I will."
He glared between them but neither seemed willing to back down. "What if they take her away?" he asked, a bit more plaintively than he'd intended.
"Then you write to her until it's safe for her to return," his father replied, albeit gently, patting Cedric's hand. "And be grateful she's alive to write to." He sat up a little. "Besides, it's far from certain they'd leave the country, and we can help protect them. We didn't accept their dinner invitation tonight purely from politeness. Your mother and I set a number of protective charms and wards around their property."
"Do they know that?" Cedric asked.
"It's rather difficult to explain why we're warding their house against the Dark Lord if they believe the Dark Lord died almost fifteen years ago," his mother pointed out. "But it offers some measure of protection in addition to what Dumbledore already provided."
"Dumbledore warded them?"
She eyed him. "Cedric, he'd hardly leave the Muggle parents of Harry's close friend completely unprotected once the Dark Lord returned last summer. But he's been occupied since the attack on the Ministry and asked your father and I if we could visit and set stronger wards in the wake of the Dark Lord's recent, public advent. So I dropped a hint to Helen, and she picked up on it, inviting us to dinner. While we were there, Amos and I set wards. I'm still a bit concerned about their surgery, but I've arranged to meet Helen next week for a tour of the offices - curiosity, you know - and I'll ward that when I'm there. They'll be as safe as we can make them."
Cedric nodded, uncertain why he felt disgruntled; after all, he wanted the Grangers safe. Perhaps it was only that nobody had bothered to tell him these things until now. Abruptly his father dropped hands on the table and pushed himself to his feet. "I need to check the animals before bed. Ced, I'll see you in the morning. Lucy love, I'll be in shortly." He dropped a kiss on her cheek as he ambled out and Berry bustled in with the teapot.
"Master Amos not want tea?" the elf asked.
"Leave the kettle on, Berry," his mother said. "He went to the barn and may want some later."
Berry nodded as she poured for Cedric and his mother, then disappeared back into the kitchen. His mother reached for the sugar bowl and milk jug. Cedric watched but made no move towards either himself. "You knew she was pregnant," he said, wasting no time in getting to the matter that had been preying on him all evening. "You must have known she'd be pregnant after Beltane. And you knew that if you burned the painting, it'd kill the baby."
Sighing, his mother stirred sugar into her tea. "You seem intent on picking a quarrel tonight, don't you? First, as you've apparently forgotten, I burned the painting in case it put you in danger. I wasn't convinced it had, but given your rash decision to chase Harry, I simply couldn't take that chance. It was far from clear what the painting had done or could do. Second, the curse caused Hermione to miscarry, Cedric. The severe internal damage was more than sufficient for her to lose a baby."
Cedric scratched the back of his head, wanting to believe her - wanting to believe that she hadn't known. "Hermione said she felt the bleeding start before the curse hit her. She thinks that burning the painting caused her to lose the child, since the baby and the painting were tied up together." He eyed her. "She doesn't think you knew it would happen, but I think you had to have guessed. You did it anyway."
She sat back in her chair and met his eyes over the rim of the delicate china cup. "I suppose it's possible that burning the painting caused her to lose the child," she said finally, setting the cup back in its saucer, "but Hermione is sixteen. Miscarriages for girls her age aren't uncommon, especially given the extreme stress and physical strain she was under. It mightn't have taken any more than that. You also mentioned that Scott Apparated her side-along, and Apparition is something Healers advise against in the first trimester of pregnancy. Hermione wouldn't have known that, so she may indeed have miscarried for reasons unconnected to the painting."
Cedric's lips thinned, irritated by her rationalizations. What she'd said was well-reasoned, logical - but then, it always was. "Even if you'd known, you'd have done it anyway, wouldn't you?" he demanded. "You'd have traded my baby's life for mine."
"Choose between an unborn child I wasn't sure existed and my only son who'd put himself in deadly danger? What sort of fool do you think me, Cedric? Even if I had known, it wouldn't have been a choice." She sipped more tea. "But honestly, I wasn't thinking of the possible ramifications of Beltane, I was thinking about the fact you'd hied after Harry to London where the Dark Lord was surely lying in wait for the lot of you."
"It was my baby," he said, the unexpected and confusing grief hitting him all over again. "You killed my baby, mum."
Abandoning his empty teacup on the table, he rolled out of the dining room, making his way down the hall to his bedroom where he slammed the door, then levered himself out of the chair to collapse on his big bed. A single candle burned by the bedside, no doubt lit by Berry. He stared up at the shadows it cast, dancing on the ceiling.
His own sorrow puzzled him. Hermione didn't feel it, and he knew - he knew - he wasn't ready to be a father. Not really. Had Hermione not lost the baby, he'd be terrified and stressed trying to cope with an unwanted, unwelcome pregnancy on the eve of war. Yet that war's very proximity, coupled with the end of his school career and his own crippling, left him feeling directionless even whilst he also felt old for 18 - and very mortal. Maybe that was all this odd sorrow owed to: the need for a purpose, and the terrifying recognition that he might never see 19. A baby would have meant some part of him continued. Past reason, past logic, past common sense, there was a drive buried deep in the human animal to reproduce itself. The more one's own death came into sharp focus, the more one sought immortality in the next generation. That was the role of a man, wasn't it? Sow his seed, then go out to fight? Protect the family, Queen, and Country?
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
It is sweet and right to die for one's homeland.
Shifting on the quilt, Cedric turned his head to stare at the wheelchair abandoned in a corner of the room's shadows. He wouldn't be on the front lines protecting anybody. He'd been a fool in the Department of Mysteries, endangering the lives of others because he'd not been able to stay out of it. Worthless in a fight.
What sort of man did that make him?
Hermione jumped and spun around, mouth open a little. Then she was grinning and diving for him, arms around his shoulders, nearly strangling him and earning them both curious glances from others passing on the pavement outside The Leaky Cauldron. Or rather, outside the Disillusionment and Muggle-Repelling Charms concealing The Leaky Cauldron. "How did you sneak up on me? I was looking for you."
"It's a secret known only to blokes in wheelchairs. We slide in below eye-level."
She blew out, still unsure how to take his occasional joking about his disability. "Cedric - "
Growing serious, he pulled her off balance so that she landed in his lap. "Laugh, Granger." Brows drawn in, she opened her mouth to protest, but he put two fingers over her lips to seal them. "Let me joke about it. And I appeared when you were turned the other way, that's all."
"All right." She gave him a shy smile then, adding, "People are watching us."
"Naturally. They're all thinking, 'Wish I was that fellow with the pretty girl in his lap.'"
Laughing now and blushing, she got up. "Come on, the cinema's just a few streets that way." She pointed right. "We can just walk . . . or, er - "
"Roll," he finished, turning his chair and pushing off in the direction she'd indicated.
Over time, she'd got used to the fact that most pavements weren't wide enough for her to walk beside his chair if others were traveling in the opposite direction, so she paced behind. But there were rubbish bins and lamp poles and paper kiosks and café furniture in the way, and if most kerbs had lowered ramps at intersections, a few ended abruptly or were blocked so that Cedric had to maneuver his way over them, slowing down those behind. More than once, people pushed past rudely, muttering under their breath. Hermione began to wish they'd taken a cab after all. At least it wasn't hot like it had been last July. In fact, the weather was unseasonably cool, wrapping London in a dreary fog. Yet by the time they'd reached Leicester Square, Cedric's hair was damp and his blue shirt dark with sweat under his arms and down his back.
"Sorry it was so complicated to get here," she said, feeling guilty. " I should have checked the route, not just looked at a map."
"Forget it, Granger." He gave her his 'Don't fret' look, then turned to study the gigantic black granite face of the Odeon Leicester Square. "Wow. You know how to take a bloke on a fancy date."
"I thought your first trip to the cinema ought to be memorable." She gave a little nod of her head. "It's a rather famous place - lots of premieres held here. Er, that's the first showing of a film. Actors and directors and such show up - all invitation only. The rest of the time, it's a regular cinema, but it does have history. That's why we're here on a weeknight - it gets a bit crowded on weekends, especially in summer.
He was just nodding, eyes glued to the grand billboard on the front, advertising the film being shown that evening: Mission Impossible. "So what's this film about?" he asked.
"It's from an old television show about a group of intelligence operatives - secret agents - who're given these, well, 'impossible' assignments to insure international security."
"Hence the title."
"Yes, lots of action, and you know, technological magic." She winked at him and he laughed.
Hermione had given thought to the film as well as to the cinema. Cedric had seen Muggle movies before when he'd been laid up at her parents' house over the Easter holidays. In fact, he'd used the VCR and televison as tools to learn about the Muggle world, but she'd noticed some storylines were harder for him to follow as he lacked a frame of reference. Ironically, high-tech action films hadn't been among them; the action plot was usually straightforward and he'd neatly categorized the technology in them as "Muggle magic." It had been films on political or social issues that he hadn't understood well - even for subjects she'd have thought he would have been aware of. For instance, he'd known about World War II, the Allies and Churchill, and Hitler, but as footnotes on the Grindelwald War. When Hermione had first read about Grindelwald, she'd immediately tried to contextualize him against the backdrop of Nazi Germany. Cedric tried to contextualize Nazi Germany in relation to Grindelwald's theory of "The Greater Good."
As for the cinema, she'd called the Odeon in advance for wheelchair spaces, as one purchased tickets for specific seats, not general admission. Now, she left him waiting outside the entrance doors while she queued to pick up her reserved tickets, then rejoined him to hand him his. "Now, we go inside and there will be ticket takers. You give them your ticket and they'll let you through. The stalls are straight ahead, although we can stop and buy popcorn if you'd like."
"I want popcorn," he said with a grin. "You promised me the whole cinema experience." He looked rather like a kid at Christmas and she couldn't help but be excited by his excitement.
So they queued up to get inside but once there, the line of those entering intersected that for the concessions, and flocks of people crossed and crisscrossed the wide, shallow foyer, presenting Cedric with a difficult time maneuvering. "We'll get inside and then I'll go for popcorn," Hermione told him.
He nodded, and she concentrated on unobtrusively helping him to make his way through the crowd of hurried film goers, all disinclined to think about the bloke in the chair. "Sorry," became a refrain for him as he tried to wind his way through. Hermione - offended for his sake - wanted to hit people, but he just looked embarrassed so she kept her mouth closed. Once they'd successfully reached their seats in the stalls - upholstered in leopard-skin print, which Cedric found amusing - she turned to go back for popcorn, but he gripped her wrist. "It's all right. Won't the film start soon?" Despite her planning ahead, they'd made it into the auditorium with only a few minutes to spare.
Bending, she kissed him quickly. "If I'm taking you to the cinema, I'm getting you popcorn. The 'whole cinema experience,' remember? And it won't matter if I'm a bit late; they open with commercials and trailers. Do you want salted or sweet?"
"There's sweet popcorn?" He seemed intrigued by that and she grinned at his impossible sweet-tooth. "Sweet, please, then."
Hermione left for the concessions, brows drawn and mood dark. Part of her was angry at how difficult everything was for him, indignant over how others seemed to look past him. Yet another part was embarrassed every time they slowed down others, or took up more than their 'share' of space. But a secret part was simply irritated at all the extra plans required. She'd had to allow twice as long to reach the Odeon as she might have if going with Harry and Ron, yet even so, they'd barely made it in time - without waiting for popcorn. Buying snacks would make her late. It was bloody inconvenient.
She felt awful for thinking so, but there it was. If she might blame a city ill-prepared to serve the handicapped, that didn't change the reality - Cedric's reality for the rest of his life. She couldn't say wizards were any better, even if magic eased the way. The strategizing required just to see a film made her understand why so many of the wheelchair bound simply didn't bother - easier to wait and rent it on video when it came out. Returning, she settled in beside him, handing over his tub of popcorn and drink, all the edge of excitement rubbed off by the sheer trouble of it all. She was glad of the dark, which hid her swipe at the sudden sting of tears, and wondered why she was so upset. She wasn't the one in the chair. Cedric just seemed glad of the adventure whilst here she sat, drowning in the sharp, unhappy realization that a date out couldn't be spontaneous or easy. She'd once told his mother that she knew he wasn't going to get better, and she'd wrestled a bit with the recognition that 'not get better' actually meant 'get increasingly worse.' Yet, beyond that, she'd not considered all the ramifications. Going out today, she'd run smack into them. She didn't want to let it affect her but couldn't quite help it. Cedric was stuck with this. She wasn't. She could walk away.
The fact she'd thought any such thing even for a moment horrified her - especially as she'd started seeing Cedric after his crippling. Her choice. What sort of selfish bitch was she?
"What's up?" he whispered in her ear as previews cycled through on the screen in front of them, and she felt him reach out to touch her cheek - wipe away wetness.
"I'm all right," she said, not wanting to talk about it right now. Instead, she tried to raise the outside armrest so she could lean against Cedric's shoulder . . . only to find she couldn't. "Dammit!" she snapped, slamming her hand down on the plastic arm in frustration.
He laid a hand over hers. "Move over."
"Move over. I don't think anybody's going to take the seat on the other side; the film's starting soon. I'll get out of the chair."
Startled by this simple solution, she glanced at the empty seat to her right. The wheelchair stall had been cleared out next to normal seats in the auditorium rear, and even at this famous cinema, a late matinee for a film that wasn't a new release hadn't been swamped. Shifting her popcorn and drink, she moved over and he levered himself out of the chair into her seat and (in the dark) pulled his wand to "adjust" the left armrest to hold his own drink. Unfortunately, the right arm didn't lift either, and he chuckled. "All that and it still won't move." Another tap of his wand made it simply vanish so he could slide his arm over her shoulders.
"Cedric, somebody might notice," she hissed softly.
"Doubt it. It's dark. I'll put it back before we leave." Mollified, she snuggled down against him, needing the contact, her head resting on his chest. He kissed her crown. "See," he finished, stroking her hair, "not so bad."
She raised her head to look at him as the curtains swept closed on the previews, only to reopen for the feature. "I'm being melodramatic, aren't I?"
He shook his head, the film glow casting blue highlights on his hair and pale skin. "No. And yes, a bit. Think outside the box; you're good at that, my clever girl."
"It's just . . . all these little things, you know? Well, yes, of course you know."
He only smiled. "Life is full of little things. Not all of them have to do with the damn chair, either. At the moment, I'm inclined to think on the positives - I've got a beautiful girlfriend who's taking me out for a lovely night on the town, and if I'm a proper gentleman, I might even get a proper shagging later."
Despite everything, his assessment made her erupt in giggles and smack him in the chest before laying her head back on his shoulder. "You're awful."
"So you've said. And as I've said, you're rather physical - not that I necessarily mind, except when you're giving me bruises - "
"SHHH!" said one of the film-goers in front of them, turning her head a bit to glare.
Embarrassed but still amused, and feeling quite a bit lighter-hearted, Hermione settled down into her seat, turning her attention to the screen and picking up her tub of popcorn.
They stayed on their best behavior after that, watching the film with minimal whispers and only a little snogging when things on the screen got slow. She found herself pondering how she might sneak into his guestroom later that night for the aforementioned shagging.
When the film ended, she and Cedric stayed seated as the auditorium emptied enough for him to make his way out. They discussed the film as they exited, and laughed, and debated where to eat dinner as they moved among the early evening crowds and the buskers working the pavement around the square. Hermione didn't really notice inconveniences now. She wasn't under any illusion that the awareness wouldn't return to sour her mood later, but for the moment, life was jolly good, as her dad would say when being silly. Voldemort and the war seemed far, far away.
Hermione had decided to take Cedric to Chinatown, but the fancy restaurant she'd heard about there required reservations and didn't have easy wheelchair access, so they left again, ending at a Wetherspoons pub called The Moon Under Water with outdoor seating. It was busy even on a weeknight, overstuffed with young professionals in business dun or people eating out before an evening show at the cinema or theatre. They had a bit of a wait for a table Cedric could access, then pored over the menu before Hermione left to place their order at the bar. To her surprise the busy barstaff spared her barely a glance before asking what beer or drinks she wanted with her meal. She blinked; Cedric might be old enough to drink, but she wasn't. She hesitated - the 'good girl' warring with her natural curiosity - then ordered a pint for them both.
When she returned to their table with the glasses, Cedric's eyebrows rose. "My, my - I don't think that's butterbeer. Not so choosy on the rules these days, Granger?"
She rolled her eyes and sipped her drink. "They didn't ask. I didn't tell."
He just grinned and sipped his own. "They think you're older. You look quite the lovely young woman tonight."
That made her frown and blush, although it was true she'd gone to the trouble of putting on makeup and fighting with a straightening iron in the absence of hair potion. She'd wanted to look older for him.
Finally the barstaff arrived with their meal, but almost out of drink, Hermione fetched them more beer and - not used to it - was rather tipsy by the time they left. Cedric made her walk around with him before heading back to The Leaky Cauldron. "Can't take you home weaving on your feet; your dad would have my head." So they stopped for a while near the fountain and she sat on his lap, watching the water fall, sleepy from alcohol. "There are disadvantages to being in the chair," he said softly, sliding arms around her waist, "but some advantages. When the benches are full, you'll always have the comfy option of my lap."
Giggling and happy finally, she pressed her forehead to his and he kissed her, most chastely, on the lips. Bold from the beer, she asked, "You're working hard for that shagging, aren't you?"
"Would you hold it against me if I said 'yes'?"
Cedric didn't get his shagging that first night at the Grangers; it had to wait for the next afternoon when Hermione's parents were both at work. They spent all afternoon in Cedric's guestroom bed since hers wasn't big enough for them both. They made love and dozed, then made love again, stretching out when done, naked across the eggshell sheets, a bit damp with exertion. That day had come closer to normal July temperatures. Hermione read him articles from one of her Muggle newspapers, pausing now and then to explain things, whilst he licked salty sweat from her skin, trying to distract her. It didn't work; she swatted him with the paper. "We just did it twice in three hours. You can't possibly want sex again."
He shifted his head to close his mouth over one rose nipple, suckling gently. She gasped and he let go. "Try me." He waggled his eyebrows.
"I'm eighteen, of course I'm insatiable."
"Cheeky git. Now listen, this is interesting. Major's public approval rating is in the toilet with all these recent murders and disasters."
She huffed out and smacked him. "The PM, Cedric; you can't be that clueless. The collapse of the Brockdale Bridge? A hurricane in Somerset? Since when does England get hurricanes? We're not living in the Caribbean! It's hardly fair to blame the Conservatives for the weather, but they didn't respond well to the crises."
He left off from his attempts to distract her, instead lifting himself on both arms to look down at her, brushing the newspaper aside. "That wasn't a hurricane, Granger. It was giants. Same thing with that bridge. Voldemort is out in the open now. Nobody's safe."
"The Daily Prophet didn't report that." Her brows drew together and she dropped the paper on the floor beside the bed, turning on her side so that she could spoon up against him seeking comfort. He propped himself up on an elbow to lean over and see her face while she spoke. "But then I don't reckon they're telling us the truth now any more than last year."
"No, they're not," he said, smoothing back her hair and kissing her ear.
"Who told you? Your dad?"
"Actually, it was Shacklebolt - he told the Order. The Aurors know the real truth, of course."
"If he told the Order, are you supposed to be telling me?" The question sounded somewhere between dubious and a bit waspish.
"It's not that sort of secret. And don't be bitchy. You know perfectly well there are things I can't tell you . . . although not any at present, actually." He drew invisible figure eights on the bare skin of her shoulder, not meeting her eyes. "In truth, and after what happened at the Department of Mysteries, I don't think Dumbledore is planning to keep quite so many secrets from Harry."
"I hope not. I . . . well, I understand why he did. Harry wasn't exactly acting mature - but not telling him just made it worse."
"I know. I think Dumbledore knows too. He may be old, Hermione, but he's not omniscient."
She nodded and wiggled back against him. "It's easy to expect him to be sometimes, but I know it's not fair."
Cedric took a deep breath but made himself say, "Speaking of secrets, you can't keep your parents in the dark about all this anymore, poppet. Voldemort isn't in hiding, and he's targeting Muggles and Muggle-borns." She turned her head to glare out of the corners of her eyes. He ignored the warning and pressed on. "My parents put wards on this house, and on your parents' surgery." Now her dark eyes had gone wide and she shifted until she was lying flat on her back looking up at him. "Dumbledore asked them to strengthen the wards he'd put up the year before. Things are serious, poppet."
"Don't you think I know that?"
"Well, yes, but - "
"You don't think I appreciate the danger."
Finally, he made himself meet her eyes. "No, I don't think you do. And I've let you. I didn't want to scare you. Last night . . . last night was lovely. I wanted it - to have one normal evening just for us. But we shouldn't have done it. What if we'd been attacked?"
"In Muggle London? Why would they have bothered?"
He leaned closer so that only an inch separated their faces. "Why would they bother? Because you're the bloody brilliant but Muggle-born best friend of The Boy Who Lived! Do you really think they don't know who you are? Trust me, they do. Worse, you dragged off your almost pureblood boyfriend to corrupt him with Muggle nonsense. It would be just the sort of thing Voldemort would love to make an example of - carouse with Muggles, associate with Muggle-borns, and suffer for it."
"How would he have possibly learned about my plans for our date? Or even that we were going on a date? You Apparated there - "
"But you didn't."
"He's not having me followed, Cedric. Don't be ridiculous." But her face looked worried, as if she hadn't really thought of these things before. Cedric hadn't been able to stop thinking about them ever since the argument with his parents, and if he'd deliberately defied his own worries last night, today he felt guilty for taking such chances, even if nothing whatsoever had happened.
"Poppet, you don't know that he's not. Part of the problem is that he strikes without warning - "
She was climbing out of the bed abruptly, arms around herself, but not from modesty. She looked angry and frightened at once. "Why are you bringing all this up now? Don't you think I know it? Don't you think I worry about it, and then try not to be unreasonable? I wanted to have a few days with you and not think about it constantly!"
He pushed himself up as well. "Me too," he said. "Like I said, I wanted it too. I wasn't . . . I wasn't criticizing, not exactly. I'm just as guilty. But you need to tell your parents - "
"What if they take me away?" she practically shrieked, still not coming back to the bed. "What if they force me to leave the country with them? I can't leave Harry, I can't leave you. I want to fight back!"
"Shhh," he said, reaching out with his free hand to her. "Come back to bed." After a moment, she did and let him pull her down with him again, wrapping her up in his arms and legs as best he could. "I worry about the same things. But I'm afraid they're more likely to force you to leave if you don't tell them the truth and keep lying to them." He'd been mulling it all over. "My parents have both agreed to come and explain what's a reasonable concern, and what's not, if you'd like. Your mother and mine seem to get along." She wasn't agreeing, but she also wasn't protesting outright. "I think you can pass off what's happened before as not so worrisome, or rather, not as a direct threat. It might be pushing it, but for once, the lack of information in The Daily Prophet is to our advantage. It makes last year look less serious than it really was.
"But things have changed, and they're going to find out, one way or another." For the moment, he said nothing about his parents' threat to tell her parents if she wouldn't. No sense in putting her back up. "You'll be seventeen in just two months now - an adult. They can't make you do anything."
But she was shaking her head. "No, Cedric. In their world, I won't be an adult for a whole extra year. If they decided to take me out of the Wizarding world, they won't be paying any attention to whether I'm an adult witch or not. And their law will be on their side."
He smiled faintly. "But you are a witch, and when you're seventeen, the Trace breaks. They won't be able to make you do anything if it came down to force, but I can't see it coming to that, can you? Really? I think they'll be worried - fairly. Everybody is right now. They might even consider leaving the country to protect you, but to force you to leave against your will? Even if they could? I think they respect you more than that. Just like you need to respect them enough to tell them the truth."
"But it's a risk - "
"Yes. It is. That's what happens when you love somebody. Sometimes you have to risk telling them the truth, even if you don't think they'll like it. Like with house-elves." He grinned at her, trying to lighten the mood.
It didn't work; she continued to stare back. "I need to think about this."
"All right." And he dropped it. He'd been just as divided on the matter the week before and had needed time to chew it over on his own without feeling pressured. "Now we'd better get dressed before your parents come home and find us, and kick me out of the house for corrupting their daughter."
She didn't let go of him immediately, but finally sat up again. "I expect they already know."
His stomach clenched. "They do?"
"Well, not know, but . . . suspect. We're not children, Cedric, and the Muggle world is more . . . socially liberal on certain matters. Besides, your parents put us in the same bedroom."
"That's my mum."
"And as you said, your mum and mine seem to get along - get along a lot better than mine and Mrs. Weasley ever did, in fact. I like Mrs. Weasley, of course, but she is a bit . . . "
"But we are in separate rooms here, notice."
"Yes. And we should keep them for appearances, I expect. But if my parents were really all that worried about it, do you think they'd be leaving us alone all day unsupervised? It's not as if we have to sleep in the same bed to use it recreationally." The smile she shot him over one bare shoulder was impish and he reached out to run his forefinger down the length of her spine before she rose to fetch their clothes where they'd been left on a dressing chair. "Don't worry about it, all right? If they walked in and found us, it'd be terribly awkward, but because they're not quite ready to think about the specifics yet." She tossed him his underpants and trousers. "They wouldn't kick you out. They like you."
"Well that's good to know," he said, bending to slip the underpants over his feet.
The day the Grangers took Cedric to hospital, the weather was again dreary and damp, rain falling in a steady drizzle. He'd agreed to undergo a battery of Muggle tests because they seemed to want it. Personally, he had mixed feelings. Part of him was curious, and perhaps just a little hopeful. Another part wasn't looking forward to being poked and prodded again, and doubted the Muggles could find anything wizards hadn't. Dark Magic simply didn't heal, or didn't heal completely, but he supposed it couldn't hurt nor would it cost him anything. Cedric now had an NHS number and existed for the purposes of Muggle medicine - as long as nobody looked into the matter too thoroughly.
That's why they were at a suburban Muggle hospital on Friday when the day-shift technicians and secretaries were eager to go home for the weekend. As long as his paperwork seemed to be in order, they weren't likely to ask questions.
At least one nice thing about a Muggle hospital: it really was wheelchair accessible, unlike the pub they'd been in the other night. If getting to a table had been doable, getting to the toilet - which he'd needed after a couple of beers - had been another matter. It'd been in the basement. "Disabled access," yes . . . but only after one had got down a flight of stairs. If not for magic (and nobody watching), he wouldn't have been able to "access" it at all.
When he finally made the transition from crutches to a wheelchair permanently, there would be places he'd no longer be able to go. He'd found that disabled access was usually designed by people who weren't disabled, full of hidden inconveniences or outright impossibilities . . . like a toilet for the disabled down a flight of stairs, or an industrial-sized toilet paper dispenser placed so near the floor, he couldn't reach it without Accio. There was "disabled access" and then there was disabled access. Cedric was of the opinion that anybody designing for a wheelchair should spend at least a day stuck in one.
He, the Grangers, and Hermione were met in the hospital lobby by a stout black woman with greying dreadlocks, a big smile, and a white Muggle lab coat with Dr. Brenda Guest stitched on the left breast. "Cedric!" she said. "So good to meet you finally." Then she grabbed Hermione and gave her a squashing hug. "You get taller and prettier every time I see you, love. Now, come on, the lot of you, there's a family room just down the hall." She handed Hermione's father a stack of papers. "Charles, if you'll take these to admissions, we shouldn't subject poor Cedric to NHS bureaucracy on his very first visit."
"Quite right," Dr. Granger said, taking the folders and heading off down a hallway to their right.
"Helen, Hermione, Cedric, this way," Dr. Guest said, waving them on down the hall, right, then down another hall. Dr. Guest held the door for all three of them, a casual courtesy that made it less obvious she was accommodating Cedric. Inside, the small room was filled with comfortable furniture in tans and blues and low table lighting. Cedric noticed that one of the armchairs had been backed up against a wall already, leaving room for his chair. Hermione sat on a couch near him, whilst her mother took a seat further away, leaving the chair to Cedric's left for Dr. Guest.
She sat down in it and just studied him for a moment, smile still there. Then she offered her hand to shake now that they were on a level. "I'm so pleased to finally meet another wizard - aside from Hermione here, and Professor Dumbledore."
"You met Dumbledore?" Cedric asked, a bit stupidly perhaps.
"Oh, yes. Very helpful in getting your NHS paperwork all sorted out. Quite a lovely man, very curious. He expressed great hope that Muggle science might succeed where Wizarding healing hasn't. Different approaches, you know. I appreciate people with an open mind."
Cedric just nodded, warming up a bit to the idea now that he knew Dumbledore hadn't thought it completely dodgy.
"I wanted to talk to you here first in case you have any questions. We'll be doing a basic physical, an MRI, X-rays, a neurological exam, and then draw both some blood and some cerebrospinal fluid to test for abnormalities. That latter will be the most unpleasant. Hermione tells me that wizard healing doesn't use needles, so that may be a bit foreign to you -"
"Actually, the healers at St. Mungo's - that's our hospital - took some blood samples. It's not common, but sometimes they use them." Needles didn't thrill him, but also didn't scare him.
She nodded. "Well, I wish I could say that a lumbar puncture feels no worse than drawing blood, but I don't believe in lying to patients." She eyed him over the top of her glasses, face serious. "It's uncomfortable, if hardly excruciating, and you'll have to stay reclining for several hours afterwards. You have the right to refuse, of course, but a CSF sample is essential to the diagnosis of a number of neurological diseases. You'll receive a local anesthesia to deaden the pain, then they'll slip a needle into your spine to draw out a couple of teaspoons of fluid. You'll also be given a cup of tea to drink. The caffeine helps offset any headaches."
Cedric shrugged, not happy but trying to appear nonchalant. "I doubt it can be worse than what they did at St. Mungo's. They had to take measurements while the Paralysis Spell was off, and that was excruciating."
"Well, the LP is the worst we'll do to you. The rest is more dull than uncomfortable. I'm going to assemble a series of fundamental tests - things that'll give some basic clues as to what's not working right in your body. At this point in time, I'm not interested in the cause so much as the results. I'm working under a basic theory that whether due to magic, accident, or disease, the damage to your body is measurable by our instruments as much as by magical ones. And if measurable by our instruments, we're wondering if that damage will be recognizable to us as an illness. Given the descriptions Charles shared with Phil and I, whatever caused this problem, it's acting a lot like MS - multiple sclerosis. I want to see if it looks like MS, too, because if so, there are treatments. Medicines. We can't cure it, but we can treat it - assuming the NHS will let us prescribe what you need. Between the medicines you already have and anything we might be able to give you, who knows? Maybe we can slow it down even further.
"Did you bring samples of your medicines?" she finished.
Withdrawing two small vials, he nodded and handed them over, trying not to let any hope at her words catch hold in him. He also handed her the recipes for both potions, although, "I'm not sure how much good those will be. You could combine all those elements in the exact amounts with the precise directions and it still wouldn't produce the potion, I'm afraid. It takes, well, magic. I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize," she said, accepting the vials and raising them up to the light to study them. "I expect there is some chemical reaction occurring that yields the medicine. Again, the cause is less important here than the result. I want to see what chemical properties these medicines have so that we don't prescribe something for you that would interact badly with them." She wrote his name and a number on them and put both vials in her pocket. Dr. Granger had joined them, slipping into the room and giving Cedric a smile. Dr. Guest nodded at him. "I'm not sure how much discussion you've had previously, but Charles, Helen, Phil and myself all think that this 'magic' is simply a level of science we've not yet achieved. To quote a very famous Muggle author, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'"
"Or another way of putting it," Hermione's father broke in, seating himself beside his wife, "is that your magic is your technology. You call magic what we think could probably be explained scientifically. There's still so much about the universe that we don't understand. You say you're a wizard and Hermione is a witch, but perhaps what's really afoot here is just that you and our daughter were born with unique mental abilities we lack. You use your brain to a fuller capacity - call it ESP, if you like. It's genetic, and the fact it passes down only confirms that."
Hermione sighed out in a gust, looking at Cedric, "They think we're a science-fiction novel."
"Most so-called 'science fiction,'" her father said, "is just science we've not yet mastered - "
"Whatever the case," Dr. Guest said before Hermione and her father could fall to debate, "I'm just explaining why we think this might be productive. The universe doesn't run on nonsense, even if we don't understand all the principles. Magic, science - they're both technologies. A 'technology' is anything human beings invent or develop to help them mold their world to better suit them. Magic causes actual, measurable and consistent changes - and that means whatever was done to you, Cedric, is something we can measure by our means, not just yours. The curse cast on you left 'footprints' - discernable results. That's what we're going to evaluate today."
Cedric found he'd followed the fundamentals of what Dr. Guest had said, even if some of the details and references went over his head. "When will you know any results?"
"We might know a few things today, but better to wait till sometime next week. You'll be at the Grangers . . . "
"We should have news for you before then." She rose and gestured to the door. "Shall we?"
The tests took all day, and not knowing what to expect, he remained nervous and tense. Reassurances could go only so far when one had no frame of reference. But aside from tedium, most was tolerable. He grew stiff and sore from lying on various hard surfaces, and the MRI was loud and claustrophobic, but the neurological exam was remarkably similar to what the Healers at St. Mungo's had done. They asked him to perform a heel-to-shin test, drawing his heel up his shin (which he didn't have the strength for), or had him put his finger to his nose (which was no problem), or drew a pointed object across the bottom of his foot (which caused his big toe to rise, not curl, and got murmurs from the doctor).
As specialists were required, Dr. Guest wasn't there for all of it, but Dr. Granger was. Before each test, he explained what was about to happen so Cedric wouldn't appear overly ignorant of things he ought to know. Cedric tried to look on it all as a learning experience. The technicians who assisted with the various machines were impersonally friendly, but the neurologist who gave him the exam was stern and inclined to talk over him to Dr. Granger instead.
The lumbar puncture, or spinal tap as Hermione called it, was the last test performed, as he had to remain horizontal for 24 hours afterwards. The actual puncture was uncomfortable, requiring him to curl knees to chin on the bed, but it didn't hurt unbearably, thanks to anesthesia. When it was over, he was left to shiver in a cold room with his feet slightly elevated whilst Hermione fed him hot tea through a straw and kept him company. "Do you think any of this is really going to do any good?" he asked her.
"I don't know," she replied. "I don't think it'll do any harm, and it's not costing anything . . . and sometimes it's easier just to go along with my parents when they've got a bee in their bonnet." He smiled at that. If mostly he got along with the Grangers, he'd found they could be as stubborn as their daughter.
"I wonder what my Healers would think if they knew I was in a Muggle hospital letting them stick needles in my spine."
"I'd worry more about Mrs. Weasley finding out. Remember what she thought of Mr. Weasley having stitches put in him?"
He smiled. "That, I understand. The notion of somebody stitching me closed does seem rather . . . barbaric, you must admit."
"It's hardly embroidery thread, Cedric. It's special surgical twine that dissolves as the skin knits. All very high tech."
His smile didn't disappear. "For Muggles, perhaps. I'd still prefer a good Sealing Spell, thanks."
"I'm sorry, you know, about Dad earlier, and Aunt Brenda, and the whole 'ESP' thing. He comes out with that now and then - "
Cedric raised a hand and laid his fingers over her mouth. "It's all right." He dropped his hand. "They want to understand and they're trying, using what they do understand."
"They're scientists," Hermione said, head tilted. "It's been . . . hard for them, I think. They knew, even before Professor Dumbledore came to speak with them about Hogwarts, that I was . . . gifted. They weren't sure what it was, but they knew there was something different about me and ESP - extrasensory perception - was how they tried to explain it. Then the Headmaster came and talked about magic and witches and wizards and Hogwarts and . . . my parents had a hard time with it. They're pragmatic. It was obvious that magic existed, but calling it magic . . . that was the problem, you see. Magic is non-scientific - nonsense. So they've had to somehow reconcile magic and science and . . . that's how they do it. They call it ESP."
Cedric was smiling as he listened to her half-explain, half-apologize. "You don't need to make excuses, Granger. Like I said, I understand - really. I do the same thing, but in reverse. And who knows? Maybe it is the same thing. A rose by any other name, you know?"
Shaking her head, she eyed him. "You quote Shakespeare, but don't know Emily Brontë? Anyway, yes, maybe so. And thanks - for being understanding."
"They're trying to help me; it's kind. I don't know if they can - I rather doubt it - but they're trying. I think this is . . . important, these small doors that open between your birth world and mine. As long as your parents want to stay a part of our world, let's make certain they can."
"It doesn't seem like most Muggle-borns want to stay connected to the Muggle world - "
"It's been discouraged. You can't be blind to the bias, poppet - you of all people. It's ugly, that attitude, but it's colored our world for centuries - long before Voldemort. If you want to see it change, don't buy into the bias, don't shut your parents out. Be Muggle-born. There's no shame in that. Muggle things . . . I think a lot of it's bloody brilliant. It's like any culture - in some ways they're behind us, in others, far, far ahead."
She laid her head on the hospital bed mattress near to his. Their faces were so close, she had to dart her own eyes back and forth between his. "Thank you."
She was quiet a moment, then said, "I suppose, if we're going to try to keep them a part of our world, I'll have to tell them about V-Voldemort."
"Yes, I think you do."
Notes: I have no idea if The Moon Under Water in Leicester Square has a toilet in the pub basement, so no slap at the establishment, but I have seen such silly things before and I'm making a point. Britain's big push for disabled access happened largely after this novel takes place, and even so - as noted - "disabled access" isn't always. There are hidden steps, thresholds, obstacles and other things that we rarely think about but those in chairs live with constantly. An inch rise can stop chair wheels. Rucked up rugs are problems. Store displays that block aisles make navigating difficult if not impossible. Etc.