A/N These characters aren't mine, if they were, Snape would have worn alot more leather. Black, obs.
The pictures on the page had stopped swapping places at least. Hermiones plain frame was in the centre, with the other girls images
primping prettily in a circle around her. In the rectangle of Hermiones picture, a dark archway was now steady. What the archway led to was obscured by a continuous fall of snowflakes.
"It's the perfect time," Minerva urged her colleagues. "No-one will be looking for us after what has been going on and all the students are shut away in their rooms for their own safety so if something goes wrong." She stopped herself, "not that anything is going to go wrong, we are simply helping Helen on her way."
Trelawney looked at Pomfrey through her bottle-bottom glasses, "I haven't had an untroubled vision since she started manifesting, it feels like she is everywhere, looking for something. I think it's kinder to, you know, put her out of her misery." She hoped she had appealed to the side of the matron that dealt with the terminally ill, not that it happened much at the school, but there had been moments when a patient had taken an unexpected turn while matron had been on the wards at St Mungos. Nothing was ever said of course, families had often been extraordinarily generous to those caring for their relatives in their final days.
Pomfrey folded her heavy arms across her body. "I say there has been enough killing for one day," she said dubiously.
"It's more of a banishment," Trelawney wheedled on McGonagalls behalf, "and we only need three, to be absolutely certain it will stick."
"Tried already have you?" Pomfrey asked humourlessly. "Never mind, I'll come." There might be unknown medicinal properties in the Whomping Willow, she allowed – not that she had been able to get so much as a sliver of the bark with whatever possessed it keeping guard. Today might just be her lucky day.
To be fair, it was already her lucky day. Amos and Albus had only just left with the news that Cedric, bless his cotton underpants, had left instructions that his body be donated to magical science. Albus had been all set to put the body into a sort of stasis, but hadn't because Cedric must have arranged for his corpse to look after itself on the breathing front despite the fact that there was definitely 'no-one home.'
Pomfrey had agreed that the corpse, if that was the correct term, be left in the chapel overnight so that the student body could pay its last respects in the morning when everyone had had time to digest their champions passing. After that, she would arrange for it to be transferred to the lab attached to the sanatorium wing and no-one would be the wiser.
She rolled up her sleeves, "lets get to it then," she announced and surreptitiously patted her robes for an empty vial.
Luna was seated cross legged on the grass when the Thestral thundered back to earth. A black staff with mottling covering the top third of its length lay across her bent legs and she held her hands above it as if exhorting it to rise. It didn't.
Hermione slid cautiously from her mounts back and managed to make a better landing than she had in the graveyard. She waited to help Cedric to slide down after her, carefully keeping herself between Cedric and where she thought the bitey end of the animal was. Lune raised her head at their approach, and directing her words to the beast, she said simply, "you may go." It shook its great head and set the flesh on its neck to trembling, but bent to crop idly at the wispy grass, pulling fronds through its teeth as if to clean them rather than actually eating. Its luminous eyes followed Cedrics shape with an intense dedication that Cedric ignored with an equally intense dedication.
"Show me your wand," Hermione demanded to Cedric. He handed it over without a word. She knew that it had more than a single hair, she remembered him rubbing his thumb across the bristled hairs at the tip in the library when he had teased her into kissing him, definitely more than one. Every one increased his chances of the wand still working.
"There has to be one left," Hermione said to herself, angling the tip of the rod towards her and lighting her own so that she could see better into the core. "Be one, be one," she repeated to herself, as if somehow she could make one lone bristle have survived. She ran her thumb over the tip of the wand and rubbed her thumb and forefinger together to dispel the ashy remnants that clung there. In the midst of a speckling of grey and black wasted hairs was more grey and black. She tipped her head back and made a show of inspecting the sky to keep the tears in, her throat closed roughly over a soundless sob.
She told herself it was only what she had expected – that whatever protection having her Vine ring offered would never have been enough to make the dream of Cedric actually surviving a killing curse true. She wondered what kind of sick joke Ron was playing. He must have overhead her and Cedric together at some point to get the 'Kit' reference. No wonder he couldn't call his wand – it wasn't his wand to call. Her stomach turned at the thought of him going so far as to try and transfer into Cedrics body, it was pretty low – all he needed was the bottle to ask her out in the first place. There was only one thing to do – let it play out and rip the shit out of him when they got to the chapel – she could at least give him that privacy rather than the dressing down he deserved with Luna as witness. Cedric was dead she told herself, long live Cedric. At least now he could be buried with his wand.
Cedric squinted into the harsh light that Hermiones wand produced, fascinated by how quickly her manner had become so impersonal and business-like so suddenly. She would survive this, even if he didn't, he was sure of it, he wished he felt more sure about himself. Nervously his feet moved themselves closer to her.
"Oh yes," she replied firmly. "You have no idea," wishing she could take him apart with her hands like she would be able to with words. She had verbally spit roasted Ron so often it had become a sport, it might also, she reasoned, explain why he was so damn moody around her.
"That's good right?" he asked hesitantly.
"Good," she confirmed over heartily, "great!" She was all right working herself up into the indignation that a proper keel hauling would require, almost made it too, until he put his hand over hers. Rons that is and caught her chin so that he could see her expression properly.
"I mean if there's nothing, you can just tell me," he said softly. It was the honesty in the statement that made her doubt herself, because what if it was true. No unicorn hair, she told herself, no bullshit, he couldn't be alive, it was just Ron. Miserable and moody and cruel now with it. She wondered when they had spoken to the Fat Lady, he had sounded so much like Ron should, that bit underwhelmed by the whole experience, not to mention bitter about how everyone got to play a part except for him. He must have taken something to keep his skin temperature close to freezing, but that suggested an element of pre-planning that she had never associated with Ron before. He was kin to the Twins though and she wouldn't put anything past them.
"It's badly damaged," she said factually, jerking her chin out of his grip, "as you would expect with a killing curse." She emphasised the 'killing' with a little acid in her tone. She told herself to see Ron and only Ron in his dispirited face. "I'd have to open it to be sure, because whatever bristle there was is completely burnt off." She offered her ash coloured fingertips for inspection. "And there's really no point is there?" Ron she finished in her mind, pithy with irritation. Why couldn't he just come clean and save them all the bother. What a time to start something like this, a dead body was hardly likely to get her in the mood for, well, whatever. Perhaps he thought that she would turn to him as her rock in her hour of need.
He took the wand back from her, balanced it on his fingertip close to the Vine ring and watched the ends tip up and down while he thought about Hermiones tone. It didn't sound resigned, it sounded angry. He tried to think about what she might be thinking about and came up blank for once. "I need to try and get back into my body," he said finally.
"Of course you do," Hermione replied crisply. She wasn't sure what would happen if Ron tried this, there were rules about dead things. Unbreakable rules. She had a sudden yearning for Professor Snapes bored tone and brutal honesty, necromancy wasn't anywhere in her chosen subjects, even in the advanced classes. Zombie movies had had a hand in that too, opening the deceased wands was as close as she was ever going to let herself get to it. Even that creeped her out, she thought of Snape entirely focused on the tiny cube on his desk, as if it was suddenly his entire world, but the thing was, it was past.
Luna eyed Hermione warily, then pursed her lips and spoke her mind to Cedric. "Do you want to stay?" It hadn't escaped her notice that despite the obvious success of the search, Cedrics shoulders were bowed and his feet shuffled against the ground as if he didn't have quite the strength to lift them. Nor did it escape her that Hermione immediately grasped Cedrics hand and he didn't quite silence a pained groan when she did so.
"Not so much," he muttered unsteadily to Hermione, "you'll hurt yourself," but he stood taller and braced himself more squarely.
"Of course he wants to stay," said Hermione with determination and a certain amount of malicious intent.
"If I can't get back into my own body, Kit, I don't know…" Cedric sounded weary and most of all, uncertain.
Hermione glared at him, he should sound uncertain, it wasn't as if it was ever going to happen. She played her part anyway, "but you said…" She let grief crumple her features as her eyes sketched Rons honest face. She took a huge breath, "you said if you had your wand back, you could try." She should get an Oscar she told herself, he looked truly forlorn.
Cedric tried to prepare her for the worst, for the possibility of failure. "I could get lost, inbetween. It might have been too long already, I….if I don't have anything here…I don't know."
"You're just not trying," retorted Hermione angrily, thinking bitterly how much his reasoning would make sense if only Cedric was indeed trapped in Rons body. She felt herself crumbling inside because he thought he didn't have anything to stay for and refusing to articulate the hope that he might want to stay, for her, because what if he didn't? And then felt supremely selfish, it wasn't her in someone elses body after all. It was simply Ron, being vicious, there would be a joke in it somewhere, some punchline where he would have himself in stitches. She let go of his hand and let her own drop to her side. The wand spun restlessly under her sleeve. It didn't feel right, a small voice said, it felt like giving up, because what if it was him.
He looked over in surprise. "Hermione?"
She wanted to tell him the game was up, but the moonlit shadow of the Thestral was sidling closer. She waited until the great head had snaked out on its long neck, perilously close to Rons ankle. Thestrals only eat carrion, she could hear herself say it conversationally before they had set off on the little jaunt to the graveyard. Dead things. That meant that Rons body was dead. She studied his chest, the slight rise of a breath was getting shallower again, it always picked up after she had powered him up. Hermione rocked on her heels.
"You're dead!" Hermione accused. If Ron was dead and Rons body was technically dead, then maybe, just maybe since Cedric was 'alive,' maybe by extension his body was too.
"Err?" said Cedric.
"You miserable bastard, you're actually dead." Hermione howled half with hiccupping tears and half angry laughter, she collected herself and said white faced in a disbelieving tone, "Molly's going to kill me," and dragged him a little further away from the next nonchalant swipe of the shadowy outline of fanged jaws. The Thestral continued on, as if it had no mind to do any such thing as eat a recent rider, but the luminous eyes had a baleful cast and a certain amount of disappointment about the horned brow.
Prickles at the corners of Hermiones eyes made her eyelids flutter and close, angrily she swiped the cuff of her sweater under them and tried not to sniff. Tears didn't actually help any, they just made her face blotchy and her nose run, none of which was going to help Ron in his deceased state or Cedric in his, whatever state it was. Noisily she cleared her throat. Frantically her mind scrambled through how Cedric could still be alive if his wand was dead, there had to be one lone Unicorn hair buried in the wand that had survived – just not all of it, then she realised he was trying to telling to tell her that he might not make it anyway.
"It's fine," she said, raising her chin and looking away. It would be easier if Cedric was going to 'go' of his own volition, if he did it while she wasn't looking. She crossed her arms and said in her firmest voice, "do what you like, whatever is best for you. I'll go and watch over Harry. He needs me," she said heavily. She turned her body away from Cedric and made to stride past Lunas seated form. She managed three steps before Cedrics expletive caught up with her and a hard hand clamped at her shoulder.
"Sodding hell, Kit. I can't do it without you, it's just, you might be there," Cedric tried to explain. "When I actually….you know." Cedric left the sentence unfinished because Hermione turned in, towards his body and hugged him fiercely.
"Not today, no more dying today," whispered Hermione, the air shimmered around the pair of them as if she was casting a spell. She held her breath while she forced as much magic as possible into his body, until he trembled and she reeled dizzily.
"Good, that's settled then," Lunas voice rose beside them. "I have something for you, it will help since your wand is so damaged, it needs a bit of work, but you already have the core," she said. "Does anyone know how to get hold of an orb?"
Hermione took the stave, holding it gingerly in the middle as she realised that the mottling was actually making slow progress, creeping infinitesimally closer to her hand, "what core? What happened to this? I've never seen this before."
"That's because you are different sort of Witch," replied Luna pragmatically and Hermione was reminded of the episode at the edge of the Forest where Luna had appeared with her hands covered in blood. There had been a birth, but also apparently a death and the practical part of Hermione buckled down to accept that her odd friend had, on the balance of probabilities, had a hand in both.
Luna continued, "the centaur tail will be the core, it's a bridge of sorts," and then said enigmatically, "between."
"Between?" asked Cedric curiously.
"Between what you are and what you want," answered Luna enigmatically.
Cedric thought carefully before he answered her back, mostly about Hermione and how desperately she was trying to keep him alive. He didn't know how far she would go and had no idea if the cost was too great, if she would know to stop, to save herself. The thing that bothered him most was that Luna hadn't talked about price, or what it might cost to cross the 'bridge'. A niggling notion in the back of his mind was suggesting that it might not be him footing the bill. If it was high enough, the magic could get burnt right out of someone he cared a great deal about. He made a promise to himself, to make Hermione let go if it was too much, if it was the last thing he ever did, even if she didn't want him to. He would always be the boy who died in the Tournament, there was his 'eternal glory.' "There's an orb up by the Whomping Willow."
"I've never actually made a wand before," said Hermione, "let alone a staff. I don't think Olivander is still here." Or would actually help, said a small voice inside her. "I've seen it done," she reasoned out loud with herself. She had watched avidly at Olivanders elbow over the summer as the old Wandmaker had split the rods with a sickle shaped razor that somehow carved a channel either side at the same time, she had a small notched blade like it in her set of tools. He had pasted a sickly smelling, sticky resin into the channel with the chosen core and sealed the rod again with a spell before moving on to the next. The core enhanced rods were piled for shaping and polishing, then tested for potency in a special range set up with distance markers and some tailors dummies, lightly seared at the edges.
The trouble was the time it took. It was taking more energy to reinvigorate the body that Cedric was in each time, he simply had to get back to him own. She tried very hard not to picture the pale corpse, eyes blankly open which reappeared in the Tournament circle at the mouth of the Maze.
A sliver of bark flaked off the stave, close to her hand, then a whole strip the other side of her hand, all the way to the end, leaving a handswidth ring of bark where she held it.
"Is it supposed to be doing this?" Hermione asked Luna.
Luna frowned, puzzled, it was as if Hermione was actively disrupting the spalting where she was in contact with the wood. Luna edged a fingernail into the bark band, the wood underneath the bark was pale green, resurrected and alive in the face of all odds. "It's fine," she confirmed, checking that the mottling went all the way to the other end – it had simply bypassed where Hermione was.
Hermione fished in her pocket, feeling for the coil of centaur hair, she drew it out and flicked it so that it unrolled. The strands sparkled silver, dark and gold, weaving in amongst themselves into a spiral plait. "Luna, I need you to hold this I have an idea. Hold it here," she passed one end of the tail hairs to Luna and made her hold them to one end of the stave, while she placed the tip of her wand at the other end and thought about how much she wanted the hairs to draw themselves through the stave. There wasn't a spell, no set of words that she could think of that verbalised what she wanted, just that she wanted it to happen so very much. Luna rolled the hairs between her fingers and thumb and let go. The hairs continued to twist, easing into the stave like the diamond point of the quietest drill. A steady rain of powdered wood streamed from where the tail hairs turned around themselves and tighter, edging into the stave.
Cedric watched in amazement as the pool of tail hairs grew smaller and smaller, more and more of it disappeared into the wood. A single curling strand of black hair appeared under the mottling in the wood, circling around and up, under the bark handpiece and appearing again the other side, spiralling lazily. When it reached the top, the hairs that had passed dead centre all the way up broke through the tip in a shower of sawdust and ceased spinning, splaying away from one another like a miniature fountain.
Hermione took a shaky breath and blinked away the black spots behind her eyelids. Lunas lips curved into a small smile, recognising that pivotal moment where a Witch gives more than she should to get more than should be possible. It was dangerous territory though and Luna eyed Cedric curiously wondering exactly what was so special about him that Hermione would risk everything, because that was exactly what she was doing.
Hermione took Cedrics wand again and shook her own out of her sleeve.
"Alohomora," Hermione whispered. The Vine twined around the damaged wand, running its leaves over it like loving fingers. The leaves found the join on the ring and turned themselves edge on, there was a faint click, like the turning of a rubiks cube and a fissure opened along one side of the wand and it opened smoothly as if hinged on the other side. Hermione huffed gently at the speckled grey fragments, nothing, nothing, then something, a flash of a silver white hair, two thirds the length it should be.
She picked at the hair, getting it under her fingernail and edging it out of the groove and into the palm of her hand. Luna laid the living handpiece of the staff over the top of the single strand on Hermiones open palm and closed her own hand around it so that their fingers interweaved. Luna held her other hand up and the thestral nosed into it.
"Ready?" Luna whispered. Hermione nodded, not really sure how what needed to happen was going to come to pass, she felt exhausted just getting the core to drill itself into the staff, let alone making the single bristle part of the staff as well. "Through me," Luna whispered to Hermione, "reach through me."
"Wait," rasped Cedric, suddenly understanding that Luna was asking Hermione to walk the thin line between light and dark, but it was too late, Hermione had already closed her eyes to concentrate. Hermione heard him shout like it came from the end of a really long tunnel and Cedric sounded more like himself than he had a right to from inside someone elses body. He also sounded as if he was really, really pissed with her.
Hermiones mind went into freefall, whispers caressed her from all sides, 'reach through, through the darkness, feel the power there.' Somewhere further away a chiding voice implored,'don't lose yourself…it' the end of the sentence was scratchy like someone had ripped the needle off an old vinyl disc. 'Make the staff as it should be, build the bridge light to dark, death to life, close the space between.' Hermione felt like she was walking and at the same time stood solidly grasping Lunas hand. The Unicorn hair sank under the surface of the staff and Hermione followed it in her mind, plunging thorough the dense living fibres and into the dead heartwood. Her mind tripped and stumbled, like unknowing feet in the forbidden forest, there were paths for the knowing and other things for the unwary. The ground thrummed as if alive, for all she knew it was.
Blackness tugged at her and she touched it fleetingly, loathing the chill, sucking sensation, but suddenly exhilarated by the rush of magic it granted her. She rode the crest and gasping, sagged when she let it go, seeing just ahead the silver twisting river of the core and intent on winding the single white bristle into its heart. Darkness plucked at her, enticing her to take it up again. The power it offered was almost irresistible. 'Leave it, leave it,' someone urged.
In her minds eye she reached forwards and threaded the Unicorn hair into the staffs core, light streamed along the length of the staff, end to end, blinding her, forcing her to recoil back into herself. The staff hummed in her hand and over her head, the Vine reached out in a perfect arch, lengthening both ends to complete a perfect arch. Luna let go, stumbling backwards awkwardly and the thestral spooked, spreading its huge leathery wings and managing an almost vertical takeoff.
Hermione opened her eyes, behind her a chill wind blew snow between her legs.
"Bravo darlings," crowed a cultured feminine voice behind her. "My aren't you something," it purred with a tone approaching envy. Hermione tried to turn, she needn't have bothered, a figure stepped impossibly through her and she felt the touch of an amused mind. She looked like a younger McGonagall, her body was willowy and covered in a long tawny dress that dragged the floor, above her bare shoulders, her hair twisted about her with a mind of its own, outlandishly tinted in browns and greens. "I am unhomed," she chuckled, "they think they got rid of me at last."
"Helen?" Hermione gasped.
"The same," it replied approvingly. "I'd like your wand," she said, the tone was in no way a request. Hermione tightened her grip and the figure tutted. The air grew colder behind her, snow flurried in front and behind. "I have not come so far," Helen said reprovingly, stopping when a scarecrow figure apparated with a loud snap.
"I banish you by thought," Snapes tone was foul with contempt, not that his lover had returned, but that she chose to pit herself against a student. A second figure separated from him, quivering with fury, McGonagall, thwarted in her second attempt by her sister hiding in the orb. Only when Trelawney had tried to contact Helen and failed had McGonagall known she had been played for a fool and selected reinforcements with a darker knowledge.
"I banish you by deed," McGonagalls voice was a deadly hiss. She held the orb in one hand and struck it with her wand, sparks flew off and with an almighty crack the orb split into two halves. Helen shrieked and lunged at Hermione.
With gritted teeth, Hermione held fast with both hands as something tried to force itself into her body. She pushed back with all her might, filling herself up with only herself so that there was no space left for anything or anyone else. She whispered harshly, "I banish you by will," and with a final shriek the presence was gone.
Snapes cruel fingers prised her hand from the staff and her knees went the instant she was forced to let go. He caught her awkwardly with his arm behind her back, staggering and bent forward over her. He could have set her down, but didn't. Instead their eyes locked, Snapes showing more emotion than Hermione had ever seen, a mixture of loss and relief.
"I'll take her, Sir?"
"Ah, Weasley," Snape sneered, silencing himself suddenly and looking closer at the face purporting to be Ron, taking in the shadows around the eyes and dry, cracking lips. The Professor passed an unresisting Hermione into Cedrics care. Snape said carefully, to no-one in particular and nonchalantly handed the staff to him, "you have about 10 minutes before Mrs Norris checks on the body again."
"I could use your help," Cedric murmured.
Snapes lips twisted into an almost smile, before he gripped Cedrics robes and Hermiones sleeve and apparated directly to the chapel.
Guttering candles had been placed around the body in repose. Snape swept a hand and all but two flickered out, smoke rising lazily from the heated wicks. "Get on with it," Snape growled.
"I'm not sure how this is going to work, exactly," admitted Cedric.
Professor Snape dragged at his hook nose and breathed heavily. "Hold the staff, touch the body, I'll do the rest, now move yourself," he snarled. Cedric flicked his eyes over Hermiones face, she looked stricken. There was so much he wanted to say and none of it was goodbye and now there was no time.
Snape snapped waspishly, "I don't have all night."
"What do I do?" Hermione whispered.
"You've done enough," sneered Snape nastily. Having her so close was giving him a nervous tic and he still hadn't quite managed to make himself let go of her sleeve.
Cedric circled the body, coming to rest opposite the Professor and Hermione. Tentatively he gripped the wrist, feeling warmth flood up his arm. He jerked his gaze to Snape, soundlessly the Professors lips moved and Hermione swayed, eyes glassy, her wand rising and pointing at him.
Cedric opened his mouth to speak, to shout 'why?' when they had come this far. The warmth had spread to his shoulder now, across to his throat and burned, hot as pitch, scorching his voice hoarse and silent. Fire streamed from Hermiones wand tip, arcing against the staff like a lightning rod and the heat spread, his consciousness running before it hopelessly before he was engulfed in flames.
The first thing he noticed was the quiet. The second was that a smaller, softer body was cuddled into his side. Through the gloom, he could make out the distinctive newel posts of his own bed and Tomas sitting cross legged at the end, picking at his own fingernails.
Tomas stirred as Cedric tilted his head up to see better.
"Delicia?" Tomas nodded towards Hermiones unconscious form.
"Indeed," Cedric sighed. It looked real, felt real from inside his battered body and he winced from the scorched flesh on his chest. He glanced at the time turner on his wrist, the dome was smashed in and the hands swung lazily in opposite directions. He stared beadily at Hermiones necklace, her time turner was different, more resembling an old fashioned hour glass, only now the sand drained unceasingly from top to bottom with neither showing increase or decrease. He hugged her tighter and she moaned his name in her sleep. He didn't know what it meant, but he'd take it.
Tomas grinned and slipped off the bed, he pointed at a grey mottled staff leaning idly in the corner near the pillow, beside it lay Hermiones wand, the leaves settled and unsettled as Hermione rolled and stretched. "Yours?"
"Replacement," confirmed Cedric.
Tomas nodded in approval. "It will be an interesting story I think…like the chalk centaur on the hill."
Cedric frowned, "I don't know anything about that." There were flashes he thought he remembered, of hoofbeats and a startled cry when Helen was being banished, of running headlong before fire. He shut it out, that must have been Snapes doing, nothing to do with Hermione, she was simply his pawn.
"Then we will trade, no?" said Tomas, smiling widely
Hermiones arm crept across Cedrics torso and Tomas backed out of the closed curtains.
When Hermione and Cedric eventually emerged, the staff was augmented by not one, but two Vine rings, bracketing the handpiece top and bottom.
A/N: There were things that didn't get woven into the story in the end, because the story changed (thanks SHR lol!). If there is anything seriously narking you, I probably have an outtake for it you can have that no longer fits the final story line (!)