Of course the chapter with Cedric in it would be the biggest one in the whole damn story ;)
Apologies for not posting this last week. I was simply unable to find the time.
Thanks to Libby for keeping me sane while I preread this monster. Not that we're all that sane anyway...
Disclaimer: J.K owns it. Anyone or anything unfamiliar to the franchise belongs to me.
Lighter Than Air
Hogwarts was definitely in the Christmas spirit. Hagrid had already brought in the twelve Christmas trees for the Great Hall, which were now adorned with shining baubles and tinsel that glittered like stars under the candlelight. Garlands of holly and tinsel were wrapped around the banisters of the stairs, and mistletoe hung on from just about every available surface. It was a little bit maddening.
Lavender certainly seemed to be using the mistletoe to her advantage. I'd lost count of how many times I'd stumbled upon her and Ron under the delicate plant, wrapped around each other in ways that should be not only impossible, but illegal. Ron didn't seem bothered by the constant attention in the slightest; in fact, I'd say he was rather enjoying it. I'd heard him bragging to Harry on multiple occasions.
While Ron and I were still very good friends, there were a few times when I found myself wanting to either beat him with my textbooks or throw things at him until he apologized to Hermione.
The two of them hadn't spoken in weeks; Lavender was always around, which dashed any hope of reconciliation anytime soon. It was a bit awkward for Harry and me, the two of us being torn in all directions whenever people requested our company. A lot of the time Harry would go off with Ron while I spent time with Hermione. It was nice, but I missed the days when we could all spend time together without having to worry about overprotective girlfriends and unrequited affection.
"Do you think they'll ever make up?" Harry asked as the two of us walked down to the library one evening to meet up with Hermione. She was, as usual, staying late to catch up on study – or to avoid Ron.
"God, I don't know anymore," I sighed, running a hand through my hair. It got caught between my fingers and Harry laughed when I accidentally pulled it over my face. I elbowed him in the ribs for good measure. "I hope they will."
However, when we found Hermione packing up her books and rolls of parchment, her attitude made us think otherwise. Especially when Harry brought up Ron and the upcoming Christmas party Slughorn was hosting.
"He's at perfect liberty to kiss whomever he likes," she snapped as we followed her through the aisles, watching as she sorted the books she had taken out back into their correct places. "I really couldn't care less."
Her tone belied her harshly spoken words, but I wasn't about to tell her that. The last thing I needed was to be frosted over by her icy glare.
"Was I under the impression he and I would be attending Slughorn's Christmas party together? Yes. Now, given the circumstances, I've had to make other arrangements."
I looked up at her words, my fingers pausing from where they'd been flicking through one of her books. She hadn't told me about this new development, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want details.
"Have you?" Harry said, sounding a little bit put out. I knew what he had been hoping to suggest.
"Yes," she deadpanned. "Why?" She took the book from my hands and held it up to the towering shelf. The moment her fingers relaxed the book floated up, up, up to its designated spot and pushed its way in between the books that had fallen into the gap it had left.
"Well, I just thought, seeing as neither of us can go with who we'd really like to, we should go together, as friends." We paused at the end of the aisle, leaning against the empty desks on either side.
Hermione's face fell in disappointment. "Why didn't I think of that?" she scolded herself.
"Who are you going with?" Harry asked, sensing the distress in her tone.
"It's rude to keep secrets, you know," I added, smiling a little in the hopes of easing her troubled mind.
"Um," Hermione hesitated. "It's a surprise. Anyway, it's you we've got to worry about. You can't just take anyone." She looked over her shoulder and subtly walked over to where Harry and I stood; well, Harry stood. I was sitting on the desk. "See that girl over there?"
Harry and I looked over Hermione's shoulder to where a girl with dark, curly hair was sitting by the window. She didn't seem to be hiding the fact that she was staring straight at us. "That's Romilda Vane," Hermione went on. "Apparently she's trying to smuggle you a Love potion."
Harry looked quite flattered. "Really?"
Hermione noticed this and clicked her fingers in front of his face. "Hey!" she scolded. "She's only interested in you because she thinks you're The Chosen One."
"But I am The Chosen One," Harry shot back cheekily, completely full of himself by this point.
The newspaper Hermione was holding cracked down against his head with a sharp thwack! The dazed expression on his face was so amusing that I burst into loud laughter, quickly slapping a hand over my mouth so that I wouldn't get in trouble with Madam Pince.
"Okay, sorry," Harry apologized in a small voice, the impact obviously having calmed his overly inflated ego. "Um, kidding. I'll… ask someone I like. Someone cool." He nodded, resolute, and finally turned back to look at me, noticing the redness of my cheeks and the way my eyes were watering. "Are you okay?"
I began giggling again and buried my face in his sweater.
We remained in the library a little while longer, the two of them waiting while I took some book notes for my classes. With that done the three of us began the trek back to the common room; it was getting late and we had to be back before McGonagall caught us wandering the halls after hours. We spent most of the journey arguing about whether or not Filch and Madam Pince were secretly in love with each other.
Hermione spoke up as we ascended the moving staircases. "I can't believe I forgot," she said, pressing her fingers to her forehead. "Amber, who are you taking to the party?"
I shrugged. I had finally written to Cedric about the Christmas party and how I probably wouldn't take anyone with me. He had written back, sounding rather excited about the prospect of a party. He hoped I had fun and couldn't wait to hear all about it; I had been a little suspicious, but decided to let it slide. It's not like he was about to show up just to escort me, even though such a thing would be absolutely wonderful. "No one," I replied casually.
She blinked her eyes wide. "Well then, why don't you and Harry go together?"
Harry shook his head. "She's already looking out for me every minute of the day. I'm not about to ask her to be my date for a party when she's probably had quite enough of me."
I laughed. "Like that could ever happen. I'd be happy to go with you."
He smiled. "Thanks, but it's really not necessary. Besides, I think I know who I'm going to ask."
I tilted my head to the side but didn't argue further. I wasn't upset that he had already chosen someone and I certainly didn't mind going alone. There was every chance he had gotten sick of my constant presence.
Hermione went straight to bed the moment we stepped into the common room. All it took was a glance in the right direction to know why. Ron and Lavender were curled up in an armchair, kissing. Again. Instead of letting me settle in front of the fire and start catching up on my work, Hermione grabbed my arm and dragged me up to the dormitory with her.
"Whoa, whoa!" I laughed, stumbling up the stairs. "Careful! I need my arm, you know."
She let go and apologized in a low voice, marching to her bed as the door closed behind us. "You're going to think I'm such an idiot."
My eyes narrowed as I perched myself on the end of my bed. Bella swooped in through the open window, covered in snow, and landed on the arm I held out for her. "Hey, beautiful girl," I crooned and pressed a kiss to her feathered cheek. Hermione smiled weakly and my attention shifted back to her. "Now, what's wrong?"
Instead of answering she pushed her sight toward me, waiting in silence as I witnessed her memories through the blue glow. "Oh no," I gasped. "Hermione, you didn't."
"Really?" My voice rose in disbelief and Bella flapped her wings in surprise, showering snowflakes all over me. "Cormac?"
"I know!" She dropped her head into her hands, cursing me under her breath when I started laughing. "It's not funny."
"It's a little funny," I snickered. "Of all the people you could have asked, you chose Cormac?"
She groaned and flopped onto her back. Thankfully the other girls were still downstairs, and anyone who was up here was fast asleep. "Shut up."
I shook my head and stroked the top of Bella's head, smiling as her wide, blue eyes blinked up at me. "You're one brave girl, Hermione Granger."
It was 7:45 on the night of Slughorn's Christmas party and I was almost ready. I had been trying to get my shoes on, but quickly realized that standing on one foot while yanking the shoe on wasn't doing me any favours, especially in a long dress. After sitting down and sliding them on with a much greater level of success, I gave my hair another quick brush, told Bella to behave herself while I was away – she hooted at me and went back to staring out the window – and made my way down into the common room.
Hermione had already gone to meet Cormac; apparently she hadn't told Harry about her date yet. She had looked a little green when I all but pushed her out the door, reminding her that it was her idea to ask him, not mine. Harry was still here, however, and rose from his spot on the couch when I came into view.
"Amber, you look beautiful." He took my hands with a smile, squeezing them as my cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
"Thanks," I said. I hadn't dressed up in a while and I'll admit that it felt nice. Like any other girl, I enjoyed looking pretty, although I certainly couldn't do it every day. It was so tiring. I had chosen a simple blue floor-length strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline. The shoes I wore – that had given me all the trouble earlier – were small heeled, black and very unassuming. I wasn't interested in standing out and wanted to look as much like myself as I could. I felt comfortable in this, and that was the most important thing. "You look rather dashing yourself."
Harry was dressed very smartly in dark robes and a deep mahogany shirt underneath. He looked so much older now when compared to his fourteen year old self at the Yule Ball. He and Luna would make a wonderful pair tonight.
I had been absolutely ecstatic when he told me he was taking Luna as his date. The fifth year girl was an absolute sweetheart. She deserved a fun night out, and Harry's kind invitation proved just how big his heart was.
Ron looked up from his usual spot on the armchair, Lavender perched on his lap as always. "You really do look nice," he said casually. I smiled at him, biting back a snarl when Lavender narrowed her eyes at me. Honestly, the girl was so protective it was insane.
"Thank you, Ron," I said, ignoring Lavender completely. "Come on, Harry, we don't want to be late. I'm sure Luna's waiting for you."
It was still snowing outside as we made our way down the usual corridors to where Slughorn's party was being held. There were lanterns strung along the ceiling to light the way the closer we got, despite the fact that we didn't need directions; still, they were nice to look at.
Harry paused when we were a few corridors away from our destination and I turned to look at him. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, of course," he replied. "I um, I just remembered that I'm meeting Luna at eight. I think I'll hang back and wait for her."
"Oh. Do you want me to wait with you?"
"No, no, that's okay." There was a glint in his eyes that I couldn't quite place, but he didn't elaborate, so I didn't ask. "You go on ahead."
"If you're sure…"
"Absolutely. Go on."
Unsure of what else to do I turned on my heel and continued down the corridor, swaying my arms a little with each step. It was odd, walking by myself. I couldn't remember the last time I had done so; every other time I had been walking with Harry, Hermione or Ron, or all of them. It gave me a few minutes to myself and I spent it in peaceful silence, watching the snow flutter by outside. For a moment, when I turned a corner into another hall, I thought I caught sight of Draco leaning against the wall. By the time I turned around to investigate, he was gone.
"This is what happens when you're left alone," I teased myself, hurrying my steps down the hall. I didn't want to be late. "You start seeing things; god, you're a loony. A loony who talks to herself. Wonderful."
I made it down a few more empty corridors – all lit with those increasingly charming lanterns – before I was struck with the oddest sensation in my chest. It started in my heart and quickly spread through the rest of my body, warming me from the inside out. I closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy the rush, a faint smile touching my lips. The feeling was soft and familiar and brought me the utmost peace.
Confused but completely blissful, I continued on, but the moment I rounded the last corner that would lead me to the party I stopped in my tracks. My eyes widened and I felt my heart – which had been beating softly, perfectly untroubled – thumping against my ribs. "Oh my God," I whispered.
There, standing casually in the middle of the looming hallway, was Cedric. He turned around at my disbelieving whisper and I inhaled a gasp at the sight of him. I wished I had enough presence of mind to take in what he was wearing but all I could see was his face, familiar and achingly handsome. His lips pulled up into a smile and I was sure I would fall backwards at the sight. "Surprise," he said and held his arms out for me.
I ran to him without hesitation, the sound of my heels clicking over the stone floor a distant tapping in the back of my mind. As soon as I was close enough I threw myself into his arms, crying out against his chest as he wrapped his arms around me with a low groan. Warmth exploded between us and I clutched him to me, digging my nails into the back of his suit jacket. I felt his lips press against my hair and struggled not to cry. "You're here," I croaked.
"What are you doing here?"
He laughed and I burrowed further into his chest at the sound. He leaned back a little to look down at me and I lost myself in those sea coloured eyes. "You can thank Dumbledore for that," he said.
I blinked. "What?"
"When Dumbledore heard Slughorn was throwing a Christmas party, he sent me an owl requesting my presence here on the night. He knew you wouldn't ask anyone to go with you and wondered if I would like to fill the vacancy." His soft fingers stroked my cheek and I turned my face toward them, kissing his knuckles as they passed over my lips. "He knows how hard this is for you," he continued. "Us being separated, I mean. Besides, did you honestly think I'd miss the chance to see you?"
I smiled, my eyes filling with the tears I fought so hard to hold back. "When did you get here?" My voice was weak and shaky, but I had to know.
"About an hour ago. You have no idea how badly I wanted to come up and see you, but I didn't know the password."
"Baubles," I laughed through my tears. "The password is Baubles."
"How festive," he mused, wiping the tears from my cheeks as they rushed down to my chin. "Come here," he breathed and bent down to kiss me.
I melted into him the moment our lips touched, warm and soft and absolutely heavenly. His hands cupped my cheeks while I slid my own into his unruly hair, parting my lips under his. Tongues touched and we both released quiet groans as we gravitated towards each other, reuniting after so many months apart. He slid a hand through my hair and down my back, my body trembling as he brushed against my bare skin. He pulled away long before I was ready, despite the fact that we were both gasping for breath. He seemed to share my desperation and leaned his forehead against mine, his panting breaths ghosting over my lips.
"God, you have no idea how much I've missed you," he breathed.
I laughed breathlessly and gently stroked my fingers down his cheek. The faint sprinkling of stubble scratched wonderfully against my fingertips. "I think I might have an idea. You look annoyingly handsome, by the way." He wore a sharp black suit, white undershirt and thin black tie. It was incredibly distracting.
He straightened up again and raised his eyebrows. "Annoyingly handsome?" he mouthed, his face twisting in mock hurt.
I giggled and pulled him down for a quick, apologetic kiss. "You know what I mean."
He hummed and kissed his way across my cheek, up over my temple and into my hair, chuckling at my giggles. "I've missed that sound," he sighed. "You look absolutely stunning. That colour looks beautiful on you."
I beamed, much happier with my dress choice than I had been earlier. "Thank you," I said. "Now, enough of your flattery; we need to get to this party before we miss it completely."
He chuckled, but stepped back and offered me his arm. "Shall we, Miss Dawson?"
I tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow and pressed close to him. "We shall."
We walked slowly down the final corridor, the open door of the party venue in full view. I almost didn't want to go in.
"So, tell me about this Professor Slughorn," Cedric said. "He was never at Hogwarts while I was here. What's he like?"
I frowned. I'd never been asked this before. "He's… nice. A bit obsessed with social standings and the status of whom he knows, but he's pleasant enough."
"Do you like him?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose. He's a good teacher. He can be… difficult at times." Cedric nodded, knowing full well that he was giving Harry and I quite a hard time at present. "I certainly don't dislike him." There. That was good enough. I hadn't really thought of my own opinion of the potions master. I had been too focused on Harry and what he thought. It was nice having someone who wanted to know my feelings on trivial little things like that. Not that Harry and the others didn't care, because I knew they did. They just had far too much on their plate, and I was used to keeping to myself most of the time. "I love you, you know that?"
"I do, but it's always nice to hear." We paused outside the door and he kissed me again. "I love you, too."
Slughorn's office looked much bigger than usual and as we walked inside I couldn't help but wonder if he used magical trickery to make it so. The walls and ceiling had been draped in emerald and gold hangings, turning the spaces by the windows into little alcoves. All in all it looked rather nice; not only that, but it was full of people. Most of whom I didn't recognize.
I turned at the shy voice and smiled when I spotted Neville standing a few feet away, a silver tray perched on the flat of his right hand. Cedric held out his hand. "Neville," he greeted cheerfully. "It's good to see you again."
"I didn't know you were coming," he said in delight. "It's been ages."
"I didn't even know he was coming," I laughed.
Cedric grinned as he and Neville shook hands. "It was a surprise," he explained. "And you're right, it's been far too long. You're looking very well."
Neville beamed. "Thanks. Would either of you like a drink?"
Cedric took a glass while I declined, opting to sip from his instead. Cedric and Neville spoke for a little while longer – even though Neville was supposed to be serving drinks to everyone. I watched the scene with a sense of pure bliss. I loved that Cedric was getting the chance to catch up with my friends; people that he'd gotten to know after we got together. I couldn't wait for him to see Harry.
Thankfully I didn't have to wait long. Harry and Luna arrived a few minutes after we did, the two boys moving to each other almost immediately.
"Harry, mate," Cedric began happily. "I was wondering when you'd get here."
Harry shook his hand with a wide smile. "Hey, Ced. It's great to see you." His eyes found mine and the sparkle was back. "Found yourself a date, then?"
It didn't take me long to connect the dots. "You knew!" I cried, pointing an accusing finger at him. He started laughing. "You knew the whole time and didn't tell me!"
"That's my fault," Cedric said. "I told him to keep it a secret."
I huffed. "That's why you didn't want to go with me," I grumbled, narrowing my eyes at Harry.
He grinned. "It's not that I didn't want to, it was because I wasn't allowed."
I cracked a smile at this, even though I hadn't been mad at all in the first place. The four of us spoke for a while, Cedric making sure to ask Luna how she had been and how her classes were going. She answered all of his questions with the utmost sincerity, her pale eyes gleaming peacefully. Cedric had always been fond of her and her curious ways.
"Where's Hermione?" I asked after a while, surprised that she hadn't found us yet.
Harry frowned as he, too, realized this, and began looking around. "I dunno. Perhaps I should go look for her… oh no."
I turned at the change in his tone and bit back a grimace as Professor Slughorn came strolling over, eyes alight with joy at the sight of Harry standing near the doorway. "Harry, m'boy!" he cried. "Glad you could make it. Oh, good to see you, too, Miss Dawson." His eyes travelled to my date and his smile grew. "This must be Mr. Diggory, I take it?" I nodded happily and watched as the professor shook the hand that wasn't wrapped around mine. "A pleasure to meet you, Cedric. I should very much like to speak to you a bit later, but for now I have a few people who would like to meet Harry. Come along, my boy."
Harry followed willingly, but not before we shared a teasing glance. The poor thing.
Cedric watched them go before turning back to me. "Is he always like that with him?"
I laughed. "Pretty much."
We spent the next half hour or so mingling with the other partygoers. I eventually found Ginny and struck up a conversation with her. Cedric seemed pleased to see her, having not seen any of the Weasleys since his stay at The Burrow over the summer. It was during their conversation that Slughorn found us again and politely dragged us away, introducing us to a few of his friends who asked me question after question about my gifts. Cedric noticed my discomfort and excused us from the conversation for a quick moment of peace.
"Are you alright?" he asked, bending his knees so that we were standing almost eye-to-eye. "You seem a bit stressed."
I smiled weakly and touched his face. "I'm fine, really. Slughorn was like this with me during the first supper party he held. I'm not surprised he's told other people about me."
Cedric kissed my forehead. "Most people know who you are anyway. I can see why he's so taken by you; apart from Harry, you're probably one of the rarest students in this school."
I scowled. "You make it sound like I should be displayed in some dusty old museum."
He shook his head vehemently. "That wasn't my intention, but do you see what I mean? That's probably how he thinks of you. Imagine the bragging rights he'd get from knowing The Silver Phoenix and The Boy Who Lived."
I sighed, finally understanding. "Harry is much more important than I am," I said. I wasn't jealous, it was a simple truth. Harry was so very precious, and it was my job to protect him, however I could.
"Not to me," Cedric said in a low voice. He pulled me to his chest for a moment and we breathed each other in. The sound of his heart against my ear settled the bubble of frustration that had been threatening to burst inside me, and I soon felt relaxed enough to rejoin the party. Cedric noticed the moment I nuzzled my nose into his shirt and ran a gentle hand through my hair. "Better?"
"Better," I replied with a small nod. "Sorry."
He smiled. "Don't be. I get that you're frustrated, I do. This year hasn't been easy on you so far."
I took his hands and pressed my lips to his knuckles. "Let's not talk about it right now. I want you to enjoy tonight."
His eyes softened and I felt his fingers clench around mine. After sharing a few more soft words we rejoined the chattering crowds, introducing ourselves to unknown guests when they stopped us from continuing around the room. Cedric handled himself beautifully, controlling the topics and easing us away from people the moment I started getting uncomfortable. I no longer felt bitter about having people pry; they were curious, and that was hardly an attribute that demanded faulting.
Slughorn eventually found us again, offering us another glass full of sparkling liquid. Cedric took one and handed it straight to me, smiling a little as I sipped at it. "Enjoying the party, are we?" he asked pleasantly. He seemed rather happy with the turn out if the grin on his face was anything to go by.
"Absolutely," Cedric replied. "It's a shame no one did such things when I was here."
Slughorn chuckled. "I'm glad you were able to make it, Mr. Diggory. I've heard quite a lot about you: Hufflepuff seeker, contestant in the Tri-Wizard Tournament –" I flinched at those words, remembering the stress and panic of that year. I was more than happy to see that competition end. Slughorn didn't notice my twisted expression as he rattled off the list of Cedric's other accomplishments and gushed over his talent in his old Charms class. Apparently Flitwick had nothing but nice things to say about him, which helped to lift my spirits.
"- and what about you, Miss Dawson?"
My head whipped around at Slughorn's words, realizing I had unconsciously tuned out their droning conversation, focusing instead on the lulling hum of Cedric's calming voice. "Sorry," I apologized. "What was that, sir?"
He chuckled at my expense. "I asked how your classes were going."
"Oh. Very well, thank you."
Slughorn smiled and turned his gaze back to Cedric. "I've heard she's rather talented in Defense against the Dark Arts," he said.
Cedric nodded, squeezing my hand in silent apology. He knew I always felt uncomfortable when people singled me out like this. "She's remarkable. I've seen her in action and it's really something special."
"She undergoes training outside of school, yes?"
"Uh, yes." Cedric hesitated, unsure of whether or not this was confidential information. Perhaps he'd spoken to Dumbledore about me in passing. I shrugged. "She was training over the summer."
Slughorn nodded and backed away from the subject, obviously realizing that we weren't going to divulge any more information. "Miss Dawson," he went on, and I looked up at him expectantly. "Would it be too much for me to ask for a demonstration of your gifts? I've never heard of such a talent existing and would very much like to see it firsthand."
I balked. I hadn't been expecting such a request and it would be awfully rude to deny him. He was one of my teachers, after all. "Um…" I looked to Cedric for help but he merely smiled at me. It seemed I didn't have much of a choice. "Of course, Professor."
"Splendid!" His eyes lit up and I knew I had made the right decision. "Is there anything you need me to do?"
I smiled, realizing that this might help Harry burrow further into Slughorn's good books. If this would help even a little, I'd be happy to oblige. "Just hold still and keep your mind open."
Cedric tightened his grip on my hand and I squeezed back in thanks. His touch would help keep me grounded in this crowded room, especially since I was looking through new eyes; it was always a little tricky with new people. I just hoped I wouldn't have the same issues I did with Malfoy.
Thankfully the transition was an easy one. I kept my eyes closed until I was able to grip his unfamiliar essence and link our minds together. A small flash of warmth pinched the bottom of my spine and I smiled, knowing it was Cedric's doing. He was proud of me. I took a steadying breath as the sensation eased and opened my eyes, laughing a little as I saw myself from his point of view, the blue of my dress amplified by the brighter blue tinge of the world through these eyes. I could sense his appreciation of the way we looked together; united, strong and completely in love. Such a thing should have seemed strange coming from a teacher, but I knew it was a purely natural observation. I was glad to see that he thought that about us, because it certainly felt that way.
Instead of telling him such things, I broke the connection and smiled. "I'm glad you like my dress, professor," I laughed. "It took me an age to pick it out."
He clapped his hands together and let out a joyous laugh. "Remarkable!" he cried happily. "And the other person doesn't feel a thing. Does she do that with you often, Cedric?" Cedric nodded, taking the glass when I offered it to him. "And it's completely willing?"
He nodded again. "My mind is always open to her."
"Is distance an issue?"
I shook my head, watching as Cedric took a sip of his drink. The bob of his Adam's apple distracted me for a moment. "Not anymore."
"Very impressive. You're like a Legilimens that can't be blocked."
I felt my brows pull together at the description. I'd never heard anyone describe my gifts quite like that, and I suppose it wasn't wrong. Still, there were ways I could be stopped; painful ways, but it wasn't impossible. I didn't feel it necessary to tell him such things, though. The less people knew, the better.
Cedric cleared his throat and took another sip of his drink, his thumb rubbing over my knuckles. He knew of my troubles and how it would be unwise to speak of them. Before Slughorn could bring up my gifts again I felt a small hand wrap around my wrist and tug so hard that I stumbled. Cedric looked at me in surprise as the jerky movement made me pull on his hand around mine; his gaze quickly travelled over my shoulder and he smiled, releasing my hand. I looked over my shoulder to see Hermione, clad in a soft pink dress and staring at me with wide, panicked eyes. I whirled back to the two men watching me and smiled apologetically. "Excuse me for a moment," I said before letting Hermione drag me into one of the little alcoves, the two of us ducking behind the gold curtain. Snow was still falling steadily outside, coating the ground in a white blanket.
"What in the world is going on?" I hissed as we huddled against the window. "And what happened to your hair?"
She let out a soft whine and tried to fix the flyaway strands that had come loose from their clips. As she did so, I was able to put two and two together. She noticed the second I caught on and glared at me as I started giggling. "Be quiet."
"Sorry." I held a hand up in surrender and tried to quiet my amusement. "Cormac, huh?"
She nodded. "He's awful."
"Why didn't you come and find me sooner? I'm sure Cedric would have been happy to help keep you hidden."
"Ugh. I don't know." She tucked another strand behind her ear and clutched my hands in hers. "Remind me to never do something this stupid again."
I laughed. "Never do something this stupid again."
She finally cracked a smile. "Thank you."
It was then that the curtain was pulled back and Harry slipped into the alcove with us, looking terribly confused. "Hermione, what are you doing?" he asked, his eyes meeting mine in silent greeting. "And what happened to you?"
"Cormac happened," I said as Hermione went back to her hair.
She let out another whining breath and lowered her arms. "I've just escaped," she sighed, sounding rather panicked now that I thought about it. She quickly backtracked at the startled expression on Harry's face. "I mean," she lowered her voice, as though sharing a terrible secret. "I left Cormac under the mistletoe."
His eyes flew back to mine in disbelief and I smiled wryly. "Yeah, I wasn't kidding."
"Cormac," he said in a low voice. "That's who you invited?"
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. It wasn't hard to tell that she was deeply regretting her choice of date for the evening. "I thought it would annoy Ron the most."
"It would have been worth it if Ron were here to see you with him," I said. "You're just torturing yourself."
She gave me a dry stare, but dropped her shoulders in defeat. "He's got more tentacles than a Snarfalump plant."
I grimaced at her misfortune; the last thing anyone wanted was to get groped by McLaggen. Before either of us could comment on the situation the gold curtain was pulled back and a waiter popped his head in, a silver tray perched atop his palm. "Dragon tartar?" he offered, smiling politely.
"No, I'm fine, thank you," Hermione whispered. Harry and I both gestured against it.
The waiter leaned toward us and spoke in a soft voice. "Just as well; they give one horribly bad breath."
Hermione's head shot up at his words and she reached out for the tray before he could leave. "On second thoughts," she muttered, nodding gratefully as the man left us to our business. I raised my eyebrows at her as she plucked one of the balls between her fingers. "Might keep Cormac at bay," she explained before taking a huge bite of the delicacy. I wrinkled my nose. If it gave one bad breath, I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would taste like. That being said, I wasn't going to try one so I could find out. She looked up mid-chew and her eyes widened. "Oh God, here he comes!"
I had just enough time to look through the curtain and see Cormac's looming figure heading for us before Hermione grabbed my arm and dragged me back out into the main room with her, having shoved the tray into Harry's hands. "Hermione, for goodness sake," I laughed, trying not to trip in my shoes. The heels may not have been very high, but there was still a chance of me rolling my ankle if I stepped wrong. "Go and find Ginny; I'm sure she'll keep you well hidden."
Hermione let go of my arm and practically disappeared at my words, leaving me standing in the middle of the room, rubbing my aching wrist. The girl had quite a firm grip.
"I think she just went to powder her nose."
I looked back at the sound of Harry's voice and saw that Cormac had joined him behind the curtain. Oh dear.
"Slippery little minx, your friend," Cormac replied, in some twisted form of amusement. Did he find her reluctance thrilling? "Likes to work her mouth, too, doesn't she? Yack, yack, yack." His voice slurred a bit at the end, as though he had his mouth full and I narrowed my eyes, trying to see through the curtain. "What's this I'm eating, by the way?" he asked after a moment of silence. He must have taken the tray from Harry and helped himself.
"Dragon balls," Harry replied. I bit my lip to stifle my laughter at how ridiculous the phrase sounded. As I did so, Professor Snape swept by me in a haze of black robes, heading straight for Harry and Cormac. I blinked my eyes wide and opened my mouth to speak to him, perhaps distract him if I could – for what reason, I didn't know. But before I could, he had already passed me and flung open the curtain, revealing Harry and Cormac by the window. A moment later Cormac lurched forward, bent at the waist, and emptied the contents of his stomach onto Snape's shoes.
I wrinkled my nose and turned away. How disgusting.
"You've just bought yourself a month's detention, McLaggen." Snape's voice was low and without amusement at his situation. "Not… so quick, Potter."
I turned back around and spotted Harry a few feet away from me, his eyes clenched shut in frustration at being spotted. Had he been trying to slink away? He opened them again and focused straight on me, jerking his head in silent request for me to join him – just in case. I made it over there as he began to speak in a rush. "Sir, I really think I should rejoin the party, my date…"
"Can surely survive your absence for another minute or two," Snape finished, looking up as I stepped to Harry's side. He didn't look angry and he managed to refrain from narrowing his eyes at me as I lifted my chin in challenge. I was involving myself in their conversation whether he liked it or not. "Besides," he went on, resigned. "I only wish to convey a message."
"A message?" Harry asked. Who would work through Snape to give word to Harry?
"From Professor Dumbledore." Oh. "He asked me to give you both his best and he hopes you enjoy your holiday." From the sound of his voice, Snape did not share the Headmasters sentiments. "You see – he's travelling; and he won't return until term resumes."
I raised my eyebrows. That was news to us. "Travelling?" I asked.
"Travelling where?" Harry added, his voice sharp.
Snape stared at us for a moment before turning and walking away, his expression unchanging.
"Well," I deadpanned. "Thanks for all your help, professor." I placed my hand on Harry's shoulder and turned him to look at me. "You okay?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. Did you see Cormac?"
I smiled. "No, but I heard him. I didn't have the strength to look at Snape's shoes."
"Did Hermione get away?" he asked, his cheerful disposition returning after the curious encounter with our teacher.
"She certainly did. I think she's over with Ginny. Now, I need to find Cedric again; I left him with Slughorn before, the poor thing."
"Yeah, goodness knows where Luna's gone."
I craned my neck to see over the crowds, quickly spotting Cedric by the far wall with – surprisingly enough - Luna and Professor Trelawney. He looked up, as though sensing my gaze, and smiled before politely excusing himself from their company and weaving through the crowd to get back to me. Before he reached me, however, there was a loud bang of a door hitting a wall and the sounds of a scuffle from the entrance to the bewitched office.
"Take your hands off me, you filthy squib!"
"Is that Malfoy?" I asked, taking Cedric's hand as he reached us. Sure enough, Filch was leading Draco into the middle of the room, his hand clenched around the back of Malfoy's suit jacket.
"Professor Slughorn, sir," Filch began in that sharp, unpleasant voice of his. "I just discovered this boy lurking in an upstairs corridor. He claims to have been invited to your party –"
Malfoy intervened before Filch could continue. "Okay, okay! I was gate crashing. Happy?" he spat. I couldn't help but notice the panic that lined his eyes. Cedric let go of my hand and slid it around my waist, pulling me tight to his side. The outburst had obviously made him feel a little protective. Oh yes, my darling; Hogwarts was still not without its drama.
Snape stepped out of the crowd. "I'll escort him out," he offered, looming over Malfoy.
Draco jerked free of Filch's grip and stared up at his Head of House. "Certainly… professor," he said darkly, before turning and striding from the room with Snape at his heels.
Slughorn laughed weakly and waved his hands about. "Alright everyone, carry on, carry on!"
The music began again and the chatter resumed, although slightly lower than it had been before. I turned back to Cedric with anxious eyes. "What in the world was that all about?"
Cedric looked down at me, lifting his free hand to cup my cheek. "Your guess is as good as mine," he said. His eyes drifted over my shoulder and he frowned. "Where did Harry go?"
I turned around and sure enough, Harry was gone. I felt my stomach twist at his absence. I hadn't even heard him leave. "Uh, perhaps he went to the bathroom."
Before Cedric could speak everything around me fell away and I was in the outside corridor, the world glowing with its blue haze. I felt my body pitch forward and then Cedric's arms around me as the shock made my knees give out. I knew without a doubt that it was Harry, but what was he trying to show me? All I could see was the snow falling from one of the arched windows in the hall.
And then came the voices.
"Maybe I did hex that Bell girl, maybe I didn't. What's it to you?"
A sharp sound, like a body hitting stone, echoed down the empty corridor.
"I swore to protect you," Snape hissed. "I made the Unbreakable Vow."
"I don't need protection! I was chosen for this; out of all others, me! And I won't fail him."
"You're afraid, Draco. You attempt to conceal it but it's obvious, let me assist you."
"No! I was chosen. This is my moment!"
In an instant I was back in my own mind, the images disappearing almost as quickly as they had come. I gasped into Cedric's shirt, my head spinning from the rush. His fingers clenched against my back. "Are you alright?" he asked, his lips pressed to my hair.
I wasn't sure.
"Do you really have to go?"
The remainder of the evening passed in a pleasant fashion. We mingled some more, although after the startling interruption we kept more to ourselves. Harry eventually returned, his eyes cold and stony. He didn't breathe a word of what he had heard and I wasn't about to ask him about it; we would discuss it on the train. This night was supposed to be fun. I would not let it be tainted any more than it already had been.
Slughorn had thanked us profusely for coming and took another few minutes to speak to Cedric before he left. Had I had been teaching here at the time, I have no doubt that you would have made the shelf, he had said. In fact, the two of us had gotten a few pictures taken with the potions master. I wondered if any of them would end up framed and perched upon those wooden shelves.
Harry, Hermione and Ginny had gone straight back to the common room to pack while Cedric and I took some time to wander about the castle. I saw a few Aurors hanging around the Great Hall and did my best to pay them as little attention as possible. It wasn't that I didn't respect them; it was that they reminded me of what waited outside these walls. What Cedric was going back into tonight.
"God, I miss this place," he sighed as we made our way up the moving staircases to the Fat Lady's portrait. Cedric insisted on walking me back to the common room, instead of letting me see him off at the front gates, where he would be escorted off the grounds so he could Apparate.
I smiled and tightened my grip on his long fingers. "It's nice having you back. It's like you never left." I tried to sound cheery, but there was a hint of sadness in my voice.
Cedric heard it and stopped me outside the closed portrait hole. The Fat Lady looked away politely. "Should I not have come tonight?"
"What? Of course you should have!" I pulled his hand up to my chest and wrapped both of mine around it. "I'm so glad you came tonight. You have no idea." I kissed his knuckles and let out a breath against his skin. "It's just hard, knowing I have to say goodbye again. I won't see you over Christmas." My eyes stung and I blinked hard to keep the tears back. "God knows when I'll see you again."
He exhaled slowly and I knew he'd caught on. "Oh, sweetheart. Come here." He pulled me close and I sank into his embrace, wrapping my arms around his torso and burying my face in his chest. "It's just as hard for me to be away from you, but for now, we have to. I miss you every day; not a minute goes by that I'm not thinking of you." He kissed my hair and I let out a dry sob against his shirt. "You are so strong, my love. So strong. I know you're having a hard time of it this year, but you can make it through. I know you can."
"Not without you," I whimpered. "I don't want you to go."
I didn't want to dampen his spirits and make him feel guilty, but I couldn't stop the despair that tightened my throat and made my blood run cold.
"If I had it my way, we'd never be apart. But there's nothing I can do." He hooked a finger under my chin and tilted my head back to look at him. I could see it in his eyes; he was struggling, too. There weren't words to express our constant need to be around each other, and how painful it was to be separated. To be reunited for one night and then forced to part again was the worst kind of torture, but I would rather see him for one night than not at all. I would take the pain if it meant I could see his face.
I sniffed and nodded my head, reaching up to wrap my arms around his neck. He pulled me close again with a desperate groan, burying his face in my neck as I nuzzled into his unruly hair. His heart pounded against mine, the beats searing into my skin. I relished the burn. "Give your family my love," I said weakly, laughing through a hiccup.
His laughter was strained. "I will. I'm not sure who misses you more; me or my mother."
"You," I said into his ear. "We both know it's you." I kissed his earlobe and he shivered in my arms.
He leaned back and without a word, crushed our mouths together. I gasped, my lips parting under his, and he took the opportunity to slide his tongue into my mouth, our groans muted by each other's lips. He walked me back until I felt the banister digging into my hips, but I didn't care. My senses were consumed by him. Our hands were as frantic as our lips, sliding over clothes and gripping where they could, trying to memorize any and all detail as we kissed. His lips were hot against mine and he snarled – a sound that made my body burn – as I sucked his lower lip into my mouth and bit down. It was the fuller of the two and I was just a little obsessed with it.
Cedric's hand cupped my hip while the other slid under my hair to grasp the back of my neck. We gasped between kisses, barely parting as we tried to breathe before diving back into the fray. I held him as close as I could get him, hoping that if I gripped hard enough, kissed him long enough, he wouldn't leave. I wanted to remember his kisses, his warmth, the sounds he made. It was a heady sensation, knowing I could make him so passionate, so completely uninhibited. He knew he held that same power over me. When we came together like this, we clashed like thunderclouds and struck the earth like bolts of lightning. We were a perfect storm.
But all storms must end, and soon enough our kisses began to slow until we were simply breathing each other in, our lips sliding together with each ragged inhale. The fingers that had been digging into my neck now lovingly stroked my skin, soothing the red marks I was sure he had left. I ran my fingers through his hair, delighting in the silky strands as they slid through my fingers. Cedric pressed our foreheads together and rubbed his nose against mine. The gesture was so sweet that I felt tears pooling in my eyes. Cedric's sea coloured eyes found mine as they began to fall.
"Hey," he whispered, bringing both his hands up to cup my cheeks. "Why are you crying?"
I sniffled. "I love you so much it hurts."
His eyes softened. "I know, sweetheart. I know exactly how you feel. But we'll be together again. I promise." I believed him. If there was one thing I knew, it was that we would always find each other, no matter the circumstance, or distance between us. Our souls were intertwined. No magic could keep us apart. "Dry your eyes. I'm going to remember this night for the rest of my life, and until we see each other again I will think of your face and the way you look tonight. I want to think back and know that I made you smile." He raised his eyebrows and gave me a gentle smile, encouraging me to mimic his action.
I laughed through my tears and wrapped my fingers around his wrists. The warm drops of water rolled over my lips and dripped off my chin, but still I smiled for him.
He kissed me again. "That's my girl."
Gah! It feels so good to have these two together again :) I think that's why this chapter ended up being so long. I wanted to take my time and let them just enjoy each other. I'm such a sap.
I never realized how difficult it would be, having them be apart. They're never truly whole until they're together.
Anyway, we're about half way through the story now. I can't believe how fast it's gone o: I guess that's what happens when I post twice a week.
I know I had more to talk about, but I'm consumed by my feels for these kids. When I first started writing this series, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd get so attached to them. I guess it just comes with the territory of being a writer. And you know what? I wouldn't trade it for anything :)
I actually made a polyvore set of their outfits if you'd like to have a look. There's a link to my polyvore account on my profile. The set is also called Lighter Than Air.
Well, I think that's everything. Hopefully I'll be back with another chapter later in the week.
Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts :) Even if you just want to ramble on about Cedric. It's okay. I'm happy to see him, too.
See you again soon!