Part Two of "Taking out the Competition." Told from Cedric's POV.
Disclaimer: Not Mine. No Profit. No Shit.
by Big D
Part Two of Taking Out the Competition: A Triwizard Mini-Series
AN: This is written from Cedric’s perspective. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I that thought it might be interesting to give a view of Harry’s manipulations from the perspective of the victim. If Harry comes off as an arrogant ass in this, that’s because he is one. I think of Slytherin Harry like this. On a good day, he’s an antihero. On a bad day, he’s a villain. Most of the time he’s just a dangerously intelligent, functional sociopath who fucks with people’s lives for his own personal amusement and profit. This time, it’s Cedric’s turn.
That being said... hope you enjoy it.
(During the Yule Ball)
Cedric glanced mournfully at the inches-wide gap that separated himself from Cho as they danced. He had been ecstatic when she had finally agreed to accompany him to the Ball, but right now he couldn’t help but wonder if she even wanted to be here at all.
It wasn’t that she was being rude or difficult. If anything, she had been unfailingly polite and every inch the proper escort from the moment he had taken her arm in the Ravenclaw common room and led her down towards the Great Hall. It just felt like there was no... spark coming from her. Like there was some kind of invisible wall between them that soaked up any potential chemistry.
What she was wearing didn’t help. Her gown was beautiful, and he had told her so, but it was also painfully conservative, showing next to nothing and hinting at even less. It wasn’t as if he had expected her to prance around half-naked for him, but he had seen suits of armor with more sex appeal. Her attitude towards him had been much the same. She had smiled where she was supposed to smile, laughed where she was supposed to laugh, and generally put on a good front of being entertained, but it was hard to miss the decided lack of real interest in her eyes.
It looked like he was just going to face up to the face that, as beautiful as she was, Cho Chang was simply a cold fish.
“Would you like to trade?”
Cedric looked up and saw Harry Potter standing off to the side, an warm, friendly smile stretched across his face and a lovely dark-haired Slytherin girl on his arm.
“Cedric, Cho...” Potter nodded respectfully at both of them, almost making it into a slight bow, then looked politely puzzled. “I’m not certain... have either of you met Daphne?” He gestured towards his date. “Daphne Greengrass, I’d like you to meet Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang.”
Greengrass extended her left hand, palm down, and it took Cedric a moment to remind himself that he should probably pick his jaw up off the floor and accept her greeting. Harry was right, he’d never actually met Greengrass before, but he knew her by sight and reputation. Or thought he had, anyway. His memory showed him an image of a girl with dark hair, dark skin, and a permanent angry snarl tattooed onto her face as she stalked her way through the halls. The girl in front of him possessed the same features, but the snarl had been transformed into a slightly predatory half-smile that did unbelievable things to her full, pouty lips and heavy-lidded, dark brown eyes.
She was dressed in a flowing gown of shimmering black silk that bared her shoulders, as well as a generous portion of her back, and which scarcely seemed capable of holding itself up against the strain of her surprisingly lush curves. It made Cho’s gown look like something suitable for a hunting trip in the Forbidden Forest through waist-deep snow. Cedric found his eyes involuntarily tracing the line of her collarbone to where they met just above her full breasts, and his fingers itched with the sudden desire to find out if the permanently tanned skin there was half as soft as it appeared to be.
He very nearly jumped when Potter said his name, and quickly tore his eyes away from his fellow champion’s escort. Potter’s eyes glimmered with a look of wry amusement, but they tended to do that most of the time anyway, and he gave no other indication that he noticed Cedric’s decidedly thorough examination of his date.
“Would you like to trade dance partners,” the Slytherin boy asked again. He flashed another smile at Cho, who blushed prettily, “I promise to send her back when I’m done.”
Cedric couldn’t help but notice Daphne out of the corner of his vision, her eyes lingering on his shoulders and chest, the smile on her lips growing a fraction, and he felt his reply get caught somewhere in the back of his throat. Trying to gather himself again, he finally smiled and nodded, holding Cho’s hand out towards Harry and receiving Daphne’s in turn.
Potter bowed smoothly over Cho’s hand and pressed a light kiss across the back of her knuckles, murmuring something to her that was lost in the din of the crowd. Cedric had done something very similar back in the Ravenclaw common room, but she hadn’t flushed nearly that way for him.
He was distracted from his train of thought by Greengrass stepping very close to him and slipping her slender arms around his neck. His hands instinctively sought out the sides of her waist as they settled into a smooth, slow pace around the dance floor.
He was quite a bit taller than her, and her nearness forced her to look almost straight up at him, which afforded him an impressive view down the front of her snug dress, and the gloriously rounded inner slopes of her breasts. If that wasn’t bad enough, the scent of vanilla and cinnamon struck his nose, which, combined with the feel of her warm body pressed lightly against his, had him quickly visualizing Seeker formations in his mind to prevent his already expanding manhood from reaching out and introducing itself.
He saw her lips move, but it took him a moment to realize that she had said something.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” he responded, his voice an octave or two higher than he was used to, which made Daphne smile and let out a breathy chuckle.
“I asked if you were enjoying being a Champion,” she repeated slowly, her lips working deliciously around the words.
Cedric discretely cleared his throat and tried to relax the tense muscles in his shoulders. ‘Come on, Diggory, she’s just a pretty girl,’ he tried to remind himself. ‘Who’s clearly more interested in you than Cho ever was,’ a traitorous little voice in the back of his head responded.
“It’s a lot of work,” he replied, a little more smoothly, “but a lot of fun, too.”
“I know the feeling,” she murmured, raising an eyebrow and quirking another half-smile at him.
Cedric swallowed nervously, losing track of his Chasers for a moment, then hurriedly tried to change the subject, asking the first thing that came to his mind.
“Do you think that Potter really cheated to get into the Tournament,” he asked, then had a sudden urge to smack himself in the face. ‘That’s right, idiot. She’s hanging all over you, so the first thing you should do is remind her of the bloke she’s actually here with,’ he thought angrily to himself.
She shrugged in his arms, and he felt the curves of her breasts move intoxicatingly against him. “Who knows,” she replied, as if it didn’t really matter. “Potter can be very clever when he wants to be, so he might have been able to fool the Headmaster, but what would be the point? It’s not like he can win,” she finished with a slightly derisive snort.
“You don’t think he can win,” Cedric asked. He didn’t really think that Potter stood much of a chance either, no matter how well he had done in the First Task, but he was a little surprised to hear it from the boy’s date.
She glanced up at him again, and he thought he felt her move just a fraction closer. “Like I said... he can be very clever,” she whispered conspiratorially, almost purring, “But he’s not nearly as... tall as you are, Cedric.”
He found something extremely encouraging about the fact that she had called Harry “Potter”, and him “Cedric”. It was becoming pretty obvious that he had gotten by far the better end of the deal when he had traded dance partners with the Slytherin Champion.
In the back of his mind a vision began to form, of him slipping discreetly out of the Great Hall, Potter’s date in tow, while Harry was left to deal with Cho “The Human Icicle” Chang.
He glanced up to start planning his escape route, and his eyes bulged when they landed on Potter and Cho. Apparently, the ice had melted, because she was pressed up even closer to Harry than Daphne was to him, her cheek resting against his chest and her eyes closed contentedly as they swayed against each other. He watched in annoyance as Potter leaned down to whisper something in her ear that made her eyes pop open and her face flush red. For a second, Cedric thought Potter had said something to anger her, but then her lips turned up in an all-too-intrigued smile as she looked up at him and said something back that made him laugh softly. Cedric blinked as his view of Potter and Cho was blocked by a group of passing students.
“Is something wrong,” he heard Daphne ask.
Swallowing his anger, he looked back down at her. So that’s the way Potter wanted to play it, huh? Well he could give as good as he got. Summoning his most dashing smile, he allowed his hands to slip a little lower on Greengrass’s hips.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I was just wondering if you wanted to go somewhere a little more private, so we could talk.”
His heart leapt as a pleased, anticipatory grin lit up Daphne’s face. “What exactly did you want to talk about,” she purred softly, her fingers sliding along his collar.
He leaned down and whispered into her ear. “I was hoping that we could discuss what color knickers you’re wearing, and what it would take to get you out of them.”
That was more forward than he had ever been before in his life, but with the way she was coming on to him, he figured that it was the right thing to say. It certainly seemed to be. When he glanced back at her face, she was wearing a look like the cat who had caught the canary. She casually went up on her toes to glance over his shoulder and saw something that made her mouth quirk in another half-smile, then nodded at whatever it was.
Cedric frowned and glanced behind him. He saw Potter walking out of the Great Hall, leading Cho by the hand as she giggled nervously. At that second, he felt Daphne’s hands leave his neck and shove him away with surprising strength. He looked back at her just in time to see a flash of white as her open palm connected hard with his jaw.
“YOU UTTER BASTARD!!!” she screamed, producing a wand from Merlin only knew where (he certainly hadn’t felt one when they were pressed against each other) and pointing it straight at his chest. “HOW DARE YOU!!!”
He held up his hands protectively, his mind not able to process exactly what was going on, only to gape in horror as Greengrass shifted her aim towards his groin.
“PUGNUS!!!” she screeched.
A bright flash of blue light erupted from her wand and struck him with enough force to take him off his feet and send him crashing to the floor. It felt like some huge bloke had just used his genitals for his personal punching bag. Distantly, he heard Daphne scream again, and another Haymaker Hex pounded viciously into his back, pushing him along the floor until he slammed against the leg of the nearest table, discarded food and drink toppling all over him.
There was commotion all around him, but he had little room to think of anything other than how much his balls hurt. His hands were cupped protectively around his groin, and he thought he could already feel his testicles beginning to swell, and not in a good way. The part of him that wasn’t wondering if he would ever be able to father children, or for that matter, get an erection again, was trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. Behind him, he could hear McGonagall demanding that Greengrass surrender her wand and return to the Slytherin common room.
Even in this state, it wasn’t hard to figure out... he had been set up.
He rolled onto his back, staring cross-eyed at the ceiling of the Great Hall, his vision blurred from the pain, and could only think of one thing to say...
“Fucking Harry Potter...”
The next morning, Cedric strode purposefully towards the Great Hall, his footsteps echoing off the walls. He had spent the entire night in the Hospital Wing, gagging on foul potions and having to listen to Madam Pomfrey mutter angrily about “unwanted and unwarranted advances”, and how he “Got what he bloody well deserved for treating a lady like that”.
He hadn’t bother to correct her, or tell his side of the story. What could he say? That she had led him on, and then hexed him for no reason? It might have been the truth, but it was also exactly what someone who had made so-called unwanted advances would say. No, Cedric had a far simpler, more direct plan in mind, a plan that would make him feel much better than running around like an idiot and trying to plead his innocence would.
He was going to find Harry Potter, wherever he was, and hex him until blood dribbled out of his ears.
Oh yes... he’d feel much better then.
He could do it, too. Potter was a sneaking, conniving little bastard who went out of his way to avoid direct confrontations, particularly when he thought he might lose. Cedric didn’t doubt for a second that he could take the boy in as fair fight. Potter’s grades may have been near the top of his year in most subjects, but Cedric’s had been higher back then, and he’d had three more years of schooling on top of that.
Potter didn’t stand a chance.
His hands slammed angrily into the double doors that led to the Great Hall, shoving them open and nearly knocking over a tiny Gryffindor first year who was trying to leave at the same time. He glared at the boy, who squeaked and scurried off in a flash.
Whispers and dirty looks followed him as he stalked towards the Slytherin table. No doubt the Hogwarts gossip machine had been working overdrive all night long, most likely fueled by Potter with whatever story he and that snake-bitch of his had come up with. He glanced at the Ravenclaw table as he passed, but didn’t see Cho anywhere. Good riddance. If she wanted Potter that bad, then she could have what was left of him.
Potter sat at his customary spot at the very end of the Slytherin table, as far away from the Head Table as he could get, and as close to having two walls at his back as he could come. Cedric hadn’t really thought about it that way before, but he could see why someone as paranoid as Potter would sit there. The spot also afforded an excellent view of the doors leading into the Great Hall, which meant that the boy had already spotted him coming and was watching him approach with a darkly amused smile.
Cedric’s wand felt heavy in his pocket, and he burned with the need to wipe that idiotic grin off Potter’s face once and for all, but he didn’t miss the way the other Slytherins were eyeing him. For all he knew, that’s just what Potter wanted, for him to start firing off curses right here in the Great Hall, so that his housemates could gang up on him. He needed to play this cool.
Stopping in front of Potter, he took a moment to compose himself. Unfortunately, the Slytherin Champion wasn’t willing to wait.
“Hey’a, Ced,” he greeted, oozing with false cheerfulness. “How they hangin’?”
Several of the Slytherins around him snorted into their plates and Cedric gritted his teeth until he thought they might break.
“I want to talk to you, Potter,” he growled, glaring at the other boy’s classmates. “In private.”
Potter ignored him, instead turning with a grin to the young black boy sitting next to him. “Hey, Blaise? Ask me how my night went,” he said offhandedly.
“How was your night, Harry,” Zabini dutifully responded, his eyes shining with mirth, clearly at Cedric’s expense.
Potter rubbed his hands together gleefully, glancing at the ceiling as he considered his words. “It was... educational...” he said, stressing the last word, his eyes flicking towards Cedric. “Do you know what I learned, Diggory?” He continued before Cedric had a chance to respond. “I learned that Chang has an amazing singing voice. Hell, when she really gets going, she can damn near break glass with just the sound of her screams.” He shrugged. “Quiet girl like that... who knew?”
Cedric felt a sudden pain in his hand and realized that he had just slammed his fist into the top of the Slytherin table. “You and me... outside.” he hissed.
Potter’s smile vanished with an annoyed grunt, but apparently he still had one quip left in him. “Must be a music hater,” he stage whispered to Zabini, who chuckled wryly. He wiped his hands on his napkin and tossed it onto his empty plate before glancing back up at Cedric, his face gone deadly serious, without a trace of fear on it.
“He also must think I’m a complete idiot,” he mused, half to himself and half to Cedric. “Is that it, Diggory? Do you really think I’m dumb enough to just walk out of here with you?” He sighed again. “Here’s a sickle’s worth of free advice, Cedric... let it go. You lost your girl, you got humiliated... it happens, no big deal. Do yourself a favor and walk away while you still can.”
Potter leaned a little closer, his eyes boring into Cedric’s. “Do you know what last night was? A warning shot. You won’t get another one. Keep your head down, stay out of my way, and we’ll have no more problems.”
Cedric felt his eyes narrow. Who the hell did this little shite think he was? “Not good enough,” he growled, reaching for his wand. Several of the Slytherins reached for theirs at the same time, but Cedric surprised them by setting it on the table in front of Potter.
“I’m not gonna hurt you, Potter,” Cedric told him, his eyes just as dangerous as the other boy’s had been. “At least not yet. But I do want to talk to you... alone. And since you’re obviously too much of a foul little Slytherin to trust me, I’m going to let you hold my wand while we do.”
He watched as Potter picked up his wand and examined it, probably to make sure that it was the real thing. Somewhere along the table, he heard one of the other Slytherins muttering about “bloody idiotic ‘Puffs”, but he didn’t care. If this was what it took to get Potter alone, then this is what he would do.
“Alright,” Potter said abruptly, standing up. “You have ten minutes. If I’m not back by then...” he handed Cedric’s wand to Zabini, who quickly made it disappear into his robes, “Blaise snaps it in half and tosses the pieces in the lake.”
“Hey, I didn’t say anything about him holding it,” Cedric protested.
“Nine minutes and fifty-five seconds,” Potter responded without batting an eye. Zabini causally stood and walked away, no doubt to make it harder for Cedric to find him if he chose to break his word.
Cedric growled and jerked his head to the side, indicating that Potter should follow him. Ten minutes didn’t give him much time, but Hogwarts was littered with disused classrooms, one of them not far from here. He couldn’t help but notice that Potter was staying behind him, and resisted the urge to look back and see if he was holding his wand.
“In here,” he said, opening the door and striding through.
“All right,” Potter said, leaning against a dusty table, arms folded, one hand casually inside his robes, where it no doubt gripped his wand. “What do you want?”
“What I want is to do what someone should have done a long time ago,” Cedric snarled. “Grind your smug little face into the dirt.”
Potter gave him a flat, bored look. “Interesting plan,” he said dryly. “And you’ve obviously put a great deal of thought into it, seeing as you’re telling it to me while we’re alone in a room together and I’m the only one with a wand. Only one problem, really. If it was as easy to do as it was to say, then I’d be long dead by now. You really think that you can succeed where Voldemort, a fifty-foot basilisk, and a hundred Dementors failed?”
Cedric snorted, and Potter’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t scare me, Potter,” he snapped. “I don’t care about all that other crap, and I’m not talking about some grand adventure for you to exaggerate and lie about later. I’m talking about you and me, one-on-one, in a fair fight.”
Potter’s lips quirked in amusement. “A fair fight,” he chuckled. “You know, I’ve heard about those, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in one before.” He shook his head and glanced at Cedric again, still laughing under his breath. “God, you’re such a Hufflepuff.” It wasn’t a compliment. “You’re talking about a duel, right?”
Cedric nodded. “We take an oath. A magically binding oath against cheating or snitching to anyone. Then we find out who the better man really is. Just you and me... no one else knows.”
“Oh, dear,” Potter muttered sarcastically, “that’s gonna make it tough to exaggerate and lie about later, isn’t it?” He sighed, then eyed Cedric up and down distastefully. “Doesn’t matter, really. You wouldn’t make much of a story.”
“No more jokes, Potter... are you in?”
He rolled his eyes. “You know, you really are as dumb as you look, Diggory. Which is actually kinda impressive, when you think about it.” Cedric opened his mouth to speak, but Potter waived him off. “If you weren’t so stupid, you might know that the Triwizard rules prevent us from just running around and cursing each other whenever we feel like it. It’s a magically binding contract, you see, and bad things tend to happen to people who break those. Why do you think I didn’t just hex you and be done with it as soon as we got in here?”
Cedric’s eyes widened. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
Potter flinched in visible disgust. “Please don’t say that. I hate that joke.”
Cedric blinked and suddenly wondered about the other boy’s sanity. Even more so when he glimpsed the calculating look that flashed through his eyes an instant later.
“You and me, huh,” Potter said, sounding intrigued. “One-on-one, and all that other ickle Gryffie nonsense?” The calculating look returned, then vanished as quickly as it appeared. “You know what? You’re on.”
Suddenly, Cedric wasn’t so sure. “Didn’t you just say that the rules prevent us from dueling?”
Potter spoke to him like he was a small child. “No... I said that they stopped us from tossing spells at each other like a pair of idiots. But there’s more than one way to duel.”
“Like muggles, with our fists?”
Potter sighed and rolled his eyes heavenwards. “Diggory, this will go a lot faster if you stop talking, okay? To answer your question, no, we can’t use our fists. Or swords, or knives, or trained riding dragons, or about six hundred other things, most of which only exist in museums these days.” He held up a finger. “However, the rules don’t say anything about us traveling together.”
“Traveling toge...” Cedric felt his eyebrows shoot up as he saw where Potter was going. “You mean a race?”
Potter graced him with a look of mock approval. “A cookie for the ‘Puff! It’s not a duel so far as the Tournament goes. The two of us just happen to be going to the same place, at the same time, and just happen to be starting from the same point. Nothing illegal about that.”
Now it was Cedric’s turn to roll his eyes. “I get it, Potter, you don’t have to keep rubbing in how clever you think you are. So when do we do this?”
“Midnight, tonight. From the Quidditch Pitch to the Hogsmeade signpost and back. Bring your broom.”
Cedric saw the trap immediately. Both of them. “No way, Potter. You have a Firebolt. I’m not racing against that.”
Potter shrugged. “Fair enough. The rest of the Slytherin team uses Nimbus 2001s.” He flashed a rather vicious smile. “Seems Lucius Malfoy thought he could buy a spot for on the team for his son. Unfortunately, he couldn’t afford the talent to go along with it. I have a key to the locker where they’re kept. Neither one of us rides that kind of broom, so neither of us should have an advantage.”
Cedric nodded. Now for the second trap. “We can’t race to the Hogsmeade signpost.”
Potter smiled a far too innocent smile. “Why not?”
“Because it would take us right through the forest.”
“If you’re afraid, then you’re welcome to go around it,” he mocked. “But that’s where we’re racing to. Besides, what kind of duel would it be if there wasn’t a chance that one of us might get killed?” His face suddenly grew more serious. “Who knows, Diggory? Maybe a few Dementors will come ‘round and bail your sorry arse out again.”
Cedric smirked. “Ah... so that’s why you’re so keen to race, huh? Still think you’ve got something to prove?”
“Nah, I settled that score when I plowed your girlfriend,” Potter shot back. “This is just for shits and giggles.”
Cedric growled again. “Midnight... I’ll be there.”
“Give me your hand,” Potter said, pulling out his wand.
They clasped hands and Potter cast the Unbreakable Vow. Cedric had been expecting a lesser oath, but it looked like Potter was taking this just as seriously as he was. They were magically bound now, to fulfill the terms of the duel without cheating in any manner, or by any action of theirs allowing another person to know what they were doing.
Cedric rubbed his hand as he felt the magic settle into him, then glanced at his watch. His ten minute time limit was nearly up. “Bloody hell,” he swore. “Where’s Zabini?”
“How should I know,” Potter said unconcernedly as he prepared to leave. “I’m not his keeper.”
“Where’s my bloody wand, Potter,” Cedric demanded.
“Not here, obviously,” Potter said offhandedly. “So stop asking me.”
“I want my wand!” Cedric took an angry step forward and found Potter’s wand pointing directly between his eyes.
“Don’t push me, Diggory,” he growled. “I might not be able to attack you, but the Triwizard rules do allow me to defend myself.”
He took a wary step back and Potter slipped his wand back into his robes, then stared at him for a moment. “I have no idea where Blaise went,” he explained. “But knowing him, it’s probably the last place you would check. So if I were you, that’s where I’d go.”
Cedric pondered that rather odd clue as Potter turned and left the room, then cursed in annoyance as the answer struck him and took off at a dead sprint towards the Hufflepuff dorms. Which was, of course, the last place he’d look for a Slytherin who had taken something from him. But what if he was too late? What would he do if Zabini had actually broken it?
He was spared from having to answer that question when he came flying around the corner and saw Zabini propped up lazily against the wall, just a couple of paces away from the doorway into Hufflepuff House. He didn’t say a word, just smiled wryly and tapped a long, slender finger against the face of his wristwatch in mock disapproval. As Cedric approached, the young Slytherin reached into his robes and produced his wand, still mercifully whole. Cedric snatched it away and glared at him, but the boy didn’t appear to notice or care. He just raised an amused eyebrow and strolled serenely down the hall.
As Cedric watched him go, he had a sudden, disturbing feeling that he was in way over his head.
Cedric glanced irritably at the sky and hitched his cloak a little tighter around him as he waited on Potter. It would have to be a bloody blizzard, wouldn’t it? The Quidditch Pitch was blanketed with a good half-foot of snow already, and more was falling so heavily that his tracks were becoming difficult to see. Then again, that was probably for the best. No need to leave evidence behind.
He scowled slightly. Dealing with Potter was making him paranoid. For proof, he only had to think about the fact that he’d spent half the day trying to figure out if Zabini had tampered with his wand somehow. He’d found a couple of basic tracking charms, but nothing major, which worried him for some reason. He didn’t trust any of Potter’s cronies as far as he could throw them, and Zabini hadn’t taken any protective oaths. The tracking charms might have been a decoy to throw him off the real trail and lull him into a false sense of security, but there was no way to be sure.
“Lovely night for a race, isn’t it!” a voice exclaimed a few feet behind him.
Cedric jumped in surprise and spun around, then chastised himself for doing so. “Damn it, Potter, where have you been,” he snapped to cover up his nerves.
Potter grinned at him from his perch on top of a gleaming Nimbus 2001, hovering a few feet above the gathering snow. Unlike Cedric, his shoes were perfectly dry and he wasn’t shivering his bollocks off. “Had to fetch the brooms, didn’t I,” he said, tossing a second Nimbus to Cedric.
He caught it cleanly and immediately threw it back. Potter wasn’t expecting that and nearly overbalanced trying to grab the broom with one hand. “You ride that one,” Cedric said. “I’ll take the one you’re sitting on, if you don’t mind.”
Potter recovered his equilibrium and rolled his eyes. “That’s the problem with the world today,” he said matter-of-factly, lowering himself to the ground and handing the broom he’d been riding to Cedric. “No one trusts anyone anymore.”
“Life sucks, get a helmet,” Cedric fired back, mounting his broom. “You coming?”
Potter stood there looking at him for a moment, his broom slung over his shoulder. “They’re the same model broom, and the oath means I can’t have sabotaged either one of them,” he said. “So why would you want mine?”
“Because it’s the one you picked for yourself,” Cedric explained. “They might be from the same set, but you could have been trying to give me one that was more worn out. Chaser brooms see a lot more hard use than say, a keeper’s broom. So you could have kept that one for yourself and given me the dinged up one.”
“That’s not bad logic, Diggory,” Potter said, mounting up and moving so that the two of them were side-by-side in the direction of Hogsmeade. In the distance, the tower clock began to toll midnight. Of course, for all you know, I expected that you’d want to switch and kept the duffer broom for myself.”
Cedric ignored him. It was too late to switch back, and he wasn’t going to let Potter rattle him that easily. The clock rang a sixth time. Nearly midnight. He focused on the swirling snow ahead of him, visualizing the route to Hogsmeade. It was hard to keep his thoughts clear with Potter’s voice in his ear, and more importantly, with the nagging feeling that, oath or not, the other boy still had very something nasty up his sleeve.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Potter hunch down over his broom, readying himself. “For the record,” he said almost too softly to hear. “We’re both using beater brooms. After all, you did want a fair duel, and after I win, I wouldn’t want you thinking that you were anything but the lesser man.”
“For the record,” Cedric said just as softly. “When this Tournament is over, you and I are going to have a real duel. Tonight is just the appetizer. Next time I get to hurt you.”
“What makes you think you’re going to make it to the end of the Tournament, Diggory,” Potter asked darkly. “For that matter, what makes you think you’re going to survive the night?”
Snow leapt up in their wake as the two of them shot forward. Cedric put his face down until his cheek pressed against the broom handle, making himself as small as he could. Potter did the same beside him. The icy ground whipped past them at a dizzying velocity and the heavy snowflakes now seemed to be streaking towards them, rather than falling down. Cedric wobbled slightly. He was struggling a bit with the sheer speed of the Nimbus, far faster than anything he’d ever ridden before. The conditions didn’t help much. He’d rarely flown much at night, and never this low. He could rise up, but that would expose him more to the swirling winds, which were blocked somewhat by the slopes of the terrain. In the open air, Potter’s smaller frame would give him a big advantage.
Not that he seemed to need it. Much to Cedric’s frustration, Potter had gotten a better jump than he had, and was even now extending his lead a fraction at a time. The Slytherin Champion had wrapped himself around his broom like it was a part of him and was rocketing forward, no more than a few inches above the ground, hugging the curves dangerously in hopes of pulling every drop of acceleration out of his broom that he could. One mistake at these speeds, and Potter would be dead or maimed before he even realized that something had gone wrong. He was flying like a madman, and if Cedric didn’t match him he wouldn’t stand a chance.
Potter was nearly a full length ahead when Cedric made his decision. If he could just stay close until they reached the forest then he had a fighting shot. No way the other boy could keep up this kind of pace up once they were among the trees. He angled himself downwards until he was at Potter’s level, trying not to pay attention to the fact that he was now close enough to reach out and touch the snow-covered ground. They were moving so fast that it was little more than a white blur in the intermittent moonlight.
At first, Cedric tried to simply hold his position, but while Potter wasn’t able to extend his lead as quickly as before, he still managed to keep pulling ahead. Cedric spotted the line of trees sweeping towards them like a vast, ominous cloud and cursed to himself. He ducked into Potter’s wake and locked his eyes firmly on the tail of the other boy’s broom. There was no way they would be able to race side-by-side in the forest, and his best chance now was to follow Potter’s path and hope the other boy made a mistake. As many chances as the Slytherin Champion had taken over open ground, he was sure to trip himself up while dodging trees that were as wide around as a wizard was tall.
They entered the forest with a whoosh of fluttering leaves and loose snow, hardly slowing down at all. Cedric’s heart beat a frantic tattoo in his chest as the skeleton-like branches of the first few low trees reached out and brushed roughly at his shoulders. He could barely see a thing in the dim light that filtered down through the canopy and quickly gave up looking for his own path, focusing instead on following Potter, who was making his earlier insanity look like nothing more dangerous than walking a flight of stairs. The Slytherin Champion was darting through the trees like he was on a rail, coming close enough to strip the bark right off of them with his passing. The gap between them began to widen even faster, until Potter had pulled so far ahead that it was all Cedric could do to keep him in sight, flitting in and out of the dim shadows. How the hell could he see so well in this murk!
They emerged into a slight clearing. Just ahead to his left, Cedric could see the slope that would take them down towards Hogsmeade. He was quickly resigning himself to the fact that he wasn’t going to catch Potter, but he’d be damned if he was going to let that little bastard call him a quitter. Besides, the race wasn’t even halfway over, and the other boy might still slip up.
He angled himself towards the slope, taking advantage of the clearer terrain to glance around and get his bearings. Potter was maybe fifty feet ahead of him, just about to the point where he would need to make his turn. He reached the break in the trees... and kept going forward, deeper into the forest.
There wasn’t time for surprise. There wasn’t time to figure out what Potter was doing. There was only enough time to make a choice. Stay with Potter, or follow the slope towards Hogsmeade. Cedric put his head down and kept following Potter. His rational was simple. Potter was clearly winning, so there was no reason for him to take a different path, unless he already knew something about the original one. The Forbidden Forest was packed with all sorts of nasty creatures, hence the name, and Potter was supposedly close with Professor Hagrid, who knew everything about this place. If Potter was taking pains to avoid an area, then Cedric wanted no part of it.
Still, it made him uneasy. After missing the slope in the clearing, the trees had quickly closed in around him again, so that if he tried to turn now, he’d have to slow down. And if he did that, he’d lose Potter completely. Somehow he had found himself in a position where he was now trusting his physical well being to the very person he mistrusted the most.
“Fucking Slytherins,” he muttered under his breath, hating the situation but seeing no way around it.
They kept going like that for several minutes, with Cedric doing everything he could to keep Potter in sight, until he realized something that made his blood run cold. Potter wasn’t pulling ahead anymore. He hadn’t noticed it at first because he was so distracted with wondering why the other boy had left the path, but it suddenly hit him like a thunderbolt. By all rights, Potter should have lost him by now the way he was going, but he hadn’t. He had stayed just close enough for Cedric to follow him... but why?
It was the glimmer of a moonbeam striking a huge spider web that gave him his answer.
Cedric pulled back hard on the shaft of him broom, desperately fighting to stop and bring himself around, but his momentum took him crashing sideways into a thick web strung between two trees in his path. The threads snapped with the sound of huge rubber bands breaking and he went tumbling into an uncontrolled spin. His right shoulder slammed painfully into the trunk of a tree and he felt it lurch free from its socket as the world tilted wildly around him. The pain came a moment later, but before Cedric could even draw in enough breath for a scream, something huge leapt from a tree and crashed into him with terrifying power, bearing him to the ground.
He landed with a thump that drove the breath out of him. White hot pain flooded his injured shoulder, and he thought he felt the wrist on his other arm break as he tried to brace his fall. Dizzily, he looked to his left just in time to see Potter dodging and weaving his way through the crowd of hissing acromantulas, who were leaping at him from the trees in hot pursuit, while he zipped his way through the latticework of webbing that marked the creature’s hunting ground.
“Potter!!!” He tried to scream, but it came out as more of a coughing wheeze. “Don’t leave me!!!”
It was futile, of course. In retrospect, it was obvious what Potter had done. He’d left the path so that Cedric would follow him here. And Cedric, like an idiot, had fallen right into the trap. Potter wasn’t coming back, he was leaving him here to die. Cedric had expected that Potter had something nasty up his sleeve, but he had never imagined that the Slytherin Champion was capable of something like this.
There was a rustling behind him as the acromantula that had pounced on him began to stir. Cedric’s entire body ached, but he couldn’t just lay here and wait to be killed. He tried to sit up, but his ribs gave a sharp flair of pain that sent him right back down. He must have hurt himself worse than he thought in the crash. He reached for his wand, but it was nowhere to be found. Cedric fought down a despairing sob. Trying to stay silent against the pain, he rolled himself onto his belly and looked frantically for it.
He spotted it about twenty feet away, laying haphazardly against the root of a tree. In his condition it might as well have been a twenty miles. He gritted his teeth and pushed himself forward with the one leg he was still able to make work properly, guiding himself with his less-injured arm. The rustling grew louder as the massive spider regained its feet and began to stumble towards him. In the corners of his vision, Cedric could see huge shapes vaulting from tree to tree, skittering among the branches. The rest of the colony was turning its attention back to him, having missed out on catching Potter.
Just a few more feet. He reached out his arm in what he knew was a futile gesture as he felt the first creature catch up with him. It had taken a pounding in the fall, but Cedric had taken worse, and he knew he didn’t stand a chance. It hovered over him for a moment, and Cedric closed his eyes in defeat.
The shock of dagger-sized fangs piercing his shoulder was enough to draw a proper scream out of him. As if it were a signal, the other spiders began crawling eagerly towards him, black fangs gleaming like polished glass in the moonlight.
Cedric felt the creature standing hunched over him cinch its bite in more firmly, and howled as what felt like acid flooded into his body and began coursing through his veins. Mercifully, the venom was quick acting, and he passed out before having to experience the horror of being eaten alive.
“Wake up, Diggory.”
A quiet but persistent voice intruded his slumber. Cedric tried to toss in his sleep, but the motion only served to aggravate his wounds and bring him that much closer to wakefulness.
“I don’t have all night,” the voice said, annoyance creeping into its tone. “Wake up, already.”
Cedric opened his eyes a fraction and reached sleepily for his wand so he that could raise the hospital bed up and have a look around. His drowsiness cleared a bit more when he realized that it wasn’t on the bedside table where he left it. He tried to sit up on his own, but the pain in his chest and shoulder forced him to lay back down again.
“Who’s there,” he asked tiredly.
Cedric glanced over at the little stool where his visitors usually sat, but it stood empty. Not that he’d had very many visitors anyway, the situation being what it was. Occasionally, one or two of his housemates had come by to pass along schoolwork, and sometimes they would sit with him for a while and halfheartedly pass along a few tidbits of school gossip or ask how he was feeling before making a quick excuse to leave. The one’s that weren’t so polite, well they hardly stopped long enough to toss down a ragged handful of parchment, not even bothering to meet his eyes as they walked out.
He had never imagined that Hogwarts students could be so fickle. A few days ago, he had been one of the most popular and well-liked students in the school, but ever since the events in the forest had come out, he’d been reduced to a pariah. Everyone, even his own House, was blaming him for ruining Hogwarts’ best chance to win the Triwizard Cup. And the worst part about it was that Cedric couldn’t help but think they were right, never mind the fact that they were blaming him for all the wrong reasons.
He dropped his head back onto the pillow with a pained groan. “Merlin, how could I be so stupid?”
“I don’t know,” the voice said again, much closer now. “Your father seemed pretty stupid, so maybe it’s genetic. I never met your mother, was she a complete idiot as well?”
Cedric snapped his eyes back to the stool and grimaced at what he saw. Harry Potter, sitting there with that smug little smirk on his face, looking down at him with his elbows resting on his knees.
Cedric held up a warning finger. “My mother is a good woman,” he growled. “She volunteered to work for the DMLE during the war, back when they were losing two or three workers a day to murder or Imperius, and couldn’t pay people enough to get them to sign up. You might not respect me, but you damn well better respect her!”
Something that passed dangerously close to an apologetic look flickered across Potter’s face, and he nodded slightly. “Fair enough. Retracted.”
Cedric scowled at him, somehow annoyed by the fact that the other boy was being reasonably civil. “What do you want, Potter,” he snapped.
He shrugged. “Just thought I’d check up on you. Make sure you’re doing alright.”
Cedric snorted. “Make sure I haven’t told anyone that you tried to murder me is more like it.” He sneered. “Don’t worry, Potter. The oath is still holding strong. Since I’m magically bound from telling anyone about the race, there’s no way I can tell them just what a psychotic little monster you really are. Your secret is safe with me.”
If Potter was bothered by his words or tone, he didn’t let it show. “Yeah, that wasn’t a bad little story you whipped up, considering that you were still half delirious at the time. What was it you told them? That you went into the forest to harvest ingredients for a potion you were planning to use in the next Task?”
Cedric nodded warily. “How did you know about that? I thought they hadn’t told any of the students yet.”
“They didn’t. All anyone else knows is that you snuck out into the Forbidden Forest and got yourself mauled by something, and that Hagrid somehow found you at the last second and managed to bring you back.”
“So how did you find out?”
Potter didn’t answer. Instead, he reached into his robes and pulled out a sheet of parchment. “I went to the liberty of looking up a few likely potions that you might have wanted ingredients for,” he said, handing it over. “First rule of a good cover-up is to get your facts straight. Pick the one you that think you’d have the easiest time brewing and memorize it, so that when Dumbledore comes to question you later you’ll know what you’re talking about.”
Cedric frowned worriedly. “Dumbledore wants to question me?”
“If I know him he will,” Potter said offhandedly. “He usually likes to wait until you’ve got your strength back a little before stopping by for a chat, so expect to see him sometime today or tomorrow. He’ll probably know that you’re lying about something, but if you’re not going to make an issue of it then I don’t expect that he will. Most likely he’ll consider it a lesson well learned and leave it at that.”
Cedric looked down at the parchment in his hand. “Why are you helping me,” he asked. “It’s not like you care. You already tried to kill me once this week, so how can I trust anything you say?”
Potter clicked his tongue distastefully. “I wish you’d stop saying that.”
“That I tried to kill you,” he said. “Makes me feel like I left something unfinished. I don’t like it.”
“You did try to kill me” Cedric hissed angrily.
“No I didn’t,” he said defensively. “I left you for dead. That’s something entirely different.”
“Not in my book!”
“Well, clearly you’re reading the wrong books,” he said in a patronizing tone.
“Go to hell, Potter!”
Potter leaned back an sighed. “For what it’s worth, Diggory, I wasn’t really trying to kill you. I just needed you out of the Tournament and figured that getting chewed on by an acromantula would put you out of the running for a while.” He shrugged. “How was I supposed to know that half the colony would be there?”
Cedric gaped at him. “It that what this was all about? The stupid Tournament? Do you really want to win so badly that you would do all of this?”
“Two things,” Potter said, ticking them off on his fingers. “First off, ruining your life and nearly getting you killed wasn’t nearly as difficult as you make it sound. Frankly, I made most of it up as I went along. If anything, you made it harder on yourself. If you had just hexed me at breakfast and gotten yourself disqualified like I wanted you to, then you wouldn’t be lying in that bed right now.”
He stopped and frowned. “Well... then again you probably would, considering that breaking the Triwizard contract would have made your magic to turn against you and attack your body from the inside. Now that I think about it, you’d be in a lot more pain than you are right now, so all things considered you’ve actually come out ahead, don’t you think?”
“You’re unbelievable,” Cedric muttered.
“As for me doing anything to win the Tournament... well, honestly I couldn’t care less. Whatever anyone else around here might believe, I really didn’t put my name into the Goblet of Fire, and given the choice I’d rather have nothing to do with this idiotic game.”
Cedric blinked. He knew that Potter was a natural at lying, but that had the ring of truth. “Then why bother? Why try so hard to win if you don’t care? Or why not just get yourself disqualified if you want out so bad?”
“Well, like I said, getting disqualified would be very uncomfortable. Not to mention debilitating, both physically and magically. Certainly not something I’m willing to go through if I can help it. Besides, for all I know that’s exactly what whoever put my name in the Goblet wants me to do.”
“You really think that whoever did it is trying to kill you?” Cedric was surprised to hear a touch of sympathy in his voice, and even more surprised to find that he now believed that Potter hadn’t entered himself into the Tournament.
The Slytherin Champion stood up and walked to the foot of the bed. He stared off into space for a moment, then spoke. “People have been trying to kill me since I could barely walk. Why should anything change now?”
Cedric looked at the other boy standing there and was suddenly struck by how very small he was, barely average for his age. Certainly much too small to be fighting evil monsters and uncovering dark conspiracies. But Cedric had seen with his own eyes just how easily Potter had handled the attacking acromantulas the other night, and had experienced first hand how dangerous he could be with nothing more than a few well-chosen words and a little forethought.
He thought about what he would do if he were in the Boy-Who-Lived’s place, and felt a chill as the shadows in the room suddenly seemed a little deeper, a little more menacing. Like there were dangerous things hiding in them, just waiting to spring out and attack.
But they weren’t coming for him, they were after Potter.
The other boy turned back to him. “As for why I want to win? Well, that’s the last thing they expect, isn’t it? Die trying? Sure. Win? Never.” He grinned ferally. “That’s how I stay alive, Cedric. Because they always underestimate me.”
Potter reached into his robes and pulled out Cedric’s wand, tossing it onto the bed, then nodded at him and started towards the door. He stopped and turned back just as he was about to leave. “Besides, I’d never be able to show my face in the Slytherin dorms if I let a ‘Puff or a foreigner win,” he said with seemingly complete seriousness, then walked out.
Cedric leaned back and lay staring at the ceiling for a long time, thinking about what Potter had said, and more importantly, why he had said it. From what he could tell, Harry Potter lied practically every time he opened his mouth, so why was he being so honest now? The answer that finally came to him was surprising. The Unbreakable Vow that the two of them had taken was very specific. It prevented either of them, by any possible action of theirs, from allowing anyone else know about their duel. That meant that the conversation they had just had was also protected, because it would be nearly impossible for him to reveal anything he had learned without risking knowledge of the race also coming out. It might be possible, but because of the wording of the oath, he was prevented from even trying.
Cedric slowly drifted off to sleep, two thoughts spinning through his head. One was that it must be a very sad and lonely world that Harry Potter lived in, where it was safer and easier for him to open up to an enemy than a friend.
The other was that under no circumstance would he want to be whoever it really was that entered Potter in the Tournament, once the Slytherin Champion finally got his hands on him. Cedric had the feeling that that person would end up regretting it until the end of their days... however short those days might be.
AN: This didn’t come out quite as bad as I thought it would, but it probably wasn’t worth the long wait. My apologies to those of you who have been so patient with me, and I’d promise to do better, but I think we all know how well my promises work out when it comes to updating regularly.
Some of you might be wondering about Cedric’s narrow escape. I did toy with the idea of letting him die, but I like the idea that in the “evil” Slytherin Harry universe, he lives, while “good” canon Harry gets him killed for no reason. I leave it up to reader to decide whether or not Hagrid being in just the right place, at just the right time to save him was pure dumb luck, or if the real reason that Harry was nearly late for the race was that he made a side trip to Hagrid's to drop off a note warning him that some idiot student was going off into the forest alone, and that he might end up near the acromantula colony.
Coming up next, the final installment of Taking Out the Competition: “Fooling Fleur.”