Hermione had a sense that someone was here with her. A prickling sensation, like a million straight pins, rushed along her skin. Her head hurt, but she moved it toward a presence in the room. Memories of the night before, and her early morning awakening, rushed back to her…
She was Stupefied last night. She hit her head. Before she collapsed, she dropped the bracelet. And even before that, someone reached up for the hair comb, then grabbed her before she could hit the ground. They brought her here, to this little cottage.
Without opening her eyes, she felt the ring that Cedric had given her so long ago upon her finger. Then, she realized someone was watching her. The hairs on her arms stood at attention even as the person watching her leaned down and cupped her cheek.
It was Cedric Diggory, back from the dead, or a ghost. Both scenarios sent her into a panic. Her mind was only able to register one thing at a time, because her head hurt something fierce. It hurt so badly that she had to lie back down after she first arose this morning.
However, even through the faint pain pressing upon her eyelids she knew Cedric Diggory was watching her. She felt him sitting beside her on the bed like a dark, unfathomable entity.
Opening her eyes, she saw him for the first time in years. He looked much the same, perhaps a bit older. Her lips parted as she tried to speak, but nothing came out of her mouth apart from a whispered moan.
He brushed his fingertips down her arm and said, "Don't try to talk. I'm afraid you hit your head. I didn't mean for that to happen."
Feeling cold and disoriented, she mumbled, "Who are you." Even though she knew.
"Have you really forgotten me, Hermione?"
With her eyes squeezed shut again, she turned away from him, her head throbbing as she did, and said, "Cedric Diggory is dead."
"Yes," he agreed. "Cedric Diggory was dead." He emphasized the word 'was'.
Moaning again she said, "I don't believe you're a ghost."
"Good, because I'm not certain I believe it any longer, at least, I don't think I do. I haven't really examined what I am too closely."
She moaned again and felt a heavy darkness come over her, then she heard him say dimly, "That's right. Go back to sleep. When you awake, you'll feel better."
The next time Hermione awoke the cottage was bright with daylight. The shutters were removed from the windows, and the door was even open to let in a cool breeze. Turning her head around, she saw Cedric by a small table. Staring at him closely, she remembered how she always thought he was as close to perfection as any man she'd ever know. Lean, tall, fit and handsome.
As if he could sense her stare, he turned back to look at her and their eyes locked. Hermione remain perfectly still, as did he. "Are you finally part of the living?" he asked with a perfect smile upon his face.
Sitting up with a wince, she said, "The question is, are you?"
He laughed. "That would be the question of the day, wouldn't it?" He brought over a tray with tea and toast. "I thought you might be hungry."
As soon as he placed it on the bed beside her, she lifted her hand and pushed it away, sending the ceramic teapot crashing to the floor.
Picking up the tray, he said, "Or perhaps not."
Looking at him sharply she said, "Do you want to tell me what I'm doing here?" She moved her feet around so they dangled off the side of the bed. Before trying to stand, she had to gain her bearings. "Better yet, do you want to tell me what you're doing here?"
He looked at her, blinked his eyes, and then answered. "I really don't know. I'm not sure I understand it myself. The last thing I remembered before I came back was being in an ancient graveyard with Harry Potter. Voldemort was there, as were some others. He – Voldemort – ordered this man to kill me, and I died, although I was still aware of things. I asked Harry Potter to take my body back with him, and he did."
Frowning, Cedric sat in a chair by the small table. "After that, the first thing I recall was that I was walking among the ruins and rubble of Hogwarts. From bits and pieces of conversation of others, I surmised that Harry Potter had finally defeated Voldemort. I came upon a few people, tried to ask them what was happening, but no one could see me."
Hermione glanced sharply to her hands, which were twisted in the bedspread. "Because you were a ghost?" She looked back up at him, lips parted, wanted to ask more, but also wanting him to answer.
"Yes, I think so. I might still be a ghost, I really don't know. I came in contact with Dumbledore and he explained to me that I might have been brought back for a second chance, because I was taken before my time. I didn't believe it at first, and I drifted around in a sort of haze for a few years."
Averting her gaze, Hermione said, "You've couldn't have talked to Dumbledore. That can't be possible. Dumbledore's dead."
Soon, Cedric said, "I know. He told me that." When Hermione looked back up, he was once again sitting beside her on the bed. "I'm also aware of the fact that my father sold all of our belongings in an attempt to bring me back from the dead. Maybe that's why I was brought back, really back, or perhaps it was something else."
He clutched her shoulders under firm hands and as his hold tightened, so did the constriction in her chest. A tingling rose up in her belly, and she anchored all her feelings onto the man that sat unyielding, firm, and solid, beside her. This… no, he, couldn't be a ghost. He was real. Everything he had just told her was real. Acutely aware of his body so close to hers, she began to breath heavy, strenuously.
"Why did you have my grandmother's hair comb?" he asked.
"To catch you, I assume." She tried to wrench her shoulders from his hands, but he held tighter. "I didn't know it was one of your family's heirlooms. Malfoy tricked me, apparently, a fact in which he'll pay dearly."
"Are you with Malfoy now?" he asked suddenly.
Hermione felt her back stiffen at the very thought. "No!" She observed, "Even if I were, it wouldn't be a concern of yours. Why are you going around stealing things? Why not present yourself to the Ministry so we could try to solve this mystery?" What she really wanted to ask was, "Why didn't you come find me the moment you came back?", but she had too much pride to subject herself to that inquiry, or to his response.
Something flickered across his face. Perhaps it was regret. In any case, he moved from the bed and said, "That wasn't possible. It still isn't. I don't want to be known as the man whom Voldemort killed. I don't want to be examined and written about. I merely want a quiet life. As to why I've taken those things from those people, well, it's simple. They belong to me."
Hermione swallowed hard. "So you came back merely to recoup material things? How nice for you. I'm so glad THINGS are more important to you than people are. I think I'll be leaving now." She stood from the bed and started past him, aware she was without either shoes or wand.
Without hesitation, he stepped around her, reached for her, grabbing her from behind. He picked her right off the ground, her feet dangling, and her first instinct was to fight.
She pulled back her elbow and hit his ribs as hard as she could. Kicking his shins, she tried to turn her head to bite him when he practically threw her on the bed. The next thing she knew she felt a hard weight upon her. His hands grabbed her wrists and pinned them on each side of her head.
Cool grey eyes bore into hers. "Stop it, Hermione," he said harshly. "I don't want to hurt you, but I can't have you leaving and then telling everyone where I am, or even that I'm back."
She felt like slapping his face, but due to that fact that he had her wrists held tightly in his fingers, she couldn't. "They already know you're back, you buffoon! The Ministry, the Aurors, and even my department, The Department of Mysteries, everyone is looking for you. You haven't exactly been discreet."
"But they think they're searching for a ghost," he said slowly, almost as if he was afraid it was true. "I overheard two Aurors speaking of it one day in a pub."
Sighing loudly, she said, "Cedric, you have to let me go. I'm sure if your claims prove true, although I don't understand how it is that you're back, but if they prove true, you surely won't be punished for stealing. All of that will be soon forgotten…"
He cut her off by saying, "Yes, it will be forgotten, because I'll be a spectacle. I'll be put on display, set up for public exhibition. I don't want that. I want to be left alone."
"You have a funny way of showing it, by stealing things people bought from your father, showing your face, not even trying to hide who you were," she spat. "Please, let me up. You're hurting me."
As if he just noticed that he had her hands in his, his weight on hers, he eased off, placing his body to the side of hers, releasing his grip on her hands, but keeping one arm around her. "I never ever meant to hurt you, Hermione. In any way. You have to believe that."
"Fine, yes, I believe it," she said without conviction. Taking a deep breath, she turned her gaze back to his face. "You must let me help you."
"No one can help me… ever."
Cedric wanted to let Hermione go. And yet he wanted to implore her to help him. But most of all, he wanted to kiss her so badly that his entire being was hard with want. He looked down her body and then back to her face. She was so beautiful. Her cheeks were pink from exertion, her lips round and full. Being this close to her after so long rendered him speechless. He could barely breathe. Perhaps THIS was why he came back. Perhaps he came back to be with her, even if it were only one last time.
In the time it took his heart to beat a single heartbeat, he leaned his face close to hers, locked his lips upon her mouth, and then sighed as he kissed her.
Her mouth was soft, but stiff under his. He continued to seek something elusive from her, even as his heart banged wildly in his chest, his blood boiling in his veins. He was aware of a heaviness between his legs and couldn't recall the last time he had felt anything akin to the passion he was feeling at this moment.
He couldn't stop if he tried. Her lips parted under his and her taste echoed in his soul. Taking his time to become reacquainted with her, he felt a shudder go through her, passing into him. He wanted her more than he wanted his old life back. He wanted to remove all her clothing, bury himself deep within her, and not let her go.
Then the rational side of him took over and he stopped, although it was hard to do. Pulling back he gazed down at her, he glimpsed confusion and pain in her eyes, which broke through the tumult feelings he was experiencing.
Shattered, broken and afraid, he pushed away further, brushed a single finger down her cheek. "I'm just so bloody sorry about everything."
Holding his hand tightly in both hers so he couldn't retreat and run, she begged, "Come back with me, Cedric. I don't know what's happening… what's real and what's not, but we can work through this together."
He looked down to where she held his hand, glancing at the ring on her fourth finger. "You still have my great aunt's ring."
Exhaling, she answered, "I thought I recalled it belonging to your mother, but yes, I still have the ring. I wear it everyday."
A dry feeling took hold in his throat. What had he done to this woman? Had she put her life on hold for him? "Why, Hermione? Why would you wear my ring?"
"You kept my book," she rationalized.
"Different thing," he smiled. "And I didn't keep your book. It was one of the things my father sold and I stole back, but that's unimportant. Why haven't you moved on, Hermione?"
To avoid his eyes upon her, she looked toward the window. "I was in a relationship with Ron for a while, but it didn't work out."
"Why?" he asked again, his fingers winding back around her wrist.
With a shaky voice she said, "Fine. I haven't moved on. Is that what you want me to admit?"
He pulled on her wrist until she was face to face with him. "No, that's not what I wanted. I never wanted any of this."
"What do you want?" She stiffened in his hold and waited for his answer.
"I want this… you… us. I think that's the real reason I've come back. I came back for you."
Her heart leapt up to her throat. "What are you going to do about it?"
"So many questions," he said with a smile, his hand stroking her hair. "I think I want to do this…" and he trailed off as he began to kiss her again.
Everything around them stood still as his mouth claimed hers again. Strange sensations radiated from him to her, and she felt almost as if she were melting as he pushed her back on the bed and climbed upon her.
Her lips parted under his, his tongue soft with a warning. She couldn't move, couldn't think, and couldn't comprehend if this was real or a dream. She had always dreamt of Cedric this way, even though the reality was that he had only ever given her a chaste, simple kiss.
This was no chaste, simple kiss. This was all consuming, leisurely journey of his mouth on hers. His hands on her body. His leg between her legs. Her dreams were becoming a reality. Pleasure shot through her when his hands cupped her breasts, sending tingles to each nerve ending. She felt as if this was her first time, and in many ways it was, because it was her first time with him.
They were caught in a violent embrace, his weight upon her body, heat passing between them. No longer in a dark void, her eyes closed, she locked onto his body, and merely 'felt'. It had been so long, so very long.
He smelled just as she remembered. His voice, murmuring her name and other endearments, was the same, too. With the afternoon sunlight bathing them in its glory, she felt vulnerable. She felt alive. She felt loved.
There was no turning back. He kissed her, explored her with his lips and hands. She was aflame. She was tinder, he was fire. Arching against him, she removed his shirt, he kicked off his shoes. She reached behind her and unzipped the dress. He tightened his hold on her and for many long moments she felt suspended in time.
Blood boiling, they came to a turning point, and then it was too late. They made love. They shared each other's secrets. He was back… she reveled in the thought that he was really back. When they were depleted and exhausted, holding to dear life in the other's arms, she finally expelled the breath she was holding.
And that was when he kissed the top of her head and said, "This, Hermione, is why I came back. I came back for this." Brushing her chestnut hair away from his face he smiled and she knew that all she wanted was just to hold him for a while… no, hold him forever.
Sunlight filtered back into the room as Hermione stretched awake. Looking around the small room she called out, "Cedric? Are you there?"
She didn't see him, but it didn't matter. She moved off the bed, feeling better than she'd felt in years, even if her bladder was screaming at her to empty it. Walking around the small room, she opened a door and found a toilet. Smiling, she realized she felt thankful not only for the fact that Cedric had returned, but that there was a toilet.
Finishing quickly, she walked back into the room, looking around closely at everything. She fingered some jewelry on the mantel, looked at some paintings propped against the wall. No matter what, she would help Cedric's re-entry into their world. She would make sure that no one made a spectacle of his reappearance. She would help make sure he wasn't prosecuted for stealing. And mostly, she would tell him what she had wanted to tell him so long ago. She loved him. She really did.
Dressing quickly, she looked in a cupboard for some food, found bread and butter, along with some water, and she ate quickly, wondering where he had gone. She continued to wait several hours later, even as evening replaced the day.
Worrying about him wouldn't make him reappear, she knew that, but she couldn't help the feeling of dread that continued to push down upon her each hour that he was gone. Where was he? Was he stealing something else? Had he gone to tell the Ministry he was back? Had he gone to her flat to get her things so she could move here with him?
That last thought made her smile. She would do that, if he asked her to, no questions asked. With a smile still on her lips she turned to face the door as it swung open. Certain it was he, she bounded across the room.
It was Harry. Behind him was Draco Malfoy.
It was inevitable that Harry and Draco would find her. But frankly, she wanted to go to them first to pave the way for Cedric. She wanted to explain to them the unexplainable, so he wouldn't have to.
Before she could speak Harry pulled her into his arms and said, "Are you alright?"
With her cheek upon his chest she nodded. "Harry, I'm fine, I'm fine. But I have something important to tell you," she started.
"It can wait, we need to get you check out. Malfoy's going to take you to St. Mungo's."
Pushing out of his arms she shook her head no. "I have to wait here. Because, well, you won't believe this, because I didn't at first, but Cedric is back. He's back, Harry. He's not a ghost at all, and while I can't really explain the whys of it all, I know it's him. Nothing else matters, not the robberies, or anything. I promised him we'd take care of it all."
Harry looked over her head to Draco. "What?" she questioned, feeling perturbed. "Listen, I know it's hard to believe, but I've spent the night of the banquet, all day yesterday and last night here with him, even if I was asleep most of the time. He was right here, in this cottage with me. You see, he came back after the final battle. He's real… he's flesh and blood and real. He's sorry for stealing his things back, but that doesn't matter now."
Harry looked at her with such sorrow that she became afraid. She turned to look at Draco. "It's true, Draco. You believe me, don't you?" She walked up to the mantel and took down a brooch. "See. Isn't this the brooch that was stolen from you? You explained it to me, and I think this is it. And look." She ran over to the table next to the bed and held up the book of Edgar Allan Poe poetry. "This book." Clutching it in one hand and holding it aloft, she said, "I gave him this the year he died. He said his father sold it, but he took it back. See, there's an inscription inside." She opened it, feeling frantic, hating their silence. "I wrote under the original inscription, which was written to me, and it says, 'To Cedric. You'll always hold my beating heart in your hands. Every time you read this book I want you to hear it.' See it?"
Running up to Draco, she showed him the passage written in her girlhood scrawl, and said, "It's a play on words, because I told him the story about the beating heart. Do you know that one, Draco?"
He reached up and placed his hand on the back of her head. "Hermione, you have a large knot back here, and I feel dried blood. Did you hit your head?"
"Yes, but what's that got to do with anything?" Feeling exasperated, she ordered, "Just wait and see. He left while I was sleeping, but he'll be back. You'll be shocked to see him, but you'll know I was telling the truth." Even as she made that claim, a burning ache went from her heart to her muscles, making her feel weak and confused.
Stomping her foot she said, "Why won't you say anything? Why don't you both believe me? It's true! I know I didn't believe it at first, but it's true!"
Harry turned her around so she could face him, keeping his hand on her shoulder. "Hermione, the body of Cedric Diggory was exhumed under orders of the Minister of Magic yesterday morning. It's still there. He's dead."
She gasped, began to breath heavily, and backed away from Harry. "No." She repeated that word over and over again. "No." He wasn't really dead. "No." He wouldn't leave her again. "No." She wasn't dreaming. They had really made love this morning. It was real.
Backing up until she hit the hard wall of Draco's body, she turned, clutched his shoulders and screamed, "NO! He was here. It was real!"
"Someone might have been here, or hell, who knows, maybe it was really the ghost of Cedric Diggory, and maybe he had some unfinished business, and he finished it and has now gone on to the unknown, but it wasn't really him, Granger."
Tears burning her eyes she grabbed his shirtfront. "I'm not lying, Draco."
He pulled her to him, brushing his hand down her hair. "I know. I know. You're the most honest person I know, but then where is he, Granger? Where?"
She sobbed, unable to answer his question. Finally, she asked, "How did you find me?"
"Locating spell I put on the hair comb," Draco said in a whisper, holding her tight against him.
"He's left me again, hasn't he?" she asked in such a soft voice.
Draco looked at Harry and asked, "What were they to each other, Potter?"
"I don't know, but apparently he meant more to her than she ever told us." Harry approached her from behind and said, "Let's get you out of here, Hermione."
With the book of poems still in her left hand, she clutched it to her chest and turned toward the room. "What will happen to all of this?"
"We'll return it all to the rightful owners," Harry explained. He walked over to the mantel and picked up the brooch. "Here, Malfoy. I guess this belongs to you."
Draco continued to hold Hermione against him with one hand, the large brooch in the other. "I don't think my father will miss it." Bending slightly, he pinned the heavy piece of jewelry to Hermione's dress and said, "I think it looks prettier on you, Granger."
He turned and began to usher her out of the room. She stopped and wrenched out of his hold, placing the book back on the bed.
"I don't think there's any harm in you keeping the book, Hermione," Harry said from the doorway. "Whoever the ghost stole it from won't miss it, I'm sure. I'll explain that it really belongs to you."
"I don't want it," she said, keeping her tears at bay. "I never want to see it again." Hermione looked at the door; Harry had already turned to leave, but that Draco was waiting for her, hand held outward.
Placing her hand in his, she sighed at the familiar warmth. "Aren't you going to be a prat and say something crass to me? How about what a fool I was to believe in ghosts, or something of the sort?"
Draco placed his hand under her chin, lifting her face slightly so he could stare in her eyes. "Never, Granger. You aren't a fool. If you say Cedric Diggory was back, and that he wasn't a ghost but real, then I believe you."
"But you said you saw his body," she said on a sob.
"And you say he was really here with you last night. Now I ask you, which of us would you believe, me or you?" Smiling a crooked smile at her, he took her hand again and pulled her out of the little cottage, then he Disapparated her home.
After they left, a mist settled over the inside of the cottage, then the book of Edgar Allan Poe poetry disappears, just as the midst dispersed into thin air.
And then it was over.
The true and utter end.