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The thing about Cedric Diggory - fifth-year Hufflepuff student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry - was that, if he was comfortable telling that sort of joke, he’d say that really, truly, and honestly… he was really just several anxious rabbits in a robe.

The person known as “Cedric Diggory” was therefore just the consciousness that had been summoned to be in charge of this collection of easily spooked and constantly nervous rabbits. A consciousness who was doing his best to herd them, to keep them from burrowing into the nearest dark space, and to figure out why, in the face of secretly being several anxious rabbits, he had somehow managed to get a prefect badge pinned to his chest.

But the thing was, the last time he had tried to tell that joke, well... the person sitting next to him in class, whom Cedric considered a friend, had laughed. Like it had been a joke. Only... it had been a very disbelieving and incredulous sort of laugh, for a very different sort of joke.

“Are you kidding me?” Michael had said, still laughing. “ You? Mr. Perfect? What do you have to be anxious about? You’ve always got it all figured out!”

If Cedric had been braver, he might have insisted, “No, no. I really am several anxious rabbits in a robe and most of the time I want to burrow underground and stay there. Maybe eat vegetables and hop around a bit. Enjoy some frolicking when I’m sure no one’s watching. Which is not, to be honest, much of a life plan.”

But Cedric Diggory wasn’t brave. Not really.

“Yep!” he had said cheerfully, stiffly, unhappily. “That’s me! Mr. Perfect.”

His friend - of sorts - had elbowed him in the side then, still snickering. “No need to brag about it, Diggory,” Michael had said chidingly, as though this hadn’t been the sarcastic, really obvious joke Cedric desperately had meant it as and apparently executed poorly anyway.

Again.

~

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that he’d been put into Hufflepuff for a reason, and that reason was that he hadn’t belonged to any of the other Houses. It just was. He wasn’t nearly brave enough to go to Gryffindor, though he did believe chivalry was the decent thing to do. He wasn’t nearly curious enough to go to Ravenclaw, though he liked learning new things well enough. And he wasn’t nearly ambitious enough to go to Slytherin, or particularly cunning or clever, really.

Hufflepuff sure liked to spout that they were the House of Fairness and Justness and Equality and Loyalty, but the thing about Hufflepuff House was that Helga Hufflepuff had founded it on the basis that she’d take anyone. They didn’t have to be fair or just or loyal, or believe in any of those things. They could have been a big bunch of duffers for all she had cared. Any magical child in need of an education, she’d take them all and teach the lot. No conditions. No fuss.

Cedric Diggory thought that quiet, steadfast sort of fairness was honorable and admirable enough just as it was. He also, privately, thought that a few of his housemates could do to have a better look at their own senses of fairness and loyalty before they went about loudly touting their own “justness” and supposed lack of conditional acceptance compared to the other Houses.

It wasn’t that Cedric felt badly about not being particularly brave, or particularly curious, or particularly ambitious or cunning. He liked himself well enough and knew himself too. He didn’t really like confrontations. He enjoyed being a generally content person. He might have liked to be a bit cleverer - to be the sort of bloke who could win a riddle contest at the drop of a hat wasn’t a usual ambition, but Cedric thought it a fine goal - but he hadn’t wanted to go to Ravenclaw or Slytherin for it. 

Cedric had, in fact, been told many times by various Slytherins that he was too nice, as though the overabundance of this would be his downfall one day. Cedric had answered, to increasingly bemused or bizarre looks, that there were infinitely worse ways to go.

Besides, great Merlin, his father might have lost it if he’d gone to Slytherin.

~

The really reassuring thing about Hufflepuff was that Cedric knew, even if he had been revealed to be several anxious rabbits (and rabbits who were not particularly brave or curious or ambitious, at that), that Helga Hufflepuff still would have taught him. She took the lot, after all, and Cedric liked to imagine that extended to even the consciousnesses summoned to herd deceptive rabbits. 

When it came to burrowing animals, perhaps she might have preferred actual badgers, but Cedric Diggory had always really been more of a rabbit than a badger. 

The less reassuring thing about Hufflepuff was Cedric’s House’s apparently inability to detect when a person - a person generally agreed to be the perfect prefect - was actually several anxious rabbits in a robe. No one had noticed. Probably partly because Cedric wasn’t actually made of rabbits, but still he sometimes wondered if they were all just very good at pretending they hadn’t seen anything.

It was times like these where Cedric had to again seriously weigh whether he believed more in his House’s ability to obstinately reject anything they didn’t want to believe... or more in his House’s inability not to nose their way into everything and then gossip uncontrollably about it.

~

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that he was genuinely baffled as to how he had become popular. He was sincerely bamboozled as to how he had become a prefect - and a Quidditch captain, come to mention it. And he was greatly confusicated and bebothered as to how no one had noticed the rabbit thing.

There had to be rules somewhere, Cedric assumed. Somewhere, there was a great big book of rules that everyone else had read and had explained to them, at least partially, and Cedric hadn’t been allowed to know this book existed or even read the summary on the back. Either that or Cedric, who was always making it up as he went along, had appeared just so naturally good at “being a competent and put-together person” that everyone had assumed that Cedric had already read “How to be a Competent and Put-Together Person”.  

He hadn’t. He really, really hadn’t, he could assure them, and neither had any of the rabbits.

Cedric had always been… well… good at stuff. He was several generally competent, hard-working, and talented anxious rabbits in a robe. This wasn’t really something to complain about, though. There were far worse things in life than being decent or good at most things he attempted. He was very lucky to be a generally capable and competent person.

Still, sometimes he wished… not that he were incapable or incompetent, because that would be ridiculous, but… that this didn’t make people assume that things weren’t hard for him too. Just because he could do something, and do it well, didn’t mean it didn’t take effort on his part. These assumptions left him feeling unrecognized, when to excel became the standard and barely worth commenting upon as anything but more of the usual.

It also left him somewhat quietly terrified of not being “Mr. Perfect” at everything, because when excelling became his standard, then performing averagely at anything became akin to total failure. When Cedric performed at the same level as everyone else at anything, as his father demonstrably seemed to think, then this meant something was wrong.

The rabbits, Cedric might have joked if he could tell his little joke, were anxious for good reason.

~

That very same class, where he had tried to tell his little joke and been called Mr. Perfect (who could not, of course, be anxious because he was Mr. Perfect), he’d been… distracted. Not depressed, he’d insist, because people got worried when depression was mentioned in any context, even temporary blips in a day, but… deflated. Discouraged after his joke had not just fallen flat, but fallen clean through and out the wrong side.

He’d screwed up his spell in front of the entire class. It had quite literally blown up in his face and the teacher’s face. He very much hadn’t meant to do this, but it had happened anyway. He’d had just enough time to realize what would happen, before it happened with a bang.

“Well,” Professor McGonagall had said crisply - crisply in more ways than one - as she’d removed her glasses to wipe the soot off the lenses. “Everyone has their off-days, Mr. Diggory.”

Cedric had grinned apologetically at her, as the snickers and giggles broke out around them. The friend sitting next to him, Michael, the one who had called him Mr. Perfect, had been doubled over in laughter from nearly the moment it happened. Understandable, since Cedric supposed that he had probably looked pretty funny with a face full of soot and the smoking remains of a pineapple in front of him.

“Sorry, professor. I think my attention wandered off without me. It won’t happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t, Mr. Diggory,” Professor McGonagall had said simply, and moved on.

She had moved on to Cedric’s still laughing friend, Michael. Who, upon being prompted by an unimpressed and impatient Professor McGonagall, had proceeded to cast the spell perfectly. Cedric’s friend had grinned widely at him, and Cedric had grinned back at Michael’s success.

The grin had… faded in sincerity, as class had gone on.

“Merlin! I can’t believe I did better for once than Mr. Perfect!” Michael had declared. Repeatedly.

It had gone on: “It must be a miracle!”

And on: “Are you sure you’re really Cedric Diggory? Are you sure you’re not sick?”

And on: “I did better than Cedric Diggory! Someone pinch me, I must be dreaming!”

Eventually, Cedric’s grin had been starting to hurt a little.

“Some dreams, you’re having!” Cedric had said jokingly, maybe a little too sharply, hoping to move the conversation on to anything else.

He’d tried to move along several times already - to their upcoming Charms test, to the upcoming Hogsmeade visit, to their quiz in Potions next week - and maybe he had sounded too bitter about his earlier attempts having failed so miserably. He very much hadn’t meant to sound like this, to squash his friend’s success, but his friend had frowned at him anyway, as they’d left the classroom.

“Oh, come on, Ced,” Michael had said. “No one likes a sore loser.”

Cedric had looked at his friend, who’d been his friend since the Sorted Hat had sent them to sit together at Hufflepuff table, and tried to come up with something to say… There was too much and the feelings were too hard to pin down. Cedric couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t sound like whining about being unable to cope with failure or a condescending lecture about modesty.

“Sorry,” he’d said, and grinned apologetically instead.

Because he liked to think of himself as a good friend, and he very much wanted to be a good friend to people. So he could swallow those feelings that were so hard to pin down, and smile for his friend’s success, even it all felt a little at his own success. After all, his friends deserved to be happy, and being happy for them was the decent thing to do, wasn’t it?

~

Supporting his friends and classmates and housemates, Cedric assumed, was how he’d become a prefect. Between being very good at appearing to be a competent person, therefore being a “role model” despite being several anxious rabbits in a robe, and doing the decent thing for people made him, in many people’s eyes, an exemplary prefect. As Cedric liked to think of himself as a competent person and very much wanted to be an exemplary, if not perfect, prefect... he strove to be so.

Though, if Cedric were being really, truly honest with himself, he probably would have refused the position if his parents hadn’t been there when he’d opened that letter. His father had been so proud; Amos Diggory had crowed about his son’s success for the rest of the summer. Cedric’s mother had been very proud too, though more quietly.

Cedric, while having to leave his friends to attend the prefects meeting on the train, had wished someone had actually asked him if he’d really wanted to be a prefect. As his friends’ joking, somewhat congratulatory comments about “Guess we can’t do anything fun around Cedric now!” and “What else did anyone really expect of Mr. Perfect?” had followed him out of the compartment, and he had grinned apologetically back at them for the honor and privilege of being the subject of even more expectations.

In Cedric’s daydreams, as he’d gone off to that prefect meeting, Professor Sprout would have pulled him aside before he’d left for the summer, to tell him she wanted to make him next year’s fifth-year male prefect. She would have had a serious talk with him about the responsibilities and expectations such a position would entail, and then asked him if he thought he was ready for that.

And Cedric would have thought about it, and then replied, “No, thank you, Professor Sprout. To be really, truly honest, I don’t think I can handle the pressure of more responsibility and expectations. I am, I know, a relentless overachiever. But sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, while trying to keep everyone else afloat, and I have no idea how to express this anxiety or cope with stress besides bottling it up. Trying to perform perfectly is nerve-wracking, and would be even if I didn’t also feel responsible for the well-being of other people. If I could share this with anyone, I’d share it with my mother, but I have no guarantee my father wouldn’t read a letter like that, and I don’t want to seem like I’m “crying for help” when I really should be able to continue to handle all of this just fine. Oh dear, I seem to be dumping these repressed feelings out in a mess now. Whoops.”

At least, Cedric liked to think he would have responded like this, except without any gushing, intrusive speech about his own worries or sudden crying. But, if Cedric were being really, truly honest with himself, the guilt of letting Professor Sprout down, of letting his parents down, of letting down everyone’s expectations of him, would have swallowed any sort of resistance immediately.

If people found out that Cedric could have been a prefect and not taken that sort of opportunity, well… Cedric’s father never would have let him hear the end of “not taking every opportunity” and “becoming a prefect comes with experience and connections", just to start.

It had been easier just to go with it. Probably.

Cedric did like being a prefect, anyway. Parts of it, at least. He liked helping people; making other people feel good generally made him feel good. He liked to think of himself as a good prefect and he very much wanted to be the sort of person who was a good prefect.

~

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that he should probably have told someone that he felt like several anxious rabbits in a robe nearly all the time. But, as his gushing daydreams had already informed him, the person he would have felt most comfortable sharing these thoughts with was his mother - Cedric loved his mother, such that he had used to call her his best friend - if he wasn’t afraid his father might find out.

It wasn’t that Cedric was afraid of his father. No, Amos Diggory loved him dearly and Cedric knew this. He just… sometimes thought… he occasionally had the notion... that Amos Diggory loved his “highly successful, overachieving, talented, prefect, Quidditch captain, Mr. Perfect” son more than he might love having a “perfectly average and somewhat constantly anxious” son.

Which was just a ridiculous thought. Cedric knew that his father would really love him no less either way, and that his father cared about his personal well-being more than any sort of prize to brag about at work. It was just that Cedric was afraid of disappointing his father. If Cedric could be a “highly successful, overachieving, talented prefect, Quidditch captain, Mr. Perfect" son, then… well… Cedric wanted to be that son for his father. Cedric could do it, after all, just… inwardly very anxiously.

Who wanted to go up to their parents and announce: “I feel like a failure waiting to happen” ? Or to accuse their parents out of nowhere of putting pressure on them and never teaching them how to handle that? Cedric didn’t want that, so… well… He hadn’t.

He didn’t.

~

If Cedric couldn’t share his concerns with his parents, who would probably take his rabbits joke very seriously, then he always had his friends. Except… well… the last time he’d tried to tell the rabbit joke, his friend hadn’t taken him seriously at all and Cedric had later blown himself up a bit.

Cedric wasn’t sure how his friends would take his honest concerns. Hopefully not as just another joke.

He’d thought about it very seriously once: actually telling someone about all these hard to pin down feelings. It had been in his fourth year, with another one of his friends. Phoebe had been having a breakdown over exams, because she was barely managing to handle the current exams - these fourth year exams were giving her enormous amounts of trouble - and yet nearly all the professors kept saying things like, “This is easy. This is nothing compared to the OWLs next year.”

Cedric had sympathized with Phoebe deeply. He’d been doing well enough, as he usually did and essentially always had, but all the stress and anxiety had still been there.

Since he liked to think of himself as a good friend and very much wanted to be a good friend, Cedric had sat with her and listened quietly. When Phoebe had started calming down, Cedric had offered to help tutor her, started pointing out resources that might be able to help her, and then pointed out that the teachers were just saying that to scare the slackers into taking things more seriously. They probably hadn’t meant to scare everyone else so badly at the same time.

While she’d been talking and he’d been listening, though, before he started offering what pitiful advice he could, Cedric had mostly been thinking about his own problems. Most of the comments he’d come up with to relate to her were about his own problems, which generally related only vaguely to his friend’s problems, so he’d bit his tongue on saying them no matter how much they’d wanted to be said.

It wasn’t the decent friend or decent person thing to do, Cedric had been sure, to talk about your own problems when your friend or anyone else needed help. He’d felt badly - he’d felt selfish - for having these thoughts. He’d striven to help his friend instead.

“Thanks, Cedric,” Phoebe had sniffled, after he’d offered what he could, including a handkerchief. “You’re such a nice bloke, you know that, right?

Yeah, but that’s only what I want everyone to think, so I can enact my evil plan later, Cedric had almost said. He hadn’t, of course, because he knew this to be an incredibly bizarre thing to say, and inwardly frowned towards his brain for coming up with that.

“It’s no problem,” Cedric had insisted instead, smilingly. “It’s the decent thing to do, right?”

Phoebe had laughed wetly. “Merlin, you’re so stupidly perfect. Stop it already.”

At this point, Cedric might have been deeply concerned she was about to develop a crush on him. (He wasn’t entirely sure if it would have been the first time with someone, because he’d never been able to figure out whether or not his suspicions about people acting “crushed-like” around him were just self-centered nonsense.) Fortunately, he’d also been there for her sexuality crisis the year before last about how pretty girls were too pretty.

At this point, Phoebe wouldn’t be her if she didn’t have a major crisis every year, after a minor crisis at least once a month. For major crises, there’d been the death of her ill grandfather the year before, a personal identity crisis the year before that, and her first time ever taking exams the year before that. All understandable crises, both the major and minor ones, Cedric usually thought while helping her through all of them.

On that note, Cedric had never gotten around to having the favor returned to him. He'd never had a talk to her about how he thought girls were pretty but that boys were very good-looking too. It had always seemed somewhat private, and there had never been a good moment, and a part of Cedric still wondered it was too early to say and if he might settle on one or the other eventually.

“Never,” Cedric had assured his friend, in joking refusal of imperfection.

“Git,” Phoebe had said playfully.

They’d gone off to find Professor Sprout shortly after that, because she’d passed nearby and clearly had a free moment for once (instead of being off wrestling something in the greenhouses) and Cedric had insisted on it while their determination was fresh, about potential accommodations for his friends’ exams. In hindsight, Cedric thought this was probably the moment - helping out his friend the way he had - where he had definitely, completely doomed himself to being a prefect.

Something else had distracted them after that. Though Cedric - some small part of him, probably one of the rabbits near the middle - had hoped that it might then be his turn to talk about some of his own worries, he hadn’t been able to bring himself to bring it up.

After all, Phoebe had been in a much better mood. Cedric hadn’t wanted to ruin her hard-won calm by then selfishly dumping all of his problems on her in turn. He might have resolved to tell her if she, in turn, ever asked how he was doing but... she’d never asked… Phoebe had never asked, ever, actually. Which was understandable, really, since she was the sort of person rarely not in the middle of at least some minor crisis of her own, which he then had to help her through. He couldn’t expect her not to deal with her own crises first.

Sometimes Cedric thought about ways he might be able to get her - or any of their other friends - to ask him how he was doing, but that sounded manipulative and not the decent thing to do. The joke about secretly being several anxious rabbits in a robe might do it if he kept at it - it sounded a bit like a very quiet cry for help - but… Phoebe might just think he was trying to get her to feel better.

He wasn’t about to break down crying for someone to happen across him either. That felt a little pathetic when Cedric thought about it, though he didn’t think Phoebe was pathetic in any way. He just… his problems weren’t nearly overwhelming enough for that… and he could handle them, really.

Maybe it was better that no one really bothered to ask how he was more than passingly.

Even if they did, he’d probably either say something incredibly weird - like that he was really, truly, and honestly the consciousness summoned to herd the several anxious rabbits in a robe that he was made of - or that he was fine. Doing well enough, really. Thanks for asking.

~

The thing about Quidditch…

Well, the first thing about Quidditch, the important thing about Quidditch, was that it was not just about Quidditch. Cedric had understood this from a very young age. If Quidditch had just been about people riding flying sticks and throwing a quaffle about according to a very confusing set of rules, then there wouldn’t be massive stadiums where hundreds or even thousands of people came to watch it happen. There wouldn't essentially be arenas of worship where people could cheer madly or boo wildly.

It all felt, in some ways, like being thrown to the lions for someone else’s entertainment. Considering Gryffindor’s extremely fearsome line-up this year, in some ways, it was. The expectations of the raving, rather bloodthirsty crowd seemed to rise like the sun and fall like a collapsing building.

But it was also jolly good fun, this bloodthirsty sport in which they were thrown to the Bludgers. An exhilarating outlet for rabbits who were forced to spend too much of their time cooped up in a stuffy robe. Cedric enjoyed flying very much and thought that if he weren’t given the opportunity to participate and exert himself in a little bit of exciting, incredibly dangerous madness every now and again, he’d probably have gone properly mad years ago.

The thing about Quidditch, though, was that it had used to be Cedric’s carefree responsibility.

Except, upon entering his fifth year as a moderately reluctant prefect, when the Hufflepuff team was pulled together for a meeting, this suddenly changed. There had been an emergency: in which their captain, Tamsin Applebee, announced that while she did still want to play, she had decided that didn’t want to be captain after all and was abdicating.

She may have only been a sixth-year, but she was planning to take a couple of her NEWTs early over the summer, and between her responsibilities with the Cooking Club and the Herbology Club, she didn’t have time to captain the Quidditch team. Her responsibilities were wearing her too thin as it was and she’d made an executive decision about it. Tamsin liked Quidditch, but she didn’t like Quidditch that much. Not enough to be a dedicated captain, like, say, Oliver Wood.

Merlin, Cedric had thought dazedly, I wish that were me.

Meanwhile, one of his teammates had laughingly said of Oliver Wood, “No one else in the world likes Quidditch that much.”

And the whole team had laughed about that merrilly.

Except, Tamsin immediately turned around and said, “I nominate Cedric for captain.”

Cedric was truly, really, honestly surprised that the rabbits hadn’t all fled in a panic and left him to collapse in on himself. Just poof! The rabbits should have scattered and there would have been no more Cedric Diggory, and Tamsin might have gone, “Well, shit, I guess that’s a no.” And someone else would have been nominated for Quidditch captain while Cedric went about collecting the rabbits that made him up and herding them back into the robe.

Instead, Michael, one of Cedric’s friends and one of their Beaters, had clapped Cedric on the back and declared, “Who else but Mr. Perfect?”

“Malcolm?” Cedric had suggested, in a strangled voice.

Malcolm Preece was both a Chaser and in sixth-year like Tamsin, and the sort of person who seemed to have been born responsible, but he had shook his head. “Thanks, Ced, but me and Tam already talked about it. Between my prefect duties and my tutoring students-” He had shrugged. “I’m trying to make it to Head Boy next year. I’m swamped.”

But I’m a prefect too! Cedric hadn’t whimpered in protest.

“Oh,” he’d said. “Good on you, mate.”

“Thanks, Ced.”

Cedric had then looked to Heidi Macavoy, their other Chaser, and Maxine O’Flaherty, their other Beater. His fellow fifth-years surely had to save him. Please declare this an unconscionable outrage and that you refuse to let me, an unqualified and wicked usurper, take your rightful place as the captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team and lead us to glory, he hadn’t said.

“Maxine? Heidi? You-”

Neither of these very qualified Quidditch damsels had come forward to save him, several rabbits in distress, and claim their pin. Maxine had offered him two thumbs up and Heidi, upon noticing this, echoed the gesture as though it summed up all her sentiments too.

“110% behind you, Ceddie,” Maxine had assured him.

Cedric had looked desperately to Michael. “Mike?”

Michael had just clapped him on the back again. “You’ve got this, mate. Don’t make me say it again!”

Finally, Cedric had looked very, very desperately to the final member of their official Quidditch roster: their Keeper, a fourth-year named Herbert Fleet. If Cedric had had any indication that it was socially acceptable, he would have tossed the position on poor Herbert - Herbert was a smart lad, even if he had a tendency to outgrow his own body every few months - and then Cedric could fallen apart into all those anxious rabbits and fled for the hills. 

Herbert, please, you’re my last hope.

“Herbert?”

“I think you’ll be a brilliant captain, Cedric!”

For Merlin’s sake, Herbert.

Cedric could have offered plenty of reasons why he wasn’t suited to being captain of the Quidditch team. Like how he alternated between being too intensely competitive and being a complete pushover. Like how he’d never had to do anything like hold tryouts or schedule practices or design strategies or plays. He had no experience in running a team.

They had all seen those chalkboards covered in frighteningly complex and perfectly geometric drawings, complete with angles and calculations, that Oliver Wood hauled out to the middle of the pitch during Gryffindor practices. Cedric… Cedric couldn’t do that. Cedric’s drawings fell and had always fallen more towards the “impressively lopsided” and “stick-figure with deeply broken anatomy” way of things. Doodles. Cedric could doodle.

He liked Quidditch, but… Quidditch was a fun thing.

I am sorry, but I am going to turn into several rabbits and hide now, Cedric hadn’t said.

Everyone had been looking at him.

“Thanks, Tamsin,” Cedric had said instead, with a winning smile. “I’m honored.”

~

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that, despite being several anxious rabbits in a robe, he had still managed to end up where he was now. Fifth-year Hufflepuff student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A reluctant but generally considered to be perfect prefect. An unexpected captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team. Well-liked, well-regarded, generally considered to be the author of that “How to be a Competent and Put-Together Person” rulebook he still hadn’t read.

And for all of this: he was rewarded by having to play Quidditch in a thunderstorm.

Also: by having to convince his team to go play Quidditch in a thunderstorm, who were already very unhappy about having their match switched with Slytherin, because Oliver Wood, the indecent madman, had absolutely refused to reschedule the match earlier this morning.

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that he wasn’t particularly brave, or chivalrous, or curious, or ambitious, or cunning. No, Cedric may have been relatively good at stuff, but he was ultimately fairly ordinary and especially good at pretending he had it together.

He had no idea how he managed to stay on his broomstick when the dementors showed up.

He very nearly hadn’t.

Out of everyone on the Quidditch pitch, Cedric had been the one to get the closest to the dementors besides Harry Potter. After the train ride, rumors had swept Hogwarts of various reactions to the dementors, and everyone wanted to know what it had been like for Cedric. After all! Harry Potter had fainted and fallen off his broom! Had it been different this time?

They also wanted to know if he was alright. There was a nearly unpleasant amount of hugs - both politely accepted and unsolicited surprise hugs - following that Quidditch match for Cedric Diggory.

Michael, his arm over Cedric’s shoulder, had been quick to glare off anyone asking questions besides whether Cedric was alright. And maybe also anyone shoving themselves forward to touch them and ask him if he was alright. Tamsin and Malcolm and fierce, gangly Herbert had made for an effective defensive wall, as the Hufflepuff team trudged off the pitch and towards the change rooms - towards the showers to wash off the cold rain and the mud.

There was some elation at this victory - their rather unexpected victory against the Gryffindor lions’ fearsome line-up - but it was a very hollow sort. Harry Potter was being carted off to the hospital wing at this very moment. It dampened the already damp game.

Cedric looked at the snitch in his hand and… tried to suss out what the dementors had been like. He couldn’t say for anyone else, but for him… a whole lot of nothing in particular and everything at once. There had suddenly been a low and overwhelming buzz of every anxious thought that Cedric Diggory had ever had. Especially the worst and most pessimistic of them. Surging to the surface from the unhappy rabbit that kept them all somewhere in the vicinity of Cedric’s chest and his gut.

If what Cedric had felt had been anything like what Harry Potter had felt…

“I’m going to offer to replay the match,” Cedric announced.

There was silence at first, before Maxine stuck her head back out of the girls’ change room and into the general team meeting room. (Heidi’s head popped up right behind her.)

“Sorry, Ceddie, what did you just say? Did you just say you’re going to offer to replay the match?”

“Hah, good one!” Tamsin said.

Malcolm nudged her and said, “I think he’s serious.”

“What?" Michael demand. "Ced, mate, are you nuts? You want to do that again?”  

“I don’t want to do that again,” Herbert said very quietly.

Herbert was currently more mud than Herbert, as he struggled to strip off all his Keeper’s gear. He had been knocked to the ground several times over the course of the match, but even as a lump of mud he was expressively hunched over and wide-eyed. 

“No, of course I don’t want to do the rain and the mud and the storm again,” Cedric assured Herbert. “Or the dementors. But that’s the point, isn’t it?” He looked around the room. “We ought to do that again without the dementors. And without the rain. It’s not… it’s not fair.”

“Hey, just because Potter lagged behind, doesn’t mean-” Michael began.

“Potter lagged behind because of the dementors,” Cedric said.

“And because that kid weighs, like, forty kilos soaking wet,” Tamsin pointed out, then tugged unhappily at her soaked hair. “Ugh. This is going to take hours to dry. I’m never playing in a storm or doing anything for a Slytherin ever again. No one ever let me be nice to a Slytherin ever again.”

Michael still wasn’t convinced. “We have to play Ravenclaw in two weeks, mate!” he said, brandishing the number on his fingers like Cedric needed this illustrated. “When do you want to fit a rematch with Gryffindor in there?”

“It doesn’t have to be this semester,” Cedric insisted. “We have plenty of time in March and April. Which-” He held up a hand to stop Malcolm and Tamsin’s protests. “- are two months before exams. If we go to Madam Hooch, together, and ask for the accommodations, it’ll be easy.”

“...We don’t have nearly enough games anyway,” Maxine said finally.

Behind her, Heidi nodded. “I don’t mind.”

“As long as it’s not in the rain,” Herbert said firmly, as he dropped one of his shin guards to the ground with a sad squelch.

Malcolm, Tamsin, and Michael still looked unconvinced.

“It’s not against the rules,” Cedric said.

He knew because he had forced himself to actually go read the full rulebook - possibly just for the novelty of actually having a rulebook for some aspect of his life - after being unexpected dropped into the position of captain. All it had really done was make him even more confused and even more certain that he didn’t want to lead a team in this ridiculous, absurd, dangerous, silly game.

“But, mate,” Michael said again. “You stayed on your broom. Potter didn’t. It’s…”

“Interference!” Cedric supplied firmly. “And who knows what minor effects they might have had on the game while they were lurking? The entire game is subject to interference and unfair. There shouldn’t have been dementors on the pitch, it doesn’t matter that I-”

-have years of experience of holding myself together in the face of those thoughts. I face them every damn day of my life. I have no idea what bad memory those creatures bring up in Potter, who by the rumors faces monsters and Dark Lords in his spare time, but I bet it inspires far worse than bad jokes about being made of anxious rabbits.

“Look, you’ve heard the rumors from Hogsmeade,” Cedric argued instead, looking Michael firmly in the eye. He then looked at Malcolm and Tamsin. “What the seventh-years say about what it’s like leaving the school grounds and having to walk past those things.”

Malcolm and Tamsin both grimaced.

Cedric looked back to Michael and continued, “Potter is thirteen and just because I can hold myself together a little better - in the face of dementors who weren't going for me - doesn’t make me the better sportsman. If I let this mess go as fair, then I’ll be by far the worse one.”

There was silence again. No sound by the rain still beating at the Quidditch stands and the wind howling through the pitch, and another squelch as Herbert dropped his other muddy shin guard.

“There’s no way we’ll beat Gryffindor in a fair match,” Tamsin said finally.

“Then we ought to lose,” Cedric answered. “Fairly.”

 Michael sighed and dragged a hand down his face. “Merlin, fine. Just stop rubbing it in.” He kicked at the ground and went to strip off his padding. “Why could we have a captain who wasn’t a prefect in love with the rulebook? Tamsin, this one’s on you.”

Tamsin glared at him, then tugged again at her wet hair and looked at Cedric. “You’re right,” she said simply. “Fair’s fair. But good luck talking to Wood about it.”

“I’m sure he’s a perfectly reasonable person,” Malcolm said, grinning as though this was a fantastic joke. “You’re right, Ced, as always. I heard from the Weasley twins that Wood’s drowning himself in the showers, but if you can get him to agree, I’ll replay the match for you.”

Don’t do it for me, Cedric almost…

“Don’t do it for me,” Cedric answered. “Do it because it’s the decent thing to do.” He looked around the room. “I don’t want to lose either. I’d like nothing more than to catch the snitch and win a match against Gryffindor.” He held up the snitch in question. “But I want to do it fairly. I’m going to do it fairly. I think we can do it fairly. We deserve better than winning because dementors interfered, and Gryffindor deserves better than losing that way.”

The truth was there was nothing really, in the official Quidditch rulebook or the Hogwarts Quidditch rulebook, that said much about interference. Especially interference by dementors. As far as the rules of Quidditch seemed to be concerned, you ought to do anything to win, and efforts towards sportsmanship seemed to read like tales of gruesome warning. Cedric was of the opinion that just because something wasn’t explicitly in the rules, didn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

Herbert, who was now more Herbert than mud, beamed at him over his towel. Maxine and Heidi both offered him thumbs-up, and Maxine opened her mouth to say something-

Merlin, please stop,” Michael said.

Maxine frowned at him. “No one here wants to lose, Michael, but Ceddie’s right-”

“I know he’s right. Mr. Perfect is always right. Winning through dementors doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside either,” Michael said unhappily. “He just doesn’t have to rub it in when our victory’s shit enough as it is.”

“That’s not what I’m trying to do, Mike.”

“Oh, just go talk to Wood already,” Michael snapped, and stomped off towards the showers.

Cedric didn’t know what to do, or what to call after him if anything.

It was Malcolm who spoke up next. “He just needs time to calm down and get over it. We all do. I’ve seen this with the kids I tutor. The dementors have put us on edge.”

Tamsin sighed. “The dementors have put the whole stupid school on edge.”

“And Sirius Black,” Herbert said helpfully.

“I can’t tell if this is better or worse than last year,” Tamsin said, ignoring this addition.

“And to think: we’ve got so much year left,” Malcolm said with false cheer.

“Yeah, it can get a lot worse,” Tamsin agreed.

“Or better,” Heidi offered, speaking up for the first time in a while.

This was surprising enough that Tamsin and Malcolm stopped their pessimism. Tamsin didn’t seem to know what to say in the face of this.

“Yeah, I guess,” she said, and turned to Cedric. “Mike’s right. Go talk to Wood if we’re going to throw this one.”

“We’re not throwing it,” Cedric protested.

“Nah, we’re basically throwing it,” Tamsin said, and walked past Maxine and Heidi into the girls change room. “Go catch Wood before he apparently drowns himself in the showers, Ced! Or don’t. Then Johnson’ll be captain and Gryffindor’ll be down a Keeper and we might win.”

Malcolm snorted and nodded to Cedric. “Go on, Ced. I’ll talk to Mike.”

Malcolm disappeared after Michael, and Maxine and Heidi disappeared after Tamsin. This left Cedric standing alone with Herbert, who was sitting on a bench beside a pile of mud. Unfortunately, Cedric forgot Herbert was there for a moment. It might have been the mud.

“I’m such a terrible captain,” Cedric muttered.

“I don’t think so.”

This was where Cedric remembered Herbert. “Ah,” he said. “Um.”

Herbert shrugged. “I mean, maybe you’re a terrible captain if the goal is to just win. But I think you’re doing a good job. You don’t make us get up at five in the morning for practice like Wood does.”

“Herbert, that’s a very low standard,” Cedric said helplessly.

“Yeah, but all our practices are fun and I’d rather have fun than win, and I get to know you and Maxine and Tamsin and stuff,” Herbert said as he pulled his goggles off his head. “And you care about whether we’re doing alright and let us all try out our own ideas.”

That’s because I don’t actually know what I’m doing.

“And even if you’re a terrible captain,” Herbert continued, “you’re a good person. Personally, I’d rather have a terrible captain who’s a good person rather than a good captain who’s a terrible person. Like, Merlin, you could be Flint. I’m glad you’re not. He’d probably set dementors on the other team if he could, like, heck, that’s kinda what Slytherin did by-”

“Herbert,” Cedric said, with even greater helplessness, “‘Not Flint’ is an even lower standard.”

“I know, but he’s just an example of, I don’t know, the opposite of you. On the scale, if Flint’s a negative and Not-Flint’s a zero, then you’re the opposite. You’re you. You’re Cedric.”

Cedric smiled then. “Terrible captain but decent person?”

Herbert shook his head and stood up. He was, unfairly, nearly taller than Cedric now.

“No,” Herbert said, and jostled Cedric’s shoulder. “Decent captain and good person.” Then he bent down and began to collect his pile of mud. “Anyway, you should probably really go if you want to catch the Gryffindor team. They’re probably all running off to the hospital wing after Potter.”

“Oh, right,” Cedric said and turned to go.

Then he turned back, because he liked to think of himself as a decent person and very much wanted to be the decent, competent, put-together person that everyone seemed to think he was. The thing about Cedric Diggory is that mother may have accidentally raised several anxious rabbits in a robe, but Mabel Diggory née Kirke hadn’t raised several anxious rude rabbits in a robe.

“Thanks, Herbert.”

“You’re welcome, Cedric,” Herbert said, then asked, “How do you get mud out of everything?”

“Ask Malcolm or Tamsin!” Cedric called back, possibly lying. “They know!”

~

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that, frequently, for all his attempts to reach out to people, he seemed to be perpetually misunderstood. He didn’t mean this in a sad fashion, as he thought it, but rather as a bizarre happenstance that seemed to follow him around.

Cedric trudged back to the rest of the Hufflepuff team feeling… confused, bewildered, and altogether confusicated and bebothered. He stopped in front of Malcolm and Tamsin, who were waiting for him along with the rest of his team lingering behind them.

Cedric opened his mouth.

“No, let me guess. Wood said no,” Tamsin said.

Cedric tried to sum up the enormous offense Wood seemed to have taken at his offer.

“Essentially,” he said.

Michael threw up his hands. “What a weirdo. I’m going back to the castle.”

“Wood might need some time to get over it,” Malcolm offered gently, as though Cedric was one of his first-year tutoring students who needed soothing lest they overreact to some pre-teen drama. “Try again in a few days and he might come around and see reason.”

This was a nice sentiment but it was belied by Tamsin’s snickering.

“Sorry, Ceddie,” Maxine said, as she threaded her arm through Heidi’s and opened an umbrella.

“At least you tried,” Heidi added, as they followed Michael out.

Herbert, who was now nearly all Herbert and nearly no mud, said optimistically, “Malcolm’s right. You can try again in a few days. Maybe if you talk to the rest of the rest, you can get them to bully Wood into changing his mind.”

Tamsin gave Herbert a considering look. “That’s… earnestly manipulative,” she said.

Herbert shrugged.

“Well, I’m going back to the castle. I’m not hanging around here any longer,” Tamsin said. “Cedric, if you can't get him to replay the match and try to forfeit, I'll see you kicked out of Hufflepuff, got it? Malcolm, you gonna walk me back? I’m taking your umbrella either way, just so you know.”

“Yeah, I’m coming,” Malcolm said. “Bye, Ced.”

“Bye,” Cedric said awkwardly.

He, unlike the entire rest of his team, was still in his Quidditch gear. He was alone again with Herbert, having made all sorts of dramatic speeches and gotten cursed at for his trouble.

He tried. At least he could say that. That despite being several anxious rabbits in a robe, he’d managed to go against his team and try.

“Did he really say no?” Herbert asked.

“He didn’t use that word exactly, but yeah,” Cedric said.

“Merlin,” Herbert said, boggled. “Gryffindors.”

Cedric sighed. “Yeah.”

~

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that he knew guilt like an old friend, alongside responsibility and decency. He’d offered Gryffindor a rematch because he felt he ought to do that. He’d become captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team and a prefect because he’d felt they were things he ought to do. After all, if he didn’t, then who would?

Even after Herbert left for the castle and Cedric was left alone to get changed, the guilt didn’t abate. In fact, it only seemed to get worse. For all Cedric knew, Wood would never come around and accept his offer of a rematch. Wood had been very insulted at the idea Gryffindor might need one to win the Quidditch Cup, which hadn’t been what Cedric had meant to imply at all, not even having brought up the Quidditch Cup at all.

With his team gone, it was easier to remember the awful feelings the dementors had brought up. The overwhelming buzz of all of Cedric’s worst and most pessimistic intrusive thoughts. Buzzing in his head loud enough to drown out everything else and make his fingers shake.

Until he couldn’t even remember to make any silly rabbit jokes about it.

He couldn’t stop thinking about what Potter might have heard. What awful thoughts had crept deafeningly up into Potter’s head, until the guy had fallen unconscious and off his broom. Cedric didn’t know much about Potter, but he was pretty sure that anyone who did those mad dives every match and (passingly, Cedric had seen) in practice, didn’t faint easy.

There were all sorts of rumors. Potter had fought a mountain troll. Potter had been caught smuggling a baby dragon at night. Potter had had something to do with the disappearance of Professor Quirrell. Potter had crashed a flying car into the Whomping Willow. Potter had found acromantula and dead unicorns in the Forbidden Forest. The rumors went on and on into unbelievable things that Harry Potter had done, apparently without blinking an eye, and, of course, Harry Potter had also killed the Dark Lord Voldemort as a baby.

Cedric didn’t know how much of that was true, if any of it, but… From what he knew of Potter, who seemed like a quiet and nice enough guy, he was sure whatever the dementors had made him feel had been bad. They'd really gone for Potter, like moths to a flame. It almost certainly had to be way worse than Cedric having to deal with his own uncooperative head with the volume turned up.

What was really worrying Cedric, though, was that… he wasn’t sure what Wood would say to Potter about it. Did Wood blame Potter for having fainted? Was anyone going to talk to Potter about the unfairness of the match? Was Potter even alright?

Herbert’s suggestion of going around Wood’s back to all his teammates, well… Cedric wasn’t going to go that far. At least, not yet. Wood was still the captain and the one whose mind needed to be changed, and Cedric couldn’t force Gryffindor to replay the match if they didn’t want to relive it.

Still, there was merit to the idea of going to see Potter anyway.

Just to check if he was alright and, if Wood kept being stubborn, see what he could do to make the guy feel better. Cedric could reason that Potter was probably alright, that his team and friends were there to help him, but… he couldn’t be sure. He wouldn’t know unless he went.

Cedric would hate for Potter to think this loss was his fault. Cedric would, more selfishly, hate for Potter to think that Cedric believed his victory was in any way fair.

Cedric didn’t bother doing more than wiping off some of the mud, and slung his bag over his shoulder. He’d change and take a shower once he got back to the Hufflepuff dorms. If he didn’t go now, just as he was, he might lose his courage or melt in the shower or something. Cedric Diggory was not a particularly brave person, being several anxious rabbits in a robe, so he had to do it now before the rabbits changed their mind or the urge to hide in a burrow overwhelmed them.

The thing about Cedric Diggory was that, he might say himself, due to being several easily spooked and constantly nervous rabbits in a robe, he didn’t want to be doing most of what he did. He wasn’t particularly brave or cunning or ambitious or curious, and doing things was very hard and tiring. But he did them anyway, because he felt he ought to, because he liked to imagine he was a decent person and very much wanted to be one.

He looked out into the rain, which was still coming down in cold buckets. At the moment, he very much didn’t want to step out into that storm again, however much he ought to get going. It was cold and wet and bad. The rabbits were quite convinced that he could live quite comfortably in the change rooms of the Quidditch pitch forever.

“Right,” he said, and raised his wand. “No. We ought to act like people. We’re going to act like decent people. Off we go.”