The Yule Ball wasn't at all what Harry had hoped for. In fact, after Cho had turned him down, he'd wanted nothing more than to avoid the whole thing. But when he'd requested as much of Professor McGonagall, he had received both her most disapproving expression and a lecture on his duties as a Triwizard champion. He hadn't bothered to point out that as they both knew he hadn't entered his name, he shouldn't be bound to honour stupid traditions that went along with being a champion.
So he did as he was told, once again, feeling sorry for himself as well as for Parvati, who shouldn't be anyone's last option. She was nice, and she was pretty, and she was certainly a better dancer than he was. Unfortunately, she wasn't Cho.
Cho, who was dancing with Cedric Diggory. She caught Harry looking at her for the umpteenth time and gave him yet another slightly pinched smile he no longer wanted to return. Her smiles looked like pity. So apologetic. They were probably sincere, but they made Harry feel as if she might think him incapable of enjoying himself without her.
Who was he trying to fool? He wasn't enjoying himself. Parvati was sulking to his right, Ron and Padma were sulking to his left, and everyone else seemed to be having more fun than all four of them put together. It would be so much better with Cho. Wouldn't it? Harry looked at her again. She was so pretty. She had a sweet smile and, being in Ravenclaw, she was obviously intelligent. She was a good seeker, even if her team had yet to beat Harry's. Half of what Harry knew about Cho were things he could see. The rest were things he assumed. What would they talk about? Quidditch. And… more Quidditch.
Perhaps their families? Harry didn't have one outside Ron, Hermione, and Sirius. As for Cho - Harry didn't have a clue about her family. And if he was honest, it hadn't even occurred to him to wonder about it. Or to wonder who her friends were. What were her hobbies? He remembered overhearing her talking to someone about horse-riding. Harry couldn't begin to imagine why someone would want to hop along on a horse when they could zoom up into the sky on a broom. And the other day, he'd seen her doing embroidery between classes; it had puzzled him, because it was the kind of thing his Aunt Petunia did.
Harry wondered what Cho and Cedric talked about. She wouldn't have anything more in common with him than with Harry, surely.
Like Harry, Cedric loved Quidditch. Harry knew he loved to fly simply for its own sake. He's seen him on many an evening simply gliding through the air by the Quidditch field, looking deeply content. It was something he liked to do himself, and they'd often spent an hour or more on the verge of nightfall flying circles and loops alongside each other in silence. Harry knew Cedric had a father who loved him very much. Cedric's friends were the whole of Hufflepuff house and anyone else to whom Cedric gave so much as a smile. Which was practically everyone, because Cedric didn't assume Ravenclaws arrogant, or Gryffindors righteous, or Slytherins evil. Cedric took people at face value; he assumed everyone to be good unless he personally learned otherwise. He was fair. And kind. And while Harry was counting Cedric's virtues, he thought it only fair to admit that as boys went, he was at least as attractive as Cho.
Harry made a funny croaking noise in the back of his throat, sitting up straight so suddenly that he jabbed Parvati with his elbow.
"What's the matter?" she asked grumpily, rubbing her arm.
"I'd really like to dance. This is a ball, Harry." She glared at him.
Harry tried to smile at her. "Sorry. But I'm really no good at dancing, you know that."
"You're not that terrible." She sighed and continued to stare at the rest of the students enjoying themselves on the dance floor, her arms folded in front of her.
Harry mumbled another half-hearted, "Sorry." His eyes were already back on Cho, who was still dancing with Cedric.
Cedric, who danced very well, as far as Harry could tell. Cedric, who wasn't really smiling right then, but who did keep eye contact with her as they'd been taught. At least he did until he caught Harry looking at him.
Cedric looked over Cho's shoulder, and past the other dancing couples, with ease. He was taller than virtually everyone there. His eyes met Harry's across half the room, and he gave a slight smile.
Harry had an odd, clenching feeling in his chest and smiled back. It felt weird, and he realised he hadn't been smiling properly at all so far that evening.
"Why are you looking so happy?" Ron grumbled next to him as if taking personal affront at happiness in his presence.
"Who's happy?" Harry shot back, labouring to wipe the completely unwarranted smile off his face.
"I know who's not," Ron murmured, glaring at Krum and Hermione.
Harry couldn't be sure who it was Ron was really jealous of. At this point, and considering Ron's lovesick rant about Krum at the Quidditch World Cup, it was 50/50. He couldn't help a small grin at that, and because he looked up at that point, found himself grinning right at Cedric, who was still, or once again, looking in his direction.
Cedric looked surprised, but shot back another smile of his own without hesitation.
Harry's own smile widened, and he felt a blush creeping up over his cheeks. What was he doing, grinning at Cedric like a loon? But somehow, he couldn't stop.
It was at that point that Cho appeared to be saying something to Cedric. Who looked down at her with his smile sliding off his face as if it had never been there at all. Harry was bewildered by the sudden change. He couldn't see Cho's face, or hear what she had said. The two of them continued dancing, and Cedric gave a shrug, talking to Cho. But his luminous smile was gone. As was Harry's own.
"You must be pretty mad at Cedric, eh, Harry?" Ron said.
"What?" Harry turned his head to look at his best friend. "Why?"
Ron frowned at him. "He's dancing with your girl?"
Harry shifted uncomfortably. "She's hardly my girl, Ron. I don't even…" He turned back to watch Cho dancing with Cedric, and somehow, even though there was a vague feeling of jealousy, he said the only thing that made any sense. "I don't even know her."
Ron looked a little bewildered. "You could be getting to know her now if it wasn't for Cedric."
Harry considered this. "I don't know, Ron."
"You're not making sense, Harry." Ron slumped back down, apparently too confused by Harry's attitude to bother arguing it.
Harry was feeling more than a little confused as well. "I think I'll go get myself something to drink."
Ron nodded, uncharacteristically not requesting anything for himself. Padma and Parvati exchanged a glance behind Ron's back which made it all too clear what they thought of Harry's lack of consideration for either of them.
Harry wandered over to the ice bar, which was well stocked with everything from pumpkin juice to muggle soft drinks. He felt like he could have used some fire whiskey about then, but he wasn't surprised when the strongest drink he could find was alcohol-free stout.
Harry didn't question why he recognised the voice immediately, considering he'd barely heard Cedric speak at all. "Cedric." He turned with his glass in his hand, and found himself bumping right into Cedric's chest. Most of his stout went over the back of his hand and down the front of his trousers. "Sorry," he muttered, even though not a drop had ended up on Cedric's immaculate suit.
Cedric laughed softly. "No, I'm sorry. Clumsy of me." He took the glass from Harry's shaking fingers and set it down. "Here, let me help you with that." He reached for a napkin.
"No need, I--" Harry stopped dead when Cedric dabbed at the back of his hand with it. Cedric's fingers felt unnaturally warm through the thin tissue.
"Your trousers. Damn, I hope that won't stain." Cedric reached for another napkin with his free hand, and moved to press it against the spreading wetness on Harry's right hip.
Harry squeaked and made to dislodge Cedric's hand, but the Hufflepuff didn't seem inclined to give up the tissue.
They both froze, hands all muddled up on top of the other's, looking probably extremely foolish and as if they were holding hands. Which, technically, they were. When they started laughing, the tension relaxed a little.
"I'm making things worse, aren't I?" Cedric offered.
Harry grinned. "Not at all. Sorry, just clumsy."
"I'm the one who got in your way." Cedric said it very earnestly.
It made Harry look up at him, and not for the first time when he met Cedric's eyes, his stomach did a half spin before settling back down. According to Ginny and Hermione, that happened to everybody. "No," he said softly. "No, you didn't really." He didn't know what he was actually talking about.
Apparently, neither did Cedric, who just looked relieved. "Look, let's go and see to your clothes while… um, Cho is dancing with Blaise Zabini."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Oh. Is she? I… Yes, okay."
Cedric took his hand from Harry's hip, hoping no one had noticed it being there quite so long, and reached for a small bottle of butter beer. He had to lean very closely past Harry to reach it.
"Stain remover?" Harry asked with a silly grin, because it made him somehow giddy to realise Cedric smelled rather nice.
"No, thirsty." Cedric beamed back at him.
Harry didn't know what to say, and he didn't think that to compliment Cedric on his perfect smile was a good idea, so he just followed Cedric's lead out of the Great Hall, not questioning why the Hufflepuff picked up his cloak on the way.
When they got to the main corridor, the deafening noise was numbed immediately, and both took a deep breath of the fresh, crisp air drifting in through the half-open front door.
"God, that's tempting," Cedric stated with feeling.
Harry smiled up at his rapt expression. "Yes, it is."
Cedric looked at him. "Shall we go outside for a bit? You look kind of hot, and I know I am."
Harry, who felt distinctly flushed, agreed right away. "Definitely. I mean… yes, good idea."
Cedric grinned and took his arm, steering him past a handful of students too busy smooching or holding hands to care, and then they were outside. Freezing air hit them, and they both swore heartily, then burst into laughter.
"F…f… forgot m… my cloak," Harry stuttered, rubbing his arms through thin white shirt sleeves. Before he could even consider going back for it, and he had a suspicion he might not have, he felt warmth around his shoulders.
"Thankfully, we do have this one," Cedric stated. He'd settled his own cloak around Harry's shoulders with a flourish. "Let's find somewhere a little warmer."
Harry, thinking it wasn't all that cold after all, nodded jerkily, and half walking, half running, they made their way to the greenhouses, bypassing the first two and going for the furthest one by silent agreement. "You must be freezing!" Harry shouted over the wind, but Cedric only laughed. When they arrived, Cedric held the door open, and Harry suppressed a smirk because suddenly, he felt as if he was Cedric's date. The idea didn’t give him as much pause as he might have expected, but it did make him flustered.
"Okay in here?" Cedric asked.
"Yeah, sure." Harry turned, the cloak slipping off his shoulder, but he caught it and handed it back to Cedric. "Thanks for that." Cedric didn't take it right away, so Harry opened it and, standing on his toes, laid it across Cedric's now icy shoulders. "You shouldn't have given this to me," he said.
Cedric shrugged. "I'm fine, really." He looked serious for a moment. "You weren't having a very good time tonight, were you?"
Harry lowered his eyes, not intending to bring up Cho. "It was okay. I'm not really into dancing."
Cedric had stepped closer, watching him carefully. "I didn't mean to… Cho… you asked her. I'm sorry."
"Why?" It slipped out before Harry could stop himself. He really didn't want to have Cedric telling him that she was his girlfriend.
Cedric gave a half-hearted smirk. "Good question." Harry blinked at him in confusion. "I mean, I don't really know why I asked her. Well, I had to, didn't I?" Cedric was rambling, shifting uncomfortably. "Had to ask someone, because of that whole champions thing. I was told in no uncertain terms by Madame Sprout that the dancing bit wasn't optional." He sighed. "I swear, Harry, I had no idea you wanted to go with her."
"It doesn't matter, really." Harry was surprised to find that he meant that.
"Oh. Well. That's all right then." Cedric looked relieved. More so than Harry's not holding a grudge justified. He looked around until he spotted a small bench on the far side of the greenhouse facing out over the grounds. He walked over to it and brushed specks of dry earth off its seat. Then he sat down, looking back at Harry.
Harry went to sit beside him and realized that was a bit uncomfortable. "Oh, I forgot about my trousers," he said, blushing.
Cedric laughed and pulled out his wand. He pointed it at Harry's hip and said a quick cleaning and drying spell. Harry didn't feel inclined to point out that they could have done that inside the Great Hall, rather than to come all the way out here. It was rather nice sitting with Cedric. They looked out the glass panels for a few minutes, neither feeling the need to talk. The scents of fresh soil, winter lilies, and young lavender plants added further warmth to the temperate enclosure, making it very cosy.
"Are you scared, Harry?" Cedric asked suddenly, but his voice was even.
Harry turned his head, wondering what Cedric meant. When he followed his line of sight, he saw the other boy looking off into the distance, his eyes scanning the Quidditch pitch, then moving across to the Forbidden Forest, and the far hills. He thought he might know what Cedric meant.
"Yes." Harry swallowed. "Are you?"
"Terrified." Cedric gave a self-deprecating laugh. "Don't tell my father."
Harry smiled sadly. "I suppose you're not allowed."
"I don't think my dad even considers the possibility." Cedric placed his feet up on a wooden crate in front of the bench and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "He thinks I rush into things because I'm some kind of daredevil. Like it's a thrill."
"It's not, though," Harry murmured.
"No." Cedric tilted his head, looking at him. "I rush in so I can't think better of it. I still get butterflies in my stomach before every Quidditch match. I nearly died of fright before my first flight on a broom." He looked embarrassed. "Some daredevil."
"I think it's pretty brave, actually," Harry said sincerely. "To do things that scare you and not be put off by feeling scared."
Harry thought he saw Cedric blushing, even though the greenhouse was lit only by the moon and some lanterns lining the walkway back to the castle. "Why did you put your name in the Goblet?" he asked.
"I promised I would. Dad couldn't talk about anything else for the last few weeks of the holidays, and he wasn't even supposed to mention the tournament. And he kept looking at me like it was really important that I enter. What could I do but say I would?"
Harry nodded. "I suppose my dad would have expected me to. And would have probably figured out a way for me to pass the age line." He shot a look at Cedric. "But I didn't. Please believe me." He hated how desperate he sounded.
Cedric looked surprised. "I do, Harry." He reached out hesitantly, his hand on Harry's knee for a moment before he hurriedly withdrew it again. "I never really believed that you entered your name. I mean, you'd have to be..."
"Insane? Crazy? Stupid?" Harry suggested, staring at his knee.
Cedric grinned. "Yeah. Like me."
Harry looked at him seriously. "You're none of those things. You're just a really good, brave son." He smiled.
Cedric smiled back. "Bravery is your domain, Harry. We Hufflepuffs do what's expected of us. We do as we're told and don't ask questions. Anything to avoid disappointing people." When he realized Harry looked very serious, he added softly, "You really think I'm brave?"
Harry felt a little flustered. It was a lot easier to say things like that when intense grey eyes weren't boring into you. "Yes, I do."
Cedric chewed on his lower lip. "Do you know what I'd like to do?"
Harry shook his head.
"I'd like to not win the tournament. I'd like to not do what's expected or, in the case of my dad, assumed." Cedric looked to be warming to the idea as he spoke. "I'd like to see if I could do it, just for myself, and then say 'no, thanks'." He laughed. "Is that completely bonkers?" Harry was staring at him in silence. "Harry?" Cedric asked. "You okay?"
Harry looked deep in thought. After a few more moments, he said, "Why don't you?"
Cedric straightened up, a huge smile blossoming on his handsome face. "You think I should?" And then, very humbly, "Assuming I get that far to begin with."
"Yes, I think you should. And of course you'll get that far." Harry looked determined now. "And you know what? On the off-chance that I should get that far, I will too."
Cedric stared at him. "You're going to refuse it as well?"
Harry nodded emphatically, because he suddenly felt his anger and helplessness about the whole thing boiling over. "I'm fed up having my life run for me. I'm fed up with people expecting me to be a hero. I'm fed up being used as some kind of pawn. I didn't enter my name into the tournament, and whoever did probably doesn't have anything good in mind anyway. But do I get a choice? No, of course not. I'm supposed to be the saviour of the wizarding world, and by the way, could I win this stupid tournament as a warm-up?" He fixed his eyes on Cedric, taking a deep breath. "Well, I'm not going to. And that's that."
Cedric looked extremely impressed. "Right on, Harry. And neither am I."
Harry smiled. "Let's make a pact. If either of us gets to the cup first, we don't take it. Let them make of that what they will."
Cedric held out his hand without hesitation. "Deal. I swear not to touch the cup."
Harry took Cedric's hand. It was cool and smooth, and he felt as if a heavy weight had just been lifted off him. "I swear not to take the cup either," he said solemnly.
"We'll have some kind of private celebration if either of us would have won," Cedric suggested happily. Then he blushed. "What I mean is... Um, sorry, got a bit carried away there."
Harry blushed as well. "No, it's okay. I... I think that's a great idea.
Cedric's eyes lit up. "You do?" Harry nodded, his cheeks burning. Cedric assessed him for a long moment, his hand letting go of Harry's slowly. With some regret, Harry watched as Cedric turned and stared straight ahead again, his eyes looking out over the valley in front of Hogwarts. "Harry. You know, if I was brave, I would have asked someone else to the Yule Ball."
Harry's jaw dropped. "Oh." He paused, his brows drawn together in thought, wondering who could possibly require bravery, considering every girl in the school would have been delighted to go with Cedric. "Someone scary?" he asked, feeling stupid. "Sorry."
Cedric snorted softly. "No, not scary. Just... unconventional, I guess." He still avoided looking at Harry.
Harry was halfway between curiosity and a deep reluctance to learn who it was Cedric fancied so much that he was worried about approaching them. Could it be... "Not a teacher?" he asked, vaguely horrified.
Cedric shook his head so hard his springy curls flopped back and forth, then bent forward, his face in his palms. He looked unsure whether to laugh or sink into the ground with shame.
"You don't have to tell me, really!" Harry hurried to say. He didn't want Cedric being uncomfortable, and just as much, he didn't want to know. He really didn't.
"I do, Harry," Cedric mumbled into his hands. He raised his head. "Because... well, after what you said before about my being brave, I owe you that. I'd be proving you a liar otherwise." He took a deep breath and turned to look at Harry. "Oh God," he said softly.
Harry gulped. Cedric looked uncomfortable but determined. He also looked far more handsome than Harry could remember ever finding another boy. Harry wondered if Cedric's stomach was twisting as badly as his own, even while he didn't quite understand it. "Okay," he said, trying to sound encouraging because he knew it was what Cedric needed. "Tell me. And I won't be telling anyone else, I promise."
Cedric smiled sadly. "No, I don't suppose you would."
Harry looked a little confused. Cedric's fingers were twisting together in his lap while he struggled for words. Harry watched the nervous gesture, promising himself to remain silent until Cedric had told him what he felt he needed to say. While he waited, he realised that there wasn't a single name he wanted to hear from Cedric's lips. He'd felt a little sad and disappointed when Cho had turned him down. But he was astonished how much more he dreaded to hear whichever girl it was Cedric really liked.
"Harry, it's you," Cedric said finally. He blinked slowly.
Harry's stomach flipped again. "What?" he asked in a near whisper.
Cedric's fingers untwisted, and he raised a hand. He was breathing quickly; they were sitting close enough for Harry to hear it. When his raised hand rested against Harry's cheek, the younger boy's own breathing became more rapid. Cedric's hand was cooler now and a little clammy, and it was trembling. Harry almost covered it with his own to steady it.
Cedric's eyes held his and he simply waited, as if determined to be sure Harry didn't mind his hand on his cheek before he continued. "I wanted to ask you."
"Ask me what?" Harry croaked.
Cedric smiled. "To the ball, Harry. I wanted to ask you to the ball."
Harry's stomach leapt right up until he was sure he felt it touching his heart. "Oh," he gasped. And then he could think of nothing else to say, because there was so much in Cedric's admittance. So many things he had known, somewhere in the back of his mind, but been too afraid, too young, or too stupid to see. He wasn't sure which. But he knew how much it must have cost Cedric to see it, and to admit it, and he knew he'd been right about him. Next to Cedric, he was a coward. And he didn't like being a coward.
He took a deep breath and said in a rush, "I might have said yes."
Cedric's eyes widened until the tips of his long lashes touched the far corners of his eyebrows. "Harry," he very nearly squeaked.
Harry thought Cedric looked rather adorable like that. He smiled. And he finally raised his hand and covered Cedric's on his cheek. "Why don't you ask me now?" he suggested.
Cedric gulped. Then he stroked the pad of his thumb very gently along Harry's upper lip and said, in halting tones. "Right. Well. If we could start this evening again, Harry, would you do me the honour of going to the Yule Ball with me?"
"I would love to, Cedric." Those words came a lot easier to Harry than his stumbling invitation to Cho, he could not help but notice.
Cedric just beamed at him for a minute, then he said, "All right. Well, now that we're here, on a proper date, would you care for a drink?" He presented the bottle of butter beer he had taken along, unscrewed it, and handed it to Harry. His hand was still shaking a little.
Harry smiled, and took a few sips from the bottle, a little disconcerted by Cedric watching him so intently. When he handed the bottle back, he watched Cedric take a deep gulp, then replace the lid and stand the bottle behind him.
"What's next?" Harry asked in an attempt to put Cedric more at ease; he could sense his growing nervousness.
Cedric bit his lip, considering Harry. Then he stood up, removed his cloak, and held his hand out to Harry the way he had done at the Quidditch World Cup after that port key landing. "Would you like to dance with me?"
Harry smiled bashfully, resting his hand in Cedric's and letting himself be pulled to his feet. "I thought you didn't like to dance."
"I never said that." Cedric winked, and Harry's stomach flipped again. "I said I didn't want to dance at the ball. This is very different."
"Yes." Harry looked around them. There was of course no student or teacher in sight. "And there's no music."
"Oh, but there is." Cedric said, and his voice was low and soft. He tangled his fingers with Harry's, holding their joined hands to his chest, then reached around Harry's waist to draw him closer. His eyes were very intense. "I know I can hear music. Are you sure you can't?"
Harry smiled, flustered and nervous, but unable to break eye contact. "You're right. There's definitely music." When Cedric's arm tightened around his middle, and he started them both swaying lightly from side to side, Harry was quite sure that he could not simply hear music but angels singing, as well. Then he realised that Cedric was humming softly and smiled, his head coming to rest quite naturally against Cedric's neck. The tune skipped slightly, and then Cedric held him even closer while they continued to dance. Harry lost himself in the warmth of Cedric's skin through thin white cotton and the scents of musk and freshly laundered linen.
Dancing was so different, and so wonderful, when the steps didn't matter as much as who you were dancing with. When it was just so easy to be led, and it didn't matter that there were only a couple of square feet of space with flowers and pots and watering cans trying to trip you up.
They could have been dancing for hours, for all Harry knew. It was like a dream where you have no concept of time passing. Cedric's hand grew warm in the small of his back. And when Harry reached as far around Cedric's neck as he could, the hand moved up to rest between his shoulder blades.
Harry heard a sigh, and it must have been his own, because Cedric's soft humming continued. He wanted to ask what the song was. It sounded like the sort of romantic tune one might hear in an old muggle film, but he didn't want to break the moment. And it didn't matter. Nothing did. Not the tournament, not the school, not the ball, and not Cho. Only that he was dancing with Cedric in Greenhouse One close to midnight on a cold, snowy winter evening.
It had begun to snow! Harry turned his head slightly, his hair brushing along Cedric's long neck to cause another skip in the song, and smiled as he watched big, lazy snowflakes drifting to the ground above and all around their warm, clear enclosure.
Cedric must have noticed it too, because Harry felt his lips turning up against his temple, then saw him lifting his index finger from their joined hands to point upwards.
Harry nodded gently to show he had seen it too. It was like being in the Great Hall with the snow falling down on you but stopping just a few feet away. Except it was so much better with just the two of them. Harry never wanted to leave here again, just to keep dancing with Cedric while winter changed to spring, spring into summer, and summer into autumn with leaves drifting down to the ground outside. He pressed closer unconsciously as if it would make it a reality.
Cedric gasped, shifting slightly, the hand high up on Harry's back clenching where his shirt met his black satin vest.
When Harry was about to curse himself for disturbing their rhythm, he felt the hand moving up over the nape of his neck and into his hair, and a shiver ran right through him when the pads of Cedric's long fingers caressed his scalp.
"Harry." A soft, breathy whisper close to his ear.
Harry bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut as Cedric's palm cupped the back of his head and tipped it up. He felt Cedric's breath ghosting over his face, warm and sweet, and because he needed to see Cedric's eyes, he opened his own. And gasped. The soft grey of Cedric's eyes had grown dark and smoky. "Harry," Cedric whispered again.
"Yes?" Barely even a whisper, more of a breath.
"May I please kiss you?"
Instead of a reply, Harry used Cedric's shoulder for leverage and raised himself to his toes, offering his lips.
"Oh, Harry." A sigh, and then Cedric's mouth descended on his. Softly, tenderly, afraid to scare Harry away, he cupped the back of Harry's head loosely while making love to his innocent, trembling lips.
Harry shivered all over, a fizzle of magic running through each and every nerve in his body. If this was what kissing felt like, why did people ever do anything else? He encouraged Cedric as best he could, returning the pressure of his lips, parting his own by pure instinct. Cedric's lips parted too, and they shared breath and the sweetness of butter beer. Harry felt Cedric's tongue against the centre of his top lip, and hesitantly, not wanting to do anything wrong, he touched his own to it. The feeling was startling. Intense. And then Cedric moaned softly, and Harry pressed their lips together more forcefully, wanting to hear that sound again. He slid his tongue against Cedric's, coaxing another moan from him. From them both. Their tongues danced with each other, slick and warm and completely wonderful, and they were both so entranced that when they ran out of breath, both at once, they drew apart with startled looks in their eyes.
Cedric was flushed, his eyes unfocussed, and he swallowed hard as he combed back Harry's hair. "Did you like that?" he whispered.
Harry nodded jerkily, his heart pounding so hard he knew Cedric had to be able to hear it.
Cedric looked as bashful as Harry did, and they smiled at each other. "It's snowing," Cedric said softly, his eyes boring into Harry's. "And you have the most beautiful eyes."
Harry blushed. "So do you." And with a coy smile. "I noticed the snow. But only just."
Cedric laughed, squeezed Harry's hand where he still held it against his chest, and then drew him towards the greenhouse door. He opened it, and a gust of cold wind carried a flurry of snowflakes inside to settle in their hair, on their flushed faces, and all over their clothes. Quickly, Cedric closed the door again, shivering dramatically. "I don't know about you, but I needed to cool down a bit."
Harry was shivering as well, but grinned. "Yeah." He watched the way a few snowflakes clung to Cedric's nose and the lock of brown hair flopping over his forehead. He reached up to brush them away, but the heat of the greenhouse was already melting them.
Cedric took Harry's raised hand.
"This is the best Yule Ball ever," Harry murmured.
Cedric nodded, brushing a trickle of melting snow from Harry's cheek with Harry's own index finger. "Yes, it is," he said hoarsely. He raised the damp fingertip to his mouth and sucked it between his sumptuous lips.
Harry whimpered, feeling that in every part of his body. His eyes were big and round. "Cedric," he sighed. "You might have let that chill in for nothing."
Cedric released his hand reluctantly but with a smile. "Oh, Harry. You've no idea what you do to me."
Harry smiled, wondering if it was anything like what Cedric was doing to him. "You could tell me," he suggested, and a thrill ran through him at the idea that Cedric might do just that.
There was a flicker of something wild in Cedric's eyes, then it was gone. He returned Harry's smile a little sadly. "Not yet. It's too soon." The tone of his voice made it clear how hard it was for him to say those words.
Harry nodded slowly. "I understand." It wasn't a matter of bravery now, but a matter of honour and patience. Because that was Cedric. But he couldn't help tease a little. "You don't mind if I mull over the possibilities though, do you? In the privacy of... I don't know, the dormitory at night, maybe?"
Cedric gulped. He started to say something, but it was little more than a hoarse croak, so he cleared his throat and started again. "Harry, I... God." He laughed nervously. "You're full of surprises, aren't you?"
Harry smiled, trying to look apologetic. "Sorry."
"Don’t be." Cedric looked down at him tenderly, then leaned in to kiss him again. Briefly, just a brush of lips, but the effect was hardly less intense than that of their first kiss.
It was at that moment that the clock tower announced it being one o'clock.
Cedric drew back and sighed. "I should probably take you back now so you don't get into trouble. To Gryffindor Tower, or the Great Hall?"
Harry smiled. "Gryffindor Tower. I don't want to go back to the ball. Anyway, I imagine it's over by now."
Cedric grinned. "You're probably right." He picked up his cloak and wrapped it around Harry's shoulders, clasping it tightly together at the front and looking deeply into Harry's eyes.
"You should wear it this time. I don't want you to be cold," Harry said softly.
Cedric smiled. "You're sweet." He loosened the cloak and wrapped one side around his own shoulder, then drew Harry against his side, and with his arm around Harry, held it in place. "Now neither of us needs to be cold." Dropping the empty butter beer bottle into a bin by the door, they left the greenhouse, rushing across the thin snow back to the front door and inside.
On their way to Gryffindor Tower, Cedric carried the cloak over his left arm. He took Harry's hand in his right. "Is that all right?"
Harry beamed up at him. "More than that."
They reached the door to the common room much too soon for Harry's liking.
Cedric turned to him, ignoring the Fat Lady's curious eyes on them. "Thank you for a wonderful night, Harry."
Harry smiled. "Thank you for asking me to the ball, Cedric."
They were so lost in each other's eyes that neither noticed the common room door being opened quietly and held ajar. When neither of them motioned to go anywhere for a couple of minutes, the Fat Lady giggled. The giggling stopped in a croak, however, when Cedric leaned down and pressed a soft, lingering kiss to Harry's lips.
"Goodness," the painting whispered, fanning herself. When the kiss didn't stop, she cleared her throat. "I hate to interrupt, dears, but it's time to go to bed." An embarrassed squeal. "For you, Harry! Oh, dear me!"
Harry snickered, and Cedric gave her a grin which had her chubby canvas face blushing furiously. "Just saying goodnight, my good lady."
"Oh. Of course." She hid her red face behind her fan.
Harry looked up at Cedric. "Goodnight," he whispered.
"Goodnight, Harry." One more smile, and a kiss blown in the air, and Cedric turned on his heel and walked in the direction of Hufflepuff Tower.
Harry watched until he was out of sight, then turned to step inside the common room, finding himself face to face with Ron. "Uh…" He turned beet red.
Ron's eyes were huge. "Harry. That was Cedric Diggory!"
Harry beamed from ear to ear, feeling positively giddy. "Yes."
"He kissed you. And... um, in a really intense way, too."
"Hm." Harry skipped past Ron into the common room. "Thanks for waiting up."
"I was worried." Ron stared down the corridor after Cedric, blinking. Then he closed the door and grinned at Harry. "I guess I should have been envious instead. You're going to tell me all about this, right?"
Harry laughed and started towards the staircase. He was humming while he climbed the stairs.
"What's that tune, Harry?" Ron asked, following him with an indulgent smile.
"No idea. But it's my favourite song."
Ron laughed. "You're completely bonkers, you know that, don't you?"
"Completely." Harry turned to face him. "You know what else I am?"
"Happy," Ron said without hesitation. "Anything else?"
Harry grinned and nodded. "Madly in love."