The man raised his wand and pointed it toward Cedric. For a split second he understood who was meant by "the spare"; but before he even had time to think of a defense the man cried, "Avada Kedavra!" and Cedric knew no more.
Instead of the nothingness he had expected (as far as he had actually given the matter of death any thought), Cedric found that he seemed to be waking as after a night's sleep. He was lying on his back on something solid, though he was not uncomfortable. There did not seem to be anyone around. There were no voices or footsteps. If this is what dying is like, he reflected. It's not so dreadful after all.
He sat up and looked around. He seemed to be in a great white hall, with high walls and a roof of something which looked like glass, though he got the impression that it was actually much more valuable than glass - or would have been, if this were the sort of place where money was worth anything.
"Cedric Diggory," said a deep, heavy, solemn voice.
Cedric rose automatically to his feet. A very tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a cloak with a hood was walking toward him. His face was handsome, but immovably grave, and Cedric knew without asking that he was the Judge of the Dead, the Doomsayer. He wondered fleetingly if he should be afraid, but something about the solemnity of the pale face assured him rather than otherwise. Cedric dared to imagine that the grimness was wholly the Doomsman's nature, and that he was not in any way malevolent toward the souls that he gathered.
"Are you here to take me?" he asked.
"I am," said the Doomsman. "It is mine to judge the dead, and to send them forth, or to keep them."
"So I have died," said Cedric. "Please - Sir - what do you mean by send forth?" It seemed rather cheek to refer to such a dread Lord without some term of repect.
"The Children of Men who come into my care linger only briefly before passing beyond the World to their eternal destiny. These Halls are but a resting place for most."
"There are some," said the Doomsman. "Who have so defiled and maimed their own souls that they must remain in my Halls forever."
People like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named - Voldemort, thought Cedric.
Then, suddenly, a door opened to his left some distance away. Through it he saw darkness, which confused his eyes for a moment. Then he saw clearly the graveyard where he had died. Harry Potter stood alone, surrounded by a ring of men robed in black. He stood facing a tall, thin, barely human figure in a black robe with a dull, dead-white face, scarlet eyes, and two thin slits for nostrils. The two seemed to be duelling - at least their wands were lowered and pointed at one another, but they seemed to be connected by a beam of golden light. Both wands trembled and vibrated in the hands of their masters.
As he watched, both Harry and his opponent were by some unknown force lifted from the ground and carried through the air. In an open space they came to rest, their wands still bound together by the bright golden thread. And now from that one thread of light there sprouted others, and they sailed high over the heads of the two duellists until they were surrounded by something like a great dome-shaped cage made of gold light. The men in robes were in disorder now, running wildly and shouting.
"What's going on?" asked Cedric, turning to the Doomsman. "What's happening?"
"Your schoolfellow now stands in combat with his enemy who has plotted his death for nearly all of his mortal life," answered the Doomsman.
"Who - " began Cedric, puzzled. Then he gasped. "You mean - Voldemort?" He had to force himself to say the name. "Harry's duelling with Voldemort?"
He turned back to look. Harry's face was covered with dirt and sweat and tears, his right arm dripped blood, and he was trembling with evident fatigue and gasping for breath. Knowing that he was duelling with Voldemort, Cedric suddenly understood everything else he was seeing. The men who were now running about like a group of chickens with their heads cut off must be Death Eaters. As for Harry and Voldemort themselves -
"The Priori Incantatem!" cried Cedric. "Harry Potter's wand has the same core as Voldemort's, doesn't it? That's why I can see them, isn't it, because Voldemort's wand was the one that killed me?"
"It is even so," said the Doomsman. "You and all others who were slain by that wand may speak to your friend and even intervene briefly on his behalf. If you wish, you may go to him now. But be swift, for you will not have long."
"Oh, thank you Sir!" cried Cedric, and he rushed forward toward the open doorway. He sprang over the threshold and found himself in the graveyard standing before Harry. Harry looked up into his face, shocked. Cedric stared back at him, willing him to remain strong, to keep up the struggle. . .
"Hold on, Harry," he said, and did not doubt that Harry could hear him.
It was no surprise to find himself joined by an old man, a Muggle from what could be guessed.
"He was a real wizard, then?" said the man, his eyes on Voldemort. "Killed me, that one did. . . You fight him, boy."
A woman joined them next. "Don't let go, now!" she cried. "Don't let him get you, Harry - don't let go!"
Harry's arms were trembling violently; he did not look as if he could keep it up for much longer.
A second woman appeared, tall and lovely, with red hair and green eyes that looked so much like Harry's that there could be no question as to who she was; and she said, "Your father's coming - hold on for your father - it will be all right - hold on. . ."
Then came a man whose resemblance to Harry (except for the eyes) was so startling that one again it was obvious who he was. "When the connection is broken," he said softly. "We will linger for only moments, but we will give you time. You must get to the Portkey, it will return you to Hogwarts. Do you understand, Harry?"
Of course now it seemed the obvious thing to do, to hold off Voldemort for the seconds they had remaining while Harry made his escape.
"Yes," gasped Harry.
No doubt it was selfish of him, cruel and wrong, to ask more of Harry than he already had to do, but Cedric asked it anyway. "Harry, take my body back, will you?" he said. "Take my body back to my parents." He could not comfort them, but he could do that much for them. And for Cho and Anthony and Michael and Maxine and Heidi and Herbert and Tamsin.
"I will," panted Harry, now shaking all over.
"Do it now," murmured James Potter. "Be ready to run - do it now - "
"NOW!" bellowed Harry, and he broke the connection with a wrench that must have hurt his arms horribly. Cedric turned with the others and flew upon Voldemort as he could never have hoped to do in life, and had the satisfaction of seeing Voldemort's terrified face for a second or two. Then the graveyard vanished before his eyes, and he was standing alone once more in the wide white hall. The hooded Doomsman stood waiting for him.
"Will he be all right?" asked Cedric anxiously. "Will he make it back?"
For a moment the Doomsman was silent. Then he said, "So much I will tell you: Harry will return to the school, unharmed, bearing your body back to your father and mother, as you asked of him."
Cedric nodded. He was going to ask about Voldemort when something struck him - quite tardily. "Sir," he said. "Where are Lily and James Potter and the other woman and the old man? They were killed by that wand, weren't they? Why aren't they here with us?"
"They have all passed beyond the Circles of the World," replied the Doomsman. "They were summoned only by the call of the wands in battle. You linger here in my Halls because you were slain before your full purpose was fulfilled."
"Then - " Cedric's mind spun a little. "My dying was an accident? It wasn't supposed to happen?"
"In the Tapestry of Life there can be no accidents," answered the Doomsman. "I set before you a choice: you may pass beyond the Circles of the World to your eternal fate, or you may return, for a while, to the land of the living and in due time take up the fight against him who names himself Voldemort. But know that when you have made this choice it cannot be unmade."
Cedric was silent for a while. It would be much simpler, and certainly much more peaceful, to pass on beyond the Circles of the World and join all those who had died before him. There would be no warfare, loss, pain, or struggle. He could wait there for those whom he loved - his father and mother and sisters and brothers, his friends at Hogwarts, and Cho. They would come, one by one, and he would greet them, and be glad at their coming.
But then he thought of Harry, standing alone with dirt and tears on his face and blood on his arm and his wand locked with Voldemort's. He thought of his own father, and the Ministry of Magic, and Headmaster Dumbledore and everyone at Hogwarts, bowed under the rule of the Dark Lord.
"I wish to go back," he said. "I know I'm not important enough to make any real difference, but I want to join the fight against Voldemort, if I can."
The countenance of the Doomsman did not change. "So be it," he said, and immediately the bright hall began to fade away before Cedric's eyes.
"Ah, he is waking."
Cedric blinked and looked around again. This time he was lying in a bed, and the light surrounding him was sunlight. His body was wrapped in something soft and warm. He looked up for the source of the voice he had heard.
Hovering above him was a vision of wisdom and grace and power such as he had never seen in any mortal. The vision was like a man; but there were no words, at least in English, to describe the beauty of the face. There was a long braid of midnight-black hair, and two large blue eyes which glowed like a pair of stars.
"How do you feel?" asked the apparition in a voice of flutes and harps and trumpets. Cedric was so amazed that he forgot to answer for a second or two. Then he stammered, "I - where am I? A-and who are you?" His own voice sounded rough and uncouth by comparison, and he shut his mouth quickly.
The man - was he a man? - laughed lightly, the very sound a glorious melody of joy. "Where are you?" he said. "You are here, and that is enough for the moment. I am named Daeron, which is Shadow in your tongue, I think."
"Daeron!" said a different voice, and Cedric was immensely relieved to recognize a perfectly human female voice. "He did not ask for a lesson in languages!"
Cedric sat up. He was in a plain but spacious bedroom, and besides Daeron there were two other people in the room. There was another man - if man was the right word - with long black hair in an elaborate system of braids and grey eyes. He was taller than Daeron, and he had the same superhuman beauty. But the other figure was a blessedly human teenage girl with blue eyes and a blond braid over her shoulder.
She smiled at Cedric. "Hello," she said, and Cedric realized belatedly that she spoke with an American accent. "We've been waiting for you."
Author's Chapter Notes:
Disclaimer: I own nothing recognizable.