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Chapter 1: Heartbeat
He’d been walking along a shoreline somewhere, counting each small, smooth stone and mentally picking out the purple ones from the brown ones. He could feel the mist against the left side of his face, dampening his hair, but felt none of the cold passing over him. Snow blowing in soft curlicues, wafting out over the ocean, was the only reason why he knew his bare feet should have been red and puffy with frostbite.
The absence of snow, a minute or a millennium later, was his first clue that he was someplace else. He craned his neck twice, once to either side, and allowed his sunken eyes to gaze overhead. If his eyes had remained closed, he wouldn’t have even noticed that he was lying down. His back was to something hard yet plush, and as he turned his cheek to rub against the white satin, he knew that it had to be the lining of his coffin. The pillow under his head had long rotted through, a hole burned into the center of it that deflated the whole thing, no longer supporting him in an everlasting sleep.
Dust speckled his face, settled over a suit of black robes he wore. The cramped, confined space he seemed to be lying in was airless, and as he opened up his mouth he knew that he could not draw breath – that he didn’t even need to. There was only one preoccupation on the forefront of his mind, and it was more important than breathing.
I have been summoned to fight.
He was at least three feet underground, in a wooden box magically built to seal out the elements. These enchantments helped to preserve the dead, often mummifying them rather than allowing them to decompose. He initially tried to use the wand clasped in his stiff fingers to prise the coffin’s lid open, but when no spells issued from its tip he cast it aside. It wasn’t his wand, of course. His parents would have kept that, as most wizarding families did with their loved ones’ wands. The one he’d been buried with was only a prop.
He was wearing shoes here. As he moved from side to side, he felt his crisp robes trying to bend. They were stiff, like wet laundry on the clothesline that had been frozen over with ice. Stiff robes, stiff bones, stiff skin. He wondered why anyone would take comfort in the prolonged conservation of a loved one’s appearance when it meant they would look like this.
He raised a hand to his withered cheek, so hollowed out that all he could feel under his papery membrane was the contours of his skull. When he turned himself over, he thought he could see a nest of maggots in the dark, squirming in the place where his crown had lain. After combing through it with long, curling fingernails, he saw that it was only chunks of his hair. The brown strands were matted. Thinning.
It was a good thing that his fingernails were so long. He would need them in order to scratch himself out.
Since he could not sleep, he spent weeks tearing at the lid of his wooden coffin. If his parents had chosen a metal resting place, the summons would have been impossible and he would have spent the duration of his time under the earth tossing and turning, scorching helplessly under the silent command to rise, to come forth, my child. It beat in his temple like a pulse, louder than his fists as he threw them against the splintering wood.
Finally, it cracked open.
Dirt sifted down, weak sunlight threading through it. Droplets of rain leaked inside whenever it rained, once or twice filling his casket entirely with water. The closer he dug to the surface, relieving the heavy weight of dirt piled over him, the hungrier he got for air. He was close. The burning summons did not subside; rather, it grew stronger.
You’re close. Come a little closer.
He speared through the topsoil, wooden shards of his coffin piercing his side when he twisted against them. He could feel rain pelting his face, but still didn’t register what temperature it was. Judging by the orange bell-shaped flowers he disturbed when crumbling upwards out of the ground, it was early summer.
Cedric Anthony Diggory
1977 – 1995.
“…a choice between what is right and what is easy.”
He wondered how long ago 1995 was. Perhaps he had only been dead for a few days?
All around him, there were other scratching noises. Various tombstones, like his, had been cracked in half. He tried to imagine what sort of Dark magic could have split stone like that, and envisioned a man with long, white fingers and a wand lowering itself over each grave marker. Bobbing up and down, picking who would rise and who would sleep forever. Amongst those chosen were Igor Karkaroff, Headmaster of Durmstrang, and someone named Evan Rosier.
Rosier’s headstone was a little older than Igor’s, his name weathered over to read ‘Van Ros’. Whoever had bought it hadn’t had enough money to give him something more durable. Just like his headstone, the coffin wasn’t enchanted as heavily as it should have been; thus, Evan had decomposed like a common Muggle. Being only a skeleton at the time of resurrection, he’d left broken finger and toe bones behind him on his struggle out of the cemetery.
Cedric’s mind was linked to theirs, all of them operating on the same brainwave. It was a thin, frail brainwave, the only thing granting them enough force to move around when they were clearly not alive. Cedric could feel the horrors that had been done in order to give them enough power to maneuver their broken, sagging bodies. He Who Must Not Be Named had murdered a great many Muggles to raise his undead army, transferring their ability to walk and talk to those who had been steadily rotting underground.
Instead of a hundred different thoughts, none of them were thinking at all. There was only the beating pulse of rise, come forth. Cedric limped forward, upsetting the dirt with one lengthy, winding trail. The hem of his robes crusted over with mud, flashes of Rufus Scrimgeour and Amelia Bones sweeping over the landscape even though he couldn’t physically see them. Being connected to each other, he sensed their lingering presence, could smell the fresh, overturned dirt of their now-empty graves.
Awaken. Follow. Obey.
As the Dark Lord’s heartbeat pumped these words into Cedric’s unused mind, swirling in the distilled space where his organs, now compressed and shriveled, used to be, he could think of no better plan than to awaken, follow, and obey. He was there to serve. He was thankful that these thoughts were not his own, that they were someone else’s. He operated as a soldier washed clean of preexisting wishes and wants; he was more useful to his master this way.
An unmarked grave where Severus Snape had covertly buried Alastor Moody began to swell, a single gnarled hand reaching out of the weeds.
Voldemort had hoped to resurrect Dumbledore. He’d imagined how it would look to have him at the head of his army, stooped over with his spine cracked from the impact of falling off the Astronomy Tower. Such a fate would have been the perfect humiliation for him. What would be more fitting than for the great and powerful Albus Dumbledore to stagger at the helm of Voldemort’s command? He could see how McGonagall would cringe, how hesitant Potter and his little friends would be to hex someone they once revered.
You thought your crowning glory was a professed love for peace. Ironic that you shall have to reveal yourself as a mindless murderer against your will, making them forget why they ever put you high on your pedestal in the first place. No one will laud you anymore. No one will bother to make excuses for your numerous failings. You will fall even in death tonight, over and over as I pluck your strings.
Smirking, the Dark Lord split open Dumbledore’s tomb for a second time, the epitaph’s words illuminated by shimmering golden light. His wand descended over the fragile body, wandless but still wrapped in arrogance and assumed royalty encouraged by a foolish flock who never questioned. Voldemort knew this better than anyone. Affected speech went far in the hands of the ignorant, carried from mouth to mouth like parables. They would believe anything if it came from a silver beard or naïve, misleading blue eyes.
Dumbledore did not deserve his self-preened reputation or stoic memory little tainted by death and all the rumors wrought by it. Even when there was deep cause to doubt, no one wanted to. They only wanted to preserve him like they preserved his fresh, providing him with all the grandeur of a king while he rested in only the grandest of tombs, on the grandest of bedding that would warm his haughty bones until the sun burned out.
No matter. He had lived a fool and died a fool, bested by Voldemort at last.
Dumbledore, his own personal puppet. Dumbledore, inevitably becoming what he had secretly always been: bloodthirsty, blind, enslaved by an ideal. Voldemort would force him to rip apart all of the Mudbloods he loved so much, the foul waste so very precious to him. He died for them and now they would all die at his own blackened hand, spattered scarlet with their blood.
Awaken, follow, obey, he wordlessly commanded.
But Dumbledore’s corpse would not stir.
As Cedric Diggory didn’t require sleep or intelligent thought to function, he felt no passage of time as he journeyed to the place where he knew, intrinsically, he was supposed to go. This destination changed three times during his travels: First he headed for Wiltshire, with only the bleak silhouette of a manor as an image to guide him; then this changed to a green lake in a cave by the sea. Finally, the image fizzled out and was replaced by the outline of Hogwarts Castle. It stayed behind as a lasting imprint even when He Who Must Not Be Named ceased to speak into the recesses of their thoughts, an echo of pictures instead of words.
It has begun. Reanimate and come to me. Prove your value.
Cedric followed the castle without having to use his bluish, filmy eyes to see, stumbling across miles and miles of wilderness until it came into clear focus. He thrashed under a curious aversion to sunlight he’d never felt during life, but as an Inferius he instinctually wanted to shy away from the light, aggravated by it.
You must ignore it. Continue on.
He had arrived at the final hour, the last line of the Dark Lord’s defense. Voldemort purposefully kept them at bay to use later, when he had no more cards to play. Cedric knew that a sliver of weight of the Dark Lord’s success sat on the shoulders of his Inferi. They were to be a surprise attack.
Mad-Eye Moody trailed just behind him, with the mummified corpses of Fabian and Gideon Prewett leading the way forward. Professor Burbage, who was missing an arm, fell into stride at his right while Broderick Bode and Bertha Jorkins flanked his left. Coming up last were the disintegrating bones of Selwynns, ancient Malfoys, and Salazar Slytherin’s own descendants. Some of them dissolved into flaky powder before they reached Hogwarts, only the foggy ghosts of their corporeal bodies continuing the march onward.
Cedric was situated on the outermost regions of a vast ripple effect. The tumultuous middle was Voldemort himself, with his closest band of followers forming a ring around him. Gradually, the ripples spread out further and further with certain creatures designated to each – lower-ranked Death Eaters, Imperiused witches and wizards, Snatchers, werewolves, Dementors, giants, Acromantulas – with Inferi on the last, and largest, ripple.
They came just in time to finish off the weak – those already dying.
Cedric could have used his bare hands. Several of his fellows had picked up obvious bits of rubble to use as makeshift weapons. Cedric could only guess that the reason why he was smart enough to seize a wand was because he still retained old, watery remnants of his former wit. Even in the absence of a cognizance or direction of his own, when his vision passed over a wand lying on the ground his immediate whim was to pick it up.
The handle felt familiar under his touch. He pointed it at a small girl running down a corridor and there was a flash of green. He had not uttered a curse, or even thought of one. He was running on autopilot, controlled by Voldemort, so his spell-casting had already been decided for him. All he had to do was point it and there was jet after jet of exploding vibrancy, rarely missing his mark.
Everywhere he looked, there was fighting: a professor wrestling off a werewolf; a student screaming that he couldn’t see, pulling at the ropes that had been conjured over his eyes. As Cedric looked on, the ropes slithered over his mouth and nose, and then around his throat. The boy collapsed to his knees, falling backwards with his head cracking against the stone wall. There was a boy with dreadlocks Cedric vaguely recognized and a boy with ginger hair that was plastered to his neck with sweat. A chorus of shrieks wailed out of the floor from dungeons below while a crunching noise permeated the thick night. A giant had stepped on a centaur.
Amongst the weary was a witch who looked to be around twenty years old, propped up against a portrait hole on the seventh floor corridor. She sat next to a young man who looked just like the one from downstairs, the ginger-haired one. Familiarity pulled once again at Cedric’s memory. He didn’t care who this dead boy was, but he had somehow known him.
The girl’s eyes were closed, one of her knees tucked under her chin while her other leg slumped across the flagstones, oddly twisted in the middle. She couldn’t move it, and so she had stationed herself next to the dead boy to keep a protective watch over him. Cedric listened as she muttered under her breath, blonde fringe falling into her eyes as she leaned her head all the way back, absorbing the cool moisture seeping through the wall’s mortar.
“Go right ahead,” she said without opening her eyes, not touching the wand just inches from her right hand. But right after she spoke those words, the wand was suddenly in her hand and her tattered gaze was trained on Cedric, eyes popping wide.
Cedric’s hand twitched around his wand, ready to pierce her through with another spell right on the tip of someone else’s tongue; but with a searing pain in his skull, in the cavity where everything he used to be was no longer established, he stopped. He stopped? But how could he stop? One word resounded in his head, and it didn’t belong to his master. He fumbled around in confusion, unaccountably dizzy.
The ringing voice in his head was so familiar.
Why? It drummed over and over, softened by the chaos swarming every corridor, every room of the destroyed castle. Why?
Unbidden, a picture of the girl before him crept in front of his gaze, but she looked so unlike herself. In the picture – almost like a postcard – she was smiling. Smiling at him? But why should she be? He flinched, the handle of his wand poking into the thin skin of his palm. With a ripping noise, it punctured the skin and lodged itself between two of his ivory bones. No blood trickled out of the wound.
“Cedric?” the girl croaked. Her eyes were huge, transfixed. Her hand flew to her throat, absentmindedly fingering a gold chain. When her thumb chafed a Golden Snitch resting in the hollow of her collarbone, Cedric felt an ache in his ribs. It blistered unpleasantly, igniting a fire that clawed its way up his throat. He knew what his throat was trying to do, the dormant recognition and a response just on the verge of breaking through.
The fire was words, words like the girl used. Some part of Cedric was trying to speak. He heard the voice in his head again and he realized with a jolt that that was his voice he recognized. It was Cedric, but it wasn’t Cedric. It was someone Cedric desperately wanted to be.
Why must I kill her?
She was shaking her head. “Not you, too.” Her cheeks were shining, luminous with tears. They streaked through gray soot that coated most of her body, save for the soles of her trainers. Those were crimson from sliding around in other people’s blood.
In spite of himself, Cedric lowered his wand. He cocked his head, swallowing one more step that kept her away from him. There was a simultaneous urge to murder her and the smaller, feebler insistence that he leave her alone. She was valuable to someone who was now dead, someone who would have died a thousand times rather than harm her in any way.
The fire simmered in his mouth, working at muscles worn away after years of rotting in the ground. “Rachel.”
And then, there it was: The rest of the postcard fleshed itself out, with a girl bowing backwards into a tall green hedge, her lips curving into a grin. Her eyes were bright, full of the transparent hope that he would kiss her, and he wanted nothing but to oblige. He wanted to hold her forever.
A cold draft enveloped them, sending Rachel’s hair shooting up out of her skin in prickling goosebumps. She stared at him in suspended disbelief, chapped lips slightly ajar as her hand loosened around her wand. The wings on her Snitch necklace rattled briefly – how did he know that was called a Snitch? – and he found himself imitating her haunted gaze.
He was Cedric Diggory, a Hufflepuff Seeker. And this was Rachel. His Rachel.
“My Rachel,” he sputtered, the fire in his lips becoming unbearable, writhing. His facial muscles couldn’t support speaking. He should have had no vocal ability whatsoever, but somehow it was worth it to burn up if it meant stroking her dismantled thoughts with his hoarse, impossible words. If he could talk to her again, he would smolder into ash if he had to.
And that’s what it was, his underlying wishes and wants. He had to tell her…
“I –” His teeth chattered against each other, the white tissue of his receded gums stinging. He had to tell her, because he hadn’t gotten the chance to do so after he – after he what? There was something about a maze – and there was a sphinx, and Viktor Krum with Imperiused eyes. Solid, impenetrable Viktor, victim to a spell. There were tombstones, and a strange, ratty-looking man who held something disgusting in his arms.
Kill the spare, the memory echoed, over and over. By the time Cedric had worked out who the spare was, there was nothing. Nothing but a never-ending shoreline with purple stone, brown stone, brown stone, purple stone… He picked up each one and observed his own faraway memories trapped inside, reliving them from a bird’s-eye view.
Relief flooded through him at the fleeting reminder of those stones. There would be something, somewhere else for him again, after all of this was gone. He wanted to count the stones as the tide curled over them and know nothing, feel nothing. It was a safe, repetitive world, but he couldn’t return to it until after he’d reassured her of…of what?
Whatever it was he needed to say, he had to say it now. Had to say it before either of them died. He might be the one to kill her, but he had to tell her first. The dormant emotions of a Cedric from long ago were insistent of this, unwilling to let him depart unless he did this one thing.
But when his eyes latched onto Rachel’s with clearer understanding, he was able to decipher exactly what kind of gaze she was giving him.
A horrified one.
Anguish welled in her eyes, wringing her hands together and trembling at her lips, but her expression emitted sheer horror. Cedric wondered idly what he must look like, standing there in front of her years after his burial. He was still covered in dirt from the cemetery, wood splinters of his coffin embedded in what was left of his skin.
Cedric dropped his head, examining himself. There was fresh, foreign blood on his robes, the robes she’d last seen him in before his father had closed the lid of his casket. They were purchased specifically for the funeral, never worn while he was still breathing. Cedric’s hand brushed his breast pocket and his empty stomach stirred, somehow sensing that the crinkling of parchment tucked inside was a letter Rachel had written and slid in there for her final goodbye.
His hair was parted at the wrong side, a giveaway that someone else had last combed it. Lots of his hair was missing, the bald patches concave against a framework of bare bones. His shoes still gleamed, buffed to perfection that resisted even the miles of landscape he’d dragged himself across to get here.
Cedric patted at his face, mirroring Rachel’s revulsion when he found that he had no eyelashes and his eyebrows had fused with his rotting skin to form something resembling stitches. His sunken eyes were abnormally large, cheekbones jutting so far out of his face that the overhanging skin had stretched taut, translucent. Rachel could see his teeth through his lips even when his mouth was closed.
The silver wings of her Snitch necklace – thin as a tendril of cloud – convulsed once more before dying.
He saw the girl who had grinned expectantly at him once upon a time, the soft wool of her red and gold Gryffindor scarf, and her darling blush like firelight in the burnished glint of her necklace. In its rounded, pea-sized surface he witnessed old memories reflected: Cedric himself as he followed her around at school while she wasn’t aware, watching her balance stacks of books under her arm. The tag of her robes poked up against the nape of her neck and he remembered his fingers almost brushing it to push it back down below her collar.
He saw her in the library, revising opposite him as she chewed on the end of her quill. He couldn’t concentrate because he just wanted to look at her. He saw her by the lake, trying to read about Quidditch without her mates getting wind of it. He saw her walking to the Owlery in second year, talking to herself as she ran one thumb over the dull edge of a letter’s envelope.
She lit his heart with happiness, a star that shone over his grave years after his passing because she still carried a torch for him even when logic said she would never see him again. She still talked to herself sometimes at night, pressing the cool metal Snitch to her lips while her eyes stung with guilt, with the selfish wish that Viktor or Fleur had died instead.
Her shadow had walked alongside him on his crescent seashore where the sun never fully rose or sank, the inky pattern of her fingers upon the sand almost close enough to warm him. She was a shadow in his world, just like he was still a shadow in hers.
He blinked and there she was again at the Gryffindor table while he ate breakfast with the Hufflepuffs, his eyes flicking upwards every other second to visually eavesdrop on her conversations with the Weasleys and Lee Jordan.
The word absorbed new meaning as he newly noticed the dead boy sprawled at Rachel’s side.
However much he might have wished she would turn up her eyes at him in the same light she used to, buoyant and adorable and clever, he knew she wouldn’t. He was her dead boyfriend, a nightmarish punctuation to sixth year.
“You’re so beautiful,” he managed to rasp, his eyes too dry to form actual tears but his lash line becoming dewy.
Rachel’s face crumpled, one arm lifting to obscure it. She dropped her head onto her knee, burying herself. Cedric could hear her crying.
Awaken. Follow. Obey.
The reverberating order sprang back to life, taking precedence. Cedric’s hand grasped the wand tighter again, jerking against the force of it. Kill, it hissed. Take her for your own forever.
His arm rose into an arc, tip of his wand pointed right over her forehead. The girl made no move to interfere.
Kill, it pressed.
“Move,” he whispered, wand quivering. “Move.”
“Cedric?” She was still just staring at him, wand lax. Why wasn’t she defending herself? Why wasn’t she trying to escape?
“I can’t stop.” He swallowed, the lump in his throat exaggeratedly large underneath a sallow, wasted neck. It hurt so badly to speak. He had to force each individual word to form, spitting the embers out as his tongue charred from the agony of it.
Understanding dawned over her, jaw going slack again. She raised her wand, triggering his unshakable instinct to curse her into oblivion. The spell ate its way down his arm, through the wand’s core of dragon heartstring. It was going to barrel across the void and strike her full in the face…
You have to tell her. Tell her now, while you still can. Tell her that you know what she said to you under the tree, that you heard her. Tell her that you still love her and you always will.
“Incendio,” she bleated, and a fire erupted inside of his hanging mouth. It poured down his throat, scalding his flesh with the heat of the sun even as he screamed for it all to stop. Snow and ice he could never feel, but the engulfing flames wrenched his soul apart. Rachel Alexander sobbed, her form blurring through the veil of smoke and fire, as her last word to the dead boy consumed him.
A/N: The quote on Cedric’s epitaph is from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 37 (Page 724 in USA edition), and the line “Kill the Spare” is also from GoF, Chapter 32 (Page 638, USA edition), by JK Rowling. The battle is from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. TenthWeasley owns the character Rachel Alexander, who is from her novel Leaping Obstacles. Merry Christmas, Rachel! Writing this morbid present has reminded me anew of just how bizarre we are.