A/N: The poor author is greatly indebted to her beta, The Daily Prophet, for immeasurable patience, time and expertise.
“Does he know about us then?” a voice whispered behind her.
With a small shriek, Ginny spun about and looked into the eyes that had so often mesmerized her. The charm of Cedric Diggory’s eyes had been strong enough when they were only deep brown, but now the silver-flecked irises of the young ghost’s eyes cast a far stronger spell. Most ghosts seemed quite entrenched in the everyday world, but Cedric’s ghost was different. His eyes seemed to see something more.
“He? Who is he?” she gulped between questions.
“Who? Why Harry. I mean…well, I heard you had talked with him and…” Then he smiled, the same smile that in life had left half the girls in Hogwarts glazed-eyed when he walked by. Lavender once swore she had even seen Patty Parkinson give the tall Seeker an appreciative once-over when she thought no one was looking.
“You heard about that?” Why in Merlin’s name did her voice stammer? “Where did you hear it?”
The silver smile was growing. “Well, you know how the Fat Friar loves a good story.”
“I don’t get it,” Ginny sighed as she tugged her ponytail away from her sweaty neck. “Hasn’t he enough to do checking the emergency hexes on the staircases? And ghost or no ghost, he is a monk. Don’t they make a vow of silence or something like that? When is he not gossiping with the portraits?”
“Well actually, Ginny, he was on his way to Vigils when he heard this whispering and thought he should check. Twelve P.M., curfew and all that.”
“I don’t think that’s what Moody meant by ‘constant vigilance’! Your ear stuck to every keyhole in the castle.”
Suddenly Cedric was laughing. The echo glided over the dark and empty Quidditch stands. It was more than magic when Cedric laughed. Until then Ginny could never describe it, but now the only word possible was miraculous. To stand on Hogwarts’ empty Quidditch pitch in the twilight with Cedric’s ghost and hear the air ripple with his laughter was a miracle that always swept away the frustrations of the day, all her anger and, yes, even her fears.
“Are you laughing at me?”
“No, not at all. I just remembered the time Jason Hasbee and I were in the empty Charms classroom discussing how to prank Fred and George. We had a running prank war going, you know. Suddenly the Friar’s head popped through the keyhole. He began to remonstrate with us about the prank – ‘all wrong, lads, all wrong’ – but chuckled so hard while he repeated the plan step-by-step that we felt honor-bound to carry it through.”
A red eyebrow lifted inquisitively.
“Remember Weasley Whompers?”
Ginny’s eyes bulged. “You did that and they never knew? You know they outlined the entire prank, blast by blast? They would have ended the feud and absolved you completely if you had just told them how you did it!”
The smile changed to a smirk. “Well, all they had to do was ask Hermione. We just took a page from her book…. Books, I mean. Arithmancy has its advantages.”
Cedric strode a few meters away and then turned to study her. That was one of the things she liked most about Cedric’s ghost: He walked instead of floating around like the others. Somehow it made him less ghostlike. The list of questions she needed to ask him about Operation Black Hole was formidable, but she couldn’t resist asking him to explain.
“Cedric, why is it you almost always walk while the other ghosts float along?”
“Do I?” In a low mutter he added, “Perhaps because of why I stayed.”
Somewhere in the middle of her chest Ginny’s breath caught. She burned to know why Cedric had not gone on. Hermione had described Harry’s conservation with Sir Nicholas after Sirius’s death, but somehow fear of what lay ahead didn’t match Cedric. During the last two months of work on Siege Perilous, she had found him to be just so, well, so Gryffindorish.
“You want to know, don’t you?” he asked, almost shyly.
Ginny could only nod her head.
“When I heard you had talked with Harry again, I knew the time had come to tell you. He must not know about me, at least not yet. He will be more focused if he remembers the dead body he brought back rather than this.” Cedric swept his arm dismissively over his silver, transparent limbs. His strong right hand swished through his left arm as he closed the circle. “I agree with Lupin there. Do you?”
Cedric nodded. “It is also better for us. We want them to find Hogwarts standing when they return.” His right fist pounded against his left hand and he hissed, “They will, by God, they will!” Ginny straightened her back in amazement, not knowing what surprised her most, his sudden outburst of emotion or the striking sound his fist made. He’s a ghost….
“How much do you know about what happened when Harry and I disappeared from the maze?” The ghost began pacing back and forth, the way he did whenever they were hammering out logistics for an escape route.
“Harry told me a few things the day before Dumbledore’s funeral. He…” Ginny hesitated. Should she tell him how Harry’s eyes had brimmed over as he described watching Cedric fall, the look of surprise on the lifeless face? ‘It’s my fault Cedric died, Ginny, my fault.’ “I think he wanted to prepare me for our separation. Why it had to be. I know how you died, how Harry’s blood now runs in that monster’s veins, the binding of brother wands and…”
Cedric halted and looked at her. “And?”
“Priori Incantatem…seeing his parents. Seeing you.” For a moment Ginny felt as if she were the ghost. Cedric stared with such intensity at her, through her, that she almost turned around to see what he saw.
“Priori Incantatem, yes,” he whispered, “perhaps that is why…”
“Cedric,” Ginny began.
“I did not see most of what happened. That was the whole problem, wasn’t it? I didn’t see, I didn’t think. I sat in the Defense Against the Dark Arts class listening to ersatz Moody’s brilliant lessons on defense and attack. For a wizard worth his wand there is no such thing as a ‘sudden’ attack. Any change of venue means hitting the ground, wand drawn and a Sensato scouring your perimeter for magical beings. ‘Hit the ground, wand drawn,’ and I just stood there with my mouth open. Constant vigilance? If anyone is to blame for what happened in that graveyard it is me. Trained by one of Voldemort’s best, and I did nothing.”
The ghost shook his head and returned to pacing, his transparent limbs tensed with all the menace of a caged lion. “Death is so weird, Ginny. The first thing I remembered after the curse hit me was standing, looking at my body. There was a horrible scream, and then Harry screaming. Never had I heard anything like it. I tried to run towards the screaming, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even turn my head.”
Ginny made no attempt to wipe her tears away. Her hands clamped together in the grip of one convinced they would fall off if she slackened ever so little. Harry had said nothing about screaming.
Cedric continued walking, his face turned upward. “My body faded and an arch with a veil slowly appeared where I had lain.”
A small gasp escaped from Ginny.
“Yes, you saw it in the Ministry of Magic, but it was different there. Somehow, someone had fused a million gleaming stars into that arch. The veil blew in and out and then parted.” Cedric’s eyes closed but his stride did not falter in the least. “I knew I was supposed to make a decision. I was dead, no changing that, but there was this moment of choice, and yet it seemed there could be no choosing.”
Abruptly the ghost halted and looked with utter amazement at Ginny. “It was so beautiful. I opened my lips to say yes, but Harry screamed again. His scream filled everything. It filled me; it filled my mouth. How could I go on and leave him, leave Hogwarts, leave the world in a spasm of screaming? I had seen my own body, but then I foresaw countless bodies filling the halls and rooms of Hogwarts. The Quidditch pitch was one large heap of corpses. All my friends…even Cho. I knew if Hogwarts was attacked, I had to be there. And I knew about ghosts. I turned away from the veil and asked to stay and fight. One thought possessed me, ‘I want to defend Hogwarts from these fiends. Give me this or no freedom will mean a thing to me.’”
“Oh, Cedric,” was all she could whisper.
Again he paced. “Somehow I understood that Harry had to bring my body back or else I would be bound to the graveyard. But I wasn’t a ghost yet. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t float over to the Death Eaters and spook them long enough to help Harry. It was like being cast in cement, and I kept asking how I could get to Harry and help him, tell him about my body. Then Priori Incantatem began and…well, you know the rest. Here I am. But, Ginny, you asked about the walking. There are other things as well. Perhaps it is because of Priori Incantatem, experiencing that before becoming a ghost.”
Ginny had never considered the possibility. She had never even tried to figure out why this ghost was different from the others. He just was.
“It doesn’t matter,” the ghost sighed. “But Harry must not know. The fewer who know about me the better. He paused, looked back towards the castle and whispered pensively, “Best if she doesn’t know.”
Ginny did not need to ask who he meant.
With the sudden start of a student rudely pulled from a cherished daydream, Cedric spun back to Ginny and smiled roguishly before he launched into an uncanny imitation of Lockhart. “No, no, Miss Weasley. At all costs we must protect Miss Moaning Myrtle from such information--that would only increase the distress of unrequited love.”
A seizure of giggles grabbed Ginny, but she still managed to toss the thick roll of parchment labeled Room of Requirement at Cedric’s head.
The Seeker’s ghost caught the roll deftly in one hand.
Two days later Ginny managed for a few minutes to forget the war and a recent Dementor attack on a village in the eastern firths, to forget the ever-mounting pile of blank parchments waiting to be covered with essays. Even the almost perfectly suppressed fear that Harry, Ron and Hermione would never return disappeared as she strode downhill towards the Quidditch pitch. The sky was just too blue to believe that the Darkness could ever swallow the world, life too good: The blackbird singing outside their dormitory window, waking the sixth-year girls; Luna’s face as she taught her how to sing to blackbirds in strange lyrics learned from her father-- “You were only waiting for this moment to arise”; Neville isolated at the far end of the table during breakfast because his recent experiment with Stinksap has been somewhat less than successful…or perhaps too successful.
Humming Luna’s strange melody, Ginny quickened her pace. Yes, it was just a magnificent day, and oh, that tell-tale glint in Lupin’s eyes yesterday, one that meant there might be a message from a certain black-haired...
Ginny glanced towards the Forbidden Forest and smashed against a wall of shock. A gigantic Norwegian Ridgeback dove from an incredible height, rolling over and over with a speed that turned him into a huge black blur. Merlin, that spinning dot of red is Charlie! He’s going to crash!
Ginny broke into a run, yelling for help, when unbelievably, at the last second, Norbert broke the roll and trimmed the tops of a dozen pines before he shot back up into a low-hanging cloud. With her wand clutched against her thrashing heart, Ginny stood there, eyes clamped closed, and tried to stem the stream of phrases that young witches should not use. Behind her came the rush of running feet and then Seamus was panting at her side.
“Wicked! Dean, do you think Charlie would take us up just one time, one at a time?”
Ginny pried one eye open. The forest was still there. Charlie was still there, somewhere in that cloud, but her beautiful, blue-sky morning was shattered.
“Look, it’s the Chinese Fireball’s turn!” Neville whooped.
Unconsciously the four huddled together, necks craned upward, a stream of happy anxiety surging through them. Just before the dragon began its kamikaze dive, Ginny spotted the rider, her long, black, kinky hair waving madly. Angelina punched the air with her fist, filled the sky with a Sonorus-amplified “Hogwarts Forever!” and then began the blood-curdling barrel roll dive. Like Norbert, the Chinese Fireball pulled out of his Wronski Feint at the last perilous second and soared back into the cloud.
The small audience breathed a collective sigh of satisfaction and nervous relief. Then Ginny started to jog toward the Quidditch pitch. “Come on. We have to get to the briefing before the others arrive.”
Neville was first to follow, and after a few reluctant steps, Dean and Seamus turned it into an all-out race. Standing before the small green tent erected outside the changing rooms, they lifted their wands to have their signatures verified before ducking under the flap. The flap zipped itself closed behind them, and their faces winched under the volume of Moody’s roar: “Lupin, we always have an escape plan! Why isn’t it here?”
Lupin’s eyes rolled and he began a cautious explanation in the tone he reserved for the slower students. “Yes, Moody, we understand that, but this is an escape plan.” He pointed energetically at a map pinned to one of the green canvas walls. “One of five evacuation routes for the third and fourth years if Death Eaters penetrate the wards. Am I correct in thinking that you want an escape plan from each escape plan?”
“Blast it, Lupin! Can’t you see that using the Room of Requirement could be a dead-end? How do they get out if Death Eaters storm in requiring a torture chamber?”
Cedric, who stood behind Moody, winked at the four Gryffindors before stretching his arm through Moody’s left shoulder to touch the map.
“Agh!” Moody leapt, drew his wand, and then groaned with realization when the ghost stepped up to the map. “That’s my bad shoulder, Diggory. Muddled it right good, those Muggle Medics did when they pasted plastic into it. Have a mind, won’t you?”
“So sorry, Professor.” The smile appeared in all its silvery brilliance. “I keep forgetting about my condition. Forgive me my eagerness to help solve this dilemma.” Ginny bit her bottom lip in an effort not to smile. Cedric and she had slaved on the logistics of turning the Room of Requirement into a copy of the Ministry of Magic’s Atrium and thus enabling the evacuation of a large number of students at the same time. The ghost was more than a little proud of their plan for the ‘Come and Go Room’.
Cedric dropped the smile and turned towards the diagram. “The Room of Requirement can be secured from within by using an enhancement of the spell cast on the entrance to Diagon Alley. Those seven bricks to the left of the door, when pushed in the correct order, create an impenetrability almost equal to the Fidelius Charm.” Cedric rested a silver finger on the diagram, and a low whistle of appreciation from Dean was heard when seven silver bricks appeared, each numbered according to code.
Still rubbing his left arm, Moody peered suspiciously at Cedric. “How did you do that, lad? You can’t use a wand. And how do you know about those bricks, if they will work? That spell is centuries old, and we no longer know who cast it or how.”
“I have friends who can make enchanted maps to order, Professor, and Professor Lupin can give a better explanation of the history behind the Diagon Alley bricks.”
Lupin cradled his chin, darkened by several days’ stubble, in one hand and sniffed, “Your ‘twin’ would know all about this sort of map. It was ‘Professor Moody’ who borrowed the Marauder’s Map from Harry. Am I right in guessing that this beauty is also the work of Fred and George?”
Cedric nodded slowly, while Lupin cast a warning glance at Ginny. She took her cue and tried to beam with family pride.
“As for the rest, I had better explain that later. Right now,” Lupin waved his wand over one side of the tent which immediately became transparent, “I believe our Quidditch players are waiting to learn Operation Black Hole.”
No one knew when it would come, or if it would come. Would they rush to the towers and rain curses on storming giants or cheer The Three soaring above them in triumph? Professor Flitwick never ceased to surprise Ginny. It was he who dubbed this mysterious event, this battle-in-the-
making: Siege Perilous. Yet he began every extra-credit dueling class with the same warning: They were not to develop a bunker mentality. Their task was survival, not the preservation of Hogwarts at all costs. Siege Perilous wasn’t a “Last Stand” nor a wizard replay of the Light Brigade.
Everything possible was being done to secure Hogwarts. Everything possible, and sometimes the seemingly impossible, like flying the curved alley under the Quidditch stands at breakneck speed to navigate into a hidden tunnel. That was Operation Black Hole, a decoy-ambush maneuver or an escape path, depending on what the situation required. Because the maneuver demanded split-second timing under the cloak of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder only the Quidditch teams were enlisted. Any Death Eater who dared to mount a broom and follow the students into the alley would miss the turn and end up meeting with one of Hargrid’s cherished pets.
Ginny led the zooming Quidditch players into the alley. Her primary task was to activate the Darkness Powder. Her secondary goal was to emerge in one piece. “One, two, three, four,…turn!…five, six, seven, eight,…SHEOL!” She heard Ritchie Coote cry, “Claudis!” sealing the tunnel behind them, and tiny lights blinked on along the sides of the tunnel. Five minutes later she felt the burst of fresh air and sunlight.
“Well done, Miss Weasley,” Professor Flitwick cried out as he rushed forward to begin directing the students who bulleted out after her.
For a few minutes Ginny just stood and watched the marvel at the end of the Quidditch pitch. Cedric had commandeered a Firebolt and was now soaring in and out of the hoops, using the middle one as a pivot for the Wronski Feint.
“He shouldn’t be able to do that. It’s a real, solid broomstick,” she muttered.
At that precise moment the ghost looked up and raced towards her with a speed well beyond any known broomstick.
“Good evening, Miss Weasley.” He bowed low and then rose up looking extremely pleased with himself. “Did you know that this very day Professor Flitwick has recommended you for an award for special services? He was quite impressed with our little operation.”
“I want nothing, unless other names are also on it, beginning with yours, Cedric.”
“That might cause confusion for future generations….”
She spun away from him, her hair flapping through his face. “What’s the sense of it? There may very well be no cabinet to display it, no building to house it, no students to see it!”
“I’m sorry, Cedric. I can’t stand it any longer!”
“It?” The ghost moved carefully around her and stood before her, arms folded. “Or maybe who? More precisely, Romilda Vane and her gossip club? The endless question marks placed on your every word and action, and all of it for one reason only: your relationship with Harry?” Cedric smiled slightly at the astonished face. “Don’t look so surprised. I watched Cho go through that too, even more so, because of me.”
Ginny closed her eyes and wondered why she had never considered that. Had jealousy made her that petty?
The ghost decided to go a step further. “How do you feel about being here, being ‘left behind’, while Ron and Hermione are with him? Can you accept the decision…?”
Her eyes flew open. “It was my decision as much as his, Ron’s, my parents’ or anyone else’s. After stacking up all the right reasons for not going -- lack of experience, that I’m not of legal age, helping to defend Hogwarts, not wanting to drive Harry and Ron mad with worry about me, -- there was still one reason, one that outweighed them all, one that I couldn’t, I couldn’t tell. I cannot make that decision....” Ginny was almost shouting.
“Ginny,” Cedric wrapped his translucent hands around hers, “Hush and listen. If you can’t tell, then don’t. If you can, well, I know all about decisions. All right?”
She looked at their hands and wondered vaguely why her hands weren’t shivering from cold. “I could never…” Her hoarse whisper broke. “I could never, ever choose between Ron and Harry. Never.”
“In battle. If a point came where I could save one only at the cost of the other…” Her shoulders began to shake. “I can’t, I just can’t. I saw the fear in their eyes. Ron’s agony at the thought of having to choose between the two. Hermione in a panic about what she should do if it happened. Should I fly after Harry just to add another nightmare to his life? No one understands….”
“I do. Ron does. Hermione. Certainly Harry. Lupin. Even Mad-Eye knows.”
“Choice is such mystery, Ginny.” He leaned over until his forehead rested on hers. “We do the best we can and trust that one right choice will lead to another. What comes of the choice is often beyond our control. I have no guarantee that Hogwarts will be saved, that I won’t be spending centuries sitting on a pile of rubble. At the deepest level, it doesn’t matter. I made the choice I had to make when I heard Harry scream. I don’t question it any more than I question the choice Sirius made to go on, even when the battle was still raging around Harry. Sirius’ life was full of right choices, I trust that one too. Choice is a sacred thing. Don’t second guess yourself.”
Cedric straightened up. “It’s getting dark, Ginny. Forget the pile of parchment. I’ll talk to McGonagall about your homework. Get some sleep.”
Ginny looked up, blinking back her tears. “Yes, I promise…I…I promise.” Suddenly she leaned over, kissed his hand, then turned and ran.
Hours later Cedric was still resting in his favorite place, the center Quidditch hoop. Leaning there partially against the inner curve, partially against the cool autumn air, it seemed to catch the quintessence of his existence, for now at least. Nothing would get through that hoop as long as he was there. The ghost stared quizzically at Sirius. He could swear the star was winking at him. In all truth Cedric had never considered the possibility of Sirius not going on. Why did you do it, Sirius? You love Harry so much, why didn’t you stay to help? That led to the bigger question: Dumbledore. He, too, chose to go on from that tower. Harry frozen behind the invisibility cloak, Snape revealed in all his horror. And you just went on, Headmaster? Why? You didn’t even leave us Fawkes.What did they see that I didn’t see?
Sirius winked again.
What! Cedric shot up above the stands, spinning with astonishment. Me. They saw me. And not just me, but Harry, Ron, Charlie, Hermione, all of us…and somehow they knew to go on. The ghost couldn’t say how, but he understood: They knew the answer so they could go on, and he was part of that answer. Cedric summoned the Firebolt, and lying upon it, drifted slowly around the Quidditch pitch, round and round. No matter where he was Sirius winked at him, and unbelievably, he saw that the centaurs had missed the most important constellation of all. For there stretched across Orion, from Gemini to the River, was clearly a Phoenix with Sirius for its eye.
Cedric winked back and began to laugh.
The echo of his laughter drifted towards Gryffindor Tower, were Ginny stirred in her sleep, and hugging her pillow, smiled at a young, black-haired, green-eyed wizard soaring in triumph above the towers of Hogwarts.