AN: Welcome to the Dead Club, my first real attempt at a Harry Potter fic. This piece is mainly about those dearly departed from the HP universe and their transitions from life to afterlife. I am hoping there will be a part two, part three, part four, etc etc. Sirius Black next, maybe. For now, have fun with Cedric.
Thanks for reading.
The Dead Club
"After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."
Part I: Cedric Diggory
Cedric Diggory was beginning to feel like a Dead Club veteran. He had been there for a while now, and by this time he was familiar with every inch of the café. The way the velvet-upholstered chairs and stools never got uncomfortable no matter how long you sat on them. The way the jukebox in a corner only played Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." The lights were turned down low and a haze of unscented smoke always hung in the hair. The food was abundant and the liquor was free-flowing. At the far end of the café hung a curtain, which fluttered every now and then in an unseen wind.
Cedric had watched people walk into the café and straight through the curtain on the other end without even glancing around once. He had watched others go more hesitantly, though still no less determined, bolstered on by the encouraging smiles of the wait staff and the intent, almost envious observation of the patrons. More often he had watched a man, woman, or even child stumble wide-eyed into the bar, looking scared or confused or upset or desolate, and take a seat in a corner somewhere. A waiter or waitress would go to chat with them kindly. They might decide to order something from the bar. They meet see an acquaintance and rush to greet him, or strike up a conversation with a stranger. Most people did not go straight through the curtain. They tended to hang around for at least a little while, before moving on.
Cedric had observed this behavior time and time again in the Dead Club. He wasn't sure how long he'd been here. Time seemed to have a different quality in this place than he remembered, and besides, there were no clocks on the walls to mark its passage. The sun didn't rise or fall outside the windows. It might have been days or it might have been years.
He wasn't a fool. He knew he was dead. He was also fairly certain he had a good idea what was waiting beyond that curtain. He just didn't know what he was waiting for.
Recently Cedric had noticed a new face in the café. He took note of it because he thought the man looked vaguely familiar, and he had taken note more than once, which meant the fellow had settled in for a bit. Exactly when he had appeared or how long he'd been here Cedric didn't know, because he didn't always pay attention, but he was now because the man was paying attention to him.
"She's giving you the eye, you know," the man said.
Cedric looked around, confused. Seated at a booth across the way, a strikingly attractive young woman was smiling at him. Her hair was long and black and sleek and her skin fair; dark Irish, they would call her. Cedric was sorry that a girl so beautiful had died in the prime of her life, and pleased that she was paying attention to him, and then curious enough to glance back at the man.
He was not young—Cedric didn't think he was very old either, but perhaps worn was the right word. His hair was long and dark and somewhat straggly, and he looked terribly gaunt, though the face was still handsome in a hard sort of way and must have been exceedingly attractive at a younger and more carefree age. He looked amused that Cedric was eyeing him rather than the girl. "You're gonna lose your chance, mate."
Guiltily Cedric glanced back at the girl, who was indeed looking miffed that he wasn't paying attention, but the stranger was too curious a puzzle to abandon, especially now that Cedric was reasonably certain of who he was. "Err—are you Sirius Black?" he asked, carefully and politely.
The man grinned self-deprecatingly and nodded.
"I saw you in the papers a lot before I died," Cedric said, feeling that perhaps the undue notice requiring explaining. He was nothing if not well-mannered, even to convicted murderers. "I can't help wonder—" He shut his mouth and cleared his throat, embarrassed at what had been about to pop out of his mouth.
But either Black was very sharp or it was written all over Cedric's face, because he supplied, "What I'm doing here?"
Thoroughly embarrassed, Cedric nodded.
"Let me guess. You thought I should be in hell."
Cedric nodded again, feeling his ears turning red.
Black shrugged. "There's times I wonder about the same thing. But I'll clear the record on one point—I didn't commit the crimes I was convicted for."
Cedric believed him, instantly and totally. The completeness of his ready acceptance of Black's answer shocked him; somehow, he simply knew the man was telling the truth.
"Oh, well, that's all right, then. Sorry about the suspicion. No offense meant."
"So," Cedric said after a delicate pause, feeling very awkward, because after all, it was an awkward subject, "how did you die?" His curiosity was simply too great, and he did hope Black hadn't been executed for his crimes, as that would have been a terribly sorry thing.
"Bellatrix Lestrange killed me," Black answered, his eyes darkened briefly, naming someone Cedric vaguely recognized as a Death Eater from the old days of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. "Never saw that one coming." His skeletal hand was wrapped around a glass of some kind of amber liquor, from which he took a drink. Then, seeing Cedric's quizzical look, he shrugged and elaborated, "Big fight at the Ministry of Magic. The Dark Lord himself showed up."
"Christ," Cedric muttered. He knew from conversations he'd over heard that many of the recent arrivals at the Dead Café were victims of Voldemort, whom he'd always thought dead. It seemed the fearsome Dark Lord had risen again after all. "So here you died fighting a real Death Eater and probably half the world still thinks you were his right-hand man." He felt a sudden wave of anger on his new friend's behalf for the injustice of it all. "How could the bloody Ministry never figure it out?"
Black looked surprised and gratified by Cedric's vehement defense of him. "Lack of proof, I suppose," he said with less asperity than Cedric expected. He seemed very much at peace with his fate, when he had every right in the world to be furious. At the same time Cedric wondered where his indignation came from; he didn't even know Black's story, only that he was genuinely innocent.
"Well, it still isn't right," he muttered at last. Black silently raised his glass to him and took a sip.
"You're Diggory, aren't you?" he asked after another moment's pause.
Now Cedric was really startled. "How in the world d'you know that?" he demanded in amazement.
Black cleared his throat. "My godson represented Hogwarts with you in the Triwizard Tournament."
Cedric couldn't believe his ears. "Your—your godson is Harry Potter?"
"Got a nice ironic ring to it, doesn't it?" Black said with a brief grin.
"Well, I—I suppose I didn't know Potter that well—well enough for him to tell me that he had a convicted murderer for a godfather, anyway. Begging your pardon, sir," he added as an awkward afterthought.
Black waved away his apology. "I don't know what he's going to do without me," he said gruffly after a moment or two. "Can't keep himself out of trouble for five minutes."
Cedric didn't know what to say. "I bet he misses you," he offered at last, and Black nodded.
They both watched as a middle-aged woman suddenly stumbled through the door of the Dead Club. She straightened and stared around intently as though looking for someone, then, her gaze falling on the curtain across the café, her face suddenly lit with a fierce joy and she strode straight across and through without a backwards glance.
"Another veil, huh?" Black murmured when she was gone, his fingers tightening convulsively on his glass of liquor.
"I don't know where it goes—but I do," Cedric said, confused.
Black nodded, understanding. "Why haven't you gone through yet?"
That, Cedric didn't have an answer for.
Next to the bar there stood an old fortune-telling machine, a glass booth with a Gypsy puppet inside. It only took Dead Club tokens, which Cedric somehow always managed to find in his pockets whenever he wanted one. A pretty waitress had seen him staring at it one day and smilingly told him that it would answer any question he posed to it.
The first time he used it, he asked it how he had died. It made lights and sound effects for a while (to his consternation) then popped out the answer on a little slip of paper (to his relief). The paper read, "Voldemort killed you with Avada Kedavra, the killing curse."
He wondered why he had not been shocked and appalled to read the Dark Lord's name printed so clearly on the paper, but he supposed there was really nothing to be afraid of now that he was dead. What had shocked him was the realization that he had been murdered by Lord Voldemort himself. He, Cedric Diggory, killed by Voldemort. It was so utterly bewildering. And how was it that he was dead and not Harry, who had been there beside him in the graveyard, the last scene that Cedric remembered before a flash of light and his inexplicable arrival here?
He had put the paper in his pocket and gone and sat down, and had himself a good strong drink.
The second time he used the fortune-telling machine, he asked it why he had died. The answer on the little piece of paper was much longer, and somewhat difficult to make out in its small font.
"Barty Crouch, Jr., a loyal Death Eater, disguised as Professor Alastor 'Mad Eye' Moody, transformed the Triwizard Cup into a portkey for the purpose of delivering Harry Potter to his master Voldemort. Voldemort required Harry Potter's blood to complete a spell to revive himself to full power. You were killed because you were there, and unnecessary."
There, and unnecessary. There, and unnecessary. The words echoed endlessly through his mind. Unnecessary. Not necessary. He was not necessary. It was not necessary that he had been there. It was not necessary that he had died.
Knowing why was worse than not knowing why. Because there was no why. There was no reason behind it at all.
He hadn't touched the machine again after that.
Was the Dead Club, Cedric wondered often, the place that people called purgatory or limbo? Was he stuck here because he wasn't good enough to be in heaven? No, that didn't make any sense. The curtain was right there. He could walk through it any time he chose. As a matter of fact he'd tried, several times. He would get up and walk straight toward it, only to find his steps faltering the closer he got, until about ten paces away he would stop, stare at it hopelessly for a while, then turn around and slink back to a seat.
The fourth or fifth time this happened, Black was watching. "Go on," he said encouragingly when Cedric turned, but he shook his miserably and returned to the chair he'd just occupied.
"It's impossible. I'll never get through it."
"Scared of what's on the other side?"
"Oh, I don't know." Moodily he stared at the curtain for a while. "What about you? Why haven't you gone through it?"
"Because you're here, mate," Black said practically. "Wouldn't be very polite to just breeze on through with barely so much as a 'see you later.'"
Cedric had a deep and terribly convincing suspicion that this was not the full reason Black still occupied the Dead Club, but out of politeness he didn't push the matter.
"Did Harry say—" he began abruptly, and just as abruptly he stopped.
Black's sharp eyes fixed on him intently. "Go on."
"Did he say—anything about me?" he finished hesitantly. "I mean, after I died?"
Black nodded slowly. "He told Dumbledore the whole story. Told him how you died. I was there."
"Was he all right? I mean, You Know Who must have—Voldemort must have—"
Black considered that. "Aside from where they cut him to get his blood, he wasn't harmed physically. Not for lack of trying, I assure you. But mostly he came out of it terribly shaken…never quite the same after that."
"But he lived," Cedric said with more bitterness than he intended.
Black said nothing, merely looked at him.
"Sorry," Cedric mumbled after a moment or two. "He's your godson."
"And you're dead," Black countered practically. "Can't really blame you for being a bit miffed."
Cedric had to smile. "No…well…what do they say? 'The dead envy the living'? Well I guess I envy Harry. But not just for living. More because…well, there was a reason for him to be there, you see? Oh, bloody hell, I don't know what I'm talking about," he said in frustration, burying his face in his hands and pressing the heels of his palms hard against his eyelids.
"I think you do," he heard Black say. "Go on, mate. I'm not going to bite your head off."
"It's just—it's just—Harry's a good guy, you know? It's not like I can blame him for anything that happened. He was just trying to do the right thing. You see, we—we reached the Cup at the same time, and I said that he should go ahead and take it—because he'd helped me out in the maze. But he told me to take it, he said it would be a good victory for Hufflepuff—that was my house—but like a mule I just said no—really, I should have taken it, then at least only one of us would have had to suffer—and he wouldn't have been revived—but I didn't, I didn't take it, I almost sent Harry to that graveyard alone—but then—he said, all right, let's take it together, it'll be a double victory for Hogwarts—and I couldn't believe what I was hearing, it was such a perfect solution, and I thought—right then I thought—this person, this is a really good person, he would make a great friend—and so we did it together, we did it on the count of three—and then we were there—and I didn't even know what was going on, I didn't even get a chance—I heard a voice say kill the spare and then there was this flash of light and I was here—and I knew I was dead—but I didn't know why—and you know what? Do you know what, Sirius Black? That bloody machine told me I was killed because I was there and unnecessary! That's why I'm dead! Because I wasn't—bloody—necessary!"
Abruptly Cedric became aware that his rather vehement outburst had attracted some attention. Several Dead Club patrons were staring at him, looking scandalized, while the wait staff were giving him looks of deep sympathy. For some reason this mollified him somewhat, and he took a breath to calm himself down.
Black hadn't said a word for several minutes, just let him talk without interruption. Now he leaned forward and offered softly, "'A man's death reflects a man's life.' Is that what you're thinking?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess so." He was breathing hard, like he'd just run a mile. "I mean, I was killed by Voldemort. Of all people…of all the ways to die…and it puts me among some pretty great company, doesn't it? All those people who died fighting him and his lackeys in the first war…all those people who were his victims…" He took a breath. "But I didn't fight him, Sirius Black. Not that I'd have stood a chance. But I didn't fight him. I stood there and was slaughtered like a spring lamb."
"Not all of Voldemort's victims died fighting," Black told him stonily. "They died shrieking in pain, they died mindless under his control, they died not knowing where they were or why Voldemort killed them or that they were even in danger at all. And I'll tell you something else, Diggory. My godson told me about you. He said you were a good man, a brave man. He said Dumbledore spoke highly of you and the whole school drank to you. Voldemort killed many men and women, and you know what? Not all of them had such a clean record. But you have nothing to be ashamed of. You lived the life of a good man and you died innocently, as a good man. What more can anyone ask of their heroes?"
Cedric saw the sense in what the man was telling him, and it heartened him somewhat. "Thanks, Black," he said, and he meant it.
But he didn't walk through the curtain.
"How did you come to be Harry's godfather?" Cedric asked his friend curiously at one point.
"His father was one of my best mates at Hogwarts," Black explained. "His mother too, eventually, though she didn't much like me at first." He chuckled.
"Harry's mum and dad…they died fighting Voldemort, didn't they?" Cedric asked tentatively. Of course he knew the whole story, more or less, but it must be painful for Black to hear it stated out loud.
His companion nodded. "Shortly before I was convicted," he said quietly.
"That must've been terrible."
"I couldn't much bring myself to care," Black said heavily. "Not after James and Lily died."
Cedric nodded sympathetically. "But you know, you'll probably see them again, once you go through there," he said, gesturing at the curtain.
He'd intended the remark to be comforting, but a look of something close to panic crossed Black's face—and was gone just as quickly, leaving him to wonder if he'd just imagined it. "Right," Black said lightly, but his fingers had tightened so much on his glass of liquor that the knuckles had turned white.
Clearly the matter of Harry's parents had upset Black, so Cedric let the matter drop, but a few minutes later he abruptly asked, "D'you know anyone else who Voldemort murdered?" It was a terribly morbid subject but he couldn't seem to turn his mind away from it.
Black seemed to have steadied himself with the liquor, and his voice was even enough as he replied, "Quite a number, unfortunately. I was part of a—a special army of sorts, you might say, fighting against Voldemort and his followers in the old days. A lot of them ended up dead—some even worse."
"They're heroes, then," Cedric said, somewhat reverently. "And so are you. Oh, I remember what you said," he added lightly when Black raised his eyebrows at him. "'Living as good men and dying as good men'…" He looked miserably at the curtain. "I'm not one of them, Black. I don't belong in their company. That's not me."
"Who are you, then?"
"I don't know!" Cedric said in frustration. "I don't bloody know! Dead, I suppose. Doomed to hang around in this place forever…" He laughed hollowly, bitterly. "I wanted to be something. I wanted to make something of myself. I wanted to make my parents proud! Now what do they have? A gravestone and a body in the ground. No son to be proud of. Nothing!"
"Why shouldn't they be proud of you anyway?" Black demanded. "What greatness do you think you need to have achieved for that?"
"I don't know," he muttered, putting his face in his hands. "I know it's ridiculous. I just don't know what I've done that they should be proud…"
He had trailed off as he glanced up again. Across the café, a young girl had just come through the doors. She couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old.
"Look at that," he said heavily, and Black looked around. "Some little girl dead. I think that's the youngest kid I've ever seen come through here."
"Disease, maybe," Black said sympathetically. "Or someone killed her."
That there was evil enough in the world for someone to kill a little girl made Cedric want to howl in misery. She hadn't moved away from the door yet, but stood there dripping as though she'd just come out of a heavy rainfall, her ragged dress splattered with mud. She didn't seem to want to come any further into the café, yet no one had made a move to help her. Did she have no family to come and welcome her with open arms? Why didn't anyone talk to her, tell her where she was? Why wasn't the wait staff doing anything for her?
"Well she can't just stand there all day," he said with abrupt anger, getting to his feet.
The little girl stared up at him as he approached, her face expressionless, her brown eyes huge. "All right there?" he asked her, kneeling down to look at her on her level, taking one of her cold hands between his and rubbing it to warm it. "Are you waiting for somebody?"
She shook her head, confusion sparking across her face. "Daddy was so mad…where am I? Why aren't I home?"
It broke his heart that he should have the task of telling her, but he sure as hell wasn't going to let her learn it from some bloody machine. "You're dead. This is a place where dead people go before they go to heaven. Right through there, you see?" He pointed across the room to the curtain. "You'll be all right once you go through there."
Her small hand gripped his fiercely. "I'm not dead. I was at home. Daddy was mad at me…" Her voice trailed off uncertainly.
"Well," Cedric said, trying to keep his voice level, "that's all done now. I know I'm not making much sense…you know that when people die, they go to heaven, right?"
She nodded. "Grandmum went a year ago."
"Your grandmother? I bet you've missed her." The girl nodded seriously. "Well, I'm sure she misses you too. And I bet she's waiting for you on the other side."
The girl stared at him. "I can see Grandmum?" she whispered with a trace of hope.
Cedric nodded. "I think so."
The girl gave him a trusting look and nodded once more. She let him lead her across the café to the curtain and give her a gentle push toward it. "Go on, now. Don't be afraid."
She smiled at him and walked through. Cedric let out his breath when the curtain fell into place behind her, feeling as though he'd been holding it all along. He turned back to the café, and saw Sirius Black watching him.
"That's it," the man said in a voice filled with peculiar emotion. "You said you don't know what you've done to be proud of. Well, you did that."
Cedric glanced behind him, bewildered. "But that's only—I mean, she was a little girl, I wasn't going to let her…"
"Yes! Kindness, Diggory! Kindness, and reaching out to others—that is heroism! What's bravery? What's going down in a fight? Anyone will fight to save their life, or at least take out the enemy. Helping that little girl—helping others simply because you can—that is the rare thing. That is something to be proud of. Your parents will remember you not because of the way you died, but because you were good, and selfless—that's how my godson spoke of you! That's how Dumbledore spoke of you!"
Cedric's throat felt tight. "They did?"
"They did." Black's dark eyes seemed as though they were looking through him. "I know many people who have died facing Voldemort. You say you don't belong in that company, but you do. Be honored to have a place with them, because they'll be honored to have you."
"Ah." Further speech seemed impossible. Cedric turned to face the curtain. A knot was loosening in his chest that he hadn't even known was there. Yes…that was where he belonged, wasn't it? Not in this place.
He glanced over his shoulder at Black, getting his voice under control. "What about you?"
The man smiled and shook his head. "Not me. I'm not ready."
Cedric nodded, understanding. "If I ever meet them, your friends, I'll tell them you're here."
He didn't glanced back again, but reached out and grasped the edge of the curtain, raised it, and stepped through with only the slightest tremor of hesitation.
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