The room was large, dimly lit and rectangular, and the centre of it was sunken, forming a great stone pit some twenty feet deep. They were standing on the topmost tier of what seemed to be stone benches running all around the room and descending in steep steps like an amphitheater.
There was a raised stone dais in the center of the pit, on which stood a stone archway that looked ancient, cracked and crumbling.
Unsupported by any surrounding wall, the archway was hung with a tattered black curtain or veil which, despite the complete stillness of the cold surrounding air, was fluttering very slightly as though it had just been touched.
“Who's there?” said Harry, jumping down on to the bench below. There was no answering voice, but the veil continued to flutter and sway.
“Careful!” whispered Hermione.
Harry scrambled down the benches one by one until he reached the stone bottom of the sunken pit. His footsteps echoed loudly as he walked slowly towards the dais. The pointed archway looked much taller from where he now stood than it had when he'd been looking down on it from above. Still the veil swayed gently, as though somebody had just passed through it.
“Sirius?” Harry spoke again, but more quietly now that he was nearer. “Sirius isn’t here …” he said shaking his head and then stared as Hermione stepped forward as if in a daze.
Hermione had the strangest feeling that there was someone standing right behind the veil on the other side of the archway. Someone she knew very well. Coldness whispered at her cheek but she tilted her head, staring in disbelieving wonder as she recognised the voice.
Gripping her wand very tightly, she edged around the dais, but there was nobody there; all that could be seen was the other side of the tattered black veil.
“Let's go,” called Harry from halfway up the stone steps. “This isn't right, Hermione, come on, let's go.”
He sounded very worried. Hermione stared at the archway in fascination. It had a a kind of beauty about it, old though it was. The gently rippling veil intrigued her. She felt a very strong inclination to climb up on the dais and walk through it.
“Hermione – let’s go, ok?” Harry said more forcefully.
“In a moment,” she answered, but did not move. She had just heard something. There were faint whispering, murmuring noises coming from the other side of the veil.
“What are you saying?” she asked and her words echoed all around the stone benches.
“Nobody's talking, Hermione!” said Harry, now moving over to her, staring at her with a strange look in his face. Suddenly, he heard voices, too but he felt very uneasy. There was something dark and wrong about that archway and he wanted to get away as soon as possible.
“Someone's whispering behind there,” she said, moving out of his reach and continuing to frown at the veil. “Is that you, Ron?”
“I'm here, Hermione,” said Ron, appearing around the side of the archway.
“Can't anyone else hear it?” Hermione demanded, for the whispering and murmuring was becoming louder; without really meaning to put it there, she found his foot was on the dais.
“I can hear them too,” breathed Luna, joining them around the side of the archway and gazing at the swaying veil. There are people in there!”
“What do you mean, in there"?' demanded Ron, jumping down from the bottom step and sounding much angrier than the occasion warranted, “there isn't any ‘in there’ , it's just an archway, there's no room for anybody to be there. Hermione, Harry, stop it, let’s go –“
Ron grabbed Hermione’s arm and pulled, but she resisted.
“Hermione, we are supposed to be here for Sirius!” he told her in a very anxious voice.
“Sirius,” Hermione repeated, still gazing, mesmerized, at the continuously swaying veil. “Yes … quite right …”
Something finally slid back into place in her brain.
She took several paces back from the dais and wrenched her eyes from the veil.
The sound was cold and unsettling. She flinched.
“Let's go,” Harry said firmly, resisting the lure of the archway and giving her arm a tug.
“All right,” Hermione said, finally snapping herself out of the reverie. She walked back around the dais. On the other side, Ginny and Neville were staring, apparently entranced, at the veil too. Without speaking, Hermione took hold of Ginny's arm, Ron grabbed Neville's, and they marched them firmly back to the lowest stone bench and clambered all the way back up to the door.
“What d'you reckon that arch was?” Harry asked Hermione as they regained the dark circular room.
“I don't know, but whatever it was, it was dangerous,” she said firmly, again inscribing a fiery cross on the door.
Only a short time later though, Hermione found herself back in the room with the mysterious archway, Death Eaters in pursuit.
As she saw a Death Eater seizing Harry, she shouted,”Stupefy!!” and Harry was released.
Through the open door two more Death Eaters came running towards them. As soon as Harry ran through the door, he slammed the door shut behind him.
"Collo—" began Hermione, but before she could complete the spell the door had burst open and the two Death Eaters had come hurtling inside.
With a cry of triumph, both yelled: "IMPEDIMENTA!"
Harry, Hermione and Neville were all knocked backwards off their feet; Neville was thrown over the desk and disappeared from view. Hermione smashed into a bookcase and was promptly deluged in a cascade of heavy books. Her vision swam and pain shot through her entire body.
"WE'VE GOT HIM!" yelled the Death Eater nearest Harry and began to attempt to relay their location.
"Silencio!" cried Hermione and the man's voice was extinguished. He continued to mouth through the hole in his mask, but no sound came out. He was thrust aside by his fellow Death Eater.
"Petrificus Totalus!" shouted Harry, as the second Death Eater raised his wand. His arms and legs snapped together and he fell forwards, face down on to the rug at Harry's feet, stiff as a board and unable to move.
"Well done, Ha—"
But the Death Eater Hermione had just struck dumb made a sudden slashing movement with his wand; a streak of what looked like purple flame passed right across Hermione's chest. She gave a tiny 'Oh!' and crumpled on to the floor like a broken doll, where she lay motionless.
Harry fell to his knees beside her as Neville crawled rapidly towards her from under the desk, his wand held up in front of him. The Death Eater kicked out hard at Neville's head as he emerged - his foot broke Neville's wand in two and connected with his face.
Neville gave a howl of pain and recoiled, clutching his mouth and nose. Harry twisted around, his own wand held high, and saw that the Death Eater had ripped off his mask and was pointing his wand directly at Harry, who recognised the long, pale, twisted face from the Daily Prophet : Antonin Dolohov, the wizard who had murdered the Prewetts.
With his free hand, he pointed from the prophecy still clutched in Harrys hand, to himself, then at Hermione. Though he could no longer speak, his meaning could not have been clearer. Give me the prophecy, or you get the same as her…
"Like you won't kill us all anyway, the moment I hand it over!" said Harry.
Harry placed his hand on Hermione's shoulder.
"Whaddever you do, Harry," said Neville fiercely from under the desk, lowering his hands to show a clearly broken nose and blood pouring down his mouth and chin, 'don'd gib it to him!'
Then there was a crash outside the door and Dolohov looked over his shoulder - the baby-headed Death Eater had appeared in the doorway, his head bawling, his great fists still flailing uncontrollably at everything around him. Harry seized his chance:
The spell hit Dolohov before he could block it and he toppled forwards across his comrade, both of them rigid as boards and unable to move an inch.
"Hermione," Harry said at once, shaking her as the baby-headed Death Eater blundered out of sight again. "Hermione, wake up…"
"Whaddid he do to her?" said Neville, crawling out from under the desk to kneel at her other side, blood streaming from his rapidly swelling nose.
Neville groped for Hermione's wrist.
"Dat's a pulse, Harry, I'b sure id is."
"Yeah, I dink so."
There was a pause but all they could hear were the whimpers and blunderings of the baby-headed Death Eater in the next room.
"Neville, stay with Hermione …. keep her safe .."
"And whad are you going do do?" said Neville, mopping his bleeding nose with his sleeve and frowning at Harry.
"I've got to find the others," said Harry. In an instant he was gone, the door slamming shut behind him and Neville was left in the room alone with an unconscious Hermione who lay slumped on the ground. There was a chill in the air, the tattered black veil billowing and a coldness filled the room, a slow hissing sound and Neville shivered, holding his wand in his hand, glancing around.
"Petrificus Totalus!" an voice shouted and Neville found himself frozen in place staring in horror as Antonin Dolohov crawled back to his feet from where he had been jinxed.
"As if a child could keep me stunned for long," he sneered, advancing on Neville. He glanced down at Hermione.
"I’ll kill her first, that will be nice won’t it? While you watch …. slowly, and then it will be your turn, Longbottom. That’ll teach you to meddle in matters that are not your business …".
Dolohov had almost reached Hermione before Neville’s horrified gaze when a voice said coldly.
"You will move away from her now!"
Dolohov turned, and raised his wand but a Stunning Spell was sent right at him and he staggered back.
Neville stared in shock as a tall figure stepped out from behind the cold curtain, wand in hand, dark hair falling over his pale face.
There was a flash of light and Cedric Diggory moved out of the way of the jet of red light that flew from Dolohov’s wand.
The stone floor at Cedric’s feet exploded as a spell hit it, leaving a crater.
Another Death Eater came bursting into the room, stared in shocked amazement at Cedric who stood there calmly.
Before Neville’s horrified eyes, Cedric began fighting them both at once, his wand hand flashing as he articulated spells. Dueling so fiercely with both Death Eaters that their wands were blurs.
Dolohov, his long pale face twisted with glee made the same slashing movement with his wand that he had used on Hermione just as Cedric shouted, "Protege!"
Cedric and Dolohov were dueling, their wands flashing like swords, sparks flying from their wand-tips –
As Dolohov drew back his wand to try to make the same slashing movement again, Cedric said coldly. "Petrificus Totalus!"
Once again, Dolohov's arms and legs snapped together and he keeled over backwards, landing with a crash on his back. With a dismissive movement, Cedric threw Dolhov through the open doorway and turned on the remaining Death Eater who hurled a jet of green light at him.
There was another flash which caught him in the arm, hurtling him heavily down the stone steps, his body toppling from stone seat to stone seat.
Scrambling to his feet, he ran back up the stairs as the masked Death Eater began to approach Neville’s petrified form.
"Impedimenta!" he yelled hoarsely and the Death Eater was blasted onto his back, smashing against the stone dais and crumpling into an unconscious heap. Cedric calmly threw him through the door as well, closing the door and sealing it shut.
"Are you OK?" he asked Neville.
"Yes," said Neville. "I think so ….". Neville found that movement was slowly returning to his body. "How …?"
"I don’t have time to answer your questions, Neville," Cedric said briefly.
Dropping to the ground beside Hermione’s body he tenderly pulled her up into his arms, his face gentle and his eyes haunted. His fingertips traced her pale cheek, touching the wound on her head lightly, staring when it came away stained with blood. "Granger," he whispered urgently. "It's not at all like you to be so quiet ..." he said with a laugh that broke.
"She hit her head against the bookshelf," Neville said anxiously.
Cedric muttered a charm, his voice gentle and his hands even gentler. He looked exactly the same as the day he had died and Neville stared at him with wide-eyed shock.
"Is she going to be all right?" Neville asked, staring at the cuts and bruises on Hermione’s face.
"Yes," Cedric said, a tender smile curving his mouth as he stared down at her. “She’s thinner,” he said sadly, touching her jaw and lowering his lips to her temple.
"It’s been a hard year for all of us .. and she's missed you ..."
Cedric’s eyes met Neville’s sharply. "You knew?"
Neville nodded, his teeth chattering.
"Does anyone else know?"
Neville shook his head. The room seemed to have grown colder all of a sudden. Cedric’s eyes darkened and he turned towards the veil which fluttered to the side.
A dark shadowy figure stepped down from the dais and the air felt like ice.
"Now Cedric ...... how very unwise of you to intervene. What have we told you before about contravening the rules?" The voice of the shadow was very menacing and Neville would have sunk to his knees in fear if he had been able to move. As it was, he watched fearfully as the figure approached.
"You can give it a rest, I’m coming back," Cedric said defiantly.
"Of course you are, Cedric," the shadow said with what might have been a laugh.
Hermione’s eyes fluttered open for a moment and she stared up at Cedric in shocked recognition. Neville watched in horror as Cedric, with a look of anguish muttered a spell that made her slump limply into his arms again.
“How very selfless of you,” the shadow said silkily. “Let me offer you a choice, Cedric. A life for a life. Wouldn’t you like that? A chance to return to the living? To have your old life back?”
Cedric’s head snapped up suddenly and he stared at the shadow warily.
The shadow laughed. “I saw the way you wept when you saw your parents crying pathetically over your casket. I know how much you crave life …. Your life for hers, let me have her and you can return. A small exchange. The Dark Lord has long promised me a consort in exchange for my stewardship of the world beyond the veil,” he said.
Cedric said nothing, merely pressed his lips against Hermione’s tangled hair, holding her close for one final time, murmuring incoherent endearments.
“Your decision, Cedric?” the shadow asked, reaching down to touch Hermione’s face.
“Stay away from her,” Cedric said in a low furious voice.
“You’re not in a position to give orders. In any case – it is time to leave. Shall I take you? Or shall I take the little witch in your place?”
Cedric’s eyes were suspiciously damp and he lowered his head, his dark hair falling over his face. He brushed his lips across Hermione’s, putting her back down on the ground, gently adjusting her robes. His hand reached out to touch her cheek once more. His hand was shaking.
He looked up at Neville. “Don’t let her come back ….” he told Neville. “The archway is …. dark …” he said, swallowing hard. “It’s dangerous …. you have to look after her”.
Neville struggled and after a second found that he was able to nod. “I’ll try,” he said finally.
“That's not enough. Neville. You have to stop her. You promise me – it’s more important than you can imagine”.
“But Hermione’s ….”
Cedric smiled wryly, his brilliant grey eyes staring at Neville. “I know. She’s stubborn – but I’m counting on you to look after my girl”.
“Very touching, I take it you’ve made your decision,” the shadow hissed.
Neville stared as Cedric rose to his feet, unfolding his tall, lanky figure from beside Hermione’s.
Cedric’s eyes were filled with sorrow, his dark hair falling down across his brow.
"But you're dead... Dumbledore said ..."
Cedric smiled slightly. "Dumbledore's very wise, but even he doesn't know everything".
“Fool,” the shadow said with contempt as he looked at Cedric.
Neville watched mutely as the shadow walked behind the flickering veil followed by Cedric who paused for a moment, turning his head to look at him.
“I promise,” Neville told him and Cedric smiled and then he was gone.
Hermione knelt on the dais before the tattered, flickering veil. She was very pale and still, staring intently at movement. The whispering voices were growing louder. They were cold and eerie but almost siren-like and Hermione's gaze was very fixed.
Luna Lovegood had told her that it was the dead who were behind the veil, lurking out of sight, brushing the consciousness of the living and only a whisper away from this world.
Hermione had spent some time in the hospital recovering from the injuries that she had sustained during the battle. She had grieved with Harry who had been inconsolable in his sorrow over the death of Sirius. Her nightmares were unbearable and grief that she had attempted to bury during the course of the last year had reawoken. Cedric’s face haunted her.
She was convinced that she had seen him in this very room and she was even further convinced that behind the black veil was the answer to all her questions. Although very flustered by the interrogation Hermione gave him, Neville staunchly denied everything. He swore that she was imagining things, that she had struck her head and that she should put everything behind her.
Hermione studied the jagged black veil narrowly. The cold air was still but the veil fluttered and shifted.
“Hermione!” Neville exclaimed from the doorway. Hermione’s head snapped around angrily.
“Leave me be, Neville,” she told him. "I'm getting rather tired of you pestering me all the time".
"No," Neville said stubbornly. "This room is dangerous .... that archway is dangerous and you know it," he told her.
"Cedric’s there," Hermione told him coldly. "I can feel it …. he’s waiting for me …." she gave a very strange smile and Neville shivered, running up the stairs to stand beside her.
Hermione ...what are you waiting for? the voice whispered beguilingly and Hermione turned her head back towards the veil and smiled.
"Cedric!" She put her hand behind the veil. It was like putting her hand through icy water and she stiffened, a gasp escaping her lips. A cold hand had seized her hand on the other side and a low chuckle could be heard. She could hear the whisper of voices. A murmur, indistinct..
"Let her go!" Cedric hissed from the other side of the veil. The shadow looked at him coldly.
"She wants to join us …"
"I came back, you have no claim over her," Cedric said, his face very pale and accusing.
"She has returned willingly, Cedric ... you have no say in this," the shadow told him, and the smile turned Cedric’s blood cold. The mottled, clawlike hand caressed the smoothness of the girl’s arm. "She’s warm and vibrant, Cedric. No wonder you love her …. alive and passionate .. but not for long," he purred.
"Hermione!" Neville hissed in panic.
Hermione, still on her knees was almost rigid, her face colourless as her breathing became very shallow. Life was leaving her.
Neville seized her arm to try to pull her back. "Oh …no…. Hermione! Listen to me … this is .. oh no... Hermione!"
"Cedric .. he’s there …" she whispered.
"No, Cedric doesn’t want you to go there….. it’s death and coldness there … he wants you to live … he wants you to be happy …" Neville said desperately.
"Let her go," Cedric said furious, his face panicked.
"Only the little witch can decide that," the shadow said, continuing to stroke his clawed hand along the smooth skin of Hermione's arm.
Get it together, Granger!
The voice rang loudly in Hermione's head and her eyes rolled back in her head as she gasped, pulled away from the cold hand that gripped her and fell back heavily against Neville.
Neville's eyes bulged but he didn't waste a second, hastily seizing Hermione and dragging her far away from the veil, panting in fear.
The shadow hissed furiously and turned upon Cedric. "You try my patience boy. Do not dare to interfere again. The next time she returns, I will kill her on sight," he said and disappeared into the shadows.
Neville was trembling violently but he pulled Hermione to her feet. "Come on, we have to go," he said and Hermione nodded, looking very shaken. There were livid, black bruises on her arm where she had been seized. She looked up to the flickering veil as if to try to catch a glimpse of someone she dearly wished to see. The veil billowed in the stillness but she saw nothing and her eyes stung.
A tear slid down Hermione's cheek. "Cedric's dead," she said. Her voice was bewildered and child-like, almost as though she had just realised this fact.
Neville nodded miserably. He patted her shoulder awkwardly.
"I'm never going to see him again ... am I?" she asked him and Neville stared back at her in silent sympathy. He had no words for her and all he could do was lead her from the cold room. He glanced back at the archway and stopped himself from flinching when he saw a figure standing very still behind the veil.
Cedric was very pale, but he was smiling and his eyes were grateful as he watched them leave. The door closed and he was alone again. He glanced back through the blackness of the lonely nothingness behind the veil and shivered.
He looked down at his hand, clenching and unclenching it. Since holding Hermione in his arms again, he had been aware of something impossible taking place.
Power ... life was returning to his body .....
For the first time since his death, he felt a blaze of something resembling hope.