Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
The Girl Who Persevered
When she sees him there, lying cold, pale, and lifeless with his eyes glazed like she has never seen them before, it only takes a split second for her entire world to end. The boy who taught her how to truly live looks vulnerable and alone and broken and so, so afraid, and everything that is and has been Cho Chang crumbles into dust. There is an endless, eternal moment of complete and utter nothingness, and then, the earth is ripped to shreds by a terrible, animalistic scream from her lips. The sound is loud enough that the moon and stars, those amazing wonders of the sky that she had gazed at with him only last night, would disintegrate if the world were a kinder place. However, it is not, so they stay right where they are, twinkling and shining in all their beauty and splendor, completely uncaring that one of their greatest admirers lies spread-eagled on the grass, unblinking and unknowing.
Cho's memories of those next few minutes are filled with a hazy, surreal quality that she can never quite grasp. She remembers clutching him to her, staring desperately into those blank gray eyes and howling for him to just wake up. If there's any point to her existance at all, he'll just wake up. If her lungs want to take another breath, and her heart wants to continue beating, he'll just wake up. If this earth is not Hell itself, the boy she loves will just wake up.
But he won't. Her Cedric, the boy who has become so integral to her, just won't wake up. And Cho clings to him and can't stop screaming, can't stop sobbing, and her world continues to shatter as the seconds pass.
Then, she remembers being carried away from him, back towards the school, and up to the Ravenclaw common room. The remainder of the night is made up of fragments of foggy numbness, followed by bouts of uncontrollable sobbing. During the midnight hours she goes to visit him in the hospital wing, and though his eyes are now closed, his facial expression remains the same: it is paralyzed with fear and shock. And this is the image that will stay with her for years to come. It will haunt her during her waking hours and chase her during sleep. For the longest time, she will not be able to remember him as he was: the charming, wonderful boy who captured her heart.
In the days that follow, Hogwarts is a subdued, grief-ridden place to inhabit. The halls are infested with fear and uncertainty, and it seems as though her boyfriend's empty face lurks around every corner. Whenever she enters a room, the talk instantaneously stops - people can't bear to be around her. Even her friends stay away; only Marietta tries to understand. It is plain to see what the other girls in her dorm think of this new Cho Chang; they see her as a shadow of the shining star she used to be, but she doesn't care. Cedric is no longer there to shine his radiance down on her, so how can she glow without him? He made her feel like life was worth living, like she actually had a chance to be loved by someone. He used to twirl her in his arms and call her his swan, but that's all gone now, all those possibilities of a future, wiped out.
On the night of the Leaving Feast, something is finally able to penetrate through the grief. It's an emotion she hasn't felt yet, and it surges through her veins, making her blood pump for the first time since she saw her love's limp, lifeless body. The feeling is pure, venomous anger as one name is mentioned: Harry Potter.
Yes, Harry Potter lived through the night when Cedric didn't. She's heard the rumblings and the rumors, that Voldemort, a wizard who has been dead for thirteen years, has returned. She stares at him from across the room, stares at him until she can't see him through the angry tears streaking her cheeks and blurring her vision, and believes it, because she can see the barren, listless expression on his face and notices it for what it is: fear, sorrow, and guilt. And it's then, as the anger continues to pound through her, that she knows she's a terrible person.
For years, everyone has called Harry Potter "The Boy Who Lived", and marveled at the fact that he defeated Voldemort and lived while thousands died. And, low and behold, he is The Boy Who Lived again, escaping a tragic ordeal with the weight of a dead boy on his shoulders. And Cho Chang, terrible person that she is, blames him. The guilt eats her up from the inside, but she can't stop the selfish, awful thoughts from invading her brain. If Harry Potter is such a wonderful wizard, so brave, so smart, so heroic, then why couldn't he save the life of the boy she loves? Why couldn't he wave his little magic wand and take that terrified, helpless look off of Cedric's face? The Boy Who Lived, they call Harry with awe, but why did he get to live through that night while Cedric didn't?
And that question will remain with her for many years to come, and she hates herself with all of her soul for it. She constantly thinks about it, pokes and pokes at it with her mind, trying to get the evil thought to go away, but it won't. Every time she sees Harry in the halls, surrounded by his friends who are so thankful to have him alive, she is pierced with a fury so strong she can barely contain it. She does have moments, though, where sympathy for him overwhelms her, and it's then that she thinks there might be hope for her, after all. But then Hermione Granger will say something comforting or tell him that no one blames him, and then the vile feelings will come at her again, because she can never see her love alive again; all she can see in her mind now, whenever she remembers him,is his fearful, stricken face and his blank, lifeless eyes.
When she comes back after the summer, she feels worse than ever. She feels as though she has hit rock bottom and cannot climb back up, no matter how hard she tries. Her mother has done her best to understand, but her father has been plain awful. He was against her and Cedric's love from the beginning, telling her that she should be focused on her grades rather than having her head stuck in the clouds. As the summer progressed, he endlessly lectured her on how she would come to realize that in the long run, Cedric Diggory meant nothing to her, and he was just a mindless teenage fling that she would get over if she listened to her brain rather than her heart. Jack Chang only made the wound bleed even more heavily; he didn't understand that with Cedric, the mask of the studious, nerdy Ravenclaw cracked, and all her repressed desires of love and companionship came flowing to the forefront of her mind. Cedric made life real for her, and now that has been smashed to smithereens.
But one thing she has pondered seriously about over the summer is her thoughts towards Harry Potter. Now that she hasn't had to see him every single day for several months, she truly feels the guilt crash down on her. How dare she think those things about him! It wasn't Harry's fault that he couldn't save Cedric, and it was most definitely not his fault that he lived. He has also warned the world of a second rising of the most evil wizard alive, and for the people who don't believe him, well, that's their own problem. One look at Cedric's lifeless face, she thinks viciously, and they would have realized Harry Potter was right: that Voldemort had undoubtedly returned.
So, Cho tries a new tactic to drown out the nasty little voice that still tries to haunt her at times, whispering if he's the Boy Who Lived, why couldn't he make sure the people with him lived, too? She gets to know him. She starts listening to him, hanging on his every word, believing in him. She won't let anyone say a word against him in her presence. When he starts Dumbledore's Army, she attends every meeting, thirsty for the knowledge to fight against those who took her everything away from her. Cho isn't exactly living, but she's going through the motions, and she hopes that Cedric is proud of her.
But a new nasty little voice is starting to nag at her, telling her she is doing some of this for the wrong reasons, and that this will backfire on her. It tells her that Harry Potter is starting to become an obsession for her, that she won't let herself heal, and that Cedric would be ashamed of her. But Cho tries her hardest to beat the voice back; after all, what else can she do? How the hell can she heal when she is getting nothing but glares in the corridors from the stupid girls who once claimed they were her friends? They whisper vile, evil things that she should be over Cedric by now, that she should stop weeping and pining for him, that she's pathetic, that all she's doing is seeking attention, that Cedric was a stupid, brainless Hufflepuff anyway. Cho wants to spit in their faces. What a bunch of hypocrites, you were the ones drooling all over him last year, she wants to scream.
And then, one day, it all comes to a head. Cho kisses Harry in the Room of Requirement, and the illusion breaks. It's then that she realizes, with an ice-cold, frozen sensation, that this boy standing in front of her isn't Cedric, that this is no way to treat someone who is as lost and confused as she is. His emerald eyes seem to swallow her up, and they are filled with uncertainty and desolation, and never has the guilt of her thoughts suffocated her more. Looking into his eyes, she knows he wished he hadn't lived through that night, either.
And that does it. The image of Cedric's lifeless body fills her mind again, along with a devastated-looking Harry, and she can no longer hold it together. She bursts into tears, and as they stream down her face, she knows she is the worst human being in existance. If anyone doesn't deserve to walk this planet anymore, it's her. What did a wonderful person like Cedric ever see in a creature like her anyway? He used to call her his swan, but she feels like a frog, an ugly frog who will never have the strength to move on, to do what Cedric would have wanted and cherish the love he gave her in order to pursue the rest of her life.
But in the months to follow, she still cannot break out of the cycle. She manages to convince herself that she will try harder, she will try so hard to stop seeing Cedric whenever she looks at Harry, that she will try to treat him with the respect he deserves. As time passes, she only grows stronger in her convictions ... after all, who else can she turn to? She is now a pariah throughout the school; no one seems to want to go near her. Only Marietta still hangs around, Marietta who is having issues of her own with her mother, but has the patience of a saint when it comes to Cho. So the cycle continues, and like a complete and utter fool, she accepts Harry's offer for a date for Valentine's Day.
And of course, because she did it for all the wrong reasons, it is a total failure. As soon as they sit in the booth at Madame Puddifoot's, the illusion of comfort and safety she had always felt around Cedric shatters, and she stares across the table at the skinny, uncomfortable-looking boy who decidedly is not Cedric. The conversation is awkward and stilted, and when he mentions Hermione Granger, she just snaps. Looking back with shame, she knew there was no reason to be the jealous shrew she was in that moment, and she knew she had absolutely no right to ask him to describe in detail what happened to Cedric that night, and whether he had mentioned her at all. All she can say in her defense is that her bitterness, her hatred, her spite, her envy at the fact Hermione Granger still had her best friend, her complete and utter sorrow at the loss of the boy she loved, the longing, overwhelming, throbbing need to know what had befallen him that night, whether there was anything anyone could have done to save him, all got the best of her at that moment, and she just reacted. She didn't think, just reacted. And the next thing she knew, she was screaming at Harry, bursting into tears, and running out of the restaurant, a bawling, sobbing mess.
It is a few days later when the Quibbler article comes out, explaining exactly what had happened to Cedric on that night. Cho finally has the details she's been begging for, and she now wishes with everything in her that she could take her questions back, because the answers are worse than anything she could have imagined. The boy who had her heart was thought of as nothing more than an insect by his murderers ... he was struck down without even a second of hesitation. Kill the spare. Those were the last words he ever heard. Cho has never wanted to kill anyone before, but her desire for vengeance is raw and real. Her need to blame Harry stops; now she wants to go after the real people who took away his innocence, Cedric's future, and her happiness.
She doesn't think she can ever face Harry again after what happened on Valentine's Day, but somehow, she finds him through the commotion of the following days and tells him he is brave. She's too much of a coward to apologize, and she knows it, but she hopes that her praise of him is apology enough.
The school year continues, and Cho now feels like she has more of a purpose in her life than ever; avenging the boy who was her everything. Marietta whispers that this is unhealthy, that Cedric wouldn't want her to do this, that he'd want her to live. In her heart, she knows it's true, that the proud, honest boy she knew would not want her to waste away on vengeance, but her lonely, grieving heart can't help it. The confusion and rage that swamps her when Dumbledore's Army is suddenly destroyed is all-consuming, especially when it was her own friend, Marietta, the friend who helped her through the toughest days when nobody else did, who betrayed them.
And it is when she confronts Harry in the corridor that she knows she needs help, and she knows she has not healed at all. As angry as she is with Marietta, she just cannot accept Harry's black-and-white view of her, and the fact that her beautiful face is now marred forever ... that, she cannot fathom. When Harry blusters and rages and mentions Hermione Granger's name again, the rage comes back, as do the bitter thoughts she's tried all year to prevent. She gazes into Harry's glowering face with a glower equally as fierce, and silently thinks, Cedric wouldn't treat anyone like that. He's ten times the person you are. Cedric would have cared that my friend was facing a conflict with her mother. Cedric would have understood. Cedric wouldn't speak to me the way you are. Cedric was a better wizard than you'll ever be.
And that summer, when she goes home, she has a plan. Everyone now knows what she did all along, that Voldemort has indeed returned, and it's time to fight now. There is no more time for selfish thoughts, no more time for anger, no more time for holding grudges. "Mum," she says, looking Meg Chang directly in the eye. "I need help. I'm not healing, and I need help."
And from then on, she starts going to a grief counselor. The woman is a Muggle, and therefore, Cho cannot tell her the manner in which it happened, but she tells her that her boyfriend was murdered, and that she can't help but resent the only other witness for surviving. As she pours her heart out, she feels as though a huge burden is being lifted from her soul. The counselor listens, and then quietly discusses it with her. For once, Cho feels like she's not being judged. They talk, woman to woman, and for the first time,Cho feels human again, like she can dig herself out of this hole if she takes it one day at a time.
The next year at Hogwarts is her last one, and she has her good days and her bad days. Her grades begin to go up again, and she starts truly thinking about what she'd like to do with her future. Since she can't see her counselor throughout the year, they write letters to each other. The letters are sent to Cho's mother and then forwarded to her, since the counselor isn't allowed to use an owl. The messages each letter contains are reassuring, and they help Cho get through the worst days.
It hits her the hardest whenever she sees couples in the corridors. Every time she sees someone's arm or hand entwined with another's or sees a sweet kiss between classes, the envy hits her like a hammer, and she thinks she might collapse with it. She can't help the thoughts of it's not fair, it's not fair that crowd her mind. Why do they get to be so happy? Why does she have to be forever separated from the one she loves while they have all the time in the world? And, to her greatest shame, she feels it the strongest when she comes upon Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley sharing a quiet moment together. She looks at the smiles on their faces, and she remembers days when she used to glow like that, and it still hurts so, so badly. That night, she cries herself to sleep. That is her worst day that entire year.
But slowly, over time, her outlook on life begins to improve. But the outside world is getting much worse as the war escalates out of control. It is this, strangely enough, that spurs Cho into action, and releases her out of the well of depression and anger she has been stuck in. Through her renewed therapy sessions, she realizes what she wants to do with her life: she wants to heal people, to stop them from feeling the same pain she has gone through. She has focused so much on selfishness, revenge, hatred, and bitterness throughout the past few years, and she needs to find redemption, to forgive herself for the wrongs she has done. At first, her motivation was to do it only for Cedric, to make herself worthy of the fact that he loved her, because how she's been acting is so far removed from the girl Cedric loved, and she knows he'd hate what she'd become. But as time progressed, she discovered she was doing it for herself as well as for him. As she went through Healer training, she began to live again,, to experience the positive emotions she'd missed so much.
When she returns to Hogwarts to fight in the final battle, flashbacks almost tear her mind in two, but somehow, she perseveres. When the respite comes, she goes to the Great Hall like everyone else, and it is there that another revelation comes over her. She sees many people bent over the bodies of loved ones, all experiencing the same agony she went through three years ago as they stare into glazed, empty eyes. And Cho knows once and for all how selfish her old thoughts were, because this ... this pain, this grief, she would not wish upon anyone else, not even her worst enemy. Now that people are going through the same thing she did, it's the last thing she wants.
And at the end of the night, she finally realizes how far she has come in her emotional recovery. Harry Potter survives yet again, when everyone had thought him dead. He sacrificed himself for them all, died for them all, but somehow came back to defeat Voldemort. Once upon a time not so long ago, Cho would have wondered why Harry, not Cedric, was allowed a second chance, why it was always Harry who survived. But now, all she feels towards him is gratitude. It is because of Harry that the world is not ruled by the true demon that took so many lives away, including Cedric's.
And what Cho can do now, she thinks as she does her best to heal the injured and comfort the grieving, is honor the second chance Harry gave her, and to honor the person Cedric Diggory truly was.