“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory” – Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
I recently finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as part of my reading challenge and the above quote really stuck with me after I finished the book. In terms of re-reading the series, I have to echo a good friend of mine and say that there is something about the books from our childhoods that allow us to return to safe places. Hogwarts, like Narnia, the 100 Acre Wood, Bordertown, and countless other lands will always remain a sacred place in my psyche, not only a part of my childhood but also a part of my soul.
I remember Goblet of Fire as the book where the world I had become immersed in suddenly became much darker. With Cedric’s death, the stakes became far more real than they had been—after all, in Prisoner of Azkaban, death could still be escaped, fate could still be rewritten. The threat of the unjust deaths of Sirius and Buckbeak loomed over my nine-year-old self, but (despite the knowledge that Pettigrew escaped to help Lord Voldemort) my ‘happy ending’ remained intact. Goblet of Fire did not offer that same solace. Cedric Diggory might not have been a character known for very long, or one we became well acquainted with, but the loss still hurt. I distinctly remember the overwhelming feeling that Diggory wasn’t supposed to die and that Rowling had to fix it in the next few pages, in the last few chapters. But she didn’t.
While this may or may not have been the first book I read that did not resolve itself with everything becoming alright in the end, this was the first time that the concept of an unhappy ending hurt, and stayed with me. Hogwarts felt very much like real life, except no one was supposed to be permanently hurt, or die, or be anything but happy. What was the use of magic otherwise?
Whether it was intentional or not, by taking Cedric from us, Rowling added a harsh dose of reality to her fictional world. Through this, the world of Hogwarts became that much more real. The evil of a dogmatic, prejudiced mind and what it can do was represented by Voldemort, his Death Eaters, and those who chose to do nothing in the hopes of somehow being overlooked or staying safe. That representation of the potential for evil and wrongdoing might have been defeated in later books, but from the death of Cedric onwards, we became aware of the cost of defeating such darkness. And because we read the world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts as real and paralleling our own world, we understand that this new truth applies to our own world. Not everyone can be saved; both doing the right thing and doing the easy thing have a real cost.
Reading the books about a decade after publication, I see Voldemort and the Death Eaters reflected more in the real world than the possibility for magic and wonder that I used to see. Dumbledore’s words seem even more pertinent today, as we watch an increase in both physical and ideological violence in the world. The easy thing to do is to tune it out, to turn inward and focus on our own lives and backgrounds, and go with the flow, ignoring anything that does not affect us directly. But I think history, poetry, and fiction teach us the dangers of this approach. The right thing to do will always be to put our personal differences aside and pursue the path that ensures the greatest peace, prosperity, and possibilities for self-determination for the greatest number of people. The right thing will always be to stand up and raise one’s voice with compassion, reason, and justice against the rising tide of fear and ignorance, when the easy thing would be to bury one’s head and ignore the echoing din of ignorance and prejudice. The easy thing will always be to close one’s eyes and pretend that nothing is happening, nothing is wrong. And then suddenly the world has changed and we wonder what could have been done to correct the course when it is too late.
The right thing and the easy thing are rarely the same. Both paths will have casualties. But the difference between the two paths is the world that will be found at the end of the road. If we choose the right path, the path that leads to a better world for all regardless of creed, faith, nationality, ethnicity, magical-ability or long-standing Muggle heritage, then the loss of all the Cedric Diggory’s in the world will not be in vain.