The Case of the Resurrected Ghost
A Minerva McGonagall Mystery
Summary: A prophecy and the fate of a desperate man are two parts of a riddle facing Hogwarts own sleuth. With her trusty assistant, Minerva McGonagall follows the trail racing against time with an enemy in silent pursuit.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to JK Rowling. I am only taking them out for a spin.
Mold and mildew thrived in the cracks and corners. Moisture clung tenaciously to the unyielding dungeon walls. Iron chains, long forgotten, hung limply from the ceiling. The floor, gritty with sand and dirt, lay unmarked by any living object. The room wore its mantle of neglect with stoic casualness; its deserved solitude disturbed only by the unexpected draft whispering through the corridors finding its random way to this most cursed room at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Few knew of this room's true story and fewer still its location. No living entity sought it out, not even for the wealth of knowledge stored in the room's lone interloper - a desk of finely hewned ancient mahogany and oak. It had an indefinable quality that bespoke of secrets best kept to itself. Though the room had sat unattended to by mortal or house elf, dust had yet to settle on the desk's still gleaming surface. Neither were the brass fittings tarnished by age nor loosened by use. The desk defied conventional thought keeping to its pristine condition as if it had only been stored the day before instead of more than four hundred years ago.
The owner of the desk knew of its existence and its place but did nothing to assure its continued survival. Some things were better left forgotten, or at least, ignored to the best of one's ability. The latter approach was preferred by its owner. Through studied ignorance, decade after decade, its owner convinced itself of its nonexistence, conveniently consigning all taint of mortal ignominies to the unforgiving past.
As any sinner can attest to, past sins have a way of resurrecting themselves and no amount of penance can dim the original sin's promise of retribution. The owner of the desk had thought his penance paid by time and earthly torment. One fateful day he came to realize that his penance had only just begun.
Jagged, unkempt nails dug into flesh turned ice cold. The self-inflicted pain was a cruel harbinger of reality. Callus roughened fingertips grasped the edges of the desk seeking more proof of the impossible even as eyes blinked uncertainly long unused to the natural action. Nostrils flared then pinched at the first whiff of air. Skin prickled as blood rushed anew to legs, toes, arms and fingertips.
Dark hair hung limply over a long pallid face that still bore traces of a noble lineage desecrated by avarice and ambition. A pink tongue tentatively explored gums, teeth and lips while saliva dripped unchecked down one cheek. Lying prone on top of his ancient desk, Antoine de Neuvilette stared at the ceiling and screamed once. Then again and again.
In another part of the enormous castle, a house elf heard the screams and went to investigate. It was a blathering house elf that brought the news to the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress of a crazed man locked inside the hidden room crying in anguish, pulling at the chains and pounding on the desk.
Behind his desk, the Headmaster frowned. "Did he say who he was?"
"More importantly, how did he find himself down there?" interjected the Deputy Headmistress. "Do we have a breach in security?"
The elf drew a deep breath to calm himself before answering. "He ... he said ... there he awoke and there he stays. He must, he says."
"I understand and he is quite correct," Dumbledore rose and headed rapidly towards the dungeons trailed by Professor McGonagall and the elf.
"Kindly slow down and explain yourself, Albus," McGonagall said.
"We have little time to lose, my dear Professor. There is only one thing ... one man that can access that room other than myself. Since he is there now, I can only deduce one thing." Dumbledore paused at the bottom of the staircase and looked at his deputy. His expression was devoid of any of his usual cheery amusement. "The Bloody Baron is a ghost no more."
Minerva gasped. "Impossible! That kind of magic smacks of ... of ... necromancy, the darkest of our arts."
"Traditional wisdom would agree with you but there is another discipline which is much older, much more powerful." Dumbledore opened the large doors leading to the dungeons.
"Blacker than necromancy?" Minerva asked following Albus down into the dungeon corridors.
"Who is to say, truly, what is black and what is white? Can there not be a gray area where the best of intentions, when mingled with jaded appetites and overarching ambition, often result in the most horrific of consequences."
"Albus, your tone and subject matter worry me."
"I have lived a long time, Minerva. I have learned not to judge anyone too harshly lest I be the one judged."
They reached an area of the dungeons warded from student and faculty access. Albus changed the wards to accept Minerva. Together, wands ablaze, they stepped down a short series of steps to the lowest levels of the castle.
"What does this gray art have to do with the Baron?"
"The practice of the art cost him his mortal life."
"Indeed? I had always thought he was consigned to his ghostly existence because of an unforgivable crime."
"If it is a crime of unspeakable magnitude to dabble with the natural order of things, then, yes, the Baron Antoine de Neuvilette did commit such a crime." Albus stopped his explanation. They could hear the Baron's wails echoing in the corridor.
"In Merlin's name, what did he do?"
"It is best that you hear it from him, Minerva." Albus' eyes were sad. "All I will say is that he did what he did for the best of reasons. I cannot find it in me to condemn him outright."
"What reason is worth his life, his very soul?"
"Can you not think of one?" They had reached the door to the small room. Emanating from inside were the sounds of fists hitting wood repeatedly. "What would drive you to commit a heinous crime?"
Minerva was thoughtful for a moment absorbing all that Albus had said. "Love. Only love."
"Yes." Albus glanced at Minerva beside him. "The baron paid the price with few regrets but it seems that there is more yet to mete out."
Dumbledore said the incantation to unlock the door. As the door opened, the wailing and violence stopped. Baron Antoine de Neuvilette, now a whole man of flesh and blood, stared at the headmaster and his deputy.
Suddenly, the baron fell to his knees nearly at their feet. His voice was hoarse as he pleaded, "Headmaster, Professor, you m-m-must help me ... help me to die once and for all."