Prelude: Of Hallows and Hollows
"Would you like to see your mother and father again? Together, we can bring them back. All I ask is for something in return...that's it, Harry. There is no good and evil. There is only power, and those who choose to seek it.
Together, we will do extraordinary things. Just give me the stone."
-Voldemort, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Film)
Barnaby Barnes was startled awake. He had been having the most lovely dream, one filled with elegant prose, lost love, and revenge. Yet his rival had all but taken the emerald green goblet to his lips when Barnaby's dream was replaced by the sight of a frightened elf.
"Beasy, wha' in merlin's name is wrong?" He groaned, bleary eyed.
The little house-elf was a dreadful sight, trembling terribly and chattering her teeth even through the late July heat. This wasn't unusual for the anxious creature, Barnaby had found that she was always afraid of one thing or another, but she didn't typically dare to enter his cottage at night, electing instead to sleep on her little cot outside.
"Mr. Barnaby, sir, it's the cemetery sir, oh! It's so dreadful!" His ears perked up at this. He had lived a comfortable, if underwhelming life as the cemetery's caretaker. It was a position he had inherited from his father, who inherited it from his father before him. The family cottage sat across from the graves, as it had done for centuries.
Having been raised across from the tombs, Barnaby didn't fear the dead. In fact, even found his grim little cottage peaceful. But the creatures that came with it could be a real nuisance.
"It's no' the gnomes again, is it? We've barely had a moment's peace-"
"No, sir, not them-oh it's so terrible sir-"
"Poltergeists, then? You needn't wake me for tha'."
"Come and see, sir, it's the graves, sir! Unearthed they is. There is, there is-people there." Her eyes bugged wide, as if expecting him to jump up in a similarly hysterical state. He elected to roll his eyes, instead.
"Unearthed? Sweet merlin, Beasy, you had me concerned. It's jus' the gnomes. They can wait until the morn."
"No sir, they is not gnomes, they is people!"
People? Now that had Barnaby's attention. Godric's Hollow had become a place of political contention after the fall of You-Know-Who. Once the Potters were buried, the stream of journalists had never seemed to end, with a pile of flowers so high on Lily Potter's grave, one would have thought she was Princess Di, herself.
But when the trampling of tourists and well-wishers had died down, they were replaced with attention of a malicious sort. Now that had been an annoyance. His reputation could have been destroyed if word of it had gotten out. At first, flowers had been tossed or burned. Then, the stones themselves were damaged, no doubt by followers of the dark lord that had escaped Azkaban by some means or another. One time, someone had managed to come up with a sort of graffiti spell that was damn near impossible to erase. Barnaby had to reach out to a curse-breaker for that one.
But each time, he had managed to address the problem before the media got wind of it, and each time, he had maintained the integrity of the family name. And he would be damned if today would be the day he slipped, overly hysterical house-elf or not.
He sighed deeply, grabbing his coat as he faltered with his shoes. Beasy placed them helpfully at his feet, looking back frantically towards the front door. While still groggy, Barnaby could now make out the distant bellows of ghosts and poltergeists. Most ghosts elected to haunt their homes, but the more lonely ones roamed about their graves with nowhere else to go. And Merlin, were they gossips. The dead tell no tales, be damned. With so little to do, any sort of uproar was likely to stir them up.
"I'm comin', I'm comin'. As needy as a new pup, you lot are." He grumbled, digging his wand out of his pocket.
As soon as the iron door swung open, Beasy darted behind him, clutching his calf desperately. He rolled his eyes and trudged onward into the fog.
On nights like this, he regretted his vocation. He had always dreamed of being a poet. In fact, the funeral lot records usually had some sort of iambic pentameter scribbled on the side. But there was a higher demand for caretakers than poets, especially in the magical world, so here he was, shuffling through midnight fog with a terrified house-elf clutching his leg.
"Hullo?" He offered into the fog, albeit it rather grumpily. "Who goes there?"
The bellows paused, and, like dogs coming to report a squirrel to their master, the ghosts began to swarm. Most drifted away as soon as they came, their short-term memory causing them to forget the subject of their alarm as soon as they had left it, but two or three of the fully formed ones circled him, nearly as hysterical as Beasy.
"You should have seen it-"
"He had some sort of ring-"
"It was so warm!"
"I hadn't felt warmth in ages-"
"Centuries, for me-"
"And it shone! Like a lighthouse, it was! So, so beautiful-"
"Enough!" Barnaby growled, his voice rumbling over those of the undead. All but one seemed to shrink away, the braver ghost crossing his arms in unamused contempt. "Stop yer yammerin' and tell me what this is abou'." Barnaby continued. "Is the fellow still here?"
"He's not only here," the ghost smirked, glaring at the caretaker. "He's dead."
Much to the ghost's delight, Barnaby stopped in his tracks, baffled.
"What do you mean, he's dead? He's one of you?"
"No, Barnes." The arrogant ghost seethed, pausing for dramatic effect. "He convulsed after using the ruddy ring. See for yourself." The ghost extended an arm theatrically, the more skittish ghosts beginning to float that way.
The normally stoic Barnaby Barnes suddenly found himself not wanting to take even a single step forward, to not even breathe, but he wasn't about to let that pompous arse get the best of him. He strode forward, as fast as one does with an elf dragging at your heel, and muttered a lumos to pierce through the fog ahead. He had barely crossed the first few rows before he swore.
They were leading him to the Potter graves. And there was someone, someone very much alive, shuffling there in the distance.
Damn that pompous, good for nothing, arrogant excuse for a ghost. If he wasn't already dead, Barnaby would have rattled his neck for putting him in this situation. Dead, his arse. He was tempted to have Beasy send for aurors, but if this was just another vandal, one leak or another would cause the affair to be the subject of Rita Skeeter's next article. And Barnaby was not going to let that happen.
Barnaby extended his wand, walking quietly as one can with an escort of screeching ghosts and a trembling elf at your heels. The figure miraculously didn't seem to notice, instead focused on…...digging?
Barnes found an indescribable anger bubbling within him. This wasn't mere vandalism. There was a deeper meaning to bodies being dug up in the magical community. Especially for graves as notable as the Potters. This wasn't just grave desecration, this was the dark arts.
"Lily!" The figure yelled, clawing at the earth with his bare hands. The closer Barnaby drew, the filthier the wizard became. He was covered front head to toe in mud, and as the fog dispelled, Barnaby could see why. The man was attempting to dig up Lily Potter….and James Potter's grave was already sloppily dug up, the coffin's lid busted wide open. "Lily! I'm here! Dammit, I'm here!"
"Stupefy!" Barnes uttered, but the other man had fast reflexes, rolling to the side as the spell slid past him. The man clasped his own wand desperately, holding it out towards Barnaby with great difficulty. He wavered as he stood, as if weak, and scrunched his eyes as if struggling to see the threat in the distance.
"Who's there?!" The man cried, his wand-hand shaking. His voice almost sounded like a cross between a sob and a plea, and it occurred to Barnes that the man really was practically blind.
"I shou' be askin' you the same question." Barnaby growled, circling the man. "I shou' put you down like the dog you are, disturbin' their graves like tha'."
"Their...their…?" The man asked in disbelief, widening his once scrunched eyes. Messy hair, drenched in mud, clung to his skin as the wizard began to giggle, half in hysteria, half in a sob. He was a madman, Barnaby reasoned, clenching his wand tighter.
The man managed to control himself, slumping as he did so. "Please. You have to help me. She's trapped down there. I have my wand, but she-she mustn't. I can't get her out, not by myself. My magic, I'm so drained, I can't-"
"Lily Potter's right where she needs to be, laddie. Now, I'll need ye to come with me-"
"No! Just listen!"
"Just bloody listen, for merlin's sake! Can't you hear her?" The man was desperate now, struggling to stand as he begged. Mad, indeed. But perhaps not ill-intended. Something besides the dark arts sort, at least.
"Look, mate, I know you mean wel-" And that's when Barnaby heard it. A distant, muffled, but notably feminine scream.
A ghost's shriek has a different resonance to it than someone who's alive. It's not something the average witch or wizard would notice, but after years of his work, Barnaby knew well enough to recognize it. In fact, he knew the individual bellows and shrieks of his graveyard by ear. This wasn't one he recognized, and more importantly, it wasn't a scream of a ghost at all.
"People, sir." Beasy whispered. "They is people."
The scream was followed with several thuds, the distant sound of echoing wood. It was then that Barnaby noticed the scratch marks in the dug up coffin, the blackened scorch of a spell against its hinges. James Potter's coffin hadn't been opened from the outside, but the inside.
Barnes slowly turned to face the man, swallowing hard as he pictured him in glasses.
"Wha'….what's your name, lad?"
"James." The figure breathed desperately. "Now help me save my wife, please."
Barnaby had seen many things in his lifetime. He had seen the most beautiful of women bloated with their eyes bulging out, he had even spelled his own father's eyes shut all those years ago. And it was all normal to him. In fact, Barnaby Barnes supposed he was rather thick skinned. What would traumatize most people rolled off of him like water.
But he'd be damned if he didn't admit that for a moment, just a moment, he was absolutely baffled about what to do.
Instincts took over, and he did what the muddied man couldn't. He flicked his wrist, muttering a spell he had muttered a thousand times. The ground shook, almost two cubic meters of wet soil levitating eerily in front of Lily Potter's grave. He flicked his wrist again, the soil sloppily tossing itself to the side, and to his frustration, the casket along with it. A muffled scream sounded.
"Dammit." Barnaby muttered, rushing over to the casket. "Sorry, not used to a casket being in the groun' when I cast tha'." But James didn't seem to hear him, instead rushing over to the tossed casket.
"Alohamora!" Barnaby uttered, the casket's hinges blasting open. Barnaby stared at the sight, not sure what else he was expecting. Inside, a young red-headed woman sat up, her temple bruised and fingers bloodied. Scratchmarks lined the inside of the coffin door. Lily Potter.
Barnaby had attended their funeral. He had only been an assistant at the time, but he distinctly remembered it being a closed-casket. While the details of that night were never known, witnesses in Godric Hollow swore there had been an explosion. James Potters' body had remained intact, but Lily's….her face and body had been burned, not beyond recognition, but certainly beyond anything a glamour spell could hide.
Yet, the terrified woman before him looked exactly like photos published in the papers of when she had been alive and well.
"James." She rasped in surprise, as if equally surprised that the muddy man before them was alive. The couple embraced one another desperately, falling to the sodden ground as they did so. She was trembling, not only in shock, Barnaby realized, but in the same weak manner as James.
A slow, horrible realization came over Barnaby Barnes, and he let out a deep sigh, turning to the house-elf behind him.
"Beasy?" He asked, not certain he wanted to ask what he was about to ask. She looked at him with wide eyes, waiting.
"Yes, Mr. Barnes sir?"
"Send for the aurors. Tell them it's a matter of life and death, but they best be discrete if they know what's good for 'em."
She nodded rapidly, and disappearing with a pop, left Barnes alone with the two recently risen Potters.
While the couple seemed like they would never stop embracing, whispering one thing or another to each other, Lily finally turned to Barnes, looking around as something hit her.
"Where's Harry?" She asked in horror, her voice cracking. Barnaby blinked at the two.
"Er….wha's the last thing you remember?"
"We were attacked. Voldemort was there. He had….I swore, I thought he had killed you." She whispered, looking at her husband. "And I grabbed Harry, and I tried to apparate, but the wards….they must have put wards up…."
The night You-Know-Who was defeated. That's what she was remembering.
"We….we're in a graveyard, Lily. That's where we are. They….he hit me with the killing curse. I heard it. I remember it. We….we died, didn't we? That's why he's looking at us like we're both loony." The gears in James' mind were turning as he faced Barnes, looking for answers.
Barnes didn't even have answers for loved ones grieving for the dead, nevertheless the dead grieving for their lives.
"Well, aren't you going to tell them?" The flippant ghost floated forward. Barnes had the instinct to swing a punch at him, stopping before he made a fool of himself.
"You." Barnaby growled, his tempted wrist shaking. The smirk on the ghost's face just grew wider. Barnaby could see the other apparitions watching, heads cocked, in the distance. Damned gossips.
"Shame on you. Spinnin' yarns when you knew perfectly well wha' was waitin' for me."
"I wasn't spinning anything." The arrogant ghost retorted, crossing his arms. The other ghosts circled, chiming in.
"He didn't lie. He really didn't."
"It was the man in the turbin-"
"And that marvelous ring of his-"
"Shame he didn't come back as one of us, we could have asked him where he got it-"
"WHAT MAN!" Barnes bellowed, tired of their ramblings. The arrogant ghost rolled his eyes, pointing to just beyond the Potter graves.
"Thick as the fog, you are. Right over there."
Barnes walked past the newly exposed coffins, recasting a lumos to see what the ghosts were on about. He heard at least one of the Potters stumbling in an attempt to follow him. To Barnaby's surprise, the ghosts weren't lying. There, just around the corner, a body lay limp on the soil, its arm outstretched and the man's face still contorted in pain. An unwrapped headwrap was caught on a nearby bush, revealing the back of the wizard's head to be deformed and grotesque.
"Did you know him?" He turned to the Potters. Both of them shook their heads, baffled.
"No….no, I don't. Do you?"
"No. Why would….did he die to bring us back?"
"Perhaps he didn't do it willingly." Barnaby murmured thoughtfully.
"Most people don't die willingly." The arrogant ghost bemoaned, circling the body. "I should know. Poisoned goblet, in my case. An end so tragic, I could have written a ballad about it. You know, if I were alive." He murmured, glaring at the caretaker. "They never figured out who did it, although I have a few ideas."
Barnaby swallowed uncomfortably, digging his hands in his pockets.
"Quit yer yappin', Browne. Do you have anything else to tell us? Or are you going to string us along until the aurors get here?"
The ghost of John Browne smiled a translucent smile, obviously happy with the turn of events. "Oh, nothing much. But there is one thing."
"The dead bloke wasn't alone; there was a boy with him. And-not just any boy." Browne paused dramatically, the fog growing thicker behind him.
"A boy with a lightning bolt scar."