~ Chapter II ~
The Hidden Mansion in London’s Heart
It was in a strangely uncomfortable fashion that the young lady replied to my question; a pause, a nervous glance from my face to that of my friend, and a quiet: “Yes, they didn’t hit us.”
I wondered what it was that made her so nervous – surely she couldn’t suppose that she and her two friends were in any danger from Sherlock Holmes and I. But only I nodded in response, and started towards the waitress, who lay in an undignified heap by the door where she had fallen.
“She’s not hurt.” said the girl, whose voice was clear and precise, but gentle.
Having not the faintest idea what they had used to knock her out however, I bent down to examine her anyway. True to the girl’s word, she could have been sleeping.
Behind me, Sherlock was addressing her: “I appreciate your attempt to shield us, young lady.” he said. “But you should have realized that your shield would work both ways and John’s own ricocheting bullet would be more likely to do him long term injury than most ‘spells’ this unpleasant gentleman would be likely to cast.”
“Wait! But you’re a muggle!” exclaimed the red-head. “How do you …”
“Ah, you see, I have been devoting some attention to your secret society of late. Your invisible world is indeed difficult to see, but, truth be told, not quite invisible; any more than, you,” here he looked towards the invisible owner of the floating hand “my alert young fellow, are.”
The girl’s face suddenly changed, the nervousness was superseded by a look of excitement.
“You – you’re Mr. Sherlock Holmes, aren’t you?” she said. “I thought you looked like the photographs but I wasn’t sure!”
“You have the advantage of me, Ma’am. That is indeed my name, but I do not know yours.”
With a delighted smile she held out a slim white hand. “I’m Hermione Granger.” she said. “It’s such an honour to meet you, Sir. And you must be his friend Dr. Watson? I …”
“Hermione,” said the red-head, looking confused and a bit worried, “what …”
“Hermione, who are they?” asked the invisible boy.
“Am I the only one who ever reads anything in the muggle news?” she asked in a tone of ancient disbelief.
“Yup.” said the red-head.
“I only read the muggle news to see if there’s something big going on when I can’t talk to wizards.” said the invisible one.
She sighed and rolled her eyes, and I seemed to glimpse years of such interchanges behind the gestures. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes is only the greatest criminal detective of our age!” she explained, a bit shortly. “He’s not a wizard but I would have thought you would at least have heard of him.”
“Well, how does he know about us?!” asked the red-head.
“I would suppose,” she said with some asperity, “that it probably has something to do with the fact he’s a great criminal detective now when there’s so many …” She broke off.
“I have been looking into this little noticed segment of our island’s population since the unfortunate murder of Ms. Amelia Bones.” said Sherlock. “ And I know something of your organization and customs. For instance, I am aware that your next intended step is to cover your tracks by erasing the recent memories of myself and Dr. Watson. I don’t recommend you that try that, Miss Granger.”
I now saw that this was what had made her uncomfortable; she had been trying to figure out how to go about erasing our memories. I could see from her reaction to Sherlock’s comment that she had not expected him to know this, and was further embarrassed by his knowledge.
“Why not?” she asked finally.
“Firstly, it would be ineffective. You could not remove my knowledge of your people through mere destruction of my short term memory. You would have to go much farther back, which would not only be disastrous for my overall mind, but, on account of my profession, would also seriously compromise the outcome of several trials now headed for the courtroom. Your behaviour would suggest that you are too conscientious a young lady to effect such a compromise. Secondly, we are armed. And not about to let you just take our memories.” (Actually, only I was armed, and the nudge he gave me suggested that he thought my current demeanour insufficiently formidable.) “Thirdly, I’ve already contacted my brother in the muggle government on the situation. He is naturally discreet, and under my management the information about this evening’s events can be kept under control. But if I suddenly forget all about the matter you have just opened not a loophole, but a floodgate of investigation into your secret society. Fourthly, I believe that we desire the same goal at the moment, and our mutual cooperation would be greatly advantageous to both parties.”
The invisible boy took off his hood. I must have been unconsciously expecting a fantastic figure to be hidden beneath the remarkable garment, for I was surprised to see the face of a very ordinary looking boy emerge; light freckled skin, dark messy hair, features that had not lost their childishness yet, big vivid green eyes partially obscured with a pair of large, round glasses – the only remarkable thing about his appearance was a jagged scar, cutting straight down the centre of his forehead. He looked at Sherlock Holmes and me with open suspicion. I was too absorbed in wondering what terrible misfortune had given him that mark to feel much annoyance.
“What goal?” he asked.
“The destruction of the terrorist organization within the ranks of your secret society and the removal from power of its murderous leader, Mr. Riddle.” replied my friend.
At these words, the three children were flung into a something of a flurry. They wound up scampering off to the far side of the room for a whispered consultation of some kind. I noticed that they still kept their eyes on us, and did not put their weapons down.
In spite of these not entirely friendly precautions, Sherlock seemed extremely pleased by the proceedings, and he chuckled and rubbed his hands with together great satisfaction.
“Sherlock, what exactly are we doing?” I asked.
“This is it, John! This is precisely what I needed. I’ve been trying to figure this society’s workings primarily from the outside. But these children, they are inside! … By the way, a word of warning – their choices of words are extremely odd.”
“Yes, I noticed. They really call themselves wizards?”
“Yes, but don’t allow that to make you think that the matter isn’t a very serious one indeed.”
“But are you sure you can trust them? They wanted to knock us out and take our memories. And what if they actually are with Riddle? Aren’t you taking quite a chance?”
“They’re not with Riddle. And of course they wanted to knock us out and take our memories, that’s what wizards do when muggles stumble into their secrets. And of course I’m taking a chance. It’s too excellent a one to pass up! … You don’t have to stay though, if you’d rather not. They’d obviously want to erase your memory of the evening before you leave.” He hesitated. “It seems to be a perfectly safe procedure, medically speaking, assuming you don’t mind someone stealing things out of your head …”
“No, of course I’m not leaving.”
He smiled. “I knew you weren’t. … If you are coming, I wouldn’t count on getting home tonight. Better let Mary know. In the interests of diplomacy, make no mention of the wizards at the moment. Just tell her that the Bones and Burbage cases have turned out to be linked, and we’re following a scent while it’s still warm.”
As I had been accustomed to being away overnight from time to time while working with Sherlock Holmes on his cases, this would not come as a great surprise to my wife; though I knew she would be after a more thorough explanation when I got back. She was on a late shift that night and by the time I had gotten through to her at work, the trio had returned.
From their manner, it looked as though Miss Granger had just won an argument. She said that they couldn’t discuss the matter here and asked Mr. Holmes if he could return with them to a hiding place where they could speak freely, to which Sherlock readily agreed. And she asked me if I was going to accompany them. The two boys required further persuasion (or rather brow beating) from the her before assenting to even the temporary accompaniment of a second ‘muggle’. But between Sherlock’s insistence that he would require my help, and Miss Granger’s insistence that they could not afford to pass up his, they agreed, if reluctantly. I more than half suspected it was only to avoid staying here any longer. It occurred to me that in spite of their apparent acquiescence, memory wipes had not been ruled out yet.
They set things in order before we left. Their unassuming little ‘wands’ were more than weapons. They were also tools of the most extraordinary nature. I watched in amazement as the shattered glass flew back up into the empty panes, sealing back together without a seam, and as the cracked tables smoothed back over, the Formica melding till it looked as though it had never been broken. Having followed Sherlock Holmes in his cases for many years, I was no stranger to the remarkable, even to the marvellous. Yet I could scarcely bring myself to credit the evidence of my eyes. And I thought to myself that whatever technology the children were using to accomplish this, it was greatly under utilized. When, in but a few minutes, the café stood as it had been before any of us entered, save for the sleeping waitress and the slumped over gangsters, I found myself greatly wishing that I knew how to do this.
The two gangsters were propped back up in their booth, the waitress set in a chair in the back, and all three were subjected to the memory wipe which Sherlock and I had so far avoided. Sherlock had offered to ask Mycroft to have the gangsters arrested on charge of assault and hold them secretly until the matter of Riddle was handled. The three children refused this, apparently thinking that handing ‘wizards’ over to ‘muggles’ was letting the secret get out too far. Sherlock did not argue the matter, but I saw him texting away while the memory wipe was being done, and I suspected that someone was going to show up soon anyway. After the children had finished with them Sherlock went over and quietly pocketed their weapons.
Less than a quarter of an hour had passed since the fight when the five of us slipped out through the café’s back door and went hurrying along the dark streets. Had it been just Sherlock and I, we would have taken a cab, but for all five of us to travel by cab we would have had to split up. And none of us wanted to do this (I do believe that every one of us had a different set of reasons). Had it just been the three children, they would have teleported, but it appeared that they were uncertain about teleporting with passengers. I wasn’t sorry for that, since I felt that I should like to know a bit more about this ‘apparating’, as they called it, before I tried it out.
On foot the journey took some time, but it was not yet midnight when Miss Granger turned to us and said that she thought it would be better if our eyes were closed, and asked us to finish the journey being led by them. I rather feared a trap of some kind, in spite of the difficulty I felt in ascribing any kind of ill motives to the earnest, innocent looking young lady. But Sherlock seemed to have no such worries; he immediately took the hand she held out to him and shut his eyes. So I took the red-head’s hand, and was led forward in the dark.
We crossed an empty road, and from the sound and the movement of the air, entered an open square. Whether because of the lateness of the night, or the little-frequented nature of the place, I could discern no sound or vibration suggesting that there was anyone else nearby. We crossed a strip of lawn, went up a paved walk and climbed a short flight of steps. I heard the rattle of a lock and the creaking of a large, heavy door, and I smelled the cold, musty air drifting from the recess beyond. I now felt even more disinclined to comply with this arrangement, and hesitated on the threshold when the boy would have gone in. But hearing Sherlock’s voice ahead of me, already inside the cold cavernous place beyond the door (strangely hushed it seemed), I followed them inside.
At a soft word from Miss Granger, I opened my eyes and found myself in a dark hallway. The scents of dust and mildew filled my nostrils. The heavy door slammed closed behind me, and I felt as if a trap had just sprung closed. A row of lamps spluttered into wavering light along the wall, revealing more of the dreary hall before us, and giving the place, it seemed to me, an even more unpleasant, repelling aspect than the cavern-like darkness of before had.
By the time we found ourselves upstairs in a dreary, ancient parlour, covered with dust, and smelling of untold years of quiet decay, my view of the situation had shifted from criminal investigation to haunted house ride. Even if it hadn’t been for the booby-traps that were sprung upon us as we went down the hallway (screaming pictures, creepy recorded voices, and a remarkable fake ghost) my initial reaction would still have increased instead of being dissipated as we proceeded into the house. Stagnant air, rotting tapestries, dark doorways that I felt no inclination to pass. A sense of dead grandeur hung over it all. It must once have been impressive. I could not imagine that it ever could have been beautiful. One felt that the darkness was not the ordinary darkness that comes to all houses at night, but a more solid, permanent thing – like the darkness far underground. We learned that this ancient mansion was in fact legally owned by the dark-haired boy, who had recently inherited it from his godfather, one Sirius Black. A glance at his face as he said this intimated that he liked the place – if possible – even less than I did. But the three children thought it possible that we would not be pursued here. Sherlock knit his brows and looked unconvinced. I gathered that the booby-traps downstairs had entirely failed to impress him.
“Now, Mr. Holmes” said Miss Granger as we settled onto the dusty sofas and armchairs, “you’ve been investigating some of Voldemort’s recent crimes?”
“That I can remember, I have never heard the name ‘Voldemort’ before. ‘Flight from death’? Odd name. But if by ‘Voldemort’ you mean the leader of the terrorist group, the son of Thomas Riddle, and the man who murdered Amelia Bones, then yes, I have been.”
“Then you understand it’s not simply a matter of him being a simple murderer you could just arrest?”
“From my knowledge of the situation, he could be described as crime-boss, terrorist-organizer, gangster, race-supremacist, warlord, mad-scientist, and would-be-dictator. I know he has a large organization of fighters, a range of technologies which I am unfamiliar with, acts mostly under the radar, and has – tonight – carried out an act of open warfare, possibly a coup of sorts, here in London. If the matter could be dealt with as simply as telling Scotland Yard to arrest him and laying out my evidence before a jury, then the whole matter would have been dealt with long ago. I have spent months trying to put the puzzle pieces of your hidden world together, the innocent ones as well as the criminal ones. And I do not know where he currently is, where his base of operations is, how best to apprehend him, what would remain of his dangerous organization with him gone, or whether imprisonment in the custody of the ordinary British police would be anything like sufficient to stop him. I am missing many puzzle pieces yet.” And he looked keenly at her over the tips of his fingers.
“Well,” she said, “we don’t know all of those things either. And handing him over to the Muggle police would be a dreadful idea! He must be handled by wizards…”
“From what I understand of his capabilities, I must agree with you.”
“And yes,” she continued, “I suppose it was a coup. His forces attacked the ministry of magic just an hour ago.”
“And defeated the government forces.”
“They did.” She was looking at the floor.
“Riddle’s gang is in definite possession of the government headquarters then?” asked Sherlock.
“Yes, we have a friend who only just got out alive. The minister of magic was killed and the ministry itself is fallen.”
Sherlock nodded thoughtfully. “To what extent do you expect this will cripple the legitimate law-enforcement arm of your society?”
The three children looked at each other.
Sherlock leaned forward. “The battle in London cannot have wiped out the entirety of your government’s organization. What elements are left? To whom does the responsibility of apprehending the criminal fall?”
“Well,” said Hermione, “remember, we’re not talking about an ordinary Muggle style arrest.”
“I use the term ‘apprehend’ in a broad fashion.”
“We’re talking another battle, Mr. Holmes.” she said, her white face very earnest. “I don’t know what our forces look like at the moment; I don’t think anyone knows that tonight. Voldemort will have placed many of the important survivors under … a form of enchantment. I don’t know who and what’s left free. But we can’t try to attack him yet anyway. He has … protections, of a sort. You wouldn’t understand. And before we can directly engage him we must …”
“Hermione!” exclaimed the dark-haired boy. He was looking at her in apparent shock.
Without appearing to have noticed, my friend continued the girl’s sentence.
“Before we engage him we must remove these ‘protections’.”
“Yes.” she said.
Sherlock nodded, as though he understood her quite well.
“Do you mean ‘we’ as a generalization or as a specific?” he asked in businesslike tones.
She looked uncertainly towards her friends.
“Ah.” said Sherlock. “You do mean we. … A bit young to be taking on the leader of an opposing force by yourselves, aren’t you?”
The dark-haired boy, glanced side-ways at my friend and spoke in an under-tone to the girl.
“Hermione, how much are you planning on telling him? You’ve already gone too far! We can’t tell him about …”
“Why?” said Sherlock. “You are seeking a way to stop Riddle. So am I. I can be of assistance to you.”
The dark-haired boy went on: “Hermione, I promised Dumbledore I wouldn’t tell anyone but you and Ron. We can’t just tell some muggle because you’ve read about him in the papers! Better we muddle on by ourselves than let word get out to Voldemort.” He turned squarely to face Sherlock. “I’m sorry, Mr. Holmes. But I don’t think I can tell you.”
And I could see that he really was sorry. He seemed to think he was resisting a temptation. But it was infuriating, to have a mere boy say he knew a way to destroy the crime-lord, but was neither sure how to go about it nor would accept help.
“I appreciate the offer,” he continued, “but I really can’t accept. And, no offence, but we’re going to have to obliviate you. It won’t hurt.”
“Oh, I’ve been obliviated.” said Sherlock casually. “But – Dumbledore gave a teenager information on how to destroy a terrorist leader and forbade him to tell any adults?”
“We’re all of age!” said the red-head (who was apparently Ron). “I’ve been seventeen for months!”
“But you’re still young … few … uncertain. People are dying; both Muggles and Wizards. We’ve just been discussing how this has gone beyond mere criminal activity into actual warfare. You understand the situation perfectly well. You ran into hiding this very evening to avoid being captured by the enemy forces in control of the ministry. If you have information which will help bring Riddle to justice, you have to act now. If you aren’t sure how to proceed then you are duty bound to get assistance. … Let me assist. If it is the secrecy of your community that worries you – I’m not interested in a big exposure. I’m interested in stopping the murders, stopping the terrorism, and restoring order both in your nation and in mine. Your secret nation may be your business. But when it starts breaking English laws and attacking ordinary English citizens, it becomes my business. And about secrets getting to Riddle’s ear – I can keep them better you have yourself. If you weren’t going to accept my help in your secret mission against Riddle, Mr. Potter, you should never have told me that you had one. But you have been telling me this whole time.”
For a minute there was quiet. Then Miss Granger spoke.
“Harry, Dumbledore didn’t foresee this! He wanted you to keep the number of people small so the secret wouldn’t get out! This is just two more. People come from all over Europe to ask Mr. Holmes’s assistance! If you want only three then you’d do better to obliviate me, and take him instead!”
Harry seemed to be teetering. He leaned over and whispered something in her ear.
“Is his name written on his clothing?” I asked Sherlock quietly.
“Inside of his collar. H.J. Potter. I saw it when he bent over and put his head in his hands. He must have worn those robes at school.”
“Well, not one hundred percent!” exclaimed Miss Granger, responding to whatever Harry had been saying. “But I can’t imagine any good reason why not!” Then, with a sigh, she whispered something back. There was a long moment while Harry thought her words over.
“All right.” he finally said.
“Wait,” said Ron, “we’re letting a muggle in?”
“Two muggles.” said Sherlock, looking at me. “Anything that you can say to me, you can say also to Dr. Watson. You still have no objection to being involved in so outrageous and out-of-order an affair as a civil war among the nation’s wizards, have you, John?”
“No.” I said, greatly intrigued. “And of course I would keep secret anything revealed in confidence. Although, I’m not sure I can be of much help in an affair of that sort.”
“I assure you, you can be.” said Sherlock. “Yes, two muggles.”
To my surprise, Harry J. Potter made no objection to this. He nodded, took a breath, and despite the doubt that still haunted his eyes, he took the plunge.
“We don’t really have a plan. But before Voldemort can be fought there’s … things that must be done. If we, or any other wizards, try to take him, we have to assume that it’s a fight to the death. The team sent to ‘arrest’ him is either going to kill him or be killed by him. And that can’t happen right now. I mean … him being killed can’t.”
“What things must be done?” asked Sherlock.
“It’s difficult to explain to a Muggle …”
“Well,” I interjected, “remember he has been researching you for nearly a year.”
“What must be done?” Sherlock repeated.
“Before the first time he tried to seize power, he set up some … sort of safeguards … to prevent him being killed.”
“What do you mean safeguards?”
“Powerful magic objects …” said Harry slowly. To my surprise, Sherlock made no comment on the boy’s use of vocabulary. He half caught my eye with a subtly amused expression, as if he found their terminology entertaining and was inviting me to join the joke, but had no intention of challenging the terminology of these ‘wizards’. He was clearly more interested what to do about it than what they called it.
“Dark magic.” Harry continued. “They’re called horcruxes. He broke off pieces of his soul and attached them to certain objects” (Sherlock’s brows contracted) “protected with powerful spells. When he should have been killed, sixteen years ago, he wasn’t. He came back.”
“He sort of … regenerated.”
“Regenerated?” I said. “Like Doctor Who?”
Everyone in the room (including Sherlock) looked questioningly at me.
“Doctor who?” asked Ron.
“Ah, no one. No one. Go on.”