Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeguard [VIII]



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~ Chapter VIII ~

Diagon Alley and Queen Anne Street


Mary woke me very late in the morning.

“Sherlock’s at the door, John. What should I tell him?”

“Unh? Oh. Tell him I’ll be right there.”

Mary must have coaxed Sherlock to come in, for when I came into the kitchen I found him at the table with her and little Shirley. He was even persuaded to accept her offer of breakfast. I thought he looked more haggard than when I saw him last. I had myself been getting most irregular and fitful sleep over the past couple of days, but the hollowness of my friend’s eyes spoke of wakefulness that taxed even his iron constitution, and troubles mere sleep couldn’t remedy. It looked as though the experimenting of the night before had not been very satisfactory. If it had, then he would be filled with the thrill of discovery, and would probably have forgotten he was tired.

“How late were you out last night?” I asked.

“Quarter after six or so.” said Sherlock.

Mary shook her head.

“In the morning?”

“Well, it wasn’t in the evening.”

“Did you get any sleep?” I asked.

“I believe so.”

Mary and I exchanged a glance.

“Any luck?” I thought that an innocuous enough question to get an idea of what had happened without giving away secrets.

“No.” said Sherlock, looking listlessly at his scrambled eggs. “We found nothing very helpful.”

I thought about what that meant. Sherlock Holmes had spent at least five hours in a laboratory with a little gold trinket, looking for some way to destroy it. A little gold trinket! He had at his disposal all number of destructive substances and equipment. Even if nothing had been sufficient to destroy it, surely something would have had a great enough effect upon it to be very helpful in figuring out what would destroy it. And yet he had found ‘nothing very helpful’?

I put down my fork with a clatter.

“How can that possibly be?!”

“There are still a few things which might work. But it seems more practical at this point to just use the same method as before.”

“So,” said Mary after a minute of searching our faces, “where are you two off to here?”

Sherlock turned and looked her in the face.

“Trust me, you don’t want in. Not this time.”

“Yes I do.”

“Believe her, she does.”

“No. Believe me. But if we live through it I’ll make sure you’re allowed to hear at least a part of the story.”

I rolled my eyes. “Sherlock.” I turned to Mary. “We’re fine. He was just … up too late last night.”

“Or morning rather.” she agreed.

“Mm.” said Sherlock. “Is it really nicer to pretend there’s no danger, John?”

“Well there’s always danger of some sort.”

“Yes. There is. But don’t worry, Mrs. Watson. I’m sure everything will be fine. … Is that what you wanted me to say, John? Because it won’t all be fine, you know?”

“What has gotten into you this morning?”

He dropped his eyes. “Well – we’d better be going! Thank-you for breakfast, Mary.”

It was a fine bright hot day, a little hazy, as hot days often are.

“Where are we off to, then?” I asked when we had gone a ways.

“Charing Cross. … Taxi!”

Since we could not discuss these matters in the hearing of a cabbie, this effectually put an end to any further discussion of the case until we got out, a few blocks from the Leaky Cauldron.

“Going to scout-out the bank today then?”

“Yes. You and I are going to accompany one of the Weasley twins in there on a routine deposit. And they’ve finally got ahold of Travers’ old address. It’s just off Diagon Alley, on a side street, not far from the bank. I don’t believe that Travers was ever given a horcrux, but Riddle did commit a politically relevant murder there. So we’re going to take a quick run through. We can fit in a few other places, then the bank. Harry has offered to lend you his invisibility cloak before we go in there – no point in having more people visible than necessary.”

I thought of that invisibility cloak, the silvery, watery, mist-like ripples which disappeared when draped across an object. The silken texture and the airy lightness. It was a precious item, beautiful and amazing and inexpressibly useful. I was both thrilled and a bit uneasy at the notion of being lent something so wonderful and irreplaceable.

Wonderful and irreplaceable …

“Sherlock … your research last night. It didn’t throw any light on … on what’s wrong with Harry, did it?”

He shook his head. “No. It didn’t really throw light on anything at all.”

“Really, tell me how that works. It’s a little piece of hollow gold.”

“No, it’s a great deal more than that.” said Sherlock.

“Well, just looking at it from a non-wizard perspective, you should have been able to cause very serious damage to it in the lab last night.”

“I could not dent it. I could not scratch it. I could not soften it. Something has been done to it, taking it beyond the durability that our science can readily explain. Now of course, just because I was unable to harm it last night, it does not mean that that no technology known to us could destroy it. I should be willing to wager very heavily against it surviving a nuclear explosion. … But just supposing that that didn’t work, the surface radioactivity would make experimenting on it rather more inconvenient. We might as well stick to the basilisk venom method. I’ve done a bit of research on basilisks through Hermione and it appears that the venom retains its potency for a very long period after death. So, it’s available, not unduly dangerous, and we know it actually works.”

“So, you think that it is really just a different technology?”

“Oh no, obviously not. At first I wasn’t certain whether it was just that their technology had been designed to only function for persons carrying a particular genetic trait, or whether that genetic trait actually allowed them to interact with their environment in an extraordinary way. But I have long been quite confident that it is the latter. They possess extra-normal abilities without their wands. The wands are only a tool. Like a paintbrush. The best artist can only do so much with finger-paint. Though I’m inclined to suspect that an overdependence on those tools has hampered their ability to work without them. Like most people’s night vision and sense of smell. They don’t cultivate it. What I don’t have any way of knowing precisely is how this genetic trait works, and whether it is a mutation, developing in different groups of ordinary humans, or whether it is the occasional expression of a distinct race, once separate, now somewhat mixed into the general population. … But perhaps you were asking whether or not Riddle actually is some sort of necromancer.”

His tone had suddenly become caustic and dreadfully sarcastic. I was nettled, but before I had decided whether to back-track or be angry with him, Sherlock had stopped, and was looking back.

“John, wait here.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Just wait for me.”

He swept briskly back around the corner. I saw him draw a page out of his notebook as he went.

He was back almost instantly.

“What was that about?”

He shrugged. “Could be nothing.”

“It’s never nothing.” I said.

The five teens were waiting for us a block away from the invisible pub. Fred and George were undisguised. They had no need to hide; pure-blood wizards, successful business owners … the only strike against them was that they were flagrant ‘blood traitors’. Ron and Hermione were both disguised as they had been before. Harry Potter could not be seen at all. I wasn’t sure where precisely he was until he spoke. I tried to greet him cheerfully, and not let the horrors on which I been theorizing spill over into my speech and manner.

As we went in the Travers’ rusty front gate, I noticed Sherlock’s eyes on the ground. He gestured to us to stay back and walked ahead, stooping low. He walked down the short path, up the steps, and to the door. He opened it.

“Wait.” said George. “You shouldn’t go in by yourself. Who knows what’s in there.

“Someone’s been here.” said Sherlock. “Within the last day or two.”

“What was he doing?” asked Harry.

“I’m not sure. … But he didn’t dally and look around. One man, carrying a heavy case or bag in his left hand. Reasonably long stride, but not broad in the shoulders – he walked up the steps without spoiling that spider-web. … Are there still any discernible marks on the road?” He scampered back past us to the road. “Hmph. Traffic has wiped it all out. Unless … Ah, no. Nothing to be learned there.” He hurried back up to the door. “Go ahead and come, but don’t run ahead of me.”

Slowly, we followed him in out of the sunshine, into the dark foyer. He pulled out a flashlight.

“What is the Wizarding equivalent of repair-men?” he asked.

“What?” said Fred.

“I mean, when a wizard wants a large repair job done might he hire a professional to assist? And what sort of tools might such a professional take? Would he use only his wand, or might he take more specific tools?”

“Oh. Well we’ve never hired a professional to do repairs around our place, but a place like this? Probably. And sure, they’d carry other tools.”

“In that case, I think it likely that Travers is planning on moving back in soon. A repairman has been here very recently.”

“In that case we’d better finish this quick.” said Harry. “The less time we spend here, the better. Why don’t we split up?”

“Very well.” said Sherlock. “One of the twins can come with me, and the other with John. Just remember we’re looking for either a jewelled headpiece or a golden goblet. I’ll take the basement, the garden, and outbuildings. The three of you can take the ground and first floor. Fred and John can take the second floor and the attic. And we can all meet up in the lane behind the house.”

It did look as if someone had been here recently and cleared some stuff away. Fred and I were looking for some time, through old bureaus and chests and perusing through bookshelves. Fred knew not why we needed the goblet and the diadem, just that we were looking for them or information on them.

We had searched our section pretty well, and were thinking of calling it good enough and heading for the alley. The last room at the end of the hall on the second floor had turned out to be almost completely bare, though more fallen apart than most rooms. Fred had stopped for a moment to look at the ceiling, where the plaster had fallen completely off, exposing the framing above, when the sounds of feet which had been going on for some time began sounding more distinctly in my ear. They were up to the same floor as us. I didn’t even have time to wonder why the trio was coming up, for in the same instant that I realized that the feet were upstairs, I realized that they did not belong to the trio.

Fred.” I said in an urgent whisper. “That’s not any of us.”

I stayed absolutely still, looking at the closed door into the corridor and listening with all my might; wondering if the footsteps might not stay away. Alas no. They were coming straight down the corridor towards us – at least four sets of heavy, booted feet. I heard Fred stepping forward. He was right behind me. Still in a whisper, I said:

“They’re coming he…”

A deafening bang sounded right in my ears. Something hit me, hard, in the small of the back. I started falling, over and over and over. My ears were filled with noises which I could not really hear. And lights were in my eyes but I could not really see. The evidence of my senses and sensations was beyond my ability to form into meaning, as I fell. In my utter confusion, I heard a small voice in my mind remarking calmly: He just shot me. This is dying.

I landed, surprisingly lightly, on a cupped, springy surface. There was the dropping away feeling of being suddenly pulled up into the air, and I found myself in a dark place – a dark, swinging hammock, high on both sides, almost coming together at the top. I realized that, though I had seemed to be falling for a long long time, all this had happened in little more than the blink of an eye. My senses were coming back. I was not dead. I was alive and lying on my back in the right hand pocket of Fred Weasley’s robe.

This, though of course a great relief, was in itself a rather alarming fact. True, I was alive, in no pain, and seemed to be unwounded, but under the ordinary course of events I shouldn’t be in Fred’s pocket. And even more disconcerting, in spite of my returning senses, I could not recognize the feeling of my own body. Something was very very wrong. I tentatively moved my right hand.

My cry of alarm turned into a high pitched squeal as it left my throat, frightening me almost as much as had the furry, be-clawed little paw which had inspired it. Realizations thundered close upon each others heels. I had paws, not hands, and sharp claws on my fingers. My face now stretched forward in a pointy little snout. All four of my limbs were stubby, with altered joints. My body was shortened, stubby like my limbs. My clothes seemed to be gone, and I was covered all over in strange, stiff, pointy bristles. Long whiskers, furry ears, and that pointy nose were bombarding me with all sorts of information that I wasn’t accustomed to getting and wasn’t translating into meaning. I had unconsciously rolled myself up into a tiny little ball, and was trying not to hyperventilate. I heard voices, a great many voices, and the top of the pocket was darkened as something else entered. A hand. It had to be a hand, but a hand almost as large as I was. It slipped underneath me (I must have poked it rather badly) and lifted me back up out of the pocket.

“I often take him with me to work.” I heard Fred’s voice say, somewhere far above my head. “He’s an excitable little fellow.” He lowered me to the ground and tipped me onto the dusty floor. “But I can’t think…”

“I don’t care about the hedgehog!” said a second voice. “What are you doing here?!”

“Working!” cried Fred, in a high-pitched voice which suggested to me that he was playing up the frightened thing on purpose. “I’m working! Aren’t I supposed to be? This is the Travers’s isn’t it?!”

I had gotten my bearings back. I knew well enough now what had happened. Just before the strangers had walked into the room, Fred had somehow transformed me into a hedgehog and slipped me into the roomy pocket of his purple robe. Now he was trying to convince them he was here on business, related to the repairman who’d come the day before.

Dust rose up all around me and I started to sneeze. My eyesight seemed dimmer than I was used to, and all the people high above my head seemed less distinct than I would have expected. The many pairs of large and heavy boots all around me seemed far more immediate and worrisome. My main thought was to move out of the way of careless feet. But from Fred’s words, I was supposed to be a pet he commonly took with him, who should therefore be taking this all in stride. I should act casual. But I wasn’t exactly sure what hedgehog casual was supposed to look like. I wasn’t even sure how to use my legs. Carefully, hoping that nobody was watching me (and they probably weren’t, they were too busy arguing with Fred) I took a few tottering steps forward on my stubby legs, then a few more, whereupon I grew confident enough to attempt a meandering gait away from the group of people. A cry and a flash startled me and I spun around, looking up. A horrifying sight met my eyes.

Fred was hanging in mid-air, dangling by one ankle. His wand seemed to be gone. His hands were occupied with keeping his fallen robes from his face.

“All right, what are you doing here, Weasley?!”

“Nothing! … Ow!”

I couldn’t see quite what had happened, but it seemed that the foremost man had thrown something at Fred.

“What are you doing here! Tell me or I’ll give you something to yelp about! If I decide to send you off to Azkaban for breaking into my house I can do it. Or if I decide that you never leave this house, I can do that too! Why are you here!”

I saw now the full extent of what Fred had done. A rush of gratitude filled my heart along with the terror for the young man hanging above me. By transforming me into a hedgehog, he had not only avoided the extremely suspicious problem of being discovered in company with a very obvious muggle, he had removed me almost completely from Travers’ notice or suspicion. What was a stupid little animal to be worthy of a second thought or glance? Now, by setting me down instead of returning me to his pocket, he had set me free of the situation entirely. Since they had seen me, and dismissed me as irrelevant, chances were they would never look my direction again. No shot intended for him would hit me. Nothing would stop me from meandering right out and joining the others in the lane.

But him … him they could do with as they pleased, and I could do nothing, nothing to stop them. I had brought a handgun in the hip-pocket of my trousers. But now I had not trousers, nor hip-pocket, nor handgun. I could as little hope to defeat a tower of steel with my fists, when in my ordinary state, as to do any harm to these wizards if I were to fly at them now. I could not even raise my voice in the young man’s defence. What would be the squealing of a hedgehog in the dust to such as these?

I could but hope that they would be convinced by Fred’s story. Since they had identified him he had dropped the repairman spiel, and was falling back on his actual profession; joke shop owner. Surely it was perfectly natural for the local joke shop owner to want to run through this old place before Mr. Brocklemore came and fixed it up, removing all the ‘wards’ and ‘jinxes’ and whatnot. It really sounded legitimate … it may very well have actually been legitimate. But the foremost man, who seemed to be Mr. Travers himself, was unappeased.

“A likely story!”

“Actually, it kind of is.” said one of his companions. “Have you ever been in their shop?”

“No, and I wouldn’t either, a bunch of wretched blood traitors like the Weasleys!”

“At least they’re pure-bloods, which sadly few of the nation’s wizards can claim.”

“That’s not good enough! I’ve a good mind to rid the Wizarding world of you right here and now! What do you have to say to that?!”

“Just one thing – I’ve always been very fascinated by the world of the African Masai … Yow!”

“Travers, didn’t you say that you would meet Crabbe in the Leaky Cauldron at one-thirty?”

There was a pause.

“Yes, I did.” Travers raised his wand again.

I bit my tongue to keep myself from crying out in terror and fury and started forward, but it transpired that Travers did not in fact have actually lethal intentions.

Fred hit the ground head first and crumpled. For a terrible moment I was afraid that the shock had broken his neck. But as I ran over to him he moved and sat up.

“Think yourself lucky that you’re getting out of this with your life, Weasley! And if I find you snooping around my place EVER again, I think I just WILL be stopping by your little shop! … Now get out of here!”

Fred scrambled to his feet, snatching up both me and his wand as he did so. The scene disappeared as I was tucked back into his pocket, but they seemed to have thrown something or other at him as he left the room. I felt him rush down the stairs and out of the house. He did not stop until he had gone out of the front gate and a little ways down the road. Then he stopped, breathing hard and leaning against the wall on the side of the road. The top of the pocket was pulled open and I saw his face above me.

“You all right in there?” he asked, in the small voice people often use with their pets. It may be imagined that I was in no position to resent this. He had, almost certainly, just saved my life. And for all either of us knew, we were still being watched or followed. I tried to answer yes to his question, thinking that if I perhaps tried hard enough, knowing a little more than I had about the current state of my throat and lips, I might perhaps be able to make some semblance of the word. But no. All that came out was a sort of huffing noise. Fred seemed to understand anyway.

“I think you better say in there for the moment, okay? … Good. We’ll fix you up here shortly.”

Because he had gone out the front of the house and down the road, there was a somewhat longer walk to get to the lane in which we were supposed to meet. The walk seemed longer than it should have been even under those circumstances however, and I wondered if Fred was taking a circuitous route on purpose.

“Where is John?”

The voice of Sherlock Holmes, speaking from some yards off, alerted me to the fact that we had reached the rendezvous point. Fred seemed to have stopped.

Where is John?” Sherlock repeated.

“He’s here.” said Fred in a would-be conciliatory, but slightly mischievous voice. I wondered if he was trying to find a way to turn this into a joke. But the tone of Sherlock’s reply was not one to encourage prolongation of a jest.

“The road is dusty here. Footsteps show quite distinctly. If he had walked round that corner, I would know it. He has not! Where is he?”

Fred’s hand slipped into the pocket with me.

“No, really. He is here.”

I was pulled out into the light again. Across a broad chasm of air there stood the monumental figure of my friend. His blue robes fell down to a dizzying depth, and in spite of the intervening space I had to look far up to see his giant face, high high above me. For the briefest of moments he looked down at me with puzzlement in his face. Then his eyes became very wide.

“John?”

The best answer I was able give him was a sort of squeak with two notes. I trust he knew they stood for the two syllables of his name.

He flashed his gaze from me to Fred.

“Ahhhh, don’t worry.” said Fred, starting to lower me towards the ground. “I can put him back.”

He set me on the dusty cobblestones and stood up.

“What on earth happened?” I heard Ron’s voice say.

“We uh, ran into a bit of trouble. Hedgehogs aren’t as politically vulnerable as muggles.”

“That’s John Watson?” said Hermione in a tone of astonishment. “Fred, that’s a really remarkable bit of transfiguration!”

“I’ve been able to do this kind of thing since I was seven years old! … Er, well, not usually on humans, but, uh this sort of thing. … Now, Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson is fine. This’ll just take a minute. He’ll be as good as …”

A scream echoed off the distant walls. It’s very sound turned my blood to ice. Looking up in my terror I saw the faces of Ron and Hermione. Their faces had fallen and tensed at the sound. They knew only that it was the cry of a woman in pain – doubtless one of the many poor souls suffering under Death Eater rule. Their manner suggested indignant acquiescence, passive sorrow for some unknown unfortunate. They did not know that voice, that voice …. But I did.

It was my Mary.

I was never conscious of turning around or deciding to try out these silly short legs again. The next thing I knew I was skittering over the cobblestones towards the sound faster than I would have thought those limbs could be capable of.

“Doctor! Stop! Come back!” screamed Fred.

“John, wait! I heard her.” called Sherlock.

I turned around to see the others catching up with me.

“What’s going on?” asked the invisible Harry.

“That was Mrs. Watson screaming.” said Sherlock. “She must have followed us.”

I heard a rush of youthful feet. Above me, Sherlock stooped – it was like the mountain bending down – and scooped me up in his enormous hands. Then he too began to run. I wish I could have seen the seven of us flying down the lane; the identical Weasley twins racing neck and neck ahead, Sherlock Holmes in his tall lavender hat and long blue robes sprinting behind them, holding little prickly me out before him in both hands, and the younger trio running behind, one bearded, one bespectacled, one invisible, trying to consult as they sped on. These latter details I found out afterwards. All I could see at the time was the back of the twins heads as they ran.

We left the little lane and ran out into the main course of Diagon Alley. The twins had already disappeared into the crowd of people gathered in the street. Among the myriads of fantastically dressed people, I could not see she for whom I sought. Sherlock, whose eyes were looking out over the crowd from a difference of several feet from mine, seemed better able to tell than I and began forcing his way through the crowd, his large hands cupped around me. I heard her voice again now; speech, not screaming, indignant, breathless speech.

“No! I deny the charge! Insofar as I understand it I deny it! I was looking for some friends and I didn’t even know what this place was!”

“Liar!”

We broke through the crowd. An open circle had formed, a circle that muttered in some places and jeered in others. In its centre I saw dark robes and tall figures, all gigantic and indistinct. Sherlock halted at the edge of the crowd, doubtless to take stock of the situation. Then I saw her, looking to my eyes little more than a splotch of coral pink and denim blue against the sooty blacks.

“Your kind are the bane of Britain’s Wizarding world!” a deep and loud voice cried. “Fouling the pure blood of our noble race. Here at last we have a prime example of the infiltration your kind have been practising upon us!”

“I walked down a street!…”

“Caught in the very act of breaking into our shops and homes to steal the power which is not yours!” continued the voice, threat and scorn in every syllable. “A muggle, a common dirty muggle, still wearing the uncouth garb of your kind and stinking of your common hovel, trespassing upon the ancient places of the wizards. How glad the Ministry of Magic will be to have caught one red-hand…”

“Oi!”

Sherlock was jostled as someone pushed passed him into the circle. It was Ron.

“That there’s my Aunt!” he cried.

“What?!” said somebody.

“My Aunt Mary! I was going to meet her back at the Leaky Cauldron! What’re you doing to her!?”

“If she’s your Aunt, where is her wand?!”

“She hasn’t got one, you numbskull! If my squib uncle wants to marry a muggle that’s his business isn’t it?!”

“A squib uncle and a muggle aunt! What kind of filth are you?!”

I’m a pure-blood and I’ll thank you to let go of her!”

“Oh no. She’s been caught trying to steal a wand! We’re going to take her to the Ministry.” said yet another voice.

“Steal a wand? What the bloody hell would she even want a wand for? And you were just pointing out how she hasn’t got one. You weren’t trying to find a wand, were you, Aunt Mary?”

“No!” I heard her say. “I certainly wasn’t. The thought never occurred to me, I assure you. I was looking for the lot of you.”

“Yeah. So there. Lay off, you.”

“Do you know who I am?!” said the first speaker, stepping forwards toward Ron. Everyone looked enormous to me now. And Ron was a tall young fellow. But the man seemed to tower over him, a great black colossus. There was a very tiny sound, like an almost inaudible groan, but Ron didn’t budge. Instead he said:

“Nope. And I don’t care either. Last I heard, it wasn’t illegal to be a muggle.”

“But it’s illegal for muggles to usurp the rights of wizards! I’m Albert Runcorn from the Ministry of Magic, and I’ll be taking your wretched aunt back there for questioning.”

Ron moved and I thought he’d drawn his wand. Sherlock quickly transferred me to the crook of his left arm. I heard a low, soft voice beside us.

“Don’t, the gun will identify you and make things worse.”

Hermione stepped out into the circle too.

“Oh please!” she said, in a very appealing and apologetic tone. “Let’s not fight over this. I suppose it was a mistake for us to bring her around, but we won’t do it again! And you’ve hurt her! You didn’t need to hurt her!”

“She burnt out the eyes of several ministry officials! Besides which she had the temerity to punch Senior Under-secretary Umbridge in the face!”

You attacked me.” said Mary indignantly.

“Yes, you just frightened her. Now do let her go, Mr. Runcorn!” said Hermione.

“Bloody hell, man.” said Ron, sounding a little bit strained. “Are you gonna let her go, or are we gonna have to make you?”

Runcorn laughed. “Make me? Two stupid young blood-traitors make us hand over a prisoner?”

“No.” said Sherlock, stepping out into the circle. “Three.” He had in his hand not a pistol, but a wand.

“Let’s not make this that hard though. People have been bringing muggle relatives to Diagon Alley without incident for years. You might as well give them some time to transition. I did advise her against coming for this very reason, Mr. Runcorn, but do not feel any obligation to prove me right about the stupidity of the current bureaucracy.”

Runcorn stood up a little taller and straighter.

“All right, the three of you have five seconds to drop your wands and surrender. One. Two…”

Stupefy!

There was brilliant flash of red light, and Albert Runcorn toppled like a felled tree.

I knew the spell must have been cast by Harry Potter from a high ledge beside the road. But the cluster of ministry officials didn’t seem to. For a moment they stared at us across the motionless figure in the dust.

Vwoom! Bang! There was roar and something big and fiery and rather reminiscent of a Chinese dragon flew past us and dive-bombed the crowd of Ministry officials. There was instant chaos. People were screaming. People were running. There seemed to be explosions going off. Ron and Hermione seemed to have actually started fighting those officials who were not already running. The wind had suddenly picked up. The noises of the crowd were odd. Some were definitely frightened, but unless my ears deceived me, others were cheering. Something big and electric blue whizzed or rolled past me through the air, and then blew up surprisingly close – the explosions were some kind of fireworks. I had lost track of Mary. She seemed to have disappeared. She probably had. So I forgot about my eyes, and listened.

If, as a hedgehog, my eyes were dimmer than they had been, my ears were keener. Sounds bombarded them from every side. I could hear the explosions, and the shrieks, and the whoops, and the sounds of feet, and Hermione’s voice casting spells, and Sherlock’s heart beating inches away from me, and his neck creaking as he craned it around; he too must have missed the moment when she was chameleonized and snatched away. And lower, and more distant, I heard a muffled sound – a woman’s voice, a hand over a mouth, the frantic strugglings of a restrained but undefeated creature.

With a spring I was out of Sherlock’s arm and landing roughly upon the cobblestones. I ran as fast as I could manage, dashing between giant boots with only the memory of a sound to guide me, hoping that Sherlock would get it and come along. He did. Of course he did. As he came after me, he must have seen what the press of people had blocked before. Mere transparency wasn’t enough to hide something from him. He dashed overhead and disappeared into the storm.

With the relief of knowing that Sherlock had located her and was pursuing, I suddenly awakened to the difficulty of my own position. Robe hems swirled overhead. Boots crashed on every side. The sounds bombarded me like physical blows. Chaos reigned. I lost every plan except that of avoiding being stepped on. The crowd was thinner than it had been, as if a portion of them had thought it sensible to retreat, but I wasn’t sure whether the remainder were quarrelling, running away very incompetently, or dancing happily about enjoying the spectacle of the Ministry officials being attacked by the fireworks. Someone side-swiped me and I went tumbling painfully along the ground. Far away, I heard Harry’s high, boyish voice:

“Accio hedgehog!”

I was swept from my feet. I was flying; zooming above the heads of the crowd without understanding or control. I caught a glimpse of Sherlock, his loaded riding crop raised high over his head, heavy handle foremost. And then I felt the silken folds of the invisibility cloak envelop me. I was staring through a thick pane of glass into an enormous, brilliant green eye.

“Dr. Watson?”

I nodded vigorously.

“We’re getting out of here.” There was a rather confused moment where Harry seemed to be invisibly rushing and wriggling through the crowd. “Sherlock!”

“No! I’ve got to find John! He was right–”

“Here!” And I was shoved from Harry’s hands to Sherlock’s. Fireworks were still going off.

Somehow or other the whole group seemed to have collected, and we rushed back through the Leaky Cauldron and out onto Charing Cross Road. The commonplace sounds of a busy London street filled my ears, the smells of car exhaust, sun-warmed asphalt, and fast-food filled my nose. I couldn’t see Mary but Ron seemed to have something by the hand. We turned off the street into an alley. Ron tapped the person whose hand he had been holding on the head, and Mary appeared. She was flushed, with anger or exertion, but stood straight and seemed in perfect possession of herself. A great ugly purple welt ran down her face.

“Where’s John?” she said urgently. “I saw you with a group of people and thought he…”

Sherlock raised me up towards her.

“… Sherlock, you have got to be kidding me.”

“No.” said Sherlock. “Look at him.”

She looked back at me.

“Oh. my. goodness. John, are you … Who did this to him!?”

“Ah. That would be me.” I heard Fred say.

You? Why? He can be cured?!”

“Yes! Yes, he can. I was going to, but I was kind of, uh, distracted. … You probably ought to set him down first. There now. Now, Mrs. Watson, there’s virtually no risk. This’ll just take a second.”

“Fred,” I heard Hermione say, “do you want me to…”

“No I got it.”

Roaring filled my ears and my mind. This time I knew vaguely what was to happen, but I was still caught in bewilderment. I have no words to adequately describe what happened. What I experienced was so far removed from every other experience that I have ever felt that even if there were words to describe it, I would not know to connect them to it. The best I can do is to say that it was slightly like being caught in a mighty stream of water, surging, speeding, carrying you on, will you or nil you, at incredible speeds. There was no actual pain. But the sensation of being hurled, completely in defiance of your own will, was terrifying. A minute later I was standing, panting, on two legs, and the world was beginning to take its normal shape again. Sherlock was on one side of me, Mary on the other. They seemed to think that I might not be able to stand properly and were supporting me and asking me if I was all right.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Mary, that looks terrible!”

“Is that when you cried out?” asked Sherlock.

“Ah, no. That was something else. There was quite a number of them, you know. … Thanks, guys.” she said.

“You should’ve listened to me.” said Sherlock reprovingly, as I examined the mark running down her face. “I wouldn’t have said that if I didn’t mean it.”

“That was what you were doing then,” I said, remembering that morning when Sherlock had stopped and walked back, “you were giving her a warning note.”

“Exactly.” said Sherlock.

“So I thought I’d just be very careful and avoid trouble.” said Mary. “What is this? An occupied country?”

“Yes.” replied Sherlock. “That’s exactly what it is. You had no business …”

“I had every business. My husband had gotten involved in something dangerous and troubling which he couldn’t tell me about because of a promise. Of course I decided to find out myself.”

“Of course.”

“Well, I have to say, I wish you hadn’t.” I interrupted. “I don’t know how they made this, it is truly dreadful.”

“Oh, let me help.” said Hermione. “It was a fairly simple hex.”

“And, in Mrs. Watson’s defence,” George chimed in cheerfully, “she did give Mr. Crabbe one of the swellest black eyes I’ve ever seen! And that silly official said you hit Umbridge too?! She must have run off. I didn’t see her.”

“I hit several people, I don’t know their names.”

“Woo hoo!” exclaimed Fred, hi-fiving her and George at the same.

“Was it you two who set off those fireworks?” she asked.

“Yep!” said Fred. “Designed, crafted, let off, and directed by yours trulies.”

“Well they were fantastic.”

The twins bowed.

“They did look amazing, I wish I could have seen them better.” I mentioned.

“We’ll sell you some!” offered George.

“You know technically,” said Fred, assuming a very pretentious ‘proper’ voice, “I don’t think we’re supposed to sell magic fireworks to muggles.”

They laughed.

“I wonder if those other guys have figured out the counter-curse for that burning spray of yours yet.” Fred mused happily.

“Water.” supplied Mary.

“Ooooh.” said the twins together. “They’ll never think of that!”

Hermione’s salve worked wonders. If it were not for the marvels I had already been privy to, I should scarcely have been willing to credit the testimony of my senses, as before my eyes Mary’s wound shrunk, smoothed, and half sealed over.

“Hermione, I want to know more about this stuff.” I said.

“Ah … Maybe later. Do you have any other injuries, Mrs. Watson?”

“Not really, just bruising. They did take my bag.”

For a moment, these words flowed past my ears as just words, then their meaning hit me.

“Mary, your bag with your wallet and letters and everything in it?!”

“Yes … Oh!” She let out a gasp as she too realized the implications of this. “Shirley!”

Even with the short delay necessary to explain teleportation to Mary, less than a minute had passed before I was rushing up to my own door. Pat Wilkins, a sweet-natured, pudgy girl of fifteen, nearly took to flight with the child in her arms at the sight of the bizarre crowd rushing into the kitchen before she realized that it wasn’t a mob of mad burglars. She was dismissed with her fee and the admonition to come nowhere near our place for the immediate future. Just for good measure (to make sure that random visitors didn’t run into trouble) Hermione worked up a warning sign and put it on the front door. Sherlock hurried over to the desk, taking the Ron and Harry with him, and busied himself and them doing something with our papers and computer – laying a false trail I guessed. I dropped in on the neighbours and warned them that our place might be burgled by some very dangerous people. Mary snatched up a few things. In under ten minutes we were all gone from the building. Until such a time as the rule of law would be restored in the English Wizarding society, my wife, my daughter, and I could not go home again.

Chapter 9 ~ The Bank and the Broomstick ~>

This non-commercial, derivative work is an independent production by Charlotte Ann Kent and is not associated with The Doyle Estate, the BBC, Warner Bros, or J.K. Rowling. 
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Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeguard [VII]


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Chapter VII ~ The Darkness Thickens


In spite of hesitancy that had possessed him on the evening of the second of August, Mr. Sherlock Holmes had plunged into the task of tracking down Thomas Riddle’s safeguards with an energy which I usually associated with moments of crisis. But then, perhaps no case so critical had ever been put into his hands. I knew, for I had seen, that he had been hired by several heads of state on businesses of ‘international importance’. He had exposed the continent’s largest crime-ring and dismantled its command structure. But never before, to my knowledge, had he attempted to reverse a military coup.

The urgency of the matter impressed me ever more deeply the further we got into it; the spate of murders, political and recreational (terrible phrase), the danger to life and liberty being faced by those wizards who (like Hermione Granger) were born of muggle parents, the fact that Wizarding interference in muggle affairs was a very real possibility if they stuck to their strengths of secrecy and mind-control, and the revolting situation that a portion of what should have been free England was under a tyranny, were all very immediate dangers. Every day mattered. Every day might be paid in blood.

Up till now Sherlock had been balancing his Wizarding investigations with his consulting work. Now everything but the Wizarding case was dropped. The rest could be picked up later. He had asked Hermione to investigate Riddle’s history, but they did it together. The two of them poured over recent criminal histories – both Wizarding and muggle, and historical accounts of Wizarding events and sites, anything which Riddle, in his twisted, prideful view of the world, might have considered momentous.

Fred and George Weasley had gotten all but one of the ex-addresses of the Death Eaters which Sherlock had asked for through their father by the evening of the third of August – that of the Lestranges’ house, which was currently unoccupied, and those of the Averys’ and the Dolohovs’, which had relatives living in them. They brought back a lengthy response to Hermione from Mr. Shacklebolt at the same time. This letter pleased Sherlock immensely, for it was wonderfully detailed. No impressions and half remembered notions. Lots of good hard facts with dates and addresses, presented with a thorough understanding of context. He seemed to recognize some of the cases, and I guessed that a few wild theories of his had just been vindicated.

The shop that the trio suspected, Borgin & Burke’s, was searched through, twice. The first time in daylight under the guise of being ordinary customers doing some very in-depth window shopping. The second after closing time, which was even more in-depth. The ancient Lestrange mansion was scoured over. We visited several odd, out-of-the-way corners which Sherlock and Hermione thought had thought sufficiently important to merit investigation. We found nothing; no horcruxes, and no indications suggesting anywhere else they might be. The idea that the Lestranges had hidden one in Gringotts had grown on the children. And in view of the immense respect that the wizards had for Gringotts, Sherlock seemed to be relaxing his ‘too obvious’ views a bit.

And Sherlock still – there was little enough time, I don’t know how he managed it – was going through that terrible book Hermione had lent him at an alarming rate. He seemed to be carrying it around with him so that if he had a moment he would pull it out and read. My initial response of strong distaste towards the volume had increased into a kind of fear, though I don’t suppose I had a clear reason. I happened to be standing right behind him once when he opened it. It was handwritten like a medieval manuscript; it may have actually been one. I wondered that the crumbling pages could still survive being turned. The hand was a hard one. The black lines were like assaults upon the paper. Somehow the very illumination of the capitals seemed an obscenity. I caught no full sentence in my brief glimpse, but I caught words.

A few days before I would have said that there was no such thing as witchcraft. When I met the three youths, I treated their strange vocabulary as merely an extremely odd way of referring to what was clearly just a strange form of technology; peculiar certainly, but quite innocent. And regarding the three, I still felt the same. The fact that they clearly believed themselves to posses innate abilities of some kind as well complicated the matter somewhat. But that inclusion in their secret society might be based on carrying a particular genetic trait, and that their technology might take advantage of that trait in some manner, was not unthinkable. All their illusions, teleportation, blasting rods, invisibility cloaks, and remarkable capabilities in matters of forming, shaping, and fixing matter seemed morally harmless. I could not see that the things which they were doing were in any way intrinsically evil; certainly not any way in which they could be connected to the demonic. It was a different technology – not too different in many ways from what I could see on the science-fiction channel.

But when it came to Riddle, I felt differently. Felt, true, not thought. But somehow I could not label him merely, as Sherlock had done, ‘mad-scientist’. I could not look upon ‘Secrets of the Darkest Art’ – that hideous volume which gentle Hermione held in such utter abhorrence and which my friend was so voraciously studying – and think only that the science in it was being put to vile uses. It was not only more sinister, but a different kind of sinister. Strange that a contemporary terrorist and small-time dictator should have inspired such notions, but Riddle did. Strange that I, who have always considered myself to be a pragmatic, level-headed person, should have entertained them. But whatever the reality of the situation was, and though I shrank from putting it into words even to myself, Riddle had become, in my mind, a sorcerer, and ‘Secrets of the Darkest Art’ a book of – in the old, dark sense of the word – witchcraft. And I wanted Sherlock to get rid of it. I didn’t directly say that, but I did ask him if it was really necessary to read it. Didn’t we know enough to go on? “Ignorance does not know itself, John.” he replied. “If I am overlooking a vital piece of information, I will overlook the the fact that I am overlooking it.” And he didn’t put the book down.

And he still didn’t say what it was that had him worried about Harry Potter. Since his admission to me that he had some secret knowledge, not another word on the subject had crossed his lips. Several times I had thought that he was going to tell me. But then his mouth would close, his eyes would drop to the ground, and he would turn away. He would then either shut-up entirely, or begin talking very fast on an unrelated subject. From a confidence built of long experience, I trusted my friend to reveal this information at the right time, or to forever conceal it if it was better off concealed. But it bothered me. It bothered me greatly.

I myself had been alarmed by the severity of the pain in Harry’s old wound. It had clearly been a bad injury and was an unusual case. I had asked Ron and Hermione about the scar on his brow.

“Gee, I keep forgetting you’re a muggle and don’t know stuff like that.” Ron said. “I knew about that scar ever since I was little. That’s where You-know-who’s curse hit him.”

I received from them a rather more lengthy and dramatic version of the tale of Harry’s infant encounter with Riddle. His father James had died fighting valiantly, albeit fruitlessly. His mother’s protective spell had been cast as she flung herself into the path of a ‘curse’ meant for Harry. The second curse had hit him, and according to all the rules, Harry should have died. Every single person hit by that curse had died instantly, every single one – except for Harry. Whatever it was that Lily had done, as she sacrificed her life for her son’s, overrode the ordinary rules. The shot glanced off the infant’s forehead leaving only that jagged red line behind. Apparently it had never been a real wound. It was even, in the ordinary sense, not a scar at all. It was a mark, the same on the day it was inflicted as it was sixteen years later. They called it the lightning scar.

Since the injury had been inflicted by a mechanism of which I was completely ignorant, causing symptoms which I had never seen before, I was hardly in a position to say anything particularly helpful on the subject. When Harry said that there wasn’t anything to worry about, he was in a better position than I to say. But I didn’t really believe him anyway. If nothing else, episodes of incapacitating pain such as I had witnessed were not only a problem in view of the personal suffering involved, but in view of the dangers of becoming suddenly incapacitated. If such a fit came over him while operating a motor vehicle, for instance, the results could be catastrophic. Moreover, pain is nature’s warning signal; a sign of something dreadfully wrong.

I also knew that he was in very great danger of being taken by Death Eaters, or Wizarding government officials, or even just unscrupulous wizards hoping to earn a reward. ‘Undesirable Number One’ were the words on the wanted posters. I knew a very small mistake on his part could result in capture and an ugly death.

Yet neither of these real and pressing dangers to the boy seemed as though they could be what caused Sherlock Holmes to behave as he did. He had guessed at the danger Harry was facing before he’d ever seen his face. A chronic health problem, however unpleasant in itself, would certainly be considered of secondary importance at such a critical moment. And both of these were common knowledge.

I thought it strange that in this case – where he was being unwontedly liberal with information – I was disturbed in a way that I had never previously been about that which he was keeping hidden. For I never had seen Sherlock so open in his plans and his theories as he was now. He was of a very secretive nature, with a somewhat intemperate delight in the dramatic. It was his habit to never reveal his whole plan or everything that he knew or guessed to anyone, not even to me, until the denouement of a case. But in this instance he was not acting as a private detective, hired to get to the bottom of the matter on his own by his own methods. Rather, he had been reluctantly accepted into a group that was already acting upon the problem. The situation by its nature forced him to to act with them, telling them clearly what he knew and openly explaining his plans in full detail. It was strange to me, and a source of some entertainment, to see him sit about a kitchen table with the three teenagers, propounding his theories and strategies in such unmysterious entirety.

A total of three different expeditions were made to the house of Dolores Umbridge, the woman who’d taken the locket from Fletcher; four if you count the fact that Fred and George Weasley went and checked it out themselves just to make sure that it was indeed the correct address before they passed it on to us. While Hermione and Ron were in Diagon Alley, checking on the hidden camera (which revealed that Bellatrix Lestrange had been in and out of Gringotts bank not once but thrice since the coup), Sherlock, Harry, and I went on a reconnaissance mission. Then, later on in the day, the five of us went ahead and searched it.

There did not seem to be any alarm systems, and none of the neighbours were in a position to see our entry, so we got into the house safely without being seen or setting off any alarms at one o’clock in the afternoon, which left us plenty of time to examine the house at our leisure before Ms. Umbridge would return. But after several hours of fruitless search, we were forced to come to the conclusion that the big gold locket engraved with an S was not to be found at her home. We knew that it might well be on her person; it would be no strange thing for a woman to wear a necklace to work. But the nasty thought that it might have passed on to someone else occurred to us.

We returned that night. We waited in the garden while some late-night guests meandered away. Finally, some time after the last light had turned out and the house had clearly retired, Harry, Hermione, and Sherlock entered the house a second time, while Ron and I stayed in the garden to give the alarm should anyone show up. The plan was for them to quietly locate the locket, create a replica of it so Ms. Umbridge wouldn’t realize it was gone (Hermione was very good at that sort of thing), and then leave without anybody ever realizing we’d been there. But either they triggered a night alarm of some kind, or Ms. Umbridge was still awake and listening. We heard cries and bangings from the upper floor. A moment later there was a noise rather like firecrackers, and from my vantage point among the pink peonies, off to the left of the porch, I saw a group of cloaked figures rush up the front walk.

“Six at the front door!” I hissed at Ron, who stood opposite the bedroom window.

The front door slammed with a bang. My orders had been merely to alert, and not to fight, but now that it was too late to do anything I felt as if I should have hindered their entrance in some way. I bolted round the side of the house to join Ron, who had just signalled the three upstairs.

Sherlock Holmes appeared at the window. For a moment I was confused, then I realized that he was tearing out the screen. For a moment the window was empty again. I thought I heard Sherlock’s voice, lifted momentarily with impatience. Then Harry jumped over the sill, and was in the air. I saw the glitter of gold swinging from his fist. Then he was gone; teleported. Sherlock appeared again. He made a sweeping motion with his hand. The meaning was clear; ‘Go’.

Ron grabbed my hand, but made no move to run or teleport. He stood stock still, staring up at the window. His hand was cold and sweaty in spite of the warmth of the night. I could not hear the sound of feet, but I knew the cloaked figures must be upstairs by now. I could see Sherlock, near the window. From his posture I thought his gun was drawn and trained on the door. Hermione was still invisible in the depths of the room. For several terrible seconds we waited, staring up at the window.

Sherlock vaulted over the sill and plummeted towards the hollyhocks.

I heard Ron hastily whisper something, but if it was an incantation to slow Sherlock’s fall, I scarcely think there could have been time for it to have an effect. Fortunately, the window was but one story off the ground and it was ornamental grasses and soft earth below, besides which, Sherlock was somewhat skilled in matters of jumping. Hermione followed immediately behind him. They leapt to their feet in the garden. The bedroom above filled with a burst of red light and much crashing as the door came down. I saw them reach for each others’ hands.

“Come on.” said Ron, and twisted away from me. Just before the strange blackness of teleportation slammed down over I heard not one, but two cracks, almost simultaneously. There should have been only one, for Sherlock could not teleport himself. But I had no time to wonder at it, for we were being crushed, and twisted, and suffocated in the lightless limbo. It seemed worse than it had before. I felt as though I was being torn in two. Then, just when I thought I must break, we were out.

Strangely it was still dark and suffocating. There seemed to be a whole crowd of people squished onto the one top step. Ron and I would have been unsteady on our feet in any case. And the step just couldn’t fit that many people. And so, predictably, we all lost our balance and tumbled down onto the side-walk, where we lay in a tangled pile of limbs and groans, and I vowed to myself that never ever again would I consent to teleport with Ronald Weasley.

Sherlock was already back on his feet, and I expected to hear him snap at Ron and me for not having gone when he told us to. (And I for one was perfectly prepared to agree with him.) But he did not. Instead, in a voice of mildly veiled sarcasm, he said:

“Good evening. Are you looking for something in particular? Or are you just sightseeing?”

I looked up. We had fallen outside the ‘enchantment’ boundary. Sherlock Holmes stood over us, his tall, spare form drawn up to its full height and his hand grasping something half out of his jacket pocket. Two men stood in the road-way, staring. The garish light of the street lamps turned the folds of their cloaks to orange, and painted their faces, marred in every lineament with scorn and vicious passions, a ghastly, inhuman hue. Evidently they had been taken by surprise by the suddenness and indignity of our entry out of thin air; otherwise they would have acted more quickly. Even as I saw them, their hands moved for the wands on their belts.

Sherlock’s hand swung upwards in response. I struggled hastily to reach the pocket where I’d stowed my weapon.

“Expelliarmus!”

The men stumbled, clutching fruitlessly after weapons which had flown from their grasps. In the moment they looked away from him, Sherlock leaped forwards and caught the one on the side of the head with the butt of his pistol. The other fell, apparently due to a number of spells cast by the teens.

Harry walked out of the blue, their wands in his left hand.

“What happened?” he asked.

“We all tried to apparate onto the step at the same time.” explained Hermione.

“What happened, up there?” I asked. “With Ms. Umbridge?”

“We had to stun her.” said Hermione. “She’ll be okay.” (Ron snorted and mumbled something about ‘sick’ under his breath.) “She won’t remember any of it tomorrow, and I got the replica done, so no one should know why we were there.” She looked down at the unconscious men on the pavement.

“Are they Death Eaters?” I asked.

“Well, they were hanging out watching the house and were going to attack us, so yeah, probably.” said Ron.

Sherlock bent down and pulled aside the right sleeve of one of the men.

“Ah, Sherlock, it would be on the left.” Hermione said.

So he pulled aside the left sleeve. On the man’s forearm was a large, ugly red scar. When I looked closer, I saw that it was a brand. An image of a skull and a snake had been burned into his skin.

“That’s the dark mark.” said Harry. “They are Death Eaters.”

“Oh! What are we going to do with them?” said Hermione.

“Well, first things first.” said Ron, and pulled something out of his pocket.

One of the street lights went out.

I thought nothing of it; street lamps sometimes did, especially in run-down neighbourhoods like this.

Then a second went out. A third.

I immediately jumped to what I still think was the very reasonable conclusion that the disappearing lights heralded the approach of some unknown menace.

“What is doing that?!” I cried, drawing my weapon.

“Oh! Sorry, that was me.” said Ron, holding up the item he’d taken from his pocket. It looked like a small cigarette lighter. He clicked it. Light suddenly whooshed out of it and flew back into the street lamp; he clicked it again and the light disappeared.

“Well stop clicking it on and off.” said Harry. “That sort of defeats the purpose.”

“Oh. Right.” Click. Click. Click. We were left in darkness.

Lumos.” A pale light glowed at the tip of Harry’s wand. “We’ll have to just obliviate them like we did Rowle and Dolohov.”

“My offer does still stand.” pointed out Sherlock.

“Yes, I know.” said Harry. “But putting them in muggle custody is just asking for trouble.”

“Then can I have those?” Sherlock indicated their wands, which were still clutched in Harry’s left hand.

Harry handed them to him.

“What do want with them?”

“This.”

And with a sudden movement, his knuckles turning white in the effort, he snapped them both in two.

“I’m not giving them back their weapons. Now, Harry, why did you go back?”

“Oh, that’s what that noise was.” said Ron.

“To make sure you all got away, of course!” said Harry.

“You shouldn’t have done so unless we failed to appear within a reasonable time period. You were supposed to get the item safely away from there.”

“I did! I didn’t bring it back with me.”

“Where is it now, then?”

When went back through the boundary, Creature was standing silhouetted against the lighted doorway, the locket hanging from his fist.

That it was indeed the right locket was in no doubt. Harry recognized it, and so did Creature. That it was still a horcrux, safeguarding Riddle’s life, that it had not yet been destroyed, was easily ascertainable. Even I, holding the large, cold, golden ellipse in my hand, could tell that something was not quite normal about it, not quite right. And the more knowledgeable Hermione was quite certain of the fact.

Sherlock Holmes then inadvertently gained the shock and ire of the three by quite innocently asking them whether they could do the ‘avada kedavra curse’. He knew only that it had been named in the book that Hermione had given him as something which would sometimes destroy horcruxes. But it turned out to be a forbidden spell among most decent wizards. It was a favourite weapon of the Death Eaters – the killing curse. It had left that mark on Harry’s forehead. It was the curse which had struck down Amelia Bones – that deadly weapon which killed but left no trace, and left the police all in confusion.

Neither Sherlock nor I quite understood how the potential to be lethal made a weapon unusable. We were, after all, hunting these things down with the intention of killing a man. Whatever there was about it which made it more evil than a gun I did not learn. But the children would not hear of it being used. And, what made the point moot in this situation, they couldn’t do it.

Then, clearly not content with merely shocking them, Sherlock also asked them to lend him the horcrux for the night. He wanted to see what muggle technology could tell us about it, and asked Harry if he could take it down to the lab, promising to bring it back by morning. Harry was extremely hesitant to agree to this. There was a brief flash where Harry’s initial suspicion of Sherlock, and Sherlock’s initial irritation with Harry – both surprisingly dormant for the past two days – seemed in danger of seriously flaring up again.

But the moment passed. Perhaps Harry remembered it was in part due to Sherlock that he had the locket in his hand at that moment anyway. Perhaps he felt ashamed of showing such open distrust of a companion who he had been given no reason to doubt and much reason to have confidence in. But he wiped the look off his face and turned to Sherlock with a great deal of reasonableness.

“All right. I suppose … what you said earlier about two heads and two technologies … it does make sense to see what muggle technology makes of a horcrux. I’ll come with you.”

Something about this speech seemed to strike Sherlock. It seemed to carry some meaning for him beyond what Harry obviously meant. But when he finally spoke it was merely to say, in perfect equanimity, that the proposed arrangement would suit him quite well.

He and Harry left, taking the locket and the invisibility cloak with them, and leaving a warning that they might not be back for some time. Ron and Hermione, though very happy, were yawning so much they were having a hard time seeing, and bade me good night almost immediately.

I followed their example, for the last several days had been long ones, and I was as weary as they. Like them, I was exhilarated by our capture of the horcrux. But the secret Sherlock was keeping concealed damped it somewhat. From his pause, I was certain that what Harry had said touched in some way upon it. But how could it? They were talking about horcruxes. And that couldn’t relate to a secret about Harry – could it?

My inclination to instantly discount anything which would associate that youth and these abominable contraptions – which even if they were not, as the children said, made by black magic were at least stained with blood and crafted with evil intentions – was not the result of evidence, but of instinctual horror, and as such I knew it was not justified as an argument. And thinking about Sherlock’s behaviour, it did seem to me that he was making some sort of an association between them. I thought of the strange way he had looked at Harry just now, while they were discussing the horcrux. I thought, ominously, of how he had at the start of our hunt asked Harry to be very careful in deciding to hunt horcruxes, of how he had asked him to choose between the hunt and his very life, to choose as if the choice was real. Could it be? Could some strange fate really tie Harry’s life to the outcome of this bizarre gang-war?

But the thing was absurd. What connection could exist between them? And with this question, I remembered Hermione’s exhortation to Harry about ‘closing’ a ‘connection’. What connection? What if she had been speaking not metaphorically of mental coping techniques but of some literal connection? Had Sherlock discovered it? Or rather, what lay behind it, for he clearly seemed to believe that he knew something that no one else did, certainly that Harry did not know.

That was of course, the merest of accidental association of words. What had a ‘connection’ to do with a wound? A physical injury it was. Harry had collapsed in excruciating pain. I remembered the rigid agony of his muscles, the clenchings of his hands, and the graspings at his scarred brow. Whatever was wrong with him (and surely the initial injury must have been more severe than Ron painted it to cause such after-effects so many years later) it was a purely medical matter. It could not be that which caused my friend such disquiet.

But nevertheless, this ‘connection’ grew large in my imagination and weighed upon my heart; some unspeakable darkness which connected a big-hearted, conscientious, dutiful young man to the vile devices of a black-hearted murderer.

I took a cab, and in a short while was sitting at my own table, with a late night cup of tea in my hands. Mary sat across from me, wrapped in her dressing gown. It was two-thirty in morning, but my hours had been very irregular since Sherlock and I joined up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Mary had awoken at my return … I wondered if she had really been sleeping at all. She did not look it. I reflected on the fact that this situation must be wearing on her. She was well used to there being details of Sherlock’s cases which I could not, in honour and decency, reveal to her. But she was quite unused to me being absent at all hours for days on end, with no explanation given as to my whereabouts or occupation. No reproachful word had passed her lips on that score. And though she frequently questioned me, as though to see how far the ban of secrecy went, she never urged me to break my word to the unknown allies. But she would have been more than woman, or much much less, to maintain complete composure under these circumstances and not suffer greatly from anxiety and curiosity. And I for my part was sorry that I could share nothing of our doings and adventures with her, for my sake as well as her own. I would have greatly liked to hear what she might have to say on the matter. Her quick intuition might possibly see what lay behind Sherlock’s behaviour; perhaps not set my fears at rest, but, like Sherlock himself, shed a light on what was so dark to me. But I kept my word, and more than the table intervened between us.

“I wish I knew what holds you so silent and melancholy, John.” she said, echoing my inmost thoughts. “Is the case going badly?”

“No.” I said, reflecting on the locket which was doubtless undergoing some theoretically destructive procedure that very moment. “I think it’s going very well.”

“But?” she said.

“Well … Sherlock never actually tells me everything that’s going on.”

“Of course he doesn’t, dear. He is Sherlock. Since when is that news? … And since when has it really bothered you?”

I shrugged.

“You’ve been curious about his secret researches for months now. Curious – but not disturbed. If it was merely that Sherlock was being Sherlock and keeping secrets, then you wouldn’t be worried about it one bit. What’s different?”

I sighed. “Well … I’ve never before got the idea that he was keeping a secret, not because he was still trying to form a theory, not because discretion required it, not because he was being dramatic, but because …” I broke off.

“ … Because he’s frightened?” asked Mary quietly.

I looked up in surprise. “What? No. No, no no. More like … deeply concerned.”

“Well that doesn’t sound so unreasonable, or even unusual. He deals in serious matters. It’s more than that.”

“Yes, he’s disturbed. He is disturbed.”

“And you’ve no idea by what? … You can’t tell me?”

“No. I can’t. … I don’t really know myself anyway. But, Mary …” She was the best nurse I had ever known. My medical degree was higher than hers. My knowledge may have been greater. But her instinct was almost always right. And none other had a touch like hers.

But I could not think of how to state the problem without infringing upon the secrets. And I recalled that Harry’s scar was said to be famous among the wizards. Mere mention of his scar might be enough to identify him, and that we were working with him was one of the things we had to keep secret. I could say nothing.

She reached across the table, and laid her hand on mine. Warmth seemed to seep from it through my limbs and mind. Under her sweet gaze – there was such clear and sparkling radiance in the blue depths of her eyes – the turmoil of my imagination calmed somewhat.

“Go to sleep, John. You’ll want to be back at work on this tomorrow. Sleep.”

Chapter 8 ~ Diagon Alley and Queen Anne Street ~>

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Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeguard [VI]



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Chapter VI ~ Embarkation


It was a surprisingly merry party that was gathered that evening in the large basement kitchen of the old Black mansion. Perhaps it was because it had never had the pretensions of grandeur that the upstairs had, perhaps because it had been more lived in more recently than the rest, but that room seemed a far more human place than the rest of the house. The worn stone flagging and plain wood furnishings were far preferable to the mouldering tapestries and dusty carpets above. And this evening at least the kitchen rang with laughter. Fred and George Weasley seemed to carry a party about with them and would have been heartily welcomed by the three younger teens even if they had not been the bearers of excellent tidings. The knowledge of who had the locket had thrown the trio into a kind of elation. Even Creature was decidedly perky, with a sort of grim cheeriness. I think that he was as pleased as Harry was about this development. Harry may have been thinking about saving the Wizarding World, and Creature only about finishing the work of Master Regulus, but they seemed quite equal in enthusiasm.

Semi-keeping to their plan of secrecy, the trio didn’t tell Fred and George why they needed the locket, and Fred and George didn’t ask. But they were full of plans as to how to go about getting it. Throughout the evening meal all sorts of strategies for infiltrating the Ministry of Magic were postulated. And every possibly applicable fact that the five of them knew about it was bandied about and tossed back and forth. I kept waiting to hear why they needed to infiltrate an occupied government building in order to get the locket … but their reasoning never came out.

Sherlock Holmes was strangely quiet. He ordinarily would have been a very active member of the discussion. Indeed, considering the type of strategies being suggested, he would ordinarily have been the scathing opponent of every person in the room. But tonight, in spite of Fred and George’s attempts to draw him out, he wasn’t. He was watching, very attentively; watching Harry. I, who knew him far better than the teens, saw that he looked at Miss Granger and the three Weasley boys with mere passing glances, chiefly so as not avoid them or seem to stare. But Harry – Harry was scrutinized. The intonation of his words, the directions of his glances, the motions of his hands, the twitches of his mouth, the creasing of his scarred brow … were being studied, compared perhaps. Sherlock was looking for something in the boy’s voice or in his face. And I looked for either success or disappointment in Sherlock’s features. But I saw neither, just suspense; the unresolved expression of uncertainty.

Meanwhile, I listened with amazement, and some alarm, to these further descriptions of the Wizarding world that were coming out in their conversation. They, especially Fred and George, went to some effort to make sure that everything was explained, and ‘the muggle healer’ was not left behind in complete confusion. Those two were almost impossible not to like. And a good thing it was too. For they had a delight in joking – especially practical – which left Sherlock’s own bouts of impishness seeming infrequent and quite tame. A running number of jokes and a few tricks went on through supper. I was not the chief victim but I did get something of a shock when what I mistook for my goblet suddenly writhed in my hand like a snake before falling to the table in the character of a wand. Fred took it back with a wink, and replaced it with the real goblet.

I looked at the cup with suspicion and picked it up carefully. As I did so I said:

“Maybe I’m missing something here, but why do we need to infiltrate the Ministry at all? Why not see if she’s willing to sell it? Buying something back from a thief is a bit irritating, but it might be the easiest and safest way to go about it. Do we know where she lives?”

“No.” said Miss Granger.

“But I bet we could find out!” said George.

“Yeah, but we’re not going to buy it from that old toad!” exclaimed Fred.

“Well, whether that works or not … I don’t see why we need to bother about the Ministry at all. A piece of jewellery – if she isn’t currently wearing it it’ll be at her home, not in her office. Won’t it? … Sherlock?”

He looked up.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“Oh.” said he, as if this were a change of subject. “We should try her house obviously. But I don’t recommend that we try to buy it. That would draw too much attention to it, and beg the question of how we even knew she had it. Mr. Weasley and Mr. Weasley, if you could find out Ms. Umbridge’s address…?”

They looked to Harry.

“Yeah.” said Harry. “I’d appreciate it. But try and not let anybody …”

“Yep. Will do, Harry.”

Eventually they left, with promises to call back the moment they found the location of the old witch’s house. The front door slammed.

“Is it really necessary to destroy the safeguards?”

We all looked at Sherlock in surprise. Harry looked actually alarmed.

“Mr. Holmes, we already told you it’s impossible to actually get rid of him until we do! We absolutely have to.”

“And if we try anyway, we’re just setting a time bomb!” said Miss Granger. “Who knows where and how he’ll re-emerge next time.”

“Yes, yes. I didn’t mean that. I meant, maybe we’re operating under an unnecessary restriction. I know you have insisted that a confrontation with Riddle is highly unlikely to end in him being taken alive, and I agree that no ordinary prison could be expected to contain him. But by treating these difficulties as insurmountable, we may be cutting off the simplest, the quickest, and the surest method of handling the situation. Riddle being alive is not the real problem. Riddle being free to pursue world domination is the problem. If he were to be captured, and locked away with extreme precautions, using Wizarding as well as Muggle technology to keep him in place, with his entire organisation dismantled, the problem would be solved.”

“No it wouldn’t.” said Miss Granger. “Disarming a wizard like Voldemort would not get rid of’ his power. And if any of the Death Eaters survived, and knew that Voldemort …”

“Hey!” interrupted Ron. “Do we have to say the name?”

She sighed. “Ronald, fear of a name…”

“Yeah, I know, but…”

“Actually, I agree with Ron.” said Sherlock.

“You … You do?” said Miss Granger.

“Yes. His name is Thomas Riddle. Isn’t it?”

“Yes, Tom Marvolo Riddle.”

“And ‘Lord Voldemort’ is a self given title, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“Well then.” said Sherlock, as if this settled the matter. “‘Riddle’ is a perfectly serviceable name.”

“Mr. Holmes is right.” said Harry. “Dumbledore did the same.”

“Did he?” asked Sherlock.

“Well, he usually referred to him as Voldemort, since most people actually don’t know his name was Riddle. But when he spoke to him, he called him Tom.”

“Well, then.” said Miss Granger. “If any of the Death Eaters survived, and knew that Riddle had survived, they would be after him right away. He can summon them at any time you know, through the brands on their arms.”

“Can they contact him in the same manner?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting.”

“But, Mr. Holmes, if a team goes against Voldemort without even the option of using lethal force, not only is their task made horribly unlikely to succeed, but if on the small, small chance that it does – the battle’s not over … merely postponed. And that’s not what we set out to do. I thought that was clear.”

“You were indeed perfectly clear, Miss Granger. I was not confused as to the goal, merely doubting the wisdom of it.”

Why?” asked Harry.

Sherlock paused.

“I’m not convinced that destroying all the horcruxes is a very … efficient way of fighting this war. … Time is of value. People might die who otherwise might not …”

“More will die down the road!” exclaimed Harry. “And anyway, I don’t see what time has to do with it. Nothing could end this quicker than Riddle’s death. It’s not like this is a muggle revolution or something. A lot of how he has the Ministry under his control is with mind control spells. When he dies those will end. And without him, the Death Eaters will fall to pieces. He’s not just ‘the leader’ of this movement. He is the movement. While he lives, it lives.”

Sherlock nodded slowly.

“You are completely resolved on this point then?”

“Yes.”

“You will consider no options other than that of fulfilling the mission that Dumbledore gave you to the letter and completely destroying Tom Riddle’s safeguards?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

“Even if it turns out to be more difficult than you expected. Even if it costs lives that shouldn’t be lost. Even if it costs your life, Harry. Would you still choose Riddle’s death over his capture? Answer me honestly, as if the choice were before you now. I want to help you. But I have to know what helping you actually means. I want to destroy Riddle. But I need to be certain of how we are going about it. This is an ugly business, a much uglier business than I had at first supposed. There would be little point in destroying any of the horcruxes if we do not plan to destroy them all. And it would certainly be a waste of time to change plans half-way though. But it would be the height of foolishness to not realize how very very dark this may get. So answer my question quite seriously, Harry, I need to know. … Would you still choose Riddle’s death over his capture?”

Yes.” said Harry, who seemed indignant that there could be any doubt on this matter. “Of course I would. You act like I’ve never thought this through, that I don’t know what I’m getting into. Well I do. I know how this may end. And I’ve got to kill Vol– Tom Riddle!”

Sherlock looked away, for a minute he seemed lost in thought; staring over his tightly folded hands into the empty fireplace with a dark and furrowed brow. Then he spoke again, and his attitude had changed. His unusual manner towards Harry remained the same, but the quiet almost brooding thinker of dinner was gone. He was again the man of action.

“If that is indeed our plan then we cannot afford to waste a moment of time.” he said. “We cannot proceed any further in getting the locket until we have Ms. Umbridge’s address. As soon as we have it we must send a reconnaissance mission. But until then our attention must be turned to the fifth safeguard – for the time being, let us assume that the sixth is in the Room of Requirement in Hogwarts. I cannot see any place to hide the fifth quite as obvious as that or the Gaunt house. It may well be hidden in some obscure place such as that cave. Miss Granger?”

“Yes?”

“I believe you are our most knowledgeable Wizarding historian and not averse to research. We know that Riddle has hidden a horcrux in a place where he committed foul deeds. He may well have done so again. We need to know a great deal more about Riddle’s individual crimes. To search the site of every serious crime he committed would no doubt be an infeasibly immense and unnecessary task, but knowing what crimes he has committed, where he committed them, and against whom, may very well reveal as obvious a place which we would never otherwise consider. Everything that you do know on this subject, compile. What you do not know, find out. You may officially be in hiding but surely there are still ways of doing research. I doubt libraries will be so very greatly restricted. And there are of course still knowledgeable people whom you can trust.”

“Yes, of course. A complete record of his crimes is probably impossible to work up. But I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good. I would also like to consider the possibility of important historical Wizarding sites, especially if there are any connected with his family.”

Or just connected to the house of Slytherin.” added Harry.

“Yes. And in the meanwhile, I think we should consider who he may have hidden it with.”

“I can’t think of anybody I didn’t mention last night.” said Harry.

“You gave me a list.” said Sherlock, drawing from his pocket a scrap of notepaper. “I would like to go back over that list and refine it a bit.”

“Well,” said Harry, with the attitude of facing an unpleasant task, “all right then. Go back over it. I’ll answer any questions I can.”

Sherlock laid the paper down on the table. “I think we can rule out any Death Eaters who have joined the ranks only this time around. Even if he had to re-hide a horcrux upon his return, he would likely choose an older ally.” He pushed the paper across the table to Harry. “Are there any here who have joined only recently?”

“I don’t know about Rowle and the Carrows. But the others are all old Death Eaters.”

“Before we go on, is there anyone you would add to that list?”

“No, I can’t think of anyone.”

Sherlock pulled the paper back, marking it as he spoke again.

“We need to compare these to Lucius Malfoy. You are rather well acquainted with him I gather. You must have witnessed Riddle’s reunion with the Death Eaters three years ago, since it would have happened between the time of your capture and your escape, and you spoke as though you were present at the scene of action the whole time.”

“I was, and yes, I saw it.” replied Harry.

I need not here record everything that was said that evening. Sherlock questioned Harry minutely on everything which related to the Death Eaters as individuals. Every tangled recollection that the boy could bring to mind was gone over. What Riddle had said to them that terrible night he had regenerated. What they had said and done during the fight in research facility of the Ministry of Magic. Bits of trials Harry had seen records of. Musings of Dumbledore.

The name that came to the forefront was Lestrange. Not specifically because of Harry’s intense (though understandable) hatred for Bellatrix, his godfather’s killer. But because she and her husband fitted all the qualifications which we could come up with very well indeed. The Lestrange family had been a part of the Death Eater movement since it was little more than a school club. Bellatrix was the most verbally supportive and admiring of all of Riddle’s followers whom Harry had heard speak; obsessive infatuation might be a better way of describing it. She and her husband were among the Death Eaters who had gone to prison for the duration of Riddle’s absence. Harry remembered that Riddle had specifically mentioned them in his speech upon returning – they alone among the many who were imprisoned. He had spoken of honouring them in some fashion. Among those who were actually present that night he had singled out Malfoy … as if he of all people should have proved truer. Therefore Sherlock argued that Malfoy’s peer in Riddle’s mind was not among that company. And of the others, the Lestranges were held in highest regard. Therefore, at the top of the new list Sherlock was working up, went the Lestranges.

Where the Lestranges (or any other Death Eaters for that matter) might keep so important an item was also delved into. Since the Lestranges had not occupied their house for sixteen years, it seemed unlikely that it would be there. So Sherlock asked the obvious question – In the British Wizarding world, in what fashion is it considered safest to store a highly valuable item?

The unequivocal answer? Gringotts, the Wizards’ Bank … or Hogwarts School.

“And those are the places we need to break into.” sighed Ron, with a gesture of resignation. “All right, are we going to have to break into every bloody Death Eater vault, or just the Lestranges’?”

“We may not need to break into Gringotts at all.” said Sherlock. “It is an obvious hiding place, true. It is too obvious. Even assuming that the cup is being held by one of the Death Eaters – which, while highly plausible, we do not know for certain – they might well decide against putting it in the bank on that very account. And even if they neglected this important point, I presume that a wanted criminal could not just stroll into the bank and make a deposit in their account.”

“Of course not.” said Miss Granger.

“Then surely it could only be put in either long ago, before the depositor was known to be a Death Eater, or very recently since Riddle’s take-over of the Ministry.”

“He made the cup at least into a horcrux long ago.” said Harry.

“Yes. But if he chose to entrust it to a new keeper recently – which he might do for a number of reasons, such as the death of the first keeper – then the first chance for the new keeper to have deposited it in the bank is today.”

A rather sinking look fell over the faces of the trio.

“I hadn’t thought about multiple hiding places.” said Harry.

“I doubt we’ll have to deal with many of them.” said Sherlock. “The notion that one may have been re-hidden was suggested to me by the fact that we ruled out all late Death Eaters, simply by virtue of their being dead. But what if one of them had indeed been entrusted with a horcux? Riddle would most probably find another keeper or hiding place. I find it rather curious that when you spoke of him speaking of honouring the Lestranges, you implied that he spoke of doing them an honour in the future tense. Is this in fact how Riddle himself said it?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Considering Riddle’s level of self-esteem, and the other indicators which place the Lestranges so high on the candidate list, this is highly suggestive. I very much wonder, Harry, if he may not have been cryptically announcing his intention to trust them with … that piece of his soul.”

I gave Sherlock an astounded look. I don’t think he noticed.

Harry gave Sherlock an astounded look.

“I didn’t think you’d bought that explanation, Mr. Holmes.” he said, displaying greater perception than I had expected of him.

Sherlock’s face was unreadable.

“I haven’t the faintest idea how it works.” he said. “Those were your words. I should very much like to know how it really works. It would be most useful. As it is, I have to go on whatever information is available. Those are simply the terms you used. At present I have no better.”

“Oh!” said Miss Granger, and dove for her little beaded hand-bag. “I should have thought of it before. I’ve already read everything it has to say on the subject of course. But you may get things out of it that I didn’t, and anyway …” She pulled out an ancient leather-bound tome, which was considerably larger than the bag itself. A rather apologetic look came over her face as she took it in both hands. “It was at Hogwarts, in Dumbledore’s study. I took it after I learned we had to go hunting horcruxes, and I wanted to know anything about them which might be useful. … I think it may be where Riddle learned how to … make them.” She looked at it with something like disgust to the point of fear, and gingerly handed it over to Sherlock.

He took it carefully; it looked as if it was going to fall apart at any moment. ‘Secrets of the Darkest Art’ was emblazoned across the front in peeling letters.

“It’s awful, I mean, that book.” she said, seeming at something of a loss for words to convey its true dreadfulness. “Full of all the very worst …” she shuddered. Ron patted her hand.

“I see.” said Sherlock, who was starting to leaf through it, quite probably meaning the words literally. I suddenly found that I wanted few things so little as to have to touch that book.

“Yes. Thank-you, Miss Granger. I shall look through this very carefully.”

“Well, about the Lestranges” said Harry, “you think that they might have gotten the cup just recently?”

“I am inclined to think it a probable possibility that Mr. and Mrs. Lestrange were given the cup to look after shortly following their escape from Azkaban Prison. The question regards the bank is, whether they would transfer the cup to it from whatever hiding place it has been in until now, and if yes, when?”

“Knowing Bellatrix,” said Harry, “she would. And she’d do it the first possible moment. If Riddle gave something to her to look after, it would probably reach a point of near obsession. And Riddle might actually direct her to put it in there himself. He never had a Gringott’s vault himself, and might really want to have some kind of ownership of one.”

“So you consider Gringott’s a place that would attract him on its own merits, apart from being an extremely likely place for a wizard to store a valuable item?”

“Yeah, I kind of do.” said Harry. “It’s an aspect of the Wizarding world he’s never had access to.”

Sherlock leaned back in his chair and casually remarked in the direction of the ceiling that:

“Under a rock in some random valley of the Grampian Mountains would make much more sense.”

“Is there any way we can keep an eye on the bank to see if either of the Lestranges goes in?” I asked.

“We could try to post someone on it.” said Ron. “But that’d be pretty difficult.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of a hidden security camera.”

“I know what a camera is, but …”

“No, that might work.” said Miss Granger. “The problem is, electronic devices tend to have a hard time working when there’s too much magic around. They won’t function at all in Hogwarts.”

“Is Gringotts perhaps easier than Hogwarts?” I asked. “Perhaps we could find some way to shield it.”

“Maybe. I’ve never tried to use muggle technology in Diagon Alley.” she said.

“Diagon Alley is the street the bank’s on?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ve got a phone, here.” I said, taking it out. “It turns on, but it won’t actually make a call. How much more difficult would Diagon Alley be than this place?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, between the two of us I should think that we could make it work, Miss Granger.” said Sherlock. “Keeping an eye on the bank is a good idea. And I should like to get a look at Borgin & Burke’s. The bank – in spite of its rather suspicious obviousness – would still be a better hiding place than a shop, but it would be as well to check both. A reconnaissance trip before attempting burglary is always a good idea. It is only ten twenty, a rather ideal time since people will still be up, but it is fully dark. None of you need rest before we go out? … John, Mary knows you may be out late tonight?”

The entrance to Diagon Alley turned out to be – like so many Wizarding things – invisible to certain eyes. I certainly could see nothing in between the book shop and the music shop which the trio pointed out on Charing Cross Road. Yet they could, and told me that there was in fact a whole inn between them, ‘The Leaky Cauldron’.

“I wonder what it’s like now.” mused Ron gloomily. “With the Death Eaters in charge of the Ministry and all.”

“Shops have been closing and people going missing for years now.” said Harry. “I suppose it will just be more of the same, just worse.”

“Do you know the official Wizarding news line?” asked Sherlock.

“Unfortunately not.” said Miss Granger. “Which could be bad. Let’s just, try not to have to say anything to anyone.”

“What is there to keep us from apparating into it, instead of going through the inn? Does it have shielding like the Black house does?”

“I don’t think so. If it does I’ve never come across a mention of it anywhere. But the sound would draw attention to us. … I mean, I’m sure most of the buildings have shielding. We’d do better to just go in ordinarily.”

Ordinary did not seem to describe it to me. Not a one of us was to just walk in. Miss Granger and Ron disguised themselves somewhat, glasses and fakes beards, et cetera. Harry had his beautiful invisibility cloak. When not being worn, it looked as though he was carrying a silent, starlit rivulet over his arm. But when he swung it over his shoulders, it disappeared, and he with it. Miss Granger suggested that it would be best if I got under it with him (she said she could do a ‘disillusionment charm’ on me, but that would only chameleonize me – not nearly so good as becoming invisible) and a piece of the night flapped back to reveal a glimpse of a red T-shirt and a smiling face. The cloak was silken to the touch, fluid, and light almost as a mist. It was quite roomy. Once underneath it, I could could see through it very clearly, much more clearly than through most light fabrics.

Sherlock, Miss Granger thought, would be all right. He was well able to act a part, and knew enough to know what he was acting. But she did insist on an alteration in his clothing. The basic and ordinary attire of a shirt and trousers was not common Wizarding garb. Such clothes were sometimes worn by children, but almost never by adults unless they were trying to pass as muggles. A dark blue linen robe belonging to Ron (drawn from her amazing bag) was added to Sherlock’s costume. She also insisted that he wear a hat. Grown-up wizards almost always wore hats when they were out and about. When she pulled it out of her amazing hand-bag I laughed. Sherlock did not. It was nothing that he would ever have chosen to wear himself – tall, conical, brimmed, and of pale purple. But he could hardly argue with her on matters of Wizarding fashion, she and Ron both wore hats of a similar make, so he reluctantly consented to wear the thing – gold tassels and all.

Thus hidden and apparelled, we left the alleyway and walked to the Leaky Cauldron. As we approached it, Miss Granger turned around and told Sherlock: “Don’t do that, Mr. Holmes. You’re going to hurt yourself. You can’t see it.” And indeed the faces of extreme concentration he had been making in an effort to overcome the illusion did look rather painful. We had to close our eyes and follow the trio in, as with the Black house.

Diagon Alley was the main avenue of an ancient, hidden corner of the city. Not a hundred yards from where the lorries and electric lights of Charing Cross Road roared over concrete and glittered out of the high buildings, gaslights and torches shone on a broad cobbled street, empty save for a few pedestrians in garb which could have almost been medieval. Smaller side streets branched off from it. It seemed to me that to hide so large an area from general notice (we have satellites in orbit!) they must have been using some form of spacial distortion, or manipulation.

It seemed a terribly depressing sort of place to me. It was too dark to see much, but an aura of gloom and fear hung over it. The streets were almost completely empty, but the few people we saw hurried along as if they feared someone was after them. A great many of the shops seemed abandoned; some were smashed up. The effect on me was merely depressing. I gathered that it was a good deal worse for the trio. For they had loved this place. It wasn’t just a gangster we were fighting, nor even a plain terrorist. It was a conquering dictator. A reign of terror had been set up in England, and here, in the very heart of London, people were entrapped by it.

If Sherlock Holmes had got his way, we would that night have not only bugged the bank and scouted-out the shop we intended to burgle, but would have also gone and investigated the houses of the Lestranges, the Dolohovs, the Traverses, and the Averys, which he hoped would be currently unoccupied, for any information which might suggest that they had been the keeper of a horcrux. Unfortunately for that plan, the Wizarding world did not seem to have such a thing as as an internet white pages site, and the trio had no idea where these houses might be, whether they were in London, Dover, or the far reaches of Hebrides. Therefore, besides sending a message to the twins to ask Mr. Weasley Senior (who worked in a small capacity in the Ministry of Magic) about them and to send a note to one ‘Kingsley Shacklebolt’, who Miss Granger thought would know a great deal about Riddle’s crimes, there was nothing more that we could do that night.

Sherlock and I set off for home earlier than I expected, which after yesterday was welcome. Our paths lay together for a while. For a few minutes we walked mostly in silence. Then I broached the topic which was nagging me.

“You asked Harry’s permission tonight. … His permission to continue searching for and to destroy Riddle’s safeguards.”

Sherlock Holmes kept walking. I might not have said anything.

“You never ask permission for things like that. … You do for other things, ‘can I come in?’ ‘can I see this?’ … But never if you can …” I broke off, not even sure what word to use at this point.

After a minute, he replied.

“You mistake me, John. We are strategizing with them. It would not do for us to be at cross-purposes. I was verifying what strategy we are going to be acting on.”

“No you weren’t. This strategy was their idea. You knew this was what they wanted to do. But for some reason you thought you had to ask their – ask Harry’s – permission to continue. To continue no matter what happens.”

“Not no matter what happens.” said Sherlock a bit irritably, and clammed up for the rest of the journey.

Chapter 7 ~ The Darkness Thickens ~>

This non-commercial, derivative work is an independent production by Charlotte Ann Kent and is not associated with The Doyle Estate, the BBC, Warner Bros, or J.K. Rowling. 

Chapter 7 – The Darkness Thickens will be available on May 19th.  If you enjoyed this chapter, check back then, or follow the blog (the widget is in the sidebar at the top) to get a notification sent to your email.  If you know somebody else who might like it, feel free to share it!

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeguard [V]



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Chapter V ~ Following the Threads


Cries of ‘Harry! Harry!’ rang out from the staircase.

“That doesn’t sound like just a call anymore.” I said. But Sherlock had already turned, looking after them.

He broke into a run, and and I followed; down the dusty corridor, up a rickety staircase, and into a cobwebby, cluttered old bedroom. Flat on his face on the floor lay Harry; his body rigid, his fists clenched as if in pain.

For a moment the room took on a tone of chaos. Miss Granger had dropped to her knees beside him, and was trying to revive him. Ron faced about and began threatening us, under the apparent belief that we had done something to his friend. Fortunately, there was no chance for the matter to come to blows and Miss Granger’s remonstrance that this had nothing to do with us was needless, for Harry’s fit left him very suddenly.

He was pale and sweating, but collected. My offer of assistance was declined, and he insisted quite rationally and persuasively that it was only a pain that came upon him now and again as a result of an old injury. Nerve damage, however severe, does not generally reduce the sufferer to such a state. If he had pulled himself together any less quickly, I would have been inclined to think him lacking in stoicism. But it was not likely to be epilepsy or some other form of seizure – it was clearly a location specific pain of extreme intensity. His gestures made the injury in question quite apparent. It was that old wound which had been so violently slashed across his brow.

He listened politely for a minute to my rather alarmed suggestions for his doctor, but he was clearly not very interested and didn’t want to talk about it. Miss Granger, however, did. She was frantically whispering to him all the way down the stairs in spite of his protests. Some of it was even loud enough for the rest of us to hear. I wondered what she could mean by her adjurations to ‘close’ a ‘connection’, and thought perhaps that she was talking about meditative pain therapy.

Researching the artefacts of Ravenclaw was the first order of business that day. But someone had to stay here at the Black house in case ‘Creature’ returned with Mr. Fletcher who had stolen the locket – and that someone ought to be Harry, the master of the house. Sherlock and Miss Granger appeared to have appropriated the task of calling upon the Lovegoods. Miss Granger asked Ron to stay with Harry. Harry was being hunted; she thought that at least one other wizard should stay with him in case Snape did show up, especially since he was lending his invisibility cloak to her and Sherlock for the afternoon. Ron didn’t like this much; and he scowled a bit at Sherlock, who seemed to be oblivious to the boy’s jealousy. But Ron couldn’t deny that those were the two to send if they couldn’t all go. As for me, I was hardly needed at the Black house all day. And the envoy to the Lovegoods of Ravenclaw was going to teleport. Miss Granger was by far the best of the three at teleportation and thought that she could manage taking one person with her, since she had managed to carry quite a mass of goods before. But not two. Sherlock said that he would appreciate it if I came back sometime in the evening, suggesting that my help might be needed then.

This arrangement suited me very well, for I did have a job apart from helping Sherlock with his cases, and I needed to go see my wife and daughter. I would very much have liked to be able to tell Mary of this unbelievable underworld Sherlock had discovered. I wondered how long it would take to convince her I wasn’t pulling her leg. She was always so fascinated by stories of the extraordinary, especially when they were true. But I had given my word that I would keep what I discovered in this house secret – even from her.

Then there was something of a row. It was not over Ron’s irritation at Hermione Granger and Sherlock Holmes going to St. Ottery Catchpole together. It came about when Sherlock realized that Harry considered the matter of finding Fletcher adequately dealt with by sending a single person after him. Sherlock insisted that this would not do. Creature was not well acquainted with Fletcher. He wouldn’t know his general haunts and hideouts or his companions. He did not have knowledgeable contacts to whom he could apply for information. We needed to network. Contact people who knew Fletcher. Contact the other members of ‘the Order’. Contact family. There was time being wasted. Nobody needed to be told that we were looking for him because he stole a horcrux. We had a good, plain, straightforward, and completely true explanation … Mundungus Fletcher had burgled Harry’s house. That was all that needed to be said. Harry’s friends and the Order would guess that Harry was staying here anyway. It was his house and the Order headquarters. Nothing would be being given away. … But it took quite some time to convince Harry of this.

It ended with him agreeing to send a message by Miss Granger to two brothers of Ron’s who knew Fletcher pretty well. But nobody else. And he worded the message carefully, telling them only that Fletcher had stolen something and asking them to find out where he was.

My friend and the young lady stepped out-side onto the doorstep before teleporting away. It appeared that it was somehow impossible to teleport out of the house itself. She warned us that to go beyond the step would be to walk outside ‘the enchantment’, revealing us to any watchers.

Having never seen anyone teleport before, I was quite curious. Even the two boys, to whom teleportation itself was pretty old hat, seemed very interested, and a little nervous. Miss Granger’s explanation of why it should work seemed water-tight, but they had never heard of a muggle practising ‘side-along’ teleportation before. So all three of us watched from the door way as she took both of Sherlock’s hands, told him to ‘move with me, or I don’t know what will happen’, took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and began to spin. For a tiny moment they were there on the doorstep, spinning hand in hand like dancers or children. There was a loud crack! I blinked and the step was bare.

I glanced back at the two boys. “Did that look like it worked properly?” I asked.

“I hope so.” said Harry.

I looked back out the doorway where just a moment before Hermione Granger and Sherlock Holmes had been standing. A perfectly ordinary square lay beyond, barren, a bit parched, and quite deserted. Houses across the way, and houses beside us. Next to the door, where the plaque with the address would normally be, I saw a piece of cardboard, covering the number up. I looked from that to the square. I found it hard to believe that there was anything remarkable between me and it at all.

“Nobody’s around.” said Ron, looking across the dreary square. “You did have stuff you planned on doing today, right?” And he held out his hand.

“Ah, yes. Are you sure I can’t just walk out on my own?”

“Mmmm.” hemmed Ron. “No I’m not sure. But better be on the safe side.”

“You’re coming back this evening, right, Doctor?” asked Harry.

“I was planning on it, at least for a while – see if there’s anything I can help with.”

A minute later Ron and I stopped on the pavement below the house.

“So, see you tonight then. … Say, Dr. Watson, Hermione packed for this, but she seems to have forgotten to pack lunches, and the pantry’s kind of bare down there, since no one’s been here for months. She and Mr. Holmes probably won’t think of that while they’re out, and … .”

“Definitely not Sherlock. Right, I’ll stop at the super-market on my way here.”

“Thanks.” said Ron. “See you. … You can open your eyes now.”

I heard him step away, and I opened my eyes onto the barren square. I turned around.

There was no red-headed teenager to be seen. There was not a bush, nor a wall, nor even a garbage can behind which he could have taken cover. The very sound of his feet had died away. The dark forbidding doorway where the dark-haired boy with the horrible, painful scar stood was gone. There had been no sound of the closing of a door.

I looked at the nearest houses. … Neither of them looked to be the one I had just left. I walked over to the walk that went up to house number thirteen and walked from it to house number eleven. Everything seemed perfectly normal. I walked back again, and still couldn’t find anything actually wrong with it. I looked very hard at the stretch I had just traversed; trying to forget colours and shapes, and focus merely on distance and measurements; trying to mentally overcome the perception and get my mind around the fact that the stretch was longer than it looked, there must be more paving stones than I saw, or the pavings stones were stretched, or … For the briefest flash something happened. My brain screamed in the sudden shock of trying to find a foothold, scrambling to get a hold on proportions and shapes, put everything in a recognizable form. Before the second was over it had put my perception right back where it had been. It looked again like a perfectly ordinary stretch of houses.

But I knew that just a few feet away from me two boys stood in a dark doorway. Doubtless they were watching me, and were probably annoyed at me for not walking straight away. They were right, it wouldn’t do for someone to notice me staring like this. I set off across the square. As I left, I turned back for a moment, looking at the row of houses. I wondered whether the proportions of the whole thing seemed so wrong because I was truly seeing the skewed proportions that had to be there, or if I was imagining it because I knew that it must be so.

As I shook my head and turned away, my phone beeped. It was a text from Sherlock.

S.H. – Made it to Devon. Amazing method of travel. Call on Mycroft sometime today. He’ll be at the Diogenes Club at a quarter to five. We need anything he has on Dwight and Forth.

And a moment later:

S.H. – Do NOT investigate Dwight and Forth yourself today.

I replied:

J.W. – You did.

S.H. – That was a very different day. Do NOT.

And that was the last I heard of him that morning or afternoon.

It was at very nearly half past six that evening when I neared the invisible Black house again, this time burdened with the groceries Ron had requested and the reports Sherlock had requested.

I had not yet come in sight of the entrance to the square when I heard my name called quietly and turned to see Harry Potter standing in an alley off the street.

“Harry, whatever are you doing there?” I asked.

“Waiting for you.” he replied. “We shouldn’t be openly walking in and out of the house like we’ve been doing. I don’t see anyone there, but Ron and I reckon it’s better if we don’t take the chance.”

Perhaps it was Harry’s own suspiciousness rubbing off on me. But I was suddenly hesitant to agree to this. It certainly looked like Harry Potter. But so many things in the past twenty hours had turned out to be other than what they looked like that I wondered if it really was him. Surely if these people could hide an entire house in plain sight and leave everyone unaware that they were even missing anything, it shouldn’t be too hard to imitate someone’s appearance.

“Dr. Watson?” said Harry. “It’s just that it could be being watched even though I don’t see anyone. Hermione sent us a message, saying that she and Mr. Holmes got to St. Ottery Catchpole all right. So … it should be okay. … What have you got?”

This last was directed to the grocery bags. I unslung them from my arm and held them out.

“Perhaps it would better to make two trips.”

“Yeah.” he said. “Good point. I’ll be right back.”

He took the bags and – if I had blinked I would have missed it – swirled around and disappeared with a cracking sound. The only way that anyone other than Harry (or Ron) could say what he said was if either the real Harry and Ron, or Sherlock and Miss Granger, had been caught.

I pulled out my phone.

J.W. – Sherlock, where are you?

A moment later:

S.H. – Little Hangleton. Why?

J.W. – Because Harry Potter met me a block away from the Black house. Says he doesn’t want anyone to be seen walking into there, and wants to teleport me in. I just sent him back with some bags. (I’ve still got Mycroft’s info.)

S.H. – Good. Hold on.

With a whoosh, Harry reappeared.

J.W. – Harry’s back.

S.H. – Yes. Ask him to cast a patronus.

J.W. – A What?

S.H. – Just ask.

“Harry …” I started, but he interrupted me.

“Doctor, sorry to seem unfriendly, but I guess I really need to ask you a few questions.”

“Of course.” I said.

He opened his mouth to speak, stopped, and hesitated. Then he smirked a little as he asked:

“What is the dark lord’s name?”

“Thomas Riddle.” I replied, wondering what sort of a question that was. My phone beeped.

S.H. – Has he done it?

“What’s going on there?” asked Harry.

“Ah, Harry … can you … cast a patronus?”

“Mm-hm. Say, how do you know what a…”

“No, I mean – please cast a patronus.”

From the look on his face, he suddenly understood what I meant (which was more than I did). He took his wand in his hand and, with a whispered word I could not catch, he smiled.

In the dim light of the alley, there suddenly burst forth a blaze of light. Something large, something bright, shining like the moon, or like silver in the sun, was rushing towards me unbearably fast. Some fleeting thought that I must move or surely be bowled down crossed my mind, but I had not time to so much as blink before it was past me and out in the empty street beyond. I spun round after it. My phone was beeping in my hand, but I barely noticed it. All my attention was caught up in that thing which was cantering back towards us. I saw now that it had form, and shape, and moved on long and slender legs; a noble hart … its mighty body composed of silver light. From far above my head, the many pointed rack of antlers lit up the shadowy alley. Shining hooves fell soundlessly on the cracked and weathered pavement.

Then it was gone. For a moment I stood there, staring at the place where it had been. It almost seemed that it must have been a dream. So suddenly come, so suddenly gone – now seeming unbelievable to the mind’s eye. But I had seen it.

I turned back to Harry.

“That was a patronus?”

“Yes.”

“What … what was it?”

“It was a patronus.”

“Yes, but what was it?”

Harry then started off on a rather confusing explanation which seemed to rely heavily on words like ‘charm’, ‘magic’, ‘conjure’, and the like, which led me to feel that he really didn’t know either. The one thing that he said that actually explained something to me was that the wizard ‘conjuring’ it had to be thinking of something very happy. Happiness, yes. The thing had burned with … words failed me. Happiness seemed to blasé a word for it. Life? Joy?

My phone beeped again; a string of messages awaited me.

S.H. – John, has he done it?

Are you there?

John?

If you do not answer me immediately I shall have to contact Mycroft to come and find you!

I quickly replied.

J.W. – I’m here. Yes, he cast the patronus.

S.H. – Describe it.

J.W. – Bright. Incredibly beautiful. Like a hart made of light.

S.H. – Would that be a misspelling of ‘heart’ or the male of the European red deer?

J.W. – The latter.

S.H. – Good. You can go with him then.  See you this evening.

It was evening.

“I don’t think Sherlock and Miss Granger are going to be back any time soon.” I said.

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you when we get back into the house. Are you sure about this?”

“No. But if Hermione can do it without too much trouble and I’m not a really bad apparater…” He held out his hands.

It was with some inner trepidation that I took them. I heard Harry giving some instructions similar to those which Miss Granger had given Sherlock, only longer, he seemed more nervous about it than she had. Then there was a wrenching as he swung around. Everything went black. I was still conscious, but conscious only of the blackness, and a roaring, and a sense of suffocation. Then I was out of it, and there we were, dizzily gasping for breath on the doorstep.

“You all right, Doctor?” I heard Harry asking.

Sherlock and Miss Granger were not to come back in that hour. Nor the hour after that. The boys said that they must have elected to re-search the old Riddle house, since it was in the town of Little Hangleton. At first I regretted that I had come by on time. Hanging around that dreadful old house seemed to me to be a singularly unprofitable way to spend an evening. But this state of mind did not last long. The horrible screaming painting in the hallway (an animate portrait of Sirius’ mother) was even more difficult to make shut up that evening than it had been the night before. Ron suggested that it could tell somehow that I was a muggle, and was deeply offended at my reoccurring presence, for which both boys apologized. I noticed that neither of them were spared her attacks either. I was ‘scum of the earth’, to Mistress Black. But Ron was ‘blood traitor’ – which basically meant that he wasn’t racist. And Harry was a ‘filthy half-blood’ – which was a reference to the fact that his mother had been born to muggle family.

“You don’t like it, do you?” I asked them.

No.” said Ron. “But we can’t remove the bloody thing.”

“Why not?”

“Permanent sticking charm.” said Harry. “If it hadn’t been for that, Sirius would have taken it down years ago. It’s been a pain as long as we’ve used this as our head-quarters.”

“What is a permanent sticking charm?”

“It means it can never be detached from the wall.”

I looked at the richly framed painting, swathed in layers of curtains. It was flush to the wall. Harry was right, this thing couldn’t be just picked up off a hook and carried away. I tapped the wall in various places; there were no doubt studs beneath, but the actual wall seemed to be thick plasterboard covered in peeling wallpaper. I stepped back.

“How about we take the wall off, then?”

“What?” asked Ron.

“Well, I suppose it depends on whether you’d rather have this painting on the wall, or bare studs without a proper wall. … But, the ‘sticking charm’ sticks it just to the wall, right?”

Somewhat under an hour later, all half deaf but very pleased with ourselves, we shut the door of the empty closet which was to be the new location of the portrait of Mistress Black and the piece of wall to which it would be forever attached. The hole in the foyer wall was rather immense and messier than I had hoped it would turn out, it had been necessary to cut away more than I would have expected, but at least it did not call down curses on all passer-by. A massive old tapestry, still hideous but at least silent, was hauled downstairs to cover up the spot as much as possible for the moment.

Shortly before nine o’clock the front door slammed. Instead of the horrible screams of the painting, I heard Hermione Granger’s far sweeter tones, calling:

“Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem!” With a thumpity thump thump she bounded up the stairs, as the boys bounded down. “That’s it! That’s the sixth horcrux!”

“Successful day?” I asked Sherlock, who had followed close behind her.

“Yes. Very.” he said.

“Did you find it at the Riddle House?” Harry was asking Miss Granger.

“No. Neither of them are there, we’re sure. Mr. Holmes and I searched it very thoroughly.” she replied. “But we know what all of them are now!”

It was still possible that it was some other item. But if it was, as Dumbledore had been convinced, something from Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, then this seemed to be the only thing it could be. Of course, it had officially been lost for centuries. But if it had been made into a horcrux, it would of course have been re-hidden again much more recently. Sherlock had already done some research on the likely make of the diadem – judging by the period and general area in which it was made, supplemented by Miss Granger’s more wizard-specific fashion knowledge. He happened to ask Harry if he had ever seen a crown of any kind in the shape-shifting storage room at Hogwarts. Harry had. This was clearly far more than Sherlock had hoped for, and he asked Harry if he remembered anything about it which could help in dating it.

Sherlock’s manner was striking me as just a bit odd. He spoke cheerfully enough, especially to the teens; though he mostly just replied when they spoke to him. But I kept catching a strange look on his face, particularly when he looked at Harry. His manner too, had changed towards the boy. Last night he had been his usual brisk, to the point, sometimes caustic self when speaking to all three children. This morning he had not had the slightest qualms in labelling Harry an idiot. But not tonight. His voice was just a little bit softer, his choice of words slightly more careful. The three teens didn’t seem to notice it. But I did. It was reminiscent of the manner he usually reserved for the grievously injured, the recently bereaved, and frightened children. He wasn’t being ironical. He wasn’t trying to wheedle something out of Harry. He was – for some reason which I could not discern – sorry for the boy. It wasn’t because of all the tragedy that had happened in his short life. He had heard that last night. I was reminded of an incident where he had been the bearer of exceptionally ill news to a young woman, and spoke knowing that he was going to hurt her badly. His manner then had been much the same. I grew worried myself.

But I had no opportunity to confront him on the subject at the time. The documents from Mycroft were being examined. Headgear design from the ninth century was being discussed. The difficulties of getting into Hogwarts School were being discussed. The fact that the front hallway was no longer occupied by a malignant 2D replica of Mistress Black was being discussed.

As we were thus occupied there came another thumping and slamming from the front door. Running out onto the landing, we saw a singularly peculiar sight. Two merry, red haired youths stood on the doormat, holding between them a short squat person with a decidedly disreputable look, who had upon his head a most furious little gremlin; Ron’s twin brothers, Mr. Fletcher, and ‘Creature’.

Mundungus Fletcher required little persuading to tell what he had done with the locket. (This was greatly to the disappointment of Creature, who if he had had his way would have walloped him black and blue for the heinous crime of stealing Black family heirlooms.) Once he realized that he had not been captured to give an account of his skipping out on one ‘Mad-eye Moody’ at a critical juncture in a battle, he quite willingly admitted that, yes he had stolen the locket, and no he didn’t have it any more. He hadn’t sold it. A government official (Wizarding government of course) had demanded it as a bribe in exchange for not pressing charges ever some minor misdemeanour. When the official was described, it was clear from the looks on all five young wizards faces that they knew precisely who it was.

Fletcher was dismissed and told to leave Headquarters alone from now on. The twins, a pair of jolly nineteen-year-olds named Fred and George (the only visible difference between them was that George was missing an ear), did not go. They seemed to have every intention of staying for a while. They were extremely pleased to have gotten even a little into ‘Harry’s mission from Dumbledore’. And they also seemed delighted to meet Sherlock, and even me. They did know, at least vaguely, who Sherlock Holmes was. The trio seemed in no hurry to tell their friends to go away. They all began trooping downstairs to the kitchen. I held Sherlock back.

“All right, Sherlock, what’s wrong with Harry?”

Sherlock gave me a ‘clueless’ face.

“No, Sherlock, come on.”

“I don’t believe I said that anything was wrong with him.”

“Yes you did.”

“No I didn’t.”

Yes, you did.” I sighed. I did not usually object when Sherlock elected to keep important information secret. He would always reveal it eventually in his own way. But this dark business we had involved ourselves in had unsettled me greatly and watching him this evening, I felt sure that some terrible secret hung over the unfortunate young fellow we were trying to assist.

“You know something bad about Harry Potter. What is it?”

He saw I was not to be fooled on the matter.

“No, John, I can’t tell you anything at the moment. I might not even be right. And whether I’m right or wrong, it may still be … When and if I tell anyone, I’ll tell you. … But, no. Not yet.”

Chapter 6 ~ Embarkation ~>

This non-commercial, derivative work is an independent production by Charlotte Ann Kent and is not associated with The Doyle Estate, the BBC, Warner Bros, or J.K. Rowling. 

In Defense of Nationhood

Are nations evil?

The question would seem to be worth asking, since vast numbers of people currently seem to be acting on the belief that they are. Everyone has always agreed that some nations are evil, and that all nations sometimes do evil things. But that old understanding turned on the basis that the things a nation does can be evil – like things that a person can do. In contrast, the perception currently sweeping much of the civilized world seems to claim that it is the state of nationhood itself which is evil.

But is it?

The Random-house college dictionary defines a nation thus: “A body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its own unity to seek or possess a government particularly its own.” That seems to be a fairly reasonable description of the concept. And I readily admit that there is abundant room for abuse in that concept. But for those of you who reject it, I have to ask – with what would you replace it?

A specific group of people, attached to a specific territory, with a government specific to them. That is our definition of nation, correct? If we rule this idea out as ‘barbaric’, ‘racist’, ‘tyrannical’, or ‘bigoted’ what options are we left with?

Either we have to abandon the ‘specific’ and say that all people, everywhere, should be governed by a universal government, or we have to abandon ‘governments’ and ‘bodies of people’ entirely and say that people should exist in a fragmented state without any form of law or group organization.

If we reject the nation we are left with a choice between a world state or total anarchy.

Now, some people do seem to act like they want these things. But let’s really consider the ideas for a moment.

There seems to be a confusion in some circles of anarchy, the absence of all law and order, with freedom, being free to run your own life and have your natural human rights respected by others. But they are not the same thing. They are not even compatible.  An individual can be ‘free’ in a lawless society only by being the the most powerful person around.  In other words, the only way a human can make other humans respect his rights without law is to be strong enough to enforce them himself, would be to be the strongest person around in an area with very little population pressure. Tarzan might be free in the jungle (most of the time). But we don’t live in the jungle. And very few of us are physically analogous to Tarzan. Only those with the personal strength to enforce their rights, and sufficient space to avoid large numbers have ‘freedom’ in anarchy. Which brings us of course to the fact that in anarchy there is nothing to protect the weak and slow from being preyed on by the strong and unscrupulous. The weak have no rights in anarchy. They still posses those rights human beings. But they have no way of enforcing them.

“But why are you expecting that everyone will be so evil?” I’m not. I’m assuming that there will be individual evil people. And because decent people no longer have any framework to protect each other with, the evil people will have to be dealt with on an individual level by the decent people – and then it comes down to sheer power.

“But what about friends and family? The stronger protect the weaker!” Well I agree they should. But now you’re veering into group organization and the state of tribehood. And that might be a very sensible thing to do. (In fact there seems to be evidence for the small tribe being the social structure most suited to human psychology, and historically it is the most prevalent form of human society.) But that would no longer be anarchy at all. We now have a specific group people with a specific organization (however small). In fact, we have left anarchy behind and put our feet on the steps of nationhood.

“But what about the other option? What about the world state?” The idea has been floating around for some time. Numerous peoples have attempted to make one. In the ancient world, the Persian empire sought to subjugate as much of the world as possible. The Roman Empire turned vast swaths of Asia, Europe, and even Africa into provinces of a Roman state. The spirituo/political ideology of Islam commands it’s adherents to work and fight for the spread an Islamic State across the world (an attempt which continues openly to this day). In the 20th century there was a concerted effort to forcefully apply the communist ideology to the whole globe. It’s far from a new idea.

I think most of us can agree that had the above attempts succeeded, they would not all have been unmitigated utopia. In fact, in so far as they did succeed, many of them exacerbated rather than alleviated the dangers of barbarism, racism, and tyranny. They did not all do so equally – Rome (in spite of its undemocratic imperialism and what is by modern western standards terrible barbarism) is famous for having brought on the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, among its provinces. On the other hand, it is doubtful that the world ever saw another massacre like the class-cleansing of the early communist states. And all of them – even the best – had by necessity involved slaughter to create, and then top-down control to maintain.

“But” – some of you might be saying – “we don’t mean that kind of world state. We don’t mean an empire. We mean a good world state.” Quite so. Quite so. And you have thereby put your finger on the beginning of the problem with the concept.

A universal government would be a government like any other. Its sheer size and ubiquity would not make it any less capable of the crimes smaller governments commit. “But what about racism,” you may say, “and war. It would do away with those, wouldn’t it?” But would it? People would still be jostling for power in such a situation and those different ‘interests’ would still sometimes be expressed racially (and sometimes religiously, and sometimes economically, and sometimes by locality….). And if it became politically convenient for enough ‘interests’ with pull on the state to attack a particular group, to whom would that group turn, when all the world is under one colossal thumb?

And war? Even worse. To assume there would be no war under such a circumstance is not only to assume that the state is so powerful, omnipresent, (and competent) that it can intervene and prevent all local squabbles before they happen, but also to assume that everyone is uniformly complacent with the state of affairs and no one ever decides they want to run things closer to home. In fact it assumes that not only would this world state have very tight and efficient police control, but also that there would never be any revolutions against it. The first assumption seems to me to be both alarming (large, heavily controlled regimes are rarely ‘nice’ entities) and naïve. For large organizations are not usually extremely competent. The second is ridiculous. There would be attempts by this or that group to either break away from or radically alter their position within the state. And so there would still be war – but instead of there being war between nations, it would small factions against a megalith with the globe’s whole power behind it. It would be exchanging wars between nations for revolutions against a powerful, omnipresent state. The only way I could see to avoid that would be to follow North Korea’s example and crush and confuse the entire population into such a state of petrified submission that they never dared dream of stepping out of line. I think we can agree that that is hardly a utopian idea. (And who knows how long that could strategy work, anyhow.)

So no – a world state in itself would not fix any of the problems that nations are susceptible to. Those qualities of size, power, and omnipresence which would make it a world state would not prevent it from committing the same crimes as nations. What they would do is allow it to carry out those crimes on a vastly larger scale.

“But the type of world state I’m thinking of wouldn’t commit those crimes!” Well, if you’re talking now about building a government so well designed that it didn’t commit any of the crimes governments are susceptible to, you’re now simply talking about ‘how to build a good government’, and not ‘nations versus world state’ at all.

So, not only would the world state be subject to the same dangers as nations, those dangers when they arose would be more terrible due to the enormity of the power behind it. In fact, the world state might be more susceptible than small nations to many of those crimes.

When one single state rules the globe the entire world is subject to whomever gets ahold of that power structure. Even if we assume for the sake of argument the (highly unlikely) proposition that this world government would start out in good hands, we have no way of ensuring that it would stay in good hands. By democratic process? Why would the process which is considered so inadequate in the case of the nation suddenly be inviolable when applied to a world state? Also, strict democracy gets harder and harder the bigger the groups in question get – they get more removed from the actual voter/citizen. It might still be technically representative, but at such a scale, the distance between the citizen and the representative would be enormous, the connection tenuous at best. The actual amount of control the people would have on such a system would be so small as to be negligible in practice. Only very large interests indeed would actually have an effective say in what the state became. And this state run primarily by large, powerful ‘interests’ would have legal control of the entire world, would have the entire power of the globe behind it, and would, to maintain its existence, need to be in the habit of putting down any dissent.

All this without assuming any intentional evil on anyone’s part. This only assumes that the state will attempt to uphold itself and the interests controlling it will pursue their interests. But assuming there will be no direct evil is assuming far too much. In actual practice humans will be just as selfish, foolish, and power-hungry as before, but some very few of them will have power over all the others.

No one in known history has ever achieved world domination before. Do we want to start now?

Now, I know that not everyone who is condemning the nation actually wishes to do away with it entirely. Probably some people are now saying that they never wanted a great big top-down megalith, they simply wanted all the nations to bond together in terms of understanding and peace.

If that is what is in question, I will have have to ask whether you mean independent nations being on terms of alliance with each other and having certain agreed upon treaties about behaviour? Or whether you mean nations being subject to an international entity?

If the latter, if in fact the nations are subject to an international entity, then you have the world state.

If the former, you simply have what most civilized nations have agreed upon for a long time.

So, I am at a loss as to what anyone thinks would be gained by doing away with nations. I am at a loss as to why people hate the concept of nationhood itself. Like any human institution it leaves room for evil. But as long as humans are evil, all human institutions will have some evil in them. The problem of human authority containing some evil is not solved by replacing authority with sheer power, nor is it solved by making that authority universal and omnipresent.

If nations are not in themselves any more evil than the alternative, why are we trying to hate them? This hatred is in some cases taking very extreme forms. Some insist that to love one’s nation means only to hate people of other nations. But how is that? If I love my own kids, does that mean I hate my neighbour’s kids? No indeed! In fact, if I don’t love my kids, I’m not very likely to love my neighbour’s kids either. If I allow my love to become an obsession which over-rides all human decency, that does open the door to problems. But the issue was not that I loved them. The issue was that I became blindly obsessive.

This is a point which I think could stand to be better noticed. We have been telling ourselves for many years – as well we should – that we need to love the stranger, love those who are different from us, love those who are far from us. This is true. ‘Love your enemy’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ says Christian theology. But it is a twisted inverse of that which is being pushed right now. ‘Hate yourself’ and ‘hate those things which are close to you’. Hatred of the things which are ours is no key to loving the things which are not! In fact, if we do not love the things near to us, how shall we love the things which are far? If our own people are to be reviled, what makes any other people to be loved? And how shall we love them, having trained ourselves in hatred where we should have learned love?

It seems to me to be a terrible mistake. Impartiality in applying justice is important. But impartiality is not hatred. This teaching the self to hate the things one would normally find easiest to love is not going to increase the self’s love for the distant – it will simply make love more imaginary. If love is pushed farther and farther away, and hatred is pulled in close, it is actually hatred that you are training yourself in. Love becomes a phantom, hatred becomes your real attitude.

We learn to love our universal neighbour not by hating our physical neighbour, but by loving our physical neighbour and then learning to apply that to all as much as we can.

No country is perfect. And love for your country should not be set up as an idol. But loving and working to protect your country is the first step to both bettering your country and to learning to have respect for countries in general. And only by maintaining your country as a sovereign nation can it protect the rights of those within it.