~ 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.
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!”
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…”
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…”
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:
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.