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.
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?”
“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?
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.
“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.”
“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.”