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?”
“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?”
“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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.