~ Chapter IX ~
The Bank and the Broomstick
Gringotts Bank was an imposing building. Its white dome rose high over the roofs of the shops and houses which surrounded it. Like some royal monument of oriental kings it looked, not a British bank. Even from underneath Harry’s invisibility cloak, I could see how brightly it glittered in the sunlight. Armed guards in outlandish uniforms stood at the doors, scanning everyone who came through for ‘magical concealment’. George Weasley, totally undisguised, and exactly what he pretended to be, was let through easily. The stooped and wrinkled old lady who tottered up to the bank on his arm, was let through also. The guards clearly thought that there was no sign of ‘magical concealment’ about her. And they were right. Thus the Death Eaters let a muggle detective walk right past them without a second thought. I, following some few steps behind him, was not scanned at all. It truly was a beautiful cloak.
If it was unlike an ordinary bank from the outside, it was even more so inside. Strange creatures ran it, creatures with strange sharp features, and long long fingers. And the building we saw above the ground was but a fraction of the actual size of the bank. The vaults were mainly in caverns, far underneath the earth. After George presented his key and asked to be shown to his vault, one of the strange little creatures – goblins, they called them, though the small and cunning looking persons bore little resemblance to the type of creature usually referred to by that name – led us down to tunnel opening. The conveyance on rails which answered to his whistle made me think of a coal cart from an old western film. When we had all got in and it started up, I changed my mind. It was far more like a roller coaster. We never actually went upside-down (a good thing, since there weren’t any seat belts) but it roared on at a crazy pace, going far into the earth where the air became cold. It a very short amount of time I had completely lost all sense of direction. Tracks branched off in all directions and the movement of the cart seemed almost erratic. When we finally stopped at the Weasley twin’s vault, a small padlocked chamber opening off of what what seemed to be a great natural cavern, I did not know whether we were right below the bank, or a mile away, and I had no notion how far below the surface we were.
The Weasley’s vault opened to George’s key, but from previous conversations about the bank, I knew that not all vaults could be unlocked by so simple a method. The roller coaster carriages answered only to the Gringotts goblins and were surrounded by only the goblins knew how many traps and pit-falls, which could at a moment’s notice be set off from the bank above. I thought it looked very much as though the only way to get into a vault other than your own was either to completely and utterly convince the bank that you were someone else, or else to control the entire bank and have the obedience of the goblins.
“So there. Pretty formidable, eh?” said George when we were back out on Charing Cross Road.
“To the burglar, yes.” replied Sherlock.
“Well that’s the plan, right?”
George looked positively intrigued. “What then?”
“You’ll find out later.”
“Aw. Come on. Tell me!”
But putting off George’s requests, and thanking him for the help, Sherlock excused himself and in a very short time we were sitting with Mycroft Holmes in the Stranger’s room of the Diogenes Club in Pall Mall. I am not certain at what point my friend had decided to bring his elder brother into his confidence, but it was clear that Mycroft had been made to understand the gravity of Sherlock’s current investigations some time before I had. His unique position in the government of England made him a invaluable ally in such a case. I had my doubts as to whether Sherlock had really led him to understand the full strangeness of the matter, but he seemed well aware of the practical and pressing problem posed by the preposterous society that called itself the ‘Death Eaters’.
“Well, Sherlock, I suppose you’re here to see me about this Wizarding case? How goes the ‘magical’ investigation?”
“Quite well. There is hope that the tide may be turned very shortly.”
“I see. You have discovered the Death Eaters’ real base of operations?”
“I have yet to discover if they truly have such a thing, unless you count Dwight and Forth.”
“Neither do I.”
“But you need my help with something besides arresting and holding the occasional random gangster until the Wizarding government can once again take charge of their own prisoners?”
“Yes. Firstly I want two aircraft; helicopters with some passenger capacity. I’ll need crews for them, and also a few well-armed officers.”
“Is this to be a police raid? Or a battle, Sherlock?”
“Both. Depending on whose point of view it is. I call it a police raid. The majority of the Wizarding world would – at this point – call it civil-war. The current Wizarding regime would call it plain bank robbery. But from the British Government’s point of view … definitely a police raid. We have a civilian institution under the control of a criminal organisation. We are going to take it back.”
“I presume there is some important strategic reason for bothering about this particular institution, isn’t there?”
“Yes. We’re also going to seize a vitally important stolen object which we have reason to believe was stored there.”
“How vitally important?”
“Important enough that its retrieval would constitute a very large step towards the defeat of the gang.”
“How long ago was the ‘item’ stolen?”
“Ah … approximately forty-five years ago, or so … maybe forty.”
“And you come to me, instead of Scotland Yard, because of the wizards’ desire for secrecy, and perhaps because you need me to handle the legal end of it.”
“Exactly. … In the interests of diplomacy, the whole operation must be a top secret affair.”
“I see. Well, I suppose I could manage that. When do you need them?”
“On stand-by for the moment. I haven’t talked any of the wizards into this yet.”
“And will you be able to do so, do you think, Sherlock?”
It was becoming dusky before Sherlock and I met up with the trio again. They were anxious to hear whether Sherlock was optimistic about breaking into the bank or not. In spite of the formidable nature of the objective, Sherlock was extremely optimistic, and informed them that he had a plan which could hardly fail to get them into the Lestranges’ vault. He did not at that particular moment happen to mention that this plan involved a pair of muggle aircraft. He did evince an interest in broomsticks, however, which took me by surprise. However, when he went on to inquire about apparition range, generalized broomstick kph, and to discuss the distance from London to Scotland, his line of thought became a little more clear. ‘Broomsticks’ turned out to be a kind of a Wizarding vehicle; small, quiet, fast, and often considered far preferable to apparition both for safety and comfort. Apparating north as far as we could in one jump, then going by broomstick until we were in apparition range of the school would be an extremely fast and nearly untraceable method of covering the ground.
Hermione didn’t have a broomstick. Ron did. Harry did too, a really first rate one. Unfortunately it had been lost a week before, dropped from a motorcycle somewhere in the township of Little Whinging when the Order had evacuated him. Sherlock immediately recommended that Harry go and find it; it might have been broken or stolen by now, but then it might not have. It would be one less broomstick we’d have to ask Kingsley Shacklebolt to procure for us. Sherlock asked me to accompany Harry.
The trio were not apparently certain why this was particularly important at the moment. They hadn’t even broken into the bank yet. But Harry was not in the slightest adverse to the journey. Indeed, in a spirit of light-heartedness irrelevant to his job which I had not seen much of in him before, he seemed eager to go. Sherlock, Hermione, and Ron would check out a couple more old Riddle crime -scenes that Hermione had researched and then meet us at the Black house for a council later in the evening. Before Harry and I left on this strange errand, Sherlock took me aside and quietly said:
“John, I would very much appreciate it if you would make an inquiry into a rather curious matter while you are out.”
“Shouldn’t I do it after I get Harry home?”
“No indeed; for it is Harry himself who I wish you to study.”
“Study Harry? … What do you mean?”
“I am sure you cannot have forgotten the strange fit which came upon him on the morning of the second.”
All my fears and dark imaginings of the night before, which had fallen to the side in the hurry and bustle of the day’s work and my anxiety over my own troubles, not to mention been made to seem almost silly by the pleasant, prosaic presence of the boy himself, rushed back into the forefront of my mind. But all I said was:
“No. Of course I haven’t.”
“Do you, as a medical man, have any theories on the matter?”
“Um, yes, well, rather a lot of theories. But … I’ve never quite seen anything like it. … Of course, it’s not uncommon for old wounds to act up and cause problems. … But not usually quite like that. Nerve damage is the most obvious diagnosis…”
“Causing that level of impairment?”
“It is rather like a seizure. But it isn’t one. If there was some level of constant pain, it might suggest that the trauma had triggered a malignancy at the wound site. But there doesn’t seem to be. I really can’t say based only on an observation of that one incident. He wouldn’t let me examine him, and deflected my questions about it. He didn’t seem to think it important.”
“Yes, well, she did, didn’t she? … And then there was that thing that she said.”
“Which thing that she said?”
“Ah … she said something about a connection, didn’t she?”
“Hmm. So she did.” said Sherlock. “Well, perhaps Harry will be a little more open with you now. If you state things right. Listen to what he says, not what you think he must mean. Take the most insane and preposterous comments seriously. Be credulous.”
“And, uh, what is the point behind this?”
He looked at me as if this was the most insane question he’d ever heard from my lips.
“You’re a doctor! Harry Potter has a wound or an illness or a something. Try and figure out what the problem is.”
“You want me to try and diagnose him?”
“So this broomstick trip is actually about finding the cause of Harry’s fits?”
“No. I want him to go and find his broomstick because I think we’re going to need it. But I would also like you to try to help him.”
“So, this isn’t about the case, it’s about Harry?”
“Of course it’s about the case. But if you could find a cure for the fits, or even just a good explanation for them … it might be very helpful to both the case and to Harry.”
On this cryptic note, he left me.
I was not sorry for an excuse to rent a car for the hour’s drive as opposed to apparating. It was no surprise to me that the majority of wizards preferred driving flying vehicles to being crushed and squeezed and banged in the turmoil of teleportation and then taking the dreadful chance of something going just a little wrong and not arriving at your destination in one whole piece. Ron’s less-than-perfect teleportation of the night before had not gone as badly as that, but I was still feeling the after-effects of it. This was the explanation I gave Harry when I suggested the car, and he agreed. He pointed out that no one would expect him to be in a muggle car anyway, so it was probably a good idea.
Thinking it better to volunteer information than to demand it, I took advantage of Harry’s hand happening to stray to the scar on his forehead to begin theorizing what could possibly cause such symptoms in so old a wound.
Harry at first tried to brush off the subject, not with suspicion, but as if it didn’t really matter and he’d rather not talk about it. But as I continued to ramble on, sounding, no doubt, hopelessly clueless to Wizarding ears, he seemed to take pity on the curiosity of the completely befuddled muggle healer and tried to explain it, at least a little bit, to me.
Sherlock had told me to be credulous. Credulous, therefore, I had resolved to be. It seemed to me, that after all the bizarrities I had been party to since I met Harry, a Wizarding explanation of his symptoms could hardly contain anything which could still defy belief.
I was mistaken. Harry denied that the pain had anything to do with bone shards or nerve damage or brain malfunction. It had to do, he assured me, with the fact that the failed curse connected him and Voldemort in some manner. And when Voldemort was very near, or when he became overwhelmed by some powerful emotion, Harry could feel it … feel the emotion, sometimes even see things, and know what Voldemort was knowing. And to be so connected to Voldemort was pain to him, great pain; no dull ache, no pinching nerve, no throbbing soreness – but a flaming brand applied to his brow. The morning that he had collapsed, he explained, Voldemort had discovered that Dolohov and Rowle, the two Death Eaters who had attacked the trio in the café, had not only failed to bring Harry back with them, they themselves had disappeared. Voldemort believed them to have deserted, and his wrath was terrible to behold.
Harry knew, for he had seen it. Seen it through Voldemort’s own eyes. Felt the rage. Looked upon the pitiful messenger who had delivered the news. Knew the thoughts that coursed through Voldemort’s brain. And the agony of that unnatural, abhorred contact with the mind of the old murderer was what had caused the strange ‘fit’ I had witnessed.
My first instinct was to think that I was being told a wild story. True, I had been turned into a hedgehog earlier in the day. But a telepathic connection between two people like that was surely preposterous.
But why would Harry lie about this? If he was ‘talking big’ it would be the first time I had ever heard him do so; and what an unpleasant oddity to attribute to oneself! And this lie, if it was a lie, did at least offer an explanation of things which I could not account for – Sherlock’s and Hermione’s behaviour as well as Harry’s own unusual symptoms. This then, was the ‘connection’; a connection not to the horcruxes, but directly to Voldemort himself. As I tried to reconcile this bizarre and repugnant new information with my rambling theorizings of the night before, I forgot my doubt of Harry’s story. There then was a connection in a very literal fashion, but how? Did Sherlock expect me to figure out how that worked? If this was a matter which could be listed under a medical heading at all, and I now had serious doubts of that, it was hardly a job for a general practitioner … a muggle general practitioner. And what did it mean to Sherlock, that he not only sympathized with Harry’s present uncomfortable state, but seemed in such great doubt of his future?
If Sherlock wanted me to listen to Harry’s diagnosis of himself and offer a substitute one to replace it, then I would have to disappoint him. I could think of nothing which would account for it. I had no sufficient explanation even for the observable physical sensations at this juncture, let alone an insight into the psychological/telepathic ones which Sherlock apparently expected me to believe. Research could of course be done, and it looked as though I would have to do it. Perhaps I could convince Harry to come for a proper medical examination. There were perhaps specialists I could consult.
But there simply were no cases like Harry’s case.
In a strange contrast, while I drove along with turmoil and horror in my mind – to have one’s mind, one’s consciousness linked so intimately with a creature like that! at the mercy of his diabolic passions, subject to torment at his mere mood – Harry, the subject of these horrors, told his tale with an incongruous blandness, the chief emotion evident being only that of minor uncomfortableness, or even embarrassment, then dropped the matter and turned to the subject of broomsticks, as cheerful as I had ever seen him. It transpired that broomstick flying was a sport in which he took great joy. His face lit up and his voice filled with animation as he tried to introduce me to the basics of broomstick design and care, and explain to me the simplicity of flying them, and describe to me the sensation of soaring off over the castle and the tree tops. He then went off on a number of anecdotes. I am afraid I took in rather little of it.
It was the deep twilight of a midsummer’s night by the time Harry, with a map on his lap, decided that we were probably in the general area where his broomstick had fallen. I parked the car along a quiet stretch of houses, and Harry and I walked along to an abandoned looking grassy plot mostly out of sight.
Harry stood perfectly still for a moment, his eyes closed, his wand in his hand. Then, so suddenly and so loudly that it startled me, he yelled:
The breeze whispered in the leaves and a car hummed in the next street over. A cricket chirped in the grass. Then, with a whoosh in the dark, something sailed through the air into Harry’s open hand.
Appropriately to the name, it looked very much like a broom; rather sturdier and more finely crafted than your common kitchen broom, though now showing signs of wear, but still quite recognizably a broom. Harry was turning it over in his hands, and examining it eagerly and intently. When he had inspected it from top to bottom, he climbed astride it as a small child would a hobby-horse. For a moment he looked rather comical standing there, gripping the handle. Then he suddenly kicked off from the ground and was gone like shot.
Turning swiftly, to follow him with my eyes as I could not do with my legs, I saw him rising far over the little suburban houses. He swooped around the plot, his robes flying out behind him, making him look like some enormous bird. He circled round a large tree that stood by the side of the plot and darted in and out of the boughs. He swooped over the roof over the nearest house. He climbed so high I thought I was going to lose sight of him before dropping like a stone to within a mere storey’s length off the ground. He did a few more loop-de-loops for good measure, and then glided back to the ground.
When he came to a complete stop he looked joyously over to me.
“Hey, John, do you want to try it?”
I very much did. I had watched his flight with both admiration and envy. But I had my doubts.
“I thought Wizarding vehicles didn’t work for muggles.”
“Oh no, I meant: would you like a ride? This is a firebolt, one of the best broomsticks out there. Sirius got it for me. It’ll carry us both fine.”
And it did. I climbed on behind him, gripping the broom with my knees the way he instructed me and holding onto him. I felt strangely like a small child being allowed to ride a horse behind a grown-up. Then we left the ground. It was as if we had jumped, but we didn’t stop going up. We went up and up and up, whooshing through the air, leaving the grassy plot, the big tree, the houses all far behind. We were soaring. We were sailing. The wind was in my hair; sweet summer air, high above the smells of the town, rushing past me. This was flying. Flying like an eagle or an owl. There was no sound of a motor, only of the wind. I could not even guess how fast we were going by now, and I wondered that the force of air did not hurl us both from the broom. It was doubtless my imagination that the waxing gibbous moon seemed so much bigger than usual, and so bright.
“Hold on tight!” Harry yelled over the roaring of the wind, and down like a bullet we shot, leaving our stomachs behind. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle below us, the town grew larger and larger. Then Harry swooped up and we were sailing again. I was laughing and so was Harry. And the wind out-laughed us both. We were laughing still when we finally skimmed over the roof-tops, swooped to the ground, and tumbled off the broom onto the grassy plot again.
We sat on the grass for a few minutes, and recovered our breaths. The rumblings and bangings and street-lights of the town seemed unusually small and trivial in contrast to that great expanse of air above us. I was more keenly and delightfully aware of the breadth and depth of the sky than I had ever been before in my life.
By and by though, it occurred to both of us that we were expected back at the Black house, and I prepared to go back to the car.
“It’s a pity you have to return the car.” said Harry. “We could fly back to London. It would be quicker and a lot more fun.”
This was a suggestion which I could not bring myself to turn down. The choice between driving slowly along the city roads and freeways, stuck behind lorries, with the smell of upholstery, and the glare of street-lights … and racing through the night sky with the wind and the stars … there was not the shadow of a comparison. There was a branch of the car rental company in Little Whinging. Thither we drove in haste, and dropped off the rental vehicle.
Then back to the sky! The townships dropped away behind us, like electricity poles on the road. I could see London. I fancied I could see the sea. But these were all so far below, patterned tiles of light and mirror-like expanse. It was the arch of the sky that we chiefly saw. But for the sweet wind, we might have been flying out among the stars themselves.