Chapter XVII ~ Retrospection
It was the first of September, and the sun had sunk below the horizon. Baker Street had fallen into deep evening twilight. Sherlock Holmes, perched in his customary armchair, was reading and rereading a long letter. I was sitting and looking out the window, wrapped in contemplation. My thoughts were with the Hogwarts train, as it wound its way through the highlands to the castle by the loch. Harry Potter had told me that it usually arrived shortly after dark had fallen. He would be aboard it now, as would Ron and Hermione, for their last year in school. I thought of all the eleven-year-olds, newly apprised of their wizardry, who were now safely embarked on their schooling, and nearly at Hogwarts. I was almost envious. It would be a fine thing to go to school in a great stone castle in the highlands, to learn to fly, and to see dragons. But mostly, I thought of the fact that Mary Watson, the unschooled wizardess whose overseas birth to muggle agents of the British Embassy in India had led to her being overlooked for decades, was downstairs, having tea with Shirley and Mrs. Hudson, instead of being on that train.
When Mycroft had asked Mary to follow us and watch for Death Eater reinforcements coming, Mary had gone to Ginny Weasley, and asked for her help as a guide. Ginny, and Luna Lovegood, her friend, the Ravenclaw girl who Sherlock and Hermione had gone to for advice, were under-age members of Dumbledore’s Army. They had been delighted to be asked to help in a non-combat role. Luna dressed Mary in robes which had belonged to her late mother so that she could try to pass as a wizard if she was seen. And together they led her to an old house outside of Hogsmeade Village and showed her a secret passageway – one of the seven on the Marauder’s Map. There, Mary had insisted that they stay behind, and had gone on, through a tunnel and into the grounds of Hogwarts. She had waited in the grounds, hidden in some fashion, until she saw the cloud of dementors, and knew that someone inside the castle was summoning unsavoury reinforcements. She set off her flare, sent her beautiful patronus, and then entered the castle. I believe, though I am not sure, that she levitated onto the battlements.
The robes now hung in her closet, and her Hogwart’s letter lay on her bureau. The discovery of an entire world of people with her abilities had enlarged her area of study, and brought her in touch with persons like herself. We had interesting friends calling at Queen Anne’s Street. Ginny Weasley and Mrs. Lupin had called only yesterday. But she had not chosen the new world over the old. She had broadened her horizons, but not transplanted herself. She had not gone where I could not come as well. She had stayed in my world, with me and our daughter.
Sherlock rolled up his letter; rolled, not folded. It was written on a parchment scroll instead of notepaper.
“So who’s your other Wizarding correspondent?” I asked.
“Oh, very good, John.” he said. “It occurred to you that a muggle-born wizard would use either the internet or the muggle post office to correspond with a muggle while she’s staying with her muggle parents?”
“And it’s a little too early for Hermione to be writing from school.”
“Just a little. It’s Severus Snape.”
“He’s somewhere in the Andes right now, isn’t he?”
“Yes. I think he’s studying the potioneering techniques of some fringe society of Peruvian warlocks.”
“Why is he writing to you? You’re a muggle.”
“I seem to be his source of British news.” replied Sherlock. “And he repays me by sending back enlightening commentaries on it from an inside perspective.”
“And why not write to a wizard?”
“Who would he write to? The vast majority of British Wizarding society thinks he should be locked away at the very least.”
“Not to sound naïve, but he could write to Harry Potter. Harry would write him back.”
“You’re right. He could write James’ Potter’s son and ask him for news. It would be quite possible. It would even be practical. Of course, he’d rather cut his own hand off …”
“Bit extreme, don’t you think?”
“This works. I get my Wizarding news from Hermione. And I send her back Snape’s commentary, mixed with my own observations, and she makes sure it gets to the appropriate Wizarding channels.”
“The information he gave you and Kingsley at Hogwarts wasn’t enough?”
“No. That was just a large block of facts. His inside perspective on the Death Eaters gives him a very valuable insight on current events. By the way, Hermione asked me to tell you something in particular.”
“What was that?”
“The interim administration has sworn off using the beings called dementors in any official capacity, and considering the extent to which people are now associating them with Riddle, they will probably not be brought back into service after the upcoming election.”
“I am very glad to hear it.” I said heartily.
Sherlock chuckled. “She seemed to think that you would be. I gather you must have expressed a most vehement opinion on the subject at some point.”
“Harry and I discussed it.” I looked out the window for a minute. “One of your more far reaching cases, Sherlock.”
“Oh I was involved in but the very tail end of a case which stretched over many many decades and involved some thousands of people. Chief credit must go to Albus Dumbledore. At the time of his death, he had amassed such a large depth of knowledge, and come to so nearly complete an understanding of the matter, that it is nearly inconceivable that Harry Potter, his agent, would not have been able to bring the case to a successful conclusion by himself … eventually. To the minor credit of having speeded up the final stages, I may perhaps lay some claim.”
“Did Dumbledore know?” I asked. “That Harry would survive?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, how did you know, then?”
“I didn’t. … I thought it possible. You see, John, when Dumbledore insisted to Snape that Riddle had to be the one to destroy the seventh safeguard, it was immediately apparent to me that this order was irrelevant to the horcrux itself. There was no earthly reason why the means which destroyed the six would not work equally well on the seventh. But it must matter in some way, or Dumbledore wouldn’t have called it essential – and if not for the horcrux, then for what or for whom would it matter except for Harry himself?
“That, in a nutshell, is what led me to theorize that Harry still had a chance of living. Dumbledore seemed to be arranging the matter for Harry’s own sake as well as the mere horcrux’s. This more than implied that something could still be done for him. Admittedly, that ‘something’ need not necessarily mean the possibility of survival. But what other possible benefit might there be for Harry in dying by Riddle’s hand?
“The killing curse, Riddle’s signature weapon, is nearly instantaneous, and so is probably also nearly painless, quicker than basilisk venom anyhow. But it was by no means assured that Riddle would, having Harry in his power, immediately kill him. He almost certainly would at some point. As long as he had at least one other horcrux remaining to him, he would likely consider killing Harry more important than having that extra horcrux – if indeed he realized that Harry was a horcrux at all. I don’t see how he could not know, but it is only fair to point out that Dumbledore thought that he didn’t. In any case, Riddle could have subjected Harry to any number of horrors before giving a final blow. So Dumbledore couldn’t have chosen that as the easiest way for Harry to die. It occurred to me that Dumbledore might have thought turning oneself over to the enemy a more honourable way to die than by plain suicide. But if that were the case, might he not have expected his pupil to come to that conclusion on his own? So painlessness could not be the point. Honour was a possibility. I do not know enough about Dumbledore to say how great a possibility. What else would matter to a dying man? Well, living would. I knew that Harry had survived that signature curse once before; but under circumstances which no longer applied. Curses cast by Riddle could do him injury. That had been thoroughly demonstrated. But what is the most remarkable thing about the killing curse, Doctor?”
“The lack of physical damage.” I replied.
“Quite. The lack of physical damage. Now, ordinarily, this does not much matter to the victim. They are dead. But supposing one were to be hit by it, really hit, and yet somehow survive. It would matter a great deal. Supposing someone had do something which would ordinarily kill them, but they were not actually going to die at all. Under most conditions, this would be a hellish thing, injured to the point of death, but unable to die. But perhaps not with the killing curse.”
“Hence your statement that Dumbledore was trying to hurt him as little as possible.”
“Exactly. Now, I saw no good reason for him to survive, myself. But I am not a student of the Wizarding sciences. Dumbledore’s knowledge of them was obviously vastly superior to mine. If he saw a possibility, then I was willing to take his word for it. … None of this proved anything, of course. And I was well aware of the possibility that there could be some other explanation which was completely invisible to me. But it seemed a strong enough possibility that I was anxious that Dumbledore’s instructions be followed to the letter – so that if there was any chance, Harry would have it.
“As it turns out, I was correct. Harry survived. But whether Dumbledore knew that he would, or whether he was just trying something wildly risky in a last desperate hope of saving his young pupil, I do not know. The fact that he did not allow Harry to try it until the last possible moment suggests that he was less than perfectly confident. Not confident enough to be willing to risk Harry’s life with it until it could no longer be helped. The fact that he did not tell Harry of the possibility that it would work might point to the same lack of confidence, or there might have been some subtlety in the nature of the attachment of the fragment of Riddle or the working of the killing curse, which necessitated that Harry go with no hopes for himself for the operation to work properly. I don’t know. And because I didn’t know which subtleties were necessary, I elected to act as if every possible subtlety was necessary, and didn’t breathe a word to him of my suspicions. … As to how it worked? … There, I admit, I am almost totally at a loss for an explanation.”
“Harry himself credited his mother, Lily.” I said. “He put it down to her spell, even though I had thought they had said it was destroyed.”
It was Mary who responded.
“No, not destroyed.”
She had come quietly up the stairs while we were speaking, and was now standing in the open doorway.
“Oh.” said Sherlock. “So is the witch going to enlighten us on what really happened on the strength of her intuitive knowledge?”
“Sherlock! You can’t call my wife a witch!”
“But, John, she is.” said Sherlock innocently. “And a very able one, too.”
“No, she’s not. She is not a ‘witch.’ She is the possessor of a number of extremely useful telekinetic and telepathic abilities, derived innocently and naturally in the same fashion as the colour of her hair. That makes her not a bargainer with unclean spirits – which is what the term witch implies – but something more along the lines of a … super-heroine. A subtle super-heroine. But she’s helped a lot of people in her quiet way.”
Mary cast me a smile, to be the recipient of which was better than all patronuses in the world.
But Sherlock just chuckled and said:
“No.” I insisted. “It’s an important distinction.”
“In the British Wizarding world, ‘witch’ is merely the feminine of wizard.” Sherlock said. “And I’ve noticed you have no problem calling her ‘wizardess’. But very well then, is the wizardess going to enlighten us?”
“Not really.” said Mary. “I was merely going to point out that if the matter has been portrayed to me correctly, nobody ever said that Lily’s spell had actually been destroyed. What Voldemort did was try to steal it. By spreading it to both, it was no longer between them, and could not strictly block him. But it still existed. By stealing it into himself Voldemort created an ‘outpost’ – so to speak – of the enchantment, but it was a gift that belonged to Harry alone – though now separate from him. It could no longer act as a shield, but still protected him in some way. Perhaps you’re right, Sherlock, and anything but the killing curse would have merely injured him to the point of death – to die shortly thereafter when the outpost in Riddle was destroyed. Or perhaps, if he had sought death elsewhere he would simply have died. I don’t know. … Here’s my understanding, for whatever it’s worth. What is more unlike the soul of Lord Voldemort, than giving up life itself for the love of others? That lonely walk the boy made was part of a surgery, that any insidious bonds formed over the years between himself and the invader would be by his own action of will, broken. So that when Voldemort’s blow came, the image of love and the image of hell should as disassociated as possible. So that the one should be protected and the other destroyed. It wasn’t just to kill Riddle. By choosing willingly to give up his life for others, Harry kept it and became free.” Mary smiled at Sherlock, and her earnest tones became flippant, “But I suppose you quite renounce such a theory.”
“Only a fool goes into denial when faced with the unexpected. And I have never ruled out the possibility of such matters as you suggest. Although I admit that I have assumed as a working hypothesis that I would never encounter such things in the course of my criminal investigations. And I am still not completely convinced that I have done so. …. Remarkable woman, Lily Potter – whatever it was that she did. A very large amount of credit must go to her. It was, after all, her action which knocked Riddle back for so many years, allowing the time for the research would lead to his final overthrow.”
“What about that other woman?” Mary asked, sitting down beside me. “Amelia Bones. Did you ever find out why she was murdered?”
“Just another of his many political murders.”
“But why her in particular?” I asked.
“As far as my inquiries have been able to ascertain, she was an upright, conscientious woman of integrity in a position of some power. But what was the particular incident which led to her murder? … We will probably never know.”
“Have the police given up on the case?” asked Mary.
“I spoke to Inspector Hopkins about it a few weeks ago. I told him I’d solved it; said that the murderer was Tom Riddle, seventy years old, born here in London to parents named Merope Gaunt and Tom Riddle, that the motive was politics, and I reminded him of my previous explanation of how he got in. But I told him it was no good trying to track this Riddle down, since my investigations had satisfactorily proved that he had recently, but quite unsurprisingly, been killed himself. … I did not say by whom. And I am not sure he entirely believed me.”
Sherlock chuckled, set Snape’s scroll down on the desk, and reached for his violin.