Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeguard

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When a seemingly impossible locked room mystery leaves Scotland Yard in confusion, Sherlock Holmes provides an impossible explanation: ‘They teleported’. Seven months later, Dr. John Watson discovers that the great detective was perfectly serious.

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Seventh Safeuard is a serial Sherlock Holmes novel, written and set in the modern age, but penned in the traditional Doyle style and narrated by Holmes’s friend Dr. John Watson. If you enjoy mysteries, Holmesian deductions, and tales of adventure, don’t miss it!

This non-commercial, derivative work is an independent production by Charlotte Ann Kent and is not associated with The Doyle Estate, the BBC, Warner Bros, or J.K. Rowling. All copyrights belong to the original owners.  {For those concerned with the legality of this work, Sherlock Holmes was confirmed to be in the public domain in 2013 and the author has been in contact with agents of Harry Potter’s creator.}

Author’s Note:

This work was started some time back as a thought experiment. The question was simply, ‘what would have happened in the last Harry Potter book if it had been Sherlock Holmes’s mind applied to the case?’ The whole novel that follows was an attempt to step by step work through that question. Of course, for the purpose of experiment the ‘case’ being experimented had to be left completely intact. The Harry Potter storyline in this work is assumed to be completely canon in every way up to the moment where Harry Potter’s and Sherlock Holmes’ path cross, and all alterations which follow happen as a direct result of that. Now, for the Sherlock Holmes half of the equation, it is not any particular storyline, but simply the character of the detective that was the important factor. As such I have freely moved Doyle’s character around in time, adopted plausible alterations on that basis, and gladly borrowed from other adaptations when I saw fit. But although the Sherlock storyline in this tale may be not-quite fitting any other version, I have attempted to be strictly ‘in-character’ with both him and John Watson at all points. If you were to ask what version of Sherlock Holmes this is, the truest answer would probably be ‘Doyle in the 21st century’ – BBC imagery notwithstanding (it’s great imagery)


Contents


Chapter I ~ The Strange Case of Amelia Bones

I had never known my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, to be as totally preoccupied with anything so deeply and for such a long time since the death of the late Professor Moriarty as he was over the course of the year preceding this narrative. And never, in all the years I had known him, had he been as recalcitrant in answering questions.

For some months, I had thought it was just the strange case of Ms. Bones which had absorbed him so thoroughly. Ms. Amelia Bones, a quiet middle aged lady living alone in London, had been found dead in her home. All the doors and windows had been locked from the inside and there was no evidence of a break-in, yet there were clear marks of a desperate struggle. Sherlock had originally scoffed at the sensational nature of the reports, and lost no time getting on the case himself. He told the police that the people they were looking for were four in number, dressed in long cloaks, three men and a woman, that the woman was unusually tall, with long dark hair, long nails, and a somewhat hysterical personality, and that the actual murder had been done by one of the men – who had small feet with long toes, was thin, even taller than the woman, and who had stood in the middle of the room talking for some time after the initial struggle, before he actually killed his victim. When asked by the police how these persons got into the locked room, and then back out again without unlocking the doors, breaking the windows, or leaving their tracks anywhere except the room of the murder, Mr. Holmes fixed the officer with a strange look and replied simply: “They teleported.”

After this he was always busy. I was not surprised, for I knew he could not be satisfied until he had gotten to the bottom of the mystery. I did not for one second believe that he really meant that they had teleported, supposing this to be merely sarcasm. He several times took great interest in cases which seemed simple enough to everyone else. He would be absent from London for days at a time, and neglect to volunteer information about where he had been. When asked he would be, as it seemed to me at the time, deliberately evasive. He also, and this to me seemed the strangest thing of all, took up studies of a new and most unusual kind. I could not find the common point in his research; everything from highly technical works on the most up-to-date and abstract micro-physics, to paranormal theories I would have expected him to give a mile’s berth. When I asked if I could help, he assured me that he would be certain to call on me if there was anything I could do … but he still didn’t say what he was up to.

All through this of course, he kept on with his normal work, handling at least as many, perhaps more, cases that year than usual.

It was on the first of August that I finally heard something of the theory which had preoccupied my friend so entirely for so many months. We had just returned from Cornwall, upon an investigation into the disappearance of a young lady by the name of Charity Burbage. She had not, it appeared, been seen for several weeks by the time Sherlock Holmes was called to the case, and there had been little that even he could ascertain from her house by that time. There was no sign of a break in; she might have just left it for the afternoon. She was reported by the neighbours to be a friendly and outgoing woman who spent most of the year up north, where she apparently worked as a teacher. But no one could provide any concrete details on her work or her colleagues. We went back to London that night, as I thought, little the wiser about the young lady’s fate. Sherlock was quiet on the train; I guessed that this time even he was stumped. Rather than returning straight to our homes, he to Baker Street and I to St. Anne Street, we stopped in a small café for a late supper.

The room was empty and rather dingy, and my companion was still wrapped in a taciturn reverie, so I busied myself with the evening paper whilst we ate (or rather I, for he ordered only a coffee). There was a television playing in the corner. My companion’s back was to it, and he showed no signs of being aware of it, or of anything in the café. It took me by surprise, therefore, when the introspective thinker suddenly awoke; his face had become intent and he swung quickly around to look over his shoulder. A news report was playing and it was clearly this which had caught his ear.

“… but by the time the firemen and rescue personnel arrived on the scene, there was no sign of the reported conflagration. A second witness claims to have heard cries at about the time of the initial report, which he said could have been coming from near the corner of Dwight and Forth Streets, but he admits that he might have been mistaken. It remains unclear whether the whole affair was an elaborate joke, if something did indeed happen at the corner, or if someone made a genuine mistake. Meanwhile, at Windsor …”

Sherlock drew his phone from the pocket of his blazer as he turned away. From the suppressed excitement of his face, and the urgency of his movements, it was clear that this story meant a great deal more to him than it did to me.

“You think the incident has some bearing on a case?” I asked, attempting to discern the cause of his reaction.

“Yes indeed it does, if I am not gravely mistaken. A rather great bearing. I was expecting something of the sort.”

“Expecting pranksters?”

“It wasn’t a prank.” he replied, apparently carrying on two conversations at once, for he was texting quite hastily. “I’m sure there really was a fire, or something very closely resembling one. It had just been put out before the rescue team got there.”

“By whom?”

“Probably by the people who started it.”

“You expected arson?” I said in surprise. “Shouldn’t you then have warned the police?”

“Why, my dear fellow, you do me an injustice. … I did not in fact inform Scotland Yard, butMycroft knew full well to watch out for disturbances and suspicious sightings in that area.” He chuckled; his brother’s position in the governement gave him significantly better powers of observation than the police had easy access to. “I rather fancied Scotland Yard might be a bit out of their depth.”

“Well …” I said, looking in surprise at Sherlock, whose expression had immediately lapsed back from the brief chuckle into that of serious concentration, “apparently, so was Mycroft.”

“That report had almost nothing. All we know is that something happened there at nine o’clock this evening.”

These strange assertions did little to enlighten me.

“Sherlock … this doesn’t have anything to do with the Amelia Bones case, does it?”

“You are quite on the mark this evening, John.” “It has everything to do with Amelia Bones. … Mycroft knows almost as little as we do. The alarm of fire was given by one of the agents he had stationed there and the other is missing.”

Mycroft stationed agents at the corners of Dwight and Forth Streets?!” I said in shock. “What were you expecting to happen? Your brother doesn’t post agents over suspected arson.”

“It wasn’t arson.” he said. “It was a battle. … Gang warfare, John.”

“Gang? The gang that killed Ms. Bones, you mean?”

“Exactly. In fact I have reason to believe that it was her murderer who led this attack.”

Thrilled at finally getting a hint of what he’d been up to all this time, I pursued the thread.

“Who was the murderer?”

“A dangerous and highly unusual man. Tall, thin, long-fingered, cruel, arrogant, fond of the sound of his own voice, violently racist towards ordinary Englishmen, the owner of an extremely large and remarkably well trained python, possessing a great amount of resources, an extraordinary variety of odd technology, and who appears to be the leader of a murderous organization which is very well hidden but spread throughout all of Britain.”

“He’s the … leader of a gang?”

“Yes.”

“What do you mean he’s racist towards ordinary Englishmen? Do you mean class hatred?”

“No.” he fixed me with an odd look. “I mean people like you and me, John.”

My confusion must have shown on my face, for he continued wryly:

“Yes, that does happen. It unfortunately happens more often than you’d think. This gang leader is only one such.”

“Who is he?”

“His name you mean?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Well, of this I cannot be sure … but I have a theory. I believe, or rather to be fair, I think it highly likely, his name is Riddle.”

“Just Riddle? Is that some sort of …”

“No no, nothing of the kind. But I have reason to believe that he was the son of a country squire named Thomas Riddle, which would make his surname Riddle.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so very far from ordinary. What exactly do you mean by …” I broke off as his gaze suddenly flashed to the door. A pair of teenagers had just come in together, a girl and a boy. Besides the slightly odd fact that the girl was wearing a lovely lavender party dress while the boy was in worn jeans and a rumpled orange sweatshirt, I could see nothing about them to warrant interest. But I could see that Sherlock, though pretending to play with his phone, was really watching them very closely. They took a booth near the door, and sat there, looking a bit uncomfortable. They were speaking to each other, but in whispers I could not pick up.

“What is it?” I asked my companion.

“They’re fugitives.” he said beneath his breath, still playing with the phone.

“How do you make that out?”

“Look at them. They’ve just come from a formal event. Look at her clothes and hair. But they left in a hurry. He was wearing dress clothes too, but changed out of them quickly. He pulled on the clothes he’s wearing now fast and carelessly. But he’s still wearing his dress shoes. They were at the event together then, but he changed. Why? Not for practicality’s sake. If that had been the case she’d have taken off those heels. Perhaps because his clothes would stand out more than hers. … Long robes, for instance.” He gave me a look, as if wondering whether I got something. Then I remembered he had described Ms. Bones’ assailants as wearing long cloaks or robes. “They are clearly nervous, perhaps they expect to be followed. The young lady keeps looking over her shoulder at the door. So, they left a party in a great hurry, were worried they would stand out, fear attack … and don’t know what to do next. You can see from their manner that they are uncertain.”

“Maybe it’s just a bad date?”

“No. That wouldn’t explain him changing his outfit. And hers is too formal for that. And they aren’t nervous about each other. Look at the way she’s leaning across the table towards him, it’s almost conspiratorial, they’re very used to each other. They can’t be out of school yet, or at least he can’t. But they aren’t related, at least not closely. … First of all there’s their appearance, absolutely no family resemblance. Then there’s their clothes. Her things appear new. Not his.”

“Well, hers are formal wear.”

“Yes, but he’s still wearing his formal shoes. Did you notice the soles? Almost worn through. A boy that age doesn’t usually fit a pair of dress shoes long enough to wear them through. They’re hand-me-downs then, or second-hand. Her family has to be at least solidly middle-class. His is short on money. These school children are not close relatives then, but still very familiar. School friends then. And what might we deduce about their companion?”

Companion?” I asked, trying to keep my voice down in my surprise. “Sherlock, there’s only two of them.”

“Yes. I wouldn’t expect you to notice him. But this isn’t the first time this year I’ve happened across difficult to see things. Did you notice the way they walked in? She came first, and he followed some space behind her, pausing just momentarily, but leaving a good space between them. She sat down right away in the left hand side, but he waited before taking the opposite seat; looking not at her but at the seat. It shifted, just slightly, before he sat down. There is a third person sitting next to him on the right hand bench.”

“But how …”

“The manipulation of light waves to bend around an object rather than bouncing off it has been theorized. Of course, none of our scientists have yet managed to make such an object, but this group has done enough strange things that we have not that I find it not in the slightest difficult to conceive that they have done this also. Especially since the proof sits in front of me.”

“Well then,” I said, with raised eyebrows, “what can be deduced about him … or her?”

Him, I think, though I shalln’t insist on this point. Judging by the shifting of the bench, I’d say he’s slightly lighter than his red-headed friend (how tall it is impossible to say). Unlikely to be a full grown man then, although he could be a small one. Possibly he could be a woman. But more likely another teenager. And look at their manner to him. They aren’t directly addressing him, and he hasn’t ordered a drink. … They are pretending there’s only two of them, but they keep giving off subtle cues showing that the third person is very much a part of their little group. When she bends across the table, it isn’t directly towards the red-head. Their posture takes him into account. They probably don’t even realize it. They don’t look directly at the corner seat much, but they keep glancing towards it, not nervously, but conversationally, and at least in her case, rather sympathetically. Whoever is sitting there is clearly not only an ally, but as familiar as they are to each other, they neither avoid him, nor defer to him, he is solidly one of them. … In all likelihood a third school friend. A little knot of three.

“But it is only he who is invisible. It’s probably a small piece of equipment, worn like a cloak or a poncho. Since they are obviously keen on not being seen, they would clearly all be wearing them if they had them, but they are not, so they only have one. And he gets it. Why?”

“Because … it’s him, or her, that’s actually in danger?”

“A sound conclusion. For some reason, the third person is either in more danger, or is more likely to be noticed, or both.” continued Sherlock. “He gets the invisibility cloak.”

Invisibility cloak.” I said with half a laugh shaking my head. “Sherlock, you have a point, but that sounds so …”

“So what?”

“…. Silly.”

“No, not at all. In theory it’s really rather simple, you merely…”

“No, I don’t need a science lecture. … I’ll take your word for it. … Now, why are they on the run? Something to do with that … battle you mentioned?”

“The two incidents are too close for them to be coincidental. There’s something going on there at the corner of Dwight and Forth, related to this secret minority or gang. I’ve been keeping a close eye on it, and have very good reason to believe that it is something of a centre of operations.”

“What have you seen?”

“It’s more what I haven’t.” he said. “I don’t normally wake up on Northumberland street with no idea how I got there, but with a clear memory of having intended to search Dwight and Forth that morning.”

“You think that someone messed with your mind?”

“I’m sure that they did.”

“And you’ve no idea what happened that day?”

“Oh, I have a very good idea.” He smiled grimly. “But I have absolutely no ‘memory’ of the hours between ten and one. … Clearly …”

“I see. … And, is this the only time this has happened?”

He shook his head. “No, something similar has happened on at least two other occasions since I got on the case – possibly three.”

“So, you obviously found something …”

“And they took it back. Yes.” he snapped. “But I’m quite certain about Dwight and Forth. They didn’t see me every time – I was quite right in telling Hopkins about the long robes and cloaks, by the way.” His momentary irritation had faded. “So, a battle happens at a central base of operations, almost immediately thereafter, three school children run away in the middle of a formal party, try to blend in among normal people, aren’t sure where to go or what to do now, expect attack, and bother to make one of their number invisible.”

“Their side lost the battle.” I said, but this time I wasn’t asking.

“I think they must have. And for some reason these three children expected immediate recrimination. Why? They’re just teenagers. It’s difficult to see why they would be special targets.”

“But what is really under the cloak?”

“Yes, I think that has to be it. He is on the run, and they have accompanied their friend. So, the third person is someone of importance to this secret war, on the side which has just lost a battle, and unless I’m gravely mistaken, against the side which is responsible for Ms. Bones murder and Miss Burbage’s abduction.”

“Wait. Miss Burbage was abducted? You didn’t say that before. How do you know that, there was nothing in her house to …”

“She was abducted.” he said, as if there could be no mistake about the matter. “I’m afraid it is highly unlikely that she is still alive. And even if she were, it would be impossible for the police to effect a rescue at this stage. But this teen …” He broke off, his eyes flashed to the door, where two big, ill-tempered looking men in road-work uniforms had just come in. They stomped to a table behind us, near the teens, out of my sight. Sherlock, though he kept his face mostly in the direction of his phone, clearly found something either interesting or alarming about them (probably both, I thought to myself).

“Humph.” he observed. “Didn’t even bother to scuff up their boots. John, I did recommend you bring your handgun today … ”

“Yes, I have it.”

“You might want want to have it where you can reach it quickly. There might be an exchange of unpleasantries.”

“They aren’t workmen?”

“Goodness no. Look at their hands. … No, don’t look, you’ll attract attention. And see, they aren’t here for coffee or sandwiches.” The waitress was walking off towards the back looking miffed.

“Should we uh … say something? Maybe?” I suggested.

“Oh no.” my friend replied. “We shall watch the situation develop. … Besides, I rather fancy our invisible young friend has read the signs too.” He leaned back a little in his seat and pressed the tips of his fingers together, surveying the ‘developing situation’. In response to his warning, I had taken my pistol off safety, and had it in my hand. I could not see the two men from my position, and so waited uncomfortably in the knowledge that a fight between grown men and mere children was brewing behind my back. Then suddenly, Sherlock leapt to his feet with a cry of warning … and chaos broke loose.

The scene that followed was of such a singular nature, and was so outré a sight, that I hesitate to describe it. My first thought was that there had been an explosion, for in the moment it took me to jump up and turn round, there was a succession of loud noises of an unfamiliar nature, accompanied by much crashing and flashes of light. But the scene which met my eyes was one of near comedic nonsensicalism. From what Sherlock had told me, I should have expected it, but nevertheless, the sight of a hand and wrist hovering in mid-air all by themselves took me by surprise. And so too did their weapons. For a fraction of a second I thought that they had none, and wondered why they were grasping small drumsticks, before I realized that those were their weapons.

With a shout, I sent a bullet into the table beside the not-workmen to get their attention before any of them had time to fire again. For a moment the two teens and the remaining man (the other had slumped over on the bench) stopped and looked at us with what seemed to be astonishment. The bodiless hand paused in mid-air.

“I don’t know what your problem is.” I said. “But you don’t have to go around smashing up shops and zapping passer-bys! Put the drumsticks down!”

“I recommend that you don’t make him fire again.” Sherlock said coolly. “The first was a warning shot. The second won’t be. And I’ve never seen him miss.”

There was a moment’s pause in which the astonishment on all three of the faces was replaced by an ugly sneer on the not-workman’s face and horror on the girl’s face. Then the not-workman began to laugh, a nasty laugh which chilled my stomach.

Certain that this was the prelude to something not at all friendly, I began to threaten.

“Point that drumstick at me,” I blustered, “and …”

And then he pointed it at me. Then, as far as I could make out, everyone – besides Sherlock and the unconscious not-workman – fired at once.

For a moment I could make no sense of it. My own bullet whizzed right back past me and took out a light-panel. The not-workman fell backwards with a horrible shriek, in spite of the fact that my bullet couldn’t possibly have hit him. There was more flashing, a window broke, and the waitress slid to the ground.

Then all was quiet, and Sherlock Holmes, the two teens, the bodiless hand, and I stood there amidst the wreckage of the café.

“Well. … That. Was. Interesting.” said Sherlock.

I turned to the teenagers: “You all right, kids?”


~ Chapter II ~

The Hidden Mansion in London’s Heart


It was in a strangely uncomfortable fashion that the young lady replied to my question; a pause, a nervous glance from my face to that of my friend, and a quiet: “Yes, they didn’t hit us.”

I wondered what it was that made her so nervous – surely she couldn’t suppose that she and her two friends were in any danger from Sherlock Holmes and I. But only I nodded in response, and started towards the waitress, who lay in an undignified heap by the door where she had fallen.

“She’s not hurt.” said the girl, whose voice was clear and precise, but gentle.

Having not the faintest idea what they had used to knock her out however, I bent down to examine her anyway. True to the girl’s word, she could have been sleeping.

Behind me, Sherlock was addressing her: “I appreciate your attempt to shield us, young lady.” he said. “But you should have realized that your shield would work both ways and John’s own ricocheting bullet would be more likely to do him long term injury than most ‘spells’ this unpleasant gentleman would be likely to cast.”

“Wait! But you’re a muggle!” exclaimed the red-head. “How do you …”

“Ah, you see, I have been devoting some attention to your secret society of late. Your invisible world is indeed difficult to see, but, truth be told, not quite invisible; any more than, you,” here he looked towards the invisible owner of the floating hand “my alert young fellow, are.”

The girl’s face suddenly changed, the nervousness was superseded by a look of excitement.

“You – you’re Mr. Sherlock Holmes, aren’t you?” she said. “I thought you looked like the photographs but I wasn’t sure!”

“You have the advantage of me, Ma’am. That is indeed my name, but I do not know yours.”

With a delighted smile she held out a slim white hand. “I’m Hermione Granger.” she said. “It’s such an honour to meet you, Sir. And you must be his friend Dr. Watson? I …”

Hermione,” said the red-head, looking confused and a bit worried, “what …”

“Hermione, who are they?” asked the invisible boy.

“Am I the only one who ever reads anything in the muggle news?” she asked in a tone of ancient disbelief.

“Yup.” said the red-head.

“I only read the muggle news to see if there’s something big going on when I can’t talk to wizards.” said the invisible one.

She sighed and rolled her eyes, and I seemed to glimpse years of such interchanges behind the gestures. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes is only the greatest criminal detective of our age!” she explained, a bit shortly. “He’s not a wizard but I would have thought you would at least have heard of him.”

“Well, how does he know about us?!” asked the red-head.

“I would suppose,” she said with some asperity, “that it probably has something to do with the fact he’s a great criminal detective now when there’s so many …” She broke off.

“I have been looking into this little noticed segment of our island’s population since the unfortunate murder of Ms. Amelia Bones.” said Sherlock. “ And I know something of your organization and customs. For instance, I am aware that your next intended step is to cover your tracks by erasing the recent memories of myself and Dr. Watson. I don’t recommend you that try that, Miss Granger.”

I now saw that this was what had made her uncomfortable; she had been trying to figure out how to go about erasing our memories. I could see from her reaction to Sherlock’s comment that she had not expected him to know this, and was further embarrassed by his knowledge.

“Why not?” she asked finally.

“Firstly, it would be ineffective. You could not remove my knowledge of your people through mere destruction of my short term memory. You would have to go much farther back, which would not only be disastrous for my overall mind, but, on account of my profession, would also seriously compromise the outcome of several trials now headed for the courtroom. Your behaviour would suggest that you are too conscientious a young lady to effect such a compromise. Secondly, we are armed. And not about to let you just take our memories.” (Actually, only I was armed, and the nudge he gave me suggested that he thought my current demeanour insufficiently formidable.) “Thirdly, I’ve already contacted my brother in the muggle government on the situation. He is naturally discreet, and under my management the information about this evening’s events can be kept under control. But if I suddenly forget all about the matter you have just opened not a loophole, but a floodgate of investigation into your secret society. Fourthly, I believe that we desire the same goal at the moment, and our mutual cooperation would be greatly advantageous to both parties.”

The invisible boy took off his hood. I must have been unconsciously expecting a fantastic figure to be hidden beneath the remarkable garment, for I was surprised to see the face of a very ordinary looking boy emerge; light freckled skin, dark messy hair, features that had not lost their childishness yet, big vivid green eyes partially obscured with a pair of large, round glasses – the only remarkable thing about his appearance was a jagged scar, cutting straight down the centre of his forehead. He looked at Sherlock Holmes and me with open suspicion. I was too absorbed in wondering what terrible misfortune had given him that mark to feel much annoyance.

“What goal?” he asked.

“The destruction of the terrorist organization within the ranks of your secret society and the removal from power of its murderous leader, Mr. Riddle.” replied my friend.

At these words, the three children were flung into a something of a flurry. They wound up scampering off to the far side of the room for a whispered consultation of some kind. I noticed that they still kept their eyes on us, and did not put their weapons down.

In spite of these not entirely friendly precautions, Sherlock seemed extremely pleased by the proceedings, and he chuckled and rubbed his hands with together great satisfaction.

“Sherlock, what exactly are we doing?” I asked.

“This is it, John! This is precisely what I needed. I’ve been trying to figure this society’s workings primarily from the outside. But these children, they are inside! … By the way, a word of warning – their choices of words are extremely odd.”

“Yes, I noticed. They really call themselves wizards?”

“Yes, but don’t allow that to make you think that the matter isn’t a very serious one indeed.”

“But are you sure you can trust them? They wanted to knock us out and take our memories. And what if they actually are with Riddle? Aren’t you taking quite a chance?”

“They’re not with Riddle. And of course they wanted to knock us out and take our memories, that’s what wizards do when muggles stumble into their secrets. And of course I’m taking a chance. It’s too excellent a one to pass up! … You don’t have to stay though, if you’d rather not. They’d obviously want to erase your memory of the evening before you leave.” He hesitated. “It seems to be a perfectly safe procedure, medically speaking, assuming you don’t mind someone stealing things out of your head …”

“No, of course I’m not leaving.”

He smiled. “I knew you weren’t. … If you are coming, I wouldn’t count on getting home tonight. Better let Mary know. In the interests of diplomacy, make no mention of the wizards at the moment. Just tell her that the Bones and Burbage cases have turned out to be linked, and we’re following a scent while it’s still warm.”

As I had been accustomed to being away overnight from time to time while working with Sherlock Holmes on his cases, this would not come as a great surprise to my wife; though I knew she would be after a more thorough explanation when I got back. She was on a late shift that night and by the time I had gotten through to her at work, the trio had returned.

From their manner, it looked as though Miss Granger had just won an argument. She said that they couldn’t discuss the matter here and asked Mr. Holmes if he could return with them to a hiding place where they could speak freely, to which Sherlock readily agreed. And she asked me if I was going to accompany them. The two boys required further persuasion (or rather brow beating) from the her before assenting to even the temporary accompaniment of a second ‘muggle’. But between Sherlock’s insistence that he would require my help, and Miss Granger’s insistence that they could not afford to pass up his, they agreed, if reluctantly. I more than half suspected it was only to avoid staying here any longer. It occurred to me that in spite of their apparent acquiescence, memory wipes had not been ruled out yet.

They set things in order before we left. Their unassuming little ‘wands’ were more than weapons. They were also tools of the most extraordinary nature. I watched in amazement as the shattered glass flew back up into the empty panes, sealing back together without a seam, and as the cracked tables smoothed back over, the Formica melding till it looked as though it had never been broken. Having followed Sherlock Holmes in his cases for many years, I was no stranger to the remarkable, even to the marvellous. Yet I could scarcely bring myself to credit the evidence of my eyes. And I thought to myself that whatever technology the children were using to accomplish this, it was greatly under utilized. When, in but a few minutes, the café stood as it had been before any of us entered, save for the sleeping waitress and the slumped over gangsters, I found myself greatly wishing that I knew how to do this.

The two gangsters were propped back up in their booth, the waitress set in a chair in the back, and all three were subjected to the memory wipe which Sherlock and I had so far avoided. Sherlock had offered to ask Mycroft to have the gangsters arrested on charge of assault and hold them secretly until the matter of Riddle was handled. The three children refused this, apparently thinking that handing ‘wizards’ over to ‘muggles’ was letting the secret get out too far. Sherlock did not argue the matter, but I saw him texting away while the memory wipe was being done, and I suspected that someone was going to show up soon anyway. After the children had finished with them Sherlock went over and quietly pocketed their weapons.

Less than a quarter of an hour had passed since the fight when the five of us slipped out through the café’s back door and went hurrying along the dark streets. Had it been just Sherlock and I, we would have taken a cab, but for all five of us to travel by cab we would have had to split up. And none of us wanted to do this (I do believe that every one of us had a different set of reasons). Had it just been the three children, they would have teleported, but it appeared that they were uncertain about teleporting with passengers. I wasn’t sorry for that, since I felt that I should like to know a bit more about this ‘apparating’, as they called it, before I tried it out.

On foot the journey took some time, but it was not yet midnight when Miss Granger turned to us and said that she thought it would be better if our eyes were closed, and asked us to finish the journey being led by them. I rather feared a trap of some kind, in spite of the difficulty I felt in ascribing any kind of ill motives to the earnest, innocent looking young lady. But Sherlock seemed to have no such worries; he immediately took the hand she held out to him and shut his eyes. So I took the red-head’s hand, and was led forward in the dark.

We crossed an empty road, and from the sound and the movement of the air, entered an open square. Whether because of the lateness of the night, or the little-frequented nature of the place, I could discern no sound or vibration suggesting that there was anyone else nearby. We crossed a strip of lawn, went up a paved walk and climbed a short flight of steps. I heard the rattle of a lock and the creaking of a large, heavy door, and I smelled the cold, musty air drifting from the recess beyond. I now felt even more disinclined to comply with this arrangement, and hesitated on the threshold when the boy would have gone in. But hearing Sherlock’s voice ahead of me, already inside the cold cavernous place beyond the door (strangely hushed it seemed), I followed them inside.

At a soft word from Miss Granger, I opened my eyes and found myself in a dark hallway. The scents of dust and mildew filled my nostrils. The heavy door slammed closed behind me, and I felt as if a trap had just sprung closed. A row of lamps spluttered into wavering light along the wall, revealing more of the dreary hall before us, and giving the place, it seemed to me, an even more unpleasant, repelling aspect than the cavern-like darkness of before had.

By the time we found ourselves upstairs in a dreary, ancient parlour, covered with dust, and smelling of untold years of quiet decay, my view of the situation had shifted from criminal investigation to haunted house ride. Even if it hadn’t been for the booby-traps that were sprung upon us as we went down the hallway (screaming pictures, creepy recorded voices, and a remarkable fake ghost) my initial reaction would still have increased instead of being dissipated as we proceeded into the house. Stagnant air, rotting tapestries, dark doorways that I felt no inclination to pass. A sense of dead grandeur hung over it all. It must once have been impressive. I could not imagine that it ever could have been beautiful. One felt that the darkness was not the ordinary darkness that comes to all houses at night, but a more solid, permanent thing – like the darkness far underground. We learned that this ancient mansion was in fact legally owned by the dark-haired boy, who had recently inherited it from his godfather, one Sirius Black. A glance at his face as he said this intimated that he liked the place – if possible – even less than I did. But the three children thought it possible that we would not be pursued here. Sherlock knit his brows and looked unconvinced. I gathered that the booby-traps downstairs had entirely failed to impress him.

“Now, Mr. Holmes” said Miss Granger as we settled onto the dusty sofas and armchairs, “you’ve been investigating some of Voldemort’s recent crimes?”

“That I can remember, I have never heard the name ‘Voldemort’ before. ‘Flight from death’? Odd name. But if by ‘Voldemort’ you mean the leader of the terrorist group, the son of Thomas Riddle, and the man who murdered Amelia Bones, then yes, I have been.”

“Then you understand it’s not simply a matter of him being a simple murderer you could just arrest?”

“From my knowledge of the situation, he could be described as crime-boss, terrorist-organizer, gangster, race-supremacist, warlord, mad-scientist, and would-be-dictator. I know he has a large organization of fighters, a range of technologies which I am unfamiliar with, acts mostly under the radar, and has – tonight – carried out an act of open warfare, possibly a coup of sorts, here in London. If the matter could be dealt with as simply as telling Scotland Yard to arrest him and laying out my evidence before a jury, then the whole matter would have been dealt with long ago. I have spent months trying to put the puzzle pieces of your hidden world together, the innocent ones as well as the criminal ones. And I do not know where he currently is, where his base of operations is, how best to apprehend him, what would remain of his dangerous organization with him gone, or whether imprisonment in the custody of the ordinary British police would be anything like sufficient to stop him. I am missing many puzzle pieces yet.” And he looked keenly at her over the tips of his fingers.

“Well,” she said, “we don’t know all of those things either. And handing him over to the Muggle police would be a dreadful idea! He must be handled by wizards…”

“From what I understand of his capabilities, I must agree with you.”

“And yes,” she continued, “I suppose it was a coup. His forces attacked the ministry of magic just an hour ago.”

“And defeated the government forces.”

“They did.” She was looking at the floor.

“Riddle’s gang is in definite possession of the government headquarters then?” asked Sherlock.

“Yes, we have a friend who only just got out alive. The minister of magic was killed and the ministry itself is fallen.”

Sherlock nodded thoughtfully. “To what extent do you expect this will cripple the legitimate law-enforcement arm of your society?”

The three children looked at each other.

Sherlock leaned forward. “The battle in London cannot have wiped out the entirety of your government’s organization. What elements are left? To whom does the responsibility of apprehending the criminal fall?”

“Well,” said Hermione, “remember, we’re not talking about an ordinary Muggle style arrest.”

“I use the term ‘apprehend’ in a broad fashion.”

“We’re talking another battle, Mr. Holmes.” she said, her white face very earnest. “I don’t know what our forces look like at the moment; I don’t think anyone knows that tonight. Voldemort will have placed many of the important survivors under … a form of enchantment. I don’t know who and what’s left free. But we can’t try to attack him yet anyway. He has … protections, of a sort. You wouldn’t understand. And before we can directly engage him we must …”

“Hermione!” exclaimed the dark-haired boy. He was looking at her in apparent shock.

Without appearing to have noticed, my friend continued the girl’s sentence.

“Before we engage him we must remove these ‘protections’.”

“Yes.” she said.

Sherlock nodded, as though he understood her quite well.

“Do you mean ‘we’ as a generalization or as a specific?” he asked in businesslike tones.

She looked uncertainly towards her friends.

“Ah.” said Sherlock. “You do mean we. … A bit young to be taking on the leader of an opposing force by yourselves, aren’t you?”

The dark-haired boy, glanced side-ways at my friend and spoke in an under-tone to the girl.

“Hermione, how much are you planning on telling him? You’ve already gone too far! We can’t tell him about …”

“Why?” said Sherlock. “You are seeking a way to stop Riddle. So am I. I can be of assistance to you.”

The dark-haired boy went on: “Hermione, I promised Dumbledore I wouldn’t tell anyone but you and Ron. We can’t just tell some muggle because you’ve read about him in the papers! Better we muddle on by ourselves than let word get out to Voldemort.” He turned squarely to face Sherlock. “I’m sorry, Mr. Holmes. But I don’t think I can tell you.”

And I could see that he really was sorry. He seemed to think he was resisting a temptation. But it was infuriating, to have a mere boy say he knew a way to destroy the crime-lord, but was neither sure how to go about it nor would accept help.

“I appreciate the offer,” he continued, “but I really can’t accept. And, no offence, but we’re going to have to obliviate you. It won’t hurt.”

“Oh, I’ve been obliviated.” said Sherlock casually. “But – Dumbledore gave a teenager information on how to destroy a terrorist leader and forbade him to tell any adults?”

“We’re all of age!” said the red-head (who was apparently Ron). “I’ve been seventeen for months!”

“But you’re still young … few … uncertain. People are dying; both Muggles and Wizards. We’ve just been discussing how this has gone beyond mere criminal activity into actual warfare. You understand the situation perfectly well. You ran into hiding this very evening to avoid being captured by the enemy forces in control of the ministry. If you have information which will help bring Riddle to justice, you have to act now. If you aren’t sure how to proceed then you are duty bound to get assistance. … Let me assist. If it is the secrecy of your community that worries you – I’m not interested in a big exposure. I’m interested in stopping the murders, stopping the terrorism, and restoring order both in your nation and in mine. Your secret nation may be your business. But when it starts breaking English laws and attacking ordinary English citizens, it becomes mybusiness. And about secrets getting to Riddle’s ear – I can keep them better you have yourself. If you weren’t going to accept my help in your secret mission against Riddle, Mr. Potter, you should never have told me that you had one. But you have been telling me this whole time.”

For a minute there was quiet. Then Miss Granger spoke.

“Harry, Dumbledore didn’t foresee this! He wanted you to keep the number of people small so the secret wouldn’t get out! This is just two more. People come from all over Europe to ask Mr. Holmes’s assistance! If you want only three then you’d do better to obliviate me, and take him instead!”

Harry seemed to be teetering. He leaned over and whispered something in her ear.

“Is his name written on his clothing?” I asked Sherlock quietly.

“Inside of his collar. H.J. Potter. I saw it when he bent over and put his head in his hands. He must have worn those robes at school.”

“Well, not one hundred percent!” exclaimed Miss Granger, responding to whatever Harry had been saying. “But I can’t imagine any good reason why not!” Then, with a sigh, she whispered something back. There was a long moment while Harry thought her words over.

“All right.” he finally said.

“Wait,” said Ron, “we’re letting a muggle in?”

“Two muggles.” said Sherlock, looking at me. “Anything that you can say to me, you can say also to Dr. Watson. You still have no objection to being involved in so outrageous and out-of-order an affair as a civil war among the nation’s wizards, have you, John?”

“No.” I said, greatly intrigued. “And of course I would keep secret anything revealed in confidence. Although, I’m not sure I can be of much help in an affair of that sort.”

“I assure you, you can be.” said Sherlock. “Yes, two muggles.”

To my surprise, Harry J. Potter made no objection to this. He nodded, took a breath, and despite the doubt that still haunted his eyes, he took the plunge.

“We don’t really have a plan. But before Voldemort can be fought there’s … things that must be done. If we, or any other wizards, try to take him, we have to assume that it’s a fight to the death. The team sent to ‘arrest’ him is either going to kill him or be killed by him. And that can’t happen right now. I mean … him being killed can’t.”

“What things must be done?” asked Sherlock.

“It’s difficult to explain to a Muggle …”

“Well,” I interjected, “remember he has been researching you for nearly a year.”

“What must be done?” Sherlock repeated.

“Before the first time he tried to seize power, he set up some … sort of safeguards … to prevent him being killed.”

“What do you mean safeguards?”

“Powerful magic objects …” said Harry slowly. To my surprise, Sherlock made no comment on the boy’s use of vocabulary. He half caught my eye with a subtly amused expression, as if he found their terminology entertaining and was inviting me to join the joke, but had no intention of challenging the terminology of these ‘wizards’. He was clearly more interested what to do about it than what they called it.

“Dark magic.” Harry continued. “They’re called horcruxes. He broke off pieces of his soul and attached them to certain objects” (Sherlock’s brows contracted) “protected with powerful spells. When he should have been killed, sixteen years ago, he wasn’t. He came back.”

“Came back?”

“He sort of … regenerated.”

“Regenerated?” I said. “Like Doctor Who?”

Everyone in the room (including Sherlock) looked questioningly at me.

“Doctor who?” asked Ron.

“Ah, no one. No one. Go on.”


Chapter III ~ Statement of the Case


“Voldemort should have died.” Harry Potter explained. “He murdered my mum and dad, and then tried to kill me. But my mother’s last enchantment protected me, and his curse rebounded and hit him instead. It should have killed him, but it didn’t. He disappeared for thirteen years, and a little over three years ago he regenerated.”

“What do you mean he ‘regenerated’? Don’t you just mean he returned?” asked Sherlock.

“No. He … regenerated. I was there. I saw it.” Marks of old horrors were written on the boy’s face as he said this, and with a sickened feeling, I wondered what place a boy of fourteen could have had there.

“What were you doing there?” asked Sherlock, and I knew from his tone that he was not insensible to this either.

It was Miss Granger who answered.

“He was captured.” she said. “Because of his failure to kill Harry, Harry became a symbol of resistance and Voldemort meant to begin his second bid for power with killing him in front of his followers. … But he was overconfident. Harry fought him and got away.”

“Ah.” said Sherlock. “That is why you expected to be targeted tonight.”

“He’s been hunting Harry for years.” said Hermione. “Our friend who escaped the ministry tonight sent us warning that they were coming.”

“I see. Please continue.”

“Wait.” I said. “So he, Voldemort, has sort of a – fake body?”

The three children looked as though they weren’t sure how to answer that question. It was Sherlock who answered me.

“Oh, it’s real.” he said. “Flesh and blood … DNA … But if it is unnaturally created, like cells designed and grown in labs, that would help to explain … a great deal.” He flashed his gaze back to Harry. “You are certain of this?”

“Completely.” said Harry.

“What state was he in before he made this artificially regenerated form?”

The answer that Harry gave consisted of anecdotes which did not seem to me to work out into a conclusive or even consistent explanation. Ghost or goblin, or ruined man – or all of them together? I couldn’t believe that Sherlock seemed to be swallowing it. But perhaps, I thought, he’s humouring Harry, or maybe he sees what’s really going on through Harry’s explanation, or he’s understanding what Harry is saying better than I and it matches so well with information he already knows that he’s willing to take it as a working – if improbable – hypothesis until he can find a better. I, in any case, was utterly confounded.

“So, it was these safeguards which enabled him to regenerate?” said Sherlock finally, apparently deciding that that was the really important point – the how of the matter was academic.

“Yes.” Harry replied definitively.

“Then if his exact location was known at this moment, and an aerial missile strike was called down which incinerated the entire vicinity … that would not get rid of him?”

“The equivalent of that’s already happened to him once.” said Harry. (Harry has never seen a missile strike, I thought.) “If it was so simple as that, we wouldn’t be having this war now. The horcruxes must be destroyed first.”

“I see.” said Sherlock. “Well, I’d prefer not to rule out the missile strike anyway, just yet. But – your objective is to hunt down and destroy all of these objects, so that when the legitimate wizarding forces confront Riddle, he is not invulnerable?”

“Exactly.” Harry nodded.

Sherlock nodded. “Very well. What do we know about these ‘horcruxes’? How many? What do they look like? What kind of places are they likely to be found in? Please be as specific as possible.”

“Dumbledore – Albus Dumbledore was the headmaster of Hogwarts, the Wizarding school – found out Voldemort was going for a seven part soul; six horcruxes, plus himself. We’ve already destroyed two.”

“Excellent. How and when?”

“I destroyed the first five years ago, when Lucius Malfoy – a Death Eater, one of Voldemort’s closest followers – used it to release Slytherin’s monster.”

“Details, please.”

“It was Tom Riddle’s diary.”

“Riddle’s father Thomas, or Riddle himself?”

“Riddle’s … a book, nothing written in it, but if you wrote in it, it wrote back to you. It, or the bit of Voldemort in it, possessed Ron’s little sister Ginny, and used her to open the chamber of secrets beneath Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in order to release the basilisk.”

“Basilisk? Isn’t that a kind of mythical snake?” I asked. “Killed with its glance?”

“Well this one was real.” said Harry. “Dumbledore’s phoenix helped me to kill it.”

“A phoenix helped you to kill a basilisk? … All right. Okay.”

“So the horcrux released the basilisk on your school?” asked Sherlock in clarification.

“That’s what Voldemort designed it to do.” Harry said.

“You destroyed it. How?”

“The basilisk left a poisoned fang in my arm – I stabbed the horcrux with it.”

“Basilisk venom destroys horcruxes?”

“Basilisk venom is one of the few things that actually does. Merely breaking the object doesn’t actually destroy the horcrux.”

“If the venom is so potent, then why didn’t it destroy you?”

“Fawkes.” said Harry. “The phoenix. His tears healed me.”

“How does that work?” asked Sherlock.

“Well,” I interjected, “as long as we’re talking about myths – Rapunzel’s tears could completely regrow whole eyes. … Uh, Harry, are you being quite serious?”

“Harry’s telling the truth.” declared Miss Granger. “He went down into the chamber of secrets, slew the basilisk with the sword of Gryffindor, destroyed the horcrux, and rescued Ron’s sister.” Harry had spoken with what almost seemed embarrassment. But Miss Granger’s voice had taken on a tone of admiring pride, and she held her head higher as she spoke. She then seemed to notice that Ron was giving her puppy-eyes, and added: “Ron was there too – it wasn’t his fault the roof caved in and Harry had to go on alone.”

“So.” said Sherlock. “The first was a diary. It was left with Riddle’s henchman Lucius Malfoy. It actively did pre-programmed things. And it was destroyed by basilisk venom?”

“Yes.”

“What happened to the basilisk?”

“Uh … it’s still down there, I guess … or its skeleton is.”

“Thank-you. Continue.”

“Dumbledore destroyed the second. It was the ring of the house of Gaunt.”

“That would be his mother’s family, correct?”

“Yes, the Gaunts were descended from Salazar Slytherin … a famous wizard and one of the four founders of Hogwarts School. Dumbledore found it in the ruins of the Gaunts’ cottage.”

“Ah.” said Sherlock. “How did he destroy this one?”

“I don’t know. … I should have asked him, but, I didn’t think of it until … ” Harry trailed off.

“He didn’t tell you?”

“No.”

“Well, that was thoughtless of him.”

A momentary flash of indignation crossed Harry’s face, as if he took this criticism of his late teacher ill. But he made no retort.

“So,” said Sherlock, “we have a diary, left with a follower, and a ring, hidden in his Wizarding family’s house?”

“Yes.” said Harry.

“Do we know anything about the rest?”

“Dumbledore thought he knew what three of the remaining were – he spent years trying to put together a picture – to trace Voldemort’s footsteps over the years – and he had a guess at the fourth. Riddle has a thing for important Wizarding artefacts, especially belonging to the four founders of Hogwarts. That’s Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. So, Dumbledore said he thought the remaining horcruxes are the locket of Salazar Slytherin, the cup of Helga Hufflepuff, Voldemort’s snake Nagini, and something else probably belonging to Gryffindor or Ravenclaw.”

“His python is a horcux?”

“You know about Nagini?”

“I could hardly miss it, though I didn’t know its name until now. So the kind of objects which can be made into horcuxes is very broad? Both animate and inanimate – just about any type of substance? We have here paper, metal, and living flesh.”

“I guess.”

“Well, snakes are easy enough to kill. And it’s always going about with him, so finding that one shouldn’t be much too of a problem, we’ll have to find Riddle anyway. Any ideas on the other three?”

“Dumbledore actually found where Voldemort originally hid the locket.”

“It had been moved?”

“Yes. … Someone had been there before us.”

“Riddle shifting it? Or someone else trying to destroy it?”

“He left a note, for … Riddle, saying he planned on destroying it.”

“Perhaps he did, then.”

“Yes, we thought of that, but we’ll have to find it to be sure.”

“Do you happen to have that note?”

“Yes, I have.” said Harry. He pulled from his robes a small brown pouch which had been hanging around his neck and drew out a large golden locket.

Sherlock took it and turned it over and over in his hands; looking at the gold, the smooth unmarked surface, the finely worked chain. Finally he opened it – examining the hinge as he did so, took out the little square of paper within, and carefully unfolded it.

“Exceedingly high quality parchment.” he commented. “Either the thief was well-to-do to have this on hand or he chose expensive paper particularly for the purpose. Most likely the former, since it is not generally poor men who use golden lockets to send notes in. Obviously written during Riddle’sprevious attempt to seize power.”

I got up and walked behind Sherlock’s chair to look over his shoulder. On thick, yellowed paper, written in small but bold printing, I read the following message:

To the Dark Lord,

I know I will be dead long before you read this

but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.

I have stolen the real horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.

I face death in the hope that when you meet your match,

you will be mortal once more.

R.A.B”

“He expected to die?” I said. “Was he planning on committing suicide?”

“Perhaps, but he was clearly committing treason against a very hard master. He may have expected to be killed before Riddle checked his hiding place. … ‘I face death’, that doesn’t sound like he’s going to take his own life … but it also makes it sound more inevitable and immediate a threat than being eventually hunted down for treachery. But then there is the intending to destroy it ‘as soon as I can’ which sounds as though he’s going to be living for a while. … There are clearly a number of other factors here.”

“You say he was Riddle’s servant?” I said.

“Obviously. Follower anyway, ex-follower. The writing suggests a familiarity between them, and he clearly expects Riddle to recognize his initials as a matter of course. Can’t be a family member. Riddle didn’t have any near family left alive after the age of sixteen, besides perhaps an uncle – but local sources say he disappeared from muggle view at least at about the same time that the Riddles died. And his initials were M.G. Also the greeting. “The Dark Lord” That’s very formal, as if he is used to speaking up to him, like a henchman. I doubt that ordinary wizards are in the habit of referring to him by any such preposterous title as ‘the Dark Lord’.”

“No they’re not.” supplied Harry.

Sherlock nodded. “So this note was written by one of his followers, who turned against him and tried to help bring him down, apparently at the expense of his own life.”

“His?” said Miss Granger.

“This is a man’s writing, a young man’s, of a decisive and probably arrogant personality. Principled to some extent – he had the moral courage to change his allegiance when it was not clearly personally advantageous to him. Proud, since he wanted it known. But unwise, since it took actually working under Riddle to show him what bad news he was. Riddle is a charismatic person, is he not?”

“Yes, he is … very. It’s part of what makes him so dangerous.” said Harry.

“Well, this R.A.B.” I said. “You don’t know who he is?

“No.” said Harry.

“I’ve looked up all the well known witches and wizards with those initials.” Miss Granger said. “And I couldn’t find anything to connect them to Voldemort.”

“Well, he mightn’t be all that well known.” I suggested. “Shouldn’t we go through all the well-to-do B families in your society that we can find information on and see if any men in that age category had names beginning in R?”

“Yes.” said Sherlock. “It should have been the first step taken. And since we’re sitting in the Blacks’ parlour we can start with the Blacks. Your said your godfather’s name began with an S, so …”

“And Sirius was never a Death Eater!” said Harry, suddenly fierce.

“Were any of his family?” asked Sherlock, totally unphased. “Death Eater connections or the possibility of such connections, name beginning with R, would have been a young man about twenty years ago…”

Harry’s face fell.

“What is it?!” cried Ron and Miss Granger together.

“Regulus.” said Harry. “Sirius’ younger brother … Sirius told me he joined the Death Eaters when he was really young, got cold feet, and disappeared not long before Voldemort’s first downfall!”

“R.A.B!” screamed Miss Granger. “Regulus Black! What was his middle name, Harry?”

“I don’t know. But it fits!”

Sherlock was not impressed – they’d had that locket and note since June. But the three children were far too excited to bother about his pointed comments. They scurried about, checking out Regulus’s bedroom (where we learned his middle name was Arcturus) and other hiding places around the house. Sherlock and I helped in the search, but found nothing, or at least no lockets. Half an hour passed before Miss Granger had an epiphany and remembered a large golden locket engraved with an S which they had thrown out two years ago while trying to clean the place up a bit. The three were appalled by this news, but Sherlock didn’t seem to think that it was so very dreadful. He was making inquiries of them about Wizarding methods of garbage disposal when Harry had another thought.

I would have expected that upon discovering a non-human creature who possessed humanoid form and the power of speech, one’s first response would naturally be curious scepticism, and then, if sufficient evidence was presented to overcome this, delighted fascination. But the arrival of the creature which Harry called into the kitchen left little room for for either sensation.

It came quickly, I didn’t see from where; Harry called ‘Creature!’, there was a sharp crack, and when I turned around to see what had fallen, a strange creature was standing there. My instant response of mingled revulsion and pity at the sight of this hideous little mockery of the human form quickly increased to something very like horror. The contempt and hatred of Harry it expressed, even as it addressed him as ‘Master’ surprised and disturbed me. Harry had impressed me as being a quite decent young fellow; hardly likely to inspire such hatred in a subordinate. But then, he was not the sole object of its hatred. Room was left for Ron and Hermione Granger in its extreme displeasure; the titles of address it gave to them were the peculiar epithets ‘blood traitor’ and ‘mudblood’ – which I recognized as favourite catchwords of the screaming painting in the hall. It muttered them bitterly under its breath with vicious inflection and angry glares. Then it noticed Sherlock and I.

The paroxysm of fury and horror at the presence of ‘filthy muggles!’ in his ‘mistress’ house’ into which it erupted was of so violent a nature that Sherlock and I thought it politic to excuse ourselves from the room. This was to the evident relief of Harry, who was frantically trying to make him stop and apologize to us at the same time. Miss Granger, who looked at it with sadly sympathetic eyes, came with us, out into the hall on the other side of the kitchen door.

The gentle girl, to whose kind, upright nature the situation was utterly abhorrent, related to us that this creature (it appears it had no other name) had long been bound to the service of the house of Black, in a position which she considered no better than slavery. There was a firmness about her lip and an indignant flaring in her nostrils as she said this which were the first signs I had seen from her that she might be a very formidable person if prompted. When Sirius died the legal ownership of the house had passed to Harry, and so had ‘Creature’. Harry had not wanted him. He did not desire a servant, and to make matters worse, Creature had conspired with a Death Eater cousin in the affair which cost Sirius his life. But Dumbledore had bade Harry keep him, legally bound to obey his commands, for the time being at least; for Creature knew too many secrets. If he were permitted to go where he wanted and do as he wished, he would undoubtedly go at once to that cousin, one Bellatrix Lestrange, one of Riddle’s foremost lieutenants and Sirius’ killer, a full-blown psychopath whose brutal deeds were infamous in the Wizarding world, and offer her his service and his knowledge. For she was the nearest in the Blacks’ line. I saw now that it was not only dislike of the horrible house which made Harry hate his inheritance – he might well consider it a curse.

Once the ‘muggles’ and the ‘mudblood’ were out of his immediate presence (‘mudblood’, we learned, was a racist slur for a wizard whose parents were muggles) Creature was able to calm down enough to answer Harry’s questions about the locket.

I need not here go deeply into the sad story that the creature told. Sherlock, Miss Granger, and I heard almost all of it from just beyond the door. Before Creature was half finished, tears were streaming down Miss Granger’s face. Even Sherlock’s countenance had assumed a grimmer aspect. In that moment I conceived a loathing of Tom Riddle which knowledge of his merely expedient political violence had not produced, and which time has not effaced.

But I see no reason to take up space and darken my tale by repeating the poor little person’s story in full. Therefore, passing over some hideous anecdotes of wanton cruelty not strictly relevant to the investigation, let it suffice to say that many years ago Creature had gone with his beloved, long-dead Master Regulus as guide to the cave where the horcrux had been hidden. Regulus Arcturus Black had never come out again. He had succumbed to the horcrux’s defences, and died a terrible death before his servant’s eyes. But he managed to send Creature back home again, with the horcrux, and orders to destroy it. Creature had tried, tried and tried. But he been unable to do so. His master’s, his very dear master’s, last behest was unfulfilled. The locket had sat in the house for years. Creature had carefully guarded it. He had stolen it out of the trash when it was thrown away. He had kept it hidden in his own little cubbyhole until Sirius died. Then an associate of theirs, one Mundungus Fletcher, burgled the house. Among the plate-ware and trinkets he took was Regulus’ locket.

Creature finished and sat sobbing on the floor, sobbing as if his heart would break; hatred forgotten in grief. Miss Granger had broken down and rushed back into the kitchen. She would have embraced the wretched creature, but it rebuffed her, crying ‘what would his mistress say?’. Ron stood by, looking distinctly disturbed. Harry was kneeling on the floor beside Creature, his vivid green eyes wide. It was clear that the teens had never seen this side of their unpleasant acquaintance before. Harry’s question had broken into a locked up corner of his heart, and the nasty little bundle of spite had broken down into a weeping, grieving, almost childlike creature. Harry tried to ask of him how, after what Riddle had done to him and what Regulus had done to bring Riddle down, he could then connive with Riddle’s henchmen. I don’t know if Creature even registered or understood the question. It was, as Miss Granger pointed out, not of sides or wars that he thought, but of people. He had loved Regulus and Mistress Black with single-minded blindness, what should he do but accept their prideful world-view in its wretched entirety? Why should he not do as their cousin ‘Bella’ asked of him?

It was in a changed tone that Harry again addressed Creature, when the poor fellow had recovered himself sufficiently to hear anything. He asked him in a distinctly gentle voice if he could find Fletcher. ‘We’ said Harry ‘we need to finish Regulus’ mission’. Creature agreed without dispute and prepared to leave. But, apparently moved by some sudden impulse, Harry took out the golden locket which had held Regulus’ note and told Creature he thought Regulus would want him to have it.

Well, the calming down had to be done all over again. It was difficult to tell at first if this gift made Creature very happy or very sad, just that it made him very hysterical. But the care and almost reverence with which he stowed the little treasure away made me think it must have been at least partly positive emotion. A change had come over his attitude as well. It seemed that Harry had transformed himself in Creature’s eyes from being a base nobody – a ‘half-blood’ whom Mistress Black would despise – into an ally of Master Regulus. And it was astonishing how his viciousness had disappeared. He was downright respectful to both boys. He was tersely polite to Miss Granger. And he even consented to courteously ignore the existence of Sherlock and I. And, promising to bring back the thief, he left.

The affair left a nasty impression on my mind. It was not that I judged that the three children had done ill – I was not sure what else they could have done. But a terrible situation it was all the same. Miss Granger was right. However much he had loved some of his masters, Creature was a sentient being held very much in bondage. Sherlock seemed greatly annoyed by the whole affair, and he and Miss Granger spent a great deal of the time in which Creature was recovering off in the corridor, conversing earnestly and indignantly together. I had no doubt about what.

“Right.” said Harry when we finally reassembled in the parlour. “Two are dead. Mundungus Fletcher stole the one. The other is hanging around Voldemort. That leaves just two we don’t know.”

“You said that one was a cup and the other an artefact related to one of two founders of the school.” said Sherlock. “We know something then. Could you recognize this cup if you saw it?”

“Probably.”

“Good. And the other. Do you know if any artefact which fits that description is missing?”

“No. There’s only one relic of Gryffindor really. The sword of Gryffindor. And it’s perfectly safe.”

“Well, if it is most probably from either Ravenclaw or Gryffindor and cannot be from Gryffindor, shouldn’t we be looking at Ravenclaw? … What artefacts are there belonging to Ravenclaw?”

“We’re all from the house of Gryffindor.” said Miss Granger. “We wouldn’t know.”

“Would someone from the house of Ravenclaw know better?”

“I suppose so.” said Harry.

“Then we need to talk to someone from Ravenclaw. They don’t need to know why we’re looking for it. But we can’t discover which artefact it could be until we know which ones there are. Who from Ravenclaw would you be least worried about talking to right now?”

“Luna Lovegood.” said Harry instantly.

“Is she a teacher?”

“No, she’s a student. … But she’d know about artefacts, come to think about it. Her father is really into everything weird.”

I wondered what a person weird by Wizarding standards would be like.

“Where is she now?” asked Sherlock.

“At her house, not far from my place, in St. Ottery Catchpole.” said Ron.

“Do you know how to get to her house?”

“I’ve never been there. I just see her at school.”

“I’m sure we could find it though.” said Miss Granger.

“Good.” said Sherlock. “In that case we should call on the Lovegoods tomorrow. But once we know what it is we’ll still need to find out where it is. Now since we know where he left four out of the six, we should be able to make reasonable estimate of where the last two are. One with a trusted lieutenant. One in the ruins of the Gaunt family home. One he keeps with him. One in a cave … was there anything special about this cave that you know, Harry? Why might he have chosen it?”

“There is a story about how he once, back when he lived in an orphanage – his mother died when he was born, you know, and his father had left when she was pregnant – he went on a holiday with the other orphans and took a bunch of younger kids off alone. Did something to them. No one knows what exactly happened, but they weren’t right afterwards. … Dumbledore thought that this was that cave.”

“I see.” said Sherlock. “One in a place important for its ancestral roots. One in a place where he hurt someone.”

“Yes.”

“One that related to his lineage. One that related to his abilities. Both pointing to his status as a formidable wizard.”

“Yes.”

Sherlock jumped up and began swiftly pacing the room.

“What other places might he consider important to his Wizarding status? How about the Wizarding school? Might he have considered that important?”

“Well, the school was where he went when he first learned that he was a wizard. Dumbledore thinks it meant more to him than any person ever has.”

“Hogwarts school then. Put that down as a highly probable place. It would relate both to his lineage and his ability, making it doubly important.”

“How could he hide it at Hogwarts?” said Miss Granger.

“Yeah, he’d have to get in for starters.” said Ron. “And he hasn’t been there since … when was You-know-who at Hogwarts last, Harry?”

“When he tried to get Dumbledore to hire him as the defence against the dark arts professor.”

“When was that?” asked Sherlock.

“Ah … before he openly started trying to take over – he wasn’t actually considered a criminal at that point, but after he’d started the Death Eaters.”

“He sought a teaching position?” said Sherlock. “On the eve of trying to take over the country?”

“Dumbledore doesn’t think he really wanted the job. He thinks that he just wanted to get in the school.”

Sherlock swung both fists in the air in a gesture of delight.

“Just wanted to get in! He hid a horcrux there that night, it’s almost a certainty!”

“Well … Dumbledore thought he was looking for something to turn into a horcrux.”

“Maybe he was. Could have done both. … Did he ever commit a serious crime in Hogwarts?”

“Yes, he murdered a muggle-born student, he set the basilisk on her in the girl’s bathroom. I think that was probably the murder he used to turn the diary into a horcrux.”

“Wait,” I said, “what do you mean?”

“Well … a horcux is a broken off piece of somebody’s soul, right?” said Harry uncomfortably.

“ … Okay?”

“In order to ruin your soul like that you’ve got do do really terrible things … like murdering people.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I said nothing.

“Was it his first murder?” asked Sherlock matter-of-factly.

Harry looked thoughtful.

“I don’t know. I think he murdered both her and his father and grandparents in his sixth year… but you won’t know about that …”

“Yes I do. … Impossible murder. The squire, his wife, and their grown son all dead. Found in their dinner clothes the next morning; not a mark on them. No cause of death ever determined. No one ever found guilty in their deaths. A small place like Little Hangleton doesn’t wear out stories like that in a mere fifty years. Especially with the house still standing empty …”

“He killed his father and grandparents?” I said, appalled by the total lack of filial respect, and the utter bloodthirstiness of such a massacre.

“Yes.” my friend replied. “At the tender age of sixteen.”

“Revenge for his abandonment?” I asked.

“Possibly in his father’s case. But the wanton slaying of his grandparents, who, judging by local reports, never even knew they had a grandchild, suggests that not only revenge, but racism was at work. Hatred of his own race. You will recall that the Wizarding connection was on his mother’s side.”

“Yes.” said Harry. “Dumbledore thinks he killed them to wipe out his muggle ancestry. …”

“Might not that too have been considered a momentous occasion? At least as much as the abuse of a pair of children? … I have already been over the Riddles’ house and its grounds fairly thoroughly, but I wasn’t looking for horcruxes at the time. The cup of Helga Hufflepuff, can you describe it?”

“I saw it in a … recorded memory that Dumbledore showed me. It’s made of gold, it’s got two handles, and there’s a badger engraved on it.”

Sherlock shook his head. “I saw nothing of that description. But that doesn’t rule out either horcrux being hidden there.

“We’ll check the Riddle house then.” said Harry. “After we know what the last one is.”

“The Riddles’ house and the bathroom at Hogwarts …” said Sherlock.

“Actually, I can’t think of any way to hide a horcrux in the bathroom.” said Harry. “I mean – if we manage to get into Hogwarts – we could look, but I doubt …”

“Then where in the school would it be? You must know the place. … He would have known the place too. … If you wanted to hide something in Hogwarts, Harry, where would you put it? Pretend for a moment that you have something to hide and only a few minutes to do it in. You don’t want to put it where anyone, especially a teacher, will stumble across it. You have to be able to get there and back quickly before anyone realizes you haven’t gone straight for the headmaster’s office. Now tell me, where have you put it?”

So quickly that I thought he must be telling us not where he would hide something, but where hehad hidden something, Harry quipped out:

“The Room of Requirement. … It’s a shape-shifting room in Hogwarts. It changes shape based on what you need. One of the things it turns into is a great big storage room … A lot of people have hidden things in there over the centuries, it’s filled with all sorts of things. … Like an overstuffed attic.”

“Hide it among the tumbled secrets of school-children…” mused Sherlock. “Yes … a single important artefact in a room like that – isn’t a haystack the best place to hide a needle? … It wouldhave been possible for him to get into that room during that evening?”

“Definitely … if he knew that it existed.”

“We’ll have to check both, of course. With Riddle in power it will require infiltration, but you know the place. And the Riddle house. That one is easy. It’s standing empty. We can just stop by and give it a run over. Any other suggestions? You’ll know his history far better than I do of course. Places where he worked, or lived, or killed somebody important …”

“He worked at Borgin & Burke’s – that’s a Wizarding shop that caters to the dark magic crowd – for a while after he left Hogwarts.” said Harry. “And he’s spent a lot of time in Albania over the course of his life.”

“Albania? Why Albania? And a country is too big to go on, we’d have to narrow that down a bit before we tried to search it.”

“I don’t know where, just Albania.”

“Well, if we run out of places to look in England, we’ll have to try tracing his footsteps in Albania. But let’s try England first. A shop sounds like a bad place to hide a horcrux. Too many people, and a brilliant way to get a trinket like a cup or a locket accidentally sold. But I suppose we can look. And there’s another thing. What about people? You said he left the diary with Lucius Malfoy? Who is Lucius Malfoy? Who else might be an equivalent to him? Who else among Riddle’s people might he be willing to entrust so important a device to?”

Harry sat there for a while without answering, arms crossed, shoulders slumped, staring into the carpet. Pain chased itself across his face as he thought. In asking him to judge among Tom Riddle’s followers, Sherlock was asking him to relive all his most painful memories. I considered all that had been said and implied this evening – both parents murdered, multiple murderous attempts on his own life, his godfather’s death at the hands of that cousin, the recent death of a clearly beloved teacher. … After what seemed a very long time indeed, Harry started listing names; odd names, that fell on my ear with the ring of a strange language. Two of the names stood out to me, not for peculiarity of syllable, but for the anger they roused in the young speaker; Bellatrix Lestrange and Severus Snape. Mrs. Lestrange was the cousin who had killed Sirius; she had struck him down in battle when he had come with ‘the Order’ to save Harry and some friends, who had been trapped by some of Riddle’s forces. The name Severus Snape was familiar, for the fake ghost downstairs had called the name. It was against him that the booby-traps had been intended. Snape had been a professor at Hogwarts. It was at his hands that Headmaster Dumbledore had died, not two months before. He was now openly serving Riddle. That the thought of him raised Harry’s indignation did not surprise me. Harry could not seem to help but stop and briefly lambaste Snape’s villainy and treachery before continuing his list.

Finally, Sherlock asked him if there was any incontrovertible way of telling if something was a horcrux or not. Harry knew of no foolproof test, but was able to say that both horcruxes which had been destroyed so far had put up some kind of a fight. The diary had set the basilisk on him – and seemed to think that it was going to duel him somehow. The ring had withered Dumbledore’s hand.

The night was growing old. Miss Granger was sitting bolt upright in a failing attempt to remain alert. Ron had long since slumped over on the sofa beside her. Even Harry, though still eager, was drooping. It was clear the children at least could do no more that night.

“You might as well get a few hours sleep, John.” Sherlock commented (though he himself showed no signs of weariness). “It’s too late to go home tonight.”

A very short while ago, I would have shrunk from the notion of sleeping in this place, but it seemed that weariness had done away with my fastidiousness, for when Miss Granger offered me one of their blankets I accepted without question, and scarcely noticed the children’s own preparations, or the sort of camp they set up with cushions and sleeping bags in a corner. As I was drifting off, Sherlock appeared at my shoulder and spoke to me in an undertone.

“John, can I have your gun?”

Sleepily handing it to him, I inquired: “Worried they’ll try to obliviate you in the middle of the night, eh?”

Chuckling, he stowed it away in his own coat. “That is the least of my reasons.”

I remember nothing more that night save a brief image of Sherlock Holmes, curled up in an armchair by the empty hearth, his old briar pipe in his hands, and his face illuminated by a flash of fire.


Chapter IV ~ The Story of Severus Snape


When I awoke the room was filled with daylight. I took in the dreary, magnificent, dusty room, slowly comprehending that the strange events of the night before had not been a bizarre dream after all. Then I saw that the chair beside the empty fireplace was empty. A glance around the room revealed Ron and Miss Granger still sleeping amongst the blankets and cushions on the floor. But both Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter were gone.

I left the parlour in search of them, out into the dusty corridors. The house looked different in the daylight, still lonely, ugly, and forsaken, but there was less menace in it. It had become just an ill-kept, ugly old London house.

I was not searching long. I had only left the parlour behind me moments before when I heard Sherlock’s voice, and turned to see him striding towards me. There was a brisk cheeriness in his manner and I deduced that he had been spending his time profitably.

“Good Morning, John.” he said.

“Do you know where Harry is?” I asked.

“He’s upstairs in his godfather’s room, poring over an old letter his mother wrote.”

“Been exploring the house this morning?”

“Oh, yes.” he said, looking oh so pleased with himself. Then, as if he had a secret just too delightful not to share with somebody he turned to me and said:

“Severus Snape never defected to Riddle.”

“Severus Snape? The professor who murdered the headmaster?”

“The same.” replied Sherlock.

“How do you figure that? Was it not he who murdered Dumbledore after all?”

“Oh, no. He killed him. That much seems to be indisputable.”

“Then, how do you get to the conclusion that the man who murdered an important counter-Riddle figure …”

“Ah, not an important counter-Riddle figure, say rather, chief in the resistance against him.”

“All right. So how do you get to the conclusion that the man who murdered the chief of the resistance against Riddle, and has now openly aligned himself with Riddle, isn’t actually working for Riddle?”

“My suspicions were first aroused when we entered the house. I was rather appalled, as you may have noticed, by the young people’s suggestion that those preposterous booby-traps downstairs would keep anyone out of the house, especially a seasoned murderer well-used to the tricks and illusions of the British Wizarding world. Yet we encountered no traps, and the house was quite clearly abandoned. Miss Granger tells me that this house is under an illusion, which only people who have been shown by the illusion’s ‘secret keeper’ can see through. Snape is obviously not the secret keeper. So it is true he cannot tell the other Death Eaters how to get in. But I can see nothing to stop he himself, should he desire entry. Nor would anything prevent him from leading them in as if they were inanimate objects … as the three in fact did with us last night.”

“That’s why you wanted my pistol.”

“I thought it as well that the one conscious person should have the weapon. Still, this was a mere precaution. Since no attempt had been made to set a trap for Harry, and no one was stationed here to wait for him, and no one had tried to enter for all those hours to check in on the place, it did not seem to me likely that an attempt was going to be made. This has indeed proved to be the case – fortunately, since one gun would not likely be a match for an entire war party.

“As soon as the sun was up, I set out to discover who has been here recently. To bring you up to speed, in case you had wondered why they would bother to try and set up defences against Snape in a house which generally stands empty – until recently, it hasn’t been empty. You may recall a reference or two last night to ‘The Order’. This appears to be an organization devoted to defence against Riddle. They used this place as a base for a number of years. Harry has avoided speaking directly of this Order, so I have been left picking up hints to flesh out their occasional references. But it seems clear that Snape was a member and they abandoned this place two months ago when he appeared to turn traitor.

“Unfortunately, I did not take the time to look for recent visitors before we all came in last night. The entrance hall was fairly hopeless. But since we had all come straight up to the parlour, it was simple enough to see where any other traces broke off from our path. One person besides us seems to have been here recently, probably within the week. A tall man, with large feet, and large hands too, I should think. He came in and went straight upstairs. His advancing and returning tracks were side by side and sometimes superimposed, so I tracked him back down at the same time as I tracked him up. They led me to the old bedroom of Harry’s late godfather. Once in the room, things became rather more confused, but it is clear that the tall unknown searched the room, chiefly Sirius’s papers. … That letter from his mother that Harry’s reading, from Lily Evans Potter – it’s only one page, the first. The rest is missing.”

“Surely the other page was just lost, she’s been dead for sixteen years.”

“So I should think too, if it wasn’t for the photograph.”

“What photograph?”

“The photograph that accompanied the letter; a picture of the one-year old Harry playing with the toy that Lily was thanking Sirius for. Half of it is missing as well. It has been torn in two – recently. Deliberately. And very carefully. It was neither an accident nor malice, it was a purposeful separation of something that the intruder wanted to keep, from something that he didn’t. The half I found, thrown heedlessly on the floor, had Harry and his father James in it. Whoever came up there took the other half, which clearly contained something he thought important. Now, from the contents of the letter I know that the Potters were at the time in hiding from Riddle – who was actively hunting them. And hence, they had few visitors. Lily mentions the names of their recent visitors; Bathilda Bagshot, an elderly neighbour, and one ‘Wormy’, who I learned from Harry was a school friend who shortly thereafter betrayed their hiding place to Riddle. So the number of people who could have been in that photograph is very limited. I think it safe to say that the intruder was not likely to have taken a picture of their cat or an inanimate object. That leaves the neighbour, the traitor, and Lily. ‘Wormy’, better known as Pettigrew, and Ms. Bagshot are still alive. Ms. Bagshot is a well-known Wizarding historian, and her photographs and writings would not be difficult to come by. Pettigrew is one of the Death Eaters. Why would the intruder come up here to search for memoranda of him? If they were a Death Eater, they would probably be working with him already. And if they were not, why would they want anything to do with him? So that leaves us just Lily Potter. And it would in any case match the tone of the remainder of the photograph. It was picture of a child playing with his parents. The intruder tore Harry and James out of Lily’s picture. This is significant. If he had merely wanted the picture of Lily, there would be no great reason for him to tear her husband and child out of the picture. But he did. So he not only wanted the picture of Lily, he vehemently didn’t want the picture of her family.

“So. A man broke into a house to get a picture of a woman. There is an attachment there. The woman has been dead for sixteen years. A strong attachment. He tore away the image of the man she chose and the child that came of their union. Rivalry, bitter rivalry. The second page of a letter she wrote is also missing. She has, by the by, quite remarkable handwriting. I should judge Lily Evans Potter likely to have been a woman of an exceptional nature. Under the circumstances, the fact that half of the letter is also gone seems unlikely to be a coincidence. The first page was doubtless left for the same reason that the photograph was torn in two; it was filled with her husband and child – they seem to have been a happy family. What is on the last page of a letter? A signature. And considering the tone of the letter, a very warm farewell; ‘Love, Lily’. He took it, just as he did her photograph. The man who broke in here once had a romantic passion for Lily Potter, and, all these years after her death, he still does.

“So who was he? This tall man with large hands and feet, who can get into this house, knows this house well enough to know exactly where he was going, and broke in to search for memorabilia of Lily Potter? Most likely, due both to his entrance and his knowledge of the house, he is an Order member. Now, Harry Potter, who was so very reluctant to let us in on the secret of Riddle’s safeguards last night, practically leaped at the opportunity to tell someone of the multifarious villainies of his most hated professor, and gladly answered my questions about it. He was up rather early, and so I have spent the last several hours hearing a very heated and fortunately detailed account of all the known doings of Professor Severus Snape.

“Physically, Snape matches our unknown intruder, and since he was an Order member he can get in. He has been here many times with the other Order members without taking the photograph before, so presumably he didn’t want anyone to see him go up to Sirius’ room or ask him what he was doing there. He had and has a passion for Lily, but he doesn’t want anyone to find out about it. It is a secret passion. Since Harry was avoiding telling me very much about this Order or its members, it is impossible to completely rule out it being some other Order member who sneaked into headquarters recently. But there is enough evidence in favour of it being Snape (who, by the way, is the exact same age as James and Lily would have been, and knew them both as children) that we’ll take it as a working hypothesis. Now, that Severus Snape, in all probability, harbours a secret passion for Lily Potter in itself proves nothing. But it does at least suggest that the man who murdered her, Riddle, might not be well advised to trust him completely.”

“If it was Snape who broke in here.” I said. “Is this whole theory based on the man’s shoe size?”

“And his height, and the cut of the robes he normally wears, and the shape of his hands, and I’m not finished yet. That is just the circumstantial evidence I found in this house. Harry told me a great deal more than what he looks like.”

“He told you more about the murder?”

“Precisely.”

“And you agree that he did kill Dumbledore?”

“Yes, that much is cut and dried fact. Harry was there, and he saw the whole matter.”

“Harry was there? It seems that Harry is always there. And if he was there, then why wasn’t he murdered too?”

“There you have hit upon the precise point that Harry does not see! … Although, during the murder itself Harry was both wearing his invisibility cloak and paralysed. But listen. Maybe you can see an excuse for Snape’s behaviour other than the one which seems obvious to me.

“Severus Snape has been acting as a spy not just since Riddle’s regeneration three years ago, but also before his first downfall. The question has never in fact been whether or not Snape is a spy – but which party he was actually spying for. If Riddle had ever thought Snape was not completely loyal to him, he would have killed him. But Dumbledore also trusted Snape’s loyalty. He defended him to Harry again and again. Offered explanations on Snape’s behalf. It was Dumbledore who kept Snape out of prison after Riddle’s first downfall.”

“They thought that he had been a double agent?”

“Not precisely. He really had been a Death Eater for a while, on his own admission. The question was whether his supposed repentance and subsequent undercover work against Riddle were legitimate or not. It was on Dumbledore’s word that he was acquitted.”

“Dumbledore let a Death Eater teach children?”

“That shows you how complete his confidence in Snape’s reformation was. When Riddle came back, he sent Snape to him; thereby re-starting the old double spying situation, which lasted until this June. If he’d had any doubt of Snape’s inclinations, he would not have exposed him to that temptation. And if he’d had any doubt of his total reliability, he would not have willingly opened that avenue for him. Now, throughout the whole of last year Harry had been concerned that one of the students – Draco Malfoy, the son of Lucius who was given the diary – had been given some kind of assignment by Riddle within the school. He was further convinced that Snape knew about this mission, and was trying to help Draco with it. He had spoken to Dumbledore of his concerns, but Dumbledore – not particularly helpfully – just told him that everything was under control and he shouldn’t worry about it.

“The night that Dumbledore was murdered, he and Harry had been out of the school, this was the night they found Regulus’ locket in that cave. They returned, with Dumbledore badly hurt, to find the Death Eater’s calling card in the air over the school. They were on one of the tower-tops, and Dumbledore had just sent Harry to go and fetch Snape, when Draco came onto the top. Draco is a seventeen year old boy. Rather than casually disarming him, and telling him to behave himself, Dumbledore took the time to paralyse Harry instead. This allowed Draco the time to disarm Dumbledore. So, Draco was left on the roof, with a frozen and invisible Harry, and an injured and unarmed Dumbledore, and he revealed that he was under orders from Riddle to kill Dumbledore. But he did not in fact kill anyone. He hemmed and hawed and didn’t act, until a group of adult Death Eaters joined them. The Death Eaters then proceeded to argue about whether they could kill Dumbledore, or whether Draco had to. None of them noticed Harry. Last of all, Snape came up. The Death Eaters received him as one of them, with casual questions as to how to proceed with Draco being so nervous. Without saying a word, Snape shot Dumbledore. Then he shooed everybody off the tower, saying it was time to retreat. Thus far, it looks as if Dumbledore had just been wrong all those years. But – Harry followed the retreating Death Eaters.”

“Alone?”

“Yes. When Dumbledore died, he unfroze. He ran out into the grounds after a group of full grown enemy fighters by himself. It appears he was in a rage which over-rode his desire for self-preservation. He ran out, and he caught up with them.”

“And he wasn’t captured?”

“No.”

“And none of the teachers or even any of the other children followed him out and helped him?”

“No they didn’t.”

“So, you’re saying that this group of gangsters had this kid who Riddle’s been after for seventeen years right in their hands and didn’t even try to kill or capture him?”

“See! You see. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Harry though! He caught up with them, and attacked Snape. … And Snape blocked him.”

Blocked him?”

“Blocked him; while criticizing the lack of skill in the blows. Eventually he wound up knocking Harry down. When one of the other Death Eaters tried to torture Harry … Snape stopped them. He told them that Harry ‘belonged to the dark lord’, and that they should leave him.”

“Wait a minute – Riddle’s been trying to kill Harry since he was an infant – right?”

“Yes. He has. That it should have been Riddle’s idea for a whole group of his fighters to have had the boy in their hands and let him go, not only not kill him – but not capture him either … and even object to him being injured … is not credible. But if those were not Riddle’s orders, then Dumbledore’s killer turned right around and protected Harry Potter – the great symbolic enemy of Riddle. So, why should Riddle’s servant, who has, remember, just killed the man who has supported and trusted him for years, take a risk like that for Harry? It wasn’t personal affection for this particular student. He can’t stand Harry. Even Dumbledore admitted that Snape has an unreasoned and unreasonable hatred of him (as did our recent visitor). But he protected him anyway. Doesn’t that strike of duty?”

I had to admit that it rather did.

“And if we look back at certain previous incidents, we see a similar theme. Snape saved Harry’s life in his first year of school.”

“Did he?”

“Yes. Harry, whatever may be lacking in his ability to put two and two together, seems to have always been a vigilant and concerned boy. In his first year at Hogwarts, he became convinced that one of the teachers was trying to steal a valuable device Dumbledore was keeping hidden in Hogwarts and use it to help Riddle regenerate, and was trying to murder him, Harry, while they were at it. He was later proved to have been correct. But he was wrong in thinking it to be Snape. It was another teacher. Snape turned out to have been working to prevent this other teacher from stealing anything or killing anyone. It seems, since Harry would certainly have denied it if he possibly could have, that this was proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

“But Riddle hadn’t regenerated yet, so Snape was acting alone, and so from this incident by itself one could just say that he was just working within a different paradigm at that point, one in which it only made sense uphold the law. Though why he should go to greater effort than the other teachers to uphold the law, which he did, without actually caring about the matter itself, would still be in question. But in any case, the incident is not on its own. Last night, Harry didn’t go into much detail on what exactly happened the night that his godfather Sirius died. This morning he did. He partially blames Snape for Sirius’ death. Shortly before the incident Snape had been taunting Sirius, with whom he seems to have had an old feud, about how useless he was. Harry feels that the taunts may have encouraged Sirius to take undue risks. But far more important – You remember that Sirius was killed by Bellatrix Lestrange when he came with a team to rescue Harry and some friends from the Death Eaters?”

“Of course.”

“But last night Harry didn’t explain how ‘the Order’ knew where he was, or even how they knew he was in trouble. I only got it out of him this morning by listening to a whole lot of ranting mixed in with it. But, despite the vituperations with which it was surrounded, the fact remains. Snape alerted them. … Snape realized that Harry and his closest friends were missing at dinner. He remembered a commotion that Harry had made earlier in the day which suggested to him where they might have gone. And he sent a message to London that he suspected that Harry Potter had been lured to an important Wizarding research facility and was probably under attack there. The Order went in, took the Death Eaters by surprise, beat them soundly, rescued Harry, and took several Death Eaters captive, including Lucius Malfoy. … If Snape was in fact spying for Riddle at that point, he was doing a very bad job.”

“Well, obviously, if he sent out the Order against Death Eaters when the Death Eaters were outnumbered and not expecting it … he can hardly have been really working for Riddle at the time.”

“Obviously. It simply won’t work. It was Snape who thwarted whatever Riddle’s plans were that day. So far as I have been able to discern, he was the only person even in a position to do so. It would have been very easy for him to just ignore the issue and feign ignorance – no one would have ever been the wiser. In which case, his supposed master would have gotten whatever it was he was looking for at the facility (Harry wasn’t very clear on what this was) and Harry himself – the symbol of the resistance – would have been taken or killed. From the point of view that Snape was really working for Riddle, his actual actions makes no sense at all. Even individually, each of these incidents make a very strong case. Unified, they seem indisputable.”

“Then why did he murder Dumbledore?”

“I don’t know.” mused Sherlock. “He certainly isn’t a very nice person. Perhaps, finding himself stuck with all those Death Eaters on the tower, he decided that his own position as spy was more important to the anti-Riddle effort than Dumbledore’s life, and so, being quite unscrupulous, sacrificed him to strengthen his position.”

“Then why is Harry so much more important than Dumbledore? Strictly speaking, from a strategic standpoint, the experienced, far more knowledgeable leader of the Order looks more necessary to the war effort – yet he died and Harry didn’t.”

“Yes, well, I haven’t told you the supposed reason why Snape left Riddle in the first place.”

“Why?”

“Snape – while still genuinely a Death Eater – told Riddle about a prediction he had overheard some self-proclaimed ‘seer’ make. It predicted the coming of one ‘with the power to vanquish the dark lord’ or some such nonsense. Riddle, being the superstitious moron that he is, took this quite seriously and started hunting the boy who he believed it referred to – Harry.”

It took me a moment to digest this.

“Harry’s been hunted since infancy because of a fortune-teller?!”

“Yes.”

It seemed preposterous to me that, in this day and age, anyone could take such a thing seriously. That someone could be in real danger because of such a prediction struck me as so improbable as to be almost comedic … except for the fact that Sherlock was quite seriously attributing the death of a young couple and the kidnapping, torture, and repeated attempted murder of their son to it.

“Are they really that superstitious? Or is Riddle just mad?”

“Well, Riddle could very well be mad. … But unfortunately, yes, Wizarding society does seems to be very superstitious. … Anyhow, it was when Riddle decided to hunt down and wipe out the Potters that Snape went to Dumbledore. … Harry has told me, in bitter, grieving, enraged words, of how Dumbledore told him that Snape was filled with great and terrible remorse, that setting Riddle on the Potter’s trail was the greatest regret of his life, that it was the thing which caused him to turn away from Riddle. … Harry of course doesn’t believe a word of it.”

“But you do?”

Sherlock smiled. “Yes. I do.”

“You think that this Death Eater was secretly in love with Harry’s mother, and when he wound up getting her killed, he was so upset that he tried to turn his life around.”

“You could put it those terms. One thing though: he didn’t go to Dumbledore after she died – and that is an important point. He went when Riddle started hunting them. And we know that the Potters spent some time in hiding before Riddle found them. … Which makes it look rather as if Snape in fact alerted the Potters to the need to go into hiding. … Riddle found them only becausePettigrew betrayed their hiding place. Then of course there is the point I started from. He can get in here. The booby-traps downstairs are meant to dissuade him. But he can get in. He must know this to be a likely place for Harry to go. Too likely. It’s Harry’s house. He could have easily led a party of Death Eaters in here in the middle of the night. But did he? … Riddle is an idiot! … In defence of both Harry’s and Riddle’s belief in Snape’s allegiance however, he did appear with a group of Death Eaters in open battle a short while ago.”

“Did he kill anybody then?”

“No. But he sliced off Ron’s elder brother’s ear.”

“Well, I must say, Sherlock, whatever his true allegiance, Severus Snape does not exactly stand out as a model of kindness and decency.”

“No indeed. I dare say that none of us in this house – save Harry – would be quite safe around him; and Harry only if we are referring solely to matters of bodily safety. He’s famed for having a nasty temper and certainly has shown a great ability to use means that few ‘decent’ men could agree with.”

“And yet – besides his continual looking out for Harry Potter – can you find any results of his supposed spy work?”

“His continual looking out for Harry is significant. But my information is incomplete. I have never heard the secret councils of ‘the Order’. I know what he has done as regards Harry Potter. Can you reconcile that with the theory of him as a dedicated Death Eater?”

“No, I can’t explain that.”

“That much is certain then.” said Sherlock. “But you’d probably better not mention this to our young allies just yet. Their hatred (or at least Harry’s hatred) of him seems deeply entrenched enough that any attempt to defend him would not go over well. They’d either think we were out of our minds, or stop trusting us altogether.”

“Well, of course they hate him. That he was a mean professor would be reason in itself. But he’s also murdered a popular teacher and cut off a boy’s ear.”

“It is worth noting that it wasn’t his head. … Very worth noting. Doesn’t it occur to you John, that cutting off people’s ears is a very awkward and ineffective method of fighting?”

“Well, obviously, he wasn’t aiming for the ear.”

“Obviously. But imagine you’re one of the gangsters, pursuing Order members through the sky on a broomstick…”

“On a what?”

“…and you have in your hand a weapon capable of delivering lethal blasts. Why would you instead switch to a relatively awkward tool like a long distance energy beam slicing weapon? … And to slice a man’s ear off … that would be a vertical stroke …” He was now standing across the corridor from me, making slicing motions in the air with his hands – clearly chopping me to pieces with an imaginary energy sword. “Why a vertical stroke? Wouldn’t a horizontal stroke be more effective? I suppose one could cleave through the skull with such a blow. But the combined width of a man’s head, neck, and torso offer a much better target than the top of a head. You’d use a vertical blow to hit a horizontal target. I suppose we could theorize that Mr. Weasley was flying side-ways, or doing a barrel roll…” He stopped and lifted his arm, and looked at it critically for a minute. Then he smiled.

“So,” I said, “is your final thesis that Snape’s out to destroy Riddle? Or that he’s out to protect Lily’s son?”

Sherlock dropped his arm. “I don’t know. Imagining him as a sort of free-agent, betraying both sides wherever convenient, would cover the facts better than Harry’s own idea. … It is perhaps apossible theory (though the vertical blow is perhaps a strike against it) that he is willing to do whatever seems most politically advantageous to him at the moment (including fight for Riddle)besides killing Lily’s son. Such a position could be imagined. But it is not self-consistent. It could not be long maintained. And if he was so passionate about that woman that he will thwart his verydangerous supposed-boss’s will to protect her son even though he personally detests the boy, it hardly seems likely that he would be wiling to accept her murderer as his boss at all. No. Far more likely Dumbledore was in fact correct. …”

“But not that he could trust Snape.”

“Hmm. It does look that way. He clearly did think he could, sending Harry to fetch him…” Sherlock broke off suddenly. “He sent Harry to fetch Snape.”

This clearly opened up an intriguing train of thought, for Sherlock said nothing more for a while; he just stared into the distance with a concentrated, faraway look in his eyes, as if he too was on the fatal tower-top.

“What if …” he said after a while, “ what if he could? What if…? You know Dumbledore was badly injured? His hand was withered by the horcrux, and Harry tells me that it didn’t heal at all last year – and he was a very old man. And his last words. He didn’t upbraid, or exhort. Didn’t try to talk his way out of it …”

“What did he say?”

“‘Severus … please.’ … According to Harry, they were spoken in a quiet, contained, but unmistakeably beseeching manner. … Harry thought that Dumbledore was pleading for his life, and it wrung his heart to hear it. But if Dumbledore had been certain that very day, that very hour, of Snape’s loyalty, and Snape had not yet made a move against him, why would he have thought that he needed to plead? Shouldn’t he have tried to put on a staged argument for the Death Eaters’ benefit? If cleverly acted by both he and Snape – and I gather that they are, or were, clever men – it might have both cemented Snape’s position as spy, and delayed the situation long enough for them to find an out or be rescued. But he didn’t. Just as he didn’t even bother trying to defend himself from a student. He gave Snape a direct either-or scenario. He obviously knew what that meant for a man in Snape’s position. It’s almost as if he wanted… What if … it’s Dumbledore who owes Snapethe apology?”

Before he could elaborate further, there was a panicked sound of slamming doors and rushing feet and Ron and Miss Granger barrelled into the room.

“Where’s Harry?!”

“In Sirius’ room.” said Sherlock. “He found an old letter from his mother.”

The children rushed past us.

“They’re a little hyper about it.” I said.

“They should be.” remarked Sherlock casually. “Their friend is one of the most hunted people in the country at the moment. Dumbledore is dead, the Minister of Magic is dead, the Ministry of Magic answers to Riddle. What could please Riddle more, what could be a greater symbolic victory, than to finally kill ‘The Boy Who Lived’?”

“The what?” I asked.

“Surely you remember the rather sensational story that Harry passed over so briefly last night – How Riddle came to kill him and left half killed himself.”

“Yes, but that was his mother’s doing wasn’t it?”

“Her work yes; however she managed it. It doesn’t seem to have lasted, since Riddle apparently thinks he can kill Harry without injuring himself now. But it captures the imagination, doesn’t it, John? … The old murderer, bloody with a hundred callous butcheries, approaching the cradle – and the child lives while the butcher flees, broken. … It captured the Wizarding world’s imagination anyhow. Hence the name.”

“Did he tell you about it this morning?”

“The name? No. We mostly discussed Professor Snape. I heard it ages ago.”

“And you know it to be he because of his story.”

“Yes. It was quite evident from the first.”

“Sherlock,” I asked, “why, after being so hesitant to bring us here at all last night, were they suddenly so trusting as to set up camp for the night right next to us – in the same room?”

Sherlock seemed to think that this was very amusing.

“Did you actually try walking over there, John?”

“… No.”

“Well, I think you would have found it far more difficult to get over to that corner than appearance would suggest. The words they use may sound merely laughable to us, but their ‘magic’ can be very effective.”


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 actuallywrong 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.

I replied:

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?

John?

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.

“Why?”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“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.”


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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting.”

“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.

Sherlock paused.

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes?”

“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 ifyes, 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?”

“Yes.”

“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 continueno matter what happens.”

“Not no matter what happens.” said Sherlock a bit irritably, and clammed up for the rest of the journey.


Chapter VII ~ The Darkness Thickens


In spite of hesitancy that had possessed him on the evening of the second of August, Mr. Sherlock Holmes had plunged into the task of tracking down Thomas Riddle’s safeguards with an energy which I usually associated with moments of crisis. But then, perhaps no case so critical had ever been put into his hands. I knew, for I had seen, that he had been hired by several heads of state on businesses of ‘international importance’. He had exposed the continent’s largest crime-ring and dismantled its command structure. But never before, to my knowledge, had he been actively involved in attempting to remove a dictator, reverse a coup, and lift a reign of terror.

The urgency of the matter impressed me ever more deeply the further we got into it; the spate of murders, political and recreational (terrible phrase), the danger to life and liberty being faced by those wizards who (like Hermione Granger) were born of muggle parents, the fact that Wizarding interference in muggle affairs was a very real possibility if they stuck to their strengths of secrecy and mind-control, and the revolting situation that a portion of free England was under a tyranny, were all very immediate dangers. Every day mattered. Every day might be paid in blood.

Up till now Sherlock had been balancing his Wizarding investigations with his consulting work. Now everything but the Wizarding case was dropped. The rest could be picked up later. He had asked Hermione to investigate Riddle’s history, but they did it together. The two of them poured over recent criminal histories – both Wizarding and muggle, and historical accounts of Wizarding events and sites, anything which Riddle, in his twisted, prideful view of the world, might have considered momentous.

Fred and George Weasley had gotten all but one of the ex-addresses of the Death Eaters which Sherlock had asked for through their father by the evening of the third of August – that of the Lestranges’ house, which was currently unoccupied, and those of the Averys’ and the Dolohovs’, which had relatives living in them. They brought back a lengthy response to Hermione from Mr. Shacklebolt at the same time. This letter pleased Sherlock immensely, for it was wonderfully detailed. No impressions and half remembered notions. Lots of good hard facts with dates and addresses, presented with a thorough understanding of context. He seemed to recognize some of the cases, and I guessed that a few wild theories of his had just been vindicated.

The shop that the trio suspected, Borgin & Burke’s, was searched through, twice. The first time in daylight under the guise of being ordinary customers doing some very in-depth window shopping. The second after closing time, which was even more in-depth. The ancient Lestrange mansion was scoured over. We visited several odd, out-of-the-way corners which Sherlock and Hermione thought had thought sufficiently important to merit investigation. We found nothing; no horcruxes, and no indications suggesting anywhere else they might be. The idea that the Lestranges had hidden one in Gringotts had grown on the children. And in view of the immense respect that the wizards had for Gringotts, Sherlock seemed to be relaxing his ‘too obvious’ views a bit.

And Sherlock still – there was little enough time, I don’t know how he managed it – was going through that terrible book Hermione had lent him at an alarming rate. He seemed to be carrying it around with him so that if he had a moment he would pull it out and read. My initial response of strong distaste towards the volume had increased into a kind of fear, though I don’t suppose I had a clear reason. I happened to be standing right behind him once when he opened it. It was handwritten like a medieval manuscript; it may have actually been one. I wondered that the crumbling pages could still survive being turned. The hand was a hard one. The black lines were like assaults upon the paper. Somehow the very illumination of the capitals seemed an obscenity. I caught no full sentence in my brief glimpse, but I caught words.

A few days before I would have said that there was no such thing as witchcraft. When I met the three youths, I treated their strange vocabulary as merely an extremely odd way of referring to what was clearly just a strange form of technology; peculiar certainly, but quite innocent. And regarding the three, I still felt the same. The fact that they clearly believed themselves to posses innate abilities of some kind as well complicated the matter somewhat. But that inclusion in their secret society might be based on carrying a particular genetic trait, and that their technology might take advantage of that trait in some manner, was not unthinkable. All their illusions, teleportation, blasting rods, invisibility cloaks, and remarkable capabilities in matters of forming, shaping, and fixing matter seemed morally harmless. I could not see that the things which they were doing were in any way intrinsically evil; certainly not any way in which they could be connected to the demonic. It was a different technology – not too different in many ways from what I could see on the science-fiction channel.

But when it came to Riddle, I felt differently. Felt, true, not thought. But somehow I could not label him merely, as Sherlock had done, ‘mad-scientist’. I could not look upon ‘Secrets of the Darkest Art’ – that hideous volume which gentle Hermione held in such utter abhorrence and which my friend was so voraciously studying – and think only that the science in it was being put to vile uses. It was not only more sinister, but a different kind of sinister. Strange that a contemporary terrorist and small-time dictator should have inspired such notions, but Riddle did. Strange that I, who have always considered myself to be a pragmatic, level-headed person, should have entertained them. But whatever the reality of the situation was, and though I shrank from putting it into words even to myself, Riddle had become, in my mind, a sorcerer, and ‘Secrets of the Darkest Art’ a book of – in the old, dark sense of the word – witchcraft. And I wanted Sherlock to get rid of it. I didn’t directly say that, but I did ask him if it was really necessary to read it. Didn’t we know enough to go on? “Ignorance does not know itself, John.” he replied. “If I am overlooking a vital piece of information, I will overlook the the fact that I am overlooking it.” And he didn’t put the book down.

And he still didn’t say what it was that had him worried about Harry Potter. Since his admission to me that he had some secret knowledge, not another word on the subject had crossed his lips. Several times I had thought that he was going to tell me. But then his mouth would close, his eyes would drop to the ground, and he would turn away. He would then either shut-up entirely, or begin talking very fast on an unrelated subject. From a confidence built of long experience, I trusted my friend to reveal this information at the right time, or to forever conceal it if it was better off concealed. But it bothered me. It bothered me greatly.

I myself had been alarmed by the severity of the pain in Harry’s old wound. It had clearly been a bad injury and was an unusual case. I had asked Ron and Hermione about the scar on his brow.

“Gee, I keep forgetting you’re a muggle and don’t know stuff like that.” Ron said. “I knew about that scar ever since I was little. That’s where You-know-who’s curse hit him.”

I received from them a rather more lengthy and dramatic version of the tale of Harry’s infant encounter with Riddle. His father James had died fighting valiantly, albeit fruitlessly. His mother’s protective spell had been cast as she flung herself into the path of a ‘curse’ meant for Harry. The second curse had hit him, and according to all the rules, Harry should have died. Every single person hit by that curse had died instantly, every single one – except for Harry. Whatever it was that Lily had done, as she sacrificed her life for her son’s, overrode the ordinary rules. The shot glanced off the infant’s forehead leaving only that jagged red line behind. Apparently it had never been a real wound. It was even, in the ordinary sense, not a scar at all. It was a mark, the same on the day it was inflicted as it was sixteen years later. They called it the lightning scar.

Since the injury had been inflicted by a mechanism of which I was completely ignorant, causing symptoms which I had never seen before, I was hardly in a position to say anything particularly helpful on the subject. When Harry said that there wasn’t anything to worry about, he was in a better position than I to say. But I didn’t really believe him anyway. If nothing else, episodes of incapacitating pain such as I had witnessed were not only a problem in view of the personal suffering involved, but in view of the dangers of becoming suddenly incapacitated. If such a fit came over him while operating a motor vehicle, for instance, the results could be catastrophic. Moreover, pain is nature’s warning signal; a sign of something dreadfully wrong.

I also knew that he was in very great danger of being taken by Death Eaters, or Wizarding government officials, or even just unscrupulous wizards hoping to earn a reward. ‘Undesirable Number One’ were the words on the wanted posters. I knew a very small mistake on his part could result in capture and an ugly death.

Yet neither of these real and pressing dangers to the boy seemed as though they could be what caused Sherlock Holmes to behave as he did. He had guessed at the danger Harry was facing before he’d ever seen his face. A chronic health problem, however unpleasant in itself, would certainly be considered of secondary importance at such a critical moment. And both of these were common knowledge.

I thought it strange that in this case – where he was being unwontedly liberal with information – I was disturbed in a way that I had never previously been about that which he was keeping hidden. For I never had seen Sherlock so open in his plans and his theories as he was now. He was of a very secretive nature, with a somewhat intemperate delight in the dramatic. It was his habit to never reveal his whole plan or everything that he knew or guessed to anyone, not even to me, until the denouement of a case. But in this instance he was not acting as a private detective, hired to get to the bottom of the matter on his own by his own methods. Rather, he had been reluctantly accepted into a group that was already acting upon the problem. The situation by its nature forced him to to act with them, telling them clearly what he knew and openly explaining his plans in full detail. It was strange to me, and a source of some entertainment, to see him sit about a kitchen table with the three teenagers, propounding his theories and strategies in such unmysterious entirety.

A total of three different expeditions were made to the house of Dolores Umbridge, the woman who’d taken the locket from Fletcher; four if you count the fact that Fred and George Weasley went and checked it out themselves just to make sure that it was indeed the correct address before they passed it on to us. While Hermione and Ron were in Diagon Alley, checking on the hidden camera (which revealed that Bellatrix Lestrange had been in and out of Gringotts bank not once but thrice since the coup), Sherlock, Harry, and I went on a reconnaissance mission. Then, later on in the day, the five of us went ahead and searched it.

There did not seem to be any alarm systems, and none of the neighbours were in a position to see our entry, so we got into the house safely without being seen or setting off any alarms at one o’clock in the afternoon, which left us plenty of time to examine the house at our leisure before Ms. Umbridge would return. But after several hours of fruitless search, we were forced to come to the conclusion that the big gold locket engraved with an S was not to be found at her home. We knew that it might well be on her person; it would be no strange thing for a woman to wear a necklace to work. But the nasty thought that it might have passed on to someone else occurred to us.

We returned that night. We waited in the garden while some late-night guests meandered away. Finally, some time after the last light had turned out and the house had clearly retired, Harry, Hermione, and Sherlock entered the house a second time, while Ron and I stayed in the garden to give the alarm should anyone show up. The plan was for them to quietly locate the locket, create a replica of it so Ms. Umbridge wouldn’t realize it was gone (Hermione was very good at that sort of thing), and then leave without anybody ever realizing we’d been there. But either they triggered a night alarm of some kind, or Ms. Umbridge was still awake and listening. We heard cries and bangings from the upper floor. A moment later there was a noise rather like firecrackers, and from my vantage point among the pink peonies, off to the left of the porch, I saw a group of cloaked figures rush up the front walk.

“Six at the front door!” I hissed at Ron, who stood opposite the bedroom window.

The front door slammed with a bang. My orders had been merely to alert, and not to fight, but now that it was too late to do anything I felt as if I should have hindered their entrance in some way. I bolted round the side of the house to join Ron, who had just signalled the three upstairs.

Sherlock Holmes appeared at the window. For a moment I was confused, then I realized that he was tearing out the screen. For a moment the window was empty again. I thought I heard Sherlock’s voice, lifted momentarily with impatience. Then Harry jumped over the sill, and was in the air. I saw the glitter of gold swinging from his fist. Then he was gone; teleported. Sherlock appeared again. He made a sweeping motion with his hand. The meaning was clear; ‘Go’.

Ron grabbed my hand, but made no move to run or teleport. He stood stock still, staring up at the window. His hand was cold and sweaty in spite of the warmth of the night. I could not hear the sound of feet, but I knew the cloaked figures must be upstairs by now. I could see Sherlock, near the window. From his posture I thought his gun was drawn and trained on the door. Hermione was still invisible in the depths of the room. For several terrible seconds we waited, staring up at the window.

Sherlock vaulted over the sill and plummeted towards the hollyhocks.

I heard Ron hastily whisper something, but if it was an incantation to slow Sherlock’s fall, I scarcely think there could have been time for it to have an effect. Fortunately, the window was but one story off the ground and it was ornamental grasses and soft earth below, besides which, Sherlock was somewhat skilled in matters of jumping. Hermione followed immediately behind him. They leapt to their feet in the garden. The bedroom above filled with a burst of red light and much crashing as the door came down. I saw them reach for each others’ hands.

“Come on.” said Ron, and twisted away from me. Just before the strange blackness of teleportation slammed down over I heard not one, but two cracks, almost simultaneously. There should have been only one, for Sherlock could not teleport himself. But I had no time to wonder at it, for we were being crushed, and twisted, and suffocated in the lightless limbo. It seemed worse than it had before. I felt as though I was being torn in two. Then, just when I thought I must break, we were out.

Strangely it was still dark and suffocating. There seemed to be a whole crowd of people squished onto the one top step. Ron and I would have been unsteady on our feet in any case. And the step just couldn’t fit that many people. And so, predictably, we all lost our balance and tumbled down onto the side-walk, where we lay in a tangled pile of limbs and groans, and I vowed to myself that never ever again would I consent to teleport with Ronald Weasley.

Sherlock was already back on his feet, and I expected to hear him snap at Ron and me for not having gone when he told us to. (And I for one was perfectly prepared to agree with him.) But he did not. Instead, in a voice of mildly veiled sarcasm, he said:

“Good evening. Are you looking for something in particular? Or are you just sightseeing?”

I looked up. We had fallen outside the ‘enchantment’ boundary. Sherlock Holmes stood over us, his tall, spare form drawn up to its full height and his hand grasping something half out of his jacket pocket. Two men stood in the road-way, staring. The garish light of the street lamps turned the folds of their cloaks to orange, and painted their faces, marred in every lineament with scorn and vicious passions, a ghastly, inhuman hue. Evidently they had been taken by surprise by the suddenness and indignity of our entry out of thin air; otherwise they would have acted more quickly. Even as I saw them, their hands moved for the wands on their belts.

Sherlock’s hand swung upwards in response. I struggled hastily to reach the pocket where I’d stowed my weapon.

“Expelliarmus!”

The men stumbled, clutching fruitlessly after weapons which had flown from their grasps. In the moment they looked away from him, Sherlock leaped forwards and caught the one on the side of the head with the butt of his pistol. The other fell, apparently due to a number of spells cast by the teens.

Harry walked out of the blue, their wands in his left hand.

“What happened?” he asked.

“We all tried to apparate onto the step at the same time.” explained Hermione.

“What happened, up there?” I asked. “With Ms. Umbridge?”

“We had to stun her.” said Hermione. “She’ll be okay.” (Ron snorted and mumbled something about ‘sick’ under his breath.) “She won’t remember any of it tomorrow, and I got the replica done, so no one should know why we were there.” She looked down at the unconscious men on the pavement.

“Are they Death Eaters?” I asked.

“Well, they were hanging out watching the house and were going to attack us, so yeah, probably.” said Ron.

Sherlock bent down and pulled aside the right sleeve of one of the men.

“Ah, Sherlock, it would be on the left.” Hermione said.

So he pulled aside the left sleeve. On the man’s forearm was a large, ugly red scar. When I looked closer, I saw that it was a brand. An image of a skull and a snake had been burned into his skin.

“That’s the dark mark.” said Harry. “They are Death Eaters.”

“Oh! What are we going to do with them?” said Hermione.

“Well, first things first.” said Ron, and pulled something out of his pocket.

One of the street lights went out.

I thought nothing of it; street lamps sometimes did, especially in run-down neighbourhoods like this.

Then a second went out. A third.

I immediately jumped to what I still think was the very reasonable conclusion that the disappearing lights heralded the approach of some unknown menace.

“What is doing that?!” I cried, drawing my weapon.

“Oh! Sorry, that was me.” said Ron, holding up the item he’d taken from his pocket. It looked like a small cigarette lighter. He clicked it. Light suddenly whooshed out of it and flew back into the street lamp; he clicked it again and the light disappeared.

“Well stop clicking it on and off.” said Harry. “That sort of defeats the purpose.”

“Oh. Right.” Click. Click. Click. We were left in darkness.

Lumos.” A pale light glowed at the tip of Harry’s wand. “We’ll have to just obliviate them like we did Rowle and Dolohov.”

“My offer does still stand.” pointed out Sherlock.

“Yes, I know.” said Harry. “But putting them in muggle custody is just asking for trouble.”

“Then can I have those?” Sherlock indicated their wands, which were still clutched in Harry’s left hand.

Harry handed them to him.

“What do want with them?”

“This.”

And with a sudden movement, his knuckles turning white in the effort, he snapped them both in two.

“I’m not giving them back their weapons. Now, Harry, why did you go back?”

“Oh, that’s what that noise was.” said Ron.

“To make sure you all got away, of course!” said Harry.

“You shouldn’t have done so unless we failed to appear within a reasonable time period. You were supposed to get the item safely away from there.”

“I did! I didn’t bring it back with me.”

“Where is it now, then?”

When went back through the boundary, Creature was standing silhouetted against the lighted doorway, the locket hanging from his fist.

That it was indeed the right locket was in no doubt. Harry recognized it, and so did Creature. That it was still a horcrux, safeguarding Riddle’s life, that it had not yet been destroyed, was easily ascertainable. Even I, holding the large, cold, golden ellipse in my hand, could tell that something was not quite normal about it, not quite right. And the more knowledgeable Hermione was quite certain of the fact.

Sherlock Holmes then inadvertently gained the shock and ire of the three by quite innocently asking them whether they could do the ‘avada kedavra curse’. He knew only that it had been named in the book that Hermione had given him as something which would sometimes destroy horcruxes. But it turned out to be a forbidden spell among most decent wizards. It was a favourite weapon of the Death Eaters – the killing curse. It had left that mark on Harry’s forehead. It was the curse which had struck down Amelia Bones – that deadly weapon which killed but left no trace, and left the police all in confusion.

Neither Sherlock nor I quite understood how the potential to be lethal made a weapon unusable. We were, after all, hunting these things down for the purpose of killing a man. Whatever there was about it which made it more evil than a gun I did not learn. But the children would not hear of it being used. And, what made the point moot in this situation, they couldn’t do it.

Then, clearly not content with merely shocking them, Sherlock also asked them to lend him the horcrux for the night. He wanted to see what muggle technology could tell us about it, and asked Harry if he could take it down to the lab, promising to bring it back by morning. Harry was extremely hesitant to agree to this. There was a brief flash where Harry’s initial suspicion of Sherlock, and Sherlock’s initial irritation with Harry – both surprisingly dormant for the past two days – seemed in danger of seriously flaring up again.

But the moment passed. Perhaps Harry remembered it was in part due to Sherlock that he had the locket in his hand at that moment anyway. Perhaps he felt ashamed of showing such open distrust of a companion who he had been given no reason to doubt and much reason to have confidence in. But he wiped the look off his face and turned to Sherlock with a great deal of reasonableness.

“All right. I suppose … what you said earlier about two heads and two technologies … it does make sense to see what muggle technology makes of a horcrux. I’ll come with you.”

Something about this speech seemed to strike Sherlock. It seemed to carry some meaning for him beyond what Harry obviously meant. But when he finally spoke it was merely to say, in perfect equanimity, that the proposed arrangement would suit him quite well.

He and Harry left, taking the locket and the invisibility cloak with them, and leaving a warning that they might not be back for some time. Ron and Hermione, though very happy, were yawning so much they were having a hard time seeing, and bade me good night almost immediately.

I followed their example, for the last several days had been long ones, and I was as weary as they. Like them, I was exhilarated by our capture of the horcrux. But the secret Sherlock was keeping concealed damped it somewhat. From his pause, I was certain that what Harry had said touched in some way upon it. But how could it? They were talking about horcruxes. And that couldn’t relate to a secret about Harry – could it?

My inclination to instantly discount anything which would associate that youth and these abominable contraptions – which even if they were not, as the children said, made by black magic were at least stained with blood and crafted with evil intentions – was not the result of evidence, but of instinctual horror, and as such I knew it was not justified as an argument. And thinking about Sherlock’s behaviour, it did seem to me that he was making some sort of an association between them. I thought of the strange way he had looked at Harry just now, while they were discussing the horcrux. I thought, ominously, of how he had at the start of our hunt asked Harry to be very careful in deciding to hunt horcruxes, of how he had asked him to choose between the hunt and his very life, to choose as if the choice was real. Could it be? Could some strange fate really tie Harry’s life to the outcome of this bizarre gang-war?

But the thing was absurd. What connection could exist between them? And with this question, I remembered Hermione’s exhortation to Harry about ‘closing’ a ‘connection’. What connection? What if she had been speaking not metaphorically of mental coping techniques but of some literal connection? Had Sherlock discovered it? Or rather, what lay behind it, for he clearly seemed to believe that he knew something that no one else did, certainly that Harry did not know.

That was of course, the merest of accidental association of words. What had a ‘connection’ to do with a wound? A physical injury it was. Harry had collapsed in excruciating pain. I remembered the rigid agony of his muscles, the clenchings of his hands, and the graspings at his scarred brow. Whatever was wrong with him (and surely the initial injury must have been more severe than Ron painted it to cause such after-effects so many years later) it was a purely medical matter. It could not be that which caused my friend such disquiet.

But nevertheless, this ‘connection’ grew large in my imagination and weighed upon my heart; some unspeakable darkness which connected a big-hearted, conscientious, dutiful young man to the vile devices of a black-hearted murderer.

I took a cab, and in a short while was sitting at my own table, with a late night cup of tea in my hands. Mary sat across from me, wrapped in her dressing gown. It was two-thirty in morning, but my hours had been very irregular since Sherlock and I joined up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Mary had awoken at my return … I wondered if she had really been sleeping at all. She did not look it. I reflected on the fact that this situation must be wearing on her. She was well used to there being details of Sherlock’s cases which I could not, in honour and decency, reveal to her. But she was quite unused to me being absent at all hours for days on end, with no explanation given as to my whereabouts or occupation. No reproachful word had passed her lips on that score. And though she frequently questioned me, as though to see how far the ban of secrecy went, she never urged me to break my word to the unknown allies. But she would have been more than woman, or much much less, to maintain complete composure under these circumstances and not suffer greatly from anxiety and curiosity. And I for my part was sorry that I could share nothing of our doings and adventures with her, for my sake as well as her own. I would have greatly liked to hear what she might have to say on the matter. Her quick intuition might possibly see what lay behind Sherlock’s behaviour; perhaps not set my fears at rest, but, like Sherlock himself, shed a light on what was so dark to me. But I kept my word, and more than the table intervened between us.

“I wish I knew what holds you so silent and melancholy, John.” she said, echoing my inmost thoughts. “Is the case going badly?”

“No.” I said, reflecting on the locket which was doubtless undergoing some theoretically destructive procedure that very moment. “I think it’s going very well.”

“But?” she said.

“Well … Sherlock never actually tells me everything that’s going on.”

“Of course he doesn’t, dear. He is Sherlock. Since when is that news? … And since when has it really bothered you?”

I shrugged.

“You’ve been curious about his secret researches for months now. Curious – but not disturbed. If it was merely that Sherlock was being Sherlock and keeping secrets, then you wouldn’t be worried about it one bit. What’s different?”

I sighed. “Well … I’ve never before got the idea that he was keeping a secret, not because he was still trying to form a theory, not because discretion required it, not because he was being dramatic, but because …” I broke off.

“ … Because he’s frightened?” asked Mary quietly.

I looked up in surprise. “What? No. No, no no. More like … deeply concerned.”

“Well that doesn’t sound so unreasonable, or even unusual. He deals in serious matters. It’s more than that.”

“Yes, he’s disturbed. He is disturbed.”

“And you’ve no idea by what? … You can’t tell me?”

“No. I can’t. … I don’t really know myself anyway. But, Mary …” She was the best nurse I had ever known. My medical degree was higher than hers. My knowledge may have been greater. But her instinct was almost always right. And none other had a touch like hers.

But I could not think of how to state the problem without infringing upon the secrets. And I recalled that Harry’s scar was said to be famous among the wizards. Mere mention of his scar might be enough to identify him, and that we were working with him was one of the things we had to keep secret. I could say nothing.

She reached across the table, and laid her hand on mine. Warmth seemed to seep from it through my limbs and mind. Under her sweet gaze – there was such clear and sparkling radiance in the blue depths of her eyes – the turmoil of my imagination calmed somewhat.

“Go to sleep, John. You’ll want to be back at work on this tomorrow. Sleep.”


~ 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.

“John?”

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!”

“Liar!”

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…”

“Oi!”

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…”

Stupefy!

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:

“Accio hedgehog!”

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.

“Dr. Watson?”

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.”

“Of course.”

“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.”

They laughed.

“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.



~ 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?”

“Not quite.”

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.”

“I don’t.”

“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?”

“Of course!”

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.”

“Hermione did.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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:

Accio firebolt!”

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.


~ Chapter X ~

Sherlock Holmes Presents his Plan


In far too short a time, Harry began to drop in altitude. I was amazed at how fast the city sprang up to meet us. For a few moments, as I began to pick out individual persons on the ground, I wondered if he could still slow down and pull out of the dive without slamming us to pieces. But I need not have worried. He knew what he was about, and though we seemed to swoop perilously close to the ground, he brought us safely to a level course over the rooftops.

The illusion which protected the Black house worked from above as well as from in front. But Harry found it, and landed on the roof. We climbed in through an upstairs window and took everyone by surprise by coming down the staircase, windblown and jubilant, somewhat earlier than they had expected us.

Mary and Shirley were there with Hermione, Sherlock, and the three Weasley boys. When I realized that we would be unable to return to Queen Anne Street until the end of the gang-war, I had intended to send them to Baker Street, feeling sure that the landlady, Mrs. Hudson, who was fond of Mary and doted on little Shirley, would be glad to let them stay in my old room for a short time. But Mary had been too quick to accept Harry’s offer of hospitality. Harry seemed to think that he had a duty by her, whether because she was the wife of a team member, or due to the fact that it was, in a round-about fashion, his acceptance of my help which had led to her getting into trouble. The current theory under which muggle-born wizards were being persecuted was that they were actually muggles who had somehow ‘stolen’ magical ability, and were therefore thieves and usurpers (never mind that they didn’t have any explanation whatsoever of how these villainous muggles went about this ‘stealing’ of a genetic trait). Harry thought, from Runcorn’s words, that they had picked Mary out as being an example of a muggle who had attempted this theft. He was sure that Ministry officials would be after her in force and thought his own refuge the safest place for her to hide.

I was not entirely pleased with Shirley being here. Mary and I might take this place in stride, and Sherlock Holmes might laugh at the notion of anything about it being remotely frightening, but Shirley was a very little girl yet. So I was pleased to see that she was all right with it. She had really taken to the Weasley twins. They seemed to have put everything in just the right light for her; she was looking at the matter as quite the adventure without being actually frightened.

Sherlock and Harry were all for immediately setting about the council, and we only took a few moments before leaving Mary, Shirley, and the twins upstairs and headed down for the kitchen. The instant we had all taken our seats around the old oak table, Sherlock began talking.

“The possibility of needing to actually seize control of an area with arms had occurred to me some time before our collaboration began. This is far from unheard of in the world of police-work. The pretensions of this particular gang are admittedly higher than that of the ordinary criminal organization, but the fact remains that they are still a gang … which has at this point seized control of a number of civilian institutions. Now, I asked my brother to have available a strike-team which could be called in – a special police unit with air-support. … Now, if I am not incorrect in my approximation of the bank’s security, it would technically be possible for us to get into the Lestrange’s vault if we were able to fully convince the bank that we were the Lestranges…”

“I have some polyjuice potion!” exclaimed Hermione, interrupting Sherlock.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It turns you into someone else for a couple of hours.” she explained matter-of-factly.

Since I was by now fairly accustomed to hearing shocking claims of that sort, and since my own ridiculous transformation of earlier in the day was still very fresh in my consciousness, I just nodded complacently.

“That line of action theoretically might work.” said Sherlock, who seemed to know quite well what polyjuice potion was. “But it poses certain practical problems at the moment. We have no source of DNA from either of the Lestranges, nor are we likely to get any within the sort of time-frame I should like to accomplish this in. Moreover, there are numerous protections in place which, from the explanation of them that I was given, would stand a good chance of revealing the deception. Even if we got in, getting out might be problematical. Besides which, will they not ask for some further form of identification? George was required to hand over a key.”

“But you just said that the thing to do was to convince them that we were the Lestranges.” said Ron.

No. I said that if we were able to do so successfully, that method would work. It is not the method I would recommend, and I believe I have just explained why.”

“What method do you recommend?” asked Harry. “It sounds like you want to try to get the muggle strike team in. But it can’t be as simple as that, because you must know that they couldn’t do it.”

“Not by themselves, no.” said Sherlock with a smile, and I thought he was enjoying scandalizing the Wizarding teens. “I quite realize that this strike team on its own, however skilled and well-equipped, would be greatly at a disadvantage in a Wizarding establishment merely due to their ignorance of the technology. Hence the need to bring a team of wizards with whom they could work in conjunction.”

For a minute there was silence. Then Hermione tentatively said:

“You mean combining a team of muggle policemen and the Order of the Phoenix?”

I had never heard the full name of the mysterious ‘Order’ before. I don’t think Sherlock had either, but he gave no sign that the name was new to him.

“That is precisely what I mean, Hermione.”

“Oh, come on, that’s mental.” said Ron. “We can’t get a mixed army of muggles and wizards to take over the bank.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for starters there’s just the working together. How does that work? And then there’s the actually breaking in. There’ll be Death Eaters around for sure. And anyway, once we’ve taken the bank … well, it’ll be obvious something is going on and I reckon You-know-who will try to do something about it … He might even realize what we’ve taken the bank for!”

“Excellent, Ron!” exclaimed Sherlock. “Yes, it is quite possible that he will. I am expecting it. In fact, I am counting on it.”

WHAT!?” exclaimed all three children at once.

“Well really, my good young wizards, there’s no need to get so upset. And it is completely unnecessary for you to finger your wand beneath your robes, Ron. The only weapons I’m carrying at the moment are that wand and my riding crop, the one of which I cannot use, and the other of which is neither lethal nor ranged. My pistol is in my coat pocket on the back of the rocker and you know quite well you would not need your weapon whether I had it or no. If I wished to give your plans to Riddle I assure you that I could have done so without so much trouble, and I would hardly tell you that I was going to.”

“Yes, we know that.” said Harry, sounding a bit irritated and embarrassed. “No offence. But what can you mean by that?”

Sherlock leaned forward in his eagerness. “Don’t you see that if we do find the cup at the bank there will be only two left?”

“We’ll still have to destroy them all.”

“Yes. But where is the only other inanimate one?”

“At Hogwarts. Well we think it is anyway…”

“Almost certainly it is at Hogwarts. And what is also at Hogwarts? … Oh, come on, Harry. What else is at Hogwarts?”

“A lotta’ security.” supplied Ron.

Sherlock sighed. “And what else?”

“The sword of Gryffindor.” said Harry.

“I thought we were certain that wasn’t a horcrux.” said Sherlock

“Yeah. Of course it’s not. Just, Dumbledore left it to me in his will.”

Sherlock sat up straighter. “Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Why? It wouldn’t belong to him, would it? And why would he want you to have it?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t find out about it until after he died.”

“Say, Sherlock, do you mean the…”

Hsh.” Sherlock cut Ron off with a sound and a gesture without looking away from Harry. “Tell me about the sword of Gryffindor.”

“Well, it was Godric Gryffindor’s sword.”

“Yes, that much I gathered.”

Harry sighed thoughtfully. “I don’t know much about its history, if that’s what you mean, except for the fact that its very old. … It’s goblin made. I don’t know why he wanted me to have it.”

“I assume you do not have it because he did not in fact have a legal right to give it to you. Do I assume correctly?”

“Yes. The Ministry went over the will first, and they wouldn’t let me have it.”

“If it is a historical artefact, then it is likely publicly owned and so of course they would not. Dumbledore must have been aware of the fact. He must then have had some intention in putting it in his will other than that of transferring actual ownership of it to you …”

“Sherlock, do you mean the basilisk?” Ron interrupted.

“Yes. I meant the basilisk. Thank-you, Ron. Which means that at Hogwarts – supposing that we are correct in believing one horcrux to be in Gringotts and the other to be in Hogwarts, and supposing we don’t do something stupid and get caught – we can …”

“Destroy the horcruxes.” said Harry breathlessly.

“Precisely. So, we occupy the bank, we take the horcrux and we go straight to Hogwarts.”

Please tell me you don’t want to take Hogwarts too.” said Ron.

“No, I want to infiltrate it. Taking it would be highly counter-productive. I gather you three have had plenty of practice sneaking about the place.”

The three looked at each other. Ron’s and Harry’s looks were sheepishly guilty. Hermione’s on the other was highly dignified and a trifle reproving, as she had always behaved with the most perfect propriety. I knew for a fact that this was not entirely and completely true, if sneaking around the school counted as proper, since I had heard of a number of occasions when she had thought it the sensible thing to do just that. Doubtless she was thinking of some technically illegal escapades out of the grounds which I had heard that Harry had been known to do.

“I presume that you could get in if you tried hard enough?” said Sherlock after a moment.

“Yeah.” said Harry. “Probably.”

“And how would it be best to go about it?”

“Probably the Honeyduke passage. There’s a secret trapdoor in the basement of the sweetshop in the village of Hogsmeade. It leads right into the third floor corridor in Hogwarts.”

“Just how secret is it?” I asked.

“Very secret.” said Harry. “I have no idea who made it. But we know about it. Fred and George know about it. My dad and some of his friends knew about it and … oh. Wormtail must know about it.”

“Pettigrew? The man who betrayed your parents?” asked Sherlock.

“Yeah. Him.”

“Because your father knew about it and therefore so close a friend would also?”

“Well,” said Harry, fumbling with a funny brown pouch, “because it’s on the map they made together.” And he pulled out a yellowed, stained, and beat-up roll of paper, which he spread out on the table. It was blank.

“Written in some kind of invisible ink?” I asked.

Harry smiled, grinned really, and almost winked. He took out his wand and tapped the paper.

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

Instantly, things began appearing on it, swirly swoopy lines at first, that looped playfully around the ragged page as if solely for the fun of it. But after a moment, they started forming into words.

Messrs Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs,

Purveyors of Magical Aids to Mischief Makers

Are Proud to Present

The Marauder’s Map.

A complicated diagram of a very large building had appeared below the words.

“Wormtail. Well there’s Pettigrew.” said Sherlock. “I presume Padfoot is your godfather?”

Harry nodded.

Sherlock glanced over at me.

“His godfather was a shape-shifter – turned into a large black dog.”

“Did he really?” I asked.

“Mm hm.” said Sherlock. “And, considering this afternoon, you shouldn’t find that too terribly difficult to believe.” He was smirking immoderately.

“And uh, Mooney and Prongs,” I said “– your father and a third friend?”

“Yeah. My dad’s Prongs.”

Sherlock leaned forward with a start of surprise.

“Is this working in live time?!”

“In what?” asked Ron.

“Is it current? Are these representative figures purely decorative, or are they showing what’s actually happening right now?”

I stared more closely at the paper, and immediately saw what he meant. The map was filled with small labelled dots – the labels read things like ‘Minerva McGonagall’ and ‘Alecto Carrow’. And they were moving around.

“That’s what’s really happening.” said Harry.

Sherlock seemed utterly absorbed in the map. He dropped into a chair, rested his head in his hands, and proceeded to pore over it as though he wished to memorize the whole thing.

Harry scowled suddenly.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Death Eaters in Hogwarts.” he said.

“Oh.” I said. “Are these all Death Eaters?”

“No. There’s Professor Flitwick, there. He’s the Charms teacher. I suppose they’ll let most of the teachers stay as long as they don’t openly oppose the new government. … But there’s Amycus Carrow.” A hoarse tone had come over Harry’s voice. “He was there when Dumbledore was murdered. … And there’s….” Harry broke off. A stifled cry rose in his throat. He snatched the map up from the table and thrust it furiously at Ron and Hermione, his voice torn with bitter sarcasm. “And we have a new headmaster! Of course! Wonderful choice! Why didn’t I see that coming?”

“Why indeed?” mused Sherlock quietly. But his comment was lost in the wrathful oaths of the children – they had some very creative swearwords – even Hermione.

“What? What is it?” I asked in some alarm.

“Severus Snape is in the headmaster’s study.” said Sherlock matter-of-factly. “He was of course the obvious choice for the post. He has been a teacher at Hogwarts for many years – the only teacher who Riddle has any reason to repose confidence in. He has a foot in both camps …”

“And he murdered Dumbledore!” cried Harry.

“From Riddle’s point of view, that’s hardly an argument against his appointment.”said Sherlock. “On the contrary, considering that he finally made so clean and distinct a break from the Order he is the clear … Well anyway. Even if the Death Eaters know about these passages through Pettigrew and plan on sealing them up, it’s only been a few days since they’ve had control of the school. The school year won’t start for several weeks yet. There’s a very good chance they’ll still be open. I see a number of passages marked here, so surely at least one of them should be. And, considering it’s the summer holiday, there should be significantly fewer people and less security than there will be in a few weeks. We’ll need to get to the shape-shifting room and the underground chamber; and if we do that we’ll be able to destroy the locket, the cup and the diadem. Meanwhile, back to my assertion that I want Riddle to realize that we are after horcruxes – if he realizes this, is he not likely to be afraid that we may have already destroyed some? Will he not want to check and make sure that they are all where he left them?”

Oh I do see!” exclaimed Hermione in excitement. “When he comes to check on the one from Hogwarts – probably alone, since he won’t want any of his Death Eaters to know about it – we’ll be there waiting for him.”

Exactly.”

“The snake…”

“I think it highly likely that she will be with him. Fortunately, it is likely to be a highly emotional experience for Riddle, and so there is a great probability we will be alerted to whether or not she will be there and can decide whether we should retreat and find her, or wait in ambush for them both.”

“That might really work.” said Hermione. “So long as we beat him to Hogwarts.”

“Oh there should be no difficulty about that.” said Sherlock. “There will be a block of time before he finds out what has happened. Then we do not know in what order he will check the others, or whether he will do so immediately or not. We may possibly be waiting for him for some time.”

“So, with this plan, we’d be having the muggle team attack the bank along with the Order of the Phoenix, and then leave?” said Harry hesitantly.

“No. I would have them remain on standby.” said Sherlock. “They may be needed.”

“How?”

“It depends on how both we and Riddle handle the confrontation at Hogwarts. He may bring Death Eaters with him … or have them follow behind him. He may summon them when he realizes what has happened. It would be well to have a force on hand, to call if the need arises. And also, if Riddle were to believe that all his horcruxes were destroyed, all of them, and he was vulnerable as you or I to death … might he not be quite compliant when faced with both the entire Order of the Phoenix and a pair of armed helicopters?”

Harry shifted in his seat.

“Well, I suppose that bringing capturing Riddle alive might be kind of an ideal situation, if it succeeded. It would – on the very, very off chance that it worked – allow us to bring him to trial.”

“I am always in favour of bringing criminals to trial when possible.” agreed Sherlock.

“When possible, of course.  But, Mr. Holmes…” Harry paused for a moment, “why don’t you just tell us why you so badly don’t want to kill Riddle.”

Sherlock stopped. He looked around at the three teenagers eager, confused, and slightly frustrated countenances. He seemed to be weighing something in his mind, or preparing himself for something. ‘Now’ I thought, ‘now, he’s finally going to tell us what is wrong’.

But it was Hermione who spoke next.

“It’s always well to have a back-up plan!” she cried. “I don’t think that that is a very good one. But the more possible options we have, the better!”

“Yeah, but the muggles won’t be able to see to get into Diagon Alley or Hogwarts.” said Ron. “How can they fly something when they can’t see the place they’re aiming for. And electric things don’t work in Hogwarts – right Hermione?”

As Sherlock launched into how he intended to overcome these difficulties, Harry and I accidentally caught each other’s eyes, and sighed together in mutual irritation at our friends’ interruption. So Harry too now knew that Sherlock was keeping a secret.

Sherlock still was explaining how the navigational difficulty could be very easily overcome by having wizards co-pilot, and why the aircraft would not actually have to enter the Hogwarts grounds to potentially be of great use, when there was the sound of a slamming door and raised voices.



~ Chapter XI ~

The Man from the Order


At these alarming sounds from upstairs, Harry snatched up his wand and flew from his chair. The rest of us followed; Sherlock making sure to run over and grab his pistol.

Up in the foyer, we found the twins standing upon the doormat with a lean, tired looking man in a dark cloak. As we came in, one of the twins cheerfully called out:

“It’s okay, Harry. We’ve checked him.”

The three rushed eagerly forward to greet the visitor who they evidently knew quite well. As he turned to meet them his eyes fell upon Sherlock and I, then flashed up to the landing above, where Mary must have been standing. For a moment he stared in shock.

“Harry,” he said quietly, “Who are these people?”

“Ahhh … they’re sort of … allies. Who have been helping us … fight Voldemort.” said Harry awkwardly. “Um, this is Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, that’s Dr. Watson’s wife Mary up there. She’s here to hide from the Ministry officials who’re after her …” He turned to Sherlock and I. “This is Remus Lupin. He’s a member of the Order and was a professor at Hogwarts for a while.”

“Hello, Mr. Lupin.” said Sherlock, at his most affable, extending a hand to the rather disturbed looking wizard. “I am sorry to see that you had such difficulty getting here. Did you manage to lose your pursuer, or were you forced to more extreme measures?

“Ah … No, I managed to lose him.” said Mr. Lupin, taking Sherlock’s hand rather reluctantly, as if he wasn’t sure how to avoid doing so.

“Wait, lose who?” asked Ron.

“I would have been here earlier, but I had to lose a Death Eater who was trailing me. … Harry, can I talk with you a minute?”

“Yeah.” said Harry, and followed him out of the room. For a minute the rest of us were all silent. Then the twins burst out laughing. They seemed to think the matter immensely entertaining.

Sherlock too seemed cheerful, and was chuckling to himself in his quiet way. I myself thought that this had complicated matters.

“Well, Mr. Lupin didn’t look any too pleased to find out that Harry had been trusting Order secrets to strangers.” I said. “Harry didn’t seem too keen about your combined strike-team idea, and I suppose he’ll harder to convince now.”

Sherlock shook his head.

“No. I think precisely the opposite. Remus Lupin has shown up just in time. He isn’t just displeased, he’s angry. And he’s already put Harry on the defensive. Harry will defend his own actions by defending their outcome. That is, by defending what has been accomplished. And by the time that he and Mr. Lupin have argued the matter out, Harry will have argued himself into stubborn agreement with me.” Thus saying, he lit his pipe, stretched out his legs, and settled down to wait for Harry to argue himself into reason.

We were waiting for some time. Harry and Mr. Lupin talked and talked, and a couple of times we heard raised voices. Sherlock smoked silently. The twins played with Shirley, and chatted with Mary. But I became rather impatient. The delightfulness and busyness of the evening had not effaced the problem of Harry’s wound from my mind. I wished to be doing something, and chafed under the inaction.

When the door finally opened and they came out, Harry was looking decidedly cheerful and confident. Lupin still looked wary, but no longer appalled. I saw now that he was a younger man than I had supposed at first; he could not be past his middle years yet. The prematurely greying hair and the haggard, tired face were deceptive. When he spoke, his voice was serious and it brooked no argument; but there was no hostility in his tone, merely caution.

“Mr. Holmes, I would like to talk with you for a minute.” Lupin looked from Sherlock to me. “With both of you, actually.”

“Of course.” said Sherlock agreeably.

Lupin turned and walked out of the foyer. We followed. He did not take us to the little side room just off the foyer where he had argued with Harry, but into a room I had never gone, a long narrow room lined with cupboards. There, he turned around and faced us.

“You have told Harry that you can help him defeat Voldemort within … a few days?”

Sherlock did not immediately answer Lupin; he stood there, his head bowed in thought.

“If he has said so, I shall not contradict him.” he said finally. “I did not give a specific time estimate for the plan and that approximation is his, not mine. But it does seem to me to be a perfectly attainable time estimate, should the plan succeed at all. It isn’t an infallible plan. We may succeed in doing nothing except eliciting further violence against muggles, which would of course be disastrous. But if it works, then yes, that estimate is quite reasonable.”

“And you think it will work?”

“I think there is a very good chance it shall do so.”

“Mr. Holmes, I’m sure you can see how this is a very delicate and important matter?”

“Of course.”

“And you must also see how very necessary it is that we be sure we do not misplace trust.”

“Extremely necessary. I quite agree.”

“And if you are really telling the truth about this …” Lupin stooped and drew a small brown bottle out of one of the cupboards.

There was a low intake of breath beside me and I turned to see Sherlock tighten his jaw. But momentary appearance of dismay was gone so quickly that I almost though it had been some trick of the dim light.

“… Then I presume you would not mind a test?” Lupin continued, holding up the bottle. “This is veritaserum, which renders the drinker incapable of not telling the truth. Harry has been trusting you for days. If things are as they seem, then he has made a good, if strange, decision. But as an adult wizard, an Order member, his ex-defence against the dark arts professor, and his friend, I would like to be a little more certain that things are as they seem.”

“Very reasonable of you.” said Sherlock, his brisk tone unaltered. “I applaud your caution.”

“Will you drink it?”

“Under one condition.”

“I’d rather not give conditions.”

“Hear it before you refuse, my good fellow. It is merely that you don’t ask me any question which Harry has refused to answer. A part of our initial agreement was that I would not reveal certain things to anyone – And I am afraid that includes even members of the Order of the Phoenix.”

After a moment’s thought, Lupin agreed to this.

“Then certainly I shall drink it.” said Sherlock.

Lupin took the wand which he had been holding in his hand, and I saw something glimmering in the dimly lit corridor. A moment later I realized I was looking at flowing glass. Unlike in traditional glass-blowing, I couldn’t see where the glass was coming from and the finished vessel was cool, solid enough for him to take it directly out of the air and hold it in his hand.

“Aguamenti.” he said, and like a tiny hose nozzle, the tip of his wand shot out a narrow stream of water into the glass.

“Where does the water come from?” asked Sherlock. “And please don’t say ‘magic’.”

“Okay.” said Lupin, unstoppering the bottle. “I won’t say that it’s magic.”

Sherlock sighed audibly.

A single drop of veritaserum wavered on the lip of the bottle, and dropped invisibly into the water. Lupin held it out to Sherlock and Sherlock unhesitatingly reached to take it.

“Hang on a minute.” I said. “What is in there?”

“Water and veritaserum.” said Lupin.

“Yes, but what is veritaserum? I mean, I’d like to know a little bit more before he drinks it.”

“I can’t tell you the ingredient list … I’m no potioneer. But it’s considered perfectly safe for human consumption. It renders the drinker incapable of lying or refusing to answer, and wears off after a while, depending of the strength of the dose. This is a light dose and should wear off in under a quarter of an hour.”

“Side effects?”

“None that I know of, at least none lasting beyond the quarter hour.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, John.” said Sherlock, and took the glass from Lupin.

He set the empty glass down very slowly on a dusty side table. He blinked. The dismay was unmistakable this time; there was a sudden jolt of fear in his eyes. He darted me a glance that was almost like a cry for help. But though I started forward I had no idea what he wanted me to do. Then he looked back to Lupin, remained standing straight, and gave no overt signs of being in trouble. But the business-like manner with which he had been conducting the matter was gone. And he wasn’t dreamy either. He looked something like a sleepwalker. It was so unlike any manner I had ever seen him in, even when drugged, that it made me very uncomfortable.

“Okay,” said Lupin, “who are you?”

“Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective.” he replied, quietly and unemphatically.

“You are a muggle?”

“Yes.” said Sherlock in a flat drone. “Or at any rate, I can’t make a wand do anything and I can’t see the Leaky Cauldron. I have tried of course, just to be certain.” There was a kind of rambling, undirected feel to his speech. I didn’t like it.

“Who are you working for?”

“I’m self-employed. My clients hire me for individual cases. No one has specifically hired me in the Riddle case. I’m acting without a client, unless Harry Potter counts as one. Probably not. He’s not paying me and our collaboration was my idea, not his. I had quite a job to convince him. Thank goodness for Hermione.”

“Why were you so anxious that the collaboration should take place?”

“Because it was obvious that he knew a great deal more than I did about the matter and information was precisely what I needed.”

“Needed to what?”

“To get rid of Thomas Marvolo Riddle. I’ve been trying to trace him for many months. But just trying to figure out a little bit about the Wizarding world was difficult enough. Clearly I needed to be working with someone who knew the Wizarding world. And Harry definitely needed to be working with someone who had a clue. So all around I thought it was a most excellent arrangement and it has worked pretty well thus far.”

“Harry said you were alerted to our existence by the murder of Amelia Bones?”

“I was. Ordinary murderers don’t teleport. It’s been almost twelve months since I became aware of Riddle’s existence and by extension that of the whole Wizarding underworld.”

“And in all that time, you’ve never been caught?”

“I have been caught on several occasions. Seemingly by fairly decent wizarding citizens and officials, however, not by murderous thugs looking for kicks. I was investigating what seemed likely to be major public places of the Wizarding World in my attempt to get far enough into it to see what was going on with Riddle, and the Death Eaters were still outlaws at that point, so it is perhaps not extremely surprising that I didn’t run into any.”

“You were captured on several occasions, yet you somehow managed to escape obliviation every time?”

“I did not escape.”

I looked at Sherlock in surprise and alarm. His voice was still toneless, and his eyes were strangely empty, but his face was contorted as if he was in pain.

“No, they took it,” he said, “they stole from me, stole things that I knew, that were mine.  Once I knew it.  And now it’s gone.  Hermione didn’t, she listened to me. But the others, all the others, they took it, took my mind – cut it, pasted it, forced it into what shape pleased them….”

Sherlock had not spoken of his memory-wipes since mentioning them so briefly the night we joined the trio; his manner then had flippant, almost jocular. But I realized now that I should have known better than to believe it.

“Well,” said Lupin, faltering, he could not but realize Sherlock’s distress, “… if you were obliviated, how is it your investigations continued?”

“They took away what was in my mind then. I don’t know what I did. I can only imagine I managed to conceal from them how far back my knowledge went. I lost days. Hours. They’re gone. I can’t find them. But nobody stole or mutilated the start of my investigations, and so I was able to continue. I started writing where I was going and why before I left the flat. I sent myself email updates on my phone with a special code attached so I’d be sure it was me who sent them, and I took pictures and videos. I have notes and letters and photographs which I know I wrote and took, but the writing of which is gone forever. I lost a phone that way one time – and a longer period of time than the others. That wizard must have been more thorough than most. I expect he was, in spite of things, a decent enough fellow – the phone was gone with the days he stole, but he paid me handsomely for it. There was a significant sum in my wallet which I am certain had not been there before. I took a gamble on Hermione, a big gamble. I went all the way back and I staked everything on her ethics and reasonableness. I openly told her how far back my knowledge went, hoping that the very length of time would now be for her an actual barrier. My gamble paid off, better than I could have hoped. And thanks to her, the end of the case is in sight.”

“The case?” asked Lupin.

“Yes, the case.” droned Sherlock.

“Your goal in ‘the case’ is to get rid of Lord Voldemort as a criminal threat?”

“Yes. But who calls him ‘Lord Voldemort’? I’m not about to humour him by using his silly anagram. He’s no more a ‘lord’ than I am. And ‘Lord Flight-from-Death’ would sound moronic in any case.”

“You are really trying to work with Harry?”

“Yes. As much as possible.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that he sometimes does stupid things and I don’t go along if I think it’s stupid.”

“Who specifically are you working to benefit?”

“The whole British population of course.”

“Does that mean muggles or wizards?”

“I wasn’t differentiating.”

“Have you revealed to anyone the secrets which Harry has revealed to you?”

“Yes. I have told divers details to my brother, now and again. Harry knows this, and he is annoyed at me, but it’s for his own good. Mycroft can be very useful. John’s wife followed he and I right into the thick of things, but I’d told her not to – twice. So that wasn’t really my doing. And Harry knows all about that, he’s offered to let her and little Shirley stay until the Watsons can return home. They can’t right now since the Ministry of Magic has their address and have marked Mary as a poster-girl villain for their wand-thief propaganda. I was talking about the case to a friend of mine, last night at the lab, while Harry was asleep. But I was purposefully vague on the details and gave away no actual secrets. And she kindly didn’t attempt to pry – she has discretion, and good sense, and completely understands my not infrequent need for secrecy. I haven’t told any of the secrets from Dumbledore to anyone.”

Lupin nodded; he was starting to look convinced. Sherlock was inexpressive.

“You really are just trying to help Harry with his mission and rid the Island of a terrible criminal then?”

“Yes.”

“You have no sympathies with Voldemort?”

“None in the world. He’s not even especially clever about his crimes; boring, obvious mad-scientist.”

“Now, I know I agreed to not ask you to tell me everything … but have you told Harry everything? Are you hiding anything from him?”

For the first time, there was almost a flicker of hesitation in Sherlock’s unsettlingly blank eyes. But a word slipped out of his mouth nevertheless.

“Yes.”

Lupin’s calm face grew suddenly hard, and his reasonable voice took on a sharp edge as he demanded:

“Why?”

“It isn’t necessary yet.”

“What do you mean it ‘isn’t necessary’? You’re going to hide some relevant information until you deem it ‘necessary’ that Harry actually know?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

This time I was certain that Sherlock answered totally against his will; it was difficult to catch the thickly muttered words.

“I’d rather he lived these last few days. I don’t want to end it before it really has to be over. It’ll do him no good to know now. I’ll make sure he knows when he has to but he doesn’t, not yet.”

“How can he make the right choices if he doesn’t have all the information?”

“He can make this choice last minute. That’s part of why I need the Order. To allow him the margin of choice. But he’s already made the choice, really. And he won’t change. And he’s right.”

“What choice?”

“Look!” I interrupted, finally breaking down and trying to do something about the wordless panic which my friend seemed to be helplessly caught in. “Mr. Lupin, I believe that this is the secret problem which I’ve been trying to get him to tell me for days. He has refused to tell me on the grounds that it shouldn’t be told yet. I’ve worked with him for many years and I have a good deal of respect for his judgement in such matters. He’s probably right to wait. And in any case, I think you’re crossing the bounds you agreed upon.”

“No. I agreed not to ask him anything that Harry already refused to answer. If this is a secret that you won’t tell Harry, it can hardly be a secret that Harry won’t tell me. If Harry’s in danger – danger beyond the obvious – I have to know what it is.”

“I’m guessing that in order to tell you this, he’d have to also tell you what he’s agreed not to say.”

Lupin turned back to Sherlock, who was just standing there stupidly with a strained look on his immobile face.

“Does this relate directly to the secret mission?”

“Yes.”

Lupin sighed and bit his lip. He stood there for a few moments, doubtless weighing all the things Sherlock had said before, and trying to see whether he could trust Sherlock on this point by what he’d said about other things. Before he could speak again, there was commotion from the foyer. Lupin immediately walked out of the room back towards the foyer. I followed.

“No! I’m fine, Fred. Leave me alone a minute!” Harry, wincing and stumbling, his hand clapped to his forehead, was trying to make his way out of the foyer, away from everyone.

“Harry! What’s the matter?” asked Lupin, running forward.

“Nothing. Just, my scar hurts.”

Lupin’s face twisted, and I saw that this phenomenon was not new to him. Taking a deep breath and speaking in a voice of forced calm, he said:

“Yes, it’s bound to hurt a lot now, Harry. Guys, leave him alone.”

I didn’t know if Harry had heard him, his eyes had scrinched shut and he’d crouched down to the ground with his head in his hands. I stepped towards him.

“Dr. Watson, stop. Leave him alone.” said Lupin, laying his hand on my arm. “I know you’re a healer. But there’s nothing you can do for him right now.”

“Nothing?” I asked. “How can there be nothing we can do for him?”

“There just isn’t.” said Lupin. “We don’t really understand very well what’s wrong with him either.”

It seemed to me extraordinary and terrible that the young man should be in such distress and we, his friends, stand by and make no move to help him.

The floorboards creaked behind me and turned to see that Sherlock had followed us into the foyer. His eyes, though still somewhat clouded, were fixed on Harry. The vacancy was much less.

Harry looked up, breathing hard. He fixed Sherlock with a rather accusing expression.

“You’ve been having your brother arrest Death Eaters after all, haven’t you?”

“Yes.” said Sherlock. “I expected he would use the information I’ve been giving him to do so. And, no, I am not sorry.”

“Well you shouldn’t’ve.” said Harry, starting to get to his feet. “I didn’t turn down your offer because it wouldn’t be playing fair but because it’s too dangerous. Somebody named Yaxley has disappeared now and Riddle’s furious. They’ll get away, and the muggle guards will be hurt. Or worse, Riddle will figure out where they are being kept and lead a force to take them and then … Sherlock? What’s the matter? You look …”

“It’s just veritaserum, Harry.” said Lupin. “It should be mostly worn off already.”

“You used…”

“I didn’t ask him about your mission.”

Lupin turned around and addressed Sherlock in an undertone. I, who stood right next to them, heard what he said.

“Is it about that scar and the connection with Voldemort?”

Sherlock nodded.

“You’re afraid it’s going to put him at risk in Voldemort’s destruction.”

“Yes.” said Sherlock quietly. “In some fashion or another.”

Lupin sighed. “You could possibly be right, Mr. Holmes.”

Sherlock looked from Harry to Lupin with a swiftness and purpose which assured me that he was coming back to himself.

“Is he? Do you know? Is there anything that can be done about it?”

“No I don’t know. And I’m afraid that nothing can. I don’t know what will happen to Harry when Voldemort is killed. … Perhaps it will heal him, not hurt him.”

Sherlock looked as though he was going to say something, but stopped, shaking his head.

Lupin turned to Harry and spoke in a normal voice. “All right, Harry. If you’re sure you need to break into Gringotts, I’ll take that message to Kingsley and try and convince the Order. If you’re sure about it, they probably will. Things are going badly right now and any plan will be welcome. Is there any other information I should take with me?”

“I dunno. Sherlock? Did you have anything more specific that you wanted to show us?”

“Yes.” said Sherlock. “About the strike-team and the bank. If you come back down to the kitchen we could discuss them in greater depth.”

“What about us?!” cried George.

“Yeah, if Remus can join in, why not us?!” agreed Fred.

“I cannot imagine why not.” said Sherlock. “Harry? I assume you will involve them in this operation anyway.”

Harry of course welcomed them, and all the Weasleys, wizards, et cetera headed on downstairs. I accompanied Mary and Shirley back to the parlour, Shirley in my arms, for the halls were black and ugly and now Fred and George were not there to turn it into a jest. Mary followed me out into the corridor when I left.

“John, our young host, how did he get that wound upon his brow?”

I hesitated a moment, but Mary was now aware of the secrets of the Wizarding world, their hidden places and mystery tools, and this was not a tactical secret, revealed in confidence. It was common knowledge. So in a few, brief, inadequate words, I told her the story that all the Wizarding world knew, of how the murderer tracked down the young family, and slew the father of the household, and of how the young mother had cast herself in front of the cradle, and – somehow – cast upon her son a shield, and how the deadly blow had rebounded off the boy’s brow and almost slain his attacker.

Mary heard this story in perfect seriousness, when it was done, she asked but one question.

“Does the shield remain?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. … We don’t know how it worked in the first place.”

Mary looked very thoughtful, but didn’t respond, and retired back into the parlour.

As I was traversing the ground floor corridor, walking slowly, deep in thought, my feet making little noise on the ancient carpet, I was surprised to hear voices, not in the kitchen but in the downstairs corridor.

“Well, that certainly is one of the possible options.” Sherlock was saying.

“Sherlock.” said Harry, clearly frustrated. “Just, tell me plainly – do you really think anything else anything else is really and truly going to rid the world of Riddle?”

I hesitated on the top of the stairs. Sherlock’s voice floated gloomily up to me.

“No. … Most probably not.”

“Then … what’s the point in messing about with these other ideas? I know that we probably won’t all survive the encounter – I don’t really see how we can. But if we can rid the world of him … well … we’ve got a duty, haven’t we?”

“Yes. We do. I quite agree. … Just so long as you are fully aware …” Sherlock broke off.

“You really do agree with me then?” said Harry. “I mean, after all your … whatever you call it, we actually are agreed?”

“Yes.” said Sherlock. “Harry, we are so very agreed.”

And in my mind’s ear, I heard my friend’s voice out of the past; the crisp, cold syllables as clear to my ears as if they had been spoken only yesterday.

“If I were assured of the former outcome, I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.”

The former was the destruction of Professor Moriarty, the criminal mastermind. The latter was Sherlock’s own destruction. Years had passed since Sherlock had spoken those words. He had not had to pay so high a price for his victory. But, violently contrastive as Sherlock and Harry doubtless were, foolish and frustrating as Sherlock found Harry’s methods and odd and outrageous as Harry found Sherlock’s, in this they were alike, akin.

“Ah, you know, Sherlock,” said Harry, “you and John don’t really need to be there … As in, that’d be kind of silly. I really appreciate all the help you’ve given us, and if you can get us to the point we’ve talked about, that’d be just great. But …”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Harry.” said Sherlock, switching into a flippant vein. “Anyway, you should just try to tell John Watson that he doesn’t need to be present at the scene of action. Never works. … Does it, John?”

I finished coming down the stairs. Harry looked up in surprise; he clearly had not heard me.

“Well, it hardly seems fair.” he said. “Not to be rude, but, the two of you are muggles.”

“And the three of you are children.” countered Sherlock.

Harry was still protesting that seventeen-year-olds did not qualify as children when we got back to the kitchen.

It did not take Sherlock very long to go over the details about the proposed strike-team and explain the theorized plan of attack. Hermione ‘magically’ copied some of Sherlock’s papers for Lupin to take back with him. Fred and George clamorously volunteered for the job of co-piloting the helicopters. But both Harry and Sherlock thought it best to leave specific arrangements of that sort to be decided by the head of the Order and the commander of the strike-team.

Mr. Lupin hurried off as soon as possible, promising to bring the plan to Kingsley Shacklebolt immediately and to get back to us on the matter by morning. Before he left, he warned Harry to expect more guests, as a great many more Order members would probably show up here before long.

The five teens were very merry. They bid Lupin goodbye with gusto; and after he left and they were tramping on up to the parlour, they were all laughing and jesting. The war might have been won. But as they turned up onto the landing, I saw Harry’s hand stray again to his scarred forehead; another spasm of pain passing over his face.

“You see it? Don’t you?” asked Sherlock quietly.

I turned sharply.

“No.” But I wondered as I said it if I was really being honest.

“Harry is wrong. Riddle didn’t make six safeguards.”

I didn’t say anything. I just waited for Sherlock to finish – hoping that I misunderstood him.

“No.” said Sherlock. “He made seven. … Harry Potter is the seventh safeguard.”



~ Chapter XII ~

What Riddle did in Godric’s Hollow


The air was cold, cold, and my heart had turned to lead. This then, was the mysterious connection, this the dark secret, the shadow hanging over Harry Potter. Whole realms of darkness, as yet unrealized, moved on the borders of my conscious mind. The seventh safeguard. Not connected to them – one of them. Not a boy. A horcrux. A walking black-magic device, tying the sorcerer to the world. But still a boy, still a young, and wholesome, and sweet-natured boy. Just Harry.

“Surely … surely you can’t truly be serious.” My voice was small in the vast echoing space of the entry-way.

“Oh, I am.” replied Sherlock levelly. “Perfectly serious. My sense of humour may at times be bizarre, but I wouldn’t jest about such as this.”

“And you are certain?”

“Yes. Quite certain.”

“Sherlock … think what you are saying.

“I know perfectly well what I’m saying, thank-you!” said Sherlock, snapping suddenly. “I fancy I may understand exactly what it is that I am saying better than you do. But there cannot be the slightest uncertainty about the matter.”

“Can’t there?”

“No. … John, I wish to God there was room for uncertainty!”

I flashed a glance at him. Rarely had I heard him speak with such feeling, but his appearance was composed.

“His fits,” Sherlock continued after a moment, “can you tell me what’s wrong with him?”

“No. No, I can’t.”

He shook his head.

“I didn’t really expect that you could. … I’m afraid I can. … He has … a tumour … a graft … an externally introduced element planted within him. Another man. … Listen, John, if this theory we’re operating under has any truth at all, and I am entirely convinced that does, there is no way out of this.”

“Then tell me. Explain to me. I am all in darkness.”

“My dear fellow, I fear that anything I can say will but draw you farther in.” said Sherlock softly. He paused, and took a seat on the stairs before continuing.

“My suspicions were first aroused on the morning of the second. It is true that old wounds often cause problems – but not like that. It was unusual to say the least. And I thought that the presence of such unusual symptoms, combined with the fact the wound in question was clearly that which had been inflicted by Riddle, was disquieting. Then there was what Hermione said about a connection – a connection? The total effect upon my mind was ominous, and the suspicion was aroused … but not then as a serious theory. The possibility of such a situation, and the horrific consequences which would result, had occurred to me the night before and I feared to let the swift juxtaposition of the introduction of an idea with an unusual incident cause me to see correlation in mere coincidence.

“So I determined to seek the real explanation of Harry’s symptoms. … I didn’t waste all those hours spent rambling over the Devon countryside looking for the Lovegoods’ place. Hermione Granger is a charmingly intelligent conversationalist, and was very communicative on the occasion. It was not at all difficult to probe her knowledge of the matter. … Rather than quickly rendering my theory ridiculous and extraneous, as I had expected, everything she said served only to reveal further suggestive material and decimate my assumption that there was some other obvious, overarching explanation.

“There isn’t. There is no plain and well established explanation of Harry’s symptoms. From what Hermione, and Harry himself, have told me, the only person ever to offer the slightest comment by way of attempted explanation was that headmaster, Dumbledore. And he seemed to consider it an adequate explanation to say that the curse which had failed to kill Harry had somehow forged a connection between Harry and Riddle. But that is the phenomenon itself! Not an explanation of it. Obviously, there is a telepathic connection! … I presume you do understand the connection I am referring to?”

“Harry explained it to me this evening.”

“Yes. And displayed it too, finding out that Riddle had noticed that his henchmen are disappearing – I bet ‘Yaxley’ was captured at your place. I mentioned to Mycroft that you’d left because you expected unwelcome visitors, he must have had an ambush set. … This connection allows Harry, or rather forces on him, direct telepathic contact with Riddle. I presume you have no knowledge of any similar case in the history of medicine.”

“Of course I don’t!”

“Nor, apparently, have the wizards. Harry’s condition is totally unique even among them. Everyone is content to say merely that it results from confrontation with Riddle, and since no one has ever been in a comparable situation, it is no wonder that the affects of it are inexplicable. … And the affects are not limited to the connection and scar. Harry currently possesses abilities which he should not.”

“What?”

“Yes. If possible, I found this one harder to believe than the telepathic connection. He can communicate with certain reptiles – specifically, snakes.”

“And you believe it?!”

“Besides Harry’s own statement, Hermione, Ron, Fred, and George have all attested to the fact.”

“They call themselves wizards! They believe they are using magic!”

“So far, from everything I’ve seen, the wizards are generally quite correct about matters of fact, even when the theories they explain them with are utterly reprehensible. But Hermione was raised as a muggle until the age of eleven, with similar sensibilities to us, besides being a young lady of good sense with a fondness for clearly stated objective facts. And she bore direct witness to Harry making snakes listen to him, and respond to his wishes.”

“Harry, the snake whisperer.”

“But what is really interesting, is not the mere fact of being able to make animals do what he wants. All sorts of methods for that have been developed by humans over the millennia. It is the explanation which Dumbledore gave the twelve-year-old Harry for it. … He said that when Riddle gave him that scar, he also put something of himself inside Harry.”

“No. That literally? Dumbledore really said that?”

“He did. Harry probably didn’t know much, if anything, about horcruxes at the time, so it’s no wonder he didn’t realize what that meant then. And now it’s old knowledge, which he clearly hasn’t thought to re-evaluate in light of the new – even when he told it to me.

“So let us look at this situation, keeping in mind several requirements and definitions. A horcrux has to be made immediately following a murder. Making a horcrux consists of putting an undefined piece of the crafter inside the chosen vessel. The purpose is that the crafter cannot die while the piece in the vessel remains safe.

“Riddle considered the infant Harry to be a threat. He seems to have been under the impression that if anyone ever took him down, it would be Harry. The fates had decreed it or some such nonsense. Therefore, in order to fulfil the terms of the fates – he is a pathetically superstitious moron – he decides that he had better kill this ultimate threat immediately. Get the matter over with. So – he marches into the Potter’s house, cuts down young Lily and James Potter in their own home, tries and fails to kill his supposed nemesis, and instead places a piece of himself inside Harry, before fleeing, injured to what should have been death.

“This much the responsible, knowledgeable, adult wizards have said as acknowledged fact. … If we count Albus Dumbledore as a responsible, knowledgeable, adult wizard. And that narrative in itself sounds like an account of a horcrux being made. Wizards do not generally go about putting ‘pieces of themselves’ inside things. So far as Hermione and I can ascertain, making horcruxes is the only situation in which this is done. Then, on top of the matter, we know this connection allows Riddle to enter and seize control of him in what seems to be the same fashion that he sometimes enters and controls Nagini the python. And that unusual control seems, from what Harry said, to be a chief factor in Dumbledore’s diagnosis of her as a horcrux.”

“Wait … Voldemort can … control Harry?”

“Yes, he can. But fortunately for Harry, doing so causes pain similar to but even greater than that of the ordinary activated connection, only it is mutual. Apparently they are mentally incompatible or something. Riddle has only tried it once. … It’s all there, John. Other horcruxes have been identified by an expert on only a fraction of Harry’s symptoms. The horcrux theory explains all the phenomena. Nothing else can even begin. Nothing else will work. It all fits. I can barely believe that Harry himself has not realized it. Hermione, she is intelligent, and far more knowledgeable than even most wizards, but she would shrink from such a realization if the merest notion ever came within reach of her thoughts. She could not think to connect her friend to the dreaded devices in that dark dark book. Dumbledore must have known. He clearly did know. He was the one that thought to put it down to horcruxes that Riddle survived. He the one who found most of the information, did so much of the work. He that knew and said that Harry had been infected by Riddle, that Riddle could use the connection. He told Harry! He knew. Back when Harry was a small child he knew. Yet he sets Harry the task of destroying Riddle, who cannot be destroyed until the horcruxes are all destroyed, and that includes Harry!”

“How do we do it?” I asked the question hastily, as businesslike as I could be. “How do we get rid of the horcrux that’s in him?”

Sherlock fixed me with a strange look; pitying and defensive at the same time.

“John,” he said, “according to everything that I can find – in order to destroy a horcrux, you have to destroy the horcrux.”

“No. … No, there has to be another way. That can’t be the only way, Sherlock!

“Well you wouldn’t know! You haven’t been studying them! You thought we had enough to go on as it was!”

He fell silent, seeming to regret his outburst.

“I have searched, John. And I am still searching. Going to Godric’s Hollow this evening was really a wild shot – the three of us paid a visit to the Potter’s old house there while you and Harry were in Surrey. … And you heard what Remus Lupin said this evening – and he is clearly no simpleton. Yet even he does not think that anything can be done to help Harry. Some things are irreparable. … As of yet, the only other another even theorized method I have come across is beyond even the imagination to bring to pass.”

“What is it?”

‘Secrets of the Darkest Art’ warns that if the crafter of the horcrux truly repents his crime, it can negatively effect his horcruxes. Supposedly it would have some kind of a healing effect on the crafter, putting him back together, or something, thereby messing with the function of the horcruxes. And this, presumably, would release the vessel. The book’s author doesn’t get into that side of it. And he doesn’t recommend the process – considered the realization of one’s crimes far too painful a thing to be borne and the chance of escaping total damnation too small a prize to bother for. So, if you could get Riddle to, instead of killing Harry, become terribly sorry for what he has done to him and genuinely repent having done so, then there is a possibility that Harry could be released. … Do you see any likelihood of that happening?”

I had to own that I did not.

“So, there you have it.” said Sherlock. “You see our problem, John.”

“Sherlock, what are we going to do?”

Harry has already decided what’s going to be done.”

Harry thinks we can have the horcruxes destroyed in little more than a day!”

“And Harry is right.” Sherlock turned a stubborn, almost challenging face to me.

“Sherlock … you can’t mean what it sounds like you mean.”

“Well what does it sound like I mean?!”

“Something you cannot mean, so you must mean something else!”

“John, do you really think, for one moment, that this little piece of information would prevent Harry from carrying out his mission?”

My silence spoke for me. The wind of an oncoming storm front whistled through the cracks in the house, moaning and wailing. Sherlock mumbled something about the rain not actually hitting London. The lone gas lamp was sputtering.

“Sherlock … Sherlock, please tell me you’re having me on.”

“No. I’m not. You know that I’m not.”

I did know.

“There has to be some other way.”

“Find it and I am your debtor.”

“So you’re just going to tell him. Knowing what he’ll do.”

Sherlock said nothing.

“You’ll tell that boy, that excellent boy, that he himself what he’s been hunting. … Tell him that that dratted headmaster set him on his own track. Tell him that he’s a foul black-magic device invaded and corrupted since his infancy!”

“And what would you have me do!? … Let him go up against the criminal without knowing? … Let him risk the lives of his friends in a battle I know can’t be won? What if Hermione dies in the encounter with Riddle, and it’s only later when Riddle re-appears again that Harry realizes he led her to her death for no purpose?! Harry is determined to save Britain from Riddle. Whether he knows or not he will go up against him. The difference is that if he knows he may go against him and actually accomplish something! Yes! I’m going to tell him. Yes, I’m going to tell him everything. Knowing what he’ll do I can’t possibly not tell him. I am not yet without some hope that ‘everything’ may include a solution to the problem. But, whether or not, I shall, I must, present him with all the facts which I know – all of them. He can do with them as he chooses. I shall try to arrange for there to be some options available. He won’t take any of the other options of course. And he’s right.”

“I thought you didn’t approve of suicide! Now, that client of yours last year – I could see. Really. I could. Wrong anyway, perhaps. And you probably did the right thing in dissuading her. But if it was wrong for her then Harry …”

“Oh, John. You know the difference between suicide and making a sacrifice in battle! You’re talking about two entirely different things!”

“There’s a difference between ordering men who volunteered to risk their lives, and telling a kid flat out that they have to die because their life is worth less than a criminal’s death.”

“It’s not Riddle’s death, John. … There is a reign of terror in Britain at the moment, it’s hidden and it’s small scale yet, but it is there. Even Kingsley Shacklebolt and I working together could not reckon up to you the deaths that would have been prevented if this monster had been killed earlier. And now he is the ruling power behind this secret nation.  It isn’t just the wizards who openly oppose him that are on the line at this point. It isn’t just the wizards with no Wizarding parents, who are being incarcerated or executed. Or all the ordinary civilians who are winding up murdered because they just happened to get in the way of a newly bold and unconstrained gangster. It isn’t just the ordinary English children who have been told that they are going to be joining the Wizarding world this year and will do so in a prison cell and possibly worse if this isn’t cut short before they try to show up on the first day of school. … Did you quite get that last one, John?

“England is in imminent peril of being conquered from inside by a cult. A cult which believes that the ordinary Englishman is a vile creature which deserves to be murdered and enslaved.  It isn’t just the living that are in danger, it’s those that are yet unborn. If the Death Eaters stick to their strengths of secrecy and deception, there is a very real danger of such complete terrorist infiltration of our power structures that England as we know it will cease to exist. We and our descendants will be subject to what is for all practical purposes a hostile foreign power. … And after England is gone, who knows how far the web might grow.

“John, I don’t know whether the Death Eaters will succeed or not, but there is going be chaos and bloodshed as long as they are allowed to continue the attempt. And yes, all those lives are more important. Please don’t bother getting indignant. I know perfectly well you understand the applicable concept. I’ve known you too long and faced too much with you not to know how much you yourself are capable of. The only difficulty is that it’s somebody else’s self-sacrifice in question. And to make matters worse, a school-age somebody else.”

“The ‘only difficulty’? Sherlock, you’re talking about us sacrificing him. That’s not the same concept! It’s the inverse, the cursed inverse. It’s all the difference in the world.”

“You’re right! That would be a different matter altogether. But that’s not what’s going on here. I meant what I said. The same concept … only from his point of view.”

“And what is it from ours?”

“From ours, it is merely allowing him the dignity to choose it, not preventing him from doing what a man has a duty and a right to do. You’re looking at him as a child, John. And…”

“He is a child.”

“But he is also a man! A very young man, but a man, and a soldier, whether we like it or not, and you have to take that into account. He is a man whose countrymen are being slaughtered and imprisoned and made to live in fear. A man who has set out to save them, more than half expecting already that he will not live to see the end of the matter. If I do not tell him, I shall not necessarily be saving his life. But I shall surely be dooming his mission. Shall I forbid a man to die for his country?”

No, of course we could not. Put in such terms, only one answer was possible. But it seemed to me a deceptive simplification of the truly monstrous thing Sherlock was suggesting, and I resented the matter being couched in the terms of an irrefutable rhetorical question.

But the question was not rhetorical. Sherlock stopped and looked to me; he really desired an answer.

I had none to give him.

Death I had often seen, in many foul and grisly forms; wanton atrocities, tragic accidents, fiendish vengeances, battlefields. Yet it seemed to me then, as I stood in that bleak and darkened foyer, listening to the distant ticking of a clock, the breaths of my companion, the crying of the wind, and my own heat beating, that I had never been faced by so insupportable a situation. Here we stood, two grown men, members of a company in the house of a fellow, planning the death of an innocent youth, a boy who did not yet have hair growing on his chin, our comrade and our host. My whole being revolted from the situation. Yet I could not deny what Sherlock had said. I did not speak. And, for a long time, we stood in silence.

By and by Sherlock muttered something which I could not catch. I turned to him. In the pale light from the window – the gas lamp had long since gone out – he looked even more haggard than he had the previous morning.

“The villain.” Sherlock repeated. “John, I have on a number of occasions decried the blandness, the banality, the obviousness, of Riddle’s crimes. But this is a masterpiece of villainy. For if he were to triumph, it would merely be another ignominy, another desecration, heaped upon his supposed nemesis … but if he were to be defeated it would be guaranteed revenge. … He made sure that he cannot be destroyed, without claiming One. More. Victim.”

“So why have you told me?” I asked. “You wouldn’t tell me before. You didn’t want to tell anyone.”

“No I don’t want to tell anyone. … I guess I was hoping … hoping I could prove myself wrong.”

“Well, that is a first.”

“I thought that, maybe, even if I was right, there might be some other way out. … And technically I have not investigated every avenue open to me, so …”

“But why are you telling me? Why tonight?”

“Because … someone has to know.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that this information is too important to keep in only one place. … The time is approaching. Harry wants to move now – quite rightly, I may add. And it is essential that he knows before he tries to go and fight Riddle. … If by some misfortune I am unable to be there myself …”

“… You expect me to do it.”

“Yes. I do.”

“You expect me to…”

“Yes, and you will. Because you daren’t let him try without knowing any more than I. Because you have too much respect for him not to let him know. And too much concern for the lives being lost to jeopardize the operation.”

“So we’re just going to keep it secret, then spring it on him last minute?”

“Oh. So now the problem is that we’re keeping it a secret. I thought it was that we were ever going to tell him at all.”

“Sherlock, can’t you hear what we’re doing? We’re plotting his death!”

“No! We’re not! We’re doing no such thing. We are plotting Thomas Marvolo Riddle’s death. It would be far preferable if Riddle could be properly arrested and brought to trial.  But he’s made that nearly impossible, and since this is war, war of his making, I believe we are justified in acting like it’s war, and shooting the terrorist in plain battle. I have been trying to weave plots around Harry Potter – plots to save him. They have so far come to nothing. I am informing you of the possibility that they will fail completely. … But perhaps you’re right. If you think we shouldn’t discuss this behind his back, then go up and tell him now. Go. He might still be awake with all the excitement. You’re such a bad liar that you’re very persuasive when you’re telling the truth. He will of course believe you. Wonder how he never saw it before…”

“Oh, would you stop being sarcastic.”

I’m not. If you think it would be kinder, better, to be above board and completely open with him, then by all means please go and tell him.”

I didn’t move.

Sherlock sighed.

“He’ll have as much margin for choice last minute as he would have now. … I’m putting off telling him myself because I do not think it would be of any help to him, in any way, to know sooner, and as soon as he does know, his life is over. The short remainder will be just taking the necessary steps before he dies. He won’t be living. He will be dying. The moment I tell him is the beginning of his death. And I would not have his death stretched out over days. … So I won’t tell him one moment sooner than I have to, not one moment. … If I finally do have to tell him. … I’m sorry, John. And I don’t intend to leave that to task to you – if it has to be done in the end. … You just have to be able to carry on the message should I fail.”

“… Fail to be there to cause his death? Or fail to find a way to save him?”

But Sherlock had gone.



Chapter XIII~ Before the Plunge


Left alone in the dark foyer, I found that I could not stay there. The ‘haunted house ride’ aura which I had found it full of in my first visit, five nights before, was as nothing to the darkness which then filled it. Besides which I felt I could not bear my own company. Quickly, like a child who was afraid of the dark, I made my way to the room set aside for Mary, Shirley, and myself.

An oil lamp burned low on the bedside-stand, but they were quietly sleeping. From the book lying open on the covers (I recognized a collection of fairytales that Hermione carried about) it seemed that Mary fallen asleep while waiting for me. A sleeper’s smile rested on her face. She was, perhaps for the first time in days, sleeping peacefully. I hoped I would not wake her; I didn’t need to poison her contentment.

She was sleeping on her right side, and her left ear poked up above the locks of blond. Even in the dim light I could see the kink in the lobe where the umbilical cord had wrapped around her infant head – and nearly strangled the life out of her. So nearly dead. So nearly lost to the world. Taken from life before her life had begun. Mary, an infant, just turning into a creature of the light and air. Harry, a child, on the cusp of becoming a man.

Harry had a sweetheart too; Ron’s younger sister, Ginny Weasley. Too young to accompany the trio. So precious her kisses were forsworn. Not while he carried danger with him. Sweet sixteen.

I was to get no sleep that night. The terrible secret which Sherlock Holmes had revealed to me, and still more, the solution to it which he theorized was all but inevitable, kept me up all through the dark hours, while the clock in hallway below rang out the quarters in harsh clangorous notes. It was not primarily grief that I was feeling. I had – over the past week – become fond of the boy. But what I primarily felt was an overwhelming sense of wrongness. If Harry were to die, it would be a tragedy. That Harry had to die … there lay the sting. Sherlock’s insistence that hope had merely been rendered implausible and had not yet been truly ruled out struck more of desperation than of hope.

When the grey light of a sunless dawn crept over the room, I gave up my attempts to doze, and arose for the day.

Sherlock was searching for a solution in the facts of the witchery itself; in the hope that those who knew how to do this terrible thing might also know how it could be undone, in the hope that an understanding of what exactly it was would give him an insight on how to get rid of it.

I knew nothing of magical theory, dark or light. And from the time that Ron and Hermione told me Harry’s tale, I had believed that the situation was too alien to my own field of study for my knowledge to be of much use in the matter. Yesterday, I had resolved to make some attempt to do such as I was able to in spite of my insufficiency. Today, the fact that I was ignorant no longer excused me. That I must act, that I must do all that was in my power, had become inescapable. And strangely, the very fact that the injury – if I may still call it that – was so much greater and more horrific than I had suspected, made it seem less likely that the causes would be elusive. Surely the internal causes of so terrible a condition, if they were such as could be discovered by a physical examination at all, would be blatant and unmistakable.

But there was still my own ignorance of Wizarding science. Perhaps the Order of the Phoenix had a doctor in its ranks. Perhaps, between the two of us, something could be done.

I was startled from my train of thought, and the rest of the house roused, by the ringing of the newly installed doorbell.

The foyer was filled with people. Lupin was there, but this time there was a young woman by his side; her bright pink hair and her youthful rounded cheeks providing a striking contrast to him, with his greying hair and face, and lean frame. More red-headed Weasleys were there. The Mr. and Mrs. of the family were a very pleasant middle-aged couple; the Mrs. was plump, the Mr. was balding, both were cheery and friendly as could be. Mr. Weasley in particular seemed absolutely delighted to be introduced to Sherlock, Mary, and I – the notion of a muggle detective and two muggle healers appeared to utterly fascinate him. Three more of their children accompanied them. They seemed to be a very large family. One was a full grown, stocky looking fellow with a grin reminiscent of the twins. Another was a tall young man with a face which would have been remarkably handsome if he had not been so badly scarred – it looked as though he had been mauled by an animal at some point. His wife had come too, an ethereal beauty floating along on a cloud of platinum tresses. The third, a lithe young lady, all flashing eyes and flaming hair, was clearly Harry’s Ginny, the youngest Weasley and the only girl in the family. Though too young to be a member of the Order, she had accompanied her family to London. Kingsley Shacklebolt was there. This sage and knowledgeable correspondent turned out to be a large and majestic black man, looking like one of the Three Kings out of the east in his rich resplendent robes and gold jewellery. And there were others who I had not met or heard of before. I noticed that Mundungus Fletcher was not among them.

Only a handful of them had heard the plan. Shacklebolt, current head of the Order, had summoned them here for a meeting in order to discuss it. Some of them, unlike Mr. Weasley, were decidedly disapproving of the presence of Sherlock, Mary, and I. There were whispers of spies and possible obliviations. But Harry would hear none of it, and defended us vigorously. I remembered the suspicion with which he had first listened to us. It was gone. And he seemed to be riding on a wave of exhilaration. His smile, aglow with focused excitement and open camaraderie, innocent and straightforward and unaware, cut into my heart. I felt stained with intended treachery, with ugliness in mind and as yet unshed blood on my hands.

Before the meeting, there was a minor uproar. Ginny, at sixteen years, was still considered a minor by the wizards, and her mother would not let her even be present at the meeting. Ginny thought this tremendously unfair, and said so very plainly. But Mrs. Weasley was unswervable on the matter. Ginny was left behind in the foyer with Mary to bemoan her non-inclusion (I had no doubt but that she would find Mary a very sympathetic companion) while everyone else went down to the kitchen.

Sherlock Holmes presented his plan to the Order of the Phoenix with a brisk practicality in which the extreme melancholy and half-hidden desperation of the night before was indiscernible. The point of precisely how capturing the cup of Helga Hufflepuff would help destroy Riddle was left vaguely relegated to it being ‘Dumbledore’s Orders, as Harry had insisted. But with the exception of that one important factor, he was extremely clear, and explained to them in great detail every point about the strike-team and the plan proposed.

Harry was eager to move on the plan without delay. We had met him in a paralysis of uncertainty. He had not known what to do with the information, how to proceed on a task that seemed just too big. He was a man of action; like me. And now, seeing a path clear before him, he wished to move now – tomorrow, as soon as the Order and the Strike-team could work out their co-operation.

Sherlock did not present any reasons against this. The Order was rather shocked, as Ron had expected, and not perhaps extremely pleased, by the notion of a joint strike team. But they took Harry’s word as if he was their head, even though he was not even officially a member yet. And the situation was such that they hesitated to turn down any strategy which might stand a chance. Mr. Shacklebolt expressed frustration at the proposed team’s ratio of wizards to muggles. So Fred and George suggested that the older members of ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ could be called upon. In spite of its imposing name, Dumbledore’s army turned out to be a school club, started for the extra study of practical fighting techniques in anticipation of Riddle’s rise to power.

It was decided that the Order would go now, guided by Sherlock, to meet with the muggle strike-team and prepare for the operation, which was tentatively planned for the very next day. The five of us would search a few more crime scenes, then we would all meet again in the afternoon, at a location yet to be decided.

Before we left the Black mansion, I managed to get a word with Remus Lupin about finding a trustworthy Wizarding doctor. He was very sympathetic, but did not seem to think that it was a very good idea. It was a scar. There was nothing to be done about it. I did not speak the exact nature of my concerns, but I was able to convey to him some of my urgency. He said that he would talk with some of the others, and if possible, bring someone to the meeting later on. I would have preferred it if someone could have been found immediately, I wished to start as soon as possible. But this did seem to be the best that could be arranged.

Whether because we had already gone through most of Sherlock and Hermione’s list or because Sherlock and Hermione had become so very certain of where the horcruxes were to be found that they had trimmed their list down to only the most important places, our search was not long that day. The last site we searched was a dreary old corner by an abandoned house where an ‘auror’, a Wizarding special forces agent, had been killed years before. We found nothing of course; all the crime-scene searching we had done had been completely useless. It was still several hours till we were supposed to meet the strike-team.

Sherlock retreated into the old falling down house, out of the weather. Here, further north than London, it was drizzling quite badly. The day was grey and mournful. The wind had blown itself out last night and though it seemed that it must have rained hard earlier, there now was nothing but a steady drip, drip from eaves and tree branches. The sky was dark. It could have been been nearly twilight, even though my watch said it was short of one o’clock. Nothing rustled or chirped in the dark thickets on either side of the path I had aimlessly meandered down; just the steady drip drip drip. There was such a lot of dead wood. Dead. Dark. Cold. So unseasonably cold. I pulled the zipper of my light summer jacket up at little higher, wishing I’d brought something heavier. The hopelessness of the whole situation was forcing itself upon my soul, the hideousness. And I couldn’t go back. Go back before I’d heard. I couldn’t get back what the world had been then. I couldn’t wipe it clean from the horror of those few little words. Now it was dark. All was dark. Nothing was bright and good any more, all soiled, twisted, darkened by this …

My knees gave way beneath me and I stumbled for a moment, catching myself with one hand on the damp stone path. There was mud between the stones. My breath steamed in the raw and bitter air. The little winding path in amongst the rhododendron thickets had taken on a strange quality. It was not merely dark and forbidding. Every branch, every dripping twig, the gleaming stones amongst the moss, seemed a terror. Unreasoned fright seized me. I turned round and started to run. But I didn’t know quite where I was running to. Horror of my destination crept over me, revulsion, terror – I couldn’t go that way. My steps faltered. Cries were rising in my mind, remembered cries and the groans of wounded men. The world was so cruel. The world was so dark. What did it matter if I saw the sun, when such things existed beneath it. Distantly, like something coming back from a dream, I heard gunfire and screams, saw a man falling from a ledge. I saw the face of a murdered woman. A weeping child, weeping and weeping and weeping. Some little corner of my mind, quiet, still sane, ridiculous in its tiny impotency against the enormity of the horror and despair which filled me, said ‘Stop it. Now. Get up and go back to the others.’ A flickering candle against a wave. I was powerless to obey it. No little stirring of my paralysed will could stir my frozen brain and swamped imagination, or fight off the billows of darkness which were overcoming me. Panic gripped me. I was drowning; drowning in the freezing darkness. Was I sinking away? ‘Good bye, John.’ No, that was long ago. If there had been air in my lungs I would have screamed. I couldn’t see, swirling blackness obscured my eyes.

Light. Piercing, blazing, flashing, blinding light. I recoiled as though from a blade. As a cold hand from hot water. But it was all around me. I breathed again, deep breaths of the warm, wet air. Did I say the air was cold? The air was warm. It was one of those sweet summer showers, gently seeping into the grateful, dry earth. Rain-drops pattered off leaves and splashed among the rocks. The smells of damp grass and yellow iris came through the rain.

I sat up. Harry’s silver hart, burning with radiance, stood above me like a sentinel guardian. The raindrops caught its light and fell like gleaming jewels all round us. Its limpid eyes were glowing with sympathy and concern.

And then it was gone. There was the sound of feet and Harry himself came running along the path, his wand still in his hand.

“John! Doctor? Are you all right?! How long were you there?”

“I … don’t quite know.”

He gave me his hand and helped me to my feet.

“That was quite a lot of dementors. I’m sorry, I should have warned you that there might be some around a place like this.”

“Dementors?”

“Yeah. They’re massing you know. Usually they either hang out alone, in lonely places, or else work in groups for the Ministry of Magic. But Riddle’s got them packing up and causing trouble.” We were by then walking back along the path to the house, as Harry went on about these invisible beings (invisible to me anyway) called dementors by whom I had apparently been under some kind of attack. He inquired several times if I was really all right, and asked if I had any chocolate about me. “… chocolate’s really good for recovery after dementor attacks.” he assured me.

I felt strangely weakened and was keenly, painfully aware of what it was that Sherlock and I were doing. The very concern in the remembered eyes of the hart seemed to reproach me. And he, poor fellow, was completely unaware that his companion had such notions in his head.

Suddenly, some of what he had been saying solidified in my mind.

“Azkaban? … Did you just say they guard Azkaban – the Wizarding prison?”

“Yeah.” said Harry.

I stopped, aghast.

“Er, well,” he continued, “they were actively attacking you there, and they couldn’t exactly do that to the prisoners, but, yeah. … Dumbledore was always trying to get the Ministry to stop using them. But …”

Something had occurred to me.

“Harry, if we hadn’t heard her, what would have happened to Mary?”

For a minute he didn’t answer. Then he nodded.

“I’m afraid – yeah. She probably would have.”

The dementors might have been back, I had certainly grown cold enough.

“John,” said Harry, a little hastily, as if my face alarmed him, “John, it’s … People usually survive Azkaban. I’ve had friends who were sent there. They came out okay, er well, not great, but they recovered. And, at this rate, Mrs. Watson’s probably not going to get caught.”

“They sent children?” I said. “To a place surrounded by those …”

“No. One was the Hogwarts gamekeeper. And then there was … Sirius.”

I remembered the particular vehemence of Harry’s insistence that Sirius had never had anything to do with Riddle’s gang.

“Was he accused of being a Death Eater?”

Harry nodded, his jaw strangely shifted. It was evident that the subject was extremely painful to him.

“So it’s the high security prison?”

“… It’s the only prison.”

Suddenly, I went from cold to hot.

“Everyone who’s sent to prison has to endure them?”

“Yes.” said Harry.

“Everyone? What about all those muggle-borns – what about the students?”

Harry did not immediately reply. He looked as sick with anger as I was.

“If nothing goes wrong, they’ll never get caught.” There was a quietly inexorable determination in the young man’s voice.

The sound of laughter broke incongruously upon our ears. Ron and Hermione were laughing on the decrepit porch, out of the rain; the pure-blood and the muggle-born, hand in hand.

“Maybe Hermione has some chocolate.” Harry said.

Off he went to them. I watched him run across the overgrown lawn to his friends. I checked my watch. It was still a long time until we were supposed to meet with the Order. I wasn’t going to wait any longer. I took the side door into the old house, to tell Sherlock of my plan.

There he sat, his long lean figure bent over the table, his sharp features illuminated by the single lamp as his keen eyes scanned the brown and crumbling pages of Hermione’s Secrets of the Darkest Art. Instantaneous, unreasoned revulsion and fear went through me; anger at the cruel book which had wrought such pain and destruction, horror at the sight of it in Sherlock’s hands. It would have caused me less repugnance if it had been a coiling adder – written by those who courted the infernal, revelled in the foul, murdered and distorted and … Something snapped.

“Sherlock Holmes, put the damn book down!”

He lifted his head from the page, and looked at me keenly for a minute.

“An admirable choice of words, John.” he said finally. “It is a damned book; indeed, it is the very damnedest book it has ever been my lot to peruse.”

I looked away in great vexation of spirit, not knowing how to answer his calm agreement. But before I could pick up the train of my thought again and approach the subject of a medical examination, he was speaking again.

“John, do you know why I’m bothering to work through this?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I take no pleasure in this hideous book. Its very lettering is vile. I’m trying to fix a problem I didn’t create! Do you think I want…”

“No! Of course I don’t, Sherlock! Of course I don’t!”

He turned feverishly back to the book, shuffling roughly through the cracking pages and talking fast.

“I’ve looked, and I’ve looked, and there is nothing, nothing, about living horcruxes. I can’t even discern whether horcrux specifically means the segment of soul, or whether it means the entire device, both segment and vessel. The pain resulting from the horcrux is specific to a certain area, but does it then follow that the segment is specifically located in the area thus affected? Is it located specifically enough for a physical removal? If, on the supposition the segment could be thus physically removed, would it even be possible to do so without causing lethal damage? Could it be detected as an object within the vessel – which could then be separated out? Or would the entire area have to be removed? Or are we working on a false hypothesis? Is the head pain merely symptomatic, and the causative segment diffused throughout the vessel? I’ve had blood and DNA tests done on him, and they checked out fairly normal. Or, normal in and of themselves …”

“You have? When was this?”

“Oh, the other day. He doesn’t know about it. I’ve had them evaluated by a number of different specialists.”

“What do you mean normal ‘in and of themselves’?”

“I mean they would seem normal … if it wasn’t for Riddle’s DNA. You know I managed to get a DNA sample in Amelia Bones’ house.”

“But Harry can’t have some of Riddle’s DNA. If the bit of Riddle was plainly there in Harry’s very genetic code, you wouldn’t still be asking where it was.”

“No. Harry doesn’t have any of Riddle’s DNA. It’s actually quite the opposite. Riddle has some of Harry’s.”

“What?!”

“Harry’s is normal, undamaged, completely unsurprising DNA. Riddle’s is decidedly abnormal. When they said it was artificially engineered, it explained much. It is a completely unnatural, indeed naturally impossible, phenomenon.”

“But what does this have to do with Harry’s DNA?”

“Well, Harry mentioned the other day that he was present at Riddle regeneration.”

“Yes.”

“But at the time he didn’t get too terribly graphic about what actually happened.”

“He, or Hermione, said that Riddle kidnapped him for political reasons … meaning to murder him in front of the gangsters.”

“And that was true, so far as it went, but it wasn’t the whole story – nor even the main point, I believe. … I don’t claim to understand how what he did worked. But Harry’s blood was used somehow in the regeneration process. Apparently Riddle needed someone’s blood, and thought that using Harry’s would get around the effect of the uh, ‘spell’ that Lily cast on him years before, by extending its protection to both of them … or something. Anyway, it worked. Obviously. Harry hasn’t had that protection from Riddle since.”

“Has that been actually proved?”

“Yes, it has. I understand Riddle went to some lengths to prove it … he tortured Harry, I’m sorry to say. … But that is entirely beside the point at the moment, because that isn’t the horcrux. It runs in the opposite direction. It’s not a element of Riddle in Harry. It’s a element of Harry in Riddle. So back to the element of Riddle…”

So that was Harry had been doing there. My mind flashed to some lonely little dingle, where the boy of fourteen, kidnapped, wounded, doubtless bound, in searing pain from the proximity of the sorcerer, watched as … fire, steaming cauldrons, goblin men, witches chanting foul incantations – vague and ghastly images swirled in my imagination. Through the nightmare sounds in my mind, I heard Sherlock continuing.

“ … Of what nature is this segment? We know that something of Riddle is inside Harry, but we don’t know exactly what. Wizarding theory says it is a fragment of soul. If,” and he lay great emphasis on the word, “if that is in fact an accurate way to describe it, then it is beyond my purview, and yours too.”

“But you do not believe that it is.”

“I admit that I have a certain very strong disinclination to accept such a theory.”

“On the other hand, a bit of … brain material transplanted into someone else’s mind would hardly cause the effects on Riddle that we see. I mean, we’re talking about unnatural prolongation of a mortal life. … Or perhaps not even really that … If that doesn’t fit into the category of …”

“You quite hold the supernatural theory, I see.”

“No, Sherlock, I’m just trying to understand what’s happening.”

“Well, so am I. And that’s why I don’t put the damn book down.”

“Well, you do that. I’m going to take him to the hospital. If he has a foreign object embedded in his skull, or wherever, which isn’t supernatural in character, I should be able to detect it. And if I can detect it, then maybe I can remove it.”

“The ability to detect it hardly guarantees the ability to effectively remove it, as many cancers prove. Still, use every device that modern science can suggest to discover if there is anything which can be removed. … Anything which could possibly be the causative agent. I have some notes …” he produced a wad of notepaper, thickly written in his bold, distinctive hand. “I’ve jotted down the facts which seem as though they might be of use to the medical investigator. I intended to get someone connected to the Order to accompany you and Harry when we met with them later today. But if you wish to go now, by all means, do so.”

“I did ask Remus Lupin to try and find a Wizarding doctor, to come and look at him.”

“If he has managed to engage one, I shall certainly send him on to the the hospital.”

“This is supposing of course, that I can get Harry to come.”

“Why not? He certainly doesn’t like having the connection. How could it hurt? And he likes you well enough. We are now waiting on the combined strike to team to be ready, and cannot proceed any farther with our plan until tomorrow morning at the very earliest. He has the time. Your personality engenders confidence. Go. Convince him. I’ll continue looking for a solution within the Wizarding world. … Surely, surely if Dumbledore knew – and he obviously did – then he must have had a plan either for Harry’s cure or his informing.”

“But he was killed.”

“Yes. Pity, that. Therefore he must have told someone else his plan.”

“Not necessarily, Sherlock. People don’t generally plan on being murdered.”

“Well, I think this one did. … Oh, and John, do pick up some duct-tape while you’re out.”

“Duct-tape?”

“Yes, duct-tape. Is that a problem?”

“No.”

“Well I think it might be a good idea to have some.”

“…We couldn’t just put the whole thing off for a short time?”

“The wheels are in motion. A great deal is at stake. Even if there weren’t, there’s only so many alternatives we can look into. I don’t think a few extra days would help us much at this point. And much evil can happen in that amount of time. Harry is intent upon moving as soon as possible. Shacklebolt is intent upon moving as soon as possible. Mycroft is intent upon moving as soon as possible. And I wouldn’t stop them if I could. … Unless, of course, you actually do find something. Then I’ll get this put off long enough for a proper operation, even if I have to tell the whole Order of the Phoenix everything.”

I left Sherlock alone with his volume – I now saw that there were a number of others beside him, doubtless procured from Hermione’s marvellous bag – and went back outside to look for Harry. He met me at the door with a bar of chocolate.

Harry was right. The chocolate did help. But the examination was as useless as could be imagined. For all that I could tell, Harry’s scar was just that, ordinary scar tissue on the skin of the forehead. Scans revealed no tumorous tissues or foreign objects in his head, or anywhere else for that matter. Brain imaging showed no unexplainable phenomena, no suspicious activity.

The Wizarding doctor did come. In the middle of the afternoon I got a call that a pair of suspicious characters were down in the lobby asking for me. It turned out to be the senior Mr. Weasley with a young wizard named Augustus Pye. He was an agreeable, open minded fellow, who seemed pleased rather than otherwise to be working with a muggle. The problem was he clearly didn’t have a clue about Harry’s injury. He, like every other wizard in the nation, knew about the famous lightning scar. But he had never heard of any complications surrounding it. And worse, he seemed to assume, from the immutability of the curse that had caused it, that nothing whatsoever could be done about the complications. He examined Harry, questioned him, and expressed sympathy at his condition, but he did not seem to comprehend the gravity of the matter. Finally, I took him aside, well out of Harry’s hearing, and explained to him that it was believed or feared (I did not say by whom) that Riddle had transferred a part of himself to Harry at the time of the scar’s formation.

I had been hoping that he would laugh at the notion, and give some Wizarding explanation which would explain Sherlock’s terrible theory completely away. But he didn’t. He took the theory very seriously indeed, as if it were entirely plausible notion under the circumstances. To my distress, he took as a given that if that were true, no action of ours could help him. Much more sober than he had come, Mr. Pye left, promising to consult those more specialized in that area of Wizarding science than himself, and get back to me before the morrow.

In the hospital, we kept on. I swore that Harry should not die due to some slight carelessness or lack of attention to detail on my part.

Twilit day had turned to dark-black evening when the door opened to admit Mary, blooming and bonny. There was a pearlescent gleam at her neck and wrists, and the salmon material she was clothed in fluttered about her elbows and her knees. Her wide blue eyes gleamed in the fluorescent lights as she tripped lightly over to kiss me.

Behind her followed a young woman, who, on second examination, turned out to be Lupin’s young wife, who I had met that morning. But her bright pink hair had been turned to a quiet shade of mousey grey, and her little button nose had grown, for all the world like Pinnochio.

“Hullo, Doctor.” she said. “Wotcher, Harry!”

“Come to say that Harry’s been out too long?” I asked her.

“Nope! We’ve come to keep him out later.” she said cheerfully. “Or at least that was Mr. Holmes’s idea.”

“What do you mean?”

Mary pulled several stubs of paper from her purse; concert tickets. I remembered Sherlock excitedly purchasing those over a month ago; three – for himself, for Mary, and for me. I had forgotten that it was tonight.

“Are those Sherlock’s tickets?” I asked.

“Yes.” said Mary. “He asked us to make sure they didn’t get wasted.”

“But, surely he’s going himself?”

It was true we were in the middle of a case. But Sherlock had a truly remarkable power of detachment. If he knew he could could do no more on a case for a period of time, he could, and often would, turn his mind completely to something else, whether it be music, or chemistry, or medieval pottery. Many an evening we had spent in concert halls, Sherlock Holmes floating happily off to music land, while I, of less flexible turn of mind, missed half of it because I was so emotionally and mentally caught up in an investigation. So I was surprised that he was not going. I remembered the great enthusiasm with which he had announced the event. He had said himself that we could not proceed farther on the case until tomorrow, and that there were limited avenues for horcrux investigation.

“He says he’s too busy.” said Mary. “But he insisted that I still go. He thought Harry might like to have the third seat.”

“Oh, no.” said Harry, looking at me and Mrs. Lupin. “I’ll apparate back to Grimmauld Place. You three can have the tickets.”

“Sorry, Harry.” said Mrs. Lupin. “But the Order sent me along specifically because of you. They weren’t too pleased about you being off by yourself for so long. Where you go, I go.”

“And I’m sure we can get a fourth seat.” said Mary.

“Well, I really can’t go anywhere at the moment, anyway.” I said. “Where is Shirley?”

“With Sherlock. He said he wasn’t doing anything dangerous tonight and could look after her just fine. Are you sure you can’t come?”

“Yes, I’m afraid I really couldn’t justify leaving right now.” I replied, thinking of the long evening’s work ahead of me.

She was clearly disappointed “You and Sherlock. … Are you all right, Love?”

“Yes. I am. Just fine.”

“He was attacked by dementors.” Harry supplied helpfully. “That would leave anyone a bit shaken.”

“What are dementors?” she asked.

“They’re terrible beings of the dark and decaying places.” said Harry. “He stumbled right into a whole bunch of them.”

“And they attacked him?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes, you should ask him to tell you about patronuses, Mary. Get him to show you. Find some out of the way place for a demonstration, Harry, I’d like her to see. … But you three had better go, or you’ll be late. Run along. Enjoy yourselves.”

She suddenly leaned over, and, very softly so that only I could hear, she asked: “John, is there anything I can help you with?”

“No, I just … Yes there is. Observe Harry.”

“Why, John, you have been working with him all day, haven’t you? How should be able to find out more …”

“I’d just like your instinctual opinion.”

“Do you want to prejudice my instincts by telling me some of your research, maybe?”

“No. I’d prefer to keep you unprejudiced.”

As they bid me goodbye, Mary with a kiss and Harry thanking me for the exam – nice of him, as I hadn’t managed to help him a whit, I tried not to think of how much I would have preferred to spend the evening out listening to classical violins with Mary and Sherlock.

Left alone to restudy the data, I plugged away, deep into the night. Long after the concert must have ended, there were more footsteps at my door, a firm, slow stride, and a toddling little patter. The door swung open and Shirley ran in, crying ‘Daddy!’ and climbed up on my lap, trying to tell me in childish syllables about all the crazy people she and Sherlock had been talking to. Sherlock followed. He stood quietly next to the desk while she babbled happily on, occasionally agreeing with something she said, and backing her up on just how ridiculous such-and-so’s hat had been. When she finally stopped for breath, he turned to me and said:

“Call it a night, John.”

I turned back to my desk.

“I … haven’t got anything.”

“I know. And neither have I.”

“Nothing?” I asked. “Sherlock, do you mean to say …”

“No I don’t. Not tonight, anyway. … My dear fellow, don’t despair yet – time enough for that later. And perhaps I shouldn’t say that I have nothing, for now I know at least who knows nothing, and that is, after all, something. We are not totally without recourse yet, and I will be very much surprised if tomorrow does not shed some light on the matter. Come now, you’ve done what you could. It won’t help anything if you aren’t alert tomorrow.”

“The operation is on schedule then?”

“Yes. We start in five hours. We should be in possession of the bank no later than six o’clock tomorrow morning, and to Hogwarts School before ten o’clock. … That is, if you still want to help in this outrageous affair?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

Sherlock paused.

“Shirley,” he said, “look.”

“What?” she said, looking around.

“There. Out the window. Do you see the helicopter? Just like the ones Mr. Beaumont showed us? Go and see.”

Shirley hopped down and ran to the window to watch the aircraft. Having thus distracted her, Sherlock turned back to me and spoke in a lower voice.

“John, I’m having serious misgivings about asking you to come tomorrow. I think you should know – Harry’s right. The chances are very poor that we’ll all survive the operation, even supposing we find a way to save him.”

“Is that supposed to make me let you and three teenagers go alone? And anyway, I thought you needed me there as back-up.”

“But in doing so I’m scarcely treating you any different from that treatment of Harry which you so deplore.”

“Surely that’s an exaggeration.”

“I’m afraid it really isn’t. Yes, it may matter a great deal to have someone there who I can absolutely depend upon. But, depending on certain variable factors, it may also prove irrelevant – and result in nothing but another pointless death.”

He glanced over to where Shirley was playing by the window.

“You could’ve dropped Shirley off at the Black place before you came.” I said. “You didn’t even need to come in person, you could’ve sent a text. You brought my daughter to this conversation on purpose didn’t you? Make me think twice about going to face down the big bad wizard, hmm?”

“Yes.” he admitted. “I did.”

“Well – if I get killed tomorrow, Uncle Sherlock’s going to have to help Mary look after her. … Shirley! Come on, Sweetie, time to go back to Harry’s house.”

But as it transpired, we did not return to the Black place that night. Sherlock lead us down by the river where the combined strike-team had set up a temporary base of operations. He had spent most of the afternoon and evening there, among the Order. And he knew those parts better than I knew my own neighbourhood. But I don’t believe that he would ever have found it again if Arthur Weasley hadn’t been outside waiting for us. There, under the corrugated roof of an empty warehouse, a large and motley company was assembled; muggles and wizards, men and women, sober adults and excited teenagers, piles of the the slim little aerial broomsticks and two large gunned helicopters.

Whatever their hesitancy about the plan might have been, it had now been cast aside. All was set. Kingsley Shacklebolt had altered it to the effect that only half of the strike-team would follow us up to the school in the north. He would remain behind with the other half in London, ready to take action here, ready to fly in to the assistance of the un-enchanted at the Ministry of Magic as soon as Riddle was gone and his spells were broken.

They waited only for the morrow.


 

~ Chapter XIV ~

The Locket, the Cup, and the Diadem


We were moving before the first subtle glimmers of dawn had appeared in the sky. I was weary after only a few hours sleep, but Sherlock Holmes seemed to have forgotten what exhaustion was. He was here, there, and everywhere as the last minute preparations went on. He was cheerful, as if the last few days of desperate grasping for answers had never happened. But I remembered his sombre warning of the night before, and it was with some inner trepidation that I bid farewell to my wife and daughter. Mary had spoken cheerfully of Harry. She insisted that she knew almost nothing – though she knew more than I had told her – would have rather asked than answered questions, and, of course, she had no solution. But the few words she spoke on the matter cheered me. She knew that he had a terrible infection of some kind, ‘cancerous’ she called it. But she did not seem to think his ‘cancer’ indissociable from him. She did not take for granted that he was doomed. Few and uncertain as her words were, they lent credence to Sherlock’s expectations of discovering a solution today. Mr. Pye’s letter, little more than a reiteration of what he’d said the day before with better credentials, was disappointing, but not a death knell. The sun had not yet risen over the towers of London when we threw open the doors, and the two helicopters, accompanied by several score wizards on broomsticks, glided out over the dark waters of the Thames.

The whole affair with about the bank was over in fairly short order. Sherlock’s and my part in it was but little; we were neither Wizarding fighters, nor official police. He and I were in the port helicopter, which was co-piloted by George Weasley. His twin was in the other. We rappelled down into the empty, twilit street with the rest. The only people in sight were the Death Eater guards by the doors, who had fallen to the Order’s stunning spells the moment we came into view. In a few moments, through some combination of police explosives and Kingsley Shacklebolt’s know-how, the high bronze doors lay twisted upon the ground and we entered.

The goblins, or the few of them that were about when we entered, seemed surprisingly blasé about the matter. When Kingsley declared that the place was reclaimed by the Order for the Aurors’ Office from the grasp of the usurpation, they barely deigned to snort at him before returning to work. The first real reaction came when Kingsley explained that he needed access to a vault other than his own.

This woke them up. Screeching indignation was the order of the day. But the screeching grew less and turned to resentful mutterings as Kingsley made out his case. He was a high ranking auror – there was no doubt about his identity. He wished to access the vault of a pair of convicted criminals – there was no question about their status as felons. He required access solely to ascertain whether or not one of two valuable stolen items had been hidden there. And … he had a search warrant.

The goblins insisted on seeing this document and spent more time than was necessary inspecting it. Apparently the low level judge who Kingsley had found to sign it was cause for a significant amount of scoffing, but there was no arguing with the warrant’s legitimacy. Finally, after a good deal of fuss, one withered old goblin stepped forward and demanded a whole list of assurances from Kingsley about the handling of all the non-stolen items in the vault and the treatment of the vault itself, to which Kingsley readily assented. The goblin seemed almost disappointed. But he put his nose in the air and agreed to guide Kingsley and a maximum of three companions down the vault to look. Kingsley, Harry, Sherlock, Lupin, and the little old goblin left the lobby followed by a murmur of angry mutterings and scattered hisses.

I understand that there was a dragon down there; an actual, live, giant, winged reptile, whose exhalations really did combust upon contact with the air. Sherlock tells me it was in a rather in-humane situation, but I should have had a curiosity to see it if I had known.

The party returned after a rather more lengthy trip than I had expected, bearing aloft the cup of Helga Hufflepuff.

We left the Order and the team to fix the place up, engineer the ‘escape’ of some of the captured Death Eaters who had seen what we had taken, and attempt to evacuate the goblins to prevent them from undeservedly bearing the weight of Riddle’s wrath. And the five of us, Harry, Sherlock, Hermione, Ron, and myself, slipped out of the bank and teleported out of Diagon Alley onto a little hill-side in Northamptonshire just as the sun was rising.

Behind us broad fields stretched away, silver green into the distance, broken by darker patches of woods and hedgerows. The roofs of a tiny hamlet shone out of the fields, not a half a mile to the south-east. From the woods on either hand there rose a loud, merry cacophony of bird sounds. Dew drenched my shoes, and fell in big prism-like droplets from the long leaves of the grass. Before us rose a broad green stretch of rising land. A line of tall trees stood upon the summit, catching the early light. Beyond that was only blue.

Harry let go of Ron’s and my hands and unstrapped his firebolt from his back. How far I preferred flying to teleporting! The crushing, the blackness, the roaring in one’s ears, the claustrophobic sensation of being dragged through a tunnel, the soreness which often followed – that it was fast, nearly instantaneous, was all that could be said for the one. What could not be said for the other?! There was terror in it, true, and risk; leaving the solid earth so many fathoms behind. But I would choose it without question, make teleporting safe as you may.

We sped upwards, above the ground, but so close to the slope that the long grass still rippled about our ankles, swishing in the wind of our passing. The earth ended above us in a bright green line. Closer and closer came the sky. And then we were up over the top in the air, in the sea of endless blue. Looking back, the earth spread out beneath us, green and bright and more distant by the second. The little hill on which had just been standing was a thumb sized strip between little woodlands. The hamlet flashed its roofs behind us.

I shall never forget that journey, in the sun and the wind, behind Harry Potter on his firebolt, watching the counties drop away beneath us; the green patchwork of fields and hedges of Northamptonshire, the seemingly endless grey mass of Manchester, the high bronze fells and dark valleys of Yorkshire.

The sky over the isle was mostly clear. Some scatted clusters of cumulus clouds appeared in our path from time to time. Harry made no attempt to avoid them. He even rose in elevation once in order to sweep over the top of one towering wall of vapour. It would have made an entire mountain on the ground. So bright, so white, whiter than snow, blinding to look at and unreal to the mind. We see clouds, and our lives are deeply affected by them; we are rescued and we are ruined by that which the clouds bring. But the bright tufts of cotton fluff which race across the summer sky are often little more than images to our minds. We cannot touch them. We cannot approach them. We see them only, and while we may stop and marvel at their beauty and laugh at their form – and in more serious moments worry about what they are or not not bringing – how often are those clouds themselves truly real to us?

It wasn’t until Harry purposefully plunged into the side of a ridge that I fully appreciated that this mountain of water was in fact there, not just a beautiful, overly bright image. I touched a cloud. Cool, damp, twilight surrounded us and our faces were pelted by tiny water droplets. The day was becoming quite hot by that time and the sensation was delicious. Casting a glance over my shoulder, I saw the cloud, from this perspective like a very thick fog, rushing away from the path we had blasted through it, and Ron and Sherlock following us through the billowing tunnel. Hermione had gone around. As we came near to the outer edge of the cloud, it suddenly lit up all around us, bright white, gold light, as the vapour particles caught the rays of the sun. It was as if we were swimming in tangible light.

The importance of our mission, the sense that we were embarked upon a great adventure, lent its own spice to the beauty and wonder of the matter. Up there in the sun, it was hard to give much credence to the nightmare visions I had been entertaining recently. With Sherlock’s reassurance of his ‘last recourse’, I could well believe that no great tragedy awaited us in the northern mountains, and I found myself following his admonition – and not despairing at all. Instead I laughed with the Seventh Safeguard, and forgot, if only for an hour, that he was not only the boy that he seemed.

We landed on the banks of a little river which emptied into the Firth of Lorn, and from thence, immediately teleported to Hogwarts School.

I cannot tell you where it lies, save that it is in the north of the Isle. I can say that it is beautiful. And if I were ever to see that valley again, I should know it in an instant. But I can give you no directions thither.

We stood upon a grassy hillside where a number of small, shaggy, red cattle were grazing. Before us, down between the steep green sides of the surrounding highlands, lay a deep wooded valley and a loch. On the banks, I could see the tumbled grey form of a ruined fortress. The grey shapes of real mountains, far above these craggy highlands, rose up in the distance. It was the height of summer, and the highlands and the valley were green and the loch reflected the morning sun so brightly that I could scarcely look at it.

A short walk across the fields brought us to a little country lane, where we assumed our customary disguises. Sherlock was still no more pleased with the gold-tasselled purple hat than he had been the first time Hermione had presented it to him. A little farther down the valley, lay the little village of Hogsmeade.

My first impression was one of extraordinary charm and near idyllic beauty. The shops and houses on either side of the neatly cobbled road were well thatched, beautiful little buildings of antique design but of obviously recent care – care such as given to real houses, real workplaces, and shops, not museum relics. The light of the morning sun filled the street with gold. Green fields stretched right to the borders of the town. Gardens crowded around the buildings and spilled from the window sills. People in bright colours walked the streets. It was as if one had stumbled into another world in this narrow dale, some ancient magical remnant of a world that the rest of the country had left behind, or never quite known at all. That was my first impression.

The second was fear. The faces that passed us by were harried, and carried a hunted expression. A rather large number of the shops and houses, though clearly inhabited and loved till quite recently, had been abandoned, and now stood obviously empty. One of them had been burnt down. The sweetshop into which Ron and Hermione led us was the most marvellous specimen of its kind which I had ever seen. But the middle-aged lady who bustled out of the back had a sad and rather defensive look. A dark hand lay over the town.

By the expedient of causing a disturbance in the front of the shop, we were able to slip down into the basement unnoticed. Harry took some minutes in locating the cleverly concealed trapdoor in the floor, and we passed through it into a flight of stone steps leading down into the earth. These continued for perhaps rather more than the depth of a large house, then ended in an low, narrow tunnel, roughly hewn out of the ground.

Deep underground as we were, and constricted as our movements had to be, it was difficult to gauge just how far we travelled, but I am sure that it was well over a mile before we came to a slope of well laid stone. Up this we climbed, and out through a small opening at the top. This door had clearly been intended solely for the use of very young people. It was a bit of work for me to get through, and I lost a number of my buttons in the process. Once I did, I found myself in a long, high-ceilinged corridor lined with statues (it was through a little door in the back of one of these that we came) and lighted by two high mullioned windows, one at either end.

We were inside the fortress we had seen from the hillside; but it was not the ruin it had appeared. It was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

As Sherlock had predicted, the place was very nearly empty, and the few people who were there were easily avoided by the use of Harry’s wonderful map. It was an interesting place, Hogwarts. It was odder by far than the old Black house, but there wasn’t anything sinister about it. It was odd with an almost charming eccentricity. Also unlike the Black house, it was beautiful, and its grandeur was not mouldering in decay. I might have found it an alarming place if I had been trying to navigate it alone, for not only were the pictures along the walls all animate, like that of Mistress Black, but staircases moved, and doors appeared only sporadically. But I wasn’t alone. I was with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and they knew every corner.

The door to the Room of Requirement was one of the doors which was only visible sometimes. It apparently it would show up only when someone decided that they really wanted it to. One moment there seemed to be only an empty corridor; a large animate tapestry depicting a number of trolls (which were either fighting artistically or dancing violently, one couldn’t be sure) on one side, and a bare stone wall on the other. The next moment, a high and rather grand double door had grown out of the bare wall. This sight, which only a week ago would have thrown me into astonishment did not now even cause me to blink.

We passed inside, into a room of vast proportions. In size and shape it was more reminiscent of a cathedral than a storage area, but towering high to the ceiling were stacks and columns, veritable pillars, of miscellaneous objects. Dishes, tools, toys, weapons, clothes, cages, hairbrushes, stuffed animals, closed boxes, papers crumbled into dust, statues, items of furniture, musical instruments, empty bottles, full bottles, gadgets I could not possibly have put a name to or theorized a use for, and things which had long since ceased to have a recognizable form at all were piled in hectic disarray together. There were things whizzing about the ceiling; mechanical, not living, to judge by the noise.

We split up into a line, so as to go over the space more effectively, looking for a ancient diadem on the bewigged head of a crumbling bust, sitting on top of a stained cabinet. Ron found it. Some little time after we had parted among the aisles and piles, he called Harry over to inspect a find and we all came. Harry, Sherlock, and I came empty handed, but Hermione’s arms were filled with headdresses of every description – just in case.

After it had made the round of the children, Sherlock took the ancient headpiece in his gloved hands and inspected it very carefully.

“Highly tarnished silver.” he said, drawing a finger along the distinctly brown surface. “Rather of the Celtic fashion, but you can see the Roman influence as well. It has definitely been out in the weather for a significant period of time. Besides the effects of water there appears to be a remnant of root wrapped around the silver here and the crumbling substance in this gem clasp is most certainly flecks of broken tree-bark.”

“Showing that it was lying around outside somewhere for a long time and hidden in here relatively recently.” said Harry.

“Exactly.” said Sherlock. He held it up to his own head, but I noticed that he was very careful not to actually touch it to it. “If this was in fact designed specifically to fit Rowena, then it would appear that she had decidedly superior supra-orbital development – either that or she was an exceptionally large woman all around.”

“She was known for being the cleverest.” said Harry.

“I can well believe it. Is there any significance to sapphires in Hogwarts lore?”

There was no special significance to sapphires, but blue was one of Ravenclaw’s colours. Sherlock, Harry, and Hermione were all quite confident that this was the long lost diadem, and Ron and I were quite prepared to take their word for it. And so, bearing the diadem of Ravenclaw, the cup of Hufflepuff, and the locket of Slytherin, the five of us went down to the famed ‘chamber of secrets’.

The entrance to the chamber of secrets was located, oddly enough, in a girl’s bathroom. The hidden doorway was concealed in one of the fixtures. But the chamber had been built over a millennium ago. So either the chamber was designed to automatically modify itself to adapt to a changing building, or the wizard’s of the ninth century had had remarkably modern plumbing technology, or it had been secretly modified many times by descendants of the founder.

The chamber was opened by a password. And it was then that I saw for myself the phenomenon that Sherlock had spoken of. Harry opened the chamber. He stood there and he hissed at it. Under different conditions I would have been inclined to laugh at the bizarre display. But not now. He wasn’t making silly animal noises. He was speaking. Speaking a language that he’d never been taught. And the hidden door opened to him; a dank and ill smelling hole angling down into the dark.

Harry shouldn’t have been able to speak that language. It suddenly verbalized in my mind thatHarry was not speaking at all. Riddle was. It was that bit of Thomas Riddle, who was standing beside me. And for the first time, though my liking for Harry did not at all decrease, and my pity for him and horror on his account increased, I was almost a little afraid of him.

He turned to us, gave us a reassuring smile which entirely failed to reassure me, and jumped down into the hole. He slid away and disappeared into the blackness. Sherlock followed unhesitatingly. I had never seen a doorway I found less inviting, but there was nothing but to follow them.

Instantly the light of the sun was cut off. I was on a enclosed and seemingly endless slide, going down into the depths below the castle. Just when I was starting to wonder if this was really a slide at all – instead of a bizarre gravitational loop which we were going to be trapped in forever – I slid out of the pipe and onto a wet stone floor. The soft glow of Harry’s wand and the sharp beam of Sherlock’s flash-light illuminated a rough stone tunnel. Stones had fallen from the roof, and I had a suspicion that it wouldn’t take much to make more follow.

We walked silently, flash-lights and wands out. At one point the tunnel had caved in so badly that we had to get down on our hands and knees and crawl through it.

The tunnel ended in a snake adorned door, which opened to Harry’s command, and we entered into a chamber, the like of which I had never seen before.

Pillars lined the room. There was light there, a very dim greenish light, but I couldn’t tell where it came from. At the far end of the chamber stood a stone colossus, robed and bearded, reaching up to the vaulted ceiling – an image of the long dead Salazar Slytherin. And on the floor at his feet lay a great coiled shape.

We approached it with a certain amount of caution, for even four years dead, with little left but the skeleton and rags of skin, the basilisk was a fearful thing, massive beyond belief. Most of it had rotted away in years since, but a foul odour hung heavily about it.

Harry hastily took the locket from about his neck.

“We’d better not try them all at once. I don’t know what they’ll do. The diary tried to kill Ginny and me.”

“Wasn’t the diary intended to be more interactive?” asked Sherlock.

“Yes, but I bet these won’t exactly go down without a fight either.” said Harry. And he broke off a basilisk fang.

They destroyed them, the three horcruxes, one after another, these outwardly beautiful objects of silver and gold – that held devils inside them. As Harry had expected, they screamed and they taunted and they threatened, they filled the chamber with horrors. But the three children ended them. And we five stood in the dark and filthy chamber in silence, victorious but overwhelmed. There was a very strange and indecipherable look on Sherlock’s face. Harry on the other hand, could be read like a book. He was silent in a mixture of disgust, exhaustion, and wonder. After a moment he spoke, and his voice was hushed with excitement.

“That’s the diary, the ring, the locket, the cup, and the diadem. Now there’s just the snake. And Tom Riddle himself. Mr Holmes! You were right! This will be over before the sun sets!”

And he raced out of the chamber, a basilisk fang in his hand, joyfully heedless of his trainers slipping on the slime.


Chapter XV ~ The Headmaster


We took the broomsticks back up the long shaft and back again into the light of day. The map showed no one near, and Harry had not yet received any sign that Riddle had heard. This was slightly disquieting, but the last Harry had seen, Riddle was overseas. We realized it might be some time before the news got to him.

We had now only to wait. The children decided that we might as well stay as we were, since no one would have any reason to come anywhere near this part of the castle at the moment.

But Sherlock Holmes clearly had no intention of waiting anywhere. Indeed his manner suddenly became quite brisk and animated as he informed Harry that there were one or two points he should like to clear up, and that he thought he could do so best by a brief investigation of a few things in the castle. No, he did not need any of the children to accompany him, but he would appreciate the loan of the map, since they were not likely to need it in here. It was a testament to the enormous confidence which they had come to have in my friend that they did not even state objections to this. Hermione thought it well to go over a few of the dangers again, but no one attempted to forbid or dissuade him. As he and I were leaving the room, Sherlock turned suddenly.

“If we are not back by the time Riddle has set out for Hogwarts, contact me.”

The children glanced around at each other, and Harry hesitantly nodded.

“No really. I mean it, Harry. I’ve made you a number of promises over the course of this venture. I have done, and will do, my utmost to fulfil them. Now I’m asking one of you. When you hear from Riddle, I need to know.”

“Is it really so important, Mr. Holmes?” asked Harry. “I mean, no offence meant, and I’m sure you can understand …”

“Of course I do. And none taken. I can appreciate your concern. But it is very important. Do you promise?”

With some reluctance, Harry did.

Once out in the corridors again, and quite alone, I ventured the question of ‘where’ myself.

“We’re going to call upon upon the headmaster.” said Sherlock without breaking stride.

I stopped in surprise; then ran to catch up.

“Sherlock! We’re burglars! We can’t just go walking into the headmaster’s office!”

“Did you bring the duct-tape?”

“Yes.”

“Well, no worries then.”

“Look, Sherlock, I know think there’s more going on with Severus Snape than everybody else realizes. But you’ve told me yourself, he’s a dangerous man!”

“Oh, I quite agree, very dangerous. But then I am too. And I have duct-tape.”

“You are joking, right?”

“Just part of the way.”

“Well, joking none of the way – why are we doing this? If this is about Harry, how will it help him?”

Sherlock turned around.

“Dumbledore must have left information with someone. He, understandably, did not leave it with Harry. So who would he have left it with? As far as I can tell, Kingsley Shacklebolt does not know. Lupin obviously has no clue. In fact, none of those Order members whom we have met seem to be in the slightest aware of any danger that area.

“Several things stood out to me in Harry’s portrayal of Dumbledore’s behaviour the night he was murdered. One, that after completely and absolutely trusting a man for years – defending him to Harry that very night – Dumbledore would quite suddenly, and with no evidence that I can discern, take the man’s treachery so for granted that rather than expecting him to aid him, he pleaded with him for his life. And note: I don’t gather that Dumbledore was generally the pleading type. Two, that when confronted by a murderous teenager he did not even attempt to defend himself. Three, he froze his companion, a reasonably competent Wizarding fighter, who could have helped to prevent the tragedy. There is also Professor Snape’s own peculiar behaviour, but we’ve already gone over that.”

“Yes, we have.”

“Harry assumes that when Dumbledore said ‘please’ to Snape, he meant ‘please don’t kill me’. But Dumbledore did not actually say that. He said just ‘please’. We do not know what it was that he was asking. Harry’s assumption, though superficially obvious, seems to me to be highly unlikely. It would be uncharacteristic of Dumbledore as his history has been portrayed to me, and more importantly, it would be unnecessary. Dumbledore had no good reason to believe that he needed to so plead. It would therefore be reasonable to postulate that he might have been asking something else entirely, in which case he would have been referring back to a previous request, command, or conversation, and trusting Snape to know what it was that he was asking of him.

“The second two are closely intertwined. Harry seems to assume that Dumbledore lost to Draco Malfoy because he was too busy freezing Harry so as to protect him. This is nonsense. There was no one on the roof at that point besides Draco. Harry could, I am sure, have held his own against the other boy quite handily. Dumbledore could very easily have removed Draco from the equation entirely. Then both of them would have been ready to defend themselves against the others who came up. Freezing Harry did in fact protect him, true. But it was not the only thing which could have done so, nor the most effective if the object had been merely that. What it did do, was prevent Harry from interfering.”

“Prevent Harry from keeping the Death Eaters from murdering him – Dumbledore?”

“Yes. … Now, this faith Dumbledore had in Severus Snape – if we temporarily remove the fact that Snape killed him from the equation – seems to have been entirely justified. Snape, however unpleasant a person with however dark a background, did in fact come through for Dumbledore in all the cases that we can see. This last case could be the exception to the rule, true. But do we in fact have any evidence that it was? Dumbledore’s behaviour does not suggest it. He let himself be disarmed and surrounded. He made sure that his fellow fighter could not interfere. And then he asked Snape to do something, something he knew that Snape did not want to do. Something he wasn’t sure that Snape was willing to do, so unsure that he not only asked, but pleaded with him to do it. And Snape killed him. What if, John, what if, rather than spurning his commander’s plea, Snape was in fact obeying him?”

“You think he was saying … ‘Severus, please shoot me.’”

“On the surface a preposterous theory. But let us apply it to these unmanageable facts, and see if it doesn’t make any sense out of them. If Dumbledore planned on being killed by Snape that night, self-defence would not need to enter the question. He would merely need to prolong the interview with Draco until Snape himself could get there. This is exactly what he did. If being murdered was his plan, then not only would he need to hide Harry to prevent him from sharing the same fate, he would need to restrain him, to prevent him from kindly but unhelpfully trying to effect a rescue. If he had commanded a loyal follower to kill him, that follower might very well be reluctant to do so for a weighty plethora of reasons. He might be so reluctant that Dumbledore would be afraid that he was going to back out last minute. The situation would of course prevent a reiteration of the actual reasons, and Dumbledore might fall back on merely imploring him.

“Dumbledore seems to have known of Draco’s plot to murder him – but as far as Harry could tell he did nothing about it. There is reason to believe that Dumbledore was terminally ill – it is at least certain that he was a centenarian with a wound that was refusing to heal. There is no reason to believe that he doubted Snape’s loyalty, or that he had reason to doubt Snape’s loyalty. It is also true that Dumbledore, knowing as he did the state of both the Wizarding government and the Death Eater movement, must have seen the likelihood of this exact state of affairs coming to pass. Dumbledore was the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, but he was also the headmaster of this school. If Riddle came to power, Hogwarts would be under Riddle’s control. Dumbledore was – in great probability – already dying, or at least not far from death. Dead, he would not be able to continue his hunt for the horcruxes, or influence the conditions in his school. He bequeathed the horcrux hunt to Harry. And the school … The trio are enraged, they cannot believe the injustice of the successor whom Riddle has chosen for their beloved headmaster. But they are wrong.

“Dumbledore chose the successor. He chose a man whom he trusted deeply, who has proved his ability to co-exist with the Death Eaters for long periods of time, who can be counted on to coldly choose between greater and lesser evils when no good choice is available, who has long had a foot in both Hogwarts and the Death Eater camp, and who, in spite of his reputedly unpleasant disposition, has demonstrated dedication to protecting the students of Hogwarts from actual harm. And he had this man murder him in front of witnesses from both sides. … Morally questionable, no doubt, but really quite brilliant.”

“Kind of hard on his chosen successor.”

“Yes, it is. But you see how it all falls into place. Severus Snape’s actions that night were not contradictory at all, merely deceptive.”

“And you think that since Dumbledore divided his responsibilities between these two people, Harry and Snape, that he would have told whatever he knew about Harry’s problem to Snape? That is it? That is your plan? To go for help to the nastiest professor in Hogwarts in the hope that Dumbledore gave him some last minute ploy to save Harry?” My heart had begun to sink.

“It’s not a fool-proof plan, I grant you.” said Sherlock, a bit uncomfortably. “And if you have any additional ideas, I would be very glad of it indeed. But it is the case that of the Order members in whom one would expect Dumbledore to repose confidences Snape was perhaps the least likely to be killed during Harry’s hunt. The others would likely be fighting and scheming, and often on the run, with a great probability of being tracked down and murdered. Snape would be back at the school enjoying the favour of the new regime, as long as he continued playing his part cleverly – as he has done for years. If Dumbledore’s confidence in him was comparable to his confidence in most of the others then there would be no one safer to leave vital information with. … In any case, it would be criminal not to follow up such a lead. And as we are now nearing the headmaster’s office, and there are persons relatively nearby, it would be well to end this discussion.”

Sherlock had had the map open all this time; on its yellowed and crinkled surface I could see where the persons referred to were. We retreated out of the corridor into an empty classroom where the sun and air came in through curtainless casements and played upon the floor. Sherlock took what appeared to be a coil of peach twine and proceeded to thread under the door. In a few whispered words, he explained it was a Wizarding listening device which the twins had lent him. This would have appeared probable in any case, for once the majority of it was out in the corridor, he put the other end in his ear. That set up, he took from his pocket a small syringe. My alarm at the sight of this instrument in my friend’s hands must have shown on my face. He chuckled silently at me.

Relax, John.” he said, and held up a small bottle. “A simple solution of veritaserum and a sedative. Perfectly harmless. And definitely not intended for me.” He shuddered slightly as he began to fill the syringe.

“I see, so you don’t intend to just take Snape’s words to you as necessarily truthful.”

“It is just as well to be careful.”

“But mightn’t the combining of the two interfere in the working of the veritaserum?”

“As if I would mix two solutions and just expect them to work! Really, John.”

“On whom did you test it?”

“Remus Lupin.”

“That wasn’t very nice, Sherlock.”

“Why, I assure you, revenge never even entered the question. I too completely approve of his actions for the matter to ever appear in that light. No, it was simply that because of our previous interaction on the subject, he seemed the appropriate person to ask for assistance. He very obligingly assisted me in both preparing and testing the solution.”

The syringe full, he put a cap on the tip, and stowed it in his coat pocket. For several minutes we sat quietly in the empty classroom while Sherlock looked at the map and listened to the twins’ device. His lips were parted slightly, and there was an eager look on his face. One of his fingers was anxiously tapping his knee. Then quite suddenly he wound up the twine and put it away. He took out his pistol and asked for the duct-tape. He then proceeded to thoroughly duct-tape his left hand to the gun, round and round and round, leaving nothing except his trigger finger free.

“See? Nothing particularly mysterious. It just occurs to me that this might prove somewhat effective against a disarming spell. You have your gun at the ready?”

“Yes. But, you don’t sound as though you have any intention for us to use them.”

“Of course I don’t. We and he are allies. But whether we can get him to realize this or not is another question. Diplomatic procedures are sometimes more effective when both parties are armed. He certainly will be. Now, the coast is clear. Be on your toes.”

Against one of the corridor walls, there stood a gargoyle, taller than a man, and exhibiting even more than the usual repulsiveness of its kind. I thought to walk on, but Sherlock stopped, and said a word which I did not catch to the statue.

It moved.

I leaped backward, stifling a cry of alarm. But my fear was unwarranted. It had merely hopped aside to let us pass. A door had split open in the wall, and a spiral escalator rose up before us. At the top of this we found a more ordinary door, a solid, fully visible oaken barrier, with a proper hinge, a knob, and a knocker. Without stopping to knock, Sherlock turned the knob, and strode straight in.

I gathered a general impression of a large and well proportioned room, big windows looking out on the green of the grounds and the blue of the loch, walls lined with paintings – portraits mostly, and shelves stacked with trinkets and books, but my attention focused immediately on the man who looked up from the desk as we came in.

It was a sharp, hard face, stuck in a scowl that looked as though it had become ingrained. His eyes were black and cold. His hair was black and hung in lank locks below his chin. He was dressed mono-chromatically in ample black robes, unrelieved by any lighter collar or cravat. The impression was simultaneously menacing and morose. I did not wonder that students hated him; he would certainly have been an object of fear and dislike to most children even if there had been nothing in his actual behaviour to justify it, so unpleasant was the effect. As we came in, his expression, which I should have been inclined to describe as impatient and bitter, changed in a flash to one of shock, and then of anger. Sherlock had begun talking the instant the door was open, crisply, clearly, and very quickly.

“Good Morning, Professor. I am here on a matter of business, of some import … ”

I would have been totally unsurprised if Professor Snape had refused to listen to a word Sherlock said. I would have been unsurprised if he had immediately gone on the attack. I would not even have been surprised if he had instantly summoned some of his Death Eater colleagues. What he actually did do surprised me very much.

He leapt abruptly to his feet and indignantly and imperiously demanded:

“What the devil are you doing here, Holmes?!”

Sherlock clearly hadn’t expected this either.

“Oh.” he said. “We’ve met then?”

Professor Snape rolled his eyes with a gesture of what might have been disgust.

“You won’t be able to remember it.” he said tersely, moving aside some papers and picking up his wand.

“It wouldn’t have been on April the twenty-fourth, would it?” asked Sherlock pleasantly.

Snape looked up.

“ … No. … I believe it was on April the twenty-third.”

“Hmm. No, I think it must have been the twenty-fourth. But anyhow, that’s lucky. There need be no introductions between us.”

Snape had his wand in his hand now, and he turned to us in a sort of viciously business-like manner.

“You will tell me why you are here. You will tell me who else is with you. You will tell me how you got into the school. I will know if you are lying. And then you will leave immediately. If you are very quick indeed, you may get out with your lives. If you are careless, I shall not be able to intervene on your behalf, and will be saved the bother of tracking you down and obliviating you. And if I may offer you a piece of advice, Mr. Detective, you would be wise to stop sticking your nose into affairs which are none of your business and beyond your ability. I did not think that even your ill-judged curiosity would lead you into such depths of stupidity. I shall be very much surprised if this last ridiculous mistake of yours does not turn out to be a fatal one.”

Quite unabashed at being thus addressed, Sherlock continued with his statement.

“I am here to speak to you about the task which Dumbledore left you regarding Harry Potter and his secret mission, and a message that I believe you are intended to convey to him.”

Snape stared at Sherlock. His wand fell slowly to his side.

He sank back into his chair and silently regarded my friend for the space in which a child’s nursery rhyme could be recited. Finally, he said:

“How much do you know?”

“Rather a great deal.” said Sherlock. “I know that you have served Thomas Riddle but ill for many years. I know upon whose orders you really shot Dumbledore last June. I know you saved Harry Potter’s life that night in defiance of Riddle’s actual wishes. I know you avoided killing Order members when Harry was evacuated last month, and I suspect you even attempted to discreetly intervene on their behalf. I know you can still get into the Blacks’ old house, and I know that you did so, somewhat over a week ago. I know at least a part of why you were there. And I know you took away at least two small items…”

Snape started violently, and stared at Sherlock, it was hard to discern whether it was anger or fear in his face.

“I can describe them.” continued Sherlock. “But unless you require the assurance that I am telling the truth, I need not do so. I also know that it is no grave injustice that you are following Dumbledore as headmaster, but a very clever move on Dumbledore’s part. And I think it highly likely that Dumbledore gave you a certain very important piece of information, regarding either something to be done to Harry Potter, or something to be delivered to him, at some point before Riddle’s death. … Riddle dies today. Harry needs that information.”

Snape continued to sit there, staring at Sherlock as if he were some marvellous beast.

“Dumbledore clearly underestimated you, Holmes.” he said. “He thought he had put an end to your interference back in April.”

“Fortunately not. And, as a result, the war is almost won. If you do not speak or act today, this morning, you lose the chance to do so. Am I correct in saying that grave results will then ensue, Professor?”

After another pause, Snape said:

“I know who you are. Dumbledore used to keep current with the muggle news and had no difficulty recognizing you. I did not see anything particularly entrancing about running into an overly nosey muggle detective, but he was delighted, and it was with a rather absurd regret that he obliviated you. I now see that he did a horrendously insufficient job. … But who is this?” He jerked his head in my direction.

“Dr. John Watson. If Dumbledore introduced me to you, then you may have heard of him.”

“I believe he directly asked why some muggle healer wasn’t with you.”

“That would doubtless be John. Professor Snape, Dr. John Watson. John, Professor Severus Snape.”

“Good Morning, Professor.” I said, trying to sound coolly business-like, as though breaking into Wizarding offices was all in a day’s work for us.

“Hmph.” said Professor Snape. “So Potter has allowed the two of you to latch onto him. … Is he here?”

“He is. We are waiting for Riddle. We are expecting him and his python at any time now. By which point, I – or rather Harry – needs to know that information.”

“His python? … Why are you expecting Nagini?”

“Because we think it likely he will be exceedingly anxious not to lose sight of her.”

Snape stood up again and paced back and forth for a minute. After a moment he seemed to make a decision, and snatched up his wand from the desk. Sherlock’s gun hand instantly swung up.

“I’d be careful where I pointed that, Professor.” he said quietly. “Unfortunately our weapons have only one setting and I should hate to be forced to use it on you.”

Snape rolled his cold black eyes. There was a slight twitch of his wand and the pistol went flying. Sherlock Holmes flew with it. Perhaps just from the jolt, the gun went off and hit the ceiling. In the instant that Sherlock was in the air, Snape turned towards me. My gun was in my hand, but I didn’t fire. From the floor on the other side of the room, Sherlock called:

“Hold it!”

The pistol was again levelled at Snape.

“You cannot possibly incapacitate, obliviate, or other otherwise disable both us at the same time. I am sure that you are a sufficiently accomplished wizard to immolate the entire office should you so choose, but I know perfectly well that you’re not going to do so. If you wish further assurance of the legitimacy of our errand, I understand from Harry that you are highly skilled at some form of mind reading.”

Snape scoffed.

Mind reading is a muggle term. Potter has never progressed beyond the most meagre grasp of legilemancy. It’s not mind reading. The term gives no conception of the complex and subtle art of …”

“Terms, complexities, arts, and irritating students aside … You can read minds?”

“ … Yes.”

“Then, do so.”

“That was what I was doing.”

“Then you should have informed us of your intentions. Drawing a weapon is generally considered an offensive move.” Sherlock stood back up.

Snape turned towards him.

“That one is absolute plate glass.” he said, with a nod in my direction. “He couldn’t hide anything if he tried.”

“Mm.” said Sherlock. “I know.”

This made me slightly indignant, for I could keep a secret as well as the next man. But then I noticed that something odd was going on. Sherlock and Snape were staring at each other with a singular intentness, as if a line had snapped from eye to eye. Neither moved. Neither spoke. They just stood, locked in each others gaze.

I do not how long this lasted, but it stopped abruptly. Snape turned away. He suddenly seemed immensely absorbed by something on the desk. Which his back still to us, he said:

“I do not know how you know it … but you are correct.”

“Correct about what precisely?!”

“Potter carries a piece of the Dark Lord within himself … and the Dark Lord cannot be killed while Potter is alive.”

“And nothing can be done about it?! Nothing at all? Are you sure Dumbledore didn’t tell, or even suggest, something which could be attempted? Perhaps even something that has almost no chance of success. There has to be something!”

Snape faced him with a bitter sneer.

“You think everything can be fixed with the flick of a wand, Muggle?” he asked in a dangerous, low voice.

“Tell me what Dumbledore said!”

“I have.”

“And that is it? He gave you no task to perform, no commands on the matter?”

“None save to inform the boy when his task is almost complete.”

“Just that?”

“Just that.”

Sherlock seemed to fall back, away from the desk. The morning’s energy had gone out of his limbs, and he suddenly looked very very tired.

Snape stood, arms akimbo, glaring as if the whole thing was our fault. Then he said:

“And you, Muggle, I suppose you think you’re going to do it?”

Sherlock nodded dumbly.

Snape turned back to the desk. He opened one of the drawers with a jolt and took out a small bottle. Then he held his wand to his temple. My first, bizarre, thought was that he was siphoning cobwebs out of his hair. But it was not so; the substance, whatever it was, was more like liquid than like thread. He transferred it to the bottle, which he then capped. He held it out to Sherlock.

“And this is?” asked Sherlock.

“A memory.” said Snape. “It contains exactly what Dumbledore said to me.”

“Ah.” said Sherlock. “You don’t trust a muggle to deliver the message properly?”

“Nor Potter to listen unless it is Dumbledore who is speaking.” snapped Snape. “He never has listened!” He took a large stone bowl, cunningly engraved, from a shelf behind the desk, and shoved it at me. “I want this back.”

I took it mutely, with no idea what it was for.

Snape looked as though he was about to shoo us from the room, but he stopped with a tiresome roll of his eyes, and picked his wand back up.

“I suppose I ought to accompany you…”

“Oh, no. That’s not necessary.” said Sherlock. “We’re perfectly capable of navigating the castle, and can avoid the other wizards quite well.”

After regarding him for a minute with an unconvinced eye, Snape put his wand back down with a clatter.

“One other thing, Professor.” said Sherlock. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about the present whereabouts of your erstwhile colleague, Miss Charity Burbage, would you?”

Charity Burbage, the young woman who disappearance we had been investigating the day we met the trio – this was the mysterious school up north where she had worked.

Snape dropped his eyes.

“She is dead.”

“Ah.” said Sherlock reflectively. “I feared as much.” He made as if to walk away. “We shall, in any case, see that she is avenged.”

“One moment, Holmes.” said Snape commandingly. From out of a cupboard, he drew a long, gleaming sword; there were red gems inlaid upon the pommel and the hand-guard.

“I don’t know why, but Potter is supposed to have this.” he said curtly, holding the hilt out to Sherlock.

Sherlock took it quietly, and looked at it. Sunlight flashed up and down the blade, and played off the strange pattern of delicate ripples in the steel. “Godric Gryffindor.” he read aloud, looking at an inscription near the hilt. Stepping away from Snape, he gave it a swing, and then another one, trying out the feel of the weapon. “Slayer of basilisks.” he said quietly. Then he tucked the sword, un-sheathed as it was, under his left arm (the one which held the duct-taped pistol), and looked back to Snape. “I believe that I probably do know.”

“Good.” said Snape resuming his seat. “Then take it and go.”

Sherlock turned away. I went to follow, but Sherlock abruptly spun around, the little syringe in his hand. The clear solution streamed out and splashed Snape in the eyes. He leapt to his feet, roaring and sputtering, but almost immediately sank back down, as if his body had suddenly become too heavy to hold its own weight. Sherlock bent over him, the little bottle of silver stuff in his hand.

“Are you there, Professor?” he asked

“Yes.” replied Snape, sounding half asleep.

“Then tell me again what is wrong with Harry.”

“A piece of the dark lord is attached to him, connecting their minds, and preventing the dark lord from being killed.”

“And Dumbledore told you that nothing could be done?”

“He said that Potter had to die. There is no way around that. It cannot be undone.”

Sherlock held up the bottle.

“Is the memory stored in this completely legitimate and precisely what actually happened?”

“Yes.”

Sherlock stood up.

“Excuse the indignity, Professor, but you’ll agree I had to do that.”

And without another word, he turned and strode from the room.

But I hesitated, a flutter of movement had caught my eye. On the desk, only half concealed under a piece of parchment which someone had knocked about, was an animate wizard’s photograph. In the corner that was visible to me, a pair of white hands were held out to someone outside the photograph, and lock of red hair (it was that which had caught my attention) was swinging.

Professor Snape’s eyes had drifted shut, and his breathing had become regular as the sedative took effect. I slipped the photograph out from under the parchment. Three of the sides were smooth, but the fourth was rough, as if it had been torn. It was an image of a very lovely young woman; there was a singular sweetness about her laughing face, and gracefulness in her movements as she held out her arms to the person who never quite entered the picture. But what chiefly transfixed me were her eyes. I knew them. Even in so small a photograph their particular vivid shade of green was unmistakable. They were Harry’s eyes. This was Lily; she whom all spoke highly of, who for her son had cast the spell which foiled even the Dark Lord, she whom Severus Snape, the Death Eater, had loved; for whose sake he had forsaken his ambitions and laboured long with difficulty and great danger to continue her mission and bring her murderer down, for whose sake he had watched over and protected the boy who bore that hated name ‘Potter’ – the boy whose death warrant he had just been forced to sign.

I glanced from the beautiful photograph to the face of the unconscious wizard. He was scarcely older than I was, and yet he was an old man; a sad and bitter old man, inky locks notwithstanding. Even in sleep, the hard lines the years had etched into his face did not smooth.

I set the photograph back down, and arranged the parchment so that it was fully concealed. And I too left the room.


Chapter XVI ~ Lord Voldemort


While we were near the Headmaster’s office, we walked quickly. But before long we slowed down. By and by our heavy feet came to a complete stop. Sherlock put down the sword and tore the duct-tape off his hand with a ripping sound. He held the little silver bottle up in the air and swirled it gently, watching the contents shimmer and whirl in the shaft of light from an arrow-slit.

“A pretty little thing, isn’t it?” he mused. “You would never know, to look at it, what it holds.” There was a sudden spasm of his hand, as if he yearned to throw it away, smash it on the floor, let its shameful, black knowledge be lost in the dust.

“Do we have the right to give that to him?” I asked.

“Do we have the right to keep it from him?” asked Sherlock.

“It’s a death sentence.”

“It is.”

“Sherlock, I know that none of the wizards think it’s a good idea…”

“Because it’s not.” he interrupted.

“… but what if we did just kill Riddle as is?”

“Then he’ll come back.”

“Yes, but what if he didn’t? What if … we so completely destroyed his organisation that there was nobody left to help him return? He wouldn’t technically be dead but …”

“But be unable to come back in the sense which would render him a politically dangerous entity.” Sherlock’s voice had sunk very low. “‘A mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape’.

It took me a moment to place this.

“I didn’t know you’d read Tolkien.” I said after a minute

“Of course I have.”

He fell silent again, gazing away into the distance. Through the arrow-slit we could see a glimpse of forest. There was a flash of something dark, as some flying creature swooped past.

“Harry’s life, Sherlock.”

“And what if it was you, John?” said Sherlock softly. “Would you have me keep this from you?”

I was silent.

“See? You would not. … And neither would I. … And we both know that Harry wouldn’t either.”

He stopped again, gazing quietly at the softly glowing bottle.

“No. We both know that wouldn’t suffice. Even if the Death Eaters were to be utterly wiped out, there would always be people who would seek the same things as Riddle, who would bring him back to help them accomplish them. The man who nearly brought him back five years ago was unrelated to the original movement. … And Riddle can still do terrible things in the spectre state. Reports have come back from Albania. … Do as you would be done by, John. I have to give it to him.”

A dog howled in the distance.

“And besides – I did give my word.”

“What exactly did you promise?” I asked.

“To tell him anything I find which might help him defeat Riddle; to hide nothing – nothing which could possibly aid him in his task. I asked him how to help him, and he did not ask me to save his life, he asked me to defeat the sorcerer, no matter what the cost would be for him. … I know, it does seem like betrayal, doesn’t it?”

“It does.”

“But wouldn’t it be a worse betrayal to hide it from him?”

Suddenly Sherlock’s manner of brooding reverie snapped. He snatched up the sword from the ground.

“John, bring the pensieve.” And he dashed down the corridor out onto the battlements.

“The what?” I asked as I followed.

“That thing you’re carrying.” he said, setting down the sword and taking the bowl. “Don’t cut yourself on the sword. You’d be dead in under a minute.” He placed the bowl on the broad ledge and uncapped the little bottle.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” I asked.

“Vaguely. Harry’s told me about this.”

“And you think you can operate it?”

“I don’t see why not. It can’t be too hard. The first time Harry did it, it was by accident. I want to know exactly what it is that I’m giving to him.”

He poured the contents out into the bowl. Strangely, they did not splash and then grow still. Instead, they began to swirl, very fast indeed. Now, spread out on the bottom of the bowl, the substance no longer seemed evenly pearly, lighter and darker sections appeared, glimpses of things, as if seen out of a dream. I was certain I saw a glimpse of an old man, tall and bearded, in the same silly sort of hat that Sherlock was wearing. Only, it didn’t look silly on the old man.

I turned to Sherlock. He wasn’t there.

“Sher!…” I spun around, looking. There was no sign of him; not along the battlements, not back down the corridor, not on the nearest stairwell. I looked back towards the basin on the ledge. It occurred to me that it was really rather precariously situated.

“I don’t like this.” I said aloud. But nobody answered.

So I leaned against the battlements to wait for him, within arm’s reach of the basin, but not so near that I might accidentally bump it and send it toppling down to the grassy lawn fathoms and fathoms below. The sun was rising towards noon. The day had become very warm. The lawns swept away from the castle wall, ending in dark woods, rich in their summer garb, and at the edge of water. A narrow lane, either paved, or made of stone so flawlessly laid as to appear seamless from a distance, wound away through the grounds. Outside the castle, on the lawns, was a number of what were quite unmistakably greenhouses, and garden beds surrounding them. Away by the edge of the forest, there seemed to be a little cabin. Smoke curled up from it, even though it was summer. Everything was well kept, orderly, and beautiful. But in all the vast expanse which lay open to my eyes, there was no sign of human presence. There was movement and sound everywhere; the rippling of the loch and the quiet sound of its waves, the faint unceasing movement of the trees, the calls of the birds, and their dark shapes, swooping in front of the sun. Something larger was flying down around the treetops (it was enormous whatever it was). A dog was barking. The breeze whistled around the castle turrets. But none of this was human. The castle, the grounds, lay almost empty, awaiting the return of the school year.

I was startled out of the gloomy train of thought this reflection brought on by the sudden realization that Sherlock was standing beside me again. His breathing was fast, and he was muttering very rapidly under his breath.

“Voldemort.” he was saying. “Why? … Why Voldemort? … It’s necessary that it happens before but, why … Oh!” He nearly jumped. “That is insane! That is ridiculous! But then so is this whole preposterous affair!” With every sign of eagerness, he grabbed the pensieve, full though it was, and rushed down the corridor and into the stairwell.

“Sherlock!” I snatched up the sword and followed. “You were procrastinating a minute ago! What happened?!”

He spun on the stair and looked back up at me, his eyes shining.

“Snape didn’t tell us everything Dumbledore said. Obviously he didn’t think to attach any great importance to it, and since he was sending Harry the message through this” he indicated the shimmering basin “and not really through me, it didn’t occur to him to mention it to us.”

“Mention what?

“Dumbledore insists that it must happen at Voldemort’s hand! His and no other’s. … Does that not seem highly suggestive to you? … No? Merely appalling? … Well, perhaps I am mistaken. But no! I am sure I am not! Why else could it be so very vital? Essential, he called it; essential. Of course, it was really the only way to handle the affair all along, what with our intention to accost Riddle in open battle anyhow. But I don’t see any good reason why it should matter from the point of view of the horcrux and if it doesn’t matter to the horcrux then …”

Sherlock broke off, and would have rushed on again, but I called him back.

“Sherlock, has it occurred to you that maybe we’ve just been wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong all this time about trusting Dumbledore!”

“Yes, of course it has – did long since. But the theory stood up to no scrutiny and I dismissed it.”

“Well have you any idea what that means subjecting Harry to? We know the man is a bloody psychopath! We know what he’s already done to Harry. Does Dumbledore – did Dumbledore – want to hurt the poor kid as much as possible?”

“No. No, not as much but as little as possible. As absolutely little as could possibly be helped.”

“Well then why?!”

“Well don’t you…” he broke off for a minute. “Oh never mind. I can’t say for certain, and you’d say I was out of my mind. Maybe I am – thinking such things. But…”

A glimmering light was rippling up the stairwell towards us. I recognized the silvery, warm aura of a patronus. But this one was one I’d never seen before. It was long and lean, running low to the ground so that it almost looked like a streamer flowing up the stairs. It took me a moment to discern where the sinuous body ended and the head and the tail began. When I did I thought at first that it looked rather like a weasel, and thought bizarrely of Ron Weasley. But it was too large for that, it was more like an otter; a sleek, svelte English river otter. As it reached Sherlock it stopped, and rose up on his hind legs, webbed forepaws folded before it, with its face, practically an extension of it’s lean body, looking up to him. It spoke in the sweet voice of Hermione Granger.

“Riddle is coming, Mr. Holmes. Nagini is with him. He’s checked the Gaunt house, and he’s heading for the cave. He’ll be on his way here very soon.”

The silver otter faded away, leaving Sherlock and I alone again. He gazed at the place where it had disappeared with a decidedly doleful expression.

“I wonder if she’ll ever forgive herself for …”

He didn’t finish. He turned away from where it had disappeared, and held the basin with one hand, while pulling Harry’s marvellous map out of his jacket pocket with the other. “The ‘charms’ teacher is on the fifth floor.” he announced. “But there’s no one on the sixth and we’re the only people on the seventh … or between the sixth and seventh, technically, since we’re on the staircase. Another of the professors is in the top of one of the towers off that way, but I understand she doesn’t leave it very often. … Someone called … the ‘Bloody Baron’ is in the astronomy tower off that way, but he seems to be pacing back and forth. You probably won’t have to worry about him. Snape’s still in his office in the tower down the hall of course, but he’ll be there for a while yet. John, I need you to stay here.”

“Here?”

“Well not right here, obviously. This is the clear route up from the main entry. No, stay clear of right here. The last thing you want to do is run into Riddle all by yourself while we’re all down in the lower levels. It would do no one any kind of good at all. But I need you on this floor. Stay off the main routes, and stay out of the Room of Requirement.”

“And what am I to do?”

“You’re to be on call. When you’re needed, I dare say it’ll be obvious enough. Stay within the distance a raised voice can carry from the room. That shouldn’t be too hard considering all those little side passages nearby.” He hesitated. “Unless … unless you would be willing to take this to Harry yourself?”

I stopped, looking down at the shimmering pensieve. It glowed eerily in Sherlock’s hands. He looked up and stared me in the face.

“No, no, never mind, John. You needn’t answer that.”

No. If … if it has to be done. … But Sherlock … do you really see any hope for Harry?”

Sherlock looked at me with a peculiar mixture of amusement and disappointment.

“Even if I did, to show it might destroy it.”

“Then I can’t do it.”

“No. I guess you can’t. … Well, John,” he had become strangely brisk and chipper, “I shall, I hope, see you later.”

He shoved the map out of sight and continued down the stairs at a great pace. Just before he went out of sight he paused, looking back up. Then he, like the otter, disappeared.

I now draw swiftly to the end of this narrative, but as I do so, there is much that I cannot say. I was not there at the supreme moment of revelation when Harry Potter learned the doom which had been hanging over him since infancy. I do not know what words Sherlock Holmes found to impart to him that terrible knowledge, or how he explained to him the role played by the hated Professor Snape, or whether he said nothing and let the memory speak first. I do not know in what manner Harry received the knowledge, whether he accepted it with instant understanding, or was struck with disbelief. Knowing Harry, I should suspect the former. But I was not there. And I did not see the dispute that then arose between the detective and the wizard. The first I knew of it was when I turned a narrow corner, and there, as if it had been waiting for me, stood Harry’s silver hart; tall, majestic, and utterly beautiful. It spoke in Harry’s youthful tones, and addressed me.

“Dr. Watson, Mr. Holmes is frozen in the broom-cupboard on the second floor, just down the hall from the bathroom. He should be able to get out by himself in a minute. But I thought that somebody ought to know where he is.”

It turned and cantered away.

“No. Wait … Harry.” I called, starting to follow it. But before it could reach the open doorway at the end of the hall, it flickered away and went out – like a candle that had been extinguished.

I saw why I had been stationed here. Sherlock had intended to accompany Harry on that last lonely journey to the Room of Requirement, ensuring at least one other combatant in that all important encounter. But Harry had prevented him. I knew him too well to suspect him of anything but the very kindest of motives towards my friend. But the group of us, all five, should have ambushed Riddle together. Perhaps Harry did not believe that Ron and Hermione would let him do what he was about to do. Clearly he did not think that the muggle detective should accompany him on such a mission. And so now Harry was going, alone, to face Riddle – as Sherlock had never intended that he should. I was here as Sherlock’s back-up. My place was now by Harry’s side.

Before the light of his patronus had been snuffed out, I was running, swiftly as I could, straight for the Room of Requirement. The main corridor on the seventh floor corridor was empty. There was no sound save the troll tapestry flapping in the wind from the casements. The door to the room was open. I hurried along the corridor, my heart in my mouth. Then a voice, a high, cruel voice, raised in mirthless triumph, cried out from beyond the door. I recognized the incantation that it spoke; it echoed through the wide halls.

“Avada Kedavra!”

And then utter silence.

For a moment I stood, in realization of what had just happened; then I ran on, though the high doors and into the room of chaos.

Sick at heart, I jogged up and down the aisles of junk. The thingamajigs I had noticed before whizzed over my head. Their humming and the pounding of my feet and heart seemed to be the only sounds in the world – until I heard the unmistakable crack of someone teleporting. My hand clenched convulsively on the handle of Gryffindor’s sword.

And then I saw what looked at first like a bunch of black robes thrown down in a heap on the worn and dusty floor.

Harry Potter lay on his back, his limbs thrown awry and his glasses half slipped off. There was no weapon in his hands. There was no mark upon his person. If I had seen one, I might have hoped. The killing curse – the mark-less spell which had killed poor Amelia Bones, and Sirius Black, and Harry’s own parents, and so many countless others had now taken him too. Sherlock’s wild hopes, whatever they had been, had been in error. He had sent our poor young friend to his death, as he had so feared to do. ‘The Boy Who Lived’ lay silent on the ground. He had come unarmed, unresisting, to meet the bloody hunter who had pursued him from infancy, and died – to ensure that others could live. From his face, he could have been asleep.

Tears blurred my eyes. They would fall, though I tried to blink them back. The mute appeal of the murdered youth on the ground struck into my heart in shafts of grief, and guilt, and fury.

And the monster had fled! I turned in anger. Where was the man who’d struck him down?! My view was blocked on either hand by the rows and ridges of worthless junk, but I had no doubt that it was he whom I had heard teleporting. That he could have found a way to teleport in this place did not surprise me at all. Failed, failed on both counts. Harry Potter lay dead, and Thomas Riddle had eluded us. I had been too slow. I should have been there with Harry, not after him.

With a curse, I bellowed for the monster to appear. But there was no answering voice or sound and I did not expect it. Riddle had escaped us for now. But not for long. There was only the one horcrux left him now. We would hunt him down if he fled to the ends of the earth! Thomas Riddle, born to end a thousand lives. How many more, now? How many?

“Would that the monster had not fled!” I cried aloud.

I turned back to Harry, still lying as he fell. I would compose the body, he should not lie thus, and search the room, just to be certain, before going and making sure Sherlock was out of the cupboard and telling him of my failure. We would then go and reveal to Hermione and Ron what had happened, and if their wrath allowed us, we could the four of us go and continue the hunt … for however long it took. But before I had touched the boy, there was a pattering of feet.

For a moment I thought the diminutive, large-eared, wrinkled, little brown person who peered curiously around the cardboard box was Harry’s ‘Creature’. But a second glance assured me that this was an entirely separate individual; an individual eccentrically dressed in striped shorts, red suspenders, a blue bolero, several knitted caps, and one striped sock, ugly in the almost-cute way that a toad is, with big, round, sensitive eyes. He took one look, and a strange, strangled sound escaped him. Then with a horrible wail of anguish he launched himself upon the body.

“Harry Potter, Sir!” he cried. “Harry Potter! … Harry Potter should not … back! … not when he-who-must-not-be-named …” It was hard to follow the broken wails. “… freed Dobby! … defeated …” Whatever else it was the brownie said, it was lost in incoherent sobbing.

I stood there for a minute, appalled and and further grieved by this torrent of misery. And then I turned sorrowfully away to commence my search of the room, leaving Harry to his bereaved little friend. As I did so, I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye, a furtive, silent movement.

From of a pile of old umbrellas, beer bottles, and coal hods, there rose the enormous, gleaming, triangular head of a massive snake. It was not nearly so large as the basilisk which Harry had slain, but it was by far the largest living specimen of its kind which I had ever seen. It’s long forked tongue slipped out between its fangs and there was a soft sound like a heating pot. It rose higher, bringing more of its great length into view. It was coiling, coiling for the spring.

I could have quickly reached for the gun on my hip. But the sword was in my hand. That great stretch of sinuous body presented a better target to a blade than to a bullet. As the great snake lashed forward I leapt to meet it. The sword of Gryffindor clove the head from the servant of Slytherin.

Blood spattered me across the face, and I staggered backward from a blow to the chest. The mighty coils were thrashing madly in the narrow aisle, as the muscles and nerves of the dead serpent beat out their remaining energy. Stacks went flying. The sword was wrenched out of my hand. The brownie squealed. I was outright knocked from my feet and only narrowly avoid falling on the dropped sword. As the violent convulsions gave way to mere shuddering I scrambled to my feet, bruised, abraded, and panting; wet with blood.

Dust filled the air. The stacks which made up the sides of the aisles had been smashed and knocked about. A great coil of the body lay over Harry. The brownie was sitting up some ways off where it had been hurled by the snake’s death throes. It was shaking its tear and blood stained face slowly from side to side as though trying to be sure which way was up. I thought I’d never seen anything more terribly pathetic in my life.

I bent down and dragged the snake off Harry. You could not tell now, that he had fallen by the instantaneous, mark-less weapon of the sorcerer. It looked as though he had been cut down in a battle and trampled underfoot. His glasses lay broken on the ground beside him. I picked them up and reached to wipe some of Nagini’s blood from his face.

A clattering startled me and I started to a standing position. There, not ten feet away from me, standing on the other side of the umbrellas, stood the sorcerer, the devil-man, the thorn long twisting in Britain’s side – Lord Voldemort. I cannot describe to you that face. Mere exposition of its pallor, its deformity, could never give its true effect. It will haunt my dreams for life. What is more horrifying than a thing which used to be human?

A smile played on thin, pale lips. Red eyes were narrowed thoughtfully. It seemed to be laughing softly to itself. Between long, sharp nails, it languidly twirled a old and gnarled wand.

“Avada Ke…”

Bang!

For a moment it hung there in mid-air, the mark of my bullet scarlet on its white forehead. I did not wait to see it fall; there was a sudden noise, and feeling of movement at my feet. I looked down.

Into the startled face of Harry Potter.

I suppose there must have been a crash as the body of Thomas Riddle fell to the ground among the coal hods and beer bottles. I did not hear it. I was staring in wonder and delight and blessed relief at the bruised and bloody but very much alive young man who was trying to gently disentangle himself from the frantic embraces of the devoted brownie, who had – with another great cry of “Harry Potter!” – hurled himself about his neck, still sobbing hysterically.

“Dobby! Ow! … er, Dobby, you’re strangling me.”

“Dobby thought Harry Potter was dead, Sir! He thought that he-who-must-not-be-named had killed him, Sir! But Dobby should have known! Harry Potter is too great and too good to be killed by him!”

“Er, no, that’s not what …”

“And now Harry Potter and his friends have destroyed him!”

It was some moments before the ecstasy of little Dobby could be contained to the point where Harry could get a full sentence in edgewise. When he was finally able to, he recalled Dobby and I – both quite distracted with delight – to the necessity of investigating and making sure Riddle was really dead.

He was very dead. A grim figure the old murderer made amid the dust and blood, his distorted face gazed upward at the vaulted ceiling with a look of mild surprise. I did not know why, but it seemed from the marks on the filthy floor that when Harry had fallen Riddle had as well, and had been lying unconscious and out of view the whole time. Though still hideous, with animation and the power of breath gone, gone too was the fearfulness of the figure. Now that it made no claim to be a living man, it held no more terror than a gruesome and repulsive mannequin – a toy to frighten children on Halloween. So ended Lord Voldemort.

Dobby squealed with glee and jumped in the air, hopping and dancing about. His hats were all lost. And his bolero was ripped. But a greater picture of comical merriment could not be imagined.

“Harry,” I asked, “how can it be that you are still alive?”

Harry turned to me. He was a dreadful mess; bloody and dusty and he looked rather odd to me without his glasses. But he was strangely radiant.

“You know about the enchantment my mother cast?” he asked.

“Yes, but …” I stumbled, “how can that … I thought that Riddle had destroyed Lily’s enchantment?”

“No – he meant to. Well, he meant to steal it really. But he didn’t really understand how that magic worked. … I’m not sure how to explain it to a muggle …”

“No, really, Harry, try me.”

“It’ll take some time to explain.” said Harry. “And we need to let everybody know what’s happened. But…”

Suddenly I remembered Sherlock Holmes, lying paralysed in the dark broom-cupboard, not knowing what was happening, unable to find out, unable to help, unable to call for help, unable to take any action whatsoever, unable even to drum his fingers in anxiety. Just waiting, waiting.

“And we’ve got to get Sherlock out of the cupboard.”

“Oh. You’re right, he must still be frozen.” said Harry. “I hadn’t counted on that. I’ll have to find my wand first. I dropped it after I sent you the patronus, and I’ll have to open the door with magic, since I locked the keys inside.”

“So, you locked the door to keep others out?” I said as we turned away. “Not to keep Sherlock in?”

“Yeah, I didn’t want Filch, the caretaker, happening across him.”

“But if it can still be magically unlocked …”

“Filch can’t do magic. He’d have to go and get somebody else to open it for him, and I didn’t expect Sherlock would be frozen long enough for that. I’d planned for him to have unfrozen by now and gone for Ron and Hermione.”

“Where are Ron and Hermione?”

“Probably still back in the bathroom. … Well, by now they’ve probably started looking for us. They’re more likely to look down there first. When Sherlock and I didn’t come back they probably though we’d just run into some kind of trouble right around there.”

“Sherlock was going to come with you wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was.”

Harry suddenly stopped; his eyes wide.

“He left you up here on purpose so you could take over for him if I prevented him from coming, didn’t he?”

“I think so – though he didn’t tell me that in so many words. I thought we were all going to ambush Riddle together. He toyed with the idea of sending me down to talk to you instead …”

“Oh…” said Harry. “I thought he was only being … That’s why he was so insistent!”

And the boy took off at a run.

Suddenly, the cathedral space was rent by a terrible screech. It was a woman’s voice. It started low and almost guttural, and went up high, wavering horribly, but not diminishing. There was hatred, and grief, and unappeasable fury in that cry – ringing on and on until the walls reverberated with the dreadful sound.

Harry looked back over his shoulder at me.

“It’s Bellatrix Lestrange.”

Somehow, she knew where we were. Things started blowing up. Entire columns went flying. We made it to the door – only narrowly avoiding a rusty pot-bellied stove that came flying out after us – and tore down the corridor. A blast of green light flashed past us and I spun around; there was no cover here, not for us, but not for her either. For a fraction of a second, as I pulled the trigger, I saw a glimpse of a ravening mad-woman, eyes blazing, nostrils flaring, chaotic black ringlets streaming, lips pulled back snarling, before a big dark mass crashed into her. There was a great resonant humming.

A rotten old grand piano, painted garishly in a sort of hot purple and newly adorned with a bullet-hole, was sitting upside down on the corridor floor, coasters spinning. Dobby trotted out of the Room of Requirement.

“Did it hit her, Harry Potter?” he asked.

“It fell on her, Dobby.” said Harry. “I think you’ve killed her.”

Dobby started in shock

“Dobby didn’t mean to kill!” he cried. “He only meant to maim! She was trying to hurt Harry Potter!”

Her skull had been crushed by the blow. In spite of the cruel and barbarous deeds for which the woman had been renowned, Dobby seemed horrified that he’d actually killed her.

“I wonder what she was doing in Hogwarts.” said Harry. “She wasn’t here when we came. Dobby, we need to tell the Order that Riddle’s dead but there may be other Death Eaters showing up. Can you go down to the girl’s bathroom on the second floor and see if Ron and Hermione are there? Tell them that he’s dead, and ask them to send for the Order?”

“Yes, Harry Potter Sir!”

The brownie spun round and disappeared with a crack. It had been he whom I had heard teleporting. With this information came a cold, sinking feeling, like a bad memory does when you suddenly recall it. For a moment I was engaged in trying to remember what was so terrible. … As the icy chill started biting into my flesh, I remembered the stone path through the tangled thickets.

“Harry.”

He stood up. His eyes widened in horror, fixed on something which I could not see.

Run.” he said.

Together we tore down the corridor; formless terror behind. We had come in sight of the stairwell when Harry abruptly stopped. I knew from the look on his face that we were surrounded.

The sunlight was blotted out. My ears were filled with the cries of men long gone. I could see nothing at which to shoot. In frantic desperation I swung the sword of Gryffindor fruitlessly in the empty air with arms scarcely able still to wield it. I knew that in moments they would be able to no longer. The thoughts and sensations I had been trying to hold back, to keep at bay, for many hours, were bursting their dam, coursing through my mind and body like poison, numbing my limbs, darkening my eyes, paralysing my mind with horror.

“John,” I heard Harry say in a frighteningly breathless voice as we stumbled down the corridor, “that’s not gonna work. Try to think of something good … something to be glad about … something happy.”

Glad. And for a moment, the small part of my mind which was still my own laughed in sudden realization of the true absurdity of the things going on in my head. Happy? I saw, even if only for a moment, that the despair was truly a fraud. It did not come from within; from the state of my own heart. Even less did it come from without; from the actual state of the world. It reflected no realities whatsoever. It was sheer illusion. Give in to it? Now? Now at the very moment when it had been in reality defeated? We had won. Harry was here, alive beside me; I had not killed him, nor contributed to his death. The blood of the innocent was unspilt. And the murderer, the necromancer, was gone, him and his devices of sorcery – gone like a twisted dream. I owe Harry Potter much thanks for that advice. It gave me strength and sanity to hold out just a little longer, not surrendering to the unspeakable black despair. But oh, how fragile a thing is objective knowledge in the human mind. The most perfect truth, known with utter certitude, can be so easily swamped by unreasoned waves of groundless emotion.

My knees hit the ice cold floor. I did know where Harry was. I was alone in the dark.

It looked at first like a tiny, glowing ball, bouncing merrily along the ground towards me through the dark haze. The shadows did not flee and disappear, but they seemed to recede away from it. I knew immediately that it was a patronus; smaller than any I had yet seen  It could be nothing else. It bounded right up to us, an indistinct little bundle of shimmering light, bringing warmth and little glimmers of sweet rationality with it. It sailed over my head, and a ray of sunshine seemed to fall.  It bounced to the right, and it bounced to the left, and it skittered round about us, a little gleam of silver in the black.

Then my attention was diverted, for Harry was struggling to his knees. He lifted his dark, unruly head and opened his vivid green eyes. From his upraised hand, light burst forth.

It blazed, and it shone; bright silvery radiance, surrounding us both, washing the chill from the air and the blackness from our minds. The shadows fled before it. As it grew and surged after, I caught glimpse, an ethereal hint, of hooved legs, and a majestic antlered head.

The bouncy-ball turned to follow the hart, and as it did I saw it clearly for the first time, the rounded prickly body, the tiny legs, the pointed little snout. It was a hedgehog.

As the warm, yellow daylight returned to the corridor, Harry and I got back to our feet

“Whose patronus was that?” I asked.

“For a moment, I thought it was yours.” said Harry.

“I’m a muggle!”

“Yeah, so it can’t be that.”

“Is Ron’s patronus a hedgehog?”

“No, it’s a terrier.”

“Well, who has a hedgehog patronus?”

“I dunno.” said Harry. “… Maybe … Snape?”

Somehow I had difficulty imagining the grim, sardonic professor casting that patronus. I could have sworn that it was not he. There had been something indefinably familiar about it.

“Well never mind for now.” he continued. “I’ve got to go tell Sherlock we haven’t … ”

A woman’s voice cut him off.

“John? … John!

“Mary?”

I turned in surprise.

She wielded a wand in her right hand. Sweeping robes of palest blue were gathered at her waist with a girdle of silver. Her face was shadowed by a wide brimmed, pointed hat of of soft grey. But it was unquestionably my Mary. She was rushing toward me, alarm in her face.

“John, you’re not hurt?!” she cried.

I have mentioned that Harry looked as though a battle had passed over him, and I can hardly have looked far better. We were both plastered in slime from the Chamber of Secrets, drenched in blood from the python, and covered in dust from the Room of Requirement. And I was missing most of my buttons.

“No, no. It’s not my blood,” I said, “or most of it’s not. I’m fine, everything’s fine. In fact, it’s wonderful, Mary. Mary! However do you come to be here?! I thought I left you safe in London!”

There was a crack as Dobby reappeared. Mary was distracted for a moment, but then turned back to me.

“Mycroft Holmes didn’t quite trust the five of you to send help quick enough. The strike-team is on its way. I set off the flare as soon as I saw those awful things! John, we have to…”

“Wait … the dementors? You actually saw the dementors?”

“Mm-hm.”

“I mean … you can see them?”

I glanced down at the slender hand on my shoulder, and the twig-like tool clasped firmly in the strong little fingers.

“Harry!”

Harry.”

Ron and Hermione’s cries of greeting to their friend fell upon my ears, but I didn’t turn to see them.

Mary, why didn’t you tell me?!

“What?”

“Where’d you get that?”

“This? Sherlock gave it to me!”

“Sherlock gave you a wand?!”

“Yes, well, I don’t think he meant me to keep it. I think he probably nicked it from somebody.”

“But, the patronus was yours? You sent us the patronus?”

“I didn’t know Harry was with you.”

“But … you’re a wizard, Mary?”

She stopped; her jaw dropped. In a small voice, she said:

“So that’s what they are.”

There was a sudden thundering of feet, not like the quiet pattering of Dobby or the thumping of Ron and Hermione. Thinking that we were discovered, I spun round and reached for my handgun. But I had no need to draw it, for it was the flame-headed Weasley Twins who dashed round the corner. And following behind them was their kindly father, and Remus Lupin with his wife, and many others who we had left behind in London that morning, members of the Order of the Phoenix and younger people from Dumbledore’s Army. The strike-team had come. They must have landed on the astronomy tower, and come down expecting to find battle. Finding us there, with no enemies in sight, they stopped in surprise. The trio rushed to them, explaining in three tongues what had happened. I turned back to Mary again.

“He knew!” I exclaimed, laughing. “He knew that my wife was a wizard and he didn’t bother to tell me!”

“Well, he didn’t tell me about it either, so don’t feel picked on, dear.” she said. “I really should have realized it myself, I suppose.”

But we both knew why Sherlock Holmes had not told either of us. He knew Mary’s indefatigable curiosity. The past year had been a very dangerous time for a muggle-born wizard to become curious about the British Wizarding world.

A hundred things were resolving themselves. Of course neither of us had recognized the link between Mary and the wizards. The bright paraphernalia of their culture, the curious vocabulary of their dialect, the remarkable technology of their secret world, had all camouflaged it. What had all that to do with Mary’s quiet, penetrating intuition, her wonderful way with small creatures, and the healing in her fingers. I suspected now that her abilities had gone farther than she had ever openly shared with me. I suddenly realized that she had, without the paintbrush, been casting patronuses ever since I had known her. No wonder her first attempt with a wand had been so beautiful. She’d always known how.

“John,” she said, cutting into my train of thought, “we’ve got to go. Sherlock’s in some kind of trouble.”

“What?! How do you know?”

“I heard him. I heard as soon as I set foot in the castle, but I had to find you first. Why isn’t he with the rest of you?”

“Because Harry locked him in a broom cupboard, trying to protect him from himself! Harry!”

Oh.” said Mary. “I see.”

Harry was stuck in the middle of the Order, explaining something.

“Oh, never mind. We’ll find him. Let’s go.” I grabbed Mary’s hand and ran past the Order for the stairs, my mind filled with images of what could be happening to Sherlock Holmes. “You shouldn’t have come to me. I was only dealing with dementors. You should have just sent the patronus and gone to help Sherlock.”

“No, no, no, I think I know what’s wrong with him now.” Mary said, her voice quite calm.

“What? What was he calling, Mary?!”

“Not was. I hear him now.”

I stopped for a second at the top of the stairs. But I heard nothing. She was listening to a soundless cry.

“John dear, lock Sherlock Holmes in a cupboard while something like this is being decided right above his head and what do you expect…”

A cold and demanding voice interrupted her.

“Watson! What is the meaning of this?”

Standing rather unsteadily in the middle of the corridor, arms akimbo and face set in a scowl, was the Headmaster.

Lupin looked up. As his eyes fell on the grim figure, something happened to his pleasant, reasonable face; it became nearly unrecognisable, wild and raging, wolfish almost in it’s ferocity. With a cry of rage, he seized his wand.

“Wait, hold it!”

“Remus, no!”

I and Harry had called out together, both jumping in front of the scowling headmaster. It is difficult to say whether the Order members or the headmaster himself looked more shocked at Harry’s behaviour. Somehow he (and I with him) had found himself in the extraordinary position of defending Severus Snape.

“Harry, whatever has come over you?” exclaimed Lupin in surprise.

“Uh, he’s with us.” said Harry.

“He iz dee murderer of Dumbledore!” cried Bill Weasley’s platinum haired wife.

It a moment for Harry to make himself heard over the roars of fury from the strike-team. These people were the nearest things Snape had to even allies, and they were all clamouring for his blood.

“Snape’s been acting on Dumbledore’s orders all along!” cried Harry. “Even that night on the tower.”

“Harry, you said yourself…”

“I was wrong! I was talking about it with Duh-er … I was wrong. … Dobby, show the Order what happened in the room of requirement. I’ll explain about it later.  Right now, there’s something I have to do.”

And Harry turned and ran. Mary and I were right with him. Ron and Hermione appeared out of the crowd and came along.  A glance back showed Snape to hesitate, then follow after us, the Weasley Twins shadowing closely behind.

Led by Harry, we came down to the second floor very swiftly, taking several oddly placed shortcuts which I would never have guessed were there. The corridor was empty and bare; there was no sound of man behind the closed door that Harry led us to. He unlocked it with a silent spell, and it swung open on its hinges. Light flooded into the shadowy recess.

There, leaning rigidly against the wall amongst the mops and the brooms, was what looked to be a perfect waxwork image of Sherlock Holmes. His hands were held out before him, in an expressive, dearly familiar gesture of explanation and exhortation. His lips were slightly open, as if a word had just left them, or was just about to. His grey eyes were open wide, and intent in their fixation on the opposite wall. His head was bent slightly foreword. It was by far the most lifelike image I had ever seen of a man. … But if I had not known better, I would have thought that it was only an image.

Finite Incantantum.”

It all changed instantly. There was a slipping, and a stomping, and a grasping of Harry’s outstretched arm, and Sherlock Holmes, animate and expressive as ever, was standing there, looking over the eight of us, taking in with quick, discerning glances the state of the company crowded round the door.

“Ah.” he said. “So we’ve won then.”


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?”

Sherlock shrugged.

“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:

“Semantics.”

“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?”

Sherlock shrugged.

“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.

~ The End ~


For those of you have have gotten so far, thanks for reading!
I will have the whole novel available for download in epub and pdf on the main page later this evening if you would like to save a copy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
 

Chapter 14 – The Locket the Cup and the Diadem will be available on June 9th. If you enjoyed this chapter, check back then, or follow the blog (the widget is in the sidebar at the top) to get a notification sent to your email.  If you know somebody else who might like it, feel free to share it!  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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