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~ 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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.