Chapter 7b: I Always Knew The Sky Was A Prison
I came to my senses, insofar as I have any, in a strange, echoing gloom. For a moment I thought I was in the Chamber of Secrets. I was staring up between grimy limestone buttresses that rose to an astonishing height before culminating in a sort of nave with stained-glass windows; I thought I was in a cathedral, and sat up in complete bewilderment, only to receive a nasty shock as I found Voldemort's grumpy moonstone face glaring down at me. This did nothing to negate the Chamber of Secrets effect. I jumped and he looked offended.
"What's the matter? I haven't done anything," he said indignantly. "There aren't even any Muggles here to kill. I just thought I'd wake you up because this place is so creepy."
"That's why I jumped," I pointed out. This was a slight lie, but I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I looked down and found I was lying on a sleeping bag, so at least he'd made a bit of effort. I stood up and looked around; he snapped his fingers and the sleeping bag vanished.
The quick skeg didn't help. The German Ministry, if this was it, was indisputably a giant stone thing in severe need of a clean. It was also very cold, and someone, it seemed, had had the bright idea of releasing giant clouds to loom and glower above our heads just like the real thing. Why they thought that was a good thing I don't know. The fact that the Ministry was being briskly traversed by a crowd of frozen Germans just added "tube station" to its list of strange things resembled. I said, "Is this it, then?"
"What, the German Ministry?" Voldie said. "Well, it couldn't be anywhere else, could it?... Just wait till you see the toilets."
"It's a bit odd."
"It's OLD. All the other ancient sites in Germany got rather bombed, so this one's their pride and joy. It's not that I can't see the point, but I wish they'd turn it into a museum or something... Come on, the archives are this way."
He swept briskly off towards a maze of walkways and galleries and cloister-type things. I dawdled, gazing up at the distant ceiling.
"Hurry up, Harry!"
"It looks like a church."
"It was intentional," he called back, the stillness and silence of the frozen building causing the echoes to multiply astonishingly. "They quite admired Muggle architecture during that period, so they put that extra part in the roof. And the psychedelic stained glass windows. Come on, Potts. We do have to save the world."
I squinted up at the stained-glass windows, those that weren't obscured by indoor clouds, anyway. They were glorious purple and green, and hurt my head. I jogged after Voldie and we weaved through the frozen Germans, then crashed into a long line of militant house-elves waving lurid orange placards. These hurt my head a lot more.
"Ha," said Voldie, recovering somewhat from what he evidently considered a bizarre sight. "The house-elves are on strike. Well, Harry, are we going to cross a picket line, or not?"
"They're really on strike?" I said, attempting to read their placards. The front row of elves were holding up an understandably long banner that read Nein am Unsicheremagischearbeitsbedingungen
"Yes, they are. Look, that one's the union rep," said Voldie, pointing at a very fat elf wearing an orange wig and an orange feathery bra. She was sporting a badge that read Deutsche Elfgewerkschaft.
"OK. Then, no, we don't."
"Oh. I didn't know you were a socialist."
"I'm not, I don't know anything about politics. I always go by what my uncle thinks."
"What does he think?"
"That socialists should be shot."
"Oh. Yes. That uncle... well, I'm inclined to agree with you in principle, but we need to get to the archives."
"No, I am not, because at this moment they are not actually picketing," he argued persuasively. "At the moment, they're not doing anything. So..."
"Mmm," I said suspiciously, my opinion of Voldie's moral flexibility in no way diminished. "But there's a picket line. The picket is there."
"Not if they're not picketing," he said smartly. "They have to be picketing. If you turn up before they've started, you can cross, and it's all right."
"But they have started."
"They're not doing anything now!" he shouted. "For all intents and purposes they can be regarded as taking their tea break, and will you just bloody well agree with me, it's as if you don't want to see the archives!"
I didn't, but I saw his reasoning. "All right."
"Good," he said, and, with a neat stab of his wand, conjured up a very short pair of circus stilts. He mounted these, extended their length to about twenty feet, and began picking his way delicately between the multitude of house-elves.
"What about me?" I shouted up at him, knowing that I wasn't good enough to conjure up stilts and that I wouldn't be able to walk with them if I did.
"Accio Harry," he said without even bothering to look up, and I suddenly found myself flying through the green fog like a pin towards a particularly oddly-shaped magnet; and I landed lightly on his bony back, where he casually shouldered me piggy-back and carried on walking.
"That's cheating," I objected.
"You're always moaning," he said.
On the other side of the pickets he shrunk his stilts to nothing and we zoomed back down to the floor. As he set me down and dusted me off, I said, "What are we looking for in the archives?"
"Well," he meditated, playing tunes on his claws again as he strode off down a nearby hallway, "we can't just search for anything that mentions the word Elke. I've tried that before and that bloody gargoyle just laughed at me. This shield, though... there must be something about it. I mean, it obviously smashes the International Statute of Secrecy into a thousand pieces, so the Ministry must have... wait, it's more likely they don't know anything about it, isn't it? Well, surely someone must have got suspicious..." but he never got to complete this exposition, because the floor suddenly collapsed in a white yawn of limestone blocks and we went tumbling down towards the floor below. Taken by surprise, I only made a startled jump at a broom that wasn't there; "Arresto momentum," shouted Voldemort, and we glided gently down the last few metres and came to rest on a pile of stone.
"Hmph," said Voldemort, covered in plaster dust and looking faintly ruffled. "Seems we've taken the scenic route. No wonder the house-elves were protesting about bad working conditions."
"Tergeo," I said, sucking most of the dust off our robes with my wand. "Are you all right?"
"Condition: good," came a hollow droning voice from above and behind me, and I jumped and dropped my wand; literally, I mean, because it's amazing how quickly you adapt to a world in which nothing moves or speaks except you and Voldemort. You tend to stop looking out for danger, because there isn't any; so my senses had been put away in moth-balls, and when floors collapsed, or voices came from nowhere, I had to yank them out again.
"He wasn't talking to you," Voldemort snapped, and I turned around to see a brass gargoyle shaped kind of like a boxer dog, which appeared to be grinning smugly on top of its pedestal. As I picked up my wand and cleaned it on my T-shirt, Voldie muttered to me, "Don't ask it any questions, it always answers them wrong just to spite me."
"All right," I said. "What is it?"
"Informational gargoyle No. 20, brass, German Ministry Of – " the gargoyle said promptly.
"I told you!" Voldemort seethed. "I told you! See what I mean?!"
"Ability to see what you mean: negati-"
"SHUT UP!" shouted Voldie.
I contemplated the best line to take in these circumstances, and finally decided on nodding silently so that neither of them could react badly to anything I said. Voldemort glared at the gargoyle and said menacingly, "Is there any dust in your cogs today?"
"Cog status: Dust: present."
I tugged on Voldie's robes and pointed silently at the gaping ceiling. The vast mahogany bookcases were covered with rubble, and the gargoyle looked distinctly dented.
"Oh, shit," Voldie conceded. "Isn't that just typical? Well, anyway..."
"Typicality status, affirmativ-"
"SHUT UP! SHUT UP!" he bellowed.
Deciding that we were getting nowhere quick, I put in, "We'd like to know about glowing airborne shields."
There was silence from the gargoyle. "That's wasn't a proper question," said Voldie, "and just as well, because he would snigger at you for being too vague. Gargoyle No. 20: information on self-erecting Aethrobex shields, whole of Prussia, circa 1890."
There was a rustling and bonging noise that sounded faintly like the machinery of a grandfather clock, then the gargoyle said distantly, "Define 'circa'."
"Give or take ten years, you infernal machine."
There was more rustling and bonging as the gargoyle's innards chattered to one another. Then it said, "No information."
"Thought not. Now: magicians who worked for Kaiser Wilhelm II."
"What about them?" the gargoyle said smoothly.
"SEARCH FOR THEM!" Voldie screamed.
"What have I done to deserve this?" Voldie, demanded, leaping up and down so that little clouds of dust went up and then froze in mid-air. "Mmm, try..."
"Crime occasioning unspecified desserts: unknown."
I decided this might be a good time to intervene. "Er, Gargoyle No. 20," I said, "is there anything you'd like? You know, a present?"
"What?" said Voldie, looking at me as if I'd said I had an MA in marine biology.
"Present: a gift, something given as – "
"Oh, do it yourself," he snapped to me, and marched off along the gloomy bookshelves in a cloud of dudgeon.
Gargoyle No. 20, meanwhile, thought, rustled and finally bonged, "Oil."
"Erm," I said doubtfully. I could cast the Oleum charm reasonably well, but it was for frying things rather than lubricating machinery. "Whereabouts?"
"Location: back of neck," it said, sounding, I suspected, faintly amused.
The pedestal was six feet tall, but there was a sombre reading room next to the archives, so I Locomotored a very uncomfortable chair through and stood on that. I used Tergeo to suck all the plaster dust and owl droppings out of the gargoyle's insides; then I got on with the oiling, which wasn't really a success at first because I produced far too much oil by accident and had to suck half of it out again because the gargoyle was talking as if it were at the bottom of a swamp. Anyway, at length it pronounced itself happy with its innards and invited me to call it Klaus.
By this time I was impressively knackered. I slid down a nearby filing cabinet with a great sigh and sat on the floor. The floor was really rather smelly, but I couldn't bring myself to care.
"Klaus," I said, "d'you know who it is Voldie's looking for?"
Klaus twanged briefly and said, "Subject: witch, aged at least seventy Gregorian years, employed by Muggle weaponsmiths circa 1942, name: Elke."
"You knew all that and you didn't tell him?" I said, mildly diverted. "And did she work for Kaiser Wilhelm?"
"Correction: most likely: Prince Wilhelm."
There was no reply. Klaus hummed quietly for a while, then a little gold bubble formed above his head. Inside it floated a grainy black-and-white photo of a middle-aged bloke; he was wearing a remarkable hat, and had a moustache like a mutant W. Overall he bore a striking resemblance to Uncle Vernon, and while I was getting over this unnerving phenomenon Klaus rattled on, "Kaiser Wilhelm II, prior to coronation. Muggle leader, 1859-1941, intrigued by magic and advanced technology, may have offered gold to magicians in exchange for performance of spells. Truth of said rumours: unknown."
I dragged my gaze away from the photo and thought about this. "So he paid her to put up a big shield over Prussia? I don't get it. How come the Muggles didn't notice?"
"Possibly. Unknown. Subject He Who Must Not Be Named referenced self-erecting Aethrobex shield, which would be inactive until needed, therefore may have gone undetected by Muggles and Ministry of Magic."
"Why didn't it pop up for World War II?"
"Why did Germany lose World War I, for that matter, if they were paying witches to do stuff for them and the British weren't?"
"Unknown. Very little actual magic ever confirmed as having been performed for Muggle governments. Possible reasons: Obliviation and removal of spells by Aurors; contempt for Muggles on the part of magicians; failure of magicians to perform spells correctly, knowing that Muggles would be unable to tell the difference."
"She did this one correctly."
"So you knew all this," I said, amused once again, "and you didn't tell Voldie?"
Klaus emitted several pings and cocked its head at me rather curiously. "Status of subject He Who Must Not Be Named: Dark Lord; mass murderer."
"Oh," I said. "Yeah. So he is. Thank you, Klaus," I said, standing up and sucking some more dust out of my clothes. "D'you want anything else?"
"Current condition: satisfactory," Klaus said contentedly, and he sucked the picture of Kaiser Wilhelm back into his pedestal. I was glad about that. It had been giving me the creeps.
I went wandering off through the archives and found Voldemort looking at a book of woodcuts by Dürer in a section labelled Kunst, which made me start sniggering all over again. I cackled up to him and his great stack of literature and then stopped dead when I saw he was looking at a horrible picture of dancing skeletons.
"What are you reading about?" I said. "It's hideous."
"Eschatology," he said absently, then added, "the study of the end of the world, since you obviously don't know what that means."
"People study the end of the world?"
"Yes," he said, and then, "well!... If you can call it studying, because they don't really have much to say. At a time like this you realise particularly that they're only studying how people feel about the end of the world. I mean, it's never happened, and they didn't know when or how it would happen... we don't know. We don't know when or how it will happen," he corrected himself dolefully. "If we manage to fix this."
"We will fix this," I said firmly.
"Yes. Quite. Anyway, we don't know how the world will end, so there's not much to say on the subject, is there? I mean, the author is discussing plausible threats versus implausible threats; the Black Plague versus the prophecies of Mad Sidney Lovegood, for instance. The problem is that no-one can know for certain which ones really are plausible, and I say this because he's grouped 'Muggle Invasion' with the implausible ones. – Now," he cried, picking up his books and dropping them on the table with a bang, "let's get back to work. What were you giggling about, by the way?"
"Oh. Er. The title of this section."
"Y'know... Kunst... huh huh..."
He hit me over the head with the Dürer book and told me I had a mental age of twelve, which was probably true, and then I gave him a rather garbled version of everything Klaus had told me and he walked round in little circles tapping his wand against the shelves.
"So," he said, "all we really know is that she possibly worked for Prince Wilhelm. Very useful. What are we supposed to do with that? The old loony hired hundreds of people to do pseudo-magical claptrap, and I've looked through all the Muggle records; there's nothing. You couldn't very well have expected her to use her real name for them anyway. Now, if the German Aurors did investigate her, that would be something. They'd still have the records."
"Yeah, but they'd be locked up," I pointed out.
"Locked up by whom?" he said with great triumph, making a grand gesture with one arm so that the sleeve of his robes snapped me in the face.
"Locked up by all the people who are frozen! Now's the time to make a move, Potts. You are coming with me, aren't you?"
"It's right off the library, I think," he said excitedly, and went swooping off between the shelves like a humanoid Thestral. I ran after him, hurdling the piles of books and rubble; he was soon way ahead of me and I followed his bare footprints in the plaster dust, and the echoes cackling down between the bookshelves. At last we emerged from the library to face a huge, stern stone frontage, and Voldemort swung round excitedly to face me, nearly getting me again with his wand.
"See this, Potts? Past where the Aurors are? That's where they keep the criminal records. All the investigations, and the reports on my evil deeds. I've never got in it so far, but behold! All the bizzies are frozen! Can't stop me now, can they? Schnell, let's find Elke!"
While I was attempting to recover from this he swung round, marched past the frozen German Aurors and started disarming the guard spells, which involved a great amount of flashing and cursing and made the floor shake. Dazzled by the neon lights, with thick black spots chasing one another across my vision, I felt dust hit my head and wondered whether this was really a good idea.
"Voldie," I said as the last rumbles finally died away, "are you sure you can get in here without knocking the buil – "
"NIHILITHOFICATE!" he roared, firing off a magnificent ring of rosy lights that made the Grecian columns shudder. "Oh, sorry, Harry. Were you saying something? I think I've just about got it done now. One more..."
"You're going to – " I began, but was once again drowned out by a terrific flash of magic from Voldie's wand; and as soon as the spell was finished he pranced excitedly through the great stone arch. I watched in frustration, and seriously contemplated Stunning or Body-Binding him just to get him to calm down; which was a good thing, because it meant I had my wand out and ready when the trap in the ceiling activated and a thousand steel teeth shot mercilessly down towards Voldemort.
"Arresto Momentum!" I yelled , watching in paralysed horror as he threw himself on the floor just in time; he dropped his wand, and groped for it hopelessly, and he tried to push the merciless grate away with his legs, but it was slowly squashing his feet against his shoulders, and it wasn't just a bog-standard spiky thing either because the surface of the metal seemed to be boiling and glittering like mercury. I noticed all this in about half a second and started running around like a cat after a string.
"Repello Voldie's wand," I shouted, and sent it clattering towards his hand, but it missed by about six inches. "Wingardium leviosa." The grate didn't budge. "Wingardium leviosa!"
"It's too powerful," Voldie gasped from the depths of his compressed lungs. "Find the sw – "
"Apparate!" I yelled at him.
"I can't in here. Find the switch."
What fucking switch?I thought, running one hand frenziedly over the nearest surface as if I might suddenly find an invisible one. I scanned the stone arch: no switches. For that matter, no levers, no knobs, no whistles and no bells. I slid along the stone like a fridge magnet, trying to fight back rising panic. The switch would be behind the next buttress, I decided. It wasn't. Voldie's eyes, watching mine, were as flat as a lizard's.
"Klaus! Klaus!" I yelled, running back between the bookcases. "Where's the switch that undoes the trap with the spikes on?"
"Define trap with – "
"The one Voldemort's stuck under. How do I undo it?"
Klaus didn't move his face all that much, but the resemblance to a mediaeval gargoyle was suddenly horribly apparent. "Status of subject He Who Must Not Be Named," he said, "Dark Lord; mass murderer."
"Do you know what we're trying to do?" I said, trying to stop my brain exploding out through my eye sockets. "We're trying to stop the nuclear war. You know, that could, like, destroy the planet. The one that's going to kill the Muggles, and the witzies, and destroy this library as well!"
"YES!" I screeched. "Because the Muggles have found a way to harness the strong nuclear force, and they've turned it into weapons that they're going to drop all over Germany, and WE'RE TRYING TO STOP IT!"
Silence again. "Point wand in air and shout password: 'Pilze'."
"PILZE!" I roared, galloping back through the library with my wand aloft. "PILZE! PILZE! PIL... thank fuck," I amended, because in the distance I could hear jangling gears and gently clinking chains, and all the marrow suddenly went out of my bones so that I staggered the last hundred yards like an OWL examiner. I didn't dare look up, in case Voldie hadn't made it; only when I reached the entrance to the Auror department did I force myself to raise my eyes.
Voldie, clearly alive, was leaning against one of the Grecian columns, looking very much like a wobbly little Death by Dürer. His legs, it appeared, were working no better than mine.
"Thanks, Potts," he said feebly. "I didn't think that through very well."
"Let that be a lesson to you to be nice to gargoyles," I said, still stunned. My brain was just starting to acknowledge that had his present body been killed by the Voldie-trap, the stasis spell would presumably have failed and the world would have come to an end. It was not a palatable thought. "I think we'd better go home."
"Well, yes," he conceded, trying and failing to stand unaided; so I propped him up while he pulled himself together, and finally we were almost ready to Apparate and he looked up at the horrible spikes, now hanging docilely near the ceiling once again, and shivered.
"Did I say thank you?" he said. "I don't think I did. Thank you, Potter... d'you know what, the thing that got to me most was that I was going to die in that ridiculous position."
As he whisked us off back to Wales, all I could think was, "May the strong force be with you."