It was Hagrid again, who collected Maitri back to London. Her grandparents, quite tired of calling him Bhimasena, acknowledged him with a series of nods, while her father, once again, brought up an involuntary shouting match in a normal conversation. The whole house shook with both men speaking of ordinary scooters and Ambassador cars at booming decibels, as if they were making sure anybody in the radius of ten miles should learn audibly the functioning of motor DC engines.
The Magical Interspace was duller than usual. It surprised Maitri, to see the quiet, tensed air, as though gunfire would suddenly erupt from a corner stall that hung with Ethiopian garbs or Persian rugs that swatted annoying flies. Even Albus Dumbledore’s favourite haunt, the corner with all the interesting plants, curios and tricks, had a deadened effect.
When Maitri pointed it all out glumly to Hagrid, he just shook his head equally sadly and muttered something about ‘evil gits’ wanting to show off ‘’orrible evil talents’, and forgetting they were ‘bleedin’ ‘umans a’right!’.
For Maitri’s sake, she pretended she understood his mutterings. The real, sickening reason, she soon found, was displayed rather obnoxiously on almost all the newspapers that made up the newspaper building next to the greenhouses. Witches and Wizards, dressed in robes that might’ve been vibrant and fresh in an other life, scurried across, glancing at the papers and pulling their cloaks tighter around themselves. Maitri leaned closer until one of the papers with legible, fluent English came into readable sight.
“NEW DARK LORD LASHES AT THE WIZARDING WORLD WHILE STILL IN RECOVERY FROM GRINDELWALD’S DAMAGE,” she read softly. There was a scary photograph of a sickly-looking green skull with what looked like a snake slithering out of its mouth. Maitri cringed as she read next. “Lord Voldemort now at large, repeating disasters and mass murders of Grindelwald scale.”
Maitri’s hands flew to her mouth, which had opened in a gasp of surprise and disgust. Disappearances were one thing- but mass murders! She covered her eyes with her hands and sat down on the lowermost step of the greenhouse, near a twittering Flitterbloom. It took a long while for the nausea of the news to get over, by which time Hagrid ushered her to the train that left for London, which, Maitri remembered with a shudder, was probably the crux for Lord Voldemort’s life-ending activities.
The half-giant of a wizard turned amiably away from his knitting of, probably, his tenth patchwork quilt. Maitri and Hagrid were both on the way to the Leaky Cauldron, through the London Underground, as there had been great unease in open sunlight for the past few weeks. Hagrid was probably the most conspicuous person, though, with what looked like half a curtain spread around his seat. It was an added benefit that their compartment was empty, otherwise, he might have been highly suspicious even to a docile businessman.
“Er - how many kinds of Magical Transport are even there?” she asked, changing the question at the last moment. Maitri had been meaning to ask about the mass murders, but bring herself to it.
Hagrid’s bushy beard wrinkled slightly as he frowned deeply, thinking hard. “There’s our trains, o’ course, an’ we ’ave brooms, as yeh obviously know,” he replied slowly. “Yeh’ve heard of Portkeys? Well, they’re them objects tha’ transport yeh in a matter o’ seconds… And there’s Floo Network - nasty way, if yeh ask me (I’ve never been able to fit into a fireplace, yeh see), and summat around the 1920s or 30s, there used to be Flying Carpets - like tha’ Muggle story (What’s it called? Ah! ‘laddin!), for family travel. And o’ course, Apparition. Oh! And there’s this weird new thing that runs around on wheels… what’s tha’ called now?”
“Cars?” Maitri guessed, but Hagrid shook his head. “Cars are not ’sclusive to Wizardkind, but the Ministry uses them contraptions! No, this one… Ah! Gotcha - the Knight Bus!” He held a grimace in his face as though it were a stinking piece of bread mould.
“Yeh don’t get excited over it,” Hagrid advised. “Nastier than Floo, it is.”
Before he could elaborate, however, the platform came speeding up to meet them to ground, and then, to surface. The Knight Bus was soon forgotten when Hagrid got stuck at the revolving doors, and was freed with the help of no less than a dozen hefty men, of whom two were anxious police who needed to desperately use the Underground.
“Contraptions!” was all Hagrid had shouted for the better part of an hour, throwing his enormous arms and palms the size of dustbin lids up in the air. Maitri tried to console him, that it was no fault of his that he was a healthy person, but he seemed just too angry to listen to her the whole way to the Leaky Cauldron, where, on reaching it, he struck up a heated conversation about crazy muggle inventions with toothless old Tom, the barman, who nodded at the right intervals and slipped her the key to her old room that she’d always been in every year.
Maitri was glad to have the same room, but the same couldn’t be said of the mirror, which informed her that just because she, Maitri, was no longer a midget, it didn’t mean that she had lost her ugliness. It was the first sign of familiarity that Maitri had of the place, and she was so relieved about it that she didn’t even admonish the rude old mirror.
The days pledged laziness as they followed by. Maitri wrote her eighth grade muggle examinations in an old, small church in the neighborhood of suburban London. Even the sun seemed too gloomy to stand shining around, what with all the sudden chillness and mists that enveloped the country in the last few days. People no longer were curious about the trickling tourists or the weirdly dressed, well, weirdoes. They scurried from cars into offices or homes or shops, with frequent frowns at the dismal sky, and squinting at the news headlines, as if demanding why there happened unexplained bomb blasts, unexpected hurricanes and nasty murders almost every day.
“That muggle priest said the papers were good,” Tom the barman informed Maitri a couple of days after her exams. She nodded, sipping the bitter tea and looking around at the nearly empty inn. “But he asked if you could attempt them earlier next year, along with the other private, er, candies?”
“Candidates,” Maitri corrected him. “Professor Dumbledore said I should be able to. I’m getting five hours a week this year for this… muggle thing.”
“Good, then, little Harys,” Tom smiled, showing off his toothless gums. “Start pickin’ off the righ’ books.”
Maitri nodded, slightly coughing from her accidental consumption of the ashen dregs at the bottom.
Around mid-morning, a whistling Paul Trump came into the inn to call Maitri with him into the muggle world. He was probably the most cheerful thing she’d seen in days.
They picked up her muggle books at a dingy little shop near the church in which she wrote the exams, met the muggle priest who’d conducted them, and was given the worksheets she’d to work upon for the lower fifth level exams.
“We better get your Hogwarts stuff, too,” Paul reminded her on the way back. Maitri nodded, and felt the older boy glance sideways at the top of her head. She stiffened slightly, and for the first time in days, realized how much she’d grown. She was about as tall as Paul’s shoulder now, having grown a few inches in the past year. It felt kind of odd, having to see old friends in a slightly higher angle, but it made her feel bold.
“I’ll take care of that myself,” she assured him. He shrugged and nodded, still in a morose mood, much unlike himself.
“You’re what, fourteen, fifteen, now?” Paul asked. “Old enough to take care of yourself, I suppose.”
“Thirteen,” Maitri clarified. “Don’t worry; Trafalgar Square isn’t in Diagon Alley.”
That brought an unbidden smile onto his thin, pale face. But it immediately replaced itself with a sour grimace.
“There have been bad happenings in the Wizard world, too,” he said in a low voice. “Not only muggles; Woodlewart’s hunting muggleborns, too.”
It was Maitri’s turn to smile. “Voldemort, Paul; he’s calling himself Voldemort.”
Paul grinned. “I know. But my name for him is just cooler.”
“Woodlewart,” Maitri whispered to herself, holding back a laugh as she came across the name in an obsolete paragraph at the very middle of the Daily Prophet. However, the article made her swallow that laugh.
“Did you hear about the Morgans?” a witch whispered to her friend from the neighboring table at the Leaky Cauldron.
“Found murdered in their beds, weren’t they?” the other witch offered in an equally fearful voice. “Bad news; very bad news indeed.”
“And to think I used to go to school with Adrian Morgan,” said the first witch. “He used to be such a charming fellow…”
Maitri stared at the faces of the four Morgans in the newspaper, and noticed that the patriarch, Adrian Morgan looked no older than her father, and his wife, even much younger. The kids, a little girl with thick blond curls and a baby boy with big eyes peered back at her in quizzical surprise when the tears began to form. Maitri brushed them away angrily and crumpled the Daily Prophet into a ball, and chucked it into the nearest bin.
She knew not anyone from the papers, except for Albus Dumbledore, whose name appeared from time to time in the dark ink. But it still got to her when she read about murders of young children – like the Morgans – and there had been quite a few. Paul Trump had carefully preserved the list of mysterious dark murders for the past fifteen years – for Merlin knows what reason – and had gladly taken them out to show her. The list had shocked her. The number was in hundreds. More than half the culprits remained unknown.
“Are you sure you’d really read this book, sweetie?” a voice interrupted her thoughts. Maitri realized, with a jerk, that she had walked right in Flourish & Blotts in her trance-like attempt to get away from the two witches and their recurring conversation. She looked at the book in her hands and flinched. There was a great bear-like creature emblazoned on the cover, baring its foot long fangs at her, and the title read “Creature Evils: How to avoid Dark Animals”. The Yeti stopped baring its fangs at her and turned away, facing the snow-capped Himalayas instead.
The assistant clerk still looked at her with a pair of spectacles that magnified her eyes multiple times. Maitri blinked once.
“N-no,” she choked out, placing the book back on its shelf along with numerous others that seemed to be equally hideous. “No, I’m sorry.”
“Quite alright, dear,” the old assistant wheezed kindly. “Is there something you were looking for?”
“I- uh, I,” Maitri stuttered, trying to remember all her earlier plans before the unwanted grisly intrusion of the Morgan murders. “I wanted a book on Asiatic runes, and a copy of Numerology and Grammatica.”
“Ah, one of those Ravenclaw kids, aren’t you?” she smiled warmly. “Forever looking for Numerology and Grammatica.”
“Why,” Maitri asked immediately, not sure whether it was a compliment or not. “Would the other Houses not look for it?”
“It’s not the actual text, my sweet,” the assistant explained from a far corner of the book shop. Maitri moved forward, looking for her. “Numerology and Grammatica is on the list of optional references for Ancient Runes, and it’s only Ravenclaws who insist on buying it.”
Maitri was scared out of her wits when the witch suddenly emerged from a bookshelf on her right, holding out the two books she was looking for. The old witch chuckled at her reaction and pressed the books onto her.
“Thought we didn’t have enough space to hold all the books in the world, did you, sweets?”
Maitri’s enthusiasm to learn about the secret bookshelves and the books they hid made the assistant witch immensely joyful that she started giving her a free tour of the safe-holds. There was no other customer at this time of the day, who proved helpful to them, and in almost no time, Maitri felt like she’d been to worlds full of books.
“Wow,” she breathed, as she and the old assistant, whose name was Mrs. Woodcrane, sat on the doorstep of the shop, eating the cheese sandwiches that the older witch had brought along. “All these rooms – so much of preparation – it’s just incredible!”
Because, she realized, the secret bookshelves had taken her not to another room in the building, but to another place itself, acting as a portal. Two of them were other branches of the bookshop, whereas some of the ones that contained the old, frail editions of important publications were located in private libraries and antiquity collections. One was in Rome, two in Romania, one in Andalusia and three small ones in Jerusalem.
“Do- do you think there might be a possibility of finding Ale-”, Maitri broke off, turning red when she realized what she was about to say. Of course, everyone knew that the Great Library of Alexandria had been burnt to the ground by the Romans.
Mrs. Woodcrane smiled. “I know what is it that you were about to ask,” she said merrily. “But it is a great secret that you must never – and I mean never ever, share with anyone on this planet, if indeed I tell it to you.”
Maitri’s breath caught in her throat as the witch beckoned her discreetly towards the ancient dusty fireplace at the very back of the bookshop. Checking to see if anybody was around, Mrs. Woodcrane stepped into the fireplace and then pressed her wand to a fissure just under the roof, which was almost invisible due to the accumulated, centuries-old soot. There was a silence for a moment and then, quite suddenly, cold air began to blow in from Maitri’s left side. As she turned, she saw that a tunnel had opened up on one side in the inside of the fireplace, though she couldn’t determine it visibly. If there had been no such breeze, the tunnel could have very well not existed.
Maitri looked at Mrs. Woodcrane whose eyes were shining with the merry delight of a magician at a children’s carnival.
“Go on,” the old assistant urged. “Go!”
Maitri obliged and soon found herself in a narrow tunnel that prevented her hands from wandering a foot away from her body on the sides and so low that she was sure, had she been a few inches taller, her head would sport bruises from all the uneven stumps in the rocky ceiling. The cold air continued to blow as she moved and after several long minutes, Maitri reached an ancient looking stone wall with a rotting wooden wheel stuck to it. Mrs. Woodcrane nudged and instructed her to turn the wheel thrice on its iron axis that protruded eerily from its middle. Maitri did, and gasped as the stone wall vanished into nothingness and the faint shadow of a large cavern loomed in from the rectangular opening where the wall had been.
When Maitri and Mrs. Woodcrane had stepped through, the stone wall reappeared, and a strange bluish light began to thread around the thin crevices on the wall, illuminating the whole, wide cavern. The girl instinctively moved to one of the nearest walls and tried to touch the weird blue string of light, and drew a breath full of damp, musty, earthy smell. And then, she realized.
“We’re underground!” she cried in astonishment to Mrs. Woodcrane, who stood smiling at her. “And this light – it’s the living micro-organisms, right? The phosphoric microbes in the anaerobic eco-systems under the earth! I’ve read about this!”
Maitri was nearly jumping in awe-struck astonishment. “But,” she stopped tracing the lines of blue light on the wall, questions arising rapidly in her mind. “That would mean we are quite deep underground.”
Mrs. Woodcrane continued smiling at her when Maitri spoke out her reason for confusion. “But, Mrs. Woodcrane, we never left the upper ground in the other safe holds…?”
“Because, my dear,” Mrs. Woodcrane said in a quavering voice, rocking back and forth on the balls of her old feet. “The Great Library of Alexandria was burnt only to the ground.” A strange gleam shone in her magnified, grey eyes. “Not under the ground, where all the scrolls had been taken to safety.”
It was only then Maitri saw what the cavern actually contained. Towering bookshelves grazed the high ceiling, crammed to their fullest with yellowing papyrus and goat-skin scrolls, which probably had on them the wisdom of the whole world twice over.
Maitri was still in a daze when she was finally led out by Mrs. Woodcrane, who reminded her that the lunch hour was nearly up, and the customers would soon start to arrive. When she found herself again on the open street of Diagon Alley, she shook her head and gave way to a little smile. After all, she’d just been into the dungeons of one of the Ancient Wonders of the world!
“Mrs. Woodcrane?” Maitri called. “I… I’m not a Ravenclaw as you supposed.”
“Hmm? Oh, I guessed, dear,” the old witch mused.
“No Ravenclaw would have been able to keep their hands off the books on the walls,” She explained. “Nor would I have been spared of the million mundane questions about the origin of the books and their previous owners.”
“But could you teach me one thing?”
“What is it, sweets?” she asked, smiling as she rearranged the books on the display stand outside.
“Can you help me find a book on the portal spells?”
“Oho!” she looked up from the books, a large grin slowly forming on her face. “So you’re a little Slytherin!”
Maitri grinned back and shrugged; Mrs. Woodcrane, however, continued.
“Well, come on in, I mustn’t say no to a customer, now, must I? Mr. Flourish wouldn’t like that!”
Somehow, this time, Maitri liked the gleam in the witch’s eye. It reminded her of Helga Hufflepuff’s portrait in her secret room back at Hogwarts.
Gideon Prewett never saw the dark blur that seemed to overtake him in seconds, but he nearly staggered at the force behind it.
“Gideon!” Maitri yelled, hugging her friend’s neck happily. His knees buckled a bit at the force with which she’d tackled him into the hug, but he soon laughed and hugged her back.
“It’s good to see you, too, little Harys,” he said patting her head. When she finally let go of him, Gideon took a proper look at her, and realized that the girl in front of him bore little resemblance to the one he had carried out of the Black Lake a few months ago. She was taller, healthier and had even grown out her short hair. She had even a pair of thin spectacles, which made her look more like a Ravenclaw. What was more; there was an old sparkle in her eyes that seemed to make him forget that it was this girl who was hated by more than half the school for nothing except genealogical reasons.
“Seems like India has been good to you,” he commented. Maitri nodded happily. It was the first time in weeks she had actually seen any of her friends, and it deterred her from thinking about all the wreck Voldemort was causing.
“Well, if it isn’t the little Slytherin misfit, after all,” said a voice from behind Maitri. She spun around, only to be met by a face identical to Gideon’s and remembered about Fabian Prewett, the Ravenclaw twin of her friend. However, unlike what she was expecting (which bordered on the likes of a sneer or a grimace), he wore a small smile of recognition. “Grown out a bit, haven’t you, now? No longer the lass we saw on the lake, eh, Giddy-boy?”
Maitri stifled a laugh at the nickname, and Gideon turned red.
“Quite yes, Fabby-toy,” he said in a low voice. “And don’t call me that!”
“Don’t you, either!”
“Merlin’s Staff!” both of them gasped identical gasps at the same time and spoke again, in perfect synchronization. “I don’t believe that we just fought over a ‘you started first!’ conversation!”
Maitri laughed harder as they looked taken aback at each other and answered equally simultaneously, “Nor do I!”
“Fab, Gid!” a new voice hailed them from a nearby shop. “Stop acting like kids and go get the goddamned food! Andy’ll have our necks if we don’t get back soon!”
Maitri peered around the twins to see to whom the voice belonged to. An extremely tall, thin, frail-looking wizard stood in overlarge robes and a pair of glasses entirely too big for his face. Beneath his mop of red hair, his face was long and sort of pointed, while his blue eyes were narrowed down on the twins.
“Geez, Garibald!” Gideon said, throwing up his arms. “It’s not like we’re having a band show of the Weird Brothers on our lawn! How much food can normal people consume? Also, you’re a vampire, so you won’t even need any!”
“He is?” Maitri gasped, looking at the wizard with confusion, for he looked nothing like the vampires she’d studied about under Professor Fenwick. She realized it was a Prewett joke when she saw the twins huddled in silent laughter, and the wizard was looking down at her with a grim face.
“My name’s not Garibald, for Merlin’s sake!” he admonished them. “It’s Galahad, you dimwits! Show some respect to your country’s founders!”
“Gallagher, I know you’ve been a vampire for quite a while,” Fabian Prewett said in a strained voice. “But you never told us you’d been around since the Arthurian times!”
The wizard called Galahad threw up his hands in exasperation. “I’m not a vampire, Prewett, and it’s Galahad, for the two-hundred-and-fifth time!”
But the twins continued in their charade, pretending not to hear him, relapsing into silent laughter or holding up invisible garlic bulbs. The wizard turned away, annoyed, only to face Maitri.
“Friends of yours?” he asked kindly, reverting from his grimace to reveal a tired, young face of someone who had recently been under a lot of stress. Maitri nodded, looking in amusement as the twins continued to imitate vampires with great, leathery wings behind Galahad’s back.
“I’m Maitri,” she introduced, holding out her hand, like she had seen others always do.
“Galahad Weasley,” he offered, and shook hands. “How did you come by these morons?”
“Er, Andy’s, like, one of my best friends,” she explained, wondering whether she must outline her actual predicament that led to the friendship aforementioned. “And Andy is friends with them – and, hence, we became friends.”
“Merlin’s Beard! So you’re that young Slytherin apprentice that the infernal Andy boasts about, aren’t you?” he asked incredulously.
Maitri’s eyes widened. “You – I – know … h-how?”
This time, all the three of them laughed. “How very articulate of you, young Harys,” Fabian Prewett noted. “Brother, is this what they call-”
“Er, Fab,” Gideon nudged his cousin, slightly gulping from the glares he was getting from Maitri. “I think we ought to go get the food.”
“But, Gid-” he started to protest when he, too, caught sight of Maitri. “R-right, I’m coming!”
“All Andromeda talks about is getting you to protect yourself at Hogwarts,” Galahad explained gently. “And speaking of the lovely Ms. Black, I think she’d love to have you at her wedding.”
“Wedding?” Maitri asked, surprised. Andy never told her she was getting married this summer.
“Tomorrow, yes,” Galahad Weasley confirmed.
“Tomorrow?” Maitri yelped most ungracefully. “How come she never told me all this before?”
“She had sent a letter for you to Hogwarts, but it came back,” he informed her. “With a note that you were not anywhere accessible by owls.” He sighed. “Come on, there’s quite a bit you might need to know, over, hopefully a couple of sundaes at Fortescue’s. That man’s a wonderful friend if you like History of Magic.”
As they sat on a sun bathed bench, Galahad Weasley told Maitri the story of how Andromeda Black had run away from home under the excuse of “going to buy a gift for Rabastan darling” and had ended up at Galahad’s cousin, Arthur Weasley’s house for refuge, as his wife, Molly Weasley was a distant Black cousin. And Molly Weasley was-
“Our dear older sister,” Gideon cut into the conversation, his arms laden with bags full of delicious smelling food and glinting bottles of Butterbeer. “She still thinks it’s a shame we had to buy the food from outside.”
“She really ought to understand that it not her cooking we’re afraid of,” Galahad said, shaking his head. “It’s only young Bill’s hyperactive enthusiasm in modifying her cooking that keeps us at bay.”
“And not to mention Charlie’s constant burning up of things ever since he discovered her wand’s secret place,” Fabian said.
“And that muggle cigarette lightener he found the other day,” Gideon added. “I thought I’d never see the Burrow again.”
“The Burrow?” Maitri asked.
“Where Arthur Weasley and his family live,” Gideon clarified. “Listen, Harys, I’ll come by tomorrow morning to pick you up on our way to the Burrow. Just let Tom and Dumbledore know where you are, for I don’t know if you can be back here before September the first.”
“That’s still a week away,” Maitri reminded him, but Gideon shook his head firmly. “I don’t think Andy or Molly would want you to leave, and I’m sure one of us can drop you off at King’s Cross for the Hogwarts Express.”
“But I don’t even know your sister and Mr. Weasley!”
Fabian and Gideon grinned evilly identical grins. “Exactly why you will understand why you have to stay at the Burrow for a week.”
“What?” Maitri asked confused, while Galahad raised his eyebrows and said, “That doesn’t even make sense, flobheads!”
“Oh, it so does,” the twins replied together. “Great Evil Vampire Lord, even you know it makes sense.”
But even before Galahad had a chance to lash out for that comment, something began to rumble underneath. The ground trembled for a moment as they all looked towards Gringotts Bank, in confusion if the dragon down below had announced rebellion, when a loud explosion from behind knocked all four of them off their feet.
Bhimasena is an ancient Hindu mythology character, and is said to posses a physique akin to giants and has superhuman strength to match his bulk.
Seriously... is the story a drab? Why don't I ellicit any response from you guys? :(