Wimsey sat down and waited, prey to a curious, clammy sensation. The bare stone room was spacious and full of chilly sunlight, and to all appearances empty, yet he was sure that somebody must be watching him; it would be madness to leave a prisoner unobserved while she consulted with an advocate. Presently there was a noise of footsteps and the prisoner came in, also apparently alone, although Wimsey thought he saw the shadow of a woman standing outside the doorway. He rose and cleared his throat, glancing momentarily behind him; he was sure he had spotted something out of the corner of his eye, but all he saw now were the blank walls.
“Good afternoon, Miss Vane,” he said, shifting uneasily on one foot. He could have sworn he had heard a voice behind him.
The prisoner looked at him.
“Please sit down,” she said, in the curious, deep voice which had attracted him in that strange courtroom, buried under London, where he had seen her shackled to a chair and condemned to life imprisonment. “You are Lord Peter Wimsey, I believe, and have come from —“ she broke off as he sat down suddenly.
“Beg pardon,” said Wimsey, almost gasping. “I — er — heard the case and all that, and, er — I thought there might something I could do, don’t you know.” He had the sensation of being surrounded by earth, buried in earth — someone calling for Mr Danvers —
“That was very good of you,” said the prisoner.
“Not at all, not at all, dash it!” (the Major’s gone, someone said, and they were tapping inside his skull, tapping away at the earth, digging. Could Miss Vane not hear it?) “I mean to say, I rather enjoy investigating things, if you know what I mean.”
“I know. Being a writer of detective stories, I have naturally studied your career with interest.” She smiled briefly, but then her mouth tightened; apparently she had lost interest and was now looking past him with a grim expression. Wimsey felt like a man flailing in deep water, grasping at words as if they would keep him afloat.
“Well, that’s rather a good thing in a way, because you’ll understand I’m not really such an ass as I’m looking at present.”
That made her laugh.
“You’re not looking an ass — at least, not more so than anyone could under the circumstances. The Dementors are dreadful when one isn’t used to them — even when one is, for that matter.”
Her eyebrows lifted. “The guards.”
“Yes, I was meaning to ask about that — where are they?”
“Do you mean — I thought you must be a wizard, how else could you have got into the Ministry and seen the trial?”
“No, not at all — it’s a friend of mine, young Freddie, Freddie Arbuthnot. You mustn’t think he gave the game away intentionally, but a few years ago at one of my sister-in-law’s house parties I barged in on him having a quiet moment with a scrying glass, watching tomorrow’s financial markets moving through a mirror clear. So when he told me that the mysterious Miss Vane had disappeared because the Ministry had … well …”
“Arrested me,” she said, and shuddered slightly as the Dementor nearest Wimsey raised a scabrous hand. “But if you aren’t a wizard, you won’t see the guards. You will feel them, though, so if you really do want to help me you’ll need to be careful to keep your mind clear.”
“Yes, yes, of course. Now then, this poison that killed Mr Boyes — weedosoros. This is something to which only a witch or a wizard would have access?”
“Yes, at least under ordinary circumstances,” the girl replied. “If it had been something Muggles used — arsenic or something along those lines — the Ministry wouldn’t have taken me in charge. They don’t care particularly about non-magical crimes. And Philip’s circle were mostly Muggles, except for me. So you can see it’s rather a hopeless case.”
“Don’t say that. It can’t be hopeless unless you actually did it, and I know you didn’t. You don’t happen to know who the murderer is, I suppose? You surely weren’t the only witch he ever saw in London.”
“I don’t think there is one. I really believe Philip took the stuff himself. He was rather a defeatist sort of person, you know — when he was at the Muggle Relations office he was convinced that the others were all against him and laughing at him for knowing so little even though he was Muggle-born, and when he left he thought his Muggle friends were jealous of him. They didn’t know, of course, but he acted very superior and kept dropping hints, and that annoys them, you know.”
“Did he get on all right with his cousin?”
“Oh, yes, though of course he always said that his cousin was fortunate to have such a remarkable relation and that if only the Statute were ever to be repealed, he could pay him back with magic, though I don’t know how he intended to do that. Philip was never very good with a wand, no more was I, but he liked to pretend he didn’t use magic by choice.”
Wimsey was struck by the bitterness in her words, but before he could venture to ask if she had been fond of the late unlamented Boyes, he felt once again the crushing suffocation and cries which had long ago faded into silence, uttered by the men who had been buried alongside him. He would never escape from this, never survive this — what kind of madness had it been to think even of speaking to this woman, let alone asking her to marry him? He gasped and slumped back in his chair.
Miss Vane leapt to her feet and reached a hand towards the waistband of her drab blue prison dress, only to drop it foolishly upon remembering that she no longer was allowed to have her wand. “Madam Crabbe!” she called, and the wardress entered immediately. With a flick of her wand, she immobilized Harriet, with a second flick she sent a silver pigeon fluttering towards the encroaching Dementors, who retreated to the edges of the room. Afterwards, she turned to Wimsey, who by now appeared totally unconscious.
“Mobilicorpus! It looks as if that young man’s next visit will be to St. Mungo’s,” she said, as Wimsey’s body moved steadily towards the door. The silver pigeon dissolved into mist and the Dementors advanced upon Harriet, who found herself breathing rather fast, although she knew they were only going to take her back to her cell. As they swooped in around her, she asked “Will they Obliviate him? How much will they let him remember?”
“I’m afraid they will probably let him remember everything,” said Madam Crabbe, lips pursed. “Highly irregular, but the Arbuthnots are one of our oldest families, as any pureblood would know. Now —“ And Harriet was surrounded by clammy foulness of the Dementors, and could allow herself to think not of Wimsey or her cell or even of the world she had chosen to live in before the wizarding world had dragged her back, but only of a pot of coffee, simmering, aromatic, and unadulterated. She had drunk some herself, the only good moment in a wretched evening.
Someone was doubtless arranging a Portkey for Wimsey at this moment, and even if he was allowed to keep this memory (friend of the Arbuthnots or not, Harriet had her doubts about governmental courtesy extending that far) it was impossible that he would come back. He would doubtless think that he had looked a fool; men could be unreasonable about such things. But at least he had tried, and that was more than anyone else had done.