'No, we got wind of a nasty Backfiring Jinx down in Elephant and Castle, but luckily the Magical Law Enforcement Squad had it sorted out by the time we got there...'
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, pg 87 (UK ed.)
"I think that book is permanently attached to your nose," grumped Ron, looking bored as he stared at the dark nothingness as the train rumbled on towards London late in the evening, his stomach making the occasional ominous noise.
"Didn't quite catch that." Ron's forehead furrowed in thought."You know, I think Mum used to have a copy of that guidebook.But I didn't really pay attention when she read bits out."
"I'm reading.Leave me alone.And haven't I been telling you to pay attention for six years now?"
Harry grinned. "I think this is the new 'Hogwarts, A History' for Hermione. How many times have you read it, now?"
A sigh came from behind 'Wizarding Sights of Greater London – Secrets Hidden from Muggles'. "I'm still only half-way through. Though, I would have been finished by now if you both didn't keep interrupting."
"I don't see what's so fascinating about a guidebook, anyway," complained Ron. "Who wants to read all about some-one-or-other's house, or some silly ghost somewhere."
Hermione lowered the book enough to give Ron a good glare. "I just want to be prepared when we look around London tomorrow. You never know what some interesting sights might be, and it might help us find where Vold–" She paused to glare once more at Ron, who was shuddering, "Voldemort's hidden another Horcrux. I remember reading in a Muggle guidebook about a house where they plastered over the top of a mouse a hundred years ago, or so; you can still see the outline of the mouse under the plaster and paint!"
Harry screwed up his nose at the mere thought, imagining what it would be like to die like that.
"I wouldn't mind seeing that," exclaimed Ron, and Harry looked at his best friend in shock. "What? It'd be almost like seeing Mummies in Egypt!"
At that moment, the train pulled in to King's Cross Station, and Harry was saved from having to think of a suitable reply.
The wait for the Underground train the next morning was a little tedious, especially with Hermione going on and on about places they needed to go that day. Harry had tried to jump-start his brain a little by taking an interest in the map of the Underground system which was displayed near where they were standing. However, all that did was to remind him of the scar Dumbledore used to joke about having above his left knee, and that Dumbledore was no longer around. He blinked hard, willing himself not to think about it.
"Are you all right, Harry?" asked Hermione. "You look as though you've seen a ghost."
"Er…I have, sort of." He grinned, lopsidedly. "Sorry, what were you saying?"
"Well, before lunch, I think we should look at the various large collections. The British Museum has quite a few things in their special collection." Hermione said, pausing to consult her list. "Hmmm, there are also some artefacts from the First War on the Wizarding floor at the Imperial War Museum. That's closer, so if we go there first… I think we take the Bakerloo line to Elephant and Castle–"
"I didn't know there was a Wizarding floor there!" interrupted Harry, as Ron – also bored with the talk about museums – lurked in the background kicking at the platform with his trainer.
"Me neither," admitted Hermione. "But I did stumble into the one at the British Museum when I visited with my parents for my tenth birthday. Of course, that was before I knew I was a witch, and Mum and Dad couldn't see the door I could; they took me to have my eyes tested afterwards."
The station suddenly echoed with the noise of the Tube arriving. Ron, who was still not used to Muggle forms of transport, despite years of taking the Hogwart's Express, jumped a few feet in the air. "Is that ours?" he asked, pointing at the train.
Hermione indicated an affirmative simply by heading towards it to get on.
The doors opened, and people started to emerge onto the platform, Ron eyeing some of the young women in shock, with their tight clothing and pierced belly buttons.
"Come on!" Harry shoved Ron towards the door so they could get a seat. "You can eyeball the girls later – when Hermione isn't around to hex you if she notices."
"So, why is it called 'Elephant and Castle'?" asked Ron, trying not to stare at the barely-clothed woman standing beside where he was sitting.
"No one knows, really," answered Harry. "I heard it was because of ivory merchants who were in the area, and their symbol was an elephant with a castle on its back."
"There's another story," put in Hermione, "that it was named after the 'Infanta de Castille', a Spanish princess to whom King Charles the First was engaged. Anyway, neither story has been proved, but what is true is that there used to be a pub there called the 'Elephant and Castle', so the area is called that, now."
Ron's eyes seem to be drifting towards the scantily-clad girl beside him, and Harry could see Hermione silently begin to fume. Snatching the London Map from Hermione's bag, he thrust it at Ron. "Work out how we get from the Tube station to the Museum on here." He looked meaningfully at Ron and then from the girl to Hermione. Ron's ears went a little red, and he industriously began turning the map this way and that, trying to decide where exactly he was on the maze of roads.
Hermione looked at him approvingly, before opening her ever-present guidebook once more.
"Hey, that station wasn't listed on the map when I was looking before," exclaimed Harry.
"What wasn't?" asked Hermione, her nose still buried in her guidebook.
"Diagon Alley Tube station," replied Harry, eyes opened wide, looking at the sign where they were stopped.
"What?" gasped Hermione, dropping her book, which Ron deftly caught.
"Once a great Keeper, always a great Keeper," he said cheekily as he passed it back to her.
"Look!" pointed Harry.
And look they did. Witches and wizards were exiting and alighting the train from what appeared to be the back of Eeylops Owl Emporium, whilst the Muggles aboard seemed to be fixated on fiddling with their watch straps and Walkmans, ignoring the sight before them.
Hermione started frantically thumbing through the pages of her book, fretting, "I knew I should have stayed up all night finishing reading this. But, no, you and Ron had to drag me out to see that silly film–"
"But 'Men In Black' was brilliant!" exclaimed Ron. "I never knew Muggles could make pictures move! And it reminded me so much of Muggles and us, living side by side, but Muggles not knowing about magic, and–"
However, Hermione was once again nose-deep in her book, muttering all the while. So Ron continued his fight with the map, and Harry returned to looking out the window, hiding a grin from his friend.
Several minutes later, they came to a halt at the Elephant and Castle Underground station and walked up into the daylight. As Hermione emerged, she stopped, and a domino effect took place with first Harry bumping into her, and then Ron into Harry.
"Oi!' exclaimed Ron, rubbing his nose, which he'd bumped against Harry's head.
"What's the matter, Hermione?" asked Harry, trying to get her to move, or at the very least get her out of the trance she appeared to be in.
"Elephant," she said faintly.
Harry looked a little worried. Had she perhaps bumped into something as well, and hit her head, or were the fumes from the Underground affecting her? "That's right, we're at Elephant and Castle," he said in comforting agreement, still trying to get her to move to one side, as people behind them started tutting loudly about the hold-up.
"And castle," she added, even more faintly.
Harry started rubbing Hermione's arms, in what he hoped was a soothing manner, and wishing Ron would get a clue and do it instead. He really didn't want Ron's jealousy coming to the fore when Hermione was in a state like this.
"Elephant and Castle," said Hermione once more, in shock, and she raised her arm to point.
"Merlin," breathed Harry, and his hands fell to his sides as his eyes took in what Hermione had seen before him: in amongst the concrete jungle he had been expecting, improbably squeezed in beside the pink shopping centre, was a fairytale castle and a grey elephant spraying itself with water from a large, marble fountain. "Elephant and bloody Castle."
"See, I told you I should have finished reading that book!" exclaimed Hermione.
"I think I'll read it after you," said Harry in a daze.
"Just think of all the Obliviating they must have had to do over the years to hide this from the Muggles," added Hermione.
Harry gestured at the Underground sign above them. "They didn't do a brilliant job did they? 'Elephant and Castle' – I'd say a few people knew!"
Harry and Hermione were interrupted by a snort from Ron, who was watching their reaction with amusement. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder and said, "I think we turn right along here. Bloody hell, you'd think you lot had never seen an elephant before. It's hardly a bloody dragon." Rolling his eyes, Ron began walking in the direction he'd indicated.
Author's notes: Believe it or not, there really is a house where, if you look closely, you can see the outline of the mouse under the plaster. For the life of me, I can't remember which part of London I saw it in, but it's *there*.
It is indeed possible that the line to Elephant and Castle would go past Diagon Alley as, fortuitously for me, Charring Cross happens to be on that same line. Thanks to Bart for the suggestion.
Thanks also to the multitude of people who didn't think I was too idiotic to write a story about the name of an Underground station. Or, if they did, they were too polite to tell me.