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The Case of the Unwelcome Owl

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It certainly wasn't the first time he'd been woken up at ridiculous o'clock; it wasn't even the first time he'd been woken up at ridiculous o'clock in London, in the comfort of his own flat. But as John Watson's fingers closed reflexively over the handle of the bedside drawer, yanked, and then plunged inside to close around the familiar weight of his side arm, he realised that it was the first time he'd been woken up by Sherlock Holmes silhouetted on the threshold of his room, with a feather in his hair, snapping his fingers peremptorily and announcing: "Gun. Now."

John, still shockily half-asleep, had a bemused moment where his brain bounced back and forth between "Need gun" and "Don't need gun" and back to "Need gun" again. He shook his head, and made himself relax.

"Don't do that," he said, squinting crossly at Sherlock's unlit face. "I could have bloody shot you, you ass."

"No you couldn't," Sherlock replied, sounding bored. "Now give me that. I need to shoot an owl."

He wiggled his fingertips in a beckoning motion, straight-backed and imperious against the hallway light, evidently expecting John to get up out of his nice warm bed, cross the room and hand him the gun. John had apparently developed a Pavlovian response to that particular tone of voice, damn it, because he was half-way out of bed and preparing to deliver a loaded weapon like it was a bloody pizza before his brain caught up with his actions.

"Hang on a – no – what?" John said, shaking his head and pulling the gun primly back into his lap. "An owl?"

Sherlock made a frustrated noise, his shoulders vibrating. There really was a feather in his hair, John noted, with lazy wonderment. He was fairly sure Sherlock hadn't noticed it. "Yes, yes, a medium-sized barn owl. Yes. Now hand over the blasted gun, so I can blow its tiny little brains out."

John replayed the conversation in his head again. It still didn't make sense. "I'm not helping you to shoot an endangered species, Sherlock," he said, firmly.

"Tyto Alba Delicatula – unusual on these shores, but hardly an endangered species."

"And once again, missing the point. Look, unless this is some kind of evil ninja owl working for Moriarty, I'm not going to be facilitating your owlicidal tendencies. And don't tell me that owlicide isn't a word, Sherlock, because it's..." he glanced at the alarm clock beside the bed and sighed. "Half past three in the morning. I'm in no mood for grammar lessons. Or killing wildlife. Go back to bed."

'What if I told you it were an evil ninja owl in Moriarty's employ?" Sherlock asked.

"I think I might find myself forced to throw something at you. Probably something heavy. Now unless there actually is an emergency, kindly piss off."

"I'll leave you alone if you loan me your service revolver," Sherlock said, in an innocently persuasive voice, like this was a perfectly reasonable request, on a par with borrowing a cup of sugar. John shivered. It always creeped him out when Sherlock pretended to be a normal person.

"Sherlock, you're not getting your sticky fingers on my gun," John said, his voice tired but firm. "Now what is this nonsense about an owl?"

Sherlock glared at him. John couldn't actually make out his features at all, but he knew that glaring was in progress. "Why must you be so willfully disobliging?" he demanded, sounding very put-upon, before storming back out into the hallway and slamming the door behind him.

John stared blankly at the door for a long moment, trying to recall whether leading a dull, numb life staring at the wallpaper in his own tiny bedsit had really been so bad. And then he acknowledged that, yes, it had, and sighed, and got out of bed.

* * *

There was a medium-sized barn owl in the living room, perching on the back of the sofa. John stared at it blankly for a moment, and it stared blankly back, then corkscrewed its head around to stare at Sherlock. It didn't seem to be showing any immediate signs of being a ninja owl assassin working for an evil genius; on the other hand, John hadn't the faintest idea what on earth had led it to come and sit on furniture in the middle of 221B Baker Street.

The owl cocked its head at Sherlock, hunched over the laptop and typing furiously, and after a moment it gave a low, interrogative sort of hoot.

"Fuck off," said Sherlock, without looking up from his laptop. For a surreal moment, John could have sworn that he was actually talking to the owl, but clearly that was ridiculous. Evidently he was still bitter about the gun.

"So," said John, feeling out of his depth once again. "An owl." It was the same mild, politely curious tone of voice with which he had previously found himself uttering such things as: "So – three bags of frozen AB negative," and "So – a selection of human ears."

"Goodness, John, with deductive prowess like that you'll soon be putting me in the shade," Sherlock said tartly. "Can't sneak anything past you, can we?"

John waited, but no further explanation seemed to be forthcoming. He glanced over to the window, which was open, and sniffed the air thoughtfully. Sherlock made the kind of exaggerated huffing sound generally associated with teenagers.

"Yes, yes, fine, I had a cigarette. I was bored. Stop judging me. You still carry that stupid bloody cane around."

"Right," John said. His eyes felt sore, and there was a headache starting at the base of his spine, and now that Sherlock had mentioned the cane his leg was suddenly trying to convince him that it hurt. His shoulder twinged. "You didn't think about sleep as an option, when you were bored at half past three in the morning?" he asked.

Sherlock frowned. "No," he said, as though John had just said something exceptionally stupid. He was still wearing the same clothes he had been wearing all day; John was almost certain that he hadn't been to bed at all.

"Right," said John, evenly. "And the owl just – what, it just flew in through the window? Without being in any way coerced?" He wasn't at all sure quite how one went about attracting the attention of barn owls and luring them into one's living room in the middle of the countryside, let alone in the centre of London, but if anyone could do it, Sherlock Holmes probably could. "And then it decided to hang out in the middle of the living room for a bit?"

"As a matter of fact that's precisely what it did," said Sherlock. "And now it is refusing to fuck off ." He darted an evil look sideways at the owl, and made a flapping motion with his hand. John eyed the bird's beak with wary respect, and wondered how Sherlock would get on with one of his fingers missing. The owl, however, seemed entirely unmoved, turning to look from Sherlock to John and back again in a manner that was somehow suggestive of Lady Bracknell.

"O-kay," John said, after an awkward pause. He should probably go back to bed, really, but now he was awake and curious about the whole owl situation in spite of himself. Sherlock, however, was hunching over the laptop and showing no signs of explaining this latest addition to the flat. John sighed. "I'm going to make a cup of tea," he said at last. "Assuming there's nothing unseemly lurking in the kettle. Is there anything unseemly lurking in the kettle?"

"No," said Sherlock, as though this were a completely ridiculous question.

"Good. Right – well, tea, then."

John was half way into the kitchen when Sherlock muttered, crossly: "Don't look in the microwave."

John sighed again. "Do you want one?" he asked, reaching for a second mug.

"What I want is your service revolver, John. But since you've apparently decided to become some kind of rabid posterboy for the RSPB, I suppose I shall have to settle for a cup of tea. And some toast," he added, after a moment. "In fact, if you won't shoot the flea-raddled thing, you could always give it a couple of quid and a piece of toast. That should get rid of it."

The owl made an interested noise in the living room, for all the world as if it had understood what Sherlock had just said. For a moment John almost started rooting around in the coat he'd left slung over a chair back for the coins he was fairly sure were in the pocket – and then sanity reasserted itself. He was not giving an owl a couple of quid, whatever nonsense Sherlock might be spouting. When John glanced back, though, he was a little creeped out to find that the bird was looking right at him with a disconcertingly intense expression on its feathery little face. He quashed down memories of Hitchcock films, and decided to ignore the owl in the same way that he had ignored the head in the fridge, and the flayed hand in the greasy Subway wrapper, and the eyes in the jar. He rummaged around in the box with the caution that living with Sherlock Holmes inevitably bred in anyone, and was relieved to discover nothing unexpected nestled in among the teabags. Further investigation revealed that there was milk in the fridge, and also a blessed dearth of obvious body parts. Of course, there was also a dearth of bread, so toast was apparently out of the question. As he filled the kettle with water, John found himself turning over the whole business of the owl in his mind, trying to make it mesh with what he already knew of Sherlock.

"I hope you realise that you're going to be the one cleaning up owl crap, if it does its business all over the flat," he called back, knowing even as he uttered the words how completely futile it was to imagine that Sherlock would ever raise a finger to clean anything. The Great Detective seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that the flat would somehow clean itself while he wasn't looking, and it had taken very little time indeed for John to realise that it would never cross Sherlock's brilliant mind to buy such staples as bread, milk, soap or toilet paper. He seemed to think that they would magically appear of their own volition, and John was occasionally tempted to ask what Sherlock's last slave had died of – but he was a little afraid that Sherlock might answer him perfectly seriously with "strychnine-laced doughnuts", or "a bullet to the back of the head". And that was the crux of the matter, of course: life with Sherlock Holmes might be short on creature comforts and basic hygiene, but it was very rarely anything like dull. Frustrating, frightening, exhausting, humiliating, baffling and downright annoying, yes. But dull? Not so much. One never knew what the next day would bring.

Currently, the day – or rather, night – was apparently bringing owls. Which was certainly new.

"It's not a bloody pigeon," Sherlock replied, and the owl hooted in a tone that almost sounded, if one was still a trifle sleepy and feeling a little overimaginative, indignant. "And anyway, it's house trained."

There was a thoughtful pause, whilst John stared at the kettle and pointedly did not ask Sherlock who in their right mind would go around house-training an owl.

"Is it for a case?" he asked, eventually. Sherlock gave a disgusted snort that he concluded was probably a no. He drummed his fingers on the work surface for a moment, then went to see whether there were any custard creams left in the cupboard. He munched on one as he poured boiling water into the teapot, pondering the possibilities. "Is it a pet?" he asked, although it seemed fairly clear from Sherlock's manner that he had no intention of adopting the thing. Still, somebody had house-trained it, apparently – it certainly wasn't behaving very much like a wild creature at present. "Some kind of...homing pigeon?" he said, tentatively. "Well. Owl?"

"More or less," Sherlock snapped, as John poured boiling water into each of the mugs and watched the teabags bobbing soggily to the top. He poked them with a spoon, and then sloshed some milk over the top a little too soon, resulting in two cups of very anaemic looking liquid with embarrassed-looking teabags lurking in the middle. Fuck it. He wasn't Mrs Hudson, and it was the middle of the night, and there was an owl in the living room. John scooped the teabags out and dropped them in the bin.

"If you would just pay the wretched creature and give it some toast, it would be history," Sherlock said, petulantly, as John carried the mugs back into the living room.

"You want me to pay the owl," he repeated, feeling particularly stupid. This was not, alas, a new sensation around Sherlock.

"I said so, didn't I?" muttered Sherlock. He never looked away from the computer screen, where he was apparently researching something to do with Australian poisons, but one slim hand snaked out to wrap possessively around a chipped blue mug. "Where's my toast?"

"We're out of bread," said John, evenly. "Since somebody seems to have polished off the last four slices, and the remains of the butter."

"Biscuits?" Sherlock said, his tone wholly unapologetic. "And money for the bloody owl?"

The owl twisted its head around in a thoroughly disconcerting fashion and gave a plaintive hoot of agreement. John rolled his eyes, strode over to his coat, rummaged around in his pocket and found a pound coin.

"This is ridicu..." he began, turning, and then nearly jumped out of his skin when the owl swooped down, looking very much bigger with its wings outstretched, and grabbed the coin out of his hand with that ferociously sharp beak.

"Jesus!" said John, trying not to think of the damned Hitchcock movie and failing abjectly. The owl returned to the back of the sofa for a moment, and tucked the coin into some sort of little pouch attached to one of its legs, dwarfed by the really-quite-large talons. House-trained, thought John, blankly, watching it. When it had finished, it gave Sherlock a thoroughly disapproving look, and then launched itself nimbly in the direction of the kitchen. John ducked, reflexively. A moment later the wretched thing was swooping back from the kitchen trailing a packet of Tesco's finest custard creams like some kind of small, helpless animal in a nature documentary. John felt his jaw drop.

"Oh, blast," said Sherlock, without looking up from the computer. "I told you to feed the ghastly creature. Now it's got my bloody biscuits."

"Hello, I think you'll find that it was me who bought the biscuits in the first place," said John, as the owl flung itself gracefully out through the open window into the neon darkness of the London night. "Groceries don't just magically arrive courtesy of the good shopping fairy, you know."

"Fairies don't do the shopping – and anyway, that's quite immaterial," Sherlock said, his voice distinctly tetchy. "The biscuits are gone. Of course, so is the owl, so I suppose that on balance it all worked out for the best. Eventually." He glanced sidelong at John. "Although if you'd let me shoot it, we'd still have the custard creams."

"And a dead owl," pointed out John. Sherlock shrugged. John picked up his mug of tea and tried to reassemble the past few minutes into some kind of logic, to no avail. He brushed the back of the sofa absently with his free hand, and his eye fell upon an envelope which, he was reasonably sure, had not been there earlier in the evening. "Hello, what's this then?"

Sherlock's back straightened, but he didn't answer. John reached down and picked it up. The envelope was thick and creamy and terribly expensive-looking, weighty and rough against his whorled fingertips. There was no stamp or postmark of any kind, although an indentation in the middle of one edge strongly implied that the owl had tested it to see whether it tasted as good as the custard creams. Or, a bemused voice in the back of John's head suggested, that the owl had carried the letter here in its beak.

"That is an envelope, John. I realise that you didn't have the benefit of a truly first rate education, but I should have thought that even you would have been able to correctly identify such a simple object." Sherlock sounded rattled, John thought. Interesting.

"The owl brought it," John said, experimentally.

"Well, obviously," said Sherlock, as though everyone was perfectly well aware that the Royal Mail had a special owl delivery service.

The address, written in turquoise ink in a spidery hand, read:

Sherlock Holmes Esq.
Sulking on the sofa
In the living room
221B Baker Street
London
The United Kingdom.

John was half surprised that the address didn't continue with "Europe, the planet Earth, The Solar System, The Milky Way Galaxy" and so on – he could vaguely remember thinking himself terribly clever when he addressed all his Christmas Thank You notes that way one year in Junior School.

John stared at the envelope for a moment, and then turned it over and took in the heavy blob of lavender-coloured wax. There was a very ornamental squiggle pressed into the wax which might, if one squinted, be two ornate capital Ls, interlocking. Despite the childish scrawl on the front, it looked like nothing so much as a wedding invitation; normal letters simply didn't merit such ridiculously fancy envelopes, let alone pretentious blobs of wax. (And it had apparently been hand-delivered – or rather, beak-delivered - by an owl, John reminded himself. Although that wasn't even the weirdest thing to happen this week, let alone this month.)

"You haven't opened it," John said, glancing at Sherlock. Since Sherlock had a distressing tendency to shred such niggling annoyances as junk mail and utility bills into confetti, or, occasionally, set them on fire, it seemed significant that, however much he might rail about wanting to kill the owl, he apparently hadn't attempted to destroy the letter it brought.

"Your perspicacity never ceases to astonish me," Sherlock said, tightly.

"Why haven't you opened it? You were complaining yesterday that nothing interesting has happened in days, and threatening to die of ennui. This looks interesting."

"This isn't interesting," Sherlock snapped. "It's family. There is nothing half so tedious as family, John, as you should know perfectly well."

John eyed the envelope again, a tiny smile curving the corner of his mouth.

"I may not be the world's only consulting detective, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Mycroft didn't send you this," he said.

"Well of course it isn't from Mycroft!" Sherlock said, looking disgusted. "Mycroft has mastered the use of technology. Mycroft would send a text, or an email. He wouldn't be caught dead owling someone in Muggle London."

John nodded. "Your family are all certifiable, aren't they?" he said, feeling supremely unsurprised. "Naturally they'd send you a letter by carrier-owl."

Sherlock made a huffing sound, and pretended to be fascinated with his computer screen.

"So – this L.L. person. Lex Luthor? Lana Lang?"

Sherlock looked at him blankly. "There seems remarkably little point in just guessing random names that begin with the letter L," he said. "And Lex isn't a proper name."

"Tell that to Superman," John said, and Sherlock rolled his eyes.

"Oh. Americans. This is another stupid television thing, isn't it?"

"Comics. Stop trying to change the subject. Who's L.L.? And why haven't you bothered to open the envelope?"

"L.L. Is my cousin, since you insist on prying into matters that don't concern you in the slightest," said Sherlock, flinging his hands up into the air melodramatically and standing up from the laptop all of a sudden. John did consider pointing out that Sherlock had raised "prying into things that don't concern you" to an artform, but suspected that this would only distract him. He waited patiently instead, while Sherlock paced back and forth. "And I haven't opened it because quite obviously it's a wedding invitation, and I have no interest in weddings. Weddings represent the triumph of conformity over individuality, of dumb optimism over sanity and experience, of plebian desire over self control. Moreover they throw you together with a host of desperately dull and often inebriated persons who are labouring under the misapprehension that they know you, when really all they know is that you once vomited all over the Christmas pudding, and tried experimental taxidermy on your grandmother's favourite pug."

John allowed a moment to pass after this torrent of words, before saying in a very level voice: "I trust the pug was already dead?"

"Well of course it was," Sherlock retorted, looking affronted.

John nodded. "So – this L.L. - another mortal enemy? Or just deadly dull?"

Sherlock's shoulders slumped. He looked from John down to the envelope, and sighed, and flung himself down upon the sofa like a broken marionette. "No," he admitted, grudgingly. "As a matter of fact Luna is neither stupid nor boring. She's probably my favourite relative. Honestly, I thought she had too much sense to go getting shackled to some bumbling ass and start breeding like another of the silly sheep. It's all so disgustingly mundane."

"Luna. Sherlock. Mycroft. Good God," said John. "Your family really doesn't believe in boring names." He reflected to himself that anyone called Sherlock really had no room to make disparaging remarks about a name like Lex. "So, your cousin Luna is getting married, and you like her, and she isn't boring – witness the owl - or stupid. But you don't want to go to her wedding because you think that weddings are boring and stupid?"

"And full of boring, stupid people," agreed Sherlock. "I can't imagine why she invited me."

John reminded himself that his flatmate was an alien, before saying, carefully: "Maybe she likes you? And thought it would be nice to have you at her wedding?"

Sherlock made a dismissive noise. "If she liked me, why would she want me to put myself through the purgatory of attending such a spectacle, with such a monstrously boring group of people?"

"Well, you haven't actually opened it yet. It might not be a wedding," John pointed out. "Maybe she's having a – erm – a house warming! Or something?"

"She's getting married," Sherlock said, firmly. "There's a hideous inevitability to it all. Probably to a Weasley, or a Longbottom, God help us."

John snorted. "Luna Longbottom – that would be unfortunate," he agreed. "What's her surname now? Not Holmes, I gather?"

"Lovegood," said Sherlock.

John choked on a mouthful of tea. "Good God," he said, a moment later. "She isn't a porn star, by any chance?"

Sherlock opened his eyes and craned his neck to glare at John, looking scandalised. "Certainly not!" A moment his mouth twisted into a rather rueful smile in spite of himself. "Although I concede that it would be an apposite name for work in that industry. She's a naturalist."

"Right, right," said John, trying to control his grin. "Sorry – not a porn star. She just likes to be naked in public."

"Naturalist, not natur..." Sherlock said, impatiently, and then registered the twinkle in John's eye. "Oh, ha ha. What a dazzling shaft of wit."

"Sorry," said John, not feeling sorry at all. "Anyway, I think you should go."

"What?"

"To the wedding. Why not? You like her – or at least, you don't dislike her, which is high praise indeed, coming from you. She's inviting you – so it rather sounds like she likes you right back. It would be a nice thing to do."

Sherlock looked at him with something like incredulity. "And I'm famous for being nice. It's my defining quality."

John conceded the point with a small nod, and took another gulp of the pale tea. "Well – okay, no. But it would still be something to break up the monotony of twiddling your thumbs in the flat, waiting for the next serial killer to crop up. Even if it's really awful, it would give you something new to complain about."

"Thank you for your advice. I shall – take it under advisement," said Sherlock, in a voice that made the words sound almost exactly like his earlier "Fuck off!"

John finished his tea calmly, watching Sherlock all the while and trying to piece together his response to the invitation. He was, to be sure, not a patch on Sherlock when it came to deductions; still, he was picking up a thing or two, and he was pretty sure that at least part of Sherlock liked the idea of going to this wedding, even if he wasn't acknowledging it.

"Well, if you won't be requiring my services in any further owl-wrangling capacity, I think I'll call it a night," John said, setting the mug down on the table. He pointedly didn't take it to the sink and wash it up, this time, and he felt Sherlock's eyes on him, cogs whirling wildly behind them as always, noting down each nuance of his behaviour and adding it to the mental file labeled "Watson, John".

"See you in the morning," he added, wasting no time on asking whether Sherlock was intending to retire to his own room before dawn. Sleep seemed to be one of those things Sherlock viewed as optional – like food, and manners, and hygiene, and observing the laws of the land. John was, God help him, getting used to all of the above.

Sherlock nodded sharply, his fingers laced together over his chest as he stared up at the cobwebby ceiling. He didn't say good night.

* * *

The envelope was still there the following morning, unopened but also unbinned.

It was still there in the afternoon, still unopened, its rich surface sullied by a broken circle of brown that strongly suggested it had been used as a makeshift coaster for a mug of instant coffee.

It was still there in the evening, sticking out of a dog-eared copy of 'Grey's Anatomy' as an improvised bookmark.

* * *

The following morning, John was woken by the sound of breaking crockery. By the time he reached the living room, Sherlock was standing barefoot in the middle of a very site-specific little warzone, surrounded by shattered china and feathers. There were five cream-coloured envelopes scattered across the floor, flaunting turquoise ink or purple wax depending upon how they had happened to fall, and at least three more were visible atop various surfaces. Since the windows all seemed to be closed, John hadn't the faintest idea where an army of carrier-owls might have sprung from, but it appeared that they had managed to find a way into the flat somehow or other. Sherlock's comment about evil ninja owls might, just conceivably, have had some basis in reality, John thought, with rather less surprise than he ought to have felt at such a possibility.

There were hectic spots of colour high up on Sherlock's cheekbones, and he looked thoroughly irritated as he brushed long, violin-player's fingers over his arms and shoulders in a vain attempt to restore an appearance of decorum and unflappability.

He did not, John thought, look even a little bit bored. This probably wasn't the time to mention it, though.

"Persistence is a family trait, then?" said John, cheerfully, heading into the kitchen in the faint hope that it might possibly still contain cereal and milk somewhere, rather than human toes or carefully bagged excrement.

Sherlock just glowered.

* * *

John really should have grown inured to being surprised by members of the Holmes family, by this point. After all, if it wasn't one brother peremptorily summoning him to illicit chit-chats in darkened car parks, it was the other one testing decomposition rates in the bath, using a dead cocker spaniel and a large number of wet leaves. John rather prided himself upon remaining calm in the face of Holmsian weirdness, but the arrival of Sherlock's cousin Luna was enough to send both his eyebrows twitching up towards his hairline.

Luna Lovegood was a pretty woman of thirty or so, with slightly protuberant eyes as pale as Sherlock's, and long, colourless hair piled up into a haphazard sort of bun on one side of her head, held precariously in place by an outsized chopstick sort of thing. She was dressed in a mismatched collection of clothes that were either pure bag lady or else taken from the more extreme end of some insanely overpriced designer's latest catwalk show; the multi-coloured cardigan thing she had on seemed, unless John was very much mistaken, to be designed for somebody – or something – with five arms. She was also wearing what looked like an old-fashioned pocket watch on a ribbon around her neck and a startlingly long daisy-chain wrapped around one wrist, and she had an owl the pristine white of icing sugar perched upon one shoulder.

None of this was particularly outside the box, as far as John was concerned. What gave him pause was the way in which she stepped out of the fireplace in a billow of blue green flames just as he was settling down to watch 'The Antiques Roadshow', safe in the knowledge that Sherlock was off bothering Molly at the morgue for reasons best unknown (but probably relating to the decomposing cocker spaniel).

"You must be John Watson," she said as she stepped off the hearth, smiling at him in the mild and beatific manner of somebody who has taken an awful lot of drugs, or read a great many self help books. The flames died down just as fast as they had arrived.

John stood up rather abruptly, his hand twitching towards a holster that wasn't there, and blinked at his guest, and then looked quite hard at the fireplace, and then did some rather frantic mental arithmetic involving owls and people with the surname Holmes.

"Sorry – look, sorry, I know this is a bit obvious, but did you just appear out of thin air in a sort of burst of blue fire?"

Luna cocked her head, appearing to give this question very serious consideration for a long moment, while the owl on her shoulder peered around at the room. "Yes," she said, politely. "I should think so."

John nodded. "Right. Yes, I thought you did. Right. Sorry, I think I need to have a bit of a sit down." He sank back into his chair, still staring at Luna. "Sorry," he said again. "But – was that a trick, then? Like – some kind of special effect, sleight-of-hand sort of thing?"

"It was the floo network," said Luna, not very helpfully. "Can I sit down too?"

John blinked again, and then nodded. Luna sat down on the edge of the sofa and studied him intently.

"Sorry – look, just to be absolutely clear – was that – ha." John wasn't easily embarrassed, but this was not the sort of question he'd ever expected to ask anyone. "Um. I mean – that wasn't – ha – um, magic magic, was it? Obviously?"

"Oh, yes," said Luna, with an encouraging smile. "Magic magic. Precisely."

"Oh." John looked blankly down at his knees, shuffling his ideas about the universe like a deck of cards. "I think I might need a moment," he said, conscious of a lack of hospitality but needing to think rather a lot of things through. Luna didn't seem at all offended, and when he looked up into her rain-coloured eyes, she was smiling at him in a way that was both fond and madder than a March hare. Definitely related to Sherlock, he found himself thinking, and liking her for it.

"Are you all right?" she asked, helpfully. "I suppose it's a bit of a shock, isn't it? Finding out you're a Muggle. Mycroft was very cross about me sending owl to Muggle London, but he didn't actually say anything about not talking to you in person. And anyway, he isn't the Minister yet, however much he might want to be. Mr Weasley is, and he likes me more than he likes Mycroft, if it comes down to it." She frowned. "Of course, that's because Mr Weasley's still rather prejudiced against Slytherins, and I suppose I shouldn't really play on that. But it is quite handy, in this case."

John's mouth twitched in spite of his best intentions. "You realise that I haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about, right?"

She caught his eye, and they both burst into unexpected giggles. "No," she allowed, when she could breathe properly. "No, I suppose not. How wonderful!"

"I gather you're a sort of – er – a witch?" John said, feeling his eyebrows darting up as if they couldn't quite believe what was coming out of his mouth.

Luna nodded. "Yes."

"And Sherlock knows this?"

"Oh, yes. Well, he'd have to," she said, reasonably. "Everyone he knows is a witch or a wizard. Or – well, they were when we were children. They sent him away to a Muggle High School, though, when they realised he was a – um." She looked embarrassed, and her voice dropped. "A squib."

"A squib? Like a broken firework?" John could think of very few things that were less apt descriptions of his flatmate.

"Just like that! Although in hindsight it was probably for the best, in a way," she added, peering over at the tottering towers of books with an expression of mild fascination. "Because nobody was ever as clever as Sherlock was, even when we were small. Or so fierce. He could have been worse than Voldemort, I think, in his own way. It wouldn't have taken much. And that would have been such a shame – so maybe it was a blessing in disguise." She reached up to scritch the owl gently. "Of course, I don't think he really saw it that way."

After knowing Sherlock Holmes for several months, John was fairly resigned to taking part in conversations where he understood about a tenth of what was being said, and filling in the gaps as best he could.

"So – right. You're saying that there are lots of – er. Witches and wizards. Not just you. Lots of people who can do, er," he gestured towards the fireplace. "That."

Luna nodded.

"Oh." John knitted his brows together. "And – Mycroft? He's...? Well, yes, actually, that makes absolutely perfect sense, now I come to think of it. But – but Sherlock isn't?"

"Sherlock is special," Luna said, and there was something unexpectedly steely in her voice when she said it. John found himself revising some of his initial impressions of her from the sound of that note. "He doesn't need magic. He sees things clearly all the time. Not a lot of people can do that, especially not wizards."

John felt something tightening in his chest, something that wasn't quite pride and wasn't quite tenderness. "Right," he said, in a voice that sounded oddly rough around the edges. "Fair point." A thought suddenly struck him, and he felt himself reddening. "Oh! Congratulations, by the way! I understand that you're getting married? I mean, he still hasn't opened the letter, but he seemed convinced it was an invitation – thought you might be getting married to some bloke called Longbottom?"

Luna's face lit up. "Neville! No, Hannah would hex me into the middle of next week if I tried to marry Neville. Not that I'd want to – he's a lovely man, but I don't think of him like that. No, I'm marrying Rolf Scamander," she said, and dimpled. John got the impression, from the way she uttered the name, that this Rolf Scamander was some kind of celebrity in the magical world.

"That's nice," he said, because it seemed a safe and multi-purpose sort of thing to say.

"He's Australian," Luna added. "They call him The Snorkack Hunter; he's sort of famous. He's got a reputation for being able to find and capture pretty much anything, however dangerous. He runs Monster Zoo – but I suppose you wouldn't have heard of that, being a Muggle." She gave a little shrug that reminded John palpably of Sherlock. "It was pretty much love at first sight. Our eyes met across a nest of Opaleye hatchlings, and I just knew when I saw his Spectra Specs that he was the one for me." She ducked her head. "We're going on a quest to find the Crumple Horned Snorkack for our honeymoon."

"Crumbs," said John, feeling rather helpless in the face of all this information. "Good for you."

"It is, rather," agreed Luna. "Anyway, the reason I dropped in was because I wanted to invite you in person. It's on the invitation, but I gather he still hasn't opened any of them? I told him he could bring you. I'd like him to. If you want to come."

John's eyebrows twitched upwards again. "How have you even heard of – and I'm not going to finish that sentence, because you're a witch, and related to Mycroft. Right. Well. Thank you, that's very – thoughtful." An awkward thought crossed his mind. "But we're – um. We're not actually dating, whatever you might have heard." He was resigned to this now. It seemed to be the leap everyone made, after seeing how close they were.

"Oh, I know that," said Luna, sounding faintly surprised. "Sherlock doesn't date. But you're definitely his significant other."

John considered that, and found that he couldn't argue with it.

"I know Mycroft insists that it isn't the done thing, inviting Muggles to Wizarding events, but this is 2010, after all. And I've never really worried very much about 'the done thing'. When you do a thing, that makes it the done thing, doesn't it?" Her mouth twisted a little. "To be honest, Rolf and I really wanted to have a private, low-profile sort of wedding, but his mother cried for a week." She shook her head. "Really. A week. She enjoys his celebrity status rather a lot, I'm afraid. And I'm a little bit famous too, because of Harry, and because I've been rather successful at proving the existence of things people had all imagined didn't exist, like Nargles and Wrackspurts." She cocked her head to one side, and her expression became distinctly rueful. "I think Mrs Scamander's a little bit too excited about Harry and everyone being guests, but it makes her happy, so we're going along with it. But if we're doing a big wedding, then I want to do it properly, and ask all people who are really important. That includes Harry, although not for the reasons Mrs Scamander seems to think. And it definitely includes Sherlock. And his significant other."

"That's – very nice," said John, cautiously. "But – but you know that Sherlock isn't a big fan of weddings? Generally speaking."

Luna inclined her head. "And I know he doesn't like being reminded of what he can't do. And people can be very stupid about Uncle Linwood being a reformed Death Eater, even though he never went back and joined Voldemort the second time, and was actually killed by Bellatrix Lestrange for having betrayed the cause. And Rolf says he might be embarrassed about how the family fortunes took a nosedive, since these days he can't afford to keep even one House Elf on what's left of his inheritance."

John was really only following one word in ten, but he couldn't help latching onto that last part.

"Would I be right in thinking that House Elves magically tidy up all your mess, clean and iron your clothes, scrub the toilet, make the tea, and buy the bread and milk?" he asked, suspiciously.

"That's right," said Luna, smiling brightly at him. "They enjoy domestic labour. It's what they live for."

"That explains so much ," said John, with feeling. It occurred to him that he probably ought to resent having been made into a de-facto House Elf. "Well, regardless – with all this fuss about the family fortunes and Uncle Linwood – is that Sherlock's dad, then? Right – Uncle Linwood being a Death Eater – which, really, I don't think I want to have explained, especially if it involves bits of corpses in the fridge – well, it does sound like there are quite a lot of reasons why he might not fancy coming to your wedding?" John pointed out. He decided not to mention the whole diatribe about choosing stupid optimism over experience.

"But I'd really like him to be there," Luna said, and when she smiled her whole face lit up quite beautifully. "And you too. Please come. Tell him he shouldn't be afraid of what other people will say."

John's jaw dropped a little. "Tell him he shouldn't be...well. You know he'll spot the reverse psychology a mile off?"

She smiled. "It'll still work, though," she said serenely, and John had a feeling she was right.

* * *

"She said what?"

John very rarely had the opportunity to see Sherlock Holmes surprised. He was a little bit sorry he hadn't had the foresight to film the moment, and preserve it for all time.

"She said that I'm invited too, despite not being a wizard," John paused and looked very pointedly as Sherlock, "...and that you shouldn't be afraid of what the other people there will say about a half-Slytherin squib showing up with a Muggle in tow."

Sherlock blinked at John, looking very much like a cartoon character who'd just had a piano dropped on him from a great height, and then he threw back his head and laughed out loud.

"Oh, God. I told you she was my favourite relation. That's just so shamelessly transparent."

John smiled. "She didn't seem very boring," he said. "I liked her." He knew Sherlock Holmes better than just about anyone – or at least, anyone who wasn't related to him – but he wasn't at all sure which way this next statement would push him. "I'd rather like to go to her wedding."

Sherlock looked at John for a long moment. "So you can gawp at all the freaks?" he asked, his voice very precise, his eyes very icy.

"So I can congratulate your cousin on her wedding day," John corrected him, gently. His mouth curved at the corners. "And watch you catch the bouquet."

"And satisfy your curiosity about the world I come from."

"And satisfy my curiosity about the world you come from," John agreed. "Of course. Would you rather I didn't feel any curiosity?"

Sherlock inclined his head in acknowledgment of John's point.

"Besides," John said, smiling into Sherlock's shuttered eyes, "You know how much it will irritate Mycroft."

At that, Shelock's lips twitched into that startlingly rare smile which only serial killers and John Watson seemed capable of provoking. "It will irritate Mycroft," he agreed, his eyes dancing wickedly. "It will, in fact, render Mycroft all but apoplectic. He does try so hard to control the division between the Wizarding World and the Muggle one."

"Well then," said John, grinning back.

"You were wasted as a doctor, John," Sherlock said, beaming at him.