Part 1: A Rumpus in Baker Street
It was in the winter of 1895 that my friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes, was called away to assist Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard with a tricky, but essentially commonplace problem involving the loss by fire of a collection of erotic etchings (see the 'The Penitent Artist' in my as-yet unpublished works). I was recovering from a touch of bronchitis brought on by exposure to the capital’s foggy night air, in pursuit of the owner of the etchings. Holmes insisted that I remained in our quarters, with lemon, honey and a medicinal dose of whiskey. This regimen was so efficacious that after two days, a gleam of watery sunshine tempted me outside in pursuit of fresh air and exercise.
During my return home along Baker Street I became aware of an extraordinary rumpus. The traffic came to a halt; drays, barrows, cabs and carriages backing up towards Marylebone with all the shouting and cursing one could imagine. I increased my pace, idle curiosity urging me on, until I saw the crowd gathering around a knot of figures in the middle of the road and I realised that my professional services were required.
Two youths, one fair-haired and one dark, glowered at one another across an older man who sprawled upon the cobbles in an insensible state. I pushed my way to their side.
"What the bloody hell have you done now, you idiot?" demanded the fellow with the black hair and spectacles. His companion, a slender lad wearing what appeared to be an academic or monastic robe, clutched a length of wood in one hand, around twice the length and width of a pencil. Even as I knelt to examine the comatose man, I noted that the youngster brandished the twig as if it was a dagger.
"What have I done? What did you do, Potter?"
"Nothing!" snapped the other, "I told you, I came to collect Snape’s body. I don’t know what you thought you were going to do to him –"
"Bury him! Treat him with the respect he deserves!"
They paused for a moment as I looked down at my unanticipated patient. He was a gaunt man of perhaps forty years of age, with an ill-used and unkempt appearance. His outer clothing consisted of a black robe, similar to that worn by the blond youth. I wondered if they belonged to an obscure monastic order, but all such reflection fled my mind as I turned his head and saw the great gash in the side of his neck, and the blood soaking his shoulder and sleeve.
"Not going to work something Dark on his corpse?"
"Oh for Merlin's sake, he was my Head of house! Just take us back, will you?"
"You take us back, Malfoy! I don't even know where we are!"
Like two dogs squaring up to fight but thinking the better of it, they broke eye contact and the fair-haired lad, Malfoy, noticed me for the first time. His stick twitched in my direction. Despite its flimsy appearance, I flinched. Maybe it was the intensity in his glare, or the fact that he acted as if he held a loaded revolver, not a twig that I could snap with one hand, but I instinctively felt that I was in great peril. Potter reached across and pushed at his wrist, turning the point away from my face.
"It may be more a question of when the hell we are," Potter muttered, staring around.
"Leave him alone," Malfoy said to me. His tone was imperious, his accent cultured and precise.
"It isn't as if anyone can do anything else to him now, is it? He's dead."
"Oy! 'Ow long're you lot going to be blocking the bleedin' road, then? Some of us 'ere've got a living to make, you know!"
All three of us looked up at the burly costermonger who stood over us, hands on hips and chin jutting fiercely.
"Take his feet, we'd better move him to the side," Potter said and Malfoy bristled.
"A simple levi –"
"Just do it, all right? We're attracting too much attention as it is!"
I removed my hand from the poor fellow's neck, where my fingers had been pressed against the flutter of his jugular. It was clear that someone with a level head needed to take control of this outrageous situation.
"Handle him gently; we will need to fetch a stretcher."
"Don't be an idiot," Malfoy said. He did not look at me as he spoke, in the manner of one accustomed to addressing servants, and I suspected that he was neither a considerate nor popular master. Potter, however, turned in my direction, and his intense green eyes narrowed, then widened again behind his round spectacles.
"What?" he breathed as if he did not quite dare to believe my words.
"He's barely alive," I said. Malfoy whirled on Potter with his teeth bared.
"You said he was dead!" he snarled. The stick trembled visibly in his hand. "You lying bastard –"
"He was!" Potter responded in kind, "I watched him die on the floor of the Shack!"
"He was still alive and you left him there –"
"Gentlemen, enough!" I stood up and wiped my fingers on my handkerchief. "He won't be alive for much longer if you keep this up. I say, my good man, if you would loan us your horse-blanket, we can improvise a stretcher and carry this poor fellow out of the road."
A cabby with a black moustache and the lad from the butcher's shop assisted us to carry the lax body to the pavement so that the traffic could get moving again. The onlookers, cheated of their entertainment, soon began to disperse.
"I'm sorry about all that," young Potter said to me. He ran his fingers back through the untidy mop of his hair. "This is all – well, just a mess. I don't know exactly what happened."
"How did you get here?" I asked. "Did you arrive in a hansom?" Potter and Malfoy exchanged a glance. My first assumption, that they had been knocked down while crossing the road, had been supplanted by the thought that the man had been injured falling from a moving carriage. Now it was clear that he had been hurt even before he arrived in Baker Street. I bent over him. "This looks like a bite," I whispered and neither youth replied, which only confirmed my suspicion. "What was it? A dog would have ripped out his trachea; even a giant cat would have crushed the throat rather than tear the flesh in this way."
"It's a long story."
"We need to get him to a healer," Malfoy said tersely.
"I apologise, I failed to introduce myself. Dr John H. Watson at your service. "
"I'm Harry Potter, that's Draco Malfoy and this is Professor Severus Snape."
"Professor? I assumed that he was a priest or monk."
Malfoy gave a faint snort of derision.
"I'll take him to Saint Mungo's, Potter."
Potter frowned, shaking his head.
"Dr – Watson? Where are we and what's the date?"
Their lunacy must have been contagious for I found myself responding to Potter's question.
"Baker Street, London, and it is Wednesday the 11th of December, 1895."
"Oh shit," Potter whispered, "I was afraid of that."
"Saint Mungo's is still –"
"We don't know if there is a Saint Mungo's here, or even a Hogwarts. Let's get Snape somewhere safe and then discuss our options."
It pained Malfoy to go along with this suggestion, but he gave a very reluctant nod.
"I live further along the street," I said, "You are welcome to bring him to our rooms until a better alternative presents itself." I confess that I was greatly intrigued by these two eccentric young men and their sick professor. Little did I realise then that my invitation was to precipitate the most bizarre adventure in Sherlock Holmes' long and illustrious career.
While I cleaned, stitched and dressed the wound in Professor Snape's neck, his young companions continued to squabble.
"I'm going to Saint Mungo's first, I'll bring back a Healer if I can, or at the very least, some healing potions."
"How are you going to pay?" Potter enquired, pitching his voice low. It was clear that Malfoy, at least, did not care what I overheard.
"Galleons, Potter, what did you expect, fairy gold?"
"And how much legal tender have you got?"
"What're you talking about? I've five galleons here –"
"If it's minted in the twen – in our century, you'll be arrested for trying to pass counterfeited money." He lowered his voice further. I may have been mistaken, but I thought that I caught the word 'goblins'.
There was silence for a minute.
"I'll be back shortly. Don't go anywhere."
"Malfoy! Don't be a berk – oh shit."
Malfoy strode out of the room. A moment afterwards, the house reverberated to a report as sharp as a gunshot. I leaped up but Potter held out a hand in a placating gesture.
"I'm sorry, he's an idiot. He hasn't done any damage, honestly. Oh, this is such a mess." He shook his head. "You said your name's Dr Watson; you don't live with a friend, do you?"
"Of course," I said, returning to my patient and my bandages. "You may have heard of him; Mr Sherlock Holmes."
"The famous detective?" Potter said in an oddly hollow tone, as if he was on the verge of laughter or tears.
"I assure you, if you've done no wrong, you've no reason to fear Holmes."
"Dr Watson, you won't believe what I'm afraid of," Potter said, his voice shaking.
"You would be surprised what Holmes and I have seen and done." I sat back, satisfied that Snape's wound was as neatly stitched and dressed as any war wound I ever tended in Afghanistan, and turned my attention to the man's clothing. "Lend me a hand, Mr Potter; we need to get him out of these blood-soaked garments."
I saw Potter's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed, but he nodded and came to my side. Gently we stripped the man and dressed him in one of my night-shirts to preserve his modesty, leaving him upon the sofa wrapped in a blanket. He was pale and chilly; clearly he had lost so much blood that his life hung by a thread. I said as much to Potter as I stoked the fire.
"I hope Malfoy gets back soon," he said, more to himself than to me. I handed the clothing to Mrs Hudson, who clucked over the poor gentleman and promised to see what could be done to salvage his garments, and then brought us a pot of tea and plates of ham sandwiches. As Potter and I made a desultory meal, I was able to examine him covertly. He wore ill-fitting trousers of coarse blue fabric and a short-sleeved singlet, brightly coloured, of a textile that I could not identify. His loose jacket was also of a style and material that was unfamiliar to me, and I had never seen anything quite like his shoes.
"Tell me," I asked, as I offered him the mustard pot, "what is the purpose of the stick that you carry?" I indicated the slender length of wood, tucked in the waistband of his trousers. His hand paused momentarily as he dropped a dollop of mustard on his ham. Then he gave me an odd, quirky little smile.
"It's a wand." He said no more, but I sensed that he was waiting for me to respond and I obliged.
"Your friend handles his as if it was a weapon."
"He isn't any friend of mine," Potter said immediately. "We were enemies at school, but I suppose we're reluctant allies until we get ourselves out of the awful mess we've fallen in."
"I assume that the Professor was at the same institution?"
He nodded and sipped his tea.
"Yeah, he taught us."
"To use your – wand?"
"Not exactly, he was always against foolish wand-waving – his wand! Oh no!" He leaped to his feet. "Where are his robes? His wand must be – oh!"
I held up the length of wood, which I had removed from the pockets of the bloody clothing, along with a handkerchief and a surprisingly heavy leather pouch. Potter sank back into his seat with an expression of profound relief. "Oh, okay, thanks. May I have them?"
It was with some reluctance that I handed over the articles; I had hoped to examine them and perhaps find out a little more about my visitors. Potter carefully opened the pouch and then he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. It was the look that someone might cast when they were about to do something that they felt would merit disapproval. I turned away and busied myself with pouring another cup of tea, careful to ensure that I did not obscure his reflection in the polished silver sugar bowl: Holmes had taught me well. Potter drew out his wand, tapped it upon the pouch and whispered something under his breath.
It was all I could do to restrain my shock. In the distorting mirror of the silverware, the pouch appeared to expand, unfolding to the size of a lady's reticule in an instant. He peered inside, then removed a handful of tiny glass phials and began sorting through them in feverish haste. Before I could object, he rushed to his unconscious schoolmaster and carefully dripped the contents of one of the phials between his lips.
"Just wait a minute!" I strode to his side, not a little alarmed. "What do you think you are doing, young man?"
"He has a first-aid kit," Potter said, carefully pulling the cork from another phial. "He's got a healing draught here."
"There is no such thing!"
I reached to grasp the little glass jar but he evaded my hand.
"I'm afraid there is," he said, with surprising gentleness, "and this is a blood-replenishing potion, thank God."
I was about to protest more strenuously when there was a powerful crack from outside the door and Malfoy rushed in. His pale hair was mussed and he appeared wild-eyed and frightened.
"Potter, we're in bigger trouble – what're you doing?"
"He had a first-aid kit in his robe with healing draught and blood replenisher."
Rather than object, Malfoy nodded and said, "Careful he doesn't choke. Here, I'll hold his head up." Together, they drizzled a thick and unpleasant-smelling liquid into Snape's mouth, and then Malfoy stroked his throat, as well as he could for the bandages.
"Gentlemen," I said, "you will kindly cease this behaviour at once. There is little anyone can do for this man, he's dying and those foul-smelling brews will do nothing but hasten his end."
"That's where you're wrong." Malfoy spoke with an off-hand disdain that set my teeth on edge, and Potter glared at him.
"Shut up, Malfoy! Dr Watson, I'm sorry –"
"Stop apologising, he's a Muggle."
"He's helping us!"
"There isn't anything any Muggle can do to help us! Besides, we're in deep shit, there's a war going on here."
"What?" At these outlandish words, the blood seemed to drain from Potter's face. "Where have you been?"
Malfoy lowered his voice, but in a careless way that suggested his contempt for me was still quite profound.
"Saint Mungo's, or rather, the empty site where I thought it to be, then Malfoy Manor, where the elves tried to set the dogs on me. The Leaky Cauldron is where it always was but there were only a few squibs who scuttled away like frightened mice and refused to speak to me. The wall at the back showed spell-damage and Diagon Alley is locked down tighter than a house-elf's arse; I couldn't get in."
Potter was trying to hush him, glancing my way. Malfoy sneered. "We'll Obliviate him before we leave. How's Professor Snape doing?"
They both leaned over the helpless schoolmaster. I glanced his way and bit back a gasp. The face that had been deathly pale was still sallow, but there was a faint colour in the lips and cheeks and his black eyelashes fluttered even as I approached. He no longer looked like a man at death's door, but one who was merely sick and exhausted.
"He needs to rest," Potter muttered. "We shouldn't move him yet, even if we knew where to go."
"He'll know," Malfoy said with satisfaction and settled down to doze in my armchair.
I sat at the table with a notebook and pencil, writing down everything I had seen and heard, in a manner that I hoped would reveal to Holmes that my powers of observation are acute and my brain alert, if even if they can never achieve the standard set by the master.
As soon as I heard Holmes' step on the stair, I hurried out to intercept him and directed him up to my bedroom, where he sat upon the bed and listened to my account of our visitors. I expected him to ask if I had raided his store of morphine or cocaine. He did eye me somewhat askance, and I doubt that my distracted manner reassured him. He snatched up my notebook and perused it before handing it back.
"Well, well, how very curious. Do you know that some of your words waken a feeling of unease in me, which is profoundly disturbing?" He stroked his chin. "Did you note the colour of any soil upon the soles of their boots?"
"No, I confess that I did not."
"A pity; I should have liked to know which direction they came from, since you insist that they had not arrived by carriage. Was this 'wand' that you speak of sharpened to a point or did the tip appear to be sticky? Dear me, Watson, your understandable concern for your patient has rendered you remiss in your duties as my assistant! Never mind; all can be redeemed even at this late stage. Let us go down and you may introduce me to our mysterious guests."
"Holmes." I placed a hand upon his sleeve and he paused, gazing curiously at me. "Holmes, there is something uncanny about those two young men. I do not entirely trust them."
Holmes rubbed his palms together, as eager as a famished man sitting down to a laden table.
"My dear Watson, we have encountered many a rogue in our years together."
"I don't think that they are felons. This is something else."
"I shall take note of your concerns, old friend. Your instincts are generally good even if your powers of observation are sometimes a little lacking. Come along."
He led the way down the stairs, but as he approached the doorway to our sitting room, he halted, staring down at the floor.
"What is it?" I went to his side. I could see nothing but two tiny splinters and a little mud that may have fallen from the kindling when the maid came in to light the fires.
"Curious," he murmured, then flung open the door and I followed him into the room.
Malfoy lounged in an armchair, idly twirling his wand between his fingers, while Potter sat beside the patient upon the sofa.
"This is my friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes," I said. Potter immediately got to his feet and held out a hand.
"Harry Potter, sir. Pleased to meet you." His companion stood up tardily and muttered "Draco Malfoy." Such evidence of ill manners did not sit well with his aristocratic air.
"How may we aid you, gentlemen?" Holmes enquired. Malfoy simply stared at him in a slightly vacant fashion, but Potter, after a sharp glance at him, which did not go unnoticed by either of us, stepped forward.
"We're already very grateful to Dr Watson for his help and we'll be out of your way as soon as Professor Snape's well enough to be moved."
"He hasn't yet regained consciousness; I cannot permit you to leave."
"Of course not," Holmes agreed with alacrity. "Watson, I believe that Mrs Hudson's spare room is still empty since her sister's visit. I'm sure that she would be willing to rent it to your new friends for the short time necessary."
"I shall enquire at once."
"That would be great," Potter said and Malfoy unbent enough to give a quick nod. Holmes went to help himself from the teapot keeping warm beside the fire.
Part 2: The Watcher in the Garden
Mrs Hudson was happy to grant the use of her empty room and I left her lighting the fire and making up beds for the injured man and his companions.
I paused at the top of the stairs. A tall window looked out upon the paved yard below, where our maid was on her way in with a bucket of coal. Next door's cook stood on the other side of the fence, her breath cloudy on the still, chilly air as she tossed scraps into the chicken coop. The two spoke briefly, while beyond them, a dark figure watched from the shadow of the washhouse. I was puzzled, for surely the servants should have noticed the stranger in Mrs Hudson's back garden. It seemed not, and as they returned to their duties, the watcher looked up at the house and I instinctively drew back behind the curtain. I saw only a pale face and a long black garment, like a woman's overcoat, and a white hand that tucked a slender piece of wood into a sleeve.
Holmes had settled himself at the dining table with the newspaper when I returned.
"Does anyone know why this house should be under surveillance?" I enquired, bringing out my pipe and tobacco pouch. Holmes grunted and put down the paper.
"I have two suggestions; one being that scoundrel Howells is up to his old tricks and the other, that whoever caused Professor Snape such inconvenience is still upon his trail."
Potter shook his head emphatically.
"That's impossible, he's dead."
"Ah. Then the fact that our observer also carries a wand is mere coincidence?" I asked.
Grey eyes and green met across the room.
Potter snapped, "You were followed back here!"
"That isn't possible –"
"With a tracking charm, it damn well is!"
"How the hell should I know? You were the one who said there's a war going on!"
"It has the same feeling as – you know."
Holmes sat with his sharp face jutting forwards, like a leashed hound, quivering with eager anticipation.
The two antagonists noted his interest; Malfoy displayed his customary disdain but Potter flushed.
"You'll be delighted to see the back of us, I'll bet," Potter said, "You must think we're mad."
"You appear sane enough to me," Holmes remarked. "Watson, is that a furtive step upon the stair?"
We both recognised the faint creak of the loose floorboard on the landing. With no more than a nod, Holmes snatched up the poker and we took up positions one on either side of the door. A second later, it burst open to admit a figure in whirling black robes who pointed a wand at the two young men and exclaimed "Petrificus Totalus!"
Potter and Malfoy, caught in the act of drawing their wands, froze as if turned to stone, only their wildly rolling eyes betraying their alarm. The intruder began to turn towards Holmes as my friend brought the poker down with a satisfying crack on the wrist that held the wand. The slim spill of wood spun across the floor but our success was short-lived. With a cry of "Accio wand!" and a triumphant snarl, our assailant was once again armed, this time with the other hand, and facing my friend.
"I've had enough of your damned interference, Sherlock Holmes! Avada – "
The expression of dawning horror in Potter's eyes was enough to pull me from my shock. I raised my hand and shot the man in the back with my old service revolver.
"I shot him at point-blank range," I said, placing my gun upon the sideboard. "Where the blazes did he go?"
The scratchy rasp of a voice was unfamiliar. I turned to find myself appraised by a pair of shrewd dark eyes. Pale and shaky, Professor Snape had nevertheless raised himself up on one elbow upon the sofa. I hurried to his side.
"My dear sir, pray lie down! You are in no condition to move anywhere." He allowed me to prop him against a pillow. Holmes meanwhile had approached the two young men, who were lying like toppled statues in the positions in which they had been caught by the eerie enchantment.
"Not dead, yet trapped like flies in amber. What were the words? 'Petrificus Totalus'?"
"Please," whispered Snape, "a wand?"
I went to Potter and with a murmured apology, extracted the Professor's wand from the young man's trouser pocket. I returned to the sofa. Snape had eyes for nothing but the length of wood in my hand; he snatched it from my grasp and the next moment, the tip was pointing at my forehead. It wavered slightly as Holmes spoke.
"Professor Snape, a loaded revolver is aimed at your head. If you harm Watson, I shall fire it without compunction. Let us see if you can fend off a lead bullet with that wand of yours."
What a bizarre tableau we must have formed. Snape's trembling became more evident until he dropped his hand, sighed and then turned the wand upon Potter and Malfoy. "Finite Incantatem." The words were barely audible, but their effect profound. The two young men scrambled to their feet.
"Snape!" cried Potter, while Malfoy exclaimed "Professor!" and both flung themselves to their knees beside the sofa.
"Thank Merlin you're alive," Malfoy said.
"Yeah, I can't believe it. I was so sure you were dead; if for one moment I'd realised that you were still alive, I'd have asked Hermione to use her dittany and done everything we could to help you. We won, you know! Thanks to you, he's gone."
"Although the gods only know what Potter has done now, since we seem to have been thrown back in time?"
"Oy, I didn't do anything! You were the one who made a grab for Snape's – Professor Snape's body, I just tried to stop you –"
"Oh yes, using which spell, Potter?"
"Shut up, you were casting one yourself –"
Snape held up one hand and into the ensuing silence, he gasped
"Where is the pocket watch?"
Potter looked blank and Malfoy frowned.
"Was it a pocket watch? You were holding something small and metallic in one hand, I thought Potter was going for it and that's why I tried to stop him."
"Dr Watson gave me your wand, first aid kit and handkerchief." Potter looked at me and I shook my head.
"There was no watch."
"It must still be in the shack, Professor, where you dropped it."
Snape closed his eyes.
"Where are we?"
"London, 1895, in the rooms of a certain Dr Watson and Mr Sherlock Holmes."
Snape's eyes flew open again and he mouthed the word "What?"
"I know," Potter said, placing a hand for a moment on his shoulder. Snape glared until he removed it. Malfoy merely looked puzzled.
"Is that a Muggle thing?"
"What is a 'Muggle'?" I asked. Malfoy sniffed and looked away.
"I infer that we are 'Muggles', Watson." Holmes thrust his hands into his pockets, although I noted the bulge of my revolver in his jacket. Holmes was taking no chances. "I've long thought that I caught hints of another world underlying the one we know, underneath even that murky layer of cutthroats and thieves that lies beneath the innocent face of our city. Now I have proof and I find myself exhilarated, vindicated and yet never more concerned." He looked down at the professor. "Tell me, is it possible to erase or alter a memory in a human mind?"
"It's a spell called 'Obliviate'," Potter said. Holmes turned to him.
"I pride myself upon the fastidious arrangement of my own memories, that I keep the little attic of my brain in precise order. Now a man, whom I believed to be dead, walks and breathes and is able to manipulate the very stuff of reality. Can you explain this?"
"I can try, although you'd get a better explanation from Professor Snape."
"As Professor Snape's physician, I cannot allow it until he has rested."
Snape raised a languid hand in protest but he could barely keep his eyes open.
"Come," I said, "Mrs Hudson has made you up a bed and she is preparing some beef broth for your supper. Gentlemen, we will need to assist the professor up the stairs."
As we helped the sick man to his feet, I noted that Malfoy slid his wand into his hand and whispered under his breath. Between them, Potter and Malfoy lifted him as if he weighed no more than thistledown and conveyed him to his bed. Mrs Hudson soon arrived with a cup of broth, which Snape swallowed with some difficulty, then he curled up beneath the eiderdown and soon fell into a deep sleep. I followed the young men down to my sitting room, where Holmes awaited us with every sign of impatience.
"Oh yes, I recognised him," said Holmes, holding a lighted taper to his pipe, "even though I believed him to be dead by my own hand."
"It was Moriarty, then?" I whispered and he nodded. Potter sat forward in his seat.
"Well he's a powerful wizard; he used a wandless 'Accio' to call his own wand. What do you know about him?"
"He is a terrifying criminal," I said, "and a master of subterfuge and obfuscation."
"So he's in both the wizarding and Muggle worlds," Malfoy mused. "You said that he died?"
"I watched him tumble over the Reichenbach Fall near Meiringen in Switzerland. He struck the rocks and was swept downstream."
"So he might have Apparated away from the river, or else he tampered with your memory of the event."
"Whatever the case may be, he convinced me of his death," said Holmes. "Hah! There is a brief span of time following his apparent death, during which I can recall nothing. Now I understand that even as I faked my demise, he was busy simulating his own. Having spent years completely hidden beneath my notice, why should he suddenly reveal himself, unless because of your sudden appearance?" He cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at our young guests. "What do you know of him?"
"The name rings a bell," Malfoy muttered. "History of magic, Potter?"
"Don't ask me, I slept through most of Binns' classes. I've heard Moriarty's name, but only associated with Mr Holmes." Potter blushed and stared down at his feet in their curious shoes.
"Is it not time you told us the truth?" Holmes' voice was quiet but there was steel beneath its gentlemanly tones. Malfoy scowled and Potter flushed an even brighter pink.
"Look, we haven't lied to you."
"You have been, shall we say, sparing with the truth? You are risking not only your own lives, and that of the sick man upstairs, but those of myself and Watson and anyone else unfortunate enough to become embroiled in this affair." Holmes sprang up and paced across the hearthrug. He pointed at Malfoy with the mouthpiece of his pipe. "You, young man, regard folk with lesser abilities than your own – 'Muggles' I believe? – to be wholly inferior. I hope that Watson and I have disabused you of this notion to some degree, since you would now be dead or captured had Watson not shot Moriarty as he attempted to kill us."
Malfoy looked uncomfortable at this assessment, although he rallied swiftly.
"I doubt if any Muggle weapon could so much as touch a wizard."
"He was shot," Holmes stated. "There are spots of his blood on the carpet near the doorway, and I caught him a crack across the wrist with the poker that must have inconvenienced him for a while, but we must be alert, surely he'll come back. If he has only a flesh wound and if he has access to cures such as those you used on your professor, he may return very soon."
"We can sort that." Potter got to his feet, with a look of adamant determination that made me wonder if he had already faced more hardships and setbacks in his short life than many. "Malfoy, I can set wards but I've never had to protect anything as large as this house before. Do you know anything about warding a large building?"
Malfoy narrowed his eyes for a moment then stood up.
"I've helped my parents to update the wards on the Manor."
"Camouflaged wards as well? We want to attract as little attention as we can."
"Yes, Potter, camouflaged wards. Let's get it over with."
Both young men drew their wands and strode out of the door. Holmes and I exchanged looks of mingled concern and exasperation.
"Dear me, Holmes," I said, "Maybe those two should be given boxing gloves and put in a ring together to sort themselves out."
Holmes shook his head.
"I suspect that they have already fought too many times for that to put an end to their rivalry. Let us hope that facing a common enemy allows them to achieve a truce, if not friendship."
"I wouldn't have thought of it," Potter said as they came back into the room, pink-cheeked from the cold. "Turning a Muggle-repelling charm inside out and attaching it to the wards so it allows Muggles in and out but hides us from wizards! Did you invent it yourself, Malfoy?"
"Slytherins do occasionally invent things that aren't entirely Dark."
He sounded grumpy, as if resenting the compliment, or perhaps his own reaction to it.
Potter shrugged and went to warm his hands at the fire.
"What have you done?" I asked. Malfoy looked as wary as ever but Potter seemed to be an open-hearted young man, for all his evident experience of peril, and he replied willingly.
"We've made it so that Muggles – non-magical people, that is – can come and go as usual, but anyone with magical abilities will find it hard to enter the house, and we'll know if they try." He took out his wand and twitched it, and a faint, musical chime sounded in the room, as if someone had gently tapped the edge of a bell with a fingernail. "If you hear that, it means someone apart from Snape, Malfoy or me has tried to enter carrying a magical object and has been repelled."
"Moriarty was able to do 'magic' when his wand was on the floor," Holmes pointed out. "Could he get in without it?"
"A wizard or witch without a wand is either very careless or very desperate; even a very powerful wizard like Moriarty. Any magical objects in his possession would trigger the wards."
"So," Holmes took up his pipe to resume his interrupted smoke, "you were going to tell us what really happened to you. You have travelled a long way, have you not? I find myself wondering how long you took on your journey."
"One hundred and three years, seven months and a couple of days."
Even Holmes appeared shaken, although his recovery was swifter than mine.
"This 'magic' of yours was able to carry you across time?"
"From Scotland, I judge?"
"What? Well, yes –"
"From a war zone, in your world, to another in ours? What did your history books have to say about this nineteenth century war? Surely your wizard's world has records of its own?"
"You'd heard of me and Holmes," I said and Potter appeared embarrassed.
"In the world I came from, your names were famous in the Muggle world. Snape and I had both heard of you because –"
"Snape doesn't have anything to do with the Muggle world," Malfoy muttered and Potter let out a sharp breath.
"Of course he does, you twit."
Malfoy went red in the face, as if he had been mortally insulted.
"He's a great wizard, not some Mudblood trash –"
"Malfoy," said Potter, and his voice was quiet, steady and clear, yet something thrummed in the room, a vibration just below the level of hearing, "Snape is a half-blood, his father was a Muggle."
Malfoy's hands clenched and unclenched at his sides.
"Why should I? My mother was Muggle-born, my best female friend is Muggle-born and I'm not ashamed of either, they were very clever witches. Snape and Tom Riddle were both half-blood."
"Tom who?" Yet there was something about Malfoy's eyes that suggested that he knew the name, and that he was trying to deny knowledge of something that hurt him deeply.
"Tom Riddle, Lord Voldemort."
Malfoy flinched visibly.
"No," Malfoy whispered, "he isn't born yet." He crossed his arms over his chest and clutched at his shoulders, as if icy cold. "Dear gods, we could find his parents. We could stop it all."
"Malfoy! Draco, no. We can't just wade in and try to change time, or at least, not without knowing what the hell's going on first."
Malfoy sat down in the chair nearest the fireplace, hugging himself. Potter sighed and looked at Holmes. "You were both famous – will be famous, but not as real people. You see, in our world, you were both characters in stories written by a man named Arthur Conan Doyle. My aunt used to like detective films; she watched all the Sherlock Holmes classics."
"Mortdelavie was a wizard," Malfoy said in a monotone, "he was the Dark Lord of the last decades of the nineteenth century. Binns taught us about him. He took over the Muggle criminal underworld and the wizarding world and almost destroyed wizarding culture in the process."
"Why do we know nothing of this?" I demanded.
"International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, 1692," Malfoy said bleakly, while Potter snorted.
"Would you have believed us if we'd just turned up and told you?"
"Look," Malfoy said, "I'm going to bed. I'm tired, I've got a splitting headache and we need to have this discussion when Professor Snape's awake otherwise we'll just end up repeating ourselves."
The truth of this was undeniable; we all had a great deal to think about.
Passing by Mrs Hudson's spare room on my way to bed, I saw that the door was slightly open and I wondered if I should check upon my patient.
"How are you feeling, Professor?" Malfoy's voice was quiet, filled with concern.
I glanced in, and saw Malfoy raise his wand, twisting it as he whispered an incantation. "There, that should last a few hours. Wake me if you need the charm renewing. God, these Muggles live in primitive conditions, don't they? It's so icy in here."
Snape ran his fingers across the dressings on his neck.
"What is troubling you, Draco?"
"Potter said that you're a half-blood."
Snape's pale hand paused, then continued its exploration of the bandages.
"And so was the Dark Lord."
There was a longer pause.
"If he says so. Where is Potter?"
"Gone to the bathroom. Do you need anything else?"
"We only have your first-aid kit and we already gave you the healing potion and the blood replenishing potion. I'll see what I can get for you tomorrow. Is the venom affecting you?"
"You need one? I can try to find –"
"I took one." Snape coughed painfully on the words and Malfoy winced.
"I didn't mean to force you to talk. Wake me if you need me, Professor." He carefully pulled the counterpane up around Snape's chin and I continued on my way.
Part 3: A Wizard Goes Shopping
By the time I had risen, Mrs Hudson had brought up a tray with a dish of bread softened in warm milk. Snape pulled a sour face but began spooning up the gruel.
"You must allow your throat to heal internally," I explained. "Your oesophagus was damaged."
"Tea and toast would be preferable." His voice sounded a little less hoarse today.
"I'll try to get some eggs for you," Mrs Hudson said as she waved in the girl with a bucket of coal. "Coddled eggs would be gentle on your poor throat, and steamed fish with the bones removed. Do be careful, Lizzie, be sure to sweep up the dust when you've finished with the fire. The rest of you gentlemen have kippers for breakfast today."
I thanked her, checked the dressings on Snape's neck and followed our landlady down to the sitting room, where Holmes awaited us.
"Now," said Mrs Hudson, placing the coffee pot on the table, "some business matters need attending to, I'm afraid. If I'm to go shopping today to feed all your extra mouths, I'll need the rent for your room."
Potter looked at Malfoy, who frowned, dug into his pocket and held out a coin. Mrs Hudson took it with a puzzled air.
"But this is foreign."
"Yes," Potter said hurriedly, "it's solid gold. Please take it to a jeweller –"
"No," Holmes interrupted, pulling out his wallet. "Keep your money for now, Mr Malfoy. Take this, Mrs Hudson, and we'll settle up among ourselves." He waited until the good lady had returned to her below-stairs abode before turning to Malfoy. "We have already attracted too much attention; at least let us try to avoid notice from the police. You are likely to be accused of passing counterfeit money. What is that coin?"
"A galleon; wizarding currency."
"Do you have nothing that would arouse less suspicion?"
Potter shook his head.
"I didn't expect to need money and I've nothing to sell. What about you?"
Draco Malfoy folded his arms.
"Nothing I'm prepared to part with, Potter, apart from the money. That'll have to do."
"Oh for – Malfoy! I'll pay you back when we get back home, okay? With interest! I'm not going to let Snape die – again – just because you're too tight-fisted to pay for food and potions and a bed for him." His scowl faded. "Can we transfigure the galleons into sovereigns or something?"
"No, the goblins charm wizarding currency to protect it from replication or transfiguration, otherwise everyone would turn their knuts into galleons, wouldn't they? Didn't you learn anything at school?"
"Very funny; you know damn well how much they don't teach us about wizarding culture at Hogwarts. What do you suggest we do, then? Or do Malfoys expect other people to settle all their debts?"
With an air of great dignity, Malfoy reached into his pocket and took out a gold signet ring with a carved green stone.
"This was my great-grandfather's, my father gave it to me on my last birthday. I hope that you appreciate this, Potter."
"It's for Snape," Potter responded quietly.
"I shall take you to a reputable jeweller," I said, "As I mean to visit the chemist today."
"I need to buy potions ingredients," Malfoy said to Potter. "I can brew a healing potion and blood replenishing draught."
"Give me a list," Potter said at once, "I'll go with Dr Watson."
"Oh yes? And you expect me to stay here, do you, and let you wander off –"
Holmes looked up from helping himself to a kipper and spoke with cool restraint.
"Gentlemen, or should I say, boys, can you not put aside this schoolyard rivalry even for a single hour? One of you needs to remain to protect the household from occult attack by Moriarty and his henchmen and I must admit that despite his outlandish clothes, Mr Potter's manner is less inclined to attract attention than is yours, Mr Malfoy."
Malfoy flushed but did not reply, while Potter very nearly succeeded in suppressing a grin. We sat down to breakfast in a silence that was polite, if not exactly companionable.
"A herbalist would do to start with," Potter said, pocketing the coins from the sale of Malfoy's ring.
"Might I first suggest the second-hand and pawn shops, where you can buy rather less conspicuous clothing for yourself and your friends?"
Potter agreed, so we spent an hour in perusal of tweed jackets, greatcoats and scarves, before sending an errand boy home with a bundle of clothing and we set off for the chemist's shop. My business was soon concluded and my purchases of bandages and liniments directed to Baker Street.
The first herbalist's shop we encountered was unpromising; a quack's emporium of old-wives' cures. Potter sniffed at a jar of some dried vegetation and shook his head.
"Finest saxifrage!" the shop-keeper exclaimed in a spray of spittle. My companion gave a shudder.
"Yeah, right. If I used that, my Professor would skin me alive. It's full of dust and looks as if it's been here for the last five years. Come on, Doctor, we won't find anything useful here."
"I believe that I have passed a herbalist on my way to the library," I mused, "although I have never been inside. It's a poky little shop, hardly big enough to supply many of your needs."
"Let's give it a go."
The shop was indeed tiny, but clean and well-organised. Potter brought out his list and began reeling off his requirements.
"Madder, ribwort, elecampane, carnelian – no, chamomile... um, porcupine... hang on...."
A tiny old woman came out from behind the counter and grasped his elbow, peering up into his face.
"What did you say, dear?"
"Madder, ribwort, elecampane and chamomile."
"Yes, yes, but what do you want them for?"
"A friend was bitten by a snake."
"Venomous? A viper?"
"Yes, but it wasn't a British snake. The wound isn't healing."
"When was your friend bitten?"
"There's a certain stone..."
"A bezoar, I know."
She licked her lips.
"I may be able to help you." She turned towards the back of the shop and Potter shook his arm, allowing his wand to slide down his sleeve into his hand at his side. She reached up and swiftly brought down a succession of jars.
"Porcupine quills, ground carnelian, madder, ribwort, elecampane and chamomile. I have murtlap essence and dittany as well."
"Brilliant," Potter breathed. "Do you sell cauldrons?"
She shook her head and backed away.
"Oh no, no, nothing like that, young master, only such things as can only be used in healing."
"That's fine, honestly. I didn't expect to get all this outside of Diagon Alley."
"Oh you don't want to go there, sir! There's only trouble to be found in that place now, you just keep away from there."
Swiftly she began weighing and packaging Potter's supplies.
"There now, that's fifteen shillings and seven pence ha'penny."
I suppressed my surprise at the price, but Potter paid up without blinking and as we walked to the doorway, he pointed his wand at her and whispered "Obliviate", then tucked the wand away again. He caught me watching and winced.
"I think she's a Squib and who knows who she might have told."
"Someone born to a magical family but without any magical powers."
"So you just wiped out her memory of our visit?"
"Yes. I hate doing things like that."
We emerged onto the bustling thoroughfare in a thoughtful frame of mind.
"A snake," I remarked and he glanced at me from beneath his untidy hair. "You have certainly had some adventures, Mr Potter."
He nodded, and I noticed that even now, he was watching the loiterers across the road, his green gaze darting about like that of a wary creature on the lookout for predators.
"Dr Watson, we're being followed."
"They may have tracked us from Baker Street," I suggested.
"The charms that Malfoy cast should have prevented them from noticing us leave; I reckon they were watching the herb shop for witches and wizards. Damn, they might even have noticed me cast the memory charm." He sighed. "I should know better than that, I've been careless again."
"You're very young to need to live under such a wartime mentality," I remarked, and he snorted.
"Yeah, story of my life. Let's go down here and shake them off."
"This is a dead-end, unless you intend scrambling over walls."
We hurried into the gloom of a narrow alley, rank with the odours of boiled cabbages and lye soap. Potter took his wand in one hand and reached out to seize me by the arm, pulling me close.
"Hold on," he said, and turned us both on the spot.
I felt as though I had been seized in a giant hand, squeezed and twisted and wrenched apart, before being thrown out again. I flailed and found myself tripping over the fire-irons in our sitting room in Baker Street.
"Sorry about that," Potter said, holding out a hand to assist me to my feet, "I'm not very experienced at side-along."
I stumbled to an armchair, my heart pounding. I realised that this was real; this was magic. Everything that had happened since I had met the three wizards, I had rationalised in some part of my mind as mesmerism or a previously unexplored effect of electricity, or sleight-of-hand, the smoke and mirrors of a stage entertainer raised to the highest level. Now I had experienced it myself and that raw, savage dislocation was nothing like I had expected.
"My dear fellow, you look perfectly white," Holmes said with concern. He himself seemed a little shaken, having seen us appear without warning upon the hearthrug. "Shall I fetch you a brandy?"
"Tea will be perfectly fine." I looked around. "Where is Mr Malfoy?"
"Upstairs, he tells me that he is preparing to 'brew'."
In the bedroom, Snape languished upon pillows, looking wan but indubitably alive. On the next bed, Malfoy had placed a plank of wood, above which floated a large, round brass pot suspended in mid-air. Beneath it, small violet flames flickered, yet the wood had not charred at all. There was a faint scent of something clean and sharp, wintergreen or pennyroyal.
"I've got dittany and murtlap as well as your shopping list," Potter remarked. "How'd you get the stuff for this?"
"Magic, Potter." Malfoy glanced at Snape, who was scowling at him. The young wizard sighed and said in a slightly less snide tone, "I transfigured the cauldron from the coal scuttle and I stuck my head out of the window and Accio-ed some basic herbs to start the base. Surprising what people grow in their back gardens and keep in their kitchens around here."
"The wizarding and Muggle worlds don't seem as far apart here as we're used to," Potter said, unwrapping his purchases and spreading the packets out on the bed. "The herb shop sold Muggle and magical ingredients; it was run by a Squib."
I watched, fascinated, as Malfoy turned a silver table knife into a sharp slicing implement with a flick of his wand and began slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping the esoteric mix of herbs. Potter rolled up his sleeves and without instruction, began to assist. I sat upon the third bed and watched.
"Are your levels of ability normal in wizards? I assume that Moriarty – Mortdelavie as you named him – is very powerful?"
"As Dark Lords go, he was almost in the same league as Grindelwald or the Dark – yes, Potter, all right, Voldemort, as far as I recall from history of magic." Malfoy tipped a spoonful of minced something into the cauldron and watched as it belched orange steam, shot through with tiny red sparks. "Add a pinch of ginger, Potter."
"I have done this before," Potter grumbled. Snape gave a little huff.
"Are you able to withstand him?" I asked.
Potter and Malfoy exchanged a glance that I could not interpret but Snape surprised me by answering in his painful rasp of a voice.
"We've little choice."
Potter nodded, Malfoy sighed without taking his attention from the pot, which now smelled of an eclectic mixture of fried fish and furniture polish.
"We'd better take him down, then," Potter said.
"Well we had. We need to get back home and we can't do that with him popping up and trying to kill us, can we? Bugger, I think this needs pepper. Accio pepper-pot."
"Seven grains only," croaked Snape.
"Yes, sir. The madder root looks pretty old, should I increase the amount?"
"Decrease the size of the dice by a third and increase the amount by a tenth." Snape subsided into a fit of coughing and flapped a hand irritably when Potter attempted to pat his back. "You would not have lifted a finger to aid me in the past, Potter," he rasped, with the petulance of the independent man who suddenly finds himself an invalid.
"I know, sir, and now I know better, all right? You were trying to help me from the start. I'm sorry, and I know why you could never risk being nice to me, but an awful lot of your hatred was genuine."
"You did ask for it, Potter," Malfoy said smugly.
"Oh yeah, of course you were a paragon of virtue just like your father."
When Malfoy looked up, his eyes resembled chips of grey ice.
"At least I have one, don't I?"
I saw Snape's pale, thin hand curl around the handle of his wand that lay beside him. Potter stared at Malfoy as if really looking at him for the first time.
"Oh grow up," Potter said with disgust. "Your dad is an arrogant bastard who chose the losing side and my dad was a bullying git who chose the winning side. Leave it at that, shall we?"
"Two points to Gryffindor," croaked Snape.
"Don't push your luck." Snape indicated the cauldron, which was boiling merrily, and Malfoy hurriedly pointed his wand at the flames, causing them to die down to a faint glow.
"You're not helping with all the house rivalry crap, Professor."
Snape stared at Potter, who stared straight back for a long moment. Then, in a gesture that held an underlying significance that escaped me, Snape inclined his head.
Downstairs, I found Holmes immersed in research, surrounded by papers, notebooks and a wreath of tobacco smoke. He waved me away when I offered to assist, so I picked up the daily paper and hid behind it while I attempted to put my own thoughts in order.
A meal of split pea and ham soup followed by steak and kidney pudding did much to lift my mood, as did the appearance after dinner of Professor Snape, weak but upright. He had removed the bandages from his throat and I was astounded to see faint silver scars where the wounds had been.
"Murtlap," Potter said, seeing the direction of my gaze. "Wonderful stuff. I reckon nothing magical would have worked without your stitching the wounds, though, Doctor." Snape hitched up his collar and scowled. Mrs Hudson had not yet been able to return his robes, so he wore clothing that Potter had purchased: a dark suit with shirt and tie. The suit fitted him as if it had been tailored for him. I recalled that Potter had bought clothing regardless of size and fit, and wondered if this was evidence of the everyday, domestic use of his magic.
"Right, nothing to do with my healing and blood-replenishing potions, I suppose," Malfoy muttered and Potter gave him a look that was both exasperated and amused.
"Not everything's about you, you know."
"Gentlemen," said Holmes, "we have much to discuss. I have found Moriarty." His statement gave rise to cries of surprise and I was gratified to see the familiar gleam in my friend's eye.
"How? He must have Muggle-repelling wards a mile thick around him!" Potter exclaimed.
"I am sure that he has, however, he has hidden himself too well," Holmes said. He offered the brandy decanter; Potter and Snape declined, Malfoy and I accepted a snifter. "I have spent the day searching for his absence, for trails that unaccountably disappear, for plans seemingly laid by others that bear the stamp of his twisted genius, in short, for a vacuum, and I have found it." He tossed down a map of southern England and pointed with the stem of his pipe. "We shall find him here."
"In Wiltshire?" Malfoy asked with his habitual sneer.
"Anything magical going on there is likely to be because of my family."
Holmes’ lips curved a little.
"I have found faint evidence of them too, Mr Malfoy, however, assuming that your own attitude towards 'Muggles' is typical of that of your ancestors, I have been able to discount them. They live in a vacuum as far as the rest of the county is concerned, having no contact with anyone except their own kind. Moriarty has no such scruples; he is a receiver of information and treasure from any source; things of value vanish into the rapacious maw of his desires, and they vanish around here." The pipe stem traced a circle, centred upon the edge of the Cotswolds that extended into Wiltshire. "Your family may be shielding him."
Snape stroked his lower lip with a finger.
"Is Moriarty really our problem?" he asked. His voice was deep and although still a little hoarse, held promise of appeal in both tone and diction.
"He is certainly mine," Holmes said. "While getting home again, is yours, is it not? How do you intend to do that?"
"We don't even know how we got here –" Potter began but Snape held up a hand and the young man fell silent.
"We were brought here by the power of an artefact in my possession; however it appears that the artefact remained behind at the end of the twentieth century."
"Your watch?" Malfoy enquired.
"It was not my watch. I had been asked to find it by the Dark Lord, he did not know that I had succeeded when I became ... surplus to his requirements."
"What was the watch, Professor?"
"The sister's pocket-watch."
Potter looked blank while Malfoy guffawed.
"That's a fairy-tale for little kids..." He looked at Snape and his words trailed off. "Isn't it?"
"You are the pure-blood, Draco; you know these stories better than anyone. Tell Potter about the sister's watch."
"The three brothers – do you know that one, Potter?" Potter nodded, and I thought that he looked pale. "The three brothers met Death from whom they gained the three Hallows: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Invisibility Cloak. What they didn't know was that their little sister had followed them and she bartered with Death. She asked for time, to try to save her brothers from their own foolishness, and Death gave to her a pocket-watch that allowed her to step into different times. However, it didn't do her any good because she must have got lost and confused and although she reappeared in the year after her meeting with Death, she came back as an ancient woman and she died of old age."
"Oh shit," Potter muttered. "Bloody sodding fuck. Sorry," he belatedly added as Holmes frowned at his vulgarity. "All I can say is, thank Merlin Voldie never got his scaly paws on that."
"Indeed. However, I had been prepared to take the risk, in the hope that he too would over-reach himself. As for the Hallows themselves...?"
"I used the Elder Wand but then I put it back in Dumbledore's tomb. I threw the Stone into the forest and unfortunately, I didn't have the Cloak with me when I went to get your body from the Shack." He grinned at Malfoy. "You never knew, but you were the master of the Elder Wand because you disarmed Dumbledore. He meant for Sna – Professor Snape to be its master but you beat him to it, then when I defeated you at Malfoy Manor, it came to me."
Malfoy gaped in astonishment, which was not an aspect of his character that I expected to see.
"You mean they're real?"
"Yup. Which means that so's Death's pocket-watch."
"We need to find it in this time-line, don't we?" Malfoy turned to Holmes, who reached for the tobacco.
"If you wish to return home, that appears to be the case."
"So you intend to assist us," Snape said, "in return for our aid in defeating Moriarty."
"You have experience in dealing with evil wizards."
"Only one and he was enough," Potter sighed.
I leaned to place another scoop of coal upon the fire.
"Well, gentlemen, where do we begin?"
Part 4: The Pocket-Watch of Death
"The Cloak came down to my father, because he was descended from the Peverells," Potter said. "The Stone was set in a ring which passed to Marvolo Gaunt, who was Tom Riddle's grandfather. Tom stole the ring from him, turned it into a Horcrux and Dumbledore got it from the ruins of the Gaunt house. Dumbledore also had the Wand, he won it from Grindelwald."
Snape nodded. Holmes and I looked at one another and I shrugged.
"None of which helps in the slightest if we want to find the watch," Malfoy said petulantly. Potter ignored him.
"The three brothers were Antioch, Cadmus & Ignotus Peverell. Antioch died almost immediately after obtaining the Wand, Cadmus appears to have either fathered a child or at least, handed on the Stone before dying, and the Cloak came to me from Ignotus' line. What do you know about the sister, Professor Snape?"
Snape turned his dark gaze onto the young man.
"She was named Zylphia and as Draco explained, she did not live long in her own time after gaining the watch. It passed to the youngest of her brothers."
Potter sat up straight.
"My ancestor, right? It didn't stay with the Cloak, though, did it?"
"No. Like the other Hallows, it disappeared from record. I retrieved it from an ancient wizard named Artorius Sparks, who was a dealer in old jewellery, clocks and watches."
"By 'retrieved' I assume you mean... ah, ok."
"How 'ancient' was this gentleman?" I enquired. "Would we be able to find his parents or grandparents today?"
"We'd probably be able to find him," Snape said, "He is a close contemporary of Albus Dumbledore, who was born in 1881. I believe that Sparks is the elder, so he is a teenager today."
"God," muttered Potter, "so's Albus." He gave a little shiver.
Snape shook his head, then winced and touched his neck. "We should not attempt to contact anyone who might meet us in the future."
"I know, Dumbledore said we mustn't be seen when we used Professor McGonagall's Time-Turner in our third year, we'd have messed up time like anything."
Snape closed his eyes, took a deep breath and muttered, "I don't want to know."
"A Time-Turner!" Malfoy exclaimed but Snape again shook his head.
"Would move us by a month or two at most and are very carefully controlled by the Ministry of Magic."
"So we need the pocket-watch, then." Potter squared his shoulders. "We need to find this Sparks bloke. Where was he when you found him, Professor?"
"He owned a shop in Knockturn Alley."
"He might not be there now, though, surely? Wouldn't he be at Hogwarts?"
"You might be right, Malfoy," Potter said with just enough feigned surprise to make the fair-haired wizard scowl.
Holmes looked up from his place at the dining table, where he was surrounded, as usual, by newspapers, charts and books.
"Our list of requirements stands thus: firstly, to find those of your kind who are prepared to accept our help to stand against Moriarty, or Mortdelavie as you name him; secondly, to find Moriarty himself and his minions and deal with them in an appropriate manner; thirdly to find this Sparks fellow or whosoever intends to give or sell Sparks the pocket watch, and retrieve said watch; then finally, to discover how you might return to your own world."
"And do it under the nose of Mortdelavie, who's already pretty miffed," Potter said.
"Some of us have experience of not drawing attention to ourselves, Potter."
Potter narrowed his eyes.
"I never asked to be the bloody Chosen One, did I? It was you who kept banging on about it, sir."
"While you and your little friends did everything within your power to break rules, discard advice and totally ignore direct orders, putting the lives of others on the line –"
"You're forgetting one thing, Headmaster," Potter snapped, his hand hovering over the handle of his wand, "we were kids! Don't tell me I should have been able to outsmart Dumbledore at the age of eleven, when he manipulated you into doing exactly what he wanted when you were an adult! It was Dumbledore who gave me Dad's Invisibility Cloak, who let McGonagall give Hermione a Time-Turner, who forced you to kill him and set me up to die! Stop taking your bloody resentment out on me, will you? Just because you loved my mum and loathed my dad, there's no need to – mmpf!"
Snape had drawn his wand and with a single flick of the tip, caused the antimacassar on the chair to slither around Potter's face, effectively gagging him.
"Silence, you wretched brat! Until you learn to control your mouth and your emotions, you will never –"
Potter turned his wand on the wayward furnishing, blasting the linen to a cloud of fibres as he surged to his feet. Instead of shouting back, however, he stared into Snape's startled black eyes and spoke in a level voice.
"Stop deliberately winding me up, it isn't getting us anywhere."
It seemed to me that neither man was prepared to apologise or back down. Snape was quivering with suppressed fury, refusing to do the bidding of the stripling whom he had taught, while Potter simply stood with his feet planted firmly on the hearthrug, his wand in his hand.
It was Malfoy who delicately cleared his throat and asked, "Can anyone remember how and when Mortdelavie was defeated? Because I have a nasty feeling that he didn't die at all."
Holmes diplomatically sent for a supper of tea and crumpets, the latter occupied Potter with a toasting fork and the tea had its usual effect of cheering the English psyche without inebriation. Malfoy took the hot crumpets from Potter, buttered them and passed them around.
"You are correct, Draco," Snape said over the clink of tea-spoons. "Mortdelavie simply vanished. His organisation fell apart without him at the helm and his lieutenants were killed or captured. As far as I can recall, everyone assumed that one of his people with a grudge assassinated him and Banished the body."
Malfoy handed him a crumpet and he began demolishing it in small, skilful bites.
"Maybe we did polish him off and we dropped him in a bog," Potter muttered. "Or should I say we will get rid of him. This messing with time is doing my head in; I thought the Time-Turner was bad enough. I don't know how Hermione managed it."
"That girl is an inveterate over-achiever."
"Perhaps, sir, but I couldn't have done it without her."
"What exactly did you do, Mr Potter?" I enquired. This was enough encouragement for the two young wizards to regale us for the rest of the evening with tales of monsters and heroes, mystery and magic, such I had never heard before in my life.
After breakfast, Malfoy declared that if he had to spend another day within doors, he would run mad. Holmes had already gone out early upon a mission, which, in true Holmes' fashion, he kept to himself. Professor Snape had not yet risen so I found myself the mediator in a heated discussion between the two younger men. Malfoy insisted that he needed to replenish his stock of potions ingredients from the herbalist's shop; Potter was equally adamant that he should not go alone.
"We will go out only if you can refrain from drawing attention to yourself," I informed Malfoy. I was becoming accustomed to his glower but the idea of getting out of the house had its appeal.
"I can Apparate there and back in minutes."
"Not if you don't know where it is, you twit! We'll all go, we'll dress and act as Muggles and disappear into the crowds. We could do with a brisk walk after being cooped up together."
Potter brought out the clothes he had purchased. When he and Malfoy had taken their pick of the worsted trousers, tweed jackets and overcoats, and magically adjusted them to fit, we slipped out of the back door and made our way quietly onto the swarming pavements of London Town.
Malfoy kept to his word, striding along with his hands in his pockets and head high, looking for all the world like an undergraduate on holiday.
"How much had it changed, Potter?"
"What?" Potter asked. He had one hand close to the handle of his wand and his green eyes were restless.
"London. The crowds, the smells, the shops. Had they changed very much from this, when you knew them?"
Potter pulled a wry face.
"Just a bit. Surely even you noticed the difference between a London run by horse power and one filled with petrol and diesel-driven vehicles?"
"I didn't go into Mug – ordinary London."
"Neither did I till I got my Hogwarts letter."
We paused to cross a busy thoroughfare, dodging the traffic. A short, plump woman with a heavy basket over one arm collided with Malfoy, knocking him aside. I heard the breath hiss between his teeth and his wand slid down his sleeve into his hand. I seized his wrist as the matron gasped an apology and bustled away. A street urchin darted past with a cry of "Good morning, Dr Watson!" and a cheeky grin.
"I think she was distracting you," Potter murmured, coming so close that his shoulder brushed against Malfoy's.
"The boy recognised me and so refrained from picking our pockets, I suspect that he may be one of Holmes' informants," I said.
"I damn near hexed the pair of them," Malfoy said darkly. "Blasted Muggles..."
"Temper temper, we're supposed to be blending in. Come on."
Today, the shop was tended by a much younger woman, who was more interested in catching the eye of the baker's apprentice across the road than in serving us. When I asked after the proprietor, she shrugged.
"Me Granny's got the lumbago something 'orrible. Did you say you want lovage?"
"Right," she said, tipping out dried herbs from a jar clearly labelled 'lovage' into the pan of the scales.
Once we had our purchases sorted, weighed, wrapped and paid for, we strolled back in the direction of Baker Street. A cold East wind was blowing with sleet in its teeth and even Malfoy's enthusiasm for our constitutional was waning rapidly. We were cutting through the maze of smaller streets between Edgware Road and Gloucester Place on our way home when we heard the sound of running feet and my name was called in a high, urgent voice.
"Dr Watson!" I turned as Potter and Malfoy both reached for their wands. The same street urchin, his face pink with exertion, came hurrying to my side. "Dr Watson, Mr 'Olmes says to tell you that 'e's found what you was lookin' for!"
Potter and Malfoy traded glances.
"Which particular thing was this?" I asked.
"'Ow the 'ell do I know? All 'e says was, 'e found it and 'e says you're to come quick, an' them an' all." He waved at my companions. "Suit yerselves, then." He shrugged, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "I ain't got all bleedin' day."
"Pockets to pick?" Malfoy drawled.
"Listen to the ruddy toff! 'Pockets to pick' 'e says, like as if e's ever had to do a day's work." The wretch pretended to duck as if Malfoy had taken a swing at him. "You comin' or not?"
"Is this a trap?" Potter breathed, as we started off in pursuit of our guide.
"It may be, except that Holmes has used the lad to run errands before now and it is his style, to give away as little as he can."
"We could use Legilimency on him," Malfoy suggested with an expression that suggested that he would rather cast a plague of boils.
"Mind magic, like reading thoughts. It would tell us if he's trying to double-cross us. Hold on a minute," Potter called, breaking into a trot to catch up with the lad. "What's your name?"
"We want a quick word with you."
Young Henry raised a grubby eyebrow.
"Oh yeah? Worth much to yer, is it?"
"Might be," Potter agreed.
"Awl right, mate." Henry slouched against the doorway of a large house. "Go on, then."
As Potter faced him, I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of one eye. Even as I turned, I saw a stout arm wrap around Malfoy's neck from behind. I opened my mouth to shout a warning and something thick and damp clamped over my face, with an unforgettable sharp-sweet reek, and I knew no more.
Part 5: Kidnapped
I became aware of nausea and a thundering headache, and tried to remember if I had overindulged in the port, until the recollection of shadowy assailants brought me to my senses. I was lying in the dark, upon a cold, hard surface. As I attempted to sit up, I discovered that my hands were securely tied behind my back and my ankles bound.
"Dr Watson?" The voice was young and it trembled so much that I had difficulty recognising it.
"Mr Malfoy? Are you hurt?"
"Apart from feeling like I've been kicked in the head by a hippogriff, I don't think so. They must have used a stunning spell."
"Merely chloroform. Is Potter there?"
"Yeah, I'm here. Did they get your wand, Malfoy?"
I heard a soft grunt and the brush of cloth against the floor.
"It isn't in my sleeve so they must have it. Yours?"
"Yeah. I was on the lookout for wizards and we were overpowered by Muggles. How stupid can you get? We knew Mortdelavie operates in the Muggle world; that damn kid led us straight into a trap."
"God," Malfoy muttered, "I wish I had an anti-nausea potion. I feel vile."
"An unfortunate side effect of anaesthesia by chloroform," I informed him. "Try not to think about – oh."
The smell and sound of emesis were sufficient to bring about the same result in Potter. I was powerless to assist them, battling my own queasiness and on the alert for the arrival of our captors. I shuffled away from the two youths, discovering that we had been cast upon the damp stone-flagged floor of a small room. A faint outline of grey indicated where a high window was boarded up or shuttered against the daylight.
One of the young wizards coughed and spat onto the floor.
"Oh shut your face, we're all in the same boat here."
"Be grateful that we were not gagged," I said. "You would have had to either swallow or allow the vomit to escape through your nostrils to avoid suffocation."
"Eurgh! That's disgusting."
"Gentlemen, we could be in deep trouble, for I suspect that we are awaiting the arrival of Moriarty himself. Tell me, is a wand essential in order to perform your magic?"
"Yes," Malfoy replied at once.
"Not always," Potter said with more hesitancy. "I did accidental magic before I came to Hogwarts, but it was totally out of control."
"Of course you had to be special, didn't you?"
"Mr Malfoy, is this really the time to air childish resentments?"
There was a pause, and then Malfoy muttered "Sorry," just loudly enough to be heard.
"I've managed to work minor spells through my wand when I wasn't touching it, but I was quite close to it at the time," Potter mused.
"What would happen if you believed that it was close, but it wasn't?"
"No idea, I've never tried. No time like the present, I suppose. Lumos! Wingardium Leviosa! Nope, not a thing."
"You weren't really focussing."
"Right, Malfoy, you try it then if you're so –"
"You were saying it as if the wand was still there to do the focussing for you. That's what a wand does; it acts as a focus, like a lens, and directs and amplifies your inherent magical power."
"So what do you reckon we should do, then?"
"Find something else to act as a focus."
"Something magical, I suppose. Have you anything magical with you?"
"No, I was only carrying my wand. You're the one who goes around with galleons and signet rings and magical paraphernalia. I didn't even have my pocket-watch with me, I was only expecting to bring Snape's body back, not go traipsing across a century."
"They took my money –"
We could hear rapidly approaching boot heels striking on stone. A key rattled in the lock and the door was thrown open. Sullen lamplight outlined the figures of three men, and then one of them lifted a lantern. My heart, already beating fast, speeded up as I saw the ruffianly aspect of our captors, their slovenly dress and gloating expressions. Any thoughts of appealing to their better natures vanished as they swaggered into the room.
"Afternoon, gents! Enjoying your stay in our salooo-brious accomy-dation, are we? Nuffink to say for yerself?" The largest of the kidnappers aimed a casual kick at Malfoy, who wriggled out of his path. The thug sneered, seemingly inured to the venomous expression in Malfoy's grey eyes.
"Filthy little bugger," remarked his companion, having accidently stepped in one of the pools of vomit. "Ought to make 'im clear it up."
"Wiv 'is tongue, right?"
The third man, the one holding the light, stared down at Potter.
"Oo are you? We knows all abaht 'im –" indicating me with his free hand, "but oo're you?" When Potter did not immediately respond, the largest man drew back a foot and kicked him, hard, in one knee. Potter grunted in pain and gasped out "Cedric Diggory."
"Diggory. And oo're you, fancy boy?"
Malfoy did not give him time to lash out.
The big man sniffed and wiped his sleeve across his nose.
"Reckon they're lying?"
With the casual arrogance of the habitual bully, he reached down, picked up Potter by the collar and punched him in the ribs. The smaller thug placed the lantern on the window ledge and rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
"Bastard!" Malfoy snarled through his teeth and I suppressed a groan. They wanted us to react, to attempt to fight them and give them all the more reason to beat us.
"Did we hurt yer likkle sweetheart, then? Oh dearie, dearie me; whatever shall we do?"
Potter was thrown aside and all three turned to surround Malfoy, their crooked, rotted teeth exposed as they leered. As the first boot landed and the young man curled up in an attempt to protect his vulnerable abdomen, the lamp flared up and a ceiling beam fell into two pieces with a mighty crack and crashed to the floor, narrowly missing Malfoy and pinning the big man by the foot. He screamed in rage as his companions scrambled to the doorway.
"Come back 'ere you stupid buggers! Ow, get it orf me!"
"Not bleedin' likely!"
With a bellow, the man heaved the beam aside and lurched to his feet, groaning and staggering after the others.
"You'll wish you were never born when the top man gets 'ere! Ee'll flay the skin of yer bones an' I'll larf as 'ee does it!"
The door slammed and we stared at each other in the flickering lantern light.
"Nice one, Potter," Malfoy said eventually. "I suspect that means they've gone to fetch Mortdelavie."
"That was going to happen anyway."
"I see what you mean about the accidental magic; we're lucky the entire ceiling didn't cave in."
"I said it was out of control."
"It impressed those three fools; do you think you can hold off wizards?" I asked.
"No, they'll have wands; I can't fight them without my wand." Potter slumped down on the floor and let out a long breath. "You hurt, Malfoy?"
"The same. They've done something to my knee; I hope we don't have to run for it."
"Chance would be a fine – can you hear anything?"
This time, the footsteps were light and quick, and the lock clicked gently. We turned towards the doorway and subconsciously moved closer together, then stared in disbelief.
Two women, one short and plump, the other old, stooped and gaunt, stared down at us. I recognised the matron who had collided with Malfoy earlier in the day; she even carried the same basket over one arm. The crone also had an air of familiarity about her although I could not immediately place her; her face was almost hidden in the shadows of her old-fashioned bonnet.
"Oh my word," the plump woman said. "Are you all right, my dears?"
"We would be very grateful if you could remove the ropes binding our hands and feet, Madam," I said.
"Swiftly, swiftly," cried her friend, in a cracked, quavering voice.
"Of course, lovey. Just a tick." With that, the lady brought out her hand from beneath her shawl, raised a wand and waved it with a whisper of "Relashio!". The ropes dissolved away from my wrists and ankles and I clambered to my feet and went to assist Potter, who rubbed his knee and grimaced when he tried to stand.
"I don't know who you are, Madam, but we're grateful to you."
"They're coming!" croaked the crone, staring back out of the doorway.
"We need our wands."
"I hope you'll have them back shortly. Now hurry!"
We followed the two women out into a low basement, and up a creaking wooden stairway, Potter leaning heavily on my arm. We emerged through a doorway into a gloomy space that smelled like a riverside warehouse, to be met by indistinct figures pointing their wands at us.
Our homely saviour cast aside her basket and brandished her wand with a cry of "Expelliarmus!"
There followed a few moments of terrifying and frantic activity. Fire flared from the tips of wands all around us, causing the old lady, Potter, Malfoy and myself to dive for cover behind a stack of barrels. The aged woman groped in her petticoats and to my amazement, brought out a revolver and took aim. Her very first shot hit home, bringing down one of the wizards clutching his shoulder.
"She can't take them on alone," Potter said, as the plump little witch was beaten back. She cast a filmy shield between herself and our enemies, against which the multicoloured spell-fire rebounded, but it was clear even to me that she was weakening rapidly. They were too many for her, and after our first success, it appeared that the wizards were able to repel bullets, although the old woman's aim was excellent and she kept at least three of the wizards pinned down and unable to bring the full force of their spells to bear upon our unlikely saviour.
Favouring his injured leg, Potter ducked out of our hiding place to scramble to the side of our champion. He said something to her, reached up and clasped both hands over hers, upon the handle of her wand. The tremulous mist of her shield spell immediately brightened and expanded, into a glowing hemisphere against which the fiery spells splashed harmlessly.
"A focus, of course," Malfoy said, turning towards the old woman. "You don't have a wand as well, I suppose?"
In the shadow of her bonnet, I glimpsed a hooked nose and bright, deep-set eyes, and she spoke in a voice that I knew well.
"Unfortunately, Mr Malfoy, I am but a Muggle."
"Holmes!" I gasped.
My friend took aim and loosed off another shot, causing an inattentive wizard to jerk back with an exclamation of annoyance.
"I pray that our friends can do more than merely hold them off, they have us pinned like fish in a barrel here. Can you assist them, Mr Malfoy?"
"Not without a wand."
"Mrs Prewett's wand must suffice, then."
Holmes nodded towards the witch and Malfoy, after a second of hesitation, went to join her, placing his hand upon Potter's and adding his power to the shield, which again strengthened perceptibly.
"Well, Watson, you led us a pretty dance, I feared we would not reach you in time." Holmes squinted along the barrel of the revolver then lowered it again, loath to waste the ammunition upon wizards who seemed protected against the bullets, at least while they were concentrating upon us.
"The lad, Henry, betrayed us."
"Not deliberately. Mrs Prewett informed me that he is a Squib; he has no magical ability and was unable to withstand magical commands from a wizard. Moriarty makes use of a mix of Muggles, Squibs and wizards, which is his strength. Henry was commanded to lead you to Moriarty's gang of cut-throats and he was unable to disobey."
"They took us completely by surprise and used chloroform to subdue us."
"Ah, I suspected as much. It appears even wizards are susceptible to such chemical weapons."
"They're almost helpless without their wands."
"I hope that the question of the wands – good God!"
With a crack and a blaze of curse-light, another wizard exploded into the cavernous room. A slender figure clad in black, he cast spells faster than the eye could see and the others fell back before the ferocity of his attack. I saw a man flung aside with his torso torn open, another screamed and clutched his bleeding face. In the momentary hiatus created by his arrival, he flung two slivers of wood past the edge of Mrs Prewett's shield spell. Holmes scooped them up and leaped forwards.
"Your wands, gentlemen!"
Potter and Malfoy seized the wands and immediately ran to stand beside their Professor; indeed, for it was Snape who held a dozen fighting wizards at bay, Snape whose magic had saved us, Snape who now swayed pale and shaking at the limit of his strength.
"Apparate," he gasped, "Mortdelavie's coming. Take Holmes and Watson home, hurry up!"
Malfoy reached out, seized Holmes' arm and spun on the spot, disappearing with a sharp report.
"Mrs Prewett, join us in Baker Street; Potter, take Watson and go!"
The homely little witch turned and vanished, her shield disappearing with her. Snape threw a couple of wild bolts of fire at random and Potter grabbed my wrist. As Potter raised his wand, we saw Snape sink to one knee, eerie multicoloured light coruscating around him.
"Snape!" I cried and I felt Potter brace himself against me.
As if an invisible hand dragged him, Snape hurtled towards us and I automatically grasped him as he collapsed against my shoulder. Potter seized us both and I felt that wrenching sense of dislocation, the warehouse vanished and we were once more in our familiar rooms in Baker Street.
Hardly had I eased the pale and trembling Professor onto the sofa and reached for the brandy, when there was a soft but penetrating sound, like a bell. Potter and Malfoy faced the door, shoulder to shoulder, their wands at the ready, only to lower them as Mrs Prewett hurried in.
"Oh what a day!" she exclaimed, patting herself upon her ample bosom. "It's quite all right, my dears, 'tis only me. Are any of you hurt?"
"Professor Snape is exhausted," I said, holding a glass of brandy to his lips. "That's it, my dear fellow; a couple of sips will help. Mr Potter's knee is injured; I will bind it in a moment."
"No need for that," the lady said, brandishing her wand. "Which one is it, young man? The left? Roll up your trouser, that's the way and hold still..." She whispered a series of sentences in Latin, too fast for me to catch, and Potter grinned and gave his leg an experimental shake.
"That's terrific! Much better, thanks very much."
"Malfoy was kicked in the ribs."
Malfoy untucked his shirt and pulled it up to expose a big contusion. I hurried over to watch as she healed the young man's side, tracing the tip of her wand over the damaged flesh and murmuring words under her breath.
"My profession might soon become extinct, if there are many around like you, Madam," I remarked.
"I doubt it, Doctor. Ah, Mr Holmes, you're back with us!"
Holmes emerged from his room, having discarded the bonnet and skirts, shawl and warts of his disguise.
"We haven't been introduced," Malfoy said. "Madam, Draco Malfoy at your service."
"Delighted, I'm sure. Malfoy, you say?" She narrowed her eyes at him. "One of the Wiltshire Malfoys?"
"He isn't a Dark wizard," Potter assured her quickly. "Sorry, I'm Harry Potter and that's Professor Severus Snape, whom you already seem to have met."
"Mrs Jenny Prewett. Most of the Malfoys are all cheek by jowl with Mortdelavie as far as I'm aware. The Potters are a fine family but I know of no Snapes..."
"You won't. He's a Prince on his mother's side. Look, this is very complicated, but we've been out of the country for a long time, we don't really know what's going on."
"Well, I take people as I find them, and I certainly found you on the wrong side of Mortdelavie, didn't I? If it hadn't been for your friend Mr Holmes, you would be dead."
"I'm surprised that Holmes and I have lived as long as we have," I remarked.
"He preferred to leave you both where he could keep a wary eye upon you. Mr Holmes was a most credible witness to his death; why should anyone doubt the word of Sherlock Holmes? The Muggle authorities are convinced that their 'Moriarty' is dead and gone. Besides, killing Mr Holmes would attract too much Muggle attention as well as gain him other powerful enemies; we're wary of Mr Mycroft Holmes and there are a few wizards and witches who are in your debt, Mr Holmes: they would seek to avenge your death. Not all of your clients have been Muggles."
"Hah! Why does that not surprise me?" Holmes frowned, and I knew that his formidable intellect was focussed upon the past, assessing his clientele in light of this new information.
"Mrs Prewett," Potter said thoughtfully, "how did you get in? Malfoy and I put wards around the house."
"Wards? I thought you just had warning charms. I felt hardly any resistance at all."
Malfoy weaved a series of swift passes with his wand and swore softly.
"They've been dismantled while we were out; we're sitting ducks."
For a frozen moment, we stared at one another, then there came the gentle sound of chiming bells.
Before anyone else could speak, Potter snapped out a command.
"Malfoy, summon the potions for Snape. Watson, Holmes, anything you need to take with you?"
"My medical bag and my revolver and bullets."
"Accio Watson's gun and ammo, Accio Watson's bag!" Potter held up his hand and my revolver slapped into his palm. My black bag flew across the room and he thrust everything into my arms. Holmes tucked his own weapon in his pocket and pulled on his overcoat, as Malfoy called for phials of his medicines for the Professor.
"Go," Potter snapped. "Mrs Prewett, leave now!"
"You need to hide," that feisty lady said. "I can help you."
The front door slammed open downstairs and Potter nodded.
"Fine. Apparate to Kings Cross station, we'll meet you there. Can you side-along?"
"Of course, dear."
"You take Mr Holmes. Malfoy, take Snape, I'll bring the doctor. Go!"
I caught a glimpse of Moriarty's snarling visage as Potter magicked me away from my comfortable home, into the bustle and noise and smoke of the great railway terminus.
Part 6: Flight to the Underground
"Why here?" I enquired as we picked our way past piles of luggage.
"Only place I could think of that we'd all know. London changed so much by our time. These little steam locos are amazing... ah, there's Mr Holmes." Potter indicated my friend, whose height made him stand out amid the family groups who huddled together against the wintry chill. Mrs Prewett beamed up at us as we approached.
"I think I saw your friends over by the station buffet. A nice hot cuppa would go down a treat with me, that's for certain."
We found Professor Snape leaning upon Malfoy's shoulder, while the latter sifted through the little bottles in his pockets.
"Here you are, sir, here's the strengthening potion. Good job I made a double batch."
Snape gulped back the viscous fluid and I thought for a moment that I saw wisps of steam floating up from his ears. Potter was staring around, fascinated by the great snorting monsters of the steam locomotives.
"There now, all set? I was just thinking how much I would welcome a nice cup of tea –"
"Mrs Prewett," Holmes said quietly, "it is my belief that Moriarty may have heard Potter's instruction to come here."
Her mouth made a little round shape of alarm.
"Oh my. Yes, then we'd better hurry, hadn't we? Oh dear." She frowned. "If I could only get a message to Agrippina, I'm sure she would know what to do, but an owl would take too long."
"Can't you send a Patronus?" Potter asked. The little witch blinked up at him.
"I could try, dear, but that's a pretty tricky spell, you know, not easy to cast under pressure."
Snape caught her by the elbow and we all followed them into a quiet corner behind a stack of trunks awaiting the attention of the porters.
"I'll send one. What's her name and what's the message?"
"Agrippina Calloway. Tell her that Jenny Prewett says the death of life is on my heels at Kings Cross Station and I've brought friends who're unable to Apparate."
Professor Snape raised his wand, his face a mask of concentration. A great burst of silvery light flowed from the end of his wand, coalescing into the shape of a deer, which stood in silence, bowing its head as he spoke quietly into its ear. Then it bounded into the air and vanished.
"Well, you're a caution and no mistake, producing a true corporeal Patronus under pressure, taking on a great army of wizards single handed –"
"What is your friend likely to do?" Holmes asked, cutting through her paean of praise.
"She'll know, Mr Holmes, never you fear!"
"Yes, yes," snapped Holmes, "but we need to know what we should do next! Will she appear in our midst?"
"Oh, I see. No, I expect she'll have a look around first, see how the land lies. We'd best stay here out of sight."
I leaned against the wall. The effects of the chloroform still lingered and my head-ache was fierce. Someone nudged me and I looked around at Malfoy, who held three phials of potion in his hand.
"It's all right," Potter told me, accepting one of the little bottles. "It tastes foul but it works, believe me. He's good at potions and it's not in his interest to poison us."
Malfoy gave him an incredulous look as I downed the evil-tasting brew. I was assailed by a wave of giddiness, then the world settled back into its place, this time without the head-ache and lethargy; in fact I felt better than I had in weeks, even losing the residual tightness in my chest from my bout of bronchitis. Malfoy waved away my warm thanks but he coloured slightly.
"You can brew potions too?" Mrs Prewett said eagerly, "all of you?"
"Malfoy's very good," Potter told her, looking at Snape. The Professor returned his stare with a sardonic tilt to one black eyebrow. "But Professor Snape's a potions genius."
"My, my! And what about you, young Mr Potter? What do you do best?"
Potter opened his mouth but it was Snape who spoke first.
"Potter lives to irritate me."
To my surprise, Potter merely shrugged.
"Just glad you're still here to be irritated, sir."
A boy of some twelve years of age, muffled in a coat that was rather too large for him, dashed past our hiding place, skidded to a halt and returned to stare up at us out of brilliant blue eyes.
"Blimey, there you are! Started to fink they'd got yer. 'Ello Mr 'Olmes." He had all the cheeky alertness of one of Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars.
"Good afternoon, Cuthbert," Holmes replied. The lad gaped at him,
"'Ow did you know?"
"Bert," laughed Mrs Prewett, "This is Mr Sherlock Holmes you're talking to!"
"But 'ee's a Muggle and 'ee recognised me through Mrs Calloway's glamour!" Holmes merely smiled enigmatically. Young Cuthbert turned to Mrs Prewett. "Mrs Calloway says the 'ole station's surrounded and they're putting up anti-wotsit wards. She can't git in so you'll 'ave to git aht. She says she'll meet you at the deep underground."
"Anti-Apparation wards?" Snape asked.
"Are you able to make this Apparation to or from something moving, such as a train?" Holmes enquired. Snape spun to face him.
"From a speeding train is relatively easy, onto one is another matter. If we are all under Disillusionment charms, we can leave the station by train, then once outside their wards, we will be able to Apparate."
Snape raised his wand and tapped me upon the head. I felt a trickle of something cold spilling down over my entire head and body. I saw Holmes' eye widen, then the Professor turned and did the same to him.
Where my friend had been standing, now appeared a plump, vague-looking fellow in a vicar's black cassock and cloak.
"Cor, you're as good as Mrs Calloway!" exclaimed the young rascal.
"I've had a lot of practise," Snape said dryly, turning his wand upon himself. The vicar now acquired a curate. Once Malfoy, Potter and Mrs Prewett were transformed (we took on the appearance of a group of travelling clergymen, one accompanied by his wife and son) we hurried onto the next train awaiting departure.
"How did you recognise young Cuthbert?" I enquired of Holmes as we settled ourselves into a compartment. It was strange to hear Holmes' clipped, incisive tones issuing from the bland face of the clergyman.
"Everyone wears out their boots in a slightly different fashion. Knowing what I know now about the abilities of our magical brethren, and hearing a voice that I recognised, I glanced down and noted the pattern of wear upon young Bert's boots. He appears to straddle both worlds, I assume that Henry does likewise."
"'Enry Kirby, the Squib?" Bert asked. "Yeah, him and me work together sometimes, 'specially when we're running errands for you. Mrs C likes to know what you get up to, Mr 'Olmes!"
"Who is this lady?" I asked.
"The leader of the resistance against Moriarty," Mrs Prewett said. "That devil, he killed her husband when he tried to stand up against him a year back. He left her alive; to carry a warning to the wizarding world that he wasn't to be trifled with, not imagining that he'd made an enemy as ruthless as any Boadicea!"
I asked Holmes how he had found us when we were captive in the warehouse.
"I was out and about in the disguise that you saw. Although 221b was under surveillance, those watching had clearly had orders to concentrate upon certain people and an unappealing old woman collecting the laundry was beneath their notice. I was on the way to meet my young informants when something very strange occurred; a silvery deer, like the ghost of a doe, appeared and spoke to me in Professor Snape's voice, informing me that you, Watson, plus the two younger wizards, were missing. Clearly it was the 'Patronus' that Professor Snape later demonstrated so ably. I took a few moments to send a message to the Irregulars, telling them to seek you out, before hurrying home."
"I got the message," Bert interrupted. "And I passed it on to the uvver boys and Mrs Prewett."
"You bumped into me," Malfoy remarked.
"I did; I wanted to confirm what I suspected, that you were one of the missing wizards. I saw the end of your wand in your sleeve. When young Henry went off again, I didn't think any more of it, not realising that he had been sent to lead you three into a trap."
"I found 'im in a state, 'e was all 'ot and bovvered and Confunded but 'e couldn't tell me anyfink so I found Mrs P and she went off again as soon as I told her."
"I could have kicked myself," the matronly witch sighed. "I should have followed you myself. I thought two wizards would be reasonably safe out in the town."
Snape snorted softly and folded his arms.
"Trouble magnets, the pair of them."
"That's it really. I rushed over to Baker Street, told Mr Holmes and Professor Snape what I suspected had happened, waited until the lads brought word of where you were and then we came to get you. I must say, I haven't seen anything like it; Professor Snape fought for you like a tiger."
Snape inclined his head politely at her words. Malfoy smirked at his teacher, while Potter said, "Yeah, he always does."
As the train picked up speed, Mrs Prewett pointed out a small public park and we agreed to meet there in a few minutes. She seized Cuthbert by the arm, turned on the spot and they vanished, to be swiftly followed by Snape with Holmes, Malfoy alone and lastly, myself in the capable hands of young Mr Potter.
Potter and I both struggled to keep our footing, going instantaneously from a fast-moving train to a static gravel path. He had placed us in the shadow of a large plane tree, but even so, I was surprised that the passers-by appeared oblivious to our arrival. He grinned at me and nodded to the other side of the park, where our companions were emerging into a side street.
"That went well," Malfoy remarked. "With luck, they'll be searching Kings Cross for a while before they cotton on."
"All the more reason for us to hurry," Professor Snape snapped. Mrs Prewett nodded.
"Yes, yes, we need to go to the Elephant and Castle."
"No, Mr Potter, the underground railway station."
"Is that the deep underground where we're to meet your friend?"
"It is one of the ways in. Our headquarters are very heavily protected!"
"Like Gringotts," Cuthbert said happily, trotting alongside our guide as she set off at a brisk pace.
"Well I broke into Gringotts, so let's hope it's even better."
"An' you got aht again? Bleedin' 'ell – ow! Me ear!"
"You mind your language, young man."
"Yes, Mrs P. Sorry."
She led us through streets I had never seen before, and I pride myself upon my knowledge of our capital. At the station, there was a brief pause when we discovered that we did not have the required two pence each for the turnstiles. Malfoy simply twitched his wand in the direction of the turnstiles and muttered "Accio fourteen pennies" and handed out the coins that appeared in his hand.
We boarded the small, claustrophobic carriage in the next train towards Kennington, sitting together on the bench seat opposite a gaggle of schoolgirls with their stern mistress. Mrs Prewett whispered quietly then said in a conversational voice "There, I've put up a silencing charm. We'll need a big disillusionment charm to stop them noticing us when we Apparate out – thank you, Professor Snape. Now, get ready. As soon as we've left the station, everyone wait for my signal and Apparate ten yards to your left, facing forwards."
"Apparate blind?" Malfoy gasped," Through the wall of the tunnel?"
"Yes, the only way through the anti-Apparation wards is from this direction. Ready?" She seized Cuthbert's hand, I felt Potter's fingers fold around my wrist and Snape grasped Holmes' shoulder, then, seeing Malfoy's stricken expression, Snape reached out with his free hand and pulled the younger man to his side. On Mrs Prewett's nod, we popped out of existence and whirled through the void, emerging in complete darkness and the distinctive earthy scent of a space underground.
"Lumos," Mrs Prewett's voice echoed and her wand ignited with a steady blue-white glow, illuminating our faces and little else, making the darkness seem bigger, if that were possible. "All here? No-one splinched? Good, come along then, off we go."
"Good idea," Potter muttered beside me. "Anyone who tried to follow without the exact instructions would end up encased in solid rock."
"Or good London clay," Holmes corrected him. "Although I suspect that the end result would be the same: death by suffocation."
We walked along a broad, brick-lined tunnel for some hundreds of yards, and then twisted to the left and right before Mrs Prewett directed us down a flight of steps, coming to a halt before a small doorway, guarded by the statue of a hideous gargoyle. I heard Holmes give a faint gasp of surprise and I realised that the gargoyle was watching us out of sentient yellow eyes.
"My word," I whispered, "whatever next?"
In a voice like the grating together of stones, the gargoyle demanded
"What is the password?"
"I don't know," Mrs Prewett replied without apparent anxiety.
"What is the password?"
"I have no idea."
"What is the password?"
"What is the password?" She waited with her hands folded, and after a moment, the gargoyle inclined its head. "You may enter."
She nodded, pointed her wand at the door and made a series of complicated flourishes. The door creaked open and she indicted that we should follow her through.
"What's the point of having a guardian like that if there isn't any password?" Potter grumbled.
"The order and the number of the phrases are probably related to the date or the time of the day or some other mutually agreed code. There was indeed a subtle password, anyone overhearing would assume as you did; that there was none."
"Ah, Mr Holmes, no wonder Mortdelavie keeps an eye on you!" Mrs Prewett exclaimed. "Yes, had I given those replies in the wrong order, he'd have attacked us."
We stood now in a large room, dimly lit by a couple of torches in sconces upon the walls. I noted that they burned steadily, without the smoke and soot of wood dipped in pitch nor the smell and hiss of gas-lights. There was a crack that I was starting to recognise as the sound of displaced air as a wizard or witch appeared out of nowhere and I looked around, only to find the most curious creature appraising us. The size of a child, it had huge, flapping ears, bulbous eyes, grey skin and stick-thin arms and legs, which protruded from what appeared to be a pillow-slipcase.
"You is Muggles," it proclaimed, pointing at myself and Holmes as if it was we who were extraordinary.
"'Ello Flibbert," Cuthbert said. "Is it dinner-time yet?"
"Get on with you!" exclaimed Mrs Prewett crossly. "Go and tell your mistress that we're here and don't make rude comments about people. As for you, Cuthbert, did your father never tell you that children are to be seen and not heard?"
"No," said Cuthbert cheerfully. "'Ee never shuts up 'imself."
Mrs Prewett clicked her tongue and we followed the creature to another doorway. Potter noticed the direction of my gaze.
"It's a house-elf; they work for rich old wizarding families as servants. My friend Hermione is trying to free them from – oh!"
We came to an abrupt halt, facing one of the most exquisite women I had ever seen. Tall and slender, she wore a cloak of rich chestnut-brown velvet over a gown of ecru silk and her golden hair was swept up in an artful arrangement. Although far from being at the height of modern fashion, her apparel was so elegant and her manner so assured, that she would have attracted attention anywhere.
She bowed her head gracefully in welcome, resting her hands upon the handle of her parasol.
"Jenny. Gentlemen. I'm glad to see you here safe although I apologise for the abrupt manner of your arrival. I am Mrs Agrippina Calloway. Mr Holmes, Dr Watson, I have long followed the tales of your adventures; however your companions are unknown to me..."
I immediately stepped forward and introduced the three wizards. They responded with a civility that bordered upon the circumspect; she greeted them with a charming smile.
"You got 'ere before us, Mrs Calloway," Cuthbert said with admiration.
"I have my ways, young man. Off you go, your supper awaits you. Jenny, my dear, you must be exhausted; your husband and daughters have joined us today so I am sure you wish to go to them."
We bade farewell to our guides and followed Mrs Calloway through another doorway, into a large and well-appointed dining room. The table was spread with a snowy cloth, silverware and crystal gleamed softly in the candlelight, and only the lack of windows reminded me that we were not entering a London restaurant. Our exquisite hostess indicated that we should be seated and one of the bizarre little elves popped into the room bearing a soup tureen and proceeded to serve us with mock turtle soup.
The meal was sumptuous: the soup being followed by fillet of sole, chicken in a cream sauce, neck of mutton with Brussels sprouts and potato croquettes, roast pheasant, salad, mince pies, vanilla cream and devilled chicken livers. I recount the entire menu, for it is indelibly fixed within my memory, not only for the faultlessness of each course but the strangeness of our situation.
Mrs Calloway spoke about the weather, if this winter held to be as harsh as the previous year; of the new vogue for roast turkey at Christmas in preference to the old-fashioned goose or capon; she enquired if any of us had visited Paris. She spoke with Holmes about his most recent cases and discussed the fantastical novels of William Morris and F. Marion Crawford (who, it seemed, were renowned wizard authors as well as popular in the Muggle world); in short, she was a most solicitous hostess.
Holmes and I responded in kind to her gentle repartee. Potter appeared a little overawed by the complexities of silverware and table napkins, Malfoy displayed perfect deportment overlaid by a faint air of air of smug superiority and Professor Snape was clearly tired by our adventures. I noted that he did not touch his wine, preferring to drink only water.
"So, gentlemen, you stand with us against Mortdelavie," Mrs Calloway stated as the little elf removed the last of the platters with a snap of its fingers. Potter smiled at the creature, which gaped at him, glanced aside at its mistress then vanished with a faint squeak.
"We certainly stand against Mortdelavie," Holmes said.
"Then our aims are the same, surely."
"Watson and I have little power here, Madam."
"But Mr Holmes, you have knowledge of the – excuse the term, I beg you – the Muggle world, and you have in the past seriously inconvenienced our mutual enemy. He uses Muggles, you see; he accumulates wealth in your world as well as our own. To defeat him, we must do likewise, using all weapons within our grasp."
She turned then to the three wizards, who so far had kept their thoughts to themselves. "What about you, Professor Snape? Where do you stand, are you with us?"
"I would have preferred not to involve my charges or myself in this war," he said after a pause, "but it seems we have no choice in the matter."
Potter opened his mouth to speak but then he flinched slightly and glared at Malfoy, who sat opposite him.
"So you will stand and fight with us?"
How incongruous, to hear these words out of the mouth of such a woman!
"Professor Snape hasn't yet recovered from a grievous injury," I pointed out. "Your treatments far outstrip my own feeble efforts yet even so, he is still easily exhausted."
She smiled at me, and I felt as if her clear blue eyes saw right into the depths of my soul.
"We will brew healing potions for you," Snape offered abruptly.
"That would be very welcome. Now, I have had the elves prepare rooms for you – I apologise that you must all be together but as you may realise, we are under something like a siege at the present time."
"Of course," Holmes said, getting to his feet with a bow in her direction. "You are very gracious, Madam."
"Flibbert," Mrs Calloway said, and the elf popped up at her side. "Take our guests to their rooms."
Bidding our hostess a good night, we followed the elf into a panelled corridor, then through a doorway into a small, but well-appointed drawing room. Flibbert vanished and we were left together again.
Part 7: Brewing Potions and Plots
Before either Holmes or I could speak, the three wizards drew their wands, standing in the centre of the room, facing outwards.
"Muffliato," Potter said, twirling his wand, then added, "That's a silencing charm, stops anyone overhearing."
Malfoy whispered something and said, "Primary wards in place; they won't stop the house-elves, though."
"I have disabled the tracking and spying charms upon us all," Snape told us, putting away his wand in his sleeve. "In an attempt, probably futile, to continue your education, perhaps you would like to tell us what you inferred from that banquet, Potter; apart from the fact that you cannot tell your fish knife from your butter knife?"
Harry Potter gave a little huff, of amusement or exasperation.
"What, apart from the fact that they treat their house-elves even worse than Malfoy's father did?" He threw himself into one of the armchairs. "You just can't help having a dig, can you, Professor?" Folding his arms, he cocked his head to one side. "What about Malfoy, doesn't he get educated as well? Or does knowing exactly how to fold a serviette count as an education?"
"Napkin, Potter, they're table napkins," Malfoy muttered.
"In turn, then, Malfoy, you first."
"The Veritaserum was of poor quality and was in the white wine – which was a tad sweet for my taste."
"It would be; you're a snob."
"And you're a plebeian, Potter. Go on, it's your turn."
"The complete separation of Muggles and wizards in our time and the pure-blood supremacy stuff was probably a direct result of the wizarding world's response to Mortdelavie."
"Which it would be unwise to try to influence," Snape murmured.
"I felt as if she was trying to read my mind," Holmes said. "I found myself thinking of things that she might wish to know whenever we exchanged glances."
"Yes, she is a Legilimens, Mr Holmes." Snape sat forward on his chair, his black eyes fixed upon my friend. "Do you recall whether you thought of the pocket-watch?"
Holmes shook his head.
"No, only about Moriarty."
"Then that's something," Snape settled back again. "I prefer that she does not know about the watch at this stage. Dr Watson, did you think of it at all when she looked at you?"
"I was dazzled," I admitted, and felt the colour rise to my cheeks. "I didn't think of anything except her outstanding features – well, she is a lovely woman."
"We need more information about Mortdelavie," Malfoy said, "Exactly where he is, what he's planning, so that we have something more to give her than simply an ability to supply potions. We need to keep her off our backs while we look for the watch."
"We need a spy," Holmes said.
"No." Potter got to his feet. He spoke in a level voice, as if he was making a simple statement of fact. "No way."
Malfoy too stood up, facing him.
"Why not, Potter?"
"Because I'd be crap at it, and you're too recognizable as a Malfoy and there is no way, no way that Snape's going to do that again, look at what happened last time."
"Your loyalty is touching," Snape drawled. Potter turned to him, his hands clenched, as tightly strung as a violin.
"You can't. You did it for decades, and it ruined your life."
"Anyone would think that you cared, Potter."
"Of course I care! I watched you die for God's sake!"
"Oh sit down and stop being a Gryffindor. Even I can hardly walk into Mortdelavie's home and expect him to accept me into his inner circle without question. If we do spy on him, we will have to be considerably less obvious that that."
Potter took his seat again, although he did not look completely reassured.
"So you wizards have power even over death?" I asked. Snape shook his head.
"Despite Potter's accusations, I did not die. I was severely wounded and I played dead for Potter and his associates, then as soon as I was left alone, I used the last of my strength to operate the pocket-watch, stopping time for my body and placing myself in stasis, in the hope that whoever found me, might restore me to health. I hoped that a friend such as Narcissa or Lucius Malfoy – Draco’s parents – or Argus Filch would collect my body. What I didn't expect were two idiots squabbling over who had the right to bury my remains, disturbing the watch with ill-thought-out spells and knocking us all into the past."
Neither Potter nor Malfoy appeared concerned; indeed, they regarded him with something approaching fondness.
"Glad you're feeling better now, sir," was all Potter said.
"After a meal like that, I could sleep for a week," Malfoy remarked. "Let's see what they've given us in the way of beds, shall we?"
Our bedroom contained five large four-posted beds. Potter grinned and bounced upon the nearest mattress.
"Hey, it's like being back at Hogwarts!"
There was a merry fire burning in the hearth, and the room was furnished with chests of drawers, chairs and a dressing table, although I saw no wash stand. To my surprise, another door opened into a luxuriously equipped water-closet, complete with a claw-footed bathtub, which the wizards called a ‘bathroom’.
"How is this possible? We are deep underground. What happens to the smoke or the waste water, and how can the air be fresh?"
"Charms, I expect," Potter said. Malfoy nodded.
"We had fresh-air charms in the lowest level of the Slytherin dungeons." He went to the fireplace and peered up the chimney. "Yes, the smoke vanishes, I expect it reappears somewhere up above where it wouldn't be noticed."
"Fascinating," Holmes muttered.
One of the little elves appeared bearing towels, night-clothes and shaving equipment. It proceeded to remove the warming pans from the beds and, once we had each had our turn in the ‘bathroom’, we were glad to settle ourselves into our beds and sleep safe in the knowledge that we were defended against Moriarty and his henchmen.
I heard someone whimpering. Disorientated by the darkness inside the draperies of my four-poster, I had hardly recalled where I was, when I heard Potter whisper "Malfoy? Malfoy, are you okay?" There was a bitten off gasp, then Malfoy's unmistakeable drawl.
"What do you want, Potter?"
"You were dreaming."
There was a pause.
"Go back to sleep."
"It's all right," Potter murmured, "I have nightmares too."
At such an hour of the night, when the unseen draws close, when men's spirits are at their lowest and winter grips the world in its frosty claws, it is easiest to find solace in another's company.
"Dreams about him," Malfoy's words were barely audible, even though he was in the next bed to mine. "I keep seeing him killing people for fun, just because he could."
"He was insane, at the end."
"Yeah, he was." Potter sighed. "Your mother saved my life; she told him I was dead."
"Did she? We haven't talked much about anything; I don't know what she thought, or my father. He just sat there looking rather... crushed. As if everything he'd believed in turned out to be wrong and he didn't know what to think any more, so he just stopped trying."
"Yeah." Then after a pause, Potter asked, "Do you think Snape has nightmares?"
"He always puts up silencing charms at night."
"How do you – never mind."
Malfoy gave a soft snort.
"We went on the run together, remember? I wouldn't be surprised if he was addicted to Dreamless Sleep by now. Merlin, how did he do it? All those years of living a double life, and I never knew."
"Of course you didn't, how could he dare trust you, with your father reporting everything straight back to Voldie?"
"Go back to bed, Potter," Malfoy said coolly.
"Yeah, sorry. But it is true. Goodnight, then."
Malfoy did not reply.
The elf informed us that breakfast was served in the main hall. We followed its directions, exiting our room and turning to the left. Almost immediately, we were met by the arresting sight of a huge toad, sitting in the centre of the corridor, next to a raven. They had their heads together, looking for all the world like two friends deep in conversation. Then behind us came the skittering of claws upon the stone floor and a small terrier dog bustled past. I expected the bird to take flight, yet both toad and raven watched the dog approach. It trotted past them with a wag of its curiously forked tail and continued upon its way. The raven peered up at us with a croak that was so deep, it sounded like rocks grinding beneath the earth.
"Good morning," Snape said, as if such occurrences were completely normal; as in his world maybe they were. The raven gave a little shrug of its wings, a shrug that blurred into an upwards movement, expanding as fast as the eye could see. In place of the bird stood an elderly man clad in a voluminous dark purple garment rather like an elaborate dressing gown. He gravely inclined his head, returned the greeting, picked up the toad and followed the dog along the oak-panelled passage to the dining room.
"Interesting," muttered Holmes. "Clearly the size of the creature bears no relation to the size of the man..."
"We had terrible trouble with a woman whose Animagus form was a beetle," Potter told him. "She followed me everywhere."
"How embarrassing," I said without thinking, for I was quite disorientated by the oddity of his world. He grinned.
"She was a newspaper reporter."
"Really? A woman?"
All thoughts of the impropriety of such a thing fled my mind as we walked into the hall. Dozens of people sat at the long tables, eating and conversing, and never had I seen such a variety of outlandish costumes. Many of the witches and wizards wore long robes, fashioned in fabrics from silks and velvets to tweeds and tartan. Some wore turbans and I saw a man in a green top hat and a matron wearing an orange bowler and smoking a long-stemmed pipe. Among the wizards and witches, I espied a great horned owl, perched upon the back of a chair, a pair of aristocratic black cats and the toad, who squatted on the table next to his master's plate and appeared to be sharing his fried eggs.
As we came in, clad in the everyday clothes we had worn when we fled Baker Street, they nudged one another and I heard the word 'Muggles' whispered across the room. Our friend Mrs Prewett came to meet us, guiding us to her table where we were introduced to her husband and two daughters.
"Our lad's out and about, he works for the Ministry and it would raise too much suspicion if he were to disappear. Things are getting bad; they say the Minister himself is Mortdelavie's puppet now, dancing to his tune. Sit down, do, the elves will take your orders for breakfast."
Mr Prewett, a rather jolly-looking fellow in a heavy knitted fisherman's jersey beneath a long blue cape, leaned across his wife to speak to us.
"Muggles, are you? What's it like, then? Living without magic?"
Mrs Prewett clucked at him and we sat down, under the fascinated gaze of her two young girls. They nudged each other and whispered, darting bashful gazes at Potter and Malfoy, who seemed remarkably unaffected by the attention.
After an ample breakfast (the elves make an excellent kedgeree), Mrs Prewett informed us that we were to meet the resident potions makers, and led us off to a dungeon room that looked and smelled not unlike the laboratory where I had first met Holmes, was it not for the row of cauldrons. An elderly man stood over one pot, adding ingredients as a girl stirred the contents with a huge iron ladle.
"Six turns widdershins and then let it rest, Hesper. Good morning, Jenny."
"Hello, Uncle. These gentlemen have offered to assist you." Mrs Prewett introduced the brewers as Walter Babbling and Hesper Starkey. I noticed that Malfoy's eyes widened slightly at the name of the girl. She gave a shy smile then bent over the cauldron again.
"Well, I wouldn't say no to a bit of help," Mr Babbling told us. "Young Hesper here is a good girl, but she is only fourteen." Hesper shot him a reproachful glance before snatching up her spoon and giving the cauldron another stir. "I do my best but I'm a herbologist by training and we lost our Potioneer oh, what was it, two years ago, Jennifer? Yes, in ninety-three, Laverne de Montmorency, excellent chap, he had a flair for love potions, bless him, but could turn his hand to anything in the potions line. A tragic loss." He shook his head sadly. "So if you can brew healing potions and salves, you'll be very welcome."
Snape, Malfoy and Potter rolled up their sleeves and took out their wands, while Mrs Prewett excused herself and went out.
Holmes was fascinated by this science that appeared allied to his own interests. I peered at a tome upon the bench entitled "Antiquated and Contemporary Philtres, Infusions and Blends" which Miss Starkey was consulting. It appeared to be illustrated by hand upon parchment, and was printed in a gothic script.
"Do you need the book?" she asked Malfoy, who glanced at it then shook his head.
"Where is your ingredient store?"
She pointed to a huge wooden cupboard, filled with little bottles and jars. Snape strode across the room and began selecting ingredients, sending them sailing across the room with casual flicks of his wand.
"Malfoy, prepare a base for a double batch of Calming Draught, Potter, a wound cleansing potion should be within your capabilities, I shall prepare Pepperup, bone-setting draught and a general fever cure, since I assume that you are making a burn-healing paste, Mr Babbling."
"Great Merlin," muttered the venerable wizard, "I've never made Pepperup, I don't even have the recipe."
"I shall write it out for you. Mr Babbling, your burn paste requires thinning or else you will find that it sets too firmly upon cooling. Potter, ensure that the purple betony is added after the selfheal and allow the potion to cool sufficiently before adding the calendula."
Holmes and I watched the master at work. Snape effortlessly prepared and assembled a number of complex recipes, all the while supervising the others in their work. Miss Starkey was clearly enthralled, although Snape had her chopping, slicing and mincing ingredients while Mr Babbling decanted the burn paste into little jars, corked and labelled them. Mrs Prewett returned after some hours, a large tea-tray floating before her. She set it down upon a spare stretch of bench and poured us all cups of tea, placing them within reach of the potion-makers.
"There now, when you've a minute, Professor Snape and Mr Holmes? Mrs Calloway is calling a meeting this evening to discuss the latest situation and she would be pleased if you would attend." She nodded amiably at us and bustled out. Potter put down his stirring rod with a clang.
"So I suppose I'm too young and stupid to be allowed to know what the adults are talking about. Just like always."
"I'm not invited either," I pointed out, but he hardly looked appeased.
"Mr Potter," Snape said without even looking up from his work, "You and Mr Malfoy are idle young men with nothing better to do than wander around poking your noses into things that don't concern you and listening to gossip. Naturally you are not invited."
Malfoy gave a little snort and he met my startled glance with a smirk. Potter scowled.
"No, of course I'm not invited. It isn't as if I've ever proved myself – watch it, you git!" Malfoy had knocked over a dish of what appeared to be grey tentacles, which slithered across the bench. As both young men reached to collect them up, Malfoy murmured "Potter, for Circe's sake, keep your mouth shut!" Potter merely glared.
Later, when both Babbling and Miss Starkey were engrossed in searching out an elusive ingredient in the depths of the cupboard, Holmes went to Potter's side.
"I believe that your teacher was hinting at what he wishes you to do, Mr Potter."
"He was just being insulting as usual."
"Snape was suggesting that you and Malfoy should mingle with the younger wizards and listen to the gossip. It also would be as well if no-one realised that you and Mr Malfoy are as powerful or experienced as you really are."
"Mrs Prewett saw us fight."
"Only very briefly and she was under attack; she had little time to assess your abilities."
Babbling emerged from the depths of the store with a bottle labelled "Pickled eyeballs, pixie" and Potter returned his attention to his cauldron, although he looked happier. Snape caught Holmes' eye and gave a brief nod of acknowledgment, which Holmes returned in a gesture of mutual respect.
I reached out to pick up a book named "Lady Flutterbye's Book of Lotions and Potions for Those of a Delicate Constitution" but it immediately unfurled its pages and flapped away across the room like a startled bird. Heaven help me, but I barely flinched.
Mrs Prewett loaned me a fascinating tome on basic healing for hedge-witches and I was immersed in a chapter upon the healing properties of common herbs, when Holmes and Snape returned from the meeting. Holmes flung himself into a chair and steepled his fingers, his ascetic face alight with his innate intellect. Snape, in comparison, appeared self-contained, cold black eyes devoid of emotion. Potter raised his wand and cast a silencing charm around us all.
"Tell us what you have gathered today," Snape instructed the two younger wizards. Potter seemed about to speak but then glanced aside at his companion with a curious expression.
"I hope that you'll reciprocate, sir," Malfoy said politely. Snape frowned.
"Are we to undergo this process of negotiation every time I ask a simple question, Mr Malfoy?"
"There are only three of us, Professor, five if you count Mr Holmes and Dr Watson. We can't afford to keep information from each other. If anything happens to any one of us, their knowledge is lost to the others."
"You have discussed this, have you?" Although Snape spoke sharply, there was a flicker of something warm in his otherwise impassive black eyes.
"Malfoy and I spent the last seventeen years being pushed into things whether we wanted them or not. He didn't ask to have his home taken over by a psychotic maniac with a snake fetish and I didn't put up my hand and volunteer to be Dumbledore's sacrificial lamb. We just feel like having a say in what happens to us for a change and we thought we'd ask nicely first."
Snape visibly struggled to suppress an emotion for a moment, either annoyance or amusement, and then he shrugged.
"Potter, we'll make a Slytherin of you yet. Very well; relay your impressions gained within the younger fraternity today and Mr Holmes and I will then respond in kind."
"We finished with the potions at tea-time and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in the big hall where most people eat," Potter began. "Not everyone goes there, by the way; Mrs Calloway only appears on special occasions and so do the other important people. There's a very clear class divide, not all of it as obvious as pure-blood versus half-blood or Muggle-born."
Malfoy nodded his agreement.
"They didn't believe that I was a Malfoy; I had to make up a tale about being from a cadet branch of the family that's fallen on hard times before they started to relax. They thought I should be living with what they refer to as the 'toffs'."
"The ordinary folks don't really know what's going on," Potter continued, "the worst of it is, they take it for granted and just do as they're told. The young lads come and go, running errands, and they bring news, but there's very little official information. Rumours run through the place like wildfire, but there is one very persistent rumour and that's the one about a spy in the camp. Mortdelavie's very well informed about what's going on, and from the number of people lost recently, it looks likely."
Malfoy took over.
"He has his informers watching places that wizards and witches go, like the herbalists, and he's got the Ministry and Diagon Alley sewn up. He hasn't had much luck with Knockturn Alley or Gringotts, though, and Hogwarts has resisted his influence. The Headmaster is Phineas Nigellus Black, who heartily disapproves of anything to do with Muggles and their world." Malfoy smirked. "Ironic, isn't it? They say that Mortdelavie is Muggle-born and Phineas Nigellus despises him and won't let him near the castle."
Potter rolled his eyes.
"That's it, really. They've no reason to trust us, so we haven't anything exciting to report. What about you, sir?"
"I have even less to report than you, unfortunately. Agrippina Calloway plays her cards very carefully and I agree that there is no reason for our hosts to trust us. The majority of the meeting was spent in arguments about where to establish a base above ground, and concerns about security because of the possibility of spies. I admit to being disappointed."
"We need to get out," Potter stated, "And we need to get to Mortdelavie."
"Shouldn't we concentrate on finding the pocket-watch?" Malfoy suggested, "This Sparks fellow?"
"He won't have it yet, Draco. He would have bought it after he started his business."
"He might have inherited the shop," Malfoy pointed out, "and even the watch itself. Isn't it worth going to look?"
Potter screwed up his face in thought.
"Hang on a minute. How did you know he had it, sir? Did it come to him from his family, did he buy it from someone who wrote about it or told people about it? Did you follow its history, or did you just have an idea of what it looked like and go round searching in likely places like shops and museums?"
Snape blinked, his face held in that inscrutable mask that hid his thoughts and feelings so well.
"The Dark Lord told us all that he was looking for an old watch and described it to us, some years ago. I do not know if I was the only person who recognised the description as resembling the legendary watch or even remembered about it afterwards. I happened to come across it while searching for other artefacts."
Potter nodded as if he knew what those artefacts were.
"So, Sparks might have got it from anywhere. He might even have found it as a young man, left behind when three strange wizards mysteriously vanished."
Snape's eyes widened and he paled further, if such a thing were possible.
"So it might be anywhere, with anyone. We interrupted the watch on its journey through time... Potter, did you have to go and find a brain on your travels? You have just made things a hundred times more difficult. Merlin help us if the damned watch is caught in a time loop."
"Sorry," Potter said unrepentantly. "I suppose we can't even research it, can we? We can't just walk into Hogwarts' Restricted Section or the Black family library without raising suspicion, if we could even get out of here in the first place."
"I do know one library with an extensive reference section," Malfoy muttered. "I know all the wards and protections on it, I helped to update them. It isn't that far from Mortdelavie either."
"So we need to break into Malfoy Manor again? Great, and I don't even have Hermione with me to do the research."
"Are you suggesting that Professor Snape or I can't research?" his companion demanded crossly and Potter glared.
"No, of course not, it's just that she'd look for anything I asked her to, without me having to waste hours arguing with her to convince her why; she'd just do it. You wouldn't, would you? Why would you do anything I asked you to?"
"You might be surprised."
Snape raised his eyebrows.
"Great Merlin, I wanted you two to work together but I may have created a monster."
Part 8: Disturbing Revelations
Unable to sleep, I made my way across the bedroom by the faint glow from the banked coal fire, narrowly avoiding stubbing a toe upon Holmes' boots as I passed his bed. I was intent upon collecting a candle and the healer's book from the sitting room and it did not occur to me, until I heard low voices, that any of my companions were still up and about.
"He isn't anything like as unbearable as I expected," Malfoy said softly, "Sometimes he's even funny. I used to think he was stupid."
"Don't underestimate him, Draco." The deep rumble came from not Potter, as I had assumed, but the Professor.
"He's still so wrong about you, though; he's got this crazy idea that you were in love with his mother, of all people!" There was silence for a while, and then Malfoy whispered, "You were!"
"I loved her," Snape admitted. "We lived in the same town, we were friends from the age of nine and we remained friends at Hogwarts despite being sorted into different houses, until the paths that we trod diverged too far. She was funny, clever and physically attractive, her death was devastating."
"We all thought... never mind."
"Slytherin house has always speculated about my sexuality. It amused me to keep everyone guessing."
"I don't need to guess, Professor." Malfoy's voice dropped to the faintest of whispers and only the fact that I was barely breathing allowed me to hear. "I've seen you watching Potter as if you want him."
I heard the words with something of a frisson. I could not interrupt now, for it would be impossible to hide the fact that I was frankly eavesdropping, or that I had already heard too much. Snape, too, appeared shocked, for I heard him let out a little hiss, and I awaited his ire. It did not come.
"Draco..." Snape murmured. "Go back to bed and I shall attempt to forget that we ever had this conversation. Do not tempt me to Obliviate you..."
I barely retreated back to my bed before the faint light of Malfoy's wand glowed through a gap in the curtains and I heard him climbing between his own blankets. I lay awake for a long time, staring into the darkness, wondering at myself, at the condemnation that I ought to feel, but did not.
Now that I had reason to reinterpret the behaviour of my acquaintances in the light of my new knowledge, I could hardly refrain from watching them. I soon realised that Potter was cheerfully oblivious to the subtle tension between his two fellow wizards, but I wondered about the prickly, uneasy truce between him and Malfoy as much as the curious mingling of respect and irritation that ran through his relationship with his Professor.
After breakfast, Potter and Malfoy went off to play a spectacular noisy card game with some of their new acquaintances and listen to the tittle-tattle, Snape disappeared to assist Babbling and Miss Starkey with a bone-setting potion, and I took the opportunity to draw Holmes aside. He was gazing into the fire that crackled merrily in the great fireplace of the dining hall.
"The elves must come and go somehow," he remarked, "to replenish the fires and acquire food and drink." Then he shook himself and smiled. "Watson, my dear fellow, I can always tell when you are bursting to tell me something. Come; let us return to our room."
I nodded; aware that we might be overheard by anyone and that there could be more than one spy in the camp. How Snape had worked for so many years undercover, guarding every word and evaluating every action, I could not imagine.
Once we were within the protection of Potter's spell that would prevent anyone from outside overhearing us, Holmes sat down and waited, and I found myself peculiarly tongue-tied.
"Compose yourself, my boy," Holmes said, with a hint of humour in his voice. "The Professor will do nothing."
I gaped at him and he shrugged.
"Come, Watson, neither of us is an innocent schoolgirl. You have been watching them like a kestrel perusing a mouse since we rose this morning. It is clear that Snape has a ... tendre for the dark-haired youth but to act upon his feelings would go against his code of honour. From what Potter told us of Snape's actions in their war, he appears to be a man of strong principles."
He cocked his head at me. "Unless you have reason to believe otherwise?"
"He has acted rashly in the past," I pointed out. "Even though Potter did not relate the entirety of the tale, he intimated that Snape made errors that he deeply regretted."
Holmes indicated that I should continue and I did so, although I paced the length of the room and back as I spoke. "I inadvertently overheard a conversation last night, one of those discussions so intimate and awkward that one cannot reveal one's presence for fear of causing real offence, however much one wishes to withdraw. Young Mr Malfoy went as far as to accuse his schoolmaster of a most improper desire for Mr Potter."
"I assume that Snape denied the accusation."
"No, he did not. He left Malfoy aware of his feelings, where it would have been better to dismiss them as the natural fondness of a respected teacher for his pupil."
"Watson..." Holmes seemed uncharacteristically hesitant. "Watson, we have been involved in cases which you can never publish, affairs that go against the laws of God and the land, and yet I come to wonder, can love ever be entirely wrong?" He smoothed back his hair, gazing into the air even as I stared at him. "Love, not lust but true affection and respect, love that is selfless, that will cause one to risk one's life or liberty simply to prevent hurt to another; can this be truly wicked?"
"You speak of Wilde's 'love that dares not speak its name', no doubt?"
"Hm, Wilde flaunted his proclivities, while being feted by society for it, and then was scorning for doing what they only encouraged him to do. That 'deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect' is a noble-sounding concept indeed, yet we all know of what he truly speaks."
"There was little that was pure or spiritual in young Malfoy accusation."
Holmes turned to me, his eyes deep and hooded.
"And is that so very evil? We would not condemn the Professor if he wished to marry an ex-student named Miss Sally Potter and surely the emotions would be the same."
"You disturb me, Holmes."
"Then I am sorry, my friend, to have distressed you."
"No," I shook my head. "You have always forced me to rattle my tired old brains in an attempt to keep up with you. We have allowed known murderers to evade capture in the past, have we not, when the law would have condemned them?"
"Because we believed the law was wrong."
"Thus setting ourselves above the law. Holmes, I don't know, I really don't."
"Think of this, Watson. Are the rules of these Wizarding people the same as ours? Would the wizarding courts of law have imprisoned Wilde? More to the point, what will the laws of society – theirs or ours – have to say in a hundred years' time? It may be that our companions will be at liberty to be together in their own time, when they return."
"If they return, Holmes; if they return."
I strode along the subterranean passageway towards the main dining hall, intending to contribute towards collecting rumours and gossip. Something small fluttered past my head, a goldfinch or linnet, giving a faint peeping cry as it veered away from a tabby cat watching with intent yellow eyes.
A figure clad in something pale and ladylike emerged from a doorway. I paused and Mrs Calloway placed her slender white hand upon my sleeve and gazed up at me with an expression of concern.
"Dr Watson, can you spare a moment?"
"Of course," I said. "How may I assist you, Madam?"
"So formal," she said. "You are a gentleman, sir. I merely wished to seek your advice."
"I am at your disposal."
She drew me aside into the room from which she had emerged: a small, well-appointed drawing room. I noticed the photograph of a handsome youngish man lounging against a pillar. I barely restrained my astonishment when he caught my eye and bowed with a rakish air, twirling the wand in his hand.
"Ah, that was my beloved Theobold," Mrs Callaway said, with a brave smile. "We were married less than two years, you know."
"I am very sorry for your loss."
She nodded, pulled a scrap of lace handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the corner of her eye.
"You understand why I would do anything to defeat Mortdelavie."
"A courageous and generous sentiment; many woman would have retreated into solitude to nurse their grief."
"But I am not one of them. I will use any weapon at my disposal, Doctor. I am sure that you and your friend Mr Holmes will be invaluable to our cause and I would like to think that your companions would be likewise. Tell me, how did you come to meet such a disparate group of wizards?"
As she spoke, she poured tea from a silver pot into delicate porcelain cups, glancing up at me with an enigmatic smile. There was a strange pressure in my head as I met her gaze, as if something pushed lightly against my mind. I found myself remembering my first meeting with my new friends, seeing in my mind's eye Snape's huddle of limbs and black cloth upon the road, Potter and Malfoy crouched protectively over their teacher.
"I see," she said as she handed me a cup and saucer. "How powerful do you think they are, these three strangers?"
I blinked, and in that fraction of a second when our eyes no longer met, I was able to break the eye contact and look down into the swirling golden liquid in my cup, although to do so, took almost all the willpower I possessed.
"Professor Snape is a very strong and disciplined individual," I said and saw her nod out of the corner of my eye.
"And the two boys?"
"Their energies appear to be consumed by squabbling with each other." I knew, with one of those sudden insights that come like an intimation of mortality, that I had no chance of dissembling for long. "Mr Malfoy appears well-versed in the art of brewing potions, but I have not yet ascertained where Mr Potter's talents lie."
"Is that so?" She reached out and a finger touched my cheek, as light and cool as a snowflake. "Look at me, Doctor."
I raised my head, unable to do otherwise, while her voice was sweet and intoxicating like honey mead. She raised one hand to the back of her head, and released the combs that held her hair, allowing it to cascade down over her shoulders in a golden waterfall of tresses. Her perfume was a subtle blend of flowers. She reached to place a fragile hand upon my shoulder and draw me closer to her; her hair brushed against me and I heard its silken whisper.
I registered that she held her wand down low so that I should not be alarmed by it, but pointing up at my face. "Legilimens," she whispered and a keen pinprick, like the finest and sharpest of needles, pierced my brain. Memories showered through me in a deluge; Holmes and Baker Street, Moriarty and Lestrade, my medical practice and my dear lost wife, all jumbled together. I felt her irritation as she lowered her wand. "Drink your tea, Doctor."
I recalled Malfoy's voice stating The Veritaserum was of poor quality and was in the white wine – which was a tad sweet for my taste and although I did not know exactly what ‘Veritaserum’ was, my knowledge of Latin enabled me to hazard a guess. I could not resist the compulsion to raise the cup but I was able to fumble so that the hot liquid slopped onto the table.
I hurriedly apologised and grasped at the tea cloth to mop up the mess. She brushed my attempts aside, twirled her wand and the pool of spilt tea vanished. A glance at Mrs Calloway showed her lovely brow marred by a frown and her fine blue eyes flashing with anger. Hardly had I braced myself to meet her next attack upon my memories when a knock came at the door. The irritation smoothed away from her face and she went to respond to the summons with a smile that I now understood to be as false as it was sweet.
"Mr Holmes, do come in. I was just chatting with your companion; pray join us for a cup of tea."
"Thank you, Madam, but I must decline. Professor Snape requested Watson's presence; his advice on medical matters is invaluable."
"Indeed? Then Professor Snape disappoints me; that a wizard of his calibre should rely upon outdated Muggle medicine suggests his brewing abilities are not all they are puffed up to be."
I allowed Holmes to lead me from the room, but as we emerged into the corridor, my knees began to tremble and I was forced to lean upon my friend's arm. He said nothing, but his lips pressed together in a thin line and he hustled me to our sitting room, where our three wizards awaited us. Snape was upon us in an instant, his black eyes cold and hard.
"She read my mind," I said, sinking down into a chair. "I'm sorry..."
Holmes patted my shoulder, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him pick something from my jacket.
"The bitch," Potter muttered, "Of course she had to go for the weakest link – sorry, I didn't mean it like that."
"Potter could have put it more tactfully, but you're not a wizard, I wouldn't expect you to resist a witch of her capabilities," Snape said, although his voice did not express anything in the way of sympathy. "Damn, what has she found out?" He drew his wand, running it through his fingers. "What exactly did she do?"
"She said ‘Legilimens’ and looked into my eyes. I think she had put something in the tea but I managed to spill it before I drank any." I took in a breath. "If you looked into my mind, could you see what she saw? Will that help?"
For the first time, I saw Snape taken aback.
"Would you let me do that?"
"I assume it would do me no harm," I pointed out, "if you're able to do it."
"He's only one of the most powerful Legilimens and Occlumens in the world; of course he can."
"Thank you, Potter, that will do," Snape said repressively, but the faintest of pink tinged his sallow cheeks. "If I have your permission, Doctor?"
I nodded. He pointed his wand at me and murmured "Legilimens” and I felt him slip into my mind. There was nothing sharp or intrusive about it. He riffled gently through my most recent memories – my interview with Mrs Calloway washed past like a dream, slowing down as he examined my own recollection of her attempts to read my thoughts, speeding up as Holmes came to my rescue, then he lowered his wand and the impression of his presence had gone. Oddly, I felt that he could have done this without my even being aware of him, and he had deliberately made himself felt in order to put my mind at ease.
"Well, we have been lucky again," he stated. "She had no idea what she was looking for, and simply crashed through Dr Watson's memories, hoping to come across something useful on the way. She does not know about the watch."
"One wonders whose side she is on," Holmes said. "This was not the action of a lady."
"If I was Mortdelavie, and I wanted to infiltrate the resistance, I'd use someone like her," Malfoy remarked.
"If he was a Slytherin, and I'll bet anything that he was."
Malfoy glared at Potter and he shrugged, albeit apologetically. "Hagrid told me that there wasn't a Dark wizard who didn't come from Slytherin."
"Hogwarts stands firm against Mortdelavie and Headmaster Black is a Slytherin," Snape snapped.
"Mortdelavie killed her husband," I said, hoping to distract them. "She has a moving photograph of him in her room, a handsome, noble-looking young fellow."
"If he is even dead," Holmes said quickly, "for we only have her word for that. He may be held against his will or even cooperating and in hiding. It is both a good weapon to hold over her and demand her compliance and a way to ensure sympathy for the woman, for who would question a grieving widow too deeply?"
I doubt that the others noted that Holmes' reference to her was hardly deferential, and his understated loyalty to me warmed my heart.
"Well I don't trust her," Potter said, folding his arms, "not after what she tried to do to Dr Watson. She reminds me too much of Umbridge."
"You do realise it's going to be one hell of a fight to get out of here, don't you?"
"Shut up, Malfoy."
"Tell me," Holmes said, "where does the smoke go?" He tilted his chin towards the small fireplace.
"That's a very good question, Mr Holmes," murmured Snape. "A very good question indeed."
At four in the morning, I was woken by the gentle chiming of an alarm-clock spell on Malfoy's wand. I threw back the bedclothes, having gone to bed fully clothed, and in the faint blue glow of wand-light, we all pulled on our boots and gathered our meagre belongings before creeping to the great hall. Snape paused in the doorway, pointing his wand to a corner where something small and pale curled in a nest of rags. He whispered a spell and then beckoned us on.
"House-elves," he breathed. "I have put up a charm so that they won't hear us, but their magic is powerful and if they wake, they will be able to immobilise us and call for their mistress."
The fire had been allowed to die down in the hearth, but I could feel the heat from the embers until Malfoy cast a spell to protect our feet from being burned. Potter ducked under the mantelpiece, and his whispers took on a muffled quality.
"You're right, Mr Holmes, there are handholds here. The bricks are still hot... Yes, the wards extend around six feet up the chimney. Come on Malfoy, I'll give you a bunk up."
With a muttered imprecation, Malfoy pushed himself in beside Potter and clambered up inside the shaft of the chimney. Snape meanwhile was chanting under his breath, glancing aside to where the elves twitched in their sleep. There was a faint crack and Potter hissed, "He's gone. Come on Doctor, we're next."
It was not easy, to climb beside the young wizard into the choking, sooty darkness of the chimney, with only the protruding bricks of the chimney-sweeps' route for support. Bracing myself against the warm walls, I felt Potter take hold of my arm and twist in place, and there followed the disorientating wrench of Apparation.
Part 9: A Very Peculiar Household
I staggered and found my feet, blinking in the icy wind. Sleet stung my exposed face and hands. We were not far from the Palace of Westminster; I could smell the Thames and see the unmistakable shape of the clock tower against the scudding clouds. A slender figure came towards us along St Margaret Street, his blond hair glowing faintly in the gas-lights. Potter muttered a charm to spell the soot from our clothes as Malfoy joined us. A moment later, Holmes and Snape strode from the direction of Great George Street.
"We are in your hands now, Mr Holmes," Snape declared. Holmes nodded.
"Do not worry; I intend to lose us so completely in the depths of London that even my Irregulars will not find us. Follow me, gentlemen."
I was pleased to get moving, so I turned up my collar and hefted my medical bag under my arm so that I could keep my hands in my pockets. Potter immediately took the bag from me, tapped it with his wand, shrunk it to the size of a matchbox and handed it back with a grin. Next, he caught a blowing newspaper from the gutter and transformed it into a pair of gloves and a scarf.
"Never heard of a warming charm?" Malfoy enquired as I pulled on the garments.
"We are hiding among Muggles," Snape told him, "therefore, much as it pains me to admit it, we should follow Potter's example. Use magic sparingly if at all."
Malfoy huffed but I noticed that he did not wait long before conjuring his own gloves.
We breakfasted in a coffee shop with the porters of Covent Garden market then, well before dawn, followed Holmes into a warren of mean tenements and warehouses towards the East End of the great metropolis.
He came to a halt before the front of a tall, narrow house that appeared to consist of flats above a closed-down milliner's shop and a tawdry pawn-broker.
"I ask you to trust me as I must trust you all," he said, looking us in the eye one by one. "The proprietress here is in my debt. I solved a very unpleasant problem for her some years ago. Her establishment would be closed down were the authorities to know of it; it is one of the best-kept secrets in London and I must ask you not to betray her confidence. She allows me to use a room here when I need to work in disguise in the criminal underworld. Pray do not be alarmed at anything you might see or hear. I hope that you will excuse this, Professor, and will not be offended. I have no wish to corrupt your young charges but our lives are at stake."
With this, he led us through a narrow passage to the back of the building and knocked on a tightly bolted door. After a minute, it creaked open just enough to reveal a wary eye peering at us from beneath a mob-cap.
"Good morning, Sarah, it is Sherlock Holmes with four friends."
The maid opened the door and gave a little bob of a curtsey. We followed her into a large kitchen, where a swarm of young women sat around a scrubbed table, drinking tea, and presided over by a tiny, wrinkled woman who held out a hand heavily weighed down with rings.
"My lovelies, look who's here! If it isn't Mr Holmes!"
"Mrs Prinknash," Holmes said, bowing over her hand. "Allow me to present my friends, Dr Watson, Professor Snape, Mr Malfoy and Mr Potter. We are in need of a temporary pied-a-terre."
The old woman winked and tapped the side of her nose with a finger.
"I understand, Mr Holmes. Upon the trail of a ne'er-do-well, no doubt? Your usual room is free. Do join us for a nice hot cuppa, won't you?"
The young women moved along the benches to make room for us, with a degree of good-natured jostling. A slender creature with a mass of auburn hair flounced across the room and returned with a handful of earthenware mugs, which she placed in front of us and proceeded to fill with tea from a huge brown pot. One of her companions pushed the milk jug and sugar bowl across the table towards us while the maidservant, Sarah, busied herself with flatirons and a great heap of petticoats and nightgowns.
"Professor, is it?" the red-head asked in a lower voice than I had expected. She was no beauty but she had sparkling eyes and a pert, mischievous face. I wondered how such a fey, animated creature had fallen into this place. Her sisters in debauchery – for I recognised the house for what it was – all shared a common look, a tawdry gloss overlaying their world-weary resignation. There was a coarseness about them that I did not immediately identify.
"I am a professor, yes," Snape said.
"I wonder," she murmured, "what you could teach me?" She touched the tip of one finger to his hand as he reached for his mug and I saw him still, just for a moment, before lifting the tea to his lips. "I've never had a professor."
Snape merely raised one eyebrow and sipped from his mug. Malfoy gave a huff of amusement while Potter stared at the girl with narrowed eyes. She tipped her head to one side and blinked, returning Potter's glare with a coquettish pout. "Oh, sweeting, I am sorry, did you want me first?"
Potter flushed with anger or embarrassment and Mrs Prinknash clicked her tongue.
Jess folded her arms and sniffed.
"Just making our visitors feel welcome." She turned her attention back to Potter, appraising him openly. "A bit young but you never know... how about together, the three of us, hm?" She ran the tip of her tongue across her lower lip. I was unsure whether to be amused or appalled at this wanton display. Holmes cleared his throat and Jess turned to him. "Ah, Mr Holmes. You've always been impervious to our charms, haven't you?"
"That is so," Holmes agreed. "This is purely a business visit and I recommend that you take care else you may find you've bitten off more than you can chew."
"Mr Holmes, you are wicked!" There was an edge to Jess's laughter, a resonance that unnerved me. Mrs Prinknash murmured "Jess..." in an ominous tone and the young minx tossed her head.
"Yes, Ma'am, I heed you."
"We have guests for luncheon," Mrs Prinknash stated. "Mr Holmes, I must ask you and your companions to keep a discreet distance from the dining room; my lovelies will be entertaining our business associates and I would hate there to be any embarrassment."
"Of course," Holmes murmured. I wondered which well-heeled politicians or bankers might be availing themselves of the girls' charms.
"Go and ready yourselves, darlings, tidy your rooms and prepare the dining room."
With a degree of grumbling and unladylike shoving, the young women left the kitchen. Sarah followed them with a great basket of laundry upon her hip.
"Jess is becoming rebellious," Mrs Prinknash remarked, turning her small, sharp eyes in Holmes' direction. "I do not know how much longer I can risk keeping that one on hand. How can I turn them back out onto the streets where I found them, after raising them up and teaching them to enjoy the finer things of life?"
"Jess would immediately become your enemy."
"I know," sighed the old woman. "I must have words; see if there is any ambition there to become something other than the unnatural creature I have created. You will let me know, if you spy a suitable opening anywhere?"
"I will keep my ear to the ground."
There was a slight commotion and Jess returned to the kitchen with one of her companions. They seized cutlery and tablecloths from the dresser; Jess reaching up to grasp a condiment set from the upper shelf. The shoulder strap of her gown slipped down one arm and she grumbled and yanked it back into place. Like a trompe-l'œil painting, I saw her for a moment as two things at the same time, balanced perfectly like a coin upon its edge, with the possibility of tipping either way. Then the coin fell and she was no longer a vivacious young whore and I would never see her or her friends in that way again. What I had taken as the signs of unrefined young women from the lower classes, their large hands and feet, coarse skins and rough voices, were as natural as their flat chests and square shoulders; in a word, 'Jess' was a slim young man garbed in incongruous satin and lace.
That such a place as this could exist in London had become widely known as a result of the Cleveland Street scandal. I was aware that Holmes frequented opium dens, cut-throats' taverns and brothels in the course of his work, but even I was taken aback to realise that we were sitting in the cosy kitchen of a house of inverts. I looked around at my companions, wondering if they were still as oblivious as I had been.
Malfoy wore a condescending sneer, as if he refused to be shocked by anything any Muggle could do, and found their antics mildly amusing. I suspected that he knew perfectly well what the young creatures were. Holmes knew, of course, and Snape was as impossible to read as ever.
I took a small amount of comfort from Potter's stunned expression and slight flush. He caught my eye and we shared a brief moment of sympathy at our mutual embarrassment.
Holmes led us from the kitchen, through a well-appointed parlour to a staircase to the upper levels of the house. Potter deliberately hung back to walk with me and as we traversed a long corridor that clearly ran the length of the building, he spoke quietly.
"They're all blokes, aren't they?"
"Except for the Madam and the maid-servant, it appears so."
"Creepy. That they're dressed like girls, I mean. I didn't realise that there were places like this."
"If it's any comfort to you, neither did I. Holmes might have warned me."
"I don't have a problem with gays," he continued, then seeing my slight perplexity, elucidated, "Queers. Homosexuals. Two of my friends at school were gay and Professor Lockhart was so camp it was laughable, but this cross-dressing stuff is a bit much for me. It's illegal, isn't it?"
"Cross-dressing? Oh, I see. Yes, dressing as the fairer sex counts as gross indecency, for which one can be fined or imprisoned; however, the act of sexual congress between men is indeed against the laws of the land. Will it be permissible in your own time?"
"Yeah, since the nineteen sixties, I think. There's still discrimination and people like my uncle rant on about the 'decline in moral values' but he rants about everything from immigration to women expecting equal pay."
"Women expect to gain an equal wage to men? Great Heavens, what next?" I pondered for a moment. "Will things get better, in general?"
He gave the matter some thought.
"It'll change. Things will be different but I wouldn't say they'll get better. There's still murder and war and prostitution and drugs and disease. Somewhere there's probably a club where young gay men dress up as women and have sex with people, but I've never been there."
"Just as well, Potter," Malfoy called. "Wouldn't want to offend your Gryffindor sensibilities. Your red-headed girlfriend might not be happy if you did."
"I doubt if she'd care," Potter muttered, not loudly enough for Malfoy to hear. He caught my enquiring glance and shrugged a little awkwardly. "I was sort of going out with my best friend's sister but we were fighting a war and I didn't want her to be targeted, so we broke it off. Everyone thinks we're going to get married, but to be honest, we haven't much in common any more. If we'd been on the run together, it might have been different."
"Surely if you were courting, you can't break it off now?"
He appeared to be puzzled.
"We didn't make any promises."
"What of her reputation? If it was assumed you would marry, then jilting her might ruin her prospects for life!"
Potter laughed suddenly.
"It isn't like that anymore, Dr Watson, believe me. People live together, split up, marry and divorce, without anyone bothering. You might get a dodgy reputation if you deliberately split up families or break a succession of people's hearts; or if you get a girl pregnant and walk out on her. If Ginny was devastated because I'd made lots of promises and then dumped her, I'd hear about it from her brothers and her mum, but these things happen. They'd get over it."
"How strange," I mused. "Society must have changed so much."
"Come along, Potter," Malfoy said impatiently from a dark doorway, "or you might find yourself grabbed and crammed into a corset and frock." He leered and deliberately looked Potter up and down until the young wizard glowered at him. "No, you're not really my type, not enough curves."
"Thank Merlin for that," Potter grumbled and pushed past him.
I followed them into a large bedchamber, tightly curtained and furnished with a single enormous bed, a wardrobe, dressing table, wash stand and a couple of chairs. Once I had closed the door, Malfoy extracted his wand from his jacket, aimed it at the empty hearth and a crackling fire burst into life. Potter huffed and conjured lighted candles in the sconces on the wall.
"Keep the magic to a minimum, if you please," Snape said repressively, sitting in one of the chairs and crossing his black-clad legs. "You are not here on holiday."
"I had one day off," Potter responded hotly. "That's all! Twenty four bloody hours of peace!"
"You weren't the only one," Malfoy snapped.
"I was at war from the age of eleven! At least you could go home to your manor house and enjoy the summer."
"Mm, and last year was a great bundle of laughs."
Rather to my surprise, Potter and Malfoy exchanged a look that was, if not sympathetic, filled with a shared understanding. That empathy remained as they both looked to their Professor, whose shiny black boot twitched in midair, the outward sign of his growing impatience.
"Now that we have a base to work from, we need to concentrate on finding the watch," he said.
"What about Mort -"
"Potter, be silent and listen for a change. We will find the pocket-watch, after which we will consider what to do about Mortdelavie."
"The watch will be your escape route home," Holmes said.
"Exactly. We will go into his lair, secure in the knowledge that we can escape back to our place in the future as soon as we have dealt with him."
"What do you want us to do?" I enquired.
As Snape turned to me, I had an inkling of what he would say.
"You have done far more than we could have asked for," he began, and I replied more hotly than I or, by his expression, Holmes, had anticipated.
"And now you would send us home, like wayward children, with our memories modified?"
"We've dragged you into our world, into dangers that you should never have to face, Dr Watson. We can't ask more of either of you. It is my duty, as a wizard, to shield Muggles from the harm that can result from the misuse of magic-"
"And what of our duty?" I demanded. "What of Holmes' honour, as a gentleman and a detective, or mine as a gentleman and a doctor, which requires us to stand beside our friends?"
"Watson has the rights of it," Holmes stated, folding his arms. "If you insist upon dismissing us at this stage of the game, then you must knock us both out and wipe our minds clean of every touch of magic." He paused and asked, very softly, "Is this how you will treat us, Professor Snape?"
Potter made a move to touch Snape's arm as if in supplication, then withdrew his hand and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Professor, if you do that, you're doing just what Mortdelavie did to Mr Holmes."
Snape glanced aside to him.
"So you'd drag them further into danger, the way you dragged your friends around the country with you?"
"I don't think it's our decision to make."
"Draco?" Snape asked. "What would you do?" He sat back in his chair, as if already satisfied that the aristocratic young wizard was bound to agree with him.
"I have the casting vote, do I?" Malfoy said, clearly amused. Potter sighed and pulled a face. Snape appeared smug. I met Malfoy's grey gaze and realised that he was no longer quite the same youth who had carelessly turned his wand upon me in Baker Street. "I've already completely blotted my copybook as far as my family is concerned, by associating with Muggles." He gave a careless wave of his hand. "So I'll answer as a Slytherin. I wouldn't discard anything that might give me an advantage and in this case, I'm not going to throw away Mr Holmes' brain and his knowledge of London or Dr Watson's loyalty and competence with a hand gun." He shrugged. "How about that, I agree with Potter. Break out the champagne."
Snape nodded once.
"Very well, gentlemen." He reached out to shake Holmes and then me by the hand. Potter immediately did the same, then after a slight pause, so did Malfoy. "If at any time, you change your minds, please do not hesitate to inform us. We will not hold your decision against you for we are facing great danger."
"Watson came through the war in Afghanistan," Holmes pointed out, "and we have confronted many a villain together."
"So be it."
"Next, to Wiltshire?" Holmes enquired; his eyes alight with anticipation of the chase.
"Malfoy Manor," Snape agreed. "Draco, this will be up to you. We need to access the library."
In the uncertain light of the candles and the fire, it seemed to me that Malfoy paled.
"It won't be easy," he said.
"But not impossible."
"No. Hellishly dangerous, though. My grandfather, Abraxus, hasn't been born yet and his father, Darius, is a young man. That means that the master of the Manor is Tarquinius Lucius and if the portraits are to be believed, he was high-handed even by Malfoy standards."
"High-handed meaning what?" Potter asked. "Boiling trespassers in oil?"
"Back in those – these days, if you trespassed on anyone else's land, it was your own fault if you got caught in a lamp-trap, or ripped apart by werewolves, or fell into a pit of Acromantulas. There were traps that even my father thought were a bit much and had the house-elves dismantle when I was little, in case I stumbled into them. They'll be in place now."
"What's a lamp-trap?" I asked.
"Oh, a spell that traps people in a genie-lamp. Most of the victims drown in lamp oil. Getting past the traps should be time consuming but possible, as long as the guard dogs don't raise the alarm; what bothers me are the house-elves. They won't care that I'm a Malfoy, they'll know that I'm not one of their Malfoys so they'll treat me as an interloper."
Potter, sitting on the edge of the bed, leaned forward.
"Can I make a suggestion?"
Malfoy turned to him with an air of barely concealed impatience and Snape sighed.
"Yes, Potter? You suggest we go in with wands blazing and save the day, do you?"
"Not really." Potter blinked and fumbled in his pockets. "Somewhere here - ah, yes, got it." He held up a glass bottle containing a viscous grey substance. "Good job I nicked this from Mr Babbling's potions cupboard, then." He squinted at the label. "It says it was brewed and bottled by de Montmorency so it should be okay, shouldn't it? Even I've heard of him. I just thought it might be useful."
Snape reached out to take the bottle with the tips of his fingers.
"Polyjuice," Snape said.
Malfoy burst into laughter.
"Exactly." Potter sat back on the bed, looking pleased. "That deserves house points, I reckon."
"So who are you going to impersonate, Potter?" Malfoy enquired, "A guard dog?"
"Just thought it might help."
"It may well do." Snape turned the bottle of potion between his fingers.
"What is it?" I enquired.
Potter explained how the potion allowed someone to take on the appearance of another for an hour, as long as it was primed with a hair from the target person.
"Must it be a hair?" Holmes enquired, "Or would any part of the body work as well?"
"Any sample from the body would do, I have used nail clippings or saliva in the potion," the potions master explained. "A scrap of skin or a teardrop would work just as well."
"Would you be able to take me home, to Baker Street, to collect my disguises? If we were to Apparate there under cover of darkness, straight in and straight out?"
"It would be risky; I have no doubt that your home is being watched."
"But could they follow us back here?"
"Not if I went alone and used multiple Apparation jumps both there and back."
"Very well. Please collect the large carpet-bag that is beneath the dressing table in my bedroom. It contains make-up, clothing and wigs."
"Wigs made from real hair," Potter mused, "I suppose that we could Polyjuice into random Muggles..."
"We could," Holmes agreed, "But would it not be more effective to scrape the drops of blood from the carpet in the doorway of the sitting-room?"
We all stared at him, while Holmes wore an expression of satisfaction.
"Holy shit!" Potter breathed. "Mortdelavie's blood!"
Snape stood up, adjusted the set of his jacket and nodded to us all.
"I shall be no more than an hour," he said, and disappeared with a pop of displaced air before anyone could speak.
"A man of action," I remarked, but Potter leaped to his feet.
"The git! We shouldn't have let him go alone, what if they're waiting for us to go back?" He reached to draw his wand but Holmes placed a firm hand upon his arm.
"Mr Potter, do not allow anxiety to cloud your judgement."
"He isn't recovered yet. We should have gone with him."
"Calm down, Potter," Malfoy said. "He knows what he's doing, for Merlin's sake! This is Snape you're talking about, remember? Master spy?"
Potter subsided onto the bed with a thunderous expression.
"It is best he goes straight away, before we are missed by the rebels," Holmes said thoughtfully. "For surely there will be two sets of irate wizards watching for us, once they realise we are no longer in the underground rooms."
"I don't relish the thought of meeting Mrs Calloway again," I admitted.
"She'd have been no match for my Aunt Bella. Can you imagine it?"
"I'm trying not to," Potter muttered with a grimace.
"Bellatrix wasn't that bad," Malfoy drawled. "For an insane serial killer, anyway. She used to send me birthday greetings from Azkaban."
"Yes, usually on seagulls."
"Instead of owls?"
"What? No, she would write the messages on dead seagulls, in blood. She was a bit odd like that."
I wondered if this was some kind of private joke.
"As far as we're concerned," Potter remarked, "she only died a couple of days ago. So did Fred, and Remus, and Tonks, Colin Creevy and so many other people."
"Nymphadora Tonks, my crazy cousin? I didn't realise she was dead."
"And so's Remus. Their son Teddy is an orphan."
"But here and now, they haven't yet been born. Your friends have all their lives yet to live," I said and Potter gave me a slightly bleary smile.
"I'm sorry, it's just that I don't want to lose him again; not when he came so close to dying and I've already lost so many other people."
Within twenty minutes, Potter was pacing the perimeter of the room, as dour and irritable as a bear in the pit at Regent's Park Zoological Garden. By the time Snape returned, we were all subconsciously braced for the explosion of his rage.
Snape placed what looked like a purse upon the bed, tapped it with his wand and revealed Holmes' carpet-bag. Then he removed a glass phial containing a few minute flakes of dried blood from his pocket and put it beside the Polyjuice potion.
"All went well, I assume?" I asked and he nodded.
"They had put wards around the house and there was a witch on watch across the road, but no one noticed me arrive or leave. I left the wards exactly as they were."
"Did you have to rush off without even bothering to discuss what you were doing?" Potter asked in a tight, controlled voice. Snape turned to him with a sneer; an expression I now suspected he donned from habit rather than a real dislike of the lad.
"Why, Mr Potter, do you consider that you are in charge of this expedition?"
"Do you consider that you are?"
The quality of the sneer altered, it grew more genuine and Snape's black eyes glittered.
"The young buck postures and challenges in the hope that he might take his father's place? Well, Potter, when you are prepared to consciously sacrifice yourself for your cause with deliberate forethought rather than rushing blindly in like a typical Gryffindor, then perhaps I might acknowledge your contribution."
Malfoy's breathing hitched audibly, while Potter's face underwent a transformation. The anger drained from it, leaving him paler and more composed than I had ever seen him.
"He doesn't know," Malfoy murmured and Potter nodded. Snape's gaze sharpened.
"What are you playing at now?"
Malfoy shook his head.
"Potter walked out to meet the Dark Lord in the Forest and later, he faced him down in the Great Hall at Hogwarts. He knew exactly what he was doing."
Potter held up a hand.
"But you did what Professor Snape said –"
"It doesn't matter." Staring into Snape's face, Potter spoke with a dignity that seemed far beyond his years. "The point isn't what I did or didn't do, or why I did it. The point is that Professor Snape doesn't believe that I'm capable of any rational thought at all, or that I'm prepared to make sacrifices, or that I'm anything except an arrogant bully. He looks at me and sees my father, whom he hated – not without reason – and he isn't prepared to make any effort to get past his hatred of him, to see the real me. Y'see, Malfoy, Snape doesn't trust me at all." Potter gave a lopsided little grin. "Never thought I'd hear you defend me to Snape." He turned away and missed the moment in which conflicting emotions struggled across Snape normally inexpressive face. Irritation won, and it was clear that this was a man who used anger to mask embarrassment or pain.
"Sulking, Potter? Do you expect me to declare undying friendship and clasp you to my heart after your gauche outburst?"
"No," Potter breathed, "I don't expect you to do anything except what you've always done: spit vitriol into my face and protect me with your life." He shrugged, awkwardly, and thrust his fists into his pockets. "So what are we going to do with Mortdelavie's blood, now we've got it? Who's going to impersonate him?"
"Not you, Potter."
"Does Polyjuice work on Muggles?" Holmes asked and Snape nodded without taking his eyes off Potter. "Then I shall become Mortdelavie. I have made a study of the man whom I knew as Professor Moriarty, and I have made a profession out of impersonating others. I know the way in which he moves and holds himself, and the tones of his voice."
"I've got to go with him," Malfoy said quickly. "In case we need to deal with the wards. Are we all going?"
"It will need at least two wizards to ensure Mr Holmes is surrounded by the level of magic that Mortdelavie possesses," Snape said. "And I doubt if Potter will allow himself to be left behind."
"Or Watson," Holmes added with an amused glance at me. "Do you have enough of your potion for two people?"
"Yes, but why should we require two Mortdelavies?"
"We don't," said Holmes, removing his notebook from his pocket and opening it carefully. "We need a reason to go to Mr Malfoy's home, and now we have it. Mortdelavie requires privacy to plan his campaign with his spy and her entourage." He took out a long blond hair and held it between thumb and finger; a hair that he must have plucked from my sleeve. "One of us will become Mrs Agrippina Calloway."
Part 10: Planning a Trip to Wiltshire
It was agreed that Malfoy would drink the potion to become the comely Mrs Calloway. According to the other two wizards, he was too obviously a Malfoy in appearance, manner and voice to deceive his own ancestor. 'Mortdelavie' and 'Mrs Calloway' would arrive at the Manor, requesting the use of a room to hold a secret discussion. They would be accompanied by two of Mrs Calloway's aides, impersonated by Potter and Snape, and a captive whose memories they hoped to raid before using him to subvert Holmes, namely myself. Even I was surprised at the audacity of Holmes' plan.
"I shall put you under an unforgivable curse named the 'Imperius'," Snape explained to me. "Under this, you will only be able to do as I say. It will be clear to Tarquinius Lucius that I have used the curse and this will serve to reinforce our story."
Potter pulled a face.
"Do we have to? I hate to do that to Dr Watson."
Snape raised an eyebrow.
"What do you suggest, Potter? We will have enough difficulty keeping Mr Holmes' cover intact. Or would you like me to disguise you as another captive and place you under Imperius as well?"
"Yeah, that's a good idea! We can say that we need to use a room to question two captives!"
"He'll put you in the dungeons," Malfoy said with disgust.
"Not if you flutter your eyelashes at him. Say that the dungeons are too uncivilised for a lady, and if we're under Imperius anyway, who needs instruments of torture?"
"Potter, I will need to genuinely use the curse. Any highly competent wizard will know if you are merely playing a role."
"That's fine," Potter said equably. "I can resist it. I've had all the unforgivables thrown at me over the last year."
"What will you command Watson to do?" Holmes asked.
"To act exactly as he would under the curse, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. It is a subtle distinction; it means that the compulsion can be overridden if the victim deems it necessary. I shall cast the same upon you, Potter. You will not need to fight it; you will act as one ‘Imperiused’ but your mind will remain as clear as it can be, and you will be able to perform upon your own initiative immediately should need arise."
"That's bloody clever!" Potter exclaimed and Snape pursed his lips.
"The approbation of a Potter; my life is now complete."
"God, you're a patronising git sometimes. I meant it. Anyway, my mum knew you were clever."
Snape closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Will you just shut up about your mother?"
"You're the only person alive who remembers her!"
"Don't be absurd. Once we return, you can ask McGonagall, Sprout, Pomfrey, or Flitwick to tell you every tiny detail of her life; they will no doubt describe her to your heart's content. Now might we return to the object of the exercise?"
I looked up from my newspaper. Snape and Malfoy had gone out with Holmes to purchase food and additional clothing to perfect our disguises, leaving myself and Potter at something of a loose end, confined to our bedroom in the brothel by the presence of Mrs Prinknash's 'business associates'. I was glad to relax but the young wizard was ill at ease.
"I don't know what's wrong with him," he said suddenly.
"Yeah. Why's he such a git?"
I did not recognise the term but his tone made it clear that this was not an endearment. Potter took another turn about the room. "You'd have thought that he'd be glad we managed to save him but all he's done is snap and snarl at me."
"Perhaps," I said carefully, "he is a man who finds it embarrassing to put his feelings into words and the discomfort of feeling gratitude towards you, makes him irritable."
"You might be right there,” he said after thinking it over for a while. “He and my mum were friends when they were kids. They fell out because he called her a really bad name. It might have been all right if he'd apologised but he left it too late; I suppose it was too hard to say he was sorry and it's too hard to say 'thanks, Potter'. Does he think it would make him look weak or something?"
I made a non-committal sound. Potter threw himself onto the bed with a grunt.
"It feels as if the harder I try to get closer to him and be friends, the harder he pushes me away." He sounded utterly disconsolate. "Even Malfoy and I are managing to be adult and work together most of the time, you'd have thought Snape could make a bit of an effort to be pleasant but no, it's all 'You're a fool, Potter' and 'You're as bad as your father, Potter' and 'Shut up, Potter.' He really must detest me."
"He doesn't hate you," I said. His green eyes were earnest behind his spectacles as he gazed up at the ceiling, both hands behind his head.
"I wish I could believe that. Why won't he meet me half way? The most I ever get is some sort of begrudging back-handed compliment – 'It pains me to admit that we should follow Potter's example.' I'm sick of it. He had to be horrible at school because he was spying for the enemy but why keep it up? Doesn't it take a lot more effort to be nasty than just acting normal like he does with Malfoy or you and Mr Holmes?"
"He is your teacher," I pointed out. "Too close a relationship would erode that professional distance between you."
His glasses flashed in the candle light as he turned his head.
"He was my teacher," he corrected me. "Not any more. Is that it?" He sat up. "Is that why? He wanted to look into my eyes ... the last thing he looked at when he thought he was dying. Is it that simple? He let me think it was because I have Mum's eyes... "
Maybe I had been guilty of allowing Snape's apparent prejudice to colour my view of the young man. Why had I ever thought that he was the least perceptive of the three?
"I don't know, Mr Potter," I said, and the minor deceit tasted like ashes in my mouth.
Holmes reappeared first, bearing with him bread, cheese, butter and pickles. Not long afterwards, Snape and Malfoy joined us and, having convinced the maidservant to supply us with tea, we made a satisfactory luncheon. Malfoy then took a small bundle from his pocket and tapped it with his wand, enlarging it and holding up a gentleman's overcoat and top hat.
"Mr Holmes, these can be adjusted to fit you when you've taken the Polyjuice potion."
Holmes nodded in agreement.
"What will you wear in your guise as a lady?"
Malfoy pulled a face indicative of his disdain.
"Merlin knows. I'm not experienced with petticoats and bustles and hats, or in disguising myself as a woman."
"Nor am I; at least, I have never attempted to impersonate a woman of fashion," Holmes said, suppressing his amusement. "However, I know someone who is an expert."
The young man who called himself Jess posed in the doorway with one hip jutting, looking Malfoy up and down.
"You want to dress as a ladybird?"
"Yes." Malfoy glared defiance and Jess snorted.
"You'll look stupid," he declared, tossing back his curls. Before Malfoy could respond in anger, Snape got to his feet and glided to Jess' side.
"Not if you teach him," Snape said; his voice was low and coaxing. "Not if you clothe him and paint his lips, show him how to move and speak."
"Why should I? Why should I help him to dress up for you?"
"Oh, it isn't for me," Snape assured him. "We are working with Mr Holmes on a vital undercover assignment, in which it is necessary for Mr Malfoy to pass as a woman. We require your expert advice." His voice dropped further on the last few words until it was almost a purr. "He will never be your equal, but we'd be grateful if you would tutor him in the ways of an ersatz lady."
"Oh well, if you really want me to... I suppose you'll want to borrow my clothes?"
"Yes, if you would be so kind. Something understated, it doesn't have to be the height of fashion as long as he appears to be refined and elegant."
"And what will I get if I do all this?" Jess gazed up into Snape's face with fluttering eyelashes and an oblique little smile. "Will you make it worth my while?"
"Without doubt," Snape whispered.
"I'll go and get my things."
When he had left the room, Snape remarked in a perfectly conversational tone,
"Do not trust him."
"Ah," said Holmes, "then I was right; he was involved in the nasty business two years ago, the affair of the handcuffed barrister in the well? I feared as much, although it was clear that he was not the perpetrator."
"He's a twisted conniving bastard," Potter said under his breath. When I glanced at him, he was sitting with his arms folded, his face set in an expression of mulish displeasure. "I wish you would just Imperio him, Professor."
"Why, Potter, do such interactions between men make you uncomfortable? Does it challenge your supreme masculinity, offend your delicate feelings to hear two males flirting –"
"Shut up!" Potter jumped to his feet, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. "Just shut up, will you?"
Snape laughed, but it was a bitter, savage sound.
"Of course, oh Chosen One, I understand. You don't wish to hear anything that might make you question your own sexuality, is that it?"
"I don't like to hear you stringing him along like that, all right?"
"Do I offend your Gryffindor sensibilities yet again? Well let me tell you, Potter, that young man is a thief, at the very least." Snape approached Potter like a predator on the prowl. I glanced around the room: Malfoy was watching with a show of interest, Holmes was nodding thoughtfully as if the interchange was one he had predicted (as I was sure he had) and the two combatants squared up to one another as though they were alone. "He is a thief, a liar and a traitor. He robs the men who come to sleep with him, knowing that they dare not report him to the police; he steals from his fellow whores and he repays Mrs Prinknash with mild impertinence to her face, while he plans to betray her entire enterprise to the authorities as soon as he has set himself up under the protection of one of his most highly-placed customers, in exchange for immunity from prosecution."
"A Slytherin, in other words!" Potter snapped. Snape let out a frustrated huff and turned away.
"Of course, Potter, of course. No Gryffindor ever betrayed anyone or stole from anyone, did they?"
"I just hated the way you spoke to him."
"Like a Slytherin?" Snape whirled back to face Potter, his overcoat flaring out like a cloak. "Like a spy?"
"Like a seducer!"
For just a moment as they stared at each other, I saw Potter's flushed face and vivid-green eyes, and although I was not drawn to young men, I understood why Snape yearned for him. Snape was bitter and hurt, a man who had expended his entire adult life to protect this youth, and his steadfast determination and the acid of his wit burned dark against the flame of Potter's bright audacity. Youth and maturity, courage and intelligence, they were well matched even if neither realised it.
Had they been man and woman, this encounter would have ended in a kiss, and I half-hoped and half-feared that it would be so between Potter and Snape. Hoped, because their mutual tearing at the connection between them was hurting them both, feared because I did not know what effect seeing such a thing would have upon me.
Once again, Snape pulled away from that final act. He threw himself down into a chair, where he was still glowering at the floor as Jess returned with an armful of frothing lace and silk and two friends in tow.
I expected Malfoy to object but he stood like a pale marble statue, his chin high and gaze fixed in the distance as the three inverts removed his coat, shirt and trousers and dressed in him a peach tea-gown.
"No," I said immediately and Snape raised an eyebrow at me in sardonic amusement. "Hardly practical for December in the countryside," I explained and only just prevented myself from adding "even for a witch."
"You didn't say so, did you?" Jess complained but he and his companions put their heads together and soon Malfoy was clad in a street suit: lace blouse, leg'o'mutton sleeves, fur-lined stole and all. He suffered the attention with rather more patience than I had expected, although he complained he could hardly breathe because of the corsets.
"You need a wig," one of the young men said, and with a flourish, Holmes produced a head of blond hair from his carpet-bag.
Malfoy's pointed features allowed one to envision him as a woman, albeit a slightly raw and broad-shouldered country maid rather than a genteel lady, but the wizard's potion would settle that problem. He practiced walking about the room; Jess taking a vindictive delight in informing him that he was swaying his hips in too exaggerated a fashion.
When we were alone again, Potter gazed at Malfoy with his head cocked to one side.
"I vote we go straight away before he changes his mind."
"Indeed," Holmes said, "and I strongly advise we travel to our destination by rail. We will have time to refine our plans, and for Watson and myself to be made aware of the pitfalls of entering a wizard's dwelling. Mr Malfoy may practise his disguise, and we will approach the area as innocent Muggles." He closed his carpet-bag with a snap. "Moriarty's younger brother is a stationmaster at Chippenham station. I should be interested to see him. From Chippenham it is a short distance to our destination."
"Four miles." Malfoy said softly. "I won't change my mind." Potter turned to him with a frown.
"You sure about that?"
"Yes." Malfoy's eyes appeared haunted. "This is going to work and I can prove it."
Ensconced in a closed compartment, we all relaxed as our train pulled slowly out of Paddington station. Malfoy, in his guise as a woman, arranged his skirts fastidiously.
"We have dozens of portraits of my ancestors," he said. "From the age of five or six, I would spend wet winter afternoons sitting on the carpet in the long gallery, talking to them."
"Wizarding portraits can move and speak," Potter explained to me. Malfoy regarded him with a sardonic eye.
"Are you telling this, or am I? I made friends with all the portraits, but when I was older, exploring in the attics, I came across another very old portrait, hidden away. I never told anyone that I found her; she was my secret. Her name was Encantadora and she had been punished for something she had done at the end of the nineteenth century. She seemed to be totally mad."
"Mrs Black," Potter muttered and gave a little shudder.
"She wasn't a Black and neither was she as insane as she seemed, although being shut away under a dustsheet for a century hadn't improved her state of mind. I thought she fancied herself as a Seer or else she was a believer in reincarnation. She kept telling me that we'd spoken before, a hundred years ago. She said that she'd met me as a woman and that she knew me as soon as I pulled off her dustsheet; she recognised me at once. You see, until she was banished, she used to hang in the library."
"So we're going to meet her there," Snape murmured. "What was she banished for, Draco?"
"Failing to raise the alarm when intruders not only got into the Manor but escaped again." Malfoy gave an odd little smile. "She said something else that I've only just understood and I believe that it has already affected our lives. She said that I'd be friends with a wizard with green eyes and a scarred forehead."
"Ah," said Potter.
"That's why I marched up to you to shake hands. It never occurred to me that you'd refuse."
"I thought you were arrogant."
"I was," Malfoy agreed, "I'm a Malfoy, it comes with the territory, but I didn't realise that I needed to make an effort to make you friends with me. I was completely thrown when you turned me down and I dismissed everything Encantadora ever said. She didn't bother to tell me that it wouldn't happen until we were eighteen."
"Seventeen," Potter muttered, "Not eighteen quite yet." He glanced at Snape as he spoke, then away again, as if suddenly embarrassed. Snape ignored him.
"What do you remember about her?" Snape asked Malfoy, sitting forward in his seat. His ascetic, hawk-like profile and intense gaze made me wonder if there might be wizards in Holmes' distant ancestors, for the two sometimes appeared very alike.
"She married into the family and she never quite fitted in with the Malfoys. She was always a bit of a mystery; an eccentric to say the least, no-one seemed to know where she came from. She knows a lot of the family secrets, though, and she knows all the oldest books in the library almost by heart, she must have spent a lot of her time in there."
"Did she realise what was going to happen, that you'd travel back in time to meet her?" Holmes asked.
"She must have. She kept dropping these little facts into our conversations. I wanted to know about her lifetime, back in the eighteenth century, but she'd keep telling me things about Tarquinius Lucius, whom she'd never met except when she was a portrait; as if it was important how he trained his dogs or built the wards or treated his house-elves; or that he had a thwarted passion for his young cousin."
"Things that may be vital to our success," Snape said.
"Weird," Potter said. "We've got a time-loop after all. Did she mention the watch?"
"Not that I recall, but she rambled on for hours about anything."
"It may be wise not to mention it, in that case," Snape warned. "If she is prone to chattering, we should not risk her alerting others to our quest. As long as she allows us into the library without interference, I shall be content."
"What exactly are we going to do when we get there?" I enquired.
"Look for any mention of the watch," Malfoy said with a slight air of condescension. Holmes, in the process of taking his pipe and tobacco pouch out of his overcoat pocket, raised his eyebrows.
"Watson makes a good point. We had best not be caught making notes."
"And I bet some of the books in the Malfoy library bite back," Potter added.
"Yes, some of them are protected," Snape said before Malfoy could take offence. "Draco, if you can utilise your own knowledge and that of your ancestor Encantadora to separate them into those which only a Malfoy can handle, those which Potter and I can open and the ones which are harmless and may be examined by Mr Holmes and the doctor, we can work as quickly as possible. Remember we have only an hour before the Polyjuice wears off."
"There are collections of old wizarding myths and fables, in the children's section, but many of them aren't in English. I don't know how well translation spells work on Muggles."
"They only work if constantly renewed," Snape said irritably.
Holmes lit up his pipe and took a draught of smoke.
"What are the languages?" he asked.
"Mostly Latin, a few French and German."
"You may not be aware that Watson and I have had the benefit of a classical education, Mr Malfoy. We can both read Latin."
"If you point out anything interesting, we'll make copies of the pages and shrink them," Potter said. "We can hide them inside Malfoy's corsets; no-one would look there."
Malfoy did not dignify the comment with a reply, but began explaining what we might expect to see at the Manor, so that we should not be taken by surprise by house-elves, talking portraits, screaming skulls or self-igniting torches.
Snape scowled at the gentle eddies of Holmes' tobacco smoke. I wondered why he did not perform a spell to dispel the fumes if he found them offensive. Eventually he reached into his jacket and brought out a flat metal box. He removed a cigarette, placed it between his lips, touched it with the tip of his wand, causing it to ignite, and drew upon it with every evidence of satisfaction. Only then did he become aware that we were all watching him. He raised an eyebrow and offered the box, and lit my cigarette for me. Potter sat scowling with folded arms.
"No, Potter," he murmured, putting the cigarettes away. "You're far too young and noble for such vices."
"I didn't know you smoked."
"You do now." Snape tipped back his head and breathed out a wreath of smoke. "No doubt you're going to tell me that your mother would have disapproved."
"It isn't good for you."
"I suppose you knew," Potter said to Malfoy, who shrugged.
"Are you annoyed because you have a sudden and unprecedented concern for my health, or because you were unaware that, like the majority of your teachers, I had to resort to caffeine, nicotine and alcohol to get through a day at Hogwarts? Really, Potter, did you believe the staff lived in a box when we were not attempting to educate dunderheads? Or should Minerva McGonagall have reported to you her weakness for Laphroaig, Pomona Sprout informed you that, phlegmatic as she is, she can't function without her hourly dose of single estate Assam tea or that Rolanda Hooch is addicted to pungent little black cigars?"
The corners of Potter's mouth quirked into a reluctant grin.
"I still bet my mother told you it was bad for you."
"No," Snape said, abruptly sombre. "I didn't smoke when she knew me. If she had ever caught anyone smoking behind the broom sheds, it would have been your dog-father and his little ratty friend."
Potter narrowed his eyes but then gave a short nod and said nothing more. Snape's dark gaze flickered towards him then away again; a brief, wary glance, as if he had expected a different reaction entirely.
Part 11: A Social Call to Malfoy Manor
We alighted at Chippenham station, amid the baskets of chickens, turnips and potatoes, mail-sacks and bustle of a busy provincial market town. All around us were voices rich with the long vowels and slow cadences of the Wiltshire countryman. Malfoy assumed a temporary persona as my niece, leaning daintily upon my arm and with his face downcast. Meanwhile Holmes, with the aid of one of Snape's charms, had metamorphosed into a portly clergyman, for we did not know how close Mortdelavie was to his brother, and if the latter had been primed to look out for the appearance of Mr Sherlock Holmes upon his territory. We saw no sign of him, however, and emerged from the low station building into a cold, grey, misty afternoon. A chilly wind blew across the station yard, rank with the odours of horses and burning coal.
To keep up the pretence of being a party of Muggles, we enquired if we could hire a cab from the station. The porter directed us to a morose elderly individual at the head of an equally elderly horse, hitched to a dos-a-dos dogcart. Snape informed the fellow that we required transport to the hamlet of Easton Piercy and we scrambled aboard; Potter remembering at the last second to assist Malfoy, in his womanly guise, to mount first.
We set off down the steep hill from the station, then turned right and passed beneath the noble arches of Brunel's railway bridge and out of the town of pale Cotswold stone.
The countryside was deep in winter sleep, with only the occasional scarlet berries upon the bryony or dog rose in the hedgerows to give a flash of colour amid the sere browns of plough or dead grass. No birds sang; the hooves of our horse and rumble of wheels sounded loud upon the road.
"Tis cowd enough to mek 'ee shrammed," remarked our driver after a quarter of an hour's ride. "There's blankets unner seat."
Snape pulled out a bundle of coarse-looking cloth and cast a subtle charm that sent the dirt puffing away from the fibres before handing them around with a word of thanks. We tucked the blankets around our legs and feet, grateful for the protection against the frigid air.
"Going in-a-most ter East'n Piercy, then?" The old man appeared encouraged by our acceptance of his collection of horse-blankets.
"We are going to just beyond Cromhall Farm," Snape said, "to Midwinter Covert." The reaction, a stiffening of shoulders under the heavy greatcoat, did not go unnoticed by any of us.
"I nivver goo thar," he muttered, shrugging his collar even further up around his ears. "Ole Wally were up thar las' Hallantide, ee cum back in un 'ell of a caddle, sez ther's a gurt rekkit." He shook his head and we exchanged bewildered glances; all except Malfoy, who sighed, shook his head and mouthed, "He says there's a ghost."
"I'm sure we're safe enough in daylight, my good man," Holmes said in his guise of a clergyman; however, the old fellow was not to be placated and insisted that he set us down half a mile from our destination. He seized his money, turned his cart in a field gateway and clattered away, whipping the horse into a shambling canter.
"Idiotic peasant," Malfoy muttered, attempting to keep his skirts out of the crusted mud of the lane.
"You understood his dialect well enough," Holmes pointed out in a dry tone and to my surprise, Malfoy flushed.
"I used to go into the villages with Greg and Vince. Never mind, it doesn't matter." He glanced around and sighed. "Yes, Potter, Muggle baiting. I'm glad I can still live down to your expectations."
"I didn't say a word," Potter responded mildly. "Which way now?" The lane was sunken and narrow, its high banks topped with thorn hedges. No birds sang and a light breeze rustled the branches.
Malfoy nodded along the road and we began walking. The mud underfoot was rimed with a thin skin of ice. All was grey, all was bloodless and cold, and although I was glad to get moving, I felt as if we were doomed to walk forever through this clenched and friendless landscape. Nothing moved, the cows were safe in their byres, pigs in their sties and the locals huddled around the fires in their cottages; yet I felt that I was watched. It began as a mere shiver on the skin down my spine, an urge to glance around at intervals, but as I walked, it grew stronger and less logical.
By the time we had walked for ten minutes, I was sweating and my heart was pounding. Not even under heavy gunfire had I experienced such fear. I ground my teeth and forced my feet to plod onwards. I believed that the blackthorn hedges were about to reach out their knotted arms and seize me, that hags and witches grinned and rubbed their hands behind each tree, that the ditches were oozing poisons and I would soon succumb to their noxious fumes. When I felt a touch upon my arm, I reacted with a cry of horror and flinched away. I faced a demon, a tall, white-faced ghoul who slowly resolved himself into Holmes, his eyes as wide as those of a spooked horse.
"Courage, Watson!" he gasped, "this is a curse, some evil spell cast against us. We must persevere."
I heard Potter's clear, light tenor as if from miles away.
"Oh bugger, we've met the Muggle-repelling charms already. Malfoy, do something!"
Malfoy's tones resonated oddly, as he chanted words that brushed over me like the wind from a clean sea, washing away the fugue of terror. I blinked, wanting to shake myself, to reach out and touch Holmes to check that he was truly there and not a monster about to seize me in clawed hands.
"No wonder the old carter believed this road was haunted," I said, hoping my voice did not sound as shaky as it felt.
"In my time, the charms simply make people remember that they should be elsewhere," Malfoy said. "These are a little more dramatic."
"Will anyone at the Manor be aware of us yet?" Potter asked anxiously.
"No, the repelling charms extend beyond the edge of the estate."
"It might be well to prepare ourselves in case they have foe glasses," Snape said. "Not that we are foes of the Malfoys, strictly speaking, but one cannot be too careful."
Snape transformed his overcoat into a long black wizard's robe, then removed two small bottles from the pocket and gave one each to Malfoy and Holmes. Each took a deep breath and drank.
Holmes had been warned about the taste but he struggled not to gag on the vile-smelling potion. I watched in amazement as his features melted before my eyes. His body changed, becoming round-shouldered with long arms and spider-like hands, his hair receded and his face became that of our old enemy. This was no mere cosmetic alteration, for when he spoke, it was in Moriarty's voice.
"Well, Watson, this must be our strangest adventure yet."
I nodded, struck dumb in amazement as Mrs Agrippina Calloway stepped lightly across the lane to stand beside him.
"Are you ready, Lord Mortdelavie?" Her voice was pure and clear; she laid her hand upon his sleeve and smiled with all the artless poise of that beautiful witch. Malfoy then spoiled the illusion by winking at Potter.
"At your service, dear lady."
Snape drew his wand and pointed it at Potter. "Imperio," he drawled, and Potter's expression became fixed and glassy. "Potter, you will comply with my commands unless there is good reason to do otherwise. Do you understand?"
Snape muttered something that sounded impolite.
"You will call me 'sir' or 'master', I am not a professor here; I am Master Prince, a loyal follower of Mrs Calloway, recruited to her service. You are a prisoner to be interrogated."
He then turned to me and I stared at the tip of his wand. It did not waver as he cast the same spell upon me.
I was filled with a desire, indeed, a need to do exactly as he commanded. I could see no alternative to obedience; I was no more able to resist his least suggestion than an addict can withstand the smoke of the opium poppy or a starving man turn away from food. I was a passive slave to his words. Deep inside me, a tiny spark that was John Watson reminded me that my soul was my own but I disregarded it, happy in the knowledge that I lived only to serve the man with the coal-black eyes.
"You are a dangerous man," Holmes said in the sinuous voice of our enemy.
"All wizards are, I'm afraid, Lord Mortdelavie, and you are the most powerful and dangerous of all."
"I stand corrected." The false Mortdelavie's eyes glinted in appreciation.
"We shall Apparate directly to the gates," Snape declared. "I shall bring our two prisoners, while you do the gentlemanly thing and accompany Mrs Calloway."
Snape took me by the elbow and I allowed myself to be transported through space, away from the lane of invisible eyes.
We faced tall iron gates between pillars of pale stone. A noble house, also built of the honey-gold limestone, stood beyond wide lawns, amid cedars and oaks. I heard a gasp from beside me and glanced around, to see Mrs Calloway standing slender and pale as a white lily.
"Remember," Snape murmured, "this is not your home. This is a place that will become your home, one day, but for now, it is no more your home than mine. Do not allow sentiment to distract you."
"Wise council, sir, as always," the feminine voice responded after a pause. "Let's get on with it, shall we?"
The disguised Malfoy reached out and touched the cold metal, whispering something that caused the gates to creak open as if hauled back on their hinges by unseen retainers. We approached the house. I knew that I should be afraid but all I had to do was obey my orders. This abnegation of responsibility, more complete even than being under orders in the army, allowed me to face what ought to have been a terrifying prospect with complete serenity.
The house had a door of silvery, aged oak studded with black iron. It opened as we approached and the bald, greenish head of a house-elf peeked out.
"Oh, Lord Mordy-luvvie!" The elf had a high, breathy voice and appeared to tremble as it stood before us. "We isn't expecting you yet!"
"No matter," Holmes said curtly. "Where is your master?"
The elf wrung its hands and cringed.
"Hob is very sorry, Hob will nail his hands to the floor in punishment, but Master Tarquinius is busy."
"Too busy to see me?"
Holmes was magnificent. His quiet question was filled with intimations of doom. The elf squeaked and scrambled backwards.
"Hob is sorry! Hob will tell master even though master will command Hob to drown in the lake! Hob will go at once and face certain death."
"Hob will first take us to the library," Mrs Calloway's light voice interrupted the litany of despair. The elf squeaked, its eyes growing round as billiard balls.
"Missy Agrippina! Oh, Master will be pleased! Master might even let poor Hob live!" With that, the creature fled, leaving the door open.
Fortunately we had Malfoy to guide us to the library. I followed along quite contentedly, despite the vision of a silvery apparition in the form of an elderly man who drifted through a wall.
"Well, young Miss Malfoy, I do declare! How delightful!"
I knew that I ought to be afraid but fear seemed to be something out of reach, an emotion that no longer touched me. A ghost, a true and genuine phantom, was accosting us and naming Malfoy despite his supposedly impenetrable disguise.
"Sir Gaius," Malfoy said and managed to transform the beginnings of a bow into a brief curtsey. "How good to see you again; however, I am now Mrs Calloway, if you recall."
"Of course you are, my dear. Forgive an old phantom his lapse of memory. I despaired of seeing you again after... well, the less said about the last time, the better, aye?" A ghostly finger tapped the side of a ghostly nose. "Tarquinius was most remorseful, you understand, most remorseful. He allowed his baser instincts to control him, he always was such a headstrong boy, you know."
"Gaius!" A deep, booming voice sent the ghost streaking away along the corridor and we turned to confront the master of the house.
He was a tall, well-proportioned man with blond hair and icy-blue eyes, which were fixed upon the feminine figure beside me. He stood with feet apart, tapping a riding crop against the side of his polished boot.
"So you couldn't keep away after all, you minx? For all your protestations, you just couldn't resist coming back!" His thin, patrician lips curved into a triumphant sneer. "You told me you wouldn't return for another month yet here you are, ready and willing! Or as willing as you ever are, you tempestuous creature. Still, I always liked a woman with spirit."
"Malfoy." Again, I was impressed by the leashed power that Holmes projected in Moriarty's voice. "Your dalliance must wait, I fear."
Malfoy noticed our disguised companion for the first time, for his attention had been solely upon the woman. His eyes widened. "Lord Mortdelavie! I expected you to arrive through the Floo."
For some reason, both Snape and Potter twitched visibly at the word.
"We have need of a private room, in which to question these two." Holmes flicked a hand towards Potter. "This pitiful excuse for a wizard and the Muggle have information which we require urgently."
"What can a Muggle possibly tell us of any use?"
"He is the companion of that irritating detective, Holmes, who has been a thorn in my side for too long. My operations in the Muggle world may mean nothing to you, but my income depends upon the bleeding of Muggle wealth into the wizarding world."
"And you?" The Malfoy patriarch turned to Snape, who faced him impassively.
"I am Master Prince, I serve Mrs Calloway."
"Do you? In what capacity, might I ask?"
"I might ask what right you have to question me in this manner."
"The right of a man facing an uninvited intruder in his own home, the right of the head of Mrs Calloway's family, now that she is widowed, the right of – "
"Please." The figure of the young witch made a touching picture as she placed a hand upon the angry man's arm. "We must question these two urgently. Might we finish this conversation later, under more convivial circumstances?"
"That depends upon how convivial you intend to be, my lady. You led me a merry dance the last time I complied with your wishes."
"This is important, Tarquinius."
"To return to the matter in hand," Holmes-Moriarty interrupted in that malevolent voice, "Might we deal with our prisoners before you indulge in your reconciliation?"
"Ah." Tarquinius Lucius Malfoy resumed tapping his whip against his calf, a delicately sinister counterpoint to his words. "In what fiendishly convoluted plan are we embroiled now, might I ask?"
"Allow us time and space to unravel the brains of these two and you will find out."
Malfoy nodded sharply.
"My dungeons are at your disposal, in that case. Do you require assistance?"
"My lord Mortdelavie," Snape said, turning to Holmes. "Might I suggest that we have no need of pincers and red hot iron boots? I have Veritaserum and my wand; we will gain more by subtlety than brute force with these two, particularly if we decide to send Watson back to undermine Holmes. We will need him intact for that. As for the boy, he is barely more than a squib; I can deal with him one-handed."
Snape insinuated himself between Potter and the master of the house as he spoke.
"A dab hand with Imperio I see, Prince," Tarquinius Malfoy said with grudging admiration.
"Master Prince is an asset to my plans, indeed," Holmes agreed.
"Very well, as you wish. As for you, madam, I'll expect you in my chamber later."
"Of course." It was to his credit that young Malfoy's voice was steady and clear. "The library, perhaps?"
His great-great-grandfather waved a hand in dismissal and strode away, shouting for the elf, Hob, as he went.
We hurriedly followed Mrs Calloway's slender shape into the library and Malfoy closed the door, leaning back against it for a moment to recover his breath.
"Forsooth, is it you back again, Agrippina? You play a dangerous game, you silly chit! Tarquinius is becoming impatient and you know his temper, dallying and playing the coquette with him will only lead to heartache."
The voice, small and reedy, appeared to come from a dark portrait over the fireplace, where a woman peered around the frame.
"Hello, Encantadora. I'm happy to see you."
"Hmph. You've never said that before. What do you want?"
"Your knowledge of the library."
"Hah. And why should I help you, you cunning little vixen? You always have three reasons for everything you do."
"You'll help, because I can tell your secrets."
"What really happened to baby Electra?"
The painted women sucked in a breath.
"The body will be found in the cellar in nineteen hundred and three."
"Oh, you're a soothsayer now, are you? What else?"
"Tell us where we can find out the details of the story of Zylphia."
"Children's tales!" The portrait snapped the words, wrapping her shawl around her shoulders.
"I know, but it is very important. Encantadora, please!"
There was a long pause and the portrait frowned, her painted brow crinkling.
"You don't sound like the Agrippina I know." When there was no reply, her tiny, dim features creased into a smile. "How exciting! You're not her! And who are the others?"
"You know Lord Mortdelavie, surely?"
She snorted inelegantly, settling her old-fashioned skirts and petticoats.
"That Muggle-loving tyrant! No, sir, I don't fear you! I'm only an old portrait but I've seen power-crazed scoundrels before and I'll see 'em again, no doubt. You mark my words, you'll come to a sticky end, sir! Communing with Muggles and diluting the blood."
Holmes approached the fireplace with gleaming eyes and hands behind his back.
"Indeed, Madam, but appearances are deceptive."
"Weasel words, sir, save your breath to cool your porridge." Then she cocked her head. "But if this isn't the genuine Agrippina, then surely you cannot be he! Ha! A conspiracy!"
"And one planned to bring Mortdelavie down, leaving the Malfoy family unharmed," Malfoy whispered. "We need your aid and your silence afterwards, otherwise even Tarquinius and Darius might fall. Will you help us?"
"How exciting! What do you wish to know?"
Seated at a reading desk, surrounded by scrolls and volumes of strange poetry and obscure mythology, I turned to pass a book with a possible lead to Potter. He waved his wand across the appropriate pages to copy them onto a blank parchment, shrank the resulting material to the size of a postage stamp and secreted it within his pocket. The book was sent flying to the tottering heap waiting to be re-shelved, and I reached for the next. Potter went to copy a scroll for Holmes. As I turned a page and bent closer to peer at the faded ink, something flared green in the corner of my vision.
In the fireplace, the logs had burst into flames that shone the colour of grass, and in their midst was suspended a face I recognised instantly. I did not pause to wonder how this could be. All I knew was that Moriarty's head had appeared in the room and his voice, familiar from Holmes' metamorphosis, spoke out.
"Malfoy? Are you there?"
I scrambled backwards, out of his line of sight as he blinked and peered about through the fire. The nearest wizard was Potter and I dragged him aside before he could be seen.
"Moriarty is in the fire," I whispered, and his eyes went wide. He raised his wand and vanished from my sight, but I heard the scuff of his shoes upon the carpet as he sped across the room. Snape looked up from the books he was perusing then he, too, flicked into invisibility, as did Malfoy. Someone pulled at my sleeve and I followed their urging. Once I was behind one of the protruding bookcases, Potter allowed his spell of concealment to fall, and moments later we were joined by our companions. Moriarty called again for Tarquinius Malfoy, with rising irritation.
"Bugger, I didn't think the Floo system had been invented yet." Potter stood with his wand at the ready, facing the fireplace.
"We had the prototype before it became widely installed," Malfoy said, "I didn't realise it was already working this early, though. Is he coming through? I'll distract him while you get the Muggles out."
Potter grabbed his arm.
"No!" They stared at one another for a moment and then I saw what Potter had already sensed; Mrs Calloway's golden curls were giving way to shorter, white-blond hair and her features melted and reformed into Draco Malfoy's more masculine face. "Too late! We'll have to fight him."
"Not until we have the watch!" Snape was adamant. "Get into the far corner, now! Do not move, do not speak."
Potter and I obeyed instantly, still under the influence of the spell placed upon us. Holmes and Malfoy huddled against me, once more in their familiar forms, and then Snape took his place in front of us, raising his wand and silently casting what felt like a shower of cool liquid that trickled down from my head to my feet. The room shimmered, as if seen through a waterfall.
The fire crackled and flared, dancing reflections of green light bounced from every polished surface of wood, glass or brass. Moriarty murmured and the fire died down, then his soft, firm tread approached. We collectively held our breath as he passed by, his domed head thrust forward and his wand in his hand.
"Tarquinius, what is happening?" He perused the scattered books for a moment. "Well, this may merit further investigation. Where are you, my devious friend?"
As soon as the door closed behind him, Snape dispelled our disguise. Holmes turned to Malfoy.
"Can you put the books away? We don't want him to deduce what we were doing."
Malfoy nodded once and whispered a spell. The air filled with a flock of flapping, swirling books, which scattered to the four corners of the room and inserted themselves into their shelves.
"We have moments before he returns with Tarquinius," I said and indicated the fireplace, "Can we leave in the way that he arrived?"
"We could," Snape said, "but you can't, you have no magic to protect you from the fire."
"Wait!" The portrait of Encantadora, who had watched in silence, now called out in her reedy voice. "Young man, are you really a Malfoy?"
"Escape through the stables; there is an Apparation point in the end loose box, where Tarquinius keeps his stallion, but beware, it's a killer."
"Oh, great!" Potter sighed.
"It will calm at a word," the old portrait continued, unperturbed, "it is how he sneaks his mistresses past his wife. The word is 'Samhain'."
"Thank you," Malfoy said with fervent gratitude. She, however, narrowed her painted eyes.
"You said that the fire can burn him. Do you dare stand there beside a Muggle –"
I stepped forward and bowed deeply.
"I am but a servant, Ma'am, a mere squib."
"Ah, good, then you know your place and that is well. Take care, young scion of Malfoy."
"I'll see you again, one day," Draco Malfoy promised. He gave me a quick nod of gratitude and led us out of the library, running through dark panelled passages – far too long for the size of the house – which turned and twisted. Windows opened onto views of unlikely spring orchards, impossible summer seascapes and formal gardens. Swags of rich velvet framed oil or watercolour portraits, whose inhabitants whispered, pointed and called after us in thin voices. A house-elf popped its head out of a doorway and retreated as Snape sent a bolt of fire in its direction.
We burst out of the house, racing across a paved area with statues and stone benches, around a corner into the stable yard. Someone shouted after us and Potter paused for an instant to cast a bright shield spell. I saw a house-elf collide with it and fall back, then we scrambled after Malfoy's flying skirts, into a loose box where a mighty black horse reared and snorted at the intrusion.
"Samhain!" Malfoy gasped and the horse plunged down again, coming to a stand; however, it tossed its head and snorted, eyes rolling, barely in control of its fear and rage.
"Multiple jumps," Snape snapped out. "Meet back at the brothel but we must split up and make as many jumps as we can on the way so they can't follow."
Potter seized my arm, Snape grasped Holmes' sleeve and we all turned and winked out of existence, even as Tarquinius Malfoy hurtled into the stable with a roar of fury.
Part 12: A Loop in Time
Again and again, I found myself standing in unfamiliar woodlands, fields or streets, wrenched through the very fabric of space by the young wizard. Potter allowed a pause, as we rested side-by-side on a rocky shore, watching the wild geese fly across a surging grey sea.
"We are still obeying his orders," I remarked, rolling a quartz pebble in my hand. "You are committed to making as many jumps as you can, until you can make no more."
"No, I don't have to exhaust myself. I can feel the compulsion but I don't have to obey it; I told you that I can fight it off. Besides, he gave us a way out; he said we could act when we felt that we needed to." He pushed his spectacles up his nose with a finger. "It's interesting, seeing what Britain looks like a hundred years before I'm going to be born."
"Is Holmes right? Is your Professor Snape as dangerous and powerful as he appears?"
Potter's smile gave away more than he knew.
"Yes, he is."
I held his green eyes in a steady gaze.
"You are no less powerful and what is more, he knows it."
His breath hitched and he looked away, his cheeks, already rosy from the cold wind, growing more flushed.
"Yeah, well, it would be nice to hear him say so for once. Are you ready for the next hop?"
I stood up and held out my hand.
"Whenever you are ready, Mr Potter."
He took my arm and stepped across England in a single stride.
Our friends were waiting for us with a very welcome feast of tea, toast and honey, fruit cake and jam tarts.
"How many jumps did you make?" Snape enquired as Potter and I sat down along the edge of the bed and accepted cups and tea-plates. Potter shrugged, cramming as much toast and honey into his mouth as he could.
"Eighteen," I said, holding my cup to the teapot, which bowed and poured out a stream of fragrant beverage. Snape raised an eyebrow. Malfoy, now back in his more usual garb, gave a little huff.
"You went a bit over the top there, Potter."
"Wanted to look round a bit," Potter said indistinctly, swallowed and added, "We are still under Imperius, you know. Snape said to do as many as I could."
Snape cursed softly, drew his wand and chanted “Finite Incantatem”.
An internal constriction lifted from my heart. I stared at this man, who could have compelled me to remain his slave, who could have commanded me to commit murder or walk into fire, and I would have obeyed unthinkingly.
"I apologise," Snape said, with a formal bow of his head. I nodded in acceptance and then looked at Potter. Snape narrowed his eyes, then with a wry little grimace, he turned to the younger wizard and added, "And to you, Potter."
"No problem," Potter said. "Have you finished with the fruit cake, Mr Holmes? Ta."
When we had eaten our fill, Potter emptied his pockets and resized the many fragments of paper, until we faced a great mound of copied references.
"Well," Potter said lightly, picking the first sheet from the heap, "let's see if it was worth it, shall we?"
I was outrageously pleased to find that my knowledge of Latin was far superior to that of the wizards and I busied myself skimming through strange tales of magic and mystery.
"Why Latin?" I enquired, handing a page of my notes to Malfoy.
"Most modern spells are cast in Latin, we learn them by rote now but it used to be a sign of a competent witch or wizard, to build and cast your own charms from first principles. My ancestors were all expected to be fluent enough to make up spells in Latin on the spot."
"Which was an erroneous assumption," Snape interjected. "They do not need to be cast in Latin, this is simply tradition and habit, although it has to be said that the older the language, the more powerful the magic." He gave a twisted little smile. "Latin is a measured, tolerably logical tongue. Creating spells in Latin is akin to building with blocks of dressed limestone. Some older languages are more fluid and dynamic and I sometimes use Welsh or old English when I am working with unstable potions."
"Or you can use wordless magic and bypass language completely," Potter said. "It's the intent behind them that matters."
Snape nodded and scribbled a note in a margin of a page.
"An apparently weak or trivial spell can sometimes be surprisingly effective if the intent is strong."
"Expelliarmus," Potter whispered.
"Effective against a scented fop of a wizard, I agree."
Potter appeared puzzled and Malfoy sniggered.
"Don't you remember the duelling club in our second year? Professor Snape blasted Lockhart into the wall with a straight Expelliarmus?"
"Oh yeah, of course. I was thinking more of Voldemort."
"Voldemort." Snape stared at Potter with a most curious expression. "You attempted to use Expelliarmus against Voldemort?"
"Mm. It knocked the Elder Wand out of his hand and reflected his own Avada Kedavra back at him." Potter shrugged. "So it seemed to work for me, too. Another thing you taught me, sir."
Then Potter gave Snape a shy little smile and added, "'No Unforgiveable Curses from you, Potter.' See, I do remember. Although that's probably a night we'd all rather forget."
"I dearly wanted to Crucio you, you persistent little bastard," Snape growled and Potter shivered.
"I tried to kill you and I accused you of being a coward. I'm sorry."
"You thought what you were meant to think," Snape said after a long pause. "We were both set up."
"But you were set up knowing full well what you'd done and what was going to happen to you, sir. That was the bravest thing I've ever known."
Snape opened his mouth to respond then shut it again, and Potter grinned. "Don't think I've seen you speechless before. Frothing with rage, yes, but not speechless. Sorry, didn't mean to embarrass you. Here's another totally bewildering Latin text for you, Doctor."
He reached across to hand me the page and picked up the next sheet of parchment. Snape pursed his lips and bent his head over his work, his dark eyes glinting behind the lank strands of his hair.
Holmes sat cross-legged upon the bed, wearing a dressing gown that a wizard must have created for him. He was wreathed in tobacco smoke, gazing into space with that abstracted expression that I knew so well. Malfoy lay on his front with his chin propped on his hands, while Snape dozed in the armchair and Potter and I sorted through a veritable sea of notes.
"Well, all I can say is that needles and haystacks are easy peasy compared with this," Potter grumbled. "She definitely went back to her own time with the watch from wherever she'd been."
"Whenever," Malfoy corrected him. "She travelled through time, not space."
"She might have moved through space too, like we did. It brought us from Hogwarts to London."
Malfoy sighed and rolled over, staring at the ceiling and pointing his wand at the smoke, causing it to vanish and leave the air smelling faintly of citrus.
"I hate having to admit that you're right, Potter, so stop making me do it. It makes me feel all twitchy."
"Sorry," Potter said without a hint of contrition. "We've got a definite trail for the rest of the Hallows but only hints about the watch. Ignotus and his wife took Zylphia in, once they realised that this ancient woman was really her, and she died a couple of years later. It makes sense that they kept the watch."
"It wasn't with the cloak, though."
"No, but if Ignotus had two kids, he might have given them one Hallow each."
"I wonder where Zylphia went?"
"I imagine she went to some other time, and met someone," Potter said dreamily. "She married and had a family, then when she was old and her kids grown up and her husband dead, she came back just so that her brothers wouldn't spend their entire lives worrying about what had happened to her."
"That reminds me of something," I said. "It didn't mention Zylphia by name so I only skimmed it. Oh drat, how can you find anything in this?" I waved a hand at the stacks of notes, each held down with a shoe, candlestick or saucer.
"What do you need to find, Doctor?" Potter asked.
"It appeared to be from the old Malfoy archives; a reference to an old woman who vanished. It was assumed she had died but there was no body. Perhaps it was her."
"Do you remember anything more specific?"
"There was a reference to a scandal; a Malfoy child who wandered off while her grandmother was asleep and disappeared, never to be seen again."
"That sounds like Encantadora and her grand-daughter, Electra," Malfoy said. "She always claimed that the baby vanished, but the body turned up centuries later when the wine cellar was being extended. The girl appeared to have died in one of the anti-trespasser traps and a house-elf must have hidden the body, either under instruction or because it feared it would be killed because it hadn't prevented the accident. The traps were made a bit less dangerous after that." He twirled his wand. "Accio information about Encantadora and Electra." Nothing happened and he frowned. "Accio the notes about the disappearing grandchild."
A teacup lifted into the air as one of the folios beneath it wriggled free and fluttered to his hand. I took it and nodded.
"That's it. It doesn't mention them by name, only that the old lady 'E', in a paroxysm of grief over her vanished baby grand-daughter, disappeared and everyone assumed she had killed herself. The writer says that they didn't know where she had come from, and now she had gone again."
"Odd," Potter said.
"Yes, that's why I collected it. I thought she could have been Zylphia."
"Encantadora?" Malfoy sat up, dislodging a sheaf of papers. "Great Merlin, we could have asked her about the watch!"
"But she carried it with her," Potter said slowly. "It would have gone back to the past with her when she returned. She always possessed it, whichever time she was in, it stayed with her."
"It says here," I said, "that when she went, so did her valuables. The writer appears to be lamenting the loss of some of the Malfoy heirlooms." I tilted the page towards the nearest candle. "It lists various artefacts; a torque or necklace of gold, a diamond brooch, a ruby ring and a diamond ring, and 'horologium', which translates as a clock or watch."
"Indeed, Mr Malfoy. Your ancestor, Encantadora, appeared to be Zylphia in disguise."
"Tarquinius might even have the watch!" Potter exclaimed, but Malfoy shook his head.
"I would know about it; I know everything in the Manor and our Gringotts vaults. I helped Father stock-take for the last couple of years. The watch went back with her, as Potter surmised, and then it was handed down in her brother's line. Her own family, her children, were born in a completely different time. They were my ancestors and I'd know if we possessed anything remotely resembling the watch that Professor Snape was holding."
"Oh balls." Potter slapped the side of the mattress in irritation, making Holmes twitch slightly. He turned his head to gaze at us with hooded eyes.
"My family obviously never identified it and Encantadora kept her secrets very, very close. We'll probably never know if she really was Zylphia and I don't think going back to speak to her is going to help us. Her portrait won't know what she did with the watch; it was painted before Electra's death. She would knew about the real Encantadora's disappearance but only because she would have heard about it from the other portraits and the ghosts. It is rather satisfying to have solved a mystery, but doesn't help much."
A sound attracted his attention and he glanced across at Snape. The Professor gave another faint, curling snore.
"Well, where are we all going to sleep?" Potter walked across to the armchair and pointed his wand at it. The chair shifted beneath Snape, slowly extending to become a chaise longue. The wizard mumbled something but settled back to sleep in a much more comfortable prone position. Potter removed the antimacassar from the back, flicked it out and it expanded, plumping out to become an eiderdown, which settled gently over Snape and tucked itself around him.
Malfoy caused all the piles of papers to lift into the air, bobbing across the room to settle neatly against the wall. I noted that he whispered charms under his breath all the while, but Potter worked his magic in silence. Holmes got up and knocked out his pipe into the fire, then leaned to place another shovel of coal on the embers.
"Watson and I can sleep on the floor, if you would be kind enough to create blankets and pillows," he said.
"That's not necessary." Potter pointed at the bed, which expanded, creaking, until it almost filled the width of the room. "Plenty of space for all of us. I get nightmares, though, so I'm sorry if I wake anyone."
"You're not the only one," Malfoy muttered; an admission I was sure he could not have made even a day previously.
After taking turns in the nearby water-closet, we settled down to sleep. The last thing I heard was Potter, ever vigilant, casting his wards and warning charms at the bedroom door.
"Knockturn Alley," Snape proclaimed after a breakfast of tea and toast. "I found it there before, and apart from a diverting exploration of the irregularities of Draco's ancestors, we're not getting anywhere with this investigation. The entire Malfoy Manor debacle is best forgotten."
"On the contrary," Holmes said mildly. "We have the evidence to denounce Mrs Calloway to her followers, if we need it. We know that there is a way into and out of Moriarty's lair via the fireplace in the library of Malfoy Manor, we know that Encantadora's portrait is to be trusted and that the watch accompanied Zylphia from the moment she received it until her death."
"None of which have got us an inch nearer finding the damned watch. I shall search the second-hand shops in Knockturn Alley today." He glowered at Potter. "And you are not going to accompany me."
Potter met the angry black gaze fearlessly.
"How are you going to pay for it, then?"
"Despite the offence it may cause your sensibilities, I shall steal it, Potter." Snape got to his feet in a flurry of black robes. Potter reached out and touched his sleeve.
"Will you please be careful?"
There was a strange little hiatus, a moment in which I was sure that Snape would snarl at him, but instead the older man simply nodded once before disappearing with a soft pop of displaced air.
"Since we've been left to our own devices," Malfoy said, "I suggest we take a look at the shops outside the official Wizarding quarter, starting with the herbalists."
"In disguise," Potter said immediately. "There will be too many people looking for us as it is."
"Of course, d'you take me for an idiot?"
"Disguised as Muggles," Holmes said firmly. "And they will be on the lookout for five men, or four men plus another disguised as a woman, so we need to throw them completely off the scent."
"Oh no," Malfoy breathed. Potter sniggered, but the laughter died in his throat as he saw the evil smile twisting Holmes' thin lips.
Part 13: In Search of a Timepiece
"These shoes are pinching something horrible," Potter muttered, clinging to my arm.
"You're supposed to be one of the most powerful wizards around," Malfoy told him irritably, "You can do a stretching charm, surely? Anyway, they're meant to be fashionable, not comfortable. You're a lady now, Harriet."
"Oh stuff it, Dracula! Hah!" He convulsed with laughter, to the annoyance of Malfoy. Potter sobered as Holmes looked at him with a raised eyebrow and we proceeded on our way.
My disguise was concocted from Holmes' carpet-bag; makeup to subtly change the shape of my face, a goatee beard and burnt cork to darken my moustache. Holmes himself accompanied us in the persona of a gaunt, elderly dame, while Malfoy and Potter were transformed into young demoiselles. Their hands and feet, whose size might otherwise have given them away, were clad in fur muffs and winter boots. Luckily for us, the wind was laced with a stinging rain and even the hardy cabbies and costermongers huddled beneath their umbrellas, so we attracted little attention.
We paused outside the herbalist shop, as if merely curious, and stepped inside. The elderly woman was once again behind the counter; she smiled and bobbed her head. Malfoy edged towards her in the cramped, curiously scented gloom, withdrew his wand from his sleeve and waited.
"Can you tell me," Holmes asked in a creaky, elderly voice. "Where I can find a shop that buys and sells second hand goods? Special things? I have something of value to sell."
He withdrew a slim length of whittled wood from his basket, and immediately replaced it. "It belonged to my daughter, you see, and she is... no longer with us." He dabbed at his eye with a corner of his stole.
"Oh you poor dear, how terrible! I understand; how awful that you have to sell her wand."
"It isn't safe to keep," Holmes wheezed. "Not now, and me being only a squib. I need the money, you see."
"You want to go to Warring and Wythes," the old lady assured him. "Do you know it? Next door to number a hundred and thirty three, Murchison Road."
"Thank you, my dear." Holmes shuffled out, and as we left, I heard Malfoy whisper "Obliviate” and then the tap of his heels as he hurried to catch up with us.
"That's in the East End," I said, "but I wonder what she meant by 'next door to number a hundred and thirty three'? Why not a hundred and thirty two or a hundred and thirty four?"
"The shop will be hidden," Potter said.
Sure enough, after a ride in an omnibus and a brisk walk, we arrived in the narrow residential street with its rows of brick houses, with their net curtains and dusty laurel hedges.
Potter stood in front of number one hundred and thirty three, glanced around, drew his wand and whispered, "Malfoy, cast a disillusionment charm on us, will you? Just in case the shop is being watched."
The charm dripped down over my face and body like cold water, causing me to shiver, and then I gasped. Potter simply raised his wand and in utter silence, the houses slid apart, to reveal a much older, stranger building. Tall and narrow, with looming eaves and windows of green bull's-eye glass, heavy warped timbers and an air of having survived many years undisturbed, the shop sported an antique sign. "Warring and Wythes, Magical Accoutrements Bought and Sold. Est. 666 AD."
As Potter opened the door, something cackled madly from a shelf in the window. A skull, yellow with age, jiggled upon a velvet plinth and insane laughter poured from between its teeth. A vivid bolt of violet light shot across the shop, hitting the skull square between its eye sockets and it fell instantly silent. A very tall, bearded individual behind the counter replaced his wand in his pocket and turned to regard us. He had a black patch over one eye, giving him a very piratical aspect. He frowned, reached up and raised the eye patch, and stared at us with the previously hidden eye: a most extraordinarily vivid eye with a golden iris of a colour only usually seen in hawks or cats.
"Customers," he declared, allowing the patch to drop. "Well well, how splendid." He leered at Malfoy and Potter. "And what can I do for you lovely ladies today?"
"We're looking for a watch," Holmes said, "a particular watch."
"We have pocket watches for ladies and gentlemen," the proprietor assured us. "Can you describe this item?"
"It had lots of little interlocking wheels on the face," Malfoy said in a breathy voice. "Lots and lots of them, and you could set them using whorled knobs around the edge."
The man shook his head.
"Nothing like that, young mistress. I've the usual sort that tells you where you are, what time it is, and whether you and yours are in mortal peril, but nothing like that. Is it big?"
"Perhaps a little larger than a normal watch. It was made of gold, with tiny gems in the wheels."
He shook his head again.
"I might have heard of something like it, a long time ago."
We waited and he bared large, yellow teeth in an unsettling grin between the tangled hairs of his beard and moustache. "T'was in a children's tale, though."
"This wasn't in a tale, and it's real enough," Holmes croaked. "Never mind. Can you suggest any other shops that we can try?"
"Strangers in town, are ye? You ought to be careful of yourselves, magical folks keep to themselves nowadays, there's too much politicking and jostling for power to my mind, upsets ordinary folk and is bad for business. You could try Hammersons in the Old Kent Road, opposite the Lord Nelson."
As we moved towards the door, Malfoy drew his wand under cover of his muff and directed it at the shopkeeper. The result was unexpected.
The skull shrieked in rage, clattering its jaw, and the bearded man drew his own wand, casting a jet of blazing red light in our direction. In silence, Potter flicked his wand and a filmy shield appeared, against which the spell light splashed as harmlessly as water. As the shopkeeper drew back his hand to cast again, Potter whispered "Obliviate" and the man allowed his wand to drop, turning away with a puzzled expression. Potter cast the same spell upon the skull and we left the shop in something of a hurry.
We were more circumspect as a result of this experience, but by the end of the afternoon, having criss-crossed London and visited a goodly number of small shops and a fusty old inn named the 'Leaky Cauldron' which Potter seemed to know well from his own time, we were no nearer finding the watch. If it existed in this year of Our Lord 1895, it was hidden away so securely that no witch or wizard we approached had ever seen or heard of it. We returned to our base in Mrs Prinknash's establishment footsore and depressed, to find the Professor awaiting us with tapping foot and scowl firmly in place, winding the note that Malfoy had left for him between his long, sensitive fingers.
"No luck either?" Potter enquired solicitously.
"Potter, what the blazes have you been doing?" Snape eyed him up and down. "You look... Merlin, you look even more ridiculous than usual! Remove those outlandish garments at once!"
It took a moment for Snape, usually in complete mastery of himself, to realise what he had said, and a dull flush spread across his sharp cheekbones. Potter gazed at him with narrowed eyes.
"I've been doing exactly what you have, sir, looking for the watch, and in considerably safer places than Knockturn Alley, and no, we weren't followed. Malfoy and I used disillusionment charms and confounding spells and we Obliviated everyone after we'd spoken to them."
"Charms didn't stop you being tracked to Baker Street when we first arrived, or protect you from being kidnapped."
"I've been wondering about that," Holmes said, casting aside his bonnet and shawl. "I believe that Moriarty had set his thugs to watching Watson, and they reported your arrival back to their master. I doubt that Mr Malfoy's appearance brought danger to Baker Street; it was already there. The combination of strange wizards and Sherlock Holmes was enough to provoke Moriarty into showing his face – luckily for us, for had he not done so, we would not have been alerted in time to our peril."
"Perhaps we need to keep pushing him," Potter mused, his green eyes bright and eager. "We gave him something else to think about yesterday."
"Whether for good or ill," Holmes said darkly, "for he will have discovered or deduced as much about us as we have about him."
We removed our disguises and settled around the small coal fire with cups of tea, a toasting fork loaned by the maid, Sarah, and a big bag of teacakes purchased on our way home.
"We have made him aware that someone knows of his association with both Tarquinius and Agrippina," I said, "but is he aware of the intruders' identities?"
"He will know, Watson. He will have felt my hand in the enterprise just as surely as I became aware of his finger upon the pulse of Muggle London. I fear he may have deduced our interest in the tale of Zylphia and the watch."
"How can he know?" Snape enquired, buttering a toasted teacake.
"He saw the books upon the library tables before Mr Malfoy returned them to their rightful places. He has a phenomenal memory for detail and he will want to know what drove us to take such a risk and show our hand at this stage of the game. I would guess that Encantadora's portrait has already been questioned."
"A good thing we didn't tell her anything important," Potter said. "Pass the milk, Doctor. Cheers."
"She overheard our conversations," Holmes said. "If she describes a quarter of what we discussed, that will be enough for Moriarty."
"While I was investigating the Knockturn Alley shops, I obtained the names and locations of the most knowledgeable and important collectors of magical curiosities and antiquities," Snape informed us. His crooked teeth bit neatly into a teacake and he chewed and swallowed before adding, "I will begin visiting them tomorrow."
"Are we expected to stay here and shut up?" Potter asked in a somewhat dispirited tone. Snape sipped his tea and cocked an eyebrow.
"Since you and Malfoy seem to have found new careers as female impersonators, you could don your disguises and simper obligingly at elderly wizards with a penchant for collectables."
It was a measure of our desperation that the two younger wizards seemed cheered by the prospect.
"I suggest that while you three follow your plan, Watson and I will follow a similar agenda in the Muggle world," Holmes said, rubbing his hands before the fire. "Watson, I will furnish you with a list of dealers in jewellery, clocks and watches."
"The watch never left the Wizarding world," Snape declared. "I am sure of that."
"Are you, Professor? I am not. Oh yes, it originated there and it will return there for you to find it in a hundred years' time, I agree, but there is nothing to say that it remained only in the hands of wizards. However, even if you are correct, there is no harm in making doubly sure. Watson will ask around the more salubrious of the dealers and I will don a disguise that I have used before, and tackle the criminal element. They know me in my persona of a morally dubious sailor bringing suspect goods from overseas and will trust me enough to tell me if they have ever heard of the watch. Now, I know of a rather good chop house not far from here; an unpretentious but honest place where we can get a good supper, if you are willing."
Snape reached into his pocket and brought out a handful of sovereigns, half-crowns and shillings. When Holmes and I eyed the money warily, he smirked and deposited it upon the bed.
"They're genuine," he stated. "A trio of suspicious-looking characters tried to waylay me as I walked back from Knockturn Alley. Oddly enough, not only did they collectively forget what they intended to do to me, but they mislaid the contents of their pockets into the bargain. The money is the fruit of crime, but as I am unable to return it to its former owners, we might as well use it to pay for our suppers. You are both professional men and we've paid not a penny so far, for all the work you have done on our behalf."
We needed no further persuasion and set out once again, into the icy drizzle of a December evening, in search of sustenance.
Part 14: The Mended Wand
Mellowed by mutton pie, mashed potatoes and excellent ale, I returned to our base in rather better spirits. Holmes appeared distracted and I wondered what obscure facts were tumbling around in his cranium, to be sorted and weighed, evaluated and dismissed, until my friend was ready to dazzle us all once again with his perspicacity. As we sat before the fire, warming our hands and feet before retiring to bed, he gazed around and I sensed that a dark shadow lay upon his soul. His eyes were hooded, his ascetic face sombre and drawn.
"Professor Snape," he began, "do your people celebrate Christmas?" Snape nodded. "What is the significance of the festival? Is it different from that which fills our churches and entertains our children?"
"Essentially it is the same, Mr Holmes." Snape did not enquire why Holmes wished to know; he merely waited, fingering the dark wood of his wand. Holmes sprang to his feet and paced across the room, pipe in hand.
"I do not know enough," Holmes stated with a degree of visible irritation. "I do not have the time to research your ways. Things are moving fast, towards an end that I cannot see."
"Then ask us."
"He did not need to show himself. He could have sent a dozen of his wizardly thugs to finish us off, yet he came himself. That was a risk that goes against everything I know of Moriarty."
"Did he panic?" Potter asked.
"Moriarty does not panic," Holmes stated. He shook his head, and then leaned to light a spill of paper in the fire and set it to the bowl of his pipe. "He arrived very swiftly. We surmise that he had Watson followed and the watcher reported back – using one of the magical means that you have shown me, perhaps a patronus – and he reacted at once. Something triggered that response."
"Your coming into contact with the Wizarding world?"
"Possibly, Mr Potter, but why, if he decided that we constituted a threat, did he simply not send his ruffians and then alter the memories of any witnesses? He put into action a plan already conceived; he showed his hand. If he had killed us in Baker Street, he would have escaped unscathed, of course, but he knew that if his attempt failed, I would be upon his trail again. He is drawing us out." He nodded, gaze fixed upon something that only he could see. "He chased us into the arms of the resistance – where the Calloway woman was already in his pay. He knows all the criminal bolt-holes and hiding places in London, he may not know exactly where we are at this moment but he is confident that he can find us, just as I am confident that I can find him. Why has he not moved already? What does he wait for? Is there something about Christmas that causes him to withdraw his hand and wait? For he is waiting upon no man's actions save ours, everything else is under his control."
Snape withdrew his cigarette box, extracted a cigarette and tapped it upon the lid. Then he put it to his lips and lit it with a snap of his fingers.
"I would guess that he waits for Yule," he said, leaning back his head to blow out a stream of smoke. "The solstice, the longest night, the twenty first of December."
"This coming Saturday," I said, "for today is Thursday the nineteenth, by my calculation."
"Why?" Holmes asked. "What is the significance of this day?"
"Magic is affected by many things: the phase of the moon is but one example. Do you remember that young woman working with Babbling, Hesper Starkey? She will become famous for her work on the phases of the moon and their effects upon the harvesting of ingredients and the brewing of potions. At midnight on the solstice, when the sun and earth are momentarily in balance, magic can be worked in specific ways that are impossible at other times of the year. I suspect that he intends to work a ritual at midnight."
"A ritual for what?" I asked. The back of my neck felt unaccountably cold and vulnerable.
Potter gave a little hitching gasp and when I turned towards him, I saw that he was hugging his ribs and hunched over, as if in pain.
"Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe." He spoke in a shaking, horrified voice.
"Not quite resurrection," Snape said in a brisk, businesslike tone. "But there are a few dark rituals which can only be enacted at the solstice. The most likely one will result in a dramatic enhancement of Mortdelavie's power. The Dark Lord had me investigate it at one time. However, he then inhabited a resurrected body containing the blood of his enemy, so it would not have worked for him; he had already accessed the power inherent in Potter's blood."
"Then he requires my blood," Holmes stated without a tremor.
"I fear so."
Holmes narrowed his eyes, breathing out a plume of pungent pipe smoke. Potter coughed and raised his wand. The air turned sweet and fresh, as if I sat before an opened window above a spring garden.
"All that he does is as clear to me, as our actions are to him," Holmes said. "He seeks to draw me in yet knowing what I do, I can surely evade him. He knows this."
"But why should he think that you know anything about the ritual?" Potter asked. "It isn't as if it's general knowledge among the wizarding population."
"Is it not?" Holmes sat upright, his eyes suddenly bright and piercing.
"It is the darkest of magic," Snape said. "I know of it only because I was the servant of the most evil wizard of the twentieth century. Blood rituals are very old, very evil and shunned by all right-thinking beings. They can be found only in the most obscure dark grimoires. This particular ritual cannot be found in even the darkest of the books in the Malfoy library; I spent years hunting it down."
"Tomorrow," Holmes declared, "you must make a last-ditch attempt to find the watch while I call in some outstanding debts. He may believe that he has the upper hand but I have my informants too."
He would say no more on the subject, merely shaking his head when we pressed him. "However," he said after a pause, "I feel we may be missing a vital piece of the puzzle. Will you tell me in detail what happened when you went to collect what you believed to be your professor's corpse?"
Malfoy and Potter described their meeting in the Shack where Snape's body lay.
"I was furious that you'd left him there, lying in his own blood," Malfoy said calmly.
"And I accused you of wanting to do something awful to him, turn him into an Inferius or something. I knew you wouldn't really. I felt guilty because we hadn't tried to save him."
"You both had enough to worry about by all accounts," Snape told them. "Which spells did you use on each other?"
"I tried to stun him," Malfoy said.
"I used Expelliarmus."
"My spell bounced off yours, Potter, it was your spell that hit the watch."
"There was this great fountain of sparks and I grabbed Snape's arm because I thought you had done something to him."
"I thought you had. I held onto his wrist."
"Then it was like the biggest, roughest portkey journey in the world."
"So you hit the watch with a simple Expelliarmus?"
"Frankly, for years I had been expecting the Dark Lord to set his snake on me when he found out which side I was really on. I had prepared for such an eventuality by ingesting an anti-venin and pre-setting the watch so that all I had to do was touch three of the little jewels around the edge, and it would put my body into stasis. That took me many hours of spell-crafting. Having been operated, it would have reset itself to its default condition and I know for a fact that the device is virtually impervious to casual spells; Merlin knows I tried enough charms on it before I got the hang of its controls. Then along comes Potter and casts his bloody trade-mark 'Expelliarmus' and we all get dragged a century into the past and four hundred miles south." He threw the stub of his cigarette into the fire. "Are you sure you didn't keep the Elder wand, Potter? Because that's the only artefact that I can think of with the power to operate the watch unintentionally."
"Of course I didn't, I put it right back where it came from, with Dumbledore. I used Draco's hawthorn and unicorn hair wand when I fought Voldemort and Draco's got it now; I gave it back to him after I'd mended my old one."
"You can't mend a broken wand, Potter," Malfoy said irritably. "As your carrot-topped crony found out years ago; his broken wand gave him a rather satisfying case of vomiting slugs when it backfired, if I recall. Maybe Ollivander could put one back into something like working order but it would never be the same again."
Potter laid his wand across his knees and gazed at it thoughtfully.
"I showed my wand to Ollivander and he said it had suffered so much damage that it was irreparable. I reckon half the trouble in the wizarding world is caused by people believing it when they're told it's impossible to do something? You can use Reparo on a broken wand if you use the Elder wand to do it."
We stared at the slim, dark splint of wood on Potter's knee. Snape stretched across to hold one hand in the air above the wand. I saw Potter suppress a little shiver, as if the action was a more intimate and revealing one than it appeared.
Potter picked up the wand, reversed it and held it out, handle first. Snape took it gently and ran his stained fingers up and down the shaft.
"And phoenix feather, from Fawkes."
"Did it snap completely into two?"
"Yeah, the feather was all that was holding the two bits together."
Snape handed the wand back to its owner.
"This may explain something that has been puzzling me ever since it happened. Do you recall that I cast a charm to gag you when you were irritating me even more than usual?"
"With one of those chair-back cover thingies?"
"Antimacassar, Potter, yes. It was a particularly powerful silencing charm, which I developed many years ago, for reasons you may imagine, knowing the part I played at the time. You should not have been able to dismiss it in your usual cavalier fashion, yet you did."
"Because my wand is more powerful than it used to be?"
"I believe that the Elder wand may have transferred a little of its own power to your original wand when you mended it. You are master of both wands, after all, so it would not be giving anything away to anyone else. You cast a Protego shield charm at Malfoy Manor which repelled a house-elf did you not?"
"That isn't possible, the house-elves' own magic is too strong," Malfoy said, and then dramatically clapped his hand to his forehead. "Damn, this is the Chosen One we're talking about, isn't it? Silly me, I forgot."
"Oh shut up, you poncy blond git."
Malfoy smirked. Snape ignored him, sharp black eyes fixed upon Potter.
"When you dragged me out of the fight in the warehouse and Apparated back to Baker Street; which spell did you use?"
"Accio Snape. I know Flitwick taught us that you shouldn't use Accio on another person but you were going down so I had to do something."
"Filius would have taught you that you cannot use Accio on people, not that you should not. It doesn't work; a witch or wizard is too heavy and too magical to be summoned – unless of course the spell-caster is the Chosen One carrying an exceptional wand."
"Professor Snape," Potter said, fixing the older man with a fierce green glare, "if I have to shut up about my mum, then you can shut up about the bloody Chosen One, all right? Sir?"
"Temper temper, Potter," Snape murmured and Potter chuckled.
"You can talk. So you reckon my wand's something special then?"
Snape stared at him then the corner of his mouth quirked.
"I think I need to bleach my brain," Malfoy muttered, getting to his feet. "I'll sleep on the chaise tonight if you don't mind."
Snape's expression changed, a cold, hard mask had slammed shut over his face as if he had suddenly recalled that he was the schoolmaster and these two his pupils. He got to his feet and went out to the water-closet, his black robes snapping behind him. Malfoy watched him leave, and then looked at Potter with a little shrug that was almost apologetic. Potter sighed and began expanding the bed to make room for four sleepers, appearing a little downcast compared with his usually optimistic and cheerful demeanour.
Part 15: The Royal Crescent
As faint and sweet as Christmas bells sounding across snow, a gentle chiming penetrated my slumbers. I felt the mattress dip slightly as one of my neighbours stirred and I mumbled a question, pulling the warm blankets up around my ears. A hand grasped my shoulder and shook firmly.
"Watson? Watson, old fellow, wake up! We are under attack."
I sat up and in the eerie glow of wand-light, saw Holmes kneeling beside me, pulling on his jacket even as he spoke. Elsewhere in the house, I heard running feet and urgent voices, and the shrill blast of a police whistle. Holmes thrust a bundle of clothing at me and I dressed in haste.
Potter and Snape stood one on either side of the door with their wands raised, while Malfoy ran around the room collecting potion vials, my medical bag, Holmes' bag of disguises and our revolvers. The door handle rattled and someone shouted, "Here, boys, this one's locked!" A glow pulsed around the door for a moment, as if a bright fire seeped through every crack and pore in the old wood, but the door held fast.
"Wizards," Snape breathed. "Holmes, where should we go? No – don't speak aloud. Look at me."
He raised his wand and whispered, “Legilimens,” then nodded. "We will meet there. Draco, Legilimens. Now, you see where to go?"
Malfoy reached out, grasped Holmes' arm and twisted away out of sight. Potter stepped across to face the door, raised his wand and cast a bright, opalescent shield.
"Take Watson while I hold them off," he said, bracing himself.
"Bombarda Maxima! " someone screamed. A mighty weight crashed against the door. It exploded in its frame, but the shield spell held firm as debris bounced and shattered around the doorway.
Snape pointed his wand at Potter and snapped, "Legilimens!"
"Got it," Potter said. "Now go!"
"Follow me at once!"
Snape whirled, pulling me against his side and we hurtled away from the chaotic scene of flying wood and masonry, to land in cold darkness in an unfamiliar street. Malfoy and Holmes stepped into the dim pool of light from a gas lamp. The younger man was carrying my medical bag, which he handed to me together with my revolver and pouch of ammunition.
"That was close," he said, rubbing his hands together and tucking them under his arms. "Merlin, it's cold! I didn't have time to grab my overcoat. Where's Potter?"
"Being heroic," Snape said between his teeth. "The little nincompoop. If he doesn't arrive within two minutes, I shall return and – ah!"
With a sharp popping sound, Potter appeared fifty yards from us. He trotted down the broad, curving street, tucking his wand away and grinning.
"Wow, that was close! Good job we're suspicious buggers and remembered to set warning charms, isn't it? Where are we?"
"The Royal Crescent, Bath," Holmes said. "It is totally distinctive, therefore not hard for you all to find, but there was no other reason to select it as a destination, which should give us a breathing space. I suggest we find somewhere warm to spend the rest of the night, and then return to London tomorrow in daylight, when we will have the opportunity to blend into the crowds."
"I have an idea," Malfoy said, and vanished, to reappear before we had time to begin worrying. We followed him into a mews where, muffled by a silencing charm, we crept past a kennel in which a large mound of fur snored softly in a bed of old rags, and into a closed stable. Snape lit his wand and held it up.
A tall bay horse surveyed us curiously while Malfoy whispered to it and gentled its head. The animal snuffled at him and then folded its legs in the awkward manner of its kind, stretching out in the deep litter of straw.
"There, I've put him back to sleep," he whispered. "He won't wake until his breakfast time. I've Scourgified his bedding; if we sleep next to him, we'll be warm enough. We'll need to keep our voices down so we don't wake the dog."
Potter drew a complicated sign in the air with his wand.
"That'll wake us as soon as anyone comes into the yard. I thought you didn't like big animals, after your run-in with Buckbeak?"
"My great-uncle breeds flying horses in Ireland. They are a little different from hippogriffs, Potter, they tend not to attack people without warning."
"Buckbeak's a good hippogriff!"
"That monster is completely deranged and should have been slaughtered."
"Oh yeah, he chased you away from Hogwarts, didn't he? I forgot about that."
"I hadn't," Snape muttered. "Now do be quiet and settle down before I am forced to deduct house points."
The conversation was cut short by a querulous whine from the dog outside, and we arranged ourselves in the deep straw and snoozed against the warm, musky body of the sleeping horse.
Refreshed as much as was possible by water from the stable yard pump and with our clothes spruced up by Malfoy's cleaning charms, we headed for the city centre. Bath is no longer the centre of fashionable society, but it is a civilised provincial city with a genteel charm of its own. We passed many a gout-ridden colonel and shawl-wrapped grand-dame on their way to the baths and pump room; however, our own path took us to a coffee shop where, for the price of just under a shilling, we were all able to partake of an excellent breakfast.
"Before we return," Holmes said, lighting up a postprandial pipe, "I would like you to describe to me exactly what happened once you arrived in London." He pointed at Potter with the stem of his Meerschaum. "Interesting as our discussion of your wand might have been, it distracted us from the object of our conversation."
"One minute we were standing in the Shack, the next we'd landed in a heap in Baker Street," Potter said. "If there had been motor vehicles, we'd have been killed."
"We scared the living daylights out of a pair of big draught horses. They shied; their cart swung sideways and it blocked the road, luckily for us."
"A brewer's dray," I explained.
"Who else was involved?"
"There was a costermonger's cart," I said. "The big red-faced fellow; I believe that Mrs Hudson buys her root vegetables and cooking apples from him. The dray had most likely been delivering to the Volunteer: it was coming from that direction. A private chaise paused but departed smartly; the rest I fear I cannot recall. I was too concerned with my unexpected patient."
"And on foot?"
"The local idlers gathered like flies, together with every servant and errand boy within hailing distance."
Holmes sighed deeply.
"My dear Watson, you never fail to amaze me. Did anyone else touch Professor Snape? How did you carry him?"
"Two blokes helped us to carry him to the pavement," Potter remarked.
"The butcher's boy!"
"Ah," Holmes leaned forward and fixed me with a gimlet eye. "Did you lift the Professor by his arms and legs?"
"We borrowed a horse-blanket from a cabbie; his hansom was blocked by the dray."
"Skinny bloke with a black moustache," Potter grumbled. "The clumsy git stepped on my foot and I only just managed to stop him tipping Professor Snape into the gutter."
"I gave sixpence to the butcher's lad but the cabbie grabbed his blanket and made off, I suppose he was going to collect a pre-arranged fare and we were holding him up."
"Then what happened?"
"We carried our friend up to our rooms."
"Could any of the bystanders have identified you as wizards?"
"I should jolly well think so; these two brandished their wands at each other and both Professor Snape and Mr Malfoy were wearing robes."
The two young men had the grace to look sheepish.
"We weren't to know, were we?"
"We should have Obliviated the whole damn lot of them," Malfoy muttered, but he glanced at me with a roguish sparkle in his eye.
"You kept threatening to Obliviate me," I pointed out, "as I'm only a Muggle."
"Yes, well, people can sometimes surprise you, can't they?"
"Indeed they can." Holmes got to his feet and pulled on his overcoat. "Come along, gentlemen, we must be off. London awaits us."
I stood blowing on my nails and stamping my feet against the cold as Snape and Holmes spoke earnestly. Suddenly Snape said something that made Holmes nod, turn to me and indicate that I should approach them.
"Watson," he said. "Snape wishes to put a tracking charm upon us, so that if either of us is seized, we can be traced magically." He stared at the wizard, who stood with his arms folded. "Mortdelavie will sense a trap, surely?"
Snape shook his head.
"I doubt he will detect this charm. It was developed to protect those whose magic was not sufficient to protect themselves; Draco, your ancestors would have cast it upon their squib servants. It was used for children whose magic was not yet fully developed or controlled and for adults whose access to their own magical power was disrupted by illness, pregnancy or old age." He looked at Potter. "I researched it and suggested that Dumbledore used it as an additional protection for you, but he believed that the blood of your family was sufficient and, indeed, I had to agree that this would not have withstood the Dark Lord. It is unlikely to work against Mortdelavie; however from what we have seen of his minions, they are of lesser calibre and may well be unable to penetrate it."
"You expect him to attempt to seize one of us?" I asked and Holmes nodded.
"It is what I would do if I were him. He will be watching for us, he knows where to find us now that he knows what we seek. I had hoped that in the Muggle world, you and I would be relatively safe among the teeming millions."
"But he may already be following us magically." I felt cold at the thought of that evil, methodical genius bending his will upon us.
Snape shook his head.
"I have removed the charms put upon us by the Calloway woman and the Malfoy house-elf."
"Then we should not split up," I exclaimed. "We have no realistic chance of finding this damned watch before the twenty first of the month. We shall have to face Mortdelavie and then attempt to speak with Encantadora again, in the hope that she will know what her real life counterpart would have done with the watch."
"Spoken like a true Gryffindor," Potter said with a huff of amusement. "It's obvious where you'd have been sorted if you'd been a wizard, Doctor."
Malfoy glanced heavenwards in exasperation.
"Gryffindor doesn't have a monopoly on courage, Potter."
"True. I'd have put money on Mr Holmes being in Ravenclaw at first but now I'm not so sure. I reckon he's one of yours."
"Gentlemen," Holmes said sharply. "I have one errand to run which cannot wait. If you would cast your charm upon me, Professor, and then arrange among yourselves which curiosity shops to visit and how to remain safe, I will rejoin you for luncheon – "
Snape interrupted him by holding up his hand.
"Do not say it, Mr Holmes. We can never be sure that we are not overheard. Legilimens."
They gazed into each other's eyes for a few seconds, and the corners of Snape's thin-lipped mouth curled up in a smile.
"You would indeed have done well in the house of the snake, Mr Holmes. We will meet again as and when you suggest."
Holmes vanished into the busy streets, leaving me with a list of jewellery shops to visit in my search for the elusive watch.
I carried out my allotted task on foot, feeling most secure when I was surrounded by oblivious strangers. Even Moriarty was not yet so confident that he would snatch me in broad daylight from a London thoroughfare. I suppressed a shiver as I realised that unless we acted soon, the situation might come about in which he would display his power openly. Not content with his control of the magical world and the criminal underworld, he intended to become all-powerful in every sphere. I shuddered as I imagined the effect that his evil greed would have upon the hub of the Empire, were he to gain the power of the dark ritual and take over the City of London.
I made my way towards the City where we had arranged to meet for lunch, having perused enough pocket watches to make my head spin, but not one that in any way resembled a magical artefact. As I approached Trafalgar Square, I noticed a familiar figure: a short, plump matron carrying a basket. The auburn curls escaping from the confines of her bonnet and her profile were unmistakeably those of our one-time acquaintance and rescuer, Mrs Jenny Prewett.
I did not know what to do. On the one hand, I knew that this lady wished us no ill and had risked her very life in our defence; on the other, she was a follower of Mrs Calloway and might not believe me if I accused her friend of duplicity. As Mrs Prewett looked over her shoulder towards me, I held my breath, expecting her to recognise me, but her gaze passed me by and I realised that Snape's magic still hid me from her. I resolved to follow her.
She strolled across the square and into the Strand, among the hurrying bankers and clerks, servants and errand boys. When she slowed, her gaze resting upon the approaching figure of a young man with reddish curls the exact same colour of her own, I realised that this must be the son whom she had mentioned to us. I adjusted my pace and turned away my face, hoping that Snape's charm would hold.
"Peter," she exclaimed as he came within hailing distance, and he took her arm and drew her aside.
"Hallo, Mother, I wondered if you'd be able to get away."
"Of course, why shouldn't I?"
"Things are getting pretty tricky at the Ministry, I don't know what his lordship's up to but there's something big going on, something very big and very nasty."
"I'll speak to Agrippina – ."
"No," he said softly. "Don't do that. Please. Every time you speak to her, things go wrong."
"What d'you mean? Peter, what you're suggesting – "
"Sh." He touched a finger to her mouth. "Mother, if you trust me, please don't tell her everything. I've overheard a few things I wasn't meant to and, to be frank, I don't feel happy that you and Father are still involved with that woman."
Mrs Prewett frowned and pressed her lips together in obvious uncertainty, and I made my decision. This lady had fought on my behalf, physically battled against enormous odds, and I owed her a debt of gratitude. I stepped closer, ready to speak, and the young man whirled with the speed and agility of a cat. Even taken by surprise, he allowed his wand to slide down his sleeve into his hand yet kept it close against his side, hidden in the folds of his open overcoat.
Mrs Prewett gave a little bitten-off gasp of surprise and I held out my hands, in the age-old gesture of one who approaches in peace.
"Master Prewett," I said quietly. "Mrs Prewett, I apologise for startling you and even more, for listening to your private conversation, but I must urge you most earnestly to take your son's advice and remove your husband and daughters from the sphere of Mrs Calloway's influence."
"Who are you, sir, and what do you mean by this?"
I glanced down.
"Please put your wand away, Master Prewett, I am no threat to you. Your mother can confirm that I'm a Muggle."
"My word, Dr Watson, I never expected to meet you again!" Mrs Prewett stared at me with narrowed eyes. "Why did you leave?"
"Because my friends suspected what your son has discovered; Agrippina Calloway is not what she appears. She is a Malfoy by birth."
"Yes, I am aware of her ancestry, but that isn't her fault."
"Both she and Tarquinius Malfoy are working with Mortdelavie. She is spying on your organisation."
Peter Prewett nodded.
"That would make sense. I don't have any proof of that but I've heard that her husband was not killed by Mortdelavie. The rumour at the Ministry is that he died in a wizard's duel, killed by Tarquinius Malfoy, then she claimed that Mortdelavie killed Theo in order to worm her way into the resistance."
"Tarquinius Malfoy is her lover," I whispered. "And both Mortdelavie and Mrs Calloway come and go at will in his house."
"How do you know this?" Prewett demanded and I shook my head.
"There isn't time to explain now; I just wanted to warn you to take care. Mortdelavie is planning something very soon and I beg you to remove your family and friends from danger if you can."
"Thank you," Jenny Prewett said. "I will."
As I stepped away, I heard Prewett whisper "Should I Obliviate him?"
"He's a Muggle, Mother."
"No, don't you dare. Now get a move on, my lad, we've arrangements to make. I'll need you to send your patronus..."
I hurried away, satisfied that I had done all I could to protect an ally from the coming storm. I did not understand until too late that by deliberately attracting the attention of the witch and wizard, and speaking to them, I had negated the effects of the protection that Snape had laid upon me. Anyone observing them, would have seen them speaking to me.
A stunning spell hit me as I stepped into the shadow of one of Landseer's lions, momentarily hidden from the view of passersby, and I knew no more.
Part 16: Upon the Plain
I became aware that I was lying on the ground, my head upon dead grass stems and the scent of earth in my nostrils. A wary shifting of my limbs assured me I was uninjured apart from being very cold; my joints were stiff and I could hardly feel my feet. There was the susurration of the wind over winter grass, and beneath it, voices speaking softly. I moved my head enough that I could see human figures, dwarfed by the expanse of a vast, grey sky filled with scudding cloud.
A man stood with his hands behind his back as he listened to his companions. The slight oscillation of his jutting head, a curiously reptilian movement, together with the round curve of his shoulder, identified him without doubt, and my viscera seemed to fill up with ice as I was seized by fear. Three of the four men turned away, walked a few steps and vanished with the tell-tale crack of Apparation, leaving me alone with Moriarty.
"I know that you are awake, Doctor." His voice was emotionless, soft and measured. "You cannot evade me. Please, sit up, make yourself comfortable. We have a while to wait yet."
I pushed myself up and looked around. We were in the middle of open grassland. Some distance away, barely visible in the gloom of a December afternoon, I recognised the distinctive and foreboding shapes of the megaliths of Stonehenge. I gritted my teeth to prevent them knocking together, but Mortdelavie withdrew his wand from his pocket, waved it negligently and created a woollen blanket, which floated across to me, directed by his wand.
"I have no intention of allowing you to freeze to death," he remarked, upon noticing my suspicious expression. "You are far more useful to me alive and unharmed, I assure you." He sighed, shaking his head. "Dear me, why must you be so unreasonable? No doubt you emulate your friend in this respect as in all others."
He turned his back on me and I wished that I had carried my revolver with me when I went shopping, despite the risk of the tell-tale shape being noticed in my pocket. As usual, I had left it together with my medical bag, in the care of Potter and Malfoy, shrunken for safekeeping.
Mortdelavie bent over, picked up a twig and cast it into the air, training his wand upon it as it fell. It bloomed into a large and complex structure which, upon righting itself and settling upon the ground, was revealed to be an imposing, high-backed chair with a padded seat and ornately carved legs. Mortdelavie seated himself, gazing at me from his deep-set, hooded eyes, blinking as slowly as a great lizard. He waved the wand again, and a handful of grass transformed into a low cushioned stool.
"Pray sit there, Dr Watson. We may as well be civilised, may we not?"
I wrapped myself in the blanket and settled myself, like a supplicant at the throne of a barbarian king. I hated myself for this servile compliance, but I hoped that by not annoying him, I might glean information that I could put to use. It was a small and futile fancy, but I would not easily accept defeat: my friends were still at large; surely not all was lost. I resolved that even if my life was forfeit, I would do my damnedest to give away as little as I could of their whereabouts and our plans.
The blanket provided not only a barrier against the icy wind but a cosy warmth, as if it had a moment before been wrapped around a warming pan or hanging next to a fire. The heat did not dissipate; my feet tingled as feeling returned to them and I pulled a corner of the coverlet up around my neck and ears.
"What do you intend to do to me?" I asked, after the silence had stretched out for hours, or so it seemed.
"Do to you?" He gazed at me, as if mentally returning from a very great distance. "I don't intend to do anything to you, Doctor, apart from insulate you from this biting wind and most likely, offer you food and drink, which you can ingest or not, as you wish."
"Then I am bait."
"Of course. You are not entirely a fool. I had assumed that you must be tolerably intelligent; else Holmes would not have kept you around all these years. He will find us here and he will come; for his loyalty to you is his greatest weakness."
"Do you truly regard loyalty as a fault? To the rest of the world, it is both a strength and a virtue."
"I will not argue semantics with you." He waved in a dismissive gesture. "With Holmes, it might be an amusement, I confess, for we are well matched in intellect. It is a shame that he was not born into the wizarding heritage, for he would be truly formidable had he power such as mine at his fingertips." With an air of great satisfaction, he gazed at the slender rod of pale wood that twirled between his fingers.
"Surely your parents weren't born wizard and witch," I said and he shrugged.
"My Muggle heritage is a flaw in the eyes of the wizarding elite; however I choose to regard it as an advantage. My willingness to get my hands dirty has served me well, don't you think?"
In the fading light, he smiled at me, with the contented air of a large predator regarding its prey, when its belly is full and it has no need, as yet, to go to the hunt. He lazily described a shape in the air with his wand, and the seat shifted beneath me, expanding into a low couch.
"Try to get some sleep, Doctor, for we have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow. Please do not attempt to escape. There is nowhere to hide upon the plain and I have no doubt that by now, you are aware of the powers that wizards possess. By the way, where did you and Holmes find the disreputable little band of wizards who were foolish enough to introduce you to our world? They are quite an eclectic mix, are they not? A semi-invalid of no know lineage, a stripling who appears to be a Malfoy by-blow and a non-descript youth with a very strange taste in clothing. How did you come across them?"
"They simply appeared," I said, certain that he knew the answer already.
"Serendipity," he murmured, "which has served me well and Holmes, very badly. He does not take advantage of fate in the way that I do. Sleep, Dr Watson. Sleep." His wand moved, and I fell into slumber as if into a deep, dark well.
"Watson!" A heavy boot jabbed me in the ribs. "Get up, you idle devil!"
"Kindly do not damage him, Moran, I will have need of him later."
I sat up, and stared into the belligerent, moustachioed face of Sebastian Moran, once described by Holmes as the 'second most dangerous man in London', Moriarty's chief aide-de-camp and a master criminal in his own right.
"This bastard was responsible for putting me in Newgate."
"I doubt that. Holmes and his official hangers-on are more likely to have had that dubious honour. Wilkes, I have a task for you." Moriarty waited as a sour-faced fellow approached in a slouching manner, and I recognised one of the louts who had fought Mrs Prewett and Snape in the warehouse. "Take Moran back to London, then join Gibbon at the headquarters, where you will concentrate on ensuring that all our people are prepared for tonight. You have your instructions."
The ill-favoured wizard nodded, gripped Moran's elbow and they vanished with a crack.
"Yes, Watson, Moran is a Muggle," Moriarty said, in response to the unspoken question that was on the tip of my tongue. "He heads my operations in Muggle London, and very effectively, too. It is so foolish of these pure-bloods to assume Muggles have nothing to offer us. In their teeming millions, one comes across the occasional genius. One can admire the paintings of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, for example, or a superb Château Lafite Rothschild or the voice of Adelina Patti, and acknowledge that Muggles have their own kind of magic. I have the highest regard for your friend Holmes, and am fortunate indeed that he has access only to the power of your amateurish companions. When will they arrive, do you think?"
He took out a pocket watch and peered at it, opening the face with a fingertip. He glanced up at me from beneath his heavy brows. "No? You would not like to make a wager? Holmes will have taken a good few hours to ferret out my location, for my current activities are far outside his sphere of influence or experience, yet I have faith in the man. He will come. Yes, Watson, he will come." He snapped the watch closed and smiled at me, the fixed and terrible smile of the cobra raised to strike his hapless prey. "Oh, you note my watch? A pretty trifle, is it not?"
He approached me, extending the watch in the palm of his hand. It was like no other I had ever seen; a thing of tiny knurled wheels studded with gems, of cogs and levers, and around the edge, a series of jewelled knobs. Although I have become inured to shocks in my long career as Holmes' confidante and chronicler, I confess that I suppressed a shudder, and Moriarty gave a low, throaty chuckle.
"Quite useless, a pretty toy, a watch that cannot tell the time – unless of course, one is a wizard with knowledge of these things, as I assume that your friends are. You see, Watson, I know what is happening everywhere in London, and I knew where to lay my hands upon this device of gears and magic as soon as I realized what you sought. The sister's watch, a fable for little witches to gasp over at bedtime, a trinket, or the most powerful artefact ever made? I intend to find out, I assure you."
He took his seat and replaced the watch in his pocket. My thoughts whirled in my head like a flock of birds, but I could see no way out of this predicament. Moriarty raised his wand and a silver tray bobbed across the open field, seemingly from nowhere, and from it he took a cup and saucer. The fragrant aroma of coffee wafted to me on the cold breeze.
"I understand why Holmes keeps you," he murmured. "You provide such a satisfying audience. Your emotions cross your features like changing weather on the face of the ocean; you have no need to speak for I read your reactions upon your face; I do not even need to read your mind. So, your wizards arrived using this watch and they require it in order to return to their own time. What will they give to get it back? Will they sacrifice Holmes? Will they describe its use for me? No, by your expression, they will not." His cruel lips curved into a smile. "I do like a challenge and the combination of Holmes and magic is irresistible. I should have led him into the wizarding world years ago."
He tapped the tray with his wand and it floated towards me, coming to a halt a yard in front of my couch.
"Do help yourself. The Malfoy elves make excellent shirred eggs, in my experience, and the coffee is fresh. I assure you that I have no need to poison you, Watson, I could kill you with a thought if I wished, and surely you know that."
"I know it," I agreed, glad that my voice was steady and resolute. "You have no conscience in the matter at all."
"I have shown you nothing but courtesy," he said, amusement lacing his voice like honeyed venom, "so I wonder what particular rumours are troubling you now? Holmes is a most resolute – and I say this reluctantly – most vindictive, opponent."
Here was my one insignificant advantage: Moriarty believed us ignorant of his plans for Holmes. If Holmes remained hidden until after the solstice, then Moriarty could gain nothing from the ritual sacrifice apart from the elimination of his enemy. My own sorry life might be forfeit but Holmes and the wizards would have a far better chance of success against an unenhanced opponent.
After making what was probably the most uncomfortable breakfast in my life, I informed Moriarty that I needed to attend to a call of nature. He shrugged and waved his hand negligently, confident in his power over me. I walked away and attended to my needs behind a low bush. As I was putting my clothing to rights, a small bird, a linnet or finch, alighted upon the bush, barely a foot from my face. It gazed at me with eyes like black beads, gave a soft, sweet chirp and fluttered away.
I returned to my place at the feet of the tyrant with a faint ray of hope lighting my heart.
I was dozing, wrapped in my heated blanket, when Moriarty suddenly sat up straight upon his throne-like seat.
"Here now, Watson, they have come, and earlier than I predicted. How splendid! Although I am hurt, yea, positively insulted that Holmes has sent the most expendable one of the lot. He would have come himself had he a magical bone in his body, but then, he did come off the worst in our last meeting, did he not?"
A slight, wind-blown figure made its way towards us across the grassland. Potter's hair was tousled and his clothing seemed to be the most ill-fitting and disreputable of the haul from the pawn shops. He came to a halt facing Moriarty. He pushed his spectacles up his nose with a finger and grinned at us.
"Hi. I've got a message for you from Mr Holmes but he said that you'd know that and you'd know what the message was anyway. I like your wards, by the way, really symmetrical design. They're classic."
"You may tell Holmes that his supposition is correct: I will exchange Watson for none other than himself. My wards are none of your business. Have you anything else to add?"
I was desperately trying to catch Potter's eye, hoping to signal that there was more information to be had. He winked at me and thrust his hands into his pockets.
"Mr Holmes said you'd say that. He said that I must warn you that you're making a terrible mistake."
Moriarty gave a sharp bark of laughter.
"We have duelled already, Holmes and I, and the outcome was exactly of my own choosing. Why should this time be any different? I know your price, you see."
For answer, Moriarty withdrew the watch from his jacket and held it up.
"You seek this gewgaw, for without it, you are unable to return home. I am prepared to offer the use of the watch, in exchange for Sherlock Holmes."
"He's lying, he won't let you use it – "
My words were cut off by a casual wave of Moriarty's wand. My mouth continued to move but no sound emerged. He replaced the watch in his pocket.
"You may have the Muggle as well," Moriarty said dismissively, "for I have no longer any use for him. In fact, let's rid ourselves of excess baggage, shall we?"
As his cold and sardonic eye turned to me, I stood up, determined to face my end as a soldier and an Englishman.
"No," Potter said sharply. "That isn't necessary."
"Then bring me Holmes, at once." Moriarty sneered. "Tell him that sending a milksop of a wizard neither impresses me nor persuades me to be magnanimous. I grow impatient. Be gone."
"Just one question," Potter said, standing his ground. "Why on earth are you out here on your own? Mr Holmes wondered why you took such a risk."
"Hardly a risk, you admired my wards yourself. They allow my own people to come and go at will, while repelling all others."
"I didn't admire them," Potter said agreeably, "I just said I liked them. You see," he turned away and pointed, "there's a brilliant spot in each corner where the tension slackens. Mr Holmes says you're great at mathematics but honestly, your Arithmancy isn't so hot, is it?"
He raised his wand and sent up a shower of red sparks. They soared above our heads, where they met an invisible barrier and bounced back, fading away like the debris from a falling firework.
"Which proves exactly nothing," Moriarty snapped. "Except that my wards extend to a height of twenty feet. Unless you leave at once and return with – "
He was interrupted by a sharp report and Professor Snape appeared before us. His black robes snapped and billowed in the wind and he stood scowling with folded arms.
"Oh, the sparks were to tell my friends that you reacted exactly like Mr Holmes said you would, that's all." Potter hunched his shoulders and dug his hands further into his pockets. "Professor Snape dismantled your wards as a demonstration. Hope you liked it."
"What exactly is the meaning of this, sir?" Moriarty's voice was shaking with rage.
"No doubt Potter has done his best to explain our position," Snape said, and his tone was chilly and self-possessed in comparison with Moriarty's. "Mr Holmes asked that we warn you of your peril. Personally I'd rather have dealt with you at once but his code of honour unfortunately forbids it."
"What exactly do you want?"
"Do you truly believe that we can be bought if you pay a high enough price?"
"Everyone can be bought, even Holmes. You would not be here if it were not for Holmes' foolish companion, for Holmes will pay anything to save Watson's life. Your price, I believe, is this."
Moriarty once again held up the watch, although this time, his wand was raised in warning and he watched Snape with absolute concentration.
Snape did not react, even though his only means of returning to his own time and place lay before him in the hand of our enemy.
"That's interesting," he commented, as if Moriarty had displayed nothing but an unusually decorated fob watch.
"You do not fool me," Moriarty snapped. "You need this thing! You are bluffing, sir!"
"Oh no he isn't," Potter remarked. "Honestly, you can't say we haven't warned you. Don't mess with Professor Snape, Mortdelavie."
Moriarty drew himself up, and I realised that he had tired of speech. He flung his hand upwards and a gout of brilliant fire shot into the air with a sizzle: a signal visible from miles away. When I had blinked the after-image away, I realised that Potter had taken advantage of Moriarty's momentary lapse of attention to come to my side.
"You'd better get down," he remarked, and no sooner had I crouched than there was a veritable fusillade of cracks as Moriarty's people appeared. We were surrounded in seconds; and with a sinking heart, I saw the blond hair and imperious profile of Tarquinius Malfoy and the pale, womanly shape of Agrippina Calloway at his side.
"Oh what a bugger," Potter muttered. "He's called in his reinforcements."
Snape appeared completely unconcerned. He stood with his arms still folded on his chest, his robes fluttering and billowing in the winter wind.
"We're at something of an impasse, I'd say. Killing us won't bring Holmes here, will it?"
Moriarty pointed his wand directly at Snape's face.
Both wizards stood as if frozen, staring into one another's eyes. I imagined that the air between them quivered with the force of their concentration. Suddenly Moriarty fell back with a cry of pain or outrage.
"Very interesting," Snape said dryly "I had assumed at least that you had a purpose behind your actions, rather than simple lust for power and – "
Moriarty snarled and a vivid red flame shot from his wand. Snape countered it with a blaze of gold and Potter and I flung ourselves to the side as the two wizards circled, casting fire at each other.
"Malfoy," Moriarty cried, "Hold those two! Don't let them escape!"
Tarquinius Malfoy advanced with a sneer and a raised wand. He cast a spell at us with an air of casual confidence, only to fall back chagrined when Potter's swiftly raised shield not only repelled his magic but sent it bouncing straight back at its originator, who had to take evasive action to avoid it. His face red with anger and mortification, his long hair fallen loose from the ribbon that bound it at his nape; he advanced on us with his followers at his back.
"Tarquinius, please wait just a moment." Mrs Calloway's voice was as sweet and light as ever. "Let me read the Muggle's mind before you kill them, for he will know where Holmes is."
Malfoy gave a brusque nod and I watched as the woman approached. Potter glanced to where Snape and Moriarty still duelled, and then placed himself firmly between me and the witch in her white silk and lace.
"Get away, you silly boy." She gestured with her wand. Potter simply planted his feet and smiled. There was something about the intense gaze of his green eyes and the total conviction in his stance that gave her pause.
I glimpsed a tiny brown bird, fluttering on the ground near the Malfoy patriarch's feet. It hopped away, crouched, spread its wings and flew into the sky, circling high before speeding away in the direction of the standing stones.
"Make me," Potter breathed, and the woman's wand spat fire. Potter said, "Protego!" and his shield charm covered us both. Through the filmy screen of the shield, I saw the bird drop into the grasses, and a moment later, a figure appeared where it had alighted. He was joined by others and my heart leaped as I recognised the Prewetts, mother, father and son, with Walter Babbling and many familiar faces from the underground resistance. All appeared grim and resolute as they advanced with their wands at the ready.
A cry went up as Moriarty's folk saw the newcomers.
"They can't get into the wards," Malfoy said impatiently.
"Yes they can," Potter responded, "Snape took the wards down."
Moriarty and Snape paused in their well-matched duel, an unspoken agreement to catch their breath. Moriarty's eyes widened as he espied the newcomers.
On the opposite side of us from the approaching witches and wizards, I glimpsed the familiar figures of Draco Malfoy and Sherlock Holmes. Malfoy had his wand at the ready and he appeared alert and competent.
"Take them!" Tarquinius Malfoy roared, but Mrs Calloway rushed forward with her hands raised.
"No, no! We can resolve this amicably!" She faced her one-time companions in a state of pretty dishevelment. "Thank God you came! I feared for my life; I don't know how you found us, but I'm so glad that you did!"
"I doubt that," Jenny Prewett said sharply. "You devious witch! We trusted you."
"And you still can. I was captured – "
"That's enough." Moriarty exclaimed. He did not dare move or glance away from his adversary. "Kill them all except for Holmes, I need him alive." He bared his teeth at Snape and snarled, "Avada Ked – " but was unable to complete the curse, as Potter barrelled into him from the side and knocked him to the ground. Malfoy senior immediately attacked and Snape was forced to engage him in combat, leaving Potter to battle the master. Mrs Calloway gave a very undignified shriek of rage as she found herself wand to wand with an equally furious Mrs Prewett.
I flung myself to the ground, ignored by the battling witches and wizards. Bursts of light exploded all around, dazzling as fireworks and more lethal than cannon fire. The two forces appeared almost equal in numbers and ferocity and I understood that the contest hinged upon the outcome of the two duels being fought over my head.
"I have killed before," Malfoy drawled, his wand describing complex patterns in the air. "And you must be tired after fighting Lord Mortdelavie. I can be merciful and allow you a swift end."
"I was about to offer something similar, for the sake of your great grandson and his heir." Snape performed a movement with his wand that made it shimmer and Malfoy swore and leaped back, his clothing slashed and blood welling from a cut on the point of his shoulder.
"Well, my dear Watson," a well-loved voice remarked at my shoulder, "you appear to have the grandstand view."
"I'm not sure that I appreciate it yet, Holmes. It isn't safe for you to be here."
"Draco Malfoy is otherwise occupied." Holmes jerked his head in the direction of the young wizard, who had gone to the aid of Master Prewett against the ruffians who had almost overwhelmed us in the warehouse. By the way he was fighting, Malfoy clearly held a grudge.
Moriarty had approached Potter with an air of one who wishes to swat a wasp, only to be forced into retreat as Potter's defence not only held under the onslaught but sent his own curses back at him. However, the young man seemed reluctant to return fire. He dodged and shielded but failed to take any opportunity to attack.
Ducking beneath a stream of purple flames, Snape exclaimed, "For fuck's sake, Potter, use the damned wand, you dunderhead! It's the magical equivalent of a Cruise Missile!"
Potter glanced once in Snape's direction and Moriarty saw an opportunity. Raising his wand, he shouted out "Avada Kedavra! " as Potter cried "Expelliarmus! " and in the same instant created a shield charm so dense that it appeared opaque.
Green fire and white collided in midair, Moriarty's wand flew from his hand and both wizards were thrown backwards to the ground, to lie immobile.
Snape screamed, "Potter!" and then spoke rapidly, his wand dancing like a fencing foil in his hand, driving Malfoy backwards. Holmes and I crawled to where Potter lay sprawled on the sere brown grass, his wand still clenched in his fist.
I felt for the pulse at his throat.
"He's alive," I said, but only Holmes could have heard me under the cursing and the crackle of magic running wild. "He appears to be stunned."
"Lord Mortdelavie!" Mrs Calloway abandoned her duel with Mrs Prewett, running to the side of her master. She glanced around, and then reached into his pocket, withdrew the pocket-watch and before anyone could stop her, she twirled around and vanished on the spot, taking with her any hope that our friends might immediately return to their home.
"Potter," Snape gasped, staggering towards us. There was blood trickling from a gash on his cheek and his black eyes were wild, but his opponent lay motionless behind him on the ground. "Is Harry Potter dead?"
"I'm sorry," Holmes said, placing a restraining hand upon my sleeve to silence my objection.
There was a momentary lull in the battle and Snape gave an inarticulate cry and dropped to his knees, sliding his hands beneath Potter and lifting him beneath the arms, to cradle the young wizard's torso against his chest and bury his face in his hair. I heard him release a single choked sob. Then Potter's hand twitched and I glanced at Holmes, who nodded sagely. Potter reached up to grasp Snape at the back of his neck and his green eyes opened wide. "Look at me," he said, and as Snape raised his head, Potter pulled it down again so that their mouths met.
"How disgusting." The hateful voice came from behind me. With a sense of inevitability, I knew I had made a terrible error; I had failed to check that a fallen enemy was actually dead. Holmes and I looked up; along the length of the wand that Moriarty was pointing directly at us. "Holmes, stand up."
We obeyed, for we had no choice. Mortdelavie grasped Holmes by the elbow, pulling him along as he backed away from Snape and Potter, who were oblivious to everyone except each other. I followed, for I hoped that I might be able to distract Moriarty for a second in which Holmes could escape, even if it meant my own death.
As Moriarty began to turn on the spot, a slender figure popped into existence behind him. Draco Malfoy reached up, clapped my old service revolver to the side of Moriarty's head and pulled the trigger. Moriarty, Lord Mortdelavie, died with a look of utter incomprehension upon his face and his brains spread over the shoulder of his overcoat. Malfoy stared down with a thoughtful expression, and then he drew his wand and waved it over the corpse.
"Mortdelavie Evanesco," he murmured. The body shimmered and disappeared, to leave nothing but a dash of bright blood upon the grass. "Sorted," Malfoy said with great satisfaction.
"Malfoy!" Snape strode towards us, his robes swirling around his calves and Harry Potter trotting in his wake with a slightly stunned expression. "Where's Mortdelavie, has he Apparated?"
"I Banished him."
"You – what?" Snape came to a halt.
"I shot him and Banished the body," Malfoy explained patiently.
"He wasn't dead the last time."
"This time I assure you, he was well and truly deceased. Not even a wizard can survive having his brains exploded by a lead bullet." Malfoy smirked and handed me the revolver. "Even if they can survive the killing curse – again." He indicated Potter. "How did you do it this time?"
"The wand," Potter said. He held it up, and I saw that the warm brown of the wood was blackened with soot at the tip. "Only just, and I don't know if it could stand another go, but it managed to shield me."
Malfoy turned to Snape. "Did you kill my great-great-grandfather, sir?"
"Of course not, I Stunned him." Snape said irritably. "I hope you had the sense to search Mortdelavie's pockets before you Banished him?"
"No point, sir. His wand's over there and Mrs Calloway stole the watch before she vanished."
"Gentlemen," Holmes said pleasantly, "You should have more faith." He reached inside his jacket and to my astonishment, withdrew the sister's pocket watch. He held it up and smiled as we crowded around.
"How the hell did that happen? I saw her take it!" Malfoy touched the watch reverently.
"No, Mr Malfoy, you saw her take the original watch. You brought it here with you, so there must be two versions of the watch in existence at this time, the original and the one that came back with you. All the old references pointed to this: the watch accompanied Encantadora when she used it, so it must have accompanied you too. I thought that the cabbie might have spotted it and pocketed it while he helped to move Professor Snape. Had he done so, we would have been in a great deal of trouble, for he was in the pay of Moriarty and was spying upon Watson; he is no doubt either a squib or one of Moriarty's criminally inclined Muggles. That is why Moriarty knew immediately when Watson and I came into contact with wizards; the cabbie reported your arrival. However, the butcher's boy had taken the watch and it required only a little persuasion for him to return to the straight and narrow, and hand it over with an abject apology."
Holmes placed the watch in Snape's hand.
Snape looked around. With their master removed, Mrs Calloway gone and Malfoy unconscious, the fight had gone out of the enemy troops. Mr and Mrs Prewett were overseeing their capture.
"We will return you to London before we leave," Snape announced.
Potter grinned at me and took me by the elbow.
"The last time, Doctor. Let's take you home."
Our rooms in Baker Street were, as ever, untidy, homely and safe. Mrs Hudson hurried in, having heard us arrive, and I asked her for tea, sandwiches and cakes. Malfoy produced my black bag from his pocket and restored it to its proper size before returning it.
"We won't stay," Snape said. "It only remains to thank you, both of you, for your hospitality and your aid. I owe you my life and I will always be grateful."
"But you must now wipe out every memory of the recent events," Holmes told him. "You have no choice; either you must do it or else we will be visited by someone such as Mrs Prewett, who may not have your skill. Watson and I simply cannot be allowed to remember, can we? These are your rules."
"Surely, sir, there must be another way?" Potter seized Snape's sleeve and for a moment, Snape gazed into his eyes with an open, vulnerable expression that would have caused me to fear for the man, had I not known Potter well. Snape, like Holmes, would love seldom but with his whole heart. "Severus," Potter whispered, "Please? Don't Obliviate them."
"Mr Holmes is right, Potter," Malfoy said. "If we don't, the others will."
Snape drew his wand and fingered the length of dark wood, frowning in thought.
"There is another way," he said. "If we could hide you from the magical world, forever, yet allow you to continue as you are in Muggle society, would you accept that? Could you be happy with the memories alone?"
"Very well." Snape returned the wand to his sleeve. "Potter, you must cast the charm, I will teach you the incantation. Only you have the power to do this, if your wand is up to it."
Potter sighted along the wand at the coal scuttle, and to my delight, but hardly my surprise, transformed the article into a velvet cushion, a live duck, a balloon, a candlestick, a flight of butterflies, a set of crystal glasses upon a silver tray and a broomstick, before restoring it to its original form.
"Wand appears to be in order, sir."
"What will happen?" I asked.
"You will carry on as you are, Doctor, however as far as the Wizarding world is concerned, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson exist only in the pages of books – the books that you yourself publish, except that I fear that the recognition must go to a fellow named Arthur Conan Doyle, your inventor and the author. Muggles will still know you as you are but wizards will never think to look for you, for you won't be real to them. The two worlds will become separate again, now that Mortdelavie has gone, and you will be safe."
Potter listened closely as Snape taught him a brief speech in execrable Latin and a very complex series of passes with his wand, then he turned to us and incanted the charm. I felt no different, but Malfoy screwed his eyes tight shut and turned away.
"Dear Gods, what did you just do, Potter? You've given me the direst migraine."
"Logical paradox," Snape muttered. "We're looking at someone that our minds insist no longer exists. Potter, cast a very localised Finite Incantatem over all three of us, against that spell only. Preferably before Draco passes out and my brain dribbles out of my ears."
"Okay." Potter made another series of rapid wand movements. Snape touched his wand to Malfoy's head then his own and Potter's and all three relaxed visibly.
"That was just a simple headache relief charm. Now we are the only three wizards in existence who can see or hear you in real life; for the rest, you're in the pages of your books – which will sell very well, Doctor. You won't need for money for the rest of your life. Next we must go home. I'll set the watch to return us to an hour after we left, so that we can explain Potter and Malfoy's absence as the time they spent reviving me from my self-induced coma. Your friends watched me die, so you will need to have an explanation for them."
"No probs," Potter said with a shrug. "They know how bloody clever you are, they'll believe it was a combination of potions and glamours. Thank you for everything, Mr Holmes." He shook Holmes' hand then turned to me. "And you, Doctor, especially for saving him."
We all shook hands in the English way, knowing that we would never meet again. Then Snape used his wand to adjust the tiny jewelled knobs around the edge of the watch and spoke a rapid series of spells, ensured that both Potter and Malfoy were holding firmly to his arms, and tapped the watch three times. They vanished in a shower of sparks and a scent of hot metal, and Holmes and I were alone.
A couple of days later Holmes passed me a copy of The Times and pointed out a short article discussing the strange disappearance of Professor Moriarty. The police were baffled and his business associates concerned.
"Yet London has never been safer," Holmes remarked. "Another case for your annals, Watson, even though you can never publish this one. Ha! Look here, 'Strange lights in the sky over Stonehenge, occult phenomena suspected says eminent scientist.' If only they knew, aye, Watson? If only they knew."
Part 17: The Epilogue (in another hand)
This feels really weird, writing in a journal that Watson himself wrote in a hundred years ago. It arrived last week, on my twenty-first birthday, wrapped in brown paper and posted in the Muggle post from a firm of London solicitors that I'd never heard of. Good old Watson left it to me in his will. Is that cool or what? Leaving a legacy to someone who you know won't be born for generations. I suppose people like the Malfoys do it all the time, leaving things down the line to family in the future, although Agrippina didn't leave the watch to the Malfoys, thank Merlin, or that would have caused a hell of a lot of trouble. They'd have given it to Voldemort and then where would we be? Flying round in ever decreasing circles in time, I expect.
Severus has just come in, asking what I'm doing. When I showed him, he did that sexy thing with his eyebrow that makes me want to kiss him senseless and stalked off again, muttering something about a potion on the boil. He doesn't get much time to just brew potions for the sake of it, what with the school to look after and everything. Now we've found a decent Potions Master, he doesn't even get to brew for the infirmary anymore, although I don't think he misses that. I keep telling him that he should take early retirement and become a kept man, then he can invent potions to his heart's content, but he says he'd be bored, and that he made a promise to Dumbledore. Now Minerva says she wants to retire in a couple of years so he needs to find a good deputy head before he can even think of leaving.
I told him that we should have a holiday and he scowled at me and asked where will we find the time, and where can we go where an ex-Death Eater and a Chosen One won't be recognised? He puts on a brave face when he gets sworn at or cursed but I always lose my temper when anyone insults him, after all he did for us.
The answer is just so obvious, isn't it? Where can we go for a holiday? Answer, somewhere no one has heard of us because we haven't been born yet. I'm even thinking of asking Draco if he wants to come. His parents are arranging a marriage for him and I know he likes the girl, but he could do with a break from it all. Even Draco Malfoy can only take so much of fitting dress robes and looking at flowers, cakes and bridesmaid's dresses.
So odd, calling him Draco, but we get on okay really. Draco on his own is quite tolerable in small doses. Severus invites him over to Hogwarts once every few weeks. I don't mind when he brings his mum but if his father comes too, I go out with my mates for the evening.
Ron still hates Draco, and Hermione isn't entirely happy, but compared with me dumping poor Ginny and getting together with Severus, making friends with a Malfoy is nothing. You wouldn't believe the screaming, shouting, sulking and general mayhem that went on when I first told the Weasleys. Well maybe you would.
Ginny got over it, she's playing for the Harpies and she and I owl each other now and then. Her brothers were furious then they calmed down again and we're all good mates. Mr Weasley is fine but Mrs Weasley still won't speak to me. As Severus points out, blessings come in many guises.
Now Severus has come in, plonked a book on my desk and swooped out again. It's called 'The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, Wizarding Edition' by Arthur Conan Doyle, and he's left a bookmark in it. Hah, he's learning that Slytherin subtlety doesn't work too well on Gryffindors. Here we are, 'The Return of the Mended Wand.' The story takes place in 1896, that's a year after our last visit. My God, we went back! Severus, we really did go back. Should I read it? No, I'm going to wing it as usual. I'll owl Draco and get Kreacher to pack sandwiches and I'll get the watch out of the safe, and we'll be off. Merlin, I can't wait!
In yet another hand
Potter, you are still a dunderhead. This is a very bad idea but you know that, don't you?
5/10 for originality (you've done this before)
1/10 for practicality (we almost died the last time)
0/10 for forward planning, I left the damn book for a reason! Don't you ever read the textbook before trying anything? No, you probably don't.
As for your grammar and punctuation, I despair. Did we really employ you as Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor or was that a nightmare induced by too much of Minerva's Laphroaig? Note to self – double check Potter's marking scheme before next term.
Bring a bottle of firewhiskey, we still owe Watson and he'll probably like it. Transfigure your clothes into something more suitable this time and tell Draco to do the same. I'll meet you at the main gate in an hour. SS