Chapter 1: Happy New Year
John Watson eyed himself in the mirror. "I look like a bloody idiot," he said, pursing his lips and fiddling with his cuffs.
"How you feel about the attire is completely irrelevant," Sherlock Holmes grouched, slumping over the fitting room's plush armchair with his legs slung over one side. He had been dreadful company the last few days; Christmas, it seemed, turned the boy genius into a true and proper Grinch. Staring at John's reflection, Sherlock sighed, "If it's any consolation, I think this is your best look to date, aside from the one where you're not wearing anything at all." Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock's nanny, made a scandalized noise and John blushed horribly, but Sherlock ignored them both, dropping his head back and saying, "And I hate wearing the accursed things myself. But it's either tuxes or dress robes, and I refuse to wear a dress robe."
Mrs. Hudson tutted. "I think you both look terribly dashing. My boys! Oh, Sherlock. Look at the mess you've made of your jacket!" She fussed with him for a moment, making him sit up straight and trying to smooth the wrinkles from his clothes. John watched them amusedly for a moment before switching his gaze back to himself. His mum would get a kick out of this, certainly, if she were here, but John…well, John mostly felt like a poor kid in a tux.
Sherlock stood and stretched out to his full lanky length, brushing away Mrs. Hudson's admonishments with a huffy air. Now that was how you wore a tuxedo; Sherlock looked as though he'd been born to wear his crisp white shirt, silver cufflinks, smart trousers and perfectly tailored jacket. He looked lovely; no, more than that: he looked flawless. Well, aside from the ridiculous pout he was wearing as Mrs. Hudson tried to attack him with a comb.
John reached up and fiddled with his bow tie. It was just a New Year's party, or so he kept trying to remind himself. How bad could it be?
Thinking back, John couldn't remember a time he'd felt more out of place.
The Holmes manor was bursting with life; witches in pretty dresses and magnificent robes flitted around the house as wizards in tuxedos or dark, stately robes stood clumped together, chatting in low tones. John stood in one corner of the ballroom with a champagne flute in his hand and watched the menagerie from a safe distance, his eyes round. Apparently having human (rather than house-elf) servants for a party was rare; everyone kept chatting about it in excited, slightly stunned tones. The house was beautifully decorated with floating candles and real, actual fairies (all of them frozen in artful poses, only their eyes moving to make sure they were being properly admired) and there were a cluster of instruments in each room, all of which were seemingly playing themselves.
No one was sparing John a second look, naturally. In fact, he'd been confused for a member of the waitstaff several times during the evening, despite the fact that they were all in uniform and he clearly wasn't. It seemed like most of the guests knew each other, including the several ghosts that floated amongst the partiers, mingling and laughing and being very careful not to pass through anyone. John recognized the Bloody Baron and the Grey Lady from school, but those were just about the only familiar faces he'd seen all evening (save a few Slytherin students who didn't seem to notice him at all). Mycroft was too busy toadying to just about everyone in the room to talk to him; Sherlock's mother was snotty and distant and clearly disliked him; even Sherlock had buggered off somewhere early in the evening, leaving John to tug at his collar and sip whatever fizzy concoction was thrust at him, entirely alone.
This is probably the most dreadful party I've ever had the misfortune of attending, John thought bitterly, tossing back the last of his drink and setting the glass down on a little table. A lot of people were doing shots of felix felicis, John noticed, but he didn't much relish the idea of using it himself. Sighing, John threaded slowly through the crowd and made his way outside, tired of the stuffiness of the ballroom and the distant, hollow chatter of strangers' conversations.
That was better. The air was cool and refreshing, and the garden was blessedly devoid of most guests. John did pass a couple quietly snogging, and an old woman who was digging around in a rosebush and crowing, "Tessabelle, Tessabelle!" but once he'd walked far enough no one else was around. He eased down on to one of the garden benches and undid his bowtie, unbuttoning his collar and relaxing against the cold wooden slats. Yes, much better. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back as he took off his cufflinks and tucked them into his pockets.
"Hello," Sherlock said, and John's eyes flew open. How long had the other boy been perched there, sitting on the back of the bench with his feet on the seat? Surely he hadn't been there already when John sat down?
"Oh," John said slowly, "Sherlock. Hey."
Sherlock climbed down and stood out in front of John, holding out his hands and leaving John no choice but to take them and get hoisted to his feet. "Dance with me," Sherlock said, pulling John into his arms.
John chuckled and let Sherlock sway him gently. "There's no music, you berk," he said, his voice fond.
"I shall give you my very best rendition of Brahm's waltz," Sherlock smiled. He tugged John closer and pressed his cheek against John's temple, humming under his breath and spinning them in slow circles, leading John effortlessly. There was something strangely comforting about the tune Sherlock carried and John let his eyes fall closed, feeling the vibration of Sherlock's voice against his chest. They moved together for several long moments, Sherlock's hand warm in John's, before the hum faded away and their feet stilled. John opened his eyes and looked up at Sherlock, who was watching him curiously.
"I hate parties," Sherlock said after a moment, his voice soft. "Mycroft's parties, especially."
"Me too," John admittedly honestly, making Sherlock smile.
"Good." Sherlock nodded and dipped his head, whispering into John's ear: "Then you won't object to calling it a night?"
John swallowed, his body tensing in anticipation automatically. "God, no," he breathed, gasping a little at the kiss Sherlock planted on his neck. "Not in the slightest."
John woke up in Sherlock's bed on the first of January, his fancy clothes a rumpled mess on the floor and his bare arse freezing in the mid-morning air (why in God's name did Sherlock have the window open?), to Mrs. Hudson tapping her knuckles on the bedroom door.
"Ho-ho," she called, cracking the door open a touch. "Are you boys decent?"
"Yes, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock called, even though John definitely was not. John yanked the blankets over himself and shot a look at Sherlock, who was sitting in the window seat with his thumbnail between his teeth and petulant cast to his features.
"Oh, heavens," Mrs. Hudson said, looking at John. John pushed his face into the pillow and tugged the blanket entirely over his head. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything, dear. Only I was told to bring up your breakfast."
"Yes, thank you," Sherlock huffed. John heard Mrs. Hudson set down a tray and fuss over the dishes for a moment before Sherlock said, "Is that all, Mrs. Hudson?"
Sherlock's nanny clucked. "Now, now. Manners, Sherlock dear. You boys having a bit of a domestic?"
"Out," Sherlock said, chasing Mrs. Hudson from the room. "Out, for Merlin's sake. And leave us alone until I call."
Pushing the blankets down, John sat up and glared at Sherlock. "What in the hell was that all about?"
"I see you've written up the taxi driver case," Sherlock sniffed, gesturing vaguely towards John's trunk.
John cleared his throat. "Yeah. Most of it, anyway. Kept some things under wraps, of course. Did you like it?"
"Ummm…no," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes and settling back into the window seat. He pulled up his knees and wrapped his arms around them, his gaze wandering somewhere outside. John looked out, too, thinking of his first day at the manor, when Sherlock had taken him for a tour of the grounds, lamenting the state of the garden in the crisp winter frost and letting him pet the hippogriffs in the stables. John had been dazed by the immensity of the place, by the rows and rows of books in the library and the beautiful view from the astronomy tour. It seemed like the estate stretched out forever, rolling hills that must have been lovely in summer but were still breathtaking even with the grass dried and the ground sprinkled with snow. He had always known Sherlock was wealthy, of course; no one could look at the boy and think anything but. Still, it was one thing to guess at a person's affluence and a completely different thing to see it all in beautiful, mind-blowing detail. Sherlock brought John's mind back to the present as he shifted in the window seat, pulling his dressing gown more tightly around him, and said, in a very quiet voice, "Do you really think so little of me?"
John blinked. "What? What do you mean?" He tried to think of what he'd written for his Inter-House Challenge essay but his mind was drawing a blank. "I…honestly, I thought you'd be flattered."
"Flattered?" Sherlock looked at him sharply. "Sherlock sees through everything and everyone in seconds. What's incredible, though, is how spectacularly ignorant he is about some things."
Dear God. Sherlock had memorized the damn thing. John stood up and started tugging on his clothes, not relishing the idea of a having a row in the buff. He zipped his trousers and put his hands on his hips, his shirt crookedly buttoned and one sock still dangling in his hand. "Now, hang on a minute," John said, "I didn't mean that in a-"
"Oh," Sherlock drawled, glaring at the picturesque countryside view, "you meant 'spectacularly ignorant' in a nice way." He crinkled his nose. "I don't know who won the Quidditch House Cup last year and I don't at all care who was snogging whom in the Owlery-"
"Or that Muggles have been capable of flight for over a century," John said pointedly. That had been an interesting conversation.
"It doesn't matter to me," Sherlock snapped. "Nothing matters to me besides the work." Turning his frosty glare on John, he said, "You make me sound like some sort of ridiculous, defenseless child half the time and a crazed buffoon the other half. Is that really what you think of me, John?"
"Back up," John said, his jaw clenching. "What do you mean, 'nothing matters but the work'? I don't matter to you?"
"I'll leave you to your deductions," Sherlock said snottily, examining his fingernails.
I've never felt like this, said Sherlock's voice in John's memory. Never. John's hand tightened around his sock. "I think you care about me," he said slowly, "and I think it scares you a bit. But it shouldn't, Sherlock, honestly. Because I care about you too."
Sherlock looked at him for a long moment before shaking his head. "A lovely sentiment," he sneered, "but unsurprisingly wrong as usual. This was only ever about sex. I don't feel anything." He lifted his chin defiantly. "So put that in your stupid essay, or better still stop inflicting your opinions on the world."
John was dumbfounded. He didn't believe Sherlock, not really (because last night was still lingering on his skin and in his mouth, and the look in Sherlock's eyes out in the garden hadn't been fake, he knew it), but that didn't make the words any easier to swallow. It hurt, this, and John wasn't even sure why he was being rejected in the first place. He took a deep shaking breath and turned, yanking open the bedroom door.
"Where are you going?" Sherlock said, turning away from the window and looking him over, his eyebrows furrowed.
"Out!" John said, not pausing. "I need some air." He pulled the door closed behind him a little more roughly than necessary and took the stairs down to the foyer two at a time.
Like Hogwarts, one couldn't simply Apparate on to the Holmes estate (or Disapparate off of it). It was a long trek to the gate at the bottom of the hill (made longer by the fact that John, in his haste, had stomped out of the house still only wearing one sock and no shoes) but John was glad for the walk. He hadn't been joking; he really did need some air. Sometimes it seemed like Sherlock took up all the air in the room and left John completely breathless, although normally he didn't mind the sensation. Today, of course, was different. This wasn't the sort of breathless John appreciated.
He didn't get it. Last night had been perfect (aside from the actual boring party itself, which had been excruciatingly dull and uncomfortable). That quiet moment in the garden and then afterwards, Sherlock in his lap, John's hands on Sherlock's hips, their breath mingling and their eyes locked…
Shaking the image away, John pushed the gate open and stepped out of the magical bounds. He closed his eyes and decided at the last moment:Hogsmeade.
John realized how mad he must have looked when he stepped into the castle to walk nearly straight into Sarah, who was coming out of the Great Hall after lunch.
Her eyes widened. "John?"
"Oh, Sarah," John muttered, looking down at his haphazard shirt and the sock he was still clutching in his left hand. "I…um…thought you were going home for the holidays?"
"Well," she said, smiling bemusedly at him, "I went for Christmas, but I came back early. Mum and Dad are rather busy, after all, and I get bored sitting around the house for days on end. Listen, John…are you okay? You look…well, a fright honestly."
John barked a laugh that sounded a little off-kilter even to him. "I'm fine." He looked back down at his mussed clothes and shook his head. "No, actually, I'm not really. I'm…" He trailed off, not sure how to explain.
Sarah patted his arm. "Look, why don't you go up and change, then come back down here and meet me? We can go for a walk and have a bit of a chat, hmm?"
"Yeah, okay," John agreed, shifting uncomfortably. His bare foot was starting to ache a little from the cold. "Thank you, Sarah. I…" He shrugged and gave her a half-hearted smile. "I promise this tux looked a lot nicer last night."
Sarah laughed and shooed him away, her smile warm and kind.
Talking to Sarah seemed to help. She didn't have any profound insight into the impossible brain of Sherlock Holmes, of course, but she did make John feel better about his own feelings, at least. It was incredibly heady, making love to Sherlock, but Sarah reminded him patiently that he was still quite young and that Sherlock was even younger, and that perhaps they'd do well to slow down a little bit. After all, they'd only known each other for four months, really.
"I know it's hard to keep things in perspective," Sarah said, looping her arm through John's as they paced the grounds, "but there's no need to rush things. Maybe you two should…I don't know, hold off on the sex for awhile, until you both get your feelings straightened out. I really do think he cares about you, John. I'm just not sure he wants to." John couldn't deny there was a sort of sense in that, even if the thought of not touching Sherlock, not taking him and watching him come apart, did make John ache bitterly.
It was supper by the time they got back to the castle, and afterwards John was so tired from the emotions of the day and the hours of walking (plus the nearly sleepless night beforehand) that he went straight up to his room and curled up in bed, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
At breakfast, John wrote out a letter as he ate, requesting that Sherlock send his trunk back to the school and suggesting that they talk about things when Sherlock arrived at Hogwarts the following day. He almost didn't write what he wanted to (I miss you) but then decided it couldn't hurt and tacked it on as a post-script before blotting the ink with a napkin and rolling the letter into a scroll. He'd go up to the Owlery later, and then perhaps work on writing up some of that case with the goblins, leaving out all the parts where they snuck out of the castle, naturally-
He looked up to find Sarah standing beside him, her bottom lip between her teeth and her eyes worried. "Yeah?"
"I…" She shook her head and gulped. "I'm so sorry, but I thought you should see this." Sarah held out the morning edition of the Daily Prophet, her hand trembling.
John took it, his brows pulled together, and unfolded it over the table. It took him less than a second to skim the front page, and even less time than that to leap up from his seat and dash out of the hall, pushing his way out of the castle and on to the little path towards Hogsmeade.
Massive explosion at the Holmes manor, the main headline had read. Beneath it, in smaller print, were the more troubling words: Casualties unknown; Aurors refuse comment.
John was gasping by the time he'd gotten close enough to the manor to really see it, though he could smell the explosion as soon as he'd Apparated just outside the estate. He had made the run to Hogsmeade in record time and now he was sprinting up the hill towards the main house, his lungs burning and his mind racing. There had been a photo in the paper, fire streaming out of several rows of windows, and John thought he recognized the portion of the house. He was pretty sure it was Sherlock's wing.
Seeing it in person was infinitely worse. It was Sherlock's wing, just like John had thought, and it looked as though the rooms had been completely gutted. The pristine bricks had been painted black with soot, and smoke still streamed out of the broken windows in thin, dancing tendrils. John only paused for a moment to stare at the destruction, open-mouthed and horrified, before running up to the house and throwing the doors open wide.
"Sherlock!" he shouted, running through the main foyer. "Sherlock!" Still a bit unsure of the house's layout, he found himself in the library by mistake…where Sherlock was sitting, completely uninjured, dressed impeccably and plucking away at his violin.
"John," he said, giving the violin another rough twang.
"Sherlock!" John couldn't seem to catch his breath. "I saw…in the paper…are you okay?"
"What? Oh, yeah, fine." Sherlock shrugged. "One of my experiments went a bit…pear-shaped, as they say. I was out in the garden at the time, looking for-for something that might work in a serum I've been testing." He looked away from John and settled his gaze on Mycroft, who John hadn't even noticed was in the room. "And your answer is no," he said, fiddling with the violin again.
"No?" Mycroft said, raising his eyebrow and taking a sip from his tea.
"No," Sherlock echoed, sighing. "I've never needed to focus solely on my schoolwork before. I have no intention of starting now."
Mycroft drummed his fingers against his teacup. "I know perfectly well that you rarely attend class and don't often preoccupy yourself with the triviality of actual schoolwork. Your professors are lenient with you because you're exceptionally proficient, but the O. W. L.s are not going to sit themselves. This little hobby of yours is an unneeded distraction."
Sherlock stood and mussed his hair agitatedly. "I don't need your approval or your concern, Mycroft, and I'll do as I please." He rounded on John suddenly, his eyes narrowed. "You've been writing a letter. To whom?"
"You, actually," John said, startled out of his reverie. Sherlock was okay, no one seemed distraught, the explosion was an accident…all John could think wasthank God.
"It's in your pocket," Sherlock said, pointing at the pocket in question. "Give it to me."
"I- all right." John withdrew the scroll and handed it to Sherlock, who snatched it and unrolled it, reading it almost greedily.
Mycroft sighed and stood, addressing John as Sherlock read. "John, I expect better of you. This foolishness must end." He shot a quick glare at his brother and turned back. "No more cases. Schoolwork is the order of the day. See that neither of you become distracted."
Sherlock had tucked John's letter into his pocket and fallen back into his seat, scooping up the violin once more. As soon as Mycroft opened his mouth to speak again, Sherlock began playing the instrument haphazardly, filling the room with horrid screeches. Mycroft made a face and stalked out of the room, some of his usual dignity marred by his wincing.
With Mycroft gone, Sherlock set the violin down and stared at John for a long, silent moment. "Changed your mind, then?" he asked finally, his tone casual.
"About what, Sherlock?" John rubbed his eyes exasperatedly.
John made a face. "Of course not."
"Hmm." Sherlock slashed his bow through the air like it was a sword. "Your letter seemed to suggest that you've found this all a touch…overwhelming."
Frustrated, John sat in the spot Mycroft had vacated and leaned forward. "Of course it's overwhelming," he said. "I lo-" No, John, don't say that. "I like you," he amended, "quite a bit. And this is all so…new. I just- I was thinking we should, y'know, slow things down a little. Just…what are we, Sherlock? Are we even-"
"We're colleagues," Sherlock said suddenly, standing and straightening his shirt. "And you're my mentor. I presume you still want to work on the project? We have half the year left; I'm sure more cases will turn up, whatever that pompous arse Mycroft seems to think."
John was losing control of this situation very quickly. "Of course, God, Sherlock-"
"Very well. I'll be in contact." Sherlock strode over to the door and then stopped, glancing over his shoulder. "I'll have one of the house elves take your things back to the castle. Good-bye, John."
And then he was gone. John sat very still for a long moment, his throat dry and his hands fidgety. Eventually he forced himself to stand and walk back down the hill to the entrance of the estate, but he didn't remember anything about the walk, nor did he really pay much attention to the walk back to Hogwarts and up to his room. His trunk was already there when he'd arrived, neatly packed (which meant Sherlock hadn't been the one to do it, certainly) and missing nothing, only very slightly charred along the casing (John suspected Sherlock had cast a protection charm over it at some point, because hecertainly hadn't). There were notes scratched in the margins of his essay, little observations put down in Sherlock's neat hand. They were mostly short rants about John's overly narrative language and lack of clinical detachment, although some of them made him laugh a little under his breath. He stared at the essay for a long while before tucking it away and sitting on his bed, the quiet of his empty dorm room almost deafening.
Did some minor editing on this chapter. Got rid of Mycroft's case. I don't have time/space to go into it and I'm going a slightly different direction with the ending anyway, so... apologies for any Bruce-Parrington enthusiasts (does such a person exist? this is the Internet so probably).
Chapter 3: Five Pips
John didn't see or hear from Sherlock for two weeks. He kept busy, for the most part, with schoolwork and his friends, but he couldn't stop himself scanning the crowd in the corridors for a mop of messy curls, nor could he entirely break the habit of going to the Slytherin table for meals (more than once he found himself sliding down on to the bench and looking up to realize he was at the wrong table, his face going immediately warm at the discovery). But he didn't see him at all. It was as though the boy had simply vanished.
One Friday morning John was sitting in Potions, listening to his professor drone about theoretical knowledge versus practical knowledge, when the door clanged open. Everyone swiveled in their seats to stare at the pretty witch in the Aurors' robes who paraded down the center of the room and came to a stop directly in front of John.
"Up," Auror Donovan said, giving John a cross look. "You're coming with me."
"Oh, heavens," the professor gasped, clutching her hand to her thin chest. A low murmur raised in the room as John slowly stood and packed his bag, Donovan looming over him impatiently.
"Let's go, let's go," she said, pulling him out of the room by his arm.
"Am I being arrested?" John asked once they were out in the corridor. He sounded incredibly calm, considering his heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest.
Donovan gave him a look. "As much as I think it should be, being friends with Sherlock Holmes isn't illegal…yet." She sighed, still leading John by his arm as they paced quickly through the halls. "There's been an…incident. Head Auror Lestrade seems to think we need Sherlock's help to resolve it." There was a definite edge of distaste in her voice. John looked around; it seemed to him that they were rapidly approaching the headmaster's office. Continuing her rant with a toss of her tight curls, Donovan gritted, "Sherlock, being a high-handed brat as usual, refuses to hear a word about any of it without you present, for some unknown and likely insane reason. So I've been sent to play fetch. Top marks, years of training, more sleepless nights than I can count, and this is what I've been reduced to: errand girl for Sherlock Holmes. Vatican cameos," she said to the gargoyle outside the headmaster's door, and the door swung open immediately. "Go on, then," she said to John, giving him a little shove. "Merlin knows he'd be lost without his colleague."
John stepped into the office with his hands behind his back and his chin lifted. It was his go-to stance when he wanted to feel brave, and something about the atmosphere in the room suggested he'd need it. The headmaster was sitting behind his desk, his dark hair shiny and sleek as usual, but there was something in his eyes that suggested that things were more than a bit not good. Lestrade's body language echoed the headmaster's threefold; he was pacing back and forth, his jaw clenched and his eyes blazing. Sherlock was the only calm one in the room, it seemed, sitting with easy elegance in front of the headmaster's desk. "Oh, good, John," he said, taking a sip from his tea. "We've got a case."
"Bloody Bathilda Bagshot," Lestrade swore, ceasing his pacing and looking at John like he was a miracle. "Thank Merlin you're here. Now, Sherlock? Will you listen to me?"
Sherlock made a sort of noncommittal sound and sipped his tea again. Beside John, Donovan gritted her teeth.
Sighing, Lestrade forged ahead. "That explosion-"
All of Sherlock's pretend disinterest melted away as he met Lestrade's gaze sharply. "One of my experiments."
"No," Lestrade said, looking frazzled.
Sherlock's eyebrows came together. "No?"
"Unless you've been experimenting with Muggle explosive devices, no," Lestrade said firmly. He paused and met Sherlock's eyes. "You haven't, have you?"
Managing to look very affronted, Sherlock cried, "Of course not!" Everyone seemed to clear their throats and shift around, not entirely believing him.
"Still," Lestrade said uncomfortably, "someone else has come forth to take the blame for it, anyway. I got this by owl this morning. At my house," Lestrade stressed, "not at my office. Here." He passed Sherlock an envelope, his expression serious.
"You've broken the seal," Sherlock said, turning the envelope over in his hands. "Didn't you notice it was addressed to me?" And it was: written very elegantly upon the front of the envelope were the words Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
"Of course I've broken the bloody seal!" Lestrade shouted. "The damned thing came to my house, and…and…I have to keep your safety in mind, Sherlock!" To Sherlock's continued frowning, he groaned, "Oh, for Merlin's sake, I didn't tamper with it. What you see is what was there, in its entirety. Now read the thing, by the wand, before I lose my temper entirely."
John looked around as Sherlock read the letter. The headmaster looked mildly amused, probably from all of Lestrade's cursing, and the Head Auror looked ready to explode. Donovan looked quietly furious, although John thought that was pretty much her default expression whenever Sherlock was in the room.
"John." Sherlock turned and held out the letter. "Read it."
Aware that everyone was looking at him with very mixed emotion, John stepped forward and took the letter, reading it carefully.
Hello, darling, the letter read. We haven't been properly introduced and I'm afraid the time for that has yet to come, but I wanted to say that I've been admiring you for some time. I think you're ready now and I couldn't be more excited. Did you like my gift? I wanted to show you what I could do. I loved your laboratory, Sherlock. Some of the things you were working on…mind-blowing, love. Your brilliance has been squandered entirely thus far, but we're going to change that. (Sorry I ruined all your projects, by the way. I promise I'll keep you busy with better things.)
Look at me, ranting away. I've waited so long for this moment, Sherlock, I can barely contain my excitement. But first, I think that you and I should play a game. Would you like that? I'd like that very much. Here are the rules: NO CHEATING. If I find out you've tampered with my game, naughty boy, I'll be very upset. I tend to do bad things when I'm upset, Sherlock, so please don't test me.
You like puzzles, don't you? I love watching you work through a good, hard puzzle. So I've set a few up for you. The first one is in this envelope, and I think you'll love it. No, I know you will. You have until the Snitch is caught to solve my puzzle, and don't worry: I'll know when you've solved it. If you don't get it in time, she dies. Understand? I know you do, love. You're so very clever.
I'm looking forward to making your acquaintance, darling. Until then, consider me very sincerely yours. xx
John read the letter twice before looking up at Sherlock, his eyes wide. "What's this last bit about?" he asked, his voice quiet. "She dies. Who dies?"
"The woman that wrote the letter," Sherlock said dismissively, dumping five orange pips out of the envelope and into his palm. He stared at them for a long moment, a strange look on his face.
Lestrade shifted. "What do you mean? I thought it was your…admirer, who wrote that letter."
"Of course not," Sherlock scoffed. "Look at the handwriting. Steady in the beginning, granted, but look at the way it deteriorates the letter progresses. It was written under duress. Besides, no imbecile would write a letter like that in his own hand."
"His own hand? You think it's a man, then?" Lestrade asked.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Statistically speaking it ought to be, and look at the language."
Lestrade's eyebrow lifted. "The language? You mean all the pet talk?"
Donovan snickered and the headmaster ducked his head as though he were hiding a smirk of his own, but Sherlock merely sighed and said, "Yes, the pet talk. Also, the condescension. The tone of the letter suggests an adult speaking to a young child. A woman hoping to impress me wouldn't speak that way, especially one so seemingly familiar with me. That, too, gives us a hint. The writer knows me, somehow. Certainly he was at my brother's party, whoever he is, but that's hardly a help considering the guest list was at least two hundred people long. However…" Sherlock paused and seemed to consider before shaking his head. "No, that's all I can make out about him for now."
John thought he was holding something back, and he suspected he knew what it was. The Professor, the one the cabbie had mentioned before he died. Sherlock probably thought that one of the Hogwarts professors was behind all of this, and John didn't see any reason to disagree. He wondered, though, why Sherlock didn't want to tell Lestrade about it.
"Explain the pips," Lestrade said, drawing John out of his thoughts.
Sherlock closed his hand around the orange pips, looking thoughtful. "Five pips. Five puzzles. There are five Quidditch games remaining this year." He smiled a little and shook his head, looking at the pips wonderingly. "Interesting."
If Lestrade was as taken aback by Sherlock's attitude as John felt, he didn't show it. "Five Quidditch games. So, he sends you a puzzle sometime before a Quidditch match and you're meant to solve it before the Snitch is caught." Looking at the headmaster, Lestrade said, "Could we somehow…I don't know, tell the kids to avoid the Snitch until we've got the thing under control? Or, hell, cancel the matches altogether?"
"I don't think that's the best idea," the headmaster said in his strangely soft voice. "The letter says that any…cheating, any tampering will be…well, rather detrimental to the situation, correct?" He looked down at his hands sadly. "And if he's somehow, well, watching the boy," he gestured at Sherlock, "then is that a risk we can safely take, Auror Lestrade?"
Lestrade growled and swore under his breath. "So we just go along with it, then? For Merlin's sake, the Snitch could be caught at any point during the game! We won't even know how much time we have left after the match starts!"
Sherlock laughed and closed his hands around the pips again. "No," he said, that strange look back on his face, "no, we won't, will we? Fascinating."
Donovan snorted, but when she spoke she sounded sick. "It's a match made in bloody heaven, innit? The freak and his crazed psychopath of a stalker." She shook her head. "I can't listen to any more of this, boss. I'll be in the hall."
Ignoring Donovan's exit entirely, Sherlock withdrew one last thing from the envelope and looked at it carefully before passing it to John. It was just a simple photo of a wand lying on a shelf. The lighting was poor and John wasn't sure what he was supposed to make of it, exactly, but he watched until he was sure that nothing more was going to happen (never knew with Wizard photos) before passing it back to Sherlock. "What's that, then?" he asked, putting his hands back behind his back.
"The first puzzle," Sherlock grinned. "Lucky for us, my admirer either intentionally made this one easy, or he's not nearly as clever as he thinks he is."
Lestrade blinked at him. "You've solved it? Already?"
"Not quite, but no worries." Sherlock tapped the photo. "I've got the first clue neatly in hand and the Quidditch match doesn't begin until after lunch tomorrow. We've got plenty of time." He smiled at the photo and tucked it away in his pocket, sighing. "Shall we, Lestrade?" he asked cheerfully, nodding at the door.
Still looking rather worried, Lestrade nodded. "Yes, we'd better. The sooner we've got this hostage situation dealt with, the sooner we can start looking for the sick bastard that set all this up." He looked up at the headmaster apologetically. "This is a mess, sir, I know it, and I'm sorry that whoever this is decided to involve your school." He started to walk towards the door and stopped. "Oh, and thank you for your time, Professor Moriarty. I know you're something of a busy man."
"Not a problem, Auror Lestrade," the headmaster smiled. "Please, if there's anything more I can do…" He trailed off. The two men nodded at each other and then Sherlock led the way out, Lestrade and John following closely behind.
Chapter 4: Powers That Be
Sherlock led Lestrade, Donovan, and John out to the boathouse. Nobody asked why or, in fact, spoke at all. Both Lestrade and Donovan seemed extremely discomfited by Sherlock's excited energy, and John didn't blame them in the least. It didn't surprise him, he supposed, because he knew what Sherlock had been like during the cabbie case, and he'd killed men in front of Sherlock without even making the younger boy flinch, but…still. It bothered John a little that Sherlock's enthusiasm wasn't tamped down by the awareness of a hostage and the knowledge that all this had been set up for just for him. If anything, that only seemed to please Sherlock even more than usual.
Once inside the creaky old building, Sherlock climbed up a very rickety ladder and then climbed back down again moments later, a wand levitating in the air before him.
"How-" Lestrade began.
Sherlock laughed gleefully. "Wood grain, algae, and the age of the shelf. As I said: easy." He held out his palm and let the wand glide until it was hovering mere inches over his hand, spinning in slow circles. "I can't let you take it, of course," Sherlock said, without looking up. "I need to examine it."
"You're out of your mind," Donovan said. "I bet that belongs to the hostage. We'll take it to Ollivander's, have it checked-"
"Nonsense." Sherlock looked at her harshly, the wand falling neatly into his hand. "I can figure it out myself."
"Sherlock," Lestrade said, looking startled. "There's an actual person in actual danger right now, and our time is limited. We have to take that wand to Ollivander's."
Sherlock shook his head. "No. Besides," he added blithely, "it might be considered cheating. Hard to say. And we don't know how privy the perpetrator is to our investigation." He met Lestrade's eyes and smiled.
Lestrade's jaw went tight and his hands bunched, released, bunched again…and then all the tension seemed to go out of him at once. "All right," he said, and to Donovan's spluttered protestations he said, "Sally, he's right. The 'rules' weren't terribly specific about what constitutes cheating. But," he pointed his finger at Sherlock, "if you don't know who the wand's owner is by morning, we're taking the risk. Understood?"
Hand wagging at Lestrade, Sherlock kept his attention on the wand. "Yes, all right," he said impatiently. Suddenly, he looked up. "You can do your own investigation, yes? Nothing in the rules said you couldn't. So? Go! Try and find him," and then, under his breath: "Not that you'll have any luck."
Lestrade pursed his lips and then nodded. "If you discover anything, anything at all, go to the headmaster and have him owl us at once. Donovan." He nodded at his subordinate, who followed him out of the boathouse with her arms crossed over her chest and her mouth twisted sullenly.
"Well?" Sherlock asked, turning to John, who had been watching all the commotion with his mouth parted and his stomach clenched. "What do you think?" He held out the wand, a little glimmer in his eyes.
John laughed uncomfortably and pulled a face, shaking his head. "No."
"Go on," Sherlock coaxed, smiling a little. "You know what to do." Seeing the look on John's face, his smile grew. "If you're worried I'll think you moronic, I'm sorry to tell you that ship has sailed."
"We don't have time for this," John said, struggling against all the feelings Sherlock's presence had drudged up. "Just do your little trick and get on with it."
Sherlock's hand tightened around the wand. "Pity. Nothing better than watching an idiot play at being useful."
That was it. "That's what you called me out of class for, is it?" John seethed, unable to hold back any more. "You act like an arse for almost all of the holiday and then- and then you don't talk to me for weeks and now, what? I'm supposed to act as audience to your weird little courtship with a lunatic and take all your insults in stride?" He wanted to take Sherlock by the shoulders and shake him, to shove him up against the wall and kiss some sense into him, anything other than to just stand there and stare with his fists balled so tightly that his nails were beginning to cut into his skin. "What the hell do you want from me, Sherlock?"
"The truth!" Sherlock burst, genuine anger written all over his face. "Which I already have, thank you, and which you refuse to admit! Shall I clarify? How about this: you're ashamed of me. I heard you telling one of your friends before break that we weren't together-"
"Because we weren't!" John cried, feeling lost.
"-and then when we arrived at the manor you insisted to my mother that you would sleep in the guest suite rather than in my bedroom-"
John groaned. "Maybe I thought she might be uncomfortable knowing I was boffing her youngest son, you git!"
"-and at Mycroft's party you wouldn't even dance with me until we were alone-"
"You're not serious! I couldn't even find you all night, I had no idea where you were-"
Sherlock shook his head vehemently, his curls going even more untidy than usual. "When Mrs. Hudson came in you hid under the blankets! As a matter of fact, every time I mentioned our relationship in front of her you looked embarrassed. You corrected Sebastian when he called us friends and your essay made things very clear. Spectacularly ignorant as you may believe me to be, I understand this perfectly." Sherlock stepped forward, his eyes boring into John's. "Well, I hope you're happy, colleague, because you got what you wanted from me. Sex. Isn't that what this was all about?"
It was so ridiculous that John couldn't stop himself from laughing. "Is that what you think? Jesus, Sherlock-"
"It's the truth," Sherlock spat, "and while I didn't expect you to show any real remorse I must say you laughing in my face is still something of a surprise. But why feel guilty? I'm just a freak, isn't that it?" He stepped back, trembling all over. "You're right, I don't have time for this boring, childish, emotionaldrivel. Not while someone else is being so delightfully interesting."
It was quite some time after Sherlock's retreating form had disappeared from the boathouse that John found his voice, and even then it was only to mutter a swear under his breath.
Sleep seemed to dance just outside of John's reach for hours that night, eluding him despite his exhaustion. His mind was too full, too busy, too focused on the hostage, on Sherlock's words to him and his weird attitude towards his admirer, on the ridiculous "game" that was being played. When sleep finally did settle over him it was fitful and dreamless, and it seemed that as soon as it began he was being shaken awake.
Blinking blearily, John could just make out the face of one of the Gryffindor prefects (a Weasley grandkid, though far be it from John to remember which one). "Eh?" he replied groggily.
"You're needed in the headmaster's office," the boy said, his red hair seeming to blaze even in the relative darkness. "It seems urgent. There's an Auror escort waiting for you in the corridor."
John sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Bit of a scowly bird?"
The Weasley boy laughed. "Couldn't have put it better myself."
Groaning, John climbed out of bed and dressed quickly. He made his way out to the corridor, where Donovan was waiting for him, her hair a bit unkempt and her expression somehow even less pleasant than usual. "Took you long enough," she snapped, grabbing his arm. They moved down the hallways at a trot, Donovan practically snarling: "Your boyfriend won't breathe a word without you, y'know. It's bloody infuriating. Come on, move those little legs, come on!"
The atmosphere in the office (which they reached so quickly John was almost disoriented) was equally tense. The headmaster looked sleepy but…well, "eager" wasn't the right word, but intense certainly, his dark eyes following Sherlock, who was pacing wildly. Sherlock's hair was all over the place, his clothes rumpled and his eyes bright. Lestrade was leaning against a wall, his arms folded and his face shadowed. He looked incredibly tired, but also extremely displeased, his eyes tracking Sherlock's frantic movements as well.
"You figured it out, I hope," John said, his voice placid. It was the same tone, he noted with an internal wince, that he used with Harry when she'd been drinking too much. Stern, but calm.
Sherlock stopped his pacing and stared at John, his grey-green eyes wide, before nodding once. "Sycamore. Phoenix feather core," he ranted, the words tumbling quickly from his lips. "Ten inches. Slightly springy. Approximately twenty-five years old, I'd say, but in excellent condition. Except for some minor water-logging here and here," he said, withdrawing the wand from his pocket and running his finger along the wood. "Priori Incantantum shows a great deal of repetitive spellwork and nothing particularly skilled, so a student, then. The last spell cast with this wand was an accio charm so the owner didn't lose the wand in a fight. Stolen, then, but who doesn't report a stolen wand? Aside from that, why put the wand in the boathouse? And why the minor water damage?"
Abruptly Sherlock resumed his pacing, the wand spinning between his fingers. "Nearly twenty years ago a boy drowned in the boathouse. Official reports claimed that he had bumped his head and fell into the water accidentally, thus perishing. I was reading through some old editions of the Daily Prophet one day when I came across the incident. Something struck a chord with me. John, his wand. His wand! They never found his wand!"
John's eyebrows lifted. "So…you think the wand belongs to the boy who drowned? What, twenty years ago? Why-"
"It's too perfect," Sherlock said softly. "I was ten years old when I read about that drowning. I wrote to the Aurors' office repeatedly but they ignored me. Lestrade, you weren't Head Auror then. I…I even tried to pester my father, hoping he might have some influence…" Sherlock shook his head. "If this wand belongs to that boy, then my admirer has been watching me for a very long time indeed."
"Do you remember the boy's name?" the headmaster asked softly.
"Carl Powers," Sherlock whispered to himself, looking awestruck.
Clearing his throat, Lestrade stared at Sherlock. "So…is that it? Puzzle solved?"
"Presumably," Sherlock said, blinking back into the present. "But then, I solved this puzzle years ago. My…admirer, for want of a better term, just wanted to remind me." He paused, rubbing his chin, and then his eyes went wide again. "No, wait, there's something more. My admirer killed Carl. Had to have done. Why else would he have the wand?" He huffed out a small laugh. "We've been after each other, then, all this time."
"How romantic," Donovan sneered.
Lestrade ran a hand through his hair. "So now…what? We just wait?"
"Don't think we'll be waiting long," Sherlock said, smiling a very small and secretive smile. At that very moment a painting on the wall began to cough. Everyone's eyes swiveled to the portrait, who looked at them with something akin to embarrassment.
"I'm to deliver a message to Mr. Holmes," the man in the portrait said. John couldn't read the plaque under his painting from where he stood, but he knew the man was a headmaster from long ago. "The message is as follows: Well done, you. I knew you'd solve this one fast. Consider this puzzle a warm-up. I hope you liked your gift, Sherlock. I just wanted to be sure you cared about this as much as I do. You see, I've been waiting for you for a long time. And you've been looking for me just as long. Keep the wand, love. I know you're not the sentimental sort, but I hope you'll look at it sometimes and think of me. Next time we start the real challenges. In fact, I call the next round the 'lightening round'. And darling, I couldn't be more excited. Until next time, please consider me very faithfully yours. Now go ahead and send your Auror friends to pick up this Muggle piece of filth." The portrait's eyes were sad, his chin quivering indignantly. "That's…that's it. That's the end of the message."
"Muggle?" Sherlock said to himself, looking at the floor. "Why a Muggle?"
Lestrade eyed the portrait. "I assume you know where she is. The Muggle woman."
"Yes," the man in the portrait said, nodding unhappily. "My other painting is at 153 Cove Road, in the wizard village of Uricton in Essex. It's a disused mansion. Headmaster, I apologize for not bringing this information forward earlier but it-it was made very clear to me that the woman would come to harm if I did. My painting was covered, as well, so I'm afraid my testimony won't be of much use."
"You've done well," the headmaster said, tipping his head. Lestrade and Donovan gave their rushed farewells and fled from the room, leaving the two boys and the headmaster behind. "You too, Sherlock," Moriarty added, smiling fondly. "You did very well."
Sherlock snorted. "May we go?"
Nodding, Professor Moriarty shooed them away. "Go, go, enjoy your weekend. I'll send for you if something else comes up."
"Thank you, sir," John said, since it was clear Sherlock was planning to disappear from the room without a word. And, true to John's theory, when he looked around again the other boy was already gone.
Chapter 5: Four Pips
John chased after him at a run. "Sherlock!" He could see Sherlock's robes disappear around a corner and he ran faster, harder, not willing to let Sherlock go this time. There were two weeks until the next Quidditch match and there was absolutely no way John was going to agonize over "what could have been" the whole time. Sherlock wasn't getting away from him this easily.
He caught up to him and jumped in front of him, blocking his path. Sherlock glowered at him, but John was unfazed. He crossed his arms. "Stop it," John said, breathing a little too hard to blame it entirely on the short run. "I don't know what's gotten in to you, but stop it. Let me explain-"
Sherlock barked an unhappy little laugh and pushed John away from him. "I don't need your explanations. There is no reason for us to speak again until the next game." He moved to walk away and John grabbed his arm, pulling him back.
"No," John said, aware of how gruff his voice was. "There's something I need to say to you."
"Then say it," Sherlock spat, staring at the hand on his arm. "And quickly. You've wasted enough of my time already."
"I regret having sex with you," John said quickly, and Sherlock's eyes leapt up to his, searching rapidly. "I regret it because I care about you more than I can put in to words, and you should have known that. You should have been completely sure of that before anything happened between us, and I'm sorry."
Sherlock swallowed hard and pulled his arm back, but he didn't say anything so John went on, "I regret it because now no matter how many times I tell you all of this, you'll never believe me. And I understand that, Sherlock, honestly. So…so let me prove it to you."
"How?" Sherlock asked, his voice very quiet and his eyes narrowed.
"By being your friend," John said. Sherlock scoffed, but John took a deep breath and said the hardest words he'd ever had to say. "Just your friend. Nothing more than that. Not 'just friends for now' or 'just friends until you trust me again'. Just friends. No expectations."
For a long moment Sherlock was simply silent, his eyes hunting over John's face, looking for what, John wasn't sure. But it seemed he eventually found it because he nodded and mumbled, "Okay."
"Good," John said, despite the ache in his chest. "Good. But…there are some ground rules."
"To friendship?" Sherlock asked, looking dubious.
"To ours, certainly," John said, with a small smile. It was extremely gratifying to see Sherlock smile in turn. "The first rule is: no more hand-holding, no more cuddling or kissing or what-have-you, and definitely no more sex."
"No hand-holding?" It was almost amusing how disturbed Sherlock looked. "I don't like that rule."
"Tough," John laughed. "The second rule is: no interrupting each other's dates. If you want to date, that's fine by me. I won't stop you. But I expect you to return the courtesy." Sherlock made a face, but he didn't say anything so John continued, "And the third rule is: when I've done something that upsets you, you have to tell me about it. Don't just assume things. I know you're a genius and all, but relationships? Really not your area, mate."
Sherlock laughed then, rubbing absently at the spot on his arm where John's hand had been. "Can friends…" He looked up, his grey eyes clouded. "Can friends hug sometimes?"
A wave of sympathy and love for the friendless boy in front of him washed over John. "Of course, you idiot," he said softly, pulling Sherlock into his arms. It was the most awkward hug John had ever been given, Sherlock seemingly unsure of where to put his arms, but it was still nice. And when John stepped back he almost changed his mind and kissed the ridiculous git just from the look on his pale, tired face. Instead he cleared his throat and looked very hard at one of the torches on the wall. "So, now what?"
"Don't know," Sherlock said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I thought we had determined that relationships and their progression is really more your suit."
John laughed and shook his head. "No, I mean with the case. What do we do now?"
"Oh." Sherlock sighed. "Now we wait."
"All right, all right, settle down," cried the voice of Anthony Wiggins, a fourth-year Gryffindor with tremendous ears, a gap between his front teeth, and brilliant carrot-orange hair. That burst of colour was all John could see of Wiggins at the moment from his place down on the sidelines of the pitch at Sherlock's elbow. While the crowd was cheerful despite the rough February winds, the atmosphere where John stood was tense. Lestrade was there, his arms folded and his jaw set mulishly, along with Donovan (in her usual good mood) and Headmaster Moriarty, who kept wringing his hands and looking nervously up at the barren, bleak sky for an owl that had somehow terrifyingly failed to arrive.
"It's just Ravenclaw versus Hufflepuff," Wiggins said, his voice amplified so that it boomed over the pitch and the stadium seats. "Nothing to get excited about; they're both rubbish." Amidst jeering and indignant cries, Wiggins added, "No offence meant, of course."
"Come on," Sherlock hissed under his breath, and John knew he wasn't referring to Wiggin's lackluster commentary. The owl bearing the second pip was nowhere to be seen, and the players had already been announced. The match was set to begin at any minute.
Lestrade fidgeted. "Maybe he's not sending one this time," he said, sounding hopeful.
"Don't be stupid," Sherlock said blandly, not even looking at him. "Five pips. Five games. And he called this one the lightening round." His eyes narrowed and scanned the cloudless sky once more, seeing nothing but the threat of snow. "Come on."
"And there's our lovely, spritely referee Professor Thompkins striding on to the field with infinite, impossible feline grace- oomf, fine, sorry," Wiggins announced, causing the crowd to whoop with delight. "She's chatting up- sorry, chatting with the players now, that lovely husky voice of hers impossible to hear at this distance. Ah, but there! The players are mounting up! Notice third-year Ravenclaw Emma Doonesbury struggling with her Nimbus 5000; seems someone's taken to the broom a little too early. Ah, which reminds me of our strict no-heckling policy, so please keep all boos and bahs to your selves, especially those that might be directed at yours truly."
It was a very strange thing to watch the game from below; John had to remind himself of the incoming pip when Professor Thompkins (who was rather fit, John couldn't deny) blew her whistle and the players all took to the sky.
"And they're off!" Wiggins cried. Some of the Ravenclaw girls were chanting: "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure/but winning at Quidditch gives us equal pleasure!" At such a shabby height faces seemed muzzy and vague, but John thought he could almost make out Bill Murray, Mike Stamford, and Sarah Sawyer up in the stands. Sarah (if that was in fact Sarah) was waving a Hufflepuff scarf and whooping merrily. Wiggins' voice drew John's eyes back to the game: "That's Ravenclaw in possession of the Quaffle, with Rosalee Salmon showing off both her good looks and inexorable skill. And- ah, no! Alarmingly Hufflepuff sixth-year Donny Pearson managed to put a bludger to good use, leaving the score at nil-nil with Hufflepuff in possession and the Snitch yet to be seen."
Sherlock scoffed, and John looked over at him. "Yes, I've found it," Sherlock sighed, rolling his eyes. "No, I won't point it out to you. If one of the players sees me pointing, the game could end rather sooner than I'd hoped. Both this game and mine, actually."
Donovan made a face and Lestrade narrowed his eyes, hunting the pitch for the Snitch, and John did the same…but wherever and however Sherlock had seen it, John wasn't having any luck.
"Hufflepuff, Hufflepuff," sang a group of pink-faced students far above John's head, "we'll win this game, with any luck!"
"Quiet down, Hufflepuff," Wiggins said, feigning irritation. "You'll frighten your players! Oh, and speaking of: possession changes back to Ravenclaw. Bradley Emory is headed for the goal…he's quick, a veritable blue-and-bronze streak…and…and…ah. Ravenclaw disappoints with a wide miss. Look at Keeper Michael Stone's face; he's practically swallowing back a laugh. Or a bug. Hard to tell from so far away."
"Oh!" Sherlock gasped, clutching suddenly at John's sleeve. Stupidly, he looked towards Ravenclaw's goal-hoops, thinking the pitiful zero-zero tie had finally been broken, when he saw it.
The silhouette of an owl, stark black against the looming white sky.
Sherlock practically tore the parchment from the poor owl's leg, and Lestrade failed miserably at his attempt to capture the poor creature before it fluttered off, hooting unhappily. Small white specks tumbled fell to the ground as Sherlock unrolled the letter, seemingly unseen by anyone but John, but thoughts of the tiny objects fled John's mind as Sherlock began to read rapidly and breathlessly: "My dear, I warned you this round would be rather more difficult. But don't worry, it's Ravenclaw versus Hufflepuff, and I'm sure you know their terrible records for the year. (If not, ask your sweet Mudblood pet.) Oh, but darling, I'm sure you're itching for your clue. Very well; I'll give you two of them. Here's the first: the future home of Docksdale Condominiums. And here's the second: 8 J0G 7WT. Good luck, love, and hurry now. The clock is ticking." Sherlock clenched his jaw and balled the parchment up in his fist. "Come on," he snapped, gesturing at Lestrade and Donovan. "We're wasting time." He turned and then turned again, looking levelly at John. "You have to stay," he said, and before John could protest, "because someone needs to keep me updated on this game. We don't have time to argue, John. I'll contact you. You have your conch shell?"
"Yes," John said glumly.
"Watch the game, John. And if someone seems to spot the Snitch, alert me at once."
John wistfully watched Sherlock, Lestrade, and Donovan run for Hogsmeade. He glanced down at his feet as though they were to blame for his being left behind when he noticed the little white specks on the ground. He squatted and collected them from the dirt, placing them in his palm. Orange pips.
Four orange pips.
John watched the game absently for nearly ten minutes, barely following Wiggins off-colour commentary, before his pocket called out, "Holmes to Watson, do you copy?"
"Watson here, I copy," John said softly, cupping the shell to his lips. "How is the investigation going?"
"Car's soaked with blood," Sherlock said casually. "I'm about to interrogate a suspect. Progress on the game?"
"Eighty-nil, Hufflepuff." In the background John could hear Lestrade saying, "Go easy on her, Sherlock," and then he heard Sherlock's voice drift through the shell dreamily, the strangest soothing lilt transforming every syllable to pure serenity. "Tell me what you know," Sherlock said, and John opened his mouth to speak when the headmaster elbowed him.
"I believe he was speaking to the suspect," Moriarty said, his black eyes glittering. John bowed his head sheepishly. Of course; Sherlock had used a spell on the woman. It wasn't one with which John was familiar and it must have been difficult because Sherlock almost never spoke his spells, but Moriarty at least seemed to be keeping up.
A woman spoke softly, her voice broken from crying. "Janus Cars," she said.
Moriarty breathed, "Ah," and Lestrade shouted, "Merlin's pants, Sherlock, you could have addled her brain!" But Sherlock ignored everyone else, instead choosing to address John. "The game?" he asked.
"Same as before," John said, glancing around. "No sign of the Snitch."
"Excellent," Sherlock quipped, sounding more enthused now that he was making progress. "Well, Lestrade, you heard the woman. To Janus Cars."
It was nearly dusk when Jenny Lawrence, Ravenclaw Seeker, caught the Snitch and brought the Ravenclaw Quidditch team to barely-earned victory. Sherlock watched the mid-air celebrations with distant impatience. "Muggles," he spat, turning his "victory letter" (as John had decided to mentally call it) over and over between his fingers. "Why Muggles?"
John sat back against the bleachers, his arms spread out against the empty seat behind them. He considered the case Sherlock had just solved. An abandoned car, smeared with a missing man's blood. A grieving would-be widow. A car rental shop, fronting for a human smuggling agency. Interesting crime, but why would Sherlock's admirer care to draw his attention to it? There was a song stuck in John's head, some chorus he only half-knew, and he hummed it as he considered and as Sherlock re-read the letter. (Dearest Sherlock, the letter read. Well done. You can send Lestrade to fetch the Muggle hostage now, if you'd like. (Address in the post-script.) I hardly care, and I don't think you do either. That's how I know we were made for each other, my love. We're just the same. The work, the salve for all the unending and unerring boredom…it's all that matters, isn't it? I know, dear, I know. I'll see you soon, but until then, I hope you'll think of me fondly and look forward to our next little game. All my love, xx.)
"That song," Sherlock said abruptly. "That song was playing at Janus Cars."
"Hmm." John rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yeah, it was. I was wondering why I had it in my head all of a sudden." He looked at Sherlock, who was giving him one of those "could you be any more stupid" looks. "What?"
"John," he said, blinking. "That song is sung by a witch. It's never been played on Muggle radio."
The implications of that settled over John slowly, sinking down into his brain and leaving his throat dry and his muscles weak. "Oh, God."
"Amazing," Sherlock breathed. The way his eyes twinkled reminded John strangely of Professor Moriarty. "It would seem one of our own has gone rogue. A wizard using his power to orchestrate Muggle crime." He shook his head. "Remarkable."
"Do you think…" John cleared his throat. Gryffindors were brave; just because a thought bothered him didn't mean he shouldn't give voice to it. "Do you think it's the Professor? The one the cabbie mentioned?"
"The Professor," Sherlock mused, tapping his bottom lip with his index finger. "I don't know." A smile slowly stretched his lips as he added, "But I can't wait to find out."
Chapter 6: Three Pips
One of Sherlock's worst qualities was, in John's opinion, also his best. Or at least his most fortuitous. Because Sherlock had no interest in society's idea of normality in regards to sex and love, life went on for the two of them as normally (by their standards, at least) as it had before…well, before what John had taken to calling "the Christmas fiasco". If Sherlock noticed John's initial awkwardness, he said nothing. Life righted itself; John met with his study group three nights a week, slept too much on the weekends and not enough during the week, went to class, ate his meals at the Slytherin table, and sat pouring over research in Sherlock's chaotic bedroom almost every night.
So it was, two weeks after the Janus Cars case, that John sat on the floor of Sherlock's room, his feet propped up on a pile of dirty laundry and his back against the bed-frame. He was sorting through a stack of notes Sherlock had compiled in regards to all the professors at Hogwarts, but the late hour made his eyes feel gritty and his vision blurred. He sat the notes down and yawned. "Do I even want to know how you came into all this information?" he asked.
Sherlock looked up at him from over his own sheath of papers, his gray eyes as cool and focused as ever. "Probably not," he admitted. "You've made your opinion on breaking and entering abundantly clear."
"Oh, Christ, you didn't…" John blinked at Sherlock, who held his gaze steadily, completely unabashed. "Sherlock! If you had been caught breaking into the professors' private quarters, you would have been expelled."
Dropping his eyes disinterestedly from John's, Sherlock licked his finger and flicked through his notes. "Expulsion," he sighed, nearly yawning. "Who cares? My mother would be secretly pleased. She went to Beauxbatons, you know, and I suspect she would prefer I went to a French school myself." A little smile flitted across his face as he added, "And besides, I think the game would follow me no matter which school I found myself attending. Which would make the perpetrator easier to track, undoubtedly."
But I couldn't follow you, John thought unhappily. He kept his stupid thoughts to himself, however, and instead said, "Anyone you're favouring for the admirer?"
"It's no good to speculate without all the facts," Sherlock reminded him chidingly, "but I think we can safely imagine our man is of pureblood lineage. That leaves Dockerty, Dimmons, and Malfoy. Dockerty's female, so I think we can safely count her out. Dimmons…" Sherlock's eyes took on a faraway quality. "The conductor of the game is bored, immensely so. He's lonely, too; why else reach out to me, to liken us, to work so hard to win my favor? Dimmons is Head of Hufflepuff house, friendly, fat, well-liked. Entirely the wrong sort of character."
"Which leaves Malfoy," John said, his stomach clenching as it always did whenever Sherlock spoke of his admirer in such dreamy tones. "The name sounds familiar."
Sherlock looked vaguely amused. "As well it should. His grandfather fell in on the wrong side of history and dragged the family name along with him. Lucius, he was called. One of the more notorious Death Eaters. Twice pardoned and, if the rumors can be believed, ever faithful."
The history was coming back to John a bit. "Right, right, I remember now. Lucius had a son, Drago?"
"Draco, right." John rubbed his temples; Wizarding lineage always bored him near to tears. "And Draco fathered our Professor Malfoy."
"Just so," Sherlock agreed. "Scorpius Malfoy. Only child; never married. Became a professor after half-heartedly pursuing a career at the Ministry for a decade. Seems content to let the family name die with him, and yet…" Sherlock said no more. He leaned back in his chair and rummaged in his pocket (looking, John knew, for a cigarette that wasn't there), musing silently.
John considered what he knew of Scorpius Malfoy. Not much, admittedly. He was handsome, with white-blond hair and elegant, aristocratic features. His eyes were light-coloured but seemed to hold unfathomable depths, which made them stand out as dark and haunted in John's memory. He taught Defense Against the Dark Arts; he seldom smiled. John couldn't imagine him calling anyone "love" or "darling", but he supposed if Malfoy were going to fall in love with a student, Sherlock would be just his type. And the man seemed clever, certainly clever enough to evade the Aurors and give Sherlock a decent show. Could it be that Malfoy was the Professor the cabbie had mentioned in his dying breath?
"Don't leap to conclusions," Sherlock warned, stirring John out of his half-sleep. But when John looked over at Sherlock, he noticed the boy was reading his notes on Malfoy with renewed interest.
"Holmes to Watson."
It was the morning of the third to last Quidditch game of the year, and John had passed the night fitfully. He was already awake when the shell on his night-stand began speaking in Sherlock's voice, and he sat up answered it immediately. "I'm here," he said, his heart pounding. The sun was barely up; if Sherlock had received his clue already, it was a blessing.
"Meet me in the boys' lavatory outside Defense Against the Dark Arts. And hurry, John."
"I need you to be Malfoy's shadow. Wherever he goes, you follow." Sherlock was sitting on the edge of one of the sinks, his hair handsomely disheveled and his clothes perfectly pristine. He was cycling through a series of anxious actions: first he would worry at his bottom lip with his teeth, then he would grit his teeth together and flare his nostrils, then run an impatient hand through unruly curls, and then begin the cycle anew. John thought he looked as lovely as he'd ever seen him, the silver stripes in his Slytherin tie bringing out the bright, entrancing sheen in his eyes.
Even still, that wasn't enough to make John agree mindlessly. "No way," he said, leaning against the tiled wall and folding his arms. "Maybe Mummy will be happy to ship you off to some French version of Hogwarts, but this is it for me. I'm here on scholarship, Sherlock. If I'm expelled that's it for me. Might as well be a Squib for all the magic I'll be allowed to do, then."
Sherlock rolled his eyes and hopped down from the sink, invading John's personal space as he always had. "Mycroft will never allow you to be expelled, you imbecile. You're my only friend, and more importantly: he likes you." He grasped John's shoulders and met his eyes solemnly. "Aside from that, it's of the upmost importance that I discover whether or not Malfoy has any involvement in this case. I can't watch him, John; I have to solve the puzzle and save the hostage. I need you."
"You absolute prat," John sighed, and Sherlock grinned. That was that. John was resigned to his fate: no doubt he'd be expelled and forced to turn in his wand only to suffer the indignity of working his entire life in some Wizarding establishment, always in the presence of magic without being able to do any of it…and all because some bloke with silver eyes and an unnaturally hypnotic voice said, "I need you."
Sherlock drew the Marauders' Map from one of his robe pockets and passed it to John with a very self-satisfied smile. "Until I say you can stop," he said seriously, "you must keep him in your sights. All day, John, if needs must. Understood?"
"Yes, of course," John said agitatedly, stuffing the Map into his own trouser pocket. As he left the loo for breakfast (Professor Malfoy always took breakfast in the Great Hall at dawn, so John wasn't worried about that) he wondered: How is it that I always get roped into these things?
Professor Malfoy was uncomfortably easy to trail. He read the Daily Prophet slowly after he'd eaten, and then chatted with some of the other Professors and a few students (mostly Slytherins, John noted, although that was Malfoy's own house and thus not terribly telling). After breakfast he went to his office and graded papers for two hours and fourteen incredibly slow, unbelievably boring minutes, leaving the door open all the while. John was able to sit in an alcove behind a suit of armor and watch each excruciating second pass without a single incriminating or even mildly exciting happenstance occurring. When at last he left his office, he went to the loo, where he urinated, washed his hands, and combed his hair. (John, awkwardly, pretended to use one of the stalls all the while and watched him through the crack in the door.) Afterwards he went up to the library and settled down with a stack of dusty tomes, which he read thoughtfully, making notations in a small leather-bound book he kept in his breast pocket. John watched him from behind a well-worn copy of Quidditch Through the Ages, flipping through the book and then beginning it again.
At just after noon, and a few moments before the Quidditch game was set to begin, Sherlock's voice whispered from his pocket: "John?"
"Where are you?"
John sighed. "At the library, watching our main suspect and staving off sleep. Got your clue yet?"
"Yes," Sherlock said hurriedly, "and I need your help. I'm headed there now but if you leave the library, tell me!"
Sherlock burst in so rapidly that he drew everyone's attention, and in particular received a rather frosty look from the ancient librarian. He didn't go directly to John but instead fluttered off into the stacks, looking harried. When appeared at John's side at last it was stealthily, with everyone having gone back to their work. He held a book up to hide his face from Malfoy and muttered, "The clue was a photograph of a Muggle woman. It's in my pocket."
Sighing, John reached over and pulled the photo from Sherlock's pocket. It was a Wizard photograph, and it showed a robust blonde woman smiling and waving in what looked like a garden. "Oh," John said, "I know her."
"You do?" Sherlock eyed him incredulously.
"Sure, Mum loves her." Taking in Sherlock's expression, John amended, "I don't mean I know her personally, Sherlock. She's on the telly. Connie Prince."
Sherlock almost dropped his book in his excitement. "Excellent! Tell me everything you know about her."
"Okay…well, she does this makeover show, and-"
"There they are, Professor Moriarty," cried Molly Hooper. John jumped a little (was he being expelled already?) but neither Molly nor the headmaster were looking at him. They were both equally enthralled by the tuft of dark hair sticking out from behind The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Six. Molly blushed and twirled a bit of her hair, though Sherlock had yet to come out of hiding. "Hiya, Sherlock," she cooed, making no notice of John.
Sherlock growled and laid down his book, casting a quick glance at Malfoy (who was still engrossed in his reading, by all appearances) before turning his glare on Molly. "Have we met?"
They had, of course; John had introduced them at least six times. Molly flushed crimson as Moriarty patted her arm and said, "Thank you, Molly. That will be all." Smiling at Sherlock, he said, "Mr. Holmes, I thought I'd offer you my services. I used to teach Muggle Studies, you know."
Sherlock looked distinctly unimpressed. Still, he looked from John to Malfoy to John again and seemed to decide that John already had enough on his plate. "All right," Sherlock conceded, albeit with a strong hint of annoyance. He stood and gave John a significant look before walking towards the door and gesturing for Moriarty to follow. John could just hear him saying, "Tell me everything you know about Connie Prince," as he went.
Professor Malfoy took his lunch shortly after Sherlock and the headmaster had left, choosing (thankfully) to once again eat in the Great Hall. John's stomach was growling as he settled at the Slytherin table (not wanting to be distracted by any of the Gryffindor students who weren't at the game) and tore into his meal. He was so enthused about the food, in fact, that he didn't realize Malfoy had already taken his leave until the man was already gone.
"Shit," John breathed. He darted up and out into the main corridor…
…where he bumped directly into Professor Malfoy, knocking him to the floor.
"Oh, hell!" John cried, and then: "I mean, sorry! Sorry! Here." He helped the man to his feet, wincing as Malfoy brushed dirt from his bum and frowned. "Sorry," he said again, feeling like the world's biggest idiot.
Malfoy looked at him, truly looked at him, for the first time. "You were at the library," he said thoughtfully. "Reading about Quidditch, as I recall. Why aren't you at the game?"
Clearing his throat, John lied, "Well, I, uh…I prefer books to the real thing, sir. You know. Theory over practice."
"That's not true," Malfoy said, shaking his head. "No, you're in my classes, aren't you? John Watson, isn't it?" He looked at John more closely, his eyes very slightly narrowed. "Very hands-on, yes. I remember now. Ah," he said, his eyes widening. "And now I remember why you're avoiding the Quidditch game." He reached out and patted John's shoulder, looking kindly despite the absence of a smile. "I'm right, aren't I?"
"Y-yes, sir," John said quickly, latching on to the lie with a quick prayer of thanks. "Spot on, in fact."
"Hmm." Malfoy brushed his white-gold hair back and considered. "You're young, Mr. Watson. You should be exercising your vitality. I was just going for a walk." He patted John's shoulder again and gave him a commanding look. "I insist you join me."
Oh, God, John thought, though he kept his face carefully blank. He knows; he's on to me! But how could John refuse him? He had no good reason to, and certainly Malfoy would continue to insist upon it. Aside from that, he was supposed to be at Malfoy's side all day. If the man was going for a walk and had invited John himself, it would be very suspicious and difficult indeed to follow him. I have my wand and my shell, if he tries to hurt me. Sherlock will know what happened if I don't turn up. I have to do this. I'm brave. I'm a Gryffindor. "Thank you, sir," John said, smiling. "That sounds lovely."
The walk took them all along the grounds of the Hogwarts, skirting along the Forbidden Forest and the lake, trailing within sight of Hogsmeade, moseying up the main path. Malfoy talked John into an open-eyed stupor, rambling about the corrupting power of fear and the mess it had made of the professor's father in his youth. "You must face your fears, John," he must have said at least a dozen times. "No one gets through life without a little pain."
The sky was beginning to darken as they ambled back towards the castle. John couldn't hear the roar of the crowd, nor the voice of Wiggins, and so he imagined that the Quidditch match must have concluded. Was Sherlock successful?
The look on Sherlock's face as John and Malfoy entered the castle to find him waiting said no. John was convinced of Malfoy's innocence and said as much once he and Sherlock were alone, and Sherlock- having heard the evidence- agreed. Resuming their typical positions in Sherlock's bedroom (John on the floor, having decided the bed was too…well, just too something, and Sherlock at his desk), John finally asked, "What happened?"
Sherlock sighed heavily. "I solved it," he said, rubbing absently at his bottom lip with his thumb. "I solved the case. A potion that acted much like botulinum might have done. Another example of Wizarding interference in Muggle crime."
"So, what went wrong?" John asked softly. Clearly something had gone wrong; Sherlock was displaying none of his usual smugness.
Frowning, Sherlock drew a letter from his pocket, folded it into an aeroplane, and enchanted it so that it flew neatly and perfectly into John's waiting hand. John opened it and read carefully.
Quick as ever, my darling. You're good at this. Three games done; two to go. I warn you, my sweet, the next one will be rather more difficult and time-consuming. You see, one of my associates will be heavily involved and he can be…well, let us just say "formidable". Now, for some bad news. The Muggle hostage…what can I say, love? She proved difficult. "Feisty" was the term my best man used. She fought. Certain spells had to be used. The obliteration charm didn't take as well as I would have liked. Alas, pet, I found it easier to simply put the poor bitch down. That is what one does with aggressive animals, isn't it? Still, I don't think you'll be shedding many tears. What was she to you? Nothing, just as she was to me. A pawn- no, less even than that. Forget her, Sherlock. It's the game that matters, not the cattle. So consider this a victory. Until next time, remember that I am eternally and irrevocably yours. xx
John folded the letter back into an aeroplane, more for something to do with his hands than anything else. He didn't want to look at Sherlock, and he tried to pretend he didn't know why.
But he knew, of course. It was because the admirer was right. Sherlock wasn't upset over the Muggle woman; he was upset because his victory had been incomplete. He didn't shed any tears. Why should he? As the admirer said, it was the game that mattered, not the cattle.
"If it's not Malfoy," Sherlock said, nibbling daintily at a bit of toast he'd stolen from John's plate, "then clearly there's something I've missed. We'll have to review the notes again."
"Maybe he isn't a professor at all," John said contemplatively, flipping through his notes with one hand as he stuffed bacon in his mouth with the other. "Maybe," he said, mouth full, "he's something else entirely."
"Maybe," Sherlock sighed, without looking up from his notes, "you're an idiot." He looked up at John, who was definitely not pouting. "Oh, don't look like that," Sherlock groaned, snatching a piece of bacon from John's hand. "I'm merely suggesting you might leave the pondering to more capable minds. Mine, for instance. Here's what I'm thinking." He devoured the bacon and wiped his fingers delicately on the tablecloth. "What do we know of this Professor, assuming he is my…admirer, for want of a better word?"
"He's loony," John said, gesturing vaguely with his bacon.
"Writing someone off immediately as mad is a cop-out, John. There must be reasons for his methods, reasons for his logic, reasons for what you might perceive as madness."
"Kidnapping and murder." John pulled a face. "Yeah, gonna go with mad on that one, mate. I don't really care about the reasoning behind it because the reasoning is wrong. The man's barking." He looked narrowly at Sherlock. "I know this is all just a game to you, but you don't…I don't know, admire this lunatic do you?"
Sherlock shuffled his notes. "There's a certain finesse to his actions. Not just the game, but the rest of it…the web he's cast. It's…" He took a breath, let it out slowly. "Novel."
Let it go, let it go, John thought, but his derisive laughter must have drawn Sherlock's attention because the younger boy looked at him curiously. "Well, you'll be very happy together," John blurted, immediately sorry he'd said it.
"Sorry," Sherlock said slowly, his head cocked and his eyes narrowed, "what?"
It was too late to go back now; they were going to have a row either way. Might as well plunge in headfirst. "The pet names," John said, his voice quiet but harsh. "The sweet talk. The attention. You like it, don't you?"
"Ah, I see, you're jealous," Sherlock interjected, but John steam-rolled over him.
"You like it. It's true, I'm not a genius but I don't need to be. It's written all over your face. When you find him, will you turn him in? Or will you join up with him?" John shook his head. "There are lives at stake, Sherlock," he growled, suddenly furious. "Actual human lives. Just…just so I know, do you care about that at all?"
Sherlock was silent for a long moment. At last he stood and swallowed hard, leaning over John so there eyes met. "Look at me, John. You know me better than anyone else. What do you think?" He was so close, close enough that John could feel his breath on his cheek. "Am I capable of caring?"
"I thought so once," John admitted quietly. "Now I'm not so sure."
"Then let me make it clear for you." Sherlock's eyes searched John's rapidly. "The only person I care about is myself. Muggle or magic, it makes no difference to me. Caring about those hostages won't save them anymore than caring about…" He stopped and looked away, his jaw tight. "It doesn't matter. Caring is not an advantage. And as long as that's the case, I will continue not to make that mistake." He stood, straightened his robes, and strode out of the Great Hall with his notes tucked under his arm and his nose in the air.
He's lying, John thought, but he wasn't so sure. He turned back to his plate and found his appetite had fled along with Sherlock. Sighing, he glanced up at the front of the room. Professor Moriarty was looking at him, black eyes glittering, but as soon as John met his gaze he turned his attention to one of the professors. Doesn't want me clouding the greatest mind at Hogwarts with teenage bollocks, John assumed, turning back to his own notes. Can't say I blame him. With another sigh, John flipped through pages of professors, looking for the one that had gone sour.
April swept in blusteringly, parading about with fierce winds and snowstorms. But behind Winter's skirts Spring was peeking out, making itself known on rare, beautiful afternoons and bright dewy mornings that left the grounds glittering as though it had been sprinkled with billions of crystals.
It was on one of those fantastically fair afternoons that John found himself being loomed over by a very sullen and very snarky Auror Donovan. "Hullo," he said weakly, looking up at her from his position on the sun-warmed grass.
"Get up," she growled, rolling her eyes. She didn't even offer him a hand.
"Where are we going?" John asked Sherlock. They were trailing behind Lestrade and Donovan on the path down to Hogsmeade.
"London," Sherlock said, not quite meeting John's eyes. They hadn't spoken much since their row at breakfast nearly three weeks past, except to exchange what little information and ideas they'd drummed up. "We've got a case."
"A case." John looked at Lestrade's back in disbelief. "Sherlock, a case? The Quidditch match is in three days. Do you really think this is the best idea?"
Sherlock shrugged. "Bored," he explained, and that was that.
"South Banks," Sherlock smiled, gesturing with his arms. John looked around vaguely at the bland grey landscape, wrapping his arms around his chest.
"And we're here for…?" he asked, squinting at something large and lumpy in the distance.
Sherlock smiled. "A body."
The body in question belonged to rather a large man in a security guard's uniform. Sherlock inspected him closely, even pulling off the man's sock at one point and frowning at the sole of his foot. There were odd contusions around his neck, bearing fingerprints that seemed- to John's untrained eyes- much too large and far apart to make any sort of sense.
"Well?" Lestrade asked, his breath puffing out in front of him. "Any ideas?"
Sherlock straightened. "Formidable," he said.
Lestrade made a face. "What?"
Shaking his head, Sherlock explained, "This man was killed by an opponent he could not possibly have defeated. A giant, Lestrade. No," he shook his head again and knelt beside the body, fanning his fingers out and coming nowhere near to fitting the bruises. "A half-breed. Human enough to be given orders and be unleashed on London without causing chaos, but giant enough to prove amazingly…formidable."
Suddenly John remembered the admirer's last letter. "Oh God," he gasped. "The Professor did this."
"The who?" Lestrade looked back and forth between Sherlock and John. "The Professor? Sherlock, if you're holding out on me-"
"I didn't-" John began, but Sherlock shook his head.
"It's fine." To Lestrade, he explained, "You remember the Jefferson Hope case? There might have been some small details I left out of the official report. Possibly pertaining to a certain admirer of mine who is less than fond of Muggles and might, maybe have a secret plan to enslave almost the entire human race." He shrugged. "It's a possibility."
After some calming down (Lestrade having lunged at Sherlock a bit, and also having sworn on every famous witch and wizard throughout history), Sherlock explained everything he knew of "The Professor" and his plot against humanity…which, really, wasn't much. "All I know is what the cabbie told me," Sherlock said for the hundredth time. "That the Professor admires me, that he considers Muggles beneath us but still of some beneficial use, that he sees no reason not to subtly affect the lives of Muggles without revealing the existence of the Wizarding world, and that he has apparently recruited several like-minded people to aid him in his cause, and is presumably hoping to recruit me as well. Possibly for my abilities, more likely for my connections to the Ministry."
Donovan fumed throughout the final telling, but Lestrade considered every word thoughtfully. At the end of it, he pointed at the bloated corpse and said, "And you think he did this?"
"I know he did," Sherlock said. "He practically told me as much. The better question is: why did he do this? Look at the insignia on his shirt. A lowly museum attendant? Why kill him? Perhaps he knew something he shouldn't? All right then, but what?"
Lestrade shrugged, looking around as though the answer was lying amidst the pebbles beneath their feet, and Donovan only tapped her toes. John, on the contrary, decided to wager a guess. "He discovered part of the Professor's web. Something to with museums, so probably…a theft?"
"Close. A forgery."
"How could you possibly know that?" Lestrade asked, looking annoyed.
By way of answer, Sherlock merely pointed to the billboard that leered at them in the distance. Come Discover the Lost Vermeer, it said, and beneath it, in smaller type: Hickman's Gallery. The insignia beside the name of the gallery was the same as the one on the man's shirt.
"The Vermeer is a fake," Sherlock smiled, "and somehow, this man knew it. So the Professor found a way to shut him up. Permanently."
"Fantastic," John said, and then realizing how it sounded: "The deduction, I mean. Not the dead bloke and the fake painting."
"Meretricious," Sherlock said dismissively.
"And a happy new year," Lestrade quipped, looking pleased with himself. The boys gave him a look, and he shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Right. So…it sounds as though I need to track down this…half-giant."
"You'll never find him," Sherlock said. "But I know someone who can."
Lestrade's facial expression couldn't decide between offended and curious, so it wavered between both. "Who?"
Sherlock grinned. "Me."
"I should probably call in the Beast division," Lestrade whispered. He, Donovan, John, and Sherlock were creeping silently through old abandoned tunnels. "Though Merlin knows it'd probably start a riot. People complaining that a half-giant should be handled by the Beings department, the other side shouting about their children's safety and the fact that a bloody great giant somehow got into the city unseen, and the next thing you know there'd be picketers at the Ministry and everyone shouting for my head all because of one lousy-"
"Lestrade," Sherlock said, interrupting.
Sherlock put his finger to his mouth. "Shh." He snuck along ahead over the others, eyes darting.
"What makes you think the thing will have gone here, of all places?" Donovan asked quietly, her nose wrinkled and her wand drawn.
Rolling his eyes, Sherlock hissed, "Judging by the violence he perpetuated and the footprints he left at South Banks- bare feet, very odd- I'd say he hasn't been entirely acclimatized to humans. Giants live in caves. Excluding the Tube stations, which are far too populated and dry, what else in London might remind one of a cave?"
"Oh," John breathed, looking more closely at their surroundings. Water dripped from the high, tiled ceilings; noises echoed; light barely penetrated beyond a few feet from the entrances. If there was anything more cave-like in London, John couldn't imagine it.
They wandered for a long time through the drippy, damp space, their wands out and lit with Lumos charms. There were people down there, Muggles, but neither the boys nor the Aurors worried about what they might think; who would believe the ramblings of the homeless to be anything more than ridiculous fancy? Just when it seemed to John that his socks couldn't be any more sodden or his eyes any more tired from straining, they saw it: the silhouette of a man…but a man the size of small boulder, with shoulders at least a metre and a half wide and hands as big as hams. "Christ," John muttered, "just look at the size of him."
Maybe the half-giant somehow heard him; maybe something else entirely spooked him. Either way, he darted off suddenly down the tunnels, his enormous shadow dancing above him as he ran. John and Lestrade cursed simultaneously, and the entire foursome jetted off after him. Their footsteps echoed; water splashed up around their legs. But they were too slow; by the time they reached the end of the tunnel, the half-giant was gone.
"Now what?" Lestrade panted, his hands on his knees. "We just sit here and wait for him?"
"No, he won't be back." Sherlock knelt down and looked at a footprint the size of a shoebox. "We'll have to track him, and quickly. Lestrade, you and Donovan head that way," he said, pointing towards an industrial park. "John and I will go there," he added, pointing off towards a college campus thick with trees.
Lestrade opened his mouth to argue, but Sherlock shook his head. "There's no time," he cried, grabbing John's hand and pulling him along at a trot. "Go, go, quickly!"
It made me sad to leave out my favorite line in the whole series, "Not much cop, this caring lark," but I couldn't see any reason to put it in. Pooey. I did leave in the "meretricious" joke because that is just plain comedic gold.
Also, hey: sorry for the fucking long wait, guys. If you follow me on Tumblr you know I've got kind of a lot going on right now, so yeah. I think I just needed a little break to get my shit together. Everything's mostly good now, though, so I think I'll be putting out updates pretty regularly again? Hopefully?
"How sure are you that he went this way?" John panted.
Sherlock considered as he ran. "Eighty percent," he said. A muddy splotch on the sidewalk drew his attention, and he amended, "Ninety-five percent."
"So why," John groaned, "did you send away Lestrade and Donovan?"
"Nuisances," Sherlock explained breathlessly.
John shook his head and followed silently after that. The university campus was further away than it looked, but the path began to reveal itself as they got closer. The boot of a car was smashed and dented; the shrubberies along the sidewalk were trampled and torn. A large, destructive force had bent a bicycle in half and tore one of the big double doors leading into the school's auditorium right off its hinges. John couldn't help but notice the splotch of blood dribbling down the door frame. "Oh no," he whispered. "Oh no, Sherlock. We're too late."
"Perhaps," Sherlock said softly, pushing past John. "Perhaps not." He drew his wand, and John followed suit, creeping along behind him.
The auditorium was dark, aside from the video playing on the screen. A man's voice was speaking in even tones about space as lights flashed and planets spun and danced. In the odd lighting it was difficult for John to make out the details of the room. There was a rasping, ragged sort of breathing in a particularly dark corner of the room. John looked at Sherlock; Sherlock looked at John. "Defensive tactic number three," Sherlock whispered.
John nodded and veered off a little from Sherlock, dropping into a crouch as he slowly sneaked towards the broken noises in the dark. He reached the noise first, his wand drawn and an incantation ready to burst from his lips…but the shape on the floor was so small and broken that John immediately lowered his wand and dropped down beside it.
It was a woman. Her face was so battered and bloodied that John couldn't make out her features, but the school ID card she wore attached to a lanyard around her neck showed a smiling, matronly older woman with kind eyes and neat blonde hair, now pink with blood and tangled. Professor Cairn, or so the card said. John brushed a bit of blood-drenched fringe from her eyes and slid his thumb down to her tear-soaked cheek, leaving a crimson streak behind.
"She's dying," Sherlock said softly. John looked up at him. He opened his mouth to say something- what, he didn't know- when the woman's voice interrupted him.
"William?" she whispered, her voice hoarse. "William? Please…"
"Shh," John said, his hand trembling slightly as he touched her cheek again. "It's all right. It's…everything's going to be okay."
Fresh tears rolled down the woman's cheeks. "William, I'm so sorry." She coughed and blood dribbled down from one side of her lips. "It's the painting. It's…it's wrong, the painting is wrong…" She coughed again and sobbed at the pain, clutching at her ribs. "It's wrong, Will, the…the…you…" Her eyes fluttered and her mouth worked silently, but the words wouldn't come.
"Shh, shh," John said again, furious with himself. He knew so many healing charms but this…this was just too much. He wasn't trained for injuries like this. This woman was going to die and he was powerless to stop it.
After a moment of struggling to breathe, Professor Cairn managed to whisper, "William. Big brother. You've always…protected me…" She shook her head and opened her eyes very slowly, dimly focusing on John's. "You musn't let them get away with this."
"We won't," John swore, looking up at Sherlock. The young wizard nodded once, his face pale and his silver eyes shining.
Cairn nodded and licked her lips, her tongue stained with blood. "Good. Good. I…" Whatever she might have said next, the boys never knew. She drew in her last breath and died with a quiet sigh.
Sherlock and John looked up at the same moment. John's hands were damp with Professor Cairn's blood and his eyes were stinging, but it was the look on Sherlock's face that made his throat feel raw. "I'm sorry," Sherlock said softly, and then his eyes flicked upwards and his jaw dropped. "John!"
Pain; unbelievable pain. Lights, flashing and dancing behind his eyelids. A constant voice and two that wavered: one, strangely, prattling about stars, one shouting words John thought he ought to recognize, the other only grunting and bellowing. Pain; unending pain.
John opened his eyes and the room swam around him, making him sick, so he closed them again. His head was bleeding and one of his ears seemed to have stopped working entirely. There was a copper tang to his saliva and an ache in his tongue that suggested he'd bit it.
Then he remembered: the giant. Sherlock. The dead woman, her awful injuries.
"Oh God, no," he muttered, forcing himself to his feet. He opened his eyes, swayed, closed them again. How was he supposed to fight when he couldn't even stand?
Leaning against something cool and metal, John opened his eyes. The dizzying quality of his vision had slowed; the room was merely rocking now, as gentle as a ship at sea. He took one unsteady step and then another, and then vomited his breakfast out all over his shoes.
Amazingly, that helped. The wrenching in his stomach distracted him from the dull ache in his head, and the awful smell seemed to wake him up a little.
A flash of light across the room drew his attention. Sherlock was dancing, his hair wild and his wand thrust out in front of him. In front of him was the biggest man John had ever seen. He was at least nine feet tall, more wiry than burly, with a pale bald head and ill-fitting, torn clothes that had certainly seen better days.
The half-giant took a swing, missed. Sherlock hit him with three curses, to seemingly no effect. The half-giant took another swing.
This one struck.
Sherlock tumbled to the ground, clutching his head, his wand clattering inches from his fingertips. Fumblingly, John flung himself forward and leapt into the giant's path. He held his own for all of three seconds before the giant kneed him in the crotch, punched him in the chest, and tossed him aside as easily as one might heft a suitcase. Still, it was distraction enough; Sherlock had scrambled back up into a sitting position and gotten hold of his wand, though none of his spells seemed to thwart the monstrous man in his path towards him.
A spell shot out from Sherlock's wand and ropes wended their way around the half-giant's chest. He roared and ripped them apart in mere seconds, then leaned down and swatted the wand out of Sherlock's hand. The half-giant grabbed the front of Sherlock's shirt and lifted him into the air, feet kicking. His enormous hand balled into a fist and winded back…
"No!" John scuttled back to his feet and held out his wand, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. "Avada Kedavra!"
His aim was true; the half-giant seized, his hand flying open and dropping Sherlock to the ground, and then crumpled. He was still.
Sherlock sat up slowly, his cheek bruised and his lip bloodied. "John?"
At the sound of his name, John dropped the wand and dashed over to Sherlock, pulling him to his feet. "You're okay! Oh God, you're okay!" He twined his arms around the bony boy and pressed his face into Sherlock's neck, savoring the steady heartbeat that thrummed against his cheek. "I thought…Christ, he was going to kill you!"
"Probably," Sherlock said calmly, running his hand up and down John's spine. "After you were knocked unconscious, I evaluated my odds of survival and set them at about forty-eight percent."
"Christ, you're barmy," John whispered, tightening his grip. "You're so far past insane there aren't any words left to describe what you are."
"'Alive' is a good one." Sherlock leaned back a little and took John's chin in his hand, forcing his eyes up. "I am alive, John. Thank you."
The eye contact stretched on beyond what was considered polite or normal; it went on so long that John felt his pulse quicken anew. Sherlock's eyes flickered down to John's lips and back again and John's heart seemed to halt altogether. Was he imagining it, or was Sherlock leaning closer? No, Sherlock was close, so close now, his eyelids were lowering-
The remaining auditorium door banged open and they jumped apart, John sheepishly rubbing the back of his head and then wincing at the flash of pain he felt as he grazed the swelling welt the half-giant had left behind.
"Dumbledore and Grindelwald," Lestrade swore quietly, flicking on the main lights and surveying the damage. The room was a wreck of torn-up seats and blood. Professor Cairn still lay on her back by her podium and the half-giant was heaped in the center of the room, one huge hand outstretched, the fingers curled against the floor. "What in the hell happened here?"
John made to speak, but Sherlock clapped his hand over John's mouth. "Don't answer that," he hissed. Then, to Lestrade, Sherlock said with an unpleasant smile: "I'd like to see my brother please. Now."
Mycroft handled the entire affair delicately but thoroughly. In the heat of the moment, John had used an Unforgivable…but Mycroft didn't think John had done anything that warranted forgiveness, or punishment. The official story he fed to Lestrade and the Auror Department was that John had leapt on to the half-giant's back and begun to suffocate it, and from fear alone the creature suffered a heart attack and dropped dead. While it was obvious that neither Lestrade nor Donovan were buying the story, he wasn't pressed any further for the truth. When they were taken back to the castle, John asked Lestrade to tell Cairn's brother William that she spoke kindly of him before she died, and Lestrade agreed. Other than that, no more was said on the subject.
In Sherlock's room, the pair puzzled over the Professor's involvement in the deaths of the security guard and the university professor. It seemed clear that they both knew something that the Professor didn't want them to know, something to do with the lost Vermeer. But John and Sherlock both agreed that that case would have to wait. There were only a couple days left until the next Quidditch game.
The second to last Quidditch game of the year was also one of the most highly anticipated: it was Slytherin and Ravenclaw's final match of the year, and the two houses had become fiercely competitive in the last decade or so (though never so much as Slytherin and Gryffindor could be, considering Ravenclaw was still a touch second-rate on the pitch and everyone knew it). John spent breakfast feeling a bit sorry for himself, since more than likely he would be missing the match, but then he realized how completely selfish he was being, mentally berated himself, stood up straight, and went off in search of Sherlock.
The boy wonder wasn't in his room. He wasn't in the library, he wasn't skulking around outside the Great Hall, and he wasn't hiding in the Room of Requirement. He hadn't been at breakfast, either, and John couldn't think of any other places Sherlock might be lurking…although, being Sherlock, almost anywhere on planet Earth seemed plausible. Eventually John relented and plucked the conch shell from his pocket.
"Watson to Holmes," he sighed, using Sherlock's preferred opening line.
"John." Sherlock sounded a little out of breath; there were hoots and shrill owlish cries in the background. Fighting back another sigh, John turned and headed towards the Owlery. "I'm a little busy," Sherlock said, and then: "Aughhh!"
"Bugger bit me," Sherlock whinged, sounding surprised. "If it would only- errmff- hold still- ack!- this would go so much more quickly."
John rubbed at his eyes with the heel of one hand. "Are you doing anything illegal, immoral, or dangerous?"
"No," Sherlock answered quickly. Perhaps too quickly.
"Right," John said, switching to a jog, "I'm coming up there and if I find any owls dead or maimed-"
"I'm not maiming them!" cried Sherlock, apparently appalled by the suggesting.
"All right, dead then."
"I'm not killing them, either. I'm simply- oomf- inspecting- ah!- their dorsal feathers. Although- oh, come on- this owl in particular seems to be rather hoping for a good maiming. Auggh!" Sherlock swore in such a way that John had to look up and down the hall to make sure no one else had heard. "Hurry up," he added, once his tantrum had ended. "You can hold the bastards still."
"All right," John said, holding an owl steady with both hands. "So why are you doing this, exactly?"
Sherlock was stooped, pushing feathers aside and very carefully comparing them to one he held in his left hand. "Because," he said, standing with a flourish and grinning at John, "I'm proving a point. The Professor isn't using any of the owls in this facility to send the messages."
"Okay. And that means…"
Rolling his eyes, Sherlock grasped another owl and thrust it at John, who took it gingerly. "It means," the younger boy explained, digging around amid the owl's feathers, "that either the Professor is not at Hogwarts after all, which seems incredibly unlikely considering the other evidence, or…and this is a very interesting 'or', John…he's using an intermediary."
John looked at Sherlock blankly.
"An intermediary!" Sherlock grabbed the owl's legs and tossed it carelessly into the air. "A third party! He mentioned having two associates to me. One was the half-giant, his barely trained assassin. The other seemed to be given the task of kidnapping and holding the Muggle hostages. I believe the Professor is sending encrypted messages to this man, his intermediary, who then transcribes the messages and passes them on to me. It's what I would do, were I him."
"But you're not. Him, I mean," John said pointedly.
Sherlock glared at him. "Obviously. Getting back to the point: if we were able to track down this intermediary, he would almost certainly lead us straight to the Professor."
"What makes you think it will be as easy as all that?" John asked, watching Sherlock wrestle with another owl. "Suppose the Professor's associate is a criminal genius as well?"
"Don't be so devastatingly short-sighted, John. Why would the Professor be courting me if he already had someone with whom he was intellectually comparable? No, it's clear that the Professor is the driving force behind his operation." Sherlock tossed the latest owl aside and grinned at John. "So, now you see the obvious route we must take."
John pursed his lips and considered. "Not so much, no. How are we meant to find this bloke? He could be literally anyone, excepting ourselves. He…he could even be a she. Who knows?"
"Daft as ever," Sherlock sighed. "John: think. Upon evaluating the evidence it's all but apparent that the associate is a wizard, a former Hogwarts student, and trained as an Auror or Death Eater. I think that narrows the search considerably."
"How-" John began, but he was interrupted by the door to the Owlery loudly banging open. Lestrade and Donovan stood in the doorway looking disheveled; in Lestrade's right hand was a small, cream-coloured envelope.
"It's time," the head Auror said, the lines on his face seeming even more pronounced than usual. John looked over at his friend and found all the traces of humor gone from his face, his eyes as cold and grey as steel.
The newest letter was so short that John could turn the words over in his mind again and again as he stood beside Sherlock, staring at their latest puzzle. The painting's a fake, or so they say, Sherlock's voice murmured in John's head. But how can we know for sure? Prove it, love. For me. PS: Let your little dog sit this one out. I want to see you shine.
Little dog. John shook his head. As if he could possibly solve something like this, anyway. What did he know about art?
The gallery which held the alleged lost Vermeer was pristine, with so much empty space that every breath seemed to echo around the all-white room. The only decoration in the room was the painting itself. John thought it looked rather unremarkable, an echo of every other dark and gloomy landscape he had ever seen. It made him think of wall calendars and school trips to the Louvre as a young child. To think that people had been murdered because of this painting, that a half-giant had been set loose among Muggles- in the middle of London, no less!- and that someone somewhere was being held captive and could die if Sherlock failed…it boggled John's mind.
Sherlock ran his fingers along the canvas, his eyes darting, and John looked at the museum's curator automatically, expecting some sort of reaction. But the poor Muggle woman was simply smiling, her eyes focused on some point near the ceiling and her body swaying very slightly. Auror Lestrade kept his arm around her waist, but the charm he had used to subdue her did most of the restraining for him. "Well?" Lestrade asked quietly, his jaw tight.
Defying John's expectations entirely, Sherlock actually answered him. "I'm not exactly an expert on 17th century artwork, but I don't see anything out of order here. The big question, it would seem, is whether the problem pertains to the painting's materials…or its content."
Lestrade moved to cross his arms and then, remembering the Muggle woman, quickly shifted so that he was holding her again. "Right," he said, clearing his throat. "And which do you think it is?"
Sherlock smiled. "I never jump to conclusions, Lestrade." He looped his scarf around his neck and tugged on his coat. "We'll need to go to the manor, at once. I need my chemistry set. John," he added, looking seriously at his friend, "stay here. Keep an eye on her." He pointed to the Muggle woman.
"Okay." John took a deep breath and nodded, his hands in his pockets. "If anything happens, I'll…" He pulled his conch shell from his pocket and gave it a wiggle.
"Good plan," Sherlock said, hooking his arm through Lestrade's. "Only that I gave my shell to Donovan, and under no circumstances is she allowed to leave that Quidditch game. Lestrade, shall we?" And with that the pair blinked out of existence, leaving behind nothing more than the smell of Lestrade's aftershave.
It took about five minutes for John to get bored. It wasn't that he was apathetic to the plight of the hostage or anything, but…well, standing in a completely white room with only a conked-out curator for company doesn't exactly make the seconds speed past. It didn't take long for John to gently set the curator down on her expensively dressed rump so that he could have a better look at the painting that was causing so much trouble.
On closer examination John decided it was actually sort of lovely. The flood of gold along the skyline was pretty, and he particularly liked the detail the artist used while painting the stars. After ten minutes of quiet solitude, a little astronomy review seemed like just the thing to keep John's brain from dribbling out his ears. He was only a few stars in when Sherlock and Lestrade popped back into the room, bickering.
"-extremely illegal, Sherlock, not to mention dangerous," Lestrade was saying. Sherlock merrily ignored him, nudging John out of the way and taking minute scrapings from the painting, but Lestrade wasn't giving up. "If the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts department found out about the things in your laboratory-"
"Unless you're planning to haul me down to the Wizengamot for a trial in the next half hour," Sherlock sighed, squatting down and tinkering with various scientific looking instruments, "kindly shut up and tend to the curator. The charm is beginning to fade."
It was true. The woman was trying to stumble to her feet, though her heels seemed to be giving her trouble. John watched as Lestrade knelt in front of her and muttered under his breath, holding eye contact. "What sort of spell is that, exactly?" he asked, taking a few steps closer.
Lestrade didn't even look up. "I really need to concentrate right now," he said, looking a bit miffed, before returning to his muttering.
Awkwardly, John shuffled off in favor of Sherlock. "Anything I can do?"
"Yes, actually," Sherlock said, tapping a thin, clear vial of green bubbling liquid. "Be quiet and stand somewhere else. You're blocking my light."
There's a very frightened hostage depending on him, John reminded himself. You can throttle him once the hostage is safe and sound. Lacking anything more productive to do, John went back to his astronomy review.
"I need to use your shell," Lestrade said after a few moments, startling John so thoroughly that he almost cried out the name of the supernova he'd been mentally labeling.
"Right, sorry," John mumbled, shaking himself. He fished the little conch out of his pocket and passed it to Lestrade, glancing once at Sherlock (still squatting beside his chemistry kit, pulling faces and grumbling to himself) before looking back at the painting and pretending to look at it (when in reality he was listening quite intently to Lestrade's conversation).
"Auror Donovan," Lestrade said, sounding tired.
"Here, boss," the Auror answered. "Game's ninety-seventy, Ravenclaw. No sight of the Snitch yet."
"Thank your stars for that," Lestrade swore. "Anything out of the ordinary? Suspicious characters? Overly interested parties?"
"No, sir," Donovan said. "Same old Hogwarts. It's almost like there's nothing amiss at all."
Lestrade stood beside John, looking at the painting critically. "Know anything about Muggle artwork, Donovan?"
"'Fraid not," she said. "Took Muggle Studies for, what, five years? But I don't remember hearing anything about-"
As Donovan spoke, John's eyes dropped to the plaque. Vermeer, 1640, it proclaimed.
"1640?" John whispered to himself, losing track of Lestrade's conversation. But…that couldn't be right. Why couldn't it be right? Something to do with the stars…
"-and besides that I was sorted Slytherin. Didn't have a single Muggleborn girl in my year, much less in my group of friends-"
The stars, the stars…John's gaze paused over the Van Burens supernova. He looked down at the date on the plaque, then back at to the supernova…and then he sharply exhaled.
"-Mum always hated museums, and especially Muggle museums-"
"Shut up, everybody shut up!" Sherlock shouted. John looked away from the painting as though he were in a dream. I know, he thought, his heart pounding, I know why the painting's a fake, oh God…
"John." Sherlock grabbed John's face and forced him to meet his eyes. "John! I'm going to give you some instructions and I need you to follow them exactly, do you understand? Good. I'm going to ask you questions, but I do not want you to answer them. You mustn't even move your head, John. Got it?"
It was surprisingly difficult to keep from nodding, but John managed, and Sherlock rewarded him with a small smile. "Excellent. You know what's wrong with the painting, isn't that right?" There was a pause the space of one heartbeat where Sherlock searched John's face, and then he nodded. "I thought so. You've only just figured it out, haven't you?" John licked his lips, and Sherlock laughed and patted his cheeks. "John, you amazing, brilliant human being! Of course you have. All right, is it something you learned in Muggle school? No, obviously not. Something you learned at Hogwarts? Oh, yes. Okay. Hmm. What might you have learned at Hogwarts that would pertain to this particular painting?"
"Oh!" Donovan cried suddenly, her voice small but panicked. "Lestrade, they've…the Slytherin seeker…he's spotted the Snitch. He's…oh, Merlin, fifty feet from it at best!"
Lestrade's eyes went wide. "Sherlock!"
"Yes, I heard!" Sherlock cried, his eyes not leaving John's face. "The thing that's wrong with the painting…is it the materials?"
Sherlock frowned. "The content?"
"Sherlock!" Lestrade shouted. "Look at the bloody painting, for Merlin's sake!"
"Thirty-five feet, at best! He's picking up speed!"
Sherlock glanced at the painting, then back at John. "Astronomy. It's astronomy, isn't it?"
"Thirty feet, and now the Ravenclaw seeker's joined in!"
"Astronomy? Of course, it would be," Sherlock groaned, running his hand down his face. "Hateful, unnecessary rubbish…no, but you expect me to know this. Which means…what? That we've encountered it recently? When have we…oh. At the university! Oh!"
"Twenty feet! Seventeen! He's got his arm outstretched! Sherlock!"
"Oh! Of course!" Sherlock let John go entirely and ran up to the painting, looking it over with his eyes wide. "Of course, of course!"
"Fifteen feet, Sherlock! Thirteen, ten! He's closing in!"
"Good heavens, John," Sherlock said softly, tapping the painting. "How in the world did you notice that?"
Lestrade grabbed big handfuls of his own hair. "Get on with it, Sherlock!"
"Five feet! Three feet! One foot, for Merlin's sake, his fingertips are practically brushing the damned thing!"
Sherlock spun on his heels, folded his arms, and addressed the room at large. "The Van Burens supernova," he said smugly.
"He's caught it," Donovan said, not even a second later. "The Slytherin seeker. He's caught the Snitch."
"Don't sound so defeated, Sally," Sherlock said cheerfully. "I've got it right. Haven't I, John?"
Everything had progressed so quickly that John still felt a bit stunned. "I…yes. Yes, you got it. The supernova…it's wrong."
Sherlock laughed. "The Van Burens supernova," he said, looking back at the painting with a very self-satisfied smile. "Exploding star. Only appeared in the sky in 1858. And yet, here it is in a painting from the seventeenth century."
"How did you work all that out, Sherlock?" John asked, still amazed. "I mean…how-"
"I've told you before," Sherlock said dismissively. "You have a very expressive face."
"Who are you people?" the curator asked, her voice slurred. "And what in God's name are you doing in my gallery?"
The congratulatory owl bombarded the trio as soon as they made it outside. Sherlock read aloud: You cut it close on that one, darling. And I almost want to call that little trick of yours cheating. But, keeping in the spirit of things, I'll look past it. This time. xx
John was so distracted by the twists and turns of the day that he didn't even think twice about the thin, warm hand that slid into his own as he and Sherlock climbed the hill back up to the castle.
The next chapter is going to be so exciting, you guys! And if I can ever tear myself away from watching Doctor Who, I might just write it eventually, haha. As ever, I appreciate your patience!
Chapter 9: Two Madmen and a Flying Motorbike
Sherlock rushed at John the next morning during breakfast, rambling about expulsions and the record-keeping habits of various Aurors, most of whom John had never heard of. They were halfway to the library when John realized he was still carrying a fork-speared sausage in his hand.
"All right," John said around a mouthful, tucking the now empty fork into one of his robe pockets with a frown. "What's all this about, exactly?"
"Yesterday," Sherlock said quickly, practically thrumming with energy. "That was too close- far too close. He's toying with me. And I can't- I won't- have it. We have to find the intermediary. Before the next Quidditch game."
"Okay." John nodded slowly. "And we're dashing off at light-speed for the library because…?"
"Records. We need them. Hogwarts records. Auror records. Death Eater records. Any records we can get our hands on." Sherlock quickened his steps. "I've been up all night, thinking about the Professor and his associate. But don't worry, John; there's enough caffeine flowing through my veins right now to fell a small elephant."
"Never would've guessed that," John said, though Sherlock chose to ignore him.
"It's all so clear now, John," Sherlock said, pushing his way into the library and knocking a young Gryffindor girl out the way. (Her shout of, "Hey! Watch it!" went entirely ignored, as did John's hasty apology.) "The Professor is good, very good, good enough to know I'd never find him directly. But the indirect route…yes, it's so clear now! John, you'll sort through the Auror records from the Second Wizarding War to today. I'll go through the rest."
John settled down at a table, eyeing the stack of dusty parchments Sherlock drew from his bag with definite displeasure. "What am I looking for, exactly?"
"Names." Sherlock sat down as well and divvied the notes, passing nearly a third over to John. "Specifically, names that turn up more than once. Anyone who's gotten in with someone like the Professor has likely been getting into trouble his whole life. And yet the Professor would have no use for a common criminal, which suggests there's something special about his associate. Auror training? Death Eater ties? Whatever it is, we have to find it."
"Right." John looked wistfully out of the window and to the sunny, student-filled lawns, before turning his gaze back to the endless parchments. "Let's have at it then, shall we?"
"How about this?" John said, nearly two hours later.
Sherlock didn't look up from his reading, though he motioned for John to continue.
"Well there's this bloke, Sebastian Moran. His records are all here- you'd love this Head Auror, Sherlock. He took perfect notes. Anyway, it says that Moran was nearly expelled from Hogwarts for fighting back in…ah, '25. The headmaster then- no name listed, but I think it would have been Finkle, right?- took pity on him, though, because Moran was a Muggleborn orphan living in a boys' home in London. Eventually Moran scrapped by with enough N.E.W.T.s to sit the Auror exams, which he barely passed. In fact, it seems as though he failed it once, but something persuaded the Head Auror to let him try it again. He passed it the second time, but he was dismissed and his wand was revoked in…let's see…'41. So not long ago at all. The official explanation says Moran was 'unfit for duty', but listen to this: under 'identifying markings' it lists about forty different scars and then, weirdly, says that Moran has a Dark Mark. A Dark Mark! Why on Earth would someone born over a decade after the last of the Death Eaters were sent to Azkaban or killed in battle get a Dark Mark?"
Slowly, Sherlock laid his papers down on the desk and steepled his fingers. "Moran. I feel as though I've heard the name…yes! Odd. I read about him in the Daily Prophet, just before the start of the school year. Sebastian Moran, sentenced by the Wizengamot to lifetime imprisonment for the murder of a Muggle woman and her child." Sherlock shook his head and narrowed his eyes. "There's something…something about that article, nagging at me…"
Where moments before there was only empty air at John's side, suddenly there was a small, bug-eyed house-elf in tattered rags tied together like a dress. "Mr. Watson, sir," she squeaked, blinking up at John nervously, "Brownie is to take Mr. Watson to see the headmaster, sir. Brownie must bring him right now."
John climbed to his feet and shot a worried look at Sherlock. "Is there another case?" he asked the house-elf.
The poor thing shivered. "Brownie is not to talk to Mr. Watson, sir, except to say that she's taking him to the headmaster, sir. Brownie…" She shuddered all over and then, alarmingly, pinched herself so hard that tears sprung into her eyes.
"I'm sorry!" John said quickly, dragging her hand away. "Here, look! I'll go with you, see? Nothing to get upset about."
"Mr. Wat-wat-watson," the house-elf sobbed, punching herself over and over with one small, brown fist. "Mr. Watson should not- should not- Mr. Watson should-"
"Hey, Brownie, it's all right." John looked bewilderedly at Sherlock, who was simply frowning at the scene before him, and then back to the distressed house-elf. "I said I'd go with you, didn't I? Now come on, huh? It'll be all right."
The little creature whispered something too softly for John to hear, and so he bent closer and asked, "What's that, Brownie?"
She sniffled. "Brownie says she's sorry. Brownie tri-tried…Brownie tried to warn Mr. Watson-"
"John, no!" Sherlock shouted suddenly, but it was too late. The library spun away, replaced almost immediately by the headmaster's warm, cluttered office.
"Ah, John," Moriarty sighed. He was leaning against his enormous desk, his usual headmaster's robes cast aside in favor of a slim bespoke suit. "Excuse me while attend to some business?" He turned his attention to the house-elf. "Brownie, Brownie, Brownie. You've been a naughty girl."
John drew his wand and held it before him in the space of a heartbeat, but just as quickly it was sailing from his fingers and into the waiting palm of the Hogwarts headmaster. "Really, John," Moriarty tsked. "Don't be rude. Your turn will come. Now, Brownie. Do you know what happens to naughty elves that disobey their masters?"
"Puh-puh-please," the house-elf crooned, tears streaming from her enormous eyes. "Don't kuh-kill Brownie-"
Moriarty yawned and flicked his wand in her direction. "Avada Kedavra," he said, sounding bored, and her small frame crumpled to the ground.
"No!" John took a step towards the fallen elf, but she was gone. Trembling with anger, John looked disgustedly at the headmaster. "How could you, you sick bastard? Why are you doing this?"
"Because, Johnny," Moriarty said, smiling like a cat with feathers in his teeth, "I'm bored. And I hate being bored." He took a step towards John, a predatory look in his eyes. "My turn to ask a question. Do you know what it feels like to have someone else invade your mind, little Mudblood? To lose control of your body? To relinquish yourself to a higher power?" John took a step backwards and Moriarty giggled. "No, don't answer that! It's better this way. I want to believe I'm your first. Imperio!"
It felt just like a dream.
A walk, said a calm, soft voice in John's head. That's just what you'd like right now. A nice walk to the boathouse.
Why, yes I would, John thought dreamily. It was the easiest thing in the world to obey his instincts. He didn't even have to think about where he was placing his feet; like someone else was planning the route in his mind, his body seemed to know exactly where to go without any input whatsoever from John himself.
Here, the other voice said, gentle as a spring breeze. Stand right here and wait. Wait for what, exactly, John didn't know or care. His peacefulness was perfect, unbroken. After some amount of time- seconds, hours, who knew?- he became vaguely aware of footsteps, and then-
Sherlock. Something inside him struggled- the peace shifted-
-but then it was back, soft, sweet, the voice in his head murmuring lovingly and quietly. Calm, it whispered. Calm and still. This boy is nothing to you.
This boy is nothing to me, John agreed, giving a distant, surreal smile to the boy in front of him, the curly-haired boy who kept calling out: "John! John!"
"My dearest," John said, the words appearing out of nowhere and tumbling out of his mouth unbidden, "I hope you understand why this is happening."
"Leave him alone," the boy growled, his silver eyes shining in the dim light that broke through the filthy boathouse windows.
"You threaten my pet, I threaten yours." A smile stretched John's lips uncomfortably and he struggled against it, but then the calm washed over him again and he settled. "That's only fair, Sherlock. Wouldn't you agree?"
"I think you're just frightened," Sherlock said, looking past John and into the shadows. "You're afraid of what will happen when I discover who you are. Well, it's too late for that. I know who you are, Professor James Moriarty. So why don't you just come out now and face me yourself?"
John laughed, and the laughing hurt his throat. It made him angry, too, though he wasn't sure why.
"That's it, John!" Sherlock called. "Fight it! That's it!"
Shh, said the voice in John's head. It was so calm, so soft, so reassuring. There's no need to fight. Don't you feel good? Don't you feel at peace? Quiet now; settle. You're so calm now, John, so calm and so at peace. There's no need to fight. No need at all.
No need to fight, John thought slowly. No need at all. Dimly, he heard himself say, "Your beast is being difficult. I'd hate to have to put him down."
"If you hurt him," Sherlock said solemnly, "I'll kill you. I promise you that, Moriarty. Be very, very careful about what you do next."
"Now, now, let's all just calm down, hmm? We've gotten so terribly off track." John sighed. "I didn't set up this meeting so that we could squabble, darling. I have a proposition for you. And a warning."
"Why don't you deliver them yourself?" Sherlock took a few steps forward. "Let John go. He doesn't have anything to do with this. We can talk, you and I."
"It isn't very nice, is it? Having somebody else playing with your toys?"
"This is about Moran. If you know that we were on to him, then surely you know it was only so that he would lead us to you."
"We," John sneered. "Us. And yet, you claim the Mudblood boy has no part in all this. But let's not argue, love, not right now anyway. Don't you want to know how I found out you were on to Sebastian?"
"You were listening, clearly." Sherlock considered, his lips pursed. "Perhaps there was someone in the room, someone listening-"
Again John laughed, and again the sound of it disturbed him. He struggled again, and then- Sherlock! He isn't safe! The headmaster killed that little house-elf like it was nothing. I've got to warn Sherlock! The fog was clearing. Though it took all the effort John could muster, he managed to call out: "Sherlock! Run! Run, now! You have to-"
CALM QUIET STILL CALM QUIET STILL YOU CANNOT SPEAK YOU CANNOT MOVE YOU MUST BE CALM AND QUIET AND STILL- the voice in John's head was roaring, making the fog return, so much denser before, until John wasn't even sure where he was or what he was doing. He was so calm, and so quiet, and so still. It was so peaceful there, inside his head. So peaceful. So peaceful.
Voices traveled through the fog like the songs of ghosts, faraway and meaningless.
"You should keep that thing on a leash," said the headmaster, his voice sweet, lilting.
And then Sherlock: "What have you done? Tell me! Is he-"
"He's fine. See? Bark for me, dog." Someone, somewhere, barked shrilly in John's voice…and Moriarty giggled. "Like I said, fine. Now can we please stop talking about your disgusting pet for one instant? Sherlock. You're so lovely, don't you know that? All these months I've been at your side, listening to you be so clever, wanting only to touch you-"
"You're embarrassing yourself, headmaster," Sherlock said. "Now explain. You said you knew John and I had figured out Moran. How?"
"A Muggle bugging device! That's all." Moriarty laughed again; there was something childish about his laugh, but something sinister, too, something that made John frown at the fog. "I slipped it into your stupid puppy's school-bag ages ago. Oh, that look of surprise! Mmm. Sherlock, darling, I'll relish that."
"Why…?" The fog parted just enough that John could see Sherlock's face, his brow furrowed and his mouth twisted unhappily. "Why would you be using Muggle technology?"
"For a genius, love, you don't listen very well. Didn't Jefferson Hope give you my message? I wanted to give you time to think about it, but…bah! The man was worthless. Anyway, consider this: there could exist, one day, a world in which Wizards stepped out of the shadows, a world wherein Wizard children understood and utilized Muggle technology, in which-"
"Yes, yes, this speech was boring the first time I heard it," Sherlock sighed. "So…what? That's your grand plan? Enslave the Muggle population and nick their computers?"
"Put simply…yes." Moriarty shrugged and more of the mist drifted away. John felt so calm and so still, but there was something...something… "But Sherlock, think about it! Muggle weaponry. Muggle bombs, guns, computer-controlled spy planes…Muggle rockets, Muggle warships. Even the little things, like- ah!" He pulled a simple mobile from his pocket and waved it around merrily. "Guess how I was getting into contact with Moran? And how I was giving messages to my Muggle hostages?" He clapped his together gleefully. "Isn't it wonderful? Everyone was trying to track down owls and interrogate paintings, and here the culprit was in my pocket all the while."
"This is all very illuminating, but what exactly does any of it have to do with me?"
Moriarty pretended to consider, scuffing his shoes about for a moment. "Someone's going to have to rule this new world," he said after a moment. "Get's awful lonely at the top, or so I've heard."
Sherlock laughed mirthlessly. "And what about your Moran?"
"What's Moran to me?" Moriarty said quickly. "A pet, nothing more. I'll let you keep yours if you let me keep mine," he sing-songed, giggling. "We can even put them in chains. So what do you say? You must have known where all this was headed. You've had plenty of time to consider. So? Will you join me?"
"Hmm, let me think. No." Sherlock crossed his arms.
Moriarty blinked, the smile sliding off his face, and the fog around John's mind cleared considerably. "You might want to consider a little longer there, love."
"What is there to consider? Your ridiculous little plot is dull and, frankly, implausible. Aside from that, I find your infatuation with me to be nothing more than an amusing diversion from my studies. So if we're done here-"
"WE'RE NOT DONE!" Moriarty shouted, his face red.
The fog fell away entirely. The voice was gone. John slumped a l ittle and caught himself, blinking at the boathouse in surprise.
Cool, even-tempered, Sherlock said, "I rather think we are."
"No. No, no, no. Because you don't understand." The smile on Moriarty's face was truly terrifying; it was like looking into an abyss, the hollow spot in the madman's soul. "I've given you a glimpse, Sherlock, just a teensy glimpse, of what I've got going on out there in the big bad world. And if you're not with me, my dear, then you're against me. All the flirting, our little game…it all ends."
John's wand was poking out of Moriarty's back pocket. He held his breath and took one small, silent step closer. Then another. And another.
"Do you know what happens if the game ends, Sherlock? Do you?" Moriarty leaned closer, his face inches from Sherlock's.
If Sherlock noticed John slowly creeping closer, he gave nothing away. Instead he sighed and answered, "I suppose you'll try to kill me."
"You," Moriarty shrugged, "and your little dog, too. Ah, you don't like that, do you? So reconsider, Sherlock. Will the pet live, or die? Will the game end, or will you help me design it?"
"Speaking of pets." Sherlock tipped forward and set his lips just next to Moriarty's ear. "Where's yours?"
The sudden stiffness in Moriarty's back told John everything he needed to know; Moriarty was alone. John took one great step forward and tugged his wand free at the same instant that Sherlock reared back and punched the headmaster in the stomach.
"Accio wand!" John cried, leaping back. The headmaster's wand struggled inside his suit jacket and then lifted free, clattering noisily to the ground at John's feet, as Sherlock spun Moriarty around and restrained him.
Moriarty looked entirely untroubled, despite the wand in John's hand and the one Sherlock was poking into the soft flesh under his jaw. "Oh, boys," he said, and his little giggle sent a thrill of terror down John's spine. "Allow me to introduce you-"
A pair of arms wended their way around John's waist and over his own arms, sending his wand tumbling to the ground. The man holding him was frighteningly strong and smelled of cinnamon chewing gum and cigarettes; his arms were tan and flecked with golden hair.
"-to my colleague. Sebastian, you're late."
"Spot of trouble with the transport," Moran said, his voice husky and his accent muddled. "Got it all sorted, though. So…you want me to kill this one?"
"No!" Sherlock tightened his grip on the headmaster, his eyes blazing. "I promise you, anything you do to John I'll return threefold to your master."
To John's surprise, Moran laughed boisterously. "Oh, he's feisty, isn't he? I can see why you like him, boss."
"Do me a favor, Sebby dear, and shut up." Moriarty smiled. "The way I see it," he said breezily, wriggling a bit in Sherlock's hold, "you have two options. One, you can join us. Both of you. I have some business which must be attended in Eastern Europe, but after that, dearest, the world is yours. Whatever you like, we'll go do it. How does that sound?"
"I've already declined your offer once," Sherlock growled, "and nothing about this absurd charade has changed my mind."
Moriarty sniffed. "Very well. Then release me. Seb will let go of your precious John. All of us walk out of here alive, and we all go on our merry way."
"We both know I can't allow that, Professor."
"Weeeeell, I suppose there is a third option," the headmaster drawled, though his dark eyes were shining. "Sebastian, kill the boy."
John struggled against Moran, but the man was simply just too strong. He could feel Moran's breath, warm against his temple, as the big man chuckled, "With pleasure, sir."
"No!" Sherlock released Moriarty entirely and stood back, his breathing rapid. "Leave him alone!"
"As you wish," Moran said, shrugging, and he pushed John aside, knocking him roughly to the floor and scooping up Moriarty's wand all in one neat effort. Sherlock hesitated for a moment, looking from John to the two fleeing men, but John shouted, "Go! Go!", and Sherlock's hesitation broke.
John clambered to his feet and scurried after them, but the sight that greeted him outside was not at all what he'd expected. Moran sat astride an enormous motorbike; Moriarty, wearing a rather silly looking winged helmet, was compacted into the sidecar. He turned and waved to John and Sherlock as the immense machine lifted into the air.
"Au revoir!" he called, pulling a set of goggles down over his eyes. "We shall meet again, Sherlock! I hope that you'll reconsider my offer!" The bike rose higher and higher into the late afternoon sky and then, bizarrely, Moriarty stuck out his tongue and the motorbike simply vanished.
John's jaw dropped. "Where…how…"
"Cloaking spell," Sherlock said, to John's stuttering. He stared at the space where the motorbike had been for a long moment, his jaw clenched and his arms folded.
John took a step forward, his neck craned. "A flying motorbike," he whispered, stunned. And then: "Oh God...do you think-"
"It's the flying motorbike?" Sherlock asked, rolling his eyes. "How many 1959 Triumph Bonneville T120's do you imagine are capable of flight?"
"They nicked it," John said softly, amazed despite himself. The headmaster had always been so quiet, so soft-spoken and sweet…and yet in actuality he was a murderer, a man capable of stealing precious artifacts from the Ministry and kidnapping Muggles, of casually casting Unforgivables and attempting to woo underage students.
"Yes," Sherlock agreed, his voice equally quite. "Yes, I rather think they did. Or rather, Moran did." He blinked rapidly then and turned to John, his eyebrows pulled together. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, fine." John looked himself over. "Bit hazy on the details, if I'm honest, but mostly fine."
"Are you sure? We could pop 'round St. Mungo's, have a-"
"Sherlock." John held up his hands and smiled. "I'm fine. We're both alive, aren't we? And this whole bloody business is finally done."
Sherlock tucked his hands into his pockets and looked back up at the looming grey sky. "No, not quite. Not yet."
Chapter 10: Out with the Old
The newly appointed and apparently temporary headmaster stood at the front of the Great Hall, giving the end-of-year speech with dignified solemnity.
"He looks good up there," John whispered to Sherlock. He'd snuck over to the Slytherin table as soon as he had the chance. "Think he'll stay on next year?"
Sherlock huffed out an extremely sarcastic laugh. "Please! He's miserable. Claims it's because the position is too prestigious, especially for one who's former position in the Department of Mysteries was so 'minor'. The truth is much simpler, of course." Sherlock shifted and eyed his brother with a smirk. "Mycroft hates children."
"Ah." John looked him over, noting the small wrinkle in Mycroft's nose as he addressed the room at large. "Yeah, I can sort of see it."
"And now," Mycroft was saying, the look on his face suggesting something closer to constipation than joy, "it is my great pleasure to announce the winners of the Inter-House Challenge. By a unanimous vote from their professors and the school staff, I present this trophy-" he hefted a smallish golden cup into the air for the room to see, "to Slytherin fifth-year Sherlock Holmes and his mentor, Gryffindor sixth-year John Watson." The room exploded with applause; everyone had heard about the incident with Moriarty, of course, especially since it had been featured in the Daily Prophet (front page, and John was rather proud of the heroic cast his photo had lent him). "Yes, yes," Mycroft said, sighing. "Please rise, Mr. Holmes, Mr. Watson."
John obeyed quickly, though Sherlock seemed less inclined to follow orders. He stood slowly and pursed his lips, an unhappy and insolent look on his face. "To you both, I must offer my congratulations," Mycroft said, looking as though he'd certainly rather not. "This cup will be displayed in the trophy room until the end of time, as a representation of your hard work and of the spirit of house unity that Hogwarts has come to embody. Now, sit down. Yes, quickly; moving right along-"
Sherlock tugged John down on to the bench beside him. "The bastard," he muttered. "He's in a strop because he's worried I didn't do well on my O.W.L.s. The imbecile! He even wrote to Mummy! The mad woman sent me a Howler."
John whistled. "So glad my mum's a Muggle," he laughed.
Pulling a face, Sherlock leaned his elbows on the table and set his chin in his hands, apparently solely for the frown the action brought to his elder brother's face. John let Mycroft's seemingly endless speech and grumpy expressions roll past him; his mind was drifting back in time, to the day after the events with Moriarty.
John had woken up to find all of his dorm-mates surrounding his bed, chattering excitedly about the morning's edition of The Daily Prophet.
"Someone stole the Sirius Black motorbike!" the Weasley boy (Danny? Donny?) cried, lofting the paper up so that everyone could see. "John, is it true? What everyone's saying?"
"What?" John sat up and rubbed absently at his rumpled hair.
"That the headmaster's gone mad," Mike Stamford breathed, his eyes round. "Everybody's saying he killed a house-elf and tried to kidnap a couple of students, and there's a rumor going 'round saying he had a hand in that motorbike business, too."
John pushed his way out of bed and headed towards the stairs. "How should I know?" he called over his shoulder.
"Because," Bill Murray called, sounding desperate, "you're mates with that loony Slytherin boy Sherlock Holmes! Which means you know everything!"
It had taken more effort than John expected to ignore the school rumor mill. Rather against their wills, Sherlock and John had become something of minor legends due to their propensity for getting themselves into trouble. That, coupled with Mycroft's sudden appearance and Moriarty's sudden disappearance (not to mention Sherlock's surliness), meant that John was bombarded all day with questions about what happened the night before.
The worst thing, in John's opinion, was that he really wasn't entirely sure himself.
It wasn't until after supper that John had the opportunity to find out. Like most evenings, John snuck into the Slytherin dormitories and let himself into Sherlock's bedroom. Unlike most evenings, Sherlock's room was spotlessly clean and the boy himself was sitting in the center of the room, his clothes disheveled and his fists clenched.
"Mycroft," Sherlock said, to John's questioning look. And then, because the look remained, "Oh yes, and I've been in a fight."
John felt himself tense. "With who?"
"With whom," Sherlock corrected, frowning. "In answer to your query: some imbecile. He implied that I had been in bed with the former headmaster- both uses of the phrase being correct, here- and that now, with the new headmaster being my older brother, I would be allowed to continue doing as I pleased with no regard for school rules or, apparently, basic human decency."
"So you hit him?" John asked, his eyebrows raised.
"Of course not." Sherlock inspected his fingernails. "I merely mentioned the person he'd been taking to bed lately. And then, of course, he hitme."
"Oh, Sherlock." Shaking his head, John sat down on the floor beside the Slytherin boy and looked him over for injuries. "You could have called for me, you know. With the conch shell. I would have come."
"I'm perfectly capable of defending myself," Sherlock said indignantly. "I'm not one of your empty-headed girlfriends."
"No, you're not." John touched a small cut on Sherlock's cheekbone and frowned. "Tell me what happened, Sherlock. After I was…taken."
Sherlock scoffed. "Invaded, more like. I'll have to tutor you in Occlumency, I see." His eyes going distant, he recounted, "I knew. As soon as the house-elf apologized, I knew. Who is the master of Hogwarts house-elves? The headmaster, of course. And then it all clicked together. We couldn't find a corrupted professor because there wasn't one. 'Professor' was only one of his titles. It made perfect sense, then. The business with Quidditch, the painting that was used to deliver his message, the theft of the lobalug plants. I'm only surprised I didn't realize sooner. After that it was only a matter of tracking down where he'd taken you. The answer was obvious. The boathouse held sentimental value for Moriarty, clearly. It was the first place I checked."
"But the pips," John said. "There were five pips. Why did he take me before the final game?"
"Because we were close," Sherlock said, shrugging. "We had Moran. It was only a matter of time until Moran led us to Moriarty himself. And that article…the article I was talking about? The one about Moran's court case? It said that the headmaster had presented evidence in support of Moran's innocence and spoken as a witness in his favor. It didn't work, of course; Moran was clearly guilty. But the article said they were old school-mates, and that Moriarty believed whole-heartedly in Moran's innocence. That same day Moran simply vanished in transit to Azkaban."
John considered. "Even so," he said at last, rubbing his chin, "it would have taken us time to compile evidence against him. It's all good and well to condemn his friends, but Moran's guilt wasn't necessarily Moriarty's, not without proof."
"True," Sherlock sighed, "but what's the fun in a game if you're not winning it anymore?"
The roar of applause brought John back to the end-of-year speech. Slytherin had won the Quidditch Cup, Hufflepuff had won the House Cup (an accumulation of good deeds and few rule-breakers, it seemed), and John and Sherlock were regarded with a touch of respect- if not necessarily fondness, in Sherlock's case. All should have been well. And yet…
As John packed his trunk he thought back to the last time he'd packed it, just before Christmas. He and Sherlock had been an 'item', then, though John hadn't been eager to talk about it with his friends. It wasn't that he had been ashamed or anything, no matter what Sherlock had thought; it was only…
John had always thought that one of the best things about being in a relationship was showing off how great his partner was. But with Sherlock…Sherlock was like a secret camping site or the last bit of cake, hidden away in the back of the refrigerator. John didn't want anyone to know because he didn't want anyone to realize what a good thing he had. It would have been too easy, he thought, for them to take it away from him.
Friendship was good, though. Friendship was very good. And if there was anything Sherlock Holmes- the enormously wealthy, vastly intelligent, implausibly powerful git- needed out of life, it was a friend.
Dark curls bounced as the Slytherin boy waltzed through the crowd at Hogsmeades' train station, seemingly oblivious to John's shouts. Ever-persistent, John wormed his way through the multitude of students and blocked Sherlock's path. "Hey," he said, a touch breathlessly.
Sherlock raised his eyebrow. "Hello."
"I…" John shifted awkwardly. Sherlock was looking at him strangely, as though the idea of speaking to John now that the school year was through was both startling and repugnant. "I was looking for you," he finished lamely, his throat dry and his cheeks warm.
"Come to say good-bye?" Sherlock looked as cool and indifferent as ever, but there was something about his eyes that John felt betrayed his true feelings.
"We still have a whole train ride for that," John smiled, enjoying the look of genuine surprise on Sherlock's face.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes and looked around at the milling students boarding the train. "I suppose I imagined you'd be sharing a compartment with the likes of Molly, Sarah, Bill, and Mike."
"You could join us," John suggested, and then- deciding the sneer on Sherlock's face precipitated a decline- said, "or you and I could share a compartment, if we can find an empty one."
"Why would we do that?" Sherlock blinked, and John shook his head.
"You still don't get it, do you?" He took Sherlock's hand and led him towards the train, shouting over the din: "Sherlock, we're friends! I'm not going to just stop being your friend because the mentor project is over!"
"You have other friends," Sherlock called, following John closely down the aisle inside the train.
"Yeah," John agreed, sliding open a compartment door and tugging Sherlock inside, "but I like you best."
He tugged too hard; Sherlock came toppling into the little room and knocked them both to the floor. Sherlock looked down at John. John looked up at Sherlock.
"You're lying on me," John said softly, for want of anything better to say.
Sherlock immediately climbed to his feet, a sweep of colour gracing his angular cheeks. "My apologies," he said stiffly, and then- with equal rigidity- he extended his hand and helped John to his feet. He closed the compartment door and sat down on one of the benches, his spine straight and his grey eyes distant.
John sat down across from him, hands on his knees. "Sherlock?"
"I was…" Sherlock cleared his throat, smoothed his hair, straightened his tie. "I was thinking."
"When aren't you?" John laughed, but Sherlock's expression remained serious.
"I was thinking we could…" Sherlock hesitated again, and then plunged forward so quickly John struggled to keep up. "I was thinking we could resume our prior arrangement. The physical aspects of our relationship were enjoyable and clearly we both retain some measure of interest-"
"Whoa, whoa," John interrupted, holding out his hands. "Sherlock, I…I'm not sure that's a great idea. Please don't take it the wrong way, but…" He sighed and took Sherlock's hands in his. "I want this. You. But you deserve better."
"I'm perfectly capable of deciding for myself what I do and don't deserve," Sherlock said huffily, yanking his hands away and folding his arms. "If you're denying both of our wants out of some misguided sense of duty-"
"Not duty." John shook his head. "I care about you, Sherlock, and I don't want to see you get hurt. Especially not by me, not if I can help it."
Sherlock considered this for some time, his jaw set stroppily and his lips pouted. Eventually he sighed and rolled his eyes. "Fine." A crafty look stole across his face. "But perhaps one last snog, for memory's sake? Such things are traditional, aren't they?"
John laughed and covered his face in his hands. "You're insufferable."
"That doesn't mean 'no'."
"No," John said empathetically, but Sherlock's faux-pleading look made him giggle and amend, "All right, one very tiny, very quick snog. And then we revert entirely to friendship only. Deal?"
"Deal," Sherlock said quickly, pulling John over to his bench and kissing him so quickly and insistently that John was nearly dizzy with it.
It was everything that John had been missing in the last several months; it was like fire-whiskey and the shock of cold winter air hitting his lungs, like orchestra music and the soft, subtle hum of Brahm's waltz in his ear.
It was too much. It wasn't enough.
John drew back first, his heart racing and his body begging for more, more, more. He was still touching Sherlock, he realized, one hand in his hair and the other in his lap, and he pulled his hands away as hurriedly as though they'd been burned. "That was…"
"Exceptional?" Sherlock suggested, smirking a little, although the look in his eyes mirrored, in some ways, how John felt.
"A really bad idea," John said gently, moving back over to his own bench and trying to smile. "You seem to be full of those."
Sherlock shrugged. "An idea, in itself, is rarely good or bad. Rather, I find it's the execution that makes the difference."
"Oh, don't start rambling," John said, laughing, as the snack trolley arrived. He ordered, glad for the distraction, and the kiss never once came up in conversation again.
Something about King's Cross was always a bit surreal.
Perhaps it was because John knew, as soon as he arrived at Platform 9 ¾, that he'd be switching personas. In autumn he became a wizard and Quidditch enthusiast; in summer he transformed back into regular old John Watson, with the dead dad and the delinquent sister. Out there, he thought, looking at the wall that served as a portal to the Muggle world, I'm completely ordinary. None of them know about Moriarty or Sherlock. They don't know about flying motorbikes or Mermen or mandrake cultivation. They think I'm at military school, for God's sake.
"Well," Sherlock said, snapping John out of his thoughts, "I suppose this time it truly is good-bye."
"It doesn't have to be," John said. Sherlock gave him a look, and he cleared his throat. "What I mean is…you could visit. Over the summer? If you get any interesting cases, or…"
"Boys! Yoo-hoo!" Adorned in a very regal purple robe and feathery purple hat, Mrs. Hudson butted her way through the crowd and pulled both John and Sherlock into her surprisingly strong arms. "Oh!" she cried, sounding enraptured…and then she proceeded to box both of their ears, grumbling, "What a fright you gave me! All that awful nonsense with the headmaster! Oh, Sherlock, I expect it from you, but John!" She tisked unhappily and then kissed his forehead. "Still, all's well that end's well, as they say. Oh, and how you've grown! You'll be visiting the manor over holiday, won't you?"
John opened his mouth but Sherlock spoke over him. "Of course," he said, kissing Mrs. Hudson's cheek. "Antagonizing Mycroft on my own has lost its charm."
"Oh, you." Mrs. Hudson brushed at Sherlock's clothes, her mouth pressed into a thin line. "I wish you'd give your poor brother some peace." Suddenly she paused and looked from Sherlock to John and back again. "Well," she said, a twinkle in her eyes, "I'd best be getting your bags, Sherlock. You take your time now, sweetheart, and meet me down at the café when you're ready." She bustled off, giving them one quick look over her shoulder as she went.
"You'll have to let Mrs. Hudson down gently," John teased. "I think the news of our platonic plans might break her heart."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Mrs. Hudson will survive, I have no doubt." He looked at John appraisingly, his all-seeing gaze making John flush as always. "We still have the conch shells," he said at last. "If you're ever in any danger. If, say, Moriarty-"
"You'll be the first to know it," John said seriously.
"Good." Sherlock nodded. "Then…farewell, John." He bent very slightly at the waist and pressed one soft, quick kiss to John's cheek before disappearing into the crowd.
John stood rooted in place for a long moment, his fingers brushing absently at the place where Sherlock's lips had been. Then he grabbed his bags, headed out into King's Cross proper, and took the train to his mother's house. Three months, he thought, watching London pass by through the filmy windows. Three months. And then I can go home again.
Ladies and gentlemen, that's the end of series one. I'll be writing some bonus one-shots covering the cases the boys take over the summer (I'm already halfway through writing The Parselmouth League) but I don't expect to begin posting any of the series two stories until September or October (for more information on why this is the case, please feel free to check out my tumblr). The first series two story is A Scandal at the Ministry, in which Irene Adler comes into possession of a very dangerous memory and Sherlock gets in a little over his head. Until next time!