Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
There is a loose floorboard in the upstairs bedroom of 221B. Underneath it there is a box, long and slim and made of cherry, heavy to hold, but simple to look at. It opens to those who know how.
Sherlock would have spent hours trying to get into it without avail – but as it happens, he has never found it (though not for want of opportunity). The box lies there under the floorboards, out of sight (of some) but never out of mind (of others).
In Helmand, the air is rich with the smell of qorma and sweat, gunpowder and blood, coriander and mint.
In certain places, John is unable to do anything but stand still in the desert with his eyes closed, letting the Pashtun magic wash over him in its peculiar low, heated pulse.
It tastes of saffron and cardamom on his lips; it feels like sand caught in the wind, prickling against his skin.
(In London, the cherry box sits in the vault of a very posh bank. Out of sight, out of reach, but not quite out of mind.)
“You don’t look impressed.”
Sherlock Holmes stands beneath vaulted ceilings, surrounded by rich persian carpets and priceless vases and rows and rows of portraits of stiff, consumptive-looking strangers; the house is old, so old that John can feel it in the air, somehow weaker and thinner than it ought to be. Even here, amongst the finest things money can buy, Sherlock draws all the attention to himself - he is the gravitational centre of the room, the house, the county, the world. The detail of the room fades to grey. He has consumed it all.
“You’re not even uncomfortable,” Sherlock says, again, frowning at him. “You’re uncomfortable in Mycroft’s office because you feel it’s too grand.”
Sherlock’s wrong, of course. (Mycroft’s office makes him uncomfortable because it belongs to Mycroft. Buckingham Palace made him uncomfortable because it belongs to the Queen. Most buildings do not intimidate him, because most buildings do not have a temper.)
John looks around the room again and shrugs.
“I’ve been in more impressive buildings.”
Sherlock looks at him incredulously. Out of the corner of his eye, John sees one of the portraits throw him a cheeky wink and a wave. The stylised dog etched into the vase wags its tail at him and the curtains are full of hibernating doxies. John ignores it all – and Sherlock doesn’t notice.
On John’s eleventh birthday, someone pushes a letter through the post flap, addressed to him in bottle-green ink.
It’s a Sunday. (His twin sister doesn’t get any post that day at all.)
A tactical foray into the Hindu Kush goes awry.
John wakes up the next day in a room with several Pashtuns watching him intently. His head is groggy and aching, but his eyes clear quickly, and on the tip of his tongue he tastes cardamom and saffron, and against his skin he feels the prickle of sand on the wind. The currents wash over him in calming waves and he relaxes slightly under curious stares.
The curious stares turn heated when he can give them none of the information they want. (The Ministry might be involved in the war, but he is not involved with the Ministry.)
“I’m just a doctor,” he tries to explain in halting Dari. The air fizzes with his words; the men narrow their eyes. “I’m a doctor and a soldier. That’s it. That’s all. I don’t have it with me. I’m unarmed.” (He is anything but, of course, with a machine gun strapped to his back and a pistol in a holster at his hip and a knife snug against his ankle, but they are not interested in those weapons in the slightest.)
They put a muggle bullet through his shoulder before they let him leave and he manages to apparate himself as near to Bastion as he dares before the world fades to black. On the report, he says that he was drugged. No one asks how he managed to get back. They’re too busy trying to keep him alive.
Mycroft looks down his long nose and across his folded hands and says, “I know what you are.”
John’s chin juts out and his eyes narrow and he makes himself take a few deep breaths to keep the panic from setting in.
“I won’t tell Sherlock, of course. The information’s worth more than my life. Your secret, Doctor Watson, is safe with me.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Quite right,” Mycroft agrees. “Though I do wish you’d show me, one time. Out of curiosity, you understand. Fascinating, an entire discipline that science can’t touch.”
John doesn’t qualify that request with an answer. He turns on his heel and walks out of the office, and only when he gets home does he allow his nerves to catch up with his stomach.
Pashtun magic is simple and utilitarian, but beautiful in its own way. In hidden shops and behind storefronts they carve amulets and chant incantations, letting the magic whirl around them on a cardamom breeze. John is drawn to it helplessly, a moth to a flame, and one night he sits for hours with an old witch who sells spices by day and spells by night and lets her teach him to feel his way from the tingling on his skin and the taste on his tongue into the current around him, saffron and cardamom and bits of glass, pomegranate sweet and apricot sour, beige and fawn and khaki and blue, white as snow on mountains and black as oil on sand. She tells him, in words that his ears do not understand but his mind somehow does, how to reach out without his hands and guide the rushing whorls of colour and light and sound, bend them gently into doing his will.
That night, for the first night, he doesn’t think about his wand locked up safe and tight in the bowels of London.
When dawn starts to lick the sky with its pink tongue, the witch presses an amulet into his hand and shows him the door, whispering something that John doesn’t understand (but knows to mean, Only what is once broken can be made whole again).
Sometimes, only sometimes, when Sherlock is very far away and absolutely guaranteed not to return for at least three hours, John sits on the sofa and lets the tea make itself.
When his guard is down, London is hectic and exhausting. He’s always been sensitive to it, the push and pull of human emotions and ambition (which are, as a professor once told him, the basest form of magic), and when he’s not careful, it can overwhelm him.
(Someone called him a freak, once, because of the way he could feel it vibrating in his skin. Magic is not something that John Watson has, it is something that has John Watson. He can taste it on his lips and feel it in his skin and twist it around his fingers like wisps of golden hair. They’d called him gifted, at school. He didn’t want to be gifted, he just wanted to fit in.)
The white noise of base level magic that surrounds him in London is a godsend and a curse. Sherlock leads him blithely into situations that are more dangerous than they ought to be, and John likes it that way – except when it causes unnecessarily awkward situations.
For instance: Sherlock is investigating a swathe of particularly convincing forged documents that have appeared on the black market by swanning around in the showroom of a jewel shop (“It’s a cover, John. The storefront is a fake. I bet you anything there’s a printing press behind that door!”) when the owner (and key suspect) looks up and exclaims, “Well, I never! John Watson!”
Apprehension runs sluggish and cold through John’s veins. “Prewett,” he says, acknowledging his old roommate. “Long time, mate. How’s business? Thought you were still up in Scotland.”
Sherlock has looked up from examining the jewels (real, of course, a real jewel shop to cover a fake document enterprise) to watch the exchange with confusion blooming dauntingly across his face.
“I was at school with this bloke,” Prewett says, proudly. “Top of the ruddy class, he was, though you’d never know to look at him.”
“You went to boarding school in Scotland,” Sherlock says, quickly, his eyes coursing across Prewett at speeds he usually saves for cadavers. “Eleven until eighteen. Specialised school.” He frowns. “You can’t have gone to school with John, he went ...” Sherlock stops, mid-sentence, drawing a sudden blank. (Part of John, the part that isn’t cowering in secret terror, crows out proudly at once more stumping Sherlock Holmes.) “John. Where did you go to school? Your father couldn’t possibly afford boarding school.”
“Scholarship,” John improvises. “I went to Prewett’s school on scholarship for my last two years.”
Pale, sharp eyes narrow at him, but Sherlock nods, jerkily, accepting it even though he doesn’t like it. (Again, a small part of John squawks in triumph.)
Later, after Sherlock has discovered the false door and is busy tearing through the incriminating records, Prewett pulls John aside and whispers, deep and tense, “Sorry, Watson, I thought you’d have told your boyfriend, at least.”
“Not my boyfriend,” John grits out, jaw clenched and fists flexed. “I left for a reason, Prewett.”
“Not something you can escape, though, is it,” Prewett says. (John feels rather than sees his surreptitious spell, obliterating the worst of the evidence before Sherlock can find it.)
“I can bloody well try,” John tells him, low and threatening. Sherlock exclaims with success and stomps across the room to brandish a handful of papers in Prewett’s face; John grins at him and follows him gladly out of the room without another word.
It isn’t, you understand, that John doesn’t like magic. He loves magic as he loves the air he breathes, the water he drinks, the ground beneath his feet; innately, unconsciously, ineluctably. Magic is in his blood and in his bones and in his skin. He does not hate magic. It’s just that he’s seen what it can do, in the wrong hands, and he’s lived through the rifts it creates.
He never wanted to be special. He never asked to be gifted.
He cannot avoid it forever because it is as ubiquitous as air, but he can choose not to take it for granted. He can choose not to be addicted to the thrill it sends up his spine and through his blood. He can appreciate it from afar, because if John Watson has any one thing, it is self-control.
On a cold day in December, a week after they forget to pay their heating bill, John wakes up and can’t see his fingers.
“Bollocks,” he mutters under his breath. His skin aches all over and he can feel the characteristic wheezing cough developing in his lungs.
Gingerly, he rolls out of bed and roots around for some gloves. Wouldn’t do to walk out of his room missing his fingers - even if Sherlock is in one of his thinking fugues, he would definitely notice vanishing appendages.
“Sherlock,” he calls after he locates a pair of gloves and packs an overnight bag, trying to mask the wheezing in his voice. “Sherlock, I’m going ... um ...” He casts about for an alibi. “I’ve got a conference,” he finally decides. “I’m off to Scotland for four days.” That should be enough time to get over this little hiccup.
For the first time in days, Sherlock looks away from the ceiling and fixes him with a stare. “What? You can’t go! I need your help. And you’re ill. You were coughing all night.”
“I have to go. It’s for work. I’ll be back in four days, you’ll be fine.”
“John, I forbid you to leave this flat.”
John snorts and pulls on his coat, buttoning it right up to the top. The skin on his neck feels hot and flushed. It would not do to become a floating head in front of his very muggle flatmate. “The look on your face when you thought that would work,” he teases.
Sherlock huffs. “Who’s going to sort out the heating if you’re going?”
“Sherlock, you are thirty-four years old. Sort the heating out yourself. Or, if that’s too difficult for you to manage, call Mycroft, I’m sure he can help you talk to the gas company.”
And with that parting shot, John hoists his bag onto his shoulder (ignoring the feeling of burning spreading slowly but surely downwards from his neck and upwards from his hands) and ducks out of the flat lest he suddenly vanish completely in front of Sherlock’s eyes while his (oblivious) flatmate splutters indignantly at the very suggestion that he can’t do something Mycroft can.
As soon as he is a safe distance away, walking briskly to the main street as if he were looking for a cab, he ducks into an alley and manages to apparate himself directly into the reception at St. Mungo’s just as the tingling begins to reach his face.
“Good morning, sir, welcome to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, and what seems to be ailing you today?”
“I’ve caught a bit of Vanishing Sickness,” John wheezes, and the lady behind the desk looks on in utter boredom as he feels his face completely disappear.
“Sir, Vanishing Sickness doesn’t necessarily warrant inpatient treatment, are you experiencing complications or...”
“I live with a muggle,” John explains, rolling his eyes (though she can’t see that, of course). “A very perceptive muggle. I need the treatment expedited or he’ll get suspicious.”
Heaving a hugely put-upon sigh, the young girl starts scratching away at a piece of well-used parchment with a bright blue quill. “A Healer will be down to see you shortly, sir. If you’d just fill this out? And how will you be paying for your treatment this afternoon?”
Oh, damn. He hadn’t thought of that. He doesn’t have a single knut to his name, and his sterling situation isn’t much better. (Hence the neglected heating bill and the ultimate cause of the vanishing sickness.) At the same time, he also does not have the time to let it sort itself out at home. (Two weeks, usually, with at-home care and diluted creams and a few good opacity spells.)
Only one thing for it, then.
“I’ll just need to make a phone call - I mean, er, I need to floo my - er ... brother-in-law,” he lies, but he’s at a loss to know how to describe Mycroft otherwise. (He is very glad neither Mycroft nor Sherlock will ever know he has referred to him thus, as Mycroft would find it hilarious and Sherlock would find the entire idea of their being romantically involved, much less married, utterly ludicrous.)
The young witch (Ifigenia, her name-badge informs him, in sparkling scarlet letters with flashing hearts over the i’s) looks utterly unimpressed with him as she shoves a clipboard and a self-inking quill at him (and oh, how he hates quills) and points him towards a private flu-room just off the main concourse. Thanking the heavens that Harry had forced him to have his phone upgraded to the new electrical-magical bypass system (just in case), he dials Mycroft’s number and grits his teeth while it rings.
“John,” the insufferable bastard drawls as he answers the phone. “What a pleasant surprise. And what has my ridiculous brother done this time?”
“Nothing,” John sighs, scratching his hair. “Look, it’s... I’ve caught Vanishing Sickness,” he says, lamely, deciding to get right to the point.
“You’ve caught Vanishing Sickness,” Mycroft repeats, sounding perplexed and ever-so-slightly (and infuriatingly) amused.
“It’s a magical illness,” John explains, exasperated. “It’s sort of like the flu, but the side effects are...”
“Probably inferable from the name,” Mycroft interrupts. “I’ve had enough dealings with your kind to know that you are nothing if not literal in your nomenclature.”
“Yes, well, your idiot brother forgot to pay the bloody bills like I told him and I caught cold and now I’m invisible so I need to borrow 500 galleons for treatment at the magical hospital because I haven’t two knuts to rub together. Again, because of your bloody brother.”
There is a long silence on the other end of the line before Mycroft finally answers in a voice that sounds entirely too much like Sherlock for John’s liking. “Can I see?”
“No, of course you can’t see,” John deadpans. “I’m invisible. Listen, can I borrow the money or not? If not, you can be the one to explain to Sherlock why I’m leaving for two weeks rather than four days.”
“I’ll make some calls.”
“Thank you, Mycroft.”
“John,” Mycroft says swiftly, before John can hang up. “I will do you this favour, but I would very much like you to do me one in return.”
“What do you want,” John sighs, scrunching his eyes and squeezing his temple.
“I want, one day, to meet your ... pet,” Mycroft says, voice heavy with meaning, before ending the call abruptly. “Along with an explanation of how you came about him.”
John spends the next four days covered in rank-smelling poultices and being poked and jabbed by various mediwitches with wands, trying to figure out how to convince Sherlock he’s spent the week in Scotland.
(It turns out he needn’t have bothered - Sherlock hasn’t moved from his sofa in the time John was away and seems to have deleted the fact that he was ever gone. John is too relieved to be insulted.)
The lynx did not make a great deal of sense until he found himself in the foothills of the Hindu Kush.
It had been something he’d learned to do because he could, because the extra lessons took up time in the summer, because it was a mildly intriguing trick that might, one day, come in handy.
A lynx cannot hide in London. The mountains in Afghanistan, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter.
He remembers little Harry Potter, a terrified looking first-year with ill-fitting glasses and a shock of black hair, clutching the stool with white knuckles as McGonagall shoves the sorting hat on his head. His friends had always been causing all sorts of ruckus in the common room while John, an exhausted seventh year studying muggle biology and chemistry on top of his NEWTS, was trying to work.
That was the year John picked his side. It hadn’t been a popular choice, but then, John had never set out to be popular.
“You want to be a what?”
“A muggle doctor,” John says, only half watching Charlie catch and release a glittering snitch over and over again. It is 1992 and the heavy weight of the world sits heavier than it ought on John’s sixteen-year-old shoulders.
Charlie grins. “Bloody good reasoning you’ve got there, Watson. Why not? indeed,” he scoffs, catching the snitch one last time and jamming it into the pocket of his robes.
Smirking at his friend, John retorts, “I’m not the one who wants to spend my life with singed eyebrows.”
“Rather have singed eyebrows than be stuck treating little old muggle ladies with the sniffles.”
“Reckon I could probably be a surgeon,” John muses, sliding his eyes closed, enjoying the rare Scottish sunshine.
“What, and stitch people back together again?”
“Oh, so it does listen in Muggle Studies. Quick, someone tell Hodgeson, Charlie Weasley’s ears work after all! I think he thinks you’re a bit deaf after you tried to tell him that automobiles must drive themselves because the name sounds like automatic .”
Charlie’s laughter is clear as bells across the grounds. John will miss that sound next year, when he goes off to play with his dragons and more like than not get himself burnt into a ginger-haired crisp. “Shove off, Watson. Surgeon, my arse. You could be an Auror, you know, if you wanted, you’re that good. They’d have you in a heartbeat.”
“Don’t want to be an Auror,” John says, quietly, keeping his eyes shut.
“Why not? Everyone wants to be an Auror. You’re one of the few that could actually hack it.”
“I’d like to keep the use of all my limbs, thanks,” John snorts. “Much less likely to end up limping around like Mad Eye as a surgeon.”
(Later, when a very pretty nurse with pity sitting heavy as mercury in her eyes hands him a cane, John will think about this conversation with rueful resignation.)
Charlie laughs and they fall into comfortable silence, lying side-by-side in the grass.
Minutes pass with nothing but the sound of the wind in the leaves, and then Charlie huffs a loud sigh and wriggles closer. Their fingers brush. “Are you sure you don’t want to ...”
John finally cracks his eyes and turns his head to look at his friend. Charlie’s face is wind-burnt from Quidditch and covered in freckles and John knows what the inside of his left knee tastes like and how those chapped lips feel against the dip of his clavicle but that doesn’t mean that he wants to have this conversation again. Charlie doesn’t finish his sentence, just looks at John with big blue eyes, unreadable and open at the same time.
“Someone has to look after Harry,” John says, finally. “I can’t leave her alone out there, not anymore, and anyway, you’ll be in Romania next year, and I’ll be here working my arse off trying to do NEWTS and A-Levels all at once.”
John sighs and turns his head away, closing his eyes again. “I can’t, Charlie. Don’t ask me again.”
There’s no answer, but Charlie slips their hands together and John lets him, and they stay there in the quiet until the sun sets on them, on Charlie’s time at Hogwarts, on the best friendship John has ever had. (And ever will have, until he hobbles into a St. Bart's lab and meets Sherlock Holmes, a whirlwind of a man with a crocodile smile stretched over the most fragile heart John’s ever known.)
“You didn’t have to do that,” Sherlock says, out of nowhere, continuing a conversation that they weren’t actually having. John, currently engrossed in fishing the best bits out of his takeaway box, looks up at him curiously.
“What didn’t I have to do?”
“You know. That thing. That you did. Earlier”
“Sherlock, contrary to what seems to be your opinion, most of us cannot read minds. What are you on about?”
Sherlock huffs in frustration and makes to throw himself over and face the wall, obviously sulking at John’s inadvertent ignorance.
John sighs. “Alright, I’ll bite. I’ve done something to make you feel ... grateful?”
A single eyelid cracks and Sherlock peers out at him through it, feigning disinterest but clearly waiting to see what John will deduce. John takes that as a yes on the grateful front.
“Is this because I ordered your favourite orange duck from the Chinese because you know, that wasn’t a massive hardship, and I did actually have to do it because if I didn’t, you wouldn’t eat and then you’d starve and then where would we be?”
Again, Sherlock huffs. “You are so wilfully ignorant, John, it’s almost insulting.” John smirks at him (he can tell, now, when Sherlock is properly annoyed and when he’s just fronting; this is definitely a case of the latter) but then starts to turn over the events of the day in his mind.
“Is this because I told Donovan and Anderson to shut up about you earlier?”
Sherlock says nothing. John takes the affirmation, such as it is, and runs with it.
“You think I was doing it out of some sort of protective instinct?”
Unbelievable. John casts about for the nearest object to toss at His Highness’s thick, thick head. (It turns out to be a well-read copy of a Stieg Larsson novel, and it glances off Sherlock’s face with an agitated flutter.)
“Oi! What was that for?”
“For the world’s only consulting detective, you are immensely dense. It upsets me to hear them talking about you like that. I don’t have to listen to it, in fact I won’t listen to it, and I wanted them to be abundantly clear on that fact.”
“Why do you care what they say about me?”
“Because, you dolt. You’re my friend. My best friend.”
“Am I? Really?”
“Yes,” John says, tiredly. “I would’ve thought you’d have deduced that.”
“Are you my best friend?” Sherlock asks, suddenly, frowning at the threadbare cushion in his hands.
“Yes, I am. Now shut up, I wanted to watch the news.”
John’s father says nothing when John shows him the envelope. (The paper feels almost creamy in his fingers. The ink looks like it could be glittering, except that doesn’t make any sense.)
He says nothing, but his eyes go tight and his lips stretch over his teeth and he puts the envelope back in John’s hands before heading to the cupboard that John and Harry aren’t allowed to touch and cracks the seal on a big bottle of amber liquid.
The next morning, John wakes up early to find his father passed out on the sofa, vomit slicked down his shirt. Harry cries while John slowly, carefully, picks up the pieces of the picture frame that has been smashed into a million pieces and scattered across the living room like so much dust. His mother’s face, stained brown with tacky residue that smells like the inside of one of his father’s bottles, stares up at him from the floor.
Sometimes, when Sherlock is railing against humanity and John is exhausted and the white noise of London’s incessant emotions becomes too much to bear, John shifts and flees, leaping across the rooftops until he can’t hear Sherlock’s voice anymore. He finds a quiet spot and curls up in tawny fur under the sky and stays there for hours, and Sherlock is never any the wiser.
(One day, Mycroft slips him a newspaper clipping, taken from the novelty section of the Metro – a short piece about a woman who swears up and down that she’d seen an American bobcat prowling her yard in Clapham, not too far away from where Sherlock had been on a particularly long and frustrating case the night before. John burns it.)
John is a very, very good doctor.
He is an even better soldier.
He has always suspected that might be the case, ever since he was young, but when he was young he’d made a promise, and this was the only way around it.
While he trains for Her Majesty’s army, crawling through mud and hopping over logs and making his bed just so, his old classmates battle for little Harry Potter, for good against evil, and he tells himself he doesn’t regret his decision.
On his first deployment, he is sent to Kosovo on a peacekeeping mission. They don’t manage to do much to keep the peace. John puts his first bullet in another man’s skull and spends that night curled up underneath a tank in his other skin and wonders if it would have been easier or harder if he’d used his wand to take someone else’s life.
The man that comes to talk to his father looks like the drawing of Merlin in Harry’s favourite picture book.
Harry tells him this and his strange eyes glitter with laughter. He offers her a mint humbug and she screws up her nose and John tells her off for being rude.
His father shoos them from the room (but of course they watch through the crack in the door) and sits down opposite the strange man and glares at him.
“He can’t go. I won’t let him.”
“Mr. Watson. John is a very special boy. Surely you wouldn’t deny him the opportunity to become the best he can be.”
“My wife died fighting your war, Albus. I won’t let you have my son as well.”
“Hamish, I understand you are angry about your wife’s death, but Voldemort is gone. There is no war. We are at peace. John will be perfectly safe.”
There is a long silence. “Why only John?”
The old man sighs, heavily. “It’s rare, in twins, even fraternal twins, for one to be born magical and the other not. I’m afraid I don’t know why only John.”
“There’s no mistake, then? Harriet ...”
“I’m afraid Harriet is just as un-magical as you are, Hamish.”
“Separating them will be ...”
“Better for them both. You cannot keep John from this part of his life. If he does not learn to control it, it can have disastrous consequences. John must go. Harriet cannot follow.”
John hears his father heave a huge sigh. When he turns to talk to Harry, she has disappeared.
Sherlock kisses him on New Years’ Eve, just as the clock strikes twelve.
John pushes him away and laughs and tells him he’s drunk.
Pale eyes gleam at him from above knife-sharp cheekbones and something in John’s stomach lurches.
“Oh,” he says.
Sherlock snorts and kisses him again.
“You’re an idiot, John Watson.”
In John’s third year at Hogwarts, his father drinks himself into an early grave. Dumbledore sends John home to watch him die, and before his father goes he grabs John’s hand in his and looks at him with fierce, red eyes and says, “Promise me, Johnny boy, you won’t fight any of their wars, promise me, whatever you do, you won’t let them get you,” and John promises because even if he does not love the man lying there, dying on a cold, hard bed in front of him, he is still his father and for some reason that means John owes him something.
John promises, and doesn’t say anything about the fact that he knows his magic has done this to his father, because his father had loved his mother and she had died and he could hardly stand to look at either of his children most of the time because they reminded him so much of her. The magic was just one step too far.
Harriet shares none of his compunctions and shouts it at him loudly, venomously, all the way through the funeral. “It’s your fault, John, this is your fault, all your bloody fault.”
When the coffin is gone, Dumbledore appears to whisk him back to Scotland and Harriet is left to fend for herself under the less-than-watchful eye of a not-so-caring Great Aunt Mildred, who knows only that John attends a special school for the gifted in Scotland and has been confounded into not asking too many questions about it.
John has always been short but he has never felt it more than he does now, with Kingsley Shacklebolt standing at his full six feet seven inches in front of him in the middle of the meat aisle in Tesco.
“You have a duty, John. To your country. To your people. To the world.”
“I made a promise, once,” John says. “I don’t intend to break it.”
“There’s a war coming,” Shacklebolt says. The words rumble from his chest like thunder breaking over the Cairngorms. “You will have to choose a side, no matter what you do, you will have to make a decision.”
“I’ve already made my decision,” John tells him, pulling himself up to his full height, squaring his shoulders like they had taught him in week one of the OTC programme. “I chose neither.”
“You know,” Sherlock says, without looking up from the beaker into which he is attempting to place exactly four drops of a glittering, clear liquid without causing a minor explosion, “sometimes you don’t make any sense at all.”
John smiles and takes a bite of his toast.
“You never make any sense, so I’m one up there,” he says.
“You never told me Harry was your twin,” Sherlock continues. “Why? I thought twins were meant to be closer than other siblings.”
“Not in our case,” John says, shortly. He takes another bite of toast - it’s suddenly dry in his mouth. “We didn’t spend a lot of time together. I was away at school most of the time, you know. She was jealous and mean about it.”
Sherlock looks up sharply; the movement sends too much of substance A into substance B and the entire concoction starts smoking. John eyes it warily.
“You said you only spent two years at a boarding school.”
Bollocks. Keep your damn stories straight, Watson.
Sherlock’s eyes narrow at him and he places the pipette down. “You’re lying. One way or the other. I can’t tell. Why?”
“What does it matter where I went to school?”
“I want to know.”
Sherlock frowns at him. “You’re mine, John. I want to know everything about you. I thought you knew that. ”
Did he know that? No, John decides, he didn’t. Sherlock had kissed him, once, but it was New Years’ Eve and they’d had quite a lot of Mrs. Hudson’s special reserve sherry and the candles were lit and everything seemed peaceful and calm. Since then, for three weeks, nothing. John had written it off, attributed it to effects of the rather delightful muggle spell created by romantic lighting and too much alcohol, and left it at that.
“Now you’re definitely the one making no sense.”
Making an impatient noise, Sherlock pulls his gloves from his hands, troops across the kitchen, and swoops down to capture John’s lips in a kiss that leaves John’s head spinning and his pulse racing. (More muggle magic. Delicious. It thrums in his blood, and for a minute John cannot distinguish between the magic of London and the feeling of Sherlock pressed against his skin.)
“Harry thinks I’m the reason my Father drank himself to death,” John says, voice ragged, hand clutching to Sherlock’s shirt.
“Harry is an idiot.” Sherlock’s eyes never leave John’s face, but work across it frantically, hungrily. It sends a tingle across John’s skin to hear the catch in Sherlock’s throat.
“Shut up, you enormous prat, and kiss me again.”
“You should tell him.”
“Stay out of it, Mycroft.”
“Significant others are allowed to know. I’ve read the laws. Remarkable, actually. Your Ministry’s bureaucracy even outdoes that of my own.”
“He’s not my ... I don’t ... I don’t want him to know.”
“You’re afraid he’ll want to experiment on you?”
“He already experiments on me.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me. I am very, very intelligent. I think I could probably get my brain around the concept.”
“I’ll pass, thanks.”
John sees him on the train from Edinburgh to London, of all places, unmistakable with his ridiculous hair running riot all over the place.
He sighs and decides he ought to get it over with. He’ll never forgive himself if he doesn’t.
“Alright, Potter?” he says, taking the seat next to him.
Harry Potter looks up at him, confused, but not at all wary – the look of a man used to being accosted by strangers.
“I was ahead of you in school,” John says, carefully. “John Watson. We were in the same house.”
“Oh, right!” Green eyes gleam at him. “I remember. You were always the one in the corner with your nose in the books.”
John huffs out a laugh. “I just wanted to say, you know, good one. With all that business. You know. I reckon everyone owes you one.”
Harry’s smile is genuine and easy. “Thanks, mate. I don’t remember seeing you around for any of it ...”
“I was in Kosovo,” John explains. (It’s not strictly true, the timeline is off, but it’s close enough to the real reason.) “And then Afghanistan. Getting shot at. Suppose I always felt a little bad, that I wasn’t there to help.”
They are neither of them old, not really, John is 38 and only six years this man’s senior, but the look Harry Potter gives him then is one of sad, ancient wisdom. It is the look two soldiers give each other before going topside. It sends shivers down John’s spine. “Different war, same story,” Harry says, quietly. “I did my part; you were doing yours.”
“I’m not sure it was quite of the same magnitude,” John admits. “Definitely not as worthy a cause.”
They are interrupted by John’s phone going off in his pocket. He spares Harry Potter an apologetic glance (feeling, despite himself, almost sacrilegious as he does so) and answers the phone.
“Sherlock, I’m on the train. I’ll be there in four hours. What is it?”
Harry picks up his book and pretends to read, but he’s smiling behind it. John repeats his apologetic look with a tilt of the head; Harry Potter nods back at him, and John goes and takes his seat once more - but not before having to exclaim “Sherlock!” at least once very loudly down the phone.
Dumbledore himself took him to get his wand from Ollivander at John’s father’s behest and John remembers holding it for the first time and feeling like his left arm was complete.
(A gun never feels quite the same, and he’s never killed someone with his wand, but somehow that sits better in his skin than the alternative.)
Anxiety rolls off Sherlock in heavy, cloying waves that have John nearly out of his mind with apprehension.
Something is not right.
Sherlock isn’t telling him anything. John wants to punch him. Moriarty’s game has him bouncing across London with almost as much effect as an Imperius curse and it sickens John to watch his ... boyfriend? partner? friend? ... dancing to the beat of Moriarty’s drum.
(For a while, John had worried it actually was an Imperius curse, but he’d not felt a single tingle of magic in Moriarty at the pool, not even the base-level Muggle magic of emotion that most people have. His skin was dead and cold as stone. It made John feel sick and uncomfortable, like suddenly his own skin was one size too small.)
John could fix this. He could apparate to wherever Moriarty was and fling curse after curse at him until he was broken and bleeding on the floor. He could turn him into a snake and cut his head off. He could wipe his very existence from the records of history with the flick of his wrist.
He would gladly go to Azkaban if it meant keeping Sherlock safe from Moriarty’s tricks.
It’s the hungry desperation mixed in with Sherlock’s anxiety that stays his hand. Sherlock wants so desperately to win, to prove himself, to do something good, so John steps back, bites down his wrath, ignores the churning of his stomach, and lets Sherlock play the game.
“You’ve done this before.”
John has his fingers tangled in Sherlock’s hair and Sherlock has his nose pressed into John’s armpit. They are covered in sweat and the room reeks of sex and it is brilliant.
“Well deduced. I was in the Army, you know.”
“No, it wasn’t in the Army,” Sherlock muses, licking at a bead of his sweat. “Boarding school, must have been.”
“Hmmm,” John says, and his eyes slide closed. Sherlock’s fingers trace patterns across his stomach. John hasn’t been so blissful in years.
“You’re not going to tell me about him?”
“Ancient history,” John mutters. “Let it be, will you?”
He is shocked and relieved when Sherlock just hums into his side. (He should have known better than to think it would last.)
Later, just as he is about to drift off to sleep, Sherlock pokes him in the side and says, insistently, “Where is he now, your ex-boyfriend?”
“Why, are you worried he’ll swoop in and steal me away from you?”
Sherlock purses his lips and says nothing, clearly trying to scold him with his eyes but failing to keep the affirmation completely out of them.
John chuckles and gathers him closer, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Last I heard, Charlie was fighting dragons in Romania. You needn’t worry.”
Sherlock huffs and tells him to stop being ridiculous. John grins against his curls.
“I haven’t spoken to him since I was seventeen, Sherlock. Don’t worry about me, I’m a sure thing.”
“Oh. Alright then. Dragons,” Sherlock scoffs. “Honestly.” He sniffs, but he sounds secretly pleased. John grins even more. (Sometimes, telling the truth is more effective than lying, when it comes to pulling the wool over Sherlock Holmes.)
Jim Moriarty walks into the Tower of London and steals the crown jewels and convinces a jury to let him walk away free. Sherlock serves him tea in their flat and that night, John (with his heart in his throat and his stomach in his knees) lifts up the loose floorboard in his room and puts his wand in his pocket for the first time in over a decade, just in case.
“Congratulations, Mr. Watson, on your results.”
John starts and turns to see Albus Dumbledore sitting on the bed opposite him in the otherwise empty dormitory.
“I understand it is your intention to leave the magical world behind, now that you’ve finished your education.”
“Dare I ask why?”
There isn’t enough room in John’s trunk for all his books and his clothes. He could enlarge it, make it bigger on the inside, but that would defeat the point of the exercise.
“I don’t fit here,” he says, not looking up at the Headmaster. “And I can’t leave my sister alone anymore.”
“It was my impression that your sister wishes to be left alone.”
“Yes, well.” John sighs. Harry is drifting and angry and alone, and it is all his fault, and he will never be able to fix it, because it’s been too long and she won’t let him.
“John, you are an extremely talented wizard. In the muggle world you will be ...”
“Average,” John interrupts, turning to face the Professor. “People will look at me and see me, and not the fact that I could transfigure a cat into a sofa three years before I ought to have been able to. You can’t make me stay, Professor. You made me come, but you cannot make me stay.”
“No,” Dumbledore agrees, his sparkling blue eyes sadder than John has ever seen them. “I don’t suppose I can. Very well, John. I wish you all the best, wherever your life leads you next.”
“Thank you, sir,” John says, and he means it this time.
The lid slams closed on his trunk with a final bang.
Sherlock, with his under-developed sense of privacy, spends more time rooting around in John’s room than should be allowed.
“What’s this,” he asks, unabashed, as he shoves the amulet into John’s face. “I found it in your bedside table.”
“Keepsake,” John replies, eyeing it closely. He hasn’t thought about the amulet in a while. “An old woman in Afghanistan gave it to me.”
“I didn’t know they were very big on superstition in Afghanistan. This is a talisman of some sort.”
“Be careful with that,” John says, more aware than Sherlock ever will be about what might happen if it’s destroyed in the wrong way.
“What do these runes mean, then? I tried to figure out the code but there isn’t enough here.”
“I’m not sure,” John lies, and snatches the amulet from Sherlock’s prying fingers. “She didn’t speak any English and my Dari is awful.”
The runes glow slightly when Sherlock’s fingers brush his hand, which is interesting and new, and something Sherlock obviously can’t see. John doesn’t entirely know what that means, but that night he slides the necklace over his head and sleeps with it, still warm from Sherlock’s palm, against his chest.
“I thought you were married to your work,” John murmurs into the mop of curls on his chest.
“Hmmm. I’m cheating,” Sherlock replies, lazily. The air around them is hot and heavy. John’s back is stuck to the sheets with his own sweat. Sherlock’s arm tightens around John’s chest and John smiles, delighted.
“Why me?” he asks, after a while, his hand splaying across Sherlock’s back.
There is a long pause, full of meaning. “I don’t know,” Sherlock says, slowly, earnestly. “It’s baffling. I’ve never ... no one’s ever been this fascinating. You don’t make sense. You should be boring, you should be utterly dull, but ... you’re not. You fascinate me.”
John digs his fingernails into the flesh between Sherlock’s shoulder-blades and holds him, tight, against his body. He doesn’t ever want to let go. The flat could burn to the ground, erumpents could come trampling through, a host of chimeras could appear and attack and John Watson at this moment in time would just close his eyes and hold Sherlock tighter, closer against him, and never let him go.
“I just know that I want you, I always want you, I want all of you that I can have and sometimes it’s all I can think about, it’s like you’ve put a spell over me. You haven’t, have you?”
Sherlock is joking, but John is deadly serious when he replies, “I would never.”
Sherlock makes to step off the roof of St. Bart's and John, in his terror, barely notices the surge of magic that comes from somewhere around his heart.
In the space of a heartbeat John finds himself on the rooftop, grabbing his friend by the collar of his coat and yanking him backwards, hard and swift and sure.
“Impossible,” Sherlock gasps, when John crumples to the floor beneath him. “That’s impossible. You were down there, I saw you down there.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” John shouts at him, checking him for injuries with frantic hands.
“John, that’s impossible,” Sherlock babbles and John keeps saying “Shut up!” and for a minute they sit there getting nowhere at all and John doesn’t care because Sherlock tried to walk off the roof of a building and John nearly wasn’t there to catch him at the bottom. But then Sherlock’s brain catches up with him and he sits up in John’s arms, rigid with fear.
“John, John, there are snipers, they’re going to kill Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade, and – John, we have to get out of here, they’re going to shoot you, there’s a sniper over there just waiting for a line of sight.”
John doesn’t think, he just pulls Sherlock to his feet and grabs him by the wrist and twists.
“Impossible,” Sherlock gasps, before he stumbles and retches into Mrs. Hudson’s umbrella stand, but John pays him no mind.
He vaults up the stairs and pulls the door open just in time to see the burly workman from earlier pull a gun from his toolkit. John puts a bullet in his side and Mrs. Hudson screams.
In a split second he’s down the stairs again and grabbing Sherlock by the shoulders. “I need you to do something. I need you to focus, very hard, on where the sniper for Greg will most likely be.”
“This is impossible,” Sherlock repeats.
“Shut up and think,” John shouts. Sherlock nods, looking frightened and confused, but John doesn’t have time to process that, there is not enough time for this, so John grabs his wrist again and empties his mind and he can feel Sherlock thinking, hard, so John lets him and they twist and disappear.
When John pushes open the door, the sniper whirls around and pulls the trigger on his gun, but John’s wand is in his hand this time and the bullet stops mid-air, clattering to the ground in front of John’s face.
“Impossible,” Sherlock says again. His eyes are as big as dinner plates in his face.
“That’s getting really old really fast,” John mutters, and turns the sniper into a cockroach without a second thought.
Sherlock steps on him before he can scuttle away.
They apparate with a crack into the sitting room of 221B and Sherlock stares down at him, the sharp planes of his face slack with wonder.
For what must be the hundredth time, he says, in a steady, clear voice that doesn’t fool John for a second, “That’s impossible.”
“I wish you’d stop saying that, because clearly it is possible, and you’re the one that hates repetition.”
“I must be dreaming. Am I dreaming?”
“Definitely not,” John says, forcefully, gripping Sherlock’s biceps and shaking him slightly. “You’ve eliminated the possibilities, Sherlock, including the one where it’s impossible and any and everything to do with natural causes. So what does that leave you with? Come on, use that fantastic, brilliant brain of yours and deduce it.”
“You’re... you’re... not human?” Sherlock’s entire face screws up with that thought, as if it causes him physical pain to be thinking something so illogical and completely unfitting with his established paradigm.
“Wrong,” John says. “Next guess.”
“No, I won’t, because the next guess makes even less sense than the idea that you’re some sort of alien.”
“Try it on for size,” John suggests, sighing heavily.
“Magic,” Sherlock breathes.
John’s smile fits grimly on his lips. “Bingo.”
In the dim light of evening, Baker Street is still and quiet. Sherlock sits in his chair and stares. John sits across from him and squirms. They don’t talk, because there is nothing more to say, not just now, and John can all but see the wheels of Sherlock’s mind spinning out of control.
A sharp rap on the front door interrupts their staring contest and Mycroft strides in, swinging his umbrella almost cheerfully.
“I’ve had a rather interesting afternoon,” he says, perching on the sofa. “Did you know, John, that the last person to perform such a large quantity of magic in such a public, non-magical space was …”
“Sirius Black,” John says. “I’m aware.”
Sherlock draws his eyes from John’s face to land on Mycroft’s, staring at him incredulously.
“You knew?” he stammers. “You knew about this, and you didn’t tell me?!”
“There are very strict laws in place,” Mycroft replies, calmly, his feathers as smooth and infuriatingly unruffled as ever. “My job would have been forfeit if I’d mentioned it without John’s strict permission, and that was, despite my best efforts, not forthcoming.”
“Why not,” Sherlock demands, his eyes back on John’s face again. “Why couldn’t you tell me?”
“It wasn’t important,” John says. “I don’t use it, not anymore.”
The sound Sherlock makes is desperate and disbelieving. John glares at him. “It’s my life and my choice, Sherlock. It’s none of your business.”
“It becomes my business when you use it ... whatever it is ... to thwart all my plans and vanish me about the city and turn snipers into cockroaches in front of my eyes!”
“Your plans were rubbish,” John shouts. “I wasn’t going to stand there and watch you die!”
“I wasn’t going to die,” Sherlock shouts back, standing abruptly to put more force behind his words. “It was only going to look like I had.”
John scrambles to his feet and is about to let loose when Mycroft interrupts.
“I believe the technical term is Disapparate, rather than Vanish,” he muses. They stop shouting and turn to stare at him. Mycroft smirks up at them, as if butter wouldn’t melt.
“How did you – No, don’t answer that,” John says, squeezing his eyes shut. “How much trouble am I in, then?”
“Trouble? None at all.”
“What, really?” John was surprised he managed to get home without a hundred Ministry officials swooping down on him from above and dragging him off to rot in a cell in Azkaban for the rest of his years. Surely they wouldn’t be turning a blind eye completely?
“Hmmm. I have had a word with my, er, counterpart and explained the necessity behind your actions. We have agreed that you – or rather I, since your funds appear to be rather low – will pay a fine of 500 galleons to cover the costs of the clean-up operation, and I’m sure you will receive a strongly worded letter from the Ministry. Ah, here it comes now.”
John looks out the window and sure enough, a large owl is swooping across the rooftops towards the closed window.
Fuck it, he decides, and waves a hand at the window to open it and let the owl in without moving from the spot.
“That’s impossible,” Sherlock says, as if he’s a broken record. “How did you do that?”
“Magic,” John reminds him, and offers the owl his forearm as a perch.
A week before Moriarty swans back into their lives, Sherlock pushes John into his armchair and takes him into his mouth and all but worships him and his body and John falls apart under his mouth and his hands and when Sherlock looks up at him afterwards with reddened lips and a greedy smile on his face, John’s stomach lurches and his heart stutters and he gasps, despite himself, “God, I love you.”
Sherlock crawls over his body and kisses him deep and growls, “I know,” against his lips, and that’s all John needs to know that the feeling is mutual. The amulet against his chest glows warm and John suddenly understands what the old witch had been on about.
(Namely, that he had not known he was broken until Sherlock fixed him.)
For the first time in weeks, John sleeps alone in his own bed.
Or, rather, he lies there in the dark, his mind spinning.
Sherlock had stomped out of the room and slammed his bedroom door shut behind him. Mycroft had looked at John with a face that said, clear as day, “I told you you should have told him earlier.” John glowered at him and then sent him from the flat. Sherlock hadn’t come out for dinner and John had retreated to his room.
John doesn’t know what to do. He knows Sherlock’s mind is reeling, attempting to reorganise his thoughts after experiencing a paradigm shift so monumental it was literally impossible to ignore. He could, of course, attempt to obliviate him, but he suspects that Sherlock and his brilliant mind will be rather resistant to that particular spell, and anyway, how would he then explain how he had prevented Sherlock from jumping off that bloody building?
It was worth it, not to see Sherlock’s insides spread across the pavement like jam on toast, but John isn’t sure, now, what will happen. Sherlock is angry and confused and, most of all, disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to win his stupid, childish game, and it is infuriating but dangerous, because if Sherlock no longer wants him around, where the fuck will he go?
A creak on the landing draws John from his thoughts and he sits up, suddenly, in bed, clutching his wand (which seems reluctant to go back in its box, now that it’s been out for the first time in fifteen years) tightly in his fist.
Sherlock’s head pops around the door and John relaxes slightly. Sherlock looks wary but John beckons him over and makes room for him on the bed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Sherlock asks after he gets comfortable, uncoiling like a cat across the duvet.
“I don’t like to dwell on it,” John replies. It’s almost the truth.
“You can do things that are scientifically impossible.”
“Yes. If you stick to the science of it, then yes.”
“What can you do?”
John turns his head on the pillow and looks at Sherlock, who is staring straight ahead at the ceiling, arms crossed over his chest, as insecure as John has ever seen him.
“That’s a rather long list,” he says, gently. “I’m very, very good.”
Sherlock glances at him and smiles, briefly, before turning back to the ceiling.
“Harry isn’t ...”
“Magical,” John supplies. “No. She’s not.”
“It tore your family apart, this ... ability?”
“You’re ashamed because you’re better at it than most and you don’t like to stand out.”
“Not ashamed,” John begins to protest, but Sherlock cuts him short with a chastising glance. “It made people uncomfortable,” John admits. “I never had to try to be good at it. It made people think about what might happen, if it went ... wrong.”
Sherlock turns to stare at him, his face open and full of wonder.
“Like me,” he says, slowly, his voice almost childlike. “They treated you like they treat me.”
“Not ... not so bad,” John says, warily. “I’m a good deal nicer than you, you know, they were less worried about me falling off the deep end. I had friends, a few at least. But something like that, yes.”
“Oh.” John wants to wrap him in his arms and never let him go. He wants to curse the people who treated this man like dirt on the bottom of their shoe so that they’re covered in boils and coughing up slugs for the rest of their lives. But instead he stays still, staring up at the ceiling again, the twelve inches of bed between them stretching on like an impassable ocean.
Finally, Sherlock rolls over onto his side and stares at John hungrily. “You don’t make any sense,” he says. John feels like he’s being accused of a particularly heinous but (in Sherlock’s eyes) delicious crime.
“Don’t,” Sherlock exclaims, his hand gripping John’s wrist. “Don’t apologise for it. It’s … it’s fascinating. You’re fascinating.”
“I don’t want to be fascinating,” John spits. “I’m just me, boring old John Watson. I didn’t want it then, and I don’t need it now.”
Sherlock launches across the bed and grabs his face and crushes his own against it, heated and desperate. John’s heart lurches and he pushes him away. “Stop.”
“You idiot,” Sherlock growls, pressing into John’s space, as unrelenting as a steamroller. “You were fascinating to me before, before I knew about this, I told you that, what makes you think this changes anything?”
“I don’t know,” John says. “It just does.”
Sherlock flops onto his back, defeated and annoyed. Suddenly, he sits up, as if something awful has occurred to him.
“You didn’t actually put a spell on me, did you?”
John, his heart sinking, glares at him and turns away. “Bastard,” he mutters.
“If that’s what you think, if you think I’m capable of that, you can get the fuck out. Right now.”
Sherlock makes a noise in his throat, small and scared and annoyed. But he doesn’t go anywhere. He stays and waits, and the minutes stretch on in silence until John sighs, rolling over onto his back again. He lets Sherlock crawl into his side and puts an arm around his shoulders.
“I’m not a subject for you to experiment on,” he says, quietly. Sherlock snorts, pulling him closer.
His resistance is evaporating like water on concrete under the blazing sun of Sherlock’s affections, his insecurity, and his attention. John takes a big breath, gathers his resignation up in his lungs, and breathes it out in one long, protracted sigh. He gives in (as if he had ever had another option). “Okay. Okay then.”
“Will you show me? Some of the things you can do?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” John says, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand. “Sleep now. You nearly jumped off a building today.”
“It would have worked, my plan.”
“It was a shite plan, Sherlock, that would have involved me thinking you’d died for an indeterminate amount of time. When I’m less exhausted, believe me, I will be shouting at you for that.”
They fall asleep like that, wrapped around each other, and around them the air shifts and twists and is made new. In the morning John wakes up and the air is full of pomegranate and cardamom, and it prickles against his skin. Sherlock pokes at things with his wand, his face a study in petulant irritation, and John laughs loud and clear and long, until his stomach hurts and and his cheeks glow.